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Nell, come and tell us what is the matter with David."

The elder girls, and the rest of the children, collected in the porch.
Polly, the tallest of all, looked over the heads of the others. She
caught sight of David's face, and a sudden pain, a queer sense of fear,
and the awakening of a late remorse, filled her breast.

"What is it, David?" she asked, with the others; but her voice shook,
and was scarcely audible.

"She's done it!" said David. "The baby's gone! It's Flower! She was in
one of her passions, and she has taken the baby away. I said she wasn't
like other girls. Nurse thinks perhaps the baby'll die. What is
it? - oh, Polly! what is it!" For Polly had given one short scream, and,
pushing David and every one aside, rushed wildly into the house.

She did not hear the others calling after her; she heard nothing but a
surging as of great waves in her ears, and David's words echoing along
the passages and up the stairs "Perhaps the baby will die!" She did not
see her father, who held out his arms to detain her. She pushed Alice
aside without knowing that she touched her. In a twinkling she was at
the nursery door; in a twinkling she was kneeling by the empty cot, and
clasping the little frilled pillow on which baby's head used to rest
passionately to her lips.

"It's true, then!" she gasped, at last. "I know now what David meant; I
know now why he warned me. Oh Nursie! Nursie! it's my fault!"

"No, no, my darling!" said Nurse; "it's that dreadful young lady. But
she'll bring her back. Sure, what else could she do, lovey? She'll bring
the little one back, and, by the blessing of the good God, she'll be
none the worse for this. Don't take on so, Miss Polly! Don't look like
that, dear! Why, your looks fairly scare me."

"I'll be better in a minute," said Polly. "This is no time for feelings.
I'll be quiet in a minute. Have you got any cold water? There's such a
horrid loud noise in my ears."

She rushed across the room, poured a quantity of water into a basin, and
laved her face and head.

"Now I can think," she said. "What did Flower do, Nurse? Tell me
everything; tell me in very few words, please, for there isn't a
moment - there isn't half a moment - to lose."

"It was this way, dear: she came into the room, and took baby into her
arms, and asked for some dinner. She didn't seem no way taken with baby
at first, but when I told her how much you loved our little Miss Pearl,
she asked me to give her to her quite greedy-like, and ordered me to
fetch some dinner for herself, for she was starving, she said. I offered
that Alice should bring it; but no, she was all that I should choose
something as would tempt her appetite, and she coaxed with that pretty
way she have, and I went down to the kitchen myself to please her. I'll
never forgive myself, never, to the longest day I live. I wasn't ten
minutes gone, but when I come back with a nice little tray of curry, and
some custard pie, Miss Flower and the baby were away. That's all - they
hasn't been seen since."

"How long ago is that, Nurse?"

"I couldn't rightly tell you, dearie - maybe two hours back. I ran all
round the moor anywhere near, and so did every servant in the house, but
since the Doctor come in they has done the thing properly. Now where are
you going, Miss Polly, love?"

"To my father. I wish this horrid noise wouldn't go on in my head. Don't
worry me, Nurse. I know it was my fault. I wouldn't listen to the
warning, and I would provoke her, but don't scold me now until I have
done my work."

Polly rushed downstairs.

"Where's father?" she asked of Bunny, who was sobbing violently, and
clinging in a frantic manner to Firefly's skirts.

"I - I don't know. He's out."

"He's away on the moor," said Fly. "Polly, are you really anxious about
baby Pearl?"

"I have no time to be anxious," said Polly. "I must find her first. I'll
tell you then if I'm anxious. Where's Nell, where are the twins?"

"On the moor; they all went out with father."

"Which moor, the South or Peg-Top?"

"I think the South moor."

"All right, I'm going out too. What's the matter, Fly? Oh, you're not to
come."

"Please, please, it's so horrid in the house, and Bunny does make my
dress so soppy with crying into it."

"You're not to come. You are to stay here and do your best, your very
best, for father and the others when they come home. If they don't meet
me, say I've gone to look for baby and for Flower. I'll come back when
I've found them. If _they_ find baby and Flower, they might ask to have
the church bells rung, then I'll know. Don't stare at me like that, Fly;
it was my fault, so I must search until I find them."

Polly ran out of the house and down the lawn. Once again she was out on
the moor. The great solitary commons stretched to right and left; they
were everywhere, they filled the whole horizon, except just where Sleepy
Hollow lay, with its belt of trees, its cultivated gardens, and just
beyond the little village and the church with the square, gray tower.
There was a great lump in Polly's throat, and a mist before her eyes.
The dreadful beating was still going on in her heart, and the surging,
ceaseless waves of sound in her ears.

Suddenly she fell on her knees.

"Please, God, give me back little Pearl. Please, God, save little Pearl.
I don't want anything else; I don't even want father to forgive me, if
You will save little Pearl."

Most earnest prayers bring a sense of comfort, and Polly did not feel
quite so lonely when she stood again on her feet, with the bracken and
the fern all round her.

She tried hard now to collect her thoughts; she made a valiant effort to
feel calm and reasonable.

"I can do nothing if I get so excited," she said to herself. "I must
just fight with my anxious spirit. My heart must stay quiet, for my
brain has got to work now. Let me see! where has Flower taken baby?
Father and Nell and the others are all searching the South moor, so I
will go on to Peg-Top. I will walk slowly, and I will look behind every
clump of trees, and I will call Flower's name now and then; for I am
sure, I am quite, quite sure that, however dreadful her passion may have
been, if Flower is the least like me, she will be dreadfully sorry by
now - dreadfully sorry and dreadfully frightened - so if she hears me
calling she will be sure to answer. Oh, dear! oh, dear! here is my heart
speaking again, and my head is in a whirl, and the noises are coming
back into my ears. Oh! how fearfully I hate Flower! How could she, how
could she have taken our darling little baby away? And yet - and yet I
think I'd forgive Flower; I think I'd try to love her; I think I'd even
tell her that I was the one who had done most wrong; I think I'd even go
on my knees and beg Flower's pardon, if only I could hold baby to my
heart again!"

By this time Polly was crying bitterly. These tears did the poor child
good, relieving the pressure on her brain, and enabling her to think
calmly and coherently. While this tempest of grief, however, effected
these good results, it certainly did not improve her powers of
observation; the fast-flowing tears blinded her eyes, and she stumbled
along, completely forgetting the dangerous and uneven character of the
ground over which she walked.

It was now growing dusk, and the dim light also added to poor Polly's
dangers. Peg-Top Moor had many tracks leading in all directions. Polly
knew several of these, and where they led, but she had now left all the
beaten paths, and the consequence was that she presently found herself
uttering a sharp and frightened cry, and discovered that she had fallen
down a fairly steep descent. She was slightly stunned by her fall, and
for a moment or two did not attempt to move. Then a dull pain in her
ankle caused her to put her hand to it, and to struggle giddily to a
sitting position.

"I'll be able to stand in a minute," she said to herself; and she
pressed her hand to her forehead, and struggled bravely against the
surging, waving sounds which had returned to her head.

"I can't sit here!" she murmured; and she tried to get to her feet.

In vain! - a sharp agony brought her, trembling and almost fainting,
once more to a sitting posture. What was she to do? - how was she now to
find Flower and the baby? She was alone on the moor, unable to stir.
Perhaps her ankle was broken; certainly, it was sprained very badly.




CHAPTER VII.

MAGGIE TO THE RESCUE.


When the Maybrights returned home from their disastrous picnic at
Troublous Times Castle, Maggie and George brought up the rear. In
consequence of their being some little way behind the others, Maggie did
not at once know of the fact of Flower's disappearance with the baby.
She was naturally a slow girl; ideas came to her at rare intervals; she
even received startling and terrible news with a certain outward
stolidity and calm. Still, Maggie was not an altogether purposeless and
thoughtless maiden; thoughts occasionally drifted her way; ideas, when
once born in her heart, were slow to die. When affection took root there
it became a very sturdy plant. If there was any one in the world whom
Maggie adored, it was her dear young mistress, Miss Polly Maybright.
Often at night Maggie awoke, and thought, with feelings of almost
worship, of this bright, impulsive young lady. How delightful that week
had been when she and Polly had cooked, and housekeeped, and made cakes
and puddings together! Would any one but Polly have forgiven her for
taking that pound to save her mother's furniture? Would any one in all
the world, except that dear, warm-hearted, impulsive Polly, have
promised to do without a winter jacket in order to return that money to
the housekeeping fund? Maggie felt that, stupid as she knew herself to
be, slow as she undoubtedly was, she could really do great things for
Polly. In Polly's cause her brain could awake, the inertia which more or
less characterized her could depart. For Polly she could undoubtedly
become a brave and active young person.

She was delighted with herself when she assisted Miss Maybright to
descend from her bedroom window, and to escape with her on to the moor,
but her delight and sense of triumph had not been proof against the
solitude of the sad moor, against the hunger which was only to be
satisfied with berries and spring water, and, above all, against the
terrible apparition of the wife of Micah Jones. What Maggie went,
through in the hermit's hut, what terrors she experienced, were only
known to Maggie's own heart. When, however, Mrs. Ricketts got back her
daughter from that terrible evening's experience, she emphatically
declared that "Mag were worse nor useless; that she seemed daft-like,
and a'most silly, and that never, never to her dying day, would she
allow Mag to set foot on them awful lonely commons again."

Mrs. Ricketts, however, was not a particularly obstinate character, and
when Polly's bright face peeped round her door, and Polly eagerly, and
almost curtly, demanded that Maggie should that very moment accompany
her on a delightful picnic to Troublous Times Castle, and Maggie
herself, with sparkling eyes and burning cheeks, was all agog to go, and
was now inclined to pooh-pooh the terrors she had endured in the
hermit's hut, there was nothing for Mrs. Ricketts to do but to forget
her vow and send off the two young people with her blessing.

"Eh, but she's a dear young lady," she said, under her breath,
apostrophizing Miss Maybright. "And Mag do set wonderful store by her,
and no mistake. It ain't every young lady as 'ud think of my Maggie when
she's going out pleasuring; but bless Miss Polly! she seems fairly took
up with my poor gel."

No face could look more radiant than Maggie's when she started for the
picnic, but, on the other hand, no young person could look more
thoroughly sulky and downcast than she did on her return. Mrs. Ricketts
was just dishing up some potatoes for supper when Maggie flung open the
door of the tiny cottage, walked across the room, and flung herself on a
little settle by the fire.

"You're hungry, Mag," said Mrs. Ricketts, without looking up.

"No, I bean't," replied Maggie, shortly.

"Eh, I suppose you got your fill of good things out with the young
ladies and gentlemen. It ain't your poor mother's way to have a bit of
luck like that, and you never thought, I suppose, of putting a slice or
two of plum cake, or maybe the half of a chicken, in your pocket, as a
bit of a relish for your mother's supper. No, no, that ain't your way,
Mag; you're all for self, and that I will say."

"No, I ain't mother. You has no call to talk so. How could I hide away
chicken and plum cake, under Miss Polly's nose, so to speak. I was
setting nigh to Miss Polly, mother, jest about the very middle of the
feast. I had a place of honor close up to Miss Polly, mother."

"Eh, to be sure!" exclaimed Mrs. Ricketts.

She stopped dishing up the potatoes, wiped her brow, and turned to look
at her daughter, with a slow expression of admiration in her gaze.

"Eh," she continued, "you has a way about you, Mag, with all your
contrariness. Miss Polly Maybright thinks a sight on you, Mag; seems to
me as if maybe she'd adopt you, and turn you into a real lady. My word,
I have read of such things in story-books."

"You had better go on dishing up your supper, mother and not be talking
nonsense like that. Miss Polly is a very good young lady, but she hasn't
no thought of folly of that sort. Eh, dear me," continued Maggie,
yawning prodigiously "I'm a bit tired, and no mistake."

"That's always the way," responded Mrs. Ricketts. "Tired and not a word
to say after your pleasuring; no talking about what happened, and what
Miss Helen wore, and if Miss Firefly has got on her winter worsted
stockings yet, and not a mention of them foreigners as we're all dying
to hear of, and not a word of what victuals you ate, nor nothing. You're
a selfish girl, Maggie Ricketts, and that I will say, though I am your
mother."

"I'm sleepy," responded Maggie, who seemed by no means put out by this
tirade on the part of her mother. "I'll go up to bed if you don't mind,
mother. No, I said afore as I wasn't hungry."

She left the room, crept up the step-ladder to the loft, where the
family slept, and opening the tiny dormer window, put her elbows on the
sill and gazed out on the gathering gloom which was settling on the
moor.

The news of the calamity which had befallen Polly had reached Maggie's
ears. Maggie thought only of Polly in this trouble; it was Polly's baby
who was lost, it was Polly whose heart would be broken. She did not
consider the others in the matter. It was Polly, the Polly whom she so
devotedly loved, who filled her whole horizon. When the news was told
her she scarcely said a word; a heavy, "Eh! - you don't say!" dropped
from her lips. Even George, who was her informer, wondered if she had
really taken in the extent of the catastrophe; then she had turned on
her heel and walked down to her mother's cottage.

She was not all thoughtless and all indifferent, however. While she
looked so stoical and heavy she was patiently working out an idea, and
was nerving herself for an act of heroism.

Now as she leant her elbows on the sill by the open window, cold Fear
came and stood by her side. She was awfully frightened, but her resolve
did not falter. She meant to slip away in the dusk and walk across
Peg-Top Moor to the hermit's hut. An instinct, which she did not try
either to explain away or prove, led her to feel sure that she should
find Polly's baby in the hermit's hut. She would herself, unaided and
alone, bring little Pearl back to her sister.

It would have been quite possible for Maggie to have imparted her ideas
to George, to her mother, or to some of the neighbors. There was not a
person in the village who would not go to the rescue of the Doctor's
child. Maggie might have accompanied a multitude, had she so willed it,
to the hermit's hut. But then the honor and glory would not have been
hers; a little reflection of it might shine upon her, but she would not
bask, as she now hoped to do, in its full rays.

She determined to go across the lonely moor which she so dreaded alone,
for she alone must bring back Pearl to Polly.

Shortly before the moon arose, and long after sunset, Maggie crept down
the attic stairs, unlatched the house door, and stepped out into the
quiet village street. Her fear was that some neighbors would see her,
and either insist on accompanying her on her errand, or bring her home.
The village, however, was very quiet that night, and at nine o'clock,
when Maggie started on her search, there were very few people out.

She came quickly to the top of the small street, crossed a field,
squeezed through a gap in the hedge, and found herself on the borders of
Peg-Top Moor. The moon was bright by this time, and there was no fear of
Maggie not seeing. She stepped over the ground briskly, a solitary
little figure with a long shadow ever stalking before her, and a
beating, defiant heart in her breast. She had quite determined that
whatever agony she went through, her fears should not conquer her; she
would fight them down with a strong hand, she would go forward on her
road, come what might.

Maggie was an ignorant little cottager, and there were many folk-lore
tales abroad with regard to the moor which might have frightened a
stouter heart than hers. She believed fully in the ghost who was to be
seen when the moon was at the full, pacing slowly up and down, through
that plantation of trees at her right; she had unswerving faith in the
bogey who uttered terrific cries, and terrified the people who were
brave enough to walk at night through Deadman's Glen. But she believed
more fully still in Polly, in Polly's love and despair, and in the
sacredness of the errand which she was now undertaking to deliver her
from her trouble.

From Mrs. Ricketts' cottage to the hermit's hut there lay a stretch of
moorland covering some miles in extent, and Maggie knew that the lonely
journey she was taking could not come to a speedy end.

She knew, however, that she had got on the right track and that by
putting one foot up and one foot down, as the children do who want to
reach London town, she also at last would come to her destination.

The moon shone brightly, and the little maid, her shadow always going
before her, stepped along bravely.

Now and then that same shadow seemed to assume gigantic and unearthly
proportions, but at other times it wore a friendly aspect, and somewhat
comforted the young traveler.

"It's more or less part of me," quoth Maggie, "and I must say as I'm
glad I have it, it's better nor nought; but oh ain't the moon fearsome,
and don't my heart a-flutter, and a pit-a-pat! I'm quite sure now, yes,
I'm quite gospel sure that ef I was to meet the wife of Micah Jones, I'd
fall flat down dead at her feet. Oh, how fearsome is this moor! Well, ef
I gets hold of Miss Pearl I'll never set foot an it again. No, not even
for a picnic, and the grandest seat at the feast, and the best of the
victuals."

The moon shone on, and presently the interminable walk came to a
conclusion. Maggie reached the hermit's hut, listened with painful
intentness for the baying of some angry dogs, pressed her nose against
the one pane of glass in the one tiny window, saw nothing, heard
nothing, finally lifted the latch, and went in.




CHAPTER VIII.

THE HERMIT'S HUT.


It was perfectly dark inside the hut, for the little window, through
which the moon might have shone, was well shrouded with a piece of old
rug. It was perfectly dark, and Maggie, although she had stumbled a good
deal in lifting the latch, and having to descend a step without knowing
it, had all but tumbled headlong into the tiny abode, had evoked no
answering sound or stir of any sort.

She stood still for a moment in the complete darkness to recover breath,
and to consider what she was to do. Strange to say, she did not feel at
all frightened now; the shelter of the four walls gave her confidence.
There were no dogs about, and Maggie felt pretty sure that the wife of
Micah Jones was also absent, for if she were in the hut, and awake, she
would be sure to say, "Who's there?" quoth Maggie, to her own heart;
"and ef she's in the hut, and asleep, why it wouldn't be like her not to
snore."

The little girl stood still for a full minute; during this time she was
collecting her faculties, and that brain, which Polly was pleased to
call so small, was revolving some practical schemes.

"Ef I could only lay my hand on a match, now," she thought.

She suddenly remembered that in her mother's cottage the match-box was
generally placed behind a certain brick near the fireplace; it was a
handy spot, both safe and dry, and Maggie, since her earliest days, had
known that if there was such a luxury as a box of matches in the house,
it would be found in this corner. She wondered if the wife of Micah
Jones could also have adopted so excellent a practice. She stepped
across the little hut, felt with her hands right and left, poked about
all round the open fireplace, and at last, joy of joys, not only
discovered a box with a few matches in it, but an end of candle besides.

In a moment she had struck a match, had applied it to the candle, and
then, holding the flickering light high, looked around the little hut.

A girl, crouched up against the wall on some straw, was gazing at her
with wide-open terrified eyes; the girl was perfectly still, not a
muscle in her body moved, only her big frightened eyes gazed fixedly at
Maggie. She wore no hat on her head; her long yellow hair lay in
confusion over her shoulders; her feet were shoeless, and one arm was
laid with a certain air of protection on a wee white bundle on the straw
by her side.

"Who are you?" said Flower, at last. "Are you a ghost, or are you the
daughter of the dreadful woman who lives in this hut? See! I had a long
sleep. She put me to sleep, I know she did; and while I was asleep she
stole my purse and rings, and my hat and shoes. But that's nothing,
that's nothing at all. While I was asleep, baby here died. I know she's
quite dead, she has not stirred nor moved for hours, at least it seems
like hours. What are you staring at me in that rude way for, girl? I'm
quite sure the baby, Polly's little sister, is dead."

Nobody could speak in a more utterly apathetic way than Flower. Her
voice neither rose nor fell. She poured out her dreary words in a
wailing monotone.

"I know that it's my fault," she added; "Polly's little sister has died
because of me."

She still held her hand over the white bundle.

"I'm terrified, but not of you," she added; "you may be a ghost,
stealing in here in the dark; or you may be the daughter of that
dreadful woman. But whoever you are, it's all alike to me. I got into
one of my passions. I promised my mother when she died that I'd never
get into another, but I did, I got into one to-day. I was angry with
Polly Maybright; I stole her little sister away, and now she's dead. I
am so terrified at what I have done that I never can be afraid of
anything else. You need not stare so at me, girl; whoever you are I'm
not afraid of you."

Maggie had now found an old bottle to stick her candle into.

"I am Miss Polly's little kitchen-maid, Maggie Ricketts," she replied.
"I ain't a ghost, and I haven't nothing to say to the wife of Micah
Jones. As to the baby, let me look at it. You're a very bad young lady,
Miss Flower, but I has come to fetch away the baby, ef you please, so
let me look at it this minute. Oh, my, how my legs do ache; that moor is
heavy walking! Give me the baby, please, Miss Flower. It ain't your
baby, it's Miss Polly's."

"So, you're Maggie?" said Flower. There was a queer shake in her voice.
"It was about you I was so angry. Yes, you may look at the baby; take it
and look at it, but I don't want to see it, not if it's dead."

Maggie instantly lifted the little white bundle into her arms, removed a
portion of the shawl, and pressed her cheek against the cheek of the
baby.

The little white cheek was cold, but not deadly cold, and some faint,
faint breath still came from the slightly parted lips.

When Maggie had anything to do, no one could be less nervous and more
practical.

"The baby ain't dead at all," she explained. "She's took with a chill,
and she's very bad, but she ain't dead. Mother has had heaps of babies,
and I know what to do. Little Miss Pearl must have a hot bath this
minute."

"Oh, Maggie," said Flower. "Oh, Maggie, Maggie!"

Her frozen indifference, her apathy, had departed. She rose from her


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