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- The Stokesley Secret - 30/37 -
All the others were subdued and awe-struck. It was not yet known what was to happen to Henry; but there was a notion that it would be very terrible indeed, and that Uncle John would be sure to make it worse; and they wished Miss Fosbrook good-night with very sad faces.
Nothing had as yet befallen Henry, for he came down to breakfast in the morning; but his father did not greet him, and spoke no word to him all the time they were in the room together. The children felt that this was indeed terrific. Such a thing had never befallen any of them before. They would much rather have been whipped; and even David's heart sank.
Something, however, was soon said that put all else out of his sisters' minds. The Captain turned to them with his merry smile, saying, "Pray what would Miss Susie and Miss Bessie say to coming up to London with me to see Mamma?"
The two girls bounded upon their chairs; Susan's eyes grew round, and Bessie's long; the one said, "O Papa!" and the other, "Oh, thank you!" and they looked so overwhelmed with ecstasy, and all the three elders laughed.
"Then you will behave discreetly, young women?"
"I'll try," said Susan; "and Bessie always does. Oh, thank you, Papa!"
"Grandmamma should be thanked; she asked me to bring a child or two, to be with Mamma when I go down to Portsmouth. We had thought of Susan; but I think Betty deserves some amends for what she has undergone."
"Oh yes, Papa! thank you!" cried Susan, Sam, and David, from their hearts; John and Annie because the others did so.
"Then you won't kick her out if she shares your berth, Sue?"
"Oh, I am so glad, Papa! It is so nice to go together."
"Then, Miss Fosbrook, will you be kind enough to rig them out? I must drive into Southminster at ten o'clock; and if you would be so good as to see them smartened up for London there, I should be much obliged to you."
The mere drive to the country town was a great event in itself, even without the almost incredible wonder that it was to lead to; and the delights of which Ida and Miss Fosbrook had told them in London went so wildly careering through the little girls' brains, that they hardly knew what they said or did, as they danced about the house, and ran up-stairs to get ready, long before ten o'clock.
Mr. Carey had been informed that his pupils would not come to him during the few days of their father's stay; and Sam begged to ride in on his pony by the side of the carriage; but he was desired to fetch his books, and call Henry, as his uncle wished to give them both an examination. Was this the beginning of captivity to Uncle John? David and Johnnie were quite angry. They considered it highly proper that Hal should be shut up with Uncle John, but they thought it very hard that Sam should be so used too; and Sam himself looked very round-backed, reluctant, and miserable, partly at the task, partly at being deprived of the sight of his father for several hours of one of those few precious days.
Miss Fosbrook wished Susan to have sat on the front seat of the old phaeton with her father; but he would not consent to this, and putting the two little girls together behind, handed the governess to the place of honour beside him, where she felt rather shy, in spite of his bright easy manner.
"I am afraid," he said, after having flourished his whip merrily at Johnnie, Annie, and Davie, who were holding open the iron gate, "that you have had a tough job with those youngsters! We never meant you to have been left so long to their mercy."
"I know--I know; I only wish I could have done better."
"You have done wonders. My brother hardly knows where he is--never saw those children so mannerly."
Miss Fosbrook could not show how delighted she was.
"I could hardly have ventured on taking those two girls to town unless you had broken them in a little. I would say nothing last night till I had watched Susan; for my mother is particular, and if my wife was to be always worrying herself about their manners, they had better be at home."
"Indeed, I think you may quite trust to their behaving well. Those two and Sam are so thoroughly trustworthy, that I had no real difficulty till this unhappy business."
The Captain wanted to talk this over with her, and hear her account of it once more. She gave it fully, thinking he ought to know exactly how his children had acted in the matter, and wishing to explain where she thought she had made mistakes. When she had finished, he said, "Thank you," and considered a little while; then said, "A thing like this brings out a great deal of character; and a new eye sometimes sees more what is in a child than those that bred him up."
"It has been a touchstone, indeed," she answered.
"Poor Hal!" he said sadly; then resumed, "I've said nothing of it yet to the boys--but Admiral Penrose has promised to let me take out one with me. I had thought most of Hal; he seemed to me a smarter fellow, more likely to make his way than his brother; but this makes me doubt whether there can be stuff enough in him. I might not be able to look after him, nor do I know what his messmates may be; and I should not choose to risk it, except with a boy I could thoroughly trust."
"Those young Grevilles seem to me Hal's bane and temptation."
"Ay, ay; but if a boy is of the sort, he'll find someone to be his bane, wherever he goes. I'll have no more of the Grevilles though. If he should not go with me, my brother John would take him into his house, and keep a sharp look out after him. Just tell me, if you have no objection, how the boy strikes you. Most people think him the most taking of the lot."
"So he is," said Christabel thoughtfully; "he has more ease and readiness, and he is affectionate and warm-hearted; but then he is a great talker, and fond of boasting."
"Exactly. I told him that was the very way he learnt falsehood."
"I am afraid, too," she was obliged to add, "that his resolutions run away in talk. He has not much perseverance; and he is easily led."
"Well, I believe you are right; but then what's to be done? I can hardly afford to lose this chance; but Sam was always backward; and I doubt his even caring to go to sea."
"Oh! Captain Merrifield!"
"What! has he given you reason to think that he does?" She told him how she had found Sam struggling with his longing for the sea and his father; and how patiently the boy had resigned himself to see his brother put before him, and himself condemned for being too dull and slow.
"Did I say so? I suppose he had put me past my patience with blundering over his lessons. I never meant to make any decision; but I did not think he wished it."
"He said it had been his desire from the time he could remember, especially when he felt the want of you during your last voyage."
"Very odd; how reserved some boys are! I declare I was vexed that it had gone out of his head; though I thought it might be for the best. You know I was not born to this place. I never dreamt of it till my poor brother Sam's little boy went off in a fever six years ago, and we had to settle down here. Before that, we meant my eldest to follow my own profession; but when he seemed to take to the soil so kindly, I thought, after all, he might make the happier squire for never having learnt the smell of salt water, nor the spirit of enterprise; but if it were done already, the first choice is due to him. You are sure?"
"Ask the girls."
He leant back and shouted out the question, "Sue! do you know whether Sam wishes to go to sea?"
"There's nothing he ever wished so much," was the answer.
"Then why didn't he say so?"
"Because he thought it would be no use," screamed Susan back.
"No use! why?"
"Because Hal says Admiral Penrose promised him. O Papa! are you going to take Sam?"
"Oh dear! we can't get on without him!" sighed Elizabeth.
"Are you sure he would like it?" said her father. "I thought he never cared to hear of the sea."
"He can't bear to talk of it, because it makes him so sorry," said Susan.
"And," cried Bessie, "he burnt his dear little ship, the Victory, because he couldn't bear to look at it after you said THAT, Papa."
"After I said what?"
"That he was not smart enough to learn the ropes."
"Very silly of him," said the Captain, "to take in despair what was only meant to spur him on. I suppose now I shall find he has dawdled so much that he couldn't get through an examination."
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