The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit
Chapter 16. The End of the Treasure-seeking
Now it is coming near the end of our treasure-seeking, and the end was so wonderful that now nothing is like it used to be. It is like as if our fortunes had been in an earthquake, and after those, you know, everything comes out wrong-way up.
The day after the Uncle speared the pudding with us opened in gloom and sadness. But you never know. It was destined to be a day when things happened. Yet no sign of this appeared in the early morning. Then all was misery and upsetness. None of us felt quite well; I don't know why: and Father had one of his awful colds, so Dora persuaded him not to go to London, but to stay cosy and warm in the study, and she made him some gruel. She makes it better than Eliza does; Eliza's gruel is all little lumps, and when you suck them it is dry oatmeal inside.
We kept as quiet as we could, and I made H. O. do some lessons, like the G. B. had advised us to. But it was very dull. There are some days when you seem to have got to the end of all the things that could ever possibly happen to you, and you feel you will spend all the rest of your life doing dull things just the same way. Days like this are generally wet days. But, as I said, you never know.
Then Dicky said if things went on like this he should run away to sea, and Alice said she thought it would be rather nice to go into a convent. H. O. was a little disagreeable because of the powder Eliza had given him, so he tried to read two books at once, one with each eye, just because Noel wanted one of the books, which was very selfish of him, so it only made his headache worse. H. O. is getting old enough to learn by experience that it is wrong to be selfish, and when he complained about his head Oswald told him whose fault it was, because I am older than he is, and it is my duty to show him where he is wrong. But he began to cry, and then Oswald had to cheer him up because of Father wanting to be quiet. So Oswald said--
'They'll eat H. O. if you don't look out!' And Dora said Oswald was too bad.
Of course Oswald was not going to interfere again, so he went to look out of the window and see the trams go by, and by and by H. O. came and looked out too, and Oswald, who knows when to be generous and forgiving, gave him a piece of blue pencil and two nibs, as good as new, to keep.
As they were looking out at the rain splashing on the stones in the street they saw a four-wheeled cab come lumbering up from the way the station is. Oswald called out--
'Here comes the coach of the Fairy Godmother. It'll stop here, you see if it doesn't!'
So they all came to the window to look. Oswald had only said that about stopping and he was stricken with wonder and amaze when the cab really did stop. It had boxes on the top and knobby parcels sticking out of the window, and it was something like going away to the seaside and something like the gentleman who takes things about in a carriage with the wooden shutters up, to sell to the drapers' shops. The cabman got down, and some one inside handed out ever so many parcels of different shapes and sizes, and the cabman stood holding them in his arms and grinning over them.
Dora said, 'It is a pity some one doesn't tell him this isn't the house.' And then from inside the cab some one put out a foot feeling for the step, like a tortoise's foot coming out from under his shell when you are holding him off the ground, and then a leg came and more parcels, and then Noel cried--
'It's the poor Indian!'
And it was.
Eliza opened the door, and we were all leaning over the banisters. Father heard the noise of parcels and boxes in the hall, and he came out without remembering how bad his cold was. If you do that yourself when you have a cold they call you careless and naughty. Then we heard the poor Indian say to Father--
'I say, Dick, I dined with your kids yesterday--as I daresay they've told you. Jolliest little cubs I ever saw! Why didn't you let me see them the other night? The eldest is the image of poor Janey--and as to young Oswald, he's a man! If he's not a man, I'm a nigger! Eh!--what? And Dick, I say, I shouldn't wonder if I could find a friend to put a bit into that business of yours--eh?'
Then he and Father went into the study and the door was shut--and we went down and looked at the parcels. Some were done up in old, dirty newspapers, and tied with bits of rag, and some were in brown paper and string from the shops, and there were boxes. We wondered if the Uncle had come to stay and this was his luggage, or whether it was to sell. Some of it smelt of spices, like merchandise--and one bundle Alice felt certain was a bale. We heard a hand on the knob of the study door after a bit, and Alice said--
'Fly!' and we all got away but H. O., and the Uncle caught him by the leg as he was trying to get upstairs after us.
'Peeping at the baggage, eh?' said the Uncle, and the rest of us came down because it would have been dishonourable to leave H. O. alone in a scrape, and we wanted to see what was in the parcels.
'I didn't touch,' said H. O. 'Are you coming to stay? I hope you are.'
'No harm done if you did touch,' said the good, kind, Indian man to all of us. 'For all these parcels are for you.'
I have several times told you about our being dumb with amazement and terror and joy, and things like that, but I never remember us being dumber than we were when he said this.
The Indian Uncle went on: 'I told an old friend of mine what a pleasant dinner I had with you, and about the threepenny-bit, and the divining-rod, and all that, and he sent all these odds and ends as presents for you. Some of the things came from India.'
'Have you come from India, Uncle?' Noel asked; and when he said 'Yes' we were all very much surprised, for we never thought of his being that sort of Indian. We thought he was the Red kind, and of course his not being accounted for his ignorance of beavers and things.
He got Eliza to help, and we took all the parcels into the nursery and he undid them and undid them and undid them, till the papers lay thick on the floor. Father came too and sat in the Guy Fawkes chair. I cannot begin to tell you all the things that kind friend of Uncle's had sent us. He must be a very agreeable person.
There were toys for the kids and model engines for Dick and me, and a lot of books, and Japanese china tea-sets for the girls, red and white and gold--there were sweets by the pound and by the box--and long yards and yards of soft silk from India, to make frocks for the girls--and a real Indian sword for Oswald and a book of Japanese pictures for Noel, and some ivory chess men for Dicky: the castles of the chessmen are elephant-and-castles. There is a railway station called that; I never knew what it meant before. The brown paper and string parcels had boxes of games in them--and big cases of preserved fruits and things. And the shabby old newspaper parcels and the boxes had the Indian things in. I never saw so many beautiful things before. There were carved fans and silver bangles and strings of amber beads, and necklaces of uncut gems--turquoises and garnets, the Uncle said they were--and shawls and scarves of silk, and cabinets of brown and gold, and ivory boxes and silver trays, and brass things. The Uncle kept saying, 'This is for you, young man,' or 'Little Alice will like this fan,'or 'Miss Dora would look well in this green silk, I think. Eh!--what?'
And Father looked on as if it was a dream, till the Uncle suddenly gave him an ivory paper-knife and a box of cigars, and said, 'My old friend sent you these, Dick; he's an old friend of yours too, he says.' And he winked at my Father, for H. O. and I saw him. And my Father winked back, though he has always told us not to.
That was a wonderful day. It was a treasure, and no mistake! I never saw such heaps and heaps of presents, like things out of a fairy-tale--and even Eliza had a shawl. Perhaps she deserved it, for she did cook the rabbit and the pudding; and Oswald says it is not her fault if her nose turns up and she does not brush her hair. I do not think Eliza likes brushing things. It is the same with the carpets. But Oswald tries to make allowances even for people who do not wash their ears.
The Indian Uncle came to see us often after that, and his friend always sent us something. Once he tipped us a sovereign each--the Uncle brought it; and once he sent us money to go to the Crystal Palace, and the Uncle took us; and another time to a circus; and when Christmas was near the Uncle said--
'You remember when I dined with you, some time ago, you promised to dine with me some day, if I could ever afford to give a dinner-party. Well, I'm going to have one--a Christmas party. Not on Christmas Day, because every one goes home then--but on the day after. Cold mutton and rice pudding. You'll come? Eh!--what?'
We said we should be delighted, if Father had no objection, because that is the proper thing to say, and the poor Indian, I mean the Uncle, said, 'No, your Father won't object--he's coming too, bless your soul!'
We all got Christmas presents for the Uncle. The girls made him a handkerchief case and a comb bag, out of some of the pieces of silk he had given them. I got him a knife with three blades; H. O. got a siren whistle, a very strong one, and Dicky joined with me in the knife, and Noel would give the Indian ivory box that Uncle's friend had sent on the wonderful Fairy Cab day. He said it was the very nicest thing he had, and he was sure Uncle wouldn't mind his not having bought it with his own money.
I think Father's business must have got better--perhaps Uncle's friend put money in it and that did it good, like feeding the starving. Anyway we all had new suits, and the girls had the green silk from India made into frocks, and on Boxing Day we went in two cabs--Father and the girls in one, and us boys in the other.
We wondered very much where the Indian Uncle lived, because we had not been told. And we thought when the cab began to go up the hill towards the Heath that perhaps the Uncle lived in one of the poky little houses up at the top of Greenwich. But the cab went right over the Heath and in at some big gates, and through a shrubbery all white with frost like a fairy forest, because it was Christmas time. And at last we stopped before one of those jolly, big, ugly red houses with a lot of windows, that are so comfortable inside, and on the steps was the Indian Uncle, looking very big and grand, in a blue cloth coat and yellow sealskin waistcoat, with a bunch of seals hanging from it.
'I wonder whether he has taken a place as butler here?' said Dicky.
'A poor, broken-down man--'
Noel thought it was very likely, because he knew that in these big houses there were always thousands of stately butlers.
The Uncle came down the steps and opened the cab door himself, which I don't think butlers would expect to have to do. And he took us in. It was a lovely hall, with bear and tiger skins on the floor, and a big clock with the faces of the sun and moon dodging out when it was day or night, and Father Time with a scythe coming out at the hours, and the name on it was 'Flint. Ashford. 1776'; and there was a fox eating a stuffed duck in a glass case, and horns of stags and other animals over the doors.
'We'll just come into my study first,' said the Uncle, 'and wish each other a Merry Christmas.' So then we knew he wasn't the butler, but it must be his own house, for only the master of the house has a study.
His study was not much like Father's. It had hardly any books, but swords and guns and newspapers and a great many boots, and boxes half unpacked, with more Indian things bulging out of them.
We gave him our presents and he was awfully pleased. Then he gave us his Christmas presents. You must be tired of hearing about presents, but I must remark that all the Uncle's presents were watches; there was a watch for each of us, with our names engraved inside, all silver except H. O.'s, and that was a Waterbury, 'To match his boots,' the Uncle said. I don't know what he meant.
Then the Uncle looked at Father, and Father said, 'You tell them, sir.'
So the Uncle coughed and stood up and made a speech. He said--
'Ladies and gentlemen, we are met together to discuss an important subject which has for some weeks engrossed the attention of the honourable member opposite and myself.'
I said, 'Hear, hear,' and Alice whispered, 'What happened to the guinea-pig?' Of course you know the answer to that.
The Uncle went on--
'I am going to live in this house, and as it's rather big for me, your Father has agreed that he and you shall come and live with me. And so, if you're agreeable, we're all going to live here together, and, please God, it'll be a happy home for us all. Eh!--what?'
He blew his nose and kissed us all round. As it was Christmas I did not mind, though I am much too old for it on other dates. Then he said, 'Thank you all very much for your presents; but I've got a present here I value more than anything else I have.'
I thought it was not quite polite of him to say so, till I saw that what he valued so much was a threepenny-bit on his watch-chain, and, of course, I saw it must be the one we had given him.
He said, 'You children gave me that when you thought I was the poor Indian, and I'll keep it as long as I live. And I've asked some friends to help us to be jolly, for this is our house-warming. Eh!--what?'
Then he shook Father by the hand, and they blew their noses; and then Father said, 'Your Uncle has been most kind--most--'
But Uncle interrupted by saying, 'Now, Dick, no nonsense!' Then H. O. said, 'Then you're not poor at all?' as if he were very disappointed. The Uncle replied, 'I have enough for my simple wants, thank you, H. O.; and your Father's business will provide him with enough for yours. Eh!--what?'
Then we all went down and looked at the fox thoroughly, and made the Uncle take the glass off so that we could see it all round and then the Uncle took us all over the house, which is the most comfortable one I have ever been in. There is a beautiful portrait of Mother in Father's sitting-room. The Uncle must be very rich indeed. This ending is like what happens in Dickens's books; but I think it was much jollier to happen like a book, and it shows what a nice man the Uncle is, the way he did it all.
Think how flat it would have been if the Uncle had said, when we first offered him the one and threepence farthing, 'Oh, I don't want your dirty one and three-pence! I'm very rich indeed.' Instead of which he saved up the news of his wealth till Christmas, and then told us all in one glorious burst. Besides, I can't help it if it is like Dickens, because it happens this way. Real life is often something like books.
Presently, when we had seen the house, we were taken into the drawing-room, and there was Mrs Leslie, who gave us the shillings and wished us good hunting, and Lord Tottenham, and Albert-next-door's Uncle--and Albert-next-door, and his Mother (I'm not very fond of her), and best of all our own Robber and his two kids, and our Robber had a new suit on. The Uncle told us he had asked the people who had been kind to us, and Noel said, 'Where is my noble editor that I wrote the poetry to?'
The Uncle said he had not had the courage to ask a strange editor to dinner; but Lord Tottenham was an old friend of Uncle's, and he had introduced Uncle to Mrs Leslie, and that was how he had the pride and pleasure of welcoming her to our house-warming. And he made her a bow like you see on a Christmas card.
Then Alice asked, 'What about Mr Rosenbaum? He was kind; it would have been a pleasant surprise for him.'
But everybody laughed, and Uncle said--
'Your father has paid him the sovereign he lent you. I don't think he could have borne another pleasant surprise.'
And I said there was the butcher, and he was really kind; but they only laughed, and Father said you could not ask all your business friends to a private dinner.
Then it was dinner-time, and we thought of Uncle's talk about cold mutton and rice. But it was a beautiful dinner, and I never saw such a dessert! We had ours on plates to take away into another sitting-room, which was much jollier than sitting round the table with the grown-ups. But the Robber's kids stayed with their Father. They were very shy and frightened, and said hardly anything, but looked all about with very bright eyes. H. O. thought they were like white mice; but afterwards we got to know them very well, and in the end they were not so mousy. And there is a good deal of interesting stuff to tell about them; but I shall put all that in another book, for there is no room for it in this one. We played desert islands all the afternoon and drank Uncle's health in ginger wine. It was H. O. that upset his over Alice's green silk dress, and she never even rowed him. Brothers ought not to have favourites, and Oswald would never be so mean as to have a favourite sister, or, if he had, wild horses should not make him tell who it was.
And now we are to go on living in the big house on the Heath, and it is very jolly.
Mrs Leslie often comes to see us, and our own Robber and Albert-next-door's uncle. The Indian Uncle likes him because he has been in India too and is brown; but our Uncle does not like Albert-next-door. He says he is a muff. And I am to go to Rugby, and so are Noel and H. O., and perhaps to Balliol afterwards. Balliol is my Father's college. It has two separate coats of arms, which many other colleges are not allowed. Noel is going to be a poet and Dicky wants to go into Father's business.
The Uncle is a real good old sort; and just think, we should never have found him if we hadn't made up our minds to be Treasure Seekers! Noel made a poem about it--
Lo! the poor Indian from lands afar, Comes where the treasure seekers are; We looked for treasure, but we find The best treasure of all is the Uncle good and kind.
I thought it was rather rot, but Alice would show it to the Uncle, and he liked it very much. He kissed Alice and he smacked Noel on the back, and he said, 'I don't think I've done so badly either, if you come to that, though I was never a regular professional treasure seeker. Eh!--what?'