The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
Ideas were slow in both entering or dying out of David's mind; but while there they reigned supreme. Carpentry had come in as the pig had gone out, and with the more force, because a new window was being put into Mamma's room; and George Bowles was there, with all his delightful tools, letting the little boys amuse themselves therewith, till they had hardly three sound fingers between them; and Nurse Freeman, when she dressed their wounds, could not think what was the use of a lady if she could not keep the children from hurting themselves; but Miss Fosbrook thought that it was better that boys should get a few cuts and bruises than that they should be timid and unhandy.
One evening, all the party walked to carry to Hannah Higgins's little girl a pinafore that Annie had been making. She was a nice, tidy woman, but there was little furniture in her house, and she looked very poor. The garden was large, and in pretty good order; and there was an empty pig-sty, into which Annie peeped significantly.
"No, Miss Annie, we haven't no pig," said Mrs. Higgins. "Ben says, says he, 'Mother, when I'm taken on for carter boy, see if I don't get you a nice little pig, as will eat the garden stuff, and pay the rent.'
"Oh, but--" began Annie, and there she came to a sudden stop.
"Is he likely soon to be a carter boy?" asked Miss Fosbrook.
"No, Ma'am; he is but ten years old, and they don't often take them on under twelve; but he is a good boy to his mother, and a terrible one for leasing."
Miss Fosbrook was obliged to have it explained to her that "leasing" meant gleaning; and she saw the grand pile of small neat bundles of wheat put out to dry on the sunny side of the house.
"O Davie!" cried Annie, as soon as they were outside the gate, "sha'n't we get the pig for Hannah?"
"It is my money, not yours; I shall do what I please with it," said David, rather crossly.
Miss Fosbrook pulled Annie back, and desired her to let David alone; herself wondering what would be the effect of what he had seen.
He had been eager to do good to Hannah when no desire of his own stood in the way; but a formed wish had arisen in his mind, and he loved himself better than Hannah. Christabel dreaded the clearing-up of the secret of the post-office order, lest he should be proved to love himself more than right and justice.
There were not many letters from the absent pair of sisters; they seemed to be much too busy and happy to write, and appeared to be "seeing everything," and to be only just able to put down the names of the wonders. The chief of all, however, was that kind Mrs. Penrose had actually taken them to Portsmouth for a couple of nights, to see the Ramilies, in which she was going to remain till it sailed. They had sat in the Admiral's cabin, and had slept upon "dear little sofas," where they wished they always slept; they had been in Papa's cabin, which was half filled up with a great gun, that can only be fired out at the window (scratched out, and "port-hole" put in.)
"Oh, how delightful! I wish I had a big gun in my room!" cried Johnnie.
And they had seen Sam's chest; and Sam did look so nice in his uniform; and he had dined with them every day. They had dined late, with the grown-up people; and the Admiral was so kind, only rather funny.
Annie wished she were as old as Bessie, as much as John wished to have a gun filling up his whole bed-room.
The next day, their Papa had taken them into the country to see Lady Seabury, Bessie's godmother, a very old lady indeed, older than Grandmamma, and who could not move out of her chair. "She gave me--" wrote Bessie. There again something had been scratched out, and "a kiss" written overhead.
That something was quite a long word, but it had been very completely blotted out; not like the "window," which had only a couple of cross bars, through which it could be plainly read; but there had plainly been first an attempt at smearing it out with the finger, and that not succeeding, an immense shiny black mess, like the black shade of a chafer grub, had been put down on it, and had come off on the opposite side of the sheet.
What could the word be? Annie and David were both sure they could read the lines through all the blot. The first letter was certainly S.
"But," said Miss Fosbrook, "do you think it is quite honourable to try to read what Bessie did not mean us to see?"
They did not quite enter into this, but they left off trying.
"Mamma had been out in the carriage several times; and they were all coming home on Saturday week"--that was the best news of all--"and then we have a secret too for Miss Fosbrook."
David said he was tired of secrets, and would not guess. Annie guessed a great deal; but Miss Fosbrook thought more about the word she would not try to read. She began to have a strong suspicion from whom the post-office order had come, and was the more uneasy about the spending of David's half sovereign; but she durst say nothing, for she knew it could do no good if he felt himself compelled against his own will; and she saw that he was full of thought.
One day the lawn had been mown, and the children where all very busy wheeling their little barrows, and loading them with the short grass; David was with them at first, but when Purday left off work, he marched after the old man in his grave deliberate way, and was seen no more till nearly tea-time, when he walked into the school-room with a very set look upon his solemn face, and sat himself down cross-legged on the locker, with a sigh that seemed to come out of the very depths of his heart.
"What's the matter, David?"
He made no answer, and Miss Fosbrook let him alone; but Annie presently bounced in, crying out, "Davie, Davie! where were you? we have been hunting for you everywhere! Where did you go?"
"I went with Purday."
"What, to milk the cows?"
"I went with him to Farmer Long's, to see his little Chinese pigs."
"And you have bought one! O Davie!"
"Purday is to ask the farmer about the price to-morrow morning, because he wasn't at home."
"Then you won't get the carpenter's tools?" said Annie.
"No," said David; "Purday said tools that they make for little boys never will cut."
"So you told Purday all about it?"
David nodded his head.
"Oh, do tell me what Purday said!" continued Annie.
"It's nothing to you," said David bluntly. But by and by, when John came in, and a few more questions were asked, David let out that Purday had said, "Well, he thought sure enough if the money was sent to Master David for that intent, he did not ought to spend it no other ways; and whether or not, Hannah Higgins was a deserving woman; and Master Davie didn't know what it was like never to have a bit of bacon ne'er a Sunday in the winter. He couldn't say but it was hard that those poor folks should get nothing but bread and cabbages from week's end to week's end, just that Master Davie might spoil bits of deal board with making chips of them."
And when David was sure he shouldn't spoil his wood, Purday had told him that them toy-shop young gentleman's tools were made to sell, and not made to cut. Best save up his money, and buy one real man's tool after another; and then he'd get a set equal to George Bowles's in time!
Though so young, David was long-sighted and patient enough to see the sense of this, and had already made up his mind that he would begin with a gimlet. And though he did not say so, and the first resolution had cost a very tough struggle, his heart seemed to have freed itself in that one great sigh, and he was at peace with himself.
Miss Fosbrook was very glad he had gone to so wise and good an adviser as Purday, and was almost as happy as David himself. She gave him and John leave to go with Purday the next day to bargain for the pig, as David was very anxious for one in especial, whose face he said was so jolly fat; and it was grand to see the two little boys consequentially walking on either aide of Purday, who had put on his whitest round frock for the great occasion.
Farmer Long was at home; he came out and did the honours of his ten little pigs; and when he found which was David's favourite, he declared that it was the best of the lot, and laughed till David blushed, at the young gentleman's having got such an eye for a pig. "It was a regular little Trudgeon," said Purday, (meaning perhaps a Trojan;) and it was worth at least twelve shillings, but the farmer in his good-nature declared that little Master should have it for the ten, as it was for a present. Hannah's boy was working for him, and was a right good lad, and he would give him some straw for the pig's bed when he went home at night. Then he took the two boys into the parlour, and while Purday had a glass of beer in the kitchen, Mrs. Long gave each of them a big slice of plum-cake, and wanted very much to have given them some wine, but that they knew they must not have; and she inquired after their Mamma and Papa, and made them so much of visitors, that David was terribly shy, and very glad when it was over, though John liked it, and talked fast.
As to the giving the pig, that was a serious business; and David felt hot and shy, and wanted to get it over as soon as possible without a fuss.
So he bolted into Mrs. Higgins's cottage, put his hands behind his back, and spoke thus:- "Please, Mrs. Higgins, put your pig-sty in order! We've all done it--at least they all wanted to--and a green order came down in a letter--and we've bought the pig, and Ben will drive it home when he comes from work!"
And then, as if he had been in a great fright, he ran away; while Johnnie stayed, and, when Hannah understood, received so many curtsies, and listened to so much pleasure, that he could hardly think of anything else, and felt very glad that some pence of his had been in Toby Fillpot.
Annie said that it was not fair that she had not been at the giving the pig; and Miss Fosbrook was a little disappointed too; but then it was much better that David should not want to make a display, so she would not complain, and comforted Annie by putting her in mind that they could go and see the little pig in his new quarters.
A few days more, and the carriage was driving up to the door with dear Mamma in it, and--why, there were three little girls, not two! One look, and the colour came into Christabel's face. It was her youngest little sister, Dora, who sat beside Bessie! Mrs. Merrifield had gone to see Mrs. Fosbrook, and ask if she could take anything for her to her daughter; and she had been so much shocked at the sight of the little pale London faces, that she had begged leave to take home one of the children to spend a month with her sister at Stokesley, since Miss Fosbrook could not be spared to go home at present. Was not that a secret for Christabel? How these two sisters did hug each other!
But the Stokesley secrets have lasted long enough; and there is no time to tell of the happy days of Dora's visit, and the good care that Johnnie took of her whenever she went out, and of her pretty quiet ways that made Bessie take her for her dearest of friends. And still less can be told of the smooth, peaceful, free spirit that seemed to have come home with Mamma, even though she was still able to do little among the children, for the very having her in the house appeared to keep things from going wrong.
One thing must be told, however, and that is, that when Annie told all the wonderful story of the post-office order and the Chinese pig, Bessie grew redder and redder in the face, and Susan squeezed both her hands tight together, and said "May I tell, Bessie!"