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- The Stokesley Secret - 10/37 -
"He's been teasing me, and so has Anne, all this time!" cried Bessie. "They've been at me ever since I came out, pulling me and plaguing me, and--"
"Well," said Susan, "I told you to walk in front of Miss Fosbrook, where they could not."
"I didn't do anything to her," said John.
"He only pulled her frock and poked her ankles," said Anne pleadingly
"Only--and why did you do what she did not like?"
Johnnie looked sturdy and cross. Anne hung her head; and Elizabeth burst out again,
"They always do--they always are cross to me! I said I'd tell you, and now they said Ida was a conceited little toad, and stingy Bet was another;" and out burst her howls again.
"A very sad and improper way of spending a Sunday evening," said Miss Fosbrook, who had really grown quite angry. "Anne and John, I WILL put an end to this teasing. Go to bed this instant."
They did not dare to disobey, but went off slowly with sulky footsteps, muttering to one another that Miss Fosbrook always took pipy Betty's part; Nurse said so, and they wished Mamma was at home. And when they came up to the nursery, Nurse pitied them. She had never heard of a young lady doing such a thing as ordering off two poor dear children to bed for only just saying a word; but it seemed there were to be favourites now. No, she could not put them to bed; they must wait till Mary came in from her walk; she wasn't going to put herself out of the way for any fine London governess.
So Johnnie had another conquest over Miss Fosbrook; but Anne was uncomfortable, and went and sat in a corner, wishing she had had her punishment properly over, and kicking her brother away when he wanted to play with her.
As for Bessie, she only cried the more for Miss Fosbrook's trying to talk to her. It was a way of hers, perhaps from being less strong than the others, if once she started in a cry she could not leave off.
Susan told Miss Fosbrook so; and the boys tried to drag her on with a promise of a blackbird's nest; but she thought them unfeeling to such woeful distress, and first tried to reason with Bessie, then to soothe her, till at last, finding all in vain, she thought bed the only place for the child, and led her into the house, helped her, still shaking with sobs, to undress, and was going to see her lie down in the bed which she shared with Susan. Elizabeth was still young enough to say her prayers aloud. The words came out in the middle of choking sobs, not as if she were much attending to them. Miss Fosbrook knelt down by her as she was going to rise, and said in her own words,
"Most merciful God, give unto this Thy child the spirit of content, and the spirit of love, that she may bear patiently all the little trials that hurt and vex her, and win her way as Thy good soldier and servant. Amen."
Elizabeth held her breath to listen. It was new and odd. She did not like to say Amen; she did not know if the governess were not taking a liberty. Perhaps it was a new way of telling her she was wrong--Christabel, whom she had thought on her side.
The bad temper woke up, and would not let her offer a friendly kiss. She hid her face in the pillow, and as soon as Miss Fosbrook had shut the door, went off into a fresh gust of piteous sobs, because Miss Elizabeth Merrifield was the most miserable ill-used child in all the world.
She might be one of the most miserable, but it was not because of her ill-usage, but because she had no spirit to be cheerful, and had turned away from comfort of the right kind. She was in such a frame as to prefer thinking everyone against her, to supposing that anything she could do would mend matters.
Christabel was much grieved at this unfortunate end to the Sunday evening. She looked over all the boys' birds' eggs--they were allowed to keep two of every sort as curiosities--and listened to some wonderful stories of Henry's about climbing trees, and shooting partridges, and she kept the remaining children quiet and amused; but she was not happy in her mind.
She thought she must have been wrong in not watching them more closely, and she felt more dislike and indignation against Johnnie than she feared was altogether right in his governess. Also, she feared to make too much of Elizabeth, and was almost afraid that notice taught her to be still more fretful. And yet there was a sense of being drawn to her by their two minds understanding each other, by likeness of tastes, by pity, and by a wish to protect one whom her little world oppressed.
Nurse Freeman could not be more afraid of Miss Fosbrook making favourites than she was herself.
All she could do in the matter was that which she had already done at Bessie's bedside, and much more fully than when the little girl was listening to her.
With Monday morning began the earning of the pig. Miss Fosbrook's first business after prayers was to deal out the week's allowance-- sixpence to each of the four elders, threepence apiece to the three younger ones.
"May there be no fines," she said.
"I'll not have the hundredth part of a fine!" shouted Henry, tossing his money into the air.
Little David's set lips expressed the same purpose.
"Please let me have a whole sixpence," said Susan. "If I haven't any change, I sha'n't spend it."
"You, Sukey! you'd better have the four farthings," laughed Sam. "You'll be the first to want them."
Susan laughed; and Miss Fosbrook, partly as an example to the plaintive Elizabeth, said, "You are so good-humoured, Susie, that I can't find it in my heart to demand a fine--or--your hair; and there," pointing to the stout red fingers, "did you ever behold such a black little row?"
"Oh dear!" cried Susan, in her good-humoured hearty voice, "how tiresome, when they were SO clean this morning, and I've only just been feeding the chicken, and up in the hay-loft for the eggs, and pulling the radishes!"
"Well, go and wash and brush, and to-morrow remember the pig," said Miss Fosbrook, unable to help comparing the radishes and the fingers for redness and for earthiness.
It was a more difficult matter when, as Elizabeth put her silver coin into her purse, John must needs repeat the stupid old joke, "There goes stingy Bet!" and Bessie put on her woeful appealing face.
"John, I shall punish you if I hear those words again."
"I don't mind. Nurse says you have no business to punish me! She did not put me to bed; and I had such fun! Oh, such fun!" and the boy looked up with a grin that set all the others laughing.
Christabel resolutely kept silence, and hoped her looks did not show her annoyance, as the boy went on, "I got lots of goodies, for Nurse said she had no notion of no stranger punishing her children. Oh! Oh! Oh!" For Samuel had hold of his ear, and was tweaking it sharply.
"There! Go and tell Nurse, if you like, baby!"
"Sam, indeed I can't have my battles fought in that way!" cried the governess, much distressed, as Johnnie roared, perhaps that old Nurse might hear, and, to all attempts to find out whether he were hurt, offered only heels and fists, till Susan came back and hugged him into quiet.
"Now Johnnie has cried before breakfast on a Monday morning," said Annie, "all the rest of the week will go wrong with him."
"Indeed," said Miss Fosbrook, "I hope no such thing.--Suppose we try and show Annie she is wrong, Johnnie!"
But Johnnie was sulky, and even Susan looked as if she thought this a new and dangerous notion. Sam laughed, and said, "I wish you joy, Miss Fosbrook. Now he'll think he must be naughty."
"Johnnie," said David solemnly, "the pig."
The pig was a very good master of the ceremonies, and kept all elbows off the table at breakfast-time; and Bessie, who was apt to stick fast in the midst of her bread and milk, and fall into disgrace for daintiness and dawdling, finished off quietly and prosperously.
Then every one was turned loose till nine o'clock. Susan had charge of Mamma's keys, and had to go down to the kitchen, see what the cook wanted, and put it out, but only on condition that no brother or sister ever went with her to the store-closet. Susan was highly trustworthy, but Mamma was too wise to let her be tempted by voices begging for one plum, one almond, or the last spoonful of Jam. It took away a great deal of the pleasure of jingling the keys, and having a voice in choosing the pudding.
The two elder boys went to their tutor, the other children to the nursery, except Elizabeth, who was rummaging in her little box, and David, whom Miss Fosbrook found perched on the ledge of the window, reading a book that did not look as if it were meant for men of his size.
But Miss Fosbrook thought David like the oldest person in the house--
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