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so silly. Ah! oh - I thought you said they were in bed: these beds are
empty."

So they were; tossed about, no doubt, but with no occupants, and the
bedclothes no longer warm; so that it could not have been quite lately
that the truants had departed from their nightly places of rest. On
further investigation, Firefly's bed was also found in a sad state of
_déshabillé_, and it was clearly proved, on visiting their apartments,
that the twins and Katie had not gone to bed at all.

"Then, my dear, where are the family?" said Mrs. Cameron. "You and that
little babe are the only ones I have yet seen. Where is Mary? where is
Katharine? Where are your brothers? My dear Helen, this is awful; your
brothers and sisters are evidently playing midnight pranks. Oh, there is
not a doubt of it, you need not tell me. What a good thing it is that I
came! Oh! my poor dear sister; what a state her orphans have been
reduced to! There is nothing whatever for it but to telegraph for Miss
Grinsted in the morning."

"But, my dear auntie, I am sure, oh! I am sure you are mistaken," began
poor Helen. "The children are always very well behaved - they are,
indeed they are. They don't play pranks, Aunt Maria."

"Allow me to use my own eyesight, Helen. The beds are empty - not a
child is to be found. Come, we must search the house!"

Helen never to her dying day forgot that eerie journey through the
deserted house, accompanied by Aunt Maria. She never forgot the
sickening fear which oppressed her, and the certainty which came over
her that Polly, poor, excitable Polly, was up to some mischief.

Sleepy Hollow was a large and rambling old place, and it was some time
before the searchers reached the neighborhood of the festive garret.
When they did, however, there was no longer any room for doubt. Wild
laughter, and high-pitched voices singing many favorite nursery airs and
school-room songs made noise enough to reach the ears even of the
deafest. "John Peel" was having a frantic chorus as Helen and her aunt
ascended the step-ladder.

"For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed,
And the cry of his hounds which he ofttimes led,
Peel's 'View Hulloo!' would awaken the dead,
Or the fox from his lair in the morning."

"_Very_ nice, indeed," said Aunt Maria, as she burst open the garret
door. "Very nice and respectful to the memory of your dear mother! I am
glad, children, that I have come to create decent order in this
establishment. I am your aunt, Maria Cameron."




CHAPTER XV.

PUNISHMENT.


There are occasions when people who are accused wrongfully of a fault
will take it patiently: there was scarcely ever known to be a time when
wrongdoers did so.

The children in the garret were having a wild time of mirth and
excitement. There was no time for any one to think, no time for any one
to do aught but enjoy. The lateness of the hour, the stealthy gathering,
the excellent supper, and, finally, the gay songs, had roused the young
spirits to the highest pitch. Polly was the life of everything; Maggie,
her devoted satellite, had a face which almost blazed with excitement.

Her small eyes twinkled like stars, her broad mouth never ceased to show
a double row of snowy teeth. She revolved round her brothers and
sisters, whispering in their ears, violently nudging them, and piling on
the agony in the shape of cups of richly creamed and sugared tea, of
thick slices of bread-and-butter and jam, and plum cake, topped with
bumpers of foaming ginger-beer.

Repletion had reached such a pass in the case of the Ricketts brother
and sister that they could scarcely move; the Jones brothers were also
becoming slightly heavy-eyed; but the Maybright children fluttered about
here and there like gay butterflies, and were on the point of getting up
a dance when Aunt Maria and the frightened Helen burst upon the scene.

It required a much less acute glance than Aunt Maria's to point out
Polly as the ringleader. She headed the group of mirth-seekers, every
lip resounded with her name, all the other pairs of young eyes turned to
her. When the garret door was flung open, and Aunt Maria in no measured
tones announced herself, the children flew like frightened chickens to
hide under Polly's wing. The Rickettses and Joneses scrambled to their
feet, and ran to find shelter as close as possible to headquarters.
Thus, when Polly at last found her voice, and turned round to speak to
Aunt Maria, she looked like the flushed and triumphant leader of a
little victorious garrison. She was quite carried away by the excitement
of the whole thing, and defiance spoke both in her eyes and manner.

"How do you do, Aunt Maria?" she said. "We did not expect you. We were
having supper, and have just finished. I would ask you to have some with
us, only I am afraid there is not a clean plate left. Is there, Maggie?"

Maggie answered with a high and nervous giggle, "Oh, lor', Miss Polly!
that there ain't; and there's nothing but broken victuals either on the
table by now. We was all hungry, you know, Miss Polly."

"So perhaps," continued Polly, "you would go downstairs again, Aunt
Maria. Helen, will you take Aunt Maria to the drawing-room? I will come
as soon as I see the supper things put away. Helen, why do you look at
me like that? What's the matter?"

"Oh, Polly!" said Helen, in her most reproachful tones.

She was turning away, but Aunt Maria caught her rather roughly by the
shoulder.

"Do _all_ this numerous party belong to the family?" she said. "I see
here present thirteen children. I never knew before that my sister had
such an enormous family."

Helen felt in far too great a state of collapse to make any reply; but
Polly's saucy, glib tones were again heard.

"These are our visitors, Aunt Maria. Allow me to introduce them. Master
and Miss Ricketts, Masters Tom, Jim, and Peter Jones. This is Maggie, my
satellite, and devoted friend, and - and - - "

But Aunt Maria's patience had reached its tether. She was a stout,
heavily made woman, and when she walked into the center of Polly's
garrison she quickly dispersed it.

"March!" she said, laying her hand heavily on the girl's shoulder. "To
your room this instant. Come, I shall see you there, and lock you in.
You are a very bad, wicked, heartless girl, and I am bitterly ashamed of
you. To your room this minute. While your father is away you are under
my control, and I _insist_ on being obeyed."

"Oh, lor'!" gasped Maggie. "Run," she whispered to her brother and
sister. "Make for the door, quick. Oh, ain't it awful! Oh, poor dear
Miss Polly! Why, that dreadful old lady will almost kill her."

But no, Polly was still equal to the emergency.

"You need not hold me, Aunt Maria," she said, in a quiet voice, "I can
go without that. Good night, children. I am sorry our jolly time has had
such an unpleasant ending. Now then, I'll go with you, Aunt Maria."

"In front, then," said Aunt Maria. "No loitering behind. Straight to
your room."

Polly walked down the dusty ladder obediently enough; Aunt Maria,
scarlet in the face, stumped and waddled after her; Helen, very pale,
and feeling half terrified, brought up the rear. All went well, and the
truant exhibited no signs of rebellion until they reached the wide
landing which led in one direction to the girl's bedroom, in the other
to the staircase.

Here Polly turned at bay.

"I'm not going to my room at present," she said. "If I've been naughty,
father can punish me when he comes home. You can tell anything you like
to father when he comes back on Monday. But I'm not going to obey you.
You have no authority over me, and I'm not responsible to you. Father
can punish me as much as he likes when you have told him. I'm going
downstairs, now; it's too early for bed. I've not an idea of obeying
you."

"We will see to that," said Aunt Maria. "You are quite the naughtiest
child I ever came across. Now then, Miss, if you don't go patiently, and
on your own feet, you shall be conveyed to your room in my arms. I am
quite strong enough, so you can choose."

Polly's eyes flashed.

"If you put it in that way, I don't want to fuss," she said. "I'll go
there for the present, but you can't keep me there, and you needn't
try."

Aunt Maria and Polly disappeared round the corner, and poor Helen stood
leaning against the oak balustrade, silently crying. In three or four
minutes Aunt Maria returned, her face still red, and the key of the
bedroom in her pocket.

"Now, Helen, what is the matter? Crying? Well, no wonder. Of course, you
are ashamed of your sister. I never met such a naughty, impertinent
girl. Can it be possible that Helen should have such a child? She must
take entirely after her father. Now, Helen, stop crying, tears are most
irritating to me, and do no good to any one. I am glad I arrived at this
emergency. Matters have indeed come to a pretty crisis. In your father's
absence, I distinctly declare that I take the rule of my poor sister's
orphans, and I shall myself mete out the punishment for the glaring act
of rebellion that I have just witnessed. Polly remains in her room, and
has a bread and water diet until Monday. The other children have bread
and water for breakfast in the morning, and go to bed two hours before
their usual time to-morrow. The kitchen-maid I shall dismiss in the
morning, giving her a month's wages in lieu of notice. Now, Helen, come
downstairs. Oh, there is just one thing more. You must find some other
room to sleep in to-night. I forbid you to go near your sister. In fact,
I shall not give you the key. You may share my bed, if you like."

"I cannot do that, Aunt Maria," said Helen. "I respect you, and will
obey you as far as I can until father returns, and tells us what we
really ought to do. But I cannot stay away from Polly to-night for any
one. I know she has been very naughty. I am as shocked as you can be
with all that has happened, but I know too, Aunt Maria, that harsh
treatment will ruin Polly; she won't stand it, she never would, and
mother never tried it with her. She is different from the rest of us,
Aunt Maria; she is wilder, and fiercer, and freer; but mother often
said, oh, often and often, that no one might be nobler than Polly, if
only she was guided right. I know she is troublesome, I know she was
impertinent to you, and I know well she did very wrong, but she is only
fourteen, and she has high spirits. You can't bend, nor drive Polly,
Aunt Maria, but gentleness and love can always lead her. I _must_ sleep
in my own bed to-night, Aunt Maria. Oh, don't refuse me - please give me
up the key."

"You are a queer girl," said Aunt Maria. "But I believe you are the best
of them, and you certainly remind me of your mother when you speak in
that earnest fashion. Here, take the key, then, but be sure you lock the
door when you go in, and when you come out again in the morning. I trust
to you that that little wild, impertinent sister of yours doesn't
escape - now, remember."

"While I am there she will not," answered Helen. "Thank you, auntie. You
look very tired yourself, won't you go to bed now?"

"I will, child. I'm fairly beat out. Such a scene is enough to disturb
the strongest nerves. Only what about the other children? Are they still
carousing in that wicked way in the garret?"

"No. I am sure they have gone to bed, thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
But I will go and see to them."

"One thing more, child. Before I go to bed I should like to fill in a
telegraph form to Miss Grinsted. If she gets it the first thing in the
morning she can reach here to-morrow night. Well, Helen, again
objecting; you evidently mean to cross me in everything; now what is the
matter? Why has your face such a piteous look upon it?"

"Only this, Aunt Maria. Until father returns I am quite willing to obey
you, and I will do my best to make the others good and obedient. But I
do think he would be vexed at your getting Miss Grinsted until you have
spoken to him. Won't you wait until Monday before you telegraph for
her?"

"I'll sleep on it, anyhow," replied Mrs. Cameron. "Good night, child.
You remind me very much of your mother - not in appearance, but in the
curious way you come round a person, and insist upon having everything
done exactly as you like. Now, my dear, good night. I consider you all
the most demoralized household, but I won't be here long before matters
are on a very different footing."

The bedroom door really closed upon Aunt Maria, and Helen drew a long
breath.

Oh, for Monday to arrive! Oh, for any light to guide the perplexed child
in this crisis! But she had no time to think now. She flew to the
garret, to find only the wreck of the feast and one or two candles
flickering in their sockets. She put the candles out, and went next to
the children's bedrooms. Bob and Bunny, with flushed faces, were lying
once more in their cribs, fast asleep. They were dreaming and tossing
about, and Nurse stood over them with a perplexed and grave face.

"This means nightmare, and physic in the morning," said the worthy
woman. "Now, don't you fret and worry your dear head, Miss Helen, pet.
Oh, yes, I know all about it, and it _was_ a naughty thing to do, only
children will be children. Your aunt needn't expect that her old crabbed
head and ways will fit on young shoulders. You might go to Miss Firefly,
though, for a minute, Miss Helen, for she's crying fit to break her
heart."

Helen went off at once. Firefly was a very excitable and delicate child.
She found the little creature with her head buried under the clothes,
her whole form shaken with sobs.

"Lucy, darling," said Helen.

The seldom-used name aroused the weeping child; she raised her head, and
flung two thin arms so tightly round Helen's neck that she felt half
strangled.

"Oh, it's so awful, Nell; what will she do to poor Polly! Oh, poor
Polly! Will she half kill her, Nell?"

"No, Fly - how silly of you to take such an idea into your head. Fly,
dear, stop crying at once - you know you have all been naughty, and
Polly has hurt Aunt Maria, and hurt me, too. You none of you knew Aunt
Maria was coming, but I did not think you would play such a trick on me,
and when father was away, too."

"It wasn't Polly's fault," said Firefly, eagerly. "She was tempted, and
we were the tempters. We all came round her, and we did coax, so hard,
and Polly gave way, 'cause she wanted to make us happy. She's a darling,
the dearest darling in all the world, and if Aunt Maria hurts her and
she dies, I - I - - "

The little face worked in a paroxysm of grief and agony.

"Don't, Fly," said Helen. "You are much too tired and excited for me to
talk calmly to you to-night. You have been naughty, darling, and so has
Polly, and real naughtiness is always punished, always, somehow or
another. But you need not be afraid that any real harm will happen to
Polly. I am going to her in a moment or two, so you need not be in the
least anxious. Now fold your hands, Fly, and say 'Our Father.' Say it
slowly after me."

Firefly's sobs had become much less. She now lay quiet, her little chest
still heaving, but with her eyes open, and fixed with a pathetic longing
on Helen's face.

"You're nearly as good as mother," she said. "And I love you. But Polly
always, always must come first. Nell, I'll say 'Our Father,' only not
the part about forgiving, for I can't forgive Aunt Maria."

"My dear child, you are talking in a very silly way. Aunt Maria has done
nothing but her duty, nothing to make you really angry with her. Now,
Fly, it is late, and Polly wants me. Say those dear words, for mother's
sake."

There was no child at Sleepy Hollow who would not have done anything for
mother's sake, so the prayer was whispered with some fresh gasps of pain
and contrition, and before Helen left the room, little Lucy's pretty
dark eyes were closed, and her small, sallow, excitable face was
tranquil.




CHAPTER XVI.

DR. MAYBRIGHT _versus_ SCORPION.


Dr. Maybright returned to his home on Monday evening in tolerably good
spirits. He had gone up to London about a money matter which caused him
some anxiety; his fears were, for the present at least, quite lulled to
rest, and he had taken the opportunity of consulting one of the greatest
oculists of the day with regard to his eyesight. The verdict was more
hopeful than the good Doctor had dared to expect. With care, total
blindness might be altogether avoided; at the worst it would not come
for some time. A certain regimen was recommended, overwork was
forbidden, all great anxiety was to be avoided, and then, and
then - Well, at least the blessed light of day might be enjoyed by the
Doctor for years to come.

"But you must not overwork," said the oculist, "and you must not worry.
You must read very little, and you must avoid chills; for should a cold
attack your eyes now the consequences would be serious."

On the whole this verdict was favorable, and the Doctor returned to
Sleepy Hollow with a considerable weight lifted from his mind. As the
train bore him homeward through the mellow, ripened country with the
autumn colors glorifying the landscape, and a rich sunlight casting a
glow over everything, his heart felt peaceful. Even with the better part
of him gone away for ever, he could look forward with pleasure to the
greeting of his children, and find much consolation in the love of their
young hearts.

"After all, there never were girls quite like Helen and Polly," he said
to himself. "They both in their own way take after their mother. Helen
has got that calm which was always so refreshing and restful in her
mother; and that little scapegrace of a Polly inherits a good deal of
her brilliancy. I wonder how the little puss has managed the
housekeeping. By the way, her week is up to-day, and we return to Nell's
and Mrs. Power's steadier regime. Poor Poll, it was shabby of me to
desert the family during the end of Indigestion week, but doubtless
matters have gone fairly well. Nurse has all her medicine bottles
replenished, so that in case of need she knew what to do. Poor Poll, she
really made an excellent cake for my supper the last evening I was at
home."

The carriage rolled down the avenue, and the Doctor alighted on his own
doorsteps; as he did so he looked round with a pleased and expectant
smile on his face. It was six o'clock, and the evenings were drawing in
quickly; the children might be indoors, but it seemed scarcely probable.
The little Maybrights were not addicted to indoor life, and as a rule
their gay, shrill voices might have been heard echoing all over the old
place long after sunset. Not so this evening; the place was almost too
still; there was no rush of eager steps in the hall, and no clamor of
gay little voices without.

Dr. Maybright felt a slight chill; he could not account for it. The
carriage turned and rolled away, and he quickly entered the house.

"Polly, where are you? Nell, Firefly, Bunny," he shouted.

Still there was no response, unless, indeed, the rustling of a silk
dress in the drawing-room, a somewhat subdued and half-nervous cough,
and the unpleasant yelping of a small dog could have been construed into
one.

"Have my entire family emigrated? And is Sleepy Hollow let to
strangers?" murmured the Doctor.

He turned in the direction of the rustle, the cough, and the bark, and
found himself suddenly in the voluminous embrace of his sister-in-law,
Mrs. Cameron.

"My dear Andrew, I am pleased to see you. You have been in the deep
waters of affliction, and if in my power I would have come to you
sooner. I had rheumatism and a natural antipathy to solitude. Still I
made the effort, although a damper or more lonely spot would be hard to
find. I don't wonder at my poor sister's demise. I got your letter,
Andrew, and it was really in reply to it that I am here. Down, Scorpion;
the dog will be all right in a moment or two, my dear brother, he is
only smelling your trousers."

"He has a very marked way of doing so," responded the Doctor, "as I
distinctly feel his teeth. Allow me, Maria, to put this little animal
outside the window - a dog's bite given even in play is not the most
desirable acquisition. Well, Maria, your visit astonishes me very much.
Welcome to Sleepy Hollow. Did you arrive to-day? How did you find the
children?"

"I came here on Friday evening, Andrew. The children are as well as such
poor neglected lambs could be expected to be."

Dr. Maybright raised his eyebrows very slightly.

"I was not aware they were neglected," he said. "I am sorry they strike
you so. I also have a little natural antipathy to hearing children
compared to sheep. But where are they? I have been away for four days,
and am in the house five minutes, and not the voice of a child do I
hear? Where is Helen - where is my pretty Poll? Don't they know that
their father has arrived?"

"I cannot tell you, Andrew. I have been alone myself for the last two or
three hours, but I ordered your tea to be got ready. May I give you
some? Shall we come to the dining room at once? Your family were quite
well three hours ago, so perhaps you and I may have a quiet meal
together before we trouble about them any further. I think I may claim
this little indulgence, as only properly respectful to your wife's
sister, Andrew."

"Yes, Maria, I will have tea with you," said the Doctor. The pleased,
bright look of anticipation had altogether now left his face; it was
careworn, the brow slightly puckered, and many lines of care and age
showed round the lips.

"I will just go upstairs and wash my hands," said Dr. Maybright. "Then I
will join you in the dining-room."

He ran up the low stairs to his own room; it was not only full of Aunt
Maria's possessions, but was guarded by the faithful Scorpion, who had
flown there in disgust, and now again attacked the Doctor's legs.

"There is a limit," he murmured, "and I reach it when I am bitten by
this toy terrier."

He lifted Scorpion by his neck, and administered one or two short slaps,
which sent the pampered little animal yelping under the bed; then he
proceeded down the passage in search of some other room where he might
take shelter.

Alice met him; her eyes glowed, and the color in her face deepened.

"We are all so glad you are back, sir," she said, with an affectionate
tone in her voice. "And Miss Helen has got the room over the porch
ready, if you'd do with it for a night or two, sir. I've took hot water
there, sir, for I saw the carriage coming up the drive."

"Thank you, Alice; the porch room will do nicely. By the way, can you
tell me where all the children are?"

But Alice had disappeared, almost flown down the passage, and the Doctor
had an uncomfortable half suspicion that he heard her sob as she went.

Dr. Maybright, however, was not a fanciful person - the children, with
the exception of baby, were all probably out. It was certainly rather
contrary to their usual custom to be away when his return was expected,
still, he argued, consistency in children was the last thing to be
expected. He went downstairs, therefore, with an excellent appetite for
whatever meal Mrs. Cameron might have provided for him, and once more in
tolerably good spirits.

There are some people who habitually, and from a strong sense of duty,
live on the shady side of life. Metaphorically speaking, the sunshine
may almost touch the very path on which they are treading, but they
shrink from and avoid it, having a strong preference for the shade, but
considering themselves martyrs while they live in it. Mrs. Cameron was
one of these people. The circumstances of her life had elected plenty of
sunshine for her; she had a devoted and excellent husband, an abundant
income, and admirable health. It is true she had no children, and it is
also true that she had brought herself by careful cultivation to a state
of chronic ill-temper. Every one now accepted the fact that Mrs. Cameron
neither wished to be happy, nor was happy; and when the Doctor sat down
to tea, and found himself facing her, it was with very somber and
disapproving eyes that she regarded him.

"Well, Andrew, I must say you look remarkably well. Dear, dear, there is
no constancy in this world, that is, amongst the male sex."

Here she handed him a cup of tea, and sighed lugubriously. The Doctor
accepted the tea with a slight frown; he was a peaceable man, but as he
said, when chastising Scorpion, "there are limits."

"If you have no objection, Maria," he said, curtly, "we will leave the
subject of my personal appearance and the moral question which you have
brought forward out of our conversation."

Then his voice and manner changed; he put on a company smile, and


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