Part 5 out of 5
His horse was a very good one to go, only you had to hit it with
the wrong end of the whip. But the cart was very bumpety.
The evening dews were falling--at least, I suppose so, but you do
not feel dew in a grocer's cart--when we reached home. We all
thanked the lady very much, and said we hoped we should see her
again some day. She said she hoped so.
The grocer drove off, and when we had all shaken hands with the
lady and kissed her, according as we were boys or girls, or little
boys, she touched up her horse and drove away.
She turned at the corner to wave to us, and just as we had done
waving, and were turning into the house, Albert's uncle came into
our midst like a whirling wind. He was in flannels, and his shirt
had no stud in at the neck, and his hair was all rumpled up and his
hands were inky, and we knew he had left off in the middle of a
chapter by the wildness of his eye.
'Who was that lady?' he said. 'Where did you meet her?'
Mindful, as ever, of what he was told, Oswald began to tell the
story from the beginning.
'The other day, protector of the poor,' he began; 'Dora and I were
reading about the Canterbury pilgrims ...'
Oswald thought Albert's uncle would be pleased to find his
instructions about beginning at the beginning had borne fruit, but
instead he interrupted.
'Stow it, you young duffer! Where did you meet her?'
Oswald answered briefly, in wounded accents, 'Hazelbridge.'
Then Albert's uncle rushed upstairs three at a time, and as he went
he called out to Oswald--
'Get out my bike, old man, and blow up the back tyre.'
I am sure Oswald was as quick as anyone could have been, but long
ere the tyre was thoroughly blowed Albert's uncle appeared, with a
collar-stud and tie and blazer, and his hair tidy, and wrenching
the unoffending machine from Oswald's surprised fingers.
Albert's uncle finished pumping up the tyre, and then flinging
himself into the saddle he set off, scorching down the road at a
pace not surpassed by any highwayman, however black and
high-mettled his steed. We were left looking at each other.
'He must have recognized her,' Dicky said.
'Perhaps,' Noel said, 'she is the old nurse who alone knows the
dark secret of his highborn birth.'
'Not old enough, by chalks,' Oswald said.
'I shouldn't wonder,' said Alice, 'if she holds the secret of the
will that will make him rolling in long-lost wealth.'
'I wonder if he'll catch her,' Noel said. 'I'm quite certain all
his future depends on it. Perhaps she's his long-lost sister, and
the estate was left to them equally, only she couldn't be found, so
it couldn't be shared up.'
'Perhaps he's only in love with her,' Dora said, 'parted by cruel
Fate at an early age, he has ranged the wide world ever since
trying to find her.'
'I hope to goodness he hasn't--anyway, he's not ranged since we
knew him--never further than Hastings,' Oswald said. 'We don't
want any of that rot.'
'What rot?' Daisy asked. And Oswald said--
'Getting married, and all that sort of rubbish.'
And Daisy and Dora were the only ones that didn't agree with him.
Even Alice owned that being bridesmaids must be fairly good fun.
It's no good. You may treat girls as well as you like, and give
them every comfort and luxury, and play fair just as if they were
boys, but there is something unmanly about the best of girls. They
go silly, like milk goes sour, without any warning.
When Albert's uncle returned he was very hot, with a beaded brow,
but pale as the Dentist when the peas were at their worst.
'Did you catch her?' H. O. asked.
Albert's uncle's brow looked black as the cloud that thunder will
presently break from. 'No,'he said.
'Is she your long-lost nurse?' H. O. went on, before we could stop
'Long-lost grandmother! I knew the lady long ago in India,' said
Albert's uncle, as he left the room, slamming the door in a way we
should be forbidden to.
And that was the end of the Canterbury Pilgrimage.
As for the lady, we did not then know whether she was his long-lost
grandmother that he had known in India or not, though we thought
she seemed youngish for the part. We found out afterwards whether
she was or not, but that comes in another part. His manner was not
the one that makes you go on asking questions. The Canterbury
Pilgriming did not exactly make us good, but then, as Dora said, we
had not done anything wrong that day. So we were twenty-four hours
to the good.
Note A.--Afterwards we went and saw real Canterbury. It is
very large. A disagreeable man showed us round the cathedral, and
jawed all the time quite loud as if it wasn't a church. I remember
one thing he said. It was this:
'This is the Dean's Chapel; it was the Lady Chapel in the wicked
days when people used to worship the Virgin Mary.'
And H. O. said, 'I suppose they worship the Dean now?'
Some strange people who were there laughed out loud. I think this
is worse in church than not taking your cap off when you come in,
as H. O. forgot to do, because the cathedral was so big he didn't
think it was a church.
Note B. (See Note C.)
Note C. (See Note D.)
Note D. (See Note E.)
Note E. (See Note A.)
This ends the Canterbury Pilgrims.
THE DRAGON'S TEETH; OR, ARMY-SEED
Albert's uncle was out on his bicycle as usual. After the day when
we became Canterbury Pilgrims and were brought home in the dog-cart
with red wheels by the lady he told us was his long-lost
grandmother he had known years ago in India, he spent not nearly so
much of his time in writing, and he used to shave every morning
instead of only when requisite, as in earlier days. And he was
always going out on his bicycle in his new Norfolk suit. We are
not so unobserving as grown-up people make out. We knew well
enough he was looking for the long-lost. And we jolly well wished
he might find her. Oswald, always full of sympathy with
misfortune, however undeserved, had himself tried several times to
find the lady. So had the others. But all this is what they call
a digression; it has nothing to do with the dragon's teeth I am now
It began with the pig dying--it was the one we had for the circus,
but it having behaved so badly that day had nothing to do with its
illness and death, though the girls said they felt remorse, and
perhaps if we hadn't made it run so that day it might have been
spared to us. But Oswald cannot pretend that people were right
just because they happen to be dead, and as long as that pig was
alive we all knew well enough that it was it that made us run--and
not us it.
The pig was buried in the kitchen garden. Bill, that we made the
tombstone for, dug the grave, and while he was away at his dinner
we took a turn at digging, because we like to be useful, and
besides, when you dig you never know what you may turn up. I knew
a man once that found a gold ring on the point of his fork when he
was digging potatoes, and you know how we found two half-crowns
ourselves once when we were digging for treasure.
Oswald was taking his turn with the spade, and the others were
sitting on the gravel and telling him how to do it.
'Work with a will,' Dicky said, yawning.
Alice said, 'I wish we were in a book. People in books never dig
without finding something. I think I'd rather it was a secret
passage than anything.'
Oswald stopped to wipe his honest brow ere replying.
'A secret's nothing when you've found it out. Look at the secret
staircase. It's no good, not even for hide-and-seek, because of
its squeaking. I'd rather have the pot of gold we used to dig for
when we were little.' It was really only last year, but you seem
to grow old very quickly after you have once passed the prime of
your youth, which is at ten, I believe.
'How would you like to find the mouldering bones of Royalist
soldiers foully done to death by nasty Ironsides?'Noel asked, with
his mouth full of plum.
'If they were really dead it wouldn't matter,' Dora said. 'What
I'm afraid of is a skeleton that can walk about and catch at your
legs when you're going upstairs to bed.'
'Skeletons can't walk,' Alice said in a hurry; 'you know they
And she glared at Dora till she made her sorry she had said what
she had. The things you are frightened of, or even those you would
rather not meet in the dark, should never be mentioned before the
little ones, or else they cry when it comes to bed-time, and say it
was because of what you said.
'We shan't find anything. No jolly fear,' said Dicky.
And just then my spade I was digging with struck on something hard,
and it felt hollow. I did really think for one joyful space that
we had found that pot of gold. But the thing, whatever it was,
seemed to be longish; longer, that is, than a pot of gold would
naturally be. And as I uncovered it I saw that it was not at all
pot-of-gold-colour, but like a bone Pincher has buried. So Oswald
'It IS the skeleton.'
The girls all drew back, and Alice said, 'Oswald, I wish you
A moment later the discovery was unearthed, and Oswald lifted it
up, with both hands.
'It's a dragon's head,' Noel said, and it certainly looked like it.
It was long and narrowish and bony, and with great yellow teeth
sticking in the jaw.
Bill came back just then and said it was a horse's head, but H. O.
and Noel would not believe it, and Oswald owns that no horse he has
ever seen had a head at all that shape.
But Oswald did not stop to argue, because he saw a keeper who
showed me how to set snares going by, and he wanted to talk to him
about ferrets, so he went off and Dicky and Denny and Alice with
him. Also Daisy and Dora went off to finish reading Ministering
Children. So H. O. and Noel were left with the bony head. They
took it away.
The incident had quite faded from the mind of Oswald next day. But
just before breakfast Noel and H. O. came in, looking hot and
anxious. They had got up early and had not washed at all--not even
their hands and faces. Noel made Oswald a secret signal. All the
others saw it, and with proper delicate feeling pretended not to
When Oswald had gone out with Noel and H. O. in obedience to the
secret signal, Noel said--
'You know that dragon's head yesterday?'
'Well?' Oswald said quickly, but not crossly--the two things are
'Well, you know what happened in Greek history when some chap sowed
'They came up armed men,' said H. O., but Noel sternly bade him
shut up, and Oswald said 'Well,' again. If he spoke impatiently it
was because he smelt the bacon being taken in to breakfast.
'Well,' Noel went on, 'what do you suppose would have come up if
we'd sowed those dragon's teeth we found yesterday?'
'Why, nothing, you young duffer,' said Oswald, who could now smell
the coffee. 'All that isn't History it's Humbug. Come on in to
'It's NOT humbug,' H. O. cried, 'it is history. We DID sow--'
'Shut up,' said Noel again. 'Look here, Oswald. We did sow those
dragon's teeth in Randall's ten-acre meadow, and what do you think
has come up?'
'Toadstools I should think,' was Oswald's contemptible rejoinder.
'They have come up a camp of soldiers,' said Noel--ARMED MEN. So
you see it WAS history. We have sowed army-seed, just like Cadmus,
and it has come up. It was a very wet night. I daresay that
helped it along.'
Oswald could not decide which to disbelieve--his brother or his
ears. So, disguising his doubtful emotions without a word, he led
the way to the bacon and the banqueting hall.
He said nothing about the army-seed then, neither did Noel and H.
O. But after the bacon we went into the garden, and then the good
elder brother said--
'Why don't you tell the others your cock-and-bull story?'
So they did, and their story was received with warm expressions of
doubt. It was Dicky who observed--
'Let's go and have a squint at Randall's ten-acre, anyhow. I saw
a hare there the other day.'
We went. It is some little way, and as we went, disbelief reigned
superb in every breast except Noel's and H. O.'s, so you will see
that even the ready pen of the present author cannot be expected to
describe to you his variable sensations when he got to the top of
the hill and suddenly saw that his little brothers had spoken the
truth. I do not mean that they generally tell lies, but people
make mistakes sometimes, and the effect is the same as lies if you
There WAS a camp there with real tents and soldiers in grey and red
tunics. I daresay the girls would have said coats. We stood in
ambush, too astonished even to think of lying in it, though of
course we know that this is customary. The ambush was the wood on
top of the little hill, between Randall's ten-acre meadow and
Sugden's Waste Wake pasture.
'There would be cover here for a couple of regiments,' whispered
Oswald, who was, I think, gifted by Fate with the far-seeingness of
a born general.
Alice merely said 'Hist', and we went down to mingle with the
troops as though by accident, and seek for information.
The first man we came to at the edge of the camp was cleaning a
sort of cauldron thing like witches brew bats in.
We went up to him and said, 'Who are you? Are you English, or are
you the enemy?'
'We're the enemy,' he said, and he did not seem ashamed of being
what he was. And he spoke English with quite a good accent for a
'The enemy!' Oswald echoed in shocked tones. It is a terrible
thing to a loyal and patriotic youth to see an enemy cleaning a pot
in an English field, with English sand, and looking as much at home
as if he was in his foreign fastnesses.
The enemy seemed to read Oswald's thoughts with deadly
unerringness. He said--
'The English are somewhere over on the other side of the hill.
They are trying to keep us out of Maidstone.'
After this our plan of mingling with the troops did not seem worth
going on with. This soldier, in spite of his unerringness in
reading Oswald's innermost heart, seemed not so very sharp in other
things, or he would never have given away his secret plans like
this, for he must have known from our accents that we were Britons
to the backbone. Or perhaps (Oswald thought this, and it made his
blood at once boil and freeze, which our uncle had told us was
possible, but only in India), perhaps he thought that Maidstone was
already as good as taken and it didn't matter what he said. While
Oswald was debating within his intellect what to say next, and how
to say it so as to discover as many as possible of the enemy's dark
secrets, Noel said--
'How did you get here? You weren't here yesterday at tea-time.'
The soldier gave the pot another sandy rub, and said--
'I daresay it does seem quick work--the camp seems as if it had
sprung up in the night, doesn't it?--like a mushroom.'
Alice and Oswald looked at each other, and then at the rest of us.
The words 'sprung up in the night' seemed to touch a string in
'You see,' whispered Noel, 'he won't tell us how he came here.
NOW, is it humbug or history?'
Oswald, after whisperedly requesting his young brother to dry up
and not bother, remarked, 'Then you're an invading army?'
'Well,' said the soldier, 'we're a skeleton battalion, as a matter
of fact, but we're invading all right enough.'
And now indeed the blood of the stupidest of us froze, just as the
quick-witted Oswald's had done earlier in the interview. Even H.
O. opened his mouth and went the colour of mottled soap; he is so
fat that this is the nearest he can go to turning pale. Denny
said, 'But you don't look like skeletons.'
The soldier stared, then he laughed and said, 'Ah, that's the
padding in our tunics. You should see us in the grey dawn taking
our morning bath in a bucket.' It was a dreadful picture for the
imagination. A skeleton, with its bones all loose most likely,
bathing anyhow in a pail. There was a silence while we thought it
Now, ever since the cleaning-cauldron soldier had said that about
taking Maidstone, Alice had kept on pulling at Oswald's jacket
behind, and he had kept on not taking any notice. But now he could
not stand it any longer, so he said--
'Well, what is it?'
Alice drew him aside, or rather, she pulled at his jacket so that
he nearly fell over backwards, and then she whispered, 'Come along,
don't stay parlaying with the foe. He's only talking to you to
'What for?' said Oswald.
'Why, so that we shouldn't warn the other army, you silly,' Alice
said, and Oswald was so upset by what she said, that he forgot to
be properly angry with her for the wrong word she used.
'But we ought to warn them at home,' she said--' suppose the Moat
House was burned down, and all the supplies commandeered for the
Alice turned boldly to the soldier. 'DO you burn down farms?' she
'Well, not as a rule,' he said, and he had the cheek to wink at
Oswald, but Oswald would not look at him. 'We've not burned a farm
since--oh, not for years.'
'A farm in Greek history it was, I expect,' Denny murmured.
'Civilized warriors do not burn farms nowadays,' Alice said
sternly, 'whatever they did in Greek times. You ought to know
The soldier said things had changed a good deal since Greek times.
So we said good morning as quickly as we could: it is proper to be
polite even to your enemy, except just at the moments when it has
really come to rifles and bayonets or other weapons.
The soldier said 'So long!' in quite a modern voice, and we
retraced our footsteps in silence to the ambush--I mean the wood.
Oswald did think of lying in the ambush then, but it was rather
wet, because of the rain the night before, that H. O. said had
brought the army-seed up. And Alice walked very fast, saying
nothing but 'Hurry up, can't you!' and dragging H. O. by one hand
and Noel by the other. So we got into the road.
Then Alice faced round and said, 'This is all our fault. If we
hadn't sowed those dragon's teeth there wouldn't have been any
I am sorry to say Daisy said, 'Never mind, Alice, dear. WE didn't
sow the nasty things, did we, Dora?'
But Denny told her it was just the same. It was WE had done it, so
long as it was any of us, especially if it got any of us into
trouble. Oswald was very pleased to see that the Dentist was
beginning to understand the meaning of true manliness, and about
the honour of the house of Bastable, though of course he is only a
Foulkes. Yet it is something to know he does his best to learn.
If you are very grown-up, or very clever, I daresay you will now
have thought of a great many things. If you have you need not say
anything, especially if you're reading this aloud to anybody. It's
no good putting in what you think in this part, because none of us
thought anything of the kind at the time.
We simply stood in the road without any of your clever thoughts,
filled with shame and distress to think of what might happen owing
to the dragon's teeth being sown. It was a lesson to us never to
sow seed without being quite sure what sort it is. This is
particularly true of the penny packets, which sometimes do not come
up at all, quite unlike dragon's teeth.
Of course H. O. and Noel were more unhappy than the rest of us.
This was only fair.
'How can we possibly prevent their getting to Maidstone?' Dickie
said. 'Did you notice the red cuffs on their uniforms? Taken from
the bodies of dead English soldiers, I shouldn't wonder.'
'If they're the old Greek kind of dragon's-teeth soldiers, they
ought to fight each other to death,' Noel said; 'at least, if we
had a helmet to throw among them.'
But none of us had, and it was decided that it would be of no use
for H. O. to go back and throw his straw hat at them, though he
wanted to. Denny said suddenly--
'Couldn't we alter the sign-posts, so that they wouldn't know the
way to Maidstone?'
Oswald saw that this was the time for true generalship to be shown.
'Fetch all the tools out of your chest--Dicky go too, there's a
good chap, and don't let him cut his legs with the saw.' He did
once, tumbling over it. 'Meet us at the cross-roads, you know,
where we had the Benevolent Bar. Courage and dispatch, and look
sharp about it.'
When they had gone we hastened to the crossroads, and there a great
idea occurred to Oswald. He used the forces at his command so ably
that in a very short time the board in the field which says 'No
thoroughfare. Trespassers will be prosecuted' was set up in the
middle of the road to Maidstone. We put stones, from a heap by the
road, behind it to make it stand up.
Then Dicky and Denny came back, and Dicky shinned up the sign-post
and sawed off the two arms, and we nailed them up wrong, so that it
said 'To Maidstone' on the Dover Road, and 'To Dover' on the road
to Maidstone. We decided to leave the Trespassers board on the
real Maidstone road, as an extra guard.
Then we settled to start at once to warn Maidstone.
Some of us did not want the girls to go, but it would have been
unkind to say so. However, there was at least one breast that felt
a pang of joy when Dora and Daisy gave out that they would rather
stay where they were and tell anybody who came by which was the
'Because it would be so dreadful if someone was going to buy pigs
or fetch a doctor or anything in a hurry and then found they had
got to Dover instead of where they wanted to go to,' Dora said.
But when it came to dinner-time they went home, so that they were
entirely out of it. This often happens to them by some strange
We left Martha to take care of the two girls, and Lady and Pincher
went with us. It was getting late in the day, but I am bound to
remember no one said anything about their dinners, whatever they
may have thought. We cannot always help our thoughts. We happened
to know it was roast rabbits and currant jelly that day.
We walked two and two, and sang the 'British Grenadiers' and
'Soldiers of the queen' so as to be as much part of the British
Army as possible. The Cauldron-Man had said the English were the
other side of the hill. But we could not see any scarlet anywhere,
though we looked for it as carefully as if we had been fierce
But suddenly we went round a turn in the road and came plump into
a lot of soldiers. Only they were not red-coats. They were
dressed in grey and silver. And it was a sort of furzy-common
place, and three roads branching out. The men were lying about,
with some of their belts undone, smoking pipes and cigarettes.
'It's not British soldiers,' Alice said. 'Oh dear, oh dear, I'm
afraid it's more enemy. You didn't sow the army-seed anywhere
else, did you, H. O. dear?'
H. O. was positive he hadn't. 'But perhaps lots more came up where
we did sow them,' he said; 'they're all over England by now very
likely. _I_ don't know how many men can grow out of one dragon's
Then Noel said, 'It was my doing anyhow, and I'm not afraid,' and
he walked straight up to the nearest soldier, who was cleaning his
pipe with a piece of grass, and said--
'Please, are you the enemy?' The man said--
'No, young Commander-in-Chief, we're the English.'
Then Oswald took command. 'Where is the General?' he said.
'We're out of generals just now, Field-Marshal,' the man said, and
his voice was a gentleman's voice. 'Not a single one in stock. We
might suit you in majors now --and captains are quite cheap.
Competent corporals going for a song. And we have a very nice
colonel, too quiet to ride or drive.'
Oswald does not mind chaff at proper times. But this was not one.
'You seem to be taking it very easy,' he said with disdainful
'This IS an easy,' said the grey soldier, sucking at his pipe to
see if it would draw.
'I suppose YOU don't care if the enemy gets into Maidstone or not!'
exclaimed Oswald bitterly. 'If I were a soldier I'd rather die
than be beaten.'
The soldier saluted. 'Good old patriotic sentiment' he said,
smiling at the heart-felt boy.
But Oswald could bear no more. 'Which is the Colonel?' he asked.
'Over there--near the grey horse.'
'The one lighting a cigarette?' H. O. asked.
'Yes--but I say, kiddie, he won't stand any jaw. There's not an
ounce of vice about him, but he's peppery. He might kick out.
You'd better bunk.'
'Better what?' asked H. O.
'Bunk, bottle, scoot, skip, vanish, exit,' said the soldier.
'That's what you'd do when the fighting begins,' said H. O. He is
often rude like that--but it was what we all thought, all the same.
The soldier only laughed.
A spirited but hasty altercation among ourselves in whispers ended
in our allowing Alice to be the one to speak to the Colonel. It
was she who wanted to. 'However peppery he is he won't kick a
girl,' she said, and perhaps this was true.
But of course we all went with her. So there were six of us to
stand in front of the Colonel. And as we went along we agreed that
we would salute him on the word three. So when we got near, Dick
said, 'One, two, three', and we all saluted very well--except H.
O., who chose that minute to trip over a rifle a soldier had left
lying about, and was only saved from falling by a man in a cocked
hat who caught him deftly by the back of his jacket and stood him
on his legs.
'Let go, can't you,' said H. O. 'Are you the General?'
Before the Cocked Hat had time to frame a reply, Alice spoke to the
Colonel. I knew what she meant to say, because she had told me as
we threaded our way among the resting soldiery. What she really
'Oh, how CAN you!'
'How can I WHAT?' said the Colonel, rather crossly.
'Why, SMOKE?' said Alice.
'My good children, if you're an infant Band of Hope, let me
recommend you to play in some other backyard,' said the Cock-Hatted
H. O. said, 'Band of Hope yourself'--but no one noticed it.
'We're NOT a Band of Hope,' said Noel. 'We're British, and the man
over there told us you are. And Maidstone's in danger, and the
enemy not a mile off, and you stand SMOKING.' Noel was standing
crying, himself, or something very like it.
'It's quite true,' Alice said.
The Colonel said, 'Fiddle-de-dee.'
But the Cocked-Hatted Man said, 'What was the enemy like?'
We told him exactly. And even the Colonel then owned there might
be something in it.
'Can you show me the place where they are on the map?' he asked.
'Not on the map, we can't,' said Dicky--'at least, I don't think
so, but on the ground we could. We could take you there in a
quarter of an hour.'
The Cocked-Hatted One looked at the Colonel, who returned his
scrutiny, then he shrugged his shoulders.
'Well, we've got to do something,' he said, as if to himself.
'Lead on, Macduff.'
The Colonel roused his soldiery from their stupor of pipes by words
of command which the present author is sorry he can't remember.
Then he bade us boys lead the way. I tell you it felt fine,
marching at the head of a regiment. Alice got a lift on the
Cocked-Hatted One's horse. It was a red-roan steed of might,
exactly as if it had been in a ballad. They call a grey-roan a
'blue' in South Africa, the Cocked-Hatted One said.
We led the British Army by unfrequented lanes till we got to the
gate of Sugden's Waste Wake pasture. Then the Colonel called a
whispered halt, and choosing two of us to guide him, the dauntless
and discerning commander went on, on foot, with an orderly. He
chose Dicky and Oswald as guides. So we led him to the ambush, and
we went through it as quietly as we could. But twigs do crackle
and snap so when you are reconnoitring, or anxious to escape
detection for whatever reason.
Our Colonel's orderly crackled most. If you're not near enough to
tell a colonel by the crown and stars on his shoulder-strap, you
can tell him by the orderly behind him, like 'follow my leader'.
'Look out!' said Oswald in a low but commanding whisper, 'the
camp's down in that field. You can see if you take a squint
through this gap.'
The speaker took a squint himself as he spoke, and drew back,
baffled beyond the power of speech. While he was struggling with
his baffledness the British Colonel had his squint. He also drew
back, and said a word that he must have known was not right--at
least when he was a boy.
'I don't care,' said Oswald, 'they were there this morning. White
tents like mushrooms, and an enemy cleaning a cauldron.'
'With sand,' said Dicky.
'That's most convincing,' said the Colonel, and I did not like the
way he said it.
'I say,' Oswald said, 'let's get to the top corner of the
ambush--the wood, I mean. You can see the crossroads from there.'
We did, and quickly, for the crackling of branches no longer
dismayed our almost despairing spirits.
We came to the edge of the wood, and Oswald's patriotic heart
really did give a jump, and he cried, 'There they are, on the Dover
Our miscellaneous signboard had done its work.
'By Jove, young un, you're right! And in quarter column, too!
We've got em on toast--on toast--egad!' I never heard anyone not in
a book say 'egad' before, so I saw something really out of the way
was indeed up.
The Colonel was a man of prompt and decisive action. He sent the
orderly to tell the Major to advance two companies on the left
flank and take cover. Then we led him back through the wood the
nearest way, because he said he must rejoin the main body at once.
We found the main body very friendly with Noel and H. O. and the
others, and Alice was talking to the Cocked-Hatted One as if she
had known him all her life.
'I think he's a general in disguise,' Noel said. 'He's been giving
us chocolate out of a pocket in his saddle.'
Oswald thought about the roast rabbit then--and he is not ashamed
to own it--yet he did not say a word. But Alice is really not a
bad sort. She had saved two bars of chocolate for him and Dicky.
Even in war girls can sometimes be useful in their humble way.
The Colonel fussed about and said, 'Take cover there!' and
everybody hid in the ditch, and the horses and the Cocked Hat, with
Alice, retreated down the road out of sight. We were in the ditch
too. It was muddy--but nobody thought of their boots in that
perilous moment. It seemed a long time we were crouching there.
Oswald began to feel the water squelching in his boots, so we held
our breath and listened. Oswald laid his ear to the road like a
Red Indian. You would not do this in time of peace, but when your
country is in danger you care but little about keeping your ears
clean. His backwoods' strategy was successful. He rose and dusted
himself and said--
It was true. The footsteps of the approaching foe were now to be
heard quite audibly, even by ears in their natural position. The
wicked enemy approached. They were marching with a careless
swaggeringness that showed how little they suspected the horrible
doom which was about to teach them England's might and supremeness.
Just as the enemy turned the corner so that we could see them, the
'Right section, fire!' and there was a deafening banging.
The enemy's officer said something, and then the enemy got confused
and tried to get into the fields through the hedges. But all was
vain. There was firing now from our men, on the left as well as
the right. And then our Colonel strode nobly up to the enemy's
Colonel and demanded surrender. He told me so afterwards. His
exact words are only known to himself and the other Colonel. But
the enemy's Colonel said, 'I would rather die than surrender,' or
words to that effect.
Our Colonel returned to his men and gave the order to fix bayonets,
and even Oswald felt his manly cheek turn pale at the thought of
the amount of blood to be shed. What would have happened can never
now be revealed. For at this moment a man on a piebald horse came
clattering over a hedge--as carelessly as if the air was not full
of lead and steel at all. Another man rode behind him with a lance
and a red pennon on it. I think he must have been the enemy's
General coming to tell his men not to throw away their lives on a
forlorn hope, for directly he said they were captured the enemy
gave in and owned that they were. The enemy's Colonel saluted and
ordered his men to form quarter column again. I should have
thought he would have had about enough of that myself.
He had now given up all thought of sullen resistance to the bitter
end. He rolled a cigarette for himself, and had the foreign cheek
to say to our Colonel--
'By Jove, old man, you got me clean that time! Your scouts seem to
have marked us down uncommonly neatly.'
It was a proud moment when our Colonel laid his military hand on
Oswald's shoulder and said--
'This is my chief scout' which were high words, but not undeserved,
and Oswald owns he felt red with gratifying pride when he heard
'So you are the traitor, young man,' said the wicked Colonel, going
on with his cheek.
Oswald bore it because our Colonel had, and you should be generous
to a fallen foe, but it is hard to be called a traitor when you
He did not treat the wicked Colonel with silent scorn as he might
have done, but he said--
'We aren't traitors. We are the Bastables and one of us is a
Foulkes. We only mingled unsuspected with the enemy's soldiery and
learned the secrets of their acts, which is what Baden-Powell
always does when the natives rebel in South Africa; and Denis
Foulkes thought of altering the sign-posts to lead the foe astray.
And if we did cause all this fighting, and get Maidstone threatened
with capture and all that, it was only because we didn't believe
Greek things could happen in Great Britain and Ireland, even if you
sow dragon's teeth, and besides, some of us were not as e a out
Then the Cocked-Hatted One led his horse and walked with us and
made us tell him all about it, and so did the Colonel. The wicked
Colonel listened too, which was only another proof of his cheek.
And Oswald told the tale in the modest yet manly way that some
people think he has, and gave the others all the credit they
deserved. His narration was interrupted no less than four times by
shouts of 'Bravo!' in which the enemy's Colonel once more showed
his cheek by joining. By the time the story was told we were in
sight of another camp. It was the British one this time. The
Colonel asked us to have tea in his tent, and it only shows the
magnanimosity of English chivalry in the field of battle that he
asked the enemy's Colonel too. With his usual cheek he accepted.
We were jolly hungry.
When everyone had had as much tea as they possibly could, the
Colonel shook hands with us all, and to Oswald he said--
'Well, good-bye, my brave scout. I must mention your name in my
dispatches to the War Office.'
H. O. interrupted him to say, 'His name's Oswald Cecil Bastable,
and mine is Horace Octavius.' I wish H. O. would learn to hold his
tongue. No one ever knows Oswald was christened Cecil as well, if
he can possibly help it. YOU didn't know it till now.
'Mr Oswald Bastable,' the Colonel went on--he had the decency not
to take any notice of the 'Cecil' -'you would be a credit to any
regiment. No doubt the War Office will reward you properly for
what you have done for your country. But meantime, perhaps, you'll
accept five shillings from a grateful comrade-in-arms.' Oswald
felt heart-felt sorry to wound the good Colonel's feelings, but he
had to remark that he had only done his duty, and he was sure no
British scout would take five bob for doing that. 'And besides,'
he said, with that feeling of justice which is part of his young
character, 'it was the others just as much as me.'
'Your sentiments, Sir,' said the Colonel who was one of the
politest and most discerning colonels I ever saw, 'your sentiments
do you honour. But, Bastables all, and--and non-Bastables' (he
couldn't remember Foulkes; it's not such an interesting name as
Bastable, of course) -'at least you'll accept a soldier's pay?'
'Lucky to touch it, a shilling a day!' Alice and Denny said
together. And the Cocked-Hatted Man said something about knowing
your own mind and knowing your own Kipling.
'A soldier,' said the Colonel, 'would certainly be lucky to touch
it. You see there are deductions for rations. Five shillings is
exactly right, deducting twopence each for six teas.'
This seemed cheap for the three cups of tea and the three eggs and
all the strawberry jam and bread-and-butter Oswald had had, as well
as what the others ate, and Lady's and Pincher's teas, but I
suppose soldiers get things cheaper than civilians, which is only
Oswald took the five shillings then, there being no longer any
scruples why he should not.
Just as we had parted from the brave Colonel and the rest we saw a
bicycle coming. It was Albert's uncle. He got off and said--
'What on earth have you been up to? What were you doing with those
We told him the wild adventures of the day, and he listened, and
then he said he would withdraw the word volunteers if we liked.
But the seeds of doubt were sown in the breast of Oswald. He was
now almost sure that we had made jolly fools of ourselves without
a moment's pause throughout the whole of this eventful day. He
said nothing at the time, but after supper he had it out with
Albert's uncle about the word which had been withdrawn.
Albert's uncle said, of course, no one could be sure that the
dragon's teeth hadn't come up in the good old-fashioned way, but
that, on the other hand, it was barely possible that both the
British and the enemy were only volunteers having a field-day or
sham fight, and he rather thought the Cocked-Hatted Man was not a
general, but a doctor. And the man with a red pennon carried
behind him MIGHT have been the umpire.
Oswald never told the others a word of this. Their young breasts
were all panting with joy because they had saved their country; and
it would have been but heartless unkindness to show them how silly
they had been. Besides, Oswald felt he was much too old to have
been so taken in--if he HAD been. Besides, Albert's uncle did say
that no one could be sure about the dragon's teeth.
The thing that makes Oswald feel most that, perhaps, the whole
thing was a beastly sell, was that we didn't see any wounded. But
he tries not to think of this. And if he goes into the army when
he grows up, he will not go quite green. He has had experience of
the arts of war and the tented field. And a real colonel has
called him 'Comrade-in-Arms', which is exactly what Lord Roberts
called his own soldiers when he wrote home about them.
ALBERT'S UNCLE's GRANDMOTHER; OR, THE
The shadw of the termination now descended in sable thunder-clouds
upon our devoted nobs. As Albert's uncle said, 'School now gaped
for its prey'. In a very short space of time we should be wending
our way back to Blackheath, and all the variegated delightfulness
of the country would soon be only preserved in memory's faded
flowers. (I don't care for that way of writing very much. It
would be an awful swot to keep it up--looking out the words and all
To speak in the language of everyday life, our holiday was jolly
nearly up. We had had a ripping time, but it was all but over. We
really did feel sorry-- though, of course, it was rather decent to
think of getting back to Father and being able to tell the other
chaps about our raft, and the dam, and the Tower of Mystery, and
things like that.
When but a brief time was left to us, Oswald and Dicky met by
chance in an apple-tree. (That sounds like 'consequences', but it
is mere truthfulness.) Dicky said--
'Only four more days.'
Oswald said, 'Yes.'
'There's one thing,' Dickie said, 'that beastly society. We don't
want that swarming all over everything when we get home. We ought
to dissolve it before we leave here.'
The following dialogue now took place:
Oswald--'Right you are. I always said it was piffling rot.'
Dicky--'So did I.'
Oswald--'Let's call a council. But don't forget we've jolly well
got to put our foot down.'
Dicky assented, and the dialogue concluded with apples.
The council, when called, was in but low spirits. This made
Oswald's and Dicky's task easier. When people are sunk in gloomy
despair about one thing, they will agree to almost anything about
something else. (Remarks like this are called philosophic
generalizations, Albert's uncle says.) Oswald began by saying--
'We've tried the society for being good in, and perhaps it's done
us good. But now the time has come for each of us to be good or
bad on his own, without hanging on to the others.'
'The race is run by one and one,
But never by two and two,'
the Dentist said.
The others said nothing.
Oswald went on: 'I move that we chuck--I mean dissolve-- the
Wouldbegoods Society; its appointed task is done. If it's not well
done, that's ITS fault and not ours.'
Dicky said, 'Hear! hear! I second this prop.'
The unexpected Dentist said, 'I third it. At first I thought it
would help, but afterwards I saw it only made you want to be
naughty, just because you were a Wouldbegood.'
Oswald owns he was surprised. We put it to the vote at once, so as
not to let Denny cool. H. O. and Noel and Alice voted with us, so
Daisy and Dora were what is called a hopeless minority. We tried
to cheer their hopelessness by letting them read the things out of
the Golden Deed book aloud. Noel hid his face in the straw so that
we should not see the faces he made while he made poetry instead of
listening, and when the Wouldbegoods was by vote dissolved for ever
he sat up, straws in his hair, and said--
'The Wouldbegoods are dead and gone
But not the golden deeds they have done
These will remain upon Glory's page
To be an example to every age,
And by this we have got to know
How to be good upon our ow--N.
N is for Noel, that makes the rhyme and the sense both right. O,
W, N, own; do you see?'
We saw it, and said so, and the gentle poet was satisfied. And the
council broke up. Oswald felt that a weight had been lifted from
his expanding chest, and it is curious that he never felt so
inclined to be good and a model youth as he did then. As he went
down the ladder out of the loft he said--
'There's one thing we ought to do, though, before we go home. We
ought to find Albert's uncle's long- lost grandmother for him.'
Alice's heart beat true and steadfast. She said, 'That's just
exactly what Noel and I were saying this morning. Look out,
Oswald, you wretch, you're kicking chaff into my eyes.' She was
going down the ladder just under me.
Oswald's younger sister's thoughtful remark ended in another
council. But not in the straw loft. We decided to have a quite
new place, and disregarded H. O.'s idea of the dairy and Noel's of
the cellars. We had the new council on the secret staircase, and
there we settled exactly what we ought to do. This is the same
thing, if you really wish to be good, as what you are going to do.
It was a very interesting council, and when it was over Oswald was
so pleased to think that the Wouldbegoods was unrecoverishly dead
that he gave Denny and Noel, who were sitting on the step below
him, a good-humoured, playful, gentle, loving, brotherly shove, and
said, 'Get along down, it's tea-time!'
No reader who understands justice and the real rightness of things,
and who is to blame for what, will ever think it could have been
Oswald's fault that the two other boys got along down by rolling
over and over each other, and bursting the door at the bottom of
the stairs open by their revolving bodies. And I should like to
know whose fault it was that Mrs Pettigrew was just on the other
side of that door at that very minute? The door burst open, and
the Impetuous bodies of Noel and Denny rolled out of it into Mrs
Pettigrew, and upset her and the tea-tray. Both revolving boys
were soaked with tea and milk, and there were one or two cups and
things smashed. Mrs Pettigrew was knocked over, but none of her
bones were broken. Noel and Denny were going to be sent to bed,
but Oswald said it was all his fault. He really did this to give
the others a chance of doing a refined golden deed by speaking the
truth and saying it was not his fault. But you cannot really count
on anyone. They did not say anything, but only rubbed the lumps on
their late-revolving heads. So it was bed for Oswald, and he felt
the injustice hard.
But he sat up in bed and read The Last of the Mohicans, and then he
began to think. When Oswald really thinks he almost always thinks
of something. He thought of something now, and it was miles better
than the idea we had decided on in the secret staircase, of
advertising in the Kentish Mercury and saying if Albert's uncle's
long-lost grandmother would call at the Moat House she might hear
of something much to her advantage.
What Oswald thought of was that if we went to Hazelbridge and asked
Mr B. Munn, Grocer, that drove us home in the cart with the horse
that liked the wrong end of the whip best, he would know who the
lady was in the red hat and red wheels that paid him to drive us
home that Canterbury night. He must have been paid, of course, for
even grocers are not generous enough to drive perfect strangers,
and five of them too, about the country for nothing.
Thus we may learn that even unjustness and sending the wrong people
to bed may bear useful fruit, which ought to be a great comfort to
everyone when they are unfairly treated. Only it most likely won't
be. For if Oswald's brothers and sisters had nobly stood by him as
he expected, he would not have had the solitary reflections that
led to the great scheme for finding the grandmother.
Of course when the others came up to roost they all came and
squatted on Oswald's bed and said how sorry they were. He waived
their apologies with noble dignity, because there wasn't much time,
and said he had an idea that would knock the council's plan into a
cocked hat. But he would not tell them what it was. He made them
wait till next morning. This was not sulks, but kind feeling. He
wanted them to have something else to think of besides the way they
hadn't stood by him in the bursting of the secret staircase door
and the tea-tray and the milk.
Next morning Oswald kindly explained, and asked who would volunteer
for a forced march to Hazelbridge. The word volunteer cost the
young Oswald a pang as soon as he had said it, but I hope he can
bear pangs with any man living. 'And mind,' he added, hiding the
pang under a general-like severeness, 'I won't have anyone in the
expedition who has anything in his shoes except his feet.'
This could not have been put more delicately and decently. But
Oswald is often misunderstood. Even Alice said it was unkind to
throw the peas up at Denny. When this little unpleasantness had
passed away (it took some time because Daisy cried, and Dora said,
'There now, Oswald!') there were seven volunteers, which, with
Oswald, made eight, and was, indeed, all of us. There were no
cockle-shells, or tape-sandals, or staves, or scrips, or anything
romantic and pious about the eight persons who set out for
Hazelbridge that morning, more earnestly wishful to be good and
deedful--at least Oswald, I know, was--than ever they had been in
the days of the beastly Wouldbegood Society. It was a fine day.
Either it was fine nearly all last summer, which is how Oswald
remembers it, or else nearly all the interesting things we did came
on fine days.
With hearts light and gay, and no peas in anyone's shoes, the walk
to Hazelbridge was perseveringly conducted. We took our lunch with
us, and the dear dogs. Afterwards we wished for a time that we had
left one of them at home. But they did so want to come, all of
them, and Hazelbridge is not nearly as far as Canterbury, really,
so even Martha was allowed to put on her things--I mean her
collar--and come with us. She walks slowly, but we had the day
before us so there was no extra hurry.
At Hazelbridge we went into B. Munn's grocer's shop and asked for
ginger-beer to drink. They gave it us, but they seemed surprised
at us wanting to drink it there, and the glass was warm--it had
just been washed. We only did it, really, so as to get into
conversation with B. Munn, grocer, and extract information without
rousing suspicion. You cannot be too careful.
However, when we had said it was first-class ginger- beer, and paid
for it, we found it not so easy to extract anything more from B.
Munn, grocer; and there was an anxious silence while he fiddled
about behind the counter among the tinned meats and sauce bottles,
with a fringe of hobnailed boots hanging over his head.
H. O. spoke suddenly. He is like the sort of person who rushes in
where angels fear to tread, as Denny says (say what sort of person
that is). He said--
'I say, you remember driving us home that day. Who paid for the
Of course B. Munn, grocer, was not such a nincompoop (I like that
word, it means so many people I know) as to say right off. He
'I was paid all right, young gentleman. Don't you terrify
People in Kent say terrify when they mean worry. So Dora shoved in
a gentle oar. She said--
'We want to know the kind lady's name and address, so that we can
write and thank her for being so jolly that day.'
B. Munn, grocer, muttered something about the lady's address being
goods he was often asked for. Alice said, 'But do tell us. We
forgot to ask her. She's a relation of a second-hand uncle of
ours, and I do so want to thank her properly. And if you've got
any extra-strong peppermints at a penny an ounce, we should like a
quarter of a pound.'
This was a master-stroke. While he was weighing out the
peppermints his heart got soft, and just as he was twisting up the
corner of the paper bag, Dora said, 'What lovely fat peppermints!
Do tell us.'
And B. Munn's heart was now quite melted, he said--
'It's Miss Ashleigh, and she lives at The Cedars--about a mile down
the Maidstone Road.'
We thanked him, and Alice paid for the peppermints. Oswald was a
little anxious when she ordered such a lot, but she and Noel had
got the money all right, and when we were outside on Hazelbridge
Green (a good deal of it is gravel, really), we stood and looked at
each other. Then Dora said--
'Let's go home and write a beautiful letter and all sign it.'
Oswald looked at the others. Writing is all very well, but it's
such a beastly long time to wait for anything to happen afterwards.
The intelligent Alice divined his thoughts, and the Dentist divined
hers--he is not clever enough yet to divine Oswald's--and the two
'Why not go and see her?'
'She did say she would like to see us again some day,' Dora
replied. So after we had argued a little about it we went.
And before we had gone a hundred yards down the dusty road Martha
began to make us wish with all our hearts we had not let her come.
She began to limp, just as a pilgrim, who I will not name, did when
he had the split peas in his silly palmering shoes.
So we called a halt and looked at her feet. One of them was quite
swollen and red. Bulldogs almost always have something the matter
with their feet, and it always comes on when least required. They
are not the right breed for emergencies.
There was nothing for it but to take it in turns to carry her. She
is very stout, and you have no idea how heavy she is. A
half-hearted unadventurous person name no names, but Oswald, Alice,
Noel, H. O., Dicky, Daisy, and Denny will understand me) said, why
not go straight home and come another day without Martha? But the
rest agreed with Oswald when he said it was only a mile, and
perhaps we might get a lift home with the poor invalid. Martha was
very grateful to us for our kindness. She put her fat white arms
round the person's neck who happened to be carrying her. She is
very affectionate, but by holding her very close to you you can
keep her from kissing your face all the time. As Alice said,
'Bulldogs do give you such large, wet, pink kisses.'
A mile is a good way when you have to take your turn at carrying
At last we came to a hedge with a ditch in front of it, and chains
swinging from posts to keep people off the grass and out of the
ditch, and a gate with 'The Cedars' on it in gold letters. All
very neat and tidy, and showing plainly that more than one gardener
was kept. There we stopped. Alice put Martha down, grunting with
exhaustedness, and said--
'Look here, Dora and Daisy, I don't believe a bit that it's his
grandmother. I'm sure Dora was right, and it's only his horrid
sweetheart. I feel it in my bones. Now, don't you really think
we'd better chuck it; we're sure to catch it for interfering. We
'The cross of true love never did come smooth,' said the Dentist.
'We ought to help him to bear his cross.'
'But if we find her for him, and she's not his grandmother, he'll
MARRY her,' Dicky said in tones of gloominess and despair.
Oswald felt the same, but he said, 'Never mind. We should all hate
it, but perhaps Albert's uncle MIGHT like it. You can never tell.
If you want to do a really unselfish action and no kid, now's your
time, my late Wouldbegoods.'
No one had the face to say right out that they didn't want to be
But it was with sad hearts that the unselfish seekers opened the
long gate and went up the gravel drive between the rhododendrons
and other shrubberies towards the house.
I think I have explained to you before that the eldest son of
anybody is called the representative of the family if his father
isn't there. This was why Oswald now took the lead. When we got
to the last turn of the drive it was settled that the others were
to noiselessly ambush in the rhododendrons, and Oswald was to go on
alone and ask at the house for the grandmother from India--I mean
So he did, but when he got to the front of the house and saw how
neat the flower-beds were with red geraniums, and the windows all
bright and speckless with muslin blinds and brass rods, and a green
parrot in a cage in the porch, and the doorstep newly whited, lying
clean and untrodden in the sunshine, he stood still and thought of
his boots and how dusty the roads were, and wished he had not gone
into the farmyard after eggs before starting that morning. As he
stood there in anxious uncertainness he heard a low voice among the
bushes. It said, 'Hist! Oswald here!' and it was the voice of
So he went back to the others among the shrubs and they all crowded
round their leader full of importable news.
'She's not in the house; she's HERE,' Alice said in a low whisper
that seemed nearly all S's. 'Close by--she went by just this
minute with a gentleman.'
'And they're sitting on a seat under a tree on a little lawn, and
she's got her head on his shoulder, and he's holding her hand. I
never saw anyone look so silly in all my born,' Dicky said.
'It's sickening,' Denny said, trying to look very manly with his
legs wide apart.
'I don't know,' Oswald whispered. 'I suppose it wasn't Albert's
'Not much,' Dicky briefly replied.
'Then don't you see it's all right. If she's going on like that
with this fellow she'll want to marry him, and Albert's uncle is
safe. And we've really done an unselfish action without having to
suffer for it afterwards.'
With a stealthy movement Oswald rubbed his hands as he spoke in
real joyfulness. We decided that we had better bunk unnoticed.
But we had reckoned without Martha. She had strolled off limping
to look about her a bit in the shrubbery. 'Where's Martha?' Dora
'She went that way,' pointingly remarked H. O.
'Then fetch her back, you young duffer! What did you let her go
for?' Oswald said. 'And look sharp. Don't make a row.'
He went. A minute later we heard a hoarse squeak from Martha--the
one she always gives when suddenly collared from behind--and a
little squeal in a lady-like voice, and a man say 'Hallo!' and then
we knew that H. O. had once more rushed in where angels might have
thought twice about it. We hurried to the fatal spot, but it was
too late. We were just in time to hear H. O. say--
'I'm sorry if she frightened you. But we've been looking for you.
Are you Albert's uncle's long-lost grandmother?'
'NO,' said our lady unhesitatingly.
It seemed vain to add seven more agitated actors to the scene now
going on. We stood still. The man was standing up. He was a
clergyman, and I found out afterwards he was the nicest we ever
knew except our own Mr Briston at Lewisham, who is now a canon or
a dean, or something grand that no one ever sees. At present I did
not like him. He said, 'No, this lady is nobody's grandmother.
May I ask in return how long it is since you escaped from the
lunatic asylum, my poor child, and whence your keeper is?'
H. O. took no notice of this at all, except to say, 'I think you
are very rude, and not at all funny, if you think you are.'
The lady said, 'My dear, I remember you now perfectly. How are all
the others, and are you pilgrims again to-day?'
H. O. does not always answer questions. He turned to the man and
'Are you going to marry the lady?'
'Margaret,' said the clergyman, 'I never thought it would come to
this: he asks me my intentions.'
'If you ARE,' said H. O., 'it's all right, because if you do
Albert's uncle can't--at least, not till you're dead. And we don't
want him to.'
'Flattering, upon my word,' said the clergyman, putting on a deep
frown. 'Shall I call him out, Margaret, for his poor opinion of
you, or shall I send for the police?'
Alice now saw that H. O., though firm, was getting muddled and
rather scared. She broke cover and sprang into the middle of the
'Don't let him rag H. O. any more,' she said, 'it's all our faults.
You see, Albert's uncle was so anxious to find you, we thought
perhaps you were his long-lost heiress sister or his old nurse who
alone knew the secret of his birth, or something, and we asked him,
and he said you were his long-lost grandmother he had known in
India. And we thought that must be a mistake and that really you
were his long-lost sweetheart. And we tried to do a really
unselfish act and find you for him. Because we don't want him to
be married at all.'
'It isn't because we don't like YOU,' Oswald cut in, now emerging
from the bushes, 'and if he must marry, we'd sooner it was you than
anyone. Really we would.'
'A generous concession, Margaret,' the strange clergyman uttered,
'most generous, but the plot thickens. It's almost pea-soup-like
now. One or two points clamour for explanation. Who are these
visitors of yours? Why this Red Indian method of paying morning
calls? Why the lurking attitude of the rest of the tribe which I
now discern among the undergrowth? Won't you ask the rest of the
tribe to come out and join the glad throng?'
Then I liked him better. I always like people who know the same
songs we do, and books and tunes and things.
The others came out. The lady looked very uncomfy, and partly as
if she was going to cry. But she couldn't help laughing too, as
more and more of us came out.
'And who,' the clergyman went on, 'who in fortune's name is Albert?
And who is his uncle? And what have they or you to do in this
galere--I mean garden?'
We all felt rather silly, and I don't think I ever felt more than
then what an awful lot there were of us.
'Three years' absence in Calcutta or elsewhere may explain my
ignorance of these details, but still--'
'I think we'd better go,' said Dora. 'I'm sorry if we've done
anything rude or wrong. We didn't mean to. Good-bye. I hope
you'll be happy with the gentleman, I'm sure.'
'I HOPE so too,' said Noel, and I know he was thinking how much
nicer Albert's uncle was. We turned to go. The lady had been very
silent compared with what she was when she pretended to show us
Canterbury. But now she seemed to shake off some dreamy silliness,
and caught hold of Dora by the shoulder.
'No, dear, no,' she said, 'it's all right, and you must have some
tea--we'll have it on the lawn. John, don't tease them any more.
Albert's uncle is the gentleman I told you about. And, my dear
children, this is my brother that I haven't seen for three years.'
'Then he's a long-lost too,' said H. O.
The lady said 'Not now' and smiled at him.
And the rest of us were dumb with confounding emotions. Oswald was
particularly dumb. He might have known it was her brother, because
in rotten grown-up books if a girl kisses a man in a shrubbery that
is not the man you think she's in love with; it always turns out to
be a brother, though generally the disgrace of the family and not
a respectable chaplain from Calcutta.
The lady now turned to her reverend and surprising brother and
said, 'John, go and tell them we'll have tea on the lawn.'
When he was gone she stood quite still a minute. Then she said,
'I'm going to tell you something, but I want to put you on your
honour not to talk about it to other people. You see it isn't
everyone I would tell about it. He, Albert's uncle, I mean, has
told me a lot about you, and I know I can trust you.'
We said 'Yes', Oswald with a brooding sentiment of knowing all too
well what was coming next.
The lady then said, 'Though I am not Albert's uncle's grandmother
I did know him in India once, and we were going to be married, but
we had a--a--misunderstanding.'
'Quarrel?' Row?' said Noel and H. O. at once.
'Well, yes, a quarrel, and he went away. He was in the Navy then.
And then ... well, we were both sorry, but well, anyway, when his
ship came back we'd gone to Constantinople, then to England, and he
couldn't find us. And he says he's been looking for me ever
'Not you for him?' said Noel.
'Well, perhaps,' said the lady.
And the girls said 'Ah!' with deep interest. The lady went on more
quickly, 'And then I found you, and then he found me, and now I
must break it to you. Try to bear up.'
She stopped. The branches cracked, and Albert's uncle was in our
midst. He took off his hat. 'Excuse my tearing my hair,' he said
to the lady, 'but has the pack really hunted you down?'
'It's all right,' she said, and when she looked at him she got
miles prettier quite suddenly. 'I was just breaking to them ...'
'Don't take that proud privilege from me,' he said. 'Kiddies,
allow me to present you to the future Mrs Albert's uncle, or shall
we say Albert's new aunt?'
* * *
There was a good deal of explaining done before tea--about how we
got there, I mean, and why. But after the first bitterness of
disappointment we felt not nearly so sorry as we had expected to.
For Albert's uncle's lady was very jolly to us, and her brother was
awfully decent, and showed us a lot of first-class native
curiosities and things, unpacking them on purpose; skins of beasts,
and beads, and brass things, and shells from different savage lands
besides India. And the lady told the girls that she hoped they
would like her as much as she liked them, and if they wanted a new
aunt she would do her best to give satisfaction in the new
situation. And Alice thought of the Murdstone aunt belonging to
Daisy and Denny, and how awful it would have been if Albert's uncle
had married HER. And she decided, she told me afterwards, that we
might think ourselves jolly lucky it was no worse.
Then the lady led Oswald aside, pretending to show him the parrot
which he had explored thoroughly before, and told him she was not
like some people in books. When she was married she would never
try to separate her husband from his bachelor friends, she only
wanted them to be her friends as well.
Then there was tea, and thus all ended in amicableness, and the
reverend and friendly drove us home in a wagonette. But for Martha
we shouldn't have had tea, or explanations, or lift or anything.
So we honoured her, and did not mind her being so heavy and walking
up and down constantly on our laps as we drove home.
And that is all the story of the long-lost grandmother and Albert's
uncle. I am afraid it is rather dull, but it was very important
(to him), so I felt it ought to be narrated. Stories about lovers
and getting married are generally slow. I like a love-story where
the hero parts with the girl at the garden-gate in the gloaming and
goes off and has adventures, and you don't see her any more till he
comes home to marry her at the end of the book. And I suppose
people have to marry. Albert's uncle is awfully old--more than
thirty, and the lady is advanced in years--twenty-six next
Christmas. They are to be married then. The girls are to be
bridesmaids in white frocks with fur. This quite consoles them.
If Oswald repines sometimes, he hides it. What's the use? We all
have to meet our fell destiny, and Albert's uncle is not extirpated
from this awful law.
Now the finding of the long-lost was the very last thing we did for
the sake of its being a noble act, so that is the end of the
Wouldbegoods, and there are no more chapters after this. But
Oswald hates books that finish up without telling you the things
you might want to know about the people in the book. So here goes.
We went home to the beautiful Blackheath house. It seemed very
stately and mansion-like after the Moat House, and everyone was
most frightfully pleased to see us.
Mrs Pettigrew CRIED when we went away. I never was so astonished
in my life. She made each of the girls a fat red pincushion like
a heart, and each of us boys had a knife bought out of the
housekeeping (I mean housekeeper's own) money.
Bill Simpkins is happy as sub-under-gardener to Albert's uncle's
lady's mother. They do keep three gardeners--I knew they did. And
our tramp still earns enough to sleep well on from our dear old
Our last three days were entirely filled up with visits of farewell
sympathy to all our many friends who were so sorry to lose us. We
promised to come and see them next year. I hope we shall.
Denny and Daisy went back to live with their father at Forest Hill.
I don't think they'll ever be again the victims of the Murdstone
aunt--who is really a great-aunt and about twice as much in the
autumn of her days as our new Albert's-uncle aunt. I think they
plucked up spirit enough to tell their father they didn't like
her--which they'd never thought of doing before. Our own robber
says their holidays in the country did them both a great deal of
good. And he says us Bastables have certainly taught Daisy and
Denny the rudiments of the art of making home happy. I believe
they have thought of several quite new naughty things entirely on
their own--and done them too--since they came back from the Moat
I wish you didn't grow up so quickly. Oswald can see that ere long
he will be too old for the kind of games we can all play, and he
feels grown-upness creeping inordiously upon him. But enough of
And now, gentle reader, farewell. If anything in these chronicles
of the Wouldbegoods should make you try to be good yourself, the
author will be very glad, of course. But take my advice and don't
make a society for trying in. It is much easier without.
And do try to forget that Oswald has another name besides Bastable.
The one beginning with C., I mean. Perhaps you have not noticed
what it was. If so, don't look back for it. It is a name no manly
boy would like to be called by--if he spoke the truth. Oswald is
said to be a very manly boy, and he despises that name, and will
never give it to his own son when he has one. Not if a rich
relative offered to leave him an immense fortune if he did. Oswald
would still be firm. He would, on the honour of the House of