Part 3 out of 5
When we had explained, we said, 'Might we go?' The curate said,
'The sooner the better.' But the Lady of the House asked for our
names and addresses, and said she should write to our Father. (She
did, and we heard of it too.) They did not do anything to us, as
Oswald at one time believed to be the curate's idea. They let us
And we went, after we had asked for a piece of rope to lead the pig
'In case it should come back into your nice room,' Alice said.
'And that would be such a pity, wouldn't it?'
A little girl in a starched pinafore was sent for the rope. And as
soon as the pig had agreed to let us tie it round his neck we came
away. The scene in the drawing-room had not been long. The pig
'Like the meandering brook,'
Denny said. just by the gate the shrubs rustled and opened, and
the little girl came out. Her pinafore was full of cake.
'Here,' she said. 'You must be hungry if you've come all that way.
I think they might have given you some tea after all the trouble
you've had.' We took the cake with correct thanks.
'I wish I could play at circuses,' she said. 'Tell me about it.'
We told her while we ate the cake; and when we had done she said
perhaps it was better to hear about than do, especially the goat's
part and Dicky's.
'But I do wish auntie had given you tea,' she said.
We told her not to be too hard on her aunt, because you have to
make allowances for grown-up people. When we parted she said she
would never forget us, and Oswald gave her his pocket button-hook
and corkscrew combined for a keepsake.
Dicky's act with the goat (which is true, and no kid) was the only
thing out of that day that was put in the Golden Deed book, and he
put that in himself while we were hunting the pig.
Alice and me capturing the pig was never put in. We would scorn to
write our own good actions, but I suppose Dicky was dull with us
all away; and you must pity the dull, and not blame them.
I will not seek to unfold to you how we got the pig home, or how
the donkey was caught (that was poor sport compared to the pig).
Nor will I tell you a word of all that was said and done to the
intrepid hunters of the Black and Learned. I have told you all the
interesting part. Seek not to know the rest. It is better buried
BEING BEAVERS; OR, THE YOUNG EXPLORERS
(ARCTIC OR OTHERWISE)
You read in books about the pleasures of London, and about how
people who live in the country long for the gay whirl of fashion in
town because the country is so dull. I do not agree with this at
all. In London, or at any rate Lewisham, nothing happens unless
you make it happen; or if it happens it doesn't happen to you, and
you don't know the people it does happen to. But in the country
the most interesting events occur quite freely, and they seem to
happen to you as much as to anyone else. Very often quite without
your doing anything to help.
The natural and right ways of earning your living in the country
are much jollier than town ones, too; sowing and reaping, and doing
things with animals, are much better sport than fishmongering or
bakering or oil-shopping, and those sort of things, except, of
course, a plumber's and gasfitter's, and he is the same in town or
country--most interesting and like an engineer.
I remember what a nice man it was that came to cut the gas off once
at our old house in Lewisham, when my father's business was feeling
so poorly. He was a true gentleman, and gave Oswald and Dicky over
two yards and a quarter of good lead piping, and a brass tap that
only wanted a washer, and a whole handful of screws to do what we
liked with. We screwed the back door up with the screws, I
remember, one night when Eliza was out without leave. There was an
awful row. We did not mean to get her into trouble. We only
thought it would be amusing for her to find the door screwed up
when she came down to take in the milk in the morning. But I must
not say any more about the Lewisham house. It is only the
pleasures of memory, and nothing to do with being beavers, or any
sort of exploring.
I think Dora and Daisy are the kind of girls who will grow up very
good, and perhaps marry missionaries. I am glad Oswald's destiny
looks at present as if it might be different.
We made two expeditions to discover the source of the Nile (or the
North Pole), and owing to their habit of sticking together and
doing dull and praiseable things, like sewing, and helping with the
cooking, and taking invalid delicacies to the poor and indignant,
Daisy and Dora were wholly out of it both times, though Dora's foot
was now quite well enough to have gone to the North Pole or the
Equator either. They said they did not mind the first time,
because they like to keep themselves clean; it is another of their
queer ways. And they said they had had a better time than us. (It
was only a clergyman and his wife who called, and hot cakes for
tea.) The second time they said they were lucky not to have been in
it. And perhaps they were right. But let me to my narrating. I
hope you will like it. I am going to try to write it a different
way, like the books they give you for a prize at a girls' school--I
mean a 'young ladies' school', of course--not a high school. High
schools are not nearly so silly as some other kinds. Here goes:
'"Ah, me!" sighed a slender maiden of twelve summers, removing her
elegant hat and passing her tapery fingers lightly through her fair
tresses, "how sad it is--is it not?--to see able-bodied youths and
young ladies wasting the precious summer hours in idleness and
'The maiden frowned reproachingly, but yet with earnest gentleness,
at the group of youths and maidens who sat beneath an umbragipeaous
beech tree and ate black currants.
'"Dear brothers and sisters," the blushing girl went on, "could we
not, even now, at the eleventh hour, turn to account these wasted
lives of ours, and seek some occupation at once improving and
'"I do not quite follow your meaning, dear sister," replied the
cleverest of her brothers, on whose brow--'
It's no use. I can't write like these books. I wonder how the
books' authors can keep it up.
What really happened was that we were all eating black currants in
the orchard, out of a cabbage leaf, and Alice said--
'I say, look here, let's do something. It's simply silly to waste
a day like this. It's just on eleven. Come on!'
And Oswald said, 'Where to?'
This was the beginning of it.
The moat that is all round our house is fed by streams. One of
them is a sort of open overflow pipe from a good-sized stream that
flows at the other side of the orchard.
It was this stream that Alice meant when she said--
'Why not go and discover the source of the Nile?'
Of course Oswald knows quite well that the source of the real live
Egyptian Nile is no longer buried in that mysteriousness where it
lurked undisturbed for such a long time. But he was not going to
say so. It is a great thing to know when not to say things.
'Why not have it an Arctic expedition?' said Dicky; 'then we could
take an ice-axe, and live on blubber and things. Besides, it
'Vote! vote!' cried Oswald. So we did.
Oswald, Alice, Noel, and Denny voted for the river of the ibis and
the crocodile. Dicky, H. O., and the other girls for the region of
perennial winter and rich blubber.
So Alice said, 'We can decide as we go. Let's start anyway.'
The question of supplies had now to be gone into. Everybody wanted
to take something different, and nobody thought the other people's
things would be the slightest use. It is sometimes thus even with
grown-up expeditions. So then Oswald, who is equal to the hardest
emergency that ever emerged yet, said--
'Let's each get what we like. The secret storehouse can be the
shed in the corner of the stableyard where we got the door for the
raft. Then the captain can decide who's to take what.'
This was done. You may think it but the work of a moment to fit
out an expedition, but this is not so, especially when you know not
whether your exploring party is speeding to Central Africa or
merely to the world of icebergs and the Polar bear.
Dicky wished to take the wood-axe, the coal hammer, a blanket, and
H. O. brought a large faggot in case we had to light fires, and a
pair of old skates he had happened to notice in the box-room, in
case the expedition turned out icy.
Noel had nicked a dozen boxes of matches, a spade, and a trowel,
and had also obtained--I know not by what means--a jar of pickled
Denny had a walking-stick--we can't break him of walking with it--a
book to read in case he got tired of being a discoverer, a
butterfly net and a box with a cork in it, a tennis ball, if we
happened to want to play rounders in the pauses of exploring, two
towels and an umbrella in the event of camping or if the river got
big enough to bathe in or to be fallen into.
Alice had a comforter for Noel in case we got late, a pair of
scissors and needle and cotton, two whole candles in case of caves.
And she had thoughtfully brought the tablecloth off the small table
in the dining-room, so that we could make all the things up into
one bundle and take it in turns to carry it.
Oswald had fastened his master mind entirely on grub. Nor had the
others neglected this.
All the stores for the expedition were put down on the tablecloth
and the corners tied up. Then it was more than even Oswald's
muscley arms could raise from the ground, so we decided not to take
it, but only the best-selected grub. The rest we hid in the straw
loft, for there are many ups and downs in life, and grub is grub at
any time, and so are stores of all kinds. The pickled onions we
had to leave, but not for ever.
Then Dora and Daisy came along with their arms round each other's
necks as usual, like a picture on a grocer's almanac, and said they
It was, as I have said, a blazing hot day, and there were
differences of opinion among the explorers about what eatables we
ought to have taken, and H. O. had lost one of his garters and
wouldn't let Alice tie it up with her handkerchief, which the
gentle sister was quite willing to do. So it was a rather gloomy
expedition that set off that bright sunny day to seek the source of
the river where Cleopatra sailed in Shakespeare (or the frozen
plains Mr Nansen wrote that big book about).
But the balmy calm of peaceful Nature soon made the others less
cross--Oswald had not been cross exactly but only disinclined to do
anything the others wanted--and by the time we had followed the
stream a little way, and had seen a water-rat and shied a stone or
two at him, harmony was restored. We did not hit the rat.
You will understand that we were not the sort of people to have
lived so long near a stream without plumbing its depths. Indeed it
was the same stream the sheep took its daring jump into the day we
had the circus. And of course we had often paddled in it--in the
shallower parts. But now our hearts were set on exploring. At
least they ought to have been, but when we got to the place where
the stream goes under a wooden sheep-bridge, Dicky cried, 'A camp!
a camp!' and we were all glad to sit down at once. Not at all like
real explorers, who know no rest, day or night, till they have got
there (whether it's the North Pole, or the central point of the
part marked 'Desert of Sahara' on old-fashioned maps).
The food supplies obtained by various members were good and plenty
of it. Cake, hard eggs, sausage-rolls, currants, lemon
cheese-cakes, raisins, and cold apple dumplings. It was all very
decent, but Oswald could not help feeling that the source of the
Nile (or North Pole) was a long way off, and perhaps nothing much
when you got there.
So he was not wholly displeased when Denny said, as he lay kicking
into the bank when the things to eat were all gone--
'I believe this is clay: did you ever make huge platters and bowls
out of clay and dry them in the sun? Some people did in a book
called Foul Play, and I believe they baked turtles, or oysters, or
something, at the same time.'
He took up a bit of clay and began to mess it about, like you do
putty when you get hold of a bit. And at once the heavy gloom that
had hung over the explorers became expelled, and we all got under
the shadow of the bridge and messed about with clay.
'It will be jolly!' Alice said, 'and we can give the huge platters
to poor cottagers who are short of the usual sorts of crockery.
That would really be a very golden deed.'
It is harder than you would think when you read about it, to make
huge platters with clay. It flops about as soon as you get it any
size, unless you keep it much too thick, and then when you turn up
the edges they crack. Yet we did not mind the trouble. And we had
all got our shoes and stockings off. It is impossible to go on
being cross when your feet are in cold water; and there is
something in the smooth messiness of clay, and not minding how
dirty you get, that would soothe the savagest breast that ever
After a bit, though, we gave up the idea of the huge platter and
tried little things. We made some platters--they were like
flower-pot saucers; and Alice made a bowl by doubling up her fists
and getting Noel to slab the clay on outside. Then they smoothed
the thing inside and out with wet fingers, and it was a bowl--at
least they said it was. When we'd made a lot of things we set them
in the sun to dry, and then it seemed a pity not to do the thing
thoroughly. So we made a bonfire, and when it had burnt down we
put our pots on the soft, white, hot ashes among the little red
sparks, and kicked the ashes over them and heaped more fuel over
the top. It was a fine fire.
Then tea-time seemed as if it ought to be near, and we decided to
come back next day and get our pots.
As we went home across the fields Dicky looked back and said--
'The bonfire's going pretty strong.'
We looked. It was. Great flames were rising to heaven against the
evening sky. And we had left it,a smouldering flat heap.
'The clay must have caught alight,' H. O. said. 'Perhaps it's the
kind that burns. I know I've heard of fireclay. And there's
another sort you can eat.'
'Oh, shut up!' Dicky said with anxious scorn.
With one accord we turned back. We all felt THE feeling--the one
that means something fatal being up and it being your fault.
'Perhaps, Alice said, 'a beautiful young lady in a muslin dress was
passing by, and a spark flew on to her, and now she is rolling in
agony enveloped in flames.'
We could not see the fire now, because of the corner of the wood,
but we hoped Alice was mistaken.
But when we got in sight of the scene of our pottering industry we
saw it was as bad nearly as Alice's wild dream. For the wooden
fence leading up to the bridge had caught fire, and it was burning
like billy oh.
Oswald started to run; so did the others. As he ran he said to
himself, 'This is no time to think about your clothes. Oswald, be
And he was.
Arrived at the site of the conflagration, he saw that caps or straw
hats full of water, however quickly and perseveringly given, would
never put the bridge out, and his eventful past life made him know
exactly the sort of wigging you get for an accident like this.
So he said, 'Dicky, soak your jacket and mine in the stream and
chuck them along. Alice, stand clear, or your silly girl's
clothes'll catch as sure as fate.'
Dicky and Oswald tore off their jackets, so did Denny, but we would
not let him and H. O. wet theirs. Then the brave Oswald advanced
warily to the end of the burning rails and put his wet jacket over
the end bit, like a linseed poultice on the throat of a suffering
invalid who has got bronchitis. The burning wood hissed and
smouldered, and Oswald fell back, almost choked with the smoke.
But at once he caught up the other wet jacket and put it on another
place, and of course it did the trick as he had known it would do.
But it was a long job, and the smoke in his eyes made the young
hero obliged to let Dicky and Denny take a turn as they had
bothered to do from the first. At last all was safe; the devouring
element was conquered. We covered up the beastly bonfire with clay
to keep it from getting into mischief again, and then Alice said--
'Now we must go and tell.'
'Of course,' Oswald said shortly. He had meant to tell all the
So we went to the farmer who has the Moat House Farm, and we went
at once, because if you have any news like that to tell it only
makes it worse if you wait about. When we had told him he said--
'You little ---.' I shall not say what he said besides that,
because I am sure he must have been sorry for it next Sunday when
he went to church, if not before.
We did not take any notice of what he said, but just kept on saying
how sorry we were; and he did not take our apology like a man, but
only said he daresayed, just like a woman does. Then he went to
look at his bridge, and we went in to our tea. The jackets were
never quite the same again.
Really great explorers would never be discouraged by the daresaying
of a farmer, still less by his calling them names he ought not to.
Albert's uncle was away so we got no double slating; and next day
we started again to discover the source of the river of cataracts
(or the region of mountain-like icebergs).
We set out, heavily provisioned with a large cake Daisy and Dora
had made themselves, and six bottles of ginger-beer. I think real
explorers most likely have their ginger-beer in something lighter
to carry than stone bottles. Perhaps they have it by the cask,
which would come cheaper; and you could make the girls carry it on
their back, like in pictures of the daughters of regiments.
We passed the scene of the devouring conflagration, and the thought
of the fire made us so thirsty we decided to drink the ginger-beer
and leave the bottles in a place of concealment. Then we went on,
determined to reach our destination, Tropic or Polar, that day.
Denny and H. O. wanted to stop and try to make a fashionable
watering-place at that part where the stream spreads out like a
small-sized sea, but Noel said, 'No.' We did not like
'YOU ought to, at any rate,' Denny said. 'A Mr Collins wrote an
Ode to the Fashions, and he was a great poet.'
'The poet Milton wrote a long book about Satan,' Noel said, 'but
I'm not bound to like HIM.' I think it was smart of Noel.
'People aren't obliged to like everything they write about even,
let alone read,' Alice said. 'Look at "Ruin seize thee, ruthless
king!" and all the pieces of poetry about war, and tyrants, and
slaughtered saints--and the one you made yourself about the black
By this time we had got by the pondy place and the danger of delay
was past; but the others went on talking about poetry for quite a
field and a half, as we walked along by the banks of the stream.
The stream was broad and shallow at this part, and you could see
the stones and gravel at the bottom, and millions of baby fishes,
and a sort of skating-spiders walking about on the top of the
water. Denny said the water must be ice for them to be able to
walk on it, and this showed we were getting near the North Pole.
But Oswald had seen a kingfisher by the wood, and he said it was an
ibis, so this was even.
When Oswald had had as much poetry as he could bear he said, 'Let's
be beavers and make a dam.' And everybody was so hot they agreed
joyously, and soon our clothes were tucked up as far as they could
go and our legs looked green through the water, though they were
pink out of it.
Making a dam is jolly good fun, though laborious, as books about
beavers take care to let you know.
Dicky said it must be Canada if we were beavers, and so it was on
the way to the Polar system, but Oswald pointed to his heated brow,
and Dicky owned it was warm for Polar regions. He had brought the
ice-axe (it is called the wood chopper sometimes), and Oswald, ever
ready and able to command, set him and Denny to cut turfs from the
bank while we heaped stones across the stream. It was clayey here,
or of course dam making would have been vain, even for the
When we had made a ridge of stones we laid turfs against
them--nearly across the stream, leaving about two feet for the
water to go through--then more stones, and then lumps of clay
stamped down as hard as we could. The industrious beavers spent
hours over it, with only one easy to eat cake in. And at last the
dam rose to the level of the bank. Then the beavers collected a
great heap of clay, and four of them lifted it and dumped it down
in the opening where the water was running. It did splash a
little, but a true-hearted beaver knows better than to mind a bit
of a wetting, as Oswald told Alice at the time. Then with more
clay the work was completed. We must have used tons of clay; there
was quite a big long hole in the bank above the dam where we had
taken it out.
When our beaver task was performed we went on, and Dicky was so hot
he had to take his jacket off and shut up about icebergs.
I cannot tell you about all the windings of the stream; it went
through fields and woods and meadows, and at last the banks got
steeper and higher, and the trees overhead darkly arched their
mysterious branches, and we felt like the princes in a fairy tale
who go out to seek their fortunes.
And then we saw a thing that was well worth coming all that way
for; the stream suddenly disappeared under a dark stone archway,
and however much you stood in the water and stuck your head down
between your knees you could not see any light at the other end.
The stream was much smaller than where we had been beavers.
Gentle reader, you will guess in a moment who it was that said--
'Alice, you've got a candle. Let's explore.' This gallant
proposal met but a cold response. The others said they didn't care
much about it, and what about tea?
I often think the way people try to hide their cowardliness behind
their teas is simply beastly.
Oswald took no notice. He just said, with that dignified manner,
not at all like sulking, which he knows so well how to put on--
'All right. I'M going. If you funk it you'd better cut along home
and ask your nurses to put you to bed.' So then, of course, they
agreed to go. Oswald went first with the candle. It was not
comfortable; the architect of that dark subterranean passage had
not imagined anyone would ever be brave enough to lead a band of
beavers into its inky recesses, or he would have built it high
enough to stand upright in. As it was, we were bent almost at a
right angle, and this is very awkward if for long.
But the leader pressed dauntlessly on, and paid no attention to the
groans of his faithful followers, nor to what they said about their
It really was a very long tunnel, though, and even Oswald was not
sorry to say, 'I see daylight.' The followers cheered as well as
they could as they splashed after him. The floor was stone as well
as the roof, so it was easy to walk on. I think the followers
would have turned back if it had been sharp stones or gravel.
And now the spot of daylight at the end of the tunnel grew larger
and larger, and presently the intrepid leader found himself
blinking in the full sun, and the candle he carried looked simply
silly. He emerged, and the others too, and they stretched their
backs and the word 'krikey' fell from more than one lip. It had
indeed been a cramping adventure. Bushes grew close to the mouth
of the tunnel, so we could not see much landscape, and when we had
stretched our backs we went on upstream and nobody said they'd had
jolly well enough of it, though in more than one young heart this
It was jolly to be in the sunshine again. I never knew before how
cold it was underground. The stream was getting smaller and
Dicky said, 'This can't be the way. I expect there was a turning
to the North Pole inside the tunnel, only we missed it. It was
cold enough there.'
But here a twist in the stream brought us out from the bushes, and
'Here is strange, wild, tropical vegetation in the richest
profusion. Such blossoms as these never opened in a frigid
It was indeed true. We had come out into a sort of marshy, swampy
place like I think, a jungle is, that the stream ran through, and
it was simply crammed with queer plants, and flowers we never saw
before or since. And the stream was quite thin. It was torridly
hot, and softish to walk on. There were rushes and reeds and small
willows, and it was all tangled over with different sorts of
grasses--and pools here and there. We saw no wild beasts, but
there were more different kinds of wild flies and beetles than you
could believe anybody could bear, and dragon-flies and gnats. The
girls picked a lot of flowers. I know the names of some of them,
but I will not tell you them because this is not meant to be
instructing. So I will only name meadow-sweet, yarrow,
loose-strife, lady's bed-straw and willow herb--both the larger and
Everyone now wished to go home. It was much hotter there than in
natural fields. It made you want to tear all your clothes off and
play at savages, instead of keeping respectable in your boots.
But we had to bear the boots because it was so brambly.
It was Oswald who showed the others how flat it would be to go home
the same way we came; and he pointed out the telegraph wires in the
distance and said--
'There must be a road there, let's make for it,' which was quite a
simple and ordinary thing to say, and he does not ask for any
credit for it. So we sloshed along, scratching our legs with the
brambles, and the water squelched in our boots, and Alice's blue
muslin frock was torn all over in those crisscross tears which are
considered so hard to darn.
We did not follow the stream any more. It was only a trickle now,
so we knew we had tracked it to its source. And we got hotter and
hotter and hotter, and the dews of agony stood in beads on our
brows and rolled down our noses and off our chins. And the flies
buzzed, and the gnats stung, and Oswald bravely sought to keep up
Dicky's courage, when he tripped on a snag and came down on a
bramble bush, by saying--
'You see it IS the source of the Nile we've discovered. What price
North Poles now?'
Alice said, 'Ah, but think of ices! I expect Oswald wishes it HAD
been the Pole, anyway.'
Oswald is naturally the leader, especially when following up what
is his own idea, but he knows that leaders have other duties
besides just leading. One is to assist weak or wounded members of
the expedition, whether Polar or Equatorish.
So the others had got a bit ahead through Oswald lending the
tottering Denny a hand over the rough places. Denny's feet hurt
him, because when he was a beaver his stockings had dropped out of
his pocket, and boots without stockings are not a bed of
luxuriousness. And he is often unlucky with his feet.
Presently we came to a pond, and Denny said--
Oswald likes Denny to have ideas; he knows it is healthy for the
boy, and generally he backs him up, but just now it was getting
late and the others were ahead, so he said--
'Oh, rot! come on.'
Generally the Dentist would have; but even worms will turn if they
are hot enough, and if their feet are hurting them.
'I don't care, I shall!' he said.
Oswald overlooked the mutiny and did not say who was leader. He
'Well don't be all day about it,' for he is a kind-hearted boy and
can make allowances.
So Denny took off his boots and went into the pool. 'Oh, it's
ripping!' he said. 'You ought to come in.'
'It looks beastly muddy,' said his tolerating leader.
'It is a bit,' Denny said, 'but the mud's just as cool as the
water, and so soft, it squeezes between your toes quite different
And so he splashed about, and kept asking Oswald to come along in.
But some unseen influence prevented Oswald doing this; or it may
have been because both his bootlaces were in hard knots.
Oswald had cause to bless the unseen influence, or the bootlaces,
or whatever it was.
Denny had got to the middle of the pool, and he was splashing
about, and getting his clothes very wet indeed, and altogether you
would have thought his was a most envious and happy state. But
alas! the brightest cloud had a waterproof lining. He was just
'You are a silly, Oswald. You'd much better--' when he gave a
blood-piercing scream, and began to kick about.
'What's up?' cried the ready Oswald; he feared the worst from the
way Denny screamed, but he knew it could not be an old meat tin in
this quiet and jungular spot, like it was in the moat when the
shark bit Dora.
'I don't know, it's biting me. Oh, it's biting me all over my
legs! Oh, what shall I do? Oh, it does hurt! Oh! oh! oh!'
remarked Denny, among his screams, and he splashed towards the
bank. Oswald went into the water and caught hold of him and helped
him out. It is true that Oswald had his boots on, but I trust he
would not have funked the unknown terrors of the deep, even without
his boots, I am almost sure he would not have.
When Denny had scrambled and been hauled ashore, we saw with horror
and amaze that his legs were stuck all over with large black,
slug-looking things. Denny turned green in the face--and even
Oswald felt a bit queer, for he knew in a moment what the black
dreadfulnesses were. He had read about them in a book called
Magnet Stories, where there was a girl called Theodosia, and she
could play brilliant trebles on the piano in duets, but the other
girl knew all about leeches which is much more useful and golden
deedy. Oswald tried to pull the leeches off, but they wouldn't,
and Denny howled so he had to stop trying. He remembered from the
Magnet Stories how to make the leeches begin biting--the girl did
it with cream--but he could not remember how to stop them, and they
had not wanted any showing how to begin.
'Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do? Oh, it does hurt! Oh,
oh!' Denny observed, and Oswald said--
'Be a man! Buck up! If you won't let me take them off you'll just
have to walk home in them.'
At this thought the unfortunate youth's tears fell fast. But
Oswald gave him an arm, and carried his boots for him, and he
consented to buck up, and the two struggled on towards the others,
who were coming back, attracted by Denny's yells. He did not stop
howling for a moment, except to breathe. No one ought to blame him
till they have had eleven leeches on their right leg and six on
their left, making seventeen in all, as Dicky said, at once.
It was lucky he did yell, as it turned out, because a man on the
road--where the telegraph wires were--was interested by his howls,
and came across the marsh to us as hard as he could. When he saw
Denny's legs he said--
'Blest if I didn't think so,' and he picked Denny up and carried
him under one arm, where Denny went on saying 'Oh!' and 'It does
hurt' as hard as ever.
Our rescuer, who proved to be a fine big young man in the bloom of
youth, and a farm-labourer by trade, in corduroys, carried the
wretched sufferer to the cottage where he lived with his aged
mother; and then Oswald found that what he had forgotten about the
leeches was SALT. The young man in the bloom of youth's mother put
salt on the leeches, and they squirmed off, and fell with
sickening, slug-like flops on the brick floor.
Then the young man in corduroys and the bloom, etc., carried Denny
home on his back, after his legs had been bandaged up, so that he
looked like 'wounded warriors returning'.
It was not far by the road, though such a long distance by the way
the young explorers had come.
He was a good young man, and though, of course, acts of goodness
are their own reward, still I was glad he had the two half-crowns
Albert's uncle gave him, as well as his own good act. But I am not
sure Alice ought to have put him in the Golden Deed book which was
supposed to be reserved for Us.
Perhaps you will think this was the end of the source of the Nile
(or North Pole). If you do, it only shows how mistaken the
gentlest reader may be.
The wounded explorer was lying with his wounds and bandages on the
sofa, and we were all having our tea, with raspberries and white
currants, which we richly needed after our torrid adventures, when
Mrs Pettigrew, the housekeeper, put her head in at the door and
'Please could I speak to you half a moment, sir?' to Albert's
uncle. And her voice was the kind that makes you look at each
other when the grown-up has gone out, and you are silent, with your
bread-and-butter halfway to the next bite, or your teacup in mid
flight to your lips.
It was as we suppose. Albert's uncle did not come back for a long
while. We did not keep the bread-and-butter on the wing all that
time, of course, and we thought we might as well finish the
raspberries and white currants. We kept some for Albert's uncle,
of course, and they were the best ones too but when he came back he
did not notice our thoughtful unselfishness.
He came in, and his face wore the look that means bed, and very
likely no supper.
He spoke, and it was the calmness of white-hot iron, which is
something like the calmness of despair. He said--
'You have done it again. What on earth possessed you to make a
'We were being beavers,' said H. O., in proud tones. He did not
see as we did where Albert's uncle's tone pointed to.
'No doubt,' said Albert's uncle, rubbing his hands through his
hair. 'No doubt! no doubt! Well, my beavers, you may go and build
dams with your bolsters. Your dam stopped the stream; the clay you
took for it left a channel through which it has run down and ruined
about seven pounds' worth of freshly-reaped barley. Luckily the
farmer found it out in time or you might have spoiled seventy
pounds' worth. And you burned a bridge yesterday.'
We said we were sorry. There was nothing else to say, only Alice
added, 'We didn't MEAN to be naughty.'
'Of course not,' said Albert's uncle, 'you never do. Oh, yes, I'll
kiss you--but it's bed and it's two hundred lines to-morrow, and
the line is--"Beware of Being Beavers and Burning Bridges. Dread
Dams." It will be a capital exercise in capital B's and D's.'
We knew by that that, though annoyed, he was not furious; we went
I got jolly sick of capital B's and D's before sunset on the
morrow. That night, just as the others were falling asleep, Oswald
'Well,' retorted his brother.
'There is one thing about it,' Oswald went on, 'it does show it was
a rattling good dam anyhow.'
And filled with this agreeable thought, the weary beavers (or
explorers, Polar or otherwise) fell asleep.
THE HIGH-BORN BABE
It really was not such a bad baby--for a baby. Its face was round
and quite clean, which babies' faces are not always, as I daresay
you know by your own youthful relatives; and Dora said its cape was
trimmed with real lace, whatever that may be--I don't see myself
how one kind of lace can be realler than another. It was in a very
swagger sort of perambulator when we saw it; and the perambulator
was standing quite by itself in the lane that leads to the mill.
'I wonder whose baby it is,' Dora said. 'Isn't it a darling,
Alice agreed to its being one, and said she thought it was most
likely the child of noble parents stolen by gipsies.
'These two, as likely as not,' Noel said. 'Can't you see something
crime-like in the very way they're lying?'
They were two tramps, and they were lying on the grass at the edge
of the lane on the shady side fast asleep, only a very little
further on than where the Baby was. They were very ragged, and
their snores did have a sinister sound.
'I expect they stole the titled heir at dead of night, and they've
been travelling hot-foot ever since, so now they're sleeping the
sleep of exhaustedness,' Alice said. 'What a heart-rending scene
when the patrician mother wakes in the morning and finds the infant
aristocrat isn't in bed with his mamma.'
The Baby was fast asleep or else the girls would have kissed it.
They are strangely fond of kissing. The author never could see
anything in it himself.
'If the gipsies DID steal it,' Dora said 'perhaps they'd sell it to
us. I wonder what they'd take for it.'
'What could you do with it if you'd got it?' H. O. asked.
'Why, adopt it, of course,' Dora said. 'I've often thought I
should enjoy adopting a baby. It would be a golden deed, too.
We've hardly got any in the book yet.'
'I should have thought there were enough of us,' Dicky said.
'Ah, but you're none of you babies,' said Dora.
'Unless you count H. O. as a baby: he behaves jolly like one
This was because of what had happened that morning when Dicky found
H. O. going fishing with a box of worms, and the box was the one
Dicky keeps his silver studs in, and the medal he got at school,
and what is left of his watch and chain. The box is lined with red
velvet and it was not nice afterwards. And then H. O. said Dicky
had hurt him, and he was a beastly bully, and he cried. We thought
all this had been made up, and were sorry to see it threaten to
break out again. So Oswald said--
'Oh, bother the Baby! Come along, do!'
And the others came.
We were going to the miller's with a message about some flour that
hadn't come, and about a sack of sharps for the pigs.
After you go down the lane you come to a clover-field, and then a
cornfield, and then another lane, and then it is the mill. It is
a jolly fine mill: in fact it is two--water and wind ones--one of
each kind--with a house and farm buildings as well. I never saw a
mill like it, and I don't believe you have either.
If we had been in a story-book the miller's wife would have taken
us into the neat sanded kitchen where the old oak settle was black
with time and rubbing, and dusted chairs for us--old brown Windsor
chairs--and given us each a glass of sweet- scented cowslip wine
and a thick slice of rich home-made cake. And there would have
been fresh roses in an old china bowl on the table. As it was, she
asked us all into the parlour and gave us Eiffel Tower lemonade and
Marie biscuits. The chairs in her parlour were 'bent wood', and no
flowers, except some wax ones under a glass shade, but she was very
kind, and we were very much obliged to her. We got out to the
miller, though, as soon as we could; only Dora and Daisy stayed
with her, and she talked to them about her lodgers and about her
relations in London.
The miller is a MAN. He showed us all over the mills--both
kinds--and let us go right up into the very top of the wind-mill,
and showed us how the top moved round so that the sails could catch
the wind, and the great heaps of corn, some red and some yellow
(the red is English wheat), and the heaps slice down a little bit
at a time into a square hole and go down to the mill-stones. The
corn makes a rustling soft noise that is very jolly--something like
the noise of the sea--and you can hear it through all the other
Then the miller let us go all over the water-mill. It is fairy
palaces inside a mill. Everything is powdered over white, like
sugar on pancakes when you are allowed to help yourself. And he
opened a door and showed us the great water-wheel working on slow
and sure, like some great, round, dripping giant, Noel said, and
then he asked us if we fished.
'Yes,' was our immediate reply.
'Then why not try the mill-pool?' he said, and we replied politely;
and when he was gone to tell his man something we owned to each
other that he was a trump.
He did the thing thoroughly. He took us out and cut us ash
saplings for rods; he found us in lines and hooks, and several
different sorts of bait, including a handsome handful of
meal-worms, which Oswald put loose in his pocket.
When it came to bait, Alice said she was going home with Dora and
Daisy. Girls are strange, mysterious, silly things. Alice always
enjoys a rat hunt until the rat is caught, but she hates fishing
from beginning to end. We boys have got to like it. We don't feel
now as we did when we turned off the water and stopped the
competition of the competing anglers. We had a grand day's fishing
that day. I can't think what made the miller so kind to us.
Perhaps he felt a thrill of fellow-feeling in his manly breast for
his fellow-sportsmen, for he was a noble fisherman himself.
We had glorious sport--eight roach, six dace, three eels, seven
perch, and a young pike, but he was so very young the miller asked
us to put him back, and of course we did. 'He'll live to bite
another day,' said the miller.
The miller's wife gave us bread and cheese and more Eiffel Tower
lemonade, and we went home at last, a little damp, but full of
successful ambition, with our fish on a string.
It had been a strikingly good time--one of those times that happen
in the country quite by themselves. Country people are much more
friendly than town people. I suppose they don't have to spread
their friendly feelings out over so many persons, so it's thicker,
like a pound of butter on one loaf is thicker than on a dozen.
Friendliness in the country is not scrape, like it is in London.
Even Dicky and H. O. forgot the affair of honour that had taken
place in the morning. H. O. changed rods with Dicky because H.
O.'s was the best rod, and Dicky baited H. O.'s hook for him, just
like loving, unselfish brothers in Sunday School magazines.
We were talking fishlikely as we went along down the lane and
through the cornfield and the cloverfield, and then we came to the
other lane where we had seen the Baby. The tramps were gone, and
the perambulator was gone, and, of course, the Baby was gone too.
'I wonder if those gipsies HAD stolen the Baby?' Noel said
dreamily. He had not fished much, but he had made a piece of
poetry. It was this:
'How I wish
I was a fish.
I would not look
At your hook,
But lie still and be cool
At the bottom of the pool
And when you went to look
At your cruel hook,
You would not find me there,
'If they did steal the Baby,' Noel went on, 'they will be tracked
by the lordly perambulator. You can disguise a baby in rags and
walnut juice, but there isn't any disguise dark enough to conceal
a perambulator's person.'
'You might disguise it as a wheel-barrow,' said Dicky.
'Or cover it with leaves,' said H. O., 'like the robins.'
We told him to shut up and not gibber, but afterwards we had to own
that even a young brother may sometimes talk sense by accident.
For we took the short cut home from the lane--it begins with a
large gap in the hedge and the grass and weeds trodden down by the
hasty feet of persons who were late for church and in too great a
hurry to go round by the road. Our house is next to the church, as
I think I have said before, some time.
The short cut leads to a stile at the edge of a bit of wood (the
Parson's Shave, they call it, because it belongs to him). The wood
has not been shaved for some time, and it has grown out beyond the
stile and here, among the hazels and chestnuts and young dogwood
bushes, we saw something white. We felt it was our duty to
investigate, even if the white was only the under side of the tail
of a dead rabbit caught in a trap.
It was not--it was part of the perambulator. I forget whether I
said that the perambulator was enamelled white--not the kind of
enamelling you do at home with Aspinall's and the hairs of the
brush come out and it is gritty-looking, but smooth, like the
handles of ladies very best lace parasols. And whoever had
abandoned the helpless perambulator in that lonely spot had done
exactly as H. O. said, and covered it with leaves, only they were
green and some of them had dropped off.
The others were wild with excitement. Now or never, they thought,
was a chance to be real detectives. Oswald alone retained a calm
exterior. It was he who would not go straight to the police
He said: 'Let's try and ferret out something for ourselves before
we tell the police. They always have a clue directly they hear
about the finding of the body. And besides, we might as well let
Alice be in anything there is going. And besides, we haven't had
our dinners yet.'
This argument of Oswald's was so strong and powerful--his arguments
are often that, as I daresay you have noticed--that the others
agreed. It was Oswald, too, who showed his artless brothers why
they had much better not take the deserted perambulator home with
'The dead body, or whatever the clue is, is always left exactly as
it is found,' he said, 'till the police have seen it, and the
coroner, and the inquest, and the doctor, and the sorrowing
relations. Besides, suppose someone saw us with the beastly thing,
and thought we had stolen it; then they would say, "What have you
done with the Baby?" and then where should we be?' Oswald's
brothers could not answer this question, but once more Oswald's
native eloquence and far-seeing discerningness conquered.
'Anyway,' Dicky said, 'let's shove the derelict a little further
So we did.
Then we went on home. Dinner was ready and so were Alice and
Daisy, but Dora was not there.
'She's got a-- well, she's not coming to dinner anyway,' Alice said
when we asked. 'She can tell you herself afterwards what it is
Oswald thought it was headache, or pain in the temper, or in the
pinafore, so he said no more, but as soon as Mrs Pettigrew had
helped us and left the room he began the thrilling tale of the
forsaken perambulator. He told it with the greatest thrillingness
anyone could have, but Daisy and Alice seemed almost unmoved.
'Yes, very strange,' and things like that, but both the girls
seemed to be thinking of something else. They kept looking at each
other and trying not to laugh, so Oswald saw they had got some
silly secret and he said--
'Oh, all right! I don't care about telling you. I only thought
you'd like to be in it. It's going to be a really big thing, with
policemen in it, and perhaps a judge.'
'In what?' H. O. said; 'the perambulator?'
Daisy choked and then tried to drink, and spluttered and got
purple, and had to be thumped on the back. But Oswald was not
appeased. When Alice said, 'Do go on, Oswald. I'm sure we all
like it very much,' he said--
'Oh, no, thank you,' very politely. 'As it happens,' he went on,
'I'd just as soon go through with this thing without having any
girls in it.'
'In the perambulator?' said H. O. again.
'It's a man's job,' Oswald went on, without taking any notice of H.
'Do you really think so,' said Alice, 'when there's a baby in it?'
'But there isn't,' said H. O., 'if you mean in the perambulator.'
'Blow you and your perambulator,' said Oswald, with gloomy
Alice kicked Oswald under the table and said--
'Don't be waxy, Oswald. Really and truly Daisy and I HAVE got a
secret, only it's Dora's secret, and she wants to tell you herself.
If it was mine or Daisy's we'd tell you this minute, wouldn't we,
'This very second,' said the White Mouse.
And Oswald consented to take their apologies.
Then the pudding came in, and no more was said except asking for
things to be passed--sugar and water, and bread and things.
Then when the pudding was all gone, Alice said--
And we came on. We did not want to be disagreeable, though really
we were keen on being detectives and sifting that perambulator to
the very dregs. But boys have to try to take an interest in their
sisters' secrets, however silly. This is part of being a good
Alice led us across the field where the sheep once fell into the
brook, and across the brook by the plank. At the other end of the
next field there was a sort of wooden house on wheels, that the
shepherd sleeps in at the time of year when lambs are being born,
so that he can see that they are not stolen by gipsies before the
owners have counted them.
To this hut Alice now led her kind brothers and Daisy's kind
'Dora is inside,' she said, 'with the Secret. We were afraid to
have it in the house in case it made a noise.'
The next moment the Secret was a secret no longer, for we all
beheld Dora, sitting on a sack on the floor of the hut, with the
Secret in her lap.
It was the High-born Babe!
Oswald was so overcome that he sat down suddenly, just like Betsy
Trotwood did in David Copperfield, which just shows what a true
author Dickens is.
'You've done it this time,' he said. 'I suppose you know you're a
'I'm not,' Dora said. 'I've adopted him.'
'Then it was you,' Dicky said, 'who scuttled the perambulator in
'Yes,' Alice said; 'we couldn't get it over the stile unless Dora
put down the Baby, and we were afraid of the nettles for his legs.
His name is to be Lord Edward.'
'But, Dora--really, don't you think--'
'If you'd been there you'd have done the same,' said Dora firmly.
'The gipsies had gone. Of course something had frightened them and
they fled from justice. And the little darling was awake and held
out his arms to me. No, he hasn't cried a bit, and I know all
about babies; I've often nursed Mrs Simpkins's daughter's baby when
she brings it up on Sundays. They have bread and milk to eat. You
take him, Alice, and I'll go and get some bread and milk for him.'
Alice took the noble brat. It was horribly lively, and squirmed
about in her arms, and wanted to crawl on the floor. She could
only keep it quiet by saying things to it a boy would be ashamed
even to think of saying, such as 'Goo goo', and 'Did ums was', and
'Ickle ducksums, then'.
When Alice used these expressions the Baby laughed and chuckled and
'Daddadda', 'Bababa', or 'Glueglue'.
But if Alice stopped her remarks for an instant the thing screwed
its face up as if it was going to cry, but she never gave it time
It was a rummy little animal.
Then Dora came back with the bread and milk, and they fed the noble
infant. It was greedy and slobbery, but all three girls seemed
unable to keep their eyes and hands off it. They looked at it
exactly as if it was pretty.
We boys stayed watching them. There was no amusement left for us
now, for Oswald saw that Dora's Secret knocked the bottom out of
When the infant aristocrat had eaten a hearty meal it sat on
Alice's lap and played with the amber heart she wears that Albert's
uncle brought her from Hastings after the business of the bad
sixpence and the nobleness of Oswald.
'Now,' said Dora, 'this is a council, so I want to be
business-like. The Duckums Darling has been stolen away; its
wicked stealers have deserted the Precious. We've got it. Perhaps
its ancestral halls are miles and miles away. I vote we keep the
little Lovey Duck till it's advertised for.'
'If Albert's uncle lets you,' said Dicky darkly.
'Oh, don't say "you" like that,' Dora said; 'I want it to be all of
our baby. It will have five fathers and three mothers, and a
grandfather and a great Albert's uncle, and a great grand-uncle.
I'm sure Albert's uncle will let us keep it--at any rate till it's
'And suppose it never is,' Noel said.
'Then so much the better,' said Dora, 'the little Duckyux.'
She began kissing the baby again. Oswald, ever thoughtful, said--
'Well, what about your dinner?'
'Bother dinner!' Dora said--so like a girl. 'Will you all agree to
be his fathers and mothers?'
'Anything for a quiet life,' said Dicky, and Oswald said--
'Oh, yes, if you like. But you'll see we shan't be allowed to keep
'You talk as if he was rabbits or white rats,' said Dora, 'and he's
not--he's a little man, he is.'
'All right, he's no rabbit, but a man. Come on and get some grub,
Dora,' rejoined the kind-hearted Oswald, and Dora did, with Oswald
and the other boys. Only Noel stayed with Alice. He really seemed
to like the baby. When I looked back he was standing on his head
to amuse it, but the baby did not seem to like him any better
whichever end of him was up.
Dora went back to the shepherd's house on wheels directly she had
had her dinner. Mrs Pettigrew was very cross about her not being
in to it, but she had kept her some mutton hot all the same. She
is a decent sort. And there were stewed prunes. We had some to
keep Dora company. Then we boys went fishing again in the moat,
but we caught nothing.
Just before tea-time we all went back to the hut, and before we got
half across the last field we could hear the howling of the Secret.
'Poor little beggar,' said Oswald, with manly tenderness. 'They
must be sticking pins in it.'
We found the girls and Noel looking quite pale and breathless.
Daisy was walking up and down with the Secret in her arms. It
looked like Alice in Wonderland nursing the baby that turned into
a pig. Oswald said so, and added that its screams were like it
'What on earth is the matter with it?' he said.
'_I_ don't know,' said Alice. 'Daisy's tired, and Dora and I are
quite worn out. He's been crying for hours and hours. YOU take
him a bit.'
'Not me,' replied Oswald, firmly, withdrawing a pace from the
Dora was fumbling with her waistband in the furthest corner of the
'I think he's cold,' she said. 'I thought I'd take off my
flannelette petticoat, only the horrid strings got into a hard
knot. Here, Oswald, let's have your knife.'
With the word she plunged her hand into Oswald's jacket pocket, and
next moment she was rubbing her hand like mad on her dress, and
screaming almost as loud as the Baby. Then she began to laugh and
to cry at the same time. This is called hysterics.
Oswald was sorry, but he was annoyed too. He had forgotten that
his pocket was half full of the meal-worms the miller had kindly
given him. And, anyway, Dora ought to have known that a man always
carries his knife in his trousers pocket and not in his jacket one.
Alice and Daisy rushed to Dora. She had thrown herself down on the
pile of sacks in the corner. The titled infant delayed its screams
for a moment to listen to Dora's, but almost at once it went on
'Oh, get some water!' said Alice. 'Daisy, run!'
The White Mouse, ever docile and obedient, shoved the baby into the
arms of the nearest person, who had to take it or it would have
fallen a wreck to the ground. This nearest person was Oswald. He
tried to pass it on to the others, but they wouldn't. Noel would
have, but he was busy kissing Dora and begging her not to.
So our hero, for such I may perhaps term him, found himself the
degraded nursemaid of a small but furious kid.
He was afraid to lay it down, for fear in its rage it should beat
its brains out against the hard earth, and he did not wish, however
innocently, to be the cause of its hurting itself at all. So he
walked earnestly up and down with it, thumping it unceasingly on
the back, while the others attended to Dora, who presently ceased
Suddenly it struck Oswald that the High-born also had ceased to
yell. He looked at it, and could hardly believe the glad tidings
of his faithful eyes. With bated breath he hastened back to the
The others turned on him, full of reproaches about the meal-worms
and Dora, but he answered without anger.
'Shut up,' he said in a whisper of imperial command. 'Can't you
see it's GONE TO SLEEP?'
As exhausted as if they had all taken part in all the events of a
very long Athletic Sports, the youthful Bastables and their friends
dragged their weary limbs back across the fields. Oswald was
compelled to go on holding the titled infant, for fear it should
wake up if it changed hands, and begin to yell again. Dora's
flannelette petticoat had been got off somehow--how I do not seek
to inquire--and the Secret was covered with it. The others
surrounded Oswald as much as possible, with a view to concealment
if we met Mrs Pettigrew. But the coast was clear. Oswald took the
Secret up into his bedroom. Mrs Pettigrew doesn't come there much,
it's too many stairs.
With breathless precaution Oswald laid it down on his bed. It
sighed, but did not wake. Then we took it in turns to sit by it
and see that it did not get up and fling itself out of bed, which,
in one of its furious fits, it would just as soon have done as not.
We expected Albert's uncle every minute.
At last we heard the gate, but he did not come in, so we looked out
and saw that there he was talking to a distracted-looking man on a
piebald horse--one of the miller's horses.
A shiver of doubt coursed through our veins. We could not remember
having done anything wrong at the miller's. But you never know.
And it seemed strange his sending a man up on his own horse. But
when we had looked a bit longer our fears went down and our
curiosity got up. For we saw that the distracted one was a
Presently he rode off, and Albert's uncle came in. A deputation
met him at the door--all the boys and Dora, because the baby was
'We've found something,' Dora said, 'and we want to know whether we
may keep it.'
The rest of us said nothing. We were not so very extra anxious to
keep it after we had heard how much and how long it could howl.
Even Noel had said he had no idea a baby could yell like it. Dora
said it only cried because it was sleepy, but we reflected that it
would certainly be sleepy once a day, if not oftener.
'What is it?' said Albert's uncle. 'Let's see this treasure-trove.
Is it a wild beast?'
'Come and see,' said Dora, and we led him to our room.
Alice turned down the pink flannelette petticoat with silly pride,
and showed the youthful heir fatly and pinkly sleeping.
'A baby!' said Albert's uncle. 'THE Baby! Oh, my cat's alive!'
That is an expression which he uses to express despair unmixed with
'Where did you?-- but that doesn't matter. We'll talk of this
He rushed from the room, and in a moment or two we saw him mount
his bicycle and ride off.
Quite shortly he returned with the distracted horse- man.
It was HIS baby, and not titled at all. The horseman and his wife
were the lodgers at the mill. The nursemaid was a girl from the
She SAID she only left the Baby five minutes while she went to
speak to her sweetheart who was gardener at the Red House. But we
knew she left it over an hour, and nearly two.
I never saw anyone so pleased as the distracted horseman.
When we were asked we explained about having thought the Baby was
the prey of gipsies, and the distracted horseman stood hugging the
Baby, and actually thanked us.
But when he had gone we had a brief lecture on minding our own
business. But Dora still thinks she was right. As for Oswald and
most of the others, they agreed that they would rather mind their
own business all their lives than mind a baby for a single hour.
If you have never had to do with a baby in the frenzied throes of
sleepiness you can have no idea what its screams are like.
If you have been through such a scene you will understand how we
managed to bear up under having no baby to adopt.
Oswald insisted on having the whole thing written in the Golden
Deed book. Of course his share could not be put in without telling
about Dora's generous adopting of the forlorn infant outcast, and
Oswald could not and cannot forget that he was the one who did get
that baby to sleep.
What a time Mr and Mrs Distracted Horseman must have of it,
though--especially now they've sacked the nursemaid.
If Oswald is ever married--I suppose he must be some day--he will
have ten nurses to each baby. Eight is not enough. We know that
because we tried, and the whole eight of us were not enough for the
needs of that deserted infant who was not so extra high-born after
HUNTING THE FOX
It is idle to expect everyone to know everything in the world
without being told. If we had been brought up in the country we
should have known that it is not done--to hunt the fox in August.
But in the Lewisham Road the most observing boy does not notice the
dates when it is proper to hunt foxes.
And there are some things you cannot bear to think that anybody
would think you would do; that is why I wish to say plainly at the
very beginning that none of us would have shot a fox on purpose
even to save our skins. Of course, if a man were at bay in a cave,
and had to defend girls from the simultaneous attack of a herd of
savage foxes it would be different. A man is bound to protect
girls and take care of them--they can jolly well take care of
themselves really it seems to me--still, this is what Albert's
uncle calls one of the 'rules of the game', so we are bound to
defend them and fight for them to the death, if needful. Denny
knows a quotation which says--
'What dire offence from harmless causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trefoil things.'
He says this means that all great events come from three
things--threefold, like the clover or trefoil, and the causes are
always harmless. Trefoil is short for threefold.
There were certainly three things that led up to the adventure
which is now going to be told you. The first was our Indian uncle
coming down to the country to see us. The second was Denny's
tooth. The third was only our wanting to go hunting; but if you
count it in it makes the thing about the trefoil come right. And
all these causes were harmless.
It is a flattering thing to say, and it was not Oswald who said it,
but Dora. She said she was certain our uncle missed us, and that
he felt he could no longer live without seeing his dear ones (that
Anyway, he came down, without warning, which is one of the few bad
habits that excellent Indian man has, and this habit has ended in
unpleasantness more than once, as when we played jungles.
However, this time it was all right. He came on rather a dull kind
of day, when no one had thought of anything particularly amusing to
do. So that, as it happened to be dinner-time and we had just
washed our hands and faces, we were all spotlessly clean (com-
pared with what we are sometimes, I mean, of course).
We were just sitting down to dinner, and Albert's uncle was just
plunging the knife into the hot heart of the steak pudding, when
there was the rumble of wheels, and the station fly stopped at the
garden gate. And in the fly, sitting very upright, with his hands
on his knees, was our Indian relative so much beloved. He looked
very smart, with a rose in his buttonhole. How different from what
he looked in other days when he helped us to pretend that our
currant pudding was a wild boar we were killing with our forks.
Yet, though tidier, his heart still beat kind and true. You should
not judge people harshly because their clothes are tidy. He had
dinner with us, and then we showed him round the place, and told
him everything we thought he would like to hear, and about the
Tower of Mystery, and he said--
'It makes my blood boil to think of it.'
Noel said he was sorry for that, because everyone else we had told
it to had owned, when we asked them, that it froze their blood.
'Ah,' said the Uncle, 'but in India we learn how to freeze our
blood and boil it at the same time.'
In those hot longitudes, perhaps, the blood is always near
boiling-point, which accounts for Indian tempers, though not for
the curry and pepper they eat. But I must not wander; there is no
curry at all in this story. About temper I will not say.
Then Uncle let us all go with him to the station when the fly came
back for him; and when we said good-bye he tipped us all half a
quid, without any insidious distinctions about age or considering
whether you were a boy or a girl. Our Indian uncle is a true-born
Briton, with no nonsense about him.
We cheered him like one man as the train went off, and then we
offered the fly-driver a shilling to take us back to the four
cross-roads, and the grateful creature did it for nothing because,
he said, the gent had tipped him something like. How scarce is
true gratitude! So we cheered the driver too for this rare virtue,
and then went home to talk about what we should do with our money.
I cannot tell you all that we did with it, because money melts away
'like snow-wreaths in thaw-jean', as Denny says, and somehow the
more you have the more quickly it melts. We all went into
Maidstone, and came back with the most beautiful lot of brown-
paper parcels, with things inside that supplied long-felt wants.
But none of them belongs to this narration, except what Oswald and
Denny clubbed to buy.
This was a pistol, and it took all the money they both had, but
when Oswald felt the uncomfortable inside sensation that reminds
you who it is and his money that are soon parted he said to
'I don't care. We ought to have a pistol in the house, and one
that will go off, too--not those rotten flintlocks. Suppose there
should be burglars and us totally unarmed?'
We took it in turns to have the pistol, and we decided always to
practise with it far from the house, so as not to frighten the
grown-ups, who are always much nervouser about firearms than we
It was Denny's idea getting it; and Oswald owns it surprised him,
but the boy was much changed in his character. We got it while the
others were grubbing at the pastry-cook's in the High Street, and
we said nothing till after tea, though it was hard not to fire at
the birds on the telegraph wires as we came home in the train.
After tea we called a council in the straw-loft, and Oswald said--
'Denny and I have got a secret.'
'I know what it is,' Dicky said contemptibly. 'You've found out
that shop in Maidstone where peppermint rock is four ounces a
penny. H. O. and I found it out before you did.'
Oswald said, 'You shut-up. If you don't want to hear the secret
you'd better bunk. I'm going to administer the secret oath.'
This is a very solemn oath, and only used about real things, and
never for pretending ones, so Dicky said--
'Oh, all right; go ahead! I thought you were only rotting.'
So they all took the secret oath. Noel made it up long before,
when he had found the first thrush's nest we ever saw in the
'I will not tell, I will not reveal,
I will not touch, or try to steal;
And may I be called a beastly sneak,
If this great secret I ever repeat.'
It is a little wrong about the poetry, but it is a very binding
promise. They all repeated it, down to H. O.
'Now then,' Dicky said, 'what's up?'
Oswald, in proud silence, drew the pistol from his breast and held
it out, and there was a murmur of awful amazement and respect from
every one of the council. The pistol was not loaded, so we let
even the girls have it to look at. And then Dicky said, 'Let's go
And we decided that we would. H. O. wanted to go down to the
village and get penny horns at the shop for the huntsmen to wind,
like in the song, but we thought it would be more modest not to
wind horns or anything noisy, at any rate not until we had run down
our prey. But his talking of the song made us decide that it was
the fox we wanted to hunt. We had not been particular which animal
we hunted before that.
Oswald let Denny have first go with the pistol, and when we went to
bed he slept with it under his pillow, but not loaded, for fear he
should have a nightmare and draw his fell weapon before he was
Oswald let Denny have it, because Denny had toothache, and a pistol
is consoling though it does not actually stop the pain of the
tooth. The toothache got worse, and Albert's uncle looked at it,
and said it was very loose, and Denny owned he had tried to crack
a peach-stone with it. Which accounts. He had creosote and
camphor, and went to bed early, with his tooth tied up in red
Oswald knows it is right to be very kind when people are ill, and
he forbore to wake the sufferer next morning by buzzing a pillow at
him, as he generally does. He got up and went over to shake the
invalid, but the bird had flown and the nest was cold. The pistol
was not in the nest either, but Oswald found it afterwards under
the looking-glass on the dressing-table. He had just awakened the
others (with a hair- brush because they had not got anything the
matter with their teeth), when he heard wheels, and, looking out,
beheld Denny and Albert's uncle being driven from the door in the
farmer's high cart with the red wheels.
We dressed extra quick, so as to get downstairs to the bottom of
the mystery. And we found a note from Albert's uncle. It was
addressed to Dora, and said--
'Denny's toothache got him up in the small hours. He's off to the
dentist to have it out with him, man to man. Home to dinner.'
Dora said, 'Denny's gone to the dentist.'
'I expect it's a relation,' H. O. said. 'Denny must be short for
I suppose he was trying to be funny--he really does try very hard.
He wants to be a clown when he grows up. The others laughed.
'I wonder,' said Dicky, 'whether he'll get a shilling or
half-a-crown for it.'
Oswald had been meditating in gloomy silence, now he cheered up and
'Of course! I'd forgotten that. He'll get his tooth money, and
the drive too. So it's quite fair for us to have the fox-hunt
while he's gone. I was thinking we should have to put it off.'
The others agreed that it would not be unfair.
'We can have another one another time if he wants to,' Oswald said.
We know foxes are hunted in red coats and on horseback--but we
could not do this--but H. O. had the old red football jersey that
was Albert's uncle's when he was at Loretto. He was pleased.
'But I do wish we'd had horns,' he said grievingly. 'I should have
liked to wind the horn.'
'We can pretend horns,' Dora said; but he answered, 'I didn't want
to pretend. I wanted to wind something.'
'Wind your watch,' Dicky said. And that was unkind, because we all
know H. O.'s watch is broken, and when you wind it, it only rattles
inside without going in the least.
We did not bother to dress up much for the hunting expedition--just
cocked hats and lath swords; and we tied a card on to H. O.'s chest
with 'Moat House Fox-Hunters' on it; and we tied red flannel round
all the dogs' necks to show they were fox-hounds. Yet it did not
seem to show it plainly; somehow it made them look as if they were
not fox-hounds, but their own natural breeds--only with sore
Oswald slipped the pistol and a few cartridges into his pocket. He
knew, of course, that foxes are not shot; but as he said--
'Who knows whether we may not meet a bear or a crocodile.'
We set off gaily. Across the orchard and through two cornfields,
and along the hedge of another field, and so we got into the wood,
through a gap we had happened to make a day or two before, playing
'follow my leader'.
The wood was very quiet and green; the dogs were happy and most
busy. Once Pincher started a rabbit. We said, 'View Halloo!' and
immediately started in pursuit; but the rabbit went and hid, so
that even Pincher could not find him, and we went on. But we saw
So at last we made Dicky be a fox, and chased him down the green
rides. A wide walk in a wood is called a ride, even if people
never do anything but walk in it.
We had only three hounds--Lady, Pincher and Martha--so we joined
the glad throng and were being hounds as hard as we could, when we
suddenly came barking round a corner in full chase and stopped
short, for we saw that our fox had stayed his hasty flight. The
fox was stooping over something reddish that lay beside the path,
and he cried--
'I say, look here!' in tones that thrilled us throughout.
Our fox--whom we must now call Dicky, so as not to muddle the
narration--pointed to the reddy thing that the dogs were sniffing
'It's a real live fox,' he said. And so it was. At least it was
real--only it was quite dead--and when Oswald lifted it up its head
was bleeding. It had evidently been shot through the brain and
expired instantly. Oswald explained this to the girls when they
began to cry at the sight of the poor beast; I do not say he did
not feel a bit sorry himself.
The fox was cold, but its fur was so pretty, and its tail and its
little feet. Dicky strung the dogs on the leash; they were so much
interested we thought it was better.
'It does seem horrid to think it'll never see again out of its poor
little eyes,' Dora said, blowing her nose.
'And never run about through the wood again, lend me your hanky,
Dora' said Alice.
'And never be hunted or get into a hen-roost or a trap or anything
exciting, poor little thing,' said Dicky.
The girls began to pick green chestnut leaves to cover up the poor
fox's fatal wound, and Noel began to walk up and down making faces,
the way he always does when he's making poetry. He cannot make one
without the other. It works both ways, which is a comfort.
'What are we going to do now?' H. O. said; 'the huntsman ought to
cut off its tail, I'm quite certain. Only, I've broken the big
blade of my knife, and the other never was any good.'
The girls gave H. O. a shove, and even Oswald said, 'Shut up', for
somehow we all felt we did not want to play fox-hunting any more
that day. When his deadly wound was covered the fox hardly looked
dead at all.
'Oh, I wish it wasn't true!' Alice said.
Daisy had been crying all the time, and now she said, 'I should
like to pray God to make it not true.'
But Dora kissed her, and told her that was no good --only she might
pray God to take care of the fox's poor little babies, if it had
had any, which I believe she has done ever since.
'If only we could wake up and find it was a horrid dream,' Alice
It seems silly that we should have cared so much when we had really
set out to hunt foxes with dogs, but it is true. The fox's feet
looked so helpless. And there was a dusty mark on its side that I
know would not have been there if it had been alive and able to
Noel now said, 'This is the piece of poetry':
'Here lies poor Reynard who is slain,
He will not come to life again.
I never will the huntsman's horn
Wind since the day that I was born
Until the day I die--
For I don't like hunting, and this is why.'
'Let's have a funeral,' said H. O. This pleased everybody, and we
got Dora to take off her petticoat to wrap the fox in, so that we
could carry it to our garden and bury it without bloodying our
jackets. Girls' clothes are silly in one way, but I think they are
useful too. A boy cannot take off more than his jacket and
waistcoat in any emergency, or he is at once entirely undressed.
But I have known Dora take off two petticoats for useful purposes
and look just the same outside afterwards.
We boys took it in turns to carry the fox. It was very heavy.
When we got near the edge of the wood Noel said--
'It would be better to bury it here, where the leaves can talk
funeral songs over its grave for ever, and the other foxes can come
and cry if they want to.' He dumped the fox down on the moss under
a young oak tree as he spoke.
'If Dicky fetched the spade and fork we could bury it here, and
then he could tie up the dogs at the same time.'
'You're sick of carrying it,' Dicky remarked, 'that's what it is.'
But he went on condition the rest of us boys went too.
While we were gone the girls dragged the fox to the edge of the
wood; it was a different edge to the one we went in by--close to a
lane--and while they waited for the digging or fatigue party to
come back, they collected a lot of moss and green things to make
the fox's long home soft for it to lie in. There are no flowers in
the woods in August, which is a pity.
When we got back with the spade and fork we dug a hole to bury the
fox in. We did not bring the dogs back, because they were too
interested in the funeral to behave with real, respectable
The ground was loose and soft and easy to dig when we had scraped
away the broken bits of sticks and the dead leaves and the wild
honeysuckle; Oswald used the fork and Dicky had the spade. Noel
made faces and poetry--he was struck so that morning--and the girls
sat stroking the clean parts of the fox's fur till the grave was
deep enough. At last it was; then Daisy threw in the leaves and
grass, and Alice and Dora took the poor dead fox by his two ends
and we helped to put him in the grave. We could not lower him
slowly--he was dropped in, really. Then we covered the furry body
with leaves, and Noel said the Burial Ode he had made up. He says
this was it, but it sounds better now than it did then, so I think
he must have done something to it since:
THE FOX'S BURIAL ODE
'Dear Fox, sleep here, and do not wake,
We picked these leaves for your sake
You must not try to rise or move,
We give you this with our love.
Close by the wood where once you grew
Your mourning friends have buried you.
If you had lived you'd not have been
(Been proper friends with us, I mean),
But now you're laid upon the shelf,
Poor fox, you cannot help yourself,
So, as I say, we are your loving friends--
And here your Burial Ode, dear Foxy, ends.
P. S.--When in the moonlight bright
The foxes wander of a night,
They'll pass your grave and fondly think of you,
Exactly like we mean to always do.
So now, dear fox, adieu!
Your friends are few
When this had been said we filled in the grave and covered the top
of it with dry leaves and sticks to make it look like the rest of
the wood. People might think it was a treasure, and dig it up, if
they thought there was anything buried there, and we wished the
poor fox to sleep sound and not to be disturbed.
The interring was over. We folded up Dora's bloodstained pink
cotton petticoat, and turned to leave the sad spot.
We had not gone a dozen yards down the lane when we heard footsteps
and a whistle behind us, and a scrabbling and whining, and a
gentleman with two fox-terriers had called a halt just by the place
where we had laid low the 'little red rover'.
The gentleman stood in the lane, but the dogs were digging--we
could see their tails wagging and see the dust fly. And we SAW
WHERE. We ran back.
'Oh, please, do stop your dogs digging there!' Alice said.
The gentleman said 'Why?'
'Because we've just had a funeral, and that's the grave.'
The gentleman whistled, but the fox-terriers were not trained like
Pincher, who was brought up by Oswald. The gentleman took a stride
through the hedge gap.
'What have you been burying--pet dicky bird, eh?' said the
gentleman, kindly. He had riding breeches and white whiskers.
We did not answer, because now, for the first time, it came over
all of us, in a rush of blushes and uncomfortableness, that burying
a fox is a suspicious act. I don't know why we felt this, but we
Noel said dreamily--
'We found his murdered body in the wood,
And dug a grave by which the mourners stood.'
But no one heard him except Oswald, because Alice and Dora and
Daisy were all jumping about with the jumps of unrestrained
anguish, and saying, 'Oh, call them off! Do! do!--oh, don't,
don't! Don't let them dig.'
Alas! Oswald was, as usual, right. The ground of the grave had not
been trampled down hard enough, and he had said so plainly at the
time, but his prudent counsels had been overruled. Now these
busy-bodying, meddling, mischief-making fox-terriers (how different
from Pincher, who minds his own business unless told otherwise) had
scratched away the earth and laid bare the reddish tip of the poor
We all turned to go without a word, it seemed to be no use staying
But in a moment the gentleman with the whiskers had got Noel and
Dicky each by an ear--they were nearest him. H. O. hid in the
hedge. Oswald, to whose noble breast sneakishness is, I am
thankful to say, a stranger, would have scorned to escape, but he
ordered his sisters to bunk in a tone of command which made refusal
'And bunk sharp, too' he added sternly. 'Cut along home.'
So they cut. The white-whiskered gentleman now encouraged his
angry fox-terriers, by every means at his command, to continue
their vile and degrading occupation; holding on all the time to the
ears of Dicky and Noel, who scorned to ask for mercy. Dicky got
purple and Noel got white. It was Oswald who said--
'Don't hang on to them, sir. We won't cut. I give you my word of
'YOUR word of honour,' said the gentleman, in tones for which, in
happier days, when people drew their bright blades and fought
duels, I would have had his heart's dearest blood. But now Oswald
remained calm and polite as ever.
'Yes, on my honour,' he said, and the gentleman dropped the ears of
Oswald's brothers at the sound of his firm, unswerving tones. He
dropped the ears and pulled out the body of the fox and held it up.
The dogs jumped up and yelled.
'Now,' he said, 'you talk very big about words of honour. Can you
speak the truth?'
Dickie said, 'If you think we shot it, you're wrong. We know
better than that.'
The white-whiskered one turned suddenly to H. O. and pulled him out
of the hedge.
'And what does that mean?' he said, and he was pink with fury to
the ends of his large ears, as he pointed to the card on H. O.'s
breast, which said, 'Moat House Fox-Hunters'.
Then Oswald said, 'We WERE playing at fox-hunting, but we couldn't
find anything but a rabbit that hid, so my brother was being the
fox; and then we found the fox shot dead, and I don't know who did
it; and we were sorry for it and we buried it--and that's all.'
'Not quite,' said the riding-breeches gentleman, with what I think
you call a bitter smile, 'not quite. This is my land and I'll have
you up for trespass and damage. Come along now, no nonsense! I'm
a magistrate and I'm Master of the Hounds. A vixen, too! What did
you shoot her with? You're too young to have a gun. Sneaked your
Father's revolver, I suppose?'
Oswald thought it was better to be goldenly silent. But it was
vain. The Master of the Hounds made him empty his pockets, and
there was the pistol and the cartridges.
The magistrate laughed a harsh laugh of successful
'All right,' said he, 'where's your licence? You come with me. A
week or two in prison.'
I don't believe now he could have done it, but we all thought then
he could and would, what's more.
So H. O. began to cry, but Noel spoke up. His teeth were
chattering yet he spoke up like a man.
He said, 'You don't know us. You've no right not to believe us
till you've found us out in a lie. We don't tell lies. You ask
Albert's uncle if we do.'
'Hold your tongue,' said the White-Whiskered. But Noel's blood was
'If you do put us in prison without being sure,' he said, trembling
more and more, 'you are a horrible tyrant like Caligula, and Herod,
or Nero, and the Spanish Inquisition, and I will write a poem about
it in prison, and people will curse you for ever.'
'Upon my word,' said White Whiskers. 'We'll see about that,' and
he turned up the lane with the fox hanging from one hand and Noel's
ear once more reposing in the other.
I thought Noel would cry or faint. But he bore up nobly--exactly
like an early Christian martyr.
The rest of us came along too. I carried the spade and Dicky had
the fork. H. O. had the card, and Noel had the magistrate. At the
end of the lane there was Alice. She had bunked home, obeying the
orders of her thoughtful brother, but she had bottled back again
like a shot, so as not to be out of the scrape. She is almost
worthy to be a boy for some things.
She spoke to Mr Magistrate and said--
'Where are you taking him?'
The outraged majesty of the magistrate said, 'To prison, you
naughty little girl.'
Alice said, 'Noel will faint. Somebody once tried to take him to
prison before--about a dog. Do please come to our house and see
our uncle--at least he's not--but it's the same thing. We didn't
kill the fox, if that's what you think--indeed we didn't. Oh,
dear, I do wish you'd think of your own little boys and girls if
you've got any, or else about when you were little. You wouldn't
be so horrid if you did.'
I don't know which, if either, of these objects the fox-hound
master thought of, but he said--
'Well, lead on,' and he let go Noel's ear and Alice snuggled up to
Noel and put her arm round him.
It was a frightened procession, whose cheeks were pale with
alarm--except those between white whiskers, and they were red--that
wound in at our gate and into the hall among the old oak furniture,
and black and white marble floor and things.
Dora and Daisy were at the door. The pink petticoat lay on the
table, all stained with the gore of the departed. Dora looked at
us all, and she saw that it was serious. She pulled out the big
oak chair and said, 'Won't you sit down?' very kindly to the white-
He grunted, but did as she said.
Then he looked about him in a silence that was not comforting, and
so did we. At last he said--
'Come, you didn't try to bolt. Speak the truth, and I'll say no
We said we had.
Then he laid the fox on the table, spreading out the petticoat
under it, and he took out a knife and the girls hid their faces.
Even Oswald did not care to look. Wounds in battle are all very
well, but it's different to see a dead fox cut into with a knife.
Next moment the magistrate wiped something on his handkerchief and
then laid it on the table, and put one of my cartridges beside it.
It was the bullet that had killed the fox.
'Look here!' he said. And it was too true. The bullets were the
A thrill of despair ran through Oswald. He knows now how a hero
feels when he is innocently accused of a crime and the judge is
putting on the black cap, and the evidence is convulsive and all
human aid is despaired of.
'I can't help it,' he said, 'we didn't kill it, and that's all
there is to it.'
The white-whiskered magistrate may have been master of the
fox-hounds, but he was not master of his temper, which is more
important, I should think, than a lot of beastly dogs.
He said several words which Oswald would never repeat, much less in
his own conversing, and besides that he called us 'obstinate little
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