By Charles Herbert,
Author of “Nellie’s Boarding School,” “Keeping His Secret,” “Doreen” &c.
Chapter I. — continued.
Did Pearl keep her word?
Yes! She rose and came down to breakfast and found the maids and her father full of the mystery of the stripped cherry – trees. The astounding fact that in some way the back door had been opened; and the basket full of the cherries deposited in the kitchen was the most bewildering puzzle of all. Mr. Gray said very little about it, but he did not like it; and the maids, stupidly enough, professed to feel very nervous at stopping in a house where such things went on.
Pearl listened and smiled.
” Now, dada,” pointing an accusing little forefinger at her father, “I used to think you were funning, when you told me about the Brownies; but they must have come here in the night.”
Her father looked unconvinced; but he let it go at that; and after the first few hours had been spent in wondering, the matter was allowed to drop. But a few weeks later Mr. Gray remarked to his wife: –
” It is a very strange thing that two of the most hopeless characters in the parish, Bob and Harry Leacock, have been at church for the last few Sundays. I think I will go and see them.” And he did.
He told them how glad he was to see them there, and then he said: – – –
” If you chaps are really going to turn over a new leaf, I will try and get one of the farmers to give you regular work.”
The men looked at one another. At heart, they were really not bad; but they had gained a bad name in the district, and it is an old saying, that if you give a dog a bad name you may as well hang him. No one would give them employment for they were too well known. So they had been making their living by odd jobs, and by snaring rabbits and other forms of poaching. They were pretty cute, and generally managed to escape being found out; but sometimes they were caught, and Harry only lately come out of Elmsriver prison. So when Harry heard Mr. Gray’s offer he brightened up; for it seemed to him that here was a chance again of getting an honest living.
Mr. Gray was as good as his word. He actually induced Mr. Mason, a farmer in the district, to take them on as hay and straw binders; and the men did their best to keep the work. But, as it was quite clear to their minds that it was going to church which had brought it all about, they simply kept on going, and bit by bit, in spite of the chaff of their mates, it became a habit.
When Mr. Gray did things, he did them thoroughly, and he began to wonder whether he might not reach out a helping hand as well to Emily Leacock, their young sister, an untidy, careless girl who hung about the streets of Lockton.
He talked it over with his wife, and they decided to offer to take her in as a daily help in the kitchen.
Emily came, and the very first day she was there, she spotted the basket, which had held the cherries. She knew it at a glance for one which had been theirs. It had been missing for some weeks. So she turned to the cook and said: – – –
” Oh, is it?” said cook, raising her eyebrows in surprise. And as soon as she had a minute she went in and told Mr. Gray what Emily had said.
” She declares, sir, she knows it, ‘cos there’s a bit at the bottom of the basket that was mended. So, it looks as if them Leacocks had a hand in that business of them cherries.”
After she had left the room, Mr. Gray sat thinking, putting two and two together. Then he put on his hat and went out to Mason’s farm. He found Bob and Harry very hard at work in a barn, and, nodding cheerily, asked how they were getting on.
” Fine, thank-ee, sir!” said Bob, “and so’s Harry. ”
“Good, ” said Mr. Gray. ” But what about those cherries, Bob?”
The man was so surprised that he dropped his fork, and his face turned a brick red.
” So Miss Pearl’s been a split after all, has she?” he growled, sullenly.”‘Tisn’t fair of her after all this time.”
” I don’t see what ‘Miss Pearl’ has to do with it!” the curate said, sharply. ” But as I want to know, I must ask you and your brother to come up and see me to-night.”
They came up. And, bit by bit, Mr. Gray got the whole story out of them.
“Well,” he said, laughing heartily, as he gradually caught sight in his mind, of the picture of Pearl descending on these two men, and getting them to carry the basket in, and then to turn up to church – – – ” Well, it is a matter of some time ago now, and so far as I can see it has worked nothing but good for you chaps, and no one has been a penny the worse. You kept your word to Miss Pearl, and we’ll keep hers to you. You had better get your sister Emily to carry the basket home to – morrow. We’ll keep your secret. I’m glad you are turning over a new leaf. Get on with it!”
The men have not been long gone, when Pearl slipped in to say good-night.
” I have found out all about your Brownies and the cherries, Pearl,” her father said, gravely, kissing her. ” Do you know sometimes I think you must have a very grown – up head, on that little body of yours. There are not many nine year old girlies, who would have been brave enough to have gone down as you did, and tackle those men. Why didn’t you call me?”
“I didn’t want to wake mamma,” she said, shyly; and her father drew her to him, and kissed her fondly.
But, that night, as Mr. Gray was discussing the matter with his wife, he suddenly said:
” Grace, I’m afraid we must send Pearl away to school. She is far too grown up for her age. Of course, having done her lessons with me, she already knows a good deal. But, what with the care of Frankie, and the way she constantly runs in and out of the kitchen, and the little habits she has of trying to play the parson’s wife in this parish, she will be getting a consequential little prig, if we don’t mind. She must go to school and mix with girls her own age. You know what difference it has made to Basil.”
Basil was the elder boy, away at Cleesmore school as a rule, and at present spending the vacation with some chums. He was a lad of about thirteen and for his own sake his father had insisted on sending him there when he was about Pearl’s age; for at home his mother was positively spoiling him and he was becoming a perfect nuisance.
Mrs. Gray nodded, smiling; but she said:
“Give her a little longer with me, Herbert,” pleadingly. ” I don’t feel as if I could spare her yet. Considering the use that she is to me, while I have to lie here, or sit in my chair, she might as well be sixteen. But I shall be better soon, I hope, and then she really must go. Or,” wistfully, “if I don’t get better she will have to go all the same. I know, dear, is not fair to Pearl!”
Chapter I I
had been staying during the whole of the holidays with some of his school chums; and to tell the truth, considering his wife’s state of health, Mr. Gray had been very glad to have the highspirited boy away. But he was now coming home for a few days before he went back for the next term.
Pearl adored her brother, though, girl like, she never allowed him to know it. Not she! And at the roots of the life she led him there lay a feeling that was not altogether nice. The truth was that while Basil was a way she was everything to her mother, but as soon as the young scamp was in the house, Pearl was sulkily conscious that somehow she took a second place.
It was this feeling that made her cheek him on every possible occasion, and when the two were together in the house there were lively times. All the same, Basil had a very warm spot in his boyish heart for his only sister, and, though he did not know it she could really turn him around her little finger.
It was only three days after he came home, swanking about in his cricket flannels, and talking a great deal about “Our chaps,” that Mr. Gray and he had a violent upset, because he said Basil had spoken to him rudely, and he sent him to his room with instructions to stay there until he apologised.
“If not, ” he added, I shall have to flog you.” But Basil had gone off muttering – – – outside the door – – – “I’m hanged if I will! ” and two hours had gone by and the boy was still sitting in his room in a beastly temper.
Then there came a rush to his door, and Pearl darted in. Certainly, if bad temper was written on his face, there was anger on Pearl’s. She was in one of her “I’m-going-to-tell-you-the-truth-about-yourself” moods.
” What do you want?” Basil blurted out.
“You! Look here, young Basil, you’ve got to eat humble pie!”
“Shan’t, so there! ”
” Not in my line!” said her brother. ” You mind your own business, and don’t poke your nose into what doesn’t concern you, Miss Interference! I’m not going to say I’m sorry, for I’m not!”
” You are a coward!” she said, tauntingly.
” WHAT! he cried. ” Me, coward! I’m not afraid of anything!” And when he said it, it was pretty true. At school he had had a good many fights, and was always in trouble for doing the most daring things, so you can imagine how disgusted he was at being called a coward.
“Yes, ” she answered. “You are. You think you are playing a fine part, sulking up here and refusing to give in. And if you don’t say you are sorry, dad will have to flog you and you will take your flogging, and set your lips, and be too proud to make a sound, and you will think you are playing the game but all the same you will only go through with it because you are too much of a coward to go and own up you are sorry!”
“Not, ” he was going to say, but in his heart he knew he was. His dad was always good to him, and, but for his losing his temper, Basil would never have dreamed of speaking in the way he had. But he was a proud boy, and to own up was the most difficult thing in the world.
” There you are!” she taunted. ” You know you are sorry inside, but you are too big a coward to say so. Basil, I hate boys like you! And I’ve no doubt Dad is sitting holding his head in his hands worrying about you. And if he has to flog you then mamma will have to know, and she’ll have to worry. I say you are a beastly coward!”
He looked for a moment as if he would hit her, then the boy’s face softened. That image of his father worrying got home into his mind; and the thought that his mother in her room might have to worry too got home further.
“Perhaps you are right, Pearl,” he said at last, unwillingly. ” I’ll go down and see Dad.”
” Come in!” growled Mr. Gray.
He was sitting in his study worrying about the way things were going wrong. And I can tell you his eyes open with surprise, when there stepped into the study the chief thing that had gone wrong.
“Dad, I’ve come to say I’m sorry. I oughtn’t to have spoken to you like that.”
In a minute his father’s face cleared, and he held out his hand eagerly to his son. But when after two or three minutes’ talk, Basil was leaving the study, his father suddenly said: – – –
” Boy, did you come of your own accord?”
Basil hesitated slightly, and then he said, quite frankly: – – –
” No, Dad. Pearl came in and talked me round. She has a way of getting round a chap somehow.”
When he had gone if you had been there to listen, you might have heard his father mutter : – – –
” Thank God for that girl! But what an extraordinary kid she is!”
At that very time he was interviewing her mother and getting her to give her down a list of the things that that brother of hers would want to take away with him; and then with an old – fashioned air that said plainly, ” So that’s THAT! ” she disappeared to the kitchen to talk matters over with the maids.
However, as she entered the kitchen, she was surprised to see a charwoman, who had worked for them some time before, sitting there, crying hard.
” Why, whatever is the matter, Mrs. Jones?”
” Well, Dad is very busy in his study, very busy indeed. But if you would tell me what it is all about, I think I could go in and see what he could do.”
” It’s this way, Miss. I’m only a widow and I have four little ones a-depending on me. Whatever I wanted to go and get ill for, I don’t know! But I did: and so, natural like I gets behind with my rent. I owe six months, and now the landlord tells me he’s going to turn me out of my cottage. It’s Mr. Martin, miss, the carpenter and builder at Setham.”
” All right, Mrs. Jones,” said Pearl. ” You just go back, and I let you know if anything can be done.”
That afternoon she asked her Dad’s permission to go to Setham-on-Sea. When she arrived there she went straight to Martin’s workshop and asked for him, and, when at last she was shown to his office she saw a portly, red – faced, good-natured looking man, who said, kindly:—
” Well, young lady, what can I do for you?”
She looked him in the face and smiled.
” Oh, I’m sure there is some mistake. You won’t mind my saying you don’t look the kind of man that I expected to see. I’m going home to Mrs. Jones to tell her I don’t believe her. She came this morning to Dada ( he is the curate at Lockton) and she said you are turning her out of her cottage. But I am sure there must be some mistake; you don’t look a bit like a man who could do that.”
The burly builder look down at the child in front of him, and then he burst into a hearty laugh.
” And do you mean to say, young lady, that you came all the way from Lockton to see me about Mrs. Jones?”
“Well,” said Pearl, ” the poor thing came into the kitchen this morning and wanted to see Dad. But when she told me all about it – – – you see, I didn’t want Dad worried – – – so I thought I would take it in hand myself, and come and see you over it at once. But I’m sure there is some mistake. You looks like a nice kind sort of man. There is a mistake, isn’t ther ?”
And she waited with eager expectation in every line of her face for his answer.
(To be continued.)