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"My eye, Harry! there's ṢICH a leetle new fellow come. you come here, and squinny through the crack of the door, you'll jest be able to see him."
I pricked up my ears at once. Evidently there were others interested in my entrance into school-life besides the two ladies seated at the far end of the room, who were so vigorously plying my ex-nurse Susan with all manner of questions as to my welfare, past, present, and future.
Evidently, too, as well from the hushed tone of voice as from his suggested mode of beholding the new-comer, the speaker was desirous of concealing the presence of himself and his companion from the knowledge of those within.
Having grown tired of my attempt to follow the conversation going on across yonder, little of which I either understood or cared for, I had retired into the background, with a view of discovering something with which to amuse myself during the uninteresting proceedings.
As I looked round, I caught sight of the piano, which at once became an object of irresistible attraction.
But the scamper of feet along the hall, and the sudden
cessation of the sound just outside the door, diverted my attention into another channel in time to overhear the remark on my personal appearance, and the stifled giggling which followed it.
Oh dear! how my heart sank! And yet not so much from the words as from the crushing emphasis with which the monosyllable "sich" was uttered. For in his desire to be justly impressive, the speaker expressed his ideas in a series. of mispronunciations.
The tone of his voice, and the prolonged pauses on certain words, gave me such a gloomy and despairing idea of my appearance that I almost began to cry.
I was not more than six or seven years old, when, owing to domestic troubles, my father arranged to send me to a neighbouring boarding-school. My mother was dead, and my faithful old nurse- -at least she seemed old to me in those days-was going to be married.
My little bit of life so far had been very peaceful, though somewhat uneventful; no brothers, no sisters, no companions, except my dear old Susan in the day-time, and my father for a short happy hour in the evenings. How I loved those pleasant times when I sat by his side in my high chair at the tea-table, and confided to him all my joys and sorrows of the day-time !
With a relish undiminished by a previous consumption in the nursery, I plodded away at my bread and butter and jam, or drank my milk, and thought myself a little man because it was faintly coloured with tea, and flavoured with a lump of sugar, just like Father's. And even if the quantity of tea was much less in mine than in his, it was made all fair and square; for had I not much the largest piece of sugar?
Sometimes I overheard Father and Susan talking earnestly together about her going away; and every now and then came the words "Aunt Mary," and "Mother," and "Never!"
But I was too young to understand what they said; only once the look on Father's face, when they were so engrossed as to forget my presence, startled me so much that I burst into a storm of sobs, for which I could give no reason except that I was frightened, and felt lonely and neglected when they took no notice of me. Father's face changed at once, and catching me up in his arms, he said hurriedly to Susan,—
"The little fellow begins to take in more than we imagine ; we must not forget ourselves again."
After that, they never spoke of "Aunt Mary," before me.
When the day came for me to leave home, and my boxes were packed, and all ready to put on the cab, it was only the parting with Father that seemed so dreadfully hard and miserable.
For it was nice to think that I should have a lot of little boys to play with, particularly when I had in my possession a box full of beautiful new books, and toys of all kinds. And then Susan was going with me; and though she would come away again at once, yet, in my childish fancy, even a few hours were too far ahead to look forward to so grievous a parting.
First of all, there was the railway journey to enjoy ; against any drawbacks to which I was well provided, by an ample supply of sandwiches and Banbury cakes. Had I formed then any idea of how long a half-year really was, or guessed how many, many times I should yearn to see my father's face again, and to sit and talk to him as of yore, I think my child's heart would have broken with its weight of woe. merciful Father in Heaven, guiding all things rightly, hides the light from our eyes until we are strong enough to bear it, and gives not to a child to know the mysteries of life, until his increasing years shall enable him to bear its burden.
Though the delights and trials of childhood may be as great and as deep as those of later years-sometimes I think they are more so—yet it is because they pass away so quickly, that
they are so entirely different from the lasting joys and troubles of after-life.
Therefore, though I cried, and clung round my father's neck, beseeching him, with choking sobs, not to send me away from him, and declaring wildly that I should die of grief, yet by the time the train was fairly on its way, I was seated in a corner of the carriage, plying Susan with questions faster than she could answer them-which fact did not tend to decrease my inquiring interest in the country through which we passed.
But my flow of language dried up suddenly, when, having left the train and driven for some way through narrow country lanes, we pulled up at the stone-pillared porch of a large house, standing some way back from the road. Scarcely had the bell ceased ringing, when, through the wide open door, I saw, coming hastily towards us, a nice motherly-looking old lady in a white cap, wearing a light shawl loosely thrown over her shoulders. Susan was superintending the getting down of my wonderful little play-box, whilst I stood helplessly looking on, thinking ruefully of all the scenes through which I should have to pass, and of which this meeting with the old lady was the first, and perhaps the least disagreeable.
"So this is my new little boy, is it?" she said, before she quite reached me. Then, stooping down, she kissed me kindly on both cheeks. As she rose, she held out her hand to Susan, saying, "And I think he will be my smallest, too."
"Little and good,' you know, dear," turning to me again. "Is that to be it ?"
Then, taking me by the hand, she led the way into the drawing-room.
Before we had been there two minutes, in came a tall, blackhaired young lady, with fresh-coloured cheeks, and dark, merry eyes. Almost before I noticed her entrance, she pounced quickly upon me, picked me up by my arms, and holding me to the level of her face, kissed me warmly, exclaiming,
"Well, you are a nice little manikin! I know I shall like you, and you will have to love me very much? will you promise?"
After giving me a playful shake, she set me on my feet once more, leaving me too scared to make any reply.
"There, child, you have frightened the poor little fellow out of his wits!" said Mrs. Royce, reprovingly; but with a smile which plainly showed that her daughter seldom, or never, fell under the ban of her serious displeasure.
"Just come and talk to his nurse, my dear; she has not long to stay here."
So it came about, as already related, that, left for a time to my own devices, I had wandered over to that part of the room where stood the piano. Oh, how fond I was of music! All the more so, perhaps, because it was so rare an occurrence for any one to play on our great "grand" at home, that the novelty added zest to the enjoyment. Accordingly I was on the point of raising the lid, just far enough to slip my fingers underneath and stealthily touch the keys, when the incident occurred which opens this chapter.
I felt very uncomfortable at being frustrated in my designs, with the knowledge of the four bright eyes scanning me, and the sound of low voices making free and easy observations upon the occupants of the room. As detection appeared improbable, the spirits of the two boys rose to a more boisterous level. Presently, with an audible titter, the more daring of the two gave his companion a sudden and unexpected push.
Being at that moment engaged in peering through the crevice of the door, he was totally unprepared to receive such a shock. The result was, that, with a loud crash, the door flew wide open, and the unfortunate boy came tumbling headforemost into the room, almost at my very feet.
Finding that his joke had gone further than was intended, his companion turned tail, and fled away as fast as his legs