The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
"How can a pig pay the rent?"
The question seemed to have been long under consideration, to judge by the manner in which it came out of the pouting lips of that sturdy young five-year-old gentleman, David Merrifield, as he sat on a volume of the great Latin Dictionary to raise him to a level with the tea-table.
Long, however, as it had been considered, it was unheeded on account of one more interesting to the general public assembled round the table.
"I say!" hallooed out a tall lad of twelve holding aloft a slice taken from the dish in the centre of the table, "I say! what do you call this, Mary?"
"Bread and butter, Master Sam," replied rather pettishly the maid who had brought in the big black kettle.
"Bread and butter! I call it bread and scrape!" solemnly said Sam.
"It only has butter in the little holes of it, not at the top, Miss Fosbrook," said, in an odd pleading kind of tone, a stout good- humoured girl of thirteen, with face, hair, and all, a good deal like a nice comfortable apricot in a sunny place, or a good respectable Alderney cow.
"I think it would be better not to grumble, Susan, my dear," replied, in a low voice, a pleasant dark-eyed young lady who was making tea; but the boys at the bottom of the table neither heard nor heeded.
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary," was Sam's cry, in so funny a voice, that Miss Fosbrook could only laugh; "is this bread and scrape the fare for a rising young family of genteel birth?"
"Oh!" with a pathetic grimace, cried the pretty-faced though sandy- haired Henry, the next to him in age, "if our beloved parents knew how their poor deserted infants are treated--"
"A fine large infant you are, Hal!" exclaimed Susan.
"I'm an infant, you're an infant, Miss Fosbrook is an infant--a babby."
"For shame, Hal!" cried the more civilized Sam, clenching his fist.
"No, no, Sam," interposed Miss Fosbrook, laughing, "your brother is quite right; I am as much an infant in the eye of the law as little George."
"There, I said I would!" cried Henry; "didn't I, Sam?"
"Didn't you what?" asked Susan, not in the most elegant English.
"Why, Martin Greville twitted us with having a girl for a governess," said Henry; "he said it was a shame we should be taken in to think her grown up, when she was not twenty; and I said I would find out, and now I have done it!" he cried triumphantly.
"Everybody is quite welcome to know my age," said Miss Fosbrook, the colour rising in her cheek. "I was nineteen on the last of April; but I had rather you had asked me point blank, Henry, than tried to find out in a sidelong way."
Henry looked a little surly; and Elizabeth, a nice-looking girl, who sat next to him and was nearest in age, said, "Oh! but that would have been so rude, Miss Fosbrook."
"Rude, but honest," said Miss Fosbrook; and Susan's honest eyes twinkled, as much as to say, "I like that;" but she said, "I don't believe Hal meant it."
"I don't care!" said Sam. "Come, Mary, this plate is done--more bread and butter; d'ye hear? not bread and gammon!" and he began the chant, in which six voices joined till it became a roar, pursuing Mary down to the lower regions:-
"Thick butter and thin bread, Or it shall be thrown at Mary's head; Thick bread and thin butter, Is only fit for the ducks in the gutter."
Elizabeth looked appealingly at Miss Fosbrook; but Miss Fosbrook was leaning back in her chair, her handkerchief up to her mouth, in fits of laughing, seeing which, the children bawled louder and louder; and Elizabeth only abstained from stopping her ears because she knew that was the sure way to be held fast, and have it bellowed into them.
Little Annie blundered in her eagerness upon
"Thick bread and thin butter,"
whereupon there was a general outcry. "Nanny likes thick bread and thin butter, let her have it!" and Sam, Henry, and Johnnie directed a whole battery of their remaining crusts towards her cup, which would presently have been upset into her lap but for Miss Fosbrook, who recovered herself, and said gravely, "This must not be, Sam; I shall send you away from the table if you do."
Sam wanted to see whether she would, and threw the crust.
"Sam," she said very decidedly, though there was a quiver in her voice, as if she were frightened.
Sam looked up, and did not move.
"Oh, Miss Fosbrook!" cried Susan, "we were all just as bad. Don't punish Sam!"
"It is time that Sam should show that he has the feelings of a manly boy," said Miss Fosbrook, looking full at him. "He knows that I must keep my word, and that I have no strength to fight with him.--Sam, go and finish your tea on the window-seat."
Her clear brown eyes looked full at him as she spoke, and all the young population watched to see what he would do. He hesitated a moment, then took up his cup and plate, and sat down in the window- seat.
Miss Fosbrook breathed freely, and she had almost said, "Thank you, Sam," but she did not think this was the time; and collecting herself, she said, "Fun is all very well, and I hope we shall have plenty, but we ought not to let it grow riotous; and I don't think it was of a good sort when it was complaining of the food provided for us."
The children were all rather subdued by what she said; some felt a little cross, and some rather ashamed; and when Mary brought back the dish replenished with slices, no one said a word as to whether the butter were thick or thin. The silence seemed to David a favourable occasion for renewing the great question, "How does a pig pay the rent?"
There was a general giggle, and again Miss Fosbrook was as bad as any: while David, looking affronted, tapped the table with the handle of his spoon, and repeated, "I want to know."
"I'll tell you, Davy man," began Henry, first recovering. "The pig is a very sagacious animal, especially in Hampshire, and so he smells out wherever the bags of money are sown underground, and digs them up with his nose. Then he swings them on his back, and gives a curl of his tail and a wink of his eye, and lays them down just before the landlord's feet; and he's so cunning, that not an inch will he budge till he's got the receipt, with a stamp upon it, on his snout."
"No; now is that a true story?" cried little Annie, who was the only person except David grave enough to speak; while Sam, exploding in the window, called out, "Why, don't you know that's why pigs have rings in their noses?"
"There was a lady loved a swine; 'Honey,' says she, I'll give you a silver trough.' 'Hunks!' says he,"
continued Hal; "that shows his disinterestedness. Oh, werry sagacious haminals is pigs!"
"For shame, Hal," cried Elizabeth, "to confuse the children with such nonsense."
"Why, don't you think I know how the rent is paid? I've seen Papa on rent-day hundreds of times."
"But the pigs, Hal; did you ever see the pigs?"
"Thousands of times."
"Bringing bags of gold? O Hal! Hal!"
"I want to know," continued David, who had been digesting the startling fact, "how the pig swings the bag on his back? I don't think ours could do it."
"It's a sort made on purpose," said Hal.
"Made on purpose by Mr. Henry Merrifield," said Susan, at last able to speak. "Don't believe one word, David dear; Hal is laughing at you."
"But how does a pig do it?" asked David, returning to the charge.
"Why do you want to know, my dear?" asked Miss Fosbrook.
"Mary's sister said so."
"I know," exclaimed Susan; "Davy went out with the nursery children to-day, and they went to see Mary's sister. Her husband is drowned because he was a sailor; and the Mermaid went to South America; and there are five little tiny children."
"Of the mermaid's?" cried Harry.
"No, no; the Mermaid was the ship, and it was wrecked, and they have noticing to live upon; and she takes in washing, and is such a nice woman. Mamma said we might take them our old winter frocks, and so David went there."
"And she said if she had a pig to pay the rent she should be quite happy," said David. "How could he?"
"I suppose," said Miss Fosbrook, "the pig would live on her garden- stuff, her cabbage-leaves and potato-skins; and that when he was fat she would sell him, and pay the rent with the money. Am I right, Sam? you know I am a Cockney."
"You could not be more right if you were a Hampshire beg," said Sam. "Jack Higgins was her husband's name, and a famous fellow he was; he once rigged a little boat for me."
"And he sailed with Papa once, long ago," added Susan; to which Sam rejoined,
"More fool he to go into the merchant service and get drowned, with nothing for his widow to live upon."
"I say," cried Hal, "why shouldn't we give her a pig?"
"Oh, do!" earnestly exclaimed David.
"I'll catch one," broke from John and Annie at once; "such lots as there are in the yard!"
"You would catch it, I believe," said Sam disdainfully; while Susan explained,
"No; those are Papa's pigs. Purday would not let you give them away."
"Of course," said Henry, "that was only those little geese. I meant to make a subscription among ourselves, and give her the pig; and won't she be surprised!"
"Oh! yes, yes," shouted the children; "let's do it all ourselves!"
"I've got one-and-threepence, and sixpence next Saturday," cried Hal.
"And I've eightpence," quoth Annie.
"And I've a whole shilling," said David.
"I've fourpence," said Johnnie.
"I've not much, I'm afraid," said Susan, feeling in her pocket, with rather black looks.
"Oh!" said Sam, "everybody knows simple Sukey never has a farthing in her pocket by any chance!"
"Yes, but I have, Sam;" and with an air of great triumph, Susan held up three-halfpence, whereat all the party screamed with laughter.
"Well, but Bessie always has lots! She's as rich as a little Jew. Come, Bet, Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess, what will you give?-- what have you got?"--and one hand came on her shoulder, and another on her arm but she shook herself free, and answered rather crossly,
"Don't--I can't--I've got something else to do with my money."
"Oh! you little stingy avaricious crab!" was the outcry beginning; but Miss Fosbrook stopped it before Elizabeth had time to make the angry answer that was rising on her lips.
"No, my dears, you must not tease her. Each of you has a full right to use your own money as you may think best; and it is not right to force gifts in this manner."
"She's a little affected pussy-cat," said Hal, much annoyed; "I know what she wants it for--to buy herself a ridiculous parasol like Ida Greville, when she would see poor Hannah Higgins starving at her feet."
Elizabeth bit her lip, and tossed up her head; the tears were in her eyes, but she made no answer.
"Come, never mind," said Sam; "she's as obstinate as a male when she gets a thing into her head. Let's see what we've got without her. I've only sevenpence: worse luck that I bought ball of string yesterday."
The addition amounted to three shillings and elevenpence halfpenny: a sum which looked so mighty when spread out, chiefly in coppers, on the window-seat, that Annie and David looked on it as capable of buying any amount of swine; but Sam looked rather blank at it, and gazing up and down, said, "But what does a pig cost?"
"Miss Fosbrook, what does a pig cost?"
Miss Fosbrook shook her head and laughed, saying that she knew much less of pigs than they did; and Susan exclaiming, "There's Purday in the court," they all tumbled to the window, one upon the top of the other.
The window was a large heavily-framed sash, with a deep window-seat, and a narrow ledge within the sill--as if made on purpose, the first for the knees the second for the elbows of the gazers therefrom.
As to the view, it was into a walled kitchen court, some high chestnut and lime trees just looking over the grey roofs of the offices. On the ground lay a big black Newfoundland dog, and a couple of graceful greyhounds, one of them gnawing a bone, cunningly watched by a keen-looking raven, with his head on one side; while peeping out from the bars of the bottle-rack was the demure face of the sandy cat, on the watch for either bones or sparrows.
A stout, stumpy, shrewd-looking labourer, in a short round frock, high buskins, an old wide-awake, short curly hair, and a very large nose, stood in front of the dairy door, mixing a mess of warm milk for the young calves.
"Purday! Master Purday!" roared nearly the whole young population above; but he was so intent on his mixture, that he went on as if he were deaf, till a second explosion of "Purday! Purday! I say!" made him turn up his face in an odd half-awake kind of manner.
"Purday, what's the price of a pig?" and, "What does a pig cost, Purday?"
"What d'ye all holler at once for? A body can't hear a word," was all the answer they got; whereupon they all started together again, and Purday went on with his mixture as if they had been so many hens cackling.
Then Sam got up his breath again and called alone, "Purday!" and Hal and Susan by pats and pinches strangled the like outcry from Annie and John, so as to leave the field clear for the great question, "Purday, what does a pig cost?"
"More than your voices up there, sir," growled Purday, making some laugh; but Henry cried impatiently,
"Now, Purday, we really do want to know what is the price of pigs."
"They was high last market," began Purday.
"I don't care if they were high or low," said Hal; "I want to know what money they cost."
"Different pigs cost different prices," quoth the oracle, so sententiously, that Miss Fosbrook's shoulders shook with laughing as she stood a little in the background of the eager heap in the window.
"A nice little pig, such as you'd give--"
"Hush, hush, Hal, it's a secret," cried Susan.
"A pretty sort of secret--known to eight already, and bawled out all over the yard," said Sam.
"But don't tell him what it's for; you can ask him without that."
"A nice little young pig," said Sam, "such as you'd keep all the summer, and fat in the winter."
"Mind, it ain't for you, Purday," cried Hal.
"Never fear my being disappointed, sir," said the free-spoken Purday, with a twinkle of his eye, which Hal understood so well that he burst out,
"Ah! you think I can never do what I say I will; but you'll see, Purday, if we don't give a pig to--"
He was screamed at, and pulled into order and silence, ere the words, "Hannah Higgins" had quite come out; and Sam repeated his question.
"Well," said Purday at last, "if pigs was reasonable, you might get a nice little one to fat, at Kattern Hill fair, somewhere about ten shillings, or maybe twelve--sometimes more, sometimes less."
"Ten shillings!" The community stood round and looked at one another at the notion of such an awful sum; but Hal was the first to cast a ray of hope on the gloom. "Kattern Hill fair ain't till Midsummer, and perhaps Grandmamma will send us some money before that. If anybody's birthday was but coming!"
"Better save it out of our allowance," said Sam. "How long is it to the fair?"
Miss Fosbrook's pocket-book declared it to be four weeks.
"Well, then," said Hal, "we three big ones have sixpence a week each, that's six shillings, leaving out stingy Bess, and the little ones threepence, that's three times three is nine, and three times nine is thirty-six, that's three shillings, and six is nine, and very near four is fourteen. We shall do the pig yet."
"Yes, Hal; but if pigs are reasonable, I am afraid three times nine never yet were so much so as to make thirty-six," objected Miss Fosbrook.
"Twenty-seven--that's three and twopence--it's all the same," said Hal; then at the scream of the rest, "at least two and threepence. Well, any way there's plenty for piggy-wiggy, and it shall be a jolly secret to delight Hannah Higgins, and surprise Papa and Mamma: hurrah!"
"Yes," said Sam; "but then nobody must have any fines."
"Ay, and Sue must keep her money. That will be a wonder!" shouted Harry.
"Well, I'll try," said Susan. "I'll try not to have a single fine, and I'll not buy a single lump of sugar-candy, for I do want poor Hannah to have her pig."
"And so will we!" cried the younger ones with one voice.
"Only," added Susan, "I must buy Dicky's canary seed."
"And I must have a queen's head to write to Mamma," said Annie.
"Oh! never mind that, such trumpery as your letters are," said Hal. "Mamma could say them by heart before she gets them. What does she care for them?"
Little Annie looked very deplorable.
"Never mind, my dear," said Miss Fosbrook, "mammas always care for little girls' letters, and you are quite right to keep a penny for your stamp for her.--You see, Hal, this scheme will never come to good if you sacrifice other duties to it."
Henry twirled round impatiently.
"Now suppose," said Miss Fosbrook, "that we set up a treasury, and put all in that we can properly afford, and then break it open on the day before the fair, and see how much we have."
"Oh! yes, yes," cried the children in raptures.
"Will you help, Miss Fosbrook?" said Susan, clasping her hands.
"I should like to do a very little, if you will take this silver threepenny; but I do not think it would be right for me to spare one penny more, for all I can afford is very much wanted at home."
"What shall we have for treasury?" said Hal, looking round.
"I know!" cried Susan. "Here, in the baby-house; here's the Toby, let's put it inside him."
The so-called baby-house was an old-fashioned cupboard with glass doors, where certain tender dolls, and other curiosities, playthings too frail to be played with and the like, were ranged in good order, and never taken out except when some one child was unwell, and had to stay in-doors alone.
Toby Fillpot was a present from Nurse Freeman. It was a large mug, representing a man with a red coat, black hat, and white waistcoat, very short legs, and top-boots. The opening of the cup was at the top of his head, and into this was dropped all the silver and pence at present mustered, and computed to be about four shillings.
"And, Miss Fosbrook, you'll not be cross about fines?" said Johnnie, looking coaxing.
"I hope I shall not be cross," she answered; "but I do not engage to let you off any. I think having so good a use to put your money to should make you more careful against forfeiting it."
"Yes," said Johnnie disconsolately.
"Well, I never get fined," cried Hal joyfully.
"Except for running up stairs in dirty shoes," said Sam.
"Oh! there's no dirt now."
"Let me see, what are the fines?" said Miss Fosbrook.
"Here's the list," said Susan; and sighing, she said, "I'm afraid I shall never do it! If Bessie only would help!"
The fines of the Stokesley schoolroom were these for delinquencies-- each value a farthing -
For being dressed later than eight o'clock. For hair not properly brushed. For coming to lessons later than five minutes after ten. For dirty hands. For being turned back twice with any lesson. For elbows on the table. For foolish crying. For unnecessary words in lesson-time. For running up stairs in wet shoes. For leaving things about.
Each of these bits of misbehaviour caused the forfeit of a farthing out of the weekly allowance. Susan looked very gloomy over them; but Hal exclaimed, "Never mind, Susie; we'll do it all without you, never fear!"
"And now," said Sam, "I vote we have some fun in the garden."
Some readers may be disposed to doubt, after this specimen, whether the young Merrifields could be really young ladies and gentlemen; but indeed their birth might make them so; for there had been Squire Merrifields at Stokesley as long as Stokesley had been a parish, and those qualities of honour and good breeding that mark the gentleman had not been wanting to the elder members of the family. The father of these children was a captain in the navy, and till within the last six years the children had lived near Plymouth; but when he inherited the estate they came thither, and David and the two little ones had been born at Stokesley. The property was not large; and as Captain Merrifield was far from rich, it took much management to give all this tribe of boys and girls a good education, as well as plenty of bread and butter, mutton, and apple-pudding. There was very little money left to be spent upon ornament, or upon pleasuring; so they were brought up to the most homely dress suited to their station, and were left entirely to the country enjoyments that spring up of themselves. Company was seldom seen, for Papa and Mamma had little time or means for visiting; and a few morning calls and a little dining out was all they did; which tended to make the young ones more shy and homely, more free and rude, more inclined to love their own ways and despise those of other people, than if they had seen more of the world. They were a happy, healthy set of children, not faulty in essentials, but, it must be confessed, a little wild, rough and uncivil, in spite of the code of fines.