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The Wouldbegoods by E. Nesbit*

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My Dear Son
Fabian Bland


1. The Jungle
2. The Wouldbegoods
3. Bill's Tombstone
4. The Tower of Mystery
5. The Waterworks
6. The Circus
7. Being Beavers; or, The Young Explorers (Arctic or Otherwise)
8. The High-Born Babe
9. Hunting the Fox
10. The Sale of Antiquities
11. The Benevolent Bar
12. The Canterbury Pilgrims
13. The Dragon's Teeth; or, Army Seed
14. Albert's Uncle's Grandmother; or, The Long-Lost


Children are like jam: all very well in the proper place, but you
can't stand them all over the shop--eh, what?'

These were the dreadful words of our Indian uncle. They made us
feel very young and angry; and yet we could not be comforted by
calling him names to ourselves, as you do when nasty grown-ups say
nasty things, because he is not nasty, but quite the exact opposite
when not irritated. And we could not think it ungentlemanly of him
to say we were like jam, because, as Alice says, jam is very nice
indeed--only not on furniture and improper places like that. My
father said, 'Perhaps they had better go to boarding-school.' And
that was awful, because we know Father disapproves of
boarding-schools. And he looked at us and said, 'I am ashamed of
them, sir!'

Your lot is indeed a dark and terrible one when your father is
ashamed of you. And we all knew this, so that we felt in our
chests just as if we had swallowed a hard-boiled egg whole. At
least, this is what Oswald felt, and Father said once that Oswald,
as the eldest, was the representative of the family, so, of course,
the others felt the same.

And then everybody said nothing for a short time. At last Father

'You may go--but remember--'

The words that followed I am not going to tell you. It is no use
telling you what you know before--as they do in schools. And you
must all have had such words said to you many times. We went away
when it was over. The girls cried, and we boys got out books and
began to read, so that nobody should think we cared. But we felt
it deeply in our interior hearts, especially Oswald, who is the
eldest and the representative of the family.

We felt it all the more because we had not really meant to do
anything wrong. We only thought perhaps the grown-ups would not be
quite pleased if they knew, and that is quite different. Besides,
we meant to put all the things back in their proper places when we
had done with them before anyone found out about it. But I must
not anticipate (that means telling the end of the story before the
beginning. I tell you this because it is so sickening to have
words you don't know in a story, and to be told to look it up in
the dicker).

We are the Bastables--Oswald, Dora, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H. O.
If you want to know why we call our youngest brother H. O. you can
jolly well read The Treasure Seekers and find out. We were the
Treasure Seekers, and we sought it high and low, and quite
regularly, because we particularly wanted to find it. And at last
we did not find it, but we were found by a good, kind Indian uncle,
who helped Father with his business, so that Father was able to
take us all to live in a jolly big red house on Blackheath, instead
of in the Lewisham Road, where we lived when we were only poor but
honest Treasure Seekers. When we were poor but honest we always
used to think that if only Father had plenty of business, and we
did not have to go short of pocket money and wear shabby clothes (I
don't mind this myself, but the girls do), we should be happy and
very, very good.

And when we were taken to the beautiful big Blackheath house we
thought now all would be well, because it was a house with vineries
and pineries, and gas and water, and shrubberies and stabling, and
replete with every modern convenience, like it says in Dyer &
Hilton's list of Eligible House Property. I read all about it, and
I have copied the words quite right.

It is a beautiful house, all the furniture solid and strong, no
casters off the chairs, and the tables not scratched, and the
silver not dented; and lots of servants, and the most decent meals
every day--and lots of pocket-money.

But it is wonderful how soon you get used to things, even the
things you want most. Our watches, for instance. We wanted them
frightfully; but when I had mine a week or two, after the
mainspring got broken and was repaired at Bennett's in the village,
I hardly cared to look at the works at all, and it did not make me
feel happy in my heart any more, though, of course, I should have
been very unhappy if it had been taken away from me. And the same
with new clothes and nice dinners and having enough of everything.
You soon get used to it all, and it does not make you extra happy,
although, if you had it all taken away, you would be very dejected.
(That is a good word, and one I have never used before.) You get
used to everything, as I said, and then you want something more.
Father says this is what people mean by the deceitfulness of
riches; but Albert's uncle says it is the spirit of progress, and
Mrs Leslie said some people called it 'divine discontent'. Oswald
asked them all what they thought one Sunday at dinner. Uncle said
it was rot, and what we wanted was bread and water and a licking;
but he meant it for a joke. This was in the Easter holidays.

We went to live at the Red House at Christmas. After the holidays
the girls went to the Blackheath High School, and we boys went to
the Prop. (that means the Proprietary School). And we had to swot
rather during term; but about Easter we knew the deceitfulness of
riches in the vac., when there was nothing much on, like pantomimes
and things. Then there was the summer term, and we swotted more
than ever; and it was boiling hot, and masters' tempers got short
and sharp, and the girls used to wish the exams came in cold
weather. I can't think why they don't. But I suppose schools
don't think of sensible thinks like that. They teach botany at
girls' schools.

Then the Midsummer holidays came, and we breathed again--but only
for a few days. We began to feel as if we had forgotten something,
and did not know what it was. We wanted something to happen--only
we didn't exactly know what. So we were very pleased when Father

'I've asked Mr Foulkes to send his children here for a week or two.
You know--the kids who came at Christmas. You must be jolly to
them, and see that they have a good time, don't you know.'

We remembered them right enough--they were little pinky, frightened
things, like white mice, with very bright eyes. They had not been
to our house since Christmas, because Denis, the boy, had been ill,
and they had been with an aunt at Ramsgate.

Alice and Dora would have liked to get the bedrooms ready for the
honoured guests, but a really good housemaid is sometimes more
ready to say 'Don't' than even a general. So the girls had to
chuck it. Jane only let them put flowers in the pots on the
visitors' mantelpieces, and then they had to ask the gardener which
kind they might pick, because nothing worth gathering happened to
be growing in our own gardens just then.

Their train got in at 12.27. We all went to meet them. Afterwards
I thought that was a mistake, because their aunt was with them, and
she wore black with beady things and a tight bonnet, and she said,
when we took our hats off-- 'Who are you?' quite crossly.

We said, 'We are the Bastables; we've come to meet Daisy and

The aunt is a very rude lady, and it made us sorry for Daisy and
Denny when she said to them--

'Are these the children? Do you remember them?' We weren't very
tidy, perhaps, because we'd been playing brigands in the shrubbery;
and we knew we should have to wash for dinner as soon as we got
back, anyhow. But still--

Denny said he thought he remembered us. But Daisy said, 'Of course
they are,' and then looked as if she was going to cry.

So then the aunt called a cab, and told the man where to drive, and
put Daisy and Denny in, and then she said--

'You two little girls may go too, if you like, but you little boys
must walk.'

So the cab went off, and we were left. The aunt turned to us to
say a few last words. We knew it would have been about brushing
your hair and wearing gloves, so Oswald said, 'Good-bye', and
turned haughtily away, before she could begin, and so did the
others. No one but that kind of black beady tight lady would say
'little boys'. She is like Miss Murdstone in David Copperfield.
I should like to tell her so; but she would not understand. I
don't suppose she has ever read anything but Markham's History and
Mangnall's Questions--improving books like that.

When we got home we found all four of those who had ridden in the
cab sitting in our sitting-room--we don't call it nursery
now--looking very thoroughly washed, and our girls were asking
polite questions and the others were saying 'Yes' and 'No', and 'I
don't know'. We boys did not say anything. We stood at the window
and looked out till the gong went for our dinner. We felt it was
going to be awful--and it was. The newcomers would never have done
for knight-errants, or to carry the Cardinal's sealed message
through the heart of France on a horse; they would never have
thought of anything to say to throw the enemy off the scent when
they got into a tight place.

They said 'Yes, please', and 'No, thank you'; and they ate very
neatly, and always wiped their mouths before they drank, as well as
after, and never spoke with them full.

And after dinner it got worse and worse.

We got out all our books and they said 'Thank you', and didn't look
at them properly. And we got out all our toys, and they said
'Thank you, it's very nice' to everything. And it got less and
less pleasant, and towards teatime it came to nobody saying
anything except Noel and H. O.--and they talked to each other about

After tea Father came in, and he played 'Letters' with them and the
girls, and it was a little better; but while late dinner was going
on--I shall never forget it. Oswald felt like the hero of a
book--'almost at the end of his resources'. I don't think I was
ever glad of bedtime before, but that time I was.

When they had gone to bed (Daisy had to have all her strings and
buttons undone for her, Dora told me, though she is nearly ten, and
Denny said he couldn't sleep without the gas being left a little
bit on) we held a council in the girls' room. We all sat on the
bed--it is a mahogany fourposter with green curtains very good for
tents, only the housekeeper doesn't allow it, and Oswald said--

'This is jolly nice, isn't it?'

'They'll be better to-morrow,' Alice said, 'they're only shy.'

Dicky said shy was all very well, but you needn't behave like a
perfect idiot.

'They're frightened. You see we're all strange to them,' Dora

'We're not wild beasts or Indians; we shan't eat them. What have
they got to be frightened of?' Dicky said this.

Noel told us he thought they were an enchanted prince and princess
who'd been turned into white rabbits, and their bodies had got
changed back but not their insides.

But Oswald told him to dry up.

'It's no use making things up about them,' he said. 'The thing is:
what are we going to DO? We can't have our holidays spoiled by
these snivelling kids.'

'No,' Alice said, 'but they can't possibly go on snivelling for
ever. Perhaps they've got into the habit of it with that Murdstone
aunt. She's enough to make anyone snivel.'

'All the same,' said Oswald, 'we jolly well aren't going to have
another day like today. We must do something to rouse them from
their snivelling leth--what's its name?--something sudden and--what
is it?--decisive.'

'A booby trap,' said H. O., 'the first thing when they get up, and
an apple-pie bed at night.'

But Dora would not hear of it, and I own she was right.

'Suppose,' she said, 'we could get up a good play-- like we did
when we were Treasure Seekers.'

We said, well what? But she did not say.

'It ought to be a good long thing--to last all day,' Dicky said,
'and if they like they can play, and if they don't--'

'If they don't, I'll read to them,' Alice said.

But we all said 'No, you don't--if you begin that way you'll have
to go on.'

And Dicky added, 'I wasn't going to say that at all. I was going
to say if they didn't like it they could jolly well do the other

We all agreed that we must think of something, but we none of us
could, and at last the council broke up in confusion because Mrs
Blake--she is the housekeeper--came up and turned off the gas.

But next morning when we were having breakfast, and the two
strangers were sitting there so pink and clean, Oswald suddenly

'I know; we'll have a jungle in the garden.'

And the others agreed, and we talked about it till brek was over.
The little strangers only said 'I don't know' whenever we said
anything to them.

After brekker Oswald beckoned his brothers and sisters mysteriously
apart and said--

'Do you agree to let me be captain today, because I thought of it?'

And they said they would.

Then he said, 'We'll play Jungle Book, and I shall be Mowgli. The
rest of you can be what you like--Mowgli's father and mother, or
any of the beasts.'

'I don't suppose they know the book,' said Noel. 'They don't look
as if they read anything, except at lesson times.'

'Then they can go on being beasts all the time,' Oswald said.
'Anyone can be a beast.'

So it was settled.

And now Oswald--Albert's uncle has sometimes said he is clever at
arranging things--began to lay his plans for the jungle. The day
was indeed well chosen. Our Indian uncle was away; Father was
away; Mrs Blake was going away, and the housemaid had an afternoon
off. Oswald's first conscious act was to get rid of the white
mice--I mean the little good visitors. He explained to them that
there would be a play in the afternoon, and they could be what they
liked, and gave them the Jungle Book to read the stories he told
them to--all the ones about Mowgli. He led the strangers to a
secluded spot among the sea-kale pots in the kitchen garden and
left them. Then he went back to the others, and we had a jolly
morning under the cedar talking about what we would do when Blakie
was gone. She went just after our dinner.

When we asked Denny what he would like to be in the play, it turned
out he had not read the stories Oswald told him at all, but only
the 'White Seal' and 'Rikki Tikki'.

We then agreed to make the jungle first and dress up for our parts
afterwards. Oswald was a little uncomfortable about leaving the
strangers alone all the morning, so he said Denny should be his
aide-de-camp, and he was really quite useful. He is rather handy
with his fingers, and things that he does up do not come untied.
Daisy might have come too, but she wanted to go on reading, so we
let her, which is the truest manners to a visitor. Of course the
shrubbery was to be the jungle, and the lawn under the cedar a
forest glade, and then we began to collect the things. The cedar
lawn is just nicely out of the way of the windows. It was a jolly
hot day--the kind of day when the sunshine is white and the shadows
are dark grey, not black like they are in the evening.

We all thought of different things. Of course first we dressed up
pillows in the skins of beasts and set them about on the grass to
look as natural as we could. And then we got Pincher, and rubbed
him all over with powdered slate-pencil, to make him the right
colour for Grey Brother. But he shook it all off, and it had taken
an awful time to do. Then Alice said--

'Oh, I know!' and she ran off to Father's dressing-room, and came
back with the tube of creme d'amande pour la barbe et les mains,
and we squeezed it on Pincher and rubbed it in, and then the
slate-pencil stuff stuck all right, and he rolled in the dust-bin
of his own accord, which made him just the right colour. He is a
very clever dog, but soon after he went off and we did not find him
till quite late in the afternoon. Denny helped with Pincher, and
with the wild-beast skins, and when Pincher was finished he said--

'Please, may I make some paper birds to put in the trees? I know

And of course we said 'Yes', and he only had red ink and
newspapers, and quickly he made quite a lot of large paper birds
with red tails. They didn't look half bad on the edge of the

While he was doing this he suddenly said, or rather screamed, 'Oh?'

And we looked, and it was a creature with great horns and a fur
rug--something like a bull and something like a minotaur--and I
don't wonder Denny was frightened. It was Alice, and it was

Up to now all was not yet lost beyond recall. It was the stuffed
fox that did the mischief--and I am sorry to own it was Oswald who
thought of it. He is not ashamed of having THOUGHT of it. That
was rather clever of him. But he knows now that it is better not
to take other people's foxes and things without asking, even if you
live in the same house with them.

It was Oswald who undid the back of the glass case in the hall and
got out the fox with the green and grey duck in its mouth, and when
the others saw how awfully like life they looked on the lawn, they
all rushed off to fetch the other stuffed things. Uncle has a
tremendous lot of stuffed things. He shot most of them
himself--but not the fox, of course. There was another fox's mask,
too, and we hung that in a bush to look as if the fox was peeping
out. And the stuffed birds we fastened on to the trees with
string. The duck-bill--what's its name?--looked very well sitting
on his tail with the otter snarling at him. Then Dicky had an
idea; and though not nearly so much was said about it afterwards as
there was about the stuffed things, I think myself it was just as
bad, though it was a good idea, too. He just got the hose and put
the end over a branch of the cedar-tree. Then we got the steps
they clean windows with, and let the hose rest on the top of the
steps and run. It was to be a waterfall, but it ran between the
steps and was only wet and messy; so we got Father's mackintosh and
uncle's and covered the steps with them, so that the water ran down
all right and was glorious, and it ran away in a stream across the
grass where we had dug a little channel for it--and the otter and
the duck-bill-thing were as if in their native haunts. I hope all
this is not very dull to read about. I know it was jolly good fun
to do. Taking one thing with another, I don't know that we ever
had a better time while it lasted.

We got all the rabbits out of the hutches and put pink paper tails
on to them, and hunted them with horns made out of The Times. They
got away somehow, and before they were caught next day they had
eaten a good many lettuces and other things. Oswald is very sorry
for this. He rather likes the gardener.

Denny wanted to put paper tails on the guinea-pigs, and it was no
use our telling him there was nothing to tie the paper on to. He
thought we were kidding until we showed him, and then he said,
'Well, never mind', and got the girls to give him bits of the blue
stuff left over from their dressing-gowns.

'I'll make them sashes to tie round their little middles,' he said.
And he did, and the bows stuck up on the tops of their backs. One
of the guinea-pigs was never seen again, and the same with the
tortoise when we had done his shell with vermilion paint. He
crawled away and returned no more. Perhaps someone collected him
and thought he was an expensive kind unknown in these cold

The lawn under the cedar was transformed into a dream of beauty,
what with the stuffed creatures and the paper-tailed things and the
waterfall. And Alice said--

'I wish the tigers did not look so flat.' For of course with
pillows you can only pretend it is a sleeping tiger getting ready
to make a spring out at you. It is difficult to prop up
tiger-skins in a life-like manner when there are no bones inside
them, only pillows and sofa cushions.

'What about the beer-stands?' I said. And we got two out of the
cellar. With bolsters and string we fastened insides to the
tigers--and they were really fine. The legs of the beer-stands did
for tigers' legs. It was indeed the finishing touch.

Then we boys put on just our bathing drawers and vests--so as to be
able to play with the waterfall without hurting our clothes. I
think this was thoughtful. The girls only tucked up their frocks
and took their shoes and stockings off. H. O. painted his legs and
his hands with Condy's fluid--to make him brown, so that he might
be Mowgli, although Oswald was captain and had plainly said he was
going to be Mowgli himself. Of course the others weren't going to
stand that. So Oswald said--

'Very well. Nobody asked you to brown yourself like that. But now
you've done it, you've simply got to go and be a beaver, and live
in the dam under the waterfall till it washes off.'

He said he didn't want to be beavers. And Noel said--

'Don't make him. Let him be the bronze statue in the palace
gardens that the fountain plays out of.'

So we let him have the hose and hold it up over his head. It made
a lovely fountain, only he remained brown. So then Dicky and
Oswald and I did ourselves brown too, and dried H. O. as well as we
could with our handkerchiefs, because he was just beginning to
snivel. The brown did not come off any of us for days.

Oswald was to be Mowgli, and we were just beginning to arrange the
different parts. The rest of the hose that was on the ground was
Kaa, the Rock Python, and Pincher was Grey Brother, only we
couldn't find him. And while most of us were talking, Dicky and
Noel got messing about with the beer-stand tigers.

And then a really sad event instantly occurred, which was not
really our fault, and we did not mean to.

That Daisy girl had been mooning indoors all the afternoon with the
Jungle Books, and now she came suddenly out, just as Dicky and Noel
had got under the tigers and were shoving them along to fright each
other. Of course, this is not in the Mowgli book at all: but they
did look jolly like real tigers, and I am very far from wishing to
blame the girl, though she little knew what would be the awful
consequence of her rash act. But for her we might have got out of
it all much better than we did. What happened was truly horrid.

As soon as Daisy saw the tigers she stopped short, and uttering a
shriek like a railway whistle she fell flat on the ground.

'Fear not, gentle Indian maid,' Oswald cried, thinking with
surprise that perhaps after all she did know how to play, 'I myself
will protect thee.' And he sprang forward with the native bow and
arrows out of uncle's study.

The gentle Indian maiden did not move.

'Come hither,' Dora said, 'let us take refuge in yonder covert
while this good knight does battle for us.' Dora might have
remembered that we were savages, but she did not. And that is Dora
all over. And still the Daisy girl did not move.

Then we were truly frightened. Dora and Alice lifted her up, and
her mouth was a horrid violet-colour and her eyes half shut. She
looked horrid. Not at all like fair fainting damsels, who are
always of an interesting pallor. She was green, like a cheap
oyster on a stall.

We did what we could, a prey to alarm as we were. We rubbed her
hands and let the hose play gently but perseveringly on her
unconscious brow. The girls loosened her dress, though it was only
the kind that comes down straight without a waist. And we were all
doing what we could as hard as we could, when we heard the click of
the front gate. There was no mistake about it.

'I hope whoever it is will go straight to the front door,' said
Alice. But whoever it was did not. There were feet on the gravel,
and there was the uncle's voice, saying in his hearty manner--

'This way. This way. On such a day as this we shall find our
young barbarians all at play somewhere about the grounds.'

And then, without further warning, the uncle, three other gentlemen
and two ladies burst upon the scene.

We had no clothes on to speak of--I mean us boys. We were all wet
through. Daisy was in a faint or a fit, or dead, none of us then
knew which. And all the stuffed animals were there staring the
uncle in the face. Most of them had got a sprinkling, and the
otter and the duck-bill brute were simply soaked. And three of us
were dark brown. Concealment, as so often happens, was impossible.

The quick brain of Oswald saw, in a flash, exactly how it would
strike the uncle, and his brave young blood ran cold in his veins.
His heart stood still.

'What's all this--eh, what?' said the tones of the wronged uncle.

Oswald spoke up and said it was jungles we were playing, and he
didn't know what was up with Daisy. He explained as well as anyone
could, but words were now in vain.

The uncle had a Malacca cane in his hand, and we were but ill
prepared to meet the sudden attack. Oswald and H. O. caught it
worst. The other boys were under the tigers--and of course my
uncle would not strike a girl. Denny was a visitor and so got off.

But it was bread and water for us for the next three days, and our
own rooms. I will not tell you how we sought to vary the
monotonousness of imprisonment. Oswald thought of taming a mouse,
but he could not find one. The reason of the wretched captives
might have given way but for the gutter that you can crawl along
from our room to the girls'. But I will not dwell on this because
you might try it yourselves, and it really is dangerous. When my
father came home we got the talking to, and we said we were
sorry--and we really were--especially about Daisy, though she had
behaved with muffishness, and then it was settled that we were to
go into the country and stay till we had grown into better

Albert's uncle was writing a book in the country; we were to go to
his house. We were glad of this--Daisy and Denny too. This we
bore nobly. We knew we had deserved it. We were all very sorry
for everything, and we resolved that for the future we WOULD be

I am not sure whether we kept this resolution or not. Oswald
thinks now that perhaps we made a mistake in trying so very hard to
be good all at once. You should do everything by degrees.

P.S.--It turned out Daisy was not really dead at all. It was only
fainting--so like a girl.

N.B.--Pincher was found on the drawing-room sofa.

Appendix.--I have not told you half the things we did for the
jungle--for instance, about the elephants' tusks and the horse-hair
sofa-cushions, and uncle's fishing-boots.


When we were sent down into the country to learn to be good we felt
it was rather good business, because we knew our being sent there
was really only to get us out of the way for a little while, and we
knew right enough that it wasn't a punishment, though Mrs Blake
said it was, because we had been punished thoroughly for taking the
stuffed animals out and making a jungle on the lawn with them, and
the garden hose. And you cannot be punished twice for the same
offence. This is the English law; at least I think so. And at any
rate no one would punish you three times, and we had had the
Malacca cane and the solitary confinement; and the uncle had kindly
explained to us that all ill-feeling between him and us was wiped
out entirely by the bread and water we had endured. And what with
the bread and water and being prisoners, and not being able to tame
any mice in our prisons, I quite feel that we had suffered it up
thoroughly, and now we could start fair.

I think myself that descriptions of places are generally dull, but
I have sometimes thought that was because the authors do not tell
you what you truly want to know. However, dull or not, here
goes--because you won't understand anything unless I tell you what
the place was like.

The Moat House was the one we went to stay at. There has been a
house there since Saxon times. It is a manor, and a manor goes on
having a house on it whatever happens. The Moat House was burnt
down once or twice in ancient centuries--I don't remember
which--but they always built a new one, and Cromwell's soldiers
smashed it about, but it was patched up again. It is a very odd
house: the front door opens straight into the dining-room, and
there are red curtains and a black-and-white marble floor like a
chess-board, and there is a secret staircase, only it is not secret
now--only rather rickety. It is not very big, but there is a
watery moat all round it with a brick bridge that leads to the
front door. Then, on the other side of the moat there is the farm,
with barns and oast houses and stables, or things like that. And
the other way the garden lawn goes on till it comes to the
churchyard. The churchyard is not divided from the garden at all
except by a little grass bank. In the front of the house there is
more garden, and the big fruit garden is at the back.

The man the house belongs to likes new houses, so he built a big
one with conservatories and a stable with a clock in a turret on
the top, and he left the Moat House. And Albert's uncle took it,
and my father was to come down sometimes from Saturday to Monday,
and Albert's uncle was to live with us all the time, and he would
be writing a book, and we were not to bother him, but he would give
an eye to us. I hope all this is plain. I have said it as short
as I can.

We got down rather late, but there was still light enough to see
the big bell hanging at the top of the house. The rope belonging
to it went right down the house, through our bedroom to the
dining-room. H. O. saw the rope and pulled it while he was washing
his hands for supper, and Dicky and I let him, and the bell tolled
solemnly. Father shouted to him not to, and we went down to

But presently there were many feet trampling on the gravel, and
Father went out to see. When he came back he said--
'The whole village, or half of it, has come up to see why the bell
rang. It's only rung for fire or burglars. Why can't you kids let
things alone?'

Albert's uncle said--

'Bed follows supper as the fruit follows the flower. They'll do no
more mischief to-night, sir. To-morrow I will point out a few of
the things to be avoided in this bucolic retreat.'

So it was bed directly after supper, and that was why we did not
see much that night.

But in the morning we were all up rather early, and we seemed to
have awakened in a new world rich in surprises beyond the dreams of
anybody, as it says in the quotation.

We went everywhere we could in the time, but when it was
breakfast-time we felt we had not seen half or a quarter. The room
we had breakfast in was exactly like in a story--black oak panels
and china in corner cupboards with glass doors. These doors were
locked. There were green curtains, and honeycomb for breakfast.
After brekker my father went back to town, and Albert's uncle went
too, to see publishers. We saw them to the station, and Father
gave us a long list of what we weren't to do. It began with 'Don't
pull ropes unless you're quite sure what will happen at the other
end,' and it finished with 'For goodness sake, try to keep out of
mischief till I come down on Saturday'. There were lots of other
things in between.

We all promised we would. And we saw them off and waved till the
train was quite out of sight. Then we started to walk home. Daisy
was tired so Oswald carried her home on his back. When we got home
she said--

'I do like you, Oswald.'

She is not a bad little kid; and Oswald felt it was his duty to be
nice to her because she was a visitor. Then we looked all over
everything. It was a glorious place. You did not know where to
begin. We were all a little tired before we found the hayloft, but
we pulled ourselves together to make a fort with the trusses of
hay--great square things--and we were having a jolly good time, all
of us, when suddenly a trap-door opened and a head bobbed up with
a straw in its mouth. We knew nothing about the country then, and
the head really did scare us rather, though, of course, we found
out directly that the feet belonging to it were standing on the bar
of the loose-box underneath. The head said--

'Don't you let the governor catch you a-spoiling of that there hay,
that's all.' And it spoke thickly because of the straw.

It is strange to think how ignorant you were in the past. We can
hardly believe now that once we really did not know that it spoiled
hay to mess about with it. Horses don't like to eat it afterwards.

Always remember this.

When the head had explained a little more it went away, and we
turned the handle of the chaff-cutting machine, and nobody got
hurt, though the head HAD said we should cut our fingers off if we
touched it.

And then we sat down on the floor, which is dirty with the nice
clean dirt that is more than half chopped hay, and those there was
room for hung their legs down out of the top door, and we looked
down at the farmyard, which is very slushy when you get down into
it, but most interesting.

Then Alice said--

'Now we're all here, and the boys are tired enough to sit still for
a minute, I want to have a council.'

We said what about? And she said, 'I'll tell you.' H. O., don't
wriggle so; sit on my frock if the straws tickle your legs.'

You see he wears socks, and so he can never be quite as comfortable
as anyone else.

'Promise not to laugh' Alice said, getting very red, and looking at
Dora, who got red too.

We did, and then she said:

'Dora and I have talked this over, and Daisy too, and we have
written it down because it is easier than saying it. Shall I read
it? or will you, Dora?'

Dora said it didn't matter; Alice might. So Alice read it, and
though she gabbled a bit we all heard it. I copied it afterwards.
This is what she read:


'I, Dora Bastable, and Alice Bastable, my sister, being of sound
mind and body, when we were shut up with bread and water on that
jungle day, we thought a great deal about our naughty sins, and we
made our minds up to be good for ever after. And we talked to
Daisy about it, and she had an idea. So we want to start a society
for being good in. It is Daisy's idea, but we think so too.'

'You know,' Dora interrupted, 'when people want to do good things
they always make a society. There are thousands--there's the
Missionary Society.'

'Yes,' Alice said, 'and the Society for the Prevention of something
or other, and the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society, and the

'What's S.P.G.?' Oswald asked.

'Society for the Propagation of the Jews, of course,' said Noel,
who cannot always spell.

'No, it isn't; but do let me go on.'

Alice did go on.

'We propose to get up a society, with a chairman and a treasurer
and secretary, and keep a journal-book saying what we've done. If
that doesn't make us good it won't be my fault.

'The aim of the society is nobleness and goodness, and great and
unselfish deeds. We wish not to be such a nuisance to grown-up
people and to perform prodigies of real goodness. We wish to
spread our wings'--here Alice read very fast. She told me
afterwards Daisy had helped her with that part, and she thought
when she came to the wings they sounded rather silly--'to spread
our wings and rise above the kind of interesting things that you
ought not to do, but to do kindnesses to all, however low and

Denny was listening carefully. Now he nodded three or four times.

'Little words of kindness' (he said),
'Little deeds of love,
Make this earth an eagle
Like the one above.'

This did not sound right, but we let it pass, because an eagle does
have wings, and we wanted to hear the rest of what the girls had
written. But there was no rest.

'That's all,' said Alice, and Daisy said--
'Don't you think it's a good idea?'

'That depends,' Oswald answered, 'who is president and what you
mean by being good.'

Oswald did not care very much for the idea himself, because being
good is not the sort of thing he thinks it is proper to talk about,
especially before strangers. But the girls and Denny seemed to
like it, so Oswald did not say exactly what he thought, especially
as it was Daisy's idea. This was true politeness.

'I think it would be nice,' Noel said, 'if we made it a sort of
play. Let's do the Pilgrim's Progress.'

We talked about that for some time, but it did not come to
anything, because we all wanted to be Mr Greatheart, except H. O.,
who wanted to be the lions, and you could not have lions in a
Society for Goodness.

Dicky said he did not wish to play if it meant reading books about
children who die; he really felt just as Oswald did about it, he
told me afterwards. But the girls were looking as if they were in
Sunday school, and we did not wish to be unkind.

At last Oswald said, 'Well, let's draw up the rules of the society,
and choose the president and settle the name.'

Dora said Oswald should be president, and he modestly consented.
She was secretary, and Denny treasurer if we ever had any money.

Making the rules took us all the afternoon. They were these:


1. Every member is to be as good as possible.

2. There is to be no more jaw than necessary about being good.
(Oswald and Dicky put that rule in.)

3. No day must pass without our doing some kind action to a
suffering fellow-creature.

4. We are to meet every day, or as often as we like.

5. We are to do good to people we don't like as often as we can.

6. No one is to leave the Society without the consent of all the
rest of us.

7. The Society is to be kept a profound secret from all the world
except us.

8. The name of our Society is--

And when we got as far as that we all began to talk at once. Dora
wanted it called the Society for Humane Improvement; Denny said the
Society for Reformed Outcast Children; but Dicky said, No, we
really were not so bad as all that.

Then H. O. said, 'Call it the Good Society.'

'Or the Society for Being Good In,' said Daisy.

'Or the Society of Goods,' said Noel.

'That's priggish,' said Oswald; 'besides, we don't know whether we
shall be so very.'

'You see,' Alice explained, 'we only said if we COULD we would be

'Well, then,' Dicky said, getting up and beginning to dust the
chopped hay off himself, 'call it the Society of the Wouldbegoods
and have done with it.'

Oswald thinks Dicky was getting sick of it and wanted to make
himself a little disagreeable. If so, he was doomed to
disappointment. For everyone else clapped hands and called out,
'That's the very thing!' Then the girls went off to write out the
rules, and took H. O. with them, and Noel went to write some poetry
to put in the minute book. That's what you call the book that a
society's secretary writes what it does in. Denny went with him to
help. He knows a lot of poetry. I think he went to a lady's
school where they taught nothing but that. He was rather shy of
us, but he took to Noel. I can't think why. Dicky and Oswald
walked round the garden and told each other what they thought of
the new society.

'I'm not sure we oughtn't to have put our foot down at the
beginning,' Dicky said. 'I don't see much in it, anyhow.'

'It pleases the girls,' Oswald said, for he is a kind brother.

'But we're not going to stand jaw, and "words in season", and
"loving sisterly warnings". I tell you what it is, Oswald, we'll
have to run this thing our way, or it'll be jolly beastly for

Oswald saw this plainly.

'We must do something,' Dicky said; it's very very hard, though.
Still, there must be SOME interesting things that are not wrong.'

'I suppose so,' Oswald said, 'but being good is so much like being
a muff, generally. Anyhow I'm not going to smooth the pillows of
the sick, or read to the aged poor, or any rot out of Ministering

'No more am I,' Dicky said. He was chewing a straw like the head
had in its mouth, 'but I suppose we must play the game fair. Let's
begin by looking out for something useful to do--something like
mending things or cleaning them, not just showing off.'

'The boys in books chop kindling wood and save their pennies to buy
tea and tracts.'

'Little beasts!' said Dick. 'I say, let's talk about something
else.' And Oswald was glad to, for he was beginning to feel jolly

We were all rather quiet at tea, and afterwards Oswald played
draughts with Daisy and the others yawned. I don't know when we've
had such a gloomy evening. And everyone was horribly polite, and
said 'Please' and 'Thank you' far more than requisite.

Albert's uncle came home after tea. He was jolly, and told us
stories, but he noticed us being a little dull, and asked what
blight had fallen on our young lives. Oswald could have answered
and said, 'It is the Society of the Wouldbegoods that is the
blight,' but of course he didn't and Albert's uncle said no more,
but he went up and kissed the girls when they were in bed, and
asked them if there was anything wrong. And they told him no, on
their honour.

The next morning Oswald awoke early. The refreshing beams of the
morning sun shone on his narrow white bed and on the sleeping forms
of his dear little brothers and Denny, who had got the pillow on
top of his head and was snoring like a kettle when it sings.
Oswald could not remember at first what was the matter with him,
and then he remembered the Wouldbegoods, and wished he hadn't. He
felt at first as if there was nothing you could do, and even
hesitated to buzz a pillow at Denny's head. But he soon saw that
this could not be. So he chucked his boot and caught Denny right
in the waistcoat part, and thus the day began more brightly than he
had expected.

Oswald had not done anything out of the way good the night before,
except that when no one was looking he polished the brass
candlestick in the girls' bedroom with one of his socks. And he
might just as well have let it alone, for the servants cleaned it
again with the other things in the morning, and he could never find
the sock afterwards. There were two servants. One of them had to
be called Mrs Pettigrew instead of Jane and Eliza like others. She
was cook and managed things.

After breakfast Albert's uncle said--

'I now seek the retirement of my study. At your peril violate my
privacy before 1.30 sharp. Nothing short of bloodshed will warrant
the intrusion, and nothing short of man--or rather boy--slaughter
shall avenge it.'

So we knew he wanted to be quiet, and the girls decided that we
ought to play out of doors so as not to disturb him; we should have
played out of doors anyhow on a jolly fine day like that.

But as we were going out Dicky said to Oswald--

'I say, come along here a minute, will you?'

So Oswald came along, and Dicky took him into the other parlour and
shut the door, and Oswald said--

'Well, spit it out: what is it?' He knows that is vulgar, and he
would not have said it to anyone but his own brother. Dicky said--

'It's a pretty fair nuisance. I told you how it would be.'
And Oswald was patient with him, and said--

'What is? Don't be all day about it.'

Dicky fidgeted about a bit, and then he said--

'Well, I did as I said. I looked about for something useful to do.
And you know that dairy window that wouldn't open--only a little
bit like that? Well, I mended the catch with wire and whip cord
and it opened wide.'

'And I suppose they didn't want it mended,' said Oswald. He knew
but too well that grown-up people sometimes like to keep things far
different from what we would, and you catch it if you try to do

'I shouldn't have minded THAT,' Dicky said, 'because I could easily
have taken it all off again if they'd only said so. But the
sillies went and propped up a milk-pan against the window. They
never took the trouble to notice I had mended it. So the wretched
thing pushed the window open all by itself directly they propped it
up, and it tumbled through into the moat, and they are most awfully
waxy. All the men are out in the fields and they haven't any spare
milk-pans. If I were a farmer, I must say I wouldn't stick at an
extra milk-pan or two. Accidents must happen sometimes. I call it

Dicky spoke in savage tones. But Oswald was not so unhappy, first
because it wasn't his fault, and next because he is a far-seeing

'Never mind,' he said kindly. 'Keep your tail up. We'll get the
beastly milk-pan out all right. Come on.' He rushed hastily to
the garden and gave a low, signifying whistle, which the others
know well enough to mean something extra being up.

And when they were all gathered round him he spoke.

'Fellow countrymen,' he said, 'we're going to have a rousing good

'It's nothing naughty, is it,' Daisy asked, 'like the last time you
had that was rousingly good?'

Alice said 'Shish', and Oswald pretended not to hear.

'A precious treasure,' he said, 'has inadvertently been laid low in
the moat by one of us.'

'The rotten thing tumbled in by itself,' Dicky said.

Oswald waved his hand and said, 'Anyhow, it's there. It's our duty
to restore it to its sorrowing owners. I say, look here--we're
going to drag the moat.'

Everyone brightened up at this. It was our duty and it was
interesting too. This is very uncommon.

So we went out to where the orchard is, at the other side of the
moat. There were gooseberries and things on the bushes, but we did
not take any till we had asked if we might. Alice went and asked.
Mrs Pettigrew said, 'Law! I suppose so; you'd eat 'em anyhow,
leave or no leave.'

She little knows the honourable nature of the house of Bastable.
But she has much to learn.

The orchard slopes gently down to the dark waters of the moat. We
sat there in the sun and talked about dragging the moat, till Denny
said, 'How DO you drag moats?'

And we were speechless, because, though we had read many times
about a moat being dragged for missing heirs and lost wills, we
really had never thought about exactly how it was done.

'Grappling-irons are right, I believe,' Denny said, 'but I don't
suppose they'd have any at the farm.'

And we asked, and found they had never even heard of them. I think
myself he meant some other word, but he was quite positive.

So then we got a sheet off Oswald's bed, and we all took our shoes
and stockings off, and we tried to see if the sheet would drag the
bottom of the moat, which is shallow at that end. But it would
keep floating on the top of the water, and when we tried sewing
stones into one end of it, it stuck on something in the bottom, and
when we got it up it was torn. We were very sorry, and the sheet
was in an awful mess; but the girls said they were sure they could
wash it in the basin in their room, and we thought as we had torn
it anyway, we might as well go on. That washing never came off.

'No human being,' Noel said, 'knows half the treasures hidden in
this dark tarn.'

And we decided we would drag a bit more at that end, and work
gradually round to under the dairy window where the milk-pan was.
We could not see that part very well, because of the bushes that
grow between the cracks of the stones where the house goes down
into the moat. And opposite the dairy window the barn goes
straight down into the moat too. It is like pictures of Venice;
but you cannot get opposite the dairy window anyhow.

We got the sheet down again when we had tied the torn parts
together in a bunch with string, and Oswald was just saying--

'Now then, my hearties, pull together, pull with a will! One, two,
three,' when suddenly Dora dropped her bit of the sheet with a
piercing shriek and cried out--

'Oh! it's all wormy at the bottom. I felt them wriggle.' And she
was out of the water almost before the words were out of her mouth.

The other girls all scuttled out too, and they let the sheet go in
such a hurry that we had no time to steady ourselves, and one of us
went right in, and the rest got wet up to our waistbands. The one
who went right in was only H. O.; but Dora made an awful fuss and
said it was our fault. We told her what we thought, and it ended
in the girls going in with H. O. to change his things. We had some
more gooseberries while they were gone. Dora was in an awful wax
when she went away, but she is not of a sullen disposition though
sometimes hasty, and when they all came back we saw it was all
right, so we said--

'What shall we do now?'

Alice said, 'I don't think we need drag any more. It is wormy. I
felt it when Dora did. And besides, the milk-pan is sticking a bit
of itself out of the water. I saw it through the dairy window.'

'Couldn't we get it up with fish-hooks?' Noel said. But Alice
explained that the dairy was now locked up and the key taken out.
So then Oswald said--

'Look here, we'll make a raft. We should have to do it some time,
and we might as well do it now. I saw an old door in that corner
stable that they don't use. You know. The one where they chop the

We got the door.

We had never made a raft, any of us, but the way to make rafts is
better described in books, so we knew what to do.

We found some nice little tubs stuck up on the fence of the farm
garden, and nobody seemed to want them for anything just then, so
we took them. Denny had a box of tools someone had given him for
his last birthday; they were rather rotten little things, but the
gimlet worked all right, so we managed to make holes in the edges
of the tubs and fasten them with string under the four corners of
the old door. This took us a long time. Albert's uncle asked us
at dinner what we had been playing at, and we said it was a secret,
and it was nothing wrong. You see we wished to atone for Dicky's
mistake before anything more was said. The house has no windows in
the side that faces the orchard.

The rays of the afternoon sun were beaming along the orchard grass
when at last we launched the raft. She floated out beyond reach
with the last shove of the launching. But Oswald waded out and
towed her back; he is not afraid of worms. Yet if he had known of
the other things that were in the bottom of that moat he would have
kept his boots on. So would the others, especially Dora, as you
will see.

At last the gallant craft rode upon the waves. We manned her,
though not up to our full strength, because if more than four got
on the water came up too near our knees, and we feared she might
founder if over-manned.

Daisy and Denny did not want to go on the raft, white mice that
they were, so that was all right. And as H. O. had been wet
through once he was not very keen. Alice promised Noel her best
paint-brush if he'd give up and not go, because we knew well that
the voyage was fraught with deep dangers, though the exact danger
that lay in wait for us under the dairy window we never even
thought of.

So we four elder ones got on the raft very carefully; and even
then, every time we moved the water swished up over the raft and
hid our feet. But I must say it was a jolly decent raft.

Dicky was captain, because it was his adventure. We had hop-poles
from the hop-garden beyond the orchard to punt with. We made the
girls stand together in the middle and hold on to each other to
keep steady. Then we christened our gallant vessel. We called it
the Richard, after Dicky, and also after the splendid admiral who
used to eat wine-glasses and died after the Battle of the Revenge
in Tennyson's poetry.

Then those on shore waved a fond adieu as well as they could with
the dampness of their handkerchiefs, which we had had to use to dry
our legs and feet when we put on our stockings for dinner, and
slowly and stately the good ship moved away from shore, riding on
the waves as though they were her native element.

We kept her going with the hop-poles, and we kept her steady in the
same way, but we could not always keep her steady enough, and we
could not always keep her in the wind's eye. That is to say, she
went where we did not want, and once she bumped her corner against
the barn wall, and all the crew had to sit down suddenly to avoid
falling overboard into a watery grave. Of course then the waves
swept her decks, and when we got up again we said that we should
have to change completely before tea.

But we pressed on undaunted, and at last our saucy craft came into
port, under the dairy window and there was the milk-pan, for whose
sake we had endured such hardships and privations, standing up on
its edge quite quietly.

The girls did not wait for orders from the captain, as they ought
to have done; but they cried out, 'Oh, here it is!' and then both
reached out to get it. Anyone who has pursued a naval career will
see that of course the raft capsized. For a moment it felt like
standing on the roof of the house, and the next moment the ship
stood up on end and shot the whole crew into the dark waters.

We boys can swim all right. Oswald has swum three times across the
Ladywell Swimming Baths at the shallow end, and Dicky is nearly as
good; but just then we did not think of this; though, of course, if
the water had been deep we should have.

As soon as Oswald could get the muddy water out of his eyes he
opened them on a horrid scene.

Dicky was standing up to his shoulders in the inky waters; the raft
had righted itself, and was drifting gently away towards the front
of the house, where the bridge is, and Dora and Alice were rising
from the deep, with their hair all plastered over their faces--like
Venus in the Latin verses.

There was a great noise of splashing. And besides that a feminine
voice, looking out of the dairy window and screaming--

'Lord love the children!'

It was Mrs Pettigrew. She disappeared at once, and we were sorry
we were in such a situation that she would be able to get at
Albert's uncle before we could. Afterwards we were not so sorry.

Before a word could be spoken about our desperate position Dora
staggered a little in the water, and suddenly shrieked, 'Oh, my
foot! oh, it's a shark! I know it is--or a crocodile!'

The others on the bank could hear her shrieking, but they could not
see us properly; they did not know what was happening. Noel told
me afterwards he never could care for that paint-brush.

Of course we knew it could not be a shark, but I thought of pike,
which are large and very angry always, and I caught hold of Dora.
She screamed without stopping. I shoved her along to where there
was a ledge of brickwork, and shoved her up, till she could sit on
it, then she got her foot out of the water, still screaming.

It was indeed terrible. The thing she thought was a shark came up
with her foot, and it was a horrid, jagged, old meat-tin, and she
had put her foot right into it. Oswald got it off, and directly he
did so blood began to pour from the wounds. The tin edges had cut
it in several spots. It was very pale blood, because her foot was
wet, of course.

She stopped screaming, and turned green, and I thought she was
going to faint, like Daisy did on the jungle day.

Oswald held her up as well as he could, but it really was one of
the least agreeable moments in his life. For the raft was gone,
and she couldn't have waded back anyway, and we didn't know how
deep the moat might be in other places.

But Mrs Pettigrew had not been idle. She is not a bad sort really.

Just as Oswald was wondering whether he could swim after the raft
and get it back, a boat's nose shot out from under a dark archway
a little further up under the house. It was the boathouse, and
Albert's uncle had got the punt and took us back in it. When we
had regained the dark arch where the boat lives we had to go up the
cellar stairs. Dora had to be carried.

There was but little said to us that day. We were sent to
bed--those who had not been on the raft the same as the others, for
they owned up all right, and Albert's uncle is the soul of justice.

Next day but one was Saturday. Father gave us a talking to--with
other things.

The worst was when Dora couldn't get her shoe on, so they sent for
the doctor, and Dora had to lie down for ever so long. It was
indeed poor luck.

When the doctor had gone Alice said to me--

'It IS hard lines, but Dora's very jolly about it. Daisy's been
telling her about how we should all go to her with our little joys
and sorrows and things, and about the sweet influence from a sick
bed that can be felt all over the house, like in What Katy Did, and
Dora said she hoped she might prove a blessing to us all while
she's laid up.'

Oswald said he hoped so, but he was not pleased. Because this sort
of jaw was exactly the sort of thing he and Dicky didn't want to
have happen.

The thing we got it hottest for was those little tubs off the
garden railings. They turned out to be butter-tubs that had been
put out there 'to sweeten'.

But as Denny said, 'After the mud in that moat not all the perfumes
of somewhere or other could make them fit to use for butter again.'

I own this was rather a bad business. Yet we did not do it to
please ourselves, but because it was our duty. But that made no
difference to our punishment when Father came down. I have known
this mistake occur before.


There were soldiers riding down the road, on horses two and two.
That is the horses were two and two, and the men not. Because each
man was riding one horse and leading another. To exercise them.
They came from Chatham Barracks. We all drew up in a line outside
the churchyard wall, and saluted as they went by, though we had not
read Toady Lion then. We have since. It is the only decent book
I have ever read written by Toady Lion's author. The others are
mere piffle. But many people like them. In Sir Toady Lion the
officer salutes the child.

There was only a lieutenant with those soldiers, and he did not
salute me. He kissed his hand to the girls; and a lot of the
soldiers behind kissed theirs too. We waved ours back.

Next day we made a Union Jack out of pocket-handkerchiefs and part
of a red flannel petticoat of the White Mouse's, which she did not
want just then, and some blue ribbon we got at the village shop.

Then we watched for the soldiers, and after three days they went by
again, by twos and twos as before. It was A1.

We waved our flag, and we shouted. We gave them three cheers.
Oswald can shout loudest. So as soon as the first man was level
with us (not the advance guard, but the first of the battery)--he

'Three cheers for the Queen and the British Army!' And then we
waved the flag, and bellowed. Oswald stood on the wall to bellow
better, and Denny waved the flag because he was a visitor, and so
politeness made us let him enjoy the fat of whatever there was

The soldiers did not cheer that day; they only grinned and kissed
their hands.

The next day we all got up as much like soldiers as we could. H.
O. and Noel had tin swords, and we asked Albert's uncle to let us
wear some of the real arms that are on the wall in the dining-room.

And he said, 'Yes', if we would clean them up afterwards. But we
jolly well cleaned them up first with Brooke's soap and brick dust
and vinegar, and the knife polish (invented by the great and
immortal Duke of Wellington in his spare time when he was not
conquering Napoleon. Three cheers for our Iron Duke!), and with
emery paper and wash leather and whitening. Oswald wore a cavalry
sabre in its sheath. Alice and the Mouse had pistols in their
belts, large old flint-locks, with bits of red flannel behind the
flints. Denny had a naval cutlass, a very beautiful blade, and old
enough to have been at Trafalgar. I hope it was. The others had
French sword-bayonets that were used in the Franco-German war.
They are very bright when you get them bright, but the sheaths are
hard to polish. Each sword-bayonet has the name on the blade of
the warrior who once wielded it. I wonder where they are now.
Perhaps some of them died in the war. Poor chaps! But it is a
very long time ago.

I should like to be a soldier. It is better than going to the best
schools, and to Oxford afterwards, even if it is Balliol you go to.
Oswald wanted to go to South Africa for a bugler, but father would
not let him. And it is true that Oswald does not yet know how to
bugle, though he can play the infantry 'advance', and the 'charge'
and the 'halt' on a penny whistle. Alice taught them to him with
the piano, out of the red book Father's cousin had when he was in
the Fighting Fifth. Oswald cannot play the 'retire', and he would
scorn to do so. But I suppose a bugler has to play what he is
told, no matter how galling to the young boy's proud spirit.

The next day, being thoroughly armed, we put on everything red,
white and blue that we could think of-- night-shirts are good for
white, and you don't know what you can do with red socks and blue
jerseys till you try--and we waited by the churchyard wall for the
soldiers. When the advance guard (or whatever you call it of
artillery--it's that for infantry, I know) came by, we got ready,
and when the first man of the first battery was level with us
Oswald played on his penny whistle the 'advance' and the
'charge'--and then shouted--

'Three cheers for the Queen and the British Army!' This time they
had the guns with them. And every man of the battery cheered too.
It was glorious. It made you tremble all over. The girls said it
made them want to cry--but no boy would own to this, even if it
were true. It is babyish to cry. But it was glorious, and Oswald
felt differently to what he ever did before.

Then suddenly the officer in front said, 'Battery! Halt!' and all
the soldiers pulled their horses up, and the great guns stopped
too. Then the officer said, 'Sit at ease,' and something else, and
the sergeant repeated it, and some of the men got off their horses
and lit their pipes, and some sat down on the grass edge of the
road, holding their horses' bridles.

We could see all the arms and accoutrements as plain as plain.

Then the officer came up to us. We were all standing on the wall
that day, except Dora, who had to sit, because her foot was bad,
but we let her have the three-edged rapier to wear, and the
blunderbuss to hold as well--it has a brass mouth and is like in Mr
Caldecott's pictures.

He was a beautiful man the officer. Like a Viking. Very tall and
fair, with moustaches very long, and bright blue eyes. He said--

'Good morning.'

So did we.

Then he said--

'You seem to be a military lot.'

We said we wished we were.

'And patriotic,' said he.

Alice said she should jolly well think so.

Then he said he had noticed us there for several days, and he had
halted the battery because he thought we might like to look at the

Alas! there are but too few grown-up people so far- seeing and
thoughtful as this brave and distinguished officer.

We said, 'Oh, yes', and then we got off the wall, and that good and
noble man showed us the string that moves the detonator and the
breech-block (when you take it out and carry it away the gun is in
vain to the enemy, even if he takes it); and he let us look down
the gun to see the rifling, all clean and shiny--and he showed us
the ammunition boxes, but there was nothing in them. He also told
us how the gun was unlimbered (this means separating the gun from
the ammunition carriage), and how quick it could be done--but he
did not make the men do this then, because they were resting.
There were six guns. Each had painted on the carriage, in white
letters, 15 Pr., which the captain told us meant fifteen-pounder.

'I should have thought the gun weighed more than fifteen pounds,'
Dora said. 'It would if it was beef, but I suppose wood and gun
are lighter.'

And the officer explained to her very kindly and patiently that 15
Pr. meant the gun could throw a SHELL weighing fifteen pounds.

When we had told him how jolly it was to see the soldiers go by so
often, he said--

'You won't see us many more times. We're ordered to the front; and
we sail on Tuesday week; and the guns will be painted mud-colour,
and the men will wear mud-colour too, and so shall I.'

The men looked very nice, though they were not wearing their
busbies, but only Tommy caps, put on all sorts of ways.

We were very sorry they were going, but Oswald, as well as others,
looked with envy on those who would soon be allowed--being grown
up, and no nonsense about your education--to go and fight for their
Queen and country.

Then suddenly Alice whispered to Oswald, and he said--

'All right; but tell him yourself.'

So Alice said to the captain--

'Will you stop next time you pass?'

He said, 'I'm afraid I can't promise that.'

Alice said, 'You might; there's a particular reason.'

He said, 'What?' which was a natural remark; not rude, as it is
with children. Alice said--

'We want to give the soldiers a keepsake and will write to ask my
father. He is very well off just now. Look here--if we're not on
the wall when you come by, don't stop; but if we are, please,

The officer pulled his moustache and looked as if he did not know;
but at last he said 'Yes', and we were very glad, though but Alice
and Oswald knew the dark but pleasant scheme at present fermenting
in their youthful nuts.

The captain talked a lot to us. At last Noel said--

'I think you are like Diarmid of the Golden Collar. But I should
like to see your sword out, and shining in the sun like burnished

The captain laughed and grasped the hilt of his good blade. But
Oswald said hurriedly--

'Don't. Not yet. We shan't ever have a chance like this. If
you'd only show us the pursuing practice! Albert's uncle knows it;
but he only does it on an armchair, because he hasn't a horse.'

And that brave and swagger captain did really do it. He rode his
horse right into our gate when we opened it, and showed us all the
cuts, thrusts, and guards. There are four of each kind. It was
splendid. The morning sun shone on his flashing blade, and his
good steed stood with all its legs far apart and stiff on the lawn.

Then we opened the paddock gate, and he did it again, while the
horse galloped as if upon the bloody battlefield among the fierce
foes of his native land, and this was far more ripping still.

Then we thanked him very much, and he went away, taking his men
with him. And the guns of course.

Then we wrote to my father, and he said 'Yes', as we knew he would,
and next time the soldiers came by --but they had no guns this
time, only the captive Arabs of the desert--we had the keepsakes
ready in a wheelbarrow, and we were on the churchyard wall.

And the bold captain called an immediate halt.

Then the girls had the splendid honour and pleasure of giving a
pipe and four whole ounces of tobacco to each soldier.

Then we shook hands with the captain, and the sergeant and the
corporals, and the girls kissed the captain--I can't think why
girls will kiss everybody-- and we all cheered for the Queen.
It was grand. And I wish my father had been there to see how much
you can do with L12 if you order the things from the Stores.

We have never seen those brave soldiers again.

I have told you all this to show you how we got so keen about
soldiers, and why we sought to aid and abet the poor widow at the
white cottage in her desolate and oppressedness.

Her name was Simpkins, and her cottage was just beyond the
churchyard, on the other side from our house. On the different
military occasions which I have remarked upon this widow woman
stood at her garden gate and looked on. And after the cheering she
rubbed her eyes with her apron. Alice noticed this slight but
signifying action.

We feel quite sure Mrs Simpkins liked soldiers, and so we felt
friendly to her. But when we tried to talk to her she would not.
She told us to go along with us, do, and not bother her. And
Oswald, with his usual delicacy and good breeding, made the others
do as she said.

But we were not to be thus repulsed with impunity. We made
complete but cautious inquiries, and found out that the reason she
cried when she saw soldiers was that she had only one son, a boy.
He was twenty-two, and he had gone to the War last April. So that
she thought of him when she saw the soldiers, and that was why she
cried. Because when your son is at the wars you always think he is
being killed. I don't know why. A great many of them are not. If
I had a son at the wars I should never think he was dead till I
heard he was, and perhaps not then, considering everything. After
we had found this out we held a council.

Dora said, 'We must do something for the soldier's widowed mother.'

We all agreed, but added 'What?'

Alice said, 'The gift of money might be deemed an insult by that
proud, patriotic spirit. Besides, we haven't more than
eighteenpence among us.'

We had put what we had to father's L12 to buy the baccy and pipes.

The Mouse then said, 'Couldn't we make her a flannel petticoat and
leave it without a word upon her doorstep?'

But everyone said, 'Flannel petticoats in this weather?' so that
was no go.

Noel said he would write her a poem, but Oswald had a deep, inward
feeling that Mrs Simpkins would not understand poetry. Many people
do not.

H. O. said, 'Why not sing "Rule Britannia" under her window after
she had gone to bed, like waits,' but no one else thought so.

Denny thought we might get up a subscription for her among the
wealthy and affluent, but we said again that we knew money would be
no balm to the haughty mother of a brave British soldier.

'What we want,' Alice said, 'is something that will be a good deal
of trouble to us and some good to her.'

'A little help is worth a deal of poetry,' said Denny.

I should not have said that myself. Noel did look sick.

' What DOES she do that we can help in?' Dora asked. 'Besides, she
won't let us help.'

H. O. said, 'She does nothing but work in the garden. At least if
she does anything inside you can't see it, because she keeps the
door shut.'

Then at once we saw. And we agreed to get up the very next day,
ere yet the rosy dawn had flushed the east, and have a go at Mrs
Simpkins's garden.

We got up. We really did. But too often when you mean to,
overnight, it seems so silly to do it when you come to waking in
the dewy morn. We crept downstairs with our boots in our hands.
Denny is rather unlucky, though a most careful boy. It was he who
dropped his boot, and it went blundering down the stairs, echoing
like thunderbolts, and waking up Albert's uncle. But when we
explained to him that we were going to do some gardening he let us,
and went back to bed.

Everything is very pretty and different in the early morning,
before people are up. I have been told this is because the shadows
go a different way from what they do in the awake part of the day.
But I don't know. Noel says the fairies have just finished tidying
up then. Anyhow it all feels quite otherwise.

We put on our boots in the porch, and we got our gardening tools
and we went down to the white cottage. It is a nice cottage, with
a thatched roof, like in the drawing copies you get at girls'
schools, and you do the thatch--if you can--with a B.B. pencil. If
you cannot, you just leave it. It looks just as well, somehow,
when it is mounted and framed.

We looked at the garden. It was very neat. Only one patch was
coming up thick with weeds. I could see groundsel and chickweed,
and others that I did not know. We set to work with a will. We
used all our tools--spades, forks, hoes, and rakes--and Dora worked
with the trowel, sitting down, because her foot was hurt. We
cleared the weedy patch beautifully, scraping off all the nasty
weeds and leaving the nice clean brown dirt. We worked as hard as
ever we could. And we were happy, because it was unselfish toil,
and no one thought then of putting it in the Book of Golden Deeds,
where we had agreed to write down our virtuous actions and the good
doings of each other, when we happen to notice them.

We had just done, and we were looking at the beautiful production
of our honest labour, when the cottage door burst open, and the
soldier's widowed mother came out like a wild tornado, and her eyes
looked like upas trees--death to the beholder.

'You wicked, meddlesome, nasty children!' she said, ain't you got
enough of your own good ground to runch up and spoil, but you must
come into MY little lot?'

Some of us were deeply alarmed, but we stood firm.

'We have only been weeding your garden,' Dora said; 'we wanted to
do something to help you.'

'Dratted little busybodies,' she said. It was indeed hard, but
everyone in Kent says 'dratted' when they are cross. 'It's my
turnips,' she went on, 'you've hoed up, and my cabbages. My
turnips that my boy sowed afore he went. There, get along with you
do, afore I come at you with my broom-handle.'

She did come at us with her broom-handle as she spoke, and even the
boldest turned and fled. Oswald was even the boldest. 'They
looked like weeds right enough,' he said.

And Dicky said, 'It all comes of trying to do golden deeds.' This
was when we were out in the road.

As we went along, in a silence full of gloomy remorse, we met the
postman. He said--

'Here's the letters for the Moat,' and passed on hastily. He was
a bit late.

When we came to look through the letters, which were nearly all for
Albert's uncle, we found there was a postcard that had got stuck in
a magazine wrapper. Alice pulled it out. It was addressed to Mrs
Simpkins. We honourably only looked at the address, although it is
allowed by the rules of honourableness to read postcards that come
to your house if you like, even if they are not for you.

After a heated discussion, Alice and Oswald said they were not
afraid, whoever was, and they retraced their steps, Alice holding
the postcard right way up, so that we should not look at the
lettery part of it, but only the address.

With quickly-beating heart, but outwardly unmoved, they walked up
to the white cottage door.

It opened with a bang when we knocked.

'Well?' Mrs Simpkins said, and I think she said it what people in
books call 'sourly'.

Oswald said, 'We are very, very sorry we spoiled your turnips, and
we will ask my father to try and make it up to you some other way.'

She muttered something about not wanting to be beholden to anybody.

'We came back,' Oswald went on, with his always unruffled
politeness, 'because the postman gave us a postcard in mistake with
our letters, and it is addressed to you.'

'We haven't read it,' Alice said quickly. I think she needn't have
said that. Of course we hadn't. But perhaps girls know better
than we do what women are likely to think you capable of.

The soldier's mother took the postcard (she snatched it really, but
'took' is a kinder word, considering everything) and she looked at
the address a long time. Then she turned it over and read what was
on the back. Then she drew her breath in as far as it would go,
and caught hold of the door-post. Her face got awful. It was like
the wax face of a dead king I saw once at Madame Tussaud's.

Alice understood. She caught hold of the soldier's mother's hand
and said--

'Oh, NO--it's NOT your boy Bill!'

And the woman said nothing, but shoved the postcard into Alice's
hand, and we both read it--and it WAS her boy Bill.

Alice gave her back the card. She had held on to the woman's hand
all the time, and now she squeezed the hand, and held it against
her face. But she could not say a word because she was crying so.
The soldier's mother took the card again and she pushed Alice away,
but it was not an unkind push, and she went in and shut the door;
and as Alice and Oswald went down the road Oswald looked back, and
one of the windows of the cottage had a white blind. Afterwards
the other windows had too. There were no blinds really to the
cottage. It was aprons and things she had pinned up.

Alice cried most of the morning, and so did the other girls. We
wanted to do something for the soldier's mother, but you can do
nothing when people's sons are shot. It is the most dreadful thing
to want to do something for people who are unhappy, and not to know
what to do.

It was Noel who thought of what we COIULD do at last.

He said, 'I suppose they don't put up tombstones to soldiers when
they die in war. But there--I mean Oswald said, 'Of course not.'

Noel said, 'I daresay you'll think it's silly, but I don't care.
Don't you think she'd like it, if we put one up to HIM? Not in the
churchyard, of course, because we shouldn't be let, but in our
garden, just where it joins on to the churchyard?'

And we all thought it was a first-rate idea.

This is what we meant to put on the tombstone:

'Here lies


Who died fighting for Queen

and Country.'

'A faithful son,
A son so dear,
A soldier brave
Lies buried here.'

Then we remembered that poor brave Bill was really buried far away
in the Southern hemisphere, if at all. So we altered it to--

'A soldier brave
We weep for here.'

Then we looked out a nice flagstone in the stable-yard, and we got
a cold chisel out of the Dentist's toolbox, and began.

But stone-cutting is difficult and dangerous work.

Oswald went at it a bit, but he chipped his thumb, and it bled so
he had to chuck it. Then Dicky tried, and then Denny, but Dicky
hammered his finger, and Denny took all day over every stroke, so
that by tea-time we had only done the H, and about half the E--and
the E was awfully crooked. Oswald chipped his thumb over the H.

We looked at it the next morning, and even the most sanguinary of
us saw that it was a hopeless task.

Then Denny said, 'Why not wood and paint?' and he showed us how.
We got a board and two stumps from the carpenter's in the village,
and we painted it all white, and when that was dry Denny did the
words on it.

It was something like this:





We could not get in what we meant to at first, so we had to give up
the poetry.

We fixed it up when it was dry. We had to dig jolly deep to get
the posts to stand up, but the gardener helped us.

Then the girls made wreaths of white flowers, roses and Canterbury
bells, and lilies and pinks, and sweet-peas and daisies, and put
them over the posts. And I think if Bill Simpkins had known how
sorry we were, he would have been glad. Oswald only hopes if he
falls on the wild battlefield, which is his highest ambition, that
somebody will be as sorry about him as he was about Bill, that's

When all was done, and what flowers there were over from the
wreaths scattered under the tombstone between the posts, we wrote
a letter to Mrs Simpkins, and said--


We are very, very sorry about the turnips and things, and we beg
your pardon humbly. We have put up a tombstone to your brave son.

And we signed our names. Alice took the letter.

The soldier's mother read it, and said something about our oughting
to know better than to make fun of people's troubles with our
tombstones and tomfoolery.

Alice told me she could not help crying.

She said--

'It's not! it's NOT! Dear, DEAR Mrs Simpkins, do come with me and
see! You don't know how sorry we are about Bill. Do come and see.

We can go through the churchyard, and the others have all gone in,
so as to leave it quiet for you. Do come.'

And Mrs Simpkins did. And when she read what we had put up, and
Alice told her the verse we had not had room for, she leant against
the wall by the grave-- I mean the tombstone--and Alice hugged her,
and they both cried bitterly. The poor soldier's mother was very,
very pleased, and she forgave us about the turnips, and we were
friends after that, but she always liked Alice the best. A great
many people do, somehow.

After that we used to put fresh flowers every day on Bill's
tombstone, and I do believe his mother was pleased, though she got
us to move it away from the churchyard edge and put it in a corner
of our garden under a laburnum, where people could not see it from
the church. But you could from the road, though I think she
thought you couldn't. She came every day to look at the new
wreaths. When the white flowers gave out we put coloured, and she
liked it just as well.

About a fortnight after the erecting of the tombstone the girls
were putting fresh wreaths on it when a soldier in a red coat came
down the road, and he stopped and looked at us. He walked with a
stick, and he had a bundle in a blue cotton handkerchief, and one
arm in a sling.

And he looked again, and he came nearer, and he leaned on the wall,
so that he could read the black printing on the white paint.

And he grinned all over his face, and he said--

'Well, I AM blessed!'

And he read it all out in a sort of half whisper, and when he came
to the end, where it says, 'and all such brave soldiers', he said--

'Well, I really AM!' I suppose he meant he really was blessed.
Oswald thought it was like the soldier's cheek, so he said--

'I daresay you aren't so very blessed as you think. What's it to
do with you, anyway, eh, Tommy?'

Of course Oswald knew from Kipling that an infantry soldier is
called that. The soldier said--

'Tommy yourself, young man. That's ME!' and he pointed to the

We stood rooted to the spot. Alice spoke first.

'Then you're Bill, and you're not dead,' she said. 'Oh, Bill, I am
so glad! Do let ME tell your mother.'

She started running, and so did we all. Bill had to go slowly
because of his leg, but I tell you he went as fast as ever he

We all hammered at the soldier's mother's door, and shouted--

'Come out! come out!' and when she opened the door we were going to
speak, but she pushed us away, and went tearing down the garden
path like winking. I never saw a grown-up woman run like it,
because she saw Bill coming.

She met him at the gate, running right into him, and caught hold of
him, and she cried much more than when she thought he was dead.

And we all shook his hand and said how glad we were.

The soldier's mother kept hold of him with both hands, and I
couldn't help looking at her face. It was like wax that had been
painted on both pink cheeks, and the eyes shining like candles.
And when we had all said how glad we were, she said--

'Thank the dear Lord for His mercies,' and she took her boy Bill
into the cottage and shut the door.

We went home and chopped up the tombstone with the wood-axe and had
a blazing big bonfire, and cheered till we could hardly speak.

The postcard was a mistake; he was only missing. There was a pipe
and a whole pound of tobacco left over from our keepsake to the
other soldiers. We gave it to Bill. Father is going to have him
for under-gardener when his wounds get well. He'll always be a bit
lame, so he cannot fight any more.


It was very rough on Dora having her foot bad, but we took it in
turns to stay in with her, and she was very decent about it. Daisy
was most with her. I do not dislike Daisy, but I wish she had been
taught how to play. Because Dora is rather like that naturally,
and sometimes I have thought that Daisy makes her worse.

I talked to Albert's uncle about it one day, when the others had
gone to church, and I did not go because of ear-ache, and he said
it came from reading the wrong sort of books partly--she has read
Ministering Children, and Anna Ross, or The Orphan of Waterloo, and
Ready Work for Willing Hands, and Elsie, or Like a Little Candle,
and even a horrid little blue book about the something or other of
Little Sins. After this conversation Oswald took care she had
plenty of the right sort of books to read, and he was surprised and
pleased when she got up early one morning to finish Monte Cristo.
Oswald felt that he was really being useful to a suffering
fellow-creature when he gave Daisy books that were not all about
being good.

A few days after Dora was laid up, Alice called a council of the
Wouldbegoods, and Oswald and Dicky attended with darkly-clouded
brows. Alice had the minute-book, which was an exercise-book that
had not much written in it. She had begun at the other end. I
hate doing that myself, because there is so little room at the top
compared with right way up.

Dora and a sofa had been carried out on to the lawn, and we were on
the grass. It was very hot and dry. We had sherbet. Alice read:

'"Society of the Wouldbegoods.

'"We have not done much. Dicky mended a window, and we got the
milk-pan out of the moat that dropped through where he mended it.
Dora, Oswald, Dicky and me got upset in the moat. This was not
goodness. Dora's foot was hurt. We hope to do better next time."'

Then came Noel's poem:

'We are the Wouldbegoods Society,
We are not good yet, but we mean to try,
And if we try, and if we don't succeed,
It must mean we are very bad indeed.'

This sounded so much righter than Noel's poetry generally does,
that Oswald said so, and Noel explained that Denny had helped him.

'He seems to know the right length for lines of poetry. I suppose
it comes of learning so much at school,' Noel said.

Then Oswald proposed that anybody should be allowed to write in the
book if they found out anything good that anyone else had done, but
not things that were public acts; and nobody was to write about
themselves, or anything other people told them, only what they
found out.

After a brief jaw the others agreed, and Oswald felt, not for the
first time in his young life, that he would have made a good
diplomatic hero to carry despatches and outwit the other side. For
now he had put it out of the minute-book's power to be the kind of
thing readers of Ministering Children would have wished.

'And if anyone tells other people any good thing he's done he is to
go to Coventry for the rest of the day.'

And Denny remarked, 'We shall do good by stealth, and blush to find
it shame.'

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