Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

"Thank you." I did say it, though, and then I ran up-stairs in such a state of joyful excitement that I did not know what to do. Next time I saw Toby I threw my arm round his neck and kissed and thanked him again and again. For, of course, it was all his doing! "Mr Toby, £2." How well it did look in the subscription list! The next thing would be to get the silk dress, and how was that to be managed? I thought it over for a long time, and finally decided that the best plan would be so far to take Jane, the nursery-maid, into my confidence, as to tell her that I wanted a silk dress for a present, and that as it was a secret, I wished her to buy it for me without saying a word to any one.

This I did the very next morning, and Jane, being a good-natured girl, readily undertook to execute my commission. I believe she thought it was a present for nurse, as, on being asked what kind of a dress I should like, I replied, "One that would do for nurse to wear, and that she would care to be seen in." That evening saw me in possession of the dress, or rather of the silk that was to make it, eighteen yards of what I considered truly magnificent blue silk! not a very bright nor a very dark blue, but what Jane characterised as a nice rich colour, that'll wear well, miss."

[ocr errors]

I hid the parcel under my bed directly it arrived, and when nurse had left me for the night I lighted the candle again to have one more gaze at it, and to see how it would what Jane called "light up." It looked even better, I thought, than in the day; and I felt that Miss Barnes must be a very particular lady indeed if she were not pleased with my present. But now came a trial of patience. It was only Monday then, and there

was not a chance of my being able to get out by myself until Saturday afternoon, when Miss Hughes was to go and see some friends, and I should be left to the company of nurse and the little ones.

It would be difficult enough to get away from them, but still I thought it could be managed. I wonder I did not see how very naughty I was going to be; but I was so full of the idea of making restitution to Miss Barnes, that I do not think the idea even entered my head. my head. The week passed very slowly, and at every spare moment

[ocr errors]

indeed, I am afraid, at a good many moments that were not spare -I was thinking of the blue dress so carefully hidden away up-stairs, and composing speeches which were to be made to Miss Barnes on the occasion of its presentation. Her address I knew—at least, I thought I did. for I had looked it out in the red-book; so there would be nothing to do but to get into a cab and drive there, if only I could get out of the house without being stopped. But matters went very badly with me that week. One cannot really think properly of two things at once; and the blue silk dress got mixed up with all my lessons, to the very great detriment of the latter.

I think I had never been so idle and inattentive before, and I got bad marks every day,-first for taking my work to Miss Hughes and the masters only half prepared, and then for being very cross and sometimes impertinent when I was found fault with. It all came to a crisis on Saturday morning, which was always the time for arithmetic. Now, arithmetic I never liked or did well-chiefly, I think, because it is a thing to which one must give one's whole undivided attention; thoughts at the best of times were

and my

[graphic]

or

Of course,

terribly apt to wander to all kinds of irrelevant matters. this particular Saturday was not one of the best of times; indeed I was so much excited, and so full of the thoughts of what was to happen in the afternoon, that I really was incapable of attending, and again and again said "Yes," "I see," to Miss Hughes's long and patient explanations, without having taken in one word of what she said. The result was naturally a series of hopeless blunders; and when, for about the sixth time, I had given it as my opinion that it would take fourteen men just twice as long to reap a field of barley as seven, Miss Hughes became very justly angry, and said the sum must be worked again in the afternoon-in play-time. My alarm was instantly aroused.

"But it's a half-holiday!" I said breathlessly.

"I can't help it, Ethel. If you will not take pains at the proper time, you must make up for it afterwards."

"But I am taking pains-but it's a shame-but I can't do it this afternoon- -" I cried; and then came a burst of very angry tears, before the end of which I had called Miss Hughes "very unjust," and been sentenced to lose my half-holiday altogether-that is, to work as usual on a wet day, which that Saturday happened to be, from two to four; to practise, write my German translation, learn my French fable, and, above all, finish working the sums.

"I trust to your honour, Ethel," said Miss Hughes, as she set out to pay her visits after luncheon, "I trust to your honour not to go and play with the little ones until four o'clock. If you have not done the sums by then, leave them alone; but you can do them if you try, and I know you will try."

She left me miserable. There could be no doubt now as to the naughtiness of going out; and how could I do it when she trusted to my honour? I could have done it without a pang if I had still felt angry and passionate like I did in the morning; but that had all passed off, and I knew perfectly well that I thoroughly deserved my punishment. What was I to do? If I stayed in till four, it would be far too late to go to Mrs Barnes's; besides, nurse would expect me in the nursery then, and when would there be another opportunity of going for it was by no means on every Saturday that Miss Hughes went to see her friends. Oh, I must go! there was no doubt about it. And she had only trusted to my honour not to go and play with the little ones till four o'clock. She had said nothing about not going out! A very poor excuse, and I knew it; but it was better than none. Accordingly, I softly opened the schoolroom door, stole up to my bedroom, put on my hat and jacket, got my purse, took the precious parcel under my arm, and in another moment was safely out of the hall-door, and walking as fast as I could in the direction of the nearest cab-stand. My heart was beating very fast, and I had that dreadful feeling of naughtiness, past and present, and coming apology and punishment, worse than ever before in my life at least, I think so. It was in a very weak, timid voice that I hailed a hansom, and gave the man the number of Mrs Barnes's house in Russell Square. It seemed a very long drive-indeed Russell Square is a good way from Grosvenor Street, and the hansom was a very slow one. I had a nervous feeling that we might meet Miss Hughes at any moment, or perhaps my

[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Father, and I felt too as if every one I saw must be thinking what a very strange thing it was that such a little girl should be allowed to drive about alone; and I really don't think I should have been surprised if a policeman had pulled up the horse and inquired where I was going to. Besides all these fears, there was a new and formidable one which pictured Mrs Barnes a stern unrelenting lady, who would be far too angry to accept my peace-offering, but rejoice in the opportunity of giving me the lecture which Arthur had prevented my receiving on the day of our escapade. I think I had even got as far as certain menacing gestures, with a stick, on the part of Mrs Barnes, and grim remarks to the effect that I was now in her power, when the cab drew up with a jolt, and in another moment I had pulled the bell of a large, dingy, uninhabited - looking house, and was standing shivering and shaking on the door-step, with my brownpaper parcel under my arm.

An untidy-looking housemaid opened the door, and she had to ask me once or twice what I wanted before I could get out my question

"Is Mrs Barnes at home?" "She's gone into the country— won't be back till June," was the reply; and my head positively swam with-was it relief or disappointment? I am not quite sure which. However, I had come there with an object, and that object must be fulfilled-at least, in so far as it depended on myself.

"Miss Barnes-is Miss Barnes here?" I asked, with just a little bit more assurance.

"There ain't no Miss Barnes," said the girl. "Missus lives by

herself."

That was a thunderbolt indeed. No Miss Barnes! Then I must

have come to the wrong people; and all at once it flashed across me what I had done. In my hasty glance at the red-book-hasty from my dread that Miss Hughes would see me, and in some miraculous manner guess what I was looking for-I had taken it for granted that the first Mrs Barnes whose name appeared was the right one, quite forgetting what a very common name it was, and how small the chance that I should at once pitch upon the proper address. Oh, how very silly I had been! However, the mistake might still be made good.

"I-I have come to the wrong house," I said, speaking rather low and fast. "Would you be so very kind as to let me look at a redbook?"

The girl brought me one, and eagerly I scanned the page and a half occupied by the name of Barnes. Luckily, this time I found what I wanted beyond the shadow of a doubt. There was only one other "Mrs Barnes" besides the one in whose house I now was, and after her name came the words "and Miss Barnes." They lived at Notting Hill. Well, I must go there at once. I gave the redbook back to the housemaid, and started off, walking as fast as I could. I did not know where Notting Hill was, beyond the fact that it was not on the same side of Grosvenor Street as Russell Square, and I was sure that it was a very long way off, and that the two shillings remaining in my purse would not be enough to pay for a cab the whole distance. So I thought I would walk as far as I could, and then drive the rest of the way. I was beginning to forget about Miss Hughes, and my lessons, and the schoolroom, all of which seemed quite a long way behind me, and I was absorbed in

the endeavour to accomplish my journey in the speediest manner possible. Speedy it was not indeed, and I think it is a great wonder that I did not get lost altogether. Again and again I took the wrong turning, and had to retrace my steps, from a kind of instinct that it was wrong; so that when I had been walking for a good bit more than half an hour, and was very nearly tired out, I was far from having made the progress that I ought to have made in that time. Then I determined to take a cab, and, as bad luck would have it, it was about ten minutes more before I met one, so that it was already very nearly four o'clock when I really started for Notting Hill. Another long, slow, tedious drive, and fresh fears and fancies about Mrs Barnes ! I began to wish I had never left the schoolroom, and to feel that even arithmetic was preferable to what I was now going through.

It must have been about ten minutes to five when I reached my destination, for it was halfpast four when we passed the clock by the Marble Arch, and I am sure we drove on for quite twenty minutes after that. The cabman took my two shillings, but with many grumbles, and my desire to get out of his way made me pull the bell without any hesitation, and gladly get the other side of the door, which was opened by a very smart maid indeed. It suddenly struck me as very strange that such poor people as

the

Barnes's must be should be able to keep such a smart servant; indeed I had sometimes even got so far as to imagine them without a servant at all. But there was no time for reflection on this head

[blocks in formation]

With beating heart I followed her, hugging my parcel very tight, as if it were a protection against the terrors that awaited me.

The house was a very small one, as were all the others in the street, but it seemed to be very well furnished. There was a soft carpet on the stairs, and a multitude of pictures and brackets on the walls. More than this I had not time to take in before I heard a loud hum of voices, the drawing-room door was thrown open, the maid announced "Miss Charteris!" and I found myself in a room full of people, half-dazed by the unexpectedness of the situation, my cheeks burning hot, my eyes fixed on the ground, and the gaze of every one, as I thought, turned curiously towards me. I neither dared advance nor retreat, and I could not find a word to say. It was a dreadful moment. Then some one came forward and said, "I fancy there must be some mis. take. Are you sure this is the right house, little girl?" I muttered "Yes," and the same voice said, "Then do you want to speak to me?" and I felt desperately that the moment had come: there was no escape, and speak I must. "I-I've brought-I've brought you a silk dress

[ocr errors]

There was a pause, a dead silence, and in spite of the terrors of my position, I felt a slight glim

mer of satisfaction in the conviction that I was-yes, I really was— producing a dramatic effect. The Queen could not have looked more surprised when I arrested the hand of her would-be murderer, the mob was not more astonished when King Richard proposed to be their leader, than was Mrs Barnes-if the very stout, very smart, very well-to-do lady whose person I was just beginning to raise my eyes high enough to see could by any

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

possibility be Mrs Barnes-when drunk it! She would not let me

I announced that I was bringing her a silk dress.

"A silk dress!" she exclaimed. "But I don't think I have not ordered

[ocr errors]

"No," I interrupted her, and went on in desperation, with a little gasp between each word "I know. But it's the one that was spoilt by the jackdaws-by their eggs-I mean it is instead of that one. We threw them out of the window, and they did it Arthur and me, you know. So I thought you ought to have another, and here it is. It's for Miss Barnes."

That was all; and again I saw nothing but my boots and the carpet. But now somebody else came for ward, and I heard a kind, a very kind voice say, "Mother, I believe I understand. Let me take her away, and I can explain to you afterwards-when our visitors are gone" (this in a lower tone). Then talking began again all over the room, and an arm was put round my shoulder, and I was led very gently out of the door and up-stairs to a bedroom, where there was a bright fire burning, for it was a cold spring day, with bitter east wind. Arrived there, I ventured to look up, and saw a tall young lady with a kind, merry face, smil ing down upon me.

"You are very tired, dear," she said; "so I am going to make you sit down here by the fire while I fetch you some tea. It is your tea time, I'm sure? And when you've had it we will talk, and you shall tell me all about it."

She put me in the arm-chair, with my feet on the fender, and went off quickly for the tea, with which she soon came back. Such a comfort that tea was, and so much better did I feel when I had

I

speak until I had; and then, as eating anything appeared to be out of the question, she took me on her knee like a great baby, and made me tell her the whole story. did not find it so very difficult to tell, after all, because she seemed to understand things even before I said them; but when I had finished, she looked so very grave that I was half afraid the lecture was coming after all, and asked her in some trepidation whether she was angry.

"No, indeed, my child," she said; "and presently you must show me the beautiful silk dress: but what I am thinking is, how very anxious they will be about you at home. You see you left at about two, and it is now long past five. They probably missed you quite two hours ago. We must get you back as soon as possible, Ethel. But I will telegraph first, and then you can rest a little longer, for I think you are nearly worn out."

She left me again for a few minutes, and, when she came back, said that her mother would like to see me in the drawing-room. "And you need not look so alarmed, Ethel: the visitors have all gone, and there is no big stick awaiting you either!

Certainly Mrs Barnes was the very last person in the world to be frightened of really, she was so very fat, and smiling, and placid, and good-natured.

"Dear, dear," she said. "Why, what a very extraordinary little girl you must be! Come and sit down here, my dear, and talk to

me.

So you have actually been saving up your pocket-money for weeks to buy my daughter a silk dress! I remember that day we drove through Grosvenor Street very well indeed, and very angry

« PreviousContinue »