CHAPTER I.

    "If solid happiness we prize,
    Within our breast this jewel lies.
       *       *       *       *       *
    From our own selves our joys must flow,
      And peace begins at home."
    COTTON.

The family--our family, not the Happy Family--consisted of me and my brothers and sisters. I have a father and mother, of course.

I am the eldest, as I remind my brothers; and of the more worthy gender, which my sisters sometimes forget. Though we live in the village, my father is a gentleman, as I shall be when I am grown up. I have told the village boys so more than once. One feels mean in boasting that one is better born than they are; but if I did not tell them, I am not sure that they would always know.

Our house is old, and we have a ghost--the ghost of my great-great-great-great-great-aunt.

She "crossed her father's will," nurse says, and he threatened to flog her with his dog-whip, and she ran away, and was never heard of more. He would not let the pond be dragged, but he never went near it again; and the villagers do not like to go near it now. They say you may meet her there, after sunset, flying along the path among the trees, with her hair half down, and a knot of ribbon fluttering from it, and parted lips, and terror in her eyes.

The men of our family (my father's family, my mother is Irish) have always had strong wills. I have a strong will myself.

People say I am like the picture of my great-grandfather (the great-great-great-nephew of the ghost). He must have been a wonderful old gentleman by all accounts. Sometimes nurse says to us, "Have your own way, and you'll live the longer," and it always makes me think of great-grandfather, who had so much of his own way, and lived to be nearly a hundred.

I remember my father telling us how his sisters had to visit their old granny for months at a time, and how he shut the shutters at three o'clock on summer afternoons, and made them play dummy whist by candle light.

"Didn't you and your brothers go?" asked Uncle Patrick, across the dinner-table. My father laughed.

"Not we! My mother got us there once--but never again."

"And did your sisters like it?"

"Like it? They used to cry their hearts out. I really believe it killed poor Jane. She was consumptive and chilly, but always craving for fresh air; and granny never would have open windows, for fear of draughts on his bald head; and yet the girls had no fires in their room, because young people shouldn't be pampered."

"And ye never-r offer-r-ed--neither of ye--to go in the stead of them?"

When Uncle Patrick rolls his R's in a discussion, my mother becomes nervous.

"One can't expect boys to consider things," she said. "Boys will be boys, you know."

"And what would you have 'em be?" said my father. Uncle Patrick turned to my mother.

"Too true, Geraldine. Ye don't expect it. Worse luck! I assure ye, I'd be aghast at the brutes we men can be, if I wasn't more amazed that we're as good as we are, when the best and gentlest of your sex--the moulders of our childhood, the desire of our manhood--demand so little for all that you alone can give. There were conceivable uses in women preferring the biggest brutes of barbarous times, but it's not so now; and boys will be civilised boys, and men will be civilised men, sweet sister, when you do expect it, and when your grace and favours are the rewards of nobleness, and not the easy prize of selfishness and savagery."

My father spoke fairly.

"There's some truth in what you say, Pat."

"And small grace in my saying it. Forgive me, John."

That's the way Uncle Patrick flares up and cools down, like a straw bonfire. But my father makes allowances for him; first, because he is an Irishman, and, secondly, because he's a cripple.

       *       *       *       *       *

I love my mother dearly, and I can do anything I like with her. I always could. When I was a baby, I would not go to sleep unless she walked about with me, so (though walking was bad for her) I got my own way, and had it afterwards.

With one exception. She would never tell me about my godfather. I asked once, and she was so distressed that I was glad to promise never to speak of him again. But I only thought of him the more, though all I knew about him was his portrait--such a fine fellow--and that he had the same swaggering, ridiculous name as mine.

How my father allowed me to be christened Bayard I cannot imagine. But I was rather proud of it at one time--in the days when I wore long curls, and was so accustomed to hearing myself called "a perfect picture," and to having my little sayings quoted by my mother and her friends, that it made me miserable if grown-up people took the liberty of attending to anything but me. I remember wriggling myself off my mother's knee when I wanted change, and how she gave me her watch to keep me quiet, and stroked my curls, and called me her fair-haired knight, and her little Bayard; though, remembering also, how lingeringly I used just not to do her bidding, ate the sugar when she wasn't looking, tried to bawl myself into fits, kicked the nurse-girl's shins, and dared not go upstairs by myself after dark--I must confess that a young chimpanzee would have as good claims as I had to represent that model of self-conquest and true chivalry, "the Knight without fear and without reproach."

However, the vanity of it did not last long. I wonder if that grand-faced godfather of mine suffered as I suffered when he went to school and said his name was Bayard? I owe a day in harvest to the young wag who turned it into Backyard. I gave in my name as Backyard to every subsequent inquirer, and Backyard I modestly remained.

CHAPTER II.

    "The lady with the gay macaw."

LONGFELLOW.

My sisters are much like other fellows' sisters, excepting Lettice. That child is like no one but herself.

I used to tease the other girls for fun, but I teased Lettice on principle--to knock the nonsense out of her. She was only eight, and very small, but, from the top row of her tight little curls to the rosettes on her best shoes, she seemed to me a mass of affectation.

Strangers always liked Lettice. I believe she was born with a company voice in her mouth; and she would flit like a butterfly from one grown-up person to another, chit-chattering, whilst some of us stood pounding our knuckles in our pockets, and tying our legs into knots, as we wished the drawing-room carpet would open and let us through into the cellar to play at catacombs.

That was how Cocky came. Lettice's airs and graces bewitched the old lady who called in the yellow chariot, and was so like a cockatoo herself--a cockatoo in a citron velvet bonnet, with a bird of Paradise feather. When that old lady put up her eye-glass, she would have frightened a yard-dog; but Lettice stood on tip-toes and stroked the feather, saying, "What a love-e-ly bird!" And next day came Cocky--perch and all complete--for the little girl who loves birds. Lettice was proud of Cocky, but Edward really loved him, and took trouble with him.

Edward is a good boy. My mother called him after the Black Prince.

He and I disgraced ourselves in the eyes of the Cockatoo lady, and it cost the family thirty thousand pounds, which we can ill afford to lose. It was unlucky that she came to luncheon the very day that Edward and I had settled to dress up as Early Britons, in blue woad, and dine off earth-nuts in the shrubbery. As we slipped out at the side door, the yellow chariot drove up to the front. We had doormats on, as well as powder-blue, but the old lady was terribly shocked, and drove straight away, and did not return. Nurse says she is my father's godmother, and has thirty thousand pounds, which she would have bequeathed to us if we had not offended her. I take the blame entirely, because I always made the others play as I pleased.

We used to play at all kinds of things--concerts, circuses, theatricals, and sometimes conjuring. Uncle Patrick had not been to see us for a long time, when one day we heard that he was coming, and I made up my mind at once that I would have a perfectly new entertainment for him.

We like having entertainments for Uncle Patrick, because he is such a very good audience. He laughs, and cries, and claps, and thumps with his crutch, and if things go badly, he amuses the rest.

Ever since I can remember anything, I remember an old print, called "The Happy Family," over our nursery fire-place, and how I used to wonder at that immovable cat, with sparrows on her back, sitting between an owl and a magpie. And it was when I saw Edward sitting with Benjamin the cat, and two sparrows he had brought up by hand, struggling and laughing because Cocky would push itself, crest first, under his waistcoat, and come out at the top to kiss him--that an idea struck me; and I resolved to have a Happy Family for Uncle Patrick, and to act Showman myself.

Edward can do anything with beasts. He was absolutely necessary as confederate, but it was possible Lettice might want to show off with Cocky, and I did not want a girl on the stage, so I said very little to her. But I told Edward to have in the yard-dog, and practise him in being happy with the rest of the family pets. Fred, the farm-boy, promised to look out for an owl. Benjamin, the cat, could have got mice enough; but he would have eaten them before Edward had had time to teach him better, so I set a trap. I knew a village-boy with a magpie, ready tamed.

Bernard, the yard-dog, is a lumbering old fellow, with no tricks. We have tried. We took him out once, into a snow-drift, with a lantern round his neck, but he rescued nothing, and lost the lantern--and then he lost himself, for it was dark.

But he is very handsome and good, and I knew, if I put him in the middle, he would let anything sit upon him. He would not feel it, or mind if he did. He takes no notice of Cocky.

Benjamin never quarrels with Cocky, but he dare not forget that Cocky is there. And Cocky sometimes looks at Benjamin's yellow eyes as if it were thinking how very easily they would come out. But they are quite sufficiently happy together for a Happy Family.

The mice gave more trouble than all the rest, so I settled that Lettice should wind up the mechanical mouse, and run that on as the curtain rose.

CHAPTER III.

     "Memor esto majorum."

OLD MOTTO.

    .     .     .     .     .

    All my fears are laid aside,
    If I but remember only
    Such as these have lived and died!"

LONGFELLOW.

Do you wish to avoid vexations? Then never have a Happy Family! Mine were countless.

Fred could not get me an owl. Lettice did want to show off with Cocky. I had my own way, but she looked sulky and spiteful. I got Tom Smith's magpie; but I had to have him, too. However, my costume as Showman was gorgeous, and Edward kept our Happy Family well together. We arranged that Tom should put Mag on at the left wing, and then run round behind, and call Mag softly from the right. Then she would hop across the stage to him, and show off well. Lettice was to let mother know when the spectators might take their places, and to tell the gardener when to raise the curtain.

I really think one magpie must be "a sign of sorrow," as nurse says; but what made Bernard take it into his beautiful foolish head to give trouble I cannot imagine. He wouldn't lie down, and when he did, it was with a grump of protest that seemed to forbode failure. However, he let Cocky scold him and pull his hair, which was a safety-valve for Cocky. Benjamin dozed with dignity. He knew Cocky wasn't watching for his yellow eyes.

I don't think Lettice meant mischief when she summoned the spectators, for time was up. But her warning the curtain to rise when it did was simple malice and revenge.

I never can forget the catastrophe, but I do not clearly remember how Tom Smith and I began to quarrel. He was excessively impudent, and seemed to think we couldn't have had a Happy Family without him and his chattering senseless magpie.

When I told him to remember he was speaking to a gentleman, he grinned at me.

"A gentleman? Nay, my sakes! Ye're not civil enough by half. More like a new policeman, if ye weren't such a Guy Fawkes in that finery."

"Be off," said I, "and take your bird with you."

"What if I won't go?"

"I'll make you!"

"Ye darsen't touch me."

"Daren't I?"

"Ye darsen't."

"I dare."

"Try."

"Are you going?"

"Noa."

I only pushed him. He struck first. He's bigger than me, but he's a bigger coward, and I'd got him down in the middle of the stage, and had given him something to bawl about, before I became conscious that the curtain was up. I only realised it then, because civil, stupid Fred, arrived at the left wing, panting and gasping--

"Measter Bayard! Here's a young wood-owl for ye."

As he spoke, it escaped him, fluff and feathers flying in the effort, and squawking, plunging, and fluttering, made wildly for the darkest corner of the stage, just as Lettice ran on the mechanical mouse in front.

Bernard rose, and shook off everything, and Cocky went into screaming hysterics; above which I now heard the thud of Uncle Patrick's crutch, and the peals upon peals of laughter with which our audience greeted my long-planned spectacle of a Happy Family!

       *       *       *       *       *

Our Irish uncle is not always nice. He teases and mocks, and has an uncertain temper. But one goes to him in trouble. I went next morning to pour out my woes, and defend myself, and complain of the others.

I spoke seriously about Lettice. It is not pleasant for a fellow to have a sister who grows up peculiar, as I believe Lettice will. Only the Sunday before, I told her she would be just the sort of woman men hate, and she said she didn't care; and I said she ought to, for women were made for men, and the Bible says so; and she said grandmamma said that every soul was made for GOD and its own final good. She was in a high-falutin mood, and said she wished she had been christened Joan instead of Lettice, and that I would be a true Bayard; and that we could ride about the world together, dressed in armour, and fighting for the right. And she would say all through the list of her favourite heroines, and asked me if I minded their being peculiar, and I said of course not, why should you mind what women do who don't belong to you? So she said she could not see that; and I said that was because girls can't see reason; and so we quarrelled, and I gave her a regular lecture, which I repeated to Uncle Patrick.

He listened quite quietly till my mother came in, and got fidgetty, and told me not to argue with my uncle. Then he said--

"Ah! let the boy talk, Geraldine, and let me hear what he has to say for himself. There's a sublime audacity about his notions, I tell ye. Upon me conscience, I believe he thinks his grandmother was created for his particular convenience."

That's how he mocks, and I suppose he meant my Irish grandmother. He thinks there's nobody like her in the wide world, and my father says she is the handsomest and wittiest old lady in the British Isles. But I did not mind. I said,

"Well, Uncle Patrick, you're a man, and I believe you agree with me, though you mock me."

"Agree with ye?" He started up, and pegged about the room. "Faith! if the life we live is like the globe we inhabit--if it revolves on its own axis, and you're that axis--there's not a flaw in your philosophy; but IF--Now perish my impetuosity! I've frightened your dear mother away. May I ask, by the bye, if she has the good fortune to please ye, since the Maker of all souls made her, for all eternity, with the particular object of mothering you in this brief patch of time?"

He had stopped under the portrait--my godfather's portrait. All his Irish rhodomontade went straight out of my head, and I ran to him.

"Uncle, you know I adore her! But there's one thing she won't do, and, oh, I wish you would! It's years since she told me never to ask, and I've been on honour, and I've never even asked nurse; but I don't think it's wrong to ask you. Who is that man behind you, who looks such a wonderfully fine fellow? My Godfather Bayard."

I had experienced a shock the night before, but nothing to the shock of seeing Uncle Patrick's face then, and hearing him sob out his words, instead of their flowing like a stream.

"Is it possible? Ye don't know? She can't speak of him yet? Poor Geraldine!"

He controlled himself, and turned to the picture, leaning on his crutch. I stood by him and gazed too, and I do not think, to save my life, I could have helped asking--

"Who is he?"

"Your uncle. Our only brother. Oh, Bayard, Bayard!"

"Is he dead?"

He nodded, speechless; but somehow I could not forbear.

"What did he die of?"

"Of unselfishness. He died--for others."

"Then he was a hero? That's what he looks like. I am glad he is my godfather. Dear Uncle Pat, do tell me all about it."

"Not now--hereafter. Nephew, any man--with the heart of man and not of a mouse--is more likely than not to behave well at a pinch; but no man who is habitually selfish can be sure that he will, when the choice comes sharp between his own life and the lives of others. The impulse of a supreme moment only focusses the habits and customs of a man's soul. The supreme moment may never come, but habits and customs mould us from the cradle to the grave. His were early disciplined by our dear mother, and he bettered her teaching. Strong for the weak, wise for the foolish--tender for the hard--gracious for the surly--good for the evil. Oh, my brother, without fear and without reproach! Speak across the grave, and tell your sister's son that vice and cowardice become alike impossible to a man who has never--cradled in selfishness, and made callous by custom--learned to pamper himself at the expense of others!"

I waited a little before I asked--

"Were you with him when he died?"

"I was."

"Poor Uncle Patrick! What did you do?"

He pegged away to the sofa, and threw himself on it.

"Played the fool. Broke an arm and a thigh, and damaged my spine, and--lived. Here rest the mortal remains."

And for the next ten minutes, he mocked himself, as he only can.

       *       *       *       *       *

One does not like to be outdone by an uncle, even by such an uncle; but it is not very easy to learn to live like Godfather Bayard.

Sometimes I wish my grandmother had not brought up her sons to such a very high pitch, and sometimes I wish my mother had let that unlucky name become extinct in the family, or that I might adopt my nickname. One could live up to Backyard easily enough. It seems to suit being grumpy and tyrannical, and seeing no further than one's own nose, so well.

But I do try to learn unselfishness; though I sometimes think it would be quite as easy for the owl to learn to respect the independence of a mouse, or a cat to be forbearing with a sparrow!

I certainly get on better with the others than I used to do; and I have some hopes that even my father's godmother is not finally estranged through my fault.

Uncle Patrick went to call on her whilst he was with us. She is very fond of "that amusing Irishman with the crutch," as she calls him; and my father says he'll swear Uncle Patrick entertained her mightily with my unlucky entertainment, and that she was as pleased as Punch that her cockatoo was in the thick of it.

I am afraid it is too true; and the idea made me so hot, that if I had known she was really coming to call on us again, I should certainly have kept out of the way. But when Uncle Patrick said, "If the yellow chariot rolls this way again, Bayard, ye need not be pursuing these archaeological revivals of yours in a too early English costume," I thought it was only his chaff. But she did come.

I was pegging out the new gardens for the little ones. We were all there, and when she turned her eye over us (just like a cockatoo), and said, in a company voice--

     "What a happy little family!"

I could hardly keep my countenance, and I heard Edward choking in Benjamin's fur, where he had hidden his face.

But Lettice never moved a muscle. She clasped her hands, and put her head on one side, and said--in her company voice--"But you know brother Bayard is so good to us now, and that is why we are such A HAPPY FAMILY."