The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
Still the silence lasted. Henry had tried at first to persuade himself that it was only by chance that he never heard his own name from lips that used to call it more often than any other. Indeed, he was so much used to favour, that it needed all the awe-struck pity of the rest to prove to him its withdrawal; and he was so much in the habit of thrusting himself before Samuel, that even the sight and sound of the First Book of Euclid, all day long, failed to convince him that his brother could be preferred; above all, as Nurse Freeman had been collecting his clean shirts as well as Sam's, and all the portmanteaus and trunks in the house had been hunted out of the roof. Once, either the spirit of imitation, or his usual desire of showing himself off, made him break in when Sam was knitting his brows frightfully over a sum in proportion. Hal could do it in no time!
So he did; but he put the third term first, and multiplied the hours into the minutes, instead of reducing them to the same denomination; so that he made out that twenty-five men would take longer to cut a field of grass than three, and then could not see that he was wrong; but Miss Fosbrook and Sam both looked so much grieved for him, that a start of fright went through him.
Some minds really do not understand a fault till they see it severely visited; and "at least" and "couldn't help" had so blinded Henry's eyes that he had thought himself more unlucky than to blame, till his father's manner forced it on him that he had done something dreadful. Vaguely afraid, he hung about, looking so wretched that he was a piteous sight; and it cut his father to the heart to spend such a last day together. Mayhap the Captain could hardly have held out all that second day, if he had not passed his word to his brother.
The travellers were to set off at six in the morning, to meet the earliest train: and it was not till nine o'clock at night, when the four elder ones said good-night, that the Captain, following them out of the room, laid his hand on Henry as the others went up-stairs, and said, "Henry, have you nothing to say to me?"
Henry leant against the baluster and sobbed, not knowing what else to do.
"You can't be more grieved than I am to have such a last day together," said his father, laying his hand on the yellow head; "but I can't help it, you see. If you will do such things, it is my duty to make you repent of them."
Hal threw himself almost double over the rail, and something was heard about "sorry," and "never."
"Poor little lad!" said his father aloud to himself; "he is cut up enough now; but how am I to know if his sorrow is good for anything?"
"O Papa! I'll never do such a thing again!"
"I wish I knew that, Hal," said the Captain, sitting down on the stairs, and taking him between his knees. "There, let us talk it over together. I don't suppose you expected to steal and deceive when you got up in the morning."
"Oh no, no!"
"Go back to the beginning. See how you came to this."
As he waited for an answer, Hal mumbled out after some time, "You said we need not go to church on a week-day."
"Well, what of that?"
"I didn't go in case the telegraph should come."
"There are different ways of thinking," said his father. "Church was the only place where I could have gone that St. Barnabas' Day."
"I would have gone," said the self-contradictory Henry, "only the Grevilles are always at one for being like a girl."
"Ha! now we see daylight!" said the Captain.
"'The Grevilles are at one,'--that's more like getting to the bottom of it."
"Yes, Papa," said Hal, glad to make himself out a victim to circumstance; "you can't think what a pair of fellows those are for not letting one alone; Purday says they haven't as much conscience between them as a pigeon's egg has meat; and going down to Mr. Carey's with them every day, they let one have no peace."
"You will find people everywhere who will let you have no peace, unless you do not care for them; though you will not be left to the Grevilles any longer."
"Yes, Papa; when I am away from them, you will see--"
"No, Hal, I shall not see, I shall hear."
"Shall not I sail with you, then, Papa?"
"You will not sail at all: I thought you knew that."
"I thought the Admiral must have given you two appointments," said Hal timidly.
"He gave me one, for one of my sons. The first choice is Sam's right, even if he had not deserved it by his brave patient obedience."
Hal hung his head; then said, "But, Papa, if Sam broke down in his examination, please mightn't I--"
"No, Henry. Not only does your uncle say that though Sam's success is very doubtful, your inaccuracy would make your failure certain; but if your knowledge were ever so well up to the mark, I could not put you into the navy. Left to yourself here, you have been insubordinate, vain, weak, shuffling: can I let you go into greater temptation, where disgrace would be public and without remedy?"
"Oh, but, Papa! Papa! Away from the Grevilles, and not under only a governess--"
"You shall be away from the Grevilles, and not under a governess. Your uncle is kind enough to take you with him to his house, and will endeavour to make you fit to try to get upon the foundation by the time there is a vacancy."
"O Papa! don't," sobbed Henry.
"I can't help it, Hal! You have shown yourself unfit either for the sea or for home. What can I do with you?"
"Try me--only try me, Papa. I would--"
"I cannot go by what you say you would be, but what you are. Deeds, not words."
"But if you won't let me go into the navy, only let me be in real school."
"No, Henry; I have not the means of sending you there: excepting on the foundation; and if you get admittance there at all, it will only be by great diligence, and your uncle's kindness in preparing you."
Henry cried bitterly. It was a dreadful prospect to do his lessons alone with Uncle John in the boys' play-hours, and be kept in order by Aunt Alice when his uncle was in school. Perhaps his father would not have liked it himself, for his voice was very pitying, though cheering, as he said, "One half year, Hal, very likely no more if you take pains, and you'll get into school, and be very happy, so long as you don't make a Greville of every idle chap you meet."
Henry cried as though beyond consolation.
"I hate leaving you this way," continued his father; "but by the time I come home you will see it was the best thing for you; and look up to Uncle John as your best friend. Why, Hal, boy, you'll be a tall fellow of fourteen! Let me find you godly and manly: you can't be one without the other. There now, good night, God bless you."
More might have been said to Henry on his fault and what had led to it; but what his father did say was likely to sink deeper as he grew older, and had more sense and feeling.
From him Captain Merrifield went to the school-room, where Miss Fosbrook was packing up for the little girls, and putting last stitches to their equipments, with hearty good-will and kindness, as if she had been their elder sister.
He thanked her most warmly; and without sending away the girls, who were both busy tacking in little white tuckers to the evening frocks, he began to settle about the terms on which she was to remain at Stokesley. He said that he could not possibly have left his wife without a person on whose friendly help and good management of the children he could depend. Important as it was to him to be employed, he must have refused the appointment if Miss Fosbrook had been discontented, or had not had the children so well in hand. He explained that he had reason to think that Mrs. Merrifield's present illness had been the effect of all she had gone through while he was in the Black Sea during the Crimean War. She had been a very strong person, and had never thought of sparing herself; but she and all her little children had had to get into Stokesley in his absence; she had to manage the estate and farm, teach the elder children, and take care of the babies, with no help but Nurse Freeman's: and though he had been wounded when with the Naval Brigade, and had been at death's door with cholera, the effects had done him no lasting harm at all; while the over-strain of the anxiety and exertion that she had undergone all alone had so told upon her, that she had never been well since, and he much feared, would never be in perfect health again. He must depend upon Miss Fosbrook for watching over her and saving her, as his little Susie could not yet do; and for letting him know from time to time how she was going on, and whether he ought to give up everything and come home.
He had tears in his eyes as he thanked Christabel for her earnest promise to watch and tend Mrs. Merrifield with a daughter's care; and her heart swelled with strong deep feeling of sorrow and sympathy with these two brave-hearted loving people, doing their duty at all costs so steadily; and she was full of gladness and thankfulness that they could treat her as a true and trusty friend. He walked away, feeling far too much to bear any eye upon him; and Susan was found to be crying quietly, making her thread wet through, and her needle squeak at every stitch, at the sad news that Mamma never was to be quite well, even though assured that she was likely to be much better than she had been for months past.
Bessie shed no tears; but Miss Fosbrook, who had been hindered all day by Sam's Euclid and Colenso, and had sat up till half-past eleven o'clock to make the two Sunday frocks nice enough for the journey, on going into the bed-room to lay them out for the morning, saw a little face raised from the pillow of one of the small white beds, and found her broad awake. Bessie never could go to sleep properly when anything out of the common way was coming to pass, so that was the less wonder; but she had a great deal in her head, and she was glad to get Christabel to kneel down by her, to listen to her whispers.
"Dear Christabel, I am so sorry. I never cared about it before!"
"About what, my dear?"
"What Papa said about when he was in the Black Sea. I never knew Mamma cared so much."
"I dare say not, my dear; you were much younger then."
"And I didn't know all about it," said Bessie, "or else I've forgotten. I have been trying to remember whether we ever thought about Mamma; and oh, Christabel! do you know--I believe we only thought she was cross! Oh dear! it was so naughty and bad of us!"
"I can guess how it happened, my dear. You were not old enough to be made her friends, and you could not understand quiet sorrow."
"To think we should have said she was cross!"
"That was wrong, because it was disrespectful. You see, my dear, when grown people are in trouble, you young ones can't enter into their feelings, nor always even find out that anything is amiss; and you get vexed at there being a cloud over the house, and call it crossness."
"Grown-up people are sometimes cross, aren't they?" said Bessie. "Nurse is; and I heard Papa say Aunt Alice was."
"We have tempers, certainly," said Miss Fosbrook; "and unless we have conquered them as children, there will be signs of them afterwards; but very few people, and certainly no children, can tell when grave looks, or words sharper than usual, come from illness or anxiety or sorrow; and it is the only way to save great grief and self-reproach to give one's own faults the blame, and try to be as unobtrusive and obliging as possible."
"And I am older now, and can understand," said Bessie; "but then, it is Susie that is right hand, and does everything."
"There's plenty in your own line, Bessie--plenty of little kindly services that are very cheering; and above all--"
"Attending to your Mamma's troubles will drive away your own grievances. Only I will not talk to you any more now, for I want you to go to sleep; if you lie awake, you will be tired to-morrow, and that will incline you to be fretful."
Bessie could not believe it possible; and indeed Miss Fosbrook did not think the chance great, as long as there was amusement and excitement. The danger would be in the waitings and disappointments that will often occur, even in the height of enjoyable schemes.
It would take too long to tell of all the good-byes. The children old enough to enter into the parting were setting off too; and Miss Fosbrook felt more for the little ones than they did for themselves, as they watched their father and uncle and two sisters into the gig, and the boys into the cart, with Purday to drive them and the boxes, Sam sitting on his father's old midshipman's chest, trying, as well as the jolting would let him, to con over that troublesome Thirty- fifth Proposition, which nine times repetition to Miss Fosbrook had failed to put into his head.
Johnnie and Annie wished themselves going to sea, or to London, or anywhere, rather than having the full force of Miss Fosbrook on their lessons! She did not make them do more, but she took the opportunity of making everything be done thoroughly, and, as they thought, bothered them frightfully about pronouncing their words in reading, and holding their pens when they wrote. After a little while, however, they found that really their hands were much less tired, and their lines much smoother and more slanting, than when they crooked their fingers close down over the ink. Absolutely they began to know the pleasure of doing something well, and they felt so comfortable, that they were wonderfully good; and the pig fund might have had a chance, but David did not seem to think of reviving it. Perhaps his great vehemence had tired itself out; and maybe he was ashamed of the great disturbance he had made and all that had come upon Henry, and did not wish to think of it again, for St. Katherine's fair-day passed over without a word of the pig.
The young ladies were not great letter-writers; and all that was known of them was that Mamma was better, they had been to the Zoological Gardens and the hyena was so funny, and Mrs. Penrose was so nice. Then that Papa and Sam were gone to Portsmouth, and that they had telegraphed that Sam had succeeded.
If it had been her own brother, Miss Fosbrook could not have been much happier; and in honour of it she and the three children all went to drink tea in the wilderness, walking in procession, each with a flag in hand, painted by her for the occasion.
Three days after, when the post came in, there was a letter directed to Master David Douglas Merrifield, Stokesley House, Bonchamp. It was a great wonder; for David was not baby enough, nor near enough to the youngest, to get letters as a pet, nor was he old enough to be written to like an elder one. He spelt the address all over before he made up his mind to open it, and then exclaimed, "But it is not a letter! It's green!"
"It is a post-office order, Davie," said Miss Fosbrook. "Let me look. Yes, for ten shillings. Write your name there; and if we take it to the post-office at Bonchamp, they will give you ten shillings."
"Ten shillings! Oh, Davie!" cried Johnnie, "I wish it was to me!"
"It just makes up for what Hal took, and more too," said Annie. "Where can it come from, Davie?"
"From the Queen," said Davie composedly; "the Queen always does justice."
Miss Fosbrook was quite sorry to confess, for truth's sake, that she did not think the Queen could have heard of the loss of the pig fund, and that it was more likely to be from someone who wished to make up for the disaster--who could it be? She looked at the round stamp upon the green-lettered paper, and read "Portsmouth." Could it be from Papa? Then she looked at the cover; but it was not a bit like the Captain's writing; it was pretty, lady-like, clear-looking hand- writing, and puzzled her a great deal more. If the children had once had a secret of their own, there was a very considerable one to puzzle them now; and they could hardly believe that Miss Fosbrook knew nothing about it, any more than themselves.
So restless and puzzled were they, that she thought they would never be able to settle quietly to their lessons, and that it would save idleness if she walked with them at once to Bonchamp to get the money. It was two miles; but all three were stout walkers, and they were delighted to go; indeed, they would have fancied that someone else might run away with the ten shillings if they had not made haste to secure it. So "David Douglas Merrifield" was written, with much difficulty to make it small enough, in the very best and roundest hand. The boys were put into clean blouses, Annie's striped cotton came to light; and off set the party through the lanes, each with sixpence in their hand, for it was poor fun to go to Bonchamp, unless one had something to spend there. David wanted a knife, Johnnie wanted a whip, Annie nothing in particular, only to go into a shop, and buy--she didn't know what.
But the wonderful affair at the post-office must have the first turn; and very grand did David feel as the clerk peeped out from his little hole, and looked amused and gracious as the little boy stood on tiptoe to give in his green paper.
"Will you have it in gold or silver, Sir?" he asked.
"In gold, please," said David.
It was something to have a bit of gold in one's possession for the first time in one's life; and David felt as if he had grown an inch taller, and were as good as six years old, as he walked away with the half sovereign squeezed into his hot little palm.
The toy-shop was at the end of the street, and in they went; Johnnie to try all the whistles in the handles of the whips, and be much disgusted that all that had a real sound lash cost a shilling; David to open and shut the sixpenny knives with the gravity of a judge examining their blades; and Annie to gape about, and ask the price of everything, after the tiresome fashion of people, old or young, when they come out bent on spending, but without any aim or object. However, Annie was kind, if she were silly, and she was very fond of Johnnie; so it ended, after a little whispering, in her sixpence being added to his, to buy a real good whip, such as would crack, and not come to pieces.
Just then, what should the children espy, but a nice firm deal box, containing a little saw, a little plane, a hammer, a gimlet, a chisel, and sundry different sizes of nails. Was there ever anything so delightful, especially to David, who loved nothing so well as running after George Bowles the carpenter, and handling his tools. What was the price of them?
Just ten shillings and sixpence. They were very cheap, the woman of the toy-shop said. They had been ordered by an old lady at her grandson's entreaty; but afterwards a misgiving had seized her that the young gentleman would cut his fingers, and she would not take them.
"Miss Fosbrook," whispered David, "may I give back the knife? then I could buy it."
"You have bought and paid for it," said Christabel.
"Somebody else will buy the box," said David wistfully.
Miss Fosbrook, within herself, thought this unlikely, for nobody went to Bonchamp for costly shopping; and she saw that the woman would gladly have had the knife back, if she could have sold the tool-box, which, even at this reduced price, was much too dear for the little boys who frequented the shop.
"Come away now, my dear," she said decidedly. "No, another time, thank you."
David was as nearly crying as ever he was, as he was forced to follow her out of the shop. Those tools were so charming; his fingers tingled to be hammering, sawing, boring holes. Had he lost the chance for that poor blunt knife? Must he wait a whole fortnight for another sixpence, and find the delicious tool-chest gone?
"Dear Davie, I am very sorry," said Christabel when they were in the street.
"That nasty knife!" cried David.
"It is not the knife, Davie," said she; "but that I want to think--I want you to think--why these ten shillings must have been sent."
"Because we lost the money for the pig," said David. "But Kattern Hill fair is over, and I don't want a pig now; I do want the gimlet to make holes--"
"Yes, David; but you know what was saved for the pig came from all of you; you would have had no right to spend it on anything else, unless they all had consented."
"This is my very own," said David; "it was sent to me--myself--me."
"So it seems now; but just suppose you were to have a letter to say that someone--poor Hal himself, perhaps--or Papa--had sent ten shillings to make up the money for the pig, and directed it to you because you cared so much, would it not be a shame to have spent the money upon yourself?"
"Then they should not have sent it without saying," said David.
Miss Fosbrook thought the same, when she saw how hard the trial was to the little boy; but she hoped she was taking the kindest course, as she said, "Now, David, in nine days time, if you are good, you will have had another sixpence. I see no chance of the tools being sold; or if they are, I could send for such a box from London. By that time, perhaps, something will have happened to show who sent the money, and why."
"And if it is all for myself, I may have the tools!" cried David.
"You shall have them, if you really think it is right, when Monday week comes."