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- The Stokesley Secret - 6/37 -


"Davy thinks the pig is in his Collect," said Sam.

He was one of those who were especially proud of being downright, and in him it often amounted to utter regardlessness of people's feelings, yet not out of ill-nature; and when Susan responded, "Don't teaze Davy--he can't bear it," he was silent; but the mischief was done; and when Miss Fosbrook went on saying that the wish to help the poor woman was assuredly a good thought, which the little boy might well ask to be aided in fulfilling, David had grown ashamed, and would not listen. But the mention of the pig had set off Master Henry, who was sitting up in the window-seat with Annie, also learning the Collect, and he burst out into descriptions of the weight of money that would be found in Toby, and how he meant to go to the fair with Purday, and help him to choose the pig, and drive it home.

"More likely to hinder," muttered Sam.

"Besides, Papa wouldn't let you," added Bessie; but Hal did not choose to hear, and went on as to how the pig should ran away with Purday, and jump into a stall full of parliament gingerbread (whereat Annie fell into convulsions of laughing), and Hal should be the first to stop it, and jump on its back, and ride out of the fair holding it by the ears; and then they should pop it into the sty unknown to Hannah Higgins, and all lie in wait to hear what would happen; and when it squealed, she would think it the baby crying; but there Susan burst out at the notion of any one thinking a child could scream like a pig, taking it as an affront to all babyhood; and Miss Fosbrook took the opportunity of saying,

"Hadn't you better hatch your chickens before you count them, Henry? If you prevent everyone from learning the Collect, I fear there will be the less hope of Mr. Piggy."

"Oh! we don't have fines on Sundays," said Henry.

"Mamma says that on Sundays naughtiness is not such a trifle that we can be fined for it," said Susan.

"It is not naughtiness we are ever fined for," added Elizabeth: "THAT we are punished and talked to for: but the fines are only for bad habits."

"Oh! I hope I sha'n't have any this week," sighed Susan.

"You may hope," said Sam. "You're sure of them for everything possible except crying."

"Yes, Bessie gets all the crying fines," said Hal; "and I hope she'll have lots, because she won't help the pig."

Bessie started up from her place and rushed out of the room; while Miss Fosbrook indignantly exclaimed,

"Really, boys, I can't think how you can be so ill-natured!"

They looked up as though it were quite a new light to them; and Susan exclaimed,

"Oh, Miss Fosbrook! they don't mean it: Sam and Hal never were ill- natured in their lives."

"I don't know what you call ill-natured," said Miss Fosbrook, "unless it is saying the very things most likely to vex another."

"I don't mean to vex anybody," said Henry, "only we always go on so, and nobody is such a baby as to mind, except Bessie."

And Sam muttered, "One can't be always picking one's words."

"I am not going to argue about it," said Miss Fosbrook; "and it is time to get ready for church. Only I thought manliness was shown in kindness to the weak, and avoiding what can pain them."

She went away; and Susan was the first to exclaim,

"I didn't think she'd have been so cross!"

"Stuff, Sue!" said Sam; "it's not being cross. I like her for having a spirit; but one can't be finikin and mealy-mouthed to suit her London manners. I like the truth."

It would have been well if any one had been by to tell Mr. Samuel that truth of character does not consist in disagreeable and uncalled-for personalities.

Miss Fosbrook did not wonder at little Elizabeth for her discomfort under the rude homeliness of Stokesley, where the children made a bad copy of their father's sailor bluntness, and the difficulties of money matters kept down all indulgences. She knew that Captain Merrifield was as poor a man for an esquire as her father was for a surgeon, and that if he were to give his sons an education fit for their station, he must make his household live plainly in every way; but without thinking them right feelings, she had some pity for little Bessie's weariness and discontent in never seeing anything pretty. The three girls came in dressed for church, in the plainest brown hats, black capes, and drab alpaca frocks, rather long and not very full; not a coloured bow nor handkerchief, not a flounce nor fringe, to relieve them; even their books plain brown. Bessie looked wistfully at Miss Fosbrook's pretty Church-service, and said she and Susan both had beautiful Prayer-Books, but Mamma said they could not be trusted with them yet--Ida Greville had such a beauty.

Was it the effect of Miss Fosbrook's words, that Sam forbore to teaze Bessie about Ida Greville?--whose name was a very dangerous subject in the schoolroom. Also, he let Bessie take hold of Miss Fosbrook's hand in peace, though in general the least token of affection was scouted by the whole party.

It was a pretty walk to church, over a paddock, where the cows were turned out, and then along a green lane; and the boys had been trained enough in Sunday habits to make them steady and quiet on the way, especially as Henry was romancing about the pig.

By and by Elizabeth gave Miss Fosbrook's hand a sudden pull; and she perceived, in the village street into which they were emerging, a party on the way to church. There were two ladies, one in stately handsome slight mourning, the other more quietly dressed, and two or three boys; but what Elizabeth wanted her to look at was a little girl of nine years old, who was walking beside the lady. Her hat was black chip, edged and tied with rose-coloured ribbon, and adorned with a real bird, with glass eyes, black plumage, except the red crest and wings. She wore a neatly-fitting little fringed black polka, beneath which spread out in fan-like folds her flounced pink muslin, coming a little below her knees, and showing her worked drawers, which soon gave place to her neat stockings and dainty little boots. She held a small white parasol, bordered with pink, and deeply fringed, over her head, and held a gold-clasped Prayer- Book in her hand; and Miss Fosbrook heard a little sigh, which told her that this was the being whom Elizabeth Merrifield thought the happiest in the world. She hoped it was not all for the fine clothes; and Sam muttered,

"What a little figure of fun!"

Martin and Osmond Greville went daily to Mr. Carey's, like Sam and Hal, so the boys ran on to them; and Mrs. Greville, turning round, showed a very pleasant face as she bowed to Miss Fosbrook, and shaking hands with Susan and Elizabeth, asked with much solicitude after their mamma, and how lately they had heard of her.

Susan was too simple and straightforward to be shy, and answered readily, that they had had letters, and Mamma had been sadly tired by the journey, but was better the next day. The little girls shook hands; and Mrs. Greville made a kind of introduction by nodding towards her companion, and murmuring something about "Fraulein Munsterthal;" and Miss Fosbrook found herself walking beside a lady with the least of all bonnets, a profusion of fair hair, and a good- humoured, one-coloured face, no doubt Miss Ida's German governess. She said something about the fine day, and received an answer, but what it was she could not guess, whether German, French, or English, and her own knowledge of the two first languages was better for reading than for speaking; so after an awkward attempt or two, she held her peace and looked at her companions.

Susan and Mrs. Greville seemed to be getting on very well together; but Elizabeth's admiration of Ida seemed to be speechless, for they were walking side by side without a word, perhaps too close to their elders to talk.

Annie and David were going on steadily hand in hand a little way off; and Miss Fosbrook chiefly heard the talk of the boys, who had fallen behind; perhaps her ears were quickened by its personality, for though Sam was saying, "I'll tell you what, she's a famous fellow!" the rejoinder was, "What! do you mean to say that you mind her?"

"Doesn't he?" said Hal's voice; "why, she sent him away from tea last night, just for shying crusts."

"And did he go?" and there was a disagreeable sounding laugh, in which she was sorry that Hal joined.

"Catch the Fraulein serving me so!"

"She never tries!"

"She knows better!"

"I say, Sam, I thought you had more spirit. You'll be sitting up pricking holes in a frill by the time the Captain comes back."

"And Hal will be mincing along with his toes turned out like a dancing-master!" continued an affected voice.

"No such thing!" cried Hal angrily: "I'm not a fellow to be ordered about!"

The Grevilles laughed; and one of them said, "Well, then, why don't you show it? I'd soon send her to the right-about if she tried to interfere with me!"

Miss Fosbrook could bear it no longer; and facing suddenly round, looked the speaker full in the face, and said, "I am very much obliged to you--but you should not speak quite so loud."

The boys shrank back out of countenance; and Sam, who alone had not spoken, looked up into her face with a merry air, as if he were gratified by her spirited way of discomfiting them.

Osmond tried to recover, and muttered, "What a sell!" rather


The Stokesley Secret - 6/37

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