The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
"Grant to us, Thy humble servants, that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by Thy merciful guiding may perform the same," spelt out David with some trouble and difficulty, as he stood by Miss Fosbrook on Sunday morning.
"Well, my dear."
"Is wanting to buy a pig one of the 'things that be good'?'
"Anything kind and right is good, my dear," said Miss Fosbrook, a little vexed at a sort of snorting she heard from the other end of the room.
"Davy thinks the pig is in his Collect," said Sam.
He was one of those who were especially proud of being downright, and in him it often amounted to utter regardlessness of people's feelings, yet not out of ill-nature; and when Susan responded, "Don't teaze Davy--he can't bear it," he was silent; but the mischief was done; and when Miss Fosbrook went on saying that the wish to help the poor woman was assuredly a good thought, which the little boy might well ask to be aided in fulfilling, David had grown ashamed, and would not listen. But the mention of the pig had set off Master Henry, who was sitting up in the window-seat with Annie, also learning the Collect, and he burst out into descriptions of the weight of money that would be found in Toby, and how he meant to go to the fair with Purday, and help him to choose the pig, and drive it home.
"More likely to hinder," muttered Sam.
"Besides, Papa wouldn't let you," added Bessie; but Hal did not choose to hear, and went on as to how the pig should ran away with Purday, and jump into a stall full of parliament gingerbread (whereat Annie fell into convulsions of laughing), and Hal should be the first to stop it, and jump on its back, and ride out of the fair holding it by the ears; and then they should pop it into the sty unknown to Hannah Higgins, and all lie in wait to hear what would happen; and when it squealed, she would think it the baby crying; but there Susan burst out at the notion of any one thinking a child could scream like a pig, taking it as an affront to all babyhood; and Miss Fosbrook took the opportunity of saying,
"Hadn't you better hatch your chickens before you count them, Henry? If you prevent everyone from learning the Collect, I fear there will be the less hope of Mr. Piggy."
"Oh! we don't have fines on Sundays," said Henry.
"Mamma says that on Sundays naughtiness is not such a trifle that we can be fined for it," said Susan.
"It is not naughtiness we are ever fined for," added Elizabeth: "That we are punished and talked to for: but the fines are only for bad habits."
"Oh! I hope I sha'n't have any this week," sighed Susan.
"You may hope," said Sam. "You're sure of them for everything possible except crying."
"Yes, Bessie gets all the crying fines," said Hal; "and I hope she'll have lots, because she won't help the pig."
Bessie started up from her place and rushed out of the room; while Miss Fosbrook indignantly exclaimed,
"Really, boys, I can't think how you can be so ill-natured!"
They looked up as though it were quite a new light to them; and Susan exclaimed,
"Oh, Miss Fosbrook! they don't mean it: Sam and Hal never were ill- natured in their lives."
"I don't know what you call ill-natured," said Miss Fosbrook, "unless it is saying the very things most likely to vex another."
"I don't mean to vex anybody," said Henry, "only we always go on so, and nobody is such a baby as to mind, except Bessie."
And Sam muttered, "One can't be always picking one's words."
"I am not going to argue about it," said Miss Fosbrook; "and it is time to get ready for church. Only I thought manliness was shown in kindness to the weak, and avoiding what can pain them."
She went away; and Susan was the first to exclaim,
"I didn't think she'd have been so cross!"
"Stuff, Sue!" said Sam; "it's not being cross. I like her for having a spirit; but one can't be finikin and mealy-mouthed to suit her London manners. I like the truth."
It would have been well if any one had been by to tell Mr. Samuel that truth of character does not consist in disagreeable and uncalled-for personalities.
Miss Fosbrook did not wonder at little Elizabeth for her discomfort under the rude homeliness of Stokesley, where the children made a bad copy of their father's sailor bluntness, and the difficulties of money matters kept down all indulgences. She knew that Captain Merrifield was as poor a man for an esquire as her father was for a surgeon, and that if he were to give his sons an education fit for their station, he must make his household live plainly in every way; but without thinking them right feelings, she had some pity for little Bessie's weariness and discontent in never seeing anything pretty. The three girls came in dressed for church, in the plainest brown hats, black capes, and drab alpaca frocks, rather long and not very full; not a coloured bow nor handkerchief, not a flounce nor fringe, to relieve them; even their books plain brown. Bessie looked wistfully at Miss Fosbrook's pretty Church-service, and said she and Susan both had beautiful Prayer-Books, but Mamma said they could not be trusted with them yet--Ida Greville had such a beauty.
Was it the effect of Miss Fosbrook's words, that Sam forbore to teaze Bessie about Ida Greville?--whose name was a very dangerous subject in the schoolroom. Also, he let Bessie take hold of Miss Fosbrook's hand in peace, though in general the least token of affection was scouted by the whole party.
It was a pretty walk to church, over a paddock, where the cows were turned out, and then along a green lane; and the boys had been trained enough in Sunday habits to make them steady and quiet on the way, especially as Henry was romancing about the pig.
By and by Elizabeth gave Miss Fosbrook's hand a sudden pull; and she perceived, in the village street into which they were emerging, a party on the way to church. There were two ladies, one in stately handsome slight mourning, the other more quietly dressed, and two or three boys; but what Elizabeth wanted her to look at was a little girl of nine years old, who was walking beside the lady. Her hat was black chip, edged and tied with rose-coloured ribbon, and adorned with a real bird, with glass eyes, black plumage, except the red crest and wings. She wore a neatly-fitting little fringed black polka, beneath which spread out in fan-like folds her flounced pink muslin, coming a little below her knees, and showing her worked drawers, which soon gave place to her neat stockings and dainty little boots. She held a small white parasol, bordered with pink, and deeply fringed, over her head, and held a gold-clasped Prayer- Book in her hand; and Miss Fosbrook heard a little sigh, which told her that this was the being whom Elizabeth Merrifield thought the happiest in the world. She hoped it was not all for the fine clothes; and Sam muttered,
"What a little figure of fun!"
Martin and Osmond Greville went daily to Mr. Carey's, like Sam and Hal, so the boys ran on to them; and Mrs. Greville, turning round, showed a very pleasant face as she bowed to Miss Fosbrook, and shaking hands with Susan and Elizabeth, asked with much solicitude after their mamma, and how lately they had heard of her.
Susan was too simple and straightforward to be shy, and answered readily, that they had had letters, and Mamma had been sadly tired by the journey, but was better the next day. The little girls shook hands; and Mrs. Greville made a kind of introduction by nodding towards her companion, and murmuring something about "Fraulein Munsterthal;" and Miss Fosbrook found herself walking beside a lady with the least of all bonnets, a profusion of fair hair, and a good- humoured, one-coloured face, no doubt Miss Ida's German governess. She said something about the fine day, and received an answer, but what it was she could not guess, whether German, French, or English, and her own knowledge of the two first languages was better for reading than for speaking; so after an awkward attempt or two, she held her peace and looked at her companions.
Susan and Mrs. Greville seemed to be getting on very well together; but Elizabeth's admiration of Ida seemed to be speechless, for they were walking side by side without a word, perhaps too close to their elders to talk.
Annie and David were going on steadily hand in hand a little way off; and Miss Fosbrook chiefly heard the talk of the boys, who had fallen behind; perhaps her ears were quickened by its personality, for though Sam was saying, "I'll tell you what, she's a famous fellow!" the rejoinder was, "What! do you mean to say that you mind her?"
"Doesn't he?" said Hal's voice; "why, she sent him away from tea last night, just for shying crusts."
"And did he go?" and there was a disagreeable sounding laugh, in which she was sorry that Hal joined.
"Catch the Fraulein serving me so!"
"She never tries!"
"She knows better!"
"I say, Sam, I thought you had more spirit. You'll be sitting up pricking holes in a frill by the time the Captain comes back."
"And Hal will be mincing along with his toes turned out like a dancing-master!" continued an affected voice.
"No such thing!" cried Hal angrily: "I'm not a fellow to be ordered about!"
The Grevilles laughed; and one of them said, "Well, then, why don't you show it? I'd soon send her to the right-about if she tried to interfere with me!"
Miss Fosbrook could bear it no longer; and facing suddenly round, looked the speaker full in the face, and said, "I am very much obliged to you--but you should not speak quite so loud."
The boys shrank back out of countenance; and Sam, who alone had not spoken, looked up into her face with a merry air, as if he were gratified by her spirited way of discomfiting them.
Osmond tried to recover, and muttered, "What a sell!" rather impudently; but they were now near the churchyard, and Mrs. Greville turning round, all was hushed.
Christabel felt much vexed that all this should have happened just before going into church; she felt a good deal ruffled herself, and feared that Bessie's head was filled with nonsense, if Hal's were not with something worse.
The church looked pretty outside, with the old weather-boarded wooden belfry rising above the tiled roof and western gable; and it was neatly kept but not pretty within, the walls all done over with pale buff wash, and the wood-work very clumsy. Sam and Susan behaved well and attentively; but Bessie fidgeted into her mamma's place, and would stand upon a hassock. Miss Fosbrook was much afraid it was to keep in sight of the beautiful bird. Hal yawned; and Johnnie not only fidgeted unbearably himself, but made his sister Annie do the same, till Miss Fosbrook scarcely felt as if she was at church, and made up her mind to tell Johnnie that she should leave him at home with the babies unless he changed his ways. Little David went on most steadily with his Prayer-Book, and scarcely looked off it till the sermon, when he fell asleep.
Miss Fosbrook had one pleasure as she was going home. The children had all gone on some steps before her, chattering eagerly among themselves, when Sam turned back and said abruptly, "Miss Fosbrook, you didn't mind that, I hope?"
"What those boys were saying? It depends on you whether you make me mind it."
"I don't mean to make any rows if I can help it," said Sam.
"I am sure I hope you will be able to help it! I don't know what I should do if you did!"
Sam gave an odd smile with his honest face. "Well, you've got a good spirit of your own. It would take something to cow you."
"Pray don't try!"
Sam laughed, and said, "I did promise Papa to be conformable."
"And I was very much obliged to you yesterday evening. The behaviour of the other boys depends so much on you."
"Yes, I know," said Sam; "and I don't mind it so much now I see you can stand up for yourself."
"Besides, what would it be if I had to write to your father that I could not manage such a bear-garden?"
"I'll take care that sha'n't happen," exclaimed Sam. "It would hinder all the good to Mamma! I'll tell you what," he added, after a confidential pause, "if we get beyond you, there's Mr. Carey."
"I thought you did not mean to get beyond me."
Sam looked a little disconcerted, and it struck her that, though he would not say so, he was doubtful whether the Greville influence might not render Henry unmanageable; but he quickly gave it another turn. "Only you must not plague us about London manners."
"I don't know what you mean by London manners. Do you mean not bawling at tea? for I mean to insist upon that, I assure you, and I want you to help me."
"Oh! not being finikin, and mincing, and nonsensical!"
"I hope I'm not so!" said Miss Fosbrook, laughing heartily; "but I'll tell you one thing, Sam, that I do wish you would leave off--and that is teazing. I don't know whether that is country manners, but I don't like to see a sensible kind fellow like you just go out of your way to say something mortifying to a younger one."
"You don't know," said Sam. "It is fun. They like it."
"If they really like it, there is no objection. I know I should like very much to have my brother here quizzing me; but you know very well there are two sorts of such fun, and one that is only sport to the stronger side."
"Bessie is so ridiculous."
"She is the very one I want to protect. I don't think that teazing her does any good; it only gives her cross feelings. And she really has more right on her side than you think. You might be just as honest and bold if you were less rude and bearish."
"I can't bear to see her so affected and perked up."
"It is not affectation. She is really more gentle and quiet than you are; you don't think it so in your Mamma, and she is like her."
"Mamma is not like Bessie."
"And then about Davy. How could you go and stop the poor little boy when he was trying to think and feel rightly?"
"He was so funny," repeated Sam.
"I hope you will think another time whether your fun is safe and kind."
"One can't be so particular," he said impatiently.
"I am sorry to hear it. I thought the only way to do right was to be particular."
He grunted, and flung away from her. She was vexed to have sent him off in such a mood; but, unmannerly as he was, she saw so much good in him, that she could not but hope he would be her friend and ally.
Dinner went off very peaceably, and then Susan fetched her two darlings from the nursery, George and Sarah, of three years and eighteen months old. Her great perfection was as a motherly elder sister; and even Sam was gentle to these little things, and played with them very nicely.
Miss Fosbrook reminded Hal of his Collect; but he observed that there was plenty of time, and continued to stand by the window, pursuing the flies with his finger, not killing them, but tormenting them and David very seriously, by making them think he would--not a very pretty business for the day when all things should be happy, more like that which is always found "for idle hands to do."
Evening service-time put an end to this sport; but Miss Fosbrook could not set off till after a severe conflict with Johnnie. She had decreed that he should not go again that day, after his behaviour in the morning; and perhaps he would not have minded this punishment much if David had not been going, which made him think it a disgrace. So, in the most independent manner be put on his hat, and was marching off, when Miss Fosbrook stood in front of him, and ordered him back.
He repeated, "I'm going to church." It was plain enough that he had heard what those boys had said about not submitting.
"Church is not the place to go to in a fit of wilfulness, Johnnie," she said; and his sisters broke out, "O Johnnie!" but the naughty boy, fancying, perhaps, that want of time would lead to his getting his own way, marched on, sticking up his toes very high in the air.
"Johnnie, Johnnie dear," entreated Susan, "what would Mamma say?"
John would not hear, and walked on.
"John," said Miss Fosbrook, "if you do not come back directly, I must carry you."
She had measured her strength with his: he was only eight years old, and she believed that she could carry him; but he heard the church- bells ringing, and thought he should have his way.
She laid hold of him, and he began fighting and kicking, in stout shoes, whose thumps were no joke. She held fast, but she felt frightened, and doubtful of the issue of the struggle; and again there was Hal laughing.
"For-shame, Henry!" burst out Sam; and the same moment those two feet were secured, and John was a prisoner. Miss Fosbrook called out to the rest to go on to church, and she and Sam dragged the boy up to the nursery, and shut him in there, roaring passionately.
Nurse Freeman, knowing nothing about it, could not believe but that the stranger lady had made her child naughty, and said something about their Mamma letting him go to church; and "when the child wished to go to church, it seemed strange he should not."
Miss Fosbrook would not defend herself, for she was in great haste; but Sam exclaimed, "Stuff! he was as naughty as could be all this morning, and only wanted to go now because he was told not."
Johnnie bellowed out something else, but Miss Fosbrook would not let Sam go on; she touched his arm, and drew him off with her, he exclaiming, "Foolish old Freeman! she will pet and spoil him all church-time, till he is worse than ever."
It was lucky for her that she was too much hurried to dwell on this vexation; she almost ran to save herself from being late, and scarcely heard Sam's mutterings about wishing to break Martin Greville's head.
"You need not hurry so much," he said; "there's a shorter cut, only I suppose you can't get through a gap."
"Can't I?" she laughed; and he led her on straight through the Short- horns. Some of them looked at her more than she fancied, but she knew she might give up all hopes of Sam if he detected her fears. Then came the gap, where a tree had been cut down in the hedge, and such a jump down from it! But she gathered up her muslin, and made her leap so gallantly, that the boy cried,
"Hurrah! well done!" and came and walked close to her, saying confidentially, "I say, do you think we shall ever do the pig?"
"I am sure it might be done. If you are likely to do it you must know better than I."
"I don't know that I much care about it. It will be rather a bother; only now we have said it, I shall hate it if we don't do it."
"I think the pleasure of giving it will be a delightful reward for a little self-command."
"Only Hal and the girls will make such a work about it. I'm glad, after all, that Bessie has nothing to do with it, or she would want to dress it up in flowers and ribbons. Ha-ha! But what a little crab it is!"
"Don't be too sure of that. People may have other designs."
"Bessie's can't be anything but trumpery."
"Sometimes present trumpery is a step to something better. 'A was an Archer' is not very wise, but it is the road to reading--and even if it were not so, Sam, it is not right to shame people into giving; for what is not bestowed for the true reasons, does no good to giver nor to receiver.
Sam looked up with a frown of attention, as if he were trying to take in the new light; but he did take it in, and smacking his hands together with a noise like a pistol-shot, said, "Ay, that's it! We don't want what is grudged."
Miss Fosbrook thought of words that would another time be more familiar to Sam. "Not grudgingly, nor of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver."
What she said was, "You see, if you plague Bessie too much, to make her like ourselves, when she is really so different, you are driving her to the shamming you despise so much."
"But ought not she to be cured of being silly?"
"When we have quite made up our minds upon what silliness is. There, the bell has stopped."