Bosom Friends by Angela Brazil
CHAPTER II. MRS.
CHAPTER III. A
MEETING ON THE
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. A HOT
CHAPTER VI. ON
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER X. WILD
CHAPTER XI. THE
CHAPTER XII. A
CHAPTER XIV. A
CHAPTER XV. TEA
WITH MR. BINKS.
CHAPTER I. FELLOW-TRAVELLERS.
Say, is it fate that has flung us together,
We who from life's varied pathways thus meet?
It was a broiling day at the end of July, and the railway station at
Tiverton Junction was crowded with passengers. Porters wheeling great
truckfuls of luggage strove to force a way along the thronged platform,
anxious mothers held restless children firmly by the hand, harassed
fathers sought to pack their families into already overflowing
compartments, excited cyclists were endeavouring to disentangle their
machines from among the piles of boxes and portmanteaus, a circus and a
theatrical company were loud in their lamentations for certain reserved
corridor carriages which had not arrived, while a patient band of
Sunday-school teachers was struggling to keep together a large party of
slum children bound for a sea-side camp.
The noise was almost unbearable. The ceaseless whistling of the
engines, the shouts of the porters, the banging of carriage doors, the
eager inquiries of countless perplexed passengers, made a combination
calculated to give a headache to the owner of the stoutest nerves, and
to drive timid travellers to distraction. All the world seemed off for
its holiday, and the bustle and confusion of its departure was nearly
enough to make some sober-minded parents wish they had stayed at home.
Leaning up against the bookstall in a corner out of reach of the
stream of traffic, clutching a basket in one hand and a hold-all full
of wraps and umbrellas in the other, stood a small girl of about ten or
eleven years of age, her gaze fixed anxiously upon the great clock on
the platform opposite. She was a pretty child, with a sweet, thoughtful
little face, clear gray eyes, and straight fair hair, which fell over
her shoulders without the least attempt at wave or curl. She was very
simply and plainly dressedher sailor suit had been many times to the
laundry, the straw hat was decidedly sunburnt, and her boots had
evidently seen good service; but there was about her an indescribable
air of refinement and good breedingthat intangible something which
stamps those trained from their babyhood in gentle wayswhich set her
apart at once from the crowds of cheap trippers that thronged the
station. From the eager glances she cast up and down the platform she
appeared to be waiting for somebody, and she tried to beguile the time
by watching the surging mass of tourists who hurried past her in a
ceaseless stream. She had listened while the circus manager
button-holed the superintendent and excitedly proclaimed his woes; she
had held her breath with interest when the slum babies, with their buns
and brown-paper parcels, were successfully bundled into the
compartments reserved for them, and had craned her neck to catch a last
glimpse as they steamed slowly out of the station, their small faces
filling the windows like groups of cherubs, and their shrill little
voices over-topping all the other noise and din as they joined lustily
in the chorus of a hymn. She had witnessed the struggles of several
family parties to secure seats, the altercation between the young man
with the St. Bernard dog and the guard who refused to allow it in the
carriage, the wrath of the gentleman whose fishing-rod was broken, the
grief of the lady whose golf-clubs were missing, and the despair of the
young couple whose baby had gone on in the train; then, growing rather
weary of the ever-moving throng, she turned her eyes to the bookstall,
and tried to amuse herself with admiring the large coloured supplements
which adorned the back, or reading the names of the rows of attractive
books and periodicals which were spread forth in tempting array. She
was fumbling in her pocket, and wondering whether she would spend a
certain cherished penny on an illustrated paper, or keep it for a more
urgent occasion, when her attention was aroused by a pair of
fellow-travellers who strolled in a leisurely fashion up to the
bookstall, and, standing close beside her, began to turn over some of
the various magazines and journals.
They were a tall, fashionably-dressed lady, carrying a tiny white
lap-dog under her arm, and a little girl of about her own age, a child
who appeared so charmingly pretty to Isobel's eyes that she could not
help gazing at her in scarcely-concealed admiration. An older and more
practised observer would have noticed that the newcomer's face lacked
character, and that her claims to beauty lay mostly in her dainty
pink-and-white colouring and her curling flaxen hair, and would have
decided, moreover, that the elaborately-made white Japanese silk dress,
the pale-blue drawn chiffon hat with its garland of flowers, the tall
white French kid boots, the tiny gold bangles and the jewelled locket
seemed more suitable for a garden party or a walk on the promenade than
for the dust and dirt of a crowded railway journey. To Isobel, however,
she appeared like an enchanted princess in a fairy story, and she
looked on with thrilling interest while the attractive stranger made
her choice among the supply of literature provided for the wants of the
travelling public. She seemed somewhat difficult to satisfy, for she
threw down one magazine after another in a rather disdainful fashion,
declaring that none of them looked worth reading, and, calling to the
assistant, bade him show her some story-books. A goodly pile of these
was handed down for her inspection, and Isobel, who stood almost at her
elbow, could see over her shoulder as she turned the pages. So endless
was the variety of delightful tales and illustrations, from legends of
King Arthur or the Red Cross Knight to Middle Age mysteries or modern
adventures and school scrapes, that it should not have been hard to
find something to suit any taste, and the little girl in the sailor hat
looked on so fascinated with the snatches she was able to read that she
did not notice when a sweet-faced lady in black came hurrying up, until
the latter touched her on the arm.
Why, mother dearat last!
Did you think I was lost, darling? I had such terrible difficulty
to get a porter, and the brown box had been put in the wrong van, and
has gone on to Whitecastle. I was obliged to telegraph about it, but I
hope we may get it this evening. Come along! That's our train over
there. We've only just nice time, for it will start in a few minutes
now. Give me the wraps.
She took the hold-all from the child's hand, and the two hurried
across the bridge on to the opposite platform.
Here's our porter! cried Mrs. Stewart.Have you put all in the
van? Yes, these things in the carriage, please. Third class. It seems
almost impossible to find a seat. Is there room here? How
fortunate!Come, Isobel; get in quickly.
Plenty o' room here, marm, shouted a stout, gray-haired,
farmer-like old man, as he reached out a strong hand to help her into
the carriage, and found a place for her wraps upon the already crowded
The compartment was more than half full. A party of cheap trippers
with a wailing baby, and a pierrot with a banjo, which he occupied
himself with tuning incessantly, did not offer much prospect of a
peaceful journey; but Mrs. Stewart knew it was impossible to choose
one's company at a holiday season, and wisely made the best of things,
while travelling was still such a novelty to Isobel that she would have
enjoyed any experience.
It's no easy job catchin' trains to-day, marm, said the old
farmer, with the air of one who enjoys hearing himself talk. How them
porters gets all the folks sorted out fairly beats me. It's main hot,
too. I've come all the way fra' Birmingham. Bin travellin' since eight
o'clock this mornin', and I shall be reet glad to find myself back at
Silversands again. Little missy 'ud like to sit by the window here, I
take it? good-naturedly making room for her.Nay, no need o' thanks!
You're welcome, honey. I've a grandchild over at Skegness way as might
be your livin' image. Bless you! I've reared seven, and I know what
bairns like. Sit you here against me, and when the train gets out of
the station you'll see the sea and all the ships sailin' on it.
Isobel settled herself in the corner with much content. She had
never expected such luck as to secure a window-seat, and she surveyed
the ruddy cheeks and bushy eyebrows of her kindly fellow-traveller with
a broad smile of gratitude.
Goin' to Silversands, missy? he inquired. Ay, it's a grand place,
and I should ought to know, for I've lived there, man and boy, for a
matter of sixty year. Where might you be a-stayin', if I may make so
bold? Mrs. Jackson! Why, she's an old friend o' mine, and will make you
comfortable, if any one can. You ask her if she knows Mr. Binks of the
White Coppice. I reckon she won't deny the acquaintance.
Tickets ready! cried the inspector, breaking in upon the
conversation. Take your seats, please! All stations to Groby,
Heatherton, Silversands, and Ferndale.
There was a last stampede for places among excited passengers, a
last rush of porters with rugs and hat boxes; the guard had already
unfurled his green flag, and was in the act of putting the whistle to
his lips, when two late-comers appeared, racing in frantic haste down
O mother! cried Isobel, that lady and the little girl are going
to be left behind! It's the little girl in the blue hat, too! They were
buying papers at the bookstall. Just look how they're running! Oh, the
guard's stopping the train for them! I think they'll catch it, after
all. Why, they're coming in here!
Put us in anywhereanywhere! cried the lady in desperate tones,
as the inspector flung open the carriage door.
Here you are, m'm! cried the porter, seizing the little girl with
scant ceremony, and jumping her into the compartment.Luggage in the
front van, and the light hampers in No. 43. Thank you, m'm.Stand back
He pocketed his tip, banged the door violently, nearly catching
Isobel's fingers thereby, the whistle sounded, and the train started
off with a jerk that almost threw the newcomers on to the lap of old
Mr. Binks, who had watched their sudden arrival with open-mouthed
interest. The lady apologized prettily, and finding room between the
pierrot and a market-woman with several large baskets, she sank down on
the seat with a sigh of relief, and taking a smelling-bottle and a
large black fan from her dressing-bag, leaned back with an air of utter
Mother! mother! cried the little girl. Do you see they've put us
into a third-class carriage?
Never mind, dear, replied the lady. I was only too thankful to
catch the train at all. We can change at the next station if we wish,
but it seems scarcely worth while for so short a journey. The carriages
are so crowded that the firsts are as bad as the thirds.
That porter's dirty hands have made black marks on my dress, said
the little girl disconsolately. Why couldn't the train wait for us?
They needn't have been in such a hurry when they saw we were coming.
Trains don't wait for any one, dear. It was your own fault, for you
wouldn't come away from the bookstall. I told you to be quick about
I didn't see anything I wanted. Books are all just the same. I
don't think I shall like this one, now I have it. Give me Micky,
please, taking the pet dog on to her knee. Shall we have to stay very
long in this carriage? I'm so terribly hot.
Get the scent out of my bag, dearest, and the vinaigrette. You'll
soon feel better, now this nice breeze is coming in through the window.
If the train's fairly punctual, we shall be there in half an hour.
It's past three o'clock already! consulting a pretty enamelled
watch which was pinned on to her dress. Oh dear! I'm so tired! I hate
travelling. Why can't we have a carriage to ourselves? This basket's
knocking my hat off. Do let us change at the next station. How
the baby cries! It's making my head ache.
Young lady don't fancy her company, said the market-woman, moving
her basket as she spoke. I've paid for my ticket same as other folks
'as, and my money's as good as any one else's, so far as I can see.
Some people had better order a train to themselves if they're too
fine to travel with the likes of us, observed one of the trippers with
I'm sure I'm sorry as he cries so, apologized the weary mother of
the wailing baby. The heat's turned the milk sour, and I durstn't give
him his bottle. He won't go to sleep without it, neither, so I can't do
nothing with him. Husht! husht! lovey, wilt 'a?
Bairns will be bairns, remarked old Mr. Binks sententiously. I
ought to know, for I've reared seven. Live and let live's my motto, and
a good un to get along the world with. I'll wager as young missy there
meant no offence.
Indeed she did not wish to hurt anybody's feelings, said the lady
hastily, adding in a low tone to the little girl, Be quiet, dear. Take
off your hat, and perhaps you'll be cooler.
Wedged between fat old Mr. Binks and the window, Isobel had sat
watching the whole scene. She was terribly hot, but the crowded
carriage and its miscellaneous occupants only amused her, and she
divided her attention between the quickly passing landscape and her
various travelling companions, stealing frequent glances at the pretty
stranger opposite, who had closed her eyes in languid resignation,
having drawn her white silk skirts as far as possible away from the
market-woman, and placed her pale-blue hat in safety upon her mother's
knee. The baby was asleep at last, worn out with crying, and the
trippers were handing round refreshmentslarge wedges of pork pie,
sticky buns, and cold tea, which they drank in turns out of a bottle.
They pressed these dainties cordially upon everybody in the carriage,
but the only one who consented to share their hospitality was the
market-woman, who remarked audibly that she was not proud,
however much some folks might stick theirselves up. In return she
produced a couple of apples from her basket, which she presented to the
two little tripper boys, who promptly quarrelled which should have the
bigger, and kicked each other lustily on the shins, till their father
boxed their ears and threatened to send them home by the next returning
train. The pierrot created a diversion at this point by playing a few
selections upon the banjo and singing a comic song, handing round his
tall white hat afterwards for pennies, and informing the company that
they could have the pleasure of hearing him again any day upon the pier
at Ferndale at 11.30 and 3 o'clock prompt.
I'm glad we're not staying at Ferndale, thought Isobel, if all
these people are going there! I'm sure Silversands will be ever so much
nicer. And she turned with relief to look out through the open window.
After running for a long distance between high embankments, the
train had at last reached the coast, and Isobel watched with rapture
the sparkling blue sea, the long line of yellow heather-topped cliffs,
and the red sails of the fishing-boats which could be seen on the
distant horizon. On the shore she could catch glimpses of delightful
little pools among the rocks left by the retreating tide, and Mr.
Binks, who seemed to enjoy acting as guide, drew her notice continually
to rows of bathing-vans, children riding donkeys or digging
sand-castles on the beach, or fishwives gathering cockles at the
water's edge, pointing out the various objects of interest with a fat
brown finger. The few stations which they passed were crowded with
tourists, one or two of whom opened the door of the compartment in the
hope of finding room, but slammed it again quickly when they saw the
number of its occupants.
They did ought to put on more carriages, so nigh to August Bank
Holiday, said Mr. Binks. We're close on Silversands nowyou can see
it there, over at t'other side of the bayso you won't be long waitin'
of your tea. You'll be rare and glad to get some, I take it, if you
feel like me.
Isobel thought it was the longest and hottest journey she ever
remembered; but, like most things, it at length came to a close, and
after several halts and tiresome waitings on the line the heavy train
crawled into Silversands. It was a little wayside station, with a gay
garden running alongside the platform, and the name Silversands
elaborately done out in white stones upon a green bank. A group of
Scotch firs gave a pleasant shade and a suggestion of country woods;
the sea and the sands were just visible over a tall hedge of flowering
tamarisk, the meadows were full of buttercups, while cornfields,
beginning already to yellow with ripening crops, and gay with scarlet
poppies, made a refreshing sight to dusty travellers.
Here we are, mother! cried Isobel, with delight. This is really
Silversands at last! Oh, look at the poppies among the corn! Aren't
Ay, it's Silversands, sure enough, said Mr. Binks, opening the
carriage door and descending with the caution his bulk demanded. Main
glad I am to see it again, too. Take care, honey! Let me help you down,
and your ma too. You're welcome, marm, I'm sure, to anything as I may
have done for you; and if you and missy here is takin' a walk some day
towards 'the balk,' just ask for Binks of the White Coppice, and my
missus 'ull make you a cup of tea any time as you likes to call.
Good-day to you! And he moved away down the platform with the
satisfied air of one who again finds his foot on his native heath.
Silversands seemed also to be the destination of the two travellers
in whom Isobel had taken such an interest, as they got out of the train
with much apparent relief, and were greeted by quite a number of
enthusiastic and smartly-dressed friends who had come to the station to
We've had the most terrible journey! Isobel overheard the
little girl saying. We were obliged to go in a third-class carriage
with the rudest and dirtiest people! I'm sure I'm black all over. Oh,
I'm so glad to have got here at last!
She retailed her experiences to a sympathetic audience, while her
mother, who, it appeared, had lost a handbag, insisted upon calling the
station-master and giving a full description of both its labels and
contents; and until their numerous boxes and portmanteaus had been
collected and disposed on a carriage, and they and their friends had
finally passed through the gate at the bottom of the platform, it was
quite impossible for Mrs. Stewart to secure the services of the
solitary porter. She managed at last, however, to gather together her
modest luggage, and leaving it to follow upon a hand-cart, set out with
Isobel to walk to the lodgings which she had engaged.
CHAPTER II. MRS. STEWART'S LETTER.
'Tis half against my judgment. Kindly fortune,
Send fair prosperity upon this venture!
It will be quite easy to find our rooms, mother, said Isobel. We
know they're close to the beach, and there only seems to be one row of
lodging-houses down on the shore. I suppose that must be Marine
Terrace, for there isn't any other. What jolly sands! Can't you taste
the salt on your lips? I feel as if I shall just want to be by the sea
all the time.
I hope it will do you good, dear, said her mother. I declare you
look better already. I shall expect you to grow quite rosy before we go
home again, and to have ever such a big appetite.
I'm hungry now, replied Isobel. I hope Mrs. Jackson will bring in
tea directly we arrive. I mean to ask her first thing if she knows Mr.
Binks. Wasn't it nice of him to let me sit by the window? Do you think
we shall be taking a walk to the 'balk'? I don't know in the least what
a 'balk' is, but I suppose we shall find out. I should like immensely
to go to his farm.
I dare say we might call there some afternoon. He seemed a kind old
man, and I believe he really meant what he said, and would be pleased
to see you.
Weren't the people in the carriage funny, mother? How tiresome that
pierrot was with his banjo, and the poor baby that wouldn't stop
crying! I was so glad the little girl in the blue hat didn't miss the
train. Isn't she lovely?
She's rather pretty, said Mrs. Stewart; but I couldn't see her
very wellshe was sitting on my side, you remember.
I think she's perfectly beautiful! declared Isobel, with
enthusiasmjust like one of those expensive French dolls at the
stores. Did you see them drive away in the landau? I wonder where
they're staying, and if we shall ever meet them again?
Perhaps you may see her walking on the beach, or in church,
suggested Mrs. Stewart.
I hope I shall. I wonder what her name is. Do you think she'd mind
if I were to ask her?
Perhaps her mother might not like it, replied Mrs. Stewart. I'm
afraid it would hardly be polite.
But I do so want to get to know her. I haven't any friends here,
you see, and I think she looks so nice.
I'm sorry, dear, but I shouldn't care for you to try to scrape an
acquaintance with these people. We shall manage to have a very happy
time together, hunting for shells and sea-weeds. You must take me for a
You're better than any friend! said Isobel, squeezing her mother's
hand. Of course I like being with you best, sweetest; only sometimes,
when you're reading or lying down, it is nice to have somebody
to talk to. I won't ask her her name if you say I'd better not; but I
hope I shall see her again, if it's only just to look at her. Why, this
is the housethere's No. 4 over the doorway; and that must be Mrs.
Jackson standing in the front garden looking out for us. I think she
ought to be Mr. Binks's cousin; she's as fat and red in the face as he
The place is very full, mum, said Mrs. Jackson, showing them to
the little back sitting-room, which, at August prices, was all Mrs.
Stewart had been able to afford. I had three parties in yesterday
askin' for rooms, and could have let this small parlour twice over for
double the money but what I'd promised it to you. Not as I wanted to
take 'em, though, for they was all noisy lots as would have needed a
deal of waitin' on. I'd rather have quiet visitors like you and the
young lady here, as isn't always a-ringin' their bells and playin' on
the pianer till midnight, though I may be the loser by it. I'm
short-handed now my daughter Emma Jane's married, and not so quick at
gettin' up and down stairs as I used to be.
I don't think you'll find we shall give more trouble than we can
help, said Mrs. Stewart gently. We seldom require much waiting on,
and we hope to be out most of the day.
I'm only too glad to do all I can, mum, to make folks feel
home-like, declared Mrs. Jackson, showing the capacities of the
cupboard, and calling attention to the superior comfort of the
armchairs. And if there's anything else you'd like, I hope as you'll
mention it. I'm a little short in my breath, and a bit lame in my right
leg, bein' troubled with rheumatics in the winter, but I do my best to
please, and so does Polly (she's my niece), though she's a girl with no
head, and can't remember a thing for two minutes on end.
I'm sure you'll make us comfortable, said Mrs. Stewart, and we
hope to have a very happy time indeed at Silversands. We should be glad
if you could bring in tea now; we're both very hot and thirsty after
our long journey.
That you will be, I'm sure, mum, returned Mrs. Jackson. We've not
had a hotter day this summer. Little missy looks fair tired out. But
there's nought like a cup of tea to refresh one, and I'll have it up in
a few minutes; the kettle's ready and boilin'.
The room feels rather stuffy, said Mrs. Stewart, throwing open the
window when her landlady had departed to the kitchen regions. I'm
sorry we have no view of the sea; but we can't help that, and we must
be out of doors the whole day long. Luckily the weather is gloriously
fine, and seems likely to keep so.
What queer ornaments, mother! said Isobel, going slowly round the
room and examining with much curiosity two stuffed cocks, a glass
bottle containing a model of a ship with full sail and rigging, a case
of somewhat moth-eaten and dilapidated butterflies, a representation of
Windsor Castle cut out in cork, some sickly portraits of the Royal
Family in cheap German gilt frames, and a large Berlin wool-work
sampler, which, in addition to the alphabet and a verse of a hymn,
depicted birds of paradise at the top and weeping willows at the
bottom, and set forth that it was the work of Eliza Jane Horrocks, aged
I think we shan't need quite so many crochet antimacassars,
laughed Mrs. Stewart. There seems to be one on every chair, and there
are actually five on the sofa. We must ask Mrs. Jackson to take some of
them away. We would rather be without all these shell baskets and photo
frames on the little table, too. If we moved it into the window it
would be very nice for painting or writing if it should happen to be a
I hope it won't be wet, said Isobel. At any rate, there are some
books to read if it is, turning over a row of volumes which reposed on
the top of the chiffonnier. I've never seen such peculiar pictures.
The little girls have white trousers right down to their ankles, and
the boys have deep frilled collars and quite long hair.
They are very old-fashioned books, said Mrs. Stewart, examining
with a smile The Youth's Moral Miscellany, The Maiden's Garland, A
Looking-Glass for the Mind, and Instructive Stories for Young
People, which, with a well-thumbed edition of Sandford and Merton, a
battered copy of The History of the Fairchild Family, and a few bound
volumes of Chambers's Journal, made up the extent of the
library. I should think they must have belonged to Mrs. Jackson's
mother or grandmother for this one has the date 1820 written inside
Of course they don't look so nice as my books at home, said
Isobel; but they'd be something new.
You're such a greedy reader that no doubt you will get through
them, however dry they may prove, laughed her mother. Here comes our
tea. We shall enjoy new-laid eggs and fresh country butter, shan't we?
I wonder if they're from Mr. Binks's farm, said Isobel, seating
herself at the table.Do you know Mr. Binks, Mrs. Jackson? He said I
was to ask you, and he was sure you wouldn't deny the acquaintance.
Know Peter Binks, miss! exclaimed Mrs. Jackson. Why, there isn't
a soul in Silversands as doesn't know him. Binks has lived at the White
Coppice ever since I was a girl, and afore then, and him church-warden
too, and owner of the Britannia, as good a schooner as any
about. His wife's second cousin is married to my daughter, and livin'
at Ferndale. Know him! I should just say I do!
I thought you would! said Isobel delightedly. We met him in the
train as we were coming. He gave me his seat by the window, and asked
us to go to his farm some day. You'll be able to tell us the way, won't
Another time, dear child, said Mrs. Stewart Mrs. Jackson's busy
now, and our tea is waiting.Thank you; yes, I think we have
everything we need at present. Polly might bring a little boiling water
in a few minutes, and we will ring the bell if we require anything
more.Come, Isobel, you said you were hungry!
A nice-spoken lady, said Mrs. Jackson afterwards to her husband in
the privacy of the kitchen. Any one could see with half an eye as they
was gentlefolk, though they've only taken the back room. I wonder, now,
if they can be any relation to old Mr. Stewart at the Chase. They did
say as the sonhim as was killed in the warhad married somewhere in
furrin parts, and his father was terrible set against it, havin' a wife
of his own choosin' ready for him at home. A regular family quarrel it
was, and both too proud to make it up; but they said the old man was
nigh heartbroken when his son was taken, and he'd never sent him a kind
word. I had it all from Peter Binks's nephew, who was under-gardener
there at the time.
It might be, said Mr. Jackson oracularly, taking a pinch of snuff
as he spoke, and, on the other hand, it might not be. Stewart's by no
means an uncommon kind of a name. There was a Stewart second mate on
the Arizona when we took kippers over to Belfast, and there was
a chap called Stewart as used to keep a snug little public down by the
quay in Whitecastle, but I never heard tell as either of 'em was any
connection of old Mr. Stewart up at the Chase.
It weren't likely they should be, replied Mrs. Jackson, with
scorn. But that don't make it any less likely in this case. I remember
Mr. Godfrey quite well when we lived at Linkhead, and I'd used to walk
over with Emma Jane to Heatherton Church of a Sunday afternoon. A fine
handsome young fellow he was, too, sittin' with his father in the
family pew, takin' a yawn behind his hand durin' the sermon, and small
blame to him tooold Canon Martindale used to preach that long! I can
see him now, if I close my eyes, with his light hair shinin' against
the red curtain of the big square pew. Little missy has quite a look of
him, to my mind.
You're always imaginin' romances, Eliza, said Mr. Jackson. It
comes of too much readin'. You and Polly sit over them stories in
The Family Herald till you make up goodness knows what tales about
every new party as comes to the house. There was the young man with the
long hair as played the fiddle, whom you was sure was a furrin count,
and who only turned out to be one of the band at Ferndale, and went off
without payin' his bill; and there was a couple in the drawing-room as
talked that grand about their motor car and their shootin' box and
important business till you thought it was a member of Parliament and
his lady, takin' a rest and travellin' incog., till you found out they
was only wine merchants from Whitecastle after all. Don't you go
a-meddlin'. Let them manage their own affairs, and we'll manage ours.
How you talk! declared Mrs. Jackson indignantly. Who wants to
meddle? As if one couldn't take a bit of interest in one's own
visitors! There's the drawin'-room a-ringin', and the dinin'-room will
be wantin' its tea. Stir the fire, Joe, and hold the toast whilst I
answer the bell. Where's that Polly a-gone to, I wonder?
In spite of her husband's disdainful comments, Mrs. Jackson's
surmises were not altogether groundless; and if she had peeped into her
back sitting-room that evening, when Isobel was in bed, she might have
seen her visitor slowly and with much care and thought composing a
letter. Sheet after sheet of notepaper was covered, and then torn up,
for the writer's efforts did not seem to satisfy her, and she leaned
her head on her hand every now and then with a weary air, as if she had
undertaken a distasteful task.
I do not ask anything for myself, wrote Mrs. Stewart at last.
That you should care to meet me, or ever become reconciled to me, is,
I know, beyond all question. My one request is that you will see your
grandchild. She is now nearly eleven years of age, a thorough Stewart,
tall and fair, and with so strong a resemblance to her father that you
cannot fail to see the likeness. I have done my utmost for her, but I
am not able to give her the advantages I should wish her to have, and
which, as her father's child, I feel it is hard for her to lack. She is
named Isobel, after your only daughter, the little sister whose loss my
husband always spoke of with so much regret, and whom he hoped she
might resemble. You would find her truthful, straightforward, obedient,
and well-behaved, and in every respect worthy of the name of Stewart.
It is with the greatest difficulty that I bring myself to ask of you
any favour, but for the sake of the one, dear to us both, who is gone,
I beg that you will at least see my Isobel, and judge her for
She addressed the letter to Colonel Stewart, the Chase, sealed it,
stamped it, and took it herself to the post. For a moment she stood and
hesitateda moment in which she seemed almost inclined to draw back
after all; she turned the letter over doubtfully in her hand, went a
step away, then suddenly straightening herself with an air of firm
determination, she dropped it into the pillar-box and returned to her
lodgings. Going upstairs to the bedroom, she tenderly lifted the soft
golden hair, and looked at the quiet, sleeping face of her little girl.
He cannot fail to like her, she said to herself. It was the only
right thing to do, and what he would have wished. I'm glad I
have had the courage to make the attempt. He will surely acknowledge
her now, and my one prayer is that he will not take her away from me.
CHAPTER III. A MEETING ON THE SANDS.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
The little town of Silversands was built on the cliffs by the sea,
so close over the greeny-blue water that the dash of the waves was
always in your ears and the taste of the salt spray on your lips. The
picturesque thatched fishermen's cottages lay scattered one above
another down the steep hillside at such strange and irregular angles
that the narrow streets which led from the quay wound in and out like a
maze, and you found your way to the shore down flights of wide steps
under low archways, or by a pathway cut through your neighbour's
cabbage patch. It was not difficult to guess the occupation of most of
the inhabitants, for fishing-nets of all descriptions might be seen
hanging out to dry over every available railing; great flat skates and
conger eels were nailed to the doorways to be cured in the sun;
rosy-faced women appeared to be eternally washing blue jerseys, which
fluttered like flags from the various little gardens; and the
bare-headed, brown-legged children who gathered cockles on the sands,
or angled for crabs from the jetty, seemed as much at home in the water
as on dry land. The harbour was decidedly fishy; bronzed burly seamen
were perpetually unloading cargoes of herrings which they stowed away
into barrels, or lobsters that were carefully packed in baskets to be
dispatched to the neighbouring towns. There was a kind of open-air
market, fitted up with rickety stalls where you might buy fresh cod and
mackerel still alive and shining with all the lovely fleeting colours
which fade so quickly when they are taken from the water. You could
afford to be extravagant in the way of shell-fish, if you liked such
delicacies, since a large red cotton pocket-handkerchief full of
cockles and mussels only cost a penny, and whelks and periwinkles sold
at a halfpenny the pint.
At high water the quay was always agog with excitement, the coming
in of the boats being accompanied with that hauling of ropes, creaking
of windlasses, shouting of hoarse voices and general confusion both
among toiling workers and idle loungers that seem inseparable from the
business of a port, while the occasional advent of an excursion steamer
was an event which attracted every looker-on in the harbour. All the
talk at Silversands was of tides and storms, of good or bad catches,
the luck of one vessel or the ill-fortune of another, and to the
fisher-folk the affairs of the empire were of small importance compared
with the arrival and departure of the herring-fleet. The schools gave a
thin veneer of education, but it seemed to vanish away directly with
the contact of the waves, so that the customs and modes of thought of
most of the people differed little from those of their forefathers who
slept, some in the churchyard on the edge of the cliff, with quaint
epitaphs to record their virtues, and some in those deeper graves over
which no stones could be reared.
Standing apart from the old town was a modern portion which was just
beginning to dignify itself with the name of a seaside resort. To be
sure, it was yet guiltless of pier, promenade, band, or niggers; but,
as the owner of the new grocery stores remarked, you never knew what
might follow, and many a fashionable watering-place had risen from
quite as modest a commencement. There was already a row of shops with
plate-glass windows and a handsome display of spades, buckets,
shell-purses, baskets, china ornaments, photographic views, and other
articles calculated to tempt the shillings from the pockets of summer
visitors; there were several streets of lodging-houses near the railway
station, as well as the long terrace facing the sea, dignified rather
prematurely by the name of The Parade, and an enterprising tradesman
from Ferndale had opened a tea-room and a circulating library. The
proprietor of the bathing machines was doing a good business, and had
set up a stand with six donkeys; a photographer had ventured to erect a
wooden studio upon the beach, where he would take your likeness for
eighteenpence; and the common was occasionally the camp of some
travelling circus, which, though en route for a larger sphere of
action, did not disdain to give a performance in passing.
Like a link between the old and the new, the ancient gray stone
church stood on the verge of the cliff above the harbour, looking out
to sea as if it were always watching over those of its children who had
their business in great waters, and sending up silent prayers on their
behalf. In the square tower the bells had rung for seven hundred years,
and the flat roof with its turreted battlements told tales of wild
times of Border forays, when the people had fled with their goods to
the one spot of safety, and watched the smoke of their burning farms,
as the victorious Scots drove away their cattle over the blue line of
hills towards the north.
But I think the great attraction of Silversands was its delightful
beach. The sands were hard and firm, and covered in places with patches
of sea holly or horned poppies and the beautiful pink bindweed growing
here and there with its roots deep down among the clumps of stones.
Above rose the cliffs in bold craggy outlines, their tops crowned by a
heather-clad common which stretched far inland, while the low tide
disclosed attractive rocky pools where anemones, hermit crabs, sea
urchins, jelly fish, mermaids' purses, starfishes, and all kinds of
fascinating objects might be captured by those who cared to look for
The afternoon of the day following her arrival found Isobel
wandering along this shore alone. Mrs. Stewart had been unfortunate
enough to meet with an accident that morning: slipping on the rocks she
had twisted her ankle severely, and it was only with the greatest
difficulty that she had managed to limp back to the lodgings.
It's a bad sprain, too, said Mrs. Jackson, shaking her head as she
helped to soak cold water bandages. You won't be able to put that foot
to the ground for a matter of ten days or more. It's a good thing now
as I didn't sell the sofa, which I nearly let it go in the spring, as
it do fill up the room so; but you can rest there nicely, and keep
puttin' on fresh cloths all the time, though it do seem a pity, with
your holiday only just begun.
I must try to be patient, and get it well as fast as possible,
replied Mrs. Stewart.I'm afraid it will be very dull for you,
Isobel, my poor child, while I'm lying here. You will have to amuse
yourself on the beach as best you can. I certainly can't have you
staying indoors on my account.
It will be much duller for you, mother dear, said Isobel. I shall
be all rightI like being on the shorebut you won't have anything to
do except read. What a good thing we brought plenty of books with us!
I'm so sorry our sitting-room hasn't any view. I shall try to find all
the shells and sea-weeds and things that I can, and keep bringing them
in to show you.
It was on a quest, therefore, for any treasures which she thought
might interest her mother that Isobel strolled slowly along, looking
with delight at the gleaming sea, the red sails of the herring-fleet,
and the little white yacht which came slowly round the point of the
cliff, waiting for a puff of wind to take her to the harbour. The tide
was coming in fast, and the churning of the waves, as they ground the
small pebbles along the beach, had the most inspiriting and refreshing
sound. She stooped every now and then to pick up a shell, or to clutch
at a great piece of ribbon sea-weed which was dashed to her feet by an
advancing wave; she had an exciting chase after a scuttling crab, and
missed him in the end, and nearly got drenched with spray trying to
rescue a walking-stick which she could see floating at the edge of the
water. She had filled her pockets with a moist collection of specimens,
and was half thinking of turning back to retrace her footsteps to
Marine Terrace, when from behind a crag of rock which jutted out
sharply on to the sands she heard a sound of children's voices and
laughter. Moved with curiosity she peeped round the corner, and found
herself at the edge of a small patch of green common that ran along the
shore between the cliffs and the sea. It was covered with soft fine
grass and little low-growing flowers; the broken masts washed up from a
wreck made capital seats; and, altogether, it appeared as pleasant a
playground as could well be imagined.
So, at any rate, seemed to think the group of boys and girls who
were assembled there, since they had set up some wickets, and were
enthusiastically engaged in a game of cricket, for which the short fine
grass made an excellent pitch. It looked so interesting that Isobel
strolled rather nearer to the players, and finding an upturned boat
upon the beach, she curled herself under its shadow, and settled down,
apparently unnoticed, to watch the progress of the game. She could hear
as well as see, and her ears were keenly alert to the scraps of lively
conversation which floated towards her.
Have you found the ball?
Yes; under a heap of nettles, and stung my fingers horribly. Just
look at the blisters.
Don't be a baby. Go on; it's your play.
I can't hold the bat while my hands hurt so.
Then miss your turn.Come along, Bertie, and have your innings;
Ruth doesn't want hers.
Yes, I do! I'm older than Bertie, so I must go in first. If you'd
only wait a minute, till I can find a dock leaf.
We can't wait. How tiresome you are! Here, Bertie, take the bat.
It's not fair! We were to go in ages, and I'm six months older than
You can have your turn after Joyce.
Joyce! She's only nine, and I'm eleven.
Then miss it altogether, and don't make yourself a nuisance!Now
then, Bertie, look out for a screw.
It's a shame! I always seem to get left out of things! grumbled
the little girl, with a very aggrieved countenance, sitting down upon a
rusty anchor, and nursing her nettled hand tenderly.
It's your own fault this time, at any rate, said a companion, with
scant sympathy. There are plenty of dock leaves growing under the
cliff if you want them.
Bravo, Bertie! Well hit!
Quick with that ball, Arthur!
Play up, Bertie!
Well run! Well run!
Oh, he's out! Hard luck!
Whose turn is it now?
Where is she?
Here I am, ready and waiting. Now give me a good ball. It's Hugh's
turn to bowl, and if he sends me one of his nasty screws or sneaks I
shan't be friends with him any more.
Isobel gazed at the last speaker, entranced. There was no mistaking
the apple-blossom cheeks and the silky flaxen curls of her
fellow-traveller in the crowded carriage, though to-day the white silk
dress and the blue hat were replaced by a delicate pale pink muslin and
a broad-brimmed straw trimmed with a gauze scarf. She looked even more
charming than ever, like some fairy in a story-book or one of the very
prettiest pictures you get upon chocolate boxes; she seemed to put all
other children round her in the shade, and as she stood there, a
graceful little figure at the wicket, Isobel's eyes followed her every
movement with an absolute fascination.
The first ball was a slow one, and she hit it fairly well, but did
not make a run; the next she merely slogged; the third was high, and as
she wisely let it alone, it cleared the wicket; the fourth was a full
pitch: she tried to play it down, but unfortunately it hit the top of
her bat, and went right into the long-stop's hands.
What an easy catch!
Come along, Aggie, your innings.
The vanquished player put down her bat somewhat reluctantly, and
walked slowly away in the direction of the old boat. She sat down on
the sand close by Isobel, and taking off her hat, began to fan her hot
face with it After stealing several glances at her companion, she at
length volunteered a remark.
It was too bad, wasn't it, she said, to be caught out first thing
Much too bad! replied Isobel. But I think they were horrid
So they were. Hugh always sends the most mean ones. Weren't you in
the train with us yesterday?
Yes. I saw you first at the bookstall at Tiverton.
Didn't you think the people in the carriage detestable? I nearly
died with the heat and stuffiness.
It was dreadfully hot and noisy.
Noisy! I don't know which was worsethe baby or the banjo! You
were better off sitting by the window, though that fat old man would
keep talking to you.
He was rather kind, said Isobel; I didn't mind him.
I suppose you're staying at Silversands, aren't you?
Yes, at 4 Marine Terrace.
We're in Marine Terrace too, at No. 12. We have the upstairs suite.
They're not bad rooms for a little place like this, but they don't know
how to wait. Mother says she wishes they'd build a hotel here. What's
it like at No. 4?
It's quite comfortable, replied Isobel. We have a nice landlady.
Are there only just you and your mother?
Have you no father?
He's dead. He was killed in the Boer War.
Was he a soldier, then?
Yes; he was a captain in the Fifth Dragoon Guards.
My father is dead too. Have you any brothers and sisters?
No. I never had any.
Neither have I. I only wish I had. It's so lonely without, isn't
It is, rather; but I'm a great deal with mother.
So am I; still, when she's at home she's out so much, and then I
never know what to do.
Don't you read? said Isobel.
I'm not fond of reading. I only like books when there's really
nothing else to amuse myself with.
You were buying a book at Tiverton. Which one did you get? Is it
It's just a school story. I forget its name now. I haven't looked
at it again.
Then you didn't choose 'The Red Cross Knight' after all?
Oh, that's too like lessons! I've had all that with my governess,
and about King Arthur too. I'm quite tired of them. Have you a
No, replied Isobel; I do lessons with mother.
How jolly for you! I wish I did. I'm to be sent to school in
another year, and I don't think I shall like that at all. When are you
Not till I'm thirteen, I expect.
How old are you now?
Why, so am I! When's your birthday?
On the thirteenth of September.
And mine is on the tenth of October, so you're nearly a month older
than I am. You haven't told me your name yet?
My name's Isobel Stewart.
What! cried the other, opening her blue eyes wide in the greatest
astonishment. That's my name!
Your name! exclaimed Isobel, in equal amazement.
Of course it is. My name's Isabelle Stuart.
How do you spell it?
And mine's spelt I-S-O-B-E-L S-T-E-W-A-R-T, so that makes a little
So it does. I'm called 'Belle,' too, for short. Are you?
No; never anything but Isobel.
It's funny. We're the same name and the same age, and we're staying
in the same terrace. I think it is what you'd call a 'coincidence.' We
came to Silversands on the same day, too, and in the same railway
carriage. We ought to be twin sisters. You're really rather like me,
you know, only you're pale, and your hair doesn't curl.
Isobel shook her head. She had a very modest opinion of her own
attractions, and would not have dreamt of comparing her appearance with
that of her pretty companion, so very far did she think she ranked
below the other's style of beauty.
I should like to be friends, at any rate, she said shyly. Perhaps
I shall see you again upon the shore. I'm afraid that's your mother
calling you. I think I ought to go home now too; I didn't mean to be
out so long.
Isabelle Stuart sprang to her feet.
Yes, it's mother calling, she said. She's walked up with Mrs.
Rokeby. I must fly. But I hope we shall meet again. I shall look out
for you on the sands. Good-bye!
Isobel stood watching her as she ran lightly away; then turning, she
hurried home as fast as possible along the beach, for she was very
excited at this strange meeting, and was anxious to give her mother a
full and detailed account of it.
I didn't ask her her name, mother, she explained. It was
she who asked me mine. You told me I'd better not speak to her; but she
spoke to me first, and asked me ever so many questions. Isn't it queer
that our names should be just the same, and our ages too? You'll let us
be friends now, won't you? I think she's the nicest girl I've ever met
in my life, and I can't tell you how much I want to know her.
CHAPTER IV. THE SEA URCHINS' CLUB.
'Twas here where the urchins would gather to play,
In the shadows of twilight or sunny midday.
Isobel found her namesake waiting for her on the beach next morning.
I thought you'd be coming out soon, announced Belle, so I just
stopped about till I saw you. We're all starting off to play cricket
again on the common down under the cliffs, and I want you to go with
us. I've taken such a fancy to you! I told mother I had, and she
laughed and said it wouldn't last long; but I know it will. I
feel as if you were going to be my bosom friend. You'll come, won't
Of course I will, replied Isobel, accepting the offered friendship
with rapture. Mother told me to do what I liked this morning.
Let us be quick, then. The others have run on in front, but we'll
soon catch them up.
Are you going to the same place where you were playing yesterday?
Yes; we call it our club ground. We mean to have matches there
almost every day. It'll be ever such fun. You see there are several
families of us staying at Silversands that all know one another, so
we've joined ourselves together in a club. We call it 'The United Sea
Urchins' Recreation Society,' and it's not to be only for cricket,
because we mean to play rounders and hockey as well, and to go out
boating, and have shrimping parties on the sands. We arranged it last
night after tea. There are just twenty of us, if you count the Wrights'
baby, so that makes quite enough to get up all sorts of games. Hugh
Rokeby's the president, and Charlie Chester's secretary, and Charlotte
Wright's treasurer. We each pay twopence a week subscription, and at
the end of the holiday we're going to have what the boys call a
'regular blow-out' with the fundsginger beer, you know, and cakes,
and ices if we can afford it. I wanted to make the subscription
sixpence, but Letty Rokeby said the little ones couldn't give so much.
I'll ask them to elect you a member. You'd like to join, wouldn't you?
Immensely. But I haven't any money with me now.
Oh, never mind! You can give it to Charlotte afterwards. Here we
are. I expect they're all waiting. I see they've put the stumps up. You
don't know anybody except me, do you? I'll soon tell you their names.
The party of children who were assembled upon the green patch of
common certainly appeared to be a very jolly one. First there were the
Rokebys, a large and tempestuous family of seven, who were staying at a
farm on the cliffs by the wood.
A thoroughly healthy place, as Mrs. Rokeby often remarked, with a
good water supply, and no danger of catching anything infectious. We've
really been so unfortunate. Hugh and Letty took scarlet fever at the
lodgings in Llandudno last year, and I had the most dreadful time
nursing them; Winnie and Arnold had mumps at Scarborough the year
before; and the three youngest were laid up with German measles at
Easter in the Isle of Man; so it has made me quite nervous.
Just at present the Rokebys did not seem in danger of contracting
anything more serious than colds or sprained ankles, for a more
reckless crew in the way of falling into wet pools, climbing slippery
rocks, or generally endangering their lives and limbs could not be
imagined. It was in vain that poor Mrs. Rokeby dried their boots and
brushed their clothes, and implored them to keep away from perilous
spots; they were full of repentance, and would vow amendment with the
most warm-hearted of hugs, but in half an hour they had forgotten all
their promises, and would be racing over the rocks again as wet and
jolly as ever.
I really do my best to keep them tidy, sighed Mrs. Rokeby
pathetically to Mrs. Barrington. Their father grumbles horribly at the
bills, but they seem to wear their clothes out as fast as I buy them.
Bertie's new Norfolk suit is shabby already, and Winnie's Sunday frock
isn't fit to be seen. As to their boots, I sometimes think I shall have
to let them go bare-foot. Other people's children don't seem to give
half the trouble that mine do. Look at them nowdragging Lulu down the
sands, when I told them she mustn't get overheated on any account! The
doctor said we were to be so careful of her, and keep her quiet; but it
seems no useshe will run after the others. Oh dear! I can't
allow them to turn her head over heels like that!
And Mrs. Rokeby flew to the rescue of her delicate youngest,
administering a vigorous scolding to the elder ones, which apparently
made as little impression upon them as water on a duck's back. The
untidy appearance and unruly behaviour of her undisciplined flock were
really a trial to Mrs. Rokeby, since they generally managed to compare
unfavourably with the Wrights, a stolid and matter-of-fact family who
were staying in rooms near the station.
You never see Charlotte Wright with her dress torn to ribbons, or
her hair in her eyes, she would remonstrate with Letty and Winnie.
Both she and Aggie can wear their sailor blouses for three days, while
yours aren't fit to be seen at the end of a morning.
The Wrights are so stupid, replied Winnie, you can hardly get
them to have any fun at all. They spend nearly the whole time with that
mademoiselle they've brought with them. They're so proud of her, they
do nothing but let off French remarks just to try to impress us. She's
only a holiday governess toothey don't have her when they're at
homeso there's no need for them to give themselves such airs about
it. I believe their French isn't anything much either, they put in so
many English words.
Arthur Wright actually brings his books down on to the shore, said
Letty, and does Greek and Euclid half the morning. He says he's
working for a scholarship. You wouldn't catch Hugh or Cecil at that.
I'm afraid I shouldn't, sighed Mrs. Rokeby. To judge from their
bad reports at school, it seems difficult enough to get them to learn
anything in term time. As for mademoiselle, you might take the
opportunity to talk to her a little, and improve your own French.
No, thank you! said Winnie, pulling a wry face. No holiday
lessons for me. I loathe French, and I never can understand a single
word that mademoiselle says, so it's no use. If the Wrights like to sit
on the sand and 'parlez-vous,' they may. They're so fat, they can't
rush about like we do. That's why they keep so tidy. Charlotte's waist
is exactly twice as big as minewe measured them yesterday with a
piece of stringand Aggie's cheeks are as round as puddings. You
should see how they all pant when they play cricket. They scarcely get
And they really eat far more even than we do, mother, said Letty.
Aggie had five buns on the shore yesterday, and Eric took sixteen
biscuits. I know he did, for we counted them, and he nearly emptied the
The Chesters are five times as jolly, declared Winnie. Both
Charlie and Hilda went out shrimping with us this morning, and got
sopping wet, but they didn't mind in the least, and Mrs. Chester only
laughed when they went back. She said sea water didn't hurt. She's far
nicer than Mrs. Barrington. I wouldn't be Ruth Barrington for all the
world. She and Edna never have any breakfast, and they're made to do
the queerest things.
The unlucky little Barringtons were possessed of parents who clung
to theories which they themselves described as wholesome ideas, and
their friends denounced as absurd cranks. Many and various were the
experiments which they tried upon their children's health and
education, sometimes with rather disastrous results. Being at present
enthusiastic members of a No Breakfast League, which held that two
meals a day were amply sufficient for the requirements of any rational
human being, they had limited their family repasts to luncheon and
supper, at which only vegetarian dishes were permitted to appear; and
the poor children, hungry with sea air and with running about on the
sands, who would have enjoyed an unstinted supply of butcher's meat and
bread and butter, were carefully dieted on plasmon, prepared nuts, and
many patent foods, which their mother measured out in exact portions,
keeping a careful record in her diary of the amount they were allowed
to consume, and taking the pair to be weighed every week upon the
automatic machine at the railway station. Their costumes consisted of
plain blue over-all pinafores and sandals, and they wore neither hats
It's all right for the seaside, grumbled Ruth to her intimate
friends, because we can go into the water without minding getting into
a mess; but we have to wear exactly the same in town, and it's
horrible. You can't think how every one stares at as, just as if we
were a show. Sometimes ladies stop us, and ask our governess if we've
lost our hats, and hadn't she better tie our handkerchiefs over our
heads? We shouldn't dare to go out alone even if we were allowed, we
look so queer. We went once to the post by ourselves, and some rude
boys chased us all the way, calling out 'Bare-legs!' It's dreadfully
cold in winter, too, without stockings, and when it rains our heads get
wet through, and we have to be dried with towels when we come in again.
I wonder why we can't be dressed like other people. I wish I had Belle
Stuart's clothes; they're perfectly lovely!
Ruth's rather pathetic little face always bore the injured
expression of one who cherishes a grievance. She was a thin, pale
child, who did not look as though she flourished upon her peculiar
system of bringing up, which seemed to have the unfortunate effect of
completely spoiling her temper, and making her see life through an
extremely blue pair of spectacles. This summer she certainly thought
she had a just cause of complaint, since her two schoolboy brothers,
instead of spending their holidays as usual at the seaside, had been
dispatched on a walking-tour to Switzerland with a certain German
professor, who, in accordance with the latest educational fad, was
conducting a select little party of boys on an open-air pilgrimage, the
main features of which seemed to be to walk bare-foot by day and to
sleep in a kind of wigwam at night, which they erected out of
alpenstocks and mackintoshes.
It's too disgusting! said Ruth dolefully. Just when Edna and I
had been looking forward all the term to the boys coming home, and
making so many plans of what we would do and the fun we would have,
some wretched person sent father a copy of The Educational Times, with a long account of this horrid walking-tour, and he said it was
the exact thing for Clifford and Keith, and insisted upon arranging it
at once. I think mother was really dreadfully disappointed. I believe
she wanted to have them home as much as we did, because she said they
ought to go to the dentist's, and she must look over their clothes, and
she should like to give them some phosphates tonic; but father said
they could have their teeth attended to at Geneva, and she could send
the tonic to the professor, and ask him to see that they took it. I
know the boys will be furious; they hate taking medicine: they
generally keep it in their mouths, and spit it out afterwards. They'll
have to talk German all day long too, and they can't bear that. You've
no idea how they detest languages. I had a picture post-card from
Clifford yesterday, and he said his feet were horribly sore with
walking bare-foot, and his tent blew away one night, and he was obliged
to sleep in the open air.
No greater contrast could be found to the Barringtons than the
Chester children. Charlie, the elder, a lively young pickle of twelve,
was on terms of great intimacy with all the fishermen and sailor boys
whose acquaintance he could cultivate, talking in a learned manner of
main-sheets, fore-stays, jibs, gaffs, booms and bowsprits, and using
every nautical term he could manage to pick up. He had a very good idea
of rowing, and would often persuade the men to let him go out with them
in their boats, taking his turn at an oar, much to their amusement, and
setting log lines with the serious air of a practised hand. His jolly,
friendly ways won him general favour, and he was allowed to make
himself at home on many of the little fishing smacks, learning to hoist
sails, to steer, and to cast nets, though sometimes a too inquiring
mind led him to interfere on his own account in the navigation, with
the result that he would be unceremoniously bundled back to shore
again, with a warning to keep out of this in the future.
He was the envy of his eight-year-old sister Hilda, who would have
liked to follow him through thick and thin, but the sailors drew the
line at little girls, and would politely request missy to return
home to her ma, as there was no place for her on this 'ere craft,
much to her indignation. She consoled herself, however, by organizing
the games of the younger Wrights and Rokebys, making wonderful sand
harbours with their aid, and sailing a fleet of toy boats with as keen
an enthusiasm as if they were real ones.
At the end of a morning on the common Isobel found herself on quite
an intimate footing with the Wrights, the Rokebys, the Barringtons, and
the Chesters, besides being a duly elected member of The United Sea
Urchins' Recreation Society.
I've never had such fun in my life, she confided to her mother at
dinner-time. We played cricket, and then we went along the shore,
because the tide was so low. I picked up the most beautiful screw
shells, and razor shells, and fan shells you ever saw. I had to put
them in my pocket handkerchief because I hadn't a basket with me.
Bertie Rokeby got into a quicksand up to his knees, and Lulu sat down
in the water in her clothes. You must come and see our club ground,
mother, when you can walk so far. We have it quite to ourselves, for
it's right behind the cliff, and none of the other visitors seem to
have found it out yet; and if anybody else tries to take it, the boys
say they mean to turn them off, because we got it first. They're all
going to carry their tea there this afternoon, and light a fire of
drift-wood to boil the kettle. So may I go too, and then we shall play
cricket again in the evening?
CHAPTER V. A HOT FRIENDSHIP.
I was a child, and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea.
By the time Isobel had been a week at Silversands she had begun to
feel as much at home there as the oldest inhabitant. She had won golden
opinions from Mrs. Jackson at the lodgings, and had been invited by
that worthy woman into the upper drawing-room during the temporary
absence of its occupiers, and shown a most fascinating cabinet full of
foreign shells, stuffed birds, corals, ivory bangles, sandal-wood
boxes, and other curiosities brought home by a sailor son who made many
voyages to the East.
Don't you wish you could have gone with him and got all these
things for yourself? said Isobel ecstatically, when she had examined
and admired every article separately, and heard its history.
Nay, replied Mrs. Jackson, I've never had no mind for shipboard,
though my second cousin was stewardess on a Channel steamer for a
matter of fifteen year, and made a tidy sum out of it too. She could
have got me taken on by the Anchor Line as runs to America if I'd have
signed for two years. That was when my first husband died, and afore I
married Jackson; but I felt I'd rather starve on dry land than take it,
though it was good wages they offered, to say nothing of tips.
Why, it would be glorious to go to America, said Isobel, sighing
to think what her companion had missed. You might have seen Red
Indians, and wigwams, and medicine men, and 'robes of fur and belts of
wampum,' like it talks of in 'Hiawatha.' Do you know 'Hiawatha'?
There were an old steamer of that name used to trade from Liverpool
in hides and tallow when I were a girl, if that's the one you mean. I
wonder she hasn't foundered afore now.
Oh no! cried Isobel hastily. It isn't a steamer; it's a piece of
poetry. I've just been reading it with mother, and it's most
delightful. I could lend it to you if you like. We brought the book
Mrs. Jackson's acquaintance with the muse, however, seemed to be
limited to the hymns in church, and a hazy remembrance of certain
pieces in her spelling book when a child, and being apparently
unwilling to further cultivate her mind in that direction, she declined
the offer on the score of lack of time.
Not but what Jackson's fond of a bit of poetry now and again, she
admitted. He sings a good song or two when he's in the mood, and he do
like readin' over the verses on the funeral cards. He pins them all up
on the kitchen wall where he can get at them handy. What suits me more
is something in the way of a romance'Lady Gwendolen's Lovers,' or
'The Black Duke's Secret'when I've time to take up a book, which
isn't often, with three sets of lodgers in the house, and a girl as
can't even remember how to make a bed properly, to say nothing of
laying a table, and 'ull take the dining-room dinner up to the
The much-enduring Polly, though certainly not an accomplished
waitress, was the most good-tempered of girls, and an invaluable ally
in saving the treasured specimens of flowers or sea-weeds which Mrs.
Jackson, in her praiseworthy efforts at tidiness, was continually
clearing out, under the plea that she hadn't imagined they could be
She even threw away my mermaids' purses and the whelks' eggs that
we found on the sand-bank, said Isobel to her mother. But Polly
climbed into the ashpit and grubbed them up again. She washed them in a
bucket of water, and they're quite nice now; so I shall put them in a
box, to make sure they'll be safe. Polly's father is part owner of a
schooner, and sometimes they fish up the most enormous fan shells. She
says she'll ask him to give me a few when she's time to go home, but
she hasn't had a night out for nearly three weeks, the season's been so
Perhaps old Biddy could get you some large fan shells, suggested
Mrs. Stewart. I believe they find them sometimes very far out on the
beach when they're shrimping.
Biddy was a well-known character in Silversands. She was a lively
old Irishwoman, with the strongest of brogues and the most beguiling of
tongues. In a blue check apron, and with a red shawl tied over her
head, she might be seen every morning wheeling her barrow down the
parade, where her amusing powers of blarney, added to the freshness of
her fish, secured her a large circle of customers among what she called
the quality. She had a wonderful memory for faces, and always
recognized families who paid a second visit to the town.
Why, it's niver Masther Charlie, sure? she exclaimed with delight,
on meeting the Chesters one day. It's meself that knew the bright face
of yez the moment I saw ut, though ye're growed such a foine young
gintleman an' all. Ye was staying at No. 7 two years back with yer
mammaan illigant lady she was, tooand your sister, Miss Hilda, the
swate little colleen. Holy saints! this must be herself and none other,
for it's not twice ye'd see such a pair of eyes and forgit them.
What became of Biddy during the winter, when there were no visitors
to buy her fish, was an unsolved mystery. Sure, I makes what I can by
the koindness of sthrangers during the summer toime! she had replied
when Isobel once sounded her on the subject. There's many a one as
gives me an extra penny or two, or says, 'Kape the change, Biddy
Mulligan!' The Blessed Virgin reward them! Thank you kindly, marm, as
Mrs. Stewart took the hint. May your bed in heaven be aisy, and may ye
niver lack a copper to give to them as needs it.
Besides Biddy, Isobel had a number of other acquaintances in
Silversands. There was the coastguard at the cottage on the top of the
cliffs, who sometimes allowed her to look through his telescope, and
who had an interesting barometer in the shape of a shell-covered
cottage with two doors, from one of which a little soldier appeared
when it was going to be fine, while a nautical-looking gentleman in a
blue jacket came out to give warning of wet weather. Then there was the
owner of the pleasure boats, who had promised to take her for a row
entirely free of charge on the day before she was going home; and the
bathing woman, who always tried to keep for her the van with the blue
stripes and the brass hooks inside because she knew she liked it. The
donkey boy had christened the special favourite with the new harness
her donkey, and made it go with unwonted speed even on the outward
journey (as a rule it galloped of its own accord when its nose was
turned towards home); and the blind harpist by the railway station had
waxed quite confidential on the subject of Scottish ballads, and had
allowed her to try his instrument.
As for the members of the Sea Urchins' Club, she felt as if she had
known them all her life, and the sayings and doings of the Chesters,
the Rokebys, the Wrights, and the Barringtons occupied a large part of
her conversation. Jolly as they were, none of them in Isobel's
estimation could compare with Belle Stuart, who from the first had
claimed her as her particular chum. The two managed to spend nearly the
whole of every day together, sometimes in company with the other
children, or sometimes alone on the beach, hunting for shells and sea
anemones, picking flowers, or just sitting talking in delicious
idleness under the shade of a rock, listening to the dash of the waves
and the screams of the sea gulls which were following the tide.
I'm not generally allowed to make friends with any one whom we
don't know at home, Belle had confided frankly. But mother said you
looked such a very nice lady-like little girl, she thought it wouldn't
matter just for this once. I told her your father had been an officer,
and she said of course that made a difference, but I really was to be
careful, and not pick up odd acquaintances upon the beach, for she
doesn't want me to talk to all sorts of people who aren't in our set of
society, and might be very awkward to get rid of afterwards.
Isobel did not reply. She would never have dreamt of explaining that
it was only due to her most urgent entreaties that she, on her part,
had been allowed to pursue the friendship. Mrs. Stewart, from somewhat
different motives, was quite as particular as Belle's mother about
chance acquaintances, and had been a little doubtful as to whether she
was acting wisely in allowing Isobel to spend so much of her time with
companions of whom she knew nothing, and whether this new influence was
such as she would altogether wish for her.
But I can't keep her wrapped up in cotton wool, she thought. She
has been such a lonely child that it's only right and natural she
should like to make friends of her own age, especially when I'm not
able to go about with her. She'll have to face life some time, and the
sooner she begins to be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff so
much the better. Thus far I've perhaps guarded her too carefully, and
this is an excellent opportunity of throwing her on her own resources.
I think I can trust her to stick to what she knows is right, and not be
led astray by any silly notions. She'll soon discover that money and
fine clothes don't represent the highest in life, and I believe it's
best to let her find it out gradually for herself. She's like a little
bird learning to fly; I've kept her long enough in the nest, and now I
must stand aside and leave her to try her wings.
For the present, at any rate, Isobel could see no fault in her new
friend. Belle had completely won her heart. Her charming looks; her
fair, fluffy curls; her little, spoilt, coaxing ways; the clinging
manner in which she seemed to depend upon others; her very helplessness
and heedlessness; even the artless openness with which she sought for
admirationall appealed with an irresistible force to Isobel's
stronger nature. If it ever struck her that her companion was lacking
in some of those qualities which she had been taught to consider
necessary, she thrust the thought away as a kind of disloyalty; and if
it were she who generally carried the heavy basket, searched for the
lost ball, fetched forgotten articles, or did any of the countless
small services which Belle exacted almost as a matter of course from
those around her, it certainly was without any idea of complaint. There
are in this world always those who love and those who are loved, and
Isobel was ready with spendthrift generosity to offer her utmost in the
way of friendship, finding Belle's pretty thanks and kisses a
sufficient reward for any trouble she might take on her account, and
perhaps unconsciously realizing that even in our affections it is the
givers more than the receivers who are the truly blessed. Belle, who
usually found a brief and fleeting attraction in any new friend, was
pleased with Isobel's devotion, and ready to be admired, petted, and
waited on to any extent. I think, too, that, to do her justice, she was
really an affectionate child, and at the time she was as fond of her
friend as it was possible for her light little character to be. She
would not have troubled to put herself out of the way for Isobel, and
it would not have broken her heart to part with her, but she enjoyed
her company, and easily gave her the first place among the dozen bosom
friends each of whom she had taken up in turn and thrown aside.
One particular afternoon found the namesakes strolling arm in arm
along the narrow sandy lane which led inland from the beach towards the
woods and the hills behind. It was the most delightful lane, with high
grassy banks covered with pink bindweed and tiny blue sheep's scabious,
and bright masses of yellow bedstraw, and great clumps of mallows, with
seed-vessels on them just like little cheeses, which you could gather
and thread on pieces of cotton to make necklaces. There was a hedge at
the top of the bank, too, where grew the beautiful twining briony, with
its dark leaves and glossy berries; and long trails of bramble, where a
few early blackberries could be discovered if you cared to reach for
them; and down among the sand at the bottom of the ditch you might find
an occasional horned poppy, or the curious flowers and glaucous prickly
leaves of the sea holly. Isobel, on the strength of a new bright-green
tin vasculum, purchased only that very morning at the toy-shop near the
station, and slung over her shoulder in the style of a student in a
German picture-book, felt herself to be a full-fledged botanist, and
rushed about in a very enthusiastic manner, scrambling up the banks
after pink centaury, diving into the hedge bottom for campions, or
getting her hair caught, like Absalom, in a prickly rose-bush in a
valiant endeavour to secure a particularly fine clump of harebells
which were nodding in the breeze on the stones of the old wall.
They're perfectly lovely, aren't they? she cried. I've got
fourteen different sorts of flowers already, and I'm sure some of them
must be rareanyway, I've never seen them before. I'm going to press
them directly I get home. Do you think this stump will bear me if I
climb up for that piece of briony?
I'm afraid it won't, said Belle, fastening some of the harebells
in her dress (they matched her blue sash and hat ribbons). It looks
fearfully rotten. There! I told you it wouldn't hold, as Isobel
descended with a crash. And you're covered with sand and prickly
burrssuch a mess!
Never mind, said Isobel, the state of whose clothing rarely
distressed her. They'll brush off. But I must have the briony. I'll
climb up by the wall if you'll hold these hips for a moment.
Oh, do come alongthat's a darling! entreated Belle. I don't
want to wait. They're only wild things, after all. I wish you could see
our garden at home, full of lovely geraniums and fuchsias and lobelias,
and the orchids and gloxinias in the conservatory. They're really worth
looking at. Carter, our gardener, takes tremendous pains with them, and
he gets heaps of prizes at shows.
But I like wild flowers best, said Isobel. You can find them
yourself in the hedges, and there are so many kinds. It's most exciting
to hunt out their names in the botany book.
Do you care for botany? said Belle. I have it with Miss Fairfax,
and I think it's hatefulall about corollas, and stigmas, and
panicles, and umbels, and stupid long words I can't either remember or
I haven't learnt any proper botany yet, said Isobel, only just
some of the easy part; but when we come into the country mother and I
always hunt for wild flowers, and then we press them and paste them
into a book, and write the names underneath. We have eighty-seven
different sorts at home, and I've found sixteen new ones since I came
here, so I think that's rather good, considering we've only been at
Silversands a week. How hot it is in this lane! Suppose we go round by
the station and up the cliffs.
The little lane with its high banks was certainly the most baking
spot they could have chosen for a walk on a blazing August afternoon.
The sun poured down with a steady glare, till the air seemed to quiver
with the heat, and the only things which really enjoyed themselves were
the grasshoppers, whose cheery chirpings kept up a perpetual concert.
In the fields on either side the reapers had been busy, and
tired-looking harvesters were hard at work binding the yellow corn and
the scarlet poppies into sheaves. Little groups of mothers and children
and babies had come to help or look on, as the case might be, and
brought with them cans of tea and checked handkerchiefs full of bread
Don't they look jolly? said Isobel, peeping over the hedge to
watch a family who were picnicking among the stooks, the father in a
broad-brimmed rush hat, his corduroy trousers tied up with wisps of
straw, wiping his hot forehead on his shirt sleeves; the mother putting
the baby to roll on the corn, while she poured the tea into blue mugs;
and the children, as brown as gypsies, sitting round in a circle eating
slices of bread, and evidently enjoying the fun of the thing.
Ye-e-s, said Belle, somewhat doubtfully, I suppose they do. Are
you fond of poor people?
I like going with mother when she's district-visiting, because the
women often let me nurse the babies. Some of them are so sweet they'll
come to me and not be shy at all.
Aren't they rather dirty?
No, not most of them. A few are beautifully clean. Mother says she
expects they know which day we're coming, and wash them on purpose.
Babies are all very well when they're nicely dressed in white
frocks and lace and corals, remarked Belle, so long as they don't
pull your hair and scratch your face.
One day, continued Isobel, we went to the crèchethat's a
place where poor people's children are taken care of during the day
while their mothers are out working. There were forty little babies in
cots round a large roomsuch pets; and so happy, not one of
them was crying. The nurse said they generally howl for a day or two
after they're first brought in, and then they get used to it and don't
bother any more. You see it wouldn't do to take up every single baby
each time it began to cry.
I wish you'd tell that to the Wrights; they give that 'Popsie' of
theirs whatever she shrieks for. She's a nasty, spoilt little thing.
Yesterday she caught hold of my pearl locket, and tugged it so hard she
nearly strangled me, and broke the chain; and the locket fell into a
pool, and I couldn't find it, though I hunted for half an hour. The
nurse only babbled on, 'Poor pet! didn't she get the pretty locket,
then?' I felt so cross I wanted to smack both her and the baby.
And haven't you found the locket yet?
No, and I never shall now; it's been high tide since then.
What a shame! I should have felt dreadfully angry. I don't like the
Wrights' nurse either. She borrowed my new white basket, and then let
the children have it; and they picked blackberries into it, and stained
it horribly. Why, there's Aggie Wright now, with the Rokebys. What
are they doing? They're hanging over that gate in the most peculiar
manner. Let us go and see.
CHAPTER VI. ON THE CLIFFS.
We saw the great ocean ablaze in the sun,
And heard the deep roar of the waves.
The gate in question proved to be the level crossing, which had just
been closed by the man from the signal-box to allow a train to pass
through. Charlotte and Aggie Wright and five of the Rokebys were all
standing upon the bars, hanging over the top rail and gazing at the
metals with such deep and intense interest that you would have thought
they expected a railway accident at the very least, and were looking
out for the smash.
What is the matter? cried Belle and Isobel, racing up to
share in whatever excitement might be on hand. Do you see anything? Is
it a cow on the line?
No, said Bertie Rokeby, balancing himself rather insecurely upon
the gate post; we're only waiting for the train to pass. We've put
pennies on the rail, and the wheels going over them will flatten them
out till they're nearly twice as big. You'd hardly believe what a
difference it makes. Would you like to try one? I'd just have time to
climb down and put it on before the train comes up. I will in a minute,
if you say the word.
I haven't a penny with me, I'm afraid, answered Isobel, rummaging
in her pockets, and turning out several interesting pebbles, a few
shells, a mermaid's purse, and the remains of a spider crab. Stop a
moment! No, it's only a button after all, and a horn one, too, that
would be smashed to smithereens. If it had been a metal one I'd have
I've nothing but a halfpenny, said Belle. It's all I possess in
the world till to-morrow, when I get my pocket-money. But do put it on,
Bertie; it would be fun to see how large it makes it.
Bertie climbed over the gate and popped the coin with the others on
the rail, much to the agitation of the pointsman, who ran in great
anger from the signal-box, shouting to him to get off the line, for the
train was coming. He was barely in time, for in another moment the
express came whirling by with such a roar and a rattle, and making such
a blast of wind as it went, that the children had to shut their eyes
and cling on tightly.
You'll get into trouble here if you get over them bars when I've
shut 'em, grunted the pointsman surlily, opening the gates to admit a
waiting cart from the other side. I'll take your name next time as you
tries it on, and report you to the inspector, and you'll get charged
with trespassing on the company's property.
Oh, bother! cried Bertie; I wasn't doing any harm. I can take
jolly good care of myself, so don't you worry about me. And he rushed
impatiently after the others, who were already picking up their pennies
from the rail.
It's crushed them ever so flat! exclaimed Aggie Wright,
triumphantly holding up a dinted copper which seemed to be several
sizes too large.
You can scarcely see which is heads and which is tails, said
Just look at my halfpenny, said Belle; it's twice as big as it
Why, so it is! Any one would take it for a penny if they didn't
look at it closely. Come along. They want to shut the gates again for a
luggage train, and we shall have to clear out. We're all going to the
Pixies' Steps. Are you two coming with us?
No, I think not, replied Belle. It's too hot to walk so far.
Isobel and I just want to stroll about.
Then good-bye. We're off.Come along, Cecil. For goodness' sake
don't go grubbing in the hedge now after caterpillars. Even if it is
a woolly bear, you'll find plenty more another day.Here, Arnold, you
young monkey, give me my cap. And the Rokebys tore away up the road
with a characteristic energy that even the blazing August heat could
If we go behind Hunt's farm, said Isobel, we can turn up the path
to the churchyard, and get on to the cliffs just over the quay. It's a
short cut, and much nicer than the road.
So they crossed the line again by the footbridge, passing the
station, where the porter, overcome with the heat, was having a
comfortable snooze on his hand-barrow; then, facing towards the sea,
they climbed the steep track which zigzagged up the face of the cliff
to the old church. The door was open, and the children stole inside for
a minute and stood quietly gazing round the nave. It was cool and shady
there, with the rich glow from the stained-glass windows falling in
checkered rays of blue and crimson and orange upon the twisted pillars
and the carved oak pews. The choir was practising in the chancel, and
as they sang, the sun, slanting through the diamond panes of the south
transept, made a very halo of glory round the head of the ancient,
time-worn monument of St. Alcuin, the Saxon abbot, below. Crosier and
mitre had long ago been chipped away by the ruthless hands of
Cromwell's soldiers, but they had spared the face, and the light shone
full on the closed eyes and the calm, sleeping mouth. Isobel moved a
little nearer, trying to spell out the half-effaced letters of the
inscription. She knew the story of how the pagan Norsemen had sacked
the abbey, and had murdered the abbot on the steps of the altar, where
he had remained alone to pray when his monks had fled to safety; but
the words were in Latin, and she could not read them.
For all the saints who from their labours rest, chanted the choir
softly, the music of their voices mingling strangely with the shouts of
the children at play which rose up from the beach below.
He looks as though he were resting, thought Isobel; not
deadonly just sleeping until he was wanted again. I suppose he's one
of the 'saints in light' now. What a long, long time it is since he
lived here! I wonder if he knows they built a church and called it St.
Alcuin's after him.
Here's the verger coming, whispered Belle, pulling at her hand. I
think we'd better go.
Let us sit down; shall we? said Isobel, when they were out in the
glare of the sunshine once more on the broad flagged path which led
from the church door to the steps looking down on to the sea.
Not here, though, replied Belle; I don't like gravestonesthey
make me feel horrid and creepy.
Under the lich-gate, then, suggested Isobel. It'll be cooler, for
it's in the shade, and there's a seat, too.
What a simply broiling day! said Belle, settling herself as
luxuriously as possible in the corner, and pulling off her hat to fan
her hot face. I don't like such heat as this; it takes my hair out of
curl, tenderly twisting one of her flaxen ringlets into its proper
It's jolly here. We get a little wind, and we can watch everything
all round, said Isobel, sitting with her chin in her hands, and gazing
over the water to where the herring fleet was tacking back to the
The children could scarcely have chosen a sweeter spot to rest.
Below them lay the sea, a broad flat expanse of blue, getting a little
hazy gray on the horizon, and with a greenish ripple where it neared
the rocks, upon which its waves were always dashing with a dull,
The old town, with its red roofs and poppy-filled gardens, made such
a spot of brightness against the blue sea that it suggested the
brilliant colouring of a foreign port, all the more so in contrast to
the gray tower of the church behind and the wind-swept yew trees which
had somehow managed to survive the winter storms. The grass had been
mown in the churchyard, and filled the air with a fragrant scent of
hay; a big bumble-bee buzzed noisily over a bed of wild thyme under the
wall, and a swallow was feeding a row of young ones upon the ridged
roof of the sexton's cottage. In the great stretch of blue above, the
little fleecy clouds formed themselves into snowy mountains with
valleys and lakes between, a kind of dream country in purest white, and
Isobel wondered whether, if one could sail straight on to the very
verge of the distance where sea and sky seemed to meet, one could slip
altogether over the invisible line that bounds the horizon, and find
oneself floating in that cloudland region.
It's like the edge of heaven, she thought. I think the saints
must live there, and the cherubim and seraphim much farther and higher
upright in the blue part. One could never see them; but
perhaps sometimes on a day like this the saints might come back a
little way out of the light and nearer to the earth where they used to
live, and if one looked very hard one might manage to catch a glimpse
of them just where the sun's shining on that white piece.
O blest communion! fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine!
came wafted through the open church door, the sound of the singing,
rather far off and subdued, seeming to join in harmony with the lap of
the waves, the hum of the bees, the cries of the sea-gulls, the
twittering of the swallows, and all the other glad voices of nature. It
looked such a beautiful, joyful, delightful, glorious world that Isobel
sat very quietly for a time just drinking in the sweet air and the
sunshine, and feeling, without exactly knowing why, that it was good to
Are you asleep? said Belle at last, in an injured tone; you
haven't spoken to me for at least five minutes. I'm sure it must be
getting near tea-time. Let us go now.
All right, said Isobel, recalling herself with a startshe had
almost forgotten Belle's existence for the moment. It's so nice on
these steps, one feels as if one were up above everything. It's like
being on the roof of the world. Perhaps that was why St. Alcuin and the
monks built the abbey here; it seems so very near to the sky.
What a queer girl you are sometimes! said Belle, looking at her
curiously; I believe you're fond of old churches and musty-fusty
monuments. Come along. We'll buy some sweets or some pears as we go
It was a change indeed from the cliff top to the bustle and noise of
the little town below. Most of the fish-stalls were empty in the
market, for the stock of herrings and mackerel had been sold off
earlier in the day; but a travelling bazaar was in full swing, and
exhibited a bewildering display of toys, tea-cups, mugs, tin cans,
looking-glasses, corkscrews, and many other wonderful and miscellaneous
articles, any of which might be bought for the sum of one penny. The
main street, narrow and twisting, ran steeply uphill, the high gabled
houses crowding each other as if they were trying to peep over one
another's shoulders; from the side alleys came the mingled odours of
sea-weed and frying fish, and a persistent peddler hawking brooms
shouted himself hoarse in his efforts to sell his wares. Under the wide
archway at the corner by the market stood a tiny fruit-shop, where
piles of plums and early apples, bunches of sweet peas and dahlias,
baskets of tomatoes, lettuces, broad beans, cauliflowers, and cabbages,
were set forth to tempt customers.
There are the most delicious-looking pears, said Belle, peeping
through the small square panes of the window, and so cheap. I shall go
in and get some.
Yes, love, six for a penny, said the woman, a motherly-looking
soul, as Belle entered the shop and inquired the price. They're fine
and ripe now, and won't do you no harm. A pen'orth, did you say? And
picking out six of the best pears, she put them into a paper bag and
handed them to Belle, who, turning to leave the shop, laid down on the
counter the coin which she had placed that afternoon on the railway
The woman did not look at it particularly, but naturally supposing
from the size that it was a penny, she swept it carelessly into the
Belle! Belle! whispered Isobel, catching her friend hastily by the
arm as she went out through the door, do you know what you've done?
You paid her your big halfpenny instead of a penny.
Oh, did I? said Belle, flushing. I didn't notice. I never looked
What a good thing I saw the mistake! Give her a proper penny, and
get the halfpenny back.
Belle fumbled in her pocket in vain.
I don't believe I have another penny, after all, she said at last.
I thought I had several. I must have lost them while we were up on the
cliffs, I suppose.
What are we to do? exclaimed Isobel anxiously. We can't
take the pears when we haven't paid for them properly; it would be
I'll bring her another halfpenny to-morrow, suggested Belle.
But suppose before that she looks at the money and finds out;
she'll think we have been trying to cheat her.
Perhaps she won't remember who gave it to her.
Oh! but that wouldn't make it any better, said Isobel. Look here;
let us take back the bag, and tell her we paid the wrong money, and ask
her to give us only half the pears.
Very well, answered Belle. You go in, will you? I don't like to.
Isobel seized the parcel, and quickly re-entered the shop.
I'm ever so sorry, she said breathlessly, but we find we've made
such a dreadful mistake. We meant to give you a penny, and it wasn't a
penny at allonly a halfpenny squashed out flat on the railway line;
so, please, will you take back half the pears, because we neither of us
have a proper penny in our pockets.
The woman laughed.
I didn't think to notice what you give me, she said. But you're
an honest little girl to come and tell me. No, I won't take back none
of the pears. You're welcome to them, I'm sure.
It was very nice of her, said Belle sweetly, peeling the juicy
fruit slowly with her penknife as they turned away down the street. So
stupid of me to make such a mistake! Have another, darling; they're
quite delicious, though they are so small.
Isobel walked along rather silent and preoccupied. Though she would
not allow it to herself, down at the bottom of her heart there was the
uncomfortable suspicion that Belle had known all the time, and had
meant to give the wrong coin.
She couldn't! thought Isobel. She must have made a
mistake, and thought she really had a penny in her pocket. Yet at the
level crossing she certainly said the halfpenny was all she had until
she got her weekly money to-morrow. Perhaps she forgot. Oh dear! I know
she didn't mean to cheat or tell storiesI'm sure she wouldn't for the
worldbut somehow I wish it hadn't happened.
CHAPTER VII. THE STORMY PETREL.
A boat, a boat is the toy for me,
To rollick about in on river and sea,
To be a child of the breeze and the gale,
And like a wild bird on the deep to sail
This is the life for me.
The United Sea Urchins' Recreation Society usually met every morning
upon the strip of green common underneath the cliffs which they had
appropriated to their own use, and were prepared to hold against all
comers. The Rokebys, who were enthusiastic bathers, had a tent upon the
shore, and spent nearly half the morning in the sea, where they could
float, swim on their backs, tread water, and even turn head over heels,
much to the envy of the Wrights, who made valiant efforts to emulate
these wonderful feats, and nearly drowned themselves in the attempt.
The two little Barringtons were solemnly bathed each day by their
mother in a specially-constructed roofless tent, which was fixed upon
four poles over a hole previously dug in the sand, and filled by the
advancing tide. Here they were obliged to sit for ten minutes in the
water, with the sun pouring down upon them till the small tent
resembled a vapour bath, after which they were massaged according to
the treatment recommended by a certain Heidelberg doctor in whom Mrs.
Barrington had great faith, and whose methods she insisted upon
carrying out to the letter, in spite of Ruth's indignant remonstrances
and Edna's wails.
Ruth says bathing's no fun at all, confided Isobel to her mother;
and I shouldn't think it is, if you can't splash about in the sea and
enjoy yourself. Mrs. Barrington won't let them try to swim, and they
just have to sit in a puddle inside the tent, while she flings cans of
sea-water down their backs. Edna says the hot sun makes the skin peel
off her, and she can't bear the rubbing afterwards. Her clothes fridge
her, too; they always wear thick woollen under-things even in this
blazing weather, their mother's so afraid of them taking a chill.
Poor children! said Mrs. Stewart; I certainly think they have
rather a bad time. It must be very hard to be brought up by rule, and
to have so many experiments tried upon you.
Ruth says she has one comfort, though, continued Isobel: they're
allowed to speak English all the time during the holidays. At home they
have a German governess, and they talk French one day, and German the
next, and English only on Sundays. Ruth hates languages. She won't
speak a word to mademoiselle, but she says the Wrights simply talk
cat-Frenchit's half of it English wordsalthough they're so
conceited about it, and generally say something out very loud if they
think anybody is passing, even if it's only Il fait beau aujourd'hui, or Comment vous portez-vous? The Rokebys poke terrible fun at
them; they've made up a gibberish language of their own, and they talk
it hard whenever the Wrights let off French. It makes Charlotte and
Aggie quite savage, because they know they're talking about them, only
they can't understand a word.
* * * * *
What's the club going to do to-day? asked Bertie Rokeby one
morning, looking somewhat damp and moist after his swim. (He never
will dry himself properly, said Mrs. Rokeby; he just gets into
his clothes as he is, and he's sitting down on the old boat just where
the sun has melted the pitch, and it will be sure to stick to his
Don't know, said Harold Wright, lolling comfortably in the shade
of a rock, with his head on his rolled-up jacket; too hot to race
round with the thermometer over 70°. I shall stay where I am, with a
Get up, you fat porpoise! You'll grow too lazy to walk. Unless you
mean to stop and swat at Greek like old Arthur.
No, thanks, laughed Harold. I'm not in for a scholarship yet,
thank goodness! I'm just going to kick my heels here. The dolce far
niente, you know.
Let us go down to the quay, suggested Charlie Chester, and watch
the boats come in. It's stunning to see them packing all the herrings
into barrels, and flinging the mackerel about. Some of the men are ever
so decent: they let you help to haul in the ropes, and take you on
Shall we go too? said Belle, who, with her arm as usual round
Isobel's waist, stood among the group of children; it's rather fun
down by the quay, if you don't get too near the fish.Are you
Yes, if Charlotte and mademoiselle will go too.Mam'zelle,
voulez-vous aller avec nous à voir le fish-market?
Mademoiselle shivered slightly, as if Aggie's French set her teeth
Qu'est-ce que c'est, chère enfant, cette 'feesh markeet'? she
I don't know whether I can quite explain it in French, replied
Aggie; but seeing the Rokebys come up, she made a desperate effort to
sustain her character as a linguist. C'est l'endroit où on vend le
poisson, vous savez.
Unfortunately she pronounced poisson like the English
poison, and mademoiselle held up her dainty little hands with a
shriek of horror.
Vere zey sell ze poison! Non, mon enfant! You sall nevaire take me
zere! Madame Wright, see not permit zat you go! C'est impossible!
It's all right, mademoiselle, said Arthur, taking his nose for a
moment out of his dictionary. Aggie only meant poisson. The
mater'll let the kids go, if you want to take 'em.
Come along, mademoiselle, do! said Charlie Chester cordially.
Venez avec moi! That's about all the French I can talk, because at
school we only learn to write exercises about pens and ink and paper,
and the gardener's son, and lending your knife to the uncle of the
baker; a jolly silly you'd be if you did, too! You'd never get it back.
Suivez-moi! And come and see the poisson. You'll enjoy it if you
I'm sure she wouldn't, said Charlotte Wright, who liked to keep
her governess to herself. We haven't time, eitherwe must do our
translation before dinner; and Joyce and Eric can't go unless we're
there to look after them.
All right; don't, then! We shan't grieve, retorted Charlie. We'll
go with the Rokebys.
But the Rokebys, though ready, as a rule, to go anywhere and
everywhere, on this particular occasion were due at the railway station
to meet a cousin who was arriving that morning; so it ended in only
Belle and Isobel, with Charlie and Hilda Chester, setting off for the
old town. The quay was a busy, bustling scene. The herring-fleet had
just come in, and it was quite a wonderful sight to watch the fish,
with their shining iridescent colours, leaping by hundreds inside the
holds. They were flung out upon the jetty, and packed at once into
barrels, an operation which seemed to demand much noise and shouting on
the part of the fishermen in the boats, and to call for a good deal of
forcible language from their partners on shore. The small fry and
cuttle-fish were thrown overboard for the sea-gulls, that hovered round
with loud cries, waiting to pounce upon the tempting morsels, while the
great flat skate and dog-fish were put aside separately.
They're second-rate stuff, you see, explained Charlie Chester,
who, with his hands in his pockets and his most seaman-like gait, went
strolling jauntily up and down the harbour, inspecting the cargoes,
trying the strength of the cables, peeping into the barrels with the
knowing air of a connoisseur of fish, and generally putting himself
where he was decidedly not wanted.
They only pack the herrings, and they salt and dry the others in
the sun. You can see them dangling outside their cottage doors all over
the town, and smell them too, I should say. When they're quite hard
they hammer them out flat, and send them to Whitechapel for the Jews to
buyat least that's what the mate of the Penelope told me the
They eat them themselves too, said Hilda. I went inside a cottage
one day, and they were frying some for dinner. The woman gave me a
taste, but it was perfectly horrid, and I couldn't swallow it. I had to
rush outside round the corner and spit it out.
You disgusting girl! said Belle, picking her way daintily between
the barrels; I wonder you could touch it, to begin with! Why, here are
the women coming with the cockles. What a haul they've had! There's old
Biddy at the head of them.
So she is! cried Charlie; her basket looks almost
'In Dublin's fair city,
Where girls are so pretty,
There once lived a maiden named Molly Malon
She wheeled a wheelbarrow
Through streets wide and narrow,
Singing, Cockles and mussels alive, alive-O!'
Change it into Biddy, and there you are! I've an eye for an
'illigant colleen' when I see her!
Sure, ye're at yer jokes agin, Masther Charlie, laughed Biddy;
colleen, indade, and me turned sixty only the other day! If it weren't
for the kreel on me back, I'd be afther yez.
I'd like to see you catch me, cried Charlie, as he jumped on a
heap of barrels, bringing the whole pile with a crash to the ground,
greatly to the wrath of the owner, who expressed his views with so much
vigour that the children judged it discreet to adjourn farther on along
They strolled past the storehouse, and round the corner to where a
flight of green slimy steps led down to the water. There was an iron
ring here in the sea wall, and tied to it by a short cable was the
jolliest pleasure boat imaginable, newly painted in white and blue,
with her name, the Stormy Petrel, in gilt letters on the prow,
her sail furled, and a pair of sculls lying ready along her seats.
She's a smart craft, said Charlie, reaching down to the painter,
and pulling the boat up to the steps. I vote we get inside her, and
try what she feels like.
Will they let us? asked Isobel.
We won't ask them, laughed Charlie. It's all right; we shan't do
any harm. They can turn us out if they want her. Come along. And he
held out his hand.
It was such a tempting proposal that it simply was not in human
nature to resist, and the three little girls hopped briskly into the
boat, Belle and Isobel settling themselves in the bows, and Hilda
taking a seat in the stern.
It almost feels as if we were really sailing, said Isobel, as the
boat danced upon the green water, pulling at its painter as though it
were anxious to break away and follow the ebbing tide.
She'd cut through anything, she's so sharp in the bows, said
Charlie, handling the sculls lovingly, and looking out towards the
mouth of the harbour, where long white-capped waves flecked the
Can't you take us for a row, Charlie? cried Belle; it's so jolly
on the water.
Yes, do, Charlie, echoed Hilda; it would be such fun.
Do you mean, go for a real sail? asked Isobel, rather aghast at
such a daring proposal.
Oh, we'd only take her for a turn round the harbour, and be back
before any one missed her. It would be an awful lark, said Charlie.
But not without a boatman! remonstrated Isobel.
Why not? I know all about sailing, replied Charlie confidently,
for, having been occasionally taken yachting by his father, and having
picked up a number of nautical terms, which he generally used wrongly,
he imagined himself to be a thorough Jack Tar. Wouldn't you like it? I
thought you were fond of the sea.
So I am, said Isobel; but I don't think we ought to go without
asking. It's not our boat, and the man she belongs to mightn't like us
to take her out by ourselves.
I suppose you're afraid, sneered Charlie; most girls are dreadful
land-lubbers. Hilda's keen enough; and as for Belle, she's half wild to
go, I can see.
I should think I am; and what's more, I mean to! declared Belle;
and settling the dispute as Alexander of old untied the Gordian knot,
she took her penknife from her pocket, and leaning over, cut the
painter off sharp.
Now you've done it! cried Charlie. Well, we're off, at any
rate, so we may as well enjoy ourselves.Hilda, you must steer while I
row. If you watch me feather my oars, you'll see I can manage the thing
in ripping style.
There was such a strong ebb tide that Charlie had really no need to
row. The boat went skimming over the waves as if she had been a
veritable stormy petrel, sending the water churning round her bows.
Although all four children felt a trifle guilty, they could not help
enjoying the delightful sensation of that swift-rushing motion over the
sea. Nearly all Anglo-Saxons have a love for the water: perhaps some
spirit of the old vikings still lingers in our blood, and thrills
afresh at the splash of the waves, the dash of the salt spray, and the
fleck of the foam on our faces. There is a feeling of freedom, a sense
of air, and space, and dancing light, and soft, subdued sound that
blend into one exhilarating joy, when, with only a plank between us and
the racing water, it is as if nature took us in her arms and were about
to carry us away from every trammel of civilization, somewhere into
that far-off land that lies always just over the horizonthat lost
Atlantis which the old navigators sought so carefully, but never found.
Isobel sat in the bows, her hand locked in Belle's. She felt as if
they were birds flying through space together, or mermaids who had
risen up from the sea-king's palace to take a look at the sun-world
above, and were floating along as much a part of the waves as the great
trails of bladder-wrack, or the lumps of soft spongy foam that whirled
by them. Charlie rested on his sculls and let the boat take her course
for a while; she was heading towards the bar, straight out from the
cliffs and the harbour to where the heavy breakers, which dashed
against the lighthouse, merged into the rollers of the open sea.
Aren't we going out rather a long way? said Belle at last. We've
passed the old schooner and the dredger, and we're very nearly at the
buoy. We don't want to sail quite to America, though it's jolly when we
skim along like this. If we don't mind we shall be over the bar in a
By jove! so we shall! cried Charlie. I didn't notice we'd come so
far. We must bring her round.Get her athwart, Hilda, quick!
I suppose if you pull one line it goes one way, and if you pull the
other line it goes the other way, said Hilda, whose first experience
it was with the tiller, giving such a mighty jerk as an experiment that
she swung the boat half round.
Easy abaft! shouted Charlie. Do you want to capsize us? Turn her
to starboard; she's on the port tack. Put up the helm, and make her
What do you mean? cried Hilda, utterly bewildered by these
You little idiot, don't tug so hard! You'll be running us into the
buoy. Look here! you can't steer. Just drop these lines. I'd better
ship the oars and hoist the sail, and then I can take the tiller
myself. There's a stiffish breeze; I can tack her round, you'll see, if
I've no one interfering. Now let me get my bearings.
Are you sure you know how? asked Belle uneasily.
Haven't I watched old Jordan do it a hundred times? declared
Charlie. I'll soon have the canvas up. I say, look out there! The
blooming thing's heavier than I thought.
Oh, do be careful! entreated Belle, as the sail went up in a very
peculiar fashion, and beginning to fill with the breeze sent the boat
heeling sharply over.
She'll be perfectly right if I slack out. The wind's on our beam,
replied Charlie; I must get her a-lee.
You're going to upset us! exclaimed Belle, for the sail was
flapping about in such a wild and unsteady manner as seemed to threaten
to overturn the little vessel.
Not if I make this taut, cried Charlie, hauling away with all his
strength.Hilda, that was a near shave! as the unmanageable canvas,
swelling out suddenly, caught her a blow on the side of her head and
nearly swept her from the boat.
Hilda gave a shriek of terror and clung wildly to the gunwale.
O Charlie! she cried, take us back. I don't like sailing. I want
to go home.
Oh! why did we ever come? shrieked Belle, jumping up in her seat
and wringing her hands. You'll send us to the bottom.
Sit still, dear, cried Isobel. You'll upset the boat if you move
so quickly.Charlie, I think you'd better take down that sail and try
the sculls again. If you'll let me steer perhaps I could manage better
than Hilda, and we could turn out of the current; it's taking us
straight to sea. If we can head round towards the quay we might get
All serene, said Charlie, furling his canvas with secret relief.
There ought to be several, really, for this job; it takes more than
one to sail a craft properly, and none of you girls know how to help.
He gave Isobel a hand as she moved cautiously into the stern, and
settling her with the ropes, he once more took up the oars.
I shall come too, wailed Belle. I can't stay alone at this end of
the boat. Isobel, it's horrid of you to leave me.
Sit still, commanded Charlie. It's you who'll have us over if you
jump about like that. We can't all be at one end, I tell you. You must
stop where you are.
He made a desperate effort to turn the boat, but his boyish arms
were powerless against the strength of the ebbing tide, and they were
swept rapidly towards the bar.
It's no use, said Charlie at last, shipping his sculls; I can't
get her out of this current. We shall just have to drift on till some
one sees us and picks us up.
O Charlie! cried Hilda, her round chubby face aghast with horror,
shall we float on for days and days without anything to eat, or be
shipwrecked on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe, and have to cling
to broken masts and spars?
We're all right; don't make such a fuss! said Charlie, glancing
uneasily, however, at the long waves ahead. They were crossing the bar,
and the water was rough outside the harbour.
I know we're going to be drowned! moaned Belle. It's your
fault, Charlie. You ought never to have brought us.
Well, I like that! retorted Charlie, with some heat, when it was
you who first thought of it, and asked me to take you. I suppose you'll
be saying I cut the painter next.
You want to throw the blame on me! declared Belle.
No, I don't; but there's such a thing as fair play.
O Charlie, it doesn't matter whose fault it was now, said Isobel.
I suppose in a way it's all our faults for getting in, to begin with.
Couldn't we somehow raise a signal of distress? Suppose you tie my
handkerchief to the scull, and hoist it up like a flag. Some ship might
Not a bad idea, said Charlie, who by this time wished himself well
out of the scrape. You've a head on your shoulders, though I did call
you a land-lubber.
Between them they managed to tie on the handkerchief and hoist the
oar, and as their improvised flag fluttered in the wind they hoped
desperately that it might bring some friendly vessel to their aid.
They had quite cleared the harbour by now; the sea was rough, and
the current still carried them on fast. Isobel sat with her arm round
poor little Hilda, who clung to her very closely, watching the water
with a white, frightened face, though she was too plucky to cry. Belle,
who had completely lost self-control, was huddled down in the bows,
shaking with hysterical sobs, and uttering shrieks every time the boat
struck a bigger wave than usual.
I wonder no one in the harbour noticed us set off, said Isobel
after a time, when the land seemed to be growing more and more distant
They were busy packing the herrings, replied Charlie, and you see
we started from round the corner. Our only chance now is meeting some
boat coming from Ferndale. I say! do you think that's a sail over
It is! cried Isobel. Let us hold the flag up higher, and we'll
call 'Help!' as loud as we can. Sound carries so far over water,
perhaps they might hear us.
Ahoy there! yelled Charlie, with the full strength of his lungs.
Boat ahoy! And Hilda and Isobel joining in, they contrived amongst
them to raise a considerably lusty shout.
To their intense relief it seemed to be heard, as the ship tacked
round, and bearing down upon them, very soon came up alongside.
Well, of all sights as ever I clapped eyes on! Four bairns adrift
in an open craft! I thought summat was up when I see'd your flag, and
then you hollered.Easy there, Jim. Take the little 'un on first. Mind
that lad! He'll be overboard!Whisht, honey! don't take on so. You'll
soon be safe back with your ma.Now, missy, give me your hand. Ay,
you've been up to some fine games here, I'll wager, as you never did
ought. But there! Bairns will be bairns, and I should know, for I've
Mr. Binks! cried Isobel, to whom the ruddy cheeks, the bushy
eyebrows, and the good-natured conversational voice of her friend of
the railway train were quite unmistakable.
Why, it's little missy as were comin' to Silversands! responded
the old man. To think as I should 'a met you again like this! I felt
as if somethin' sent me out this mornin' over and above callin' at
Ferndale for a load of coals, which would 'a done to-morrow just as
well. It's the workin's of Providence as we come on this tack, or you
might 'a been right out to sea, and, ten to one, upset in that narrer
bit of a boat.
It certainly felt far safer in Mr. Binks's broad-bottomed
fishing-smack, though they had to sit amongst the coals and submit to
be rather searchingly and embarrassingly catechised as to how they came
to be in such a perilous situation. Their plight had been noticed at
last from the harbour, where the owner of the boat, missing his craft,
had raised a hue-and-cry, and there was quite a little crowd gathered
to meet them on the jetty when they landed, a crowd which expressed its
satisfaction at their timely rescue, or its disapproval of their
escapade, according to individual temperament.
Praise the saints ye're not drownded entoirely! cried Biddy,
giving Charlie a smacking kiss, much to his disgust. And it's ould
Biddy Mulligan as saw the peril ye was in, and asked St. Pathrick and
the Blessed Virgin to keep an eye on yez. Holy St. Bridget! but ye're a
broth of a boy, afther all.
I'm main set to give you a jolly good hidin', growled the owner of
the boat, greeting Charlie with a somewhat different reception, and
fingering a piece of rope-end as if he were much tempted to put his
threat into execution. Don't you never let me catch you on this quay
again, meddlin' with other folk's property, if you want to keep your
skin on you.
He really was most dreadfully angry, Isobel told her mother in the
graphic account which she gave afterwards of the adventure. But
Charlie said how very sorry we were. He took the whole blame to
himself, though it wasn't all his fault by any means, and he offered to
pay for having borrowed the boat. Then the man said he spoke up like a
gentleman, and he wouldn't take his money from him; and Mr. Binks said
bairns would be bairns, and it was a mercy we hadn't gone to the
bottom; and the man shook hands with Charlie, and said he was a plucky
little chap, with a good notion of handling a sail, and he'd take him
out some time and show him how to do it properly. And Mr. Binks said
I'd never been to see him yet, and I told him you'd sprained your ankle
and couldn't walk, but it was getting better nicely, and you'd soon be
able to; and he said, would we write and give him warning when we'd
made up our minds, and his missis should bake a cranberry cake on
purpose, and if we came early, he'd row us over to see the balk. I said
we should be very pleased, because you'd promised before that you'd go.
So you will, won't you, mother?
I shall be only too glad to have an opportunity of thanking him,
said Mrs. Stewart. I feel I owe him a big debt of gratitude to-day.
Perhaps in the meantime we can think of some pretty little present to
take with us that would please him and his wife, as a slight return for
his kindness. You would have time to embroider a tea-cosy if I were to
That would be lovely, said Isobel. And then they could use it
every day at tea-time. We could work a teapot on one side and a big 'B'
on the other for Binks. I'm sure they'd like that. May I go and buy the
materials this afternoon? I brought my thimble with me and my new
scissors in the green silk bag. I feel as if I should like to begin and
make it at once.
CHAPTER VIII. CROSS-PURPOSES.
Though a truth to outward seeming,
Yet a truth it may not prove.
Although Mrs. Stewart had now been more than ten days at Silversands
she had not yet received any reply to the letter which she had
dispatched with so many heart-burnings on the evening of her arrival.
Does he mean to ignore it altogether? she asked herself. Will he
never forgive? Can he allow his grandchild, the only kith and kin that
is left to him, to be within a few miles and not wish at least to see
her? Does he still think me the scheming adventuress that he called me
in the first heat of his anger, and imagine I am plotting to get hold
of his money? I would not touch one penny of it for myself, but I think
it is only right and fair that Isobel should be sent to a really good
school. It would be such a small expense to him out of his large
income, and it is simply impossible for me to manage it. I have done my
best for her so far, but she is so quick and bright that she will very
soon be growing beyond my teaching. He will surely realize that for the
credit of his own name something ought to be done. Perhaps he may be
ill or away, and has not been able to attend to my letter. I must have
patience for a little longer, and wait and see whether he will not send
me an answer.
The waiting seemed very long and tedious to poor Mrs. Stewart as she
lay through those hot summer days on the hard horsehair sofa of the
small back sitting-room at No. 4 Marine Terrace. As the lonely hours
passed away, the lines of trouble deepened in her forehead, and she
stitched so many cares into the winter night-dresses she was beguiling
the time by making that every gusset and hem seemed a reminder of some
anxious thought for the future.
In the meantime Isobel remained sublimely unconscious of her
mother's hopes and fears. To her the visit to Silversands was nothing
but the most glorious holiday she had spent in her life, and her jolly
times with the Sea Urchins, and especially the delight of her
friendship with Belle, made the days fly only too fast. The latter was
still as clinging and affectionate as ever, and would scarcely allow
Isobel out of her sight.
I'd rather be with you, darling, than with any one else, she
declared enthusiastically. I used to think I liked Winnie Rokeby, but
she was very unkind once or twice, and told such nasty tales about me,
actually trying to make out I was selfish, just because I wanted her to
do one or two little things for me that you don't mind doing in
the least. She splashed sea-water all over my best white silk dress
too, and I'm sure it was on purpose, and she said my hair looked
exactly like sticks of barley-sugar. And Belle tossed back her curls
as if indignant yet at the remembrance.
She really is fond of me, said Isobel to her mother. And
it's so nice of her, because, you see, although she doesn't care for
Winnie Rokeby, she might have had Aggie Wright or Ruth Barrington for
her special friend; she knows them both at home, and goes to all their
parties. Charlotte Wright says it's too hot to last, but that's just
because Aggie was jealous that Belle didn't ask her to go to tea the
day I went; and Letty Rokeby says we're bound to have a quarrel sooner
or later, but I'm sure we shan't, for there never seems anything to
quarrel about, and I couldn't imagine being out of friends with Belle.
On the afternoon following Isobel's adventure in the Stormy
Petrel, any one seated in the front windows of Marine Terrace might
have been interested in the movements of an elderly gentleman, who for
the last ten minutes had been slowly pacing up and down the broad
gravel path in front. He was a very stately old gentleman, with
iron-gray hair and a long, drooping moustache; he held himself erect,
too, as if he were at parade, and he had that air of quiet dignity and
command which is habitual to those who are accustomed to seeing their
orders promptly obeyed. Whether he was merely enjoying the fresh air
and scenery, or whether he was waiting for somebody, it was difficult
to tell, since he now lighted a cigar in a leisurely fashion, and cast
an anxious, quick look towards the houses, and, frowning slightly,
would walk away, then come back again as if he were drawn by some
magnet towards the spot, and must return there even against his will.
He was just passing the garden of No. 4 when the front door opened,
and Belle, who had been spending an hour with Isobel, sauntered down
the path, and closing the gate behind her, seated herself upon one of
the benches which the Town Council had put up that summer on the gravel
walk in front of Marine Terrace, as a kind of earnest of the promenade
which they hoped might follow in course of time. She spread out her
pretty pink muslin dress carefully upon the seat, rearranged her hat to
her satisfaction, and slowly fastened the buttons of her long kid
gloves. It was too early to go home yet, she thought, for her mother
was out with friends, and their tea-time was not until five o'clock, so
she sat watching the sea and the fishing-boats, and drawing elaborate
circles with her parasol in the gravel at her feet. She was quite
unaware that she was being very keenly observed by the old gentleman,
who, having followed her, walked past once or twice with an undecided
air, and finally settled himself upon the opposite end of the bench
where she was sitting.
That's certainly the address she gave me, he muttered to himself,
and it might possibly be the child. She tallies a little with the
description; she's fair, and not bad-looking, though I don't see a
trace of the Stewarts in her face. As for resembling my Isobelwell,
of course, that was only a scheme on the mother's part to try and
arouse my interest in her. What the letter said is true enough, all the
same: if she's my grandchild it isn't right that she should be brought
up in penury, and I suppose I must send her to school, or provide in
some way for her. I can't say I'm much taken with her looks. She's too
dressed-up for my taste. Where did her mother find the money to buy
those fal-lals? It doesn't accord with the lack of means she complained
of. I wonder if I could manage to ask her name without giving myself
He took a newspaper from his pocket, and spreading it out, pretended
to read, stealing occasional glances in Belle's direction, and racking
his brains for a suitable method of opening a conversation. Belle, who
was beginning to be rather tired of her occupation, and was half
thinking of moving farther on or going home, became suddenly conscious
that she seemed to be arousing an unusual degree of interest in her
companion at the other end of the bench. Constantly petted and admired
by her mother's friends, she was accustomed to receive a good deal of
attention, and it struck her that a short chat with this
distinguished-looking stranger might beguile her monotony until
tea-time. She therefore let her fluffy curls fall round her face in the
way that an artist had once painted them, and began to cast coy looks
from under her long lashes in his direction, hoping that he might speak
to her; both of which methods she usually found very engaging with
elderly gentlemen, who generally asked her whose little girl she was,
and ended by saying she was a charming child, and they wished they
owned her, or some other remark equally flattering and gratifying.
In this case however, her pretty ways did not seem to have their due
effect; either the old gentleman was really shy himself, or he found a
difficulty in starting, for though he cleared his throat several times,
as if he were on the very point of speaking, he seemed to change his
mind, and kept silence. Somewhat disappointed, Belle nevertheless was
not easily baffled, and after having sighed, coughed, opened and shut
her parasol, taken off her gloves and put them on again, thereby
exhibiting the small turquoise ring that was her greatest delight, and
finally even got up a sneeze, all without any result, she at last
pulled off her bracelet, and in refastening it managed with
considerable skill to let it drop on the ground and roll almost to her
companion's feet. It was but natural that he should pick it up and hand
it to her.
Oh, thank you so much! exclaimed Belle, in what some one had once
called her Parisian manner. It was so careless of me to drop it, and
I wouldn't have lost it for the world. Things so easily roll away on
the shore, don't they?
I suppose they do, replied the colonel. It certainly isn't wise
to send your trinkets spinning about the sands.
I value that one, too, said Belle, shaking her curls, because,
you see, it was a present. A friend of mother's gave it to me on my
last birthday. He was going to choose a book at firsthe always sent
me books before, the most terrible ones: Shakespeare, and Lamb's
'Essays,' and Ruskin, and stupid things like that, which I shan't ever
care to read, even when I'm grown upso this birthday I asked him if
he would give me something really nice; and he laughed, and brought me
this dear little bangle, and said he expected it would suit Miss
Curly-locks better than solid reading.
Ugh! grunted her new acquaintance, with so ambiguous an expression
that Belle could not make out whether he sympathized or not; but as he
put down his paper, and seemed quite ready to listen to her, she went
It's very nice at Silversands. Mother and I have been here nearly a
fortnight. We think the air's bracing, and the lodgings are really not
bad for a little place like this. One doesn't expect a hotel.
Are you staying in Marine Terrace?
Yes; it's the nicest part, because you get the view of the sea. I
don't like the rooms near the station at all. Mother looked at some of
them first, but there were such dreadfully vulgar children stopping
there. 'This won't do, Belle,' she said. 'I couldn't have you in the
same house with people of that sort.'
Is your name Belle?
Yes, Isabelle Stuart; but it's generally shortened to Belle. Mother
says a pet name somehow seems to suit me better. Last winter I went to
a party dressed all in blue, and everybody called me 'Little Bluebell,'
and asked if I came from fairyland.
She paused here, thinking the old gentleman might take the
opportunity to put in a compliment; but he did not rise to the
occasion, so she continued,
Other people asked if I were one of the bluebells of Scotland; but
we're not Scotch, although our name's Stuart. My father was English. I
can't remember him properly, I was so little when he died, but mother
always says I'm his very image.
Rubbish! growled the colonel suddenly.
Why! exclaimed Belle, in astonishment, how can you tell? You
didn't know him? He was very tall and fair, mother says, and so
handsome. She cries when I talk about him, so I don't like to speak of
him very often.
What is she doing for you in the way of lessons? Is it all parties
and trinkets, or do you ever do anything useful? asked her companion.
Of course I have lessons, replied Belle with dignity, feeling
rather hurt at his tone. I learn French, and drawing, and music, and
dancing, and a great many other things.
And which do you like best?
I don't know. I'm not very fond of history or geography, but mother
hopes I'll get on with music. It's so useful to be able to play well,
you see, when one comes out. I think I like the dancing lessons most;
we learn such delightful fancy steps. Some of us did a skirt dance at
the cavalry bazaar last winter, and I was the Queen of the Butterflies.
I had a white dress lined with yellow and turquoise, and I shook it out
like this when I danced, to show the colours. People clapped ever so
much, and it was such a success we had to do it over again, in aid of
the hospital. Our mistress wants to get up a flower dance for the
exhibition fête next winter, and she promised I should be the
Rose Queen, but mother says perhaps I may go to school before then.
Time you did, toohigh timeand to a school where they put
something in the girls' heads, remarked the colonel, almost as if he
were thinking aloud. It ought to be history and geography, instead of
Bluebells and Rose Queens. I don't approve of capering about on a stage
in fancy dress.
Belle was much offended. The conversation had not turned out nearly
so interesting as she expected. Instead of being appreciated, she had
an uneasy sensation that the old gentleman was making fun of her; and
as this was not at all to her taste, she thought it time to beat a
retreat; so, noticing the Wrights approaching in the distance, she rose
and put up her parasol.
I see some of my friends, she said, in what she hoped was rather a
chilling manner, and I must go and speak to them.
And to show her displeasure, she marched off without deigning even
to say good-bye. Colonel Stewart sat watching her as she walked away,
with a somewhat peculiar expression on his face.
Worse than I could ever have imagined! he groaned. Vain, shallow,
and empty-headed, caring for nothing but pleasure and showing herself
off in public places decked out like a ballet dancer! She's pretty
enough in a superficial kind of waythe sort of beauty you get in a
doll, with neither mind nor soul behind it. She worthy of the
name, indeed! Oh, my poor boy! Is this the child on whom you had set
such high hopes? And is this little French fashion-plate really and
truly the last of the Stewarts?
CHAPTER IX. SILVERSANDS TOWER.
Say, what deeds of ancient valour
Do thy ruined walls recall?
Four o'clock on the next afternoon found Belle tapping at the door
of the little back sitting-room in No. 4 with a very important face.
Why, what's the matter? she exclaimed, as she entered in response
to Mrs. Stewart's Come in, for Isobel was sitting in the big armchair
propped up with cushions, looking as limp as a rag and as white as a
It's only one of her bad headaches, replied Mrs. Stewart; I think
it must be the heat. She ought not to have played cricket this morning
in the blazing sun.No, Isobel, you mustn't try to get up. Belle may
sit here and talk to you for a few minutes, but I'm afraid I can't ask
her to stay long.
I'm so sorry! said Belle, sitting down on the arm of the
big chair and squeezing her friend's hand. I've brought an invitation.
It's mother's birthday on Saturday, and she's going to give a picnic at
Silversands Tower, and ask all the Sea Urchins. Won't it be splendid
fun? You simply must be better by then. It will be quite a large
party: Mr. Chester and a good many other grown-up people are
coming.Mother wonders if your foot will be well enough, Mrs. Stewart?
She would be so pleased to see you, if you don't mind so many
Thank you, dear; but I can scarcely manage to hobble on to the
beach at present, replied Mrs. Stewart, so I fear it is out of the
question for me, much as I should have enjoyed it. Isobel, of course,
will be only too delighted to accept. I believe the very thought of it
is chasing away her headache.
We're to drive there on two coaches, said Belle, and have tea in
the ruins, and afterwards we can play games or ramble about in the
woods. There'll be twelve grown-up people and twenty children. We
didn't invite the Wrights' baby, because mother said it was too young,
and she really couldn't stand it. She's asked all the Rokebys, even
Cecil, though he is rather a handful sometimes; but Mr. Rokeby's
coming, I expect, and he'll keep him in order. The Wrights are bringing
an aunt who's just arrived back from a visit to Paris. I'm afraid we
shall scarcely get them to talk English. And Mrs. Barrington hasn't
decided yet whether she'll let Ruth and Edna goshe says it depends
upon how they do their health exercises; but they're going to try and
get their father to persuade her. Well, I mustn't stay now if your head
aches, but I'm very glad you can come; I think we shall have a glorious
time, and I do hope Saturday will be fine.
Not one of the numerous members of the Sea Urchins' Club could have
been more anxious for a brilliant day than Isobel. She tapped the glass
in the hall with much solicitude, and even paid a visit to her friend
the coastguard to inquire his opinion as to the state of the weather;
and having carefully examined a threatening bank of clouds through his
telescope, and ascertained that the objectionable little sailor was
peeping from his barometer, she came home in rather low spirits, in
spite of his assurances that if it did splash a bit, it wouldn't be
nowt. Luckily her fears proved groundless. Saturday turned out
everything that could be desired in the way of sun and breeze, and two
o'clock found a very excited group of children gathered outside Marine
Terrace, where two yellow coaches, hired specially from Ferndale for
the occasion, were in waiting to drive the party to the Tower.
Barton, Mrs. Stuart's maid, was busy packing the insides with
baskets of tea-cups and hampers of provisions, and some of the smaller
boys had already climbed to the top with a view of securing the
box-seats, whence they were speedily evicted by the younger guard, who
had his own notions about reserving the best places, and who, having
already had a scuffle with Arnold Rokeby on the subject of the
unauthorized blowing of his horn, was disposed to resent undue
interference with his privileges. There were quite enough older people
to keep the children in order, which seemed a fortunate thing, to judge
from the effervescing nature of their spirits. Mrs. Stuart had invited
several of her friends, among the number an athletic young curate named
Mr. Browne, who tucked both Arnold and Bertie Rokeby easily under one
arm, and held them there as in a vice, while he dangled Charlie Chester
in mid-air with the other handa feat of prowess which so excited
their admiration that they clung to him like burrs for the rest of the
afternoon. The Wrights had turned up in full force, with the aunt and
mademoiselle, and were commenting upon the horses and the general
arrangements in their best English-French; while even the little
Barringtons had been allowed, after all, to join the fun, though at the
last moment, much to Ruth's disgust, their mother had decided to
accompany them, to see that they did not race about in the sun or eat
It took a long time to settle all the guests in their seats, and to
stow away the lively members of the party where they could not get into
mischief, yet would not interfere with the comfort of their more
sober-minded elders, was as difficult a problem as the well-known
puzzle of the fox, the goose, and the bag of corn; but eventually
things were arranged to everybody's satisfaction. Bertie Rokeby, who
had announced his intention of taking the journey hanging on to the
leather strap at the back beside the guard, was safely wedged between
his long-suffering mother and the jovial curate; while Charlie Chester
had been allowed to screw into a spare six inches of box-seat next to
the driver, who held out a half-promise that he might hold the reins
going uphill. The whole company seemed in the gayest of spirits and the
most sociable of moods. Mr. Chester, who was something of a wag, kept
both coaches in a roar with his jokes, and a fashionably-dressed young
lady in pince-nez, who had looked rather unapproachable at first,
proved to have her pockets overflowing with chocolates, which she
distributed with a liberal hand, and was voted by the boys in
consequence a regular out-and-outer.
The last comers being at length seated, and the last forgotten
basket put inside, the guards blew their horns, the drivers whipped up,
and the two coaches set off with a dash, to the admiration of all the
visitors in Marine Terrace, and the rejoicing of a small crowd of
barefooted boys from the town, who had assembled to watch the start,
and who ran diligently for nearly half a mile behind them shouting, A
'alfpenny! Give us a 'alfpenny! with irritating monotony, and eluding
the skilful lashes of the coachmen's long whips with considerable
agility. It was not a very great distance to the Tower, and the
children thought the drive far too short, and were quite loath, indeed,
to come down when the horses stopped before the gray old gateway, and
the guards, who had been rivalling one another in solos on the horn,
joined in a farewell duet to the appropriate air of Meet me again in
The ruined castle made a charming spot for an out-door party.
Situated at the foot of a tall wooded hill called the Scar, its
battered walls faced the long valley to the north, up which in the
olden days a strict watch must have been kept for Border raiders. The
ancient turreted keep, with its tiny loophole windows, was still
standing, half covered with ivy, the hairy stems of which were as thick
as small trees, and a narrow winding staircase led on to the
battlements, from whence you might see, on the one hand, the green
slopes of the woods, and on the other the yellow cliffs which bounded
the blue waters of the bay. Inside the keep was a large square
courtyard, where in times gone by the neighbouring farmers would often
drive their cattle for safety when the gleam of the Scottish pikes and
the smoke of burning roofs were seen to northward. The heavy portcullis
hung yet in the gateway, and though the drawbridge was long ago gone,
and the moat was dry, the fragments of an outer wall and a portion of a
barbican remained to show how powerful a protection was needed in the
days when might was right, and each man must guard his goods by the
strength of his own hand. The courtyard now was covered with short
green grass spangled with daisies, where a pair of tame ravens were
solemnly hopping about, while the ivy was the home of innumerable
jackdaws that flapped away at the approach of strangers, uttering their
funny spoilt caw, as if indignant at having their haunts disturbed.
Visitors were admitted to the castle by an old woman, who looked
almost as ancient as the ruin itself, and who insisted upon giving a
full account of the dimensions, situation, and history of the place,
which she had learnt from the guide-book, and which she repeated in a
high, sing-song voice, without any pauses or stops, as if she were
saying a lesson. She followed the various members of the party for some
time, trying to make them keep together and listen to her explanations;
but as they much preferred to explore on their own account, she was
obliged to subside at last to her little kitchen under the archway, and
employ herself in the more practical business of boiling the water for
tea. All the guests were very soon distributed about the ruins, some
admiring the view from the battlements, some peering into the darkness
of the dungeons, and others trying to re-people the guardroom and the
banqueting-hall with knights and dames of old, and to imagine the clink
of armour and the clash of swords in the courtyard below. The Rokeby
boys were imperilling their limbs by a climb after jackdaws' nests,
oblivious of the fact that it was long past the season for eggs, and
the young birds, already in glossy black plumage, were flying round as
if in mockery at their efforts. Austin Wright, after a vain attempt to
establish an acquaintance with the ravens, had been seen racing as if
for his life with the pair in hot pursuit of his small bare legs; while
Charlie Chester, in an essay to investigate the interior of the well,
very nearly fell to the bottom, being only saved by the tail of his
jacket, which luckily caught on a prickly bramble bush, and held him
suspended over the dark gulf till he was rescued by his indignant
In the meantime tea had been spread in the courtyard. Two great
hissing urns were carried from the kitchen and placed upon the grass,
and both grown-ups and children, abandoning the study of mediæval
history or the pursuit of jackdaws, collected together to discuss
sandwiches, cakes, and jam puffs, in spite of Mr. Chester's laughing
protestations that such modern luxuries were out of place, and an ox
roasted whole or a red deer pasty would have been a more appropriate
feast for the occasion. Even the ravens came hopping round at the sight
of the cups and plates, and waxed quite friendly on the strength of
sundry pieces of bun and bread and butter, which they snapped up with
voracious bills, growing too forward, indeed, as the meal progressed,
for they stole the curate's tartlet, which he had laid down in an
unguarded moment on the grass, and shamelessly snatched Bertie Rokeby's
sponge-cake out of his very hand.
I'm sure the Wrights enjoyed themselves, Isobel told her mother
afterwards. Harold had seven rice buns and ten victoria biscuits, and
Charlotte and Aggie ate a whole plateful of cheese-cakes between them.
Belle says they always have the most enormous appetites, and at her
last party Eric took four helpings of turkey; he just gulped it down,
and kept handing up his plate while the others were eating their first
serving, and after that he tasted every different dish on the table.
It's a great trial for the Wrights to go to parties at the Barringtons;
they never get half enough supper, though they have the most delightful
magic lanterns and conjurers. Ruth and Edna were scarcely allowed to
eat anything at tea. Mrs. Barrington picked all the raisins out of
Edna's bun, and made Ruth put back the jam tart she'd just taken. She
said if they were really hungry they might eat some plasmon biscuits
she had brought with her, but they mustn't touch pastry; and Ruth was
so savage, she filled her pocket with queen-cakes when her mother
wasn't lookingshe said she didn't mean to come away without having
tasted anything nice after all.
If the Barringtons were obliged to rise with unsatisfied appetites,
the same certainly could not be said of the other guests; the piles of
good things disappeared with much rapidity, and at last even the
insatiable Eric Wright declined another bun. It was at this point that
Mrs. Stuart produced a special basket, which she had reserved for a
final surprise, and raising the lid, disclosed a row of marvellous
little cakes, each made in the exact form of a sea urchin, with spines
of white sugar, and the inside filled with vanilla cream.
It's a delicate compliment to the Sea Urchins' Club, she said. It
was my own idea. I sent to my confectioner at home, and asked him what
he could manage in the matter. I think he has carried it out very well.
The cakes look so natural, you could almost imagine they had been
fished out of the water.
Quite a howl of delight went up from the young guests, who had never
seen such appropriate confectionery before, and the basket was handed
round by Belle amid a chorus of thanks, the United Sea Urchins
consuming their own effigies with much appreciation, even Ruth and
Edna, at the special request of Mrs. Stuart, being allowed for once to
share the treat, though only on the distinct understanding that they
submitted peaceably to a dose of Gregory's powder if the unwonted
dainties disagreed with them.
Tea being over, the party broke up to amuse itself in various ways,
most of the children playing at hide-and-seek among the crumbling
walls, or chasing each other up the winding staircase, while a few more
adventurous spirits took the opportunity of exploring the dungeons with
a candle. It was deliciously creepy down there; you could still see the
iron stanchions by which the wretched prisoners had been chained to the
wall, and the little hole through which their daily portions of food
had been handed in to them, and could imagine, if you were fond of
recalling the past, how from their beds of straw they would watch the
light fading from the tiny barred window, and shiver as they heard the
rats gnawing at the stout oak door, or felt a toad crawl over their
feet in the murky darkness. Some of the grown-ups had been busy marking
out bounds in the courtyard, and soon enlisted every one in an exciting
game of prisoner's base. Mr. Chester and the curate made the most
successful captains, directing the proceedings with great spirit, and
sometimes by a bold dash rescuing the more important of their
prisoners, and Bertie Rokeby covered himself with glory by quietly
walking to the prison while the opposite side was occupied in a
hardly-contested struggle, and unsuspectedly freeing all the captives
one by one. It was warm work, however, on a hot August day, and after a
time the Wrights, never good runners, subsided, panting, on to a piece
of ruined wall, and even the enthusiastic curate, who had pulled off
his coat, and was prosecuting the game in his shirt sleeves, began to
show signs of flagging zeal.
I'm done up! cried Mr. Chester at last, flinging himself under the
shade of a small elder tree near the banqueting-hall. I haven't a leg
left to stand on, and I'm hoarse with shouting orders. You'd better
give in, and do something quiet. I don't want to see another boy or
girl for the space of the next half-hour, so scoot, all of you,
anywhere, and leave Mr. Browne and myself to enjoy a smoke in peace.
CHAPTER X. WILD MAIDENHAIR.
On our other side is the straight-up rock,
And a path is kept 'twixt the gorge and it
By boulder stones, where lichens mock
The marks on a moth, and small ferns fit
Their teeth to the polished block.
Somewhat hot and tired with their exertions, the children dispersed
in small groups to lounge about or amuse themselves in any way they
happened to feel inclined. As there was still plenty of time before the
coaches returned at seven o'clock, Belle and Isobel, together with four
of the Rokebys, decided to stroll up the Scar, from the top of which
they expected to obtain a very good view of the distant moorland,
together with a wide stretch of sea. A narrow path led steeply by a
series of steps through the wood, a delightful, cool, shady place, with
soft moss spreading like a green carpet underfoot, and
closely-interlacing boughs shutting out the sunlight overhead. Trails
of late honeysuckle still hung in sweet-scented festoons from the
undergrowth, and an occasional squirrel might be seen whisking his
bushy tail round the bole of an oak tree in a quest for early acorns.
There was an interesting little pool, too, where a number of young
frogs were practising swimming; and the children thought they saw an
otter, but they could not be quite sure, for it scurried off so quickly
up the bank that they had not the chance to get more than a glimpse of
it. The hazel bushes were covered with nuts, a few of which already
contained kernels, and clumps of ferns grew luxuriantly under the
shadow of the trees.
Pleasant as it was in the wood, it was even more enjoyable when they
reached the top of the hill, and seating themselves upon a thick patch
of heather, looked down the other side of the Scar over the rich
undulating silvan slope, where among great round boulders they caught
the glint of a stream, and heard in the distance the rushing noise of a
waterfall. At the foot of the incline, in a narrow valley between the
Scar and the cliffs which bounded the sea, rose the gray-brown stone
roof of a quaint old Elizabethan house. The richly-carved timbers, the
wide mullioned windows, and the ornamental gables were singularly fine,
and told of the time when those who built put an artistic pride into
their work, and thought no detail too unimportant to be well carried
out. The south side was covered with a glorious purple clematis, which
hung in rich masses round the pillars of a veranda below, and even from
the distance the flaming scarlet of the Scotch nasturtium clothing the
porch arrested the eyes by its brilliant contrast with the delicate
tea-roses that framed the windows.
What a splendid place! cried Belle, glancing beyond the twisted
chimneys to where the smooth green lawns and gay beds of a garden
peeped from between the trees of the shrubbery. Just look at the
beautiful conservatories and greenhouses, and such stables! There's a
tennis lawn on the other side of the flagstaff, and a carriage drive
leading down towards the road. It's the nicest house I've seen anywhere
about Silversands. I wonder to whom it belongs, and what it's called.
It's the Chase, and belongs to Colonel Smith, I believe, said
Cecil. There's a huge 'S' on the gates, at any rate, and one day when
we were passing I saw an old buffer going in with a gun, and Arthur
Wright said he was sure it was Colonel Smith, who has all the shooting
on the common. Lucky chap! If it were mine, wouldn't I have a glorious
time! I'd keep ever so many ferrets and dogs in those stables, and go
rabbiting every day in the year.
I'd have a very fast pony that could fly like the wind, said
Winnie, and I'd gallop all over the moors and the shore with my hair
streaming out behind in ringlets like the picture of Diana Vernon on
the landing at home.
You'd very soon fall off, remarked Bertie unsympathetically,
seeing you can't even stick on to a donkey on the sands. The little
brown one threw you twice this morning.
That was because the saddle kept slipping, said Winnie
indignantly. And that particular donkey has a trick of lying down
suddenly, too, when it's tired. It wants to get rid of youI know it
doesbecause it rolls if you don't tumble off. It did the same with
Charlie Chester the other day, and shot him straight over its head;
then it got up and flew back to the Parade before he could catch it.
The pony would be quite a different thing, I can tell you, and I'd soon
learn to ride it. What would you do, Belle, if you owned the Chase?
I'd give the most wonderful parties, said Belle, and invite all
kinds of distinguished peopledukes and duchesses, you know, and
members of Parliament, and admirals, and generals, and perhaps even the
Prince and Princess of Wales; and I'd send to Paris for my hats, and
have my clothes made by the Court dressmaker.
I'd give a cricket match on that lawn, said Isobel, and ask all
the Sea Urchins to tea. We'd have loads of lovely fruit from those
gardens and greenhouses, and when we were tired of cricket we could get
up sports, and let off fireworks in the evening just when it was
growing dark. That's what I'd like to do if I lived there.
Pity you don't, exclaimed Bertie; we'd all come. But what's the
use of talking when you know you'll never have the chance. I say,
suppose we go down the wood on this side and try to find the waterfall?
It must be rather a decent-sized one to make such a thundering noise.
The others jumped up very readily at the suggestion, and leaving the
path, they slid through the steep wood, and climbing a high wall, found
themselves at the rocky bed of a stream, which rushed swiftly along
under the overhanging trees, forming little foaming cascades as it
went. At one point the water, dashing between two steep crags,
descended in a sheer fall of about thirty feet, emptying itself at the
bottom into a wide and deep pool overhung by several fine mountain
ashes, the scarlet berries of which made a bright spot of colour
against the silvery green of the foliage behind. The Rokebys instantly
rushed at these, and began tearing off quite large branches, breaking
the boughs in a ruthless fashion that went to Isobel's heart, for she
always had been taught to pick things carefully and judiciously, so as
not to spoil the beauty of tree or plant.
It's grand stuff, said Cecil, descending to the ground with a
crash, and switching at the ferns by the water's edge with his stick as
he spoke. I've got a perfect armful. Hullo! what's that all down the
side of this overhanging rock? It's actually maidenhair fern growing
wild in the open air! I'm going to have some. We'll plant it in pots,
and take it home.
It was indeed the true maidenhair, flourishing on the damp crag
under the spray of the waterfall as luxuriantly as though it had been
in a conservatory, its delicate fronds showing in large clumps wherever
it could obtain a hold on the rocky surface. I grieve to say that the
Rokebys simply threw themselves upon it, pulling it up by the roots,
and destroying as much as they gathered by trampling it in their
O Cecil! cried Isobel, in an agony, you're spoiling the ferns.
They looked so lovely growing there by the waterfall. Please don't take
them all. Haven't you got enough now?
But he hasn't given me any yet, protested Belle. And I
must have some.
One doesn't often get the chance to find maidenhair, declared
Cecil, so I shall make the most of it, you bet.Here, Belle, you may
have this piece. Catch! If I climb a little higher I can reach that
splendid clump under the tree. I'll take that to the mater.
I think, on the whole, you will not, my boy, said a dry voice from
the bank behind; and looking round, the children, to their horror and
astonishment, saw the tall figure of an elderly gentleman who had
stolen upon the scene unawares. He spoke quite calmly, but there was a
twitch about his mouth and a gleam in his gray eye which suggested the
quiet before a thunderstorm, and he stood watching the group in much
the same way as a detective might have done who had made a sudden
successful capture of youthful burglars red-handed in the act of
committing a felony.
May I ask, he observed, with withering politeness, by whose
invitation you have entered my grounds, and by whose permission you
have been destroying my trees and uprooting my ferns? I was under the
impression that this was my private property, but you evidently
consider you are entitled not only to annex my possessions, but to
exercise a cheap generosity by presenting them to others. I shall be
obliged if you will kindly offer me some explanation.
Cecil was so absolutely transfixed with amazement that for a moment
he remained with his mouth wide open, staring at the newcomer as though
the latter had dropped from the skies. The Rokebys were not
well-trained children; they did not possess either the moral courage or
the good manners which Charlie Chester, madcap though he might be,
would undoubtedly have displayed in the same situation, and instead of
meeting the matter bravely and making the best apology he could, Cecil
flung down the ferns, and without a word of excuse took to his heels
and ran back up the wood at the top of his speed, closely followed by
Winnie, Bertie, and Arnold.
Belle for an instant wavered, but recognizing the old gentleman as
the same whose acquaintance she had cultivated on the beach with such
unsatisfactory results, she decided that discretion was the better part
of valour, and turning away, vanished through the trees like a little
Isobel, the only one of the six who stood her ground, was left to
bear the whole brunt of the matter alone. She looked at the broken
branches of mountain ash and the damaged ferns which the Rokebys had
dropped in the panic of their flight, and which surrounded her like so
much guilty evidence of the deed, then screwing up her courage, she
faced the outraged owner in a kind of desperation.
I'm very sorry, she began, twisting and untwisting her thin
little hands, and colouring up to the roots of her hair with the effort
she was making. We oughtn't to have come. But, indeed, we didn't know
it was your ground; we thought it was only just part of the Scar. And I
don't believe the others would have taken the ferns if they'd thought
for a moment, because they would have known maidenhair doesn't grow
wild out of doors like bracken or hart's-tongue.
But it was wild, said the colonelthat's the unfortunate
part of it. It wouldn't have distressed me if I could have replaced it
from the conservatory. This happens to be one of the few spots in the
British Isles where Adiantum Capillus-Veneris is found in an
undoubtedly native situation.
Oh, then that's worse than ever! cried Isobel, with consternation.
I know how very, very rare it is, because mother and I once found a
little piece in a cave in Cornwall.
Did you? Are you sure it was an absolutely genuine specimen and not
naturalized? asked Colonel Stewart, with keen interest.
No; it was quite wild, for it was in a very out-of-the-way place by
I hope you didn't take it?
Oh no! we didn't even pick a frond; and mother made me promise
never to tell any one where it grew, she was so afraid some one might
root it up.
A sensible woman! exclaimed the colonel. Pity there aren't more
like her! Why people should want to grub up every rare and beautiful
thing they find in the country to plant in their miserable town
gardens, I can't imagine. It's downright murder. The poor things die
directly in the smoke. Look at these splendid roots that have been
growing here since I was a boy! I would rather they had destroyed every
flower in my garden than have worked such wanton havoc in the spot I
value most in all my grounds.
It's most unfortunate we came this particular walk, said Isobel,
almost crying with regret. You see, the Rokebys aren't used to the
country, so they don't seem to think about spoiling things. I believe I
could manage to plant these roots again; they're not very bad, and if I
tucked them well into the crevices of the rock I really fancy they'd
She picked up some of the ferns as she spoke, and began carefully to
replace them in the little ledges on the side of the rock, moistening
the roots first in the stream, and scraping up some soil with a thin
piece of shale which she made serve the purpose of a trowel.
They haven't taken quite all, she said. That beautiful clump up
there hasn't even been touched, and it may spread. I wish I could put
back the mountain ash. I simply can't tell you how sorry I am we ever
The colonel smiled.
I don't blame you, he said. It was those young heathens
who ran away. Their methods of studying botany were certainly of a
rather rough-and-ready description. I should have thought better of
them if they had stayed to apologize. Your friend with the light curls,
whom, by-the-bye, I have met before, seemed also unwilling to enter
into any explanations. In fact, to put it plainly, she left you in the
I think she was frightened, said Isobel, wondering what possible
excuse she could frame for Belle's conduct. You came soso very
suddenly. There! I've put all the ferns back. They're rather broken,
I'm afraid; but there are plenty of new fronds ready to come up, so I
hope you'll find that, after all, we haven't quite spoilt everything.
Think I'm not so much hurt as I imagined? said the colonel, with a
twinkle in his eye.
Oh, I didn't mean that! replied Isobel quickly. I know we've done
a great deal of harm. Please don't think I wanted to make out we
All right; you've done your best to repair the damage, so that's an
end of the matter.
I ought to be going now, continued Isobel. The Rokebys and Belle
will be wondering what has become of me, and the coaches were to start
at seven o'clock. It must be after six now.
Exactly half-past six, said Colonel Stewart, consulting his watch.
If you follow that footpath it will take you through a side gate and
straight up the hillside; I expect you will find the others waiting for
you on the top of the Scar. Good-bye. Give my compliments to your
friends, and tell them to learn to enjoy the country without spoiling
it for other people; and the next time they get into a tight place to
show a little pluck, and not to run off like a set of cowardly young
CHAPTER XI. THE ISLAND.
Oh! had we some bright little isle of our own,
In a blue summer ocean, far off and alone.
Though the United Sea Urchins were still very faithful to their
cricket ground under the cliffs, the older and more daring spirits were
always ready to ramble farther afield in quest of new scenes and
adventures. Every day seemed to bring with it some fresh delight,
whether it were a shrimping expedition among the green sea-weedy pools
of the rocks on the far shore, or a cockle gathering on the gleaming
banks left by the ebb-tide, where the breath of the salt wind on their
faces or the feel of the wet, oozing sand under their bare feet was a
joy to be garnered up and held in memory. Sometimes it was a scramble
over the moors, between thickets of golden gorse and stretches of
heather so deep and long that to lie in it was to bury oneself like a
bee in a bed of purple fragrance, or a hard climb would take them to
the summit of some neighbouring hill, where, watching the sun sink from
a primrose sky into a pearly, shimmering sea, they would all grow a
little silent and quiet, even the roughest spirits restrained in spite
of themselves by the sight of that indescribable majesty and calm which
marks the parting of the day. It is hours such as theseglad,
exhilarating, glorious hours, when the world seems as young as
ourselves, and merely to live and breathe is a delightthat lay up in
our hearts a store of sunshine to be drawn upon in after life as from a
treasure-house of the mind, and to brighten dark days to come with the
rapture of the remembrance.
It was, perhaps, somewhat against her natural tastes that Belle
found herself included in the many and various excursions of the Sea
Urchins. She was no country lover, and the stir of a promenade in a
fashionable watering-place gave her more pleasure than the dash of
waves or the scent of wild flowers. She did not enjoy splashing her
pretty clothes with sea-water among the rocks, or tearing them in
search of blackberries on the hedgerows; and it was only her love of
society, and a dislike of being left behind, which induced her to
follow where the others led. The rough walks and hard scrambles were
often a real trial to her, though with Isobel to tow her up steep
hills, help her across stiles, disentangle her laces from insistent
brambles, jump her over pools, and take her hand in dangerous spots,
she managed to keep up fairly well. Isobel, to whom these excursions
were the topmost summit of bliss, and who was apt to measure others'
standards by her own, never suspected for a moment that Belle was
beginning to grow tired of it, and received an occasional outburst of
petulance or fretful complaint with such amazement that the latter
would, for very shame, desist, and for a time the friendship continued
to remain at high-water mark. That Belle was selfish and exacting never
once crossed Isobel's mind, and though she could not help frequently
detecting in her certain little meannesses, exaggeration, or even
occasional wanderings from the truth, there always seemed to be some
exonerating circumstance which would in a measure either clear her from
blame or give her the benefit of a doubt. It is often so difficult to
find fault with those for whom we care very dearly: we are ready to
make excuses, condone their mistakes, overlook their shortcomings,
anything but allow to ourselves the unfortunate and yet unmistakable
fact that our idol has feet of clay; and so Isobel went on from day to
day blinding her eyes with her adoration for her namesake, and
investing Belle with a halo of virtues and attractions which certainly
did not exist except in her own imagination.
Apart from Belle, I think that among the various members of the Sea
Urchins' Club Isobel found the Chesters the most congenial. They had
all the dash and daring of the Rokebys without the over-boisterous
manners which characterized that rough-and-tumble family, whose
friendship at times was apt to prove a trifle wearing. Little Hilda had
taken a great affection for Isobel, and Charlie, since the adventure in
the Stormy Petrel, was disposed to consider her in the light of
a chum, and to cultivate her acquaintance. As knowing Isobel meant
including Belle, the four children therefore might often be found in
each other's company, and it was at Charlie's suggestion that they
determined one afternoon to pay a visit to a certain small island which
lay a short distance along the coast, at the other side of the rocky
headland that jutted out at the far side of the bay.
I've not been close to, said Charlie, but you can see it very
well from the top of the Scar. It looks a regular Robinson Crusoe
desert island kind of a place, just given up to sea-gulls and rabbits.
I don't believe a soul ever goes there.
It would be grand if we were the first to set foot on it, said
Isobel. It would be our own island, and we'd claim it in the name of
the club, like travellers do in Central Africa when they run up the
Union Jack, and then mark the place pink on the map, to show it's a
And then all the others could be settlers, added Hilda, and we'd
light a fire and cook fish and have such fun!
It would be exactly like the coral island in 'The Young Pioneers,'
said Belle. Perhaps I might become the queen, like the mysterious
white lady they found living among the natives, and have a throne made
out of sand and shells, and wear a garland of flowers for a crown.
Oh, we won't go in for nonsense like that! declared Charlie, who
was not romantic, and, moreover, enjoyed squashing Belle on occasion.
But we might build a hut there, and rig up a sort of camp, and then,
if the whole lot of us came, we could have a regular ripping time. It's
worth while going to see, at any rate.
Armed with a mariner's compass, a tin pail full of biscuits,
Isobel's botanical case for specimens, and a stout stick apiece, the
four friends set out on their pioneering expedition with all the
enthusiasm of a band of explorers penetrating into the heart of an
unknown continent, or a Roman legion bent on the conquest of some
distant Albion. As the geography books determine an island to be a
piece of land surrounded by water, the particular spot in question
could only claim to justify its name at high tide, since at low water
it was joined to the mainland, and by scrambling over the rocks and
jumping a few channels which the sea had left behind, any one could
reach it quite easily dry shod. The children marched sturdily along
over the wet sands, with a pause here and there to dive after a
particularly interesting crab, or to float a jelly-fish left stranded
by the tide, in the deeper water. Charlie, however, would not allow
many digressions, and hurried them as fast as possible towards the
object of their journey. The island, on a nearer view, proved to be a
bare, craggy spot, about half a mile in length by a quarter in breadth,
bounded by steep cliffs which supported a rocky plateau covered with
short rough grass and sea pinks, and honeycombed in every direction
with rabbit burrows. It seemed the haunt of innumerable gulls,
guillemots, and puffins, for whole flocks of them flew away, wheeling
overhead in wide circles, and uttering loud, piercing cries in protest
at the invasion of their rocky stronghold.
We'd better do the thing thoroughly. Suppose we start from this big
rock and walk right round the island, suggested Isobel. I have a
piece of paper and a pencil in my pocket, and I'll draw a map of it as
we go along, and we'll give names to all the capes and bays and
Stunning! agreed Charlie. This rock can be 'Point Set-Off,' and
we can take it in turns to christen the other places. I don't believe
the island itself has a name; we shall each have to suggest something,
and then put it to the vote. I'm for 'Craggy Holme' myself, but we
won't decide anything yet until we have been completely over it.
Thrilled with the excitement of the occasion, the pioneers started
on their tour of inspection, noting with approval that the pools at the
foot of the cliff were full of sea anemones, star-fishes, hermit crabs,
periwinkles, whelks, pink sea-weed, and a wealth of desirable
treasures; that the brambles which grew on the slopes above were
already covered with fast ripening blackberries; that there were flukes
quite seven inches long in the narrow channel on the north shore; and
that the sands beyond showed a perfect harvest of cockles and other
shells. They had gone perhaps halfway round the coast, and were on the
south side, facing the open sea, when suddenly, turning a corner, they
found themselves in a spot which made them stand still and look at one
another with little gasps of delight. Surely it was the ideal place for
a camp. They were in a small creek between two great overhanging crags,
where brambles and wood vetch hung down in delightful tangled masses,
the fine white sand under their feet alternated with soft green turf,
spangled with tiny sea-flowers, and there was quite a bank of small
delicate shells left by the high spring tides. Close under the rocks
lay the wreck of a schooner, driven ashore by winter storms, and
stranded upon the shingle, the broken spars and a fragment of the hull
lying half buried in the silvery sand, surrounded by a forest of
sea-weed and drift-wood.
Why, it just beats 'The Swiss Family Robinson' or 'The Boy
Explorers' hollow! said Charlie, turning to his companions with
something of the look that Christopher Columbus may have worn when he
stepped with his followers on to the shores of the New World. Here's
the very place we were hoping for! We'd soon get that old trail tilted
out of the sand; she only needs propping against the cliff, and she'd
make a regular Uncle Tom's cabin. With the Wrights and the Rokebys to
help, we'd haul her up in a jiffy. Some of these spars and planks would
do for seats and tables, and we could light fires with the drift-wood.
It's a camp almost ready made for us, I declare.
And look! cried Hilda, pointing to a sand-bank which lay at the
mouth of the creek; the tide seems to have thrown up a great many
things down there. And she hurried to the water's edge, where the
drifting current had lodged a variety of miscellaneous
articleswalking-sticks, tin cans, a child's boat, a straw hat,
several baskets, glass bottles, and even a lady's parasol, all lying
tangled among the sea-weed, washed across the bay no doubt from the
beach at Ferndale. I've fished out a little horse and cart, and
there's something here that looks like the remains of a gentleman's top
hat. We can use the tins for the cabin. They'll do for flower-pots. O
Charlie! aren't you glad we came?
It's quite romantic, said Belle, sitting down on a spar, and
twisting some pink bindweed round her hat. We could have tea here, and
get up a dance on the sands afterwards. I've found such a pretty
pencil-case among the drift-wood. I mean to keep it.
I don't think any one else has discovered the island, said Isobel.
So we've quite a right to take possession, haven't we?
It's the very thing we want, and we'll annex it at once, said
Charlie; and drawing the empty shell of a sea urchin from his pocket,
he slipped it on to the top of a stick, which he planted firmly in the
sand as an ensign; then climbing on to the summit of a rock close by,
he waved his handkerchief to north, south, east, and west, exclaiming,
We hereby take solemn possession of this island in the name of the
United Sea Urchins' Recreation Society, and are prepared to hold the
same in legal right against all comers. If any one has just cause or
impediment to offer why the said society should not occupy this
territory in peace and prosperity, let him speak now, or hereafter for
ever hold his peace. Rule, Britannia! God save the King!
With a burst of cheers the others unanimously declared themselves
witnesses to the deed, and decided that possession being nine-tenths of
the law, the island, for the time at any rate, was undoubtedly their
own, and until any one appeared to dispute their claim they would make
what they pleased of it.
To-morrow we'll rig out a real pioneer party of settlers, and come
with hammers and nails and axes and all the rest of it, said Charlie.
Then we can put up a flag and decide on names and everything. We
haven't time to explore the top now, though it looks jolly upon those
cliffs; we must get back before the tide turns. It's a ripping place,
but it would be no joke, all the same, to be surrounded and have to
spend the night here.
The Sea Urchins took to the idea of a camp on a desert island with
the greatest enthusiasm, and next day the elder portion of them started
off with any tools which they could buy, beg, or borrow, anxious to set
to work at once upon the task of constructing a dwelling from the wreck
of the old schooner. By fastening a rope to the hull, they contrived to
tug it out of the sand and tilt it on end against a rock; then with the
aid of the broken planks which were lying near they propped it up
securely and repaired any damaged or broken pieces, so that it made the
most successful hut, a kind of combination of a Viking's hall with a
pirate's cave or an Indian wigwam. The face of the cliff which formed
the wall on one side was full of ledges and crevices which served
admirably for cupboards, a few nails driven into the boards answered
for hat pegs, and it was no difficult matter to put up shelves from odd
pieces of drift-wood.
It was amazing how the work brought out the varying capacities of
the settlers. To every one's surprise, Arthur Wright developed a
perfect genius for carpentry. He had borrowed a few tools from a
friendly joiner in the town, and constructed quite a tidy little table,
forming the legs from broken masts; and he managed to make a door for
the fortress of the best portions of three rotten planks, fastening it
on with hinges cut from an old leather strap, and even putting a latch
which would open with a string pulled from the outside.
While the boys did the harder part of the work, the girls contented
themselves with the more feminine element of artistic decoration. They
thatched the roof elaborately with masses of brown bladder-wrack
sea-weed, tying it securely with pieces of cord; they fixed a row of
twenty-one sea urchins, with the spines on, over the door as a coat of
arms, one to represent each member of the club; and pink and white fan
shells were nailed alternately round the window, with yellow
periwinkles wedged between. A little garden was carefully laid out, a
wall being made of stones and sand, and a path of fine gravel leading
up to the door. Green sea-weed was put down to represent grass, the
most wonderful arrangements in the way of cockles, mussels, and limpets
took the place of flower-beds, and a few sea-pinks and harebells
planted in tins rescued from the sand-bank adorned the window-sill.
Inside, a fireplace had been built with stones at the rocky end, a hole
being made in the roof to let out the smoke, and seats were dug from
the sand sufficient to accommodate the whole party. A tin kettle and a
frying-pan, purchased by subscription, constituted the cooking utensils
of the camp, and the members waxed so eager over the domestic
arrangements of their hut that they spent all their pennies at the
cheap stalls in the market on tin mugs and plates and other articles
likely to be of service to the community. Eric Wright denied himself
toffee or caramels for three whole daysa heroic effort on his
partthat he might contribute a certain gorgeous scarlet tea-tray on
which he had set his young affections; the Rokebys clubbed together to
buy muslin for window curtains; Belle presented a looking-glass as a
suitable offering; and Mrs. Barrington, who was always generous when it
was not a question of diet, allowed Ruth and Edna to purchase a dozen
pewter teaspoons, a bright blue enamelled teapot, and a
bread-and-butter plate with a picture of the Promenade at Ferndale upon
it. The sand-bank was rummaged for anything that would come in handy,
and though it did not yield such wonderful treasures as the wrecked
ship generally contains in desert-island stories, they found several
empty bottles, an old lantern, a dripping-tin, a wooden spoon, and a
battered bird-cage, all of which they decided might come in useful in
course of time and were carefully put by in a safe place among the
Isobel, who toiled away at the camp with untiring zeal, had drawn
and painted a very nice map of the island on a sheet of cardboard, all
the various places being neatly marked, and had nailed it on the wall
inside. After a good deal of discussion it had been decided to call the
domain Rocky Holme, the crag on the extreme summit was Point
Look-Out, the tall cliff to the north, Sea-Birds' Cape, while the
one on the south was Welcome Head. The creek where they had
established their headquarters was christened by the appropriate name
of Sandy Cove, and the hut bore the more romantic title of Wavelet
Hall. They had fixed a broken mast at the end of the little garden for
a flagstaff, and ran up an ensign specially designed and executed for
them by Mrs. Stewart, consisting of a large sea urchin cut out of white
calico, and stitched upon a ground of turkey-red twill, with the
initials U.S.U.R.S. below; so that, with their colours floating in
the breeze and the smoke of their fire rising in a thin white column
among the rocks, no band of colonists could have felt that the country
was more really and truly their own.
CHAPTER XII. A FIRST QUARREL.
The little rift within the lute,
That by-and-by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.
It had become an almost daily programme for the Sea Urchins to jump
across or even to wade through the channel the moment the tide was
sufficiently low to enable them to do so with safety, and to establish
themselves upon their desert island. The joys of pioneering seemed to
have quite put cricket in the shade; the hut had still the charm of
novelty, and to fry the flukes which they had themselves speared or to
concoct blackberry jam or toffee in an enamelled saucepan over the camp
fire was at present their keenest delight. The only regret was that
they did not possess a boat in which they could row over to their
territory whenever they wished, and the boys had tried to provide a
substitute by constructing a raft from some of the old planks left
lying about from the schooner, lashing them together with pieces of
rope in the orthodox shipwrecked sailor fashion, and making paddles
out of broken spars. It looked quite a respectable craftas Charlie
Chester said, most suitable for a desert islandand they had
anticipated having a good deal of fun with it, and being able to take
little sea excursions if they could only manage to steer it properly;
and Charlie even had ideas of rigging up a sail, and perhaps getting
across the bay as far as Ferndale with a favourable wind. Its career,
however, was short and brilliant. It was launched with much noise and
nautical language by Charlie and the other boys, and started gaily off,
greatly to the admiration of the feminine portion of the Sea Urchins,
who ran along the shore shouting encouragement. But it had hardly gone
more than a hundred yards, and was still in shallow water, when the too
enthusiastic efforts of its amateur oarsmen caused it suddenly to turn
a somersault, and upset the crew into the briny deep; then floating
swiftly away bottom side up, it was caught by the current, much to the
regret of its disconsolate builders, who, wet through with their
unexpected swim, watched it drift in the direction of Ferndale, where
the tide probably carried it over the bar, to wash about as a derelict
in the open sea till the water had rotted the ropes that bound the
After the raft proved a failure, the boys took to carving miniature
yachts out of pieces of drift-wood, and sailing them in a wide pool
which was generally left at the mouth of the creek. The girls hemmed
the sails, and provided the vessels with flags in the shape of tiny
coloured pieces of ribbon stitched on to the masts, and would stand by
to cheer the particular bark in which they were interested, as the
ladies in olden days encouraged their knights in the tourney. There was
great competition between the various boats, and it seemed a matter of
the utmost importance whether Charlie Chester's Water Sprite,
Bertie Rokeby's Esmeralda, or Arthur Wright's Invincible,
should reach the opposite shore in the shortest space of time.
Occasionally a good ship would get becalmed in the middle of the pool,
in which case its owner would have to wade to the rescue, probably
finding it caught in a mass of oar-weed, or even entangled in the
floating tentacles of a huge jelly-fish. The children had made a nice
aquarium not far from the hut, and in this they put specimens of every
different kind of sea-weed on the island, as well as crabs, anemones,
limpets, sea cucumbers, star-fishes, zoophytes, or any other treasures
of the deep that they might be lucky enough to collect; while the boys,
I regret to say, took a keen delight in securing a couple of hermit
crabs, and setting the pugnacious pair to fight in a small arena of
sand which they prepared specially for the purpose, somewhat in the
same manner as our unregenerate forefathers devoted certain portions of
their gardens to the formation of cock-pits.
Another favourite amusement was to divide into two regiments, each
under the leadership of suitable officers, and, armed with
pea-shooters, to conduct a series of Volunteer manoeuvres upon the
shore. The defending party would throw up ramparts of sand, and duly
garrison their stronghold, while the enemy would attack with the
ferocious zeal of a band of North American Indians or a gang of Chinese
pirates, being greeted by a volley of fire from the pea-shooters, and
missiles in the shape of whelks' eggs, the dried air-vessels of the
bladder-wrack, little rolled-up balls of slimy green sea-weed, or
anything else which could be flung as a projectile without injuring the
recipients too severely. Very exciting struggles sometimes took place
for the possession of a fortress or the securing of an outpost; and I
think the girls were really as keen as the boys in this amateur
warfare, Letty and Winnie Rokeby proving deadly shots with their
pea-shooters, and Aggie Wright becoming quite an admirable scout.
Isobel undertook the ambulance department, and made a delightful
hospital with beds dug out of sand, and a dispensary fitted with empty
bottles collected from the sand-bank. She installed herself here as a
Red Cross Sister, with Ruth Barrington for a helper, and was ready to
doctor the combatants, who were carried in suffering from various
imaginary wounds, the sole flaw in her arrangements being that the
invalids insisted upon getting well too quickly, and leaving their
pills and potions to rush back and rejoin the fray.
The only one of the Sea Urchins who did not thoroughly enjoy the
charms of the desert island was Belle. She was not suited for camp
life, and though she tolerated the tea-parties when she brought her own
china cup with her, she took no interest in the boat-sailing, and
frankly disliked the manoeuvres. She would not have come at all, only
she found it so dull to remain behind, as her mother was mostly
occupied in reading, writing letters, or entertaining friends, and not
inclined to devote much attention to her little daughter. Poor Belle
was expected to find her own amusements, and having no resources in
herself, she sought the society of the other children in preference to
being alone, though she grumbled incessantly at the boyish games, and
longed for a different sphere, where pretty frocks and trinkets would
have a better chance of due appreciation. Towards Isobel the fever-heat
of her first affection had cooled down considerably, and she had begun
to treat her friend with a rather patronizing authority, ordering her
about in a way which would have provoked any one with a less sweet
temper to the verge of rebellion. She had quarrelled more than once
with the Wrights and the Rokebys, since those outspoken families had
given her their frank opinion of her behaviour on several occasions,
and as it was not a flattering one, she had been far from pleased. So
long as Belle's pretty pleading manners secured for her the best of
everything she was a charming companion, but she could prove both
pettish and peevish when she considered herself neglected. Her light,
pleasure-loving nature depended for its happiness on continual
attention and admiration, and if she could not have these she was as
miserable as a butterfly in a shower of rain.
One afternoon the question of the possession of a certain basket,
supposed to be common property among the settlers, resulted in a war of
words between Belle and Letty and Winnie Rokebya quarrel which waxed
so fast and furious that Isobel, who fought her friend's battles
through thick and thin, was obliged to interfere (not without an uneasy
consciousness that the Rokebys had right on their side), persuaded
Letty to relinquish the disputed treasure, and bore Belle away up the
hill to soothe her ruffled feelings by picking blackberries. Micky, the
little pet dog, followed close at their heels. As a rule he preferred
the society of Mrs. Stuart, and rarely accompanied the children on
their rambles, but to-day they had brought him with them to the island.
It is my basket, grumbled Belle, threading her way daintily
between the brambles with a careful regard for her flowered delaine
dress. Mrs. Barrington lent it to me first. The Rokebys are so
selfish, they want to keep everything to themselves. I don't know
whether they or the Wrights are worse. It's such a pretty one,
tooquite the nicest we have at the hut.
Never mind, said Isobel hastily, anxious to dismiss the subject.
Let us fill it with blackberries. There are such heaps here, and such
It was indeed a harvest for those who liked to gather. Brambles grew
everywhere. Long clinging sprays, some still in blossom and some
covered with the ripe fruit, trailed in profusion over the rocks, their
reddening leaves giving a hint of the coming autumn, for it was late
August now, and already there was a touch of September crispness in the
air. It was delightful on the headland, with sea and sky spread all
around, the sea-gulls flapping idly below just on the verge of the
waves, and banks of fragrant wild thyme under their feet, growing in
patches between the great craggy boulders, which looked as though they
had been piled up by some giant at play. The picking went on steadily
for a while, though it was a little unequal, as Belle had a tender
consideration for her spotless fingers, and gathered about one berry to
We shall soon have the basket full, said Isobel. Hold it for a
moment, Belle, please, while I get to the other side of this rock;
there are some still finer ones over here.
I should think we have enough now, said Belle, upon whom the
occupation began to pall. We don't want to make any more jam; the last
we tried stuck to the pan and burnt, and wasted all the sugar I had
brought. Mother says she won't let me have any more. Come back, Isobel,
do, and take the basket. Why, what are you staring at so hard?
At this stone underneath the brambles, replied Isobel. It's most
peculiar. It has marks on it like letters, only they aren't any letters
I know. Do come and look.
She pulled the long blackberry trails aside as she spoke, and
disclosed to view a large stone, something like a gate-post, lying on
its side, half sunk into the soil. It was worn, and weather-beaten, and
battered by time and storms, but on its smooth surface could still be
traced the remains of a rudely-carved cross, and the inscription,
What does it mean? asked Belle. Are they really letters?
I can't tell, replied Isobel. It looks like some writing we can't
read. Perhaps it's Greek, or old black letter. I wonder who could have
put it here?
I don't know, and I'm sure I don't care, said Belle. What does it
matter? Let us come along.
Oh! only it's interesting. I want to tell mother about it; she's so
fond of old crosses, and she may know what it means. I can copy it on
this scrap of paper if you'll wait a minute.
Belle sat down with a martyred air. She was not in the best of
tempers, and she did not like waiting. She put the basket of
blackberries by her side, and took Micky on her knee. Then, for want of
anything better to do, she began to tease him by pulling the silky hair
that grew round his eyes.
Don't do that, Belle, said Isobel, looking round suddenly at the
sound of Micky's protesting yelps.
Why not? asked Belle, somewhat sharply.
Because you're hurting him.
I'm not hurting him.
Yes, you are.
I suppose I can do as I like with him; he's my own.
He's not yours to tease, at any rate. Belle, do stop!
I'll please myself; it's nobody else's affair, said Belle, giving
such a tug as she spoke to Micky's silken top-knot that he howled with
Isobel sprang up. She could not bear to see an animal suffer, and
her anger for the moment was hot.
Let him go, Belle! she cried, wrenching at her friend's hands.
You've no right to treat him so. Let him go, I tell you!
Micky seized the golden opportunity, and escaping from his
mistress's grasp, beat a hasty retreat towards the beach, yelping with
terror as he went, and upsetting the basket of blackberries in his
Belle turned on Isobel in a rage.
Look what you've done! she exclaimed. I wish you would mind your
own business, and leave me to manage my own dog. All the blackberries
have rolled over the cliff where we can't get them, and it's your
fault. I hope you're sorry.
Isobel stooped to rescue the empty basket, but she did not
I think it was as much your fault as mine, she replied. You
shouldn't have teased him. Perhaps we can pick the blackberries up
No, we can't. They've fallen among the briers, and I don't
mean to scratch my fingers by trying. You can stay and fish them out if
you like. I'm going home.
But we haven't had tea yet.
I don't care. I don't want tea out of a tin mug. I shall have it
comfortably at the lodgings, with a nice clean tablecloth and a
serviette. I'm tired of stupid picnics. And Belle flounced away down
the hill with anything but a sweet expression or a Parisian manner.
Isobel did not try to stop her. As the proverbial worm will turn, so
there are limits to the endurance of even the most devoted of friends,
and I think this afternoon she felt that Belle's conduct had reached a
climax for which no excuse could be made. The latter, who considered
herself both hurt in her feelings and offended in her dignity,
scrambled down to the shore, and calling Micky to her heels, set off
promptly for home.
Hullo, Belle! cried Bertie Rokeby, catching at her dress as she
hurried past the hut. Look out, can't you! Don't you see that you're
trampling all over the shells that I've just laid out to sort on the
sand? What's the row? You look like a regular tragedy queenLady
Macbeth in the murder scene, or Juliet about to stab herself!
Let me go, said Belle crossly, trying to pull herself free. What
horrid, rough things you boys are! Why can't you leave me alone, I
should like to know?
Humpty-Dumpty! We are in a jolly wax, said Bertie. You're
as bad as a cat with her back up. All the same, I don't want my shells
smashed, so please to mind where you're stepping.
Bother your shells! said Belle. You shouldn't leave them lying
about in people's way. There! you've torn a slit in my dress. I knew
you would! Let me go, Bertie Rokeby, you mean coward! And jerking her
skirt with an effort from his grasp, she started at a run along the
beach, and fled as fast as she could in the direction of Silversands.
She had reached the southern point of the island, where they
generally crossed the channel, and was hurrying on, not looking
particularly where she was going, her eyes half blinded with
self-pitying tears, when, turning the headland sharply, she ran full
tilt against her quondam acquaintance of the Parade, who was walking
leisurely along the sands with a cigar in his mouth and a breechloader
under his arm. The collision was so sudden and unexpected that Belle
sat down swiftly in a pool of slimy green sea-weed, while the gun,
knocked by the impact from its owner's grasp, struck the rock
violently, and discharged both barrels into the air. The colonel, who
had been almost upset with the shock, recovered his balance as by a
miracle, and hastened to ascertain the extent of the mishap; but
finding no harm done, he picked up his gun and surveyed Belle with
You might have caused a very nasty accident, young lady, he said.
It's a mercy the charge didn't land in either your leg or mine. Why
don't you look where you're going?
Belle raised herself carefully from the pool, glancing with much
concern at the large green stains which had reduced her dress to a
wreck, and at the moist condition of her silk stockings.
How could I know any one was round the corner? she replied,
somewhat sulkily. I wonder what my mother would have said if you'd
killed me. I'm not sure if my leg isn't shot through, after all.
Let me look, said the colonel quietly. No, that's not a wound,
though you've grazed it a little, very likely in falling. There's no
real damage, and I think you're more frightened than hurt.
My dress is spoilt, said Belle, determined to have a grievance.
These green stains will never wash out of it. It's really too bad.
Be thankful it's only your dress, and not your skin, said the
owner of the Chase, with scant sympathy. What are you doing here, so
far away from the Parade? You had better go home to your mother, and
tell her to take more care of you, and not let you wander about alone
to get into mischief.
I was going home as fast as I could, retorted Belle, not too
politely, for she disliked the old gentleman extremely, and wished he
would not interfere with her. And I think my mother knows how to take
care of me without any one telling her, thank you.
I have no doubt she imagines she does, replied Colonel Stewart,
rather bitterly. I can't say I admire the result. I should certainly
wish to teach you better manners if I had any share in your bringing
I'm glad you haven't, said Belle smartly; and catching Micky in
her arms, she put an abrupt end to the conversation by running away
again at the top of her speed over the shallows towards the mainland.
He's perfectly horrid! she said to herself. This is the third
place I've met him, and each time he has been more disagreeable than
the last. I can't imagine why, but I somehow feel as if he had taken
quite a dislike to me.
CHAPTER XIII. READING THE RUNES.
Words from the long far-away
Link the dim past with to-day.
Isobel descended from the headland in the lowest of spirits. To have
quarrelled with Belle, even in a just cause, was a disaster such as she
had never contemplated, and for a moment she was half inclined to run
after her friend and seek a reconciliation at any cost. Her pride,
however, intervened; she felt that Belle had really been very rude and
unreasonable, while her treatment of Micky was quite unpardonable. She
strolled along, therefore, in the direction of the hut instead, trying
to wink the tears out of her eyes, and to make up her mind that she did
not care. All the Sea Urchins were rushing off to investigate some
mysterious black object which they could see bobbing about in the
water, and which they hoped might prove to be a porpoise. They called
to her to join them, but even the prospect of capturing a sea monster
had for the moment no charms, so she shook her head and volunteered
instead to stay in the hut and get tea ready for their return. She
filled the kettle from a little spring of fresh water, which always ran
pure and clear in a small rivulet down the side of the cliff, threw
some more drift-wood and dry sea-weed on the fire which the boys had
already lighted, then set out the tea things, and taking a piece of
chalk, began to amuse herself by drawing upon the wall of the hut the
curious letters which she had copied from the stone. She was so
absorbed in her occupation that she did not notice a tall figure, who
stooped to enter the low doorway, and paused in some astonishment at
the scene before him.
Hullo! said a voice. Am I addressing Miss Robinson Crusoe, or is
this the outpost of a military occupation? I see a flag flying which is
certainly not the Union Jack, and as a late colonel in his Majesty's
forces, and a Justice of the Peace, I feel bound to protect our shores
from a possible invasion.
Isobel turned round hastily. She recognized the newcomer at once as
the owner of the maidenhair fern and the beautiful grounds into which
she had so unwittingly trespassed, and noticing his gun, concluded that
he must without doubt be the Colonel Smith of whom Cecil Rokeby had
spoken, and whom she had also heard mentioned by Mrs. Jackson as a keen
sportsman and a magistrate of some consequence in the neighbourhood.
I'm not Miss Robinson Crusoe, she replied, laughing, and it's not
a military occupation either.
Perhaps I am in a prehistoric dwelling, then, watching a descendant
of the ancient Britons conducting her primitive cooking operations. Or
is it an Indian wigwam? I should be interested to know to what tribe it
belongs, said the colonel, advancing farther into the hut, and looking
with an amused smile at the sand seats, the shelves, the pots, and all
the other little arrangements which the children had made.
No, I'm not an ancient Briton, said Isobel, and it isn't a
wigwam. It's 'Wavelet Hall,' and it belongs to us.
And who is 'us,' if you will condescend to explain so ambiguous a
The United Sea Urchins' Recreation Society, said Isobel, rolling
out the name with some dignity.
No doubt it's my crass ignorance, observed the colonel, but I'm
afraid I have never heard of that distinguished order. Will you kindly
enlighten me as to its object and scope?
Why, you see, we're all staying at Silversands, explained Isobel;
so we made ourselves into a club, that we might have fun together, and
called it the 'Sea Urchins.' Then we found this desert island that
doesn't belong to anybody, so we took possession of it, and built this
hut out of the wreck of the old schooner, and it's ours now.
Is it? said the colonel dryly. I was under the impression that
the island belonged to me. It is certainly included among my
title-deeds, and as lord of the manor I am also supposed to have the
rights of the foreshore.
I don't quite understand what 'lord of the manor' means, said
Isobel; but does the island really and truly belong to you?
Really and truly. I keep it for rabbit shooting exclusively.
Then, said Isobel apprehensively, I'm very much afraid that we've
been trespassing on your land again.
Not only trespassing, but squatting, returned the colonel, with a
twinkle in his eye. The case is serious. This island has belonged to
me and to my ancestors for generations. I arrive here to-day to find it
occupied by a band of individuals who, I must say (with a glance out
through the door at the barefooted Sea Urchins yelling in the distance
as they hauled up the dead porpoise), bear a very strong resemblance
to a gang of pirates. I am frankly informed by one of their number that
they claim possession of my property. I find their flag flying and a
fortress erected. The question is whether I am at once to declare war
and evict these invaders, or to allow them to remain in the position of
vassals on payment of a due tribute.
Oh, please let us stay! implored Isobel; we won't do any harmwe
won't, indeed. We're all going home in a few weeks, and then you can
have the island quite to yourself again.
Suppose I were to regard you as surety for the good behaviour of
the rest of the tribe, said the colonel: would you undertake that no
rare or cherished plants should be uprooted or any damage inflicted
during your tenancy?
We wouldn't touch anything, declared Isobel, we've only taken the
blackberries because there are so many of them. I know you're thinking
of the maidenhair. Oh, please, is it growing? I do so hope it wasn't
Yes, it's growing. I really don't believe it has suffered very
much, after all. I took a look at it this morning, and found the young
fronds pushing up as well as if they had never been disturbed.
I'm so glad! said Isobel, with a sigh of relief; I've
often thought about it since. It's very kind of you to say we may stay
here; it would have seemed so hard to turn out after we'd had the
trouble of building the hut.
But what about the rent? inquired the colonel; will you be
answerable for its proper payment? I may prove as tough a customer as
old Shylock, and insist on my pound of flesh.
We've very little money, I'm afraid, said Isobel timidly; we
spent all the club funds on buying the kettle and the frying-paneven
what we'd saved up for a feast at the end of the holidays. I've only
got threepence left myself, though perhaps some of the others may have
I must take it in kind, thenthe sort of tribute that is exacted
from native chiefs in Central Africathough you can't bring me pounds
of rubber or elephants' tusks here.
We could pick you blackberries, if you like them, suggested
Isobel; or get you cockles and mussels from the shore. Sometimes the
boys spear flukes. They're rather small and muddy, but they're quite
nice to eat with bread and butter if you fry them yourself.
My consumption of blackberries is limited, replied the colonel,
and there seems slight demand for shell-fish in my kitchen. The flukes
might have done; but if they are only edible when you fry them
yourself, I'm afraid it's no use, for I don't believe my housekeeper
would allow me to try. No! I must think out the question of tribute,
and let you know. I won't ask a rack rent, I promise you, and I suppose
I could distrain on these tea things and the kettle if it were not paid
up. The latter appears to be boiling over at this instant.
So it is! cried Isobel, lifting it off in a hurry. I wonder, she
continued shyly, if you would care to have a cup of tea. I could make
it in a moment, if you wouldn't mind drinking it out of a tin mug.
Miss Robinson Crusoe is very hospitable. I haven't had a picnic for
years. The tin mug will recall my early soldiering days. I have
bivouacked in places which were not nearly so comfortable as this.
He took a seat in a sand armchair, and looked on with amusement
while Isobel made her preparations. Something in the set of her slim
little figure and the fall of her long straight fair hair attracted
him, and he caught himself wondering of whom her gray eyes reminded
him. He liked the quiet way she went about her business, and her frank,
unaffected mannersso different from Belle's self-conscious assurance.
Why can't the other child wear a plain holland frock? he thought.
It would look much more suitable for the sands than those absurd
trimmed-up costumes. What a pity she hasn't the sense of this one!
Well, it's no use; it evidently isn't in her, and I doubt if any amount
of training at a good school will make much difference.
Isobel in the meantime having brewed the tea handed it to him upon
the scarlet tray.
I'm sorry we haven't a cream jug, she apologized. We always bring
our milk in medicine bottles. Do you mind sugar out of the packet? I
wish I had some cake, but Mrs. Jackson didn't put any in my basket
to-day, and I don't like taking the others' without asking them. I hope
it's nice, she added anxiously. I'm so afraid the water's a little
Delicious, said the colonel, who would have consumed far more
unpalatable viands sooner than hurt her feelings, and who tried to
overlook the fact that the tin mug gave the tea a curious flavour, and
the bread and butter was of a thickness usually meted out to
schoolboys. But aren't you going to have any yourself?
Not now, thank you. I'd rather wait for the others. I promised to
have everything ready for them when they came back.
I see. You're 'Polly, put the kettle on,' to-day, and 'Sukey, take
it off again,' also, as they appear to have 'all run away.' No more,
thanks. One cup is as much as is good for me. Why, in the name of all
that's mysterious, who has been writing these?
The colonel jumped up and strode to the other end of the hut, having
suddenly caught sight of the quaint letters which Isobel had drawn upon
I have, replied Isobel simply.
Then, my dear Miss Robinson Crusoe, may I ask how you came to be
acquainted with runic characters?
I don't know what they are, said Isobel. It's very queer writing,
isn't it? I was only copying it for fun.
Where did you copy it from?
It's on a stone at the top of the headland.
Yes, just above here, but a little farther on.
Do you mean to tell me there is a stone bearing letters like that
on these cliffs?
Yes; it's a long kind of stone, something like a cross without
I thought I had walked over every inch of this island, yet I have
never noticed it.
It was quite covered with brambles, said Isobel. I found it when
we were picking blackberries. I had to pull them all away before I
could see it.
If you can leave your domestic cares, I should very much like you
to show it to me, said the colonel. I happen to be particularly
interested in such stones.
I'll go at once, said Isobel, putting the kettle among the ashes,
where it could not boil over, and slamming on her hat. It looks ever
so worn and old, but the letters are cut in the stone, like they are on
She led the way up the steep, narrow path which scaled the hill, on
to the cliff above, and after a little hunting about, found the brambly
spot which had been the scene of her quarrel with Belle.
The owner of the island knelt down and examined the stone intently
for some moments.
To think that I must have passed this place dozens and dozens of
times and never have known of its existence! he said at last. I have
searched the neighbourhood so often for some record of the Viking
period. Strange that it should be found now by the chance discovery of
Are they really letters, then? inquired Isobel. Is it some
Yes; they are runes, very old and perfect ones. The runic
characters were used by our Teutonic forefathers before they learned
the Roman alphabet. This stone shows that long, long ago the Northmen
have been here.
The same Northmen who came in their great ships, and burnt the
abbey, and killed St. Alcuin at the altar? asked Isobel, keenly
Very likely, or their sons or grandsons.
Why did they write upon a stone here?
It was set up as a monumentjust like a grave stone in a
But if the Northmen were pagans, why is there a cross carved on the
Many of them settled in this country, and became Christians, and
turned farmers instead of sea-robbers.
Perhaps the monks went back to the abbey afterwards and taught
them, suggested Isobel. I always thought they must have felt so
ashamed of themselves for running away. They couldn't all be saints
like St. Alcuin, but they might do their best to make up.
No doubt they did. They were brave men in those days, who were not
afraid to risk their lives. It is possible that a small chapel may have
been built here once, though the very memory of it has passed away.
Is some one buried here, then?
Yes. Put into English characters, the inscription runs: 'Ulf
suarti risti krus thana aft Fiak sun sin.' That is to say: '
Black Ulf raised this cross for Fiak his son.'
I wish we knew who they were, said Isobel. The son must have died
first. Perhaps he was killed in battle, and then his father would put
up this cross. How very sorry he must have felt!
Very, said the colonel sadlyespecially if he were his only son.
It is hard to see the green bough taken while the old branch is
My father died fighting, said Isobel softly. But his grave is
ever so far away in South Africa.
And so is my son's. Death reaps his harvest, and hearts are as
sore, whether it is the twentieth century or the tenth. Customs change
very little. We put up monuments to show the resting-places of those we
love, and a thousand years ago Black Ulf raised this cross that Fiak
his son should not be forgotten.
And he's not forgotten, said Isobel, because we've found it all
this long time afterwards. I didn't know what it meant until you told
me. I'm so glad I can read it now. I want to tell mother; she likes old
monuments, or any kind of old things.
She has evidently taught you to think and to use your eyes, said
the colonel, or you would not have copied the inscription, and then I
might never have discovered the stone.
What a pity that would have been! returned Isobel. I was very
lucky to find it. Do you think it makes up a little for the
Completely; though, remember, I didn't blame you for that incident.
It was your friendsthe same young ruffians, I believe, who are racing
up the sands now, dragging some carcass behind them.
Oh! they're coming back for tea, cried Isobel. And I forgot all
about the kettle! I hope it hasn't boiled away. I ought to go. You
haven't told me yet, please, what you would like us to bring you
instead of rent for the island. I should like to know, so that I can
tell the others.
I'll take this discovery in lieu of all payment, declared the
colonel. You and your companions, the Sea Urchins, are welcome to have
free run of the place while you are here. Good-bye, little friend! You
always seem to turn up in exceptional circumstances. You and I appear
to have a few interests in common, so I hope that some time I may have
the pleasure of meeting you again.
CHAPTER XIV. A WET DAY.
Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises; and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest and despair most sits.
The estrangement between Isobel and her friend was of very short
duration after all. That same evening they had met on the Parade, and
Belle had run up with her former affectionate manner, so completely
ignoring the remembrance of any differences between them that Isobel
thankfully let the matter slide, only too glad to resume the friendship
on the old terms, and hoping that such an unpleasant episode might not
occur again. The two had arranged to make an expedition together to the
old town on the following day, but the morning proved so very wet that
it was impossible for any one to go out of doors.
It's a perfect deluge of a day, said Isobel, looking hopelessly at
the ceaseless drip, drip which descended from the leaden skies. It
doesn't seem as if it ever meant to clear up again. I think it must
have rained like this on the first morning of the Flood. It couldn't
have been worse, at any rate.
The back sitting-room of a lodging-house does not, as a rule, afford
the most brilliant of views, so the scene which met Isobel's eyes was
hardly calculated to raise her spirits. The paved yard behind was
swimming with water, through which a drenched and disconsolate tabby
cat, excluded from the paradise of the kitchen, was attempting to pick
its way, shaking its paws at every step. Marine Terrace being a
comparatively new row, the back premises were still in a somewhat
unfinished condition, and instead of gardens and flower-beds, your eye
was greeted by heaps of sand and mortar, bricks and rubbish, not yet
carted away by the builders, which, added to piles of empty bottles and
old hampers, gave a rather forlorn appearance to the place. After
watching pussy's struggles with the elements, and seeing her finally
seek refuge in the coal-house, Isobel took a turn to the front door,
and stood looking over the Parade, where the rolling mist almost
obscured all sight of the sea, and sky and water were of the same dull
neutral gray. The road was empty, not even the most venturesome
visitors having braved the wind and weather that morning; while Biddy
herself, usually as punctual as the clock, had evidently decided it was
too wet a day to vend her fish. There was absolutely nothing to be
seen; nevertheless Isobel would have stood there watching the endless
drops falling from the unkindly skies, had not Mrs. Jackson appeared
from the kitchen, and declaring that the rain was beating into the
hall, firmly closed the door and shut out any further prospect.
You'd get cold too, missy, she said, standin' in a full draught,
for Polly will leave that back door open, say what I will, and it turns
chilly of a wet day. One can have too much fresh air, to my mind. There
was a gentleman stayed here last summer, now, just crazy he was on what
he called 'hygiene;' bathed regular every morning before breakfast, no
matter how the tide might be. I warned him it was a-injuring his health
to go in the water on an empty stomach, but he didn't take no notice of
what I said, and lay out on damp sand, and sat under open windows, till
he ended up with a bad bout of the brown-chitis, with the doctor comin'
every day, and me turned sick nurse to poultice himEmma Jane bein' at
home then, or I couldn't have found the time to do it. I've no opinion
of these modern health dodges as folks sets such store by now. In my
young days we never so much as thought about drains, and if the pig-sty
was at the back door, no one was any the worse for it! I call it
right-down interferin' the way these inspectors come round sayin' you
mustn't even throw a bucket of potato skins down in your own yard.
Nuisance, indeed! It's them as is the nuisance. Their nasty
disinfectants smell far worse, to my mind, than a few cabbage leaves.
My grandmother lived to ninety-four, and never slept with her bedroom
window open in her life, not even on the hottest of summer days, and
drew her drinkin' water regular from the churchyard well, which they
tell you now is swarmin' with 'microbes,' or whatever they call 'em. I
never saw any, though I've let my pail down in it many a time; and it
was a deal sweeter and fresher, to my taste, than what you get laid on
in lead pipes. Jackson may go in for this new-fangled 'sanitation' if
he likes, votin' for all kinds of improvements by the Town Council,
which only adds to the rates. I'm an old-fashioned woman, and stick to
old-fashioned country ways, and I think draughts is draughts, and gives
folks colds and toothaches, call 'em by what high-soundin' names you
Judging the weather to be absolutely hopeless, and without the
slightest intention of clearing up, Isobel went back to the
sitting-room, where Polly had just taken away the breakfast things, and
looked round for some means of amusing herself.
I don't believe the postman has been yet, she said. What a
terrible day for him to go round! I should think he feels as if he
ought to come in a boat. Why, there's his rap-tap now. I wonder if
there are any letters for us?
I don't expect there will be, said Mrs. Stewart; my
correspondence is not generally very large.
I think I shall go and see, just for something to do, said Isobel;
and running into the hall, she returned presently with a letter in her
It's for you, mother, she said. The people in the drawing-room
had five, and the family in the dining-room had seven and two parcels.
Aren't they lucky? There was even one for Polly, but Mrs. Jackson told
her to put it in her pocket, and not to read it till she had got the
beds made. I'm sure she'll take a peep at it, all the same. I wish some
one would write to me. I haven't had even a picture post-card since I
The appearance of the letter which had just arrived seemed to cause
Mrs. Stewart an unusual amount of agitation. She turned it over in her
hand, glanced at Isobel, hesitated a moment, and finally took it
unopened to her bedroom, that she might read it in private.
It is my long-expected reply at last! she said to herself. I
thought he could surely not fail to send me an answer. I wonder what he
has to say. I feel as though I scarcely dare to look.
With trembling fingers she tore open the envelope, and unfolding the
sheet of notepaper, read as follows:
THE CHASE, SILVERSANDS,
DEAR MADAM,I have delayed replying sooner to your
as I wished to thoroughly inform myself upon the question which
put before me. Acting on your suggestion, I have, without her
knowledge, noted the general disposition, demeanour, and tastes
your daughter, and finding they are of a nature such as would
make a closer intimacy congenial to either of us, I must beg to
decline your proffered meeting. As I would wish, however, that
son's child should receive a fitting education, I am about to
to her credit the sum of £200 per annum to defray her expenses
any good school that you may select from a list which will be
submitted to you shortly by my solicitor. He has full
to conduct all further arrangements, and I should prefer any
communication from you to be only of a business
me to remain yours truly EVERARD STEWART.
Mrs. Stewart flung down the letter with a cry of indignation.
[Illustration: Mrs. Stewart and Isobel on the moor (page 203).]
What does he mean? she asked herself. Where can he have seen
Isobel? To my knowledge she has spoken to nobody except this old
Colonel Smith and a few of the townspeople. How can he have 'noted her
disposition, demeanour, and tastes'? And if so, what fault can he
possibly find with my darling? Is it mere prejudice, and a
determination on his part to avoid any reconciliation? If I were not so
wretchedly poor, I would not accept one farthing of this money for her.
But I must! I must! It is not right that my pride should stand in the
way of her education, and for this I must humble myself to take his
charity. He is a stern man to have kept up the ill-feeling for so many
years. Every line of his letter shows that he is opposed to me still,
though he has never seen me in his life; and instead of loving Isobel
for her father's sake, he is prepared to hate her for mine. We are so
friendless and alone in the world that it seems hard the one relation
who I thought might have taken an interest in my child should cast her
off thus. Well, it makes her doubly mine, and if she can never know her
grandfather's beautiful home, my love must be compensation for what she
has lost. My one little ewe lamb is everything to me; and though I
would have given her up for the sake of seeing her recognized, it would
have nearly broken my heart to part with her.
She put the letter carefully away, and went down again to the
sitting-room, where Isobel was standing by the window, gazing
disconsolately at the streaming rain, with just a suspicion of two
rain-drops in her eyes, for she did not like to be left alone, and Mrs.
Stewart had been long upstairs.
Never mind, my sweet one, said her mother, stroking the pretty,
smooth hair. It is a disappointing day, but we will manage to enjoy
ourselves together, you and I, in spite of rain or any other troubles.
Suppose we go through all your collections. You could write the names
under the wild flowers you have pressed, arrange the shells in boxes,
and float some of the sea-weeds on to pieces of writing-paper.
Isobel cheered up at once at the idea of something definite to do,
and the table was very soon spread over with the various treasures she
had gathered upon the beach. Silversands was a good place for shells,
and she had many rare and beautiful kinds, from pearly cowries to
scallops and wentletraps. She sorted them out carefully, putting big,
little, and middle-sized ones in separate heaps; she had great ideas of
what she would do with them when she was at home again, intending to
construct shell boxes, photo frames, and various other knickknacks in
imitation of the wonderful things which were sold at the toy-shop near
the railway station.
If I could make a very nice frame, mother, she said, I should
like to send it to Mrs. Jackson for a Christmas present, to put Emma
Jane's photo in. I believe she'd be quite pleased to hang it up in the
kitchen with the funeral cards. I might manage a shell box for old
Biddy, too. It would scarcely do for a handkerchief box, because I
don't believe she ever uses such a thing as a pocket handkerchief, but
I dare say she would like it to put something in. Do you think the
shells would stick on to tin if we made the glue strong enough? I could
do a tobacco-box then for Mr. Cass the coastguard, one that he could
keep in the parlour for best.
I'm afraid you will have to collect more shells if you intend to
make so many presents, said Mrs. Stewart. I think, however, that we
might manufacture some pretty pin-cushions out of these large fan
shells by boring holes in the ends, fastening them together with bows
of ribbon, and gluing a small velvet cushion in between.
That would be delightful! cried Isobel, and something quite
different to give people. I'm afraid they're rather tired of my needle
books and stamp cases. I wish we could think of anything to do with the
We're going to float them on to pieces of paper, and when they are
dry we will paste them in a large scrap album, and find out their names
from a book which I think I can borrow from the Free Library at home.
I don't quite know how to float them.
You must watch me do this one, and then you will be able to manage
the rest. First I'm going to fill this basin with clean water, and put
this pretty pink piece to float in it. Now, you see, I am slipping this
sheet of notepaper underneath, and drawing it very carefully and gently
from the water, so that the sea-weed remains spreads out upon the
paper. I shall pin the sheet by its four corners on to this board, and
when it is dry you'll find that the sea-weed has stuck to the paper as
firmly as if it had been glued. It's not really difficult, but it needs
a little skill to lift the sheet from the water without disarranging
This one's lovely, said Isobel. I must try to do the green piece
next. How jolly they'll look when they are all nicely pasted into a
book! I wonder if it will be difficult to find out the names? It's
rather hard to tell our flowers, isn't it?
Sometimes; but I think we are improving in our botany. How many
different kinds have we pressed since we came here?
Forty; I counted them yesterday. And we have fifty-seven at home.
We shall soon have the drawer quite full. Do you think I might look at
the scabious that I put under your big box last night?
I'm afraid you will spoil it if you peep at it too soon. When I was
a little girl my brother and I used sometimes to amuse ourselves by
putting specimens to press under the leaves of an old folding-table,
and pledging each other not to look at them for a year. It was rather
hard sometimes to keep our vows, but the flowers were most beautifully
dried when we took them out again. Some day we will start a collection
of pressed ferns; they are really easier to do than wild flowers,
because they keep their colour, while the pretty blue of harebells or
speedwells always seems to fade away.
I've done three sea-weeds already, said Isobel, successfully
arranging a delicate piece of pink coralline with the point of a hat
pin. I'm afraid this next white one will be very difficult, it's so
You can't float that. It's a zoophyte, not a real sea-weed; and,
indeed, not a vegetable at all, but the very lowest form of animal
life. You must hang it up to dry, like you do the long pieces of
oar-weed. We'll try to get the messy work done this morning, so that we
can clear the table for Polly to lay dinner, and in the afternoon I
thought you might finish your tea-cosy for Mr. Binks. There is not much
to be done to it now, and then I can make it up for you.
Oh, that would be nice! When can we go and see him?
I believe my foot will be strong enough by Thursday, so you shall
write a letter to him after dinner, and say so.
How jolly! I'm longing to see the White Coppice, and the balk, and
Mrs. Binks. I hope she won't forget to bake the cranberry cake. I shall
have to write a very neat letter. I want to copy out the runic
inscription, too, on to a fresh piece of paper.
Yes, do, dear. If my ankle bears me safely as far as the White
Coppice, I shall certainly venture to the island afterwards, and take a
sketch of the stone. It's a most interesting discovery.
Colonel Smith said he was going to have it raised up, said Isobel;
half of it, you see, is buried in the ground. He wasn't sure whether
he would leave it where it is, or take it to his house. He's so
dreadfully afraid, if he lets it stay on the island, that horrid cheap
trippers might come some time and carve their names on it. He says the
brambles growing over it have kept it safe so far. I wish you knew him,
mother, he's so kind. Belle says she doesn't like him at all,
but I do.
I think it's very good of him to let you have the run of his
island; it has made a most delightful playground, and you and the Sea
Urchins will have spent an ideal holiday.
We have indeed. I'm so glad we came to Silversands. I wish we could
come every year, and always have the island to play on. It would be
something to look forward to through the winter.
I'm afraid that isn't possible, dear, said Mrs. Stewart
regretfully, thinking of what might have been if the hopes which
prompted her visit had been fulfilled. I doubt if we shall ever return
here again. But we will have other happy times together; there are many
sweet spots in the world where we shall be able to enjoy ourselves, and
I have plans for the future which I will tell you about by-and-by.
I've had quite a jolly day in spite of the rain, declared Isobel
that evening, when, the deluge having ceased at last, the setting sun
broke through the thick banks of clouds, and flooding the sea with a
golden glory, brought out all the cooped-up visitors for an airing upon
I haven't! said Belle. It was perfectly detestable. I had
absolutely nothing to do except throw balls for Micky, and even he got
tired of that. Mother said we made her head ache, and she went to lie
down. It's never any fun talking to Barton, she's so stupid; so I sat
and watched the streaming rain through the window, and wished we'd
never come to Silversands. I think a wet day in lodgings is just about
the horridest thing in the world, and I simply can't imagine how you
can have enjoyed it.
CHAPTER XV. TEA WITH MR. BINKS.
At many a statelier home we've had good cheer,
But ne'er a kinder welcome found than here.
The tea-cosy, when finished, was a thing of beauty, and Isobel
packed it up in sheets of white tissue paper with much pride and
satisfaction. Both the steaming teapot on the one side and the
ecclesiastical-looking B on the other had given her a great deal of
trouble, and she was not sorry that they were completed.
Going to have tea with that vulgar old man we met in the train!
exclaimed Belle, raising her eyebrows in astonishment when Isobel told
her of their plans. You really do the funniest things! I
thought him dreadful. I suppose, since he asked you, you couldn't get
out of it, but I'm sorry for you to have to go. I shouldn't have been
able to come to the island in any case to-morrow, because mother wants
to take me to see the Oppenheims.
Who are they? asked Isobel.
Oh, they're a family mother knows in London. They're ever so rich.
They've taken a lovely furnished house near the woods, with a
tennis-court and a huge garden. They're to arrive this evening, and
they're bringing their motor car and their chauffeur with them. The
Wilsons and the Bardsleys are coming by the same train. Blanche
Oppenheim is six months older than I am, and mother says she's sure I
shall like her. It will be nice to have some more friends here;
Silversands is getting rather dull. There's so little to do in such a
quiet place. There never seems to be anything going on.
Isobel thought there had been a great deal going on of the kind of
fun she enjoyed, though it might not be altogether to Belle's taste,
and even her friend's depreciation of poor Mr. Binks could not spoil
the pleasure with which she anticipated her visit to the White Coppice.
She was full of eagerness to start on Thursday afternoon, and was ready
fully half an hour too soon, though her mother assured her they could
not with decency arrive before four o'clock.
The White Coppice lay opposite to Silversands, at the other side of
a narrow peninsula, and you could either reach it by going five miles
round by the road, or by walking two miles across the hills. Mrs.
Stewart and Isobel naturally preferred the short cut, and leaving the
little town behind them, were soon on the bare wind-swept heights,
following a track which led over the heather-clad moor. It seemed
no-man's land here, given up to the grouse and plovers, though now and
then they passed a rough sheep-fold, and once a whitewashed farmstead,
the thatched roof of which was bound down with ropes to resist the
autumn storms, and the few trees that sheltered the doorway, all
pointing their struggling branches in the same direction, served to
show how strong was the force of the prevailing wind. From the crest of
the hill they could see the sea on either hand, and at the far end of
the promontory could catch a glimpse of the pier at Ferndale, where a
steamer was landing its cargo of excursionists to swell the already
large crowd of cheap trippers, who seemed to swarm like ants upon the
I'm glad we're not staying there, said Isobel, who had been taken
for an afternoon by Mrs. Chester in company with Charlie and Hilda; and
though she had laughed at the niggers and the pierrots, and enjoyed
watching the Punch and Judy and the acrobats on the shore, and had put
pennies into the peep-shows on the pier, had returned thankfully from
the crowded promenade and streets full of holiday-makers to the peace
and quiet of Silversands.
It's rather amusing just for a day, but the people are even noisier
than those we met in the train; they were throwing confetti all about
the sands, and shouting to one another at the top of their voices. I
like a place where we can go walks and pick flowers, and not meet
anybody else. We shouldn't have found a desert island at Ferndale.
You certainly wouldn't, said Mrs. Stewart. If 'Rocky Holme' were
there it would be covered with swings and gingerbeer stalls, and your
little hut might probably have been turned into an oyster room or a
penny show. It is delightful to find a spot that is still unspoilt.
Luckily the trippers don't appear to go far afield; they seem quite
content with the attractions of the pier and band, and have not yet
invaded these beautiful moors. How quickly we seem to have come across!
We're quite close to the sea again now, and I believe that gray old
farmhouse nestling among the trees below will prove to be the end of
The White Coppice was so called because it stood on the borders of a
birch wood that lay in a gorge between the hills. It was protected by a
bold cliff from the strong north and west winds, sheltered by a
slightly lower crag from the east, and open only towards the south,
where the garden sloped down to a sandy cove and a narrow creek that
made a natural harbour for Mr. Binks's boat, which was generally moored
to a small jetty under the wall. It was an ancient stone farmhouse,
with large mullioned windows and hospitable, ever-open door, over which
two tamarisk bushes had been trained into a rustic porch. The garden
was gay with such hardy flowers as would flourish so near to the sea,
growing in patches between the rows of potatoes and beans, and
interspersed here and there with the figureheads of vessels, while at
the end was a summer-house, evidently made from an upturned boat, and
covered thickly with traveller's joy. Here Mr. Binks appeared to be
taking an afternoon nap while awaiting the arrival of his visitors, but
at the click of the opening gate he sprang up with a start, and
advanced to meet them with brawny, outstretched hand.
I'm reet glad to see you, I am! he exclaimed cordially. It's
royal weather, too, though a trifle hotter nor suits me.Missis!
(bawling through the doorway), where iver are you a-gone? Here's
company come, and waitin' for you!
Mrs. Binks could not have been very far away, for she bustled into
the front garden in a moment, her round, rosy, apple face smiling all
over with welcome. She was a fine, tall, elderly woman, so stout that
her figure reminded you of a large soft pillow tied in the middle. She
wore an old-fashioned black silk dress, with a white muslin apron, and
a black netted cap with purple ribbons over her smoothly parted gray
Well, now, I'm that pleased! she declared. Come in, and
set you down. You'll be fair tired out, mum, with your walk over the
moor, havin' had a bad foot and all. It's a nasty thing to strain your
ankle, it is that.Come in, missy. Binks has talked a deal about you,
he hasthinks you're the very moral of our Harriet's Clara over at
Skegness; but, bless you, I don't see no likeness myself. The kettle's
just on the boil, and you must take a cup of tea first thing to freshen
you up like. It's a good step from Silversands, and a bit close to-day
to come so far.
Seated in a corner of the high-backed oak settle, Isobel looked with
eager curiosity round the old farm kitchen. Its flagged stone floor,
the sliding cupboards in the walls, the great beams of the ceiling
covered with hooks from which were suspended flitches of bacon, bunches
of dried herbs, strings of onions, and even Mr. Binks's
fishing-bootsall were new to her interested gaze, and her quick eyes
took in everything from the gun-rack over the dresser to the china dogs
on the chimney-piece. The kitchen was so large that half of it seemed
to be reserved as a parlour; there was a square of carpet laid down at
one end, upon which stood a round table spread with Mrs. Binks's very
best china tea-service, and a supply of dainties that would have
feasted a dozen visitors at least. The long, low window was filled with
scarlet geraniums, between the vivid blossoms of which you could catch
a peep of the cove and the water beyond; and just outside hung a cage
containing a pair of doves, which kept up an incessant cooing. Mrs.
Binks made quite a picture, seated in a tall elbow chair, wielding her
big teapot, and she pressed her muffins and currant tea-cakes upon her
guests with true north-country hospitality.
You ought to be sharp set after a two-mile walk, she observed.
Take it through, missy, take it through! You must have 'the bishop'
with 'the curate,' as we say in these parts; the top piece is nought
but the poor curate, for all the butter runs to the bottom, and that's
the bishop! Is your tea as you like it? You must taste our apple jelly,
made of our own crabs as grows in the orchard out at back, unless you'd
as lief try the damson cheese or the strawberry jam.
Mr. Binks seemed much undecided whether his position as host
required him to join the party, or whether his presence in such select
company would be an intrusion, and in spite of Mrs. Stewart's
kindly-expressed hope that he would occupy his own seat at the table,
he finally compromised the matter by carrying his tea to the opposite
end of the kitchen, and taking it on the dresser, from whence he fired
off remarks every now and then whenever Mrs. Binks, who was a hard
talker and monopolized the conversation, gave him a chance to put in a
word. It was amusing talk, Isobel thought, all about Mrs. Binks's
children and grandchildren, and the many illnesses from which they had
suffered, and the medicines they had tried, and the wonderful
recoveries they had made, interspersed by offers of more tea and cake
and jam, or lamentations over the small appetite of her visitors, whom
she seemed to expect to clear the plates like locusts.
No more, missy? Why, you are soon done! And you haven't tasted my
cranberry cake! You must have a bit of it, if you have to put it in
your pocket. It's made by a recipe as I got from my great-aunt as lived
up in Berwick, and a light hand she had, too, for a cake, laying a
generous slice upon Isobel's plate, and seeming quite hurt by her
You mustn't make her ill, Mrs. Binks, laughed Mrs. Stewart,
though she fully appreciates your kindness.Isobel, would you like to
open the parcel we brought with us?
You worked this for us, honey? Well, I never did! cried Mrs.
Binks, touching the gorgeous tea-cosy gingerly, as if she feared her
stout fingers might soil its beauty.Peter, come hither and look at
this.Use it for tea every day? Nay! that would be a sin and a shame.
It's a sight too pretty to use. I'll put it in the parlour, alongside
of the cup Binks won at last show for the black heifer. You shall see
for yourself, missy, how nice it'll stand on the sideboard, on top of a
daisy mat as Harriet crocheted when she was down with a bad leg.
Mrs. Binks opened a door at the farther side of the kitchen, and
proudly led the way into her best sitting-room. It was a close little
room, with a mouldy smell as if the chimney were stopped up and the
window never opened. One end of it was entirely filled by a
glass-backed mahogany sideboard; a large gilt mirror hung over the
fireplace, carefully swathed in white muslin to keep off the flies; the
walls were adorned with photographs of the Binks family and its many
ramifications, taken in their best clothes, which did not appear to sit
easily upon them, to judge by the stiff unrest of their attitudes; and
opposite the door hung a wonderful German oleograph depicting a scene
that might either have been a sunrise on the Alps or an eruption of
Vesuvius, according to the individual fancy of the spectator. The
square table was covered with a magenta cloth, in the centre of which
stood a glass shade containing wax fruit, while several gorgeously
bound volumes of poems and sermons were placed at regular intervals
each upon a separate green wool-work mat.
It was so hot and airless in there that Isobel was quite glad when
Mr. Binks suggested they should adjourn to the garden, that he might
show her the figureheads which stood among the flower-beds like a row
of wooden statues. Each one was the record of some good ship gone to
pieces upon that treacherous coast, and as he walked along pointing
them out with his stick, the old man gave the histories of the wrecks,
at many of which he had played an active part in saving the lives of
That there's the Arizonaher with the broken nose; smashed
up like matchwood she was, on the cliffs beyond Ferndale, and the
captain drowned and the second mate. That there's the Neptune.
The trident's gone, but you can see the beard and the wreath. She went
down of a sudden on a sunken rock, and never a man left to tell as how
it happened. This un's the Admiral Seymour, wrecked outside
Silversands Bay; but we had the lifeboat out, and took all off safe.
And this here's the Polly Jones, a coastin' steamer from
Liverpool, as went clean in two amongst them crags by the lighthouse,
and her cargo of oranges washed up along the shore next day till the
beach turned yellow with 'em.
You know a great deal about ships, said Isobel, to whom her host's
reminiscences were as thrilling as a story-book.
I should that. I've been sailin' for the best part of fifty
yearleastways when I wasn't farmin'. I've not forgot as I promised to
row you over to the balk. If your ma's willin', we'd best make a start
now, whilst the tide's handy. It's worth your while to go; you'd not
see such a sight again, maybe, in a far day's journey.
Mrs. Binks declined to join the expedition, so only Mrs. Stewart and
Isobel stepped into the boat which Mr. Binks rowed over the bay with
swift and steady strokes. Their destination was a narrow spit of land
about a quarter of a mile distant, where the crumbling remains of an
old abbey rose gray among the surrounding rocks. Long years ago the
monks had fashioned the balk to catch their fish, and it still stood, a
survival of ancient days and ancient ways, close under the ruined wall
of the disused chapel. It consisted of a circle of stout oak staves,
driven into the sand, so as to enclose a space of about forty yards in
diameter, the staves being connected by twisted withes, so that the
whole resembled a gigantic basket. It was filled by the high tide, and
the retreating water, running through the meshes, left the fish behind
as in a trap, when they were very easily caught with the hands and
collected in creels.
You wouldn't see more than a couple like it in all England, said
Mr. Binks. They calls it poachin' now, and no one mayn't make a fresh
one; but this here's left, and goes with the White Coppice, and I've
rented the two for a matter of forty year.
He drew up the boat under the old abbey wall, and helping his guests
to land, led them down the beach to the enclosure, where the wet sand
was covered with leaping shining fish, some gasping their last in the
sunshine, and some seeking the temporary shelter of a deeper pool in
the middle. Bob, Mr. Binks's grandson, was busy collecting them and
putting them into large baskets, assisted by a clever little Irish
terrier, which ran hither and thither catching the fish in its mouth,
and carrying them to its master like a retriever, much to Isobel's
amusement, for she had certainly never seen a dog go fishing before.
It was a pretty sight, and a much easier way, Isobel thought, of
earning your living than venturing out with nets and lines; and she
resolved to tell the Sea Urchins about it, so that they might make a
small balk for themselves on their desert island, if the colonel would
allow them. She and her mother wandered round the old abbey, while Mr.
Binks was engaged in giving some directions to Bob; but there was
nothing to be seen except a few tumble-down walls and a fragment of
what might once have been part of an east window. They were lifting
away the thick ivy which had covered a corner stone, when, looking up,
Isobel suddenly caught sight of a familiar figure coming towards them
across the rough broken flags of the transept.
O mother, she whispered, it's Colonel Smith! and advancing
rather shyly a step or two, she met him with a beaming face.
Why, it's my little friend again! cried the colonel. Hunting for
more antiquities? I wish you would find them. This is surely your
mother (raising his hat).Your daughter will, no doubt, have told
you, madam, what an interesting discovery she made on my island. I feel
I am very much indebted to her.
She was equally delighted, replied Mrs. Stewart. She has talked
continually about this wonderful stone and its runic inscription. I am
hoping to be able to take a sketch of it before we leave. I hear there
is carving on the lower portion, as well as the runes.
So there is, but it's half hidden by the soil. I'm taking some of
my men to-morrow to dig it out of the ground and raise it up, and am
sending for a photographer to take several views of it. It is of
special value to me, owing to the particular Norse dialect employed,
which is similar to that on several monuments in the Isle of Man, and
shows that the same race of invaders must have swept across the north,
and probably penetrated as far as Ireland.
I have seen runic crosses in Ireland, said Mrs. Stewart. There's
a beautifully ornamented one near Ballymoran, though the carving is
more like Celtic than Teutonic workthose strange interlacing animals
which you find in ancient Erse manuscripts. I am very interested in old
Celtic remains, and have a good many sketches of them at home.
You couldn't take up a more fascinating study, said the colonel
eagerly. It's a very wide field, and one that has not been too much
explored. I've done a little in that way myself, and I am collecting
materials for a book on the subject of Celtic and runic crosses, but it
needs both time and patience to sort one's knowledge. It's worth the
trouble, though, for the sake of the pleasure one gets out of it.
I am sure it is, replied Mrs. Stewart, with ready sympathy. To
love such things is a kind of 'better part' that cannot be taken away
from us, however much the uninitiated may laugh at our enthusiasm.
You're right, said the colonel. We can afford to let them laugh.
We antiquarians have the best of it, after all. I should have liked to
have seen your picture of the Irish cross. I wish I could sketch. You
are fortunate to have that talent at your disposal; it's a great help
in such work, and one which I sadly lack. Why, here's Binks!Do you
want anything, Peter?
No, sir, answered Mr. Binks, touching his cap. Only to say as how
the tide's runnin' out fast, and we ought to be startin' back now, or
I'll have to carry the boat down the sands; she's only in a foot of
water as it is.
We must indeed go, said Mrs. Stewart, consulting her watch. It's
time we were walking home again.Thank you (turning to the colonel)
for your kindness to my little girl and her companions in allowing
them to play on your island. I hope they are careful and do no damage
Not in the least. There's nothing to hurt. Good-evening, madam. It
has given me great pleasure to meet one with whom I have such a
congenial subject in common. You must come, by all means, and sketch
the stone, and I wish you every success in your study of both Celtic
and runic antiquities.
What an interesting old gentleman! said Mrs. Stewart, when, having
bid many farewells to Mr. and Mrs. Binks, she and Isobel at last turned
their steps homeward over the moors. It was, as he said, quite a
pleasure to meet. I suppose there's a freemasonry between antiquarians.
I should like to have a copy of his book when it's published. I wonder
if he would find my sketches of the Irish crosses useful. I think I
must venture to send them to him when I return home. We don't know his
address, but no doubt Colonel Smith, Silversands, would find him. We've
had a delightful afternoon, Isobel, and not the least part of it, to
me, has been to make the acquaintance of your friend of the desert
CHAPTER XVI. BELLE'S NEW FRIEND.
How soon the bitter follows on the sweet!
Could I not chain your fancy's flying feet?
Could I not hold your soul to make you play
To-morrow in the key of yesterday?
Isobel found Belle on the Parade next morning in the midst of quite
a group of fashionable strangers. She was wearing one of her smartest
frocks, and was hanging affectionately on the arm of a girl slightly
taller than herself, a showy-looking child, with hazel eyes and a high
colour, dressed in a very fantastic costume of red and white, with a
scarlet fez on her thick frizzy brown hair, and a tall silver-knobbed
cane, ornamented with ribbons, in her hand. Belle appeared to find her
company so entrancing that at first she did not notice Isobel, and it
was only when the latter spoke to her that she seemed to realize her
presence, and said Good-morning.
We're just off to the island, said Isobel. Charlie has got a
fresh coil of rope, and the boys are going to try and make a new raft.
The Rokebys are bringing some eggs, and we mean to fry pancakes and
toss them, as if it were Shrove Tuesday. Are you coming?
Well, not this morning, I think, replied Belle. I've promised
Blanche to show her the old town. She doesn't know Silversands at all.
Would she like to go with us to the hut? suggested Isobel, looking
towards the newcomer, who stood playing with the loops of ribbon on her
cane, and humming a tune to herself in a jaunty, self-confident manner.
Oh, I don't think so, replied Belle. It's too far. She hasn't
seen the beach or the quay yet. We're going now to buy fruit in the
market, and then we shall have a stroll round the shops. You can take
Micky with you to the island if you like. I'll put on his leash, so
that he won't follow me.
No, thanks; I should be afraid of losing him, replied Isobel. I'd
really rather not. Shall I see you this afternoon?
Blanche has asked me to play tennis in their garden, said Belle,
drawing Isobel aside. But I shall be home about six, because the
Oppenheims dine at seven, and Blanche always has to dress. I'll come
for a walk then, if you'll call for me. I must go now; the others are
Isobel went away with a rather blank feeling of disappointment. She
had grown so accustomed to Belle that it seemed quite strange to be
without her, and the morning passed slowly, in spite of the pancakes
which she helped Letty and Winnie to mix and toss over the fire. She
felt she was only giving half her attention to the raft that the boys
kept calling her to admire, and that her thoughts were continually with
Belle, trying to imagine what she was doing, and wondering if she were
enjoying herself. Mrs. Stewart had found the walk to the White Coppice
such a strain on her weak ankle that she would not dare to venture any
great exertion for several days, so her intended expedition to the
island to sketch the runic cross had perforce to be put off. She and
Isobel carried their tea to the beach close by that afternoon, and
drank it under the shade of a rock; but though it was pleasant sitting
close to the lapping waves, and Mrs. Stewart had brought a new book to
read aloud, Isobel's mind would wander away to the garden near the
woods where Belle was playing tennis, and she would recall herself with
a start, realizing that she had not taken in a single word of the
She went round, according to her promise, soon after six o'clock, to
find Mrs. Stuart and her friend deep in patterns of dress materials,
price lists, catalogues, and copies of the Queen, and other
The Oppenheims are giving a garden-party next Tuesday, explained
Belle. They have a great many friends staying in the neighbourhood who
will drive over. They've asked me, and I haven't a thing fit to go in.
My white silk's too short, the pink crape's quite crushed, the blue
muslin won't look nice after it's washed, and my merino's hardly smart
enough. I must have a new dress somehow.
I don't generally like you in ready-made clothes, Belle, said Mrs.
Stuart, but really this embroidered silk in the advertisement looks
very pretty, and Peter Robinson's is a good shop. I think I shall risk
it. There will be just time, if I catch this post. Would you rather
have the blue or the pink?
The blue, said Belle promptly, because of my best hat. You'd
better write for some more forget-me-nots at the same time; the ones in
the front are rather dashed. I can wear my blue chain and the turquoise
bracelet, and I have a pair of long white gloves not touched yet. But
oh, mother, my parasol! It's dreadfully bleached with the sun. Do,
please, send for another. There's a picture of one here with little
frills all round, just what I want.
Belle's mind was so absorbed by the arrangement of her costume for
the coming party that, until the letters were written and finally
dispatched to the post, she could give no attention to Isobel, and in
the short walk which they took afterwards on the beach her whole
conversation was of the Oppenheims and the delightful afternoon she had
spent at their house.
Blanche has five bracelets, she confided, and four rings, and a
dressing-case full of lockets and chains and brooches. She took me
upstairs and showed them to me. She's brought her pony with her, and
some morning she's promised to borrow her sister's riding-skirt for me,
and the coachman is to take us on to the common to ride in turns. Won't
it be glorious? She's such an amusing girl! She knows all the
latest songs, and you should just hear her take people off: it makes
you die with laughing. She's been a year at a jolly school near London,
where the girls are taken to matinées at the theatre, and have a
splendid time. I mean to ask mother to send me there. It's dreadfully
expensive, but I know she wouldn't mind that.
We missed you at the island to-day, said Isobel. The pancakes
were delicious. We ate them with sugar and lemons.
Did you? said Belle inattentively. Perhaps I may come to-morrow,
if I have time.
To-morrow's the cricket match at the old playground, said Isobel.
We always have it on Saturday, you know. Had you forgotten?
I suppose I had, replied Belle. I'll bring Blanche, if she cares
about coming. I don't know whether she plays cricket.
On Saturday morning Isobel called early at No. 12, only to find that
Belle had already gone to the Oppenheims, and would not return until
I'm sorry she's not in, dear, said Mrs. Stuart kindly, noticing
Isobel's look of disappointment; but she expects to see you in the
afternoon, I'm sure. She told me she would be meeting all her friends
upon the shore, so some of the others will no doubt know what has been
arranged, if you ask them. I believe I saw the Rokebys pass a moment
ago; you could soon overtake them if you were to run.
The matches on the small green common which had been their first
playground were still an institution of the Sea Urchins' Club, and
Isobel looked forward to them with considerable pleasure. She had not
sufficient strength of arm to gain credit as a batsman, but she was a
splendid fielder, and Charlie declared that no one made a better
long-stop. This afternoon both boys and girls had assembled in full
force punctually at the appointed time, and the game was nearly halfway
through before Belle and her new friend came sauntering leisurely up to
Oh! we don't want to play, thank you, said Belle, only to look
on. Please don't stop on our account. We're just going to sit down and
The pair retired to the old boat, where they settled themselves
under the shade of Blanche's parasol, and, to judge from their giggling
mirth, found great entertainment in making merry at the expense of the
others. Isobel, who was fielding, had not a chance to speak to Belle
until the opposite side was out, but Arthur Wright having sent a catch
at last, she was free until her own innings. She ran up with her
accustomed eagerness, expecting her friend to kiss her as usual, and to
make room for her upon the boat. To-day, however, Belle did nothing of
That you, Isobel? she said carelessly. I should think you're hot.
I don't know how you can tear about so. Blanche said your legs looked
like a pair of compasses when you flew after the ball.
Aren't you going to play? asked Isobel. We want one more on each
No, thanks. I hate racing up and down in the sun. It takes one's
hair out of curl.
Oh, I don't think it would, replied Isobel.
People with rats' tails can't judge, said Blanche, twisting one of
Belle's light locks and her own dark ones together as she spoke, and
looking at the combination with a critical eye. If my brother were
here, he'd be in fits over this cricket. I never saw such a game. That
big boy holds his bat in the most clumsy way.
He's a very good player, said Isobel. He gets more runs than
anybody else, and it's terribly hard to put him out.
Jermyn would bowl him first ball! returned Blanche scornfully.
Perhaps you've never seen Eton boys play? I always go to Lord's to
watch the match with Harrow: it's as different from this as a
first-class theatre is from a troupe of niggers.
Why, but this is only a children's mixed team, said Isobel. Of
course some of the little ones scarcely know how to play at all. We
just send them very easy balls, and let them try.You're surely not
going, Belle. Tea will be ready in a quarter of an hour. Mrs. Rokeby's
boiling the kettle on a spirit lamp over by the rocks.
We don't want any, thank you, said Belle, rising from the boat and
brushing some sand off her dress. Mrs. Oppenheim is going to take us
to tea at the new café. I hear they've capital ices and a band. The
Wilsons were telling me about it yesterday. They say you meet everybody
there from four to five o'clock.
Shall I see you on the Parade this evening? called Isobel, as
Belle strolled away in the direction of Silversands, her arm closely
locked in Blanche's.
I don't think so, replied Belle, without turning her head, and
saying something in a whisper to Blanche, which evidently caused the
latter much amusement, for she broke into a suppressed peal of
laughter, and glancing round at Isobel, went along shaking her
shoulders with mirth.
Isobel stood looking after the retreating couple with a lump in her
throat and a curious sick sensation in her heart. She could not yet
quite realize that Belle did not desire her companionshiponly that
somehow Blanche had carried off her friend, and that everything was
completely spoilt. Between Blanche and herself she recognized there was
an instinctive hostility. Blanche had been so openly rude, and had
treated both her and the Sea Urchins with such evident contempt, that
Isobel, not usually a quarrelsome child, had felt all her spirit rise
up within her in passionate indignation.
Why does she come here to make fun of us? she asked herself hotly.
We had such jolly times before. None of the others were ever nasty
like thisnot even Aggie Wright or Hugh Rokeby. Why can't she keep
with her own family? And why, oh, why does Belle seem to like her so
Next day being Sunday, Isobel only saw her friend at a distance in
church, Mrs. Stewart, who had a suspicion of what was happening,
suggesting that they should pass the afternoon with their books on the
cliffs, thinking it would be better to leave Belle severely alone, and
give no opportunity for a meeting. On this account she spent Monday in
Ferndale, asking Hilda Chester to accompany them, and taking the two
children to hear the band play on the pier, and to an entertainment
afterwards in the pavilion. The Rokebys came on Tuesday morning,
inviting Isobel to join them in a boating excursion, from which they
did not return until late in the evening, so that for the first time
since the beginning of their acquaintance the namesakes had not spoken
to each other for three whole days. Isobel had borne the separation as
well as she could, but she longed to see Belle again with the full
force of her loving nature. She invented many excuses for the conduct
of the latter, who, she thought, was no doubt regretting her coldness,
and would be as delighted as ever to meet. If only she could get Belle
to herself, without Blanche, all would surely be right between them,
and the friendship as warm as it had been before.
May I ask her to tea, mother? she begged, with so wistful a look
in her gray eyes, and such a suspicious little quiver at the corners of
her mouth, that Mrs. Stewart consented, somewhat against her better
Finding Belle on the cricket-ground next morning, Isobel broached
the subject of the invitation at once.
To-day? said Belle. I'm going to the Oppenheims'. I haven't told
you yet about their garden-party. It was such a swell affair!
They had waiters from the Belle Vue Hotel at Ferndale, and the
Grenadier band from the pier. I never saw lovelier dresses in my life.
My blue silk came just in time, and it really looked very nice, and the
parasol is sweet. You can't think how much I enjoyed myself.
Would to-morrow do? suggested Isobel, if you can't come to-day?
To tea? At your lodgings? replied Belle, with a rather blank
expression on her face.
Yes, unless we carry the cups out on to the shore and have a
picnic. Perhaps that would be nicer.
Mother wants to take me to call on the Wilsons to-morrow.
Then Friday or Saturday? It doesn't matter which to us.
Really, said Belle, looking rather embarrassed, I expect I shall
be going to the Oppenheims both days. Blanche likes me to make up the
set at tennis, and it's so cool and nice in the garden under the trees.
There she is now, coming along the beach and beckoning to me. I wonder
what she wants. I think I shall have to go and see. And Belle ran
quickly off, as if glad to find an excuse for getting away; and meeting
the Oppenheims, she turned back with them towards the Parade.
Left alone, Isobel felt as though some great shock had passed over
her. She saw only too plainly that Belle did not want to comedid not
care for her society or value her friendship; and the bitterness of the
knowledge seemed almost greater than she could bear. She walked slowly
to the cliff, and climbing part of the way up, sat down in a sheltered
nook, hidden from sight of the beach; then putting her head on her
hands, she let loose the flood-gates of her grief. God help us when we
first find out that those we care for no longer respond to our love.
The wound may heal, but it leaves a scar, and remains one of those
silent milestones of the soul to which we look back in after years as
having marked an epoch in our inner lives. At the time it appears as if
all our affection had been wasted; but it is not so, for the very fact
of loving even an unworthy object increases our power to love, and
enlarges the heart, lifting us above self, and, as bread cast upon the
waters, will return to us after many days in a greater capacity for
sympathy with others, and a widening of our spiritual growth.
To Isobel it seemed as if the whole world had somehow changed. She
had had few companions of her own age, and this was her first essay at
friendship. Those who enjoy very keenly suffer, alas! in like
proportion, and hers was not a disposition to take things lightly. She
stayed for a long, long time upon the cliffs, fighting a hard battle
before she could get her tears under sufficient control to walk home
along the shore, as she did not care to face any of the Sea Urchins
with streaming eyes. Perhaps a touch of pride came to her aid. She
would, at any rate, not let Belle know how greatly she cared, and when
they met again she would behave as if she too were not anxious about
the acquaintance. So much she felt she owed to her own self-respect,
and she meant to carry it out, whatever it cost her.
I wouldn't break my heart, darling, said Mrs. Stewart, who, seeing
Isobel's red eyes, soon discovered the trouble, and offered what
comfort she could. Belle isn't worth grieving for. I was afraid of
this from the first, but you were so taken with her that it seemed of
no use to warn you. I don't think she was ever half what you believed
her to be, and she has proved herself a very fickle friend. Never mind.
We shall be going home soon, and you will have other interests to turn
your thoughts. We shall see little more of her at Silversands, and the
best thing we can do is to forget her as speedily as we can.
CHAPTER XVII. THE CHASE.
Tones that I once used to know
Thrill in those accents of thine,
Eyes that I loved long ago
Gaze 'neath your lashes at mine.
Except by Isobel, Belle was scarcely missed at the desert island,
where the Sea Urchins had so many interesting schemes on hand that they
did not trouble to spare a thought to one who had not taken the pains
to make herself a general favourite. For the last few days all the
children had been absorbed in the construction of another hut upon the
opposite end of the island. It was built with loose stones, after the
fashion of an Irish cabin, and they intended to roof it, when it was
finished, with planks covered with pieces of turf. This new building
was to surpass even the old one in beauty and ingenuity. It was to
consist of several rooms, and both boys and girls toiled away at it
with an ardour which would have caused the ordinary British workman to
open his eyes in amazement.
Isobel worked as hard as any one, carrying stones, and mixing a
crumbly kind of mortar made out of sand and crushed limpets, which
Charlie fondly imagined would resemble the famous cement with which
mediæval castles were built, and would defy the combined effects of
time and weather. Since Belle's desertion she had been much with the
Chesters. Hilda, though several years younger than herself, was a dear
little companion, and Charlie was a staunch friend, standing up for her
when necessary against the Rokeby boys, whose teasing was sometimes apt
to get beyond all bounds of endurance. On the following Friday the
whole party were busy upon the shore, collecting a fresh supply of
shell-fish for their architecture, when Isobel, who had left the others
that she might carry her load of periwinkles to the already large heap
under the rocks, spied her friend the colonel in the distance, and
flinging down her basket, hurried along the beach to greet him.
Well met, Miss Robinson Crusoe! cried the colonel. I was just on
the point of going up the cliff to take another look at the old stone.
I'm like a child with a new toy. I find I can't tear myself away from
it, and I want to keep going back to read the runes again, and to see
that it is safe and uninjured. Will you come with me to keep me
Isobel was nothing loathshe much enjoyed a chat with the owner of
the island; and they sat for a long time on a large boulder near the
cross, while he wrote the runic alphabet for her on a leaf torn from
Now I should at least be able to make out the words of another
inscription if I found it, she said triumphantly, even if I didn't
know what it meant. I shall copy these, and then write my name in runes
inside all my books. I think they're ever so much prettier than modern
With the slight disadvantage that very few people can decipher
them, laughed the colonel. You might as well sign your autograph in
Sanscrit. How fast the tide is rising! I think we should warn your
playfellows that they ought to be running home. I'm always afraid lest
they should be caught on these sands.
He rose as he spoke, and walked to the verge of the cliff, where he
could command a view of the shore below, just in time to see the last
of the children hustled by Charlotte Wright (whose sensible practical
head never forgot the state of the tide) up the beach at the
Silversands side of the channel, which was already beginning to fill so
quickly as to render any further crossing impossible.
Oh, look! What shall we do? cried Isobel, in some alarm. We're
quite cut off. We can't possibly get through that deep water even if we
try to wade. We shall have to stay on the island all night.
And sleep in the hut like true pioneers? said the colonel. It
would certainly be a new experience. No, little Miss Crusoe, I don't
think we are driven to such a desperate extremity as that yet. I left
my boat at the other side of the headland, and my man is only waiting
my signal to row round. I will take you across with me to the Chase,
and land you in safety.
Mounting to the top of the hill, he waved his handkerchief, and a
small row-boat which had been anchored in the bay put off immediately
in their direction.
It's not nearly so romantic as if we had been obliged to spend a
lonely night shivering in the hut, said the colonel. We've missed
rather an interesting adventure, but it's much more comfortable, after
all. By-the-bye, will your mother feel anxious if she sees the other
children return without you?
She's gone to Ferndale this afternoon to buy some more paints and
drawing paper, replied Isobel. You can't get sketching materials in
Silversands. She won't be home until seven o'clock, because there isn't
a train earlier. I shall have to take tea alone.
Better have it with me, suggested her friend. I feel I owe some
return for the hospitality you exercised in the hut. I haven't
forgotten the nice cup of tea you made. You must see my flowers, and I
can send you home afterwards in the dog-cart.
That would be nice! cried Isobel, her joy at the prospect
showing itself in her beaming face. We saw your garden from the top of
the Scar that day we went into your grounds, and I thought it looked
Well, I believe I have as good a show as most people in the
neighbourhood, admitted the colonel; but you shall judge for
yourself. Here we are at the landing-place. Take care! Give me your
hand, and I will help you out.
The Chase appeared to have a private wooden jetty of its own, which
led on to a strip of shingly beach, at the other side of which an iron
gate admitted them into a small plantation of fir trees, and through a
shrubbery into the garden. Isobel could not restrain a cry of pleasure
at the sight of the flowers, which were now in the prime of their early
autumn glory, and she did not know whether to admire more the little
beds, gay with bright blossoms, which dotted the smoothly mown lawns,
or the splendid herbaceous borders behind, full of dahlias, sunflowers,
gladioli, hollyhocks, torch lilies, tall bell-flowers, and other
I must show you all my treasures, said the colonel, pleased with
her appreciation, as he took her to the pond where the pink
water-lilies grew, and the bamboo and eucalyptus were flourishing in
the open air.
You don't often find subtropical plants so far north, he
explained, with a touch of pride as he pointed them out; but this is a
very sheltered situation, and we protect them with matting during the
winter. You should see the irises in the spring and early summer; they
are a mass of delicate colour, and thrive so well down by the water's
The rock garden, with its pretty Alpine blossoms; the rosery, where
the queen of flowers seemed represented by every variety, from the
delicate yellow of the tea to the rich red of the damask; the fountain,
where the water flowed from the pouting lips of a chubby cherub,
astride on a dolphin, into a basin filled with gold and silver fish;
the terraced walk, covered by a fine magnolia; and the summer-house on
the wall, containing a fixed telescope through which you could look out
over the seaall were an equal delight to Isobel's wondering eyes, for
she had never before been in such beautiful grounds. Nor was the
kitchen-garden less of a surprise, with its peaches and apricots
hanging on the red brick walls, carefully netted to preserve them from
the birds; its beds of tall, feathery asparagus, and its ripe
greengages and early apples. The trim neatness of the vegetable borders
was enlivened by edgings of hardy annuals, and here and there a mass of
sweet peas filled the air with a delicious fragrance, while in a corner
stood a row of bee-hives, the buzzing occupants of which seemed busily
at work among the scarlet runners. Isobel thought no enchanted palace
could rival the greenhouses, gay with geraniums and fuchsias and rare
plants, the names of which she did not know, or the vinery with its
countless bunches of black grapes hanging from the roof. It was so
particularly nice to be taken round by the owner, who could pluck the
flowers and fruit as he wished, and so different from the park at home,
which was her usual playground, where you might not walk on the grass,
and hardly dared to admire the flowers, for fear the policeman should
suspect you of wanting to touch them.
You will be quite tired now, and hungry too, I expect, said her
host, as he led the way on to a long glass-roofed veranda in front of
the house, where two chairs and a round table spread for tea were
awaiting them. I must show you my horses and dogs afterwards. I have
five little collie pups, which I am sure you will like to see, and a
brown foal, only a fortnight old. My coachman has some fan-tail
pigeons, too, and a hutch of rabbits.
It seemed very strange to Isobel to find herself sitting in the
comfortable basket-chair, talking to the colonel while he poured the
tea from the silver teapot into the pretty painted cups. She could
scarcely believe that only three weeks ago she had trespassed in his
grounds, and had almost expected him to send her to prison for the
offence, while now she was chatting to him as freely as if she had
known him all her life. That her holland frock was not improved by an
afternoon's play on the island, that her sand shoes were the worse for
wear and her sailor hat was her oldest, and that the wind had blown her
long hair into elf locks, did not distress her in the least, though I
fear Mrs. Stewart would hardly have considered her in visiting order.
Certainly the colonel did not seem to mind, and whatever he may have
thought of the appearance of his young guest, her good manners and
refined accent had shown him from the first that she was the child of
Mother means to sketch the runic cross on Monday, volunteered
Isobel, as the talk turned on the subject of the island. She went to
Ferndale to-day on purpose to buy a new block; her old one was too
small, and not the right shape.
I shall hope to see her picture, replied the colonel. I must show
you the photos of the stone, which arrived this morning. They are in my
study; so, if you really won't have any more tea, we will come indoors
and look at them now.
He led the way through an open French window into a large and
pleasant drawing-room, which appeared so filled with beautiful cabinets
of curiosities, old china, rare pictures and books, that Isobel would
have liked to linger and look at them if she had dared to ask; but the
colonel strode on into the panelled hall, and passing the wide
staircase with its carved balustrade and its statue of Hebe, holding a
lamp, at the foot, took her into a long low library at the farther side
of the house. It was a cosy room. Its four windows overlooked the rose
garden, and had a peep of the cliffs and the sea; a large writing-table
strewn with papers stood in a recess; and various padded morocco
easy-chairs seemed to invite one to sit down and read the books which
almost covered the walls from floor to ceiling. Over the fine stone
chimney-piece hung two portraits, the only pictures to be seenone an
enlarged photograph of a handsome young officer in a Guards uniform;
the other a small oil painting of a little girl with gray eyes and
straight fair hair, parted smoothly in the middle of her forehead, and
tied by a ribbon under her ears.
I only received the prints this morning, said the colonel, taking
an envelope from his desk. There are four views altogether, as you
will see; but I think you will like this the best, for it shows the
runes so plainly.
He held out the photo of the ancient cross, but Isobel did not
notice it. She was standing with parted lips, her eyes fixed in
amazement upon the two portraits over the fireplace.
Why, she cried, in an eager voice, that's fathermy father!
Your father, my dear? said the colonel, astonished in his turn.
Impossible! This is a portrait of my son.
But it is father! returned Isobel. It's the same photo
which we have at home, only larger. That's the V.C. he won in India,
and his Guards uniform. And the other picture is little Aunt Isobel!
What do you mean? asked the colonel hastily. How could it be your
I don't know, but it is! replied Isobel. I have a tiny
painting exactly like it, done on ivory, inside a morocco case. It
belonged to father, and he left it to me. She was his only sister, and
she died when she was eleven years oldjust the same age as I am.
For answer the colonel took Isobel by the shoulders, and holding her
beneath the portrait, looked narrowly at her face. The evening
sunshine, flooding through the window, fell on the fair hair, and
lighted it up with the same golden gleam as that of the child in the
picture above; the gray eyes of both seemed to meet him with the same
half-wistful, half-trustful gaze.
The likeness is extraordinary, he murmured. I wonder I have never
noticed it before. Is it possible I could have made so great a mistake?
In what regiment was your father?
He was in the Fifth Dragoon Guards.
You have told me he is dead?
Yes; he was killed in the Boer war.
How long ago?
Six years on my birthday.
Was it near Bloemfontein?
Yes, in a night skirmish. He is buried there, just where he fell.
Had he any other relations besides yourself and your mother?
Only my grandfather, whom I have never seen.
And your name?your name? cried the colonel, white to the lips
with an emotion he could not control.
CHAPTER XVIII. GOOD-BYE.
We say it for an hour, or for years;
We say it smiling, say it choked with tears;
We say it coldly, say it with a kiss,
And yet we have no other word than this
Colonel Stewart's very natural mistake in confusing the namesakes,
and Isobel's equal error in believing her grandfather to be Colonel
Smith, were soon explained. The former, full of relief at this
unexpected turn of affairs, paid a visit to Marine Terrace that same
evening, and in the interview with his daughter-in-law which followed
he begged her pardon frankly and freely for his prejudice and
It seems late in life for a gray-haired old man to turn over a new
leaf, he said, but if you can overlook my misconception and neglect
of you in the past, I trust we may prove firm friends in the future.
And as for Isobel, she is a granddaughter after my own heart. Will you
forget that miserable letter which I wrote (it was intended not for
you, as I know you now, but for the mother of that other child), and
show your forgiveness by coming to cheer my loneliness at the Chase?
Now that we understand each other, I think we need have no fear of
disagreements, and our mutual love for the one who is gone and the
other who is left will make a bond of sympathy between us.
Isobel's joyful astonishment may be pictured when she discovered
that her friend of the island was in very truth her own grandfather,
and her happiness when she and her mother removed the next week from
Marine Terrace to the Chase can scarcely be described.
It's just like a fairy tale! she declared. I never thought when I
sat on the top of the Scar that afternoon, looking down at the lovely
house and garden, and saying what I would do if I lived there, that it
could ever really come to pass. It's almost too good to be true, and I
shouldn't be in the least surprised if it were only a dream after all.
It soon proved to be no dream, but a most satisfactory reality, when
she saw herself installed as her grandfather's favourite companion in
the very surroundings which she had so much admired. To Colonel Stewart
she filled the vacant place of the little daughter he had lost in
former years; and so keen was his pleasure in his newly-found
grandchild, that if Isobel had not been of a thoroughly sensible nature
I fear she would have run a very great risk of becoming completely
spoilt. Her mother's influence and her own naturally unselfish
disposition saved her from that, however, and the wholesome discipline
of school life afterwards taught her to be able to take her
grandfather's kindness without acquiring an undue idea of her own
importance. She was very happy at the Chase, and especially delighted
when Colonel Stewart made her a formal present of the desert island.
It shall be yours, to do what you like with, he declared. I
promised to lease it to you when you found the runic cross, and I think
you deserve to have it for your own. It shall be one of my presents to
you on your eleventh birthday.
That happy event was to take place in the course of a few days, and
to celebrate the occasion all the Sea Urchins had been invited to a
garden fête at the Chase, as a winding up of the club before the
various children left Silversands; for it was September
nowgovernesses were returning, schools were reopening, and the
holidays were over at last.
It was a lovely autumn morning when Isobel, with a bright birthday
face, looked out of the open window of her pretty bedroom, to see her
island shining in the early sunshine against the sea, and the shadows
falling over the lawns and gardens of the beautiful spot which was now
I'm the luckiest girl in the world! she thought, as she ran down
to the breakfast table, to find her plate filled with
interesting-looking packages, and the prettiest white pony waiting for
her outside the front steps, with a new side-saddle, quite ready for
her to learn to ride.
I want you to be a good horsewoman, said the colonel. I think you
are plucky enough, and when you've had a little practice I hope you'll
soon enjoy a canter with me across the moors. The Skye terrier I spoke
of will be coming next week; I had to send to Scotland for him, so he
could not arrive in time for your birthday, but you will be able to
make his acquaintance later.
To have a pony of her very own had always been one of Isobel's
castles in the air, and she spent the morning trying her new favourite
in a state of rapture that was only equalled by her joy at receiving
her friends in the afternoon. All the Sea Urchins were there, from tall
Hugh Rokeby to the youngest Wright; and though they seemed somewhat shy
and on their best behaviour at first, their restraint soon wore off at
the sight of the splendid cricket pitch, the archery, and the other
games which the colonel had prepared for them. After some hesitation it
had been decided to include Belle in the invitation, and she appeared
with the others dressed in one of her daintiest costumes and her most
becoming hat, not in the least abashed by any remembrance of her former
So you're really living at this splendid place, darling! she
cried, clasping Isobel's arm close in hers, with quite her old clinging
manner. It's ever so much nicer than the Oppenheims', and I
suppose it will all be yours some day, won't it? The pony is simply a
beauty. I'm so delighted to come this afternoon! Somehow I
haven't seemed to see very much of you lately, though I don't think it
has been my fault. You always were my dearest friend, and always will
I am pleased to see all my friends here to-day, replied Isobel
quietly, then very gently she drew her arm away.
She knew Belle's affection now for what it was worth; the old love
for her had died that day on the cliff, and however much she might
regret the loss, nothing could ever bring it back to her again. Other
and truer friendships might follow, but this was as utterly gone as a
beautiful iridescent bubble when it has burst.
It was the first time that the Rokebys had met Colonel Stewart since
they had uprooted his cherished maidenhair, and with a good deal of
blushing and poking at each other they blurted out an apology for their
conduct on that occasion.
We won't speak of it, said the colonel. You wouldn't do it again,
I'm sure, nor shirk the matter afterwards. Certainly (with a twinkle
in his eye) you vanished like the wind, and I shall expect to have a
wonderful exhibition of such running capabilities on the
cricket-ground. It's an excellent pitch, and if you don't make a record
I shall be surprised.
With both Charlie and Hilda Chester he was more than pleased, and
hoped they might be frequent visitors at the Chase if they returned to
Silversands, while he extended a hearty and kindly welcome to all the
young guests, who echoed Bertie Rokeby's opinion that it was the most
ripping party that ever was given.
The first half of the afternoon was devoted to cricket, which, I
really believe, the colonel enjoyed as much as his visitors; it
recalled his old school days, and he had many a tale to tell of matches
played fifty years ago on the fields at Eton by boys who had since made
their mark in life. Tea was served in the large dining-room, which
looked cool with the light falling through the stained-glass window at
the end on to the white marble statues which stood in recesses along
the walls. It was a real jolly teanot one of those affairs where you
get nothing but a cucumber sandwich and a square inch of cake, and have
to stand about and wait on the girls! as Bertie Rokeby ungallantly
observed, but a sit-down meal of a character substantial enough to
satisfy youthful appetites, and lavish in the matter of ripe fruit and
cakes. Mrs. Stewart took care that Ruth and Edna Barrington, who, for a
wonder, had come unattended, were well looked after, and provided with
such few dainties as they permitted themselves to indulge in, being
under a solemn pledge to their mother to abstain from all doubtful
dishes. There were crackers, although it was not Christmas time, and a
pretty box of bon-bons laid beside every plate; but I think the leading
glory of the table was the birthday cake, which, according to Charlotte
Wright, reminded one of a wedding or a christening, so elaborate were
the designs of flowers and birds in white sugar and chocolate on its
iced surface, while the letters of Isobel's name were displayed on six
little flags in red, white, and blue which adorned the summit.
After tea came a variety of sports for prizesarchery, quoits,
jumping, vaulting, and obstacle races, in the latter of which
considerable ingenuity had been shown. It was an amusing sight to watch
the boys clumsily trying to thread the requisite number of needles
before they might make a start, and toilsomely sorting red and white
beans in the little three-divisioned boxes supplied to them, or the
girls picking up marbles and disentangling coloured ribbons with eager
fingers. The potato races were voted great fun, for it was a difficult
matter to run carrying a large and knobby potato balanced upon an egg
spoon, and it was almost sure to be dropped just as the triumphant
candidate was on the point of tipping it into the box at the end,
giving the enemy an opportunity of making up arrears, and of proving
the truth of the proverb that the race sometimes goes to the slow and
sure instead of to the swift. Three-legged races were popular among the
boys, and Bertie Rokeby and Eric Wright, with their respective right
and left legs firmly tied together, against Charlie Chester and Arnold
Rokeby similarly handicapped, made quite an exciting struggle, the
former couple winning in the end, owing to Charlie's undue haste
upsetting both himself and his partner. The jumping and vaulting were
mostly appreciated by the older children, but both big and little
exclaimed with delight when one of the gardeners brought out a famous
Aunt Sally, which he had been very busy making, with a turnip for her
head, carved with a penknife into some representation of a human face,
over which reposed an ancient bonnet, a shawl being wrapped round her
shoulders, and a large pipe placed between her simpering lips. She was
tied securely to the top of a post, and the children threw sticks at
her, the game being to see who could first knock the pipe from her
mouth, a feat which proved to be more difficult than they had at first
supposed, and which caused much merriment, the prize being won in the
end by Letty Rokeby, whose aim was as true as that of any of the boys.
The sun had set, and the September twilight was just beginning to
deepen into dark, when the young guests were arranged in rows on the
terrace steps to witness the final treatan exhibition of fireworks,
which the colonel had sent a special telegram to London to obtain in
time. It was a very pretty display of Catherine wheels, Roman candles,
rockets, and golden rain, finishing with the Royal Arms in crimson
fire; and it made such a splendid close to the day that twenty pairs of
hands clapped loudly, and twenty voices joined in ringing cheers, as
the little red stars winked themselves out into the darkness. The party
was at an end, and an omnibus was in waiting to drive the visitors, all
unwilling to go, back to their lodgings at Silversands. Isobel kissed
Belle with a feeling that it was a last farewell; their ways for the
future lay apart; they had different ideals and different hopes in
life. Alike in name, they had been so unlike in character as to render
any true friendship impossible, though their chance meeting had been
fraught with such unforeseen consequences. It was little more than six
weeks since Isobel had first arrived at Silversands, yet so much seemed
to have happened in the time that, as she stood upon the steps holding
her grandfather's hand, she could scarcely realize the strange things
which had come to pass.
Good-bye! good-bye! sounded on all sides, as the reluctant Sea
Urchins at length took their departure. To-morrow most of them would be
scattered to their own homes, and the club would be a thing of the
I shall never forget any of you, never! said Isobel. We've had
glorious fun together, and it's been the very jolliest holiday I ever
remember in my life. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed your coming
here to-day, and I wish every one of you as happy a birthday as mine.