Mabel Quiller-Couch.

The Making of Mona online

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Produced by Lionel Sear


(Author of 'Troublesome Ursula,' 'A Pair of Red-Polls,' 'Kitty Trenire,'
'The Carroll Girls', Etc., Etc.)



[Illustration: Granny stood staring at her broken treasures.]


The kettle sat on the hob, and Mona sat on the floor, both as idle as idle
could be.

"I will just wait till the kettle begins to sing," thought Mona; and
became absorbed in her book again.

After a while the kettle, at any rate, seemed to repent of its laziness,
for it began to hum softly, and then to hum loudly, and then to sing, but
Mona was completely lost in the story she was reading, and had no mind for
repentance or anything else. She did not hear the kettle's song, nor even
the rattling of its cover when it boiled, though it seemed to be trying in
every way to attract her attention. It went on trying, too, until at last
it had no power to try any longer, for the fire had died low, and the
kettle grew so chilly it had not even the heart to 'hum,' but sat on the
black, gloomy-looking stove, looking black and gloomy too, and, if kettles
have any power to think, it was probably thinking that poor old granny
Barnes' tea would be scarcely worth drinking when she came home presently,
tired and hungry, from her walk to Milbrook, for Mona, even if she
realised that the water had boiled, would never dream of emptying it away
and filling the kettle afresh, as she should do.

But Mona had no thought for kettles, or tea, or granny either, for her
whole mind, her eyes, her ears, and all her senses were with the heroine
of the fascinating story she was absorbed in; and who could remember fires
and kettles and other commonplace things when one was driving through a
lovely park in a beautiful pony carriage, drawn by cream-coloured ponies,
and seated beside an exquisitely dressed little lady who had more money
than she could count, and insisted on sharing all with her companion?

Mona certainly could not. She never could manage to remember two things
at the same time; so, as all her thoughts were absorbed by her
golden-haired friend in the blue silk frock, granny in her old black
merino and heavy boots was forgotten as completely as the fire, and it was
not until someone came stumbling up the garden path and a tired voice
said, "Well, dearie, I'm come at last, how have you got on since I've been
gone?" that she remembered anything about either; and when she did she
felt almost sorry that granny had come quite so soon, for if she had only
been a few minutes later Mona might just have finished the chapter.

"Oh, I'm so tired!" groaned granny, dropping wearily into her arm-chair.
"I have been longing for a nice cup of tea for this hour and more."
Then, as her eyes fell on the black grate, her voice changed to one of
dismay. "Why, Mona!" she cried, "the fire's gone clean out! Oh, dear!
oh, dear!" Granny's voice was full of disappointment. With anyone but
Mona she would have been very cross indeed, but she was rarely cross with
her. "I daresay it'll catch up again quickly with a few sticks,"
she added patiently.

Mona, really ashamed of herself, ran out to the little wood-rick which
stood always in the back-yard. "Stupid old fire," she muttered
impatiently, "of course it must go out, just to spite me because I wanted
to have a little read," and she jerked out the sticks with such force that
a whole pile of faggots came tumbling down to the ground. She did not
stay, though, to pick them up again, for she really was sorry for her
carelessness, and wanted to try and catch up the fire as quickly as
possible. She had fully meant to have a nice fire, and the tea laid,
and the kettle on the point of boiling, and everything as nice as could be
by the time her grandmother got back from the town. But one never got any
credit for what one meant to do, thought Mona with a feeling of self-pity.

By the time she got back to the kitchen her grandmother had taken off her
bonnet and shawl and was putting on her apron. "My feet do ache," she
sighed. "The roads are so rough, and it's a good step to Milbrook and
back - leastways it seems so when you're past sixty."

Mona felt another pang of shame, for it was she who should have gone to
the town to do the shopping; but she had not wanted to, and had complained
of being tired, and so granny had gone herself, and Mona had let her.

"Let me unlace your boots, granny, and get your slippers for you."
She thought she would feel less guilty if she did something to make her
grandmother more comfortable. "You sit down in your chair, I'll do all
that's got to be done."

Mrs. Barnes leaned back with a sigh of relief. "Bless the dear child,"
she thought affectionately, "how she does think for her old granny!"
She had already forgotten that Mona had let the fire go out, and neglected
to make any preparations for her home-coming; and Mona, who could be very
thoughtful and kind if she chose, knelt down and unlaced the heavy boots,
and slipped the warm, comfortable slippers on to the tired old feet,
laughing and chattering cheerfully the while.

"Now you are to sit there, gran, and not to dare to move to do one single
thing. I'm going to talk to that fire, and you'll see how I'll coax him
up in no time, and if that kettle doesn't sing in five minutes I'll take
the poker to him." And, whether it was because of her coaxing or not,
the fire soon flamed cheerfully, and the kettle, being already warm, began
to sing almost as soon as Mona had got the cloth spread.

While she waited for it to come to boiling point, she sat down on her
little stool by the fire, and took up her book again. "Just to have a
little look at the pictures for a minute," she explained. "Oh, granny, it
is such a lovely story, I must tell you about it."

"Yes, dear, I'd like to - some day."

But Mona did not hear the 'some day.' She was already pouring into
granny's ear all she had read, and granny interjected patiently,
"Yes, dearie," and "Oh my!" and "How nice!" though she was so faint and
weary she could not take in half of Mona's chatter.

Presently the kettle boiled again, but Mona was once more lost to
everything but her story, and it was granny who got up and made the tea.

"It's all ready, dearie," she said, as she sank into her chair once more.
"You must tell me the rest while you are having it. Oh, there's no butter
out." She had to get up again and drag her aching feet to the little
larder for the butter, and as soon as she had settled herself again she
had to get up and get a teaspoon. Mona had forgotten a half of the things
she should have laid, and she had forgotten, too, that granny was tired.

"And oh, granny," she went on breathlessly, "on her birthday Pauline wore
a muslin dress, with blue forget-me-nots worked all over it, and a blue
sash, and - and a hat just covered with forget-me-nots."

"She must have looked like a bed of them," remarked Granny.

"Oh, _I_ think she looked perfectly sweet! I'd love to have clothes like
she had. Of course, she didn't have to do _any_ work - nothing at all all
day long."

"Well, I know a little girl who doesn't do much," remarked granny quietly,
but Mona did not hear her.

"Granny, do you think I'll be able to have a new hat this summer?
Mine is ever so shabby - and shall I have forget-me-nots on it? I'd rather
have forget-me-nots than anything. I suppose I couldn't have a blue sash
to wear with it, could I, Gran? I don't think they cost very very much.
Millie Higgins, in at Seacombe, had a plaid one, and she was sure it
didn't cost a great deal, she said. Her uncle brought it to her,
but Millie never wears it. She doesn't like plaid; she wishes it was
pink. I'd wear it if 'twas mine, but I'd rather have a blue one. Do you
think I can have a new hat, granny?"

"We will see. If your father is able to send some more money for you I
might be able to manage it; but with your stepmother always ailing his
money seems to be all wanted for doctor's bills and medicines. It does
seem hard."

Mona's face fell. "And I don't suppose the medicine does any good, do
you, granny?"

"Some folks believe in it, and I s'pose if you believe in it it does you
good. For my own part, I never had but two bottles in my life, and I
don't see that I'm any the worse for going without. In fact, I - - "

Mona, who always sat at the side of the table facing the window, sprang to
her feet excitedly. "Why, it's the postman! and he's coming in here,"
she interrupted, and was at the door to meet him before he had power to
knock. She came back more slowly, carefully studying the one letter she
held. "It's from father," she said eagerly, as she at last handed it to
her grandmother. "Oh, granny! I wonder if he has sent any money?"

Granny was evidently surprised. "A letter from your father! Whatever can
he be writing about? I haven't written to him since I had his last.
I hope he isn't having more trouble."

"Perhaps he has written to know why you haven't," said Mona shrewdly.

"Oh, granny, do make haste and open the letter, I am longing to know
what's inside!"

But letters did not come every day to Hillside Cottage, so when they did
they must be made the most of. Mrs. Barnes examined the envelope back and
front; the handwriting, the stamp, the postmark; then she had to go to a
drawer to get a skewer with which to slit the envelope, then her
spectacles had to be found, polished, and put on, and at long last she
took out the letter and began to read.

Mona chafed with impatience as she watched her. Her eyes looked ready to
pop out of her head with eagerness. "Why don't you let me read it to
you?" she cried at last, irritably, and regretted her words as soon as
they were spoken. Granny laid the letter on the table beside her and
fixed her eyes on Mona instead. "I am not got past reading my own letters
yet," she said sternly, looking out over the tops of her spectacles at
her. Mona was dreadfully afraid they would fall off, and then the
polishing and fixing process would all have to be gone through again,
but she had the wisdom to hold her tongue this time, and granny took up
the letter again, and at last began to read it, while Mona tried hard to
read granny's face.

She did not utter aloud one word of what she was reading, but presently
she gave a little half-suppressed cry.

"Oh, granny, what's the matter?" Mona could keep quiet no longer.

"Oh, dear! oh, dear! Here's a pretty fine thing. Your father wants you
to go home."

Mona's face fell again. Then he had not sent any money, and she would not
be able to have her hat! For the moment nothing else seemed to matter.

"What does he want me home for?" she asked sullenly.

"Your stepmother has been ill again, and the doctor says she mustn't be
left alone, and must have someone to help her. She's terrible nervous
when your father's away to the fishing, so you've got to be fetched home."
Mrs. Barnes spoke resentfully. Her daughter, Mona's mother, had died when
Mona was a sturdy little maiden of ten, and for eighteen months Mona had
run wild. Her father could not bear to part with her, nor would he have
anyone to live with them. So Mona had been his housekeeper, or rather,
the house had kept itself, for Mona had taken no care of it, nor of her
father's comforts, nor of her own clothes, or his. She just let
everything go, and had a gloriously lazy, happy time, with no one to
restrain her, or make her do anything she did not want to do.

She was too young, of course, to be put in such a position; but she did
not even do what she might have done, and no one was surprised, and no one
blamed her father - no one, at least, but Mrs. Barnes - when at the end of
eighteen months he married pretty, gentle Lucy Garland, one of the
housemaids at the Squire's.

Mrs. Barnes, though, resented very strongly anyone being put in her dead
daughter's place, with control over her daughter's child, and she had
written angrily enough to Peter, demanding that Mona should be given up to
her. And though he doubted the wisdom of it, to please and pacify her,
Peter Carne had let her have the child. "Not for good," he said,
"for I can't part with her altogether, but for a long visit."

"If she puts Mona against Lucy, it'll be a bad job," he thought
anxiously, "and mischief may be done that it'll take more than I know to

However, Mona felt none of the dislike of her stepmother that her
grandmother felt. In fact, she was too happy-go-lucky and fond of change
to feel very strongly about anything. She had got her father's home and
all his affairs into such a muddle she was not sorry to go right away and
leave it all. She was tired of even the little housework she did.
She hated having to get up and light the fire, and, on the whole, she was
very glad for someone else to step in and take it all off her shoulders.
And as she had left her home before her stepmother came to it, she had not
experienced what it was to have someone in authority over her.

So Mona felt no real grievance against her stepmother, and, with all her
faults, she was too healthy-minded to invent one. Her grandmother's not
too kind remarks about her had fallen on indifferent ears, and,
fortunately, had had no effect except to make Mona feel a sort of mild
scorn for anyone so constantly ailing as Lucy Carne was.

She felt no sympathy for the cause of the ill-health, even though she knew
that it all began one bitter, stormy night when Lucy and the wives of the
other men who were out at sea stood for hours watching for the first signs
of the little storm-tossed boats, in the agony of their hearts, deaf and
blind, and entirely unconscious of the driving sheets of rain and the
biting east wind which soaked and chilled them to the bone.

When at daybreak the storm lulled, and the boats, with all safe on board,
were seen beating up before the wind, all the misery and wet and cold were
forgotten as they hurried joyfully home to make up big fires and prepare
hot food for the exhausted men. But more than one woman paid heavily for
the night's experience, and Lucy Carne was among them.

For days she had lain writhing in the agony of rheumatic fever. For days
she had lain at the gates of death, and when at last she came back to
life again, it was such a wreck of her old self that she was scarcely able
to do anything. And this in Granny Barnes' eyes had been an added

It was a greater grievance than ever now, for it meant that her
grandchild, her very own daughter's child, was to be taken from her, to
work for the stranger who had taken her daughter's place.

Fortunately, Mona had no such foolish thoughts. Her only grievance was
that the money which might have been spent on a new hat would have to be
spent on the carrier. "And nobody will be any the better for it, except
Mr. Darbie, and he's got lots already. They say he has a whole bagful in
a box under his bed."

"Your stepmother will be better off. She'll have you," said Granny Barnes
crossly. "Well, the letter's spoilt my tea for me. Anyway, I don't want
anything more. I've had enough for one while."

Mona looked surprised. "Oh, has it! I thought you were hungry, granny.
I am," and she helped herself to another slice of bread and butter.
"I wonder which day I'd better go? - and I must wear my best frock, mustn't
I? Such a lot of people go by the van, and you've got to sit so close you
can't help seeing if anybody's clothes are shabby."

"Um, you seem to have thought it all out, but you don't seem to think
anything of leaving me, nor of what my feelings may be. You'd better wear
your best frock and your best hat too, then your father and your
stepmother will see that you want something new for Sundays. It's as well
folk should learn that all the money can't be spent on doctors and
physic - that there's other things wanted too!"

But this speech only sent Mona's expectations higher, and lessened her
regrets at leaving. If going home to Seacombe and her new mother meant
having a new hat and dress, she would only be the more pleased at having
to go. She was so occupied with these thoughts that she did not notice
her grandmother rise and leave the kitchen, nor did she see the tears in
the sad old eyes. But her dreams of a journey, clad all in her best,
were suddenly broken in upon by a sharp scream. The scream came from the
backyard. Mona flew out at once. It was getting dark out of doors now,
but not too dark for her to see her grandmother stretched on the ground
with faggots of wood lying all around her.

For a moment Mona's heart seemed to stand still with fear. She thought
her grandmother was killed, or, at any rate, had broken her leg. Then, to
her intense relief, Mrs. Barnes groaned, and began to rouse herself.

"However did these things come scattered about like this, I should like to
know," she cried angrily. But in her relief at knowing she was able to
move and speak Mona did not mind granny's crossness.

"Didn't you pull them down?"

"I pull them down." Granny's voice was shrill with indignation. "It was
they pulled me down! I wonder I wasn't killed outright. It must have
been those cats that knocked them over. They are always ranging all over
the yard. I shall tell Mrs. Lane if she can't keep them in she'll have to
get rid of them. Oh, dear, what a shaking I've had, and I might have
broke my leg and my head and everything. Well, can't you try an' give me
a hand to help me up?"

But Mona was standing dumb-stricken. It had come back to her at last.
It was she who had pulled down the faggots and left them. She had meant
to go out again and pick them up, and, of course, had forgotten about
them, and she might have been the cause of a terrible accident!
She was so shocked and so full of remorse, she could not find a word to
utter. Fortunately, it was dark, and her grandmother was too absorbed to
notice her embarrassment. All her time was taken up in getting on to her
feet again and peering about her to try and catch sight of the cats.

Perhaps if granny had been less determined to wage war on the cats,
Mona might have found courage to make her confession, but while she waited
for a chance to speak her courage ebbed away. She had done so many wrong
things that afternoon, she was ashamed to own to more, and, after all, she
thought, it would not make it better for granny if she did know who really
scattered the faggots. So in the end Mona held her tongue, and contented
herself with giving what assistance she could.

"This is Black Monday for me!" she said to herself as she helped her
grandmother into the house again. "Never mind, I'll begin better
to-morrow. There's one good thing, there's no real harm done."

She was not so sure, though, that 'no harm was done' when she woke the
next morning and heard loud voices and sound of quarrelling coming from
the garden. She soon, indeed, began to feel that there had been a great
deal of harm done.

"Well, what I say is," her grandmother cried shrilly, "your cats were
nearly the death of me, and I'll trouble you to keep them in your own

"And what I say is," cried her neighbour, "my cats were never near your
faggot rick. They didn't go into your place at all last night; they were
both asleep by my kitchen fire from three in the afternoon till after we'd
had our supper. Me and my husband both saw them. You can ask him
yourself if you like."

"I shan't ask him. I wouldn't stoop to bandy words about it. I know, and
I've a right to my own opinion."

"Do you mean to say you don't believe what I say?" cried Mrs. Lane
indignantly. "Do you mean to tell me I'm telling an untruth?
Well, Mrs. Barnes, if you won't speak to my husband, and won't believe me,
perhaps you'll ask your Mona! I daresay she can tell you how the faggots
got scattered. She was out there, I saw her from - - "

"That's right! Try and put it off on the poor child! Do you expect me to
believe that my Mona would have left those faggots - - "

"Ask her, that's all," said Mrs. Lane, meaningly. "And now I've done.
I ain't going to have anything more to say. You're too vi'lent and
onreasonable, Mrs. Barnes, and I'll trouble you not to address me again
till you've 'pologised."

Granny laughed, a short sarcastic laugh. "'Pologise!" she cried shrilly,
"and me in the right too! No, not if I lived next door to you for fifty
years, I wouldn't 'pologise. When you've 'pologised to me, Mrs. Lane,
I'll begin to think about speaking to you again."

Mona, standing shivering by the window, listened to it all with a sick
feeling of shame and dismay. "Oh, why does granny say such dreadful
things! Oh, I wish I'd spoken out at once! Now, when granny asks me,
I shall have to tell her, and oh," miserably, "won't she be angry?"

But Mona escaped that ordeal. Her grandmother did not mention the
subject, for one reason; she felt too unwell; an outburst of anger always
made her ill; and for another, she was already ashamed of herself and of
what she had said. Altogether, she was so uncomfortable about the whole
matter, and so ashamed, and vexed, she wanted to try to forget all about


John Darbie and his one-horse van journeyed from Milbrook to Seacombe
every Tuesday and Friday, passing Mrs. Barnes' cottage on their way;
and on Wednesdays and Saturdays he journeyed home again. The two places
were only ten miles apart, but, as John's horse 'Lion' never travelled
faster than three miles an hour, and frequent stops had to be made to pick
up passengers and luggage, and put down other passengers and other
luggage, the journey was seldom accomplished in less than six hours.

The day that Mona travelled to Seacombe the journey took longer than
usual, for they had to stop at Barnes Gate - an old turnpike - to pick up a
couple of young pigs, which were to be brought by a farm boy to meet them
there; and as the pigs refused to be picked up, and were determined to
race back to their home, it took John and the farmer's boy, and some of
the passengers, quite a long time to persuade them that their fate lay in
another direction.

Mona, homesick and depressed, was quite glad of the distraction, though
she felt sorry for the poor pigs. At that moment she felt sorry for
anyone or anything which had to leave its old home for a new one.

Only a few days had elapsed since that evening when her father's letter
had come, and her grandmother had fallen over the faggots, but such long,
unhappy days they had been. Her grandmother had been silent and
depressed, and she herself had been very unhappy, and everything had
seemed wrong. Sometimes she had longed to be gone, and the parting over.
Yet, when at last the day came, and she had to say good-bye to granny,
and her own little bedroom, and the cottage, and to leave without saying
good-bye to Mrs. Lane, it seemed almost more than she could bear.
She looked out at the cottage and at granny, standing waving her
handkerchief, but she could scarcely see either because of the mist in her
eyes, and, when at last the van turned a corner which cut them off
entirely from view, the mist in her eyes changed to rain.

If it had not been for the other people in the van, Mona would have jumped
out and run back again, and have confessed all to granny, and have been
happy once more. She knew that if she asked granny to forgive her,
she would do so before long, even if she was vexed with her at first.

But Mona's courage failed her. The people in the van would try to stop
her, and very likely would succeed, and there would be such a chattering
and fuss. Her spirit sank at the thought of it, and so she hesitated and
wavered until it was too late.

It was not to be wondered at that she welcomed the little scene with the
pigs at the four cross-roads, and felt quite glad when Mr. Darbie asked
her to get out and stand at the end of one of the roads to keep the poor
little things from running down it.

"We shan't get to Seacombe till nightfall," grumbled the old man when at
last he had got the pair into two sacks, and had fastened them up securely
on the tail-board of the van.

"And I've got to catch the five o'clock train from there," said one of the
passengers sourly. "If ever you want to be a little bit earlier than
usual, you're bound to be later. It's always the way."

Old John Darbie always recovered his temper when other people had lost
theirs. He realised how foolish they looked and sounded. "Aw, don't you

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