Don John (4)

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CHAPTER X.


THE family circle, as has been explained, never seemed perfect unless Lancey was in it, and this was more true than ever when, after another year, the two boys came home healthy, cheerful, and well-grown.

    Lancey had not got himself into a scrape since the memorable stealing of the watch, and consequently both the boys were happier.

    A somewhat singular circle it was.  The house in Upper Harley Street had been let.  The long rambling homestead in the country suited the mistress and children far better.  Her easy household ways surprised Mr. Viser, her children inherited her placid temper and her unruffled ease.

    They were all "characters" already, observed with amusement by the neighbours, both rich and poor; home everywhere, and perfectly independent.

    Mr. Viser and his wife, Lady Louisa, had a large young family, but none of their children, though taken great care of, showed half the strength and spirit of the Johnstones.

    Sometimes Lady Louisa came to call on Mrs. Johnstone, and made quiet observations on the manners and fashions of that gentlewoman, but it did not occur to her that these had anything to do with the sparkling eyes and high health of the children.

    Once she had known Mrs. Johnstone to take up a parasol, when a very great noise of shouting and laughter almost deafened them, as they sat in the drawing-room.  She went out into the garden, Lade Louisa accompanied her; the boys and girls were easily found by the said noise.

    Were they told to make less? not at all; they were merely admonished to go a little further off.

    The little Visers never shouted; they never went out of doors without a nurse or a governess; they wore gloves, and generally had parasols.

    A buttoned glove! handcuffs are hardly more powerful to restrain.  Such an article was never put on to the little Johnstone girls, unless when they went out in the close carriage to pay calls with their mother, then they had also the regulation quantity of ribbon and feathers, and behaved accordingly.

    The groom in that establishment acted as an under-gardener; he also went out on errands occasionally, but when Mrs. Johnstone ordered the pony-carriage, she never troubled herself to inquire whether he was at home or not.  Why?  The boys of course could bring the pony up from the meadow, run out the little carriage, and harness the docile beast as well as he could.  And, to be plain with the reader (at the same time hoping not to shock or displease), the girls could too.

    When Mrs. Johnstone heard the wheels of the pony-carriage, as it was brought round to the front door, she would step forth equipped for the occasion, and serene as usual.  In holiday time she always found one of the two boys ready to drive her; he would have brushed himself up a little, and put on a tolerably good hat.

    The carriage had a moderately comfortable seat in front, the back of it was somewhat like an open square box.  There was a moveable bench-like seat in it, under which old Die was generally lying, for she liked the air.  The white cat was not unfrequently there also (she had followed Don John from school).

    "So long as you keep yourself to yourself," John would say, "there's no objection to your seeing the country."   third passenger would be Peterkin—old Die's grandson.  She knew why he was brought.  He was not to be trusted at home by himself.  It was all very well to bark at tramps, "but Peterson was such a cad, that he would bark at the honest poor."

    The mother and son would then set forth in homely state; but if their errand was to the town they would be sure to overtake Lancey and the elder girls, perhaps Mary and Freddy also, about a mile down the hill.  These young people, as a rule, would be arrayed in flapping sun-bonnets and "over-all" garden pinafores, but you perceive "that there would not have been time to 'dress up,' and mother did not mind."

    They also had errands to the town, which was about four miles off.  A couple would get in behind, when mother told Don John to drive slowly, at the same time nests, and ferns, and flowers would be put in.  Some did not attain to the town, but lingered in the lane picking up property till the return journey, then they would perhaps all get on board the somewhat clumsy craft, pulling out the dogs to follow on foot.  Sometimes on a sudden they would all get down, excepting the boy who was driving, and scurry into the little wood on either side, turning in like rabbits.

    This was when a farmer's smart phaeton, with the farmer's lady in it, appeared at the top of the hill, or Mr. Viser and Lady Louisa drove into the lane in their landau.

    Such a feeling as shyness was quite alien to their natures, but they felt that their garden pinafores rather disgraced mother, filled as they would be with cowslips, blackberries, or nuts, as the case might be.  It was as well, therefore, to make themselves scarce.

    Mrs. Johnstone never took any notice of these proceedings.  Occasionally Mr. Viser could see flitting figures and bright eyes peeping through the hedge, while the placid and admired mother exchanged civilities with her neighbours; but, of course, he took no notice, and never looked back; while the children stole out again, and quietly got into the carriage without stopping it, as the pony laboured slowly up the hill.

    Their purchases were as strange as themselves.

    Once he saw a gawky girl, the eldest of the brood, dart into the wood with a good-sized tin kettle in her hand.  That kettle, which had cost two and eightpence had, together with a cuckoo clock, exhausted the whole resources of the family, the clock had cost eleven shillings, two shillings of which had been borrowed of mother as an advance upon next week's allowance.

    Mother was not fond of advancing money, but this was for a great occasion.  These were birthday presents for a particular friend.

    Here it is really needful to give some account of the friend, together with certain other friends, their place, and their surroundings.

    Within thirty miles of London there is a good deal of rural scenery.  If any doubt this, let them go and look about them—not south of the metropolis, of course and not west.  There are some little towns also with a general air of being old-fashioned and altogether behindhand with the world.

    One of these was the little town beyond that long hill that the pony hated and the children liked; because his natural pace as he climbed it enabled them to fling their wildings into the back of the carriage without asking to have it stopped.  They generally got out when they came to the steep part, and often, in a chivalrous spirit, gave the lumbering machine an unanimous push behind, while mother took the reins.

    Mr. Johnstone had a "clarence," but this carriage was mainly used for taking him five days in the week to and from the station, which was more than four miles off.  His expenses were large, and he had three sons to educate and to provide for, when there should have been but two.  But his wife had persuaded him to let their town house for a term of years, so that it became a source of revenue instead of an expense to him; and when he found that she enjoyed her quiet life in the country, where there was next to no "neighbourhood," that she looked more charming and fresh in her country attire than she had done when they mainly lived in London, where her milliner's bill was six times as high, and that all her children were healthy and happy, he fell back on his old thought that he was the luckiest husband going, and let himself take the same cheerful view of things that she did.

    His abode was called "the house," and about two fields off, with no means of reaching them but a footpath, which led, without any compromise, through his stable-yard, were six cottages called "the houses."  Each of these had a nice plot of vegetable garden at the back, but in front it had scarcely six feet of flower-border, divided from the field by a simple wooden railing, and having no outlet to any road or lane, and yet this field, a charming field in its way, might almost itself have been thought of as a lane, for it was very long and very narrow, and was divided from its neighbour field by a running brook edged with hawthorn and maple, and a wasteful tangle of brambles and whitethorn.  Very bad farming prevailed in those parts.

    In the first of the tenements, dignified by this name "the houses," lived the very particular friends for one of whom the tin kettle and the cuckoo clock had been purchased.  Her cottage consisted of a very neat and rather roomy front kitchen, a little washhouse behind, and upstairs two tolerably comfortable bedrooms.  By calling, she was a humble dressmaker; she and her sister worked for Lady Louisa's children and servants, made the little Johnstone's common clothes, worked for the farmers' ladies, and did odd jobs generally.

    In the next cottage (they were all detached) lived the cobbler.  His name was Salisbury.  The particular friend's name was Clarboy—Mrs. Clarboy, and she was aunt to the nurse up at the house.  The houses were supposed to be Mrs. Johnstone's district; if the people there were ill, it was her special business to look after them; she also lent them books and tracts, and persuaded them to join the parish coal club and go to church.

    So far as the young Johnstone's were concerned, these cottages constituted "the neighbourhood;" they frequently went on their own invitation to drink tea with Mrs. Clarboy, who was a widow, and her sister Jenny.  They generally trundled the loaf, the cake, the butter, and the tea, they proposed to consume, through the fields in a child's wheelbarrow; frequently they added radishes out of their own little gardens, or some fruit.

    If the sisters confessed that their coal was low, the wheelbarrow, after having been duly emptied, was trundled on to the last cottage, which was called the shop, where there was often as much as a whole sack of potatoes on sale, a matter of three or four "hundred" of coal, gilt images made of gingerbread in the window, bull's-eyes and yellow butter, together with a jar of treacle, with other like dainties, and a moderate allowances of bacon, all of inferior quality and somewhat the worse for keeping.  A quarter of a hundred of coals would be purchased, and if the young Johnstones had not the requisite cash to pay at the time, they brought it the next day, but if it was at the beginning of the week, and they had plenty of money, they bought half a hundred and wheeled it to its destination at twice.  They then made up a good fire.  The sisters had a capital pair of bellows, presented to Miss Jenny by the same young friends on a previous birthday.

    They used them liberally.  Mrs. Clarboy and Miss Jenny, proud and pleased, looked on at the same time continuing to stitch; they never thought of interfering with the preparations.

    A great deal of toast was made, sally-lun cakes were buttered, tea set on the hob to "brew," then radishes were washed, and the cloth was laid.

    Some of the company sat on Windsor chairs, others on tall stools or boxes set on end, which they had imported from their home.

    The hostesses enjoyed their meal to the full as much as their guests.  Nothing ever interfered, the sisters never had any other engagements.  If they were very busy, the girls helped to hem frills, or were trusted to run seams afterwards, or at least they threaded needles, while the boys made themselves popguns, or disported themselves in or beside the brook, catching caddis-worms, or sailing boats.

    Mrs. Johnstone knew all about this?

    Certainly.

    What a singular woman Mrs. Johnstone must have been!

    There was a sweet gentleness about all these children, and an untroubled air of quaint independence.

    Where, indeed, was their governess?

    Why, she was at her lodgings in the nearest farmhouse, where she spent her evenings, and where she slept.

    It was as much to her enfranchisement as theirs: but very few mothers would have deliberately banished her, and undertaken herself all the supervision required between five o'clock one day and nine o'clock the next.

    It made the governess—a very good woman—extremely happy; it gave an early sense of responsibility to the children, for if they got into any scrape, or perpetrated any mischief, they were expected to go and tell, which they did.

    Lady Louisa called one evening when they were present.  She only stayed a minute.

    "We've come to tea," the company told her.

    Mrs. Clarboy, rising, coloured and curtseyed.

    Lady Louisa did not look or express the least surprise.  She had several small books nicely bound in her basket, and she said,—

    "Mrs. Clarboy, the Rector has had his course of Easter sermons published, and he wishes me to present you with a copy."

    Miss Jenny was a Methodist, so to her Lady Louisa barely bowed.

    She then took her leave and went on to the next cottage.

    Mrs. Clarboy, a shrewd, industrious woman, more than sixty years of age, was rather silent after Lady Louisa's visit.  She was in the habit of going out to work as well as of taking work in.  She hoped her entertainment of the party would not stand in her light as regarded work at the rectory.

    Could Lady Louisa disapprove?  Well, though it might be a liberty to think it, what business was it of hers?

    Mrs. Clarboy took up her needle again with great vigour the moment tea was over, the Methodist sister having first said a long grace, expressive of fervent thanks for the meal.  She said just the same grace when the two sisters had only partaken of stale bread and the weakest of tea with no milk in it, but she imparted to the words on these occasions an unconscious fervour.

    "You had need not overdo yourself to-night," she remarked, "for you're going to the Hall Farm to work to-morrow."

    "Yes, I had need," answered Mrs. Clarboy; "for they look to it there that they get their money's worth out of me."

    Isn't it very amusing, Mrs. Clarboy, dear, going to so many different houses?" asked Lancey.

    Lancey was waxing Mrs. Clarboy's thread.

    "Well, Master Lancey, yes, I may say it is.  Not but what two shillings a day is harder earned working out than working in; but you must count in, the exper'ence you get of life.  You see the world.  As I often say to Jenny, 'Jenny,' I say, 'what should I be now if I had never seen the world, and what would you be either; not that you go out, my pore girl! you hav'n't the nerve for it."'

    Miss Jenny assented by rather a foolish simper.

    "Nobody can never be dull," she remarked, "with such an one as sister to talk to, as we sit and sew.  She's better by half than any printed book that I ever had the reading of."

    Don John, sitting cross-legged on the floor, was laboriously threading needles.  It took him nearly as much time to perform this operation as it did the two sisters to work up the thread.  The little girls were elaborately hemming the frills for the sleeve of a kitchen-maid's new gown, which was to be finished and taken home that night.

    "But I look for no thanks—let the fit be as good as it may—from that sort of customer," observed Mrs Clarboy.  "It's your ma that's the lady to say she's pleased or she's satisfied.  To be sure that best—bed furniture I put up for her after it had been calendered was the intricatest thing I ever got the better of."

    "But then you had your reward," said Miss Jenny, simpering; "the head housemaid showed you the drawing-room while the family was at dinner."

    "She did, Jenny; and I've wished times and again you could see it, so frequently as you complain that you can't make a picture to yourself of what heaven's like.  But you hav'n't the nerve to go up to the house.  You'll have to wait.  It might be an advantage to you though, if you could see it."

    "Do you think it so very pretty, then, Mrs. Clarboy, dear?"

    "Pretty ain't the word, Miss Marjorie.  It fairly made the tears start, so full of great looking-glasses, and gilding, and silk hangings.  I felt quite solemn.  I said at the time, 'It makes me think of heaven;' so clean, too, and so cheerful."

    "I know heaven's not a bit like that," observed Don John, with conviction, at the same time handing up another needle, the thread of which, from much handling, was not quite so clean as it should have been.

    "Well, and you may be right, sir," answered Mrs. Clarboy, with due gravity; "and the Scripture says, as we all know, eye hath not seen.'  And yet it stands to reason that very beautiful things and places must be more like than such as are not beautiful at all."

    The company were not able to give an opinion here; but they were not much surprised at what they had heard, being already accustomed to look at things through other eyes, and different points of view from those of their own class.

    "There's not much to see at the Hall Farm," said Miss Jenny.

    "But to them that can take notice," observed Mrs, Clarboy, "it's all interesting; it shows one people's ways.  I know what it is to have two candles as good as whole ones all to myself, and I know what it is to have to share the end of a dip with two others working by me."

    "You like as well as anything working at the Red Farm," observed Miss Jenny, "where you sit in the kitchen with the mistress.  There's plenty to hear there, if there isn't much to see."

    "Ay, I've worked for three generations of the Hollyoakes."

    "He was one to argue, was the old Mr. Hollyoake," proceeded Miss Jenny; "you always said so.  Why, he would argue even with a ghost!"

    "Ay, but you've no call to talk of ghosts now," said Mrs. Clarboy.  "You've not an ounce of discretion in your whole body, Jenny."

    "You mean because of us," said Marjorie; "but we often play at ghosts at home, Mrs. Clarboy, and father and mother don't mind."

    "Are you sure, miss?"

    "Oh, yes! and we often go to the Polytechnic and see the ghosts—real ones, you know."

    "Oh, well, miss, I was not aware.  Well, as Jenny was saying, old Jem Hollyoake was so given up to arguing, that he would argue even with a ghost.  He had brought up his brother's son.  The lad died, and his ghost rose, got into the kitchen, and pointed his long finger at his uncle.

    "'Uncle Jem,' said the ghost, 'as you brought me up—

    "'Bring you up, did I?' interrupted old Hollyoake, beginning at once.  'Bring you up, did I?  Little enough of that you needed; it was impossible to keep you down!'

    "'I mean,' said the ghost, obliged to explain himself, 'as you've brought me up to speak with you out of the silent tomb.'

    "'I did nothing of the sort,' says Mr. Hollyoake, very much frightened.

    "'You did,' said the ghost.

    "The family was gone to bed, but I dare say old Jem had drunk enough to keep his courage up, and argue he would.

    "'How dare you tell such a falsehood,' said he.  'I wish nothing more heartily than that you would keep in your proper place.  Isn't your headstone to your mind?'

    "'Yes,' said the ghost, 'it's a real handsome one.  But, Uncle Jem, you've brought me up by for ever thinking and thinking about those seven silver spoons you've lost.  I took them!'

    "Mr. Hollyoake said he was sorry, and the ghost went on,

    "'They're at the bottom of the least of the two old hair trunks in the garret, hid under my velveteen coat.'  Then he vanished."

    "Are you sure the ghost said all that?"

    "Yes, Master Lancey.  But you'll think it strange that when, the next morning, old Hollyoake related all this, and got some of the neighbours to go with him into the garret, they found the trunk and the old coat in it; but the spoons were not there."

    "Not there?"

    "No."

    "Then I don't believe the story!"

    "Why not, sir?  Oh, you may depend it's true.  It was a story against himself, and how disrespectful he'd been arguing with the ghost."

    "You said he was alone when the ghost rose?"

    "Yes, sir, smoking his pipe in his own kitchen."

    "He must have been dreaming!"

    "Oh no, sir, not he, the kitchen is tiled.  Why, he has shown me many a time the very tile the ghost stood upon.  It was a yellow one—all the others are red.  The tile is there to this day!"

    "Well, ghosts are mere bubbles," observed Don John, repeating something that he had heard at the Polytechnic.

    "No, sir, the man was most like a bubble here," said Mrs. Clarboy, "for he broke, and never paid but two and eleven-pence in the pound, whereby we got no more than that for making the mourning his wife stood upright in when she cried at the ghost's funeral."

    Here the story ended.  The young Johnstones pondered over it with deep interest and attention, as something that would do capitally to act.  They were fond of play-room theatricals, but thanks to the Polytechnic they were, so far as ghosts went, perfectly fear-proof.

    "Oh, mother," said Lancey, when they got home, "Mrs. Clarboy told us such a jolly ghost story.  Will you come into the play-room to tea to-morrow and see us act it?"

    "You should not have asked mother in that unconventional way," said Naomi, "when you know we planned to send a proper note on pink paper, and paint a monogram for it."

    "Oh well, I think it had better be considered then that I know nothing about the tea at present," said the mother.

    Naomi was mollified.

    "And, mother," said Don John, "may we have two more chairs for the play-room?  I told you last week that we had got a Fetch."

    "And I did not know what you meant, Don

    "Why, mother, you must have noticed that when droll or ridiculous anecdotes are invented for the papers, or told in books, they are often palmed off on people who had nothing to do with them.  Well we have invented two characters.  We act them.  Ands we palm off our funny things that we say upon them.  They are Fetches of our own imagination, mother."

    "What do they want with chairs, then?"

    "Now, mother, it's not fair to laugh.  Why, we have a séance twice a week; we keep minutes of it.  Our Fetch is frequently called to the chair, so we want one, to pretend that he is in it."

    "Ah, I see."

    "Robert Fetch Fetch, Esq.; that's his name.  We have pretended a large house for him in the rectory glebe.  It seems quite odd to go there and find nothing in it.  And Fanny Fetch is his old cousin, who lives with him."

    "And you want a chair for her, too?"

    "Oh, yes, that we may know where she is sitting.  Of course their chairs will not appear to us to be empty.  When we act them and do their voices, you cannot think how real they seem."

    "You'll come and hear the séance sometimes, won't you, mother?" asked Naomi.

    "Certainly."

    "You'll like them much better than our charades; for sometimes, you know, you think those are rather long."

    "I have thought so once or twice when they lasted more than an hour."

    "Well, it takes a long time to dress up; but mayn't we have the two chairs?  It's very awkward for our Fetches to have to sit upon stools."

    "You may take two chairs out of the blue bedroom."

    "Oh, thank you, mother; and you shall see every bit of the ghost acted before tea," cried Lancey, with effusive gratitude.

    He wagged his longest finger.

    "It's a jolly one. 'Uncle Jem, as you've brought me up'—mind I'm to do the ghost, Naomi.  'Uncle Jem, as you've brought me up.'"

    Here Lancey, delighted at the prospect, turned head over heels, and the young people shortly departed together.


 
CHAPTER XI.


SHORTLY before the boys were sent off again to school, Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone went over to Normandy to be present on an interesting occasion.  Mrs. O'Grady married again.  She married a somewhat impecunious military man, and forthwith proceeded with him to India.

    Her one little girl, Charlotte by name, had been brought up near Dublin, but had lately come home to her mother; her paternal grandmother, who had taken charge of her, having died.  She was very clever, very awkward, and extremely shy.  Quite different from most girls of her age, and keenly conscious of it.

    She had never been accustomed to the society of boys and girls of her own age, and when she heard that she was to go back with her uncle and aunt, and be educated with her cousins, she wept with shyness and a sense of disadvantage.

    Her behaviour when first she appeared in the play-room was so stiff, her discomfort was so evident, that she made the young Johnstones feel almost as ill at ease as herself.

    As for Don John, at first he almost hated her.  Boys are extremely intolerant of awkwardness and causeless fear.  But in a short time what kindness he had in his heart was touched for Charlotte, and while he scolded he roughly encouraged her.

    "Now then, Charlotte, hold up your head.  What are you so shy about?"

    "I can't help it, indeed; it won't go off, Don John."

    "Won't it?  Well we can't stand this much longer.  Do you think it would go off if I gave you a good shaking?"

    "No–o.

    "Suppose I try?"

    He advanced; they were in the garden.  Charlotte, taking all for sober earnest, turned, and, fleet of foot as a fawn, darted along the grass walk and across the first field, he after her whooping, and with all the Johnstones at his heels.

    She reached the brook; he was gaining on her, he was close behind.  She checked herself for an instant on the edge, gave a shriek, made a spring, and instead of clearing it, splashed into its very midst.

    Astonishment, and the water bubbling about her, brought her instantly to a dead pause.  Then she heard shouts of laughter behind her.  She turned cautiously round, and when she saw Don John gaping at her in dismay on the bank, and all the others laughing, she could not help laughing too.

    "Keep as still as ever you can!" shouted Lancey, as he came up breathless.  "Well, I don't know whether this was most funky or most plucky!"

    Charlotte by no means wanted courage, and shyness could not stand against such an adventure as this.  The water was almost up to her shoulders, and it was not without some difficulty, and the help of the cobbler's—Mr. Salisbury's,—bench that she was extricated, for she was standing on a little shoal, and the water was deep on either side of her.

    Breathless was the interest of the folk from "the houses," while Charlotte, dripping and blushing taken to Mrs. Clarboy's house.  Marjorie having rushed home for the nurse, that functionary soon appeared with dry clothing, and Charlotte was arrayed in it.

    When she appeared outside, Don John met her looking very sheepish, but instead of apologizing said bluntly,—

    "You're not to do that again; it's more horrid of you even than being shy.  I was only in fun."

    "I shall not do that again, unless you do that again," said Charlotte, not without a certain audacity; for she was still excited and her shyness for the moment was gone.

    She shook back her thick black hair.  She was a pretty little girl; but Don John cared not for her good looks, for the lustre of her dark blue eyes, and the soft carnation flush which had spread itself over her small oval face.

    "Well, let's be friends," said Don John bluntly; "you know it was hateful of you to be so shy."

    "Yes," said Charlotte, "I know it was."

    "If you'll be nice to us," he continued, with a sudden burst of generosity, "I'll let you write the minutes of our society, and tell you all about our Fetches."

    Hints of the Fetches had reached Charlotte.  She was devoured with curiosity about them.

    "Come!  I don't like writing, and you can write so fast."

    He held out his hand as a token of forgiveness.  She was the culprit, of course.  Charlotte looked at matters in the same light.

The minutes of our society.  These were fine words; they meant the meagre and badly-spelt notes, written ill ruled copy-books, of these children's fantastic doings.

    Charlotte held out her hand, and amity was proclaimed then and there.

    The little girl was now at her ease with this especial company, and did not know that the desired state of things had not come about by any resolution of her own, but only through accidental circumstances.

    Poor little Charlotte!  She was more utterly at home and at ease than most people with those whom she did fully know and love; but she had a fresh access of shyness with every stranger, every visitor, and even every new housemaid that appeared on the narrow scene of her life.  If she went to drink tea with the young Visers, she made herself ridiculous by her stammering and her blushes; if a farmer's lady made a polite remark on meeting her in a lane, she left the Johnstones to answer it and retreated behind them, flushing furiously.

    Sometimes, as time went on, and she was more shy than ever, she would say it was hard when her cousins laughed at her.

    "Then you shouldn't write verses, Charlotte.  Only think of a girl of your age writing verses," observed Marjorie on one such occasion.

    "It can't be that," answered the poor little victim, drying her eyes.

    "Oh yes, it is," said Don John, with youthful certainty and inconsequence.  "Father says it's the poetical temperament that makes you so shy." ,

    "But I've tried to leave off writing my poetry, and it makes no difference," said Charlotte, choking sob; "I haven't written any for a fortnight."

    "And those verses she did for poor Peterkin's epitaph were perfectly stunning," observed Lancey.

    Charlotte was consoled.

    "And mother says she thinks it's extremely interesting to have the poetical temperament," remarked Naomi, the second girl.

    "So now, Charlotte, don't be mooney; set off! proceed!—go it!—and finish the minutes.  Don't you know that Fetch is coming to tea—and mother," exclaimed Don John.

    Don John and Lancey were now fourteen years old, Marjorie was nearly sixteen, and Naomi fifteen.  But the two boys were quite at the head of the family—bigger, stronger, cleverer, and bolder than the sisters, they reigned over all, especially over Charlotte, though she alone had the touch of genius, which guided their fancies and suggested their most amusing play.

    The boys were just come home for the midsummer holidays, and had been to pay a short call at the houses.

    There was poor Mrs. Appleby, who was a cripple, and lived with her daughter; to these patient women they took some tea, and a little shawl, bought with their own money.  Then they paid their respects to Mr. Salisbury and his wife, and were astonished to find the cobbler at work in his little back kitchen, and the front room with a new square of carpet spread over its brick floor, a sofa with a soft puffy seat, some new chairs, smartly covered with rep, and a good-size looking-glass; while, standing on a small wicker-table, was a lady's work-basket lined with quilted satin, and filled with odds and ends of coloured threads.

    Mrs. Salisbury answered the door when they knocked.  She had on a clean gown and a white apron.

    "Glad to see you, young ladies, and you, Master Lancey, and you, Master Don John.  Salisbury and me we have promoted ourselves into the wash'us."

    Mrs. Salisbury looked a little confused.

    "We've got a lodger," she continued, "that is out at the present time."

    "But who might be coming back," said Marjorie instantly, feeling that to come in might be to intrude.  So the boys, having been assured by Mrs. Salisbury that they "were so growed as never was," proceeded with their sisters and Charlotte to Mrs. Clarboy's cottage.

    "Fine doings, young ladies, and gentlemen, at Salisbury's," exclaimed Mrs. Clarboy, when the usual, greetings had been exchanged.  "You've heard of the lady, no doubt."

    "What lady, Mrs. Clarboy?"

    "It's a very 'sterious thing," began Miss Jenny, quite solemnly.

    "Ah! you may say that, my pore girl!  Jenny has had a shaking of the nerves lately, pore thing; but truer word she never said, Mr. Don John, than that as has just passed her lips.  There's a lady come to lodge here!  She have our front bedroom all to herself (and put in the best of new furniture); and eight shillings and sixpence a week paid regular she has promised us for it.  And she has Salisbury's front room for her parlour.  And it's a 'sterious thing."

    "She came in yesterday was a week," observed Jenny.

    "And," said Mrs. Clarboy, "I told her truly when first she walked up to the door, and asked if we had lodgings to let, 'No, ma'am,' said I, 'not for a lady like you.'  'It's not what I've been used to, I'll allow,' she said, rather high, but I feel as if I should take to this quiet place; and I've seen the world, so I can make allowance.'  She was all in silks and satins, and had a long gold chain, and a gold watch!  'Why, ma'am,' said I, 'just look round.  There's not so much as a high road to look out of the window at, and see the carts, and carriages, and what not pass, when you're dull.  A narrow field and a few bramble hushes are all very well for poor folks, such as we, to have for a prospect.  But you, that I make no doubt mighty lodge in the best street of the town!  Besides,' said I, 'we've no accommodation.'  She didn't seem convinced, but she went on to Salisbury's and there they said the same thing."

    "But I think I would rather be in these houses than in the town," said Marjorie.

    "There now!" cried Miss Jenny, and shook her head as much as to say "they none of them have any sense these gentlefolk."

    A great deal of folding and measuring of flounces followed; the girls lent their aid; but when all was set in order, and the sisters could take up their needles again, Mrs. Clarboy resumed the subject so much in her thoughts.

    "Jenny, pore girl, has seen little of life, to be sure, and her nerves are not strong, so she is not to be judged (she pronounced this word jedged) like other folks that have had exper'ence.  I went out to work next day.  When I came home she said—you did, didn't you, Jenny?—she said, 'Often do I pray against the fear of the world, but I'm afraid the love of the world and the handsome things in it has got the better of me this day.  Elizabeth,' she said, 'the lady has been here again, and I was that dazzled with her beautiful gown, made of the best corded silk, and her things in general (and the picture of a gentleman hung round her neck); but though you had said our place was too humble for such as she, I took her upstairs when she told me, and showed her our front bedroom."'

    "Yes, that was what I said," Miss Jenny answered.  "Only I didn't lay it all out so straight on end as you can, sister, and I went on to her, as was my duty; I said, 'It's a poor place, ma'am, for such as you.'  'I think, Miss Jenny,' she says, 'if you and your sister was to sleep in the back room, and put some new furniture in here, it would do for me very well."'

    "And here she is," said Mrs. Clarboy, cutting the story short, for she observed that it did not much interest her young visitors.

    "But I hope it's not wronging her to take the eight shillings and sixpence a week," continued Miss Jenny, who for the moment was irrepressible, "being as it is so much more than our whole rent.  And it's strange and worldly to come down of a weekday morning as she does in a silk and cashmere costume almost as good as new."

    "That's nothing to us," said Mrs. Clarboy, austerely, and the young people took their leave.  They could not stay to tea, they said, their mother was going to drink tea with them in the playroom, and they must go back at once to receive her.

    But Don John had spent the morning at the town, and had not come home in time for the early dinner; his noontide refection had been limited to two buns, he was therefore about to have a "meat tea," with the addition of gooseberry pie and beer.

    "You here?" exclaimed Lancey, when he and Don John entered the playroom, and he saw Mary and Freddy seated in a corner with all humility.

    "No, you can't stay, you must slope!" proceeded the other young despot.  "Didn't we tell you, you might make the raspberry wine in the nursery?"

    "But we don't see any fun in that."

    "Oh, you don't!  Well, now, I wish you would do something really useful for me."

    "Yes, we will, Don John."

    "Take two or three matches out into the garden, and strike a light, that you may see whether the sunshine's of the right sort.  If it is, bring me word."

    "We wanted to hear you do Sam Weller."

    "Don't sniff," proceeded Lancey.

    "And the cake smells so good," continued Mary, in a piteous tone, and twinkling away a tear.

    "Oh, the cake!" exclaimed Don John.  "Yes, my young friends, that's fair.  Now then, 'share and share alike,' as the tiger said to the washerwoman; 'you shall mangle the skirts and I the bodies."'

    "That's meant for Sam Weller," Lancey exclaimed.

    "Now you've heard him!"

    "Pass a knife," proceeded Don John.

    The little sister handed him a handsome ivory paper-knife.  Don John was wroth.

    "What! my prize—my carved knife that father gave me?  Well," he continued, falling into thought, "'I don't see that it can be put to a better use,' as the Queen said in the kitchen at Balmoral, when she stirred up the porridge with her sceptre."

    "And there's no other knife," said Freddy humbly.

    "And," Mary put in, "we've often seen you cut with this one yourself."

    Don John was feeling the edge of the knife.

    "That's nothing," he answered uttering a great truth without perceiving its importance, "things are perfectly different, and are always reckoned so according to the person who does them."

    He dug the knife into the cake, and carved out a handsome quarter.  But just as the operation seemed about to terminate successfully, a hard piece of citron got in the way.  A portentous crack was heard, and the heft broke off short in his hand.

    The little brother and sister seized their share and immediately took themselves off.  Under the circumstances, how could they hope to be tolerated in the playroom any longer?  The company set chairs, Lancey nicked out more portions of cake with his pocket-knife, and then they bethought themselves of ringing for what they wanted.

    When Mrs. Johnstone made her appearance, the paper-knife had been put away and forgotten.  Don John was pouring out a glass of beer, and saying,—

    "'I like my drink frothed, and plenty of it,' as the porpoise said in the storm."

    Then, when the foam disappeared with mortifying rapidity, he went on in more natural fashion,

    "Oh, mother, don't you think father might let us have the beer a little less powerfully weak?  It really reminds me of the old story he told me himself, that the proper way to make small beer was to tie an ear of barley to a duck's 'tail, whip it round the pond with a bunch of hops, and serve out the liquor.  No, mother, you are to sit at the head of the table opposite to me.  That chair is Fetch's seat."

    "Is he here?" asked Mrs. Johnstone.

    "Not yet, mother; he was here yesterday," said Lancey, "and Fanny drove over in the pony chaise to convey him home.  'Oh, Rob,' she said—his Christian name is Robert—(here Lancey fell into a soft, foolish tone), 'I left your boots at Salisbury's to be patched.  He certainly is an ugly fellow; I little expected ever to see him, though I have heard of Salisbury plain all my life.  And I have yet to learn, my dears, why they call him Salisbury plain, instead of plain Salisbury.'"

    "And then," said Charlotte, "Fetch told us this anecdote, and said we were to enter it on the minutes.  Three men, after a hot day's work in the hay-fields, got very drunk; their names were Miller, Wright, and Watt.  When their wives came to fetch them home they had tumbled down in a heap, and were fast asleep on the hay.  Wright's wife said, 'Wright's wrong.'  Miller's wife said, 'My man's so jumbled up with the others, that I don't know which is which,' and Watt's wife said, 'I don't mind which is which, all I care for is what's Watt.'"

    "After that," observed Marjorie, "we had great fun, Lancey did Fetch, and Don John was Sam Weller!  He's generally Sam Weller now."

    "Rather ambitious," remarked Mrs. Johnstone.

    "Yes—we read Charlotte's epitaph on poor Peterkin, and Sam Weller said, 'Very affecting, "I incline to blubber," as the whale said when he was half seas over.'  There you see, mother laughed at that quite naturally, and without trying!" exclaimed Naomi.  "I told you I was sure it was funny.  And then Fanny Fetch interrupted—the stupid thing continually says what has nothing to do with the subject.  'My pretty Rob,'" Naomi simpered, 'if you were to steal a joke, would that be burglary or petty larceny?'  There! mother laughed again."

    "But I wish Fetch to come," said Mrs. Johnstone; "I like him to be present."

    "We can't always make him be here," Lancey explained; "sometimes we have nothing for him to say.  But be told some more anecdotes yesterday.  He said man meat one Mr. Tooth, and a lady supposed to be his mother.  The man said, 'Is that your own tooth, or a false one?'  She answered, 'He's both.'"

    "If it's not a breach of confidence, I should like to know who made Fetch say that?"

    "Well, mother, it would be a breach of confidence to tell you her name; but perhaps I may whisper to you that her initials are C. O'G.  Don John was so much pleased with the minutes and her anecdotes, that while she was writing this morning he invented a Sam Weller for her.  'You can't speak to me now, I'm composing,' as the little boy said when he was making the dirt pie, and sticking it round with barberries."

    "Oh, here's Fetch!" exclaimed Don John, rising up and shaking hands violently with nothing.  "How dye do?—how dye do?  You find us in the midst of our simple meal—consommé de bread and cheese, seed cake au naturel, and small beer à la maître d'tel."

    Fetch was then bowed into his seat and introduced to Mrs. Johnstone.

    "Having had nothing to eat for some hours, my friend," said Lancey, as Fetch, "I think I could enjoy a slice of that cake."

    "Good," said Don John, "that's quite fair."

    Lancey accordingly began his meal over again; but Mrs. Johnstone proposing that the cake should be served all round, stopped the conversation for a few minutes.

    "And now, my friends, the minutes.  Charlotte get out the book," said Don John, as Fetch.  "I wish to have placed on record an anecdote of my own family that I thought of last night."

    Fetch spoke in a high raised voice, and Don and Lancey produced it equally well.

    "But I wish you were not so proud," said Charlotte, "always boasting—about something—I'm tired of writing down—about my property—my family."

    She spoke quite sharply.

    "My old clothesman—my undertaker," interrupted Don John.  "Yes, it's too true Charlotte, I am proud!"

    "The minutes don't seem natural with so many anecdotes," persisted Charlotte.

    "Well," said Lancey, as Fetch, "but what am I to say if I can think of nothing else?  Don't be so peppery!  Some people are never satisfied.  Come.  I'll tell an anecdote about that.  I invented it some time ago, but I never got an opportunity to bring in.  There was once a Titan who had the largest hand ever seen.  Jupiter proposed to give him a ring, 'I know it wont be big enough,' grumbled the Titan.  Jupiter was determined it should.  He ordered it to be made as large round as the earth's orbit.  And yet when it was sent home, the Titan declared he couldn't wear it.  He pretended it was too big."

    "Mr. Fetch, I consider your anecdote very good," said Mrs. Johnstone.  "But is it true that you have boasted of your undertaker?"

    Lancey not being ready, Marjorie answered,—

    "It's true, mother, that Fetch signed a paper securing his funeral to a particular undertaker, and he received a small sum down for doing it."

    "That shows Fetch's frugal mind," said Don John.

    "My cousin Fanny is very saving—very frugal too," said Lancey, as Fetch.  "In fact, I often tell her she is even mean.  I said to her only yesterday, 'Fanny Fetch, you are so selfish, that if the whole sea was yours, you'd still charge twopence a bucket for salt water.'  Mother," continued Lancey in his own character, "the most disagreeable thing about this game is that when we have invented anything funny, we can't find an opportunity to bring it in.  Now, Don John said yesterday, when Freddy was tootletoing in the garden with his fife and pretending to drill Mary, 'I always adored the military, as the young lady-elephant said when she heard her lover trumpeting in the rice swamp.'  But you know if we were to wait for a year, nothing would happen to enable us to bring that in naturally."

    "I am afraid, my boy, this sorrow of yours is common to all wits; yet you see you have managed to bring it in!"

 

CHAPTER XII.


ABOUT that lodger.

    We often think we are of great importance to certain people; that they must be thinking of us and affairs, that they watch our actions and shape their course accordingly.  In general it is not so; we are quite mistaken.

    The young Johnstones and Lancey never had any such ideas as regarded the lodger; never supposed that she walked up and down the little path through the fields between the wood that skirted their garden and "the houses" on purpose to catch a glimpse of them; never thought that when she was not taking this monotonous exercise, she was often peeping out between the small damask curtains of her so-called parlour, which had been the cobbler's front kitchen in case they should pass by; never thought anything of the kind; and they too were mistaken.  She thought of hardly anything else but of them and their doings, specially of one of them.  But through the bushy tangle of the wood they could always see whether she was in the field, and so surely as she was they kept out of the way.

    What a bother that lodger is, Don John would say, would notice her trailing her fine flounces among the buttercups.  She was far too gay to look otherwise than vulgar in such a country solitude, and if there was anything pathetic in her longing to see them, and in their always thwarting her, they did not know it.

    Sometimes, if it was hot and she was tired, she would bring out a folding camp-stool, and sit upon it in the shade of the wood, knitting.  She was come from London for the sake of country air, so she said.  Nobody at the house thought of inquiring her name, or cared at all about her excepting that the young Johnstones wished her out of their way.

    At the houses, when they begged to ask what they should call her, meaning, "What is your name, ma'am?" she answered,

    "You can call me 'the lady."'

    But they did not.

    They called her "the lodger."

    They all knew in spite of her shining gold watch and chains, and satins, and rings, her handsome silks and her fastidious ways, that she was not what they were pleased to consider a lady, by which they meant, if they had known how to use the English language correctly, a gentlewoman.

    Those women who have an undoubted right to the title of lady, and yet are without that culture, that style, that consideration which would enable them to pass muster as gentlewomen, are always very unpopular among the rustic poor.  The lodger, of course, had no right to the title of lady; and because she wanted to pass for a gentlewoman, which she was not either, they gave her even less than was her due.

    She was rich, free with her money, not difficult to please, moderately civil to her hosts; but they rewarded all this by disparaging comments.

    "She was not a lady born, not she!  She's not like Mrs. Johnstone; but she's well enough, and she pays her way."

    But an important day was approaching; a friend's birthday.

    The young Johnstone collected a quantity of excellent prog, and bought several presents, among others a box-iron and a Brighton reading-lamp.

    The two boys were allowed to have the pony-carriage and go into the town in the morning to fetch home these things.  "We girls," said Marjorie, half enviously, "are never trusted to drive by ourselves."

    "I should think not, indeed!" said Lancey; "girls must always be properly attended," and he ran into the wood, where the good things were being collected preparatory to being carried off to Mrs. Clarboy's cottage.

    "How good they smell," said little Mary.  "Chocolate—and O! toffee—and tarts, and muffins; what lots off money you and Lancey have.  Oh, Don John, I wish I was a boy!"

    Don John as purveyor-general was looking on.

    "It's lucky," remarked Lancey, in reply, "that girl is not infectious.  If I thought I should catch it of you, Mary, I would never come near you or any other girl, any more."

    "Of course you wouldn't," said Mary, with conviction.

    "But you two little wretches are always thinking about eating," said Lancey, rather contemptuously.  "It makes me feel that if we did our duty by you, we should not think of letting you go to these tea-parties."

    "Oh, Lancey!"

    "Yes, it does; most likely you'll never be allowed to go to any one but this.  Now be off, Button-nose, and you too, Freddy, and fetch the other parcels."

    "You are always hard on the kids," said Don John.  "I rather like to hear them talk their talk, and play their little rigs in holiday-time."

    "But they bother one," said Lancey.  "And you really did encourage them yesterday, till there was no bearing their cheek."

    Then Don John burst forth in these noticeable words,

    "'It's always a graceful thing to unbend,' as the goldstick-in-waiting said when he balanced a peppermint-drop on his nose, as he stood behind the queen's chair."

    "Charlotte," shouted Lancey, "here!  Don John has broken out in a fresh place; come and write this down, and stick it in the minutes."

    "That's a good one," said Charlotte, "but I don't think the goldstick does stand there."

    "It doesn't signify," said Don John; "every one of you now, who reads the minutes, will be obliged to think of him as if he did!"

    "Tell us a Sam Weller, too," said Button-nose, otherwise Mary, coming back with the parcels.

    "We like Sam Weller better than Fetch," observed Freddy.

    "You're not to interrupt your betters, Charlotte hasn't done writing yet.  Yes, I'll tell you one presently about—"

    "Yes, Don John, about?"

    "About something to eat.  I am happy to see, Button-nose, that you can blush.  When I was in the town this morning, and saw all the shops, the butchers', the bakers', the pastry-cooks', and the rest, I sighed deeply."

    "Oh!"

    "And said what should we be without these.  Man is made of what he eats.  'This is the stuff our heroes are made of,' as the Prince of Wales said when he into the Eton boys' 'sock' shop.  Fetch, who listening, burst into tears and said, 'Alas!'"

    "Why, Don John?"

    "Because he thought it was so good of the Prince of Wales to take notice that we are made of what we eat, and because he remembered that asses are too."

    "Is that all the story?"

    "It is, now let the procession be formed."

    Don John marched first, a somewhat thickset boy, broad-shouldered, fair-haired, with light eyebrows and lashes, a martial walk, and a sweet-tempered expression; Lancey came next.  They cut across the lodger's path, so that she paused and waited a moment.  She looked at Lancey with all her eyes.  He was not so big as Don John, he had fine brown hair, pleasant blue eyes, a general air of roguery, and an elastic walk.  Lancey was brandishing the box-iron, and singing at the top of his voice.  Then came the four girls, all small for their years.  Charlotte very pretty, the others not pretty, but sweet and rather graceful; Freddy brought up the rear.

    Lancey was rather a handsome boy, the lodger saw his face well for the first time, and a perfectly unreasonable pang shot through her heart as she observed the utter indifference of his manner towards her.  How should it be otherwise.  She dragged herself on to Salisbury's cottage, trembling; while Mrs. Clarboy shed tears of pleasure, as peeping thorough the blinds she saw her guests coming.

    She only wiped them away just in time to their congratulations.

    "Well, and I'm sure I'm obliged to you, ladies and gentlemen, more than I can say; and think of you always knowing the very things I should like to buy myself, if I could afford them.  You'll stay to tea with Jenny and me, now won't you?  It's but a loaf of bread we've got in the house, and a bit of butter."

    Mrs. Clarboy always offered hospitality in these words, and always feigned not to see the parcels of eatables till they were actually presented to her.

    "Well, I never did! such a noble lot of cakes, and all so good and acceptable," she exclaimed, "on the present occasion.  And there now!  I priced that very box-iron yesterday was a week, when Jenny and I walked into the town.  You bought it of poor Robinson's widow, now didn't you, sir?"

    "Yes," said Lancey; "she was selling off."

    "'Ah,' says I to her by way of being neighbourly, for I knew she was going to settle, 'I hear Cupid's been at his old tricks again.'  'Yes,' says she, 'I'm going to marry the butcher.'"

    With talk like this the time sped till the cloth was laid, and all the good things were set out, and then just as the tea was poured out there was a light tap at the door.

    Mrs. Clarboy knew it well, but vexation kept her silent, and Lancey jumping up went and opened the door.

    The lodger!

    "I wouldn't intrude on any account," said the lodger, a little hurriedly.  "I was only just going to pass upstairs to my room," and she moved a few steps forward, and then came to a sudden pause, and turned excessively pale.

    "Ma'am," exclaimed Mrs. Clarboy, "don't you feel yourself well?"

    "You're all of a tremble, ma'am," said Miss Jenny.  "Oh," sighed the lodger, "let me sit down just for minute."

    A chair was set for her.  She was a fat young woman, extremely fair, and now as pale as a lily.

    "If you wouldn't mind letting me sit a few minutes and taking no notice of me," she began.

    Marjorie in the meantime brought her a cup of tea, and Lancey handed her a biscuit.  Even Lancey noticed her face when she looked up at him, it was full of entreaty, full of love.  What does she want? thought the boy.  What a bother that she should have come to spoil our fun.

    She began to sip her tea, and such a rapture of tenderness made all her nerves thrill and her pulses tingle, that she quite forgot to consider her position as an unbidden guest.  Don John sat full in view his side towards her.  She could look at him at her ease, she felt almost repelled by him, a sense of conscious dislike towards him, as having been the cause—innocent enough, certainly—of a great deal or misery to her made her shrink from his talk, tremble at the sound of his laugh, and feel offended and hurt when Lancey spoke to him.

    How familiar Lancey was with them all, commanding and admonishing the two little ones, making fun of the girls, arguing with Don John.  "And what a real young gentleman he is," she felt with tender love and pride.  "I could never have brought him up wherever I had put him to school, to talk and to look like that.  Oh, that I should long to kiss him, and mayn't; it's hard."

    Just as the tea-drinking was all but over, one of the girls said to Mrs. Clarboy that if she had done reading a certain book, which she had lent to her, her mother rather wanted it, and she would take it home.

    Then the lodger with somewhat affected flurry was shocked to think that she had got it.  She had quite done with it.  She would fetch it.

    "Don't trouble yourself," said Lancey.  "I can go."

    "It's on the table, sir, I think, in my parlour," said the lodger.

    Lancey and Don John said they were going down first to the brook to look after a hedgehog, and after that the book should be fetched.

    They departed, and went whooping to the brook-side their two dogs after them; and the lodger, quietly rising, went out the back way into the little kitchen-garden and so over the little low fence, not two feet high, which divided this from Salisbury's garden.

    She hardly knew what she wanted to do—surely not to say anything to Lancey—no, she thought not.  No, it could only be to look at him while he was finding the book.  Stop! the Salisbury's were both out, but the least little noise in her parlour warned her that Lancey had already come in.  There was a minute window, consisting but of two small panes let into the wall, between the front and back room.  A thin muslin curtain was hanging before it.  The lodger, trembling with a pleased agitation, stepped up to it, and through a narrow opening in the muslin looked and saw—what?

    At first astonishment made her incredulous.  What was he doing?

    He was standing almost with his back to her, and gazing, as if fascinated, at a small desk which stood on a table under the window; her keys were dangling from its lock, and it seemed as if he meant to open it.

    No, he turned away, took the book, and with a boyish whoop sped to the door, then all in a moment he turned on his heels and—what a sight for he she saw him go back to the desk,—and turn the —and lift it,—and look in.

    He dropped the book on the floor, and with his now disengaged hand lifted a little drawer, while he held the desk open with the other.  There was a small canvas bag in it.  She saw him shut the desk, saw him slip certain gold coins into his palm, then in one instant return them to the bag which he put in his pocket, and let the desk fall to.  Then he darted out of the house, taking the book with him, and leaving the door of her parlour wide open.

    She stood trembling, but not now with tenderness so much as with distress.

    Through the open door she saw him run down again to the brook; and shocked and amazed, she stepped back again through the garden and into Mrs, Clarboy's house.

    She crept in pale as a lily, all her joy and excitement over; she sat down in her former place, and scarcely heard a word that passed about her.

    Presently the two boys came in again, Don John had a dog under each arm, Lancey had the book.  She looked earnestly at him, as it seemed to Lancey, appealingly.  For a moment his guilty mind appeared to assure him that she must know, and he felt ready to sink into the floor with fright and shame.  Oh, to have the last ten minutes over again, and put that money back.

    But in another moment his better sense, as he falsely thought, came back to him; it was quite impossible that she could know.  He certainly had not been one minute in her room; and he had left her door wide open, so that the inhabitants of six houses had easy access to it.

    He was a bad boy, guilty, and utterly unprincipled; but he had not done this out of mere wantonness in theft and greed of gold.  No, Lancey knew what it was now to be in bondage to a boy who had found him out, and who was always threatening him with betrayal.  He had taken ten sovereigns.  To this boy two of them had to go, as the price of his silence.  "And if I am suspected," thought poor Lancey, "but it's not likely, I'll run away."

    As the young Johnstones and Lancey retired, the lodger went upstairs to her bedroom, threw herself on her bed, and wept.  She knew the door of Salisbury's cottage was wide open, that he and his wife were gone to the town, and were not likely to be back till dusk, and she knew why he, whom she called "her dear boy, her only dear, her precious Lancey," had left it so.  He had not only taken the money, but he was more than willing that some innocent person should be accused of the theft.

    "Do they keep him so short of money, that he cannot forbear to take mine," was her foolish reasonable thought.  "Oh, I must, I will speak to now.  Tell him I forgive him!  Tell him it shall be his, and I have plenty for us both.  Oh, my Lancey, you are breaking my heart!"

    The next morning, Mrs. Johnstone sent Lancey over to the town on an errand.  What could be more opportune?  He got a post-office order, and sent his young tyrant the two sovereigns.  She had given him a shilling and told him to get his lunch there, for he and Don John were to meet Mr. Johnstone at the station, and walk over from it with him.  Lancey had three or four hours therefore to spare, and he wandered about in the little town and amused himself as well as he could.

    It was market-day; Lancey, as any other boy might have done, sauntered about in the market, bought a few early jennetings, looked at the gingerbread stall, kept his dog in order, inspected some young dormice, and declined to purchase, saying that he had not enough money.  Nobody looking at him would have supposed that he was a boy who had anything on his mind, or that he dreaded the moment when he was to go home and walk with his adopted father through Salisbury's field.

    But that time came at last; Lancey with Don John, went at the appointed time to [the] railway-station; Mr. Johnstone, at the expected moment stepped out of a carriage, and they all proceeded home through the field.

    And there, just as he turned towards his own house, skirting the wood, the lodger saw them.

    He was walking with somewhat of a martial uprightness, coming on steadily and straightforward; Don John walked at his right side, with precisely the same carriage.  The two were talking together; Lancey now a step or two in front, now behind, meandered about them with a boyish gait.

    "Who is that person?" said Donald Johnstone, when he caught sight of the trailing skirts.

    "Oh, that's 'the lodger,'" said Lancey.

    "Humph!" said Donald Johnstone.

    "Father," exclaimed Don John, "Salisbury's house was robbed last night, did you know?—"

    "Robbed!" said Mr. Johnstone, "why I should not have thought the worthy soul possessed anything worth stealing."

    "No; but it was their lodger's things that were taken.  It seems she left their door open last night, and I think it was open all night, by what I hear."

    Lancey's terror was intense; and Don John spoke so coolly that it was evident he had no suspicions.

    "It is to be hoped she did not accuse the poor honest people," said Mr. Johnstone.

    "Oh, no.  She had left the keys dangling in her desk; she felt sure, she said, that nobody in the houses was dishonest."

    "That's a queer story," said Donald Johnstone.  "Who ever passes there in the night?" and he went marching on; while she, afraid to turn too sharply out of his path, lest she should attract more observation, came on, hoping he would not look at her.

    He would not have done so, but just as they met both the boys lifted their hats.  He had not been aware that they had the slightest acquaintance with this person.  He looked up with momentary keenness of attention, the boys, one on each side of him, went on a step or two; he came to a dead stand, and she saw in a moment that he knew her.

    Twelve years' foreign travel, plenty of money, fashionable clothes, had not so much changed Maria Jane Collingwood that she could pass the scrutiny of those keen eyes unknown.  He gave her no greeting of any sort, but after his involuntary pause went on again, and the boys lingering slightly he was soon between them.



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