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- The Stokesley Secret - 3/37 -
four is fourteen. We shall do the pig yet."
"Yes, Hal; but if pigs are reasonable, I am afraid three times nine never yet were so much so as to make thirty-six," objected Miss Fosbrook.
"Twenty-seven--that's three and twopence--it's all the same," said Hal; then at the scream of the rest, "at least two and threepence. Well, any way there's plenty for piggy-wiggy, and it shall be a jolly secret to delight Hannah Higgins, and surprise Papa and Mamma: hurrah!"
"Yes," said Sam; "but then nobody must have any fines."
"Ay, and Sue must keep her money. That will be a wonder!" shouted Harry.
"Well, I'll try," said Susan. "I'll try not to have a single fine, and I'll not buy a single lump of sugar-candy, for I do want poor Hannah to have her pig."
"And so will we!" cried the younger ones with one voice.
"Only," added Susan, "I must buy Dicky's canary seed."
"And I must have a queen's head to write to Mamma," said Annie.
"Oh! never mind that, such trumpery as your letters are," said Hal. "Mamma could say them by heart before she gets them. What does she care for them?"
Little Annie looked very deplorable.
"Never mind, my dear," said Miss Fosbrook, "mammas always care for little girls' letters, and you are quite right to keep a penny for your stamp for her.--You see, Hal, this scheme will never come to good if you sacrifice other duties to it."
Henry twirled round impatiently.
"Now suppose," said Miss Fosbrook, "that we set up a treasury, and put all in that we can properly afford, and then break it open on the day before the fair, and see how much we have."
"Oh! yes, yes," cried the children in raptures.
"Will you help, Miss Fosbrook?" said Susan, clasping her hands.
"I should like to do a very little, if you will take this silver threepenny; but I do not think it would be right for me to spare one penny more, for all I can afford is very much wanted at home."
"What shall we have for treasury?" said Hal, looking round.
"I know!" cried Susan. "Here, in the baby-house; here's the Toby, let's put it inside him."
The so-called baby-house was an old-fashioned cupboard with glass doors, where certain tender dolls, and other curiosities, playthings too frail to be played with and the like, were ranged in good order, and never taken out except when some one child was unwell, and had to stay in-doors alone.
Toby Fillpot was a present from Nurse Freeman. It was a large mug, representing a man with a red coat, black hat, and white waistcoat, very short legs, and top-boots. The opening of the cup was at the top of his head, and into this was dropped all the silver and pence at present mustered, and computed to be about four shillings.
"And, Miss Fosbrook, you'll not be cross about fines?" said Johnnie, looking coaxing.
"I hope I shall not be cross," she answered; "but I do not engage to let you off any. I think having so good a use to put your money to should make you more careful against forfeiting it."
"Yes," said Johnnie disconsolately.
"Well, I never get fined," cried Hal joyfully.
"Except for running up stairs in dirty shoes," said Sam.
"Oh! there's no dirt now."
"Let me see, what are the fines?" said Miss Fosbrook.
"Here's the list," said Susan; and sighing, she said, "I'm afraid I shall never do it! If Bessie only would help!"
The fines of the Stokesley schoolroom were these for delinquencies-- each value a farthing -
For being dressed later than eight o'clock. For hair not properly brushed. For coming to lessons later than five minutes after ten. For dirty hands. For being turned back twice with any lesson. For elbows on the table. For foolish crying. For unnecessary words in lesson-time. For running up stairs in wet shoes. For leaving things about.
Each of these bits of misbehaviour caused the forfeit of a farthing out of the weekly allowance. Susan looked very gloomy over them; but Hal exclaimed, "Never mind, Susie; we'll do it all without you, never fear!"
"And now," said Sam, "I vote we have some fun in the garden."
Some readers may be disposed to doubt, after this specimen, whether the young Merrifields could be really young ladies and gentlemen; but indeed their birth might make them so; for there had been Squire Merrifields at Stokesley as long as Stokesley had been a parish, and those qualities of honour and good breeding that mark the gentleman had not been wanting to the elder members of the family. The father of these children was a captain in the navy, and till within the last six years the children had lived near Plymouth; but when he inherited the estate they came thither, and David and the two little ones had been born at Stokesley. The property was not large; and as Captain Merrifield was far from rich, it took much management to give all this tribe of boys and girls a good education, as well as plenty of bread and butter, mutton, and apple-pudding. There was very little money left to be spent upon ornament, or upon pleasuring; so they were brought up to the most homely dress suited to their station, and were left entirely to the country enjoyments that spring up of themselves. Company was seldom seen, for Papa and Mamma had little time or means for visiting; and a few morning calls and a little dining out was all they did; which tended to make the young ones more shy and homely, more free and rude, more inclined to love their own ways and despise those of other people, than if they had seen more of the world. They were a happy, healthy set of children, not faulty in essentials, but, it must be confessed, a little wild, rough and uncivil, in spite of the code of fines.
Mrs. Merrifield had taught her children herself, till Samuel and Henry began going to the Curate for a couple of hours every day, to be prepared for school. Lessons were always rather a scramble; so many people coming to speak to her, and so many interruptions from the nursery; and then came a time when Mamma always was tired, and Papa used to come out and scold if the noises grew very loud indeed, and was vexed if the children gave Mamma any trouble of any kind. Next they were told they were to have a governess--a sort of piece of finery which the little savages had always despised--and thereupon came Miss Fosbrook; but before she had been a week in the house Mamma was quite ill and in her bed-room, and Papa looked graver than he had ever done before; and Mr. Braddon, the doctor, came very often: and at last Susan was called into Mamma's room, and it was explained to her that Mamma was thought so ill, that she must go to be under a London doctor, and would be away, she could not tell how long; so that meantime the children must all be left to Miss Fosbrook, with many many injunctions to be good and obedient, for hearing that they were going on well would be poor Mamma's only comfort.
It was three days since Captain and Mrs. Merrifield had gone; and Miss Fosbrook stood at the window, gazing at the bright young green of the horse-chestnut trees, and thinking many various thoughts in the lull that the children had left when they rushed out of doors.
She thought herself quite alone, and stood, sometimes smiling over the odd ways of her charges, and at what they put her in mind of, sometimes gravely thinking whether she had said or done the wisest things for them, or what their mother would have most approved. She was just going to move away from the window, when she saw a little figure curled up on the floor, with her head on the window-seat. "Bessie, my dear, what are you doing here? Why are not you gone out?"
"I don't want to go out."
"I thought they were to have a great game at whoop-hide."
"I don't like whoop-hide. Johnnie pulls the clothes off my back."
"My dear, I hope you are not staying in because they called you those foolish names. It was all in good humour."
"It was not kind," said Elizabeth, her throat swelling. "It was not true."
"Perhaps not; but you did not speak to give your reasons; and who could tell how good they might be?"
"I've a right to my secrets as well as they have," said the little maiden.
Miss Fosbrook looked kindly at her, and she turned wistful eyes on the young governess.
"Miss Fosbrook, will you keep a secret?"
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