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- The Stokesley Secret - 5/37 -
fretful face upwards. "Look there!" she said; "and talk of seeing nothing pretty!"
"I see nothing--"
"Do you not see the pale clear green of those noble horse-chestnut leaves just sprung into their full summer dress--not in the least worn nor stained yet? And those fine spikes of white blossom, all tending up--up--while the masses of those leaves fall so gracefully down, as if lifting them up, and then falling back to do them honour." Bessie smiled, and her eye lighted up. "And see the colour against the sky--look at the contrast of that bright light green with the blue, so very deep, of the sky--and oh! see that train of little clouds, red with soft sunny light, like a little soft flock of rosy lambs, if there were such things, lying across the sky. O Bessie! you can't talk of wanting the sight of pretty things while you have that sky."
Bessie was coming closer to her, when in burst Sam and Johnnie.
"Hello, Bess! moping here, I declare! I suppose you and Miss Fosbrook are telling each other all your secrets."
"I was just coming out," said Miss Fosbrook. "I want to make out something about those noble flowers of the horse-chestnut, and why they don't look whiter. Could you gather one for me, Sam?"
Sam was only too glad of an excuse for climbing a tree, however cheaply he might hold one who cared for flowers; and by the time Bessie had put on her lilac-spotted sun-bonnet--a shapeless article it must be confessed, with a huge curtain serving for a tippet, very comfortable, and no trouble at all--he had scrambled into the fork, and brought down a beautiful spire of blossoms, with all the grand leaves hanging round in their magnificent fans.
"What will you do with it?" said the children, standing round.
"Do you think you could ask Mary to spare us a jug, Susan? If I might put it in water in the schoolroom fireplace, it would look fresh and cheerful for Sunday."
"Oh, yes," said Susan, pleased with the commission, "that I will;" and away she ran, while Miss Fosbrook examined the spike to her own great enjoyment. "I see," she said, "the flowers are not really white, they each have a patch of pink or yellow on them, which gives them their softness. Yes; and do you see, Bessie, they are in clusters of three, and each three has one flower with a pink spot, and two with a yellow one."
"That is very curious," said Bessie: the fretfulness was very much gone out of her tone, and she stood looking at the beautiful flower, without a word, till Susan came back, when she began to show her what Miss Fosbrook had pointed out. Susan smiled with her really good nature, and said, "How funny!" but was more intent on telling Miss Fosbrook that she had brought the jug, and then on hauling Elizabeth away to a game at Tom Tittler's ground.
Miss Fosbrook said she would put away the flower and come back again; and she settled the branch in the chimney, where it looked very graceful, and really did enliven the room, and then walked out towards the lawn.
There was a lawn in front of the house, part of which had been formerly levelled for a bowling-green, and was kept clear of shrubs or flower-beds. Beyond was a smooth, rather rapid slope towards a quiet river, beyond which there rose again a beautiful green field, crowned above by a thick wood, ending at the top in some scraggy pine-trees, with scanty dark foliage at the top of their rude russet arms. Fine trees stood out here and there upon the slope of the field; and Captain Merrifield's fine sleeked cows were licking each other, or chewing the cud, under them.
There was a white Chinese bridge, the rails all zigzags, and patterns running this way and that, so that it must have been very ugly and glaring before the white paint had faded so much.
The house was a respectable old stone building, rather brown and grey, and the stone somewhat disposed to peel off in flakes; the windows large sashes, set in great projecting squared stones, the tallest and biggest at the top. It was a house of a very sober pleasant countenance, that looked as if it had always been used to have a large family in it; and there was a vine, with all its beauteous leaves, trained all across the garden front, making a pleasant green summer-blind over the higher half of the drawing-room windows, that now stood open, telling of the emptiness within.
Christabel stood for a few moments looking round, and thinking what a paradise of green rest this would be to her hard-worked father and anxious mother; and how she should like to see her little brothers and sisters have one free run and roll on that delicious greensward, instead of now and then walking to one of the parks as a great holiday. Yet hers was a very happy home, and, except her being absent from it, nothing had befallen her to sadden her merry young spirits; so when she heard the joyous cry behind her -
"I'm on Tommy Tittler's ground, Picking up gold and silver,"
she turned about, and laughed as she saw the gold-finders stooping and clawing at the grass, with eyes cast round about them for Hal, who was pursuing Susan in and out, up and down till, with screams of exultation, she was safely across the ridge of the bowling-green, that served as "home."
When Hal turned back, Miss Fosbrook was as heedfully and warily picking up gold and silver as any of the rest of them. He was resolved on capturing her; but first David was such a tempting prize, with his back so very near, and so unconscious, that he must be made prisoner. A catch at the brown-holland blouse--a cry--a shout of laughter, and Davy is led up behind the standard maiden-blush rose, always serving as the prison. And now the tug of war rages round it, he darts here and there within his bounds, holding out his hand to any kind deliverer whose touch may set him free; and all the others run backwards and forwards, trying to circumvent the watchful jailor, Tom Tittler, who, in front of the rose-bush, flies instantly at whoever is only coming near his captive.
Ha! Susan had nearly--all but done it, while Hal was chasing away Annie. No, not she; Hal is back again, and with a shriek away she scours. Sam! oh, he is very near; if that stupid little Davy would only look round, he would be free in another moment; but he only gapes at the pursuit of Susan, and Sam will touch him without his being aware! No--here's Hal back again. Sam's off. What a scamper! Now's the time--here's Miss Fosbrook, lighter-footed than any of the children, softly stealing on tip-toe, while Hal is scaring Johnnie. Her fingers just touch Davy's. "Freed! Freed!" is the cry; and off goes he, pounding for home! but Hal rushes across the path, he intercepts Miss Fosbrook, and, with a shout of triumph--There is the sound of a rent. Everybody stands a little aghast.
"It is only the gathers," says Miss Fosbrook good-humouredly. "I'll tuck them up and sew them in by and by; but really, Hal, you need not pull so furiously; I would have yielded to something short of that."
"Gowns are such stuff!" said Hal, really meaning it for an apology, though it did not sound like one, for her good-natured face abashed him a little.
"Touch and take used to be our rule," said Miss Fosbrook.
Bessie eagerly said that would be the best way, the boys were so rude; but all the rest with one voice cried out that it would be very stupid; and Miss Fosbrook did not press it, but only begged in a droll way that some one would take pity on her; and come to release her; and so alert was she in skipping towards her allies from behind the rose-bush, that Bessie presently succeeded in giving the rescuing touch, and she flew back quick as a bird to the safe territory, dragging Bessie with her, who otherwise would have assuredly been caught; and who, warm with the spirit of the game, felt as if she should have been quite glad to be made prisoner for her dear Christabel's sake.
An hour after, and all the children were in bed. Susan and Annie agreeing that a governess was no such great bother after all; and Elizabeth lying awake to whisper over to herself, "Christabel Angela, Christabel Angela! That's my secret!" in a sort of dream of pleasure that will make most people decide on her being a very silly little girl.
And Christabel Angela herself sat mending her gathers, and thinking over her first week of far greater difficulties than she had contemplated when she had left home with the understanding that she was to be entirely under Mrs. Merrifield's direction. Poor Mrs. Merrifield had said much of regret at leaving her to such a crew of little savages, and she had only tried to set the mother's mind at rest by being cheerful; and though she felt that it was a great undertaking to manage those great boys out of lesson-hours, she knew that when a thing cannot be helped, strength and aid is given to those who seek for it sincerely.
And on the whole, she felt thankful to the children for having behaved even as well as they had done.
"Grant to us, Thy humble servants, that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be good, and by Thy merciful guiding may perform the same," spelt out David with some trouble and difficulty, as he stood by Miss Fosbrook on Sunday morning.
"Well, my dear."
"Is wanting to buy a pig one of the 'things that be good'?'
"Anything kind and right is good, my dear," said Miss Fosbrook, a little vexed at a sort of snorting she heard from the other end of the room.
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