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- The Stokesley Secret - 2/37 -
"I know," exclaimed Susan; "Davy went out with the nursery children to-day, and they went to see Mary's sister. Her husband is drowned because he was a sailor; and the Mermaid went to South America; and there are five little tiny children."
"Of the mermaid's?" cried Harry.
"No, no; the Mermaid was the ship, and it was wrecked, and they have noticing to live upon; and she takes in washing, and is such a nice woman. Mamma said we might take them our old winter frocks, and so David went there."
"And she said if she had a pig to pay the rent she should be quite happy," said David. "How could he?"
"I suppose," said Miss Fosbrook, "the pig would live on her garden- stuff, her cabbage-leaves and potato-skins; and that when he was fat she would sell him, and pay the rent with the money. Am I right, Sam? you know I am a Cockney."
"You could not be more right if you were a Hampshire beg," said Sam. "Jack Higgins was her husband's name, and a famous fellow he was; he once rigged a little boat for me."
"And he sailed with Papa once, long ago," added Susan; to which Sam rejoined,
"More fool he to go into the merchant service and get drowned, with nothing for his widow to live upon."
"I say," cried Hal, "why shouldn't we give her a pig?"
"Oh, do!" earnestly exclaimed David.
"I'll catch one," broke from John and Annie at once; "such lots as there are in the yard!"
"You would catch it, I believe," said Sam disdainfully; while Susan explained,
"No; those are Papa's pigs. Purday would not let you give them away."
"Of course," said Henry, "that was only those little geese. I meant to make a subscription among ourselves, and give her the pig; and won't she be surprised!"
"Oh! yes, yes," shouted the children; "let's do it all ourselves!"
"I've got one-and-threepence, and sixpence next Saturday," cried Hal.
"And I've eightpence," quoth Annie.
"And I've a whole shilling," said David.
"I've fourpence," said Johnnie.
"I've not much, I'm afraid," said Susan, feeling in her pocket, with rather black looks.
"Oh!" said Sam, "everybody knows simple Sukey never has a farthing in her pocket by any chance!"
"Yes, but I have, Sam;" and with an air of great triumph, Susan held up three-halfpence, whereat all the party screamed with laughter.
"Well, but Bessie always has lots! She's as rich as a little Jew. Come, Bet, Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess, what will you give?-- what have you got?"--and one hand came on her shoulder, and another on her arm but she shook herself free, and answered rather crossly,
"Don't--I can't--I've got something else to do with my money."
"Oh! you little stingy avaricious crab!" was the outcry beginning; but Miss Fosbrook stopped it before Elizabeth had time to make the angry answer that was rising on her lips.
"No, my dears, you must not tease her. Each of you has a full right to use your own money as you may think best; and it is not right to force gifts in this manner."
"She's a little affected pussy-cat," said Hal, much annoyed; "I know what she wants it for--to buy herself a ridiculous parasol like Ida Greville, when she would see poor Hannah Higgins starving at her feet."
Elizabeth bit her lip, and tossed up her head; the tears were in her eyes, but she made no answer.
"Come, never mind," said Sam; "she's as obstinate as a male when she gets a thing into her head. Let's see what we've got without her. I've only sevenpence: worse luck that I bought ball of string yesterday."
The addition amounted to three shillings and elevenpence halfpenny: a sum which looked so mighty when spread out, chiefly in coppers, on the window-seat, that Annie and David looked on it as capable of buying any amount of swine; but Sam looked rather blank at it, and gazing up and down, said, "But what does a pig cost?"
"Miss Fosbrook, what does a pig cost?"
Miss Fosbrook shook her head and laughed, saying that she knew much less of pigs than they did; and Susan exclaiming, "There's Purday in the court," they all tumbled to the window, one upon the top of the other.
The window was a large heavily-framed sash, with a deep window-seat, and a narrow ledge within the sill--as if made on purpose, the first for the knees the second for the elbows of the gazers therefrom.
As to the view, it was into a walled kitchen court, some high chestnut and lime trees just looking over the grey roofs of the offices. On the ground lay a big black Newfoundland dog, and a couple of graceful greyhounds, one of them gnawing a bone, cunningly watched by a keen-looking raven, with his head on one side; while peeping out from the bars of the bottle-rack was the demure face of the sandy cat, on the watch for either bones or sparrows.
A stout, stumpy, shrewd-looking labourer, in a short round frock, high buskins, an old wide-awake, short curly hair, and a very large nose, stood in front of the dairy door, mixing a mess of warm milk for the young calves.
"Purday! Master Purday!" roared nearly the whole young population above; but he was so intent on his mixture, that he went on as if he were deaf, till a second explosion of "Purday! Purday! I say!" made him turn up his face in an odd half-awake kind of manner.
"Purday, what's the price of a pig?" and, "What does a pig cost, Purday?"
"What d'ye all holler at once for? A body can't hear a word," was all the answer they got; whereupon they all started together again, and Purday went on with his mixture as if they had been so many hens cackling.
Then Sam got up his breath again and called alone, "Purday!" and Hal and Susan by pats and pinches strangled the like outcry from Annie and John, so as to leave the field clear for the great question, "Purday, what does a pig cost?"
"More than your voices up there, sir," growled Purday, making some laugh; but Henry cried impatiently,
"Now, Purday, we really do want to know what is the price of pigs."
"They was high last market," began Purday.
"I don't care if they were high or low," said Hal; "I want to know what money they cost."
"Different pigs cost different prices," quoth the oracle, so sententiously, that Miss Fosbrook's shoulders shook with laughing as she stood a little in the background of the eager heap in the window.
"A nice little pig, such as you'd give--"
"Hush, hush, Hal, it's a secret," cried Susan.
"A pretty sort of secret--known to eight already, and bawled out all over the yard," said Sam.
"But don't tell him what it's for; you can ask him without that."
"A nice little young pig," said Sam, "such as you'd keep all the summer, and fat in the winter."
"Mind, it ain't for you, Purday," cried Hal.
"Never fear my being disappointed, sir," said the free-spoken Purday, with a twinkle of his eye, which Hal understood so well that he burst out,
"Ah! you think I can never do what I say I will; but you'll see, Purday, if we don't give a pig to--"
He was screamed at, and pulled into order and silence, ere the words, "Hannah Higgins" had quite come out; and Sam repeated his question.
"Well," said Purday at last, "if pigs was reasonable, you might get a nice little one to fat, at Kattern Hill fair, somewhere about ten shillings, or maybe twelve--sometimes more, sometimes less."
"Ten shillings!" The community stood round and looked at one another at the notion of such an awful sum; but Hal was the first to cast a ray of hope on the gloom. "Kattern Hill fair ain't till Midsummer, and perhaps Grandmamma will send us some money before that. If anybody's birthday was but coming!"
"Better save it out of our allowance," said Sam. "How long is it to the fair?"
Miss Fosbrook's pocket-book declared it to be four weeks.
"Well, then," said Hal, "we three big ones have sixpence a week each, that's six shillings, leaving out stingy Bess, and the little ones threepence, that's three times three is nine, and three times nine is thirty-six, that's three shillings, and six is nine, and very near
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