The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
It is not worth while to go on describing every day at Stokesley, since lessons were far too much alike; and play-times, though varied enough for the house of Merrifield, might be less entertaining to the readers.
Enough to say, that by Saturday afternoon John had not only forfeited his last farthing, but was charged with another into next week, for the poor pleasure of leaving his hat on the school-room floor because Elizabeth had told him of it. At about four o'clock it set in for rain, catching the party at some distance from home, so that, though they made good speed, the dust turned into mud, and clung fast to their shoes.
David, never the best runner, was only in time to catch Johnnie by the skirt upon the third step of the staircase, crying out, "The pig!" but Johnnie, tired of the subject, and in a provoking mood, twitched away his pinafore, crying, "Bother the pig!" and rushed up after the four who had preceded him, leaving such lumps of dirt on the edge of every step, that when Miss Fosbrook came after with Elizabeth she could not but declare that a shower was a costly article.
"You see," observed Susan, "when it's such fine weather it puts one's feet out of one's head."
While Sam, Henry, and Bessie were laughing at Susan for this speech, little George trotted in, crying out, "Halty man come, Halty man come; Georgie want sweetie!"
"The Gibraltar man!" cried John and Annie with one voice, and they were at the bottom of the stairs with a bound.
"Oh, send him away, send him away. They'll spend all their money, and there will be none left!" was David's cry; while George kept dragging his eldest sister's frock, with entreaties of "Susie, Susie, come."
"They call him the Gibraltar man, because he sells Gibraltar rock, and gingerbread, and all those things," said Henry in explanation. "We have always dealt with him; and he is very deserving; and his wife makes it all--at least I know she makes ginger-beer--so we must encourage him."
So Henry hastened downstairs to encourage the Gibraltar man; and Susan, saying soothingly, "Yes, yes, Georgie;--never mind Davie, we'll make up for it; I can't vex him," had taken the little fellow in her arms and followed.
"Pigs enough here, without sending to the fair," muttered Sam.
"Please, Sam, please, Miss Fosbrook, send the Gibraltar man away, and don't let him come," cried David quite passionately. "Nasty man! he will come every Saturday, and they'll always spend all their money."
"But, my friend," said Miss Fosbrook good-humouredly, "suppose we have no right to banish the Gibraltar man?"
"I don't wan't him," said Bessie; "it makes my fingers sticky."
"You're no good," said David vehemently. "I don't like you, and I hate the Gibraltar man, taking away all our money from poor Hannah."
"Gently, gently, Davie; nobody makes you spend your money; and perhaps the poor man has children of his own who want food as much as Hannah's do."
"Then can't they eat the Gibraltar rock and bulls' eyes?"
Sam suggested that this diet would make them sick; to which poor little earnest David answered, that when once the pig was bought, he would give all his money for a whole month to the Gibraltar man, if he would not come for the next four weeks.
And Christabel thought of what she had once read, that people would often gladly put away from their children friends the very trials that are sent by Heaven to prove and strengthen their will and power of resisting self-indulgence. Before she had quite thought it out, the quick steps were back again, and Sam greeted the entrance of John thus: "Well, if that isn't a shame! Have you been and done Sukey out of all that, Jack?"
"It was only three bulls' eyes," said Susan, following. "You know he had nothing of his own, and it was so hard, and Annie gave him some."
"And Nurse some," added Hal. "Trust Jackie for taking care of himself." Well he might say so, considering how full were John's mouth, hands, and pockets.
"And Davie has had nothing!" said kind Susan. "Here, Davie!" holding out to him an amber-like piece of barley-sugar.
"I don't want your stuff," said David roughly. "You've spent all away from the pig."
"No, Davie, indeed, only twopence," said Susan; "pray have a bit."
"You might at least say thank you," said Miss Fosbrook.
But how difficult is that middle road which is the only right one! David, being too much set on one single purpose, good though it was, could see nothing else. It was right and generous to abstain from sweets with this end in view; but it was wrong to be rude and unthankful to the sister who meant all so kindly, and was the most unselfish of all. She turned round to Elizabeth with the kind offer of the dainty she had not even tasted herself, but was not more graciously treated.
"How can you, Susie? it is all pulled about with your fingers."
This was a matter on which the Misses and Masters Merrifield were not wont to be particular; and with one of the teasing laughs that Bessie hated, Sam exclaimed as Susan turned to him, "Yes, thank you, Sukey, I don't mind finger sauce," but not before John was stretching out a hand glazed with sugar, and calling out, "Oh, give it to me!" and as it disappeared in his brother's mouth, he burst out angrily, "How cross, Sam! You did that on purpose!"
"Yes," said Sam, "I did; for though pigs on four legs are all very well, I don't like pigs on two."
"Here, Jackie, never mind," said Susan, seeing him about to begin to cry, and offering him her last sugar-plum.
"I don't want sugar-plums, I want barley-sugar," said John devouring it nevertheless.
"I haven't one bit more," said Susan regretfully.
"Have you had any yourself, Susan?" asked Sam.
"No; but I didn't want any."
"Oh then, here Susie, I always keep a reserve," said Henry. "No, no, not you, Jack; I don't feed little pigs, whatever Susie does."
And in spite of Susan, both the elder brothers set on John, teasing him about his greediness, till he burst out crying, and ran away to the nursery. Miss Fosbrook hated the teasing, but she thought it served John so rightly, that she would not save him from it; and she only interfered to remind the others that their fingers would bring them in for fines unless they were washed before tea.
"And how much have you spent?" reproachfully asked that rigid young judge, David; but all the answer he got was a pull by the hair from Hal, and "Hollo, young one! am I to give my accounts to you?"
David gravely put up his hand and smoothed his ruffled locks, repeating, in his manful way, "I want to know what you have left for the pig?"
Whereupon Hal laid hold of him, pulled him off the locker, and rolled him about on the floor like a puppy dog, crying, "I'll tell you what, if you make such a work about it, I'll spend all my allowance, and not subscribe at all."
"Sam!" cried the tormented David, and "Sam!" cried the governess, really afraid the little boy would be hurt; but Sam only stood laughing with his back to the shutter, and Christabel herself hurried to the rescue, to pick Henry off his victim, holding an arm tight, while the child got up, and ran away to get his hair re-brushed for tea.
"Now, Hal, you might have hurt him," argued the governess.
"Very good thing for him too," said the brothers with one voice.
She was very much shocked; but when she thought it over she perceived that though Hal might be to blame, yet in the long run even this rough discipline might be more useful to her dear little David than being allowed to take upon him with his elder brothers, and grow conceited and interfering.
Miss Fosbrook was not surprised when, next morning, a frightful bellowing was heard instead of Johnnie being seen, and she learnt that Master John was in the hands of Nurse Freeman, who was administering to him a dose in consequence of his having been greatly indisposed all night. It must be confessed that Christabel was not very sorry to hear it, nor that Nurse would keep him to herself all day; for bad company as Johnnie had been on the week-days, he had been worse on the Sunday.
And when John came out on Monday, he looked like a different boy; he had lost his fractious, rebellious look; he spoke as civilly as could be expected of a small Merrifield, and showed no signs of being set against his lessons. To be sure it was a bad way of spending a Sunday, to be laid up with ailments brought on by over-eating; but even this was better than spending it, like the former one, in wilful misbehaviour; and John, who knew that Papa, Mamma, brothers, and sisters all alike detested and despised real greediness, had been heartily ashamed of himself, both for this and his forfeits. A new week was a new starting-point, and he meant to spend this one well. For indeed it is one of the blessings of our lives that we have so many stages--days, weeks, years, and the like--from each of which we may make fresh starts, feel old things left behind, and go on to lead a new life.
Besides, Johnnie was quite well now; and perhaps no child, so well brought up, could have been so constantly naughty the whole week without some degree of ailment, suspected neither by himself nor others. For this is one of our real troubles, when either young or old, that sometimes there is a feeling of discomfort and vexation about us that, without knowing why, makes everything go amiss, causes everybody else to appear cross, and all tasks, all orders, all misadventures, to become great grievances. Grown-up people feel this as well as children; but they have gone through it often enough to know what is the matter, and they have, or ought to have, more self- command. But children have yet to learn by experience that the outer things are not harder and more untoward, so much as that they themselves are out of sorts. This is poor comfort; and certainly it is dangerous to say to ourselves that being poorly is any excuse for letting ourselves be cross, or for not doing our best. If Mrs. Merrifield had thought so, what miserable lives her husband and children would have led! No, the way to use the certain fact that the state of our bodies affects our tempers and spirits, is to say to ourselves, "Well, if this person or this thing do seem disagreeable, or if this work, or even this little bit of obedience, be very tiresome, perhaps it may really be only a fancy of mine, and if I go to it with a good will, I may work off the notion;" or, "Perhaps I am cross to-day, let me take good care how I answer." And a little prayer in our hearts will be the best help of all. Self-command and goodness will not come by nature as we grow up, but we must work for them in childhood.
When the Monday allowances were brought out, and the pig's chance inquired into, David alone produced his whole sum, untouched by forfeiture or waste, and dropped it into "Toby Fillpot." Elizabeth had her entire sixpence; but a penny had been spent on a letter to Mamma, and she gave but one to the fund, in spite of the black looks she met from David. Sam had lost a farthing by the shower, and had likewise bought a queen's head, to write to his father. The rest, fourpence-three farthings, he paid over. Poor Johnnie! his last week's naughtiness had exceeded his power of paying fines, and a halfpenny was subtracted from this week's threepence; while the Gibraltar man had consumed all that fines had spared to little Annie, had left Susan only threepence, and Henry but twopence-halfpenny. This, with twopence that Miss Fosbrook had found in her travelling- bag, made one shilling and fourpence-farthing--a very poor collection for one week. David was quite melancholy.
"Never mind," said Henry; "Mr. Carey's brother, the Colonel, is coming to stay here the last week in July, and he gives us boys half- a-sovereign each, so that we might buy a stunning pig all ourselves twice over."
"Always? He never did so but once," said Sam.
"That was the only time he saw us, though," said Hal; "and we were quite little boys then. I'll tell you what, Sam, he'll give us each a sovereign this time, and then I'll buy a bow and arrows."
"Stuff!" said Sam. "I hope he won't."
"I hate it! I hate saying thank you; I shall get out of the way, if I can."
"Sam has no manners!" said Hal, turning round to Miss Fosbrook. "To think that he had rather go without a sovereign or two than say thank you!"
"I'M too much of a gentleman to lay myself out for presents!" retorted Samuel; and the two boys fell on each other, buffeting one another, all in good part on Sam's side, though there was some temper and annoyance on Henry's.
When Sam was out of hearing, Hal discoursed very grandly on the sovereign he intended Colonel Carey to give him, and the prodigious things he meant to do with it. A gentleman once gave Osmond Greville two sovereigns; why should not Colonel Carey be equally liberal? And to hear the boy, those two sovereigns would buy everything in the world, from the pig to a double-barrelled gun. David began to grow hurt, and to fear the Toby fund would be lost in this magnificence; but Hal assured him that it would be a help, and they should all have a share in the pig, promising presents to everybody, which Susan and Annie expected with the more certainty that Sam was never present to laugh down these fine projects.
Indeed Miss Fosbrook had laughed at them once or twice, and observed that she thought money earned or spared a better thing than money given; and this caused Hal to cease to try to dazzle her, though he could not give up the pleasure of regaling his sisters in private with the wonders to be done with Colonel Carey's possible sovereigns.