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THEY AND I (chapter8)

2006-09-08 21:22

    CHAPTER VIII

    Robina's letter was dated Monday evening, and reached us Tuesday morning.

    "I hope you caught your train," she wrote. "Veronica did not get back till half-past six. She informed me that you and she had found a good deal to talk about, and that 'one thing had led to another.' She is a quaint young imp, but I think your lecture must have done her good. Her present attitude is that of gentle forbearance to all around her——not without its dignity. She has not snorted once, and at times is really helpful. I have given her an empty scribbling diary we found in your desk, and most of her spare time she remains shut up with it in the bedroom. She tells me you and she are writing a book together. I asked her what about. She waved me aside with the assurance that I would know 'all in good time,' and that it was going to do good. I caught sight of just the title-page last night. It was lying open on the dressing-table: 'Why the Man in the Moon looks sat upon.' It sounds like a title of yours. But I would not look further, though tempted. She has drawn a picture underneath. It is really not bad. The old gentleman really does look sat upon, and intensely disgusted.

    "'Sir Robert'——his name being Theodore, which doesn't seem to suit him——turns out to be the only son of a widow, a Mrs. Foy, our next- door neighbour to the south. We met her coming out of church on Sunday morning. She was still crying. Dick took Veronica on ahead, and I walked part of the way home with them. Her grandfather, it appears, was killed many years ago by the bursting of a boiler; and she is haunted, poor lady, by the conviction that Theodore is the inheritor of an hereditary tendency to getting himself blown up. She attaches no blame to us, seeing in Saturday's catastrophe only the hand of the Family Curse. I tried to comfort her with the idea that the Curse having spent itself upon a futile effort, nothing further need now be feared from it; but she persists in taking the gloomier view that in wrecking our kitchen, Theodore's 'Doom,' as she calls it, was merely indulging in a sort of dress rehearsal; the finishing performance may be relied upon to follow. It sounds ridiculous, but the poor woman was so desperately in earnest that when an unlucky urchin, coming out of a cottage we were passing, tripped on the doorstep and let fall a jug, we both screamed at the same time, and were equally surprised to find 'Sir Robert' still between us and all in one piece. thought it foolish to discuss all this before the child himself; but did not like to stop her. As a result, he regards himself evidently as the chosen foe of Heaven, and is not, unnaturally, proud of himself. She called here this (Monday) afternoon to leave cards; and, at her request, I showed her the kitchen and the mat over which he had stumbled. She seemed surprised that the 'Doom' had let slip so favourable a chance of accomplishing its business, and gathered from the fact added cause for anxiety. Evidently something much more thorough is in store for Master Theodore. It was only half a pound of gunpowder, she told me. Doctor Smallboy's gardener had bought it for the purpose of raising the stump of an old elm-tree, and had left it for a moment on the grass while he had returned to the house for more brown paper. She seemed pleased with the gardener, who, as she said, might, if dishonestly inclined, have charged her for a pound. I wanted to pay for——at all events——our share, but she would not take a penny. Her late lamented grandfather she regards as the person responsible for the entire incident, and perhaps it may be as well not to disturb her view. Had I suggested it, I feel sure she would have seen the justice of her providing us with a new kitchen range.

    "Wildly exaggerated accounts of the affair are flying round the neighbourhood; and my chief fear is that Veronica may discover she is a local celebrity. Your sudden disappearance is supposed to have been heavenward. An old farm labourer who saw you pass on your way to the station speaks of you as 'the ghost of the poor gentleman himself;' and fragments of clothing found anywhere within a radius of two miles are being preserved, I am told, as specimens of your remains. Boots would appear to have been your chief apparel. Seven pairs have already been collected from the surrounding ditches. Among the more public-spirited there is talk of using you to start a local museum."

    These first three paragraphs I did not read to Ethelbertha. Fortunately they just filled the first sheet, which I took an opportunity of slipping into my pocket unobserved.

    "The new boy arrived on Sunday morning," she continued. "His name—— if I have got it right——is William. Anyhow, that is the nearest I can get to it. His other name, if any, I must leave you to extract from him yourself. It may be Berkshire that he talks, but it sounds more like barking. Please excuse the pun; but I have just been talking to him for half an hour, trying to make him understand that I want him to go home, and maybe, as a result, I am feeling a little hysterical. Anything more rural I cannot imagine. But he is anxious to learn, and a fairly wide field is in front of him. I caught him after our breakfast on Sunday calmly throwing everything left over onto the dust-heap. I pointed out to him the wickedness of wasting nourishing food, and impressed upon him that the proper place for victuals was inside us. He never answers. He stands stock still, with his mouth as wide open as it will go——which is saying a good deal——and one trusts that one's words are entering into him. All Sunday afternoon he was struggling valiantly against an almost supernatural sleepiness. After tea he got worse, and I began to think he would be no use to me. We none of us ate much supper; and Dick, who appears able to understand him, helped him to carry the things out. I heard them talking, and then Dick came back and closed the door behind him. 'He wants to know,' said Dick, 'if he can leave the corned beef over till tomorrow. Because, if he eats it all to- night, he doesn't think he will be able to walk home.'

    "Veronica takes great interest in him. She has evidently a motherly side to her character, for which we none of us have given her credit. She says she is sure there is good in him. She sits beside him while he chops wood, and tells him carefully selected stories, calculated, she argues, to develop his intelligence. She is careful, moreover, not to hurt his feelings by any display of superiority. 'Of course, anyone leading a useful life, such as yours,' I overheard her saying to him this morning, 'don't naturally get much time for reading. I've nothing else to do, you see, 'cept to improve myself.'

    "The donkey arrived this afternoon while I was out——galloping, I am given to understand, with 'Opkins on his back. There seems to be some secret between those two. We have tried him with hay, and we have tried him with thistles; but he seems to prefer bread-and- butter. I have not been able as yet to find out whether he takes tea or coffee in the morning. But he is an animal that evidently knows his own mind, and fortunately both are in the house. We are putting him up for to-night with the cow, who greeted him at first with enthusiasm and wanted to adopt him, but has grown cold to him since on discovering that he is not a calf. I have been trying to make friends with her, but she is so very unresponsive. She doesn't seem to want anything but grass, and prefers to get that for herself. She doesn't seem to want to be happy ever again.

    "A funny thing happened in church. I was forgetting to tell you. The St. Leonards occupy two pews at the opposite end from the door. They were all there when we arrived, with the exception of the old gentleman himself. He came in just before the 'Dearly Beloved,' when everybody was standing up. A running fire of suppressed titters followed him up the aisle, and some of the people laughed outright. I could see no reason why. He looked a dignified old gentleman in his grey hair and tightly buttoned frock coat, which gives him a somewhat military appearance. But when he came level with our pew I understood. Hurrying back from his morning round, and with no one there to superintend him, the dear old absent-minded thing had forgotten to change his breeches. From a little above the knee upward he was a perfect Christian; but his legs were just those of a disreputable sinner.

    "'What's the joke?' he whispered to me as he passed——I was in the corner seat. 'Have I missed it?'

    "We called round on them after lunch, and at once I was appealed to for my decision.

    "'Now, here's a plain sensible girl,' exclaimed the old gentleman the moment I entered the room.' (You will notice I put no comma after 'plain.' I am taking it he did not intend one. You can employ one adjective to qualify another, can't you?) 'And I will put it to her, What difference can it make to the Almighty whether I go to church in trousers or in breeches?' "'I do not see,' retorted Mrs. St. Leonard somewhat coldly, 'that Miss Robina is in any better position than myself to speak with authority on the views of the Almighty'——which I felt was true. 'If it makes no difference to the Almighty, then why not, for my sake, trousers?'

    "'The essential thing,' he persisted, 'is a contrite heart.' He was getting very cross.

    "'It may just as well be dressed respectably,' was his wife's opinion. He left the room, slamming the door.

    "I do like Janie the more and more I see of her. I do hope she will let me get real chums with her. She does me so much good. (I read that bit twice over to Ethelbertha, pretending I had lost the place.) I suppose it is having rather a silly mother and an unpractical father that has made her so capable. If you and Little Mother had been proper sort of parents I might have been quite a decent sort of girl. But it's too late finding fault with you now. I suppose I must put up with you. She works so hard, and is so unselfish. But she is not like some good people, who make you feel it is hopeless your trying to be good. She gets cross and impatient; and then she laughs at herself, and gets right again that way. Poor Mrs. St. Leonard! I cannot help feeling sorry for her. She would have been so happy as the wife of a really respectable City man, who would have gone off every morning with a flower in his buttonhole and have worn a white waistcoat on Sundays. I don't believe what they say: that husbands and wives should be the opposite of one another. Mr. St. Leonard ought to have married a brainy woman, who would have discussed philosophy with him, and have been just as happy drinking beer out of a tea-cup: you know the sort I mean. If ever I marry it will be a short-tempered man who loves music and is a good dancer; and if I find out too late that he's clever I'll run away from him.

    "Dick has not yet come home——nearly eight o'clock. Veronica is supposed to be in bed, but I can hear things falling. Poor boy! I expect he'll be tired; but today is an exception. Three hundred sheep have had to be brought all the way from Ilsley, and must be 'herded'——I fancy it is called——before anybody can think of supper. I saw to it that he had a good dinner. "And now to come to business. Young Bute has been here all day, and has only just left. He is coming down again on Friday——which, by the way, don't forget is Mrs. St. Leonard's 'At Home' day. She hopes she may then have the pleasure of making your acquaintance, and thinks that possibly there may be present one or two people we may like to know. From which I gather that half the neighbourhood has been specially invited to meet you. So mind you bring a frock-coat; and if Little Mother can put her hand easily on my pink muslin with the spots——it is either in my wardrobe or else in the bottom drawer in Veronica's room, if it isn't in the cardboard box underneath mother's bed——you might slip it into your bag. But whatever you do don't crush it. The sash I feel sure mother put away somewhere herself. He sees no reason——I'm talking now about young Bute,——if you approve his plans, why work should not be commenced immediately. Shall I write old Slee to meet you at the house on Friday? From all accounts I don't think you'll do better. He is on the spot, and they say he is most reasonable. But you have to get estimates, don't you? He suggests——Mr. Bute, I mean——throwing what used to be the dairy into the passage, which will make a hall big enough for anything. We might even give a dance in it, he thinks. But all this you will be able to discuss with him on Friday. He has evidently taken a great deal of pains, and some of his suggestions sound sensible. But of course he must fully understand that it is what we want, not what he thinks, that is important. I told him you said I could have my room exactly as I liked it myself; and I have explained to him my ideas. He seemed at first to be under the impression that I didn't know what I was talking about, so I made it quite clear to him that I did, with the result that he has consented to carry out my instructions, on condition that I put them down in black and white——which I think just as well, as then there can be no excuse afterwards for argument. I like him better than I did the first time. About everything else he can be fairly amiable. It is when he talks about 'frontal elevations' and 'ground plans' that he irritates me. Tell Little Mother that I'll write her to-morrow. Couldn't she come down with you on Friday? Everything will be ship-shape by then; and——"

    The remainder was of a nature more private. She concluded with a postscript, which also I did not read to Ethelbertha.

    "Thought I had finished telling you everything, when quite a stylish rat-tat sounded on the door. I placed an old straw hat of Dick's in a prominent position, called loudly to an imaginary 'John' not to go without the letters, and then opened it. He turned out to be the local reporter. need not have been alarmed. He was much the more nervous of the two, and was so full of excuses that had I not come to his rescue I believe he would have gone away forgetting what he'd come for. Nothing save an overwhelming sense of duty to the Public (with a capital P) could have induced him to inflict himself upon me. Could I give him a few details which would enable him to set rumour right? I immediately saw visions of headlines: 'Domestic Tragedy!' 'Eminent Author blown up by his own Daughter!' 'Once Happy Home now a Mere Wreck!' It seemed to me our only plan was to enlist this amiable young man upon our side; I hope I did not overdo it. My idea was to convey the impression that one glance at him had convinced me he was the best and noblest of mankind; that I felt I could rely upon his wit and courage to save us from a notoriety that, so far as I was concerned, would sadden my whole life; and that if he did so eternal gratitude and admiration would be the least I could lay at his feet. I can be nice when I try. People have said so. We parted with only a pressure of the hand, and I hope he won't get into trouble, but I see The Berkshire Courier is going to be deprived of its prey. Dick has just come in. He promises to talk when he has finished eating."

    Dick's letter, for which Ethelbertha seemed to be strangely impatient, reached us on Wednesday morning.

    "If ever you want to find out, Dad, what hard work really means, you try farming," wrote Dick; "and yet I believe you would like it. Hasn't some old Johnny somewhere described it as the poetry of the ploughshare? Why did we ever take to bothering about anything else—— shutting ourselves up in stuffy offices, worrying ourselves to death about a lot of rubbish that isn't any good to anybody? I wish I could put it properly, Dad; you would see just what I mean. Why don't we live in simply-built houses and get most everything we want out of the land: which we easily could? You take a dozen poor devils away from walking behind the plough and put them down into coal-mines, and set them running about half-naked among a lot of roaring furnaces, and between them they turn out a machine that does the ploughing for them. What is the sense of it? Of course some things are useful. I would like a motor-car, and railways and steamboats are all right; but it seems to me that half the fiddle- faddles we fancy we want we'd be just as well, if not better, without, and there would be all that time and energy to spare for the sort of things that everybody ought to have. It's everywhere just like it was at school. They kept us so hard at it, studying Greek roots, we hadn't time to learn English grammar. Look at young Dennis Yewbury. He's got two thousand acres up in Scotland. He could lead a jolly life turning the place into some real use. Instead of which he lets it all run to waste for nothing but to breed a few hundred birds that wouldn't keep a single family alive; while he works from morning till night at humbugging people in a beastly hole in the City, just to fill his house with a host of silly gim-cracks and dress up himself and his women-folk like peacocks. Of course we would always want clever chaps like you to tell us stories; and doctors we couldn't do without, though I guess if we were leading sensible lives we'd be able to get along with about half of them. It seems to me that what we want is a comfortable home, enough to eat and drink, and a few fal-lal sort of things to make the girls look pretty; and that all the rest is rot. We would all of us have time then to think and play a bit, and if we were all working fairly at something really useful and were contented with our own share, there'd be enough for everybody.

    "I suppose this is all nonsense, but I wish it wasn't. Anyway, it's what I mean to do myself; and I'm awfully much obliged to you, Dad, for giving me this chance. You've hit the right nail on the head this time. Farming was what I was meant for; I feel it. I would have hated being a barrister, setting people by the ears and making my living out of other people's troubles. Being a farmer you feel that in doing good to yourself you are doing good all round. Miss Janie agrees with all I say. I think she is one of the most sensible girls I have ever come across, and Robin likes her awfully. So is the old man: he's a brick. I think he has taken a liking to me, and I know I have to him. He's the dearest old fellow imaginable. The very turnips he seems to think of as though they were so many rows of little children. And he makes you see the inside of things. Take fields now, for instance. I used to think a field was just a field. You scraped it about and planted it with seeds, and everything else depended on the weather. Why, Dad, it's alive! There are good fields that want to get on——that are grateful for everything you do for them, and take a pride in themselves. And there are brutes of fields that you feel you want to kick. You can waste a hundred pounds' worth of manure on them, and it only makes them more stupid than they were before. One of our fields——a wizened-looking eleven- acre strip bordering the Fyfield road——he has christened Mrs. Gummidge: it seems to feel everything more than any other field. From whatever point of the compass the wind blows that field gets the most harm from it. You would think to look at it after a storm that there hadn't been any rain in any other field——that that 'particular field must have got it all; while two days' sunshine has the effect upon it that a six weeks' drought would on any other field. His theory (he must have a theory to account for everything; it comforts him. He has just hit upon a theory that explains why twins are born with twice as much original sin as other children, and doesn't seem to mind now what they do) is that each odd corner of the earth has gained a character of its own from the spirits of the countless dead men buried in its bosom. 'Robbers and thieves,' he will say, kicking the sod of some field all stones and thistles; 'silly fighting men who thought God built the world merely to give them the fun of knocking it about. Look at them, the fools! stones and thistles—— thistles and stones: that is their notion of a field.' Or, leaning over the gate of some field of rich-smelling soil, he will stretch out his arms as though to caress it: 'Brave lads!' he will say; 'kindly honest fellows who loved the poor peasant folk.' I fancy he has not got much sense of humour; or if he has, it is a humour he leaves you to find out for yourself. One does not feel one wants to laugh, listening even to his most whimsical ideas; and anyhow it is a fact that of two fields quite close to one another, one will be worth ten pounds an acre and the other dear at half a crown, and there seems to be nothing to explain it. We have a seven-acre patch just halfway up the hill. He says he never passes it without taking off his hat to it. Whatever you put in it does well; while other fields, try them with what you will, it is always the very thing they did not want. You might fancy them fractious children, always crying for the other child's bun. There is really no reason for its being such a good field, except its own pluck. It faces the east, and the wood for half the day hides it from the sun; but it makes the best of everything, and even on the greyest day it seems to be smiling at you. 'Some happy-hearted Mother Thing——a singer of love songs the while she toiled,' he will have it, must lie sleeping there. By-the- bye, what a jolly field Janie would make! Don't you think so, Dad?

    "What the dickens, Dad, have you done to Veronica? She wanders about everywhere with an exercise book in her hand, and when you say anything to her, instead of answering you back, she sits plump down wherever she is and writes for all she's worth. She won't say what she's up to. She says it's a private matter between you and her, and that later on things are going to be seen in their true light. I told her this morning what I thought of her for forgetting to feed the donkey. I was prepared, of course, for a hundred explanations: First, that she had meant to feed the donkey; secondly, that it wasn't her place to feed the donkey; thirdly, that the donkey would have been fed if circumstances over which she had no control had not arisen rendering it impossible for her to feed the donkey; fourthly, that the morning wasn't the proper time to feed the donkey, and so on. Instead of which, out she whips this ridiculous book and asks me if I would mind saying it over again.

    "I keep forgetting to ask Janie what it is he has been accustomed to. We have tried him with thistles, and we've tried him with hay. The thistles he scratches himself against; but for the hay he appears to have no use whatever. Robin thinks his idea is to save us trouble. We are not to get in anything especially for him——whatever we may happen to be having ourselves he will put up with. Bread-and-butter cut thick, or a slice of cake with an apple seems to be his notion of a light lunch; and for drink he fancies tea out of a slop-basin, with two knobs of sugar and plenty of milk. Robin says it's waste of time taking his meals out to him. She says she is going to train him to come in when he hears the gong. We use the alarm clock at present for a gong. I don't know what I shall do when the cow goes away. She wakes me every morning punctually at half-past four, but I'm in a blue funk that one of these days she will oversleep herself. It is one of those clocks you read about. You wrote something rather funny about one once yourself, but I always thought you had invented it. bought it because they said it was an extra loud one, and so it is. The thing that's wrong about it is that, do what you will, you can't get it to go off before six o'clock in the morning. I set it on Sunday evening for half-past four——we farmers do have to work, I can tell you. But it's worth it. I had no idea that the world was so beautiful. There is a light you never see at any other time, and the whole air seems to be full of fluttering song. You feel——but you must get up and come out with me, Dad. I can't describe it. If it hadn't been for the good old cow, Lord knows what time I'd have been up. The clock went off at half-past four in the afternoon, just as they were sitting down to tea, and frightened them all out of their skins. We have fiddled about with it all we know, but there's no getting it to do anything between six p.m. and six am. Anything you want of it in the daytime it is quite agreeable to. But it seems to have fixed its own working hours, and isn't going to be bustled out of its proper rest. I got so mad with it myself I wanted to pitch it out of the window, but Robin thought we ought to keep it till you came, that perhaps you might be able to do something with it——writing something about it, she means. I said I thought alarm clocks were pretty well played out by this time; but, as she says, there is always a new generation coming along to whom almost everything must be fresh. Anyhow, the confounded thing cost seven and six, and seems to be no good for anything else.

    "Whatever was it that you really did say to Robin about her room? Young Bute came round to me on Monday quite upset about it. He says it is going to be all windows, and will look, when finished, like an incorrect copy of the Eddystone lighthouse. He says there will be no place for the bed, and if there is to be a fireplace at all it will have to be in the cupboard, and that the only way, so far as he can see, of her getting in and out of it will be by a door through the bathroom. She said that you said she could have it entirely to her own idea, and that he was just to carry out her instructions; but, as he points out, you can't have a room in a house as if the rest of the house wasn't there, even if it is your own room. Nobody, it seems, will be able to have a bath without first talking it over with her, and arranging a time mutually convenient. I told him I was sure you never meant him to do anything absurd; and that his best plan would be to go straight back to her, explain to her that she'd been talking like a silly goat——he could have put it politely, of course——and that he wasn't going to pay any attention to her. You might have thought I had suggested his walking into a den of lions and pulling all their tails. I don't know what Robin has done to him, but he seems quite frightened of her. I had to promise that I would talk to her. He'd better have done it himself. I only told her just what he said, and off she went in one of her tantrums. You know her style: If she liked to live in a room where she could see to do her hair that was no business of his, and if he couldn't design a plain, simple bedroom that wasn't going to look ridiculous and make her the laughing-stock of all the neighbourhood, then the Royal Institute of British Architects must have strange notions of the sort of person entitled to go about the country building houses; that if he thought the proper place for a fire was in a cupboard, she didn't; that his duty was to carry out the instructions of his employers, and if he imagined for a moment she was going to consent to remain shut up in her room till everybody in the house had finished bathing it would be better for us to secure the services of somebody possessed of a little commonsense; that next time she met him she would certainly tell him what she thought of him, also that she should certainly decline to hold any further communication with him again; that she doesn't want a bedroom now of any sort——perhaps she may be permitted a shakedown in the pantry, or perhaps Veronica will allow her an occasional night's rest with her, and if not it doesn't matter. You'll have to talk to her yourself. I'm not going to say any more.

    "Don't forget that Friday is the St. Leonards' 'At Home' day. I've promised Janie that you shall be there in all your best clothes. (Don't tell her I'm calling her Janie. It might offend her. But nobody calls her Miss St. Leonard.) Everybody is coming, and all the children are having their hair washed. You will have it all your own way down here. There's no other celebrity till you get to Boss Croker, the Tammany man, the other side of Ilsley Downs. Artists they don't count. The rumour was all round the place last week that you were here incognito in the person of a dismal-looking Johnny, staying at the 'Fisherman's Retreat,' who used to sit all day in a punt up the backwater drinking whisky. It made me rather mad when I saw him. I suppose it was the whisky that suggested the idea to them. They have got the notion in these parts that a literary man is a sort of inspired tramp. A Mrs. Jaggerswade——or some such name—— whom I met here on Sunday and who is coming on Friday, took me aside and asked me 'what sort of things' you said when you talked? She said she felt sure it would be so clever, and, herself, she was looking forward to it; but would I——'quite between ourselves'——advise her to bring the children.

    "I say, you will have to talk seriously to Veronica. Country life seems to agree with her. She's taken to poaching already——she and the twins. It was the one sin that hitherto they had never committed, and I fancy the old man was feeling proud of this. Luckily I caught them coming home-with ten dead rabbits strung on a pole, the twins carrying it between them on their shoulders, suggesting the picture of the spies returning from the promised land with that bunch of grapes——Veronica scouting on ahead with, every ten yards, her ear to the ground, listening for hostile footsteps. The thing that troubled her most was that she hadn't heard me coming; she seemed to fear that something had gone wrong with the laws of Nature. They had found the whole collection hanging from a tree, and had persuaded themselves that Providence must have been expecting them. I insisted on their going back with me and showing me the tree, much to their disgust. And fortunately the keeper wasn't about——they are men that love making a row. I talked some fine moral sentiment to her. But she says you have told her that it doesn't matter whether you are good or bad, things happen to you just the same; and this being so she feels she may as well enjoy herself. I asked her why she never seemed able to enjoy herself being good——I believe if I'd always had a kid to bring up I'd have been a model chap myself by this time. Her answer was that she supposed she was born bad. I pointed out to her that was a reflection on you and Little Mother; and she answered she guessed she must be a 'throw-back.' Old Slee's got a dog that ought to have been a fox-terrier, but isn't, and he seems to have been explaining things to her.

    "A thing that will trouble you down here, Dad, is the cruelty of the country. They catch these poor little wretches in traps, leaving them sometimes for days suffering what must be to them nothing short of agony——to say nothing of the terror and the hunger. I tried putting my finger in one of the beastly things and keeping it there for just two minutes by my watch. It seemed like twenty. The pain grows more intense with every second, and I'm not a soft, as you know. I've lain half an hour with a broken leg, and that wasn't as bad. One hears the little creatures screaming, but cannot find them. Of course when one draws near they keep silent. It makes one quite dislike country people. They are so callous. When you speak to them about it they only grin. Janie goes nearly mad about it. Mr. St. Leonard tried to get the clergyman to say something on the subject, but he answered that he thought it better 'for the Church to confine herself to the accomplishment of her own great mission.' Ass!

    "Bring Little Mother down; we want to show her off on Friday. And make her put on something pretty. Ask her if she's got that lilac thing with lace she wore at Cambridge for the May Week the year before last. Tell her not to be silly; it wasn't a bit too young. Nash said she looked like something out of an old picture, and he's going to be an artist. Don't let her dress herself. She doesn't understand it. And will you get me a gun-"

    The remainder of the letter was taken up with instructions concerning the gun. It seemed a complicated sort of gun. I wished I hadn't read about the gun to Ethelbertha. It made her nervous for the rest of the day.

    Veronica's letter followed on Thursday morning. I read it going down in the train. In transcribing I have thought it better, as regards the spelling, to adopt the more conventional forms.

    "You will be pleased to hear," Veronica wrote, "that we are all quite well. Robin works very hard. But I think it does her good. And of course I help her. All I can. I am glad she has got a boy. To do the washing-up. I think that was too much for her. It used to make her cross. One cannot blame her. It is trying work. And it makes you mucky. He is a good boy. But has been neglected. So doesn't know much. I am teaching him grammar. He says 'you was' and 'her be.' But is getting better. He says he went to school. But they couldn't have taken any trouble with him. Could they? The system, I suppose, was rotten. Robina says I mustn't overdo it. Because you want him to talk Berkshire. So I propose confining our attention to the elementary rules. He had never heard of Robinson Crusoe. What a life! We went to church on Sunday. I could not find my gloves. And Robina was waxy. But Mr. St. Leonard came without his trousers. Which was worse. We found them in the evening. The little boy that blew up our stove was there with his mother. But I didn't speak to her. He's got a doom. That's what made him blow it up. He couldn't help it. So you see it wasn't my fault. After all. His grandfather was blown up. And he's going to be blown up again. Later on. But he is very brave. And is going to make a will. I like all the St. Leonards very much. We went there to tea on Sunday. And Mr. St. Leonard said I was bright. I think Miss Janie very beautiful. And so does Dick. She makes me think of angels. So she does Dick. And he says she is so kind to her little brothers and sisters. It is a good sign. I think she ought to marry Dick. It would steady him. He works very hard. But I think it does him good. We have breakfast at seven. And I lay the table. It is very beautiful in the morning. When you are once up. Mrs. St. Leonard has twins. They are a great anxiety to her. But she would not part from them. She has had much trouble. And is sometimes very sad. I like the girl best. Her name is Winnie. She is more like a boy. His name is Wilfrid. But sometimes they change clothes. Then you're done. They are only nearly seven. But they know a lot. They are going to teach me swimming. Is it not kind of them? The two older boys are at home for their holidays. But they give themselves a lot of airs. And they called me a flapper. I told him he'd be sorry. When he was a man. Because perhaps I'd grow up beautiful. And then he'd fall in love with me. But he said he wouldn't. So I let him see what I thought of him. The little girl is very nice. She is about my own age. Her name is Sally. We are going to write a play. But we sha'n't let Bertie act in it. Unless he turns over a new leaf. I'm going to be a princess that doesn't know it. But only feels it. And she's going to be a wicked witch. What wants me to marry her son. What's a sight. But I won't, because I'd rather die first. And am in love with a swineherd. That is a genius. Only nobody suspects it. I wear a crown in the last act. And everybody rejoices. Except her. I think it will be good. We have nearly finished the first act. She writes very well. And has a sense of atmosphere. And I tell her what to say. Miss Janie is going to make me a dress with a train. And gold spangles. And Robina is going to lend me her blue necklace. Anything will do of course for the old witch. So it won't be much trouble to anyone. Mr. Bute is going to paint us some scenery. And we are going to invite everybody. He is very nice. Robina says he thinks too much of himself. By a long chalk. But she is very critical where men are concerned. She admits it. She says she can't help it. I find him very affable. And so does Dick. We think Robina will get over it. And he has promised not to be angry with her. Because I have told him that she does not mean it. It is only her way. She says she feels it is unjust of her. Because really he is rather charming. I told him that. And he said I was a dear little girl. He is going to get me a real crown. Robina says he has nice eyes. I told him that. And he laughed. There is a gentleman comes here that I think is in love with Robina. But I shouldn't say anything to her about it. If I was you. She is very snappy about it. He is not handsome. But he looks good. He writes for the papers. But I don't think he is rich. And Robina is very nice to him. Until he's gone. Then she gets mad. It all began with the explosion. So perhaps it was fate. He is going to keep it out of the papers. As much as he can. But of course he owes a duty to the public. I am going to decline to see him. I think it better. Mr. Slee says everything will be in apple-pie order to-morrow. So you can come down. And we are going to have Irish stew. And roly- poly pudding. It will be a change. He is very nice. And says he was always in trouble himself when he was a little boy. It's all experience. We are all going on Friday to a party at Mr. St. Leonard's. And you have got to come too. Robina says I can wear my new frock. But we can't find the sash. It is very strange. Because I remember having seen it. You didn't take it for anything, did you? We shall have to get a new one, I suppose. It is very annoying. My new shoes have also not worn well. And they ought to have. Because Robina says they were expensive. The donkey has come. And he is sweet. He eats out of my hand. And lets me kiss him. But he won't go. He goes a little when you shout at him. Very loud. Me and Robina went for a drive yesterday after tea. And Dick ran beside. And shouted. But he got hoarse. And then he wouldn't go no more. And Robina did not like it. Because Dick shouted swear words. He says they come naturally to you when you shout. And Robina said it was horrible. And that people would hear him. So we got out. And pushed him home. But he is very strong. And we were all very tired. And Robina says she hates him. Dick is going to give Mr. 'Opkins half a crown. To tell him how he makes him go. Because Mr. 'Opkins makes him gallop. Robina says it must be hypnotism. But Dick thinks it might be something simpler. I think Mr. 'Opkins very nice. He says you promised to lend him a book. What would help him to talk like a real country boy. So I have lent him a book about a window. By Mr. Bane. What came to see us last year. It has a lot of funny words in it. And he is going to learn them up. But he don't know what they mean. No more do I. I have written a lot of the book. It promises to be very interesting. It is all a dream. He is just the ordinary grown-up father. Neither better nor worse. And he goes up and up. It is a pleasant sensation. Till he reaches the moon. And there everything is different. It is the children that know everything. And are always right. And the grown-ups have to do all what they tell them. They are kind but firm. It is very good for him. And when he wakes up he is a better man. I put down everything that occurs to me. Like you suggested. There is quite a lot of it. And it makes you see how unjustly children are treated. They said I was to feed the donkey. Because it was my donkey. And I fed him. And there wasn't enough supper for Dick. And Dick said I was an idiot. And Robina said I wasn't to feed him. And in the morning there wasn't anything to feed him on. Because he won't eat anything but bread-and-butter. And the baker hadn't come. And he wasn't there. Because the man that comes to milk the cow had left the door open. And I was distracted. And Dick asked had I fed him. And of course I hadn't fed him. And lord how Dick talked. Never waited to hear anything, mind you. I let him talk. But it just shows you. We are all very happy. But shall be pleased to see you. Once again. The peppermint creams down here are not good. And are very dear. Compared with London prices. Isn't this a good letter? You said I was to always write just as I thought. So I'm doing it. I think that's all."

    I read selections from this letter aloud to Ethelbertha. She said she was glad she had decided to come down with me.

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