Mabel Quiller-Couch.

The Making of Mona online

. (page 9 of 12)
Online LibraryMabel Quiller-CouchThe Making of Mona → online text (page 9 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and her eyes were nearly closed, they were so swelled.

The knock was repeated. "Mona, may I come in?" It was Patty Row's voice.
Mona was fond of Patty, and she had begun to long for sympathy and advice.

"Cub id," she called out as well as she could. "Cub id, Paddy."
Patty opened the door. "What a dreadful cold you've got," she said,
sympathetically. "I've just seen your grandmother, and she asked me to
tell you she's having tea with Lucy." Mona turned and faced her.

"Why! - Why! Mona! Oh, my! Whatever is the matter?"

Mona's tears began again, nearly preventing her explanation.
"Millie Higgins came in, and - and got teasing me, and - and - - "

"I've just seen her hurrying home," cried Patty. "I thought she came out
from here. What has she done, Mona? She's always bullying somebody."

"She - she threw the cushion at me, 'cause - 'cause I didn't get her some
tea, and - oh, Patty, what shall I do? - just look at what she has done.
That tea-set was more than a hundred years old, and - and granny thinks the
world of it - and I've got to tell her." Mona's voice rose to a pitiful
wail. "Oh, my. I wish - I wish I was dead. I wish - - "

"That'd only be another great trouble for her to bear," said wise little
Patty, soberly. "Millie ought to tell her, of course. It's her doing.
P'raps that is where she has gone."

Mona shook her head. She had no hope of Millie's doing that.

"Well," said Patty, in her determined little way, "if she doesn't it
shan't be for want of being told that she ought to."

"She'll never do it," said Mona, hopelessly. "I'll have to bear the
blame. I can't sneak on Millie, and - and so granny'll always think I did
it."

Patty pursed up her pretty lips. "Will she?" she thought to herself.
"She won't if I can help it," but she did not say so aloud. "Let's sort
it out, and see how much really is broken," she said, lifting off the
fatal cushion. "P'raps it isn't as bad as it looks."

Mona shook her head despondently. "It sounded as if every bit was
smashed. There's one cup in half, and a plate with a piece out - no, those
jugs were common ones, they don't matter so much," as Patty picked up a
couple, one with its handle off, the other all in pieces. "Here's a cup
without any handle - oh, poor granny, it'll break her heart, and - and
she'll never forgive me. I don't see how she can. Oh, Patty!
Did anybody in all the world ever have such a trouble before?"

"I shouldn't be surprised," said Patty. "There, that's the lot, Mona.
It's bad enough, but not so bad as it seemed at first. There's two cups,
a plate, and a saucer of the set broken. Two jugs, a basin, and a plate
of the common things."

She put the broken bits of the tea-set on the table, and began to arrange
what was left on the dressers, so as to conceal the painful gaps.
"There, it doesn't look so dreadful now. What had we better do next,
Mona?"

Mona turned away and dropped into granny's big chair. "I - I've got to
tell her, that's what I'd better do next!" she cried. She flung her arms
out on the table, and buried her face in them, sobbing aloud in her
misery.

Patty, alarmed at her grief, went over and put her arms around her shaking
shoulders. "Mona! - Mona, dear, don't cry so. You'll be ill. I'll go and
tell Mrs. Barnes about it, and - and I'll tell her it wasn't your fault."

A slight sound made them both look towards the door - and they saw that
there was no longer any need for anyone to break the news. Granny Barnes
knew it already.

For what seemed to the two girls minutes and minutes, no one uttered a
word. Granny with wide eyes and stricken face, stood staring at her
broken treasures, and the two girls stared at granny. All three faces
were tragic. At last she came slowly forward, and took up one of the
broken pieces. Her poor old hands were shaking uncontrollably.

Mona sprang to her, and flung her arms about her. "Oh, granny, granny,
what can I do? It - was an accident - I mean, I couldn't help it.
Oh, I'd sooner anything had happened to me than to your tea-set."

Patty Row slipped out of the house, and gently closed the door behind her.
She had meant to stay and speak up for Mona, but something told her that
there would be no need for that.

Poor Mrs. Barnes dropped heavily into her seat. "I wouldn't then, dear.
There's worse disasters than - than broken china."

Mona's sobs ceased abruptly. She was so astonished at her grandmother's
manner of taking her trouble, she could scarcely believe her senses.
"But I - I thought you prized it so, granny - above everything?"

"So I did," said granny, pathetically. "I think I prized it too much,
but when you get old, child, and - and the end of life's journey is in
sight, you - you - well, somehow, these things don't seem to matter so much.
'Tis you will be the loser, dearie. When I'm gone the things will be
yours. I've had a good many years with my old treasures for company,
so I can't complain."

Mona stood looking at her grandmother with a dawning fear on her face.
"Granny, you ain't ill, are you? You don't feel bad, do you?"

Mrs. Barnes shook her head. "No, I ain't ill, only a bit tired.
It's just that the things that used to matter don't seem to, now,
and those that - that, well, those that did seem to me to come second,
they matter most - they seem to be the only ones that matter at all."

Patty Row had done well to go away and leave the two alone just then.
Granny, with a new sense of peace resting on her, which even the loss of
her cherished treasures could not disturb, and Mona, with a strange
seriousness, a foreboding of coming trouble on her, which awakened her
heart to a new sympathy.

"Why, child, how you must have cried to swell your eyes up like that."
Granny, rousing herself at last out of a day-dream, for the first time
noticed poor Mona's face. "Isn't your head aching?"

"Oh, dreadfully," sighed Mona, realizing for the first time how acute the
pain was.

"Didn't I see Patty here when I came in? Where has she gone?"

"I don't know."

"Patty didn't break the things, did she?"

"Oh, no."

"Did she tell you what she came about?"

"To tell me you were having tea with mother."

"But there was more than that. She came to ask if you'd go to Sunday
School with her on Sunday. Her teacher told her to ask you. You used to
go, didn't you? Why have you given it up?"

Mona nodded, but she coloured a little. "I thought the girls - all knew
about - about my running away."

"I don't think they do - but I don't see that that matters. You'd like to
go again, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, I'd like to go with Patty. Miss Lester's her teacher, and they've
got a library belonging to their class. You can have a book every week to
bring home." Mona's face grew quite bright, but a faint shadow had crept
over granny's.

"You read a lot, Mona. So many stories and things ain't good for you.
Do you ever read your Bible?"

Mona looked surprised. "N - no. I haven't got it here. It's up at
Lucy's."

Mrs. Barnes groaned. "Oh, child, to think of our not having a Bible in
the house between us!"

"There's the Fam'ly Bible back there," said Mona, quickly, feeling
suddenly that a house without a Bible in it was not safe.

"Yes - but it's never opened, not even to look at the pictures. If you had
one in every room in the house you wouldn't be any the better for it if
you never read them, and - and acted 'pon what you're taught there."

"But if you can't see to read," said Mona, trying to find excuses,
"what's the good of your having a Bible?"

"But you can see, and can read too, and I could till lately, and, anyway,
you can read to me, and that's what I ought to have got you to do.
I feel I haven't done my duty by you, child."

Mona threw up her head. "I don't s'pose we're any worse than some that
read their Bibles every day," she said, complacently. She had often heard
others say that, and thought it rather fine.

"That's not for you or me to say," retorted granny sternly. "That's the
excuse folks always bring out when they ain't ashamed of themselves, but
ought to be. If we ain't any worse, we ain't any better, and until we are
we've no right to speak of others; and if we are - why, we shouldn't think
of doing so. Most folks, though, who say that, do think themselves a deal
better than others, though they don't say so in as many words."

Mona stood staring into the fire, thinking matters over. She was very apt
to take things to herself, and she was trying to assure herself that she
never did think herself better than others - not better even than Millie
Higgins. But she was not very well satisfied with the result.

Granny's voice died away, the sun went down, and the room began to grow
dim. Two lumps of coal fell together, and, bursting into a blaze, roused
Mona from her reverie. She turned quickly, and found her grandmother
gazing at the two halves of the broken tea-cup which she held in her
hands. In the light of the fire tears glistened on her cheeks.

Mona felt a sudden great longing to comfort her, to make life happier for
her. "Granny, would you have liked me to have read some of my books to
you sometimes?"

"Very much, dearie. I always loved a nice story."

"Oh - why ever didn't you say so before." The words broke from Mona like a
cry of reproach. "I didn't know, I never thought - I thought you'd think
them silly or - or - something."

"I know - it wasn't your fault. Sometimes I think it'd be better if we
asked more of each other, and didn't try to be so independent. It's those
that you do most for that you care most for - and miss most when they're
gone!" added granny, half under her breath.

Once again Mona was struck by the curious change in granny's tone and
manner, and felt a depressing sense of foreboding.

"Would you like me to read to you now, granny? Out of - of the Bible?"
She hesitated, as though shy of even speaking the name.

"Yes, dearie, I'd dearly love to hear the 86th Psalm."

Mona hurriedly lifted the big book out from under the mats and odds and
ends that were arranged on its side. She had never read aloud from the
Bible before, and at any other time her shyness would have almost overcome
her. To-day, though, she was possessed with a feeling that in the Bible
she would perhaps find something that would rouse and cheer granny, and
charm her own fears away, and she was in a hurry to get it and begin.



CHAPTER XI.


Patty found Millie Higgins down on the Quay, where she was shouting and
laughing with five or six others who were playing 'Last Touch.'
No one would have guessed that she had left two sad and aching hearts and
a ruined treasure behind her but half an hour ago.

Patty, with a growing scorn in her eyes, stood by talking to Philippa
Luxmore until the game had finished. She meant not to lose sight of
Millie until she had had her say. Millie caught sight of Patty, though,
and dashed into another game without any pause. She did not know that
Patty had come especially to speak to her, but she did not want to have
anything to say to Patty - not for a while, at any rate. She would rather
wait until the events of the afternoon had been forgotten a little.

Patty guessed, though, what her purpose was, and, after she had waited for
another game to end, she went boldly up to her.

"Millie," she said, without any beating about the bush, "I've come to ask
you to go and tell Mrs. Barnes that it was you that broke her beautiful
tea-set."

Millie coloured, but she only laughed contemptuously. The rest of the
little crowd looked on and listened, open-mouthed. "Dear me! Have you
really, Miss Poll Pry! Well, now you have asked me you can go home again,
and attend to your own affairs. We don't want you here."

Patty took no notice of her rudeness. "Millie," she pleaded, "you will
tell? You won't let Mona bear the blame."

"I don't know what you're talking about - - "

"Oh, yes, you do. I saw you come out. I mean, I thought that was where
you came from. I was just going in to speak to Mona myself, and I found
her - - "

"Mona Carne's a sneak."

"No, she isn't."

"Well, she needn't tell her grandmother that she knows anything about it.
It might have been the wind blew the things over, or a cat. If I was Mona
I'd go out to play, and let her come in and find the things."

"Mona couldn't be so mean and underhand. Mrs. Barnes knows about it
already, too."

"Then there's no need for me to tell her," retorted Millie, dancing away.
"Ta-ta, Patty-preacher."

Patty's patience gave out, she could not hide her disgust any longer.

"Millie Higgins, I knew you were a bully and a coward, but I didn't know
how mean a coward you were."

Her voice rang out shrill with indignation, attracting the attention of
everyone around. The children stopped their play to stare; two or three
people stopped their talk to listen. They looked from Patty to Millie,
and back again in shocked surprise. Patty's voice was not so much angry
as it was contemptuous, disgusted. Millie could have better borne anger.
People would then have thought Patty merely a cross child, and have passed
on. Instead of that they looked at her sympathetically, and at Millie
askance.

Millie walked away with her head in the air, but she was furious.
"I'll pay her out!" she thought. "I'll pay her out yet!" She was so
angry she could not get out a retort to Patty. Her words seemed to catch
in her throat and choke her.

Patty walked away to the end of the Quay, and leaned out over the
railings, looking towards the sea. She was disheartened and angry,
and ashamed of herself. She was horribly ashamed of having called out
like that to Millie. It was a mean, common thing to do. She felt she
wanted to get out of sight, to escape the questions and chatter they would
pour into her ears. She would wait where she was until everyone else had
gone home. If anyone followed her, they would soon go away again when
they found she would not talk to them.

She got behind a tall stack of boxes, and turned her back on everyone.
Her face was turned to the sea; her eyes gazed at the heaving waters,
and the sun setting behind them, but her thoughts were with Mona.

"How she did cry, poor Mona! I didn't know she cared for her granny so
much." Then she wondered what they were doing at that moment, and how
Mrs. Barnes was taking her loss. By degrees the sun disappeared
altogether, and twilight began to creep over her world. Gradually the
sounds of play and laughter and gossiping voices ceased. One by one old
folks and young went home.

"I'd better go too," thought Patty, "or mother will be wondering where I
am. Oh, dear, there's my bootlace untied again!" Still standing close to
the edge of the Quay, she had stooped to tie the lace when, suddenly from
behind, she received a blow in the back which sent her completely off her
balance. Reeling forward, she grabbed wildly at the rail to try and save
herself, but missed it, and with a shriek of terror she fell over the edge
and into the water below. With another shriek she disappeared, and the
water closed over her.

Whence the blow came, or how, she had not time to think. It seemed to her
as though the sky had fallen and struck her. She did not hear another cry
which broke from someone's throat as her body disappeared, nor hear or see
Millie Higgins running as though the police were already after her.

Millie's first instinct was to get as far from the scene as possible.
No one must know that she had been anywhere near the fatal spot.
Then, fortunately, better and less selfish thoughts came to her.
Patty was there alone in the deep cold water, in the dimness, fighting for
her life. If help did not come to her quickly she would die - and who was
there to help but herself?

"Patty!" she called. "Patty! Where are you?" Her voice rose high and
shrill with terror. "Oh, Patty, do speak!"

Then up through the water came a small, dark head and white face, and
then, to Millie's intense relief, a pair of waving arms.

She was not dead, and she was conscious. "Oh, thank God!" moaned Millie,
and for perhaps the first time in her life she really thanked Him, and
sent up a real prayer from the depths of her heart.

"Patty," she called, "swim towards me. I'll help you."

Poor Patty heard her, but as one speaking in a dream, for her senses were
fast leaving her. Summoning up all the strength she had, she tried to
obey, but she had only made a few strokes when she suddenly dropped her
arms and sank again.

With a cry of horror and despair, Millie rushed down and into the water.
She could not swim, but she did not think of that now. Nothing else
mattered if she could but save Patty. She waded into the water until she
could scarcely touch the bottom with her feet. A big wave came rolling
in; one so big that it seemed as though it must carry her off her feet,
and away to sea.

It came, but it lifted her back quite close to the steps, and it brought
poor little unconscious Patty almost close to her feet.

Millie reached out and grabbed her by her hair and her skirt, and gripped
her tight, but it was not easy. Patty was a dead weight, and she had to
keep her own foothold or both would have been carried away as the wave
receded. Millie felt desperate. She could not raise Patty, heavy as she
was in her water-soaked clothes, and Patty, still unconscious, could not
help herself.

Fortunately, at that moment, Peter Carne came rowing leisurely homewards,
and in his boat with him was Patty Row's father.

Millie caught sight of them, and a great sob of relief broke from her.
She shouted and shouted at the top of her voice, and, clinging to Patty
with one hand, she waved the other frantically. "Would they see?
Would they see?" She screamed until she felt she had cracked her throat.
"Oh, what a noise the sea made!" she thought frantically, "how could
anyone's voice get above it."

They heard or caught sight of her at last. Her straining eyes saw the
boat heading for them. She saw Patty's father spring up and wave to them,
then seize another pair of oars, and pull till the lumbering great boat
seemed to skim the waves. Then strong arms gripped them and lifted them
into safety, and a moment or two later they were on the Quay once more,
and hurrying homewards.

Before she had been in her father's arms for many minutes Patty opened her
big blue eyes, and looked about her wonderingly.

"Where - am - I?" she asked, through her chattering teeth.

"You're in your old dad's arms now," said her father, brokenly, but with
an attempt at a smile, "but you'll be rolled up in blankets in a few
minutes, and popped into bed. It's where you have been that matters most.
How did you come to be taking a dip at this time, little maid, and with
your boots on too?"

"I fell in," whispered Patty, and closed her eyes again as the tiresome
faintness crept over her.

"It was my fault," sobbed Millie, thoroughly subdued and softened,
and slightly hysterical too. "I - I didn't mean to push her into the
water - - "

"It was an accident," said Patty, coming back out of her dreaminess.
"I was stooping down - and overbalanced - that was all. I was tying up my
boot-lace." And as she insisted on this, and would say nothing more,
everyone decided that there was nothing more to say; and, as she had
received no real injury, and was soon out and about again, the matter was
gradually forgotten - by all, at least, but the two actors in what might
have been an awful tragedy.

Patty received no real injury, but it was a very white and tired little
Patty who called on Mona on the following Sunday to go with her to Sunday
School.

Mona, having a shrewd suspicion that Patty could have told much more if
she had chosen, was longing to ask questions, but Patty was not
encouraging.

"Did you think you were really going to die?" she asked.

"Yes," said Patty, simply.

"What did it feel like? Were you - - "

"I can't tell you." Patty's voice was very grave. "Don't ask me, Mona.
It's - it's too solemn to talk about."

When they reached the school-yard gate, Millie Higgins came towards them.
"Then you're able to come, Patty! I'm so glad." There was real feeling
in Millie's words. Her voice was full of an enormous relief. Mona was
astonished. She herself did not look at Millie or speak to her. She had
not forgiven her for that afternoon's work, and she more than suspected
her of being the cause of Patty's accident.

As Millie did not move away, Mona strolled across with Patty still
clinging to her arm, to where a group of girls stood talking together.
Millie Higgins, with a rush of colour to her face, turned away and joined
another group, but the group apparently did not see her, for none of them
spoke to her, and Millie very soon moved away again to where two girls
stood together, but as she approached the two they hastily linked arms
and, turning their back on her, walked into the schoolroom. Mona noticed
both incidents, and, beginning to suspect something, kept both eyes and
ears open. Her suspicions were soon confirmed.

"I believe that all the girls are giving Millie the cold shoulder,"
she whispered at last in Patty's ear. "They must have planned it all
before. You just watch for a few minutes. She has been up to ever so
many, and then, as soon as they notice her, they move away. I wonder
what's the meaning of it? Millie notices it herself. You just look at
her. She's as uncomfortable as she can be."

Patty raised her head sharply, and followed the direction of Mona's eyes.
Millie was just joining on to a group of four or five. Patty saw a glance
exchanged, and two girls turned on their heels at once; then another, and
another, until Millie, with scared face and eyes full of shame and pain,
stood alone once more. She looked ready to cry with mortification.

Patty, her face rosy with indignation, called across the yard to her; her
clear voice raised so that all should hear. "Millie, will you come for a
walk when we come out of school this afternoon?" Then going over and
thrusting her arm through Millie's, she led her back to where Mona was
still standing.

"Mona is going, too, ain't you, Mona? I don't know, though, if we shall
have much time for a walk; we're going to the Library to choose a book
each. Which do you think Mona would like?"

But Millie could not answer. The unkindness she had met with that morning
and the kindness had stabbed deep; so deep that her eyes were full of
tears, and her throat choked with sobs. Mona, looking up, saw it, and all
her resentment against her faded.

"I wish you'd come, too, Millie, and help us choose," she said. "You read
so much, you know which are the nicest."

"All right," said Millie, in a choked kind of voice. "I'd love to."
And then the doors opened, and they all trooped into their places.

When they came out from the morning service each went home with her own
people. Patty, looking fragile and pale, was helped along by her father.
Mona joined her father and grandmother. She was quiet, and had very
little to say.

"Did you like your class?" asked granny. She was a little puzzled by
Mona's manner. She had expected her to be full of excitement.

"Yes, I liked it very much," but she did not add anything more then.
It was not until evening, when they were sitting together in the
firelight, that she opened her heart on the subject. "I wish I'd known
our teacher all my life," she said, with a sigh.

"Why, dearie?"

"Oh - I don't know - gran - but she makes you see things, and she makes you
feel so - so - well as if you do want to be good, and yet you feel you want
to cry."

"Try and tell me what she said," said granny. "Perhaps 'twould help an
old body, too."

But Mona could not do that, nor could she put her feelings into words very
well. "I'll read to you instead, if you'd like me to, granny."

When Millie Higgins had come out of church she had walked rapidly
homewards by herself. Patty and her father had gone on. Mona was with
her father and grandmother, and Millie felt that she could not face Mrs.
Barnes just then. She was fighting a big fight with herself, and she had
not won yet. But in the afternoon, when they came out of the school
library, the two walked together. They took Patty home, because she was
too tired to do any more that day. Then Mona and Millie hesitated,
looking at each other. "I must go home, too," said Mona. "I thought I'd
have been able to go for a walk, but it's too late. Granny'll be
expecting me."

Millie looked at her without speaking, half turned to leave her,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12

Online LibraryMabel Quiller-CouchThe Making of Mona → online text (page 9 of 12)