The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
With Monday morning began the earning of the pig. Miss Fosbrook's first business after prayers was to deal out the week's allowance-- sixpence to each of the four elders, threepence apiece to the three younger ones.
"May there be no fines," she said.
"I'll not have the hundredth part of a fine!" shouted Henry, tossing his money into the air.
Little David's set lips expressed the same purpose.
"Please let me have a whole sixpence," said Susan. "If I haven't any change, I sha'n't spend it."
"You, Sukey! you'd better have the four farthings," laughed Sam. "You'll be the first to want them."
Susan laughed; and Miss Fosbrook, partly as an example to the plaintive Elizabeth, said, "You are so good-humoured, Susie, that I can't find it in my heart to demand a fine--or--your hair; and there," pointing to the stout red fingers, "did you ever behold such a black little row?"
"Oh dear!" cried Susan, in her good-humoured hearty voice, "how tiresome, when they were so clean this morning, and I've only just been feeding the chicken, and up in the hay-loft for the eggs, and pulling the radishes!"
"Well, go and wash and brush, and to-morrow remember the pig," said Miss Fosbrook, unable to help comparing the radishes and the fingers for redness and for earthiness.
It was a more difficult matter when, as Elizabeth put her silver coin into her purse, John must needs repeat the stupid old joke, "There goes stingy Bet!" and Bessie put on her woeful appealing face.
"John, I shall punish you if I hear those words again."
"I don't mind. Nurse says you have no business to punish me! She did not put me to bed; and I had such fun! Oh, such fun!" and the boy looked up with a grin that set all the others laughing.
Christabel resolutely kept silence, and hoped her looks did not show her annoyance, as the boy went on, "I got lots of goodies, for Nurse said she had no notion of no stranger punishing her children. Oh! Oh! Oh!" For Samuel had hold of his ear, and was tweaking it sharply.
"There! Go and tell Nurse, if you like, baby!"
"Sam, indeed I can't have my battles fought in that way!" cried the governess, much distressed, as Johnnie roared, perhaps that old Nurse might hear, and, to all attempts to find out whether he were hurt, offered only heels and fists, till Susan came back and hugged him into quiet.
"Now Johnnie has cried before breakfast on a Monday morning," said Annie, "all the rest of the week will go wrong with him."
"Indeed," said Miss Fosbrook, "I hope no such thing.--Suppose we try and show Annie she is wrong, Johnnie!"
But Johnnie was sulky, and even Susan looked as if she thought this a new and dangerous notion. Sam laughed, and said, "I wish you joy, Miss Fosbrook. Now he'll think he must be naughty."
"Johnnie," said David solemnly, "the pig."
The pig was a very good master of the ceremonies, and kept all elbows off the table at breakfast-time; and Bessie, who was apt to stick fast in the midst of her bread and milk, and fall into disgrace for daintiness and dawdling, finished off quietly and prosperously.
Then every one was turned loose till nine o'clock. Susan had charge of Mamma's keys, and had to go down to the kitchen, see what the cook wanted, and put it out, but only on condition that no brother or sister ever went with her to the store-closet. Susan was highly trustworthy, but Mamma was too wise to let her be tempted by voices begging for one plum, one almond, or the last spoonful of Jam. It took away a great deal of the pleasure of jingling the keys, and having a voice in choosing the pudding.
The two elder boys went to their tutor, the other children to the nursery, except Elizabeth, who was rummaging in her little box, and David, whom Miss Fosbrook found perched on the ledge of the window, reading a book that did not look as if it were meant for men of his size.
But Miss Fosbrook thought David like the oldest person in the house-- infinitely older than John, who could do nothing better than he except running and bawling, and a good deal older than even Hal and Sam. Nay, there were times when he raised his steady eyes and slowly spoke out his thoughts, when she felt as if he were much more wise and serious than her twenty-years old self.
"Well, Davy," she asked, as at the sound of the lesson-bell the little old man uncrossed his sturdy legs, closed his book, and arose with a sigh, "have you found out all about it?"
"I have found out why a pig is a profitable investment," he answered gravely.
"Because he will feed upon refuse, and fatten upon cheap food," said David, in the words of his book; "only I can't make out why. Do you know, Miss Fosbrook?"
"I don't quite see what you want to know, Davy."
"I want to know why a pig gets fat on barley-meal, when an ox wants mange, and oil-cake and hay. I asked Nurse, and she said little boys mustn't ask questions; and I asked Purday, and he said it was because pigs is pigs, and oxen is oxen. Why do you think it is, Miss Fosbrook?"
"I don't think; I know it is because the great God has made one sort of creature to be easily fed, and made good for poor people to live upon," said Miss Fosbrook.
David's eyes were fixed on her as if he still had questions to ask, and she was quite afraid of her powers of answering them, for he was new in the world, and saw the strangeness of many things to which older people become used by living with them, but which are not the less strange for all that.
However, the trampling of many feet put an end to question and answer, and the day's work had to begin with the Psalms, and reading the Morning Lessons. Bessie was by far the best reader; and David did very well, though he made very long stops to look deliberately at any long new word, and could not bear to be told before he had mastered it for himself. Even Susan was sadly given to gabbling and missing the little words that she thought beneath her attention; and the other two stumbled so horribly, that it was pain to hear them.
This beginning might be taken as the sign of how all would do their lessons. It is only a child here and there, generally a lonely one, to whom lessons can be anything but a toil and an obligation. Even with clever ones, who may be interested in some part of their study, some other branch will be disagreeable; and there is nothing in the whole world to be learnt without drudgery, so it would be unreasonable to expect lessons to be regarded as delightful; but there is one thing that is to be expected of any good child--not to enjoy lessons; not to surpass others; not to do anything surprising; only to make a conscience of doing what is required as well as possible.
Now do not many children seem to think that they are to receive as little as they can possibly take in without being punished; or that, if they make any exertion, their teachers ought to be so much obliged to them, that some great praise or reward is due to them?
Let us see whether anyone in Stokesley school-room was making a conscience of the day's tasks. It is not of much use to ask for any at present in Johnnie--not for a whole week, as Annie would declare; he does not know his single Latin declension; his spelling, is all abroad; his geography wild; yet though turned back once, he misses the fine by just saying his lessons passably the last time. They perhaps ought, in strict justice, to have been sent back; but Miss Fosbrook was very glad to be saved the uproar that would have ensued, and almost wondered whether she were not timidly merciful to the horrible copy and the greasy slate. But Johnnie had no fine, and was as proud of it as if he had been a good boy. "She hadn't caught him out," he said, as if his kind governess had been his enemy.
As to Annie, her French verbs were always dreadful things to hear, and the little merry face, usually so bright, used to grow quite deplorable with the trouble she took not to use her mind. Using her memory was bad enough, but saying things by heart was an affliction she was used to, and it was very shocking of Miss Fosbrook to require her to find out how many years Richard II. had reigned, if he began in 1377 and ended in 1399. Susan prompted her, however; so she really got a triumph over Miss Fosbrook, and was quite saved from thinking. Oh, but the teasing woman! she silenced Susan, and would have this poor injured Annie tell how old the tiresome man was. "Began to reign at eleven years old, dethroned after twenty-two years; how old was he?" Annie found bursting out crying easier than thinking, and then they all cried out, "O Nanny, the pig!" and Miss Fosbrook had the barbarity to call that foolish crying! What might one cry for, if not at being asked how old Richard II. was? If the fine must be paid, there was no use in stopping; so Annie howled till Miss Fosbrook turned her out to finish on the stairs; and as Nurse Freeman was out with the little ones, there was no one to comfort her; so she cried till she was tired, and when the noise ceased, Susan was allowed to come and coax her, and fetch her back to go on with her copy, as soon as her hand was steady enough. She felt very foolish by this time, and thought David eyed her rather angrily and contemptuously; so she crept quietly to her corner, and felt sad and low-spirited all the rest of the morning. Now that thirty-three had come into her head, it seemed so stupid not to have thought of it in time; and then she would have saved her farthing, and her eyes would not have been so hot.
Maybe, too, Susan's French phrases would not have been turned back. Miss Fosbrook would have given a great deal not to have been obliged to do it, but she had prompted flagrantly already, and a teacher is obliged to have a conscience quite as much as a scholar; so the book was given back, and Susan spent twelve minutes in see-sawing herself, and going over the sentences in a rapid whispering gabble, a serious worry to the governess in listening to Bessie's practising and David's reading, but she thought it would be a hardship to be forbidden to learn in her own way at that moment, and forbore. David was interrupted in his "Little Arthur's History," and looked rather cross about it, for Susan to try again. She made all the same blunders--and more too! Back again! Poor Susie! Once, twice, thrice, has she read those stupid words over, and knows less of them than before. Davy's loud voice will go into her understanding instead of those French phrases. She looks up in dull stupefaction.
William Rufus is disposed of, and David, as grave as a judge, is taking up his slate, looking a little fussed because there is a scratch in the corner. "Well, Susan," says Miss Fosbrook.
Susan jumps up in desperation, and puts her hands behind her. Oh dear! oh dear! all that the gentlemen on a journey were saying to one another has gone clean out of her head!
She cannot recollect the three first words. She only remembers that this is the third time, and another farthing is gone! She stands and stares.
"Susan," says Miss Fosbrook severely, "you never tried to learn this."
Susan gives a little gasp; and Elizabeth, who has said her French without a blunder, puts in an unnecessary and not very sisterly word: "Susan never will learn her French."
Susan's honest eyes fill with tears, but she gulps them back. She will not cry away another farthing, but she does feel it very cross in Bessie, and she is universally miserable.
Christabel feels heated, wearied, and provoked, and as if she were fast losing her own temper; and that made her resolve on mercy.
"Susie," she said with an effort, "run twice to the great lime-tree and back. Then take the book into my room, read this over three times, and we will try again."
Susan looked surprised, but she obeyed, came back, and repeated the phrases better than she had ever said French before. She was absolutely surprised and highly pleased, and she finished off her other lessons swimmingly; but oh, she was glad to be rid of them! Yes, they were off her mind, and so she deserved that they should be! She flew away to the nursery, and little Sarah was soon crowing in her arms.
Elizabeth? Not a blunder in French verbs or geography--very tidy copy. French reading good; English equally so, only it ended in a pout, because there was not time for her to go on to see what became of Carthage; and she was a most intolerable time in learning her poetry out of the book of Readings, or rather she much preferred reading the verses in other parts of the book to getting perfect in her lesson, and then being obliged to turn her mind to arithmetic. Miss Fosbrook called her three times; and at last she turned round peevishly at being interrupted in the middle of the "Friar of Orders Gray," and repeated her twenty lines of Cowper's "Winter's Walk" in a doleful whine, though without a blunder.
It was one of the horrible novelties that Miss Fosbrook was bringing in, that she expected people to understand their sums as well as work them. She gave much shorter ones, to be sure, than Mamma, who did sometimes set a long multiplication sum of such a huge size, that it looked as if it were meant to keep the victim out of the way; but who would not prefer casting up any length of figures, to being required to explain the meaning of "carrying"?
Really, if it had not been for the pig, that shocking question might have led to a mutiny in the school-room. When it was bad enough to do the thing, how could anyone ask what was meant by the operation, and why it was performed?
What did Bessie do when her sum was being overlooked? Miss Fosbrook read on: "4 from 8, 4; 7 from 1--how's this, Bessie? 7 from 10 are- -"
"3, and 1 are 4," dolorously, as her 3 was changed.
"Now then, what next?"
"What did I tell you was meant by carry one?"
"The tens," said Bessie, not in the least thinking "the tens" had anything to do with the matter, but only that she had heard something about them, and could thus get rid of the subject.
"Now, Bessie, what tens can you possibly mean? Think a little."
"I'm sure you said tens once," said injured innocence.
"That was in an addition sum. See, here it is quite different. I told you."
Bessie put on a vacant stare. She was not going to attend to what she did not like.
Miss Fosbrook saw the face. She absolutely shrank from provoking another fit of crying, and went quickly through the explanation. She saw that her words might as well have been spoken to the slate. Bessie neither listened nor took them in. Not all her love for her dear Christabel Angela could stir her up to make one effort contrary to her inclinations. The slate was given back to her, she wiped out the sum in a pet, and ran away.
Miss Fosbrook turned round, David, whose lessons had been perfectly repeated an hour ago, was sitting cross-legged in the window, with his slate and pencil, and a basket of bricks, his great delight, which he was placing in rows.
"Miss Fosbrook," said he, "isn't this it? Twelve bricks; take away those seven, then--l, 2, 3, 4, 5--the twelve is only 5: the 10 is gone, isn't it? so you must leave one out of the next figure in the upper line of the sum."
Now Davy had only begun arithmetic on the governess's arrival, but he had learnt numeration and addition in her way. She was so delighted, that she stooped down and kissed him, saying, "Quite right, my little man."
Davy rather disapproved of the kiss, and rubbed his brown-holland elbow over his face, as if to clear it off.
"Well," thought Christabel, as she hurried away for five minutes' peace in her own room before the dinner-bell, "it is a comfort to have one pupil whose whole endeavour is not to frustrate one's attempts to educate him."
Poor young thing! that one little bit of sense had quite cheered her up. Otherwise she was not one whit less weary than the children. She had been learning a very tough lesson too--much harder than any of theirs; and she was not at all certain that she had learnt it right.
Now, readers, of all the children, who do you think had used the most conscience at the lessons?