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continued, without any pause, "How is your husband? Is he as great an
antiquary as ever? And do you both continue to like living in Bath?"

Mrs. Cameron was a strong and determined woman, but she was no match for
the Doctor when he chose to have his own way. For the remainder of the
meal conversation was languid, and decidedly commonplace; once only it
brightened into animation.

"I wonder where Scorpion can be?" said the good lady; "I want to give
him his cream."

"I fear he is under punishment," said the Doctor. "If I judge of him
aright, Scorpion is something of a coward, and is not likely to come
into the same room where I am for some time."

"What do you mean? Surely you have not been cruel to him?"

"Cruel to be kind. Once again he attempted to eat my legs, and I was
obliged to administer one or two sharp slaps - nothing to hurt; you will
find him under your bed. And now I really must go to look for my
family."

Dr. Maybright left the room, and Mrs. Cameron sat still, scarlet with
annoyance and indignation.

"How could Helen have married such a man?" she said to herself. "I never
can get on with him - never. How cowardly it was of him to hurt the
little dog. If it was not for the memory of poor dear Helen I should
leave here by the first train in the morning; but as it is, I will not
stir until I have established Miss Grinsted over this poor, misguided
household. Ah, well! duty is ever hard, but those who know Maria Cameron
are well acquainted with the fact that she never shirked it. Yes, I will
stay; it will be very unpleasant, but I must go through it. What very
abrupt manners the Doctor has! I was just preparing to tell him all
about that wicked Polly when he jumped up and left the room. Now, of
course, he will get a wrong impression of the whole thing, for the other
children all take her part. Very bad manners to jump up from the tea
table like that. And where _is_ Helen? - where are they all? Now that I
come to think of it, I have seen nothing of any one of them since the
early dinner. Well, well, if it were not for poor Helen I should wash my
hands of the whole concern. But whoever suffers, dear little Scorpion
must have his cream."

Accordingly Mrs. Cameron slowly ascended the stairs, armed with a saucer
and a little jug, and Scorpion forgot the indignities to which he had
been subjected as he lapped up his dainty meal.

Meanwhile, the Doctor having explored the morning room and the
schoolrooms, having peeped into the conservatory, and even peered with
his rather failing sight into the darkness outside, took two or three
strides upstairs, and found himself in the presence of Nurse and baby.

"Well, Pearl," he said, taking the little pure white baby into his arms,
looking into its wee face earnestly, and then giving it a kiss, which
was sad, and yet partook of something of the nature of a blessing.

"Baby goes on well, Nurse," he said, returning the little creature to
the kind woman's arms. Then he looked into her face, and his own
expression changed.

"What is the matter?" he said, abruptly. "You have been crying. Is
anything wrong? Where have all the children vanished to?"

"You have had your tea, sir?" said Nurse, her words coming out in jerks,
and accompanied by fresh sobs. "You have had your tea, and is partial
rested, I hope, so it's but right you should know. The entire family,
sir, every blessed one of them, with the exception of the babe, has took
upon themselves to run away."




CHAPTER XVII.

WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?


Nurse's news astonished the Doctor very much. He was not a man, however,
to show all he felt. He saw that Nurse was on the verge of hysterics,
and he knew that if he did not take this startling and unpleasant piece
of information in the most matter-of-fact way, he would get nothing out
of her.

"I hope matters are not as bad as you fear," he said. "Sit down in this
chair, and tell me what has occurred. Don't hurry yourself; a few
moments more or less don't signify. Tell your tale quietly, in your own
way."

Thus administered, Nurse gasped once or twice, looked up at the Doctor
with eyes which plainly declared "there never was your equal for
blessedness and goodness under the sun," and commenced her story in the
long-winded manner of her class.

The Doctor heard a garbled account of the supper in the attic, of the
arrival of Mrs. Cameron, of the prompt measures which that good lady
took to crush Polly, of Firefly's grief, of the state of confusion into
which the old house was thrown. She then went on to tell him further
that Polly, having refused to submit or repent in any way, Mrs. Cameron
had insisted on her remaining in her own room, and had at last,
notwithstanding all Helen's entreaties, forbidden her to go near her
sister. The housekeeping keys were taken away from Polly, and Mrs.
Cameron had further taken upon herself to dismiss Maggie. She had sent a
telegram to Mrs. Power, who had returned in triumph to Sleepy Hollow on
Saturday night.

"Miserable is no word for what this household has been," said Nurse.
"There was Miss Polly - naughty she may have been, dear lamb, but
vicious she ain't - there was Miss Polly shut up in her room, and nobody
allowed to go near her; and Mrs. Cameron poking her nose into this
corner and into that, and ordering _me_ about what I was to do with the
babe; and poor Miss Helen following her about, for all the world like a
ghost herself, so still and quiet and pitiful looking, but like a dear
angel in her efforts to keep the peace; and there was Alice giving
warning, and fit to fly out of the house with rage, and Mrs. Power
coming back, and lording it over us all, more than is proper for a cook
to do. Oh, sir, we has been unhappy! and for the first time we really
knew what we had lost in our blessed mistress, and for the first time
the children, poor darlings, found out what it was to be really
motherless. The meals she'd give 'em, and the way she'd order them - oh,
dear! oh, dear! it makes me shiver to think of it!"

"Yes, Nurse," interrupted the Doctor. "It was unfortunate Mrs. Cameron
arriving when I was absent. I have come back now, however, and all the
troubles you have just mentioned are, of course, at an end. Still you
have not explained the extraordinary statement you made to me when I
came into the room. Why is it that the children have run away?"

"I'm a-coming to that, sir; that's, so to speak, the crisis - and all
brought about by Mrs. Cameron. I said that Miss Polly was kept in her
room, and after the first day no one allowed to go near her. Mrs.
Cameron herself would take her up her meals, and take the tray away
again, and very little the poor dear would eat, for I often saw what
come out. It would go to your heart, sir, that it would, for a healthier
appetite than Miss Polly's there ain't in the family. Well, sir, Miss
Helen had a letter from you this morning, saying as how you'd be back by
six o'clock, and after dinner she went up to Miss Polly's door, and I
heard her, for I was walking with baby up and down the passage. It was
beautiful to hear the loving way Miss Helen spoke, Doctor; she was
kneeling down and singing her words through the key-hole. 'Father'll be
home to-night, Polly,' she said - 'keep up heart, Poll dear - father'll
be home to-night, and he'll make everything happy again.' Nothing could
have been more tender than Miss Helen's voice, it would have moved
anybody. But there was never a sound nor an answer from inside the room,
and just then Miss Firefly and Master Bunny came rushing up the stairs
as if they were half mad. 'O Nell, come, come quick!' they said,
'there's the step-ladder outside Poll's window, and a bit of rope and
two towels fastened together hanging to the sill, and the window is wide
open!' Miss Helen ran downstairs with a face like a sheet, and by and by
Alice came up and told me the rest. Master Bunny got up on the
step-ladder, and by means of the rope and the bedroom towels managed to
climb on to the window sill, and then he saw there wasn't ever a Miss
Polly at all in the room. Oh, poor dear! he might have broke his own
neck searching for her, but - well, there's a Providence over children,
and no mistake. Miss Polly had run away, that was plain. When Miss Helen
heard it, and knew that it was true, she turned to Alice with her face
like a bit of chalk, and tears in her eyes, and, 'Alice,' she said, 'I'm
going to look for Polly. You can tell Nurse I'll be back when I have
found Polly.' With that she walked down the path as fast as she could,
and every one of the others followed her. Alice watched them getting
over the little turnstile, and down by the broad meadow, then she came
up and let me know. I blamed her for not coming sooner, but - what's the
matter, Doctor?"

"I am going to find Polly and the others," said Dr. Maybright. "It's a
pity no older person in the house followed them; but so many can
scarcely come to harm. It is Polly I am anxious about - they cannot have
discovered her, or they would be home before now."

The Doctor left the nursery, ran downstairs, put on his hat, and went
out. As he did so, he heard the dubious, questioning kind of cough which
Mrs. Cameron was so fond of making - this cough was accompanied by
Scorpion's angry snarling little bark. The Doctor prayed inwardly for
patience as he hurried down the avenue in search of his family. He was
absolutely at a loss where to seek them.

"The broad meadow only leads to the high-road," he said to himself, "and
the high-road has many twists and turns. Surely the children cannot have
ventured on the moor; surely Polly cannot have been mad enough to try to
hide herself there."

It was a starlight night, and the Doctor walked quickly.

"I don't know where they are. I must simply let instinct guide me," he
said to himself; and after walking for three quarters of an hour
instinct did direct him to where, seated on a little patch of green turf
at one side of the king's highway, were three solitary and
disreputable-looking little figures.

"Father!" came convulsively from three little parched throats; there was
a volume in the cry, a tone of rapture, of longing, of pain, which was
almost indescribable. "Father's come back again, it's all right now,"
sobbed Firefly, and immediately the boys and the little girl had cuddled
up to him and were kissing him, each boy taking possession of a hand,
and Firefly clasping her arms round his neck.

"I know all about it, children," explained the Doctor. "But tell me
quickly, where are the others? where is Polly?"

"Oh, you darling father!" said Firefly, "you darling, you darling! let
me kiss you once again. There, now I'm happy!"

"But tell me where the others are, dear child."

"Just a little way off. We did get so tired, and Helen said that Polly
must have gone on the moor, and she said she must and would follow her."

"We were so tired," said Bunny.

"And there was a great nail running into my heel," explained Bob.

"So we sat down here, and tried to pretend we were gipsies," continued
Firefly. "The moon was shining, and that was a little wee bit of
comfort, but we didn't like it much. Father, it isn't much fun being a
gipsy, is it?"

"No, dear; but go on. How long is it since you parted from the others?"

"Half an hour; but it's all right. Bunny, you can tell that part."

Bunny puffed himself out, and tried to speak in his most important
manner.

"Nell gave me the dog-whistle," he said, "and I was to whistle it if it
was real necessary, not by no means else. I didn't fancy that I was a
gipsy. I thought perhaps I was the driver of a fly, and that when I blew
my whistle Nell would be like another driver coming to me. That's what I
thought," concluded Bunny. But as his metaphors were always extremely
mixed and confusing, no one listened to him.

"You have a whistle?" said the Doctor. "Give it to me. This is a very
dangerous thing that you have done, children. Now, let me see how far I
can make the sound go. Oh, that thing! I can make a better whistle than
that with my hand."

He did so, making the moor, on the borders of which they stood, resound
with a long, shrill, powerful blast. Presently faint sounds came back in
answer, and in about a quarter of an hour Helen and her three sisters,
very tired and faint, and loitering in their steps, came slowly into
view.

Oh, yes; they were all so glad to see father, but they had not seen
Polly; no, not a trace nor sound could be discovered to lead to Polly's
whereabouts.

"But she must not spend the night alone on the moor," said the Doctor.
"No, that cannot be. Children, you must all go home directly. On your
way past the lodge, Helen, desire Simpkins and George to come with
lanterns to this place. They are to wait for me here, and when they
whistle I will answer them. After they have waited here for half an
hour, and I do not whistle back, they are to begin to search the moor on
their own account. Now go home as fast as you can, my dears. I will
return when I have found Polly, not before."

The moon was very brilliant that night, and Helen's wistful face, as she
looked full at her father, caused him to bend suddenly and kiss her.
"You are my brave child, Nell. Be the bravest of all by taking the
others home now. Home, children; and to bed at once, remember. No
visiting of the drawing-room for any of you to-night."

The Doctor smiled, and kissed his hand, and a very disconsolate little
party turned in the direction of Sleepy Hollow.




CHAPTER XVIII.

THE WIFE OF MICAH JONES.


If ever there was a girl whose mind was in a confused and complex state,
that girl was Polly Maybright. Suddenly into her life of sunshine and
ease and petting, into her days of love and indulgence, came the cold
shadow of would-be justice. Polly had done wrong, and a very stern
judge, in the shape of Aunt Maria Cameron, was punishing her.

Polly had often been naughty in her life; she was an independent,
quick-tempered child; she had determination, and heaps of courage, but
she was always supposed to want ballast. It was the fashion in the house
to be a little more lenient to Polly's misdemeanors than to any one
else's. When a very little child, Nurse had excused ungovernable fits of
rage with the injudicious words, "Poor lamb, she can't help herself!"
The sisters, older or younger, yielded to Polly, partly because of a
certain fascination which she exercised over them, for she was extremely
brilliant and quick of idea, and partly because they did not want her to
get into what they called her tantrums. Father, too, made a pet of her,
and perhaps slightly spoiled her, but during mother's lifetime all this
did not greatly matter, for mother guided the imperious, impetuous,
self-willed child, with the exquisite tact of love. During mother's
lifetime, when Polly was naughty, she quickly became good again; now
matters were very different.

Mrs. Cameron was a woman who, with excellent qualities, and she had
many, had not a scrap of the "mother-feel" within her. There are women
who never called a child their own who are full of it, but Mrs. Cameron
was not one of these. Her rule with regard to the management of young
people was simple and severe - she saw no difference between one child
and another. "Spare the rod and spoil the child," applied equally in
every case, so now, constituting herself Polly's rightful guardian in
the absence of her father, she made up her mind on no account to spare
the rod. Until Polly humbled herself to the very dust she should go
unforgiven. Solitary confinement was a most safe and admirable method of
correction. Therefore unrepentant Polly remained in her room.

The effects, as far as the culprit was concerned, were not encouraging.
In the first place she would not acknowledge Mrs. Cameron's right to
interfere in her life; in the next harshness had a very hardening effect
on her.

It was dull in Polly's room. The naughtiest child cannot cry all the
time, nor sulk when left quite to herself, and although, whenever Mrs.
Cameron appeared on the scene, the sulks and temper both returned in
full force, Polly spent many long and miserable hours perfectly
distracted with the longing to find something to do. The only books in
the room were Helen's little Bible, a copy of "Robinson Crusoe," and the
Dictionary. For obvious reasons Polly did not care to read the Bible at
present. "Robinson Crusoe" she knew already by heart, but found it
slightly amusing trying to make something of the sentences read
backwards. The Dictionary was her final resource, and she managed to
pass many tedious hours working straight through it page after page. She
had got as far as M, and life was becoming insupportable, when about the
middle of the day, on Monday, she was startled by a cautious and
stealthy noise, and also by a shadow falling directly on her page. She
looked up quickly; there was the round and radiant face of Maggie glued
to the outside of the window, while her voice came in, cautious but
piercing, "Open the window quick, Miss Polly, I'm a-falling down."

Polly flew to the rescue, and in a moment Maggie was standing in the
room. In her delight at seeing a more genial face than Aunt Maria's,
Polly flung her arms round Maggie and kissed her.

"How good of you to come!" she exclaimed. "And you must not go away
again. Where will you hide when Aunt Maria comes to visit me? Under the
bed, or in this cupboard?"

"Not in neither place," responded Maggie, who was still gasping and
breathless, and whose brown winsey frock showed a disastrous tear from
hem to waist.

"Not in neither place," she proceeded, "for I couldn't a-bear it any
longer, and you ain't going to stay in this room no longer, Miss Polly;
I nearly brained myself a-clinging on to the honeysuckle, and the
ivy-roots, but here I be, and now we'll both go down the ladder and run
away."

"Run away - oh!" said Polly, clasping her hands, and a great flood of
rose-color lighting up her face.

She ran to the window. The housemaid's step-ladder stood below, but
Polly's window was two or three feet above.

"We'll manage with a bit of rope and the bedroom towels," said Maggie,
eagerly. "It's nothing at all, getting down - it's what I did was the
danger. Now, be quick, Miss Polly; let's get away while they're at
dinner."

It did not take an instant for Polly to decide. Between the delights of
roaming the country with Maggie, and the pleasure of continuing to read
through the M's in Webster's Dictionary, there could be little choice.
On the side of liberty and freedom alone could the balance fall. The
bedroom towels were quickly tied on to the old rope, the rope secured
firmly inside the window-sill, and the two girls let themselves swing
lightly on to the step-ladder. They were both agile, and the descent did
not terrify them in the least. When they reached the ground they took
each other's hands, and looked into each other's faces.

"You might have thought of bringing a hat, Miss Polly."

"Oh, never mind, Maggie. You do look shabby; your frock is torn right
open."

"Well, Miss, I got it a-coming to save you. Miss Polly, Mrs. Power's
back in the kitchen. Hadn't we better run? We'll talk afterwards."

So they did, not meeting any one, for Mrs. Cameron and the children were
all at dinner, and the servants were also in the house. They ran through
the kitchen garden, vaulted over the sunken fence, and found themselves
in the little sheltered green lane, where Polly had lain on her face and
hands and caught the thrushes on the July day when her mother died. She
stood almost in the same spot now, but her mind was in too great a
whirl, and her feelings too excited, to cast back any glances of memory
just then.

"Well, Maggie," she said, pulling up short, "now, what are your plans?
Where are we going to? Where are we to hide?"

"Eh?" said Maggie.

She had evidently come to the end of her resources, and the intelligent
light suddenly left her face.

"I didn't think o' that," she said: "there's mother's."

"No, that wouldn't do," interrupted Polly. "Your mother has only two
rooms. I couldn't hide long in her house; and besides, she is poor, I
would not put myself on her for anything. I'll tell you what, Maggie,
we'll go across Peg-Top Moor, and make straight for the old hut by the
belt of fir-trees. You know it, we had a picnic there once, and I made
up a story of hermits living in the hut. Well, you and I will be the
hermits."

"But what are we to eat?" said Maggie, whose ideas were all practical,
and her appetite capacious.

Polly's bright eyes, however, were dancing, and her whole face was
radiant. The delight of being a real hermit, and living in a real hut,
far surpassed any desire for food.

"We'll eat berries from the trees," she said, "and we'll drink water
from the spring. I know there's a spring of delicious water not far from
the hut. Oh! come along, Maggie, do; this is delightful!"

An old pony, who went in the family by the stately name of Sultan, had
been wont to help the children in their long rambles over the moor. They
were never allowed to wander far alone, and had not made one expedition
since their mother's death. It was really two years since Polly had been
to the hut at the far end of Peg-Top Moor. This moor was particularly
lonely, it was interspersed at intervals with thickets of rank
undergrowth and belts of trees, and was much frequented on that account
by gipsies and other lawless people. Polly, who went last over the moor,
carried the greater part of the way on Sultan's friendly back, had very
little idea how far the distance was. It was September now, but the sun
shone on the heather and fern with great power, and as Polly had no hat
on her head, having refused to take Maggie's from her; she was glad to
take shelter under friendly trees whenever they came across her path.

At first the little girls walked very quickly, for they were afraid of
being overtaken and brought back; but after a time their steps grew
slow, their movement decidedly languid, and Maggie at least began to
feel that berries from the trees and water from the spring, particularly
when neither was to be found anywhere, was by no means a substantial or
agreeable diet to dwell upon.

"I don't think I like being a hermit," she began. "I don't know nought
what it means, but I fancy it must be very thinning and running down to
the constitootion."

Polly looked at her, and burst out laughing.

"It is," she said, "that's what the life was meant for, to subdue the
flesh in all possible ways; you'll get as thin as a whipping-post, Mag."

"I don't like it," retorted Maggie. "Maybe we'd best be returning home,
now, Miss Polly."

Polly's eyes flashed. She caught Maggie by the shoulder.

"You are a mean girl," she said. "You got me into this scrape, and now
you mean to desert me. I was sitting quietly in my room, reading through
the M's in Webster's Dictionary, and you came and asked me to run away;
it was your doing, Maggie, you know that."

"Yes, miss! yes, Miss!"

Maggie began to sob. "But I never, never thought it meant berries and
spring-water; no, that I didn't. Oh, I be so hungry!"

At this moment all angry recriminations were frozen on the lips of both
little girls, for rising suddenly, almost as it seemed from the ground
at their feet, appeared a gaunt woman of gigantic make.

"Maybe you'll be hungrier," she said in a menacing voice. "What
business have you to go through Deadman's Copse without leave?"

Maggie was much too alarmed to make any reply, but Polly, after a moment
or two of startled silence, came boldly to the rescue.

"Who are you?" she said. "Maggie and I know nothing of Deadman's Copse;
this is a wood, and we are going through it; we have got business on the
other side of Peg-Top-Moor."

"That's as it may be," replied the woman, "this wood belongs to me and
to my sons, Nathaniel and Patrick, and to our dogs, Cinder and Flinder,
and those what goes through Deadman's Copse must pay toll to me, the
wife of Micah Jones. My husband is dead, and he left the wood to me, and
them as go through it must pay toll."

The woman's voice was very menacing; she was of enormous size, and going
up to the little girls, attempted to place one of her brawny arms on
Polly's shoulder. But Polly with all her faults possessed a great deal
of courage; her eyes flashed, and she sprang aside from the woman's
touch.

"You are talking nonsense," she said. "Father has over and over told me
that the moor belongs to the Queen, so this little bit couldn't have
been given to your husband, Micah Jones, and we are just as free to walk


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