The Boys and I by Mrs. Molesworth
CHAPTER II. REAL
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. A NEW
CHAPTER VI. WE
TRY TO BE GOOD.
TOAST FOR TEA.
WANTED A STAMP.
CHAPTER IX. MISS
CHAPTER X. TOM'S
CHAPTER XI. OUR
CHAPTER XII. THE
CHAPTER I. OUR FIRST SORROW.
O, it is trouble very bad,
Which causes us to weep;
All last night long we were so sad,
Not one of us could sleep.
Sometimes they called us all three just the boys. But I don't
think that was fair. I may have been rather a tom_boy, but I wasn't
quite so bad as to be called a boy. I was nine thenI mean I was
nine at the beginning of the time I am going to tell you about, and now
I am fourteen. Afterwards, I will tell you what put it into my head to
write it down. If I told you now you wouldn't understandat least not
without my telling you things all out of their placesends at the
beginning, and middles at the end; and mother says it's an awfully bad
habit to do things that way. It makes her quite vexed to see any one
read the end of a book before they have really got to it. There aren't
many things that make her really vexed, but that's one, and another is
saying awfully, and I've just said it, or at least written it. And I
can't score it throughI've promised not to score through anything,
and just to leave it as it came into my head to write it all down.
I was nine that year, and Tom was seven, and little Racey six. I
remember it quite well, for that year a lot of things happened. Tom and
I had the measles, and how it was Racey didn't have them too I don't
know, but he didn't. And just when we were getting better, the first
very big thing that we had ever known about, happened. Papa was ordered
to go to China! (I dare say it seems funny to you that we call him
papa and mother mother. I can't tell you how it was, but we always
did it, and Tom and I used to like to hear Racey say papa. He said it
in such a sweet way, more like the way little French children say it.)
Papa wasn't a soldier, or a sailor, as you might think. He was
something very clever, with letters after his name, and he had to go to
China partly because of that. Now that I am big I understand about it,
but I need not say exactly, because then you might find out who he was,
and that wouldn't be nice. It would be like as if I thought we were
cleverer or nicer than other people, and I don't think thatat least
not in a stuck-up way, and of course, not at all about myself.
It isn't any harm to think it a little about one's father or mother, I
don't think, but of course not about one's-self.
I shall never forget the day I heard about papa's going away. I keep
saying papa's going away, because you see it had to do with him, but
it was even worse than his going, though that would have been bad
enough. It was just as we were getting better of the measles, and we
had been very happy all day, for mother had been telling us stories,
and we had had quite a feast teasponge-cakes and ladies' bread and
butter; and I had poured out the tea, for mother had put a little table
on purpose close to my bed, and Racey had been the footman to wait upon
Tom and give him all he wanted, as the table wasn't so near his bed as
mine. Tom had fallen asleeppoor Tom, he had had the measles worse
than I. I am so awfully strong, even though I'm only a girl, and boys
always think themselves stronger. And little Racey had fallen asleep
too, lying at the foot of my bed. He hadn't been kept away from us
because of what Tom called the affection of the measles, for the old
doctor said he had better get it too and have it over. But he didn't
get it, and if ever I have children I shall not do that way with them.
I'll try and keep them from having any illnesses at all, for I don't
believe we're forced to have them. I think mother thought so
too, but she didn't like to contradict the doctor; because he was so
old she thought he must know best. And after all it didn't matter, as
Racey didn't get the measles. I really must try to go straight onI
keep going back when other things come into my head, so it isn't so
easy to write things down nicely as I thought it was.
Well, Tom was asleephe looked so nice; he always does when he's
asleep, he has such a white forehead, and such rosy cheeks, and pretty
dark hair. I remember, because of what came after, how pretty he looked
that evening. And dear Raceyhe looked so pretty too, though generally
he isn't counted so nice-looking as Tom, for his hair is a little
red, and he is rather too pale for a boy. Well, the boys were both
asleep and I was nearly asleep, when I heard some one come into
the room. I thought it was the nurse come to undress Racey and put him
to bed properly, and as I was in that nice, only half-awake way when
it's a great trouble to speak, I thought I'd pretend to be quite
asleep, and so I did.
But it was not the nurse who came into the roomit was two people,
not one, and I very soon found out, even without opening my eyes, who
the two people were. They were papa and mother. They came in quite
softly and sat down near the fire. It was the month of October, and
Are they all asleep, Marie? said papa. I must tell you that though
mother is quite English, her name is Marie. I think it was because
she had a French godmother, and I do think it is such a pretty name.
Mother glanced round at us.
Yes, she said, in a low voice, they are all asleep. Oh, Horace,
At first when I heard mother say yes, I laughed a little to
myself. I didn't mean to listen in any mean way, of course, and a
comical idea came into my head that it was just like the ogre and his
wife in the fairy tale.'Wife, are they all asleep?' said the ogre.
'All fast asleep,' said the ogre's wife. Only poor papa wasn't at all
like an ogre, and dear mother wasn't a bit like the ogre's wife,
though she was much nicer than her husband. I was nearly
laughing out loud when this fancy came into my head, but before I had
time to laugh mother's next words quite changed my feeling, and all in
a minute I got frightened somehow. It is so queerisn't it?how
quickly fancies run through one's mind. The one about the ogre and his
wife came into my head and out again between mother's saying asleep,
and Oh, Horace. And then, all in a moment again, came a number of
other fancies. Something must be the matter for mother to speak like
that. What could it be? I thought of all sorts of things. Could papa
have lost all his money? I had heard of such things, but I did not
think I should mind it so very much. It would be rather nice to live in
a cottage, and have no servants, and do the cooking and the washing
ourselves, I thought; though very likely mother would not think so.
Could anything have happened to Uncle Geoff? Oh no, it couldn't be
that, for that would not make mother say my darlings, in that way.
And poor little mother had no near relations of her own whom she could
have had bad news of to make her unhappy. What could be the
matter? I was so frightened and anxious to hear more, that I really
quite forgot I was doing wrong in listening, and when I heard mother
give a sort of little sob, I got still more frightened. I have often
wondered since that I did not jump out of bed and run to mother to see
if I could comfort her, but a queer stopped sort of feeling
seemed to have come over me. I could do nothing but listen, and though
it is now so many years agofive years ago!I can remember all the
words I heard.
My father did not answer at first. Whatever was the matter, it
seemed to have been something he did not find it easy to say any
comforting words about. And mother spoke again.
Oh, Horace, how can I leave them?
My poor Marie, said papa. What is to be done? I cannot give it
upnor without you can I undertake it. Bertram would have got it if he
had had a wife, but it is never given to an unmarried man.
I know, said mother. I know all you can say. It is just because
there is nothing else to be done that I am so miserable. I cannot help
it to-nightto-morrow I will try to be braver; butoh, I have been so
happy with them to-day, and so glad they were getting better and that
dear little Racey had not got itfor whatever Dr. Nutt says, I cannot
help being glad of thatoh, I have been so happy with them.
Perhaps it was cruel of me to tell you to-night, said papa very
Oh no, it was much better, said mother, quickly. There is so
little time, and so much to settle. Besides, you couldn't have kept it
from me, Horace. I should have been sure to find out there was
something the matter. Tell me what is the latest we should have to go.
Six or seven weeks hence. I don't think it could possibly be made
later, said papa. And then he went on to explain things to mother,
which at that time I couldn't understand (though I dare say I should
now), and therefore have forgottenabout the work he would have to do,
and the money he would get, and all that.
But I had heard enough. My heart seemed as if it was going to stop.
Mother going awayto have to live without motherit didn't seem to me
so much a grief, as an impossibility. I think I was rather a babyish
child for my age in some ways. I was very fond of the boys, and I was
very unhappy if ever I was away from them, but I don't think I had ever
thought much about whether I loved anybody or not. And I know that
sometimes people said I wasn't affectionate. Things hadn't happened to
make me think about anything in any deep way. We had always lived in
the same houseeven in the same roomsand we had had our breakfasts
and dinners and teas with the same plates and cups and saucers, and
mother had always been there, just like the daylight to us. I couldn't
fancy being without her, and so just at first I couldn't tell if I
was dreadfully unhappy or not. I was too startled to know. But I think
in another moment I would have jumped out of bed and rushed to mother,
if I hadn't heard just then something which I quite understood, and
which I listened to with the greatest interest and curiosity.
Yes, mother was saying, for, for a minute or two, you understand,
I hadn't been listening. Yes, I see no better plan. It isn't as if
either you or I had had a mother or sisters to send them to. And as you
say, with Geoffrey, their health will be thoroughly looked
after, and he will be very kind to them, and we can depend on his
telling us the truth about them. Anything is better than sending them
That's what he said, replied papa. He was quite full of it when I
went to-day to tell him of this most unexpected proposal. He is so very
eager for me to accept it that he would do anything. His house is
large, much larger than he needs; and of course he knows more about
children than most unmarried men, through seeing them so constantly
when they are ill. And then, Marie, there is Partridgethat is a great
Yes, said mother, gently, but not very eagerly. I knew the tone of
her voice when she spoke that wayI could feel that she was smiling a
littleshe always did when she didn't want to seem to disagree with
papa and yet didn't quite agree with him, for papa always gets so eager
about things, and is sure they'll all come right. Yes, said mother,
I'm sure Partridge is very good and kind, but she's old, you know,
Horace. Audrey and the boys must have a young nurse, besidesI wish
Pierson were not going to be married.
Pierson was the nurse we had just thenshe was going to be married
in a fortnight, but we didn't much care. She had only been about a year
with us, and we counted her rather a grumpy nurse. She always thought
that we should catch cold if we ran into the garden without being all
muffled up, or that we should break our necks even if we climbed
I don't know, said papa. She would never have got on with
Partridge. A younger one would be better.
Perhaps, said mother. But her tone had grown dreadfully low and
sad again. It almost seemed as if she could not speak at all. Only in a
minute or two I heard her say again, still worse than before,
Oh, my darlings! Oh, Horace, I don't think I can bear it. Think
of dear little Racey, and my pretty Tom, and poor Audreythough I
don't know that she is naturally so affectionate as the boysthink of
them all, Horacealone without us, and us so far away.
I know, said papa, sadly. I know it all. It is terribly hard for
you. But let us try not to talk any more about it this evening.
To-morrow you may feel more cheerfulI don't know about Audrey not
being so affectionate as the boys, he added, after a little pause;
perhaps it is that she's older and more reserved. They are such little
chaps. She's very good and motherly to them any way, and that's one
Indeed it is, said mother. She's a queer little girl, but she's
very good to the boys. We must go down-stairs now, she went on, and I
must send Pierson to carry Racey to his own bed. I am so afraid of
waking Audrey and Tom, perhaps I had better carry him myself.
She came towards my bed as she spoke, and after seeming to hesitate
a little, stepped close up to the side. Poor mother! I didn't
understand it then, but afterwards, when I thought over that strange
evening, as I so often did, I seemed to know that she had been
afraid of looking at usthat she could not bear to see our happy
sleeping faces with what she knew, in her heart. It is funny, but lots
of things have come to me like that. I have remembered them in my mind
without understanding them, like parrot words, with no meaning, and
then long afterwards a meaning has come into them, and that I have
never forgotten. It was a little that way with what I overheard that
eveningthe meaning that came into it all afterwards made such a mark
on my mind that even though I may not have told you just exactly the
words papa and mother said, I am sure I have told you the sense of them
Well, mother came up to my bedside and stood looking at usRacey
and me. I fancied she looked at Racey mosthe was her baby
you know, and I didn't mind even if sometimes it seemed as if she cared
more for Tom and him than for me. They were such dear little boys to
kiss, and they had such a pretty way of petting mother. I knew I hadn't
such loving ways, and that sometimes it seemed as if I didn't care for
motherwhen I wanted to say nice words they wouldn't come. But I never
minded a bit, however much mother petted the boysI felt as if I was
like her in thatwe were like two mothers to them I sometimes pleased
myself by fancying.
Mother stood looking at us. For a minute or two I still kept my eyes
shut as if I were asleep. We often played with each other at
thatfoxing, we used to call it. But generally we couldn't manage it
because of bursting out laughing. To-night it wasn't that
feeling that made it difficult for me to go on foxing. It was quite a
different one. Yet I was, too, a very little afraid of mother knowing I
had been listeningit began to come into my mind that it was not a
nice thing to doa little like telling storiesand I almost am afraid
I should not have had courage to tell mother if it had not been that
just then as she stood there looking at us I heard her give a little
sob. Then I could bear it no longer. I jumped up in bed and
threw my arms round her neck.
Mother, mother, I cried, I have heard. I wasn't really
asleep. I didn't mean to listen, but I couldn't help it. Oh, mother,
mother, are you going away? You can't go awaywhat should we
Mother did not answer. She just held me close in her armsvery
close, but without speaking. At last, after what seemed quite a long
time, she said very softly,
My poor little Audrey.
I pressed my arms still tighter round her.
Mother, I said, I heard you say something about me. Mother, I do
love youyou said I wasn't affectionate, but I'm sure I love you.
Poor little Audrey, she said again. I am sorry you heard that.
You must not think I meant that you don't love me. I cannot quite make
you understand how I meant, but I did not mean that. And oh, Audrey,
how glad I am to think that you love the boys so much. You are a very
kind sister to them, and you do not know what a comfort it is to me
just now to think of that.
Do you mean because of your going away, mother? I asked. Will you
really go away? Will it be for a long time, mother? As long as a
month, or two months?
Yes, said mother, quite as long as that I am afraid. But you must
go to sleep now, dear. You are not quite well yet, you know, and you
will be so tired to-morrow if you don't have a good night. Try and not
think any more about what you heard to-night; and to-morrow, or as soon
as I can, I will tell you more.
I did hear more, I said in a low voice, I heard about our going
to uncle Geoff's. Mother, is uncle Geoff nice?
Very, said mother. But, Audrey, you must go to sleep, dear.
Yes, mother, I will in one minute, I said. But do tell me just
one thing, please do.
Mother turned towards me again. She had just been preparing to lift
Well, dear? she said.
I do so want to know what suits the boys would travel in, I
said. I have my big, long coat, but they haven't got such big ones.
Mother, don't you think they should have new ulsters?
Mother gave a little laugh that was half a sigh.
Audrey, she said, what a queer child you are!But perhaps, she
added to herself in a low voice, perhaps it is as well.
I heard the words, and though I could not quite see that there was
anything queer in my thinking about new ulsters for the boys, I did not
tease mother any more about them just then. She kissed me again quite
kindly, and then carried Racey away. He just woke up a very little as
she lifted him, and gave a sort of cross wrigglepoor little boy, he
had been so comfortably asleep. But when he saw that it was mother who
was lifting him, he left off being cross in one moment.
Dear little muzzie, he said, and though he was too sleepy to open
his eyes again, he puckered up his little red lips for a kiss.
Muzzie, was what the boys called mother sometimes for a pet name. It
wasn't very pretty, but she didn't mind.
My darling little Racey, she said, as she kissed him; and somehow
the way she said darling made me wish just a little that I was Racey
instead of myself. Yet I didn't think about it much. My fancy would go
running on about going to uncle Geoff's, and the journey, and how I
would take care of the boys and all that; and when I went to sleep I
had such queer dreams. I thought uncle Geoff had a face like Pierson
when she was cross, and that he wore a great big ulster buttoned all
down the back instead of the front, because, he said, that was the
fashion in China.
CHAPTER II. REAL AND PLAY.
And I'll be Lady Fuss-aby,
And you shall be Miss Brown.
I woke very early the next morningfor after all it had not been at
all late when I fell asleep. I woke very early, but Tom was awake
before me, for when I looked across to his bed, even before I had time
to say Tom, are you awake? very softly, to which if he was still
feeling sleepy he sometimes answered, No, I'm notbefore I had even
time to say that, I saw that his bright dark eyes were wide open.
There was a night-light on the little table between our cots. Mother
had let us have it since we were ill. By rights the cot I was sleeping
in was Racey's, for I had a little room to myself, but Tom and I had
been put together because of the measles. I could not have seen Tom's
face except for the light, for it was still quite dark outside, just
beginning to get a very little morning.
Tom, I said softly, do you know what o'clock it is?
Yes, said Tom, I think it's six. Just as I woke I heard the stair
clock striking. I only counted four, but in my sleep I'm sure there had
Tom, I said again.
Well, said Tom.
Tom, I repeated. I wish you could come into my bed or that I
could get into yours. I do so want to speak to you, and I don't like to
speak loud for fear of Pierson hearing. Pierson slept in a little room
Pierson's asleep, said Tom. I heard her snoring a minute ago. We
mustn't get into each other's beds. Mother said we must promise not,
for fear of catching cold.
I know, but it's a pity, I said. Tom, do you knowoh, Tom, do
What? said Tom.
Something so wonderful, I don't know if I should tell you, but
mother didn't say I wasn't to. Tom, what should you say if we were to
go awaya long way away in the railway?
I'd say it was vrezy nice, said Tom. If it was all of us
together, of course.
Ah, but if it wasn't all of uswhat would you say then?
Tom stared at me.
What do you mean, Audrey? he said. We always does go all away
together, if we go away at all.
Oh yesgoing to the sea-side and like that. But I mean something
quite different from that. Suppose, Tom, that you and me and Racey had
to go away somewhere by ourselves, what would you think of that?
Tom's dark eyes stared at me more puzzledly than before.
Audrey, he said, what can you mean? He looked quite
startled and frightened. Audrey, he said, suddenly jumping out of
bed, I must get into your bed. I'm sure I won't catch cold, and I want
to whisper to you.
I could not help making room for him in my cot, and then we put our
arms round each other, and Tom said to me in a very low voiceAudrey,
do you mean that Racey and you and me are all going to die?
Poor Tom, he looked so pitiful when he said that I was so sorry for
Oh no, Tom dear. Of course I don't mean that. What could have made
you think so? I said.
Because unless it was that I don't see how we could go away
alone. Papa and mother would never let us. We're too little.
I didn't mean that we'd really go alone in the railway, I
explained, somebody would go with usPierson perhaps, if she wasn't
married. But still in a way it would be going away alone. Oh Tom, I
have felt so funny all nightas if I couldn't believe it.
Then I told him what I had heard and what mother had told me; and
all the time we held each other tight. We felt so strangethe telling
it to Tom made it seem more real to me, and poor Tom seemed to feel it
was real at once. When I left off speaking at last, he stared at me
again with his puzzled-looking eyes, but he didn't seem as if he was
going to cry.
Audrey, he said at last, starting up, don't you think if we were
all to pray to God for papa and mother not to go away that that would
be the best plan?
I didn't quite know what to say. I knew it was always a good thing
to pray to God, but yet I didn't feel sure that it would stop papa and
mother's going away. I was rather puzzled, but I didn't quite like to
say so to Tom.
Audrey, he said, jigging me a little, speak, be quick. Wouldn't
that be a good plan? Perhaps then a letter would come at breakfast to
say they weren't to gowouldn't they be pleased?
I don't know, I said at last. I almost think, for some things,
papa wants to go, and that it's a good thing for him, and if it's a
good thing for him I dare say God wouldn't unsettle it.
But if it isn't a good thing for us? said Tom, and it
can't be a good thing for usI'm sure God would unsettle it
I could not see it like that either.
I shouldn't like to say it that way, I replied. Don't you see
that would be like saying papa would do something that wasn't good for
us, and I shouldn't like to say that of papanot even to God.
Tom lay down on the pillow again and gave a great sigh.
I don't know what to do then, he said. I am sure God would find
out some way of making it right, and it's vrezy cross of you not to let
me ask Him, Audrey. I don't believe you care a bit about them going
away, and I know it has begun to break my heart already. When you told
me first it began to thump so dreadfully fast, and then it gave a
crack. I'm sure I felt it crack, and Tom began to cry.
It was dreadful to hear him talk like that. He didn't often cry. He
wasn't a boy that cried for knocks and bumps at all, but just now he
was rather weak with having been ill, and what he said about his heart
quite frightened me. I don't know what I should have done, but just
then Pierson opened the door of her room and began scolding us for
talking so early in the morning. We were so afraid of her finding out
that we were both in one bed, that we lay quite, quite still. Tom
proposed to me in a whisper that we should begin to snore a little, but
I whispered back that it would be no use as she had heard us talking
just a minute before. And after grumbling a little more, Pierson shut
the door and retired into her own room. Then Tom put his arms round me
again and kissed mehis cross humours never lasted long; not like
Racey's, who, though he was generally very good, once he did
begin, went on and on and on till one didn't know what to do with him.
I'm very sorry for calling you cross, Audrey, he said. Perhaps
we'd better wait and ask mother about it, and then we both kissed each
other again, and somehow, though we were so very wide awake, all in a
moment we went to sleep again and slept a good long while. For Pierson
told us afterwards that what Tom had heard striking was only four
o'clock after all.
When we woke again it was real morningquite bright and
sunny. And mother was standing beside the bedside, and little Racey
beside her, looking very smooth and shiny with his clean pinafore and
clean face and freshly brushed hair. Till I looked close at mother's
face I could have fancied that all the strange news I had heard the
night before had been a dreamit did not seem the least possible that
it could be true. But alas! her face told that it was. Her eyes looked
as if she had not been asleep, and though she was smiling it was a sort
of sad smiling that made me feel as if I couldn't help crying.
Children, she said, didn't you promise me not to get into each
We both felt rather ashamed.
Yes, mother, I said, I know you did, but
Tom interrupted me
Don't be vexed with Audrey, mother, he said, jumping up and
throwing his arms round her neck, it was most my fault. Audrey wanted
to whisper to me. Oh mother, he went on, hugging mother closer and
burying his round dark head on her shoulder, oh mother, Audrey's
Then without another word Tom burst into tearsnot loud crying like
when he was hurt or angry, but deep shaking sobbing as if his poor
little heart was really breaking. And for a moment or two mother could
not speak. She could only press him more tightly to her, trying to
choke back the tears that she was afraid of yielding to.
Poor Racey stood staring in fear and bewildermenthis blue eyes
quite ready to cry too, once he understood what it was all about. He
gave a little tug to mother's dress at last.
Muzzie, what's the matter? he said.
Mother let go her hold of Tom and turned to Racey.
Poor little boy, she said, he is quite frightened. Audrey, I
thought you would have understood I would tell the boys myself.
Oh, I am so sorry, I exclaimed. I wish I hadn't. But I did so
want to speak to somebody about it, and Tom was awakeweren't you,
Yes, I was awake, said Tom. Don't be vexed with Audrey, mother.
Mother didn't look as if she had the heart to be vexed with anybody.
I daresay it doesn't matter, she said sadly. But, Audrey, you
need not say anything about it to Raceyit is better for him to find
out about it gradually.
After that day things seemed to hurry on very fast. Almost
immediately, papa and mother began to prepare for the great changes
that were to be. Our house had a big ticket put up on the gate, and
several times ladies and gentlemen came to look at it. Mother did not
like it at all, I could see, though of course she was quite nice to the
ladies and gentlemen, but the boys and I thought it was rather fun to
have strange people coming into the house and looking at all the rooms,
and we made new plays about it. I used to be the ladies coming to look,
and Tom was the footman to open the door, and Racey, dressed up with
one of my skirts, was mother, and sometimes Pierson, showing the ladies
the rooms. Sometimes we pretended they were nice ladies, and then Racey
had to smile and talk very prettily like mother, and sometimes they
were cross fussy ladies, and then Racey had to say No, ma'amI'm
sure I can't say, ma'am, like Pierson in her grumpiest voice. And one
day something very funnyat least long afterwards it turned out to be
very funnyhappened, when we were playing that way. I must tell you
about it before I go on with the straight part of my story.
It was a wet day and no real ladies had been to see the
house, so we thought as we had nothing to do we'd have a good game of
pretence ones. Racey had to be Pierson this day (of course Pierson
didn't know he was acting her), and we were doing it very
nicely, for a dreadfully fussy lady had been only the day before and we
had still got her quite in our heads. Ibeing the lady, you
knowknocked at the nursery cupboard door, and when Tom the footman
opened it, I stood pretending to look round the entrance hall.
Dear me, what a very shabby vestibule, I said. Not near
so handsome as mine at Victoria Terracequite decries the house. Oh,
young man, I went on, pretending to see Tom for the first time, this
house is to be sold, I hear? Its appearance is not what I'm accustomed
to, but I may as well give a look round, as I'm here.
And so I went on, finding fault with the dining-room, drawing-room,
&c.Tom giving very short replies, except when a fit of laughter
nearly choked him, till I was supposed to have reached the first floor
where the imaginary Pierson took me in charge.
You don't mean to say this is the best bedroom? I said,
how very small!
Yes, ma'am, because you're so very fat. I daresay it does
seem small to you, said Racey.
This brilliant inspiration set Tom and me off laughing so that we
could hardly speak.
Oh, Racey, I said, returning to my real character for a minute,
Pierson wouldn't really say that.
She said she'd have liked to say it to that ugly lady
yesterday, said Racey. I heard her telling Banks so, on the stair.
(Banks was the name of the real footman.) She said, 'I'd like to tell
that wat' (Racey couldn't say f he always call fat,
wat, and feet, weet) 'old woman that it's no wonder
our rooms isn't big enough for her.' And Banks did so laugh.
Well, go on, Audrey. Perhaps Racey'll think of some more funny
things, said Tom.
So I proceeded with my inspection of the house.
What very common papers! I said, looking up at the walls with an
imaginary eye-glass. I am always accustomed to a great deal of gold on
the papers. It lightens up so well.
Yes, mum, replied Racey, rather intoxicated by his success, and
now drawing wildly on his imagination, yes, mum, I should think you
was becustomed to walls that was made of gold all over, andand
hesitating how to make his sarcasm biting enough, and floors made of
diamonds and pessus stones, and
Racey, hush, said Tom, you're talking out of the Bible. Isn't he,
I was not quite prepared to give an opinion.
Pierson doesn't talk like that, any way, I said, without
committing myself. Let's go on about there not being enough rooms for
the servants. She did say that.
And about her pet dogs, suggested Tom.
Oh yes, I said, in the affected squeaky voice which we imagined to
be an exact copy of the way of speaking of the lady who had taken such
a hold on our fancy, oh dear yesI must have a very good room
for my dear dogs. They are never allowed to sleep in a room without a
fire, and I am so afraid this chimney smokes.
No, mum, it's me that smokes, mum, not the chimney, mum.
Sometimes I have a cigar, mum, in my room, mum, and a room that's good
enough for me must be good enough for your dogs, mum, said Tom, the
We all three shouted with laughter at his wit, though poor Banks,
the most modest of young men, whose only peculiarity was that in his
nervousness he used to say ma'am or sir with every two words, would
have been horrified if he had known how Tom was caricaturing him. We
were still laughing when the door opened suddenly and mother with some
real ladies, to whom she was showing the house, came in.
There were two ladiesa not very particular one, just rather nice,
but we didn't notice her very much, and a much younger one whom we
noticed in a minute. It was partly I think because of her pretty hair,
which was that bright goldy kind that looks as if the sun was always
shining on it. Mine is a little like that, but not so bright as
aunoh, I forgot; you wouldn't understand. And her hair showed more
because of her being all dressed in blackregular black because of
somebody belonging to her being dead I mean. She came last into the
room, of course that was right because she was youngest, and mother
came in first to open the door likeI can remember quite well the way
they all stood for a minute.
This is the nursery, I see, said the nothing particular lady.
Well, with me it would not be that, as I have no children. But it
would make a nice morning-roomit must be a bright room on a sunny
Yes, said mother, that is why we chose it for a nursery. It is a
pity for you to see the house on such a dull dayit is such a bright
house generallywe have liked it very much.
Mother spoke sadlyI knew the tone of her voice quite well. We all
three had of course stopped playing and stood round listening to what
was said. We must have looked rather funnyRacey with a skirt of mine
and a white apron of Pierson's, Tom with a towel tied round him to look
like Banks in the pantry, and I with an old shawl and a bonnet very
much on one side, with a long feather, which we had got out of our
dressing-up things. We were so interested in listening to mother and
in looking at the ladies, particularly the golden-haired one, that we
quite forgot what queer figures we were, till the young lady turned
These are your little children, she said, with a smilea rather
sad smileto mother. They are playing at dressing-up, I see.
We're playing at ladies coming to see the house, I said, coming
forwardI never was a shy childThere have been such a lot of
Mother turned to the young lady.
It is perhaps well that they should be able to make a play of it,
Yes, said the young lady very gently, I remember being just the
same as a child, when once my mother had to go awayto India it wasI
was so pleased to see her new trunks and to watch all the packing. And
nowhow strange it seems that I could have endured the idea of her
goingnow that I shall never have her again!
Her lip quivered, and she turned away. Mother spoke to her very,
very kindlythe other lady, the nothing particular one was examining
the cupboards in the room and did not notice.
Have you lost your dear mother? sheour mother, I meanasked the
She could not speak for a moment. She just bowed her head. Then
touching her dress she said in a sort of whisper, Yes; quite lately.
She died in London a fortnight ago. I have neither father nor mother
now. I am staying for a while with my cousin.
Then, partly I think to hide the tears which would not be kept back,
partly to help herself to grow calm again, she drew me to her and
stroked my long hair which hung down my back below my queer bonnet.
What is your name, dear? she said.
Audrey, I replied. Audrey Mildred Gower is my long name, I
'Audrey' is a very pretty name, said the young lady, still
stroking my hair, and Gowerthat is not a very common name. Are you
perhaps relations of Dr. Gower, of Street?
That's Uncle Geoff, cried the boys and I.
He is my husband's brother, said mother.
The young lady quite brightened up.
Oh, how curious! she said. Dr. Gower was so kind to my
mother, and again her pretty eyes filled with tears and her lips
Racey, staring at her, saw that something was the matter, though he
had not the least idea what. He came close up to her, stumbling over
his skirt and long apron on the way, and tugged her sleeve to catch her
Don't cry, he said abruptly. We're going to live with Uncle
Geoff. Perhaps he'd let you come too.
The young lady could not help smiling.
Are they really going to live in London? she said to mother.
Perhaps I shall see you again then some day. I know 'Uncle Geoff's'
house very well.
But before there was time to say any more the other lady came back
from her inspection, and began asking so many things about the house
that the young lady's attention was quite taken up. And soon after they
went away. Afterwards I remember mother said she was sorry she had not
asked the young lady's name. But we among ourselves fixed to call her
CHAPTER III. THREE LITTLE TRAVELLERS.
What will she do for their laughter and plays,
Chattering nonsense, and sweet saucy ways?
I will now try to go straight on with my story. But I cannot help
saying I do not find it quite so easy as I thought. It is so very
difficult to keep things in order and not to put in bits that have no
business to come for ever so much longer. I think after this I shall
always be even more obliged than I have been to people that write
stories, for really when you come to do it, it isn't nearly so easy as
you'd think, though to read the stories, it seems as if
everything in them came just of itself without the least trouble.
I told you that after it was really settled and known, and all
arranged about the goings away, things seemed to go on very fast. In
one way they did and in one way they didn'tfor now when I look back
to it, it seems to me that that bit of timethe time when it was all
quite settled to be and yet hadn't comewas very long. I hear
big people say that children get quickly accustomed to anything. I
think big people do too. We allpapa and mother, and the boys and I,
and even Pierson and the other servantsgot used to feeling something
was going to come. We got used to living with people coming to see the
house, and every now and then great vans coming from the railway to
take away packing-cases, and an always feeling that the daythe
dreadful daywas going to come. Of course I cannot remember all the
little particular things exactly, but I have a very clear remembrance
of the sort of way it all happened, so though I may not be able to put
down just the very words we said and all that, still it is telling it
truly, I think, to put down as nearly as I can the little bits
that make the whole. And even some of the littlest bits I can remember
the most clearlyis not that queer? I can remember the dress mother
had on the last morning, I can remember just how the scarf round
her neck was tied, and how one end got rumpled up with the way Tom
clung to her, and hugged and hugged her with his arms round her, so
tight, that papa had almost to force him away.
But in my usual way I am going on too fastat least putting things
out of their places. I do not think I in the least understood then,
what I do so well understand now, how terribly hard it must have been
for mother to leave us; how much more dreadful her part of it
was than any one else's. I must have seemed very heartless. I remember
one day when she was packing books and music and odd things that she
would not of course have taken with her just for a journey, I said to
her, Why, mother, what a lot of books you are taking! And all those
table-covers and mats and thingsyou never take those when we go to
the sea-side. Papa was standing by and mother looked up at him. Need
I take them? she said. It is as if I were going to make a home out
there, and oh, how can it ever be like a home? How could I wish it to
be? The barer and less home-like the better I should like it.
Papa looked troubled.
We have to think of appearances, you know, he said. So many
people will come to see you, and it would not do to look as if we took
no interest in the place.
Mother said no more. She went on with her packing, and I think a
good many big tears were packed among the things in that box.
I asked her one day how long she and papa would stay away. Longer
than we stay at the sea-side in summer? I said. Three months?as
long as that, mother? Any way you'll be home before our birthdays.
For, rather funnily, all our three birthdays came close
togetherall in one week. We thought it the most important time of the
whole year, and we counted everything by the birthday week, and when
mother didn't answer at once Oh yes, we shall certainly be home by the
birthday week, I felt quite astonished. But just then something or
other put it out of my head, and I forgot to speak of it again. I can't
think now how I could be so silly in some ways as I was thenit is so
queer to remember.
Wellthe day did come. Wethe boys and Iwere the first to
leave our dear old home, even though our journey was to be such a short
oneonly three hours to London. Papa and mother were to start on
their journey the next day, so we were not to see them again. They
had been at Uncle Geoff's the week before, seeing the rooms we were to
have, and settling everything; and I think they thought it was better
not to see us again, after we were in his house, but to get the parting
over in our old home. I suppose they thought we would get over it more
quickly if the journey and the newness of it all was to come after, and
I daresay they were right.
I can't tell you about the saying good-bye. It was so bad for us,
though we could not understand it at all properly of course, that for
mother it must have been awful. And then fancy the long day after we
had all left. The empty nurseries, the sort of sound of
quietness through the housethe knowing we should never, never more be
all together in the old happy waythat we should be changed somehow
before she saw us again. For three years (and poor mother knew it would
be three years) is a long time at our ages, Racey would have learnt to
speak plain, and Tom would be such a big boy that he would have got out
of the way of hugging, perhaps, and Audrey even, that was me, you
know, might have forgotten her a littleall these thoughts must have
gone through mother's mind that dreadful afternoon, when papa had taken
us to the station and seen us off to London under Pierson's care. Oh
poor little mother, she has told me all about it since, and I must
say if ever I am a big lady and have children of my own, I hope these
dreadful havings to go away won't happen to me.
Wellwe were in the train. Our eyes were so red that any one might
have seen something sad had happened to us, but we didn't care. Tom's
eyes were the worst of all, and generally he would do anything rather
than let his red eyes be seen; but to-day he didn't care, we were too
full of being sorry to care whether people noticed our eyes or not. And
at last when papa had kissed us all three once more for the very last
time, reaching up to the railway-carriage window, and the boys and I
holding him so tight that he was nearly choked; at last it was all
over, all the last tiny endings of good-byes over, and we three
wereit seemed to us as far as we could understand it in our childish
wayalone in the world.
There was no one else in the railway-carriagePierson of course was
with usshe had put off being married for two months, so that she
could see us settled and get the new nurse into our ways, as she called
it; she too had been crying, so that she was quite a fright, for her
nose was all bumpy-looking with the way she had been scrubbing at it
and her eyes. She was very kind to us; she took Racey on her knee, and
let Tom and me sit close up to her; and if she had had three arms she
would have put one round each of us I am sure.
Poor dears! she said, and then she looked so very sad herself that
Tom and Racey took to comforting her, instead of expecting her
to comfort them. I was sad reallythree poor little things like
us going away like that; away from everything we had ever known, away
from our nice bright nursery, where everything a mother could do to
make children happy our mother had done; away from our dear little
cots, where mother used to kiss us every night; and our little gardens
where we had worked so happily in the summer; away to great big London,
where among the thousand faces in the street there was not one we had
ever seen before, where other little boys and girls had their fathers
and mothers, while ours were going far, far away, to strange countries
where they would find no little boys and girls like their own, no
Audrey and Tom and Racey.
I thought of all this in a half-stupid way, while I sat in the
railway-carriage with my arm round Tom's neck and my head leaning on
Pierson's shoulder. We had never cared very much about Pierson,
but now that she was the only thing left to us, we began to cling to
her very much.
I am so glad you've not gone away, Pierson, I said, and Pierson
seemed very pleased, for I didn't very often say things like that.
Poor dear Miss Audrey, she said in return. Poor dear, seemed the
only words she could think of to comfort us with. And then we all grew
silent, and after a while it began to get dark, for the days were short
now, and Tom and Racey fell asleep, just sobbing quietly now and then
in their breathingthe way little children do, you know, after they
have been crying a good deal; and I sat quite still, staring out at the
gloomy-looking country that we were whizzing through, the bare trees
and dull fields, so different from the brightness and prettiness of
even a flat unpicturesque landscape on a summer day, when the
sun lights up everything, and makes the fresh green look still fresher
and more tempting. And it seemed to me that the sky and the sun and all
the outside things were looking dull because of our trouble, and that
they were all sorry for us, and there seemed a queer nice feeling in
And after a while I began making pictures to myself of what I would
do to please mother while she was away; how I would be so good to Tom
and Racey, and teach them to be so good too; how I would learn to be
always neat, and how I would try to get on with music, which I didn't
much like, but which mother was so fond of that she thought I would get
to like it when I was bigger and had got over the worst part. And then
I began thinking of the letters I would write to mother, and all I
would say in them; and I wondered too to myself very much what Uncle
Geoff would be like, for I had not seen him for some time, and I
couldn't remember him properly at all; and I wondered what his house
would be like, and what sort of a nursery we should have, and what our
new governess would be like, and how everything in our new home would
be. I went on wondering till I suppose my brain got tired of asking
questions it couldn't answer, and without knowing that I was the least
sleepy, I too fell fast asleep!
I was busy dreamingdreaming that I was on board the ship with papa
and mother, and that Uncle Geoff was a lady come to see the house; in
my dream the ship seemed a house, only it went whizzing along like a
railway, and that he had a face like Pierson's, and he would say poor
dear Miss Audrey, when another voice seemed to mix in with my
dreaming. A voice that said
Poor little soulsasleep are theyall three? Which of them shall
I look after? Here nurse, you take the boys, and I'll lift out Miss
And Wake up, Miss Audrey, my dear. Wake up. Here's your uncle come
himself to meet you at the station. I had no idea, sir, we were so near
London, or I'd have had them all awake and ready, said Pierson, who
never had all her ideas in order at once.
There was nothing for it but to wake up, though I was most unwilling
to do so. I was not at all shy, but yet in the humour I was in then I
felt disinclined to make friends with Uncle Geoff, and I wished he
hadn't come to the station himself. He lifted me out, however, very
kindly; and when I found myself standing on the platform, in the light
of the lamps, I could not help looking up at him to see what he was
like. I felt better inclined to like him when he put me down on my
feet, for I had been afraid he was intending to carry me in his arms
till he put me into the cab, and that would have offended me very much.
Well, Audrey, and are you very tired? he said kindly.
I looked up at him. He was not very tall, but very strong-looking,
and had rather a stern expression, except when he smiled; but just now
he was smiling. I remembered what mother had said to me about
being very good with Uncle Geoff, and doing all he told me. So I tried
to speak very nicely when I answered him.
No, thank you, Uncle Geoff, I am not very tired, but I am rather
sleepy; and I think the boys are very sleepy too.
All right, said Uncle Geoff, that is a trouble that can soon be
cured. Here nurse, he went on, turning to Pierson, I'll take Miss
Audrey on with me in my carriage, which is waiting; but there is only
room for two in it. So my man will get a cab for you and the boys and
put the luggage on it.
Pierson was agreeing meekly, but I interfered.
If you please, Uncle Geoff, I said, mayn't I stay, and come in
the cab too? I don't like to leave the boys, because mother says I'm
always to take care of them now.
Miss Audrey, my dear began Pierson, in reproof, but Uncle Geoff
interrupted her. He did not seem at all vexed, but rather amused. I did
not like that, I would almost rather he had been vexed.
Never mind, nurse, he said. I like childrenand grown people too
for that matterto speak out. Of course you may stay and come in the
cab if you would rather, Audrey. But in that case I fear I shall not
see any more of you to-night. I have one or two serious cases, he went
on, turning to Pierson, and may be very late of coming home. But no
doubt Mrs. Partridge will make you comfortable, and Audrey here seems a
host in herself. Good-night, little people.
He stooped and kissed uskindly but rather hurriedlyand then he
put us all into a cab, and left the servant who was with him to come
after with the luggage.
It is better not to keep them waiting, he said to Pierson as we
were driving away.
Your uncle is very kind and considering, said Pierson; she always
said considering for considerate. I wonder you spoke that way to
him, Miss Audrey.
I didn't speak any way to him, I said crossly. I don't see that
it was very kind to want to send me away from the boys. Mother told me
I was to take care of them, and I'm going to do what she told me.
And I'm sure if you're going to teach them to get into naughty
tempers and to be so cross, they'd be better without you to take care
of them, said Pierson.
That was her way; she always said something to make us more cross
instead of saying some little gentle thing to smooth us as mamma did.
Nobody ever made me so cross just in that kind of way as Pierson did. I
am sometimes quite ashamed when I remember it. Just then I did not
answer her again or say any more. I was too tired, and I felt that if I
said anything else I should begin to cry again, and I didn't want Mrs.
Partridge to see me with red eyes. Tom and Racey pressed themselves
close to me in the cab, and Tom whispered, Never mind, Audrey.
Pierson's an ugly cross thing. We'll do what you tell us, alwayswon't
And Racey said Yes, always, and then, poor little boys, they both
patted my hands and tried to comfort me. They always did like that when
Pierson was cross, and I don't think she much liked it, and I felt that
it was rather a pity to vex her when she had meant to be kind, but
still I didn't feel much inclined to make friends.
So we drove onwhat a long way it seemed! We had never been
in London before, and the streets and houses seemed as if they would
never come to an end. It was a very wet evening; I dare say it looked
much less dull and gloomy now than it had been earlier in the day, for
the gas lighted up the streets, and the shops looked bright and
cheerful. I could not but look at them with interest, what quantities
there were, how nice it would have been to come to London with mother,
and to have gone about buying lots of pretty things; but now it was
quite different. And once when I saw from the cab-window a poor, but
neatly-dressed little girl about my own size walking along by her
mother, holding her hand and looking quite happy in spite of the rain,
I felt so miserable I could do nothing but press more closely the two
little hands that still lay in mine, and repeat to myself the promise I
had made to mother. Oh I will try to take care of them and make
them happy and good till you come back, and there was a great deal of
comfort in the thought, especially when I went on to make, as I was
very fond of doing, pictures of papa and mother coming home again, and
of them saying how good Tom and Racey were, and what great care I must
have taken of them. I only wishedespecially since she had spoken
crossly to methat it had not been settled for Pierson to stay with
us. I felt so sure I could take better care of the boys than any one
But my thoughts and plans were interrupted by our stopping at last.
Uncle Geoff's house was in a street in which there were no shops. It
was a dull-looking street at all times; to-night of course we could see
nothing but just the house where we stopped. It looked big and dull to
Tom and me as we went in; Racey, poor little fellow, didn't know
anything about how it looked, for he had fallen asleep again and had to
be carried in in Pierson's arms. The hall was a regular town house
hallyou know the kind I meannot like ours at home, which was nicely
carpeted and had a pretty fireplace, where in winter there was always a
bright fire to welcome you on first going in; the hall at Uncle Geoff's
was cold and dull, with just oilcloth on the floor, and a stiff hall
table and hat-stand, and stiff chairs; no flower-stands or plants
about, such as mother was so fond of. And the servant that opened the
door was rather stiff-looking too. She was the housemaid, and her name
was Sarah. It was not generally she that had to open the door, but the
footman had gone to the station you know, and perhaps Sarah was cross
at having to open. And far back in the hall an oldish-looking person
was standing, who came forward when she saw it was us. She was dressed
in black silk, and she had a cap with lilac ribbons. She looked kind
but rather fussy.
And so these are the dear children, she said. How do you do,
little missy, and little master too; and the dear baby is asleep, I
see? And how did you leave your dear papa and mamma?
Quite well, thank you, said Tom and I together. We squeezed each
other's hands tight; we were determined not to cry before Mrs.
Partridge, for we knew it must be her, and by the way Tom squeezed my
hand I quite understood that he had not taken a fancy to Mrs.
Partridge, and I squeezed his again to say I hadn't either.
We hated being called master and missy, and of all things Racey
hated being called baby. Oh how angry he would have been if he had
been awake! And then I didn't like her speaking of papa and mother in
that sort of way, as if she would have liked us to say they were very
ill indeedshe had such a whiney way of talking. But of course we were
quite civil to her; we only squeezed each other's hands, and nobody
could see that.
Mrs. Partridge opened a door on the right side of the hall. It led
into the dining-room. A nice fire was burning there, but still it did
not look cheerfulnot a bit, I said to myself againthat thought
was always coming into my headnot a bit like our dining-room
at home. But still it was nice to see a fire, and Tom and I, still
holding each other's hands, went up to it and stood on the rug looking
at the pleasant blaze.
You've had a cold journey I'm afraid, said Mrs. Partridge.
Yes, ma'am, very, said Tom, who fancied she was speaking to him.
He blinked his eyes as he looked up to her, for he had been asleep in
the train, and coming into the light was dazzling.
[Illustration: Dear me, said Mrs Partridge at once, what weak
eyes he has!]
Dear me, said Mrs. Partridge at once, what weak eyes he has! What
do you do for them, nurse? He must take them of his mamma, for our
young gentlemen always had lovely eyes.
I'm sure he doesn't get ugly eyes from mother, I said indignantly.
Mother has beautiful eyes, and Tom has nice eyes too. They're not
Deary me, deary me, exclaimed Mrs. Partridge, what a very
sharp-spoken young lady! I'm sure no offence was meant, only I was
sorry to see little master's eyes so red. Don't they hurt you, my
No thank you, ma'am, said Tom, still holding my hand very tight.
He didn't quite understand what had been said. He was a very little
boy and very sleepy. I wondered what made him say ma'am to Mrs.
Partridge, for of course he never did in speaking to ladies. I think it
must have been some confused remembrance of our playing at ladies, for
Mrs. Partridge had a sort of peepy way of talking, something like the
way we did when we were pretending ladies.
Pierson had said nothing. I don't think she liked what the
old housekeeper said about mother's eyes any better than I did, but she
was vexed with me already, and more vexed still, I suppose, at my
answering back Mrs. Partridge, and so she wouldn't speak at all.
Then Mrs. Partridge, who all the time meant to be very kind
to us, you see, took us up-stairs to our roomsthey were on the second
floorabove what is always the drawing-room floor in a London house, I
mean, and they looked to the front. But to-night of courseI don't
know if it is right for me to say to-night, when I mean that
night, but it is easierwe did not notice whether they looked to the
front or not. All we did notice was that in the one which was to be the
day nursery the fire was burning cheerfully, and the table was neatly
spread with a white cloth for tea.
Tom, who was looking very sad, sat down on a chair by the fire and
pulled me close to stand by him.
Audrey, he whispered, I do feel so sad, and I don't like that
Mrs. Partridge. Audrey, I can't eat any tea. I didn't think it would
have been nearly so bad, mother's going away and us coming to London. I
don't like London. I think it would have been much better, Audrey, if
we had diedyou and I when we had the measles.
And stooping down to kiss my poor little tired brother, I saw that
two big tears were forcing themselves out of his eyes; in spite of all
his trying to be manly, and not to let Mrs. Partridge see him crying,
he could not keep them in any longer. I threw my arms round him and
kissed his poor red eyes. Horrid old woman, I said to myself, to say
he had ugly eyes. And a feeling came over me that I can hardly say in
words, that I would put my arms round Tom and Racey and never let them
go till mother came back again, and that nobody should dare to
vex them or make them cry. I felt, in that minute, as if I had grown
quite big and strong to take care of themas if I were really their
mother. I kissed him and kissed him, and tried to think of something to
Tom, dear, I said, do come and have your things off, and try to
take some tea. There are Bath buns, Tom, I added.
But Tom still shook his head.
No thank you, Audrey, he said. I can't eat anythingI can't
indeed. It would have been better, Audrey, it would really, if you and
I had died.
But poor Racey, I said. He would have been all alonejust fancy
Perhaps they would have taken him with them, said Tom dreamily.
Then he put his arms round me and leant his little round head on my
I'm glad I've got you, Audrey, he whispered, and in that
there was some comfort. Still, altogether, I felt what he said was
true; it was very sad for us.
CHAPTER IV. THE AIR-GARDEN.
But children, good though they may be,
Must cry sometimes when they are sad.
It was not quite so bad the next morning. That is one good thing of
being a child, I supposeat least mother says sothings never are
quite so bad the next morning!
We all slept very soundly; we had three nice little beds in one
rather big room, which we thought a very good plan; and the first thing
that woke me was feeling something bump down on the top of me all of a
sudden. It was Racey. He looked quite bright and rosy, all his
tiredness gone away; and then you know he was really such a very
little boyonly fivethat he could not be expected to remember very
long about poor mother going away and all our trouble.
Audrey, he said, in what he meant to be a whisper, but it was a
very loud one, Audrey, I don't want to wake Tom. Poor Tom's so tired.
Audrey, let me get in 'aside you.
He had clambered out of his bed and into mine somehow; and though it
was against rules to get into each other's bedsmother had had to make
the rule because Tom and I got in the way of waking each other so
dreadfully early to tell storiesI could not this first morning refuse
to let the poor little thing get in under the nice warm clothes to be
Oh dear, Racey, what cold little toes you've got, I said. You
haven't been running about without your slippers on, surely?
Just for a minute; don't tell Pierson, said Racey. I wanted to
look out of the window. Audrey, this is such a funny placethere's no
trees and no gardenand lots and lots of windows. Is all the windows
Oh, nothere are lots of other people's houses here, I said. Poor
little Racey had never been in a town before. In London all the houses
are put close together. You see, Racey, there are such a lot of people
in London there wouldn't be room for all the houses they need if each
had a garden.
But some peoples has little gardensair gardens, said
Racey eagerly. There's one I sawed out of the window.
Air gardens! What do you mean, Racey? I said.
High upup in the air, he explained. Sticking up all of
theirselves in the air.
Oh, I know what you meanyou mean a little glass place for
flowers, I said. I've seen thoseonce I was in London before with
mother, in a cab, when we were coming from Tonbridge Wells.
Were you? said Racey, greatly impressed. Was Tom?
No, not Tomonly me. When we're dressed, Racey, I'd like to look
out of the window at the air garden.
Come now, said Racey. But I firmly refused to get out of
bed till Pierson came, as it was one of the things mother had
particularly told me not to dowe had so often caught cold with
running about like that. And it was a good thing we didn't, for just
then Pierson came into the room looking rather cross, and if she had
found us running about without our slippers on she'd have been crosser
It's time to get up, Miss Audrey, she said in a melancholy tone,
past half-past-eight; though I'm sure no one would think so by the
light. I hope you've had a good nightbut as she suddenly caught
sight of my little visitor, whatever's Master Racey doing in your
Racey ducked down under the clothes to avoid being caught, and
Pierson was getting still crosser, when fortunately a diversion of her
thoughts was caused by Tom, who just then awoke.
Oh dear! he said with a great sigh, oh dear! Will the ship have
He was hardly awake, but he sat up in bed, and his big sad eyes
seemed to be looking about for something they could not find. Then with
another sigh he lay down again. I was dreaming, he said, that we got
a letter to say we were to go in the train again to SouthSouththat
place where the ship goes from, and that Uncle Geoff was the man on the
engine, and he kept calling to us to be quick or the ship would be
gone. Oh dear, I wish it had been true!
Poor Tom! Pierson forgot her crossness in trying to comfort him. Of
us all I'm sure he was her favourite, even though he was very
mischievous sometimes. We all went on talking about Tom's dream till
Pierson had got back into quite a good tempera good temper to us, that is to say, for she at last confided to us what had made her so
cross. She couldn't abide that Mrs. Partridge, that was the burden of
her song. Stupid, fussy old thing, she called her, going on about
Master Tom's eyes last night. I dare say I shouldn't say so to you,
Miss Audrey, but I can't help owning I was glad you spoke up to
her as you did. She's that tiresome and interfering,as if I didn't
know my own work! I'll be sorry to leave you, my dears, when the time
comes, which it will only too soon; but I can't say that there'd be
peace for long if that stupid old woman was to keep on meddling.
We were all full of sympathy for Pierson, and indignant with Mrs.
Never mind, Pierson, we said, we won't take any notice of her.
We'll just do what you tell us.
So breakfast was eaten in the most friendly spirit, and after
breakfast, our hands and faces being again washed, and our hair
receiving a second smooth, we were taken down-stairs to be inspected by
He was busy writing in a small room behind the dining-rooma rather
gloomy, but not uncomfortable little room. A fire was of course burning
brightly in the grate, but for a minute or two we all three stood near
the door, not venturing further in, for though Uncle Geoff had replied
come in to Pierson's tap, he did not at once look up when we made our
appearance, but went on finishing his letter. Some mornings he had to
go out very early, but this was not one of them; but instead of going
out, he had a great many very particular letters to write, and it was
difficult for him to take his mind off them even for a minute. I
understand that now, but I did not then; and I was rather offended that
the boys and I should be left standing there without his taking any
notice. Racey kept tight hold of my hand, and Tom looked up at me with
a surprised, puzzled expression in his eyes. I didn't so much mind for
myself, but I felt very sorry for the boys. I was not at all a shy
child, as I have told you, and I had rather a sharp temper in some
ways; so after fidgeting for a moment or two I said suddenly
[Illustration: 'May we come near the fire, if you please?']
May we come near the fire, if you please; or if you don't want us
may we go back to the nursery?
For an instant still Uncle Geoff took no notice. Then he laid down
his pen and looked at usat me in particular.
What did you say, my little lady?
I got more angry. It seemed to me that he was making fun of me, and
that was a thing I never could endure. But I did not show that I was
angry. I think my face got red, but that was all, and I said again
quietly, but not in a very nice tone, I dare say
I wanted to know if we might go back to the nursery if you don't
want us, or at least if we might come near the fire. It isn't for me,
it is for the boys. Mother doesn't like them to stand in a draught, and
there's a great draught here.
Dear me, dear me, I beg your pardon, said Uncle Geoff, with a
comical smile. Come near the fire by all means. My niece and nephews
are not accustomed to be kept waiting, I see.
He pulled forward a big arm-chair to the fire as he spoke, and
lifting Racey up in his arms, popped him down in one corner of it. He
was turning back for Tom, but Tom glanced up at me again from under his
eyelids in the funny half-shy way he did when he was not sure of any
one. I took his hand and led him forward to the fire.
Tom is quite big, I said. He's never counted like a baby.
Again Uncle Geoff looked at me with his comical smile. I felt my
face get red again. I am ashamed to say that I was beginning to take
quite a dislike to Uncle Geoff.
He's just as horrid as Mrs. Partridge, I said to myself. I'm sure
mother wouldn't have left us here if she had known how they were going
to go on.
But aloud I said nothing.
Uncle Geoff himself sat down on the big arm-chair, and took Racey on
So you're to be the boys' little mothereh, Audrey? he began.
It's a great responsibility, isn't it? You'll have a good deal to do
to teach me my duty too, won't you?
I did not answer, but I'm afraid I did not look very amiable. Uncle
Geoff, however, took no notice. He drew Tom gently forward, and as Tom
did not pull back at all, I let go his hand. Uncle Geoff made him stand
between his knees, and, placing a hand on each of his shoulders, looked
rather earnestly into his eyes. Tom fidgeted a littlehe stood first
on one leg, and then on the other, and glanced round at me shyly; but
still he did not seem to mind it.
He's his mother's boy, said Uncle Geoff, after a minute or two's
silence. He has her pretty eyes.
That was a lucky remark. After all, Uncle Geoff must be much nicer
than Mrs. Partridge, I decided, and I drew a little nearer. Uncle Geoff
looked up at me.
And you, Audrey? he went on. No, you're not like your mother.
I'm not nearly as pretty, I said.
You're more like your father, he continued, without noticing my
remark. And Raceywho is he like? Where did you get that white skin,
and that goldennot to say redhair, sir? he said, laughing. Whom
is he like?
Like hisself, said Tom, smiling.
Yes, that is quite certain, said Uncle Geoff. And now, my
friends, having looked you all over, so that for the future I shall
know which is which, tell me how you are going to amuse yourselves
We looked at each otherthat is to say, the boys looked at me and I
at them, but we did not know what to say.
It is too bad a day for you to go out, I fear, continued Uncle
Geoff, glancing up at the window from which only other houses' windows
and a very dull bit of gray sky were to be seen. It's not often we
have bright days at this time of year in London. But we must try to
make you happy in the house. Partridge will get you anything you want.
Did your mother tell you about the tutor?
Yes, Uncle Geoff, I said, meekly enough, but feeling rather
depressed. I did not at all like being referred to Partridge for
anything we wanted. Mother told us we were to have lessons every day
from a gentleman. She said it would be better than a lady, because Tom
is getting so big.
Of course; and by next year he'll be going to school, perhaps.
But that won't be till after papa and mother come home, I said
hastily. Mother never said anything about thatand of course they'll
be home long before next year, I continued, a misgiving darting
through me which I refused to listen to.
Uncle Geoff looked a little troubled, but he just nodded his head.
Oh, of course, there's lots of time to think of Tom's going to
school, he said, as he rose from his chair. I must be off, I fear,
he went on. You know I am a dreadfully busy person, children, and I
shall not be able to see as much of you as I should like. But with
Partridge, and your tutor, and your nurseby the by, I must not forget
about her having to leave before long. You know about thatyour mother
told me you did?
Yes, I replied. Pierson is to be married on the tenth of next
month. But I hesitated.
But what? said Uncle Geoff.
I wish we needn't have a nurse. I'm sure I could dress and
bath the boys, and we'd be so happy without a nurse.
Uncle Geoff laughed heartily at this, and I felt very vexed with him
again. And just then unfortunately a knock came at the door, and in
answer to Uncle Geoff's Come in, Mrs. Partridge made her appearance
smiling and curtesying in a way that made me feel very angry.
Good morning, Partridge, said Uncle Geoff; here I am surrounded
with my new family, you see.
Yes, sir, to be sure, and I hope they are very good young ladies
and gentlemen, and won't trouble their kind uncle more than they can
help, said Mrs. Partridge. Uncle Geoff was used, I suppose, to her
prim way of speaking, for he seemed to take no notice of it. He began
buttoning his great-coat before the fire.
You'll look after them, and make them happy, Partridge, said he as
he turned to the door.
Of course, sir, she replied. And then in a lower voice she
added as she followed him out of the room, I sha'n't be sorry, sir,
when Pierson, the nurse, goes. She's so very interfering like.
Ah well, well, it's only for a very short time, and then we must
look out for some suitable person. My little niece, by the by, has been
begging me not to get a nurse at all; she says she's sure she could
wash and dress the boys herselfwhat do you think of that, Partridge?
It's all that Pierson, sir, said Partridge; it's all jealousy of
another coming after her, you may be sure. Not but that,by this time
Uncle Geoff and the old servant were out in the hall, but my ears are
very sharp, and one can always catch one's own name more quickly than
anything elsenot but that Miss Audrey's far too up-spoken for her
age. She has been spoilt by her mother very likelythe only girl.
Perhaps, said Uncle Geoff. Her father did tell me she was rather
an odd little girla queer temper if taken the wrong way. But we must
do our best with them, poor little things. Miss Audrey seems very fond
of her brothers, any way.
Partridge said nothing more aloud, but it seemed to me I caught a
murmured far too fond of managing and ordering them about for her
age, and I boiled with indignation, all the deeper that I was
determined not to show it. I was angry with Mrs. Partridge most of all,
of course, and angry with Uncle Geoff. I was not angry with papaI did
not mind his having told Uncle Geoff that I had a queer temper, for I
knew it was true, and I did not mind Uncle Geoff knowing it; but I was
horribly angry at his talking me over with Partridge, and making fun of
what I had said, and most determined that she should not interfere with
either me or the boys. So when we went up to the nursery again I called
my little brothers to me.
Tom and Racey, I said, Mrs. Partridge is a cross, unkind old
woman. You mustn't mind what she saysyou must only do what I tell
you. Mother told me I was to take care of you, and she would like you
to do what I sayyou will, won't you?
Yes, of course, said both the boys. Of course we love you,
Audrey, and we don't love that cross old thing one bit. But, pursued
Tom, looking rather puzzled, aren't we to do what Uncle Geoff says?
And Pierson? said Racey.
Pierson's soon going away. It doesn't matter for her, I said.
But Uncle Geoff? repeated Tom, returning to the charge. Don't you
like him, Audrey? he continued half timidly, as if afraid of having a
different opinion from mine. I think he's nice.
Oh, I dare say he's nice, said I. Besides, any way, he's our
uncle, whether he's nice or not. But we sha'n't see him oftenhe's so
busy, you know. It doesn't matter for him. It's only that I want you
always to count me firstlike as if I was instead of mother, you know.
That's what mother wants.
Yes, dear Audrey, dear Audrey, cried both boys at once. And
then they put their arms round my neck, and hugged me so that we all
three rolled on the floor, and Pierson, coming in just then, would no
doubt have scolded us, but that her mind was too full of Mrs. Partridge
and her offences to take in anything else.
It isn't her house, she said, and I'm sure to hear how she
goes on any one might think it was.
What does she say, Pierson? I asked, coming close to Pierson, and
looking up in her face.
Oh, nonsensegrumbling about what an upset it's been in the house,
children coming; having to take down the bed in this room, and get new
little ones, and all that sort of talk. And worry-worrying at me to see
that you don't scratch the walls, or go up and down-stairs with dirty
boots on, and all such nonsense. And after all, what could be more
natural than your coming here? Dr. Gower is own brother to your papa,
and no one else belonging to him. But I'm sure if it wasn't for what
Harding would say, Harding was Pierson's going-to-be husband, and
that I really durstn't put him off again, I'dI'dI really
don't know what I'd do.
What would you do? Do tell me, Pierson, I entreated.
I don't know, Miss Audrey. I'm silly, I suppose; but it seems to me
if your mamma could have left you with me in some little house in a
nice country place, we might have been ever so happy.
Only our lessons, Pierson? I said regretfully. And Harding
wouldn't wait, would he?so there's no use thinking about it.
None whatever, and of course it's true about lessons. No doubt
Master Tomand you too, Miss Audreywill need good teachers. I must
just hope that whoever comes after me will be good to you and not let
that old woman put upon you.
She sha'n't put upon the boys any way, I said, with so
determined a look in my face that Pierson was quite startled. You may
be sure of that; for whatever I'd bear for myself, I'd bear nothing for
But it wouldn't be as bad as that, Miss Audrey, said Pierson,
rather startled at the effect of her words. Of course they all mean
to be kind to youthere's no doubt about that; and then your papa and
mamma wished you to stay here. I shouldn't talk so out to you as I do,
but I was just that vexed at Mrs. Partridge interfering so.
I turned upon Pierson impatiently.
I wish you wouldn't be so changeable, I said. I can't bear people
that say a thing and then try to unsay it. I don't believe they do
mean to be kind to us.
Hush, hush, Miss Audrey, don't let your brothers hear what you are
saying, any way. We must try and find something to amuse them with,
this dull day.
I went into the day nursery to see what the boys were doing, for my
conversation with Pierson had been in the bedroom. Poor little boys,
they did not look very merry. Racey, who was cleverer at amusing
himself than Tom, was creeping about the floor drawing an imaginary
cart, in reality the lid of Pierson's bonnet-box, to which with some
difficulty he had ingeniously fastened his own two boots as horses, for
the toys we had brought with us were not yet unpacked. Racey was quite
cracked about horseshe turned everything into horses.
Look, Audrey, look, he said. See my calliage and pair. But Tom
How could I play with that rubbish? said Tom. Indeed, I don't
care to play at all. I don't want Pierson to unpack our toys.
Why not? I asked, rather puzzled.
Tom was sitting on the window-sill, which was widefor the house
was rather an old one I thinkswinging his feet about and staring
gloomily at the dull rows of houses opposite.
Why don't you want Pierson to unpack our toys? I repeated.
Oh becausebecauseI can't quite say what I mean. If our toys
were all unpacked and put out nicely like they used to be atat home,
said poor Tom with a tremble in his voice, it would seem as if we were
to stay here alwaysas if it was to be a sort of a home to us,
and you know it would only be a pertence one. I'd rather just have it
like it is, and then we can keep thinking that it's only for a
littlejust till they come back again.
I did not answer at once. What he said made me think so much of that
day when poor mother couldn't bear to pack up any pretty things for her
house in China, because she said she didn't want to make a home of it.
It was queer that Tom should say just the sameit must be true that he
was like mother.
Audrey, he went on again in a minute, still staring out of the
window, in the same dull way, Audrey, how many days will it be
till they come back again?
I don't know, I replied.
If we could find out exactly, he said, I was thinking we might
make a papera great big paper, with marks for every day, and then
every night we might scratch one out. Papa told me he did that when he
was a little boy at school, to watch for the holidays coming, and I'm
sure we want them to come back more than any holidays.
It might be a good plan, I said, for I didn't like to discourage
Tom in anything he took a fancy to just now. But a sick, miserable
feeling came over me when I thought that we were actually speaking of
counting the days to their return, when they had not yet gone.
Only this afternoon would they reach Southampton, the first stage on
the terrible long journey.
Tom still sat swinging his legs.
[Illustration: London isn't a very nice place, is it?]
Audrey, he said, London isn't a very nice place, is it?
Certainly the look-out to-day was not tempting. Rain, rainwet and
sloppy under foot, gray and gloomy over head. I pressed my cheek
against Tom's round, rosy face, and we stared out together.
There must be some happy children in London, I suppose, I
said, children whose fathers and mothers are at home with them to make
them happy, and as I said the words, suddenly on the other side of the
street, a few doors down, my glance fell on the little conservatory
which had caught Racey's eyeshis air garden. I pointed it out to
Tom, who listened with interest to Racey's funny name for it.
I wonder, I said, if there are happy children in that house?
CHAPTER V. A NEW TROUBLE.
Ah! folks spoil their children now;
When I was a young woman 'twas not so.
That first day passedbut drearily enough. Pierson was really very
kindkinder than we had ever known her. Not that she had ever been
un_kind; only grumblybut never unkind so that the boys and I could be
afraid of her, and when mother was with us, mother who was
always cheerful, it didn't matter much if Pierson did grumble.
But to-day she was kinder than ever before, almost as if she had
known by magic what was going to happen; and through her kindness there
was a sort of sadness which made me like her all the better. I knew she
kept thinking about poor motherabout its being her last day in
Englandin the same country as her poor little boys and girl, and so
did I. All the day it was never out of my head for one inch of a
minute, though I didn't say so, not to make the boys think of it like
that. For in their funny way they seemed already to fancy papa and
mother quite away, almost as if they were in China, and I didn't
want to unsettle that feeling, as it would only have made it worse for
Pierson unpacked our toys, and after all, Tom did cheer up a little
when he saw his soldiers and his fort, which had been best toys at
home, but which mamma told Pierson were to be every-day ones in London,
both to please Tom and because there had been such a great throwing
away of old ones, not worth packing, that really we should have had
none to play with if our best ones had been kept for best.
Mother had had such a good thought about our toysalmost as soon as it
was really fixed about papa and her going away, she had begun packing
up the good ones, so that when we got them out in London they seemed
quite new, for it was nearly two months since we had had them, and it
was quite a pleasure to see them again, though a little sadness too.
Every one that came out of the box, there was something to say about
My best paint-box that mother gave me last Christmas, Tom would
say, or My dear little pony horse with the little riding man, that
Muzzie made a jacket for, Racey cried out. While as for me, every doll
that appeareddolls of course were my principal toys, and I had quite
a lot of themreminded me of some kind thought that perhaps I had not
noticed enough at the time. Racey was perfectly silly about his
horseshe loved them so that he almost provoked Tom and meand we
looked at each other as much as to say, He doesn't understand. He
really was, I suppose, too little to keep the thought of our trouble
long in his mind, even though he had cried so dreadfully the day
before, and I think the sight of his forgetting, as it were, made me
all the sadder.
But when the toys were all arranged in their places, and the long
day was over at last, even Racey grew dull, and unlike himself. It had
been a very long daywe had not been out of our own rooms at all,
except just for those few minutes in the morning, to see Uncle Geoff.
He ran up to see us again in the eveningabout four o'clock, our
tea-time, that is to sayand said he was sorry the weather was so bad,
he hoped it would be better to-morrow, but even as he was speaking to
us the man-servant came up to say he was wanted again, and he had to
run off. And I'm sure all the afternoon the bell had never left off
ringing, and there were lots and lots of carriages came to the door,
with ladies and gentlemen and even children, to see him. If we could
have watched the people getting out and in of the carriages it would
have been fun, but from the day nursery window we couldn't see them
well, for standing up on the window-sill was too high, and standing on
a chair was too low. It wasn't till some time after that, that we found
out we could see them beautifully from the bedroom window, by putting a
buffet in an old rocking-chair that always stood there. And by four
o'clock it was quite dark!
After tea we all sat round the fire togetherthe thought, I
know, was still in Pierson's mind and minewhether it was in Tom's or
not, I don't know, for he didn't say anything. Only we were all tired
and dull, and Racey climbed up on to Pierson's knee, and told her he
would go away to the country with herLondon was such a ugly place.
And Pierson sighed, and said she wished he could. And then she began
telling us about the village in the country, that was her home, and
where she was going back again to live, when she was married to
Harding, who was the blacksmith there. Her father had been a farmer but
he had died, and her mother was left very poor, and with several
children. And Pierson was the eldest, and couldn't be married to
Harding for a long time, because she had to work for the others, so
perhaps it was all her troubles that had made her grumpy. But now all
the others were settledsome were in America and some were up in the
north, she said. We didn't know what that meantafterwards Tom said
he thought it meant Iceland, and Racey thought it meant the moon, but
we forgot to ask her. So now Pierson was going at last to be married to
Is he all black? I remember Tom asked.
All black, Master Tom, Pierson said, rather indignantly. Of
course notno blacker than you or me, though perhaps his hands may be
brown. But once he's well cleaned of the smoke and the dust, he's a
very nice complexion for a working man. Whatever put it in your head
that he was black?
'Cause you said he was a blacksmith, said Tom, and I thought it
was something like a sweep, and sweeps never can get white again, can
they? It says so in the Bible.
I burst out laughing. He means about the Ethiopian, I said, but
Pierson didn't laugh. That was one of the things I didn't like about
her. She never could see any fun in anything, and she still looked
rather offended at Tom. All black, she repeated. What an idea!
I tried to put her in a good humour again by asking her to tell us
about her house. It was a very pretty cottage, she said, next door to
the smithy, but of course a different entrance, and all that.
Has it roses on the walls? I asked, and Yes, Pierson replied.
Beautiful rosesclimbing ones of all colours. And there's a nice
little garden in front. It's a very pretty cottage, but most of the
cottages in our village are pretty. It's a real old-fashioned village,
Miss AudreyI would like you to see itit's not so very far from
Will you go there in the same railway we came in? asked Tom.
Oh no, said Pierson, it's quite the other way from
Elderling.Elderling was our old home. It's only two hours and a
half from town, by express. You go to Coppleswade Junction, and then
it's a walk of five miles to Craythat's the name of the village, and
Coppleswade's the post-town.
Perhaps, said I, perhaps some time we'll come and see you,
Pierson smiled, but shook her head. She was at no time of a very
sanguine or hopeful disposition.
It would be nice, she said, too nice to come true, I'm afraid. I
would like to show you all to mother. Poor mother, she's counting the
days till I comeshe's very frail now, and she's been so long alone
since Joseph went to America. But it's getting late, my dears. I must
put you to bed, or we'll have Mrs. Partridge up to know what we're
Horrid old thing! I said. And when Pierson undressed us, and had
tucked us all in comfortably, we kissed her, and repeated how much we
wished that we were going to live in the pretty village of Cray with
her, instead of staying in this gloomy London, with Mrs. Partridge.
I have often thought since, how queer it was that Pierson should
have been so very nice that last night, and from that what a great lot
of things have come! You will see what I mean as I go on. I can't help
thinkingthis is quite a different thought, nothing to do with the
otherthat without knowing it people do sometimes know what is
going to happen before it does. It seemed like that that night, for I
had never known Pierson quite so nice as she was then.
Late that eveningit seemed to me the middle of the night, but it
couldn't really have been more than nine or tenI was half wakened up
by sounds in the day nursery next door. I heard one or two people
talking, and a low sound, as if some one were crying, but I was so
sleepy that I couldn't make up my mind to wake up to hear more, but for
long after that it seemed to me I heard moving about, and a sort of
bustle going on. Only it was all faint and confusedI dreamt, or
thought I dreamt, that some one stood by the side of my bed crying, but
when I half opened my eyes, there was no one to be seen by the tiny
light of the little night lamp that mother always let us burn in our
room. By the next morning I had forgotten all I had heard, and very
likely if I had never had any explanation of it, it would not have come
into my mind again.
But the explanation came only too soon. We woke early that
morningwe generally didbut we were used to lie still till Pierson
came to us. But she had been so kind the night before that we felt
bolder than usual, and after having talked in a whisper to each other
for some time, and hearing no sound whatever from her room, we decided
that she must have overslept herself and that she would not be vexed if
we woke her. So Pierson! Pierson!! we called out, softly at first,
then louder. But there was no answer, so Tom, whose cot was nearest the
door, jumped up and ran to her room. In a moment he was back againhis
face looking quite queer.
What is the matter, Tom? I exclaimed.
She's not there, he cried, and she's not been there all night.
Her bed isn't unmade.
I sat up in alarm.
Oh dear! I said. I do believe she's gone away, and that was the
noise I heard. Oh I do believe that horrid Mrs. Partridge has made
Uncle send her away.
But almost before the words were out of my mouth we heard some one
Quick, Tom, I said, and in his hurry Tom clambered into my bed,
and I hid him under the clothes.
Stump, stumpI think I forgot to tell you that Mrs. Partridge was
rather lame from rheumatism, and sometimes used a stickstump, stump,
in she came, feeling rather cross, no doubt, at having had to get up so
much earlier than usual.
Good morning, my dears, she said.
Good morning, Mrs. Partridge, I replied, feeling very brave and
I have come all the way up-stairs to tell you that you must be very
good indeed to-day, and not give any trouble, for your nurse, Pierson,
has had to go away. A friend from her home came to fetch her late last
night, because her mother was dying. So she left at once, to catch the
first train this morning. Of course I couldn't have had the house
disturbed at four or five o'clock in the morning and
But she'll come back againshe'll come back again in a few days,
won't she? said Tom, in his anxiety forgetting where he was, and
popping up his round head from under the clothes.
Mrs. Partridge hesitated.
I can't say she was beginning when she suddenly perceived that
Tom was not in his own quarters. Master Tom, she exclaimed. What
business have you in your sister's cot? What tricks to be suredeary
me, deary me! Go back to your own bed, sir, at once.
Tom showed no inclination to move.
Yes, Tom, I said, and these first words, I think, astonished Mrs.
Partridge very much. Yes, Tom, go back to your own bed. Tom looked at
me in surprise, but prepared to obey me, nevertheless. But, I added,
turning fiercely to Mrs. Partridge, it isn't to please you he
should get into his own bedit's only because mother told us always to
stay quiet in the morning before Pierson came to dress us, and we mean
to do everything mother told us.
And I should like to know what your mother would say to hearing you
talk like that? said Mrs. Partridge. It's not at all like a pretty
behaved young lady to fly into such tempers to any one as kind as can
be to youyour uncle should be told of it, but I've never been one to
make mischief. Now you must all three lie still and make no noise, till
Sarah can find time to come up and dress you.
I want to det up now, said Racey undauntedly. I'se been awake
never so long.
You can't get up now, my dear, said Mrs. Partridge. The house has
been upset enough alreadythe whole work can't be stopped to get you
up and for my part I don't hold with such early gettings up, and
wanting your breakfasts so ridiculous soon.
She turned and left the room, and for a minute or two none of us
spoke. Then Tom, who after all had not decamped to his own quarters,
having stopped short in excitement at my speech to Mrs. Partridge,
which had also had the effect of putting him out of her headTom gave
me a push, and said inquiringly,
Well, Tom?I dare say I spoke impatiently.
Audrey, speak. What are you thinking?
I don't know what I'm thinking, I said. At least I do, but I
think I'd better not say it.
Why not? said Tom.
Because it's no good.
Audrey, said Tom again, you're rather cross, and I'm so
Oh, dear Tom, I said, don't speak like that. It's just
because I love you so, and I can't bear you to be unhappy, that I'm
I'm unhappy too, said Racey's high-pitched little voice
from the corner of the room. I'm vrezy unhappy, and I do so want to
A sudden idea struck me. You shall get up, I said. I'm sure
mother never would have wanted us to stay in bed hours after we were
awake. Jump up, Racey, and Tom too; I'll dress you.
[Illustration: For his hair was very tuggy this morning.]
Up jumped both boys with the greatest delight, and we set to work.
There was no hot water! That we had quite forgotten, and it was too
cold to wash properly without it, even though we always had a cold bath
too. Racey made rather a fuss, but Tom was very good, and at last we
got the dressing finished without any worse misfortunes than the
breaking of Tom's comb, for his hair was very tuggy this morning, and
the spilling a great lot of water on the floor. This last catastrophe
troubled us very little, for the carpet was not very new or pretty, but
we were sorry about the comb, as now that Pierson was away we did not
know to whom to apply for a new one! Just as I was telling the boys to
go into the day nursery and warm themselves at the fire, forgetting
that no one had come to make it, a knock came to the door and in
marched Sarah, looking decidedly cross. Her face cleared, however, when
she saw us all dressed.
So you've been and dressed yourselves, she said. Well, that's
very clever of you, though I don't know what Mrs. Partridge will say.
But it was something for Sarah to be pleased, and she set to work to
make the fire with good-will, for we were very cold and our hands were
blue and red.
We were helping Sarah to the best of our ability, when stump, stump,
up-stairs again came Mrs. Partridge, and oh, how cross she was when she
saw that her orders had been disobeyed; only, fortunately, it all fell
on me. I was a naughty disobedient childit was all I that made my
brothers naughtyit was high time some one took me in hand, that was
clear. What she meant by this last remark I did not quite understand,
and I dare say that was a good thing, for if I had thought it was any
reflection on mother, I should have answered in a way which
would not have made Mrs. Partridge think any better of my temper.
As it was, I answered nothing. If I had spoken at all I should have
burst out crying, and that I was determined Mrs. Partridge should not
see me do. So when she was tired of scolding she went away, and Sarah,
who had made an excuse of fetching our breakfast to get out of the way,
came back again in a few minutes with the tray.
I was too angry and unhappy to eat, but Tom and Racey, though
looking somewhat soberer than usual, ate with a good appetite. Towards
the end of breakfast I found I had no handkerchief, and I jumped up and
went to the chest of drawers in the other room to fetch one. There a
great surprise met me. Pinned to the top handkerchief of the little
pile was a note addressed to me, Miss Audrey Gower. I knew at once
what it was. It was from poor Piersonher only way of saying good-bye.
Though I was nearly nine years old I could not read writing very well,
and this Pierson knew, for she had written it very large and plain.
Poor thing, it must have taken her a good while, and late at night,
too, when she had all her packing to do. I tore open the envelope. This
was the little letter. Oh, how pleased I was to see it!
MY DEAR MISS AUDREY, AND MY DEAR LITTLE BOYS,I am half
broken-hearted to go away like this and leave you with
but what can I do? My poor mother is dying, and begging for me
come. I would promise to come back for a week or two any way,
I am afraid Mrs. Partridge will make your uncle think it
not. But I beg you, dear Miss Audrey, to try to write to me,
tell me how you all are, and do not be afraid to say if you
unhappy, for I would try to do something; and any way I could
write to your mamma.
Your faithful nurse,
I read it over two or three times. Then I took it into the nursery
where the boys were calling for me, and read it over again, word by
word, to Tom. He listened with his big eyes staring up at me.
How nice of Pierson, he said at the end. Audrey, won't you write
and tell her how horrid Mrs. Partridge has been?
We must think about it, I said, solemnly.
Would you know how to dreck (he meant direct) the letter?
I hadn't thought of that; and my face fell. But Pierson had had more
foresight than I had supposed.
Cray was the name of the villagenearnearoh, I can't remember
near where, I was saying, when Tom, who had been examining the letter
with great attention, exclaimed, Audrey, there's more writing here on
the other side that you haven't seenC. R.I believe it's the
And so it was.
is my adress, Pierson had added. Of course there was only one d
What a good thing, isn't it? said Tom. But just then we heard some
one coming up-stairs. In a fright I stuffed the letter into the front
of my dress; it was the first time in my life I had ever had anything
to conceal, and I felt at a loss how to do it. The steps turned out to
Miss Audrey, she said. You've to go down-stairs, please, to your
uncle's study. He wants to see you before he goes out, and he's in a
Me alone? I said.
Yes, Miss; nothing was said about the young gentlemen; and I'm
sure, she added, in a lower tone, I'm sure Mrs. Partridge has been
making mischief. But never you mind, Miss, speak up for yourself.
I did not answer, but ran quickly down-stairs.
I was not the least afraid, but I had very bitter feelings in my
heart. Why should I be called naughty, and disobedient, and
impertinent, and all that, for the first time in my life? I knew I had
sometimes a rather cross temper, but when mother had spoken to me about
it, I had always felt sorry, and wished to be better. And since we had
come to London, I had really tried to be good, and to carry out what
mother had said about making the boys happy, and being kind to them. No
one had any right to begin scolding me when I had not been
naughty. This was what I was saying to myself as I ran down-stairs, and
though I was not afraid, yet the feeling of Pierson's letter was a
great comfort to me. I was not altogether friendless.
When I knocked at the study door, Uncle Geoff called out, Come in,
at once. He was standing on the hearth-rug, all readyhis coat
buttoned up to the topto go out. I saw at once that he was quite
different from the day before.
Audrey, he said, as soon as he saw me, I do not want to be severe
or harsh to you, but it is necessary you should understand me. And it
is better you should do so at once. I wish to be kind to you, as kind
as I can be, but you, on your side, my little girl, must do your part,
and that part is perfect obedience. I am very little at home, as
you know, and I cannot constantly direct you and the boys myself, but
in my absence you must obey Mrs. Partridge, who is very kind, and good,
and knows what is right for children. It is unfortunate that your nurse
has had to leave so suddenly, though, if it was she that put it
into your mind to disobey Mrs. Partridge, it is better she has gone.
Now you understand meI expect that you will do your best to-day to be
good and obedient, and to give as little trouble as you can.
He turned as if to leave the roomhe did not seem to expect an
answer. Words were burning on my lipsI wanted to ask him if he wished
us to listen to unkind remarks on mother, and unkind reproaches for the
trouble our coming had given, from Mrs. Partridge, who he said was so
good. I wanted to tell him that we had tried to be good, hard as
it was on us to be sent suddenly among strangersI wanted to tell him
that I wished to do everything mother had said, that I wished to
please him, and to love him, but when I looked up at his face, and saw
the stern expression it had, I felt it was no use, and I too turned
But just at the door Uncle Geoff stopped and looked back. I suppose
the hard set look of unhappiness on my childish face touched him. He
turned, and stooping down put his arm round me, and kissed me.
Don't look so miserable, Audrey, he said. That is not what
I wish at all. I looked up at him againhis face looked ever so much
kinder. I was on the point of saying some nice words, like Uncle
Geoff, I do want to be good, or something of that sort, which perhaps
would have helped to make him find out that Mrs. Partridge was really
not managing us as he wished, when suddenly I felt the paperPierson's
letter I meanrustle a little under the pressure of his hand. I felt
my face grow red. Suppose he found the letter and took it away? I was
so little accustomed to conceal anything that I felt quite guilty, and
in my fear I drew away a little from his arm. He said nothing, but he
must have been chilled, for he took away his arm, and turned to go, and
as he left the room, I was almost sure that I heard him say in a half
whisper, Strange child! I am afraid we shall have trouble with her.
CHAPTER VI. WE TRY TO BE GOOD.
Our sister is quite in her glory,
When telling us nice little tales.
[Illustration: He was not a very amusing person.]
As ill-luck would have it, this day also was wet and dreary. I don't
know that Mrs. Partridge or Sarah regretted it, for if it had been fine
one of the servants would have had to take us out for a walk. But we
were very sorry. Anything would have been better than another long
dreary day up in the dull nursery. Still we had some variety to-day,
for our tutor came to give us our first lesson, which took up two
hours. He was not a very amusing person; he was very thin and
tired-looking, but he was perfectly gentle, so we liked him well
enough. We liked him too for another reason. He said that we were very
well on for our ages; and as mother had always taught us herself, we
felt quite pleased for him to say so. He left us some lessons to do for
the next day, but not much. Long before the afternoon was half over we
had finished them, and were wondering whatever we could get to do to
help us through all the hours that still remained. This was not a day
for Uncle Geoff seeing people in his house, so we had not even the fun
of listening to the carriages stopping, and the bell ringing, and
trying to peep at the ladies and gentlemen getting out. Sarah was
rather kindshe came in and out to see us as often as she could, but
of course she had a great deal of work to do, and she said Mrs.
Partridge made her work even harder than she needed. Mrs. Partridge did
not come up-stairs again herself all day, and of that we were very
gladI suppose she found the stairs too much for her.
Before the end of that afternoon, I think we had changed our minds
about wishing we might have no nurse. Even a rather cross nurse would
have been better than none at all. It was very tiresome every time we
wanted anything to have to fetch it ourselves, or to have to run out to
the landing and stand there till Sarah happened to come in sight. There
was no bell in the nursery, at least it was broken, but even if it
hadn't been, we shouldn't have dared to ring it. And two buttons came
off Racey's bootboth off the same boot, just out of tiresomenessand
he couldn't keep it on properly, and he had to wear cloth boots in the
house, because the winter before he had had such bad chilblains, so I
had to try to sew them on, and you don't know how I pricked my fingers!
I do think there is nothing so horrible as sewing on boot buttons.
And then when Tom and I were doing our writing for Mr. Lingardthat
was our tutorfor the next day, Tom would pull the ink close over to
him, and I pulled it back to me, and we both got cross, and the end of
it was that the ink was all spilt over the table; and oh! it made such
a big black pool, and then little streams of it began running to the
edge, and would have fallen on to the carpet.
Oh, said Tom, I'll wipe it up; and up he jumped to fetch
something to wipe it with, and before I could see what he was about,
what do you think he had done? He had seized my Lady Florimel's opera
cloak, which was lying on a chairof course it shouldn't have
been lying about, I knowand scrubbed up the ink with it all in a
minute. The cloak was black silk outside, so he thought it was just a
piece of black stuff lying aboutbut inside it was lovely pale pink,
and of course it was quite spoilt. I was so vexed that I began to cry,
and then Tom was dreadfully sorry, and came and hugged and kissed me,
and so we made friends again, and the ink spilling sent away our
quarrelling any way. And perhaps it was better for Lady Florimel's
cloak to be spoilt, than for the carpet, for then we should have had a
very great scolding from Mrs. Partridge. It didn't matter for the
table, as it just had an oilcloth cover that would not stain. And when
we had made friends again, we all climbed up on to the window-sill, and
began to wonder what we should do.
Tom, said Racey, pressing his face flat against the window, so as
to see out better, Tom, have you seen the air-garden?
The air-garden, repeated Tom, what do you mean?
He means that little sticking out glass place, I explained, with
flowers and plants inthere, further down on the other side.
A preservatory, said Tom, rather contemptuously, why, who would
think what you meant, if you say a' air-garden?
I zink it's a much prettier name than 'servatory, said
I began to be afraid of getting into quarrelling again just from
having nothing to do; the big clock on the stair which we could hear
from the nursery, had struck only three a few minutes before, and there
was still a whole hour to tea. The boys were really tired of all their
toys, and I didn't care to play with my dolls. The misfortune to Lady
Florimel's cloak had put me out of conceit of them for the present.
Let's tell each other stories, I said.
Don't know none, said Tom.
Well, make them up, said I.
I know lots, remarked Racey.
Well, you begin then, said I.
Oh no, objected Tom, Racey's stories are so silly. You
tell us one, Audrey, and I'll think of one while you are telling it.
Thank youhow much would you listen to mine, if you were making
one yourself all the time?
Oh but I would listendear Audrey, your stories are
always so nice, said Tom, coaxingly; but Racey was so offended at Tom
saying his stories were stupid, that he wouldn't speak at all.
Well, I'll tell one if you'll let Racey tell one too. I don't think
his are stupid at all. And if you can think of one, you can tell yours
too. Let's all be quiet for five minutes to think of them.
Mine's all ready, said Racey. It's about a
Hush, you're not to tell till it's your turn, said Tom sharply, so
that Racey looked offended again; and I was in such a hurry to stop
their quarrelling, that I had to begin my story before I had got it
half settled. I mean before I had thought quite how to tell it rightly,
for the story itself was true, as mother had told it me herself.
Tom and Racey, I said, I don't think you ever heard the story I
am going to tell you. Mother told it to me one day when you weren't in
the room. It is about mother's godmother when she was a little girl.
Mother's godmother's little girl, said Tom, looking rather
No, of course not, you stupid boy, said I, at which Tom looked
offended. It seemed as if we couldn't get out of the way of quarrelling
that afternoon, and the minute I had said it, I was sorry. Oh, dear
Tom, don't be vexed. I didn't mean to call you stupid, I said,
quickly. I'll tell you how I mean. Mother had a godmother, you know,
just like you have Uncle Geoff for your godfather. And mother was
called after her godmother, whose name was like mother's of course, as
she was called after her. Well, this godmother was partly French and
partly English, and of course when she was young, before she was grown
up, she was a little girl, just like everybody else.
Except boys, said Tom very seriously. He was anxious to show me
that he was giving his whole attention. When men are little they're
boys, not girls.
Of course, I said again. Well, any way, you see now how I
meanthis lady, MadameI forget her last name, it's very hard to
say, I'll call her Marie, for that was her first name, and of course
when she was little she wasn't called Madame, well when she was
little, she was taken for a visit to her grandmother, who lived in
Didn't she live in France herself? said Tom; I thought you said
she was French.
She was partly Frenchnot all. No, I don't think she lived in
France. They took her there for a visit, so she couldn't have been
living there. She went to stay with her grandmother, I told you, and
her grandmother lived in a queer old town, that was as old asas old
as I stopped to think of the oldest thing I knew.
As old as old, suggested Tom.
As old as twenty grandmothers, all top of each 'nother, said
This was thought very witty, and we spent a minute or two in
laughing at it. Then I started again. Well, never mind how old it was,
any way it was very old, for mother told me she had once been there
herself, and the churches and houses were all like old castles, the
walls were so thick, and the stones they were made of so grey and
worn-looking. And in this old town once a year, there was a great,
great, big fairyou know what I mean, boyspeople used to come from
ever so far, bringing things to sell, and all the biggest streets were
set out with little wooden shops, with all the things in. There were
even Turkish and Chinese people selling things; and all the people in
the town, and the country people round about, used to look forward all
the year to the things they would buy at this fair. It wasn't all for
buying though; there were lots of show things, animals you know, shows
of lions and tigers, and snakes and monkeys, and other shows, like
circusesladies and gentlemen all dressed up, and even little children
riding round and round on beautiful horses, and sometimes dancing up in
the air on ropes. And there were music places, and lots of shops too,
where you could get nice things to eataltogether it was very nice.
Marie used to go out for a walk every day with her nurse, and she
always pulled and pulled till she came the way to where the fair was.
But her grandmother told the nurse she must never take Marie to the
fair without her, because there were sometimes such crowds and
crowds of people, that the grandmother was afraid Marie might get hurt
some way. Marie cried the day her grandmother said that, because she
wanted very much to go to spend some money that some one had sent her,
or given her; perhaps her father had sent it her in a letter for her
birthdayI think that was it. She was only five years old, quite a
little girl, so it was no wonder she cried. And so her grandmother
promised she would take her the next day if it was fine; and it was
fine, so Marie set off to the fair with her grandmother, and her nurse
walked behind. It must have been a very funny place mother told
me, for besides all the Turkey people, and Chinese, and Spanish, and
all that, there were all the funny dresses of the country people
themselves. The women had high caps, all stuck up with wires, and
bright coloured skirts, and velvet bodies. I know what they were like,
because mother had a doll once that her godmother had sent her dressed
that way, and mother remembered it quite. I wish we could see a picture
of that fair now, don't you, Tom? how funny it would be, and even that
little Marie's dress would look funny and old-fashioned now!
What would it be like? said Tom.
I don't know. I dare say it would be something like the little tiny
pictures there used to be in the drawing-room, hanging up in velvet
cases on the wallminisomething mother called them, of papa's aunts
when they were little. They had white frocks, and blue sashes, tied
right under their arms, and their hair all curling.
Oh yes, I remember, said Tom. Go on, Audrey, I can fancy Marie
Well, she went trotting along beside her grandmother, and she was
very pleased, because she had her money to spend, and she was a very
pretty little girl, so everybody looked at her. And she was very nicely
dressed, and her hair was beautiful; I was forgetting that, for it has
to do with the storylong, long curls of bright light hair down her
back. And she bought with her money a very pretty little basket with
roses painted outside; and after a while, when they had looked at all
the shops, her grandmother thought it was time to go home. They had to
pass through a very crowded place, where a lot of people were standing
to see some kind of show, and Marie's grandmother said to the nurse,
'Wait a minute, the crowd will be going, for the show is just over.' So
the nurse, who had Marie's hand, stepped back just a little bit to
wait, and Marie, seeing her grandmother just in front pulled away from
the nurse to get beside her grandmother. But just thenthey were
standing like at the edge of the crowd, you knowMarie caught sight of
a funnily dressed up dog, that a man had on a table, and that he was
making bow to the people that passed. Meaning to come back in a moment,
Marie darted away to see the dog, and just for a little while the nurse
didn't miss her, thinking she was with her grandmother, for she had
said when she pulled away her hand, 'I want to go to grandmother,' and
of course her grandmother didn't miss her, thinking she was behind with
the nurse. Marie was so pleased with the dog that she stood for a
minute or two looking at it, and laughing to herself at its tricks. And
then she heard some one saying to her, in French of courseshe could
speak both French and English'Oh, what pretty hair the young lady
has! Oh, what a charming young lady!' And when she turned round she saw
the person that was speaking to her was a gipsy-looking girlof course
Marie was too little to know that she was gipsy-lookingbut she
remembered that she had very dark hair and eyes, and a bright scarlet
dress, and shiny gold things about her head. She must have been one of
the rope-dancing players, mother told me, for afterwards her
grandmother noticed that their tent was close by the dancing dog place.
Little Marie looked up at the girl without speaking. Then the girl said
to her, 'I have two little dogs that dance much better than that. Will
the young lady come with me to see them?'
She held out her hand, but Marie would not take her hand, because
she thought it was dirty. She wanted dreadfully to see the two dogs
though, so she said to the girl, 'You show me where, and I'll come, and
then you must take me back to my grandmother.'
'Oh yes,' said the girl, 'you come after me, and then, when you've
seen the dogs, I'll take you back to your grandmother.'
So the girl turned another way and went in among the tents, like at
the back of them, and Marie went after her. The girl walked quick, but
she kept looking back to see if Marie was coming. Marie was coming as
fast as she could, when all of a sudden, close to her it seemed, she
heard the most awful big noise she had ever heard in her life; a roar,
so dreadfully loud, that it seemed to shake the ground like thunder.
Marie knew what it was, for when she had been at the fair before, alone
with her nurse, she had heard it, though never so near, and her nurse
had told her it was the lion, the great big lion they had in the animal
Oh Audrey, Racey interrupted, coming close up to me and cuddling
his face into my shoulder, don't tell stories about lions. It does so
Lubbish, said Tom, do go on, Audrey. It's lovely. (Why Tom
always said lubbish for rubbish I'm sure I don't know, for he could
say his r's well enough.)
Well, I went on, Marie was no braver than Racey, for when she
heard this terrible roar, she really thought the lion was coming after
her, and she turned and ran, as fast as ever her feet could go, right
the other way. She turned so suddenly and ran so fast, that when the
gipsy girl turned round to look for her, she was out of sight.
Was the gipsy vexed? asked Tom.
Of course she was.
But it was very kind of her to say she would show Marie her two
little dogs. Wasn't she a kind girl?
No, not really. Marie's grandmother told her afterwards that no
doubt the girl had wanted to steal her, and that her people would have
made Marie into a rope-dancing girl, because you see she was so pretty,
and had such beautiful hair. And they would have taken her far away to
other countries, and she was so little that after a while she would
have forgotten her friends very likely, and her father and mother would
never have seen her again. Just think what a difference it would have
made if the lion hadn't roared just that minute! Marie would very
likely have grown up a poor dancing girl, and nobody would ever have
known who she was. And she would never have been mother's godmother, so
I wouldn't ever have been telling you this story.
How queer! said Tom, consideringly. All just because of the
lion's roar. But please go on, Audrey. Where did Marie run to?
Zes, where did she zun to? said Racey.
You're a parrot, Racey. I don't believe you've been listening.
I has, said Racey, indignantly.
Well, she ran and ran, till she got quite out of the fair, and in
among a lot of streets, where she didn't know her way a bit. She did
know some of the big streets close to her grandmother's house a little,
but these little narrow streets she didn't know one bit; and when she
stopped, after running till she was quite out of breath, she didn't
know how to go home at all. She was still frightened, she fancied
perhaps the lion was running after her, and she looked about to see
where she could go to be safe out of his way. Near to where she was she
noticed a door open; she went up and peeped in. It was a kitchen, and
in this kitchen an old woman was sitting with a pillownot a pillow
like what we have in bed, you knowbut a hard cushion, more like a
footstool, that's what they call a lace pillowwith a pillow before
her, making lace. She looked a nice old woman, and the room seemed
clean, and there were flowers in the window, so Marie peeped in a
little further, and at last got in altogether, and stood in the
doorway. The old woman looked up to see what it was that was in her
light, and when she saw it was a little girl, she said, 'Good morning,
miss,' to her very nicely, and asked her what she wanted. Marie said,
'Good morning, madame,' to her, quite nicely too, and then she said,
still looking frightened
'Oh it's the lion; I ran away from the lion, because I thought he
was going to eat me up.'
The old woman quite understood, for of course she knew about the
fair and the animals that were there, and she saw that the little girl
must have strayed away from her friends. So she made Marie come in, and
she gave her a little chair to sit on, and some milk to drink, and then
she asked her her name, to try to find out who she was, only
unfortunately Marie didn't know any of her name except just 'Marie.'
'Dear me,' said the old woman, 'that won't do, there's such lots of
But she went on questioning her till she found that Marie was
staying with her grandmother, that she had come over the sea to stay
with her, and that her grandmother had a parrot, whose cage hung out of
the window, and who talked to the people passing in the street, and
that he called her grandmother's maid, 'Babette, Ba-Ba-bette.' And when
Marie said that, the old woman quite jumped.
'To be sure, to be sure,' she said. 'I know who is the young lady's
grandmother;' and up she got, and put away her lace, and took Marie by
the hand to lead her home. Marie was just a little frightened at first
to go out into the street again, for fear the lion should be coming
that way; but the old woman told her she was sure he wouldn't be, and
really, you know, though Marie didn't know it, she had far more
reason to be afraid of the gipsy girl than of the poor lion, who had
only been roaring to amuse himself in his cage. But they got on quite
well through the streets, and just as they came to the corner near
where was Marie's grandmother's house, there they saw her grandmother
and the nurse, and Babette behind them, and the cook behind her, and
the gardener last of all, all coming hurry-scurrying out of the house,
all to go different ways to look for Marie. Her grandmother had come
home, you see, thinking perhaps Marie had found her way there;
but she and the nurse were most dreadfully frightened, and you can
fancy how delighted they were when they found her. Only all the time of
the fair after that, Marie's grandmother would not let her go out
except in the garden, which was a big one though, for fear the gipsy
dancing girl should try to steal her again.
But she didn't? said Racey, drawing a long breath.
No, of course she didn't. If she had, I couldn't have told you the
Oh I'm so glad she didn't, said Racey again. Oh Audrey,
I'm so glad nobody stolened her, and that no lionds eated her.
Oh, it makes me s'iver to think of dipsies and lionds.
You little stupid, said Tom. Really he was very tiresome about
teasing poor Racey sometimes.
You're not to tease him, Tom, I said; and now it's your turn to
tell a story.
Well, said Tom, it's about a boy that was dedfully frightened of
Oh Audrey, he's going to make up a' ugly story about me, said
No, no, I'm not, said Tom, I was only teasing. My story's very
nice, but it's very short. Once there was a bird that lived in a
gardenPierson told me this storybut when it came winter the bird
went away to some place where it was always summer. I think, but
I'm not quite sureI think the bird went to the sun, Pierson
Oh no, it couldn't be that. The sun's much too far away. I've heard
about those birds. They don't go to the sun, they go to countries at
the other side of the world, where the sun always shines, that's what
you're thinking of, Tom.
Well, perhaps that was it, said Tom, only half satisfied, though
it would be much nicer to say they went to the sun. Well, this bird had
a nest in the garden, and there was a girl that lived in the gardenI
mean in the house where the garden wasthat used to look at the birds,
'cause she liked them very much. And she liked this bird best, 'cause
its nest was just under her window, and she heard it singing in the
morning. And when it began to come winter she knew the bird would go
away, so what do you think she did? She got it catched one day, and she
tied a very weeny, weeny ribbon under its wing, some way that it
couldn't come undone, and then she let it go. And soon it went away to
that other country, and the winter came. And the girl was very ill that
winter. I don't know if it was measles she had, said Tom, looking very
wise, but I should think it was. And they thought she was going to die
after the winter was gone. And she kept wishing the birds would come
back, 'cause she thought she'd die before they comed. But at last one
morning she heard a little squeakingno I don't mean squeakingI mean
chirping, just outside her window, and she called the servants, and
told them she was sure her bird had come back, and they must catch it.
And her nurse catched it some way, and brought it to her, and what do
you think? when she looked under its wing, there was the weeny ribbon
she had tied. It was the very same bird. Wasn't it clever to know to
come back to the very same window even? It's quite true, Pierson
knowed the girl.
And did she die? I asked Tom.
Oh no; she was so glad the bird had come back, that she jumped out
of bed, and got quite well that very minute.
That very minute, Tom, I said; she couldn't get well all in a
Oh, but she just did; and if you don't believe it, you needn't.
Pierson knowed her. I think it's a very nice story, not
frightening at all.
Yes, it's very nice, I said. Thank you, Tom. Now, Racey, it's
CHAPTER VII. TOAST FOR TEA.
Did you hear the children say.
Life is rather out of tune?
Mine's very stupid, said Racey.
Never mind, I dare say it'll be very nice, said Tom and I
It's about a fly, said Racey. It was a fly that lived in a little
house down in the corner of a window, and when it was a fine day it
comed out and walked about the glass, and when it was a bad day it
stayed in its bed. And one day when it was walking about the glass
there was a little boy standing there and he catched the fly, and he
thought he'd pull off its wings, 'cause then it couldn't get awaythat
was dedfully naughty, wasn't it?and he was just going to pull off its
wings when some one came behind him and lifted him up by his arms and
said in a' awful booing waylike a giant, you know'If you
pull off flies' wings, I'll pull off your arms,' and then he felt his
arms tugged so, that he thought they'd come off, and he cried out'Oh
please, please, I won't pull off flies' wings if you'll let me go.' And
then he was let go; but when he turned round he couldn't see
anybodywasn't it queer?only the fly was very glad, and he never
tried to hurt flies any more.
But who was it that pulled the boy's arms? said Tom, whose
interest had increased as the story went on.
Racey looked rather at a loss. I don't know, he said. I should
think it was a' ogre. It might just have been the boy's papa, to
teach him not to hurt flies, you know.
That would be very stupid, said Tom.
Well, it might have been a' ogre, said Racey. I made the
story so quick I didn't quite settle. But I'll tell you another if you
like, all about ogres, kite real ones and awful dedful.
No, thank you, said Tom, I don't care for your stories, Racey.
They're all muddled.
Racey looked extremely hurt.
Then I'll never tell you any more, he said. I'll tell them all to
Audrey, and you sha'n't listen.
Indeed, said Tom, I can listen if I choose. And when the new
nurse comes she won't let you go on like that. She'll be vrezy cross, I
Racey turned to me, his eyes filled with tears.
Audrey, will the new nurse be like that?
I turned to Tom.
Tom, I said, why do you say such unkind things to Racey?
Tom nodded his head mysteriously.
It's not unkinder to Racey than it is to us, he replied. I'm sure
the new nurse will be cross, because I heard Mrs. Partridge say
something to Uncle Geoff on the stair to-day about that we should have
somebody 'vrezy strict.' And I know that means cross.
When did you hear that? I asked.
'Twas this afternoon. Uncle Geoff hadn't time to come up. He just
called out to Mrs. Partridge to ask how we were getting on. And she
said in that horrid smiley way she speaks sometimes'Oh, vrezy
well, sir. Much better since their nurse is gone. They need somebody
much stricter.' Isn't she horrid, Audrey?
Never mind, I said. But that was all I would say. I would not tell
the boys all I was feeling or thinking; they could hardly have
understood the depth of my anger and wounded pride, though I really
don't think it was a very bad kind of pride. I had always been trusted
at home. When I was cross or ill-tempered, mother spoke seriously to
me, sometimes even sternly, but she seemed to believe that I wanted to
be good, and that I had sense to understand things. And now to be
spoken of behind my back, and before my face too, as if I was a
regularly naughty child who didn't want to be good, and who had to be
kept down by strictness, and who wanted to make the boys naughty
tooit was more than I could bear or than I would bear.
Mother told me to make the boys happy, I said to myself, and I
will. I'll write to Piersonto-night, when nobody can see, I'll
write to her.
Tom and Racey saw that I was unhappy, though I only said never
mind, and when they saw that, it made them leave off quarrelling, and
they both came to me to kiss me and ask me not to look so sorry.
Just then Sarah came up with our tea-tray. She spoke very kindly to
us, and told us she had begged Mrs. Partridge to send us some
strawberry jam for our tea. And to the boys' great delight, there it
was. As for me, I was too angry with Mrs. Partridge to like even her
jam, but I did think it kind of Sarah.
I'm sure you deserve it, you poor little things, she said. And I
don't see what any one has to find fault with in any of you. You've
been as quiet as any three little mice to-day.
Sarah, I said, encouraged by her way of speaking, have you heard
anything about the new nurse that is coming?
Sarah shook her head.
I don't think there's any one decided on, she said. Mrs.
Partridge has written to somewhere in the country, and I think she's
expecting a letter. She said to-day that if to-morrow's fine, I must
take you all out a walk.
Then she arranged our tea on the table and we drew in our chairs.
I wish we had a tea-pot, I said. I know quite well how to pour it
out. It's horrid this way.
This way, was an idea of Mrs. Partridge's. Since we had had no
nurse, she had been unwilling to trust me with the tea-making, so she
made it down-stairs and poured the wholetea, milk, and sugarinto a
jug, out of which I poured it into our cups. It wasn't nearly so nice,
it had not the hot freshness of tea straight out of a tea-pot, and
besides it did not suit our tastes, which were all a little different,
to be treated precisely alike. Racey liked his tea so weak that it was
hardly tea at all, Tom liked his sweet, and I liked hardly any sugar,
so the jug arrangement suited none of us; Racey the best, perhaps, for
it was certainly not strong, and sweeter than I liked, any way.
But this evening the unexpected treat of the strawberry jam made the
boys less difficult to please about the tea.
It was rather kind of Mrs. Partridge to send us the jam, said Tom.
He spoke timidly; he didn't quite like to say she was kind till he had,
as it were, got my leave to do so.
It isn't her jam, I said. It's Uncle Geoff's, and indeed I
shouldn't wonder if the strawberries were from our garden. I remember
mother always used to say 'We must send some fruit to Geoff.'
Yes, said Tom, I remember that too. He was just about biting
into a large slice of bread and butter without jamI had kept
to old rules and told the boys they must eat one big piece plain,
firstwhen a new idea struck him.
Audrey, he said, do you know what would be lovely? Supposing we
made toast. I don't think there's anything so nice as toast with
Tom looked at me with so touching an expression in his dark eyeshe
might have been making some most pathetic requestthat I really could
not resist him. Besides which, to confess the truth, the proposal found
great favour in my own eyes. I looked consideringly at the ready-cut
slices of bread and butter.
They're very thick for toast, I said, and the worst of it is
they're all buttered already.
That wouldn't matter, said Tom, it'd be buttered toast.
That's the nicest of all.
It wouldn't, you stupid boy, I said, forgetting my dignity;
the butter would all melt before the bread was toasted, and there'd be
no butter at all when it was done. But I'll tell you what we might do;
let's scrape off all the butter we can, and then spread it on the toast
again when it's ready, before the fire. That's how I've seen Pierson
do. I mean that she spread it on before the fireof course she didn't
have to scrape it off first.
I should think not, said Tom; it's only that horrid Mrs.
Partridge makes us have to do such things.
We set to work eagerly enough however, notwithstanding our
indignation. With the help of our tea-spoons we scraped off a good deal
of butter and put it carefully aside ready to be spread on again.
The worst of it is it'll be such awfully thick toast, I said,
looking at the sturdy slices with regret. I wish we could split them.
But we can't, said Tom, we've no knife. What a shame it is not to
let us have a knife, not even you, Audrey, and I'm sure you are
I've a great mind to keep one back from dinner to-morrow, I said,
I don't believe they'd notice. Tom, it's rather fun having to plan so,
isn't it? It's something like being prisoners, and Mrs. Partridge being
thetheI don't know what they call the man that shuts up the
Pleeceman? said Racey.
No, I don't mean that. The policeman only takes them to prison, he
doesn't keep them when they are once there. But let's get on with the
toast, or our tea'll be all cold before we're ready for it.
[Illustration: We made holes at the crusty side of the slices, and
tied them with string.]
It was no good thinking of splitting the slices, we had to make the
best of them, thick as they were. And it took all our planningness to
do without a toasting-fork. The tea-spoons were so short that it burnt
our hands to hold them so near the fire, and for a minute or two we
were quite in despair. At last we managed it. We made holes at the
crusty side of the slices, and tied them with stringof which,
of course, there were always plenty of bits in Tom's pockets; I believe
if he'd been in a desert island for a year he still would have found
bits of string to put in his pocketsto the end of the poker and to
the two ends of the tongs. They dangled away beautifully; two succeeded
admirably, the third unfortunately was hopelessly burnt. We repeated
the operation for another set of slices, which all succeeded, then we
spread them with the scraped butter in front of the fire by means of
the flat ends of our tea-spoons, and at last, very hot, very buttery,
very hungry, but triumphant, we sat round the table again to regale
ourselves with our tepid tea, but beautifully hot toast, whose
perfection was completed by a good thick layer of strawberry jam.
We had eaten three slices, and were just about considering how we
could quite fairly divide the remaining two among the three of
us,rather a puzzle, for Tom's proposal that he and I should each take
a slice and give Racey half, didn't do.
That would give Racey a half more than usat least a quarter more.
No, it wouldn't be a quarter either. Any way, that wouldn't do, I
said. Let's cut each slice into three bits and each take two.
And how can we cut without a knife? said Tom.
'How can he marry without a wife?' I quoted out of the nursery
rhyme, which set us all off laughing, so that we didn't hear a terrible
sound steadily approaching the door. Stump, stump, it came, but we
heard nothing till the door actually opened, and even then we didn't
stop laughing all at once. We were excited by our toast-making; it was
the first time since we were in London that our spirits had begun to
recover themselves, and it wasn't easy to put them down again in a
hurry. Even the sight of Mrs. Partridge's very cross face at the
door didn't do so all at once.
I dare say we looked very wild, we were very buttery and jammy, and
our faces were still broiling, our hair in confusion and our pinafores
crumpled and smeared. Then the fender was pulled away from the fire,
and the poker, tongs, and shovel strewed the ground, and somehow or
other we had managed to burn a little hole in the rug. There was a
decidedly burny smell in the room, which we ourselves had not noticed,
but which, it appeared, had reached Mrs. Partridge's nose in Uncle
Geoff's bedroom on the drawing-room floor, where, unfortunately, she
had come to lay away some linen. And she had really been seriously
frightened, poor old woman.
Being frightened makes some people cross, and finding out they have
been frightened for no reason makes some people very cross. Mrs.
Partridge had arrived at being cross on her way up-stairs; when she
opened the nursery door and saw the confusion we had made, and heard
our shouts of laughter, she naturally became very cross.
She came into the room and stood for a minute or two looking at us
without speaking. And in our wonderfor myself I can't say fear, I
was too ready to be angry to be afraid, but poor Tom and Racey must
have been afraid, for they got down from their chairs and stood close
beside me, each holding me tightlyin our wonder as to what was going
to happen next, our merriment quickly died away. We waited without
speaking, looking up at the angry old woman with open-mouthed
astonishment. And at last she broke out.
Oh, you naughty children, you naughty, naughty children, she said.
To think of your daring to behave so after my kindness in sending you
jam for your tea, and the whole house upset to take you in. How dare
you behave so? Your poor uncle's nice furniture ruined, the carpet
burnt to pieces as any one can smell, and the house all but set on
fire. Oh, you naughty, naughty children! Come away with me,
sir, she said, making a dive at Tom, who happened to be the nearest to
her, come away with me that I may take you to your uncle and tell him
what that naughty sister of yours has put into your headfor that it's
all her, I'm certain sure.
Tom dodged behind me and avoided Mrs. Partridge's hand. When he
found himself at what he considered a safe distance he faced round upon
Audrey isn't naughty, and you sha'n't say she is. None of us is
naughtynot just now any way. But if it was naughty to make toast, it
was me, and not Audrey, that thought of it first.
You impertinent boy, was all Mrs. Partridge could find
breath to say. But she did not try to catch Tom again, and indeed it
would have been little use, for he began a sort of dancing jig from
side to side, which would have made it very difficult for any one but a
very quick, active person to get hold of him. You rude, impertinent
boy, she repeated, and then, without saying anything more, she turned
and stumped out of the room.
Tom immediately stopped his jig.
I wonder what she's going to do, Audrey, he said.
To call Uncle Geoff, I expect, I said quietly. He must be in,
because she said something about taking you down to him.
Tom looked rather awestruck.
Shall you mind, Audrey? he asked.
No, not a bit. I hope she has gone to call him, I said. We've
not done anything naughty, so I don't care.
But if she makes him think we have, and if he writes to papa and
mother that we're naughty, when they did so tell us to be good, said
Tom, very much distressed. Oh, Audrey, wouldn't that be dreadful?
Papa and mother wouldn't believe it, I persisted. We've not
been naughty, except that we quarrelled a little this afternoon. I'll
write a letter myself, and I know they'll believe me, and I'll get
Pierson to write a letter too.
But Pierson's away, said Tom.
Well, I can write to her too.
This seemed to strike Tom as a good idea.
How lucky it is you've got your desk and paper, and embelopes and
everything all ready, he said. You can write without anybody knowing.
If I could make letters as nice as you, Audrey, I'd write too.
Never mind. I can say it all quite well, I said, but I won't do
it just yet for fear Mrs. Partridge comes back again.
I had hardly said the words when we heard a quick, firm step coming
up-stairs. We looked at each other; we knew who it must be.
Uncle Geoff threw open the door and walked in.
Children, he said, what is all this I hear? I am very sorry that
all of youyou Audrey, especially, who are old enough to know better,
and to set the boys a good exampleshould be so troublesome and
disobedient. I cannot understand you. I had no idea I should have had
anything like this.
He looked really puzzled and worried, and I would have liked to say
something gentle and nice to comfort him. But I said to myself, What's
the use? He won't believe anything but what Mrs. Partridge says, and
so I got hard again and said nothing.
Where is the burnt carpet? then said Uncle Geoff, looking about
him as if he expected to see some terrible destruction.
I stooped down on the floor and poked about till I found the little
round hole where the spark had fallen.
There, I said, that's the burnt place.
Uncle Geoff stooped too and examined the hole. The look on his face
changed. I could almost have fancied he was going to smile. He began
sniffing as if he did not understand what he smelt.
That can't have made such a smell of burning, he said.
No, it was the slice of toast that fell into the fire that made
most of the smell, I said. It had some butter on. We were toasting
our breadthat was what made Mrs. Partridge so angry.
How did you toast it?
Tom, who was nearest the fireplace, held up the poker and tongs, on
which still hung some bits of string.
We made holes in the bread and tied it on, he said.
At this Uncle Geoff's face really did break into a smile. All might
have ended well, had it not unfortunately happened that just at this
moment Mrs. Partridgewho had taken till now to arrive at the top of
the stairscame stumping into the room. Her face was very red, and she
looked, as she would have said herself, very much put about.
Oh dear, sir, she exclaimed, when she saw Uncle Geoff on his knees
on the floor, oh dear, sir, you shouldn't trouble yourself so.
I wanted to see the damage for myself, he said, getting up as he
spoke, it isn't very bad after all. Your fears have exaggerated it,
Mrs. Partridge did not seem at all pleased.
Well, sir, she said, it's natural for me to have felt upset. And
even though not much harm may have been done to the carpet, think what
might be, once children make free with the fire. And it isn't even
that, I feel the most, sirchildren will be children and need constant
looking afterbut it's their rudeness, sirthe naughty way they've
spoken to me ever since they came. From the very first moment I saw
that Miss Audrey had made up her mind to take her own way, and no one
else's, and it's for their own sake I speak, sir. It's a terrible pity
when children are allowed to be rude and disobedient to those who have
the care of them, and it's a thing at my age, sir, I can't stand.
Uncle Geoff's face clouded over again. Mrs. Partridge had spoken
quite quietly and seemingly without temper. And now that I look back to
it, I believe she did believe what she said. She had worked herself up
to think us the naughtiest children there ever were, and really did not
know how much was her own prejudice. No doubt it had been very
upsetting to her to have all of a sudden three children brought into
the quiet orderly house she had got to think almost her own, even
though of course it was really Uncle Geoff's, and no doubt too, from
the first, which was partly Pierson's fault, though she hadn't meant
it, the boys and I had taken a dislike to her and had not shown
ourselves to advantage. I can see all how it was quite plainly nownow
that I have so often talked over this time of troubles with mother and
with aunt(but I am forgetting, I mustn't tell you that yet). But at
the time, I could see no excuse for Mrs. Partridge. I thought she was
telling stories against us on purpose, and I hated her for telling them
in the quiet sort of way she did, which I could see made Uncle Geoff
All the smile had gone out of his face when he turned to us again.
Rudeness and disobedience, he repeated slowly, looking at usat
Tom and me especially, what an account to send to your parents! I do
not think there is any use my saying any more. I said all I could to
you, Audrey, this morning, and you are the eldest. I trusted you
to do your utmost to show the boys a good example. Partridge, we must
do our best to get a firm, strict nurse for them at once. I cannot have
my house upset in this way.
He turned and went away without saying a wordwithout even wishing
us good night. It was very, very hard upon us, and I must say hard on
me particularly, for I know I had been trying my besttrying to
be patient and cheerful and to make the little boys the same. And now
to have Uncle Geoff so entirely turned against us, and worst of all to
think of him writing to papa and mother about our being naughty! What
would they think?that we had not even been able to be good for
one week after they had left us would seem so dreadful. I did not seem
as if I wanted to write to papa and mother myselfit would have
been like complaining of Uncle Geoff, and besides, saying of myself
that I had been trying to be good wouldn't have seemed much good. But I
felt more and more that some one must write and tell them the truth,
and the only person I could think of to do so was Pierson. So I settled
in my own mind to write to her as soon as I could; that was the only
thing I could settle.
In punishment, I suppose, for our having beenas she called itso
naughty, Mrs. Partridge sent Sarah to put us to bed extra early that
evening. Sarah was very kind and sympathising, but I now can see that
she was not very sensible. She was angry with Mrs. Partridge herself,
and everything she said made us feel more angry.
I hope it will be fine to-morrow, so that I can take you out a
walk, she said, when she had put us all to bed and was turning away.
By the day after I suppose the new nurse will be coming.
We all three started up at that.
Will she, Sarah? we said. What have you heard about her?
Oh, I don't know anything settled, Sarah replied, but I believe
Mrs. Partridge is going into the country to-morrow to see some one, and
to hear her talk you'd think her only thought was to get some one as
hard and strict as can be. 'Spare the rod and spoil the child,' and
such like things she's been saying in the kitchen this evening. A nice
character she'll give of you to the new nurse. My word, but I should
feel angry if I saw her dare to lay a hand on Master Tom or Master
I beckoned to Sarah to come nearer, and spoke to her in a whisper
for the boys not to hear.
Sarah, I said, do tell me, do you really think Mrs. Partridge
will tell the new nurse to whip Tom and Racey? They have never been
whipped in their lives, and I think it would kill them, Sarah.
Oh no, Miss Audrey, not so bad as that, said Sarah. But still,
from what I've seen of them, I shouldn't say they were boys to be
whipped. It would break Master Tom's spirit, and frighten poor Master
Racey out of all his pretty ways. And if you take my advice, Miss
Audrey, you'll make a regular complaint to your uncle if such a thing
It would be no use, I said aloud, but to myself I said in a
whisper, I shouldn't wait for that.
It was quite evident to me from what Sarah had said that she did
think the new nurse would not only be allowed, but would be ordered to
whip usthe boys at leastif they were what Mrs. Partridge chose to
call naughty. And it was quite evident to me that any nurse who agreed
to treat children so could not be a nice person. There was no use
speaking to Uncle Geoff, he could only see things as Mrs. Partridge put
them, and of course I could not say she told actual stories. She did
worse, for she told things her way. There was only one thing I
was sure of. Mother certainly did not want her dear little boys to be
whipped by any nurse, and she had left them in my charge and
trusted me to make them happy.
All sorts of plans ran through my head as I lay trying not to go to
sleep, and yet feeling sleep coming steadily on me in spite of my
CHAPTER VIII. WANTED A STAMP.
I am so old, so old, I can write a letter.
I had meant, you will remember, to write my letter to Pierson late
at night when everybody was in bed. I had been afraid of writing it
till I was sure everybody was asleep, for if the light in the nursery
had been seen, there was no saying what Mrs. Partridge might not have
done, she would have been so angry. So I settled in my own mind to get
up in the middle of the nightquite in the middleto write it. But
nobodyno big person at leastwill be surprised to hear that for all
my plans and resolutions I never woke! The beginning and the middle of
the night passed, and the end came, and it was not till the faint
winter dawn was trying to make its way through the smoky London air
that I woke up, to find it was morningfor a few minutes later I heard
the stair clock strike seven.
At first I was dreadfully vexed with myself, then I began to think
perhaps it was better. Even in the very middle of the night I might
have been seen, and, after all, the letter would not have gone any
sooner for having been written in the night instead of in the day-time.
And in the day-time it was easy for me to write without minding any one
seeing me, for Tom and I had our lessons to do for our tutor for the
As soon as he had gone, therefore, I got my paper and set to work. I
am not going to tell you just yet what I wrote to Pierson. You will
know afterwards. You see I want to make my story as like a proper one
as I can, in case aunoh, there I am again, like a goose,
going to spoil it all! I meant to say, that I have noticed that in what
I call proper stories, real book, printed ones, though it all seems to
come quite smooth and straight, it is really arranged quite
plannedlyyou are told just a bit, and then you are quietly taken away
to another bit, and though you never think of it at the time, you find
it all out afterwards. Well, I wrote my letter to Pierson after Tom and
I had finished our lessons for our tutor. I told Tom I had written it,
and thenthe next thing was how to get it stamped and taken to the
I wish I had thought of buying a stamp when we were out this
morning, I said. I have forgotten to tell you that in the morning,
early, we had been out a short walk with Sarah. Only a very short one
however, for Sarah had to hurry back, because of course Mrs. Partridge
said she needed her, and our tutor was coming at eleven. Still we were
very glad to go out at all.
Sarah would have known; would you have minded? said Tom.
Somehow it made me feel sorry and puzzled to hear him talk like
that. We had always been used to being quite open about everythingwe
had never thought about any one knowing or not knowing about anything
we did, except of course surprises about birthday presents and those
kind of things. And now in one short week Tom seemed to have got into
little underhand waysof not wanting people to know, and that kind of
thing. I had too, but somehow it made me more sorry for Tom than for
myselfit was so unlike his bright open way.
No, I said, I wouldn't have minded. At least not for myself, only
perhaps Mrs. Partridge would have scolded Sarah if she had found out we
had been to the post-office.
How shall we get it posted? said Tom. If we had a stamp I
could run with it. I saw a box for letters a very little way round the
Did you? I said. That's a good thing. Let's wait a little, and
perhaps there'll come some chance of getting out. I should think we
could get a stamp at some shopthere were shops round the corner too.
It was a great satisfaction to have got the letter written. I looked
at it with a good deal of pridethe address I was sure was right, I
had copied it so exactly from the one at the end of Pierson's letter.
Though the boys did not know exactly what I had written to Pierson,
they seemed to feel happier since knowing I had written something, and
they had a vague idea that somehow or other brighter days would come
for us in consequence.
Uncle Geoff had not been up to see us this morningnor had he sent
for us to go down. I was very glad, and yet I did not think it was at
all kind. I did not know till a good while afterwards that he had not
been at home since the day before, as he had been sent for to a
distance to see somebody who was very ill.
At one o'clock we had had our dinnerit was not as nice a one as we
had had the other days, and we said to each other it was because Mrs.
Partridge was angry still about the toast. We said so to Sarah too, and
though she made no reply we could see she thought the same.
And we shall have no strawberry jam for tea to-night, said Tom,
No 'tawberry dam, said Racey, and the corners of his mouth went
down as if he were going to cry. He had been thinking of the strawberry
jam, I dare say, as a sort of make up for the dry rice pudding at
dinnerquite dry and hard it was, not milky at all, and Mrs. Partridge
knew we liked milky puddings.
Don't be so sure of that, said Sarah, who was taking away the
things. If you are all very good this afternoon I dare say you will
have strawberry jam for tea. Mrs. Partridge is going out at three
o'clock, and she won't be back till six, so the tea will be my
The boys were quite pleased to have something to look forward to,
and I, for my own reasons, was glad to hear Mrs. Partridge was going
It was, for November, a bright afternoon, much brighter than we had
had yet. Tom, who was standing at the window looking out, gave a great
What's the matter, Master Tom? said Sarah.
I would so like to go out and play in the garden, said poor Tom.
What a horrid house this is, to have no garden! Sarah, aren't you
going to take us a walk this afternoon?
Sarah shook her head. I can't, Master Tom, she said; Mrs.
Partridge is in such a fuss about going out herself as never was, and
I've got a great deal to do. But if you'll try to amuse yourselves till
tea-time, I'll see if I can't think of something to please you after
It's so long to tea-time, said Tom, discontentedly; one,
two, three hoursat least two and a half.
Couldn't we have tea sooner, Sarah, I said; as soon as ever Mrs.
Partridge goes? We've not had a very good dinner, and I'm sure we shall
Well, I'll see if I can't get it for you by half-past three, she
Two hours even to half-past three! And the more tempting look of the
day outside made it more tiresome to have to stay in. We really didn't
know what to do to pass the time. I couldn't propose telling
stories again, for we had had so much of them the day before. Racey, as
usual, seemed content enough with his everlasting horses, but Tom got
very tiresome. I was trying to make a new lining to Lady Florimel's
opera cloak with a piece of silk I had found among my treasures. It was
rather difficult to do it neatly, and I had no one to help me, and as
it was Tom's fault that the other one had been spoilt, I really did
think he might have been nice and not teasing. But he was really
very tiresomehe kept pulling it out of my hands, and if ever I
turned round for a moment, some of my thingsmy scissors or thimble or
somethingwere sure to have disappeared. At last I got so angry that I
could be patient no longer.
Tom, I said, you are perfectly unbearable, and I tried to snatch
from him my reel of sewing cotton which he had pulled away just as I
was going to take a new thread. But he jumped up on a chair and
stretched his hand out of my reach. I climbed up after himI was
crying with vexationand had nearly succeeded in pulling his arm down
to get at the reel tightly clasped in his hand, when unluckilyoh, how
unlucky we were!the chair toppled over, and Tom and I both fell on
the ground in a heap. I screamed, and I think Tom screamed, and just at
that moment Uncle Geoff put his head in at the door. Was it not
unfortunate? Such a sceneTom and I kicking and quarrelling on the
floor, Racey crying because in our fall we had interfered with what he
called his railway line round the room, a jug of water which Tom had
fetched out of the bedroomthreatening, to tease me, to wash
Florimel's faceand which he had forgotten to take back again, upset
and broken and a stream all over the carpetoh dear, it was unlucky!
We jumped up as quickly as we could, and stood silent and ashamed.
Had it been Uncle Geoff alone, I think we would have told him frankly
how sorry we were, and perhaps he would have got to understand us
better, but of course there was Mrs. Partridge stumping in behind him.
Uncle Geoff did not speak to us, he turned round to Mrs. Partridge at
Really, he said, this is too bad. If these children cannot be
trusted to be alone five minutes without risk of burning themselves or
drowning themselves, can't you let some one stay with them, Partridge?
He spoke very sharply, and Mrs. Partridge's face got very red.
I'm sure I don't know what more I can do, she said in a very
injured tone. There's all the work of the house to do as usual, and
indeed a great deal more now, of course. And how I can spare any
one to be all day long with them I'm sure I can't see. I have to go
away to Browngrove in half-an-hour, all about the nurse for them, sir.
I do think they might try to be good and quiet for an hour or two, with
every one doing their best for them.
Uncle Geoff looked as if he really did not know what to say.
I certainly think so too, he said. I had no idea you ever
quarrelled with your brothers, Audrey, he added, glancing at me
severely. I thought at least I could depend on you for that.
Then he turned to go away, and this time, knowing we had been
naughty, we looked at each other in silence, too ashamed to speak.
I do hope you will settle with this person and get her to come at
once, we heard Uncle Geoff say to Mrs. Partridge at the door. This
sort of thing really cannot be allowed to go on.
No indeed, sir, said Mrs. Partridge, quite in a good humour again,
apparently, as she had got us scolded instead of herself; it is very
evident they need a firm hand.
Horrible, horrible old woman, burst out Tom, as soon as, or
indeed almost before, they were out of hearing. Oh, it's all her
that's making me so naughty. I never was naughty to you at home,
Audrey, was I? Oh dear, oh dear! I do wish mother would come back quick
from China, or else we shall forget all about being good.
And I did so promise her to be good, and to teach you and
Racey to be good too, and to make you happy, and I can't. I don't
believe mother would want us to stay here if she knew how miserable we
were, I sobbed, and when Tom saw me sobbing, he began crying too, and
then when Racey saw us both he set off again, and so we all sat
together on the floor crying bitterly. Only one good thing came out of
our unhappinesswe all made friends again and kissed and hugged each
other, and determined never to quarrel any more.
It does no good to quarrel, I said, sadly, and any way that's one
thing we can do to please mother, whatever Uncle Geoff or any one says
about our being naughty.
We were very quiet for the rest of the afternoon till tea-time. We
heard Uncle Geoff's carriage come for him, and as by this time we had
found out the way of seeing from the night-nursery window, we were able
to watch him get in and drive away. And almost immediately after, a cab
came to the door, into which got Mrs. Partridge, and she too drove
She's gone about the new nurse, said Tom, but still we all looked
at each other with relief to think that Mrs. Partridge was really out
of the house, if only for an hour or two.
We might make toast for tea to-day, I said, without any one
I feel as if I'd like to jump on to the table and make a fearful
noise, said Tom.
That would be very silly, I said. We should be as quiet as we can
be while she's out, so that every one can see it's not true we're
When Sarah brought up our tea she proved to be as good or even
better than her word. She had brought us not only the strawberry jam as
she had promised, but a beautiful big plateful of toast all ready
buttered, and as hot as anything. We were so pleased we all jumped up
to kiss her, which was a great honour, as the boys were very particular
whom they kissed. She looked very pleased too, but seemed rather
Miss Audrey, she said, I've been thinking after you've had your
tea, you might all come down to the big dining-room for a change. Your
uncle won't be in till late, and any way I'm sure he wouldn't mind your
being there, for it's all nonsense of Mrs. Partridge saying you're so
mischievous. There's lots of papers with pictures lying there for the
ladies and gentlemen to look at while they're waiting. I've got some
work I want dreadfully to get finished, for Mrs. Partridge never will
give me the least bit of time to myself, and if you can amuse
yourselves good in the dining-room I could be quite easy-like in my
mind, for if you wanted me you'd only have to come to the top of the
kitchen stairs and call me.
A sudden idea darted through my mind while she was speaking. Here
was the moment for posting my letter!
Oh, yes, Sarah, I said, we'd like very much to go to the
dining-room, and we'll do no mischief you may be sure. And you can get
your work done without troubling about us one bit.
Thank you, Miss Audrey, and I hope you'll enjoy your tea, said
Sarah, as she left the room.
We did enjoy our tea exceedinglythe boys perhaps more than I, for
I was excited with the idea of what I meant to do, and I thought it
better not to tell Tom till the last moment. So we finished our tea,
and Sarah came up and took the things away and told us to follow her
down-stairs to the dining-room.
There was a nice fire in the dining-room and the gas was already
lighted. It was a pleasant change from the nursery where we seemed to
have been such a lot of days, as Racey said. Sarah came up again from
the kitchen to see that we were all right before settling down to her
work, she said. She told us which of the papers we might look at, and
put a great heap of Illustrated London News and Graphics
on the rug in front of the fire for us, and we all sat down on the
floor to look at them. Then she went away saying she would come back in
an hour to take us up-stairsthe man-servant was out with Uncle Geoff,
and the cook was busy with the dinner, Sarah said, so there'd be a nice
quiet time if only nobody would come ringing at the door.
As soon as Sarah had left us, I pulled Tom close to me and whispered
in his ear.
Tom, I said, this is just the time for posting the letter.
Tom jumped up on to his feet.
Of course, he said. Give it me, Audrey. I can find my way to the
post-box pairfitly (pairfitly for perfectly was another of
Tom's funny words, like lubbish"). I'll just fetch my cap, and tie my
comforter round my throat, and I'll be back in a moment.
He spoke in a very big-man way, as if all his life he had been
accustomed to run about London streets in the darkfor by this time it
really was darkand I could not help admiring his courage and feeling
rather proud of him. Still I was startled, for I had never thought of
Tom's going all by himself.
But you can't go alone, Tom, I said, you're far too
little. I meant to go, if you would tell me quite exactly where
you saw the letter-box, and if you would promise me to stay here quite
quiet with Racey till I come back.
Oh no, Audrey, said Tom, in a tone of great distress, that would
never do. I couldn't tell you ezacktly where the letter-box is, though
I'm sure I could find it myself. And you're a girl, Audrey, and not so
vrezy much bigger than me. And besides, I'm a boy. And oh, Audrey,
I do so want to go!
The last reason was the strongest I dare say, and it was honest of
Tom to tell it. I stood uncertain what to do. In his eagerness Tom had
spoken out quite loud, and Racey had stopped looking at the pictures to
listen. He sat on the floorhis little bare legs stretched out, his
mouth wide open, staring up at Tom and me. Then another thought came
into my mind.
Tom, I said, there's the stamp to get. You'd have to go into a
shop and ask for one.
Tom's countenance fell. This difficulty had more weight with him
than if I had gone on saying he was too little, though even without the
getting of the stamp I could not have let him go alone. He
might be run over or stolen or something dreadful, I thought, and it
would be my fault. Oh no, he mustn't go alone. But I felt as if
he would be quite safe if I went with him, though I dare say this must
seem rather absurd, for I was really not very much older or bigger than
Tom, and of course I knew no more about London.
I wouldn't like that, he said. Then his face brightened up again.
Let's both go, Audrey, he exclaimed; that would be far the
But before I had time to reply, a cry from Racey startled us.
You must take me too, he said. I won't stay here all alone.
P'raps the new nurse'll come and whip me.
He really seemed as if he were going to set off on a regular crying
fit, which would have spoilt all. And the precious time was fast
Tom, you're sure it's very near, I said, the post-box I mean?
Vrezy nearjust round the corner, said Tom.
Well then we'd better all go, I said. I'll run up-stairs and
bring down your hats and comforters, and I'll get my hat and old jacket
and we'll all go. Now you two be quite quiet while I go up-stairs.
I knew I could go with less noise and far more quickly than Tom, and
in less than two minutes I was back again. I tied on Racey's comforter
and hat, and Tom put on his own. Then we were all readybut, oh dear,
how could we get the big front door open without noise? I quite
trembled as I stood up on tip-toe to turn the lock handle. But after
all it was a very well-behaved door. It opened at once without the
least creak or squeak, and in another moment the boys and I stood on
the steps outside. Tom was going to shut the door, but I stopped him.
It would make such a noise, I said, and besides we'd much better
leave it open to get in again.
I pulled it gently to, so that from the street no one, unless they
looked very close, could have seen it was open, and then with Racey's
hand in mine, and Tom trotting alongside, we went down the steps and
turned the way which Tom said he was sure led to the post-box he had
There were not many people in the street in which our house was. It
was a quiet street at all times, and just now was, I suppose, a quiet
time of day. The pavements toofortunately for our house shoes, which
we had quite forgotten aboutwere perfectly dry. We walked along
pretty quickly till we came to a corner which Tom felt sure was the
corner near which was the letter-box. We turned down the street, and to
Tom's delight, a little further on, there, sure enough, was the
Now, Audrey, you seewasn't I right? exclaimed Tom. Where's the
It was already in my hand, but, alas! Oh, Tom, the stamp! I said.
There must be shops somewhere near where they would give us one.
Oh yes, sure to be, said Tom, whose success had made him quite
valiant, come along, Audrey. We'll turn this next cornerI hear a hum
of carriages and carts going along. There's sure to be a big street
So there was, what seemed to us a very big street
indeedbrilliantly lighted, with quantities of horses and cabs and
carriages and carts of all kinds in the middle, and numbers of people
on the pavement. Tom fell back a little and took hold of my other hand,
Racey squeezed the one he held more tightly.
We'll just go a very little way, said Tom. Audrey, what sort of
shops is it that they sell stamps in?
I don't know, I said. We'd better ask somewhere, for if we go
much further we'll lose our way.
The shop, just opposite which we were then passing, was a chemist's.
I pulled the boys forward, though Tom was rather unwilling, and wanted
to stay outside; but I was too terribly afraid of losing them to let go
of either of their hands for a moment. And so we all three went in.
There were several grave, rather dignified-looking gentlemen standing
behind the countersone seated at a little desk writing, one or two
others putting up bottles and jars on the shelves. As we came in, one
What do you want, little little girl, no doubt he was going to
say, for seeing three such young children coming in alone, of course he
thought at first that we must be what Racey called poor children. But
when he looked at us again he hesitated. I was too anxious to get what
I wanted to feel shy.
If you please, I said, is there a shop near here where they sell
The grave young gentleman smiled.
Postage stamps, do you mean? he said.
Yes, I replied, I only want one. I have a penny.
They are to be got at the post-office in Streeta very little
way from this, on the right-hand side, said the young man. He turned
away as he spoke as much as to say That is all I can do for you. Now
you had better go away.
I stood for a moment uncertain what to dothe boys looked up at me
in perplexity and trouble. It was terrible to think of having to go
still further along that crowded street, and having to ask again for
the post-office. I was neither shy nor frightened for myself, but I
felt the responsibility of the boys painfully. Supposing some harm
happened to them, supposing they got run over or lostsupposing even
that it was so late when we got home that we had been missed and that
Uncle Geoff and Mrs. Partridge were to scold us fearfullyI should
feel, I knew I shouldthat it had been all my fault. I was half
thinking of asking the grave young man if the boys might stay in the
shop while I ran on to the post-office alone (only I felt sure Tom
would greatly object to such an arrangement), when another persona
grave-looking gentleman too, but a good deal older and less hurried, it
seemed to me, than the otherstopped, as he was crossing from one
counter to another, and spoke to us. His voice was very kind, and
somehow I felt sure he had little boys and girls of his own at home.
[Illustration: Has any one attended to you, my dear?]
Has any one attended to you, my dear? he said.
Yes, no, at least, I don't want to buy anything, I said. It's
only for a stamp, and I don't like taking the boys any farther along
the street for fear they should get lost. It's so dreadfully crowded
The gentleman smiled at this, but his smile was nicer than the other
one's smile, for it didn't seem as if he was laughing at me.
And are you not afraid of getting lost yourself? he said. You are
a very little girl to be out without a nurse.
I got really alarmed at that. Supposing he were to call a policeman
and send us home with him, as I had heard was sometimes done in London
with lost or strayed children! What a terrible fuss it would make.
Oh, no, I said eagerly. We've come such a little way. It was only
to post a letter, but I have no stamp. Please I think we'd better go
and try to find the post-office.
I took tight hold of the boys' hand again, and we were turning to
go, when our new friend stopped us.
Stay, he said, if it is only a stamp for a letter that you want,
I can easily give you one.
He turned towards the man who was writing at the desk place and said
something quickly, and the man held out a stamp which the gentleman
handed to me.
Shall I put it on the letter for you? he asked.
Oh no, thank you, I said, in a great hurry to get away now that I
had actually the precious stamp in my possession. I can put it on
quite well. Here is the penny, and thank you very much for the stamp.
He took the penny quite seriously. I was glad of that, and liked him
the better for it. Had he refused it I should have been really
And what will you do with the letter now? he said. Shall you not
have still to go to the post-office to put it in?
Oh no, I said, there is a pillar-post quite near our house.
And you are sure you know your way? he said as he opened the
shop-door for us. What is the name of the street where you live?
I hesitated. Curiously enough I had never heard the name of the
street where Uncle Geoff livedI looked at Tom and Tom looked at me.
He did not know it either.
I don't know the name of the street, I said, but I am sure
we can find the way. Can't we, Tom?
Oh yes, I am sure we can. We live at our uncle's, Dr.
Gower's, added Tom, for which I frowned at him.
At Dr. Gower's, repeated the chemist with surprise. Dear meI
don't think your uncle would be pleased if he knew you were out alone.
However, as you say, it is very nearand I shouldn't like to get them
scolded, poor little things, he added to himself. I can tell you the
name of the streetit is Streetremember that, and now run home
as fast as you can. First turn to the right.
We thanked him again and ran off.
CHAPTER IX. MISS GOLDY-HAIR.
I thought at first sight that she must be a fairy.
No, I can hardly say we ran off. There were so many persons
on the pavement, that three, even very small people, could not walk
along all abreast, without some difficulty. Particularly three small
people like us who were accustomed to country lanes without any
footpath at all, or high roads where the only fellow-passengers whose
way we had to get out of were droves of nice silly sheep, or flocks of
geese driven home from the market. We knew nothing of keeping to the
right hand, and thought the passers-by were very rude and unkind when
they jostled us, as indeed they could hardly help doing. For as for
letting go of each other's hands that we never for an instant
We were glad to get out of the great crowded, brightly-lighted
street, though had we been less in a hurry to get home, we should have
greatly enjoyed standing and looking in at the shop-windows, more even
than by daylight, and as it was, I was obliged two or three times to
tug pretty hard at Tom and Racey to get them away from some very
tempting one. At last howeverit did seem as if we had been in
the big street rather longer turning back from the chemist's than going
thereafterwards I remembered thisat last we found ourselves in what
we believed to be the same, rather narrow, darkish street where we had
passed the pillar-post.
Which side is the pillar? I said to Tom. I'm sure it was on this
side and now I don't see it.
Tom stared about him.
It must be a little further on, he said.
But further on it was not to be seen, and we began to feel perfectly
puzzled. The street was quite a short onewe soon came to the end,
where, right and left, it ran into a wider one, quiet and rather dark
toothat is to say, compared with the great street of shops where we
had just been. We stood at the corner looking about us
This is our streetit must be, I said; but what can have
become of the letter-box in the little street?
Tom could say nothing, he was as puzzled as I. We walked on slowly,
more because we did not know what else to do, than for any other
reason. Going home without posting the letter, for which we had run
such risks, was not to be thought of. Suddenly Tom gave a little
scream, and would have darted across the street had I not kept tight
hold of him.
Tom, what is the matter? Where are you going? I said.
Tom wriggled and pulled.
Let me go, Audrey, he said. There's onedon't you
seeacross the street. Let me go, to be sure it's a proper one like
One meant another pillar-post. I wouldn't let go of Tom, but we
all went across together to examine it. It was just like the one that
had suddenly disappeared from the little street, and it took a great
weight off me when I had dropped my letter into it.
It is just as if they had wheeled it across from the street
oppositeisn't it? I said to Tom.
But as there were no wheels, and as the pillar seemed stuck in the
ground as firm as a rock, we could not explain the mystery.
Now, said I, let's run across again and find our house. It must
be just about opposite.
We crossed the street and went along slowly, peeping at every house
we passed in search of some sign by which we would know it. We had left
the door the tiniest little bit ajar you will rememberand two or
three times when we saw a house which we fancied looked just like Uncle
Geoff's, we went up the steps and gently pushed to see if the door was
open. But nonone of them were, and beginning to be really frightened
we returned to the pavement and considered what we should do.
I don't understand it, I said, we must have passed it. It
wasn't above five or six houses from the street we turned, down, where
the pillar-post was.
But, Audrey, said Tom, p'raps we came up another street by
mistake, 'cause you know we couldn't find the pillar coming back. Let's
go back a little and see if we don't come to the street where it
is, and then we'll know.
It seemed the only thing to doit was quite, quite dark of
course by nowthe only light was from the gas-lamps, which in this
street did not seem very bright. It was very coldwe were all three
beginning to shiver, because, you see, running out as we thought just
for five minutes we had not wrapped up very warmly. It was worst for
the boys, who had nothing besides the sailor suits they always wore,
except their comforters and caps, though I had my jacket. And to add to
our troubles it began to rain, a miserable, fine, cold rain, which
seemed to freeze as well as to wet us. I was so unhappy that it was all
I could do not to cry.
The boys will get cold, I said to myself. And mother said we must
be very careful of cold for Tom this winter as he had the measles so
badly. Oh dear, what shall we do! If I could see anybody, I
would ask them to help us to find the way back to Uncle Geoff's.
But just then there was no one in sight, and I was thinking whether
it would not be best to try to find our way back to the friendly
chemist and ask him to help us, when Tom called out suddenly:
Audrey, we've got on the wrong side of the street. Look, the next
house is the one with what Racey calls an air-garden.
I looked and saw the little glass conservatory he pointed out. It
belonged to the house next to the one we were passing. I didn't feel
satisfiedI couldn't see how we could have got on the wrong side of
the street, for we had certainly kept in a right direction, but
Tom was so sure, I didn't like to contradict him. And he pulled Racey
and me across the street almost before I had time to consider.
Our house is almost opposite the one with the air-garden, he said,
just a little bit further along. Yes, this one must be it. He
hurried us up the steps and when we got to the front door gave it a
little push. It yieldedit was open.
You see, said Tom triumphantly, you see I was right, Audrey.
But almost before he had said the words, Racey pulled us back.
This idn't our house, he said, it tannot be. Look, Audrey;
look, Tom, this house has a' air-garden too.
He pointed above our heads, and looking up, Tom and I saw what in
our hurried crossing the street we had not noticedthere was a
conservatory on the first floor just like the one opposite!
Come back, come back, I said. This isn't our house. Perhaps the
people will be angry with us for pushing the door open.
But it was too latethe door had been a little open before we
touched it, for there were people standing in the hall just inside, and
one of them, an errand boy, was coming out, when the push Tom had given
caught their attention. The door was pulled wide open from the inside
and we saw plainly right into the brightly-lighted hall. A man-servant
came forward to see who we wereor what we were doing.
Now get off the steps you there, he said roughly. My lady can't
have beggars loitering about.
Frightened as we were, Tom's indignation could not be kept down.
We're not beggars, you rude man, he cried, we thought this
was our house, andand he could say no more, poor little boyfor
all his manliness he was only a very little boy, you knowthe tears
would not be kept back any longer, he burst out sobbing, and
immediately he heard Tom's crying Racey of course began too. I did not
know what to doI threw my arms round them and tried to comfort them.
Don't cry, dears, I said, we'll go back to the chemist's, and he'll
show us the way home. And nobody shall scold you, I don't care
what they say to me.
The man-servant was still standing holding the door; he seemed on
the point of shutting it, but I suppose something in our way of
speaking, though he could not clearly see how we were dressed, had made
him begin to think he had been mistaken, and he stared at us curiously.
I think too, for he wasn't an unkind man, he felt sorry to hear the
boys crying so. The bustle on the steps caught the attention of the
other person in the hallwho had been speaking to the errand-boy when
we came up, though we had not noticed her. A voice, which even at that
moment I fancied I had heard before, stopped us as we were turning
What is the matter, James? it said. Is it some poor children on
the steps? Don't be rough to them. I'd like to see what they want.
Then she came forward and stood right in our sight, though even now
she couldn't see us well, as we were outside in the dark, you know. We
all looked at her, and for a minute we felt too surprised to speak. It
was the young lady in the black dress with the pretty goldy hair that
had come one day to our house. We all knew her againshe looked
sweeter and prettier than ever, with a nice grave sort of kindness in
her face that I think children love even more than smiles and
merriness. We all knew her again, but Racey was the first to speak. He
pulled himself out of my armsI didn't hold him backand he rushed to
the young lady and caught hold of her almost as if she had been mother.
Oh please, please take care of us, he cried, hiding his fair,
curly head in her black skirt, we're lostened. Muzzie's done away, you
know, and we don't like being at London at all.
The young lady for half a moment looked perfectly puzzled. Then a
light broke over her face. She lifted Racey up in her arms, and
pressing her face against his in a sort of kissing way, just almost as
mother herself would have done, she came forward quite close to Tom and
me, still on the steps in the rain, and spoke to us.
My poor little people, she said, you must be quite wet. I know
who you areI remember. Come income in out of the cold, and tell me
all about it.
My first wish was just to beg her to tell us the way to Uncle
Geoff's house and to hurry off as fast as we could. I was beginning to
be so terribly frightened as to what would happen when we did
get back. But her voice was so kind, and it was so cold outside,
and Racey was clinging to her soit looked, too, so warm and
comfortable inside the nice, bright house, that I could not help going
in. Tom would have pulled me in, I think, had I refused. He was still
sobbing, but once we got inside the hall he began fishing in his pocket
till he got out his handkerchief and scrubbed at his eyes before he
would look up at the young lady at all. Nothing would take away
Tom's dislike to be seen crying.
James, said the young lady, open the library door.
James, who had become particularly meekI suppose he was rather
ashamed of having taken us for little beggars, now that he saw the
young lady knew usdid as she told him. And still carrying Racey in
her arms Miss Goldy-hair (I think I told you that Tom and I called her
that to ourselves after the day she had been at our house?) led the way
into the library where she had been sitting when she was called to
speak to the message boy in the hall. For there were books and some
pretty work on the table, and a little tray with two or three cups and
saucers and a plate with cakeall very nice and neat-lookingthe sort
of way mother had things at home. And the fire was burning brightly. It
was a nice room, though rather grave-looking, for there were books all
round and round the walls instead of paper.
The first thing she didMiss Goldy-hair, I meanwas to draw us
near to the fire. She put Racey down on a low chair that was standing
there and began feeling us to see if we were very wet.
Not so very bad, she said, smiling for the first time.
Audreyare you surprised I remember your name?take off your jacket,
dear. I don't think the boys will get any harm, this rough serge throws
off the rain. Now when we were all settled so as to get nice
and warmnow, who is going to tell me all about it? My little
fellow, she added, turning to Tom, who was still shaking with sobs,
partly I think because of the terrible way he was trying to force them
down and to scrub his eyes dry, my little man, don't look so unhappy,
she put her arm round him as she spoke, I'm sure we shall be able to
put it all right.
It's not all that, I said, it's partly that he can't bear you to
see him crying, Miss Goldy-hair. He thinks it's like a baby.
A different sort of smile came into her face for a moment, a smile
of funI wondered a little what it was. It wasn't till she told me
afterwards that I understood how funny our name for her must have
sounded, for I said it quite without thinking.
Oh no, she said. I didn't think that at all, my boy. Here, dear,
take a little drink of this tea. She got up and poured some out. It's
still hot, and that will help to make the sobs go away.
Tom had the measles worse than me, I said, and he's not been so
strong since, for though she said she didn't think him a bit like a
baby, I couldn't bear it for him that he shouldn't be thought brave,
when really he was.
Ah! she said quickly, then we must take great care of him.
She looked at him anxiously while he drank the hot tea.
I know a great deal about children, she said to me, nodding her
head and smiling again. Some day I'll show you what a number I have to
help to take care of. But now, little Audrey, what were you three doing
out in the street by yourselves in the dark and the rain?
We came out to post a letter, I said; I didn't want anybody to
know about it for perhaps they wouldn't have sent it. So Mrs. Partridge
was out, and we were in the dining-room, and Uncle Geoff was out, and
Sarah was busy sewing and we thought nobody would know, and Tom wanted
to go alone, but I thought he'd get lost and Racey wouldn't stay alone,
so we all came. And we lost the way, and we thought this was our house
because it was opposite one with an air-garden and we didn't see it
couldn't be ours because it had an air-garden too.
I stopped for a minute out of breath.
It was me that sawed the air-garden wurst, said Racey. He
spoke with great self-satisfaction. There he sat as comfortable as
could behe seemed to think he had got to an end of all his troubles
and to have no intention of moving from where he was.
The young lady glanced at him with her kind eyes, and then turned
again to me. She was evidently rather puzzled, but very patient, so it
was not difficult to tell her everything. Indeed I couldn't have
helped telling her everything. She had a way of making you feel she
was strong and you might trust her and that she could put things right,
even though she was so soft and kind and like a pretty wavy sort of
treenot a bit hard and rough.
Her face looked a little grave as well as puzzled while I was
speaking. I don't think she liked what I said about not wanting them to
know. Her face and eyes looked as if she had never hidden
anything in her life.
And what was the letter, Audrey? And whom was it to?
It was to Piersonthat's our old nurse, I said. I hesitated a
little and Miss Goldy-hair noticed it.
And what was it about? she said, very kindly still, but yet in a
way that I couldn't help answering.
It was to tell her how unhappy we were, I said in a low voice,
and to tell her that I was going to try to go to her with the boysto
take them away from Uncle Geoff's, because Mrs. Partridge is so horrid
and she makes Uncle Geoff think we're always being naughty. And mother
said I was to make the boys happy while she's so far away, and I can't.
And I can't make them good eitherwe're getting into quarrelling ways
already. I'm sure we'd be better with Pierson in the country.
Where does Pierson live? asked the young lady.
At a village called Crayit's near CoppleCoppleI forget the
name, but I've got it written down. You won't tell Uncle Geoff? I
No, said Miss Goldy-hair, not without your leave. But that
reminds mewon't your uncle be frightened about you all this time?
He won't be in till late, I said. But Sarah will be
frightenedand oh! I'm so afraid Mrs. Partridge will be coming back.
Oh! hadn't we better go now if you'll tell us the way. It's in this
street, isn't it?
No, dear, said the young ladyand I was so glad she called me
dear. I had been afraid she wouldn't like me any more when she knew
what I had been thinking of doing. No, dear, she said, you've got
into another street altogetherthat's why you were so puzzled. This
street is very like the one you live in and they run parallel, if you
know what that means.
I wish it was this street, I said.
And so do I, said Tom.
Why? asked Miss Goldy-hair.
Because we'd like to be near you, we both said, pressing close to
her. You're like mother.
The tears came into Miss Goldy-hair's eyesthey really didbut she
And what do you say, my little man? she said to Racey.
Racey was still reposing most comfortably in his big chair.
I'll stay here, he said, if Audrey and Tom can stay too. And I'd
like 'tawberry jam for tea.
The young lady smiled again.
I'd like to keep you, she said, but think how frightened poor
Sarah will beand your uncle when he comes in.
Tom and I looked at each other. We were so glad she didn't say,
Think how frightened poor Mrs. Partridge will be.
I think the best thing will be for me to take you home, she went
on. Though it isn't in this street it's very near. Not three minutes'
walk. Yes, she said, more as if speaking to herself than to us, that
will be bestfor me to take them alone.
She rang the bell, and James appeared.
James, she said, I am going out for a few minutes. When Miss
Arbour comes in tell her I shall not be long. I am sure to be back by
Then Miss Goldy-hair went away for a minute or two and returned
wrapped up in a big cloak, and with a couple of little jackets which
she put on Tom and Racey.
These are some of my children's jackets, she said. Tom and Racey
looked at them curiously. It was queer that Miss Goldy-hair's
children's cloaks should just fit them.
They're just right for us, said Tom.
Yes, she said, I have several sizes of them. I've been getting
them ready for my children for this cold weather.
Are they here? said Tom.
Who? said Miss Goldy-hair.
Your childrens, said Tom.
Miss Goldy-hair shook her head.
No, she replied. They're in a much bigger house than this. There
wouldn't be room for them here.
Then seeing that Tom, and I too, I dare saynot Racey, he wouldn't
have been surprised if Miss Goldy-hair had said she had a hundred
children; he never was surprised at anything when he was a little boy.
If he had heard his toy-horses talking in their stables some day, I
don't believe he'd have been startledbut seeing that Tom and I looked
puzzled she explained what she meant to us.
It is poor children I mean, she said. Some kind ladies have made
a nice home for poor orphan children who have no homes of their own,
and as I have not any one of my own to take care of I have a great deal
of time. So I go to see these poor children very often to help to teach
them and make them happy, and sometimes when they are ill to help to
nurse them. I like going to see them very much.
Tom looked rather pleased when he heard that Miss Goldy-hair meant
poor children. I think he was a little inclined to be jealous before he
But it isn't as nice as if you had children of your own in your own
houselike mother has us. It isn't as nice as if we were your
children, said Tom.
Miss Goldy-hair smiled.
No, she said, I don't think it is.
We were in the street by this time, walking along pretty quickly,
for it was still raining a little and very cold. But we didn't mind it.
Miss Goldy-hair knew the way so well. She turned down one or two small
side streets, and then in a minute we found ourselves at Uncle Geoff's.
Walking along with her we had felt so well taken care of that we had
almost forgotten our fears of what might meet us at home. But now,
actually on the door-steps, they returned.
Don't ring, Miss Goldy-hair, please, I said. Let's see first if
the door is still open.
Strange to say it was! After all, though it has taken so long to
tell, not more than three-quarters of an hour had passed since we went
out, and it was a quiet time of evening. No one had happened to ring at
the bell. But as we pushed open the door, the first thing we saw was
Sarahflying down-stairs in a terrible fright, as white as a sheet and
looking nearly out of her mind. She had missed us out of the
dining-room and had rushed up to the nursery to look for us, and not
finding us there did not know what to think.
She gave a sort of scream when she saw us.
Oh dear! oh dear! she cried. Where have you been? Oh, Miss
Audrey, how could you! Oh dear! you have frightened me so.
But before we said anything Tom and I ran forward with the same
Has Mrs. Partridge come in? and oh! how thankful we were when
Sarah shook her head.
Thank goodness, no! she said.
Then Miss Goldy-hair came forward. She had been writing a few words
in pencil on a card, and in her excitement, Sarah had hardly noticed
Will you give this to Dr. Gower when he comes in? said Miss
Goldy-hair, and Sarah made a little curtsey and begged her pardon for
not having seen her.
Dr. Gower knows me, she said to Sarah; but please do not say
anything to him about my having brought the children home, as I would
rather explain it myself.
Then she turned to go, but we all clung about her. Oh, Miss
Goldy-hair, Miss Goldy-hair, we cried, you're not going away.
I must, dears, she said, but I shall be sure to see you
to-morrow. I am going to ask your uncle to let you come and have dinner
and tea with me.
But p'raps the new nurse'll come to-morrow, and she'll whip us,
Miss Goldy-hair looked quite distressed.
No, dear, she said. I'm sure your uncle wouldn't let her.
Will you turn early, kite early? Racey begged.
Yes, that I can promise you, she answered.
But I too had some last words.
Miss Goldy-hair, I said, you told me you wouldn't tell Uncle
Not without your leave, dear, I said, she replied. But don't you
think it would be better to tell him? Won't you trust me to tell him?
But not Mrs. Partridge, I pleaded.
No, I don't think we need tell Mrs. Partridge.
Well, then I'll let you tell Uncle Geoff, and if he writes to
mother that we're naughty you'll write too, won't you?
[Illustration: Can't you trust me, Audrey?]
Wait till to-morrow and we'll talk it all over. Can't you trust me,
She bent down and looked in my face. I looked at her for a minute
without speaking. I liked to be sure before I said a thing,
always. So I looked right into her face, but I won't tell you what I
thought, because somebody that's going to read this over might
be vexed. And all I said was, Yes, Miss Goldy-hair.
CHAPTER X. TOM'S SORE THROAT.
Plenty of jelly and nice things to eat,
And we'll hope he'll be better to-morrow.
I woke very early the next morning. I woke with that queer feeling
that everybody knows, of something having happened. And before I was
awake enough in my mind even to get a distinct thought of what it was
that had happened, I yet had a feeling that it was something pleasant.
For the first time since mother had gone I woke without that terrible
feeling of loneliness that had been getting worse and worse every day.
As usual I glanced over at Tom's bed to see if he was still asleep.
Tom, I said softly, are you awake?
Yes, said Tom, all in a minute, as if he had been awake some time.
It was all clear in my head nowabout our losing our way and
finding Miss Goldy-hair and the letter to Pierson, and Miss Goldy-hair,
promising to invite us to go and see her, and everything.
Tom, I said, we can't go to Pierson now. I gave her leave to
Who? said Tom, Pierson?
No, I replied. Of course not. What would be the sense of writing
a secret to Pierson if she was to tell it?
I didn't know you wrote a secret to Pierson, said Tom; I can't
He spoke very meekly, but I felt provoked with him. I felt anxious
and fidgety, even though I was so pleased about having found Miss
Goldy-hair; and I thought Tom didn't seem to care enough.
How stupid you are, Tom, I said. You knew I had written to
Pierson to tell her I was going to take you and Racey to her.
I didn't know it until I heard you tell her, said Tom. I
don't think we could go to Pierson's, Audrey. We might get lost
We wouldn't get lost, I said. We wouldn't get lost in a cab and
in the railway. You're so stupid, Tom. You've been going on so about
being so unhappy here, and it was all to please you I thought of going
to Pierson's, and now I suppose you'll make out it was all me, when
Uncle Geoff speaks about it.
I never said it was all you, said Tom, but I thought you'd be so
pleased about Miss Goldy-hair; and now you're quite vexed with me.
We were on the fair way to a quarrel, when a distraction came from
the direction of Racey.
Her's got a' air-garden, he called out suddenly in his little
shrill voice. Did you know her had a' air-garden? I've been d'eaming
about it. Her's going to show it me. It's full of fairies. (He really
said wairies, but I can't write all his speaking like that; it would
be so difficult for you to understand.)
We couldn't help laughing at Racey's fancies, and in his turn Racey
was a little inclined to be offended, so Tom and I joined together to
try to bring him round.
I don't know how it is we've got in the way of being so cross to
each other, I said sadly. I'm sure it's quite time Miss Goldy-hair or
somebody should teach us how to be good again. How dreadfully quick one
Miss Goldy-hair wouldn't like us if we quarrelled, said Tom in a
Her wouldn't whip us, observed Racey.
No, she would try to teach us to be good, I said. I'm sure I'd
try to be good if I was with her. Tom, I went onand here I really
must put down what I said, whether it vexes somebody or notTom, do
you know, I think her face is just exactly like an angel's when you
look at it quite close.
Or a fairy's, said Tom.
No, I said, an angel's. Fairies are more merry looking than she
is. She has such a kind, sorry lookthat's why I think her face is
like an angel's.
Tom gave a great sigh.
What's the matter, Tom? I said.
I don't know. I think I've got a headache, said Tom.
But aren't you glad Miss Goldy-hair's coming to fetch us? I said
in my turn.
Kite early, said Racey.
Yes, quite early. She promised, I said. Aren't you glad, Tom?
Yes, said Tom, but I'm sleepy.
I began to be afraid that he was not quite well. Perhaps it was with
being so frightened and crying so the night before. I made Racey be
quite still, and I didn't speak any more, and in a little I heard by
Tom's breathing that he had gone to sleep again. He was still asleep
when Sarah came up-stairs to dress us, and I was rather glad, for there
were several things I wanted to ask her. Mrs. Partridge had come back,
she told me, but much later than she had expected, for she had missed
her train and got her best bonnet spoilt walking to the station, and
she was very cross.
But she doesn't know anything about us being out last night? I
said to Sarah.
Of course not, Miss Audrey. It isn't likely as I'd tell her.
But I can't think why you didn't ask me to post your letter instead of
thinking of going off like that yourselves. I'll never forget to the
last day of my life how frightened I was when I couldn't find you.
I didn't want to ask you to post it, because I thought perhaps Mrs.
Partridge would find out, and then she'd scold you, I said.
Sarah looked mollified.
Scoldings don't do much good to anybody, it seems to me, she
remarked. I hope your uncle won't scold you, she added. He was a
good while at that lady's last night, but I shouldn't think she's one
to make mischief.
Did he go last night? I asked, rather anxiously.
Yes, Miss Audrey. I gave him the card, and he went off at once.
Benjaminthat was Uncle Geoff's footmanBenjamin says she's a young
lady whose mother died not long ago. He knows where she lives and all,
but I didn't remember hernot opening the door often you see. She's a
very nice young lady, but counted rather odd-like in her ways. For all
she's so rich she's as plain as plain in her dress, and for ever
working away among poor children, and that sort of way. But to be sure
she's alone in the world, and when people are that, and so rich too,
it's well when they give a thought to others.
Here a little shrill voice came from the corner of the room, where
Racey was still in his cot.
What's 'alone in the world'? he inquired.
Sarah gave a little start.
Bless me, she said, I thought he was still asleep. Never mind,
Master Racey, she said, turning to him, you couldn't understand.
Racey muttered to himself at this. He hated being told he couldn't
understand. But just then Tom woke. He said his headache was better,
but still I didn't think he looked quite well.
Is the new nurse coming to-day? he inquired of Sarah. Sarah shook
I've heard nothing about her, she said. I don't think Mrs.
Partridge can have settled anything, and perhaps that's why she came
home so cross.
I don't care if her comes or if her doesn't, said Racey, who had
grown very brave. I'm going to Miss Goldy-hair's.
Sarah wasn't in the room just then, and I was rather glad of it.
Somehow I wouldn't have liked her to hear our name for the young lady,
and I told him he wasn't to say it to anybody but Tom and meperhaps
the young lady wouldn't like it.
Racey said nothing, but I noticed he didn't say it again before
Sarah. He was a queer little boy in some ways. When you thought he
wasn't noticing a thing he'd know it quite well, and then he'd say it
out again some time when you didn't want him to, very likely.
All breakfast time I kept wondering what was going to happen. Would
the young lady come for us herself? Would she send to ask Uncle Geoff
to let us go, or had she asked him already? Tom was very quiethe
didn't seem very hungry, though he said his headache was better, but
his eyes looked heavy.
I wish she'd come, he said two or three times. I'd like to sit on
her knee and for her to tell us stories. I'd like to sit on somebody's
knee. You're not big enough, are you, Audrey?
I was afraid not, but I did my best. I sat down on a buffet leaning
against a chair, and made the best place I could for Tom.
Is your head bad again, Tom? I asked.
No, only I like sitting this wayquite still, he replied.
I couldn't help being afraid that he was ill. The thought made me
very unhappy, for it was my fault that he had gone out in the wet and
the cold the night before, and I began to see that I had not been
taking care of my little brothers in the right way, and that mother
would be very sorry if she knew all about it. It made me feel gentler
and different somehow, and I thought to myself that I would ask Miss
Goldy-hair to tell me how I could know better what was the right way. I
was just thinking that, and I think one or two tears had dropped on
Tom's dark hair, when the door opened and Uncle Geoff came in.
At first I couldn't help being frightened. Miss Goldy-hair was sure
to have told him, and however nicely she had told him I didn't see how
it was possible he shouldn't be angry. I looked up at him, and
the tears began to come quicker, and I had to hold my breath to keep
myself from bursting out into regular crying. To my surprise Uncle
Geoff knelt down on the floor beside me and stroked my head very
My poor little Audrey, he said, and you have been unhappy since
you came here? I am so sorry that I have not been able to make you
happy, but it isn't too late yet to try again, is it?
I was so surprised that I couldn't speak. I just sat still, holding
Tom close in my arms, and the tears dropping faster and faster.
I thought you thought I was so naughty, Uncle Geoff, I said at
last. Mrs. Partridge said so, and she said we were such a trouble to
you. I thought you'd be glad if we went away; and I thought we were
getting naughty. We never quarrelled hardly at home.
But at home you had your mother and your father, who understood how
to keep you happy, so that you weren't tempted to quarrel, said Uncle
Geoff. And I'm only a stupid old uncle, who needs teaching himself,
you see. Let's make a compact, Audrey. If you are unhappy, come and
tell me yourself, and we'll see if we can't put it right. Never mind
what Mrs. Partridge says. She means to be kind, but she's old, and it's
a very long time since she had to do with children. Now will you
promise me this, Audrey?
Yes, Uncle Geoff, I said, in a very low voice.
And you will never think of running away from your cross old uncle
again, will you? he said.
No, Uncle Geoff, I replied. I didn't mean to be naughty. I
really didn't. But we did think nobody cared for us here, and
mother told me to make the boys happy.
And we will make them happy. We'll begin to-day and see if we can't
manage to understand each other better, said Uncle Geoff, cheerfully.
To-day you will be happy any way, I think, for I have got an
invitation for you. You know whom it's from?
Yes, said Tom and I together. Tom, who had been lying quite still
in my arms all this time listening half sleepily, started up in
excitement. Yes, we said, it's from Miss Goldy-hair.
Misshow much? said Uncle Geoff.
We couldn't help laughing.
We called her that because we didn't know her name, and her hair
was so pretty, we said.
Uncle Geoff laughed too.
It's rather a nice name, I think, he said. What funny creatures
children are! I must set to work to understand them better. Well, yes,
you're quite right. Miss Goldy-hair wants you all three to go and spend
all the day with her. But what's the matter with Tom? he went on.
Have you a headache, my boy? for Tom had let his head drop down again
on my shoulder.
Yes, said Tom, and a sore t'roat, Uncle Geoff. Uncle Geoff
looked rather grave at this.
Let's have a look at you, my boy, he said.
He lifted Tom up in his arms and carried him to the window and
examined his throat.
He must have caught cold, he said. It isn't very bad so far, but
I'm afraidI'm very much afraid he mustn't go out to-day.
HeUncle Geofflooked at me as if he were wondering how I would
Oh, poor Tom! I cried. Oh, Uncle Geoff, it was all my fault for
letting him go out last night. Oh, Uncle Geoff, do forgive me. I'll be
so good, and I'll try to amuse poor Tom and make him happy all day.
Then you don't want to go without him? said Uncle Geoff.
Oh, of course not, I replied. Of course I'd not leave Tom
when he's ill, and when it was my fault too. Oh, Uncle Geoff, you don't
think he's going to be very ill, do you?
Tom looked up very pathetically.
Don't cry, poor Audrey, he said. My t'roat isn't so vrezy bad.
Uncle Geoff was very kind.
No, he said. I don't think it'll be very bad. But you must take
great care of him, Audrey. And I don't know how to do. I don't like
your being left so much alone, and yet there's no one in the house fit
to take care of you.
Hasn't Mrs. Partridge got a new nurse for us? I asked.
No, said Uncle Geoff, smiling a little. She hasn't found one
There came a sort of squeal from the corner of the room. We all
started. It was Racey. He was playing as usual with his beloved horses,
not seeming to pay any attention to what we were saying. But he was
attending all the time, and the squeal was a squeal of delight at
hearing that the new nurse was not coming.
What is the matter, Racey? I said.
Her's not tumming, he shouted. Her won't whip us.
Who said anything about being whipped? said Uncle Geoff.
I don't quite know, I said. Mrs. Partridge said we should have a
very strict nurse, and I don't know how it was the boys thought she'd
Uncle Geoff looked rather grave again.
I must go, he said. I will let Miss Goldy-hair,he smiled again
when he said itI will let her know that I can't let Tom out to-day
and that his good little sister won't leave him;how kind I thought
it of Uncle Geoff to say that!and I must do the best I can to find a
nice nurse for youone that won't whip you, Racey.
Must Tom go to bed? I asked.
No, said Uncle Geoff, if he keeps warm and out of the draughts.
Mrs. Partridge will come up to see him; but you needn't be afraid,
Audrey, I'm not going to say anything about last night to her. You and
I have made an agreement, you know.
Mrs. Partridge did come up, and she was really very kindmuch
kinder than she had been before. She was one of those people that get
nicer when you're ill; and besides, Uncle Geoff had said something to
her, I'm sure, though I never knew exactly what. Any way she left off
calling us naughty and telling us what a trouble we were. But it was
all thanks to Miss Goldy-hair, Tom and I said so to each other over and
over again. No one else could have put things right the way she had
Tom was very good and patient, though his throat was really pretty
bad and his head ached. Mrs. Partridge sent him some black currant tea
to drink a little of every now and then, and Uncle Geoff sent Benjamin
to the chemist's with some doctor's writing on a paper and he brought
back some rather nasty medicine which poor Tom had to take every two
hours. But though I did my very best to amuse him, and read him over
and over again all the stories I could find, it seemed a very long,
cold, dull morning, and we couldn't help thinking how different it was
from what we had hoped forspending the day with Miss Goldy-hair, I
If only we hadn't gone out in the cold last night you'd have been
quite well to-day, Tom, I said sadly.
Yes, but then we wouldn't have found Miss Goldy-hair, said Tom.
I don't see that it's much good to have found her, said I. I was
rather dull and sorry about Tom, and I didn't know what more to do to
amuse him. I don't believe we'll see her for ever so long, and perhaps
she'll forget about us as she has such a lot of children she cares
But they're poor children, said Tom, she can't like them
as much as us. She said so.
She didn't mean it that way, I said. She'd be very angry if she'd
heard you say that, as if poor children weren't as good as rich ones.
But she did say so, persisted Tom. When I asked her if
going to see the poor children was as nice as if she had us always, she
Well, she meant it wasn't as nice as if she was mother and had her
own children always. She didn't mean anything about because they were
poor. I believe she likes poor children best. Lots of people do,
and I'm sure we've lots of trouble too, though we're not poor. If we'd
been poor like the ones in Little Meg's Children, or Froggy's
Brother Ben, Miss Goldy-hair would have been here ever so
early this morning, with blankets and coals, and milk, and bread and
And 'tawberry dam and delly and 'ponge cakes and olanges and
eberysing, interrupted Racey, coming forward from his corner.
[Illustration: In walked Miss Goldy-hair herself!]
I had been working myself up, as Pierson used to call it, and I
was fast persuading myself that Miss Goldy-hair was very unkind, and
that after all we were poor deserted little creatures, but for all that
I couldn't help laughing at Racey breaking in with his list of what he
thought the greatest delicacies. Tom laughed tooI must say in some
ways Tom was a very good little boy in spite of his sore throat, and
Racey was standing with his head on one side considering what more he
would wish for in Miss Goldy-hair's basket, whenwasn't it
funny?there came a little tap at the door, and almost before we could
say come in, it opened, andoh, how delighted we werein walked
Miss Goldy-hair herself!
She was smiling with pleasure at our surprise, and wonderful to say,
she was carrying a big, big basket, such a big basket that Tom, who had
very nice manners for a boy, jumped up at once to help her with it, and
in the nice way she had she let him think he was helping her a great
deal, though really she kept all the weight of it herself, till between
them they got it landed safely on the table.
Racey danced forward in delight.
Audrey, Audrey, he cried, her has got a basket, and her
has come. Her said she would.
Miss Goldy-hair stooped down to kiss his eager little face. Then she
turned to me and kissed me too, but I felt as if I hardly deserved it.
Did you think I had forgotten you, Audrey? she said.
I felt my cheeks get very red, but I didn't speak.
Didn't you promise to trust me last night? she said again.
Yes, Miss Goldy-hair, but I didn't know that you'd come to see us
because Tom was ill. You said you'd come to fetch us to have dinner and
tea with you, but I didn't know you'd come when you heard Tom couldn't
Why, don't you need me all the more because you can't go out? she
said brightly. I'm going to stay a good while with you, and I have
brought some little things to please you.
She turned to the basket which Racey had never taken his eyes off.
We all stood round her, gazing eagerly. There were all sorts of things
to please usoranges, and a few grapes, and actually a little shape of
jelly and some awfully nice funny biscuits. Then there were a few
books, and two or three little dolls without any clothes on, and a
little packet of pieces of silk and nice stuffs to dress them with, and
a roll of beautiful coloured paper, and some canvas with patterns
marked on it, and bright-coloured wools.
I've brought you some things to amuse you, said Miss Goldy-hair,
for Tom can't go out, and it's a very cold, wet day, not fit for
Audrey or Racey to go out either. And as your tutor won't be coming as
Tom's ill, it would be a very long day for you all alone, wouldn't it?
Then she went on to explain to us what she meant us to do with the
things she had brought. Some of them were the same that the children
she had told us about had to amuse them when they were ill, and she let
Tom and Racey choose a canvas pattern each, and helped them to begin
working them with the pretty wools.
How nice it would be to make something pretty to send to your
mother for Christmas! Wouldn't she be surprised? she said; and Tom was
so pleased at the thought that he set to work very hard and tried so
much that he soon learnt to do cross-stitch quite well. Racey did a
little of his too, but after a while he got tired of it and went back
to his horses, and we heard him gee-up"-ing, and gee-woh"-ing, and
stand there, will you"-ing in his corner just as usual.
What a merry little fellow he is, said Miss Goldy-hair, how well
he amuses himself.
Yes, I said, he hasn't been near so dull as Tom and me. He was
only frightened for fear the new nurse should whip him. But Uncle Geoff
has promised she sha'n't, and so now Racey's quite happy and doesn't
mind anything. I don't think he minds about mother going away now.
He's such a little boy, said Miss Goldy-hair.
But I was a little mistaken about Racey. He thought of things more
than I knew.
Then Miss Goldy-hair helped me to begin dressing the little dolls.
They were for a little ill girl who couldn't dress them for herself, as
she had to lie flat down all day and could hardly move at all because
her back was weak somehow, but she was very fond of little dolls and
liked to have them put round her where she could see them. I had never
dressed such small ones before, and it was great fun, though rather
difficult. But after I had worked at them for a good while Miss
Goldy-hair told both Tom and me that we'd better leave off and go on
with our work in the afternoon.
It's never a good plan to work at anything till you get quite
tired, she said. It only makes you feel wearied and cross, and then
you never have the same pleasure in the work again. Besides, it must be
nearly your dinner-time, and I must be thinking of going home.
CHAPTER XI. OUR TEA-PARTY.
Please to draw your chair
The table's ready.
Going home! Oh! Miss Goldy-hair, we all called out, oh! we
thought you were going to stay with us all day.
Racey had come out of his corner and stood staring at Miss
Are you kite alone in the world? he said gravely, are you, Miss
Racey, I said, giving him a little shake, how can you be so
But Miss Goldy-hair didn't seem vexed, though her face got a little
Never mind, Audrey, she said. Some one must have said something
before him that he has remembered. But it doesn't matterthere's no
harm in any one saying it, because it's true, at least, true in a way.
What made you ask me that, Racey? she added, turning to him.
I was sinking, said Racey, not at all put about. I was just
sinking that if you are really kite alone you'd better come and live
with us. Or we'll go and live with youwhich would be best?
I think a little of both would be best, said Miss Goldy-hair.
To-day, as Tom isn't well, you see I've come to see you. But
afterwards, when he's all right again, you must all come to see
meoften, very often.
But that isn't living, that's just seeing us sometimes,
said Tom, who seemed to have taken up Racey's idea.
But you see, dear, people can't always do just as they would like,
said Miss Goldy-hair. Even if they love each other dearly they can't
always live together, or even see each other as often as they would
But you're alone in the world, repeated Racey.
Well, but I have my house to take care of, and to keep it all nice
for the friends who come to see me. And then I've my poor
children to go to see often, and letters to write about them sometimes.
I've plenty to do at home, said Miss Goldy-hair, shaking her head
gently at Racey.
You could do it all here, said Tom. I don't see the good of
people being as rich as richas rich as you are, Miss Goldy-hairif
they can't do what they like.
Miss Goldy-hairs face got a little red again, and she looked rather
Who said I was 'as rich as rich,' my boy? she said, putting her
arm round Tom, and looking into his honest eyes.
Sarah said so, answered Tom; but you mustn't be vexed with her,
Miss Goldy-hair, he went on eagerly. She didn't say it any not nice
way. She said it was a good thing when rich people thought about poor
ones, and that you were very good to poor people. You won't scold
Sarah, Miss Goldy-hair? Perhaps she didn't mean me to tell you. I'm so
puzzled about not telling things, 'cause at home it didn't matter, we
might tell everything.
He looked quite anxious and afraid, but Miss Goldy-hair soon made
him happy again.
No, of course I won't scold Sarah, she said. And I like you much
better to tell me anything like that, and then I can explain. I cannot
see that it is anything to praise rich people for, that they
should think of poor onesthe pleasure of thinking you have made
somebody else a little happier is so great that I think it is being
kind to oneself to be kind to others.
I'd like to be vrezy rich, said Tom, and then I'd be
awfully kind to everybody. I'd have nobody poor at all.
Nobody could be rich enough for that, I said.
And being rich isn't the only way to being kind, said Miss
Goldy-hair. Don't wait for that, Tom, to begin.
Of course not, I said. Miss Goldy-hair's being kind to us has
nothing to do with her being rich. You don't understand, Tom.
Tom never liked when I said he didn't understand, and now I see that
I must have had rather a provoking way of saying itlike as if I
wanted to put him down. I saw his face look vexed, and he answered
It has to do with it. Miss Goldy-hair couldn't have brought
us oranges, and jelly and things, if she hadn't been rich.
And bikstwiks, added Racey.
But you like me a little bit for myself, besides for the oranges
and biscuits, don't you, Racey?just a very little bit?said Miss
Racey, by way of answer, climbed up on her knee, and began hugging
her. Miss Goldy-hair drew Tom to her and kissed him too, and then he
looked quite happy.
But I must go now, she said.
And won't you come back again? we asked.
Miss Goldy-hair stopped to consider a little.
Let me see, she said. Yes, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll come
and have tea with you if you'll invite me.
We all clapped our hands at this.
And after tea, said Tom, will you tell us a story? I am sure you
must know stories, Miss Goldy-hair, for all your poor little children.
Don't you tell them stories?
There are so many of them, she said. I generally read
stories to them. And most likely you already know most of those I read.
But sometimes I tell stories to any of them who happen to be ill and
stay in bed. I'll see if I can remember one.
About fairies, please, we all called out.
I'll do my best, said Miss Goldy-hair, who by this time was
opening the door to go away. She turned round and nodded to us as she
said it, and then she shut the door and we three were alone again.
But it didn't seem as if we were aloneit didn't seem the same dull
nursery with nothing to amuse us or to look forward toit didn't seem
the same any way.
Tom, I said, doesn't everything seem different?
Tom was sitting on the rug close to the firehis cold made him feel
shiveryhe was staring in at the red-hot coals. Doesn't everything
seem different, Tom? I repeated.
Yes, said Tom, but, Audrey, I'm wondering what we can get nice
My face fellI had not thought of that.
I have some money, I said, I have three shillings, and two
sixpences, and seven pennies, besides my gold pound.
And I have some too, and so has Racey, said Tom.
Yes, I have a s'illing, and a dear little fourpenny, and three
halfpennies, said Racey, running to fetch his purse.
I've more than that, said Tom in a melancholy tone of voice, but
it's no good. How can we buy anything? It's like being in a ship,
starving, with lots of money and no shops to buy at.
We all looked at each other with great concern. It quite went
against all our notions of hospitality to have any one, more especially
Miss Goldy-hair, at tea without anything nice to offer her. And we all
felt too, that it would be almost worse to make use of any of the
things she had brought us, for such an occasion. Children
have their own notions on these subjects, I can assure you.
Just then we heard distant sounds of Sarah's approach with the
dinner-tray. The jelly and oranges were still standing on the table.
Tom had eaten one orange and we had all three had some biscuits, so any
way there wouldn't have been enough to make a nice tea with.
Suppose we ask Sarah to buy us something? said Tom eagerly. But I
shook my head.
I don't want to do anything like that, I said. I had somehow a
feeling that it would hardly have been keeping my promise to Uncle
Geoff. Sarah might get scolded for it, I said, and Tom seemed to
We ate our dinner very quietly. Miss Goldy-hair's jelly was
certainly very nice, and poor Tom, who didn't feel much inclined for
meat and potatoes, and regular pudding, enjoyed it very much. And after
dinner we each had an orangewe sat round the fire peeling them, and
thinking what to do about tea.
We haven't even any flowers, I said. We can't even dress up the
table and make it look pretty the way we used to on days mother came to
have tea with us.
We couldn't make bread and butter look pretty, said Tom, rather
I was sorry to see him so disappointed, just when I thought that our
having found Miss Goldy-hair was going to make everything nice.
I'd run out myself to buy things if I didn't know it would vex
Uncle Geoff, I said. And then suddenly an idea came into my head. The
saying Uncle Geoff's name seemed to have brought it.
I'll tell you what I'll do, I said, I'll ask Uncle Geoff
Tom looked amazed at my boldness.
Won't he be vexed? he said.
No, I don't think he will. Any way I'll ask him. I dare say he's
in, for he said something about seeing how your cold was at
dinner-time. But I won't wait till he comes up. I'll go straight down
and ask him.
Tom and Racey looked at me with increased respect. I just waited to
wash my hands and smooth my hair, and down I ran. I met nobody on the
way, though when I got to the foot of the stair I heard Sarah and
Benjamin talking in the pantry. But I did not feel inclined to ask them
if Uncle Geoff was inI liked better to go straight to his study
myself. So I tapped at the door, not very loud, but distinctly. In
spite of my boldness my heart was beating a little faster than usual,
but instead of that making me tap faintly, it made me wish the more to
know at once if Uncle Geoff was in, so that I shouldn't stand
there waiting for nothing. Almost at once came the answer Come in.
Uncle Geoff had very quick ears.
I went in. He was sitting writing rather hurriedly it seemed, at his
table, but he could not have been in long, for his hat and great coat
were flung down carelessly, and unless he is in a great hurry, Uncle
Geoff always hangs them up carefully in the hall. He looked up however.
Well, Audrey, he said, is that you? Wait a minute and then I'll
speak to you.
I didn't mind waiting, and this time of myself I went near the fire.
I was counting over our money in my mind, and wondering how much of it
it would be right to spend on what we called our tea-party. And in a
minute or two Uncle Geoff left off writing, folded up his letter and
addressed the envelope and rang for Benjamin.
Take this at once, he said; and I couldn't help wondering a little
that Benjamin didn't feel frightened when Uncle Geoff spoke so shortly
and sharply. But Benjamin didn't seem to mind a bit. Yes, sir, he
said quite cheerfully, and somehow it made me think that after all
Uncle Geoff couldn't be really sharp or stern, for Benjamin must know
him very well, and when Benjamin had gone out of the room and Uncle
Geoff turned to me I didn't feel as if I minded speaking to him the
So, Audrey, he said, you haven't forgotten our agreement, I see.
And what are you troubled about now, my little lady?Tom is no worse,
by the by? he added hastily.
Oh no, Uncle Geoff, I think he's rather better. He didn't eat
much at dinner, but he liked Miss Goldy-hair's jelly very
Uncle Geoff smiled again at our funny name for the young lady, which
I had got so used to that I said it without thinking.
It was very kind of Missperhaps you don't want to know her by her
real name? he said smiling. It was very kind of her to bring Tom some
jelly. No doubt it tasted much better than if Partridge had made it.
Yes, I said, quite gravely. I think it did, and I thought it was
rather funny of Uncle Geoff to smile at me for saying that. But yet I
didn't mind. I didn't even mind when he called me my little lady. I
was beginning to think he was really rather nice.
And what is the trouble then, Audrey? said Uncle Geoff.
It isn't exactly a trouble, I said. It's only that we haven't
anything nice for tea. We've plenty of moneyit isn't that, but
we don't know how to buy anything, for of course we can't go out,I
felt myself get a little red when I said that,and we didn't like to
ask Sarah without telling you.
Quite right, said Uncle Geoff, patting my head. But what sort of
things do you want? Is it to tempt Tom to eat, or what has put it into
your heads to want something particularly nice to-day?
Oh becausewhy I thought I had told you at the beginning, I said,
how stupid of me! Why it's because Miss Goldy-hair's coming to have
tea with us, to make up for us not going to her, you know.
Uncle Geoff raised his eyebrows.
Oh ho, he said, I see! And what is it you want then?
[Illustration: Two muffins would be exquisite.]
We were thinking, I said gravely, that six sponge cakes, and six
bath-buns, and some of those nice crispy biscuits mother used to
haveI think they're German biscuits, they're awfully nice, with a
chocolatey taste, mother always sent to London for themwe were
thinking that would make a lovely tea. And we've quite enough to pay
for that. And oh, Uncle Geoff, if you would tell Mrs. Partridge
to toast and butter them, two muffins would be exquisite.
I clasped my hands in entreaty, and Uncle Geoff had such a funny
look in his eyes that I quite stared at him.
You're not vexed? I said. I'd promise only to let Tom and Racey
eat two bits each, for I know muffins are rather 'digestible.
At this Uncle Geoff really burst out laughinghe quite roared.
Audrey, you'll kill me, he said, and I began to be a little
offended. Don't you be vexed, he said, as soon as he could
speak. I really beg your pardon, and I promise you to tell Mrs.
Partridge myself. Yes, you shall have the muffins. But how are all
these delicacies to be procured? Will you come out with me nowmy
brougham will be at the door directlyand I'll take you to a
confectioner and let you choose for yourself?
Oh yes, I said eagerly, that would be nice but suddenly
I stopped. No, I said, I don't think it would be very kind to the
boys to go without them. For it's their money you know, Uncle Geoff, as
well as mine.
All right, said Uncle Geoff, and I could see he was pleased with
me; all right. You shall have all you want in half an hour at latest,
and he was turning to go, for while we were talking he had been putting
on his great coat, when I stopped him.
The money, Uncle Geoff, I cried, you are forgetting the money.
It's all readyseethis is one of my shillings, and a sixpence and
three pennies of Tom's, and Racey's fourpenny and two of his
halfpennies. The way we planned it was a shilling for the sponge cakes
and buns, and a shilling for biscuits, and two pennies for two muffins.
It makes two shillings and two pennies justdoesn't it? I know mother
used to say the chocolatey biscuits were dear, but I should think a
shilling would get enougha shilling's a good deal.
Yes, it's twelve whole pence, said Uncle Geoff very seriously, as
he took the money.
But if the biscuits cost more, you'll tell me, won't you, Uncle
Geoff? I said, and he nodded yes back to me as he went out, and I
ran up-stairs to the nursery as happy as I could be.
The boys were delighted with my newsTom, who I must say had from
the beginning been inclined to like Uncle Geoff, was quite glad to find
I too was beginning to think him nice, for Tom wouldn't have thought it
quite fair to me to like him if I didn't. We got out some of the
prettiest of my doll's dinner-service plates, for we thought it might
look nice to put a few of them up and down the table with just two or
three biscuits on each; and we were very busy and happy, and it didn't
seem nearly half an hour when we heard some one coming up-stairs, and
in another moment Uncle Geoff called to us to open the door, as his
hands were so full he couldn't.
He came in with several tempting-looking parcels in his arms, and
oh, best of all, the dearest and prettiest little flowery plant growing
in a pot! It was a heathlike some we had in the hothouse at homeand
it was so pretty. I nearly jumped for joy.
See here, Audrey, he said, see what I have brought you for the
centre of your table. You are very fond of flowers, I know.
Oh, Uncle Geoff! I said. Oh, I am so pleased. We were so wishing
for some flowers to make the table look pretty.
Uncle Geoff looked as pleased as we did.
Now here are your commissions, he went on. You'll like to unpack
them yourselves I dare say. And I must be off.
And the money, I asked. Was there enough?
Uncle Geoff put on a very counting face. Let me see, he said; you
gave me in all two shillings and twopence. Well what did it all come
tosponge-cakes so much, buns so much, biscuits, he went on murmuring
to himself and touching his fingers to remind himyes, it is very
curious, he said, it comes to just two shillings and three
half-pence. I have one halfpenny change to give you, Audrey, and I hope
you think I have done your marketing well.
Oh, Uncle Geoff, we said, it's lovely. And, I added, about the
muffins. Did you tell Mrs. Partridge?
Poor Mrs. Partridge is ill to-day, said Uncle Geoff. But you
shall have your muffins. Now good-bye, and he went away.
We opened the parcels with the greatest interest. They were just
what we had asked forsix sponge-cakes, beautifully fresh and
fluffy-looking; six bath-buns also fresh and crisp, and sugary at the
top; and biscuits more charming than we had ever seenwhite and pink
and every shade of tempting brown.
They are German biscuits, I am sure, I said. Mother has often
told me what nice kinds there are in Germany; and we set to work to
arrange them on the plates which I ran down to ask Sarah for, with the
greatest pleasure. We were so happy that we felt able to be a little
sorry for Mrs. Partridge.
I wonder if she's got a sore t'roat, said Tom.
P'raps she's doin' to die, suggested Racey. She's so vrezy hold.
H-old, said I. Racey, how dreadfully vulgar you are.
You're vrezy vulgar to be so c'oss, said Racey.
I don't believe you know what 'vulgar' means, I said.
No, said Racey, calmly, I doesn't, and in laughing at him I
forgot my c'ossness, though afterwards when I remembered it, I felt
really ashamed of having been so sharp upon poor Racey just when we had
so many things to be happy about.
Almost immediately after we had got the table really arranged for
the last timewe had done it and undone it so often that it was nearly
four o'clock before it was quite readywe heard a carriage stop at the
door and then the bell rang, and peeping over the bannisters we heard
Benjamin open the front door. Then came a soft rustle of some one
It's her, I cried, rushing back into the nursery. And then
we all flew out to the top of the staircase to welcome her. I should
have liked to run down to the first landing but I daren't, for as sure
as anything Tom and Racey would have been after me, and I was
frightened as it was of Tom's catching cold by even coming to the
But she saw our eager faces between the rails before she was half
way up. Have you been waiting long for me, dears? she said. I came
as quickly as I could.
Oh! no, Miss Goldy-hair, we cried, we have been so happy.
Then we led her triumphantly into the nursery.
Look, said the little boys, did you ever see such a lovely
Muffins is coming, said Tom.
I gave my fourpenny-bit and two halfpennies, but Audrey gived me
one halfpenny back. Uncle Geoff buyed the things, but Audrey and Tom
gaved him lotses of money, said Racey.
Hush, Racey, it's very rude to tell people what things cost
like that, I said reprovingly. But Miss Goldy-hair didn't seem to
mind; she looked as pleased as she possibly could; we felt quite sure
that she meant what she said when she kissed us her nice waynot a
silly way as if we were just babies, you knowand thanked us for
taking so much trouble to please her.
What a happy tea we had! Tom's sore throat seemed to be getting much
better, for Miss Goldy-hair and I had really to stop his eating as much
as he wanted. We wouldn't have minded if he had been quite well, for he
wasn't a greedy boy, but when people are even a little ill it's better
for them not to eat much, though I must confess the muffins and the
chocolatey biscuits were dreadfully tempting. And after tea, before
beginning to tell us the story, Miss Goldy-hair and I had a nice little
talk. She had such a nice way of talkingshe made you sorry without
making you feel cross, if you know how I mean. She made me quite
see how wrong it would have been of me to try to run away to Pierson
with the boys; that it would really have been disobeying papa and
mother, and that happiness never comes to people who go out of the
right path to look for it in.
But it does sometimes, Miss Goldy-hair, I said. We found
you out of the right path, because it was naughty to have gone out
to post the letter without any one knowing.
And Miss Goldy-hair smiled at that, and said no, when we found her
we were on the right path of trying to run home again as fast as we
could. And then she read to me a little letter she had written to
Pierson, telling her all about us, and that Uncle Geoff was getting us
a very nice kind nurse and that we were going to be quite happy, and
Pierson must not be anxious about us, and that some day perhaps in the
summer we should go to see her in her pretty cottage. And at the end of
the letter I wrote down that I sent my love, so that Pierson would see
the letter was like from me. Miss Goldy-hair asked very kindly for
Pierson's poor mother in the letter. It was really a very nice one. She
had written it for fear Pierson should be thinking we would really be
coming to her; but, after all for that it needn't have been
written, aswasn't it queer?we found out afterwards that Pierson
never got the letter that had cost us such trouble! It couldn't have
been plainly directed I suppose; and just fancy if I had run
away with the boys, we should have got to that Copple-something
station, perhaps late at night, five miles from Pierson's cottage, with
nobody to meet us!even supposing we had got the right trains and all
in London, and not had any accidents, all of which, as Miss Goldy-hair
explained, was very doubtful. Oh dear! it makes me shiver even now to
think of what troubles we might have got into, and Tom with a sore
throat too! Miss Goldy-hair's letter was of course all nicely
addressedand Pierson got it quite rightly, for in a few days we got a
nice one from her, saying she was so glad of good news of us and so
glad we had found a kind friend, for though her poor mother was dead
she couldn't very well have come back to us, as Harding was most
anxious to get married and settled at once.
Now I will get back to the afternoon that Miss Goldy-hair came to
have tea with us.
When Sarah had taken away the tea-things and made the room look
quite neat, the boys began to think it was time that they got a little
of Miss Goldy-hair's attention.
Miss 'Doldy-hair, said Racey, clambering up on her knee, zou
promised us a story.
Yes, please, said Tom, and let me sit on a buffet and put my head
against your knee. It makes my sore t'roat feel better.
What a little coaxer you are, Tom, said Miss Goldy-hair; but
though Tom peeped up for a moment to see if she was vexed, it was plain
she wasn't, for she made a nice place for his little round head on her
knee, managing somehow to find room for Racey too, and not forgetting
either to draw close to her a chair for me.
Now, she said, we're very comfortable. Shall I tell you my little
story? It's not a long one, and I'm afraid it's not very interesting,
but it's the only one I could think of to-day.
Oh! do tell it, we said, do, do, dear Miss Goldy-hair.
And so she began.
CHAPTER XII. THE WHITE DOVE.
Oh! good is the sunlight that glances,
And good are the buds and the birds;
And so all the innocent fancies
Our lips can express make good words.
There was once a little girl, said Miss Goldy-hair, whose
every-day life was rather dull and hard. In some ways I think it was
duller than the lives of quite poor children, and in some ways I am not
sure but that it was harder too. For though not really poorthat is to
say, they had enough to eat in a plain way and clothes to wear of a
plain kindstill her parents were what is called struggling people.
And they had a great many children, little and big, of whom my little
girlLetty was her namewas one of the middle ones. No, I should
hardly say one of the middle ones, for there were two older and five
younger, so she was more like a big one. But she was small and delicate
and seemed younger than she really was. They lived in a townin the
very middle of it; they had to do so on account of the father's
workand it was one of the ugliest towns you could imagine. Yet
strange to say, the country round about this town was verywhat people
call picturesque, if you know what that means? There were hills, and
valleys, and nice woods, and chattering streams at but a very few
hours' journey off. But many of the people of the town hardly knew it;
they were so hard-worked and so busy about just gaining their daily
bread, that they had no time for anything else. And of all the
hard-worked people, I do not know that any were more so than Letty's
parents. If they had been much poorer than they were, and living quite
in the country, I do not think Letty would have been so much to be
pitiednot in the summer time any way, for then there are so very many
pleasures that even the poorest cannot be deprived of. As it was she
had almost no pleasures; her mother was kind, but always busy,
and, as is often the case, so much taken up with her very little
children that she could not think so very much about Letty. The
big brother of fourteen was already at work, and the sister of thirteen
was strong and tall, and able to find pleasure in things that were no
pleasure to Letty. She, the big sister I mean, was still at school, and
clever at her lessons, so she got a good deal of praise; and she had
already begun to learn dressmaking, and was what people called 'handy
with her needle,' so she was thought a great deal of at home and was
neither timid nor shy. Letty was not clever in any way, and very
timidher pleasures were of a kind that her life made impossible for
her. She liked beautiful things, she liked soft lovely colours, and
gentle voices and tender music. Rough tones really hurt her, and ugly
things caused her actual pain. Sometimes when her mother told her to go
out and walk with the others, she just begged to stay at home, without
being able to say why, for she could not have explained how the sight
of the dark, grey streets of houses dulled her, how the smoke-dried
grass that had never had a chance of being green in the fields a little
way out of the town, and the dreadful black-looking river that some
old, old men in the town still remembered a clear sparkling stream,
made her perfectly miserable. It was strange, for she had never known
anything elseshe had never seen the real countryall her life she
had lived, a poor stunted little plant, in the same dingy little house,
with the small rooms and steep, narrow staircase, and with a sort of
constant untidiness about it, in spite of her poor mother's care and
striving. But nobody thought much about poor Lettyshe was humble and
sweet-tempered and never put herself forward, and so it never entered
any one's head to wonder if she was happy or not.
One day her mother sent her a messageand as it was a message, of
course Letty never thought of saying she would rather not goto a
house further out of the town than Letty had ever been alone, and as it
was rather a fine day, that is to say, it was not raining, and up in
the sky about the place where the sun ought to be there was a faintly
bright look in the clouds, her mother told her if she liked she might
take a turn before coming home. But Letty did not care to stay outshe
left the message, and then turned to hurry home as fast as she could.
She was hastening along, when a faint sound caught her ears, and
looking round she saw lying on the ground a few steps from her a
beautiful white dove. It seemed in pain, for it tried to move, and
after fluttering a few steps fell down again, and Letty saw that one
wing was dragging in a way it shouldn't, and she thought to herself it
must be broken. Her kind heart was always quick to feel pity, and she
gently lifted the bird, and sitting down on the ground tried to find
out what was wrong. But she was half afraid to touch the wing for fear
of hurting the bird more, and was quite at a loss what to do, when
suddenly a very soft cooing voice reached her ears. It was so soft that
it didn't startle her, still she felt, as you can fancy, very
much surprised to hear a little dove talking.
'Don't be afraid, Letty,' it said. 'Put your hand in your pocket
and you will find a white ribbon. With that you must bind up my wing.'
Letty put her hand in her pocket as if she couldn't help doing so,
though she felt sure there was no ribbon in it. To her surprise she
drew out a piece of the prettiest, softest ribbon she had ever
seenpure white and satinysofter than satin even. And too surprised,
as it were, to speak, she carefully and tenderly bound it round the
dove's body in such a way as to support the wing. No sooner was it
firmly tied, than to her increased surprise, the dove raised itself,
gave a sort of flutter, and rose in the air. It hovered a few moments
over her head, and Letty held her breath, in fear that it was going to
fly away, when, as suddenly as it had left her, it fluttered back
again, and perching on her knees, looked at her with its soft plaintive
'What can I do for you, little girl?' it said, 'for you have cured
my wing,' and looking at it closely, Letty saw it was true. Both wings
were perfectly right, and the pretty white ribbon was now tied like a
necklace two or three times loosely round its neck. And at last Letty
found voice to reply
'Oh, white dove,' she said, 'you are a fairy. I see you are. Oh,
white dove, take me with you to Fairyland.'
'Alas!' said the dove, 'that I cannot do. But see here, little
girl,' and as he spoke he somehow managed to slip the ribbon off his
neck. 'I give you this. It will open the door if you are good and
gentle and do your work well.'
The ribbon fluttered to Letty's feet, for with his last words the
dove had again risen in the air. Letty eagerly seized it, for she saw
something was fastened to itto the ribbon I mean. Yesa little key
was hanging on ita tiny little silver key, and Letty would have
admired it greatly but for her anxiety to get some explanation from the
dove before it flew away.
'What door does it open?' she said. 'Oh, white dove, how
shall I know what to do with it?'
[Illustration: Wait for the first moonlight night and you will
see, said the dove, and then it flew off.]
'The door of the garden where I live. That is what it opens. Wait
for the first moonlight night and you will see,' said the dove, and
then it flew off, higher and higher up into the sky, already growing
dusk and gray, for the winter was not far off.
Letty looked again at her precious key. Then very carefully she
folded up the ribbon with the key in the centre of it and hid it in the
front of her dress, and feeling as if she were in a dream, she made her
For some days nothing more happened. But Letty waited patiently
till the time should come which the bird had spoken of. And the looking
forward to this made the days pass quickly and less dully, and often
and often she said over to herself, 'if you are good and gentle and do
your work well,' and never had she tried more to be good and helpful,
so that one day her mother said, 'Why, Letty dear, you're getting as
quick and clever as Hester.' Hester was the big sisterand Letty said
to herself that the dove had made her happier already, and that night
when she went to sleep she had a sort of bright feeling that she never
remembered to have had before.
'I think it must be going to be moonlight,' she thought to herself.
But when she looked out of the window the dull little street was all
wet, she could see the puddles glistening in the light of the lampsit
was raining hard.
Letty gave a little sigh and went to bed. She had a little bed to
herself, though there were two others in the room, for her elder sister
and two of the younger ones.
In the middle of the night Letty awokethe rain was over
evidently, for the room was filled with moonlight. Letty started up
eagerly, and the first thing that caught her sight was a door at the
foot of her bed, a common cupboard door, it seemed, with a keyhole in
it. It was the keyhole I think which first caught her attention, and
yet surely the door had always been there before?at leastat least
she thought it had. It was very queer that she could not quite
remember. But she jumped out of bedsoftly, not to wake her sisters,
and though half laughing at her own silliness in imagining her tiny
silver key could fit so large a lock, she yet could not help trying it.
She had the key and the ribbon always with her, carefully wrapped up,
and now she drew out the key and slipped it in, and, wonderful to tell,
it fitted as if made for the lock. Letty, holding her breath with
eagerness, turned it gentlythe door yielded, opening inwards, and
Letty, how, exactly, she never knew, found herself insidewhat, do
The cupboard of course, said Tom.
Were there olanges and bistwicks in there? said Racey.
Oh, Racey! I exclaimed. No, let me guess, Miss Goldy hair.
She found herself in the bird's garden.
Yes, said Miss Goldy-hair, she found herself standing in the
middle of a most lovely garden. Nothing that poor Letty had ever seen
in her life could have given her any ideanot the faintestof
anything so beautiful, though for you, children, who have lived in the
country and know what grass can be, and what trees, whose leaves
have never known smoke, can look like, it is not so impossible as it
would have been for her, to picture to yourselves this delicious
garden. There were flowers of every shape and hue; there were little
silvery brooks winding in and out, sometimes lost to view among the
trees, then suddenly dancing out again with a merry rush; there were
banks to run down and grottos to lose your way inthere was just
everything to make a garden delightful. And yet, after all, the word
'garden' scarcely describes itit was more like a home for honeysuckle
and eglantine than like what we generally call a garden, with
trimly-cut beds and parterres of brilliant roses. There was a beautiful
wildness about it and yet it was perfectly in orderthere was
no sign of withering or decay, no dead leaves lying about, no broken or
dried-up branches on the trees, though they were high and massive and
covered with foliageit was all fresh and blooming as if nothing
hurtful or troubling had ever entered it. The water of the streams was
pure and clear as crystal, the scent of the flowers was refreshing as
well as sweet.
Letty looked about her in a happiness too great for wordsthe
sight and feeling of this lovely garden were for the poor tired and
dulled little girl, ecstasy past telling. She did not care to go
running about to find where the streams came from or to pluck the
flowers, as some children would have done. She just sat down on the
delicious grass and rested her tired little head on a bank and felt
'Oh, thank you, white dove,' she said aloud, 'for bringing me here.
He said he could not take me to Fairyland,' she added to herself, 'but
no Fairyland could be more beautiful than this,' and she sat there with
the soft warm sunlight falling on hersuch sunlight as never in her
life she had seen beforethe brooks dancing along at her feet, the
gentle little breezes kissing her face, in, as I said, complete
content. Suddenly from the groves here and there about the garden,
there came the sound of warbling birds. There were many different
notes, even Letty could distinguish thatthere was the clear song of
the lark, the thrilling melody of the nightingaleeven, most welcome
of all to Letty, the soft coo of the dovethere were these and a
hundred othersbut all in perfect tune together. And as she listened,
the music seemed to come nearer and nearer, till looking up, Letty saw
the whole band of songsters approaching herhundreds and hundreds of
birds all slowly flying together till they lighted on a low-growing
band of trees not far from where she sat. And now Letty understood that
this beautiful garden was the home of the birds as the dove had said.
And when the concert was over she saw, to her delight, a single white
dove separate himself from the rest and fly to where she sat. She knew
him againshe felt sure it was her dove and no other.
'Are you pleased, little Letty?' he said, in his soft cooing voice.
'Oh! dear white dove, how can I thank you?' she answered.
'You need not thank me,' he said. 'I have done only what I was
meant to do. Now listen, Letty; the pleasures of this garden are
endless, never, if you lived to a thousand, could you see all its
beauties. And to those who have found the way here, it will never be
closed again but by their own fault. You may come here often for rest
and refreshmentin childhood and womanhood and even in quite old age,
and you will always be welcome. You may perhaps never see me again, but
that will not matter. I am only a messenger. Remember all I say, be
gentle and good and do your work well, and whenever the moonlight shows
you the door, you will find entrance here.'
He gently raised his wings and flew awayto join the other birds
who were already almost out of sight. And a pleasant sleepy feeling
came over Letty. She closed her eyes, and when she woke it was
morningshe was in her own little bed in the dull room she shared with
her sisters, and Hester was already up and dressed and calling to her
to make haste. But it was not a dream, for firmly clasped in her hand
was the silver key and the white ribbon.
'How did it get there?' said Letty to herself, for she could not
remember having taken it out of the lock. 'The white dove must have
brought it back to me,' she thought.
And was the cupboard door still in the wall? I asked eagerly.
Yes, said Miss Goldy-hair; and when Letty, still hardly awake,
said something to Hester about whether it had always been there, Hester
laughed at her and said, 'Yes, of course; had Letty never seen inside
it?it was where mother kept the best linen.' And so Letty said no
more about itshe knew she would only have been laughed at and perhaps
scolded, and yet she knew there was nothing wrong in her beautiful
secret, so she just kept it in her own little heart.
The days went on, and life seemed now quite a different thing to
Letty; through all the tiredness and dulness the thought of the fairy
garden which she was free to enter cheered and strengthened her. She
did not go very oftenit would not perhaps have been good for
her to go too constantlybut every moonlight night she was sure to
wake at the right moment, and if I had time I could tell you many
things of the new beauties she found at each visit. But there came a
timeit was miserable, cold, rainy winter weather, and the sky was so
covered with clouds that neither sunlight nor moonlight could get
throughwhen for several weeks Letty had no chance of getting to the
gardenthe moon never shone, and do what she would she never woke up.
She grew impatient and discontented; she did her work less willingly,
and answered crossly when her mother reproved her. And one night she
went to bed in a very bad humour, saying to herself the dove had
deceived her, or some nonsense like that. Two or three hours later she
woke suddenlyto her delight the moon was shining brightly. Up jumped
Letty and got her key ready. It slipped as usual into the lock, but,
alas! do what she would she could not turn it. She pulled and pushed,
she twisted about and tried to turn it by main force. Fortunately it
was a fairy key, otherwise it certainly would have been broken. And at
last in despair she sat down on the edge of her bed and cried. Suddenly
the words came into her mind'Be good and gentle and do your work
wellif the door is ever closed to you it will be by your own fault,'
and Letty's conscience whispered to her that it was by her own
Miss Goldy-hair paused a minute as if she wanted to hear what we had
And did she never get in again? said Tom. Oh, poor Letty!
Oh yes, said Miss Goldy-hair, she took her punishment well, and
though a good while passed before she had another chance of visiting
the garden, she was very patient and did her best. And when a moonlight
night did come again it was all rightthe key turned without the least
difficulty. And never had the garden seemed to her more beautiful than
this time, and never had Letty felt more cheered and refreshed by its
sweet air and sunshine and all its lovely sights and sounds. And now,
dears, I must leave off, for it is almost time for me to go home; and
indeed if I went on talking all night I could never tell you a half nor
a quarter of the pleasures of Letty's wonderful garden.
Miss Goldy-hair stopped.
Didn't her never have nussing to eat in that garden? said Racey.
Miss Goldy-hair smiled.
I dare say she did, she said. You may fancy she did. If you fancy
all the nicest and prettiest things you know, you will not be wrong.
Oh, said Tom, that's very nice. We can make plays to ourselves
about Letty's garden. Did she keep going till she was big? Did she
never lose the key?
Never, said Miss Goldy-hair. She never lost the key. And she went
not only when she was big, but when she was old, quite old. Indeed she
got fonder and fonder of it the longer she lived, and it helped her
through a hard and often suffering life. And I don't know but what in
quite old age her visits to the garden were the happiest of all.
Miss Goldy-hair, I said, isn't there something to find out like
in the story of Letty?
Miss Goldy-hair smiled.
Think about it, she said. I suspect you will be able to tell me
something if you do.
But the boys didn't care to find out anything else. They thought it
was great fun to play at Letty and the dove, and they pretended to get
into the garden through the door of the cupboard where our cloaks hung.
And the play lasted them for a good while without their getting tired
of it, and Miss Goldy-hair was quite pleased, and said that was one way
of turning the key in the lock, and not a bad way either for such
little boys. Her saying that puzzled me a little at first, but then it
came clearer to me that by the beautiful garden she meant all sweet and
pretty fancies and thoughts which help to brighten our lives, and that
these will come to children and big people too whose hearts and minds
are good and gentle and kind.
The next day Tom was better, and two or three days after that we
went at last to dinner and tea at Miss Goldy-hair's. If I were to tell
you all we did, and what pretty things she showed us, and how delighted
Racey was with the inside of her air-garden, it would take a
whole other book. For just fancy, we have counted over the lines and
the pages I have written, and there is actually enough to make a whole
little book, and just in case, you know, of its ever coming to
be printed, it's better for me to leave it the right size. And besides
that, I don't know that I have very much more to tell that would be
interesting, for the happy days that now began for us passed very much
like each other in many ways. Our new nurse came and she turned out
very kind, and I think she was more sensible than poor Pierson in some
ways, for she managed to get on better with Mrs. Partridge. But as for
poor Mrs. Partridge, she didn't trouble us much, for her rheumatism got
so very bad that all that winter she couldn't walk up-stairs though she
managed to fiddle about down-stairs in her own rooms and to keep on the
housekeeping. And this, by the by, brings me to the one big thing that
happened, which you will see all came from something that I told you
about almost at the beginning of this little story.
All through this winter, as you will have known without my telling
you, of course our happiness came mostly from Miss Goldy-hair. She
didn't often come to see us after Tom got better, but at least twice a
week we went to see her. And what happy days those were!
It was she that helped us with everythingshe held Racey's hand for
him to write a letter his own self, to mother; she showed me how to
make, oh! such a pretty handkerchief-case to send mother for her
birthday; and taught Tom how to plait a lovely little mat with
bright-coloured papers. She helped me with my music, which I found very
tiresome and difficult at first, and she was so dear and good to us
that when at last as we got to understand things better, it had to be
explained to us that not three months but three years must pass
before we could hope to see papa and mother again, it did not seem
nearly so terrible as it would have done but for having her. She put it
such a nice way.
You can learn so much in three years, she said. Think how much
you can do to please your mother in that time. And it made us feel a
new interest in our lessons and in everything we had to learn.
Well, one day in the spring Uncle Geoff told me that he had a plan
for us he wanted to consult me about. He smiled a little when he said
consult, but I had learned not to take offence at Uncle Geoff's
Poor old Partridge is going to leave us, Audrey, he said. She
feels she is no longer fit for the work, and indeed it would have been
better if she had said so before. I think her feeling it and not liking
to say so had to do with the troubles when you first came.
But she's never vexed with us now, I said eagerly. Nurse is very
nice to her, and then Miss Goldy-hair told us about Mrs. Partridge
being so old, and that we should be resrespecting and all that way to
'Respectful,' you mean, my dear, said Uncle Geoff smiling a
little, for I had stumbled over the word. Ah yesI think Miss
Goldy-hair has been a sort of good fairy to us all; and then he went
on to tell me his plan. He was going to make some changes in the house,
he said. Several of the rooms were to be painted and done up new, and
it would be better for us to be away for two or three weeks. So what do
you think he had thought ofwasn't it a good idea?he had written to
Pierson to ask if she could find rooms for us in her village, and she
had written back to say she had two very nice rooms in her own house
which she was meaning to let to visitors in the summer time, and oh!
she would be so pleased to have us! So it was settled, and in a week or
two we wentTom, Racey, and I, with our kind nurse. Uncle Geoff
himself took us to the station, and though we were in high spirits we
really felt sorry to leave him; and I felt quite pleased when he said,
It will be nice to have you back again, looking very strong and rosy.
We had said good-bye to Miss Goldy-hair the night before, and even
though it was only for a little while we really nearly cried.
You'll come to see us as soon as ever we come back, Miss
Goldy-hair, won't you? said Tom.
Yes, said Miss Goldy-hair, you may be sure of that.
The first evening, persisted Tom, the very first evening? and
rather to my surprisefor generally when the boys teased like that
about settling anything exactly, Miss Goldy-hair would reply, I
can't promise, or We'll see nearer the time she answered
again, Yes, Tom dear. I'll be here the very first evening.
[Illustration: Racey was really rather frightened of him, he looked
so black and queer.]
So we went, and we stayed a monthfour whole weeks. And we were
very happy, for the weather was fine and we were out nearly all day
gathering primroses and daffodils; and Pierson was very kind indeed,
and her husband was very polite, though the first time Racey saw him in
the smithy he was really rather frightened of him, he looked so black
and queer. And Cray was really a very pretty village, just as Pierson
had said, and we had no lessons and lots of fresh eggs and new milk. So
altogether it was very nice. But yet when the last evening came we
couldn't help saying to each otherthough of course we were sorry to
leave Piersonthat for always, you know, counting rainy days
and all, we'd rather be in London with Uncle Geoff, and with dear Miss
Goldy-hair coming to see us. And we thoughtTom and I at least
what a good thing it was we had lost our way that night and had
found Miss Goldy-hair, instead of running away to Pierson. And all the
way home in the train we kept thinking how nice it would be to see
herMiss Goldy-hairagain, and wondering if she'd be at the house
when we got out of the cab. Uncle Geoff we knew we'd see at the
station, for he had sent us a letter to Cray to say he'd be there, and
so he was.
He looked so merry and nice we somehow were surprised.
Uncle Geoff, I said to him, you must have enjoyed yourself very
much when you were away. You look so very merry.
Yes, he said smiling, I enjoyed my holiday very much.
We knew he had been away, for he had written to tell us.
Do you think Miss Goldy-hair will be at the house to see us when we
get there? I asked. Have you seen her while we were away?
Yes, said Uncle Geoff. I have, and I think she will be there.
The cab stopped. Out we all jumped. What a different coming from the
last time!for there in the hall, looking as if she would have liked
to run out into the street to see us, stood dear Miss Goldy-hair.
We all flew into her arms. Then we all looked at her. She seemed a
little different. She had a grey dressa very pretty oneinstead of
her black one. She had put it on, she told us afterwards, on purpose
for this evening, though she had still to wear black for a good while.
Miss Doldy-hair, said Racey, is you doin' to stay to tea? You has
no bonnet on.
By this time we were all in the dining-room, where the table was
spread out for a most beautiful tea.
Yes, Racey, if you'll have me, I'll stay to tea, she said. And
then she looked up at Uncle Geoff.
Children, he said, you'll have to find a new name for Miss
Goldy-hair, or rather I've found one for you. How would 'Auntie' do?
Tom and Racey stared, but I, being so much older, of course
understood. To Uncle Geoff's surprise I jumped up into his arms and
Oh, Uncle Geoff, I cried, oh, what a good plan! Is she
really our auntie now?
Really, said Uncle Geoff, that's to say, she's been your
stupid old uncle's wife for a fortnight.
Then the boys understood too. But Racey looked rather disconsolate.
I thought, he said, Miss Doldy-hair was doin' to mally me.
But in the end he too thought it a very good plan, when he found
that our new auntie was really going to live with us always. And I
think one of the things that helped to please him quite was the
discovery of a beautiful air-garden, which Uncle Geoff had had built
out of one of the drawing-room windows for Miss Goldy-hair's pet
* * * * *
Papa and mother have come home since then, for, as I told you, all
these things happened a very long time agofive whole years ago.
And we are, I think, the happiest children in the whole world, for
we have not only our own dear mother, but our own dear auntie toothe
auntie who was so good and kind to us when we were forlorn and
misunderstood, and might so easily have got into naughty ways; and who
taught us to beor at least to try to beall our dear mother hoped.
We live very near Uncle Geoff's, for papa got to be something more
clever still when he came back from China, and had to give up living in
the country. We were rather sorry for that, but still perhaps we enjoy
it all the more when we go there in the summer. And I have an
air-garden of my own, which would be very nice if the boys wouldn't try
experiments on the plants in the holidays.
And you have no idea how fond mother and auntie are of each
other, and how often we all talk over how the boys and I found our dear
Miss Goldy-hair that rainy evening when we lost our way in the London