The Monday after the loss of the pence was a pouring wet day. The
whole court was like a flood, and the drops went splashing up again
as if in play; Purday wore his master's old southwester coat, and
looked shiny all over; and when the maids had to cross the court,
they went click, click, in their pattens under their umbrellas.
But it was baking day, and Susan and Annie had been down to coax the
cook into making them a present of a handsome allowance of dough, and
Miss Fosbrook into letting them manipulate it in the school-room.
Probably this was the only way of preventing the dough from being
turned into bullets, and sent flying at each other's eyes, or
possibly plastered on somebody's nose, and the cook and kitchenmaid
from being nearly driven crazy.
The dough was justly divided, and an establishment set up in each
locker. Bessie declined altogether; Sam had lent her his beautiful
book of The British Songsters, and she was hard at work at the table
copying a tom-tit, since she no longer carried on the work in secret;
but at one locker were the other three elders, at the other the three
lesser ones, and little George in a corner by Susan, pegging away at
his own private lump, and constantly begging for more. Susan's
ambition was to make a set of real twists, just like Cook's; and she
pulled out and twisted and plaited, though often robbed of her dough
by the two boys, whose united efforts were endeavouring to produce a
likeness of Purday, with his hat on his head, plums for eyes, a pipe
in his mouth, and driving a cow; but unluckily his neck always got
pinched off, and his arms would not stay on! No matter; the more
moulding of that soft dough the better! Johnnie and Annie had a
whole party of white clammy serpents, always being set to bite one
another, and to melt into each other; and David was hard at work on a
brood of rabbits with currant eyes, and would let no one interfere
"Didn't I hear something!" asked Bessie, looking up.
"Oh, it's only the roller," said Sam; "Purday always rolls on a wet
Something, however, made the whole party of little bakers hold up
their heads to listen. There was a gleam on their faces, as a quick
alert step sounded on the stairs, and Bessie, the nearest to the
door, and not cramped like the rest, who were sitting on their heels,
sprang forward and opened it with a scream of joy.
There he was--the light, alert, weather-beaten man, with his loose
wavy hair, and bright sailor face! There was Papa! Oh, the hurly-
burly of children, tumbling up as well as they could on legs crooked
under them, and holding out great fans of floury doughy paws, all
coming to be hugged in his arms in turn, so that before he had come
to the end of the eight in presence, Bessie had had time to whisk off
to the nursery, snatch Baby up from before Nurse's astonished eyes,
rush down with her, and put her into his arms. Baby had forgotten
him, and was taken with such a fit of screaming shyness, that Susan
had to take her, and Annie to play bo-peep with her, before she would
let anyone's voice be heard.
"I've taken you by surprise, Miss Fosbrook," said the Captain,
shaking hands with her in the midst of the clatter.
"Oh, it is such a pleasure!" she began. "I hope you left Mrs.
Merrifield much better."
"Much better, much better, thank you. I hope to find her on the sofa
when I go back on Thursday. I could only run down for a few days,
just to settle things, and see the children, before I join the
Ramilies. Admiral Penrose very good-naturedly kept it open for me,
till we could tell how she was," said the Captain, with rather a
"Then you are going! O Papa!" said Susan, looking up at him; "and
Baby will not know you till--"
"Hold your tongue, Miss Croaker," said the Captain, roughly but
kindly; and Miss Fosbrook could see that he was as much afraid of
crying himself as of letting Susan cry; "I've no time for that. I've
got a gentleman on business down stairs, and your Uncle John and I
must go down to them again. We sha'n't want dinner; only, Sue, tell
them to send in some eggs and bacon, or cold meat, or whatever there
may be, for tea; and get a room ready for your uncle."
He would have gone, but Susan called out, "O Papa, may we drink tea
with you, Georgy and all!"
"Yes, to be sure, if you won't make a bear-fight, any of you, for
"Mayn't I come down with you?" added Sam, looking at him as if he
wanted to make the most of every moment of that presence.
"Better not, my boy," said the Captain; "I've got law business to
settle, and we don't want you. Better stay and make yourselves
decent for tea-time. Mamma's love, and she hopes you'll not drive
Uncle John distracted." And he was gone.
"Bother Uncle John!" first muttered Sam (I am sorry to say).
"Yes," said Anne; "but Aunt Alice is so finikin and fidgety; she
never wets her feet, and can't get over a stile, and is afraid of a
cow; and he wants us all to be like her."
"And he makes Papa and Mamma mind things that they don't mind by
nature," said Susan.
"Mamma always tells us to be good, and never play at hockey in the
house when he's there," said Anne.
"She has not told us so this time," said John triumphantly.
"No, but we must mind all the same," said Susan; and Sam silenced
some independent murmurs, about not minding Uncle John, by saying it
was minding Mamma.
Miss Fosbrook herself was a little alarmed, for she gathered that
Mamma was in some fear of this terrible uncle, that he had much
influence with his brother, and was rather a severe judge of the
young family. She sincerely hoped that he would not find things much
amiss, for the honest goodness of the two eldest had won so much
regard from her, that she could not bear them to be under any cloud;
and indeed she felt as if the whole flock were her own property, as
well as her charge, and that she, as well as they, were about to be
tried. She would have felt it all fair and just before their kindly
father, but it seemed hard that all should be brought before the
school-master uncle; and she was disposed to be tender for her
children, and exceedingly anxious as to the effect they might
produce. She was resolved that the Captain should hear of the affair
of the pence; but the presence of his brother would make the speaking
a much greater effort. Meantime, she saw that all the fingers were
clean, and all the hair brushed. She flattered herself that Susan's
yellow locks had learnt that it was the business of hair to keep
tidy, and had been much less unmanageable of late; but she had her
fears that they would ruffle up again when their owner, at the head
of a large detachment, rushed out to take the "fancy bread" out of
the oven, and she came half-way down stairs, in case it should be
necessary to capture them, and brush them over again.
While thus watching, the door of the dining-room (the only down
stairs room in order) opened suddenly, and the Captain came forth.
"Oh, Miss Fosbrook," he said, "please come in here: I was just
coming to look for you. My brother--Miss Fosbrook."
To her surprise, Miss Fosbrook received a very pleasant civil
greeting from a much younger man than she had expected to see,
looking perhaps more stern about the mouth and sharp about the eye
than his elder brother, and his clerical dress very precise; but
somehow he was so curiously like his niece, Elizabeth, that she
thought that his particularity might spring from the same love of
"Oh! this was the letter David insisted on sealing before I put it
into mine!" exclaimed Miss Fosbrook, as soon as she had made out the
words. "We have been in great trouble at the loss; but we agreed not
to write to you, because you had so much on your mind."
"Just after you left home," said Christabel, as shortly and clearly
as she could, "the children agreed to save their allowance to buy a
pig for Hannah Higgins. They showed great perseverance in their
object; and by the third week they had about seven shillings in this
jug, which, to my grief and shame, I let them keep in the glass
cupboard, not locked, but one door bolted, the other buttoned. On
Friday morning, the 11th, I know the cup was full of coppers and
silver, for I took it down to add something to it. On the next
Monday morning the money was gone, all but one farthing."
"I should prefer saying nothing till you have examined the children
and servants for yourself."
"Right!" said the Captain. "Very well.--I am sorry to treat you to a
court-martial, John, but I must hold one after tea."
Christabel pitied the children for having to speak before this
formidable uncle; but there could be no help for it, since no other
sitting-room was habitable, and there were torrents of rain out-of-
There was just time to show the glass cupboard, and the shelf where
Toby had stood, and to return to the dining-room, before the children
began to stream in and make their greetings to their uncle, Susan
with George in one hand, and her plate of bakings in the other. Very
fancy bread indeed it was! as Uncle John said. The edge of Purday's
hat had been quite baked off, and one of his arms was gone; he was
black in the wrong places, and was altogether rather an
uncomfortable-looking object. David's brood of rabbits were much
more successful, though the ears of many had fallen off. Uncle John
was very much diverted, and took his full share of admiring and
tasting the various performances. On the whole, the meal went off
much better than Christabel had feared it would. She had really
broken the children of many of the habits with which they used to
make themselves disagreeable; there was no putting of spoons into
each other's cups, nor reaching out with buttery fingers; lips were
wiped, and people sat still upon their chairs, even if they fidgeted
and sighed; and there was only one slop made all tea-time, and that
was by Johnnie, and not a very bad one. Indeed, it might be hoped
that Mr. Merrifield did not see it, for he was talking to Sam about
the change of footpath that Mr. Greville was making. There was
indeed no fun, but it might be doubted whether Papa would have been
in a mood for fun even had his brother not been there; and Miss
Fosbrook was rather glad there was nothing to make the children
forgetful of propriety.
As soon as Mary had carried off the tea-things and wiped the table,
Uncle John put himself as much out of the way as he could behind the
newspaper in the recess of the window; and Miss Fosbrook would have
gone to the school-room, but Captain Merrifield begged her to stay.
"I hear," he said, "that a very unpleasant thing has taken place in
my absence, and I wish to learn all that I can about it, that the
guilty person may be brought to light, and the innocent cleared from
The children looked at one another, wondering how he had heard, or
whether Miss Fosbrook had told him; but this was soon answered by his
calling out, "David! come here, and tell me what you meant by this
David walked stoutly to his father's knee, nothing daunted, though
his brothers muttered behind him, "So he wrote!" "Little sneak!" and
"He knew no better!" Not that it was wrong to lay the case before
his father; but boys had usually rather suffer injustice than make an
"Why did you write this letter, David?" said his father.
Elizabeth sprung up, crimson, and with tears in her eyes, and Sam and
Susan were both bursting out into an angry "No, no!" but their father
made a sign to all to keep still; and they obeyed, though each of the
elder ones took hold of a hand of their sister and squeezed it hard.
"Then why do you say she did? I don't want to frighten you, David; I
only want to hear why you think she did so."
David was getting alarmed now, and his childish memory better
retained the impression than what had produced it. He hung down his
head, scraped one foot, and finding that he must answer, mumbled out
at last, "Nurse said it, and Hal."
"Henry, come here. Did you accuse your sister to David?"
"No!" burst out Henry at once; but there was a rounding of everyone's
mouth to cry out Oh! and he quickly added, in a hasty scared way, "At
least, when Davie came bothering me, I said he had better ask Betty,
because she had been prying about, and meddling with the baby-house.
I never meant that she had done it; but Davie is such a little jack-
"Yes, Papa," said Elizabeth, starting forward, "I did find the doors
of the baby-house open, and shut them up, but I never touched
anything in it! Sam and Susie know I would not, and that I would not
tell a story now, though I once did, you know, Papa!"
Captain Merrifield still kept his grave set face, and only asked,
"When did you find the doors open?"
"On Friday, Papa--Friday week--St. Barnabas' Day--just after dinner."
"I do not know why I should," said Henry, hastily and confusedly.
"It is only the girls and the babies that have things there--and--and
Miss Fosbrook herself had been at the cupboard in the morning; why
shouldn't she have left it undone herself, and the doors got open?"
"No, no!" cried Susan; "if they aren't fastened they always burst
open directly; and we never could have been in the room half the
morning without noticing them!"
"Then you are certain that they were closed when you went down to
Everyone was positive that the great glass doors flying out must have
made themselves observed in that room full of children, especially as
Susan remembered that she had been making a desk of the sloping part
"Does anyone remember how long it was between Hal's leaving the room
and Bessie's coming up?"
"I don't know when he went out," said all those who had been in the
dining-room; but there spoke up a voice, quite proud of having
something to tell among the others--"I saw Hal go out, and Bessie
come up directly."
"Miss Fosbrook made me dine in the nursery, Papa, because Hal and I
had been riding on the new iron gate, to see if the telegraph would
come in while the others were at church; and then Hal ran away with
the Grevilles, and I couldn't get down till Sam came and helped me;
and so Miss Fosbrook made me dine in the nursery; and when I had
done, I went and sat upon the top of the garret stairs, to watch when
they came out from dinner, and ask if I might come down again."
"Never mind the wasp. Did you see when Henry went out?"
"I saw him come in first," said John, "and Miss Fosbrook order him up
and say she would send him his dinner, and come and speak to him
presently. So I watched to catch her when she was coming up to him,
and I saw Mary bring him up some mince veal, and the last bit of the
gooseberry pie; and then, very soon, he bolted right downstairs. I
didn't think he could have had time to eat the pie; and I was going
to see if there was a bit left, when I saw Bessie coming up, and I
whipped up again."
"Then nobody went into the room between Henry and Bessie?"
The whole room was quite silent. There was no sound but a quick
short breathing from the Captain: but he had rested his brow upon
his hand, and his face could not be seen. It was as if something
terrible had flashed upon him, and he was struggling with the first
shock, and striving to deal with it. If they had seen him in a
tempest, with his ship driving to pieces on a rock, he would not have
been thus shaken and dismayed. However, by the time he looked up
again, he had brought his face back to its resolute firmness, and he
spoke in a clear, stern, startling voice, that made all the children
quake, and some catch hold of each other's hands: "Henry! tell me
what you have done with your theft!"
Miserable Henry! He did not try to deny it any longer; but burst out
into a loud sobbing cry, "O Papa! Papa! I meant to have put it back
again! I couldn't help it!"
"Tell me what you have done with it!" repeated the Captain.
"I--I paid it to Farmer Grice; I was obliged; and I thought I could
have put it back again; and some of it was my own!"
The child's fists were clenched, and his young face all one scowl of
passion, quite shocking to see. His father put him aside, and said,
"Hush, David! no names.--Now, Henry, what do you say to your sister
for your false accusation, which has thrown your own shame on her?"
"Oh, no, no, Papa; he never did accuse me!" cried Bessie, for the
first time bursting into tears. "He never said I did it; that was
only Davie's fancy; and it has made Susie and Sam so kind, I have not
minded it at all. Please don't mind that, Papa!"
"Come away, Henry!" said the Captain; "now that your sister has been
cleared, we had better have the rest out of the sight of these
tender-hearted little girls."
He stood up, and without a word, stroked down Elizabeth's smooth
brown hair, raised her face up by the chin, and kissed her forehead,
the only place free from tears; then he took Henry by the shoulder,
and marched him out of the room. Bessie could not stop herself from
crying, and was afraid of letting Uncle John see her; so she flew out
after them, and straight up-stairs to her own room. Miss Fosbrook
and Susan both longed to follow her, but they had missed this
opportunity; and the sound of voices outside showed so plainly that
the Captain and Henry were in the hall that they durst not open the
Everyone was appalled, and nothing was said for a few seconds. The
first to speak was Annie, in a low, terror-stricken whisper, yet with
some curiosity in it: "I wonder what Papa will do to him?"
"Give him nine dozen, I hope!" answered David through his small white
teeth, all clenched together with rage.
"For shame, Davie!" said Susan; "you should not wish anything so
dreadful for your brother."
"He has been so wicked! I wish it! I will wish it!" said David.
"Hush, David!" said Miss Fosbrook; "such things must not be said. I
will talk to you by and by."
"I am glad poor Bessie is cleared!" added Susan; "though I always
knew she could not have done it."
"But what made you guess he had done so, Sam?" said Miss Fosbrook.
"I did suspect him myself, but I never felt justified in accusing him
of such a thing."
"I don't know! I saw he had been getting into a fix with those
Grevilles, and had been sold somehow. They said something, and got
out of my way directly, and I was sure they had done some mischief,
and left him to pay the cost."
"What was the use? One never knows where to have him. He will eat
up his words as fast as he says them, with his at least, till he
doesn't know what he means. Nor I didn't want to know much of it."
"Still I can't think how you could let poor Bessie live under such a
cloud," said Christabel.
"You didn't believe it," said Sam, "nor anyone worth a snap of my
finger. Besides, if I had known, and had to tell, what a horrid
shame it would have been if the naval cadetship had been to be had
for him! I knew Bessie would have thought so too, and then he would
have been out of the way of the Grevilles, and would have got some
money to make it up."
"Oh, we should have heard of it long ago if there had been! So I
mind the coming out the less; but it's perfectly abominable to have
had all this row, and for Papa to be so cut up in this little short
time at home."
"I never saw him more grieved," said Mr. Merrifield. "He was hardly
more overcome when your mother was at the worst."
They started, for they had forgotten Uncle John, or they would never
have spoken so freely; but he now put down his newspaper, and looked
as if he meant to talk.
Susan ventured to say, "And indeed they had all been so very good
before. The pig made them so."
"A learned pig, I should think," said her uncle, laughing good-
"We were obliged to take care," said Susan, "or we got so many
Christabel, finding that Mr. Merrifield looked at her, helped out
Susan by explaining that various small delinquencies were visited
with fines, and that the desire to save for the pig had rendered the
children very careful.
"Indeed," she said, "I was thankful for the incentive, but I am
afraid that it was over-worked, and did harm in the end:" and she
glanced towards David.
"It is the way with secondary motives," was the answer.
Here Captain Merrifield came back alone; and his brother was the only
person who ventured to say, "Well?"
"I have sent him to his room," said the Captain. "It is a very bad
business, though of course he made excuses to himself."
The Captain then told them Henry's confession. He had been too much
hurried by the fear of being caught, to take out his own share of the
hoard, and had therefore emptied the whole cupful into his pocket-
handkerchief, tied it up, and run off with it, intending to separate
what was honestly his own. What that was he did not know, but his
boastful habits and want of accuracy had made his memory so careless,
that he fancied that a far larger proportion was his than really was,
and his purposes were in the strange medley that falls to the lot of
all self-deceivers, sometimes fancying he would only take what he had
a right to (whatever that might be), sometimes that he would borrow
what he wanted, and replace it when the sovereign should be given to
him, or that the Grevilles would make it up when they had their
When he came to the farm Mr. Grice was resolved to take nothing less
than the whole sum that he had with him. Perhaps this was less for
the value of the turkey-cock than for the sake of giving the boys
such a lesson as to prevent them from ever molesting his poultry
again. At any rate, he was inexorable till the frightened Henry had
delivered up every farthing in his possession; and then, convinced
that no more was forthcoming, he relented so far as to restore the
gun, and promise to make no complaint to either of the fathers.
At first Henry lived on hopes of being able to restore the money
before the hoard should be examined, but Colonel Carey went away,
and, as might have been expected, left no present to his brother's
pupils. Still Henry had hopes of the Grevilles, and even when the
loss was discovered, hoped to restore it secretly, and make the whole
pass off as a joke; but the 1st of August came, Martin and Osmond
received their pocket-money, but laughed his entreaty to scorn,
telling him that he had shot the turkey-cock, not they. Since that
time, his only hope had been in the affair blowing over--as if a sin
ever did blow over!
"One question I must ask, Miss Fosbrook," said the Captain, "though
after such a course of deceit it hardly makes it worse. Has he told
any direct falsehood?"
She paused, and recollected. "Yes, Sir," she said, "I am afraid he
did; he flatly told me that he had not touched the baby-house."
"I expected nothing else," said the Captain gravely. "What has
become of Bessie?"
"She ran up-stairs. May I go and call her?" said Susan.
He found Elizabeth in the school-room, all flushed and tear-stained
in the face; and he told her affectionately how much pleased he was
with her patience under this false accusation. Delight very nearly
set her off crying again, but she managed to say, "It was Miss
Fosbrook and Sam and Susie that made me patient, Papa; they were so
kind. And nobody would have believed it, if I wasn't always cross,
"Not cross now, my little woman," he said smiling.
"Oh! I said I never could be cross again, now Mamma is better; but
Miss Fosbrook says I shall sometimes feel so, and I do believe she is
right, for I was almost cross to Georgie to-day. But she says one
may feel cross, and not be cross!"
He did not quite know all that his little girl was thinking of; but
he patted her fondly, and said, "Yes, there is a great deal to be
thankful for, my dear; and I shall trust to you elder ones to give
your Mamma no trouble while I am afloat."
"I will try," said Bessie. "And please, Papa, would you tell Nurse
about it? She doesn't half believe us, and she is so tiresome about
"She always thinks what she does is wrong, and she puts nonsense into
Johnnie's head, and talks about favourites. Mary told Susan it was
The Captain spoke pretty strongly to Nurse Freeman that evening, but
it is doubtful if she were the better for it. She was a very good
woman in most things, but she could not bear that the children should
be under anyone but herself; and just as Henry lost the truth by
inaccuracy, she lost it by prejudice.
Miss Fosbrook was glad to get away from the dining-room, where it was
rather awful to sit without her work and be talked to by Mr.
Merrifield, even though she liked him much better than she had
When David came to bed, she sat by him and talked to him about his
angry unforgiving spirit. She could not but think he was in a
fearful temper, and she tried hard to make him sorry for his brother,
instead of thirsting to see the disappointment visited on him; but
David could not see what she meant. Wicked people ought to be
punished; it was wicked to steal and tell stories, and he hoped Henry
would be punished, so as he would never forget it, for hindering poor
Hannah from getting her pig.
He would not understand Henry's predicament; he was only angry,
bitterly angry, and watching for vengeance. Miss Fosbrook could not
reason or persuade him out of it, nor make him see that he could
hardly say his prayers in such a mood. Indeed, he would rather have
gone without his prayers than have ceased to hope for Henry's
Perhaps in this there was sense of justice and indignation against
wrong doing, as well as personal resentment. Miss Fosbrook tried to
think so, and left him, but not without praying for him, that a
Christian temper of forgiveness might be sent upon him.
All the others were subdued and awe-struck. It was not yet known
what was to happen to Henry; but there was a notion that it would be
very terrible indeed, and that Uncle John would be sure to make it
worse; and they wished Miss Fosbrook good-night with very sad faces.