The Stokesley Secret by Charlotte M. Yonge
The second week was prosperous: the treasury made progress; and Christabel began to feel as if her pupils were not beyond her management, as at first she had feared. Collectively they were less uncouth and bearish, not so noisy at their meals, nor so needlessly rude to one another; and the habit of teasing Elizabeth whenever there was nothing else to do was greatly lessened. Indeed Sam did not plague her himself, nor let his brothers do so, unless she tempted him by some very foolish whine or bit of finery; and in such eases a little friendly merriment is a sound cure, very unlike the hateful fault of tormenting for tormenting's sake.
Nor did Elizabeth give nearly so much cause for their rough laughter, since Miss Fosbrook had given wholesome food to her tastes and likings, partly satisfying the longing for variety, beauty, or interest which had made her discontented and restless. Her head was full of her secret, and her pretty plans for her gift. Such lovely drawings she saw in her mind's eye, such fairies, such delightful ships, kittens, babies in the cradle! But when the pencil was in her hand, the lines went all ways but the right; her fairy was a grimy little object, whose second wing could never be put on; the ships were saucers; the kitten might have been the pig; the baby was an owl in an ivy-bush; and to look at the live baby in the cradle only puzzled her the more. Miss Fosbrook gave her real drawing lessons; but boxes, palings, and tumble-down sheds, done with a broad black pencil, did not seem to help her to what she wished. Yet sometimes her fingers produced what surprised and pleased herself and Christabel; and she never was happier than when safely shut into Miss Fosbrook's bed-room with her card and her paints. She used to bolt herself in, with a little parade of mystery that made Annie exceedingly curious, though the others generally let it alone as "Betty's fancy."
Christabel wanted to learn botany for her own pleasure. She found a book which Susan and Bessie pronounced to be horridly stupid (indeed Annie called it nasty, and was reproved for using such a word), but when the information in it was minced up small, and brought out in a new form, Bessie enjoyed it extremely. The whole party were delighted to gather flowers for Miss Fosbrook--the wetter or the steeper places they grew in the better; but the boys thought it girlish to know the names; and Susan, though liking gardening, did not in the least care for the inside of a flower. Elizabeth, however, was charmed at the loveliness that was pointed out to her; and even Annie, when the boys were not at hand, thought it very entertaining to look at petals, stamens, and pistils, and to see that a daisy is made up of a host of tiny flowers. Both little sisters were having their eyes opened to see some of the wonder and some of the glory of this earth of ours. It made Bessie much less often tired of everything and everybody; though after all there is but one spirit that is certain never to be weary or dissatisfied, and into that she had yet to grow.
Fines were much less frequent: there were no foolish tears; only one lesson of John's turned back, two of Annie's, one of Susan's; some unbrushed hair of Susan's too--an unlucky mention of the raven by Annie in lesson-time--and some books left about by Sam. Henry's fines were the serious ones: he had two for incorrect sums, one for elbows on the table, three for talking, one for not putting his things away; and besides, he could not go without a pennyworth of string; and the Grevilles would have laughed at him if he had not bought some more marbles.
But what did that signify when Colonel Carey was coming? and a sovereign would buy a pig three times over--at least, if it was quite a little one. Christabel wished the hope of that sovereign had never occurred to him, for he seemed to think it quite set him free from the little self-restraints by which the others were earning the pleasure of making the gift; and though he still talked the most about the pig, he denied himself the least for it.
One evening the boys came in with a great piece of news. Their tutor had read in the paper that Admiral Penrose was appointed to the Ramilies, to take command in the Mediterranean. He was a great friend of their father, and, said the boys, was most likely to make him his flag-captain.
"And me a naval cadet!" said Hal. "He said he would, when he was here!"
"One of you, he said," put in Susan.
"I know it will be me!" said Hal. "He looked at the rigging of my frigate, and said I knew all the ropes quite well; and he told Papa he might be proud of such a son!"
"Oh! oh!" groaned the aggrieved multitude.
"Well--such a family; but he was looking at me; and I know he will give me the appointment; and I shall sail in his ship--you'll see. And when I get to the Mediterranean, I'll tell you what I'll do--I shall kill a shark all my own self!"
"A shark in the Mediterranean!"
"Well, why shouldn't they get in by the Straits of Magellan? Oh! is that the other place? Well, never mind--I'll shoot the shark."
"Stuff, Hal!" said Sam rather gruffly.
Hal went off on another tack. "Well, at least he has set me down by this time; and Papa will have me up to London for my outfit."
"I hope you will have leave, and come and see us," said Annie.
"I'll try; but, you see, I shall be an officer on duty, and I dare say Admiral Penrose will hardly be able to spare me; but I'll send you all presents out of my pay."
"You'll spend all your pay on yourself," said David.
"Out of my prize-money then."
"You can't get prize-money without a war," said Elizabeth.
"Oh! don't let there be a war!" cried Susan.
"Yes, but there is!" said Harry in a tremendous tone; and as Miss Fosbrook held up her hands, "at least there was one in the Black Sea; and I know there was a battle in the newspaper--at least, Mr. Carey read about Palermo."
"I don't think Garibaldi in Sicily will put much prize-money into your pocket, Hal," said Miss Fosbrook.
"Oh! but there's sure to be a war! and I shall get promoted, and be a man before any of you. I shall go about, and see condors, and lions, and elephants, and wear a sword--at least, a dirk--while you are learning Latin and Greek at Uncle John's!"
"Don't make such a noise about it!" said Sam crossly.
"I don't know why you should be the one to go," said Elizabeth. "Sam is the eldest."
"Yes; but Sam is such a slow-coach. Papa said I was the only one fit to make a sailor of--at least, he said I was smart, and--Hollo! Sam, I won't have you kicking my legs!"
"Don't keep up such a row then!" growled Sam; but Hal was in too full swing to be reached by slight measures. He pushed his chair back, tucked up his feet like a tailor's, out of reach, and went on: "Then I shall come home in my cocked hat, like Papa's--at least, my cap-- and come and ask for a holiday for you all at Uncle John's."
Uncle John was an under-master at one of the great public schools, and the children were all a good deal in awe of him.
"Uncle John won't give one for you!" said Sam.
"Come, boys, I can't have this bickering," said Miss Fosbrook. "I can't see you trying which can be most provoking. Stand up. Now, David, say grace. There, Annie, finish that bit of bread out of doors. Go out, and let us have no more of this."
She spoke now with much less fear of not being minded; and having seen one of the quarrelsome parties safe out of the school-room, she went to fetch from her own room a glove that wanted mending; and on her return found Sam alone there, curled up over his lesson-books on the locker, looking so gloomy, that she was afraid she had made him sulky, for which she would have been very sorry, since she had a respect for him.
"What is the matter?" she asked; and his "Nothing" did not at all assure her that he was in a right mood. She doubted whether to leave him alone; but presently thought he looked more unhappy than ill- tempered, and ventured to speak. "Have you a hard piece to learn? Perhaps I could help you."
He let her come and look at his book; but, to her surprise, he had before him a very easy problem in Euclid.
"Indeed, if you only gave your mind to this," she said, "you would soon make it out."
"Stupid stuff!" exclaimed Sam. "It is all along of that, and the rest of it, that I have got to be a land-lubber!" and he threw the book to the other end of the room.
"Have you no chance?" said Miss Fosbrook, without taking notice of this rudeness, for she saw that the boy could hardly contain himself.
"No! The Admiral did take notice of Hal; and one day when I was slow at a proposition, my father said I was too block-headed to beat navigation into, and that Hal is a smart fellow, worth two of me. I know he is! I know that; only if he would not make such an intolerable crowing--"
"Then you wish it very much?"
"Wish it! Of course I do. Why, my father is a sailor; and I remember the Fury, and I saw the Calliope--his ship that he had in the war time. Before I was as big as little George I always thought I should be a sailor. And now if Papa goes out with Admiral Penrose, and Hal too--oh! it will be so horrid home!"
"But can't you both go?"
"No; my father said he couldn't ask to have two of us put down, unless perhaps some younger one had a chance by and by. And Hal is the sharpest, and does everything better than I can when he has a mind. My father says, among so many all can't choose; and if this place is to be mine, Hal may want to be in the navy more than I. Yes, it is all right, and Hal must go. But--but--when my father is gone--"and Sam fairly burst out crying. "I didn't hardly know how different it is with him away till this month. I was such a little fellow when he went to the Black Sea; but now--never mind, though!" and he stamped his foot on the floor. "Papa said it, and it must be. Don't tell the others, Miss Fosbrook;" and he resolutely went and picked up his Euclid, and began finding the place.
"You will do your duty like a man, wherever you are, Sam," said Christabel heartily.
Sam looked as if he had rather that she had not said it, but it was comfortable to him for all that; and though she kept further compliments to herself, she could not but think that there was no fear but that he would be a man, in the best sense of the word, before Hal, when she saw him so manfully put his sore grievance out of his head, and turn to the present business of conquering his lesson. Nor did she hear another word from him about his disappointment.
It made her dislike Henry's boasts more than ever; and she used to cut them short as fast as she could, till the young chatterer decided that she was "cross," and reserved all his wonderful "at leasts" for his sisters, and his proofs of manliness for the Grevilles.
The Gibraltar man did not come on Saturday; and Miss Fosbrook had been the saving of several stamps by sending some queer little letters in her own to Mrs. Merrifield, so that on Monday morning the hoard was increased to seven-and-sixpence; although between fines and "couldn't helps," Henry's sixpence had melted down to a halfpenny, which "was not worth while."
On this day arrived a servant from the Park, bringing a delicate little lilac envelope, stamped with a tiny rose, and directed to Miss Merrifield. There was another rose on the top of the lilac paper; and the writing was in a very neat hand.
My dear Susan,
Mamma desires me to say that she hopes you and Bessie and Annie will come to dine early to-morrow, and play with me, and that Miss Fosbury will come with you. She hopes your Mamma is better, and would be glad to have her address in London.
I am your affectionate
"Oh! Miss Fosbrook, may we go?" cried the girls with sparkling eyes.
Mrs. Merrifield had written that one or two such invitations might be accepted, but she had rather it did not happen too often, as visits at the Park were unsettling to some of the children. So as this was the first, Christabel gladly consented, rather curious and rather shy on her own account.
Elizabeth begged for the rose, to copy it, and as there were no little ones present to seize it, she was allowed to have it; while Susan groaned and sighed over the misfortune of having to write a "horrible note" just at play-time; and the boys treated it as a sort of insult to the whole family that Ida should have mistaken their governess's name.
"Tell her you won't go till she has it right," said Sam; at which Annie made a vehement outcry of "No, no!" such as made them all laugh at her thinking him in earnest.
Susan's note began -
My dear Ida,
We shuold -
But then perceiving that something was the matter with her word, Susan sat and looked at it, till at last, perceiving that her u and o had changed places, she tried putting a top to the u, and made it like an a; while the filling up the o made it become a blot, such as caught Bessie's eye.
"O Susie, you won't send such a thing as that up to Ida?"
"No--that would be a 'horrible note,'" said her governess; and she ruled the lines again.
"Dear me," said Susan impatiently; "can't one send a message up by the man that we'll all come, without this fuss?"
But Miss Fosbrook said that would be very uncivil; and Susan, groaning, stretched every finger till the lines were finished, and began again, in her scraggy round-hand--getting safely through the "should," and also through "like to come very much;" but when Miss Fosbrook looked up next, she saw that the rest of the note consisted of -
Mamma is at Grandmamma's, No. 12, St., Grovensor Place.
I am your affectionate
"My dear, I am very sorry."
"What! won't that do?" sighed Susan, beginning to get into despair.
Miss Fosbrook pointed to the word "Grovensor."
"Oh dear! oh dear! I thought I had got that tiresome word this time. Why can't it put its ss and ns into their proper sensible places?" cried poor Susan, to whom it was a terrible enemy. She used to try them in different places all the way round, in hopes that one might at last be right.
"Can't you remember what I told you, that the first Grosvenor was the grand huntsman? Grosveneur in French; that would show you where to put the s--gros, great."
But Susan never wished to remember anything French; and Sam observed that "the man deserved to be spelt wrong if he called himself by a French name. Why couldn't he be content to be Mr. Grandhunter?"
"But as he is not, we must spell his name right, or Mrs. Greville will be shocked," said Miss Fosbrook.
"Please can't you scratch it out?" said the disconsolate Susan.
"I should not like to send a note with a scratch in it. Besides, yours is hardly civil."
"No, indeed," said Elizabeth; "don't you know how people answer invitations, Susie? I'll tell you. 'Miss Susanna, and Miss Elizabeth, and Miss Annie Merrifield will be very happy to do the honour of dining with--' Sam, why do you laugh at me always?"
"Why, you are telling Ida you will do her honour by dining with her."
"People always do honour when they dine," said Elizabeth. "I know they do."
"They profess to receive the honour, not confer it, Bessie," said Miss Fosbrook, laughing; "but I don't think that is the model for Susie's note. It would be as much too formal as hers was too blunt."
"Must I do it again?" said Susan. "I had rather not go, if it is to be such a plague."
"Indeed, I fear you must, Susie. It is quite needful to learn how to write a respectable note; really a more difficult thing than writing a long letter. I am sorry for you; but if you were not so careless in your letters to Mamma this would come more easily to you."
But this time Miss Fosbrook not only ruled another sheet, but wrote, in fair large-hand on a slate, the words, that Susan might copy them without fresh troubles:
We are much obliged to your Mamma for her kind invitation, and shall have much pleasure in coming with Miss Fosbrook to dine with you and spend the day. I am sorry to say that Mamma was not quite so well when last we heard. Her address is--No. 12,--St., Grosvenor-place.
Susan thought that here were a very serious number of words, and begged hard for leave to leave out her sorrow. Of course she was sorry, but what was the use of telling Ida so?
Miss Fosbrook thought it looked better, but Susan might do as she pleased.
"I wouldn't say it, then," said Sam. "I wouldn't say it only to look better to Ida." With which words he and Hal walked off to the garden.
Would it be believed? Susan, in her delight at being near the end, forgot the grand huntsman, and made the unlucky Place "Grovesnor," and then, in her haste to mend it, put her finger into the wet ink, and smeared not only that word, but all the line above!
It was a shame and a wonder that a girl of her age should be so incapable of producing a creditable note; and Miss Fosbrook was very near scolding her but she had pity on the tearful eyes and weary fingers, and spoke cheerfully: "There, that was almost the thing. One more trial, Susan, and you need never be afraid of Ida's notes again."
If Susan could not write notes, at least she was not cross; and it would be well if many who could send off a much better performance with far less difficulty could go to work as patiently as she did, without one pettish word to Miss Fosbrook, though that lady seemed to poor Susie as hard a task mistress as if she could have helped it. This time Miss Fosbrook authorized the leaving out of the spending the day, and suggested that S. would be enough without the whole Susanna, and she mercifully directed the cover to Miss Greville.
"There, my dear, you have worked hard for your pleasure," she said, as Susan extended each hand to its broadest stretch to uncramp them, and stretched herself backwards as if she wanted to double her head down to her heels. "I shall give you a good mark, Susie, as if it had been a lesson."
Susan deserved it, for her patient perseverance had been all out of obedience, not in the mere desire of having her note admired. Indeed, good child, at the best it was a very poor affair for a girl of twelve, and Miss Fosbrook was ashamed of it when she looked at Ida's lady-like little billet.
"But I wonder," said she to herself, "whether I shall feel as if I would change my dear stupid Susan for Miss Ida?"
Meanwhile Susan flew screaming and leaping out into the garden in a mad tom-boy fashion; but that could well be pardoned, as there were only her sisters to see her; and the pleasure of having persevered and done her best was enough to make her heart and her limbs dance for merriment.
Depend upon it, however wretched and miserable hard application to what we do not like may seem at the moment, it is the only way to make play-times really delicious.