Friday, November 9, 2007


The Story of the Treasure Seekers by by E. Nesbit

The Story of the Treasure Seekers
by E. Nesbit
Being the adventures of the
Bastable children in search of a fortune
Without whom this book could never have been written
The Treasure Seekers is dedicated in
memory of childhoods identical
but for the accidents of
time and space
1. The Council of Ways and Means
2. Digging for Treasure
3. Being Detectives
4. Good Hunting
5. The Poet and the Editor
6. Noel's Princess
7. Being Bandits
8. Being Editors
9. The G. B.
10. Lord Tottenham
11. Castilian Amoroso
12. The Nobleness of Oswald
13. The Robber and the Burglar
14. The Divining-rod
15. 'Lo, the Poor Indian!'
16. The End of the Treasure-seeking
This is the story of the different ways we looked for treasure, and
I think when you have read it you will see that we were not lazy
about the looking.
There are some things I must tell before I begin to tell about the
treasure-seeking, because I have read books myself, and I know how
beastly it is when a story begins, "'Alas!" said Hildegarde with a
deep sigh, "we must look our last on this ancestral home"' - and
then some one else says something - and you don't know for pages
and pages where the home is, or who Hildegarde is, or anything
about it. Our ancestral home is in the Lewisham Road. It is
semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one. We are the
Bastables. There are six of us besides Father. Our Mother is
dead, and if you think we don't care because I don't tell you much
about her you only show that you do not understand people at all.
Dora is the eldest. Then Oswald - and then Dicky. Oswald won the
Latin prize at his preparatory school - and Dicky is good at sums.
Alice and Noel are twins: they are ten, and Horace Octavius is my
youngest brother. It is one of us that tells this story - but I
shall not tell you which: only at the very end perhaps I will.
While the story is going on you may be trying to guess, only I bet
you don't. It was Oswald who first thought of looking for
treasure. Oswald often thinks of very interesting things. And
directly he thought of it he did not keep it to himself, as some
boys would have done, but he told the others, and said -
'I'll tell you what, we must go and seek for treasure: it is always
what you do to restore the fallen fortunes of your House.'
Dora said it was all very well. She often says that. She was
trying to mend a large hole in one of Noel's stockings. He tore it
on a nail when we were playing shipwrecked mariners on top of the
chicken-house the day H. O. fell off and cut his chin: he has the
scar still. Dora is the only one of us who ever tries to mend
anything. Alice tries to make things sometimes. Once she knitted
a red scarf for Noel because his chest is delicate, but it was much
wider at one end than the other, and he wouldn't wear it. So we
used it as a pennon, and it did very well, because most of our
things are black or grey since Mother died; and scarlet was a nice
change. Father does not like you to ask for new things. That was
one way we had of knowing that the fortunes of the ancient House of
Bastable were really fallen. Another way was that there was no
more pocket-money - except a penny now and then to the little ones,
and people did not come to dinner any more, like they used to, with
pretty dresses, driving up in cabs - and the carpets got holes in
them - and when the legs came off things they were not sent to be
mended, and we gave UP having the gardener except for the front
garden, and not that very often. And the silver in the big oak
plate-chest that is lined with green baize all went away to the
shop to have the dents and scratches taken out of it, and it never
came back. We think Father hadn't enough money to pay the silver
man for taking out the dents and scratches. The new spoons and
forks were yellowy-white, and not so heavy as the old ones, and
they never shone after the first day or two.
Father was very ill after Mother died; and while he was ill his
business-partner went to Spain - and there was never much money
afterwards. I don't know why. Then the servants left and there
was only one, a General. A great deal of your comfort and
happiness depends on having a good General. The last but one was
nice: she used to make jolly good currant puddings for us, and let
us have the dish on the floor and pretend it was a wild boar we
were killing with our forks. But the General we have now nearly
always makes sago puddings, and they are the watery kind, and you
cannot pretend anything with them, not even islands, like you do
with porridge.
Then we left off going to school, and Father said we should go to
a good school as soon as he could manage it. He said a holiday
would do us all good. We thought he was right, but we wished he
had told us he couldn't afford it. For of course we knew.
Then a great many people used to come to the door with envelopes
with no stamps on them, and sometimes they got very angry, and said
they were calling for the last time before putting it in other
hands. I asked Eliza what that meant, and she kindly explained to
me, and I was so sorry for Father.
And once a long, blue paper came; a policeman brought it, and we
were so frightened. But Father said it was all right, only when he
went up to kiss the girls after they were in bed they said he had
been crying, though I'm sure that's not true. Because only cowards
and snivellers cry, and my Father is the bravest man in the world.
So you see it was time we looked for treasure and Oswald said so,
and Dora said it was all very well. But the others agreed with
Oswald. So we held a council. Dora was in the chair - the big
dining-room chair, that we let the fireworks off from, the Fifth of
November when we had the measles and couldn't do it in the garden.
The hole has never been mended, so now we have that chair in the
nursery, and I think it was cheap at the blowing-up we boys got
when the hole was burnt.
'We must do something,' said Alice, 'because the exchequer is
empty.' She rattled the money-box as she spoke, and it really did
rattle because we always keep the bad sixpence in it for luck.
'Yes - but what shall we do?' said Dicky. 'It's so jolly easy to
say let's do something.' Dicky always wants everything settled
exactly. Father calls him the Definite Article.
'Let's read all the books again. We shall get lots of ideas out of
them.' It was Noel who suggested this, but we made him shut up,
because we knew well enough he only wanted to get back to his old
books. Noel is a poet. He sold some of his poetry once - and it
was printed, but that does not come in this part of the story.
Then Dicky said, 'Look here. We'll be quite quiet for ten minutes
by the clock - and each think of some way to find treasure. And
when we've thought we'll try all the ways one after the other,
beginning with the eldest.'
'I shan't be able to think in ten minutes, make it half an hour,'
said H. O. His real name is Horace Octavius, but we call him H. O.
because of the advertisement, and it's not so very long ago he was
afraid to pass the hoarding where it says 'Eat H. O.' in big
letters. He says it was when he was a little boy, but I remember
last Christmas but one, he woke in the middle of the night crying
and howling, and they said it was the pudding. But he told me
afterwards he had been dreaming that they really had come to eat H.
O., and it couldn't have been the pudding, when you come to think
of it, because it was so very plain.
Well, we made it half an hour - and we all sat quiet, and thought
and thought. And I made up my mind before two minutes were over,
and I saw the others had, all but Dora, who is always an awful time
over everything. I got pins and needles in my leg from sitting
still so long, and when it was seven minutes H. O. cried out - 'Oh,
it must be more than half an hour!'
H. O. is eight years old, but he cannot tell the clock yet. Oswald
could tell the clock when he was six.
We all stretched ourselves and began to speak at once, but Dora put
up her hands to her ears and said -
'One at a time, please. We aren't playing Babel.' (It is a very
good game. Did you ever play it?)
So Dora made us all sit in a row on the floor, in ages, and then
she pointed at us with the finger that had the brass thimble on.
Her silver one got lost when the last General but two went away.
We think she must have forgotten it was Dora's and put it in her
box by mistake. She was a very forgetful girl. She used to forget
what she had spent money on, so that the change was never quite
Oswald spoke first. 'I think we might stop people on Blackheath -
with crape masks and horse-pistols - and say "Your money or your
life! Resistance is useless, we are armed to the teeth" - like
Dick Turpin and Claude Duval. It wouldn't matter about not having
horses, because coaches have gone out too.'
Dora screwed up her nose the way she always does when she is going
to talk like the good elder sister in books, and said, 'That would
be very wrong: it's like pickpocketing or taking pennies out of
Father's great-coat when it's hanging in the hall.'
I must say I don't think she need have said that, especially before
the little ones - for it was when I was only four.
But Oswald was not going to let her see he cared, so he said -
'Oh, very well. I can think of lots of other ways. We could
rescue an old gentleman from deadly Highwaymen.'
'There aren't any,' said Dora.
'Oh, well, it's all the same - from deadly peril, then. There's
plenty of that. Then he would turn out to be the Prince of Wales,
and he would say, "My noble, my cherished preserver! Here is a
million pounds a year. Rise up, Sir Oswald Bastable."'
But the others did not seem to think so, and it was Alice's turn to
She said, 'I think we might try the divining- rod. I'm sure I
could do it. I've often read about it. You hold a stick in your
hands, and when you come to where there is gold underneath the
stick kicks about. So you know. And you dig.'
'Oh,' said Dora suddenly, 'I have an idea. But I'll say last. I
hope the divining-rod isn't wrong. I believe it's wrong in the
'So is eating pork and ducks,' said Dicky. 'You can't go by that.'
'Anyhow, we'll try the other ways first,' said Dora. 'Now, H. O.'
'Let's be Bandits,' said H. O. 'I dare say it's wrong but it would
be fun pretending.'
'I'm sure it's wrong,' said Dora.
And Dicky said she thought everything wrong. She said she didn't,
and Dicky was very disagreeable. So Oswald had to make peace, and
he said - 'Dora needn't play if she doesn't want to. Nobody asked
her. And, Dicky, don't be an idiot: do dry up and let's hear what
Noel's idea is.'
Dora and Dicky did not look pleased, but I kicked Noel under the
table to make him hurry up, and then he said he didn't think he
wanted to play any more. That's the worst of it. The others are
so jolly ready to quarrel. I told Noel to be a man and not a
snivelling pig, and at last he said he had not made up his mind
whether he would print his poetry in a book and sell it, or find a
princess and marry her.
'Whichever it is,' he added, 'none of you shall want for anything,
though Oswald did kick me, and say I was a snivelling pig.'
'I didn't,' said Oswald, 'I told you not to be.' And Alice
explained to him that that was quite the opposite of what he
thought. So he agreed to drop it. Then Dicky spoke.
'You must all of you have noticed the advertisements in the papers,
telling you that ladies and gentlemen can easily earn two pounds a
week in their spare time, and to send two shillings for sample and
instructions, carefully packed free from observation. Now that we
don't go to school all our time is spare time. So I should think
we could easily earn twenty pounds a week each. That would do us
very well. We'll try some of the other things first, and directly
we have any money we'll send for the sample and instructions. And
I have another idea, but I must think about it before I say.'
We all said, 'Out with it - what's the other idea?'
But Dicky said, 'No.' That is Dicky all over. He never will show
you anything he's making till it's quite finished, and the same
with his inmost thoughts. But he is pleased if you seem to want to
know, so Oswald said -
'Keep your silly old secret, then. Now, Dora, drive ahead. We've
all said except you.'
Then Dora jumped up and dropped the stocking and the thimble (it
rolled away, and we did not find it for days), and said -
'Let's try my way now. Besides, I'm the eldest, so it's only fair.
Let's dig for treasure. Not any tiresome divining-rod - but just
plain digging. People who dig for treasure always find it. And
then we shall be rich and we needn't try your ways at all. Some of
them are rather difficult: and I'm certain some of them are wrong
- and we must always remember that wrong things -'
But we told her to shut up and come on, and she did.
I couldn't help wondering as we went down to the garden, why Father
had never thought of digging there for treasure instead of going to
his beastly office every day.
I am afraid the last chapter was rather dull. It is always dull in
books when people talk and talk, and don't do anything, but I was
obliged to put it in, or else you wouldn't have understood all the
rest. The best part of books is when things are happening. That
is the best part of real things too. This is why I shall not tell
you in this story about all the days when nothing happened. You
will not catch me saying, 'thus the sad days passed slowly by' - or
'the years rolled on their weary course' - or 'time went on' -
because it is silly; of course time goes on - whether you say so or
not. So I shall just tell you the nice, interesting parts - and in
between you will understand that we had our meals and got up and
went to bed, and dull things like that. It would be sickening to
write all that down, though of course it happens. I said so to
Albert-next-door's uncle, who writes books, and he said, 'Quite
right, that's what we call selection, a necessity of true art.'
And he is very clever indeed. So you see.
I have often thought that if the people who write books for
children knew a little more it would be better. I shall not tell
you anything about us except what I should like to know about if I
was reading the story and you were writing it. Albert's uncle says
I ought to have put this in the preface, but I never read prefaces,
and it is not much good writing things just for people to skip. I
wonder other authors have never thought of this.
Well, when we had agreed to dig for treasure we all went down into
the cellar and lighted the gas. Oswald would have liked to dig
there, but it is stone flags. We looked among the old boxes and
broken chairs and fenders and empty bottles and things, and at last
we found the spades we had to dig in the sand with when we went to
the seaside three years ago. They are not silly, babyish, wooden
spades, that split if you look at them, but good iron, with a blue
mark across the top of the iron part, and yellow wooden handles.
We wasted a little time getting them dusted, because the girls
wouldn't dig with spades that had cobwebs on them. Girls would
never do for African explorers or anything like that, they are too
beastly particular.
It was no use doing the thing by halves. We marked out a sort of
square in the mouldy part of the garden, about three yards across,
and began to dig. But we found nothing except worms and stones -
and the ground was very hard. So we thought we'd try another part
of the garden, and we found a place in the big round flower bed,
where the ground was much softer. We thought we'd make a smaller
hole to begin with, and it was much better. We dug and dug and
dug, and it was jolly hard work! We got very hot digging, but we
found nothing.
Presently Albert-next-door looked over the wall. We do not like
him very much, but we let him play with us sometimes, because his
father is dead, and you must not be unkind to orphans, even if
their mothers are alive. Albert is always very tidy. He wears
frilly collars and velvet knickerbockers. I can't think how he can
bear to. So we said, 'Hallo!' And he said, 'What are you up to?'
'We're digging for treasure,' said Alice; 'an ancient parchment
revealed to us the place of concealment. Come over and help us.
When we have dug deep enough we shall find a great pot of red clay,
full of gold and precious jewels.'
Albert-next-door only sniggered and said, 'What silly nonsense!'
He cannot play properly at all. It is very strange, because he has
a very nice uncle. You see, Albert-next-door doesn't care for
reading, and he has not read nearly so many books as we have, so he
is very foolish and ignorant, but it cannot be helped, and you just
have to put up with it when you want him to do anything. Besides,
it is wrong to be angry with people for not being so clever as you
are yourself. It is not always their faults.
So Oswald said, 'Come and dig! Then you shall share the treasure
when we've found it.'
But he said, 'I shan't - I don't like digging - and I'm just going
in to my tea.'
'Come along and dig, there's a good boy,' Alice said. 'You can use
my spade. It's much the best -'
So he came along and dug, and when once he was over the wall we
kept him at it, and we worked as well, of course, and the hole got
deep. Pincher worked too - he is our dog and he is very good at
digging. He digs for rats in the dustbin sometimes, and gets very
dirty. But we love our dog, even when his face wants washing.
'I expect we shall have to make a tunnel,' Oswald said, 'to reach
the rich treasure.' So he jumped into the hole and began to dig at
one side. After that we took it in turns to dig at the tunnel, and
Pincher was most useful in scraping the earth out of the tunnel -
he does it with his back feet when you say 'Rats!' and he digs with
his front ones, and burrows with his nose as well.
At last the tunnel was nearly a yard long, and big enough to creep
along to find the treasure, if only it had been a bit longer. Now
it was Albert's turn to go in and dig, but he funked it.
'Take your turn like a man,' said Oswald - nobody can say that
Oswald doesn't take his turn like a man. But Albert wouldn't. So
we had to make him, because it was only fair.
'It's quite easy,' Alice said. 'You just crawl in and dig with
your hands. Then when you come out we can scrape out what you've
done, with the spades. Come - be a man. You won't notice it being
dark in the tunnel if you shut your eyes tight. We've all been in
except Dora - and she doesn't like worms.'
'I don't like worms neither.' Albert-next-door said this; but we
remembered how he had picked a fat red and black worm up in his
fingers and thrown it at Dora only the day before. So we put him
But he would not go in head first, the proper way, and dig with his
hands as we had done, and though Oswald was angry at the time, for
he hates snivellers, yet afterwards he owned that perhaps it was
just as well. You should never be afraid to own that perhaps you
were mistaken - but it is cowardly to do it unless you are quite
sure you are in the wrong.
'Let me go in feet first,' said Albert-next-door. 'I'll dig with
my boots - I will truly, honour bright.'
So we let him get in feet first - and he did it very slowly and at
last he was in, and only his head sticking out into the hole; and
all the rest of him in the tunnel.
'Now dig with your boots,' said Oswald; 'and, Alice, do catch hold
of Pincher, he'll be digging again in another minute, and perhaps
it would be uncomfortable for Albert if Pincher threw the mould
into his eyes.'
You should always try to think of these little things. Thinking of
other people's comfort makes them like you. Alice held Pincher,
and we all shouted, 'Kick! dig with your feet, for all you're
So Albert-next-door began to dig with his feet, and we stood on the
ground over him, waiting - and all in a minute the ground gave way,
and we tumbled together in a heap: and when we got up there was a
little shallow hollow where we had been standing, and
Albert-next-door was under- neath, stuck quite fast, because the
roof of the tunnel had tumbled in on him. He is a horribly unlucky
boy to have anything to do with.
It was dreadful the way he cried and screamed, though he had to own
it didn't hurt, only it was rather heavy and he couldn't move his
legs. We would have dug him out all right enough, in time, but he
screamed so we were afraid the police would come, so Dicky climbed
over the wall, to tell the cook there to tell Albert-next-door's
uncle he had been buried by mistake, and to come and help dig him
Dicky was a long time gone. We wondered what had become of him,
and all the while the screaming went on and on, for we had taken
the loose earth off Albert's face so that he could scream quite
easily and comfortably.
Presently Dicky came back and Albert-next-door's uncle came with
him. He has very long legs, and his hair is light and his face is
brown. He has been to sea, but now he writes books. I like him.
He told his nephew to stow it, so Albert did, and then he asked him
if he was hurt - and Albert had to say he wasn't, for though he is
a coward, and very unlucky, he is not a liar like some boys are.
'This promises to be a protracted if agreeable task,' said
Albert-next-door's uncle, rubbing his hands and looking at the hole
with Albert's head in it. 'I will get another spade,' so he
fetched the big spade out of the next-door garden tool-shed, and
began to dig his nephew out.
'Mind you keep very still,' he said, 'or I might chunk a bit out of
you with the spade.' Then after a while he said -
'I confess that I am not absolutely insensible to the dramatic
interest of the situation. My curiosity is excited. I own that I
should like to know how my nephew happened to be buried. But don't
tell me if you'd rather not. I suppose no force was used?'
'Only moral force,' said Alice. They used to talk a lot about
moral force at the High School where she went, and in case you
don't know what it means I'll tell you that it is making people do
what they don't want to, just by slanging them, or laughing at
them, or promising them things if they're good.
'Only moral force, eh?' said Albert-next-door's uncle. 'Well?'
'Well,' Dora said, 'I'm very sorry it happened to Albert - I'd
rather it had been one of us. It would have been my turn to go
into the tunnel, only I don't like worms, so they let me off. You
see we were digging for treasure.'
'Yes,' said Alice, 'and I think we were just coming to the
underground passage that leads to the secret hoard, when the tunnel
fell in on Albert. He is so unlucky,' and she sighed.
Then Albert-next-door began to scream again, and his uncle wiped
his face - his own face, not Albert's - with his silk handkerchief,
and then he put it in his trousers pocket. It seems a strange
place to put a handkerchief, but he had his coat and waistcoat off
and I suppose he wanted the handkerchief handy. Digging is warm
He told Albert-next-door to drop it, or he wouldn't proceed further
in the matter, so Albert stopped screaming, and presently his uncle
finished digging him out. Albert did look so funny, with his hair
all dusty and his velvet suit covered with mould and his face muddy
with earth and crying.
We all said how sorry we were, but he wouldn't say a word back to
us. He was most awfully sick to think he'd been the one buried,
when it might just as well have been one of us. I felt myself that
it was hard lines.
'So you were digging for treasure,' said Albert-next-door's uncle,
wiping his face again with his handkerchief. 'Well, I fear that
your chances of success are small. I have made a careful study of
the whole subject. What I don't know about buried treasure is not
worth knowing. And I never knew more than one coin buried in any
one garden - and that is generally - Hullo - what's that?'
He pointed to something shining in the hole he had just dragged
Albert out of. Oswald picked it up. It was a half-crown. We
looked at each other, speechless with surprise and delight, like in
'Well, that's lucky, at all events,' said Albert-next-door's uncle.
'Let's see, that's fivepence each for you.'
'It's fourpence - something; I can't do fractions,' said Dicky;
'there are seven of us, you see.'
'Oh, you count Albert as one of yourselves on this occasion, eh?'
'Of course,' said Alice; 'and I say, he was buried after all. Why
shouldn't we let him have the odd somethings, and we'll have
fourpence each.'
We all agreed to do this, and told Albert-next-door we would bring
his share as soon as we could get the half-crown changed. He
cheered up a little at that, and his uncle wiped his face again -
he did look hot - and began to put on his coat and waistcoat.
When he had done it he stooped and picked up something. He held it
up, and you will hardly believe it, but it is quite true - it was
another half-crown!
'To think that there should be two!' he said; 'in all my experience
of buried treasure I never heard of such a thing!'
I wish Albert-next-door's uncle would come treasure-seeking with us
regularly; he must have very sharp eyes: for Dora says she was
looking just the minute before at the very place where the second
half-crown was picked up from, and she never saw it.
The next thing that happened to us was very interesting. It was as
real as the half-crowns - not just pretending. I shall try to
write it as like a real book as I can. Of course we have read Mr
Sherlock Holmes, as well as the yellow-covered books with pictures
outside that are so badly printed; and you get them for
fourpence-halfpenny at the bookstall when the corners of them are
beginning to curl up and get dirty, with people looking to see how
the story ends when they are waiting for trains. I think this is
most unfair to the boy at the bookstall. The books are written by
a gentleman named Gaboriau, and Albert's uncle says they are the
worst translations in the world - and written in vile English. Of
course they're not like Kipling, but they're jolly good stories.
And we had just been reading a book by Dick Diddlington - that's
not his right name, but I know all about libel actions, so I shall
not say what his name is really, because his books are rot. Only
they put it into our heads to do what I am going to narrate.
It was in September, and we were not to go to the seaside because
it is so expensive, even if you go to Sheerness, where it is all
tin cans and old boots and no sand at all. But every one else
went, even the people next door - not Albert's side, but the other.
Their servant told Eliza they were all going to Scarborough, and
next day sure enough all the blinds were down and the shutters up,
and the milk was not left any more. There is a big horse-chestnut
tree between their garden and ours, very useful for getting conkers
out of and for making stuff to rub on your chilblains. This
prevented our seeing whether the blinds were down at the back as
well, but Dicky climbed to the top of the tree and looked, and they
It was jolly hot weather, and very stuffy indoors - we used to play
a good deal in the garden. We made a tent out of the kitchen
clothes-horse and some blankets off our beds, and though it was
quite as hot in the tent as in the house it was a very different
sort of hotness. Albert's uncle called it the Turkish Bath. It is
not nice to be kept from the seaside, but we know that we have much
to be thankful for. We might be poor little children living in a
crowded alley where even at summer noon hardly a ray of sunlight
penetrates; clothed in rags and with bare feet - though I do not
mind holes in my clothes myself, and bare feet would not be at all
bad in this sort of weather. Indeed we do, sometimes, when we are
playing at things which require it. It was shipwrecked mariners
that day, I remember, and we were all in the blanket tent. We had
just finished eating the things we had saved, at the peril of our
lives, from the st-sinking vessel. They were rather nice things.
Two-pennyworth of coconut candy - it was got in Greenwich, where it
is four ounces a penny - three apples, some macaroni - the straight
sort that is so useful to suck things through - some raw rice, and
a large piece of cold suet pudding that Alice nicked from the
larder when she went to get the rice and macaroni. And when we had
finished some one said -
'I should like to be a detective.'
I wish to be quite fair, but I cannot remember exactly who said it.
Oswald thinks he said it, and Dora says it was Dicky, but Oswald is
too much of a man to quarrel about a little thing like that.
'I should like to be a detective,' said - perhaps it was Dicky, but
I think not - 'and find out strange and hidden crimes.'
'You have to be much cleverer than you are,' said H. O.
'Not so very,' Alice said, 'because when you've read the books you
know what the things mean: the red hair on the handle of the knife,
or the grains of white powder on the velvet collar of the villain's
overcoat. I believe we could do it.'
'I shouldn't like to have anything to do with murders,' said Dora;
'somehow it doesn't seem safe -'
'And it always ends in the poor murderer being hanged,' said Alice.
We explained to her why murderers have to be hanged, but she only
said, 'I don't care. I'm sure no one would ever do murdering
twice. Think of the blood and things, and what you would see when
you woke up in the night! I shouldn't mind being a detective to
lie in wait for a gang of coiners, now, and spring upon them
unawares, and secure them - single-handed, you know, or with only
my faithful bloodhound.'
She stroked Pincher's ears, but he had gone to sleep because he
knew well enough that all the suet pudding was finished. He is a
very sensible dog.
'You always get hold of the wrong end of the stick,' Oswald said.
'You can't choose what crimes you'll be a detective about. You
just have to get a suspicious circumstance, and then you look for
a clue and follow it up. Whether it turns out a murder or a
missing will is just a fluke.'
'That's one way,' Dicky said. 'Another is to get a paper and find
two advertisements or bits of news that fit. Like this: "Young
Lady Missing," and then it tells about all the clothes she had on,
and the gold locket she wore, and the colour of her hair, and all
that; and then in another piece of the paper you see, "Gold locket
found," and then it all comes out.'
We sent H. O. for the paper at once, but we could not make any of
the things fit in. The two best were about how some burglars broke
into a place in Holloway where they made preserved tongues and
invalid delicacies, and carried off a lot of them. And on another
page there was, 'Mysterious deaths in Holloway.'
Oswald thought there was something in it, and so did Albert's uncle
when we asked him, but the others thought not, so Oswald agreed to
drop it. Besides, Holloway is a long way off. All the time we
were talking about the paper Alice seemed to be thinking about
something else, and when we had done she said -
'I believe we might be detectives ourselves, but I should not like
to get anybody into trouble.'
'Not murderers or robbers?' Dicky asked.
'It wouldn't be murderers,' she said; 'but I have noticed something
strange. Only I feel a little frightened. Let's ask Albert's
uncle first.'
Alice is a jolly sight too fond of asking grown-UP people things.
And we all said it was tommyrot, and she was to tell us.
'Well, promise you won't do anything without me,' Alice said, and
we promised. Then she said - 'This is a dark secret, and any one
who thinks it is better not to be involved in a career of crimediscovery
had better go away ere yet it be too late.'
So Dora said she had had enough of tents, and she was going to look
at the shops. H. O. went with her because he had twopence to
spend. They thought it was only a game of Alice's but Oswald knew
by the way she spoke. He can nearly always tell. And when people
are not telling the truth Oswald generally knows by the way they
look with their eyes. Oswald is not proud of being able to do
this. He knows it is through no merit of his own that he is much
cleverer than some people.
When they had gone, the rest of us got closer together and said -
'Now then.'
'Well,' Alice said, 'you know the house next door? The people have
gone to Scarborough. And the house is shut up. But last night I
saw a light in the windows.'
We asked her how and when, because her room is in the front, and
she couldn't possibly have seen. And then she said -
'I'll tell you if you boys will promise not ever to go fishing
again without me.' So we had to promise. Then she said -
'It was last night. I had forgotten to feed my rabbits and I woke
up and remembered it. And I was afraid I should find them dead in
the morning, like Oswald did.'
'It wasn't my fault,' Oswald said; 'there was something the matter
with the beasts. I fed them right enough.'
Alice said she didn't mean that, and she went on -
'I came down into the garden, and I saw a light in the house, and
dark figures moving about. I thought perhaps it was burglars, but
Father hadn't come home, and Eliza had gone to bed, so I couldn't
do anything. Only I thought perhaps I would tell the rest of you.'
'Why didn't you tell us this morning?' Noel asked. And Alice
explained that she did not want to get any one into trouble, even
burglars. 'But we might watch to-night,' she said, 'and see if we
see the light again.'
'They might have been burglars,' Noel said. He was sucking the
last bit of his macaroni. 'You know the people next door are very
grand. They won't know us - and they go out in a real private
carriage sometimes. And they have an "At Home" day, and people
come in cabs. I daresay they have piles of plate and jewellery and
rich brocades, and furs of price and things like that. Let us keep
watch to-night.'
'It's no use watching to-night,' Dicky said; 'if it's only burglars
they won't come again. But there are other things besides burglars
that are discovered in empty houses where lights are seen moving.'
'You mean coiners,' said Oswald at once. 'I wonder what the reward
is for setting the police on their track?'
Dicky thought it ought to be something fat, because coiners are
always a desperate gang; and the machinery they make the coins with
is so heavy and handy for knocking down detectives.
Then it was tea-time, and we went in; and Dora and H. O. had
clubbed their money together and bought a melon; quite a big one,
and only a little bit squashy at one end. It was very good, and
then we washed the seeds and made things with them and with pins
and cotton. And nobody said any more about watching the house next
Only when we went to bed Dicky took off his coat and waistcoat, but
he stopped at his braces, and said -
'What about the coiners?'
Oswald had taken off his collar and tie, and he was just going to
say the same, so he said, 'Of course I meant to watch, only my
collar's rather tight, so I thought I'd take it off first.'
Dicky said he did not think the girls ought to be in it, because
there might be danger, but Oswald reminded him that they had
promised Alice, and that a promise is a sacred thing, even when
you'd much rather not. So Oswald got Alice alone under pretence of
showing her a caterpillar - Dora does not like them, and she
screamed and ran away when Oswald offered to show it her. Then
Oswald explained, and Alice agreed to come and watch if she could.
This made us later than we ought to have been, because Alice had to
wait till Dora was quiet and then creep out very slowly, for fear
of the boards creaking. The girls sleep with their room-door open
for fear of burglars. Alice had kept on her clothes under her
nightgown when Dora wasn't looking, and presently we got down,
creeping past Father's study, and out at the glass door that leads
on to the veranda and the iron steps into the garden. And we went
down very quietly, and got into the chestnut-tree; and then I felt
that we had only been playing what Albert's uncle calls our
favourite instrument - I mean the Fool. For the house next door
was as dark as dark. Then suddenly we heard a sound - it came from
the gate at the end of the garden. All the gardens have gates;
they lead into a kind of lane that runs behind them. It is a sort
of back way, very convenient when you don't want to say exactly
where you are going. We heard the gate at the end of the next
garden click, and Dicky nudged Alice so that she would have fallen
out of the tree if it had not been for Oswald's extraordinary
presence of mind. Oswald squeezed Alice's arm tight, and we all
looked; and the others were rather frightened because really we had
not exactly expected anything to happen except perhaps a light.
But now a muffled figure, shrouded in a dark cloak, came swiftly up
the path of the next-door garden. And we could see that under its
cloak the figure carried a mysterious burden. The figure was
dressed to look like a woman in a sailor hat.
We held our breath as it passed under the tree where we were, and
then it tapped very gently on the back door and was let in, and
then a light appeared in the window of the downstairs back
breakfast-room. But the shutters were up.
Dicky said, 'My eye!' and wouldn't the others be sick to think they
hadn't been in this! But Alice didn't half like it - and as she is
a girl I do not blame her. Indeed, I thought myself at first that
perhaps it would be better to retire for the present, and return
later with a strongly armed force.
'It's not burglars,' Alice whispered; 'the mysterious Stranger was
bringing things in, not taking them out. They must be coiners -
and oh, Oswald! - don't let's! The things they coin with must hurt
very much. Do let's go to bed!'
But Dicky said he was going to see; if there was a reward for
finding out things like this he would like to have the reward.
'They locked the back door,' he whispered, 'I heard it go. And I
could look in quite well through the holes in the shutters and be
back over the wall long before they'd got the door open, even if
they started to do it at once.'
There were holes at the top of the shutters the shape of hearts,
and the yellow light came out through them as well as through the
chinks of the shutters.
Oswald said if Dicky went he should, because he was the eldest; and
Alice said, 'If any one goes it ought to be me, because I thought
of it.'
So Oswald said, 'Well, go then'; and she said, 'Not for anything!'
And she begged us not to, and we talked about it in the tree till
we were all quite hoarse with whispering.
At last we decided on a plan of action.
Alice was to stay in the tree, and scream 'Murder!' if anything
happened. Dicky and I were to get down into the next garden and
take it in turns to peep.
So we got down as quietly as we could, but the tree made much more
noise than it does in the day, and several times we paused, fearing
that all was discovered. But nothing happened.
There was a pile of red flower-pots under the window and one very
large one was on the window-ledge. It seemed as if it was the hand
of Destiny had placed it there, and the geranium in it was dead,
and there was nothing to stop your standing on it - so Oswald did.
He went first because he is the eldest, and though Dicky tried to
stop him because he thought of it first it could not be, on account
of not being able to say anything.
So Oswald stood on the flower-pot and tried to look through one of
the holes. He did not really expect to see the coiners at their
fell work, though he had pretended to when we were talking in the
tree. But if he had seen them pouring the base molten metal into
tin moulds the shape of half-crowns he would not have been half so
astonished as he was at the spectacle now revealed.
At first he could see little, because the hole had unfortunately
been made a little too high, so that the eye of the detective could
only see the Prodigal Son in a shiny frame on the opposite wall.
But Oswald held on to the window-frame and stood on tiptoe and then
he saw.
There was no furnace, and no base metal, no bearded men in leathern
aprons with tongs and things, but just a table with a table-cloth
on it for supper, and a tin of salmon and a lettuce and some
bottled beer. And there on a chair was the cloak and the hat of
the mysterious stranger, and the two people sitting at the table
were the two youngest grown-up daughters of the lady next door, and
one of them was saying -
'So I got the salmon three-halfpence cheaper, and the lettuces are
only six a penny in the Broad- way, just fancy! We must save as
much as ever we can on our housekeeping money if we want to go away
decent next year.'
And the other said, 'I wish we could all go every year, or else -
Really, I almost wish -'
And all the time Oswald was looking Dicky was pulling at his jacket
to make him get down and let Dicky have a squint. And just as she
said 'I almost,' Dicky pulled too hard and Oswald felt himself
toppling on the giddy verge of the big flower-pots. Putting forth
all his strength our hero strove to recover his equiwhat's-
its-name, but it was now lost beyond recall.
'You've done it this time!' he said, then he fell heavily among the
flower-pots piled below. He heard them crash and rattle and crack,
and then his head struck against an iron pillar used for holding up
the next-door veranda. His eyes closed and he knew no more.
Now you will perhaps expect that at this moment Alice would have
cried 'Murder!' If you think so you little know what girls are.
Directly she was left alone in that tree she made a bolt to tell
Albert's uncle all about it and bring him to our rescue in case the
coiner's gang was a very desperate one. And just when I fell,
Albert's uncle was getting over the wall. Alice never screamed at
all when Oswald fell, but Dicky thinks he heard Albert's uncle say,
'Confound those kids!' which would not have been kind or polite, so
I hope he did not say it.
The people next door did not come out to see what the row was.
Albert's uncle did not wait for them to come out. He picked up
Oswald and carried the insensible body of the gallant young
detective to the wall, laid it on the top, and then climbed over
and bore his lifeless burden into our house and put it on the sofa
in Father's study. Father was out, so we needn't have crept so
when we were getting into the garden. Then Oswald was restored to
consciousness, and his head tied up, and sent to bed, and next day
there was a lump on his young brow as big as a turkey's egg, and
very uncomfortable.
Albert's uncle came in next day and talked to each of us
separately. To Oswald he said many unpleasant things about
ungentlemanly to spy on ladies, and about minding your own
business; and when I began to tell him what I had heard he told me
to shut up, and altogether he made me more uncomfortable than the
bump did.
Oswald did not say anything to any one, but next day, as the
shadows of eve were falling, he crept away, and wrote on a piece of
paper, 'I want to speak to you,' and shoved it through the hole
like a heart in the top of the next-door shutters.
And the youngest young lady put an eye to the heart-shaped hole,
and then opened the shutter and said 'Well?' very crossly. Then
Oswald said -
'I am very sorry, and I beg your pardon. We wanted to be
detectives, and we thought a gang of coiners infested your house,
so we looked through your window last night. I saw the lettuce,
and I heard what you said about the salmon being three-halfpence
cheaper, and I know it is very dishonourable to pry into other
people's secrets, especially ladies', and I never will again if you
will forgive me this once.'
Then the lady frowned and then she laughed, and then she said -
'So it was you tumbling into the flower-pots last night? We
thought it was burglars. It frightened us horribly. Why, what a
bump on your poor head!'
And then she talked to me a bit, and presently she said she and her
sister had not wished people to know they were at home, because -
And then she stopped short and grew very red, and I said, 'I
thought you were all at Scarborough; your servant told Eliza so.
Why didn't you want people to know you were at home?'
The lady got redder still, and then she laughed and said -
'Never mind the reason why. I hope your head doesn't hurt much.
Thank you for your nice, manly little speech. You've nothing to be
ashamed of, at any rate.' Then she kissed me, and I did not mind.
And then she said, 'Run away now, dear. I'm going to - I'm going
to pull up the blinds and open the shutters, and I want to do it at
once, before it gets dark, so that every one can see we're at home,
and not at Scarborough.'
When we had got that four shillings by digging for treasure we
ought, by rights, to have tried Dicky's idea of answering the
advertisement about ladies and gentlemen and spare time and two
pounds a week, but there were several things we rather wanted.
Dora wanted a new pair of scissors, and she said she was going to
get them with her eight-pence. But Alice said -
'You ought to get her those, Oswald, because you know you broke the
points off hers getting the marble out of the brass thimble.'
It was quite true, though I had almost forgotten it, but then it
was H. O. who jammed the marble into the thimble first of all. So
I said -
'It's H. O.'s fault as much as mine, anyhow. Why shouldn't he
Oswald didn't so much mind paying for the beastly scissors, but he
hates injustice of every kind.
'He's such a little kid,' said Dicky, and of course H. O. said he
wasn't a little kid, and it very nearly came to being a row between
them. But Oswald knows when to be generous; so he said -
'Look here! I'll pay sixpence of the scissors, and H. O. shall pay
the rest, to teach him to be careful.'
H. O. agreed: he is not at all a mean kid, but I found out
afterwards that Alice paid his share out of her own money.
Then we wanted some new paints, and NoEl wanted a pencil and a
halfpenny account-book to write poetry with, and it does seem hard
never to have any apples. So, somehow or other nearly all the
money got spent, and we agreed that we must let the advertisement
run loose a little longer.
'I only hope,' Alice said, 'that they won't have got all the ladies
and gentlemen they want before we have got the money to write for
the sample and instructions.'
And I was a little afraid myself, because it seemed such a splendid
chance; but we looked in the paper every day, and the advertisement
was always there, so we thought it was all right.
Then we had the detective try-on - and it proved no go; and then,
when all the money was gone, except a halfpenny of mine and
twopence of Noel's and three-pence of Dicky's and a few pennies
that the girls had left, we held another council.
Dora was sewing the buttons on H. O.'s Sunday things. He got
himself a knife with his money, and he cut every single one of his
best buttons off. You've no idea how many buttons there are on a
suit. Dora counted them. There are twenty-four, counting the
little ones on the sleeves that don't undo.
Alice was trying to teach Pincher to beg; but he has too much sense
when he knows you've got nothing in your hands, and the rest of us
were roasting potatoes under the fire. We had made a fire on
purpose, though it was rather warm. They are very good if you cut
away the burnt parts - but you ought to wash them first, or you are
a dirty boy.
'Well, what can we do?' said Dicky. 'You are so fond of saying
"Let's do something!" and never saying what.'
'We can't try the advertisement yet. Shall we try rescuing some
one?' said Oswald. It was his own idea, but he didn't insist on
doing it, though he is next to the eldest, for he knows it is bad
manners to make people do what you want, when they would rather
'What was Noel's plan?' Alice asked.
'A Princess or a poetry book,' said Noel sleepily. He was lying on
his back on the sofa, kicking his legs. 'Only I shall look for the
Princess all by myself. But I'll let you see her when we're
'Have you got enough poetry to make a book?' Dicky asked that, and
it was rather sensible of him, because when Noel came to look there
were only seven of his poems that any of us could understand.
There was the 'Wreck of the Malabar', and the poem he wrote when
Eliza took us to hear the Reviving Preacher, and everybody cried,
and Father said it must have been the Preacher's Eloquence. So
Noel wrote:
O Eloquence and what art thou?
Ay what art thou? because we cried
And everybody cried inside
When they came out their eyes were red -
And it was your doing Father said.
But Noel told Alice he got the first line and a half from a book a
boy at school was going to write when he had time. Besides this
there were the 'Lines on a Dead Black Beetle that was poisoned':
Beetle how I weep to see
Thee lying on thy poor back!
It is so very sad indeed.
You were so shiny and black.
I wish you were alive again
But Eliza says wishing it is nonsense and a shame.
It was very good beetle poison, and there were hundreds of them
lying dead - but Noel only wrote a piece of poetry for one of them.
He said he hadn't time to do them all, and the worst of it was he
didn't know which one he'd written it to - so Alice couldn't bury
the beetle and put the lines on its grave, though she wanted to
very much.
Well, it was quite plain that there wasn't enough poetry for a
'We might wait a year or two,' said Noel. 'I shall be sure to make
some more some time. I thought of a piece about a fly this morning
that knew condensed milk was sticky.'
'But we want the money now,' said Dicky, 'and you can go on writing
just the same. It will come in some time or other.'
'There's poetry in newspapers,' said Alice. 'Down, Pincher! you'll
never be a clever dog, so it's no good trying.'
'Do they pay for it?' Dicky thought of that; he often thinks of
things that are really important, even if they are a little dull.
'I don't know. But I shouldn't think any one would let them print
their poetry without. I wouldn't I know.' That was Dora; but Noel
said he wouldn't mind if he didn't get paid, so long as he saw his
poetry printed and his name at the end.
'We might try, anyway,' said Oswald. He is always willing to give
other people's ideas a fair trial.
So we copied out 'The Wreck of the Malabar' and the other six poems
on drawing-paper - Dora did it, she writes best - and Oswald drew
a picture of the Malabar going down with all hands. It was a
full-rigged schooner, and all the ropes and sails were correct;
because my cousin is in the Navy, and he showed me.
We thought a long time whether we'd write a letter and send it by
post with the poetry - and Dora thought it would be best. But NoEl
said he couldn't bear not to know at once if the paper would print
the poetry, So we decided to take it.
I went with Noel, because I am the eldest, and he is not old enough
to go to London by himself. Dicky said poetry was rot - and he was
glad he hadn't got to make a fool of himself. that was because
there was not enough money for him to go with us. H. O. couldn't
come either, but he came to the station to see us off, and waved
his cap and called out 'Good hunting!' as the train started.
There was a lady in spectacles in the corner. She was writing with
a pencil on the edges of long strips of paper that had print all
down them. When the train started she asked -
'What was that he said?'
So Oswald answered -
'It was "Good hunting" - it's out of the jungle book!'
'That's very pleasant to hear,' the lady said; 'I am very pleased
to meet people who know their jungle book. And where are you off
to - the Zoological Gardens to look for Bagheera?'
We were pleased, too, to meet some one who knew the jungle book.
So Oswald said -
'We are going to restore the fallen fortunes of the House of
Bastable - and we have all thought of different ways - and we're
going to try them all. Noel's way is poetry. I suppose great
poets get paid?'
The lady laughed - she was awfully jolly - and said she was a sort
of poet, too, and the long strips of paper were the proofs of her
new book of stories. Because before a book is made into a real
book with pages and a cover, they sometimes print it all on strips
of paper, and the writer make marks on it with a pencil to show the
printers what idiots they are not to understand what a writer means
to have printed.
We told her all about digging for treasure, and what we meant to
do. Then she asked to see Noel's poetry - and he said he didn't
like - so she said, 'Look here - if you'll show me yours I'll show
you some of mine.' So he agreed.
The jolly lady read NoEl's poetry, and she said she liked it very
much. And she thought a great deal of the picture of the Malabar.
And then she said, 'I write serious poetry like yours myself; too,
but I have a piece here that I think you will like because it's
about a boy.' She gave it to us - and so I can copy it down, and
I will, for it shows that some grown-up ladies are not so silly as
others. I like it better than NoEl's poetry, though I told him I
did not, because he looked as if he was going to cry. This was
very wrong, for you should always speak the truth, however unhappy
it makes people. And I generally do. But I did not want him
crying in the railway carriage. The lady's piece of poetry:
Oh when I wake up in my bed
And see the sun all fat and red,
I'm glad to have another day
For all my different kinds of play.
There are so many things to do -
The things that make a man of you,
If grown-ups did not get so vexed
And wonder what you will do next.
I often wonder whether they
Ever made up our kinds of play -
If they were always good as gold
And only did what they were told.
They like you best to play with tops
And toys in boxes, bought in shops;
They do not even know the names
Of really interesting games.
They will not let you play with fire
Or trip your sister up with wire,
They grudge the tea-tray for a drum,
Or booby-traps when callers come.
They don't like fishing, and it's true
You sometimes soak a suit or two:
They look on fireworks, though they're dry,
With quite a disapproving eye.
They do not understand the way
To get the most out of your day:
They do not know how hunger feels
Nor what you need between your meals.
And when you're sent to bed at night,
They're happy, but they're not polite.
For through the door you hear them say:
'He's done his mischief for the day!'
She told us a lot of other pieces but I cannot remember them, and
she talked to us all the way up, and when we got nearly to Cannon
Street she said -
'I've got two new shillings here! Do you think they would help to
smooth the path to Fame?'
Noel said, 'Thank you,' and was going to take the shilling. But
Oswald, who always remembers what he is told, said -
'Thank you very much, but Father told us we ought never to take
anything from strangers.'
'That's a nasty one,' said the lady - she didn't talk a bit like a
real lady, but more like a jolly sort of grown-up boy in a dress
and hat - 'a very nasty one! But don't you think as Noel and I are
both poets I might be considered a sort of relation? You've heard
of brother poets, haven't you? Don't you think NoEl and I are aunt
and nephew poets, or some relationship of that kind?'
I didn't know what to say, and she went on -
'It's awfully straight of you to stick to what your Father tells
you, but look here, you take the shillings, and here's my card.
When you get home tell your Father all about it, and if he says No,
you can just bring the shillings back to me.'
So we took the shillings, and she shook hands with us and said,
'Good-bye, and good hunting!'
We did tell Father about it, and he said it was all right, and when
he looked at the card he told us we were highly honoured, for the
lady wrote better poetry than any other lady alive now. We had
never heard of her, and she seemed much too jolly for a poet. Good
old Kipling! We owe him those two shillings, as well as the jungle
It was not bad sport - being in London entirely on our own hook.
We asked the way to Fleet Street, where Father says all the
newspaper offices are. They said straight on down Ludgate Hill -
but it turned out to be quite another way. At least we didn't go
straight on.
We got to St Paul's. Noel WOULD go in, and we saw where Gordon was
buried - at least the monument. It is very flat, considering what
a man he was.
When we came out we walked a long way, and when we asked a
policeman he said we'd better go back through Smithfield. So we
did. They don't burn people any more there now, so it was rather
dull, besides being a long way, and Noel got very tired. He's a
peaky little chap; it comes of being a poet, I think. We had a bun
or two at different shops - out of the shillings - and it was quite
late in the afternoon when we got to Fleet Street. The gas was
lighted and the electric lights. There is a jolly Bovril sign that
comes off and on in different coloured lamps. We went to the Daily
Recorder office, and asked to see the Editor. It is a big office,
very bright, with brass and mahogany and electric lights.
They told us the Editor wasn't there, but at another office. So we
went down a dirty street, to a very dull-looking place. There was
a man there inside, in a glass case, as if he was a museum, and he
told us to write down our names and our business. So Oswald wrote
Business very private indeed.
Then we waited on the stone stairs; it was very draughty. And the
man in the glass case looked at us as if we were the museum instead
of him. We waited a long time, and then a boy came down and said
'The Editor can't see you. Will you please write your business?'
And he laughed. I wanted to punch his head.
But Noel said, 'Yes, I'll write it if you'll give me a pen and ink,
and a sheet of paper and an envelope.'
The boy said he'd better write by post. But Noel is a bit
pig-headed; it's his worst fault. So he said -
'No, I'll write it now.' So I backed him up by saying -
'Look at the price penny stamps are since the coal strike!'
So the boy grinned, and the man in the glass case gave us pen and
paper, and Noel wrote. Oswald writes better than he does; but Noel
would do it; and it took a very long time, and then it was inky.
DEAR MR EDITOR, I want you to print my poetry and pay for it, and
I am a friend of Mrs Leslie's; she is a poet too.
Your affectionate friend,
He licked the envelope a good deal, so that that boy shouldn't read
it going upstairs; and he wrote 'Very private' outside, and gave
the letter to the boy. I thought it wasn't any good; but in a
minute the grinning boy came back, and he was quite respectful, and
said - 'The Editor says, please will you step up?'
We stepped up. There were a lot of stairs and passages, and a
queer sort of humming, hammering sound and a very funny smell. The
boy was now very polite, and said it was the ink we smelt, and the
noise was the printing machines.
After going through a lot of cold passages we came to a door; the
boy opened it, and let us go in. There was a large room, with a
big, soft, blue-and-red carpet, and a roaring fire, though it was
only October; and a large table with drawers, and littered with
papers, just like the one in Father's study. A gentleman was
sitting at one side of the table; he had a light moustache and
light eyes, and he looked very young to be an editor - not nearly
so old as Father. He looked very tired and sleepy, as if he had
got up very early in the morning; but he was kind, and we liked
him. Oswald thought he looked clever. Oswald is considered a
judge of faces.
'Well,' said he, 'so you are Mrs Leslie's friends?'
'I think so,' said Noel; 'at least she gave us each a shilling, and
she wished us "good hunting!"'
'Good hunting, eh? Well, what about this poetry of yours? Which
is the poet?'
I can't think how he could have asked! Oswald is said to be a very
manly-looking boy for his age. However, I thought it would look
duffing to be offended, so I said -
'This is my brother Noel. He is the poet.' Noel had turned quite
pale. He is disgustingly like a girl in some ways. The Editor
told us to sit down, and he took the poems from Noel, and began to
read them. Noel got paler and paler; I really thought he was going
to faint, like he did when I held his hand under the cold-water
tap, after I had accidentally cut him with my chisel. When the
Editor had read the first poem - it was the one about the beetle -
he got up and stood with his back to us. It was not manners; but
Noel thinks he did it 'to conceal his emotion,' as they do in
books. He read all the poems, and then he said -
'I like your poetry very much, young man. I'll give you - let me
see; how much shall I give you for it?'
'As much as ever you can,' said Noel. 'You see I want a good deal
of money to restore the fallen fortunes of the house of Bastable.'
The gentleman put on some eye-glasses and looked hard at us. Then
he sat down.
'That's a good idea,' said he. 'Tell me how you came to think of
it. And, I say, have you had any tea? They've just sent out for
He rang a tingly bell, and the boy brought in a tray with a teapot
and a thick cup and saucer and things, and he had to fetch another
tray for us, when he was told to; and we had tea with the Editor of
the Daily Recorder. I suppose it was a very proud moment for Noel,
though I did not think of that till afterwards. The Editor asked
us a lot of questions, and we told him a good deal, though of
course I did not tell a stranger all our reasons for thinking that
the family fortunes wanted restoring. We stayed about half an
hour, and when we were going away he said again -
'I shall print all your poems, my poet; and now what do you think
they're worth?'
'I don't know,' Noel said. 'You see I didn't write them to sell.'
'Why did you write them then?' he asked.
Noel said he didn't know; he supposed because he wanted to.
'Art for Art's sake, eh?' said the Editor, and he seemed quite
delighted, as though Noel had said something clever.
'Well, would a guinea meet your views?' he asked.
I have read of people being at a loss for words, and dumb with
emotion, and I've read of people being turned to stone with
astonishment, or joy, or something, but I never knew how silly it
looked till I saw Noel standing staring at the Editor with his
mouth open. He went red and he went white, and then he got
crimson, as if you were rubbing more and more crimson lake on a
palette. But he didn't say a word, so Oswald had to say - 'I
should jolly well think so.'
So the Editor gave Noel a sovereign and a shilling, and he shook
hands with us both, but he thumped Noel on the back and said -
'Buck up, old man! It's your first guinea, but it won't be your
last. Now go along home, and in about ten years you can bring me
some more poetry. Not before - see? I'm just taking this poetry
of yours because I like it very much; but we don't put poetry in
this paper at all. I shall have to put it in another paper I know
'What do you put in your paper?' I asked, for Father always takes
the Daily Chronicle, and I didn't know what the Recorder was like.
We chose it because it has such a glorious office, and a clock
outside lighted up.
'Oh, news,' said he, 'and dull articles, and things about
Celebrities. If you know any Celebrities, now?'
Noel asked him what Celebrities were.
'Oh, the Queen and the Princes, and people with titles, and people
who write, or sing, or act - or do something clever or wicked.'
'I don't know anybody wicked,' said Oswald, wishing he had known
Dick Turpin, or Claude Duval, so as to be able to tell the Editor
things about them. 'But I know some one with a title - Lord
'The mad old Protectionist, eh? How did you come to know him?'
'We don't know him to speak to. But he goes over the Heath every
day at three, and he strides along like a giant - with a black
cloak like Lord Tennyson's flying behind him, and he talks to
himself like one o'clock.'
'What does he say?' The Editor had sat down again, and he was
fiddling with a blue pencil.
'We only heard him once, close enough to understand, and then he
said, "The curse of the country, sir - ruin and desolation!" And
then he went striding along again, hitting at the furze-bushes as
if they were the heads of his enemies.'
'Excellent descriptive touch,' said the Editor. 'Well, go on.'
'That's all I know about him, except that he stops in the middle of
the Heath every day, and he looks all round to see if there's any
one about, and if there isn't, he takes his collar off.'
The Editor interrupted - which is considered rude - and said -
'You're not romancing?'
'I beg your pardon?' said Oswald.
'Drawing the long bow, I mean,' said the Editor.
Oswald drew himself up, and said he wasn't a liar.
The Editor only laughed, and said romancing and lying were not at
all the same; only it was important to know what you were playing
at. So Oswald accepted his apology, and went on.
'We were hiding among the furze-bushes one day, and we saw him do
it. He took off his collar, and he put on a clean one, and he
threw the other among the furze-bushes. We picked it up
afterwards, and it was a beastly paper one!'
'Thank you,' said the Editor, and he got up and put his hand in his
pocket. 'That's well worth five shillings, and there they are.
Would you like to see round the printing offices before you go
I pocketed my five bob, and thanked him, and I said we should like
it very much. He called another gentleman and said something we
couldn't hear. Then he said good-bye again; and all this time Noel
hadn't said a word. But now he said, 'I've made a poem about you.
It is called "Lines to a Noble Editor." Shall I write it down?'
The Editor gave him the blue pencil, and he sat down at the
Editor's table and wrote. It was this, he told me afterwards as
well as he could remember -
May Life's choicest blessings be your lot
I think you ought to be very blest
For you are going to print my poems -
And you may have this one as well as the rest.
'Thank you,' said the Editor. 'I don't think I ever had a poem
addressed to me before. I shall treasure it, I assure you.'
Then the other gentleman said something about Maecenas, and we went
off to see the printing office with at least one pound seven in our
It was good hunting, and no mistake!
But he never put Noel's poetry in the Daily Recorder. It was quite
a long time afterwards we saw a sort of story thing in a magazine,
on the station bookstall, and that kind, sleepy-looking Editor had
written it, I suppose. It was not at all amusing. It said a lot
about Noel and me, describing us all wrong, and saying how we had
tea with the Editor; and all Noel's poems were in the story thing.
I think myself the Editor seemed to make game of them, but Noel was
quite pleased to see them printed - so that's all right. It wasn't
my poetry anyhow, I am glad to say.
She happened quite accidentally. We were not looking for a
Princess at all just then; but Noel had said he was going to find
a Princess all by himself; and marry her - and he really did.
Which was rather odd, because when people say things are going to
befall, very often they don't. It was different, of course, with
the prophets of old.
We did not get any treasure by it, except twelve chocolate drops;
but we might have done, and it was an adventure, anyhow.
Greenwich Park is a jolly good place to play in, especially the
parts that aren't near Greenwich. The parts near the Heath are
first-rate. I often wish the Park was nearer our house; but I
suppose a Park is a difficult thing to move.
Sometimes we get Eliza to put lunch in a basket, and we go up to
the Park. She likes that - it saves cooking dinner for us; and
sometimes she says of her own accord, 'I've made some pasties for
you, and you might as well go into the Park as not. It's a lovely
She always tells us to rinse out the cup at the drinking-fountain,
and the girls do; but I always put my head under the tap and drink.
Then you are an intrepid hunter at a mountain stream - and besides,
you're sure it's clean. Dicky does the same, and so does H. O. But
Noel always drinks out of the cup. He says it is a golden goblet
wrought by enchanted gnomes.
The day the Princess happened was a fine, hot day, last October,
and we were quite tired with the walk up to the Park.
We always go in by the little gate at the top of Croom's Hill. It
is the postern gate that things always happen at in stories. It
was dusty walking, but when we got in the Park it was ripping, so
we rested a bit, and lay on our backs, and looked up at the trees,
and wished we could play monkeys. I have done it before now, but
the Park-keeper makes a row if he catches you. When we'd rested a
little, Alice said -
'It was a long way to the enchanted wood, but it is very nice now
we are there. I wonder what we shall find in it?'
'We shall find deer,' said Dicky, 'if we go to look; but they go on
the other side of the Park because of the people with buns.'
Saying buns made us think of lunch, so we had it; and when we had
done we scratched a hole under a tree and buried the papers,
because we know it spoils pretty places to leave beastly, greasy
papers lying about. I remember Mother teaching me and Dora that,
when we were quite little. I wish everybody's parents would teach
them this useful lesson, and the same about orange peel.
When we'd eaten everything there was, Alice whispered -
'I see the white witch bear yonder among the trees! Let's track it
and slay it in its lair.'
'I am the bear,' said NoEl; so he crept away, and we followed him
among the trees. Often the witch bear was out of sight, and then
you didn't know where it would jump out from; but sometimes we saw
it, and just followed.
'When we catch it there'll be a great fight,' said Oswald; 'and I
shall be Count Folko of Mont Faucon.'
'I'll be Gabrielle,' said Dora. She is the only one of us who
likes doing girl's parts.
'I'll be Sintram,' said Alice; 'and H. O. can be the Little
'What about Dicky?'
'Oh, I can be the Pilgrim with the bones.'
'Hist!' whispered Alice. 'See his white fairy fur gleaming amid
yonder covert!'
And I saw a bit of white too. It was Noel's collar, and it had
come undone at the back.
We hunted the bear in and out of the trees, and then we lost him
altogether; and suddenly we found the wall of the Park - in a place
where I'm sure there wasn't a wall before. Noel wasn't anywhere
about, and there was a door in the wall. And it was open; so we
went through.
'The bear has hidden himself in these mountain fastnesses,' Oswald
said. 'I will draw my good sword and after him.'
So I drew the umbrella, which Dora always will bring in case it
rains, because Noel gets a cold on the chest at the least thing -
and we went on.
The other side of the wall it was a stable yard, all cobble-stones.
There was nobody about - but we could hear a man rubbing down a
horse and hissing in the stable; so we crept very quietly past, and
Alice whispered -
''Tis the lair of the Monster Serpent; I hear his deadly hiss!
Beware! Courage and despatch!'
We went over the stones on tiptoe, and we found another wall with
another door in it on the other side. We went through that too, on
tiptoe. It really was an adventure. And there we were in a
shrubbery, and we saw something white through the trees. Dora said
it was the white bear. That is so like Dora. She always begins to
take part in a play just when the rest of us are getting tired of
it. I don't mean this unkindly, because I am very fond of Dora.
I cannot forget how kind she was when I had bronchitis; and
ingratitude is a dreadful vice. But it is quite true.
'It is not a bear,' said Oswald; and we all went on, still on
tiptoe, round a twisty path and on to a lawn, and there was Noel.
His collar had come undone, as I said, and he had an inky mark on
his face that he made just before we left the house, and he
wouldn't let Dora wash it off, and one of his bootlaces was coming
down. He was standing looking at a little girl; she was the
funniest little girl you ever saw.
She was like a china doll - the sixpenny kind; she had a white
face, and long yellow hair, done up very tight in two pigtails; her
forehead was very big and lumpy, and her cheeks came high up, like
little shelves under her eyes. Her eyes were small and blue. She
had on a funny black frock, with curly braid on it, and button
boots that went almost up to her knees. Her legs were very thin.
She was sitting in a hammock chair nursing a blue kitten - not a
sky-blue one, of course, but the colour of a new slate pencil. As
we came up we heard her say to Noel - 'Who are you?'
Noel had forgotten about the bear, and he was taking his favourite
part, so he said - 'I'm Prince Camaralzaman.' The funny little
girl looked pleased.
'I thought at first you were a common boy,' she said. Then she saw
the rest of us and said - 'Are you all Princesses and Princes too?'
Of course we said 'Yes,' and she said - 'I am a Princess also.'
She said it very well too, exactly as if it were true. We were
very glad, because it is so seldom you meet any children who can
begin to play right off without having everything explained to
them. And even then they will say they are going to 'pretend to
be' a lion, or a witch, or a king. Now this little girl just said
'I am a Princess.' Then she looked at Oswald and said, 'I fancy
I've seen you at Baden.' Of course Oswald said, 'Very likely.'
The little girl had a funny voice, and all her words were quite
plain, each word by itself; she didn't talk at all like we do.
H. O. asked her what the cat's name was, and she said 'Katinka.'
Then Dicky said -
'Let's get away from the windows; if you play near windows some one
inside generally knocks at them and says "Don't".'
The Princess put down the cat very carefully and said -
'I am forbidden to walk off the grass.'
'That's a pity,' said Dora.
'But I will if you like,' said the Princess.
'You mustn't do things you are forbidden to do,' Dora said; but
Dicky showed us that there was some more grass beyond the shrubs
with only a gravel path between. So I lifted the Princess over the
gravel, so that she should be able to say she hadn't walked off the
grass. When we got to the other grass we all sat down, and the
Princess asked us if we liked 'dragees' (I know that's how you
spell it, for I asked Albert-next-door's uncle).
We said we thought not, but she pulled a real silver box out of her
pocket and showed us; they were just flat, round chocolates. We
had two each. Then we asked her her name, and she began, and when
she began she went on, and on, and on, till I thought she was never
going to stop. H. O. said she had fifty names, but Dicky is very
good at figures, and he says there were only eighteen. The first
were Pauline, Alexandra, Alice, and Mary was one, and Victoria, for
we all heard that, and it ended up with Hildegarde Cunigonde
something or other, Princess of something else.
When she'd done, H. O. said, 'That's jolly good! Say it again!'
and she did, but even then we couldn't remember it. We told her
our names, but she thought they were too short, so when it was
Noel's turn he said he was Prince Noel Camaralzaman Ivan
Constantine Charlemagne James John Edward Biggs Maximilian Bastable
Prince of Lewisham, but when she asked him to say it again of
course he could only get the first two names right, because he'd
made it up as he went on.
So the Princess said, 'You are quite old enough to know your own
name.' She was very grave and serious.
She told us that she was the fifth cousin of Queen Victoria. We
asked who the other cousins were, but she did not seem to
understand. She went on and said she was seven times removed. She
couldn't tell us what that meant either, but Oswald thinks it means
that the Queen's cousins are so fond of her that they will keep
coming bothering, so the Queen's servants have orders to remove
them. This little girl must have been very fond of the Queen to
try so often to see her, and to have been seven times removed. We
could see that it is considered something to be proud of; but we
thought it was hard on the Queen that her cousins wouldn't let her
Presently the little girl asked us where our maids and governesses
We told her we hadn't any just now. And she said -
'How pleasant! And did you come here alone?'
'Yes,' said Dora; 'we came across the Heath.'
'You are very fortunate,' said the little girl. She sat very
upright on the grass, with her fat little hands in her lap. 'I
should like to go on the Heath. There are donkeys there, with
white saddle covers. I should like to ride them, but my governess
will not permit.'
'I'm glad we haven't a governess,' H. O. said. 'We ride the
donkeys whenever we have any pennies, and once I gave the man
another penny to make it gallop.'
'You are indeed fortunate!' said the Princess again, and when she
looked sad the shelves on her cheeks showed more than ever. You
could have laid a sixpence on them quite safely if you had had one.
'Never mind,' said Noel; 'I've got a lot of money. Come out and
have a ride now.' But the little girl shook her head and said she
was afraid it would not be correct.
Dora said she was quite right; then all of a sudden came one of
those uncomfortable times when nobody can think of anything to say,
so we sat and looked at each other. But at last Alice said we
ought to be going.
'Do not go yet,' the little girl said. 'At what time did they
order your carriage?'
'Our carriage is a fairy one, drawn by griffins, and it comes when
we wish for it,' said Noel.
The little girl looked at him very queerly, and said, 'That is out
of a picture-book.'
Then Noel said he thought it was about time he was married if we
were to be home in time for tea. The little girl was rather stupid
over it, but she did what we told her, and we married them with
Dora's pocket-handkerchief for a veil, and the ring off the back of
one of the buttons on H. O.'s blouse just went on her little
Then we showed her how to play cross-touch, and puss in the corner,
and tag. It was funny, she didn't know any games but battledore
and shuttlecock and les graces. But she really began to laugh at
last and not to look quite so like a doll.
She was Puss and was running after Dicky when suddenly she stopped
short and looked as if she was going to cry. And we looked too,
and there were two prim ladies with little mouths and tight hair.
One of them said in quite an awful voice, 'Pauline, who are these
children?' and her voice was gruff; with very curly R's.
The little girl said we were Princes and Princesses - which was
silly, to a grown-up person that is not a great friend of yours.
The gruff lady gave a short, horrid laugh, like a husky bark, and
said -
'Princes, indeed! They're only common children!'
Dora turned very red and began to speak, but the little girl cried
out 'Common children! Oh, I am so glad! When I am grown up I'll
always play with common children.'
And she ran at us, and began to kiss us one by one, beginning with
Alice; she had got to H. O. when the horrid lady said - 'Your
Highness - go indoors at once!'
The little girl answered, 'I won't!'
Then the prim lady said - 'Wilson, carry her Highness indoors.'
And the little girl was carried away screaming, and kicking with
her little thin legs and her buttoned boots, and between her
screams she shrieked:
'Common children! I am glad, glad, glad! Common children! Common
The nasty lady then remarked - 'Go at once, or I will send for the
So we went. H. O. made a face at her and so did Alice, but Oswald
took off his cap and said he was sorry if she was annoyed about
anything; for Oswald has always been taught to be polite to ladies,
however nasty. Dicky took his off, too, when he saw me do it; he
says he did it first, but that is a mistake. If I were really a
common boy I should say it was a lie.
Then we all came away, and when we got outside Dora said, 'So she
was really a Princess. Fancy a Princess living there!'
'Even Princesses have to live somewhere,' said Dicky.
'And I thought it was play. And it was real. I wish I'd known!
I should have liked to ask her lots of things,' said Alice.
H. O. said he would have liked to ask her what she had for dinner
and whether she had a crown.
I felt, myself, we had lost a chance of finding out a great deal
about kings and queens. I might have known such a stupid-looking
little girl would never have been able to pretend, as well as that.
So we all went home across the Heath, and made dripping toast for
When we were eating it Noel said, 'I wish I could give her some!
It is very good.'
He sighed as he said it, and his mouth was very full, so we knew he
was thinking of his Princess. He says now that she was as
beautiful as the day, but we remember her quite well, and she was
nothing of the kind.
Noel was quite tiresome for ever so long after we found the
Princess. He would keep on wanting to go to the Park when the rest
of us didn't, and though we went several times to please him, we
never found that door open again, and all of us except him knew
from the first that it would be no go.
So now we thought it was time to do something to rouse him from the
stupor of despair, which is always done to heroes when anything
baffling has occurred. Besides, we were getting very short of
money again - the fortunes of your house cannot be restored (not so
that they will last, that is), even by the one pound eight we got
when we had the 'good hunting.' We spent a good deal of that on
presents for Father's birthday. We got him a paper-weight, like a
glass bun, with a picture of Lewisham Church at the bottom; and a
blotting-pad, and a box of preserved fruits, and an ivory penholder
with a view of Greenwich Park in the little hole where you look
through at the top. He was most awfully pleased and surprised, and
when he heard how Noel and Oswald had earned the money to buy the
things he was more surprised still. Nearly all the rest of our
money went to get fireworks for the Fifth of November. We got six
Catherine wheels and four rockets; two hand-lights, one red and one
green; a sixpenny maroon; two Roman-candles - they cost a shilling;
some Italian streamers, a fairy fountain, and a tourbillon that
cost eighteen-pence and was very nearly worth it.
But I think crackers and squibs are a mistake. It's true you get
a lot of them for the money, and they are not bad fun for the first
two or three dozen, but you get jolly sick of them before you've
let off your sixpenn'orth. And the only amusing way is not
allowed: it is putting them in the fire.
It always seems a long time till the evening when you have got
fireworks in the house, and I think as it was a rather foggy day we
should have decided to let them off directly after breakfast, only
Father had said he would help us to let them off at eight o'clock
after he had had his dinner, and you ought never to disappoint your
father if you can help it.
You see we had three good reasons for trying H. O.'s idea of
restoring the fallen fortunes of our house by becoming bandits on
the Fifth of November. We had a fourth reason as well, and that
was the best reason of the lot. You remember Dora thought it would
be wrong to be bandits. And the Fifth of November came while Dora
was away at Stroud staying with her godmother. Stroud is in
Gloucestershire. We were determined to do it while she was out of
the way, because we did not think it wrong, and besides we meant to
do it anyhow.
We held a Council, of course, and laid our plans very carefully.
We let H. O. be Captain, because it was his idea. Oswald was
Lieutenant. Oswald was quite fair, because he let H. O. call
himself Captain; but Oswald is the eldest next to Dora, after all.
Our plan was this. We were all to go up on to the Heath. Our
house is in the Lewisham Road, but it's quite close to the Heath if
you cut up the short way opposite the confectioner's, past the
nursery gardens and the cottage hospital, and turn to the left
again and afterwards to the right. You come out then at the top of
the hill, where the big guns are with the iron fence round them,
and where the bands play on Thursday evenings in the summer.
We were to lurk in ambush there, and waylay an unwary traveller.
We were to call upon him to surrender his arms, and then bring him
home and put him in the deepest dungeon below the castle moat; then
we were to load him with chains and send to his friends for ransom.
You may think we had no chains, but you are wrong, because we used
to keep two other dogs once, besides Pincher, before the fall of
the fortunes of the ancient House of Bastable. And they were quite
big dogs.
It was latish in the afternoon before we started. We thought we
could lurk better if it was nearly dark. It was rather foggy, and
we waited a good while beside the railings, but all the belated
travellers were either grown up or else they were Board School
children. We weren't going to get into a row with grown-up people
- especially strangers - and no true bandit would ever stoop to ask
a ransom from the relations of the poor and needy. So we thought
it better to wait.
As I said, it was Guy Fawkes Day, and if it had not been we should
never have been able to be bandits at all, for the unwary traveller
we did catch had been forbidden to go out because he had a cold in
his head. But he would run out to follow a guy, without even
putting on a coat or a comforter, and it was a very damp, foggy
afternoon and nearly dark, so you see it was his own fault
entirely, and served him jolly well right.
We saw him coming over the Heath just as we were deciding to go
home to tea. He had followed that guy right across to the village
(we call Blackheath the village; I don't know why), and he was
coming back dragging his feet and sniffing.
'Hist, an unwary traveller approaches!' whispered Oswald.
'Muffle your horses' heads and see to the priming of your pistols,'
muttered Alice. She always will play boys' parts, and she makes
Ellis cut her hair short on purpose. Ellis is a very obliging
'Steal softly upon him,' said Noel; 'for lo! 'tis dusk, and no
human eyes can mark our deeds.' So we ran out and surrounded the
unwary traveller. it turned out to be Albert-next-door, and he was
very frightened indeed until he saw who we were.
'Surrender!' hissed Oswald, in a desperate-sounding voice, as he
caught the arm of the Unwary. And Albert-next-door said, 'All
right! I'm surrendering as hard as I can. You needn't pull my arm
We explained to him that resistance was useless, and I think he saw
that from the first. We held him tight by both arms, and we
marched him home down the hill in a hollow square of five.
He wanted to tell us about the guy, but we made him see that it was
not proper for prisoners to talk to the guard, especially about
guys that the prisoner had been told not to go after because of his
When we got to where we live he said, 'All right, I don't want to
tell you. You'll wish I had afterwards. You never saw such a
'I can see you!' said H. O. It was very rude, and Oswald told him
so at once, because it is his duty as an elder brother. But H. O.
is very young and does not know better yet, and besides it wasn't
bad for H. O.
Albert-next-door said, 'You haven't any manners, and I want to go
in to my tea. Let go of me!'
But Alice told him, quite kindly, that he was not going in to his
tea, but coming with us.
'I'm not,' said Albert-next-door; 'I'm going home. Leave go! I've
got a bad cold. You're making it worse.' Then he tried to cough,
which was very silly, because we'd seen him in the morning, and
he'd told us where the cold was that he wasn't to go out with.
When he had tried to cough, he said, 'Leave go of me! You see my
cold's getting worse.'
'You should have thought of that before,' said Dicky; 'you're
coming in with us.'
'Don't be a silly,' said Noel; 'you know we told you at the very
beginning that resistance was useless. There is no disgrace in
yielding. We are five to your one.'
By this time Eliza had opened the door, and we thought it best to
take him in without any more parlaying. To parley with a prisoner
is not done by bandits.
Directly we got him safe into the nursery, H. O. began to jump
about and say, 'Now you're a prisoner really and truly!'
And Albert-next-door began to cry. He always does. I wonder he
didn't begin long before - but Alice fetched him one of the dried
fruits we gave Father for his birthday. It was a green walnut. I
have noticed the walnuts and the plums always get left till the
last in the box; the apricots go first, and then the figs and
pears; and the cherries, if there are any.
So he ate it and shut up. Then we explained his position to him,
so that there should be no mistake, and he couldn't say afterwards
that he had not understood.
'There will be no violence,' said Oswald - he was now Captain of
the Bandits, because we all know H. O. likes to be Chaplain when we
play prisoners - 'no violence. But you will be confined in a dark,
subterranean dungeon where toads and snakes crawl, and but little
of the light of day filters through the heavily mullioned windows.
You will be loaded with chains. Now don't begin again, Baby,
there's nothing to cry about; straw will be your pallet; beside you
the gaoler will set a ewer - a ewer is only a jug, stupid; it won't
eat you - a ewer with water; and a mouldering crust will be your
But Albert-next-door never enters into the spirit of a thing. He
mumbled something about tea-time.
Now Oswald, though stern, is always just, and besides we were all
rather hungry, and tea was ready. So we had it at once,
Albert-next-door and all - and we gave him what was left of the
four-pound jar of apricot jam we got with the money Noel got for
his poetry. And we saved our crusts for the prisoner.
Albert-next-door was very tiresome. Nobody could have had a nicer
prison than he had. We fenced him into a corner with the old wire
nursery fender and all the chairs, instead of putting him in the
coal-cellar as we had first intended. And when he said the
dog-chains were cold the girls were kind enough to warm his fetters
thoroughly at the fire before we put them on him.
We got the straw cases of some bottles of wine someone sent Father
one Christmas - it is some years ago, but the cases are quite good.
We unpicked them very carefully and pulled them to pieces and
scattered the straw about. It made a lovely straw pallet, and took
ever so long to make - but Albert-next-door has yet to learn what
gratitude really is. We got the bread trencher for the wooden
platter where the prisoner's crusts were put - they were not
mouldy, but we could not wait till they got so, and for the ewer we
got the toilet jug out of the spare-room where nobody ever sleeps.
And even then Albert-next-door couldn't be happy like the rest of
us. He howled and cried and tried to get out, and he knocked the
ewer over and stamped on the mouldering crusts. Luckily there was
no water in the ewer because we had forgotten it, only dust and
spiders. So we tied him up with the clothes-line from the back
kitchen, and we had to hurry up, which was a pity for him. We
might have had him rescued by a devoted page if he hadn't been so
tiresome. In fact Noel was actually dressing up for the page when
Albert-next-door kicked over the prison ewer.
We got a sheet of paper out of an old exercise-book, and we made H.
O. prick his own thumb, because he is our little brother and it is
our duty to teach him to be brave. We none of us mind pricking
ourselves; we've done it heaps of times. H. O. didn't like it, but
he agreed to do it, and I helped him a little because he was so
slow, and when he saw the red bead of blood getting fatter and
bigger as I squeezed his thumb he was very pleased, just as I had
told him he would be.
This is what we wrote with H. O.'s blood, only the blood gave out
when we got to 'Restored', and we had to write the rest with
crimson lake, which is not the same colour, though I always use it,
myself, for painting wounds.
While Oswald was writing it he heard Alice whispering to the
prisoner that it would soon be over, and it was only play. The
prisoner left off howling, so I pretended not to hear what she
said. A Bandit Captain has to overlook things sometimes. This was
the letter -
'Albert Morrison is held a prisoner by Bandits. On payment of
three thousand pounds he will be restored to his sorrowing
relatives, and all will be forgotten and forgiven.'
I was not sure about the last part, but Dicky was certain he had
seen it in the paper, so I suppose it must have been all right.
We let H. O. take the letter; it was only fair, as it was his blood
it was written with, and told him to leave it next door for Mrs
H. O. came back quite quickly, and Albert-next-door's uncle came
with him.
'What is all this, Albert?' he cried. 'Alas, alas, my nephew! Do
I find you the prisoner of a desperate band of brigands?'
'Bandits,' said H. O; 'you know it says bandits.'
'I beg your pardon, gentlemen,' said Albert-next-door's uncle,
'bandits it is, of course. This, Albert, is the direct result of
the pursuit of the guy on an occasion when your doting mother had
expressly warned you to forgo the pleasures of the chase.'
Albert said it wasn't his fault, and he hadn't wanted to play.
'So ho!' said his uncle, 'impenitent too! Where's the dungeon?'
We explained the dungeon, and showed him the straw pallet and the
ewer and the mouldering crusts and other things.
'Very pretty and complete,' he said. 'Albert, you are more highly
privileged than ever I was. No one ever made me a nice dungeon
when I was your age. I think I had better leave you where you
Albert began to cry again and said he was sorry, and he would be a
good boy.
'And on this old familiar basis you expect me to ransom you, do
you? Honestly, my nephew, I doubt whether you are worth it.
Besides, the sum mentioned in this document strikes me as
excessive: Albert really is not worth three thousand pounds. Also
by a strange and unfortunate chance I haven't the money about me.
Couldn't you take less?'
We said perhaps we could.
'Say eightpence,' suggested Albert-next-door's uncle, 'which is all
the small change I happen to have on my person.'
'Thank you very much,' said Alice as he held it out; 'but are you
sure you can spare it? Because really it was only play.'
'Quite sure. Now, Albert, the game is over. You had better run
home to your mother and tell her how much you've enjoyed yourself.'
When Albert-next-door had gone his uncle sat in the Guy Fawkes
armchair and took Alice on his knee, and we sat round the fire
waiting till it would be time to let off our fireworks. We roasted
the chestnuts he sent Dicky out for, and he told us stories till it
was nearly seven. His stories are first-rate - he does all the
parts in different voices. At last he said -
'Look here, young-uns. I like to see you play and enjoy
yourselves, and I don't think it hurts Albert to enjoy himself
'I don't think he did much,' said H. O. But I knew what
Albert-next-door's uncle meant because I am much older than H. O.
He went on -
'But what about Albert's mother? Didn't you think how anxious she
would be at his not coming home? As it happens I saw him come in
with you, so we knew it was all right. But if I hadn't, eh?'
He only talks like that when he is very serious, or even angry.
Other times he talks like people in books - to us, I mean.
We none of us said anything. But I was thinking. Then Alice
Girls seem not to mind saying things that we don't say. She put
her arms round Albert-next-door's uncle's neck and said -
'We're very, very sorry. We didn't think about his mother. You
see we try very hard not to think about other people's mothers
because -'
Just then we heard Father's key in the door and Albert-next-door's
uncle kissed Alice and put her down, and we all went down to meet
Father. As we went I thought I heard Albert-next-door's uncle say
something that sounded like 'Poor little beggars!'
He couldn't have meant us, when we'd been having such a jolly time,
and chestnuts, and fireworks to look forward to after dinner and
It was Albert's uncle who thought of our trying a newspaper. He
said he thought we should not find the bandit business a paying
industry, as a permanency, and that journalism might be.
We had sold Noel's poetry and that piece of information about Lord
Tottenham to the good editor, so we thought it would not be a bad
idea to have a newspaper of our own. We saw plainly that editors
must be very rich and powerful, because of the grand office and the
man in the glass case, like a museum, and the soft carpets and big
writing-table. Besides our having seen a whole handful of money
that the editor pulled out quite carelessly from his trousers
pocket when he gave me my five bob.
Dora wanted to be editor and so did Oswald, but he gave way to her
because she is a girl, and afterwards he knew that it is true what
it says in the copy-books about Virtue being its own Reward.
Because you've no idea what a bother it is. Everybody wanted to
put in everything just as they liked, no matter how much room there
was on the page. It was simply awful! Dora put up with it as long
as she could and then she said if she wasn't let alone she wouldn't
go on being editor; they could be the paper's editors themselves,
so there.
Then Oswald said, like a good brother: 'I will help you if you
like, Dora,' and she said, 'You're more trouble than all the rest
of them! Come and be editor and see how you like it. I give it up
to you.' But she didn't, and we did it together. We let
Albert-next-door be sub-editor, because he had hurt his foot with
a nail in his boot that gathered.
When it was done Albert-next-door's uncle had it copied for us in
typewriting, and we sent copies to all our friends, and then of
course there was no one left that we could ask to buy it. We did
not think of that until too late. We called the paper the Lewisham
Recorder; Lewisham because we live there, and Recorder in memory of
the good editor. I could write a better paper on my head, but an
editor is not allowed to write all the paper. It is very hard, but
he is not. You just have to fill up with what you can get from
other writers. If I ever have time I will write a paper all by
myself. It won't be patchy. We had no time to make it an
illustrated paper, but I drew the ship going down with all hands
for the first copy. But the typewriter can't draw ships, so it was
left out in the other copies. The time the first paper took to
write out no one would believe! This was the Newspaper:
Editorial Note
Every paper is written for some reason. Ours is because we want to
sell it and get money. If what we have written brings happiness to
any sad heart we shall not have laboured in vain. But we want the
money too. Many papers are content with the sad heart and the
happiness, but we are not like that, and it is best not to be
deceitful. EDITORS.
There will be two serial stories; One by Dicky and one by all of
us. In a serial story you only put in one chapter at a time. But
we shall put all our serial story at once, if Dora has time to copy
it. Dicky's will come later on.
Serial Story
CHAPTER I - by Dora
The sun was setting behind a romantic-looking tower when two
strangers might have been observed descending the crest of the
hill. The eldest, a man in the prime of life; the other a handsome
youth who reminded everybody of Quentin Durward. They approached
the Castle, in which the fair Lady Alicia awaited her deliverers.
She leaned from the castellated window and waved her lily hand as
they approached. They returned her signal, and retired to seek
rest and refreshment at a neighbouring hostelry.
CHAPTER II - by Alice
The Princess was very uncomfortable in the tower, because her fairy
godmother had told her all sorts of horrid things would happen if
she didn't catch a mouse every day, and she had caught so many mice
that now there were hardly any left to catch. So she sent her
carrier pigeon to ask the noble Strangers if they could send her a
few mice - because she would be of age in a few days and then it
wouldn't matter. So the fairy godmother -- (I'm very sorry, but
there's no room to make the chapters any longer. ED.)
CHAPTER III - by the Sub-Editor
(I can't - I'd much rather not - I don't know how.)
CHAPTER IV - by Dicky
I must now retrace my steps and tell you something about our hero.
You must know he had been to an awfully jolly school, where they
had turkey and goose every day for dinner, and never any mutton,
and as many helps of pudding as a fellow cared to send up his plate
for - so of course they had all grown up very strong, and before he
left school he challenged the Head to have it out man to man, and
he gave it him, I tell you. That was the education that made him
able to fight Red Indians, and to be the stranger who might have
been observed in the first chapter.
CHAPTER V - by Noel
I think it's time something happened in this story. So then the
dragon he came out, blowing fire out of his nose, and he said -
'Come on, you valiant man and true,
I'd like to have a set-to along of you!'
(That's bad English. ED. I don't care; it's what the dragon said.
Who told you dragons didn't talk bad English? NOEL.)
So the hero, whose name was Noeloninuris, replied -
'My blade is sharp, my axe is keen,
You're not nearly as big as a good many dragons I've seen.'
(Don't put in so much poetry, Noel. It's not fair, because none of
the others can do it. ED.)
And then they went at it, and he beat the dragon, just as he did
the Head in Dicky's part of the Story, and so he married the
Princess, and they lived -- (No they didn't - not till the last
chapter. ED.)
I think it's a very nice Story - but what about the mice? I don't
want to say any more. Dora can have what's left of my chapter.
CHAPTER VII - by the Editors
And so when the dragon was dead there were lots of mice, because he
used to kill them for his tea but now they rapidly multiplied and
ravaged the country, so the fair lady Alicia, sometimes called the
Princess, had to say she would not marry any one unless they could
rid the country of this plague of mice. Then the Prince, whose
real name didn't begin with N, but was Osrawalddo, waved his magic
sword, and the dragon stood before them, bowing gracefully. They
made him promise to be good, and then they forgave him; and when
the wedding breakfast came, all the bones were saved for him. And
so they were married and lived happy ever after.
(What became of the other stranger? NOEL.
The dragon ate him because he asked too many questions. EDITORS.)
This is the end of the story.
it only takes four hours and a quarter now to get from London to
Manchester; but I should not think any one would if they could help
A dreadful warning. A wicked boy told me a very instructive thing
about ginger. They had opened one of the large jars, and he
happened to take out quite a lot, and he made it all right by
dropping marbles in, till there was as much ginger as before. But
he told me that on the Sunday, when it was coming near the part
where there is only juice generally, I had no idea what his
feelings were. I don't see what he could have said when they asked
him. I should be sorry to act like it.
Experiments should always be made out of doors. And don't use
(That was when he burnt his eyebrows off. ED.)
The earth is 2,400 miles round, and 800 through - at least I think
so, but perhaps it's the other way.
(You ought to have been sure before you began. ED.)
Scientific Column
in this so-called Nineteenth Century Science is but too little
considered in the nurseries of the rich and proud. But we are not
like that.
It is not generally known that if you put bits of camphor in
luke-warm water it will move about. If you drop sweet oil in, the
camphor will dart away and then stop moving. But don't drop any
till you are tired of it, because the camphor won't any more
afterwards. Much amusement and instruction is lost by not knowing
things like this.
If you put a sixpence under a shilling in a wine-glass, and blow
hard down the side of the glass, the sixpence will jump up and sit
on the top of the shilling. At least I can't do it myself, but my
cousin can. He is in the Navy.
Answers to Correspondents
Noel. You are very poetical, but I am sorry to say it will not do.
Alice. Nothing will ever make your hair curl, so it's no use.
Some people say it's more important to tidy up as you go along. I
don't mean you in particular, but every one.
H. O. We never said you were tubby, but the Editor does not know
any cure.
Noel. If there is any of the paper over when this newspaper is
finished, I will exchange it for your shut-up inkstand, or the
knife that has the useful thing in it for taking stones out of
horses' feet, but you can't have it without.
H. O. There are many ways how your steam engine might stop working.
You might ask Dicky. He knows one of them. I think it is the way
yours stopped.
Noel. If you think that by filling the garden with sand you can
make crabs build their nests there you are not at all sensible.
You have altered your poem about the battle of Waterloo so often,
that we cannot read it except where the Duke waves his sword and
says some thing we can't read either. Why did you write it on
blotting-paper with purple chalk? ED.
(Because YOU KNOW WHO sneaked my pencil. NOEL.)
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
And the way he came down was awful, I'm told;
But it's nothing to the way one of the Editors comes down on me,
If I crumble my bread-and-butter or spill my tea.
Curious Facts
If you hold a guinea-pig up by his tail his eyes drop out.
You can't do half the things yourself that children in books do,
making models or soon. I wonder why?
If you take a date's stone out and put in an almond and eat them
together, it is prime. I found this out.
If you put your wet hand into boiling lead it will not hurt you if
you draw it out quickly enough. I have never tried this.
The Purring Class
If I ever keep a school everything shall be quite different.
Nobody shall learn anything they don't want to. And sometimes
instead of having masters and mistresses we will have cats, and we
will dress up in cat skins and learn purring. 'Now, my dears,' the
old cat will say, one, two, three all purr together,' and we shall
purr like anything.
She won't teach us to mew, but we shall know how without teaching.
Children do know some things without being taught.
Quand j'etais jeune et j'etais fou
J'achetai un violon pour dix-huit sous
Et tous les airs que je jouai
Etait over the hills and far away.
Mercie jolie vache qui fait
Bon lait pour mon dejeuner
Tous les matins tous les soirs
Mon pain je mange, ton lait je boire.
It is a mistake to think that cats are playful. I often try to get
a cat to play with me, and she never seems to care about the game,
no matter how little it hurts.
H. O.
Making pots and pans with clay is fun, but do not tell the
grown-ups. It is better to surprise them; and then you must say at
once how easily it washes off - much easier than ink.
Sam Redfern, or the Bush ranger's Burial
'Well, Annie, I have bad news for you,' said Mr Ridgway, as he
entered the comfortable dining-room of his cabin in the Bush. 'Sam
Redfern the Bushranger is about this part of the Bush just now. I
hope he will not attack us with his gang.'
'I hope not,' responded Annie, a gentle maiden of some sixteen
just then came a knock at the door of the hut, and a gruff voice
asked them to open the door.
'It is Sam Redfern the Bushranger, father,' said the girl.
'The same,' responded the voice, and the next moment the hall door
was smashed in, and Sam Redfern sprang in, followed by his gang.
Annie's Father was at once overpowered, and Annie herself lay bound
with cords on the drawing-room sofa. Sam Redfern set a guard round
the lonely hut, and all human aid was despaired of. But you never
know. Far away in the Bush a different scene was being enacted.
'Must be Injuns,' said a tall man to himself as he pushed his way
through the brushwood. It was Jim Carlton, the celebrated
detective. 'I know them,' he added; 'they are Apaches.' just then
ten Indians in full war-paint appeared. Carlton raised his rifle
and fired, and slinging their scalps on his arm he hastened towards
the humble log hut where resided his affianced bride, Annie
Ridgway, sometimes known as the Flower of the Bush.
The moon was low on the horizon, and Sam Redfern was seated at a
drinking bout with some of his boon companions.
They had rifled the cellars of the hut, and the rich wines flowed
like water in the golden goblets of Mr Ridgway.
But Annie had made friends with one of the gang, a noble,
good-hearted man who had joined Sam Redfern by mistake, and she had
told him to go and get the police as quickly as possible.
'Ha! ha!' cried Redfern, 'now I am enjoying myself!' He little knew
that his doom was near upon him.
Just then Annie gave a piercing scream, and Sam Redfern got up,
seizing his revolver. 'Who are you?' he cried, as a man entered.
'I am Jim Carlton, the celebrated detective,' said the new arrival.
Sam Redfern's revolver dropped from his nerveless fingers, but the
next moment he had sprung upon the detective with the well-known
activity of the mountain sheep, and Annie shrieked, for she had
grown to love the rough Bushranger.
(To be continued at the end of the paper if there is room.)
A new slate is horrid till it is washed in milk. I like the green
spots on them to draw patterns round. I know a good way to make a
slate-pencil squeak, but I won't put it in because I don't want to
make it common. SUB-EDITOR.
Peppermint is a great help with arithmetic. The boy who was second
in the Oxford Local always did it. He gave me two. The examiner
said to him, 'Are you eating peppermints?' And he said, 'No, Sir.'
He told me afterwards it was quite true, because he was only
sucking one. I'm glad I wasn't asked. I should never have thought
of that, and I could have had to say 'Yes.'
The Wreck of the 'Malabar'
BY NOEL (Author of 'A Dream of Ancient Ancestors.') He isn't really
- but he put it in to make it seem more real.
Hark! what is that noise of rolling
Waves and thunder in the air?
'Tis the death-knell of the sailors
And officers and passengers of the good ship Malabar.
It was a fair and lovely noon
When the good ship put out of port
And people said 'ah little we think
How soon she will be the elements' sport.'
She was indeed a lovely sight
Upon the billows with sails spread.
But the captain folded his gloomy arms,
Ah - if she had been a life-boat instead!
See the captain stern yet gloomy
Flings his son upon a rock,
Hoping that there his darling boy
May escape the wreck.
Alas in vain the loud winds roared
And nobody was saved.
That was the wreck of the Malabar,
Then let us toll for the brave.
Gardening Notes
It is useless to plant cherry-stones in the hope of eating the
fruit, because they don't!
Alice won't lend her gardening tools again, because the last time
Noel left them out in the rain, and I don't like it. He said he
Seeds and Bulbs
These are useful to play at shop with, until you are ready. Not at
dinner-parties, for they will not grow unless uncooked. Potatoes
are not grown with seed, but with chopped-up potatoes. Apple trees
are grown from twigs, which is less wasteful.
Oak trees come from acorns. Every one knows this. When Noel says
he could grow one from a peach stone wrapped up in oak leaves, he
shows that he knows nothing about gardening but marigolds, and when
I passed by his garden I thought they seemed just like weeds now
the flowers have been picked.
A boy once dared me to eat a bulb.
Dogs are very industrious and fond of gardening. Pincher is always
planting bones, but they never grow up. There couldn't be a bone
tree. I think this is what makes him bark so unhappily at night.
He has never tried planting dog-biscuit, but he is fonder of bones,
and perhaps he wants to be quite sure about them first.
Sam Redfern, or the Bushranger's Burial
This would have been a jolly good story if they had let me finish
it at the beginning of the paper as I wanted to. But now I have
forgotten how I meant it to end, and I have lost my book about Red
Indians, and all my Boys of England have been sneaked. The girls
say 'Good riddance!' so I expect they did it. They want me just to
put in which Annie married, but I shan't, so they will never know.
We have now put everything we can think of into the paper. It
takes a lot of thinking about. I don't know how grown-ups manage
to write all they do. It must make their heads ache, especially
lesson books.
Albert-next-door only wrote one chapter of the serial story, but he
could have done some more if he had wanted to. He could not write
out any of the things because he cannot spell. He says he can, but
it takes him such a long time he might just as well not be able.
There are one or two things more. I am sick of it, but Dora says
she will write them in.
Legal answer wanted. A quantity of excellent string is offered if
you know whether there really is a law passed about not buying
gunpowder under thirteen.
The price of this paper is one shilling each, and sixpence extra
for the picture of the Malabar going down with all hands. If we
sell one hundred copies we will write another paper.
And so we would have done, but we never did. Albert-next-door's
uncle gave us two shillings, that was all. You can't restore
fallen fortunes with two shillings!
Being editors is not the best way to wealth. We all feel this now,
and highwaymen are not respected any more like they used to be.
I am sure we had tried our best to restore our fallen fortunes. We
felt their fall very much, because we knew the Bastables had been
rich once. Dora and Oswald can remember when Father was always
bringing nice things home from London, and there used to be turkeys
and geese and wine and cigars come by the carrier at
Christmas-time, and boxes of candied fruit and French plums in
ornamental boxes with silk and velvet and gilding on them. They
were called prunes, but the prunes you buy at the grocer's are
quite different. But now there is seldom anything nice brought
from London, and the turkey and the prune people have forgotten
Father's address.
'How can we restore those beastly fallen fortunes?' said Oswald.
'We've tried digging and writing and princesses and being editors.'
'And being bandits,' said H. O.
'When did you try that?' asked Dora quickly. 'You know I told you
it was wrong.'
'It wasn't wrong the way we did it,' said Alice, quicker still,
before Oswald could say, 'Who asked you to tell us anything about
it?' which would have been rude, and he is glad he didn't. 'We
only caught Albert-next-door.'
'Oh, Albert-next-door!' said Dora contemptuously, and I felt more
comfortable; for even after I didn't say, 'Who asked you, and
cetera,' I was afraid Dora was going to come the good elder sister
over us. She does that a jolly sight too often.
Dicky looked up from the paper he was reading and said, 'This
sounds likely,' and he read out -
l100 secures partnership in lucrative business for sale of useful
patent. l10 weekly. No personal attendance necessary. Jobbins,
300, Old Street Road.
'I wish we could secure that partnership,' said Oswald. He is
twelve, and a very thoughtful boy for his age.
Alice looked up from her painting. She was trying to paint a fairy
queen's frock with green bice, and it wouldn't rub. There is
something funny about green bice. It never will rub off; no matter
how expensive your paintbox is - and even boiling water is very
little use.
She said, 'Bother the bice! And, Oswald, it's no use thinking
about that. Where are we to get a hundred pounds?'
'Ten pounds a week is five pounds to us,' Oswald went on - he had
done the sum in his head while Alice was talking - 'because
partnership means halves. It would be l5.'
Noel sat sucking his pencil - he had been writing poetry as usual.
I saw the first two lines -
I wonder why Green Bice
Is never very nice.
Suddenly he said, 'I wish a fairy would come down the chimney and
drop a jewel on the table - a jewel worth just a hundred pounds.'
'She might as well give you the hundred pounds while she was about
it,' said Dora.
'Or while she was about it she might as well give us five pounds a
week,' said Alice. 'Or fifty,' said I. 'Or five hundred,' said
I saw H. O. open his mouth, and I knew he was going to say, 'Or
five thousand,' so I said:
'Well, she won't give us fivepence, but if you'd only do as I am
always saying, and rescue a wealthy old gentleman from deadly peril
he would give us a pot of money, and we could have the partnership
and five pounds a week. Five pounds a week would buy a great many
Then Dicky said, 'Why shouldn't we borrow it?' So we said, 'Who
from?' and then he read this out of the paper -
Manager, Z. Rosenbaum.
Advances cash from l20 to l10,000 on ladies' or gentlemen's note of
hand alone, without security. No fees. No inquiries. Absolute
privacy guaranteed.
'What does it all mean?' asked H. O.
'It means that there is a kind gentleman who has a lot of money,
and he doesn't know enough poor people to help, so he puts it in
the paper that he will help them, by lending them his money -
that's it, isn't it, Dicky?'
Dora explained this and Dicky said, 'Yes.' And H. O. said he was
a Generous Benefactor, like in Miss Edgeworth. Then Noel wanted to
know what a note of hand was, and Dicky knew that, because he had
read it in a book, and it was just a letter saying you will pay the
money when you can, and signed with your name.
'No inquiries!' said Alice. 'Oh - Dicky - do you think he would?'
'Yes, I think so,' said Dicky. 'I wonder Father doesn't go to this
kind gentleman. I've seen his name before on a circular in
Father's study.'
'Perhaps he has.' said Dora.
But the rest of us were sure he hadn't, because, of course, if he
had, there would have been more money to buy nice things. just
then Pincher jumped up and knocked over the painting-water. He is
a very careless dog. I wonder why painting-water is always such an
ugly colour? Dora ran for a duster to wipe it up, and H. O.
dropped drops of the water on his hands and said he had got the
plague. So we played at the plague for a bit, and I was an Arab
physician with a bath-towel turban, and cured the plague with magic
acid-drops. After that it was time for dinner, and after dinner we
talked it all over and settled that we would go and see the
Generous Benefactor the very next day. But we thought perhaps the
G. B. - it is short for Generous Benefactor - would not like it if
there were so many of us. I have often noticed that it is the
worst of our being six - people think six a great many, when it's
children. That sentence looks wrong somehow. I mean they don't
mind six pairs of boots, or six pounds of apples, or six oranges,
especially in equations, but they seem to think you ought not to
have five brothers and sisters. Of course Dicky was to go, because
it was his idea. Dora had to go to Blackheath to see an old lady,
a friend of Father's, so she couldn't go. Alice said she ought to
go, because it said, 'Ladies and gentlemen,' and perhaps the G. B.
wouldn't let us have the money unless there were both kinds of us.
H. O. said Alice wasn't a lady; and she said he wasn't going,
anyway. Then he called her a disagreeable cat, and she began to
But Oswald always tries to make up quarrels, so he said -
'You're little sillies, both of you!'
And Dora said, 'Don't cry, Alice; he only meant you weren't a
grown-up lady.'
Then H. O. said, 'What else did you think I meant, Disagreeable?'
So Dicky said, 'Don't be disagreeable yourself, H. O. Let her alone
and say you're sorry, or I'll jolly well make you!'
So H. O. said he was sorry. Then Alice kissed him and said she was
sorry too; and after that H. O. gave her a hug, and said, 'Now I'm
really and truly sorry,' So it was all right.
Noel went the last time any of us went to London, so he was out of
it, and Dora said she would take him to Blackheath if we'd take H.
O. So as there'd been a little disagreeableness we thought it was
better to take him, and we did. At first we thought we'd tear our
oldest things a bit more, and put some patches of different colours
on them, to show the G. B. how much we wanted money. But Dora said
that would be a sort of cheating, pretending we were poorer than we
are. And Dora is right sometimes, though she is our elder sister.
Then we thought we'd better wear our best things, so that the G. B.
might see we weren't so very poor that he couldn't trust us to pay
his money back when we had it. But Dora said that would be wrong
too. So it came to our being quite honest, as Dora said, and going
just as we were, without even washing our faces and hands; but when
I looked at H. O. in the train I wished we had not been quite so
particularly honest.
Every one who reads this knows what it is like to go in the train,
so I shall not tell about it - though it was rather fun, especially
the part where the guard came for the tickets at Waterloo, and H.
O. was under the seat and pretended to be a dog without a ticket.
We went to Charing Cross, and we just went round to Whitehall to
see the soldiers and then by St James's for the same reason - and
when we'd looked in the shops a bit we got to Brook Street, Bond
Street. It was a brass plate on a door next to a shop - a very
grand place, where they sold bonnets and hats - all very bright and
smart, and no tickets on them to tell you the price. We rang a
bell and a boy opened the door and we asked for Mr Rosenbaum. The
boy was not polite; he did not ask us in. So then Dicky gave him
his visiting card; it was one of Father's really, but the name is
the same, Mr Richard Bastable, and we others wrote our names
underneath. I happened to have a piece of pink chalk in my pocket
and we wrote them with that.
Then the boy shut the door in our faces and we waited on the step.
But presently he came down and asked our business. So Dicky said
'Money advanced, young shaver! and don't be all day about it!'
And then he made us wait again, till I was quite stiff in my legs,
but Alice liked it because of looking at the hats and bonnets, and
at last the door opened, and the boy said -
'Mr Rosenbaum will see you,' so we wiped our feet on the mat, which
said so, and we went up stairs with soft carpets and into a room.
It was a beautiful room. I wished then we had put on our best
things, or at least washed a little. But it was too late now.
The room had velvet curtains and a soft, soft carpet, and it was
full of the most splendid things. Black and gold cabinets, and
china, and statues, and pictures. There was a picture of a cabbage
and a pheasant and a dead hare that was just like life, and I would
have given worlds to have it for my own. The fur was so natural I
should never have been tired of looking at it; but Alice liked the
one of the girl with the broken jug best. Then besides the
pictures there were clocks and candlesticks and vases, and gilt
looking-glasses, and boxes of cigars and scent and things littered
all over the chairs and tables. It was a wonderful place, and in
the middle of all the splendour was a little old gentleman with a
very long black coat and a very long white beard and a hookey nose
- like a falcon. And he put on a pair of gold spectacles and
looked at us as if he knew exactly how much our clothes were worth.
And then, while we elder ones were thinking how to begin, for we
had all said 'Good morning' as we came in, of course, H. O. began
before we could stop him. He said:
'Are you the G. B.?'
'The what?' said the little old gentleman.
'The G. B.,' said H. O., and I winked at him to shut up, but he
didn't see me, and the G. B. did. He waved his hand at me to shut
up, so I had to, and H. O. went on - 'It stands for Generous
The old gentleman frowned. Then he said, 'Your Father sent you
here, I suppose?'
'No he didn't,' said Dicky. 'Why did you think so?'
The old gentleman held out the card, and I explained that we took
that because Father's name happens to be the same as Dicky's.
'Doesn't he know you've come?'
'No,' said Alice, 'we shan't tell him till we've got the
partnership, because his own business worries him a good deal and
we don't want to bother him with ours till it's settled, and then
we shall give him half our share.'
The old gentleman took off his spectacles and rumpled his hair with
his hands, then he said, 'Then what did you come for?'
'We saw your advertisement,' Dicky said, 'and we want a hundred
pounds on our note of hand, and my sister came so that there should
be both kinds of us; and we want it to buy a partnership with in
the lucrative business for sale of useful patent. No personal
attendance necessary.'
'I don't think I quite follow you,' said the G. B. 'But one thing
I should like settled before entering more fully into the matter:
why did you call me Generous Benefactor?'
'Well, you see,' said Alice, smiling at him to show she wasn't
frightened, though I know really she was, awfully, 'we thought it
was so very kind of you to try to find out the poor people who want
money and to help them and lend them your money.'
'Hum!' said the G. B. 'Sit down.'
He cleared the clocks and vases and candlesticks off some of the
chairs, and we sat down. The chairs were velvety, with gilt legs.
It was like a king's palace.
'Now,' he said, 'you ought to be at school, instead of thinking
about money. Why aren't you?'
We told him that we should go to school again when Father could
manage it, but meantime we wanted to do something to restore the
fallen fortunes of the House of Bastable. And we said we thought
the lucrative patent would be a very good thing. He asked a lot of
questions, and we told him everything we didn't think Father would
mind our telling, and at last he said -
'You wish to borrow money. When will you repay it?'
'As soon as we've got it, of course,' Dicky said.
Then the G. B. said to Oswald, 'You seem the eldest,' but I
explained to him that it was Dicky's idea, so my being eldest
didn't matter. Then he said to Dicky - 'You are a minor, I
Dicky said he wasn't yet, but he had thought of being a mining
engineer some day, and going to Klondike.
'Minor, not miner,' said the G. B. 'I mean you're not of age?'
'I shall be in ten years, though,' said Dicky.
'Then you might repudiate the loan,' said the G. B., and Dicky said
Of course he ought to have said 'I beg your pardon. I didn't quite
catch what you said' - that is what Oswald would have said. It is
more polite than 'What.'
'Repudiate the loan,' the G. B - repeated. 'I mean you might say
you would not pay me back the money, and the law could not compel
you to do so.'
'Oh, well, if you think we're such sneaks,' said Dicky, and he got
up off his chair. But the G. B. said, 'Sit down, sit down; I was
only joking.'
Then he talked some more, and at last he said - 'I don't advise you
to enter into that partnership. It's a swindle. Many
advertisements are. And I have not a hundred pounds by me to-day
to lend you. But I will lend you a pound, and you can spend it as
you like. And when you are twenty-one you shall pay me back.'
'I shall pay you back long before that,' said Dicky. 'Thanks,
awfully! And what about the note of hand?'
'Oh,' said the G. B., 'I'll trust to your honour. Between
gentlemen, you know - and ladies' - he made a beautiful bow to
Alice -'a word is as good as a bond.'
Then he took out a sovereign, and held it in his hand while he
talked to us. He gave us a lot of good advice about not going into
business too young, and about doing our lessons - just swatting a
bit, on our own hook, so as not to be put in a low form when we
went back to school. And all the time he was stroking the
sovereign and looking at it as if he thought it very beautiful.
And so it was, for it was a new one. Then at last he held it out
to Dicky, and when Dicky put out his hand for it the G. B. suddenly
put the sovereign back in his pocket.
'No,' he said, 'I won't give you the sovereign. I'll give you
fifteen shillings, and this nice bottle of scent. It's worth far
more than the five shillings I'm charging you for it. And, when
you can, you shall pay me back the pound, and sixty per cent
interest - sixty per cent, sixty per cent.'
'What's that?' said H. O.
The G. B. said he'd tell us that when we paid back the sovereign,
but sixty per cent was nothing to be afraid of. He gave Dicky the
money. And the boy was made to call a cab, and the G. B. put us in
and shook hands with us all, and asked Alice to give him a kiss, so
she did, and H. O. would do it too, though his face was dirtier
than ever. The G. B. paid the cabman and told him what station to
go to, and so we went home.
That evening Father had a letter by the seven-o'clock post. And
when he had read it he came up into the nursery. He did not look
quite so unhappy as usual, but he looked grave.
'You've been to Mr Rosenbaum's,' he said.
So we told him all about it. It took a long time, and Father sat
in the armchair. It was jolly. He doesn't often come and talk to
us now. He has to spend all his time thinking about his business.
And when we'd told him all about it he said -
'You haven't done any harm this time, children; rather good than
harm, indeed. Mr Rosenbaum has written me a very kind letter.'
'Is he a friend of yours, Father?' Oswald asked.
'He is an acquaintance,' said my father, frowning a little, 'we
have done some business together. And this letter -' he stopped
and then said: 'No; you didn't do any harm to-day; but I want you
for the future not to do anything so serious as to try to buy a
partnership without consulting me, that's all. I don't want to
interfere with your plays and pleasures; but you will consult me
about business matters, won't you?'
Of course we said we should be delighted, but then Alice, who was
sitting on his knee, said, 'We didn't like to bother you.'
Father said, 'I haven't much time to be with you, for my business
takes most of my time. It is an anxious business - but I can't
bear to think of your being left all alone like this.'
He looked so sad we all said we liked being alone. And then he
looked sadder than ever.
Then Alice said, 'We don't mean that exactly, Father. It is rather
lonely sometimes, since Mother died.' Then we were all quiet a
little while. Father stayed with us till we went to bed, and when
he said good night he looked quite cheerful. So we told him so,
and he said - 'Well, the fact is, that letter took a weight off my
mind.' I can't think what he meant - but I am sure the G. B. would
be pleased if he could know he had taken a weight off somebody's
mind. He is that sort of man, I think.
We gave the scent to Dora. It is not quite such good scent as we
thought it would be, but we had fifteen shillings - and they were
all good, so is the G. B.
And until those fifteen shillings were spent we felt almost as
jolly as though our fortunes had been properly restored. You do
not notice your general fortune so much, as long as you have money
in your pocket. This is why so many children with regular
pocket-money have never felt it their duty to seek for treasure.
So, perhaps, our not having pocket-money was a blessing in
disguise. But the disguise was quite impenetrable, like the
villains' in the books; and it seemed still more so when the
fifteen shillings were all spent. Then at last the others agreed
to let Oswald try his way of seeking for treasure, but they were
not at all keen about it, and many a boy less firm than Oswald
would have chucked the whole thing. But Oswald knew that a hero
must rely on himself alone. So he stuck to it, and presently the
others saw their duty, and backed him up.
Oswald is a boy of firm and unswerving character, and he had never
wavered from his first idea. He felt quite certain that the books
were right, and that the best way to restore fallen fortunes was to
rescue an old gentleman in distress. Then he brings you up as his
own son: but if you preferred to go on being your own father's son
I expect the old gentleman would make it up to you some other way.
In the books the least thing does it - you put up the railway
carriage window - or you pick up his purse when he drops it - or
you say a hymn when he suddenly asks you to, and then your fortune
is made.
The others, as I said, were very slack about it, and did not seem
to care much about trying the rescue. They said there wasn't any
deadly peril, and we should have to make one before we could rescue
the old gentleman from it, but Oswald didn't see that that
mattered. However, he thought he would try some of the easier ways
first, by himself.
So he waited about the station, pulling up railway carriage windows
for old gentlemen who looked likely - but nothing happened, and at
last the porters said he was a nuisance. So that was no go. No
one ever asked him to say a hymn, though he had learned a nice
short one, beginning 'New every morning' - and when an old
gentleman did drop a two-shilling piece just by Ellis's the
hairdresser's, and Oswald picked it up, and was just thinking what
he should say when he returned it, the old gentleman caught him by
the collar and called him a young thief. It would have been very
unpleasant for Oswald if he hadn't happened to be a very brave boy,
and knew the policeman on that beat very well indeed. So the
policeman backed him up, and the old gentleman said he was sorry,
and offered Oswald sixpence. Oswald refused it with polite
disdain, and nothing more happened at all.
When Oswald had tried by himself and it had not come off, he said
to the others, 'We're wasting our time, not trying to rescue the
old gentleman in deadly peril. Come - buck up! Do let's do
It was dinner-time, and Pincher was going round getting the bits
off the plates. There were plenty because it was cold-mutton day.
And Alice said -
'It's only fair to try Oswald's way - he has tried all the things
the others thought of. Why couldn't we rescue Lord Tottenham?'
Lord Tottenham is the old gentleman who walks over the Heath every
day in a paper collar at three o'clock - and when he gets halfway,
if there is no one about, he changes his collar and throws the
dirty one into the furze-bushes.
Dicky said, 'Lord Tottenham's all right - but where's the deadly
And we couldn't think of any. There are no highwaymen on
Blackheath now, I am sorry to say. And though Oswald said half of
us could be highwaymen and the other half rescue party, Dora kept
on saying it would be wrong to be a highwayman - and so we had to
give that up.
Then Alice said, 'What about Pincher?'
And we all saw at once that it could be done.
Pincher is very well bred, and he does know one or two things,
though we never could teach him to beg. But if you tell him to
hold on - he will do it, even if you only say 'Seize him!' in a
So we arranged it all. Dora said she wouldn't play; she said she
thought it was wrong, and she knew it was silly - so we left her
out, and she went and sat in the dining-room with a goody-book, so
as to be able to say she didn't have anything to do with it, if we
got into a row over it.
Alice and H. O. were to hide in the furze-bushes just by where Lord
Tottenham changes his collar, and they were to whisper, 'Seize
him!' to Pincher; and then when Pincher had seized Lord Tottenham
we were to go and rescue him from his deadly peril. And he would
say, 'How can I reward you, my noble young preservers?' and it
would be all right.
So we went up to the Heath. We were afraid of being late. Oswald
told the others what Procrastination was - so they got to the
furze-bushes a little after two o'clock, and it was rather cold.
Alice and H. O. and Pincher hid, but Pincher did not like it any
more than they did, and as we three walked up and down we heard him
whining. And Alice kept saying, 'I am so cold! Isn't he coming
yet?' And H. O. wanted to come out and jump about to warm himself.
But we told him he must learn to be a Spartan boy, and that he
ought to be very thankful he hadn't got a beastly fox eating his
inside all the time. H. O. is our little brother, and we are not
going to let it be our fault if he grows up a milksop. Besides, it
was not really cold. It was his knees - he wears socks. So they
stayed where they were. And at last, when even the other three who
were walking about were beginning to feel rather chilly, we saw
Lord Tottenham's big black cloak coming along, flapping in the wind
like a great bird. So we said to Alice -
'Hist! he approaches. You'll know when to set Pincher on by
hearing Lord Tottenham talking to himself - he always does while he
is taking off his collar.'
Then we three walked slowly away whistling to show we were not
thinking of anything. Our lips were rather cold, but we managed to
do it.
Lord Tottenham came striding along, talking to himself. People
call him the mad Protectionist. I don't know what it means - but
I don't think people ought to call a Lord such names.
As he passed us he said, 'Ruin of the country, sir! Fatal error,
fatal error!' And then we looked back and saw he was getting quite
near where Pincher was, and Alice and H. O. We walked on - so that
he shouldn't think we were looking - and in a minute we heard
Pincher's bark, and then nothing for a bit; and then we looked
round, and sure enough good old Pincher had got Lord Tottenham by
the trouser leg and was holding on like billy-ho, so we started to
Lord Tottenham had got his collar half off - it was sticking out
sideways under his ear - and he was shouting, 'Help, help, murder!'
exactly as if some one had explained to him beforehand what he was
to do. Pincher was growling and snarling and holding on. When we
got to him I stopped and said -
'Dicky, we must rescue this good old man.' Lord Tottenham roared
in his fury, 'Good old man be -' something or othered. 'Call the
dog off.'
So Oswald said. 'It is a dangerous task - but who would hesitate
to do an act of true bravery?'
And all the while Pincher was worrying and snarling, and Lord
Tottenham shouting to us to get the dog away. He was dancing about
in the road with Pincher hanging on like grim death; and his collar
flapping about, where it was undone.
Then Noel said, 'Haste, ere yet it be too late.' So I said to Lord
Tottenham -
'Stand still, aged sir, and I will endeavour to alleviate your
He stood still, and I stooped down and caught hold of Pincher and
whispered, 'Drop it, sir; drop it!'
So then Pincher dropped it, and Lord Tottenham fastened his collar
again - he never does change it if there's any one looking - and he
said -
I'm much obliged, I'm sure. Nasty vicious brute! Here's something
to drink my health.'
But Dicky explained that we are teetotallers, and do not drink
people's healths. So Lord Tottenham said, 'Well, I'm much obliged
any way. And now I come to look at you - of course, you're not
young ruffians, but gentlemen's sons, eh? Still, you won't be
above taking a tip from an old boy - I wasn't when I was your age,'
and he pulled out half a sovereign.
It was very silly; but now we'd done it I felt it would be beastly
mean to take the old boy's chink after putting him in such a funk.
He didn't say anything about bringing us up as his own sons - so I
didn't know what to do. I let Pincher go, and was just going to
say he was very welcome, and we'd rather not have the money, which
seemed the best way out of it, when that beastly dog spoiled the
whole show. Directly I let him go he began to jump about at us and
bark for joy, and try to lick our faces. He was so proud of what
he'd done. Lord Tottenham opened his eyes and he just said, 'The
dog seems to know you.'
And then Oswald saw it was all up, and he said, 'Good morning,' and
tried to get away. But Lord Tottenham said -
'Not so fast!' And he caught Noel by the collar. Noel gave a
howl, and Alice ran out from the bushes. NoEl is her favourite.
I'm sure I don't know why. Lord Tottenham looked at her, and he
said -
So there are more of you!' And then H. O. came out.
'Do you complete the party?' Lord Tottenham asked him. And H. O.
said there were only five of us this time.
Lord Tottenham turned sharp off and began to walk away, holding
Noel by the collar. We caught up with him, and asked him where he
was going, and he said, 'To the Police Station.' So then I said
quite politely, 'Well, don't take Noel; he's not strong, and he
easily gets upset. Besides, it wasn't his doing. If you want to
take any one take me - it was my very own idea.'
Dicky behaved very well. He said, 'If you take Oswald I'll go too,
but don't take Noel; he's such a delicate little chap.'
Lord Tottenham stopped, and he said, 'You should have thought of
that before.' NoEl was howling all the time, and his face was very
white, and Alice said -
'Oh, do let Noel go, dear, good, kind Lord Tottenham; he'll faint
if you don't, I know he will, he does sometimes. Oh, I wish we'd
never done it! Dora said it was wrong.'
'Dora displayed considerable common sense,' said Lord Tottenham,
and he let Noel go. And Alice put her arm round Noel and tried to
cheer him up, but he was all trembly, and as white as paper. Then
Lord Tottenham said -
'Will you give me your word of honour not to try to escape?'
So we said we would.
'Then follow me,' he said, and led the way to a bench. We all
followed, and Pincher too, with his tail between his legs - he knew
something was wrong. Then Lord Tottenham sat down, and he made
Oswald and Dicky and H. O. stand in front of him, but he let Alice
and NoEl sit down. And he said -
'You set your dog on me, and you tried to make me believe you were
saving me from it. And you would have taken my half-sovereign.
Such conduct is most - No - you shall tell me what it is, sir, and
speak the truth.'
So I had to say it was most ungentlemanly, but I said I hadn't been
going to take the half-sovereign.
'Then what did you do it for?' he asked. 'The truth, mind.'
So I said, 'I see now it was very silly, and Dora said it was
wrong, but it didn't seem so till we did it. We wanted to restore
the fallen fortunes of our house, and in the books if you rescue an
old gentleman from deadly peril, he brings you up as his own son -
or if you prefer to be your father's son, he starts you in
business, so that you end in wealthy affluence; and there wasn't
any deadly peril, so we made Pincher into one - and so -' I was so
ashamed I couldn't go on, for it did seem an awfully mean thing.
Lord Tottenham said -
'A very nice way to make your fortune - by deceit and trickery. I
have a horror of dogs. If I'd been a weak man the shock might have
killed me. What do you think of yourselves, eh?'
We were all crying except Oswald, and the others say he was; and
Lord Tottenham went on - 'Well, well, I see you're sorry. Let this
be a lesson to you; and we'll say no more about it. I'm an old man
now, but I was young once.'
Then Alice slid along the bench close to him, and put her hand on
his arm: her fingers were pink through the holes in her woolly
gloves, and said, 'I think you're very good to forgive us, and we
are really very, very sorry. But we wanted to be like the children
in the books - only we never have the chances they have.
Everything they do turns out all right. But we are sorry, very,
very. And I know Oswald wasn't going to take the half-sovereign.
Directly you said that about a tip from an old boy I began to feel
bad inside, and I whispered to H. O. that I wished we hadn't.'
Then Lord Tottenham stood up, and he looked like the Death of
Nelson, for he is clean shaved and it is a good face, and he
said -
'Always remember never to do a dishonourable thing, for money or
for anything else in the world.'
And we promised we would remember. Then he took off his hat, and
we took off ours, and he went away, and we went home. I never felt
so cheap in all my life! Dora said, 'I told you so,' but we didn't
mind even that so much, though it was indeed hard to bear. It was
what Lord Tottenham had said about ungentlemanly. We didn't go on
to the Heath for a week after that; but at last we all went, and we
waited for him by the bench. When he came along Alice said,
'Please, Lord Tottenham, we have not been on the Heath for a week,
to be a punishment because you let us off. And we have brought you
a present each if you will take them to show you are willing to
make it up.'
He sat down on the bench, and we gave him our presents. Oswald
gave him a sixpenny compass - he bought it with my own money on
purpose to give him. Oswald always buys useful presents. The
needle would not move after I'd had it a day or two, but Lord
Tottenham used to be an admiral, so he will be able to make that go
all right. Alice had made him a shaving-case, with a rose worked
on it. And H. O. gave him his knife - the same one he once cut all
the buttons off his best suit with. Dicky gave him his prize,
Naval Heroes, because it was the best thing he had, and Noel gave
him a piece of poetry he had made himself-
When sin and shame bow down the brow
Then people feel just like we do now.
We are so sorry with grief and pain
We never will be so ungentlemanly again.
Lord Tottenham seemed very pleased. He thanked us, and talked to
us for a bit, and when he said good-bye he said -
'All's fair weather now, mates,' and shook hands.
And whenever we meet him he nods to us, and if the girls are with
us he takes off his hat, so he can't really be going on thinking us
ungentlemanly now.
One day when we suddenly found that we had half a crown we decided
that we really ought to try Dicky's way of restoring our fallen
fortunes while yet the deed was in our power. Because it might
easily have happened to us never to have half a crown again. So we
decided to dally no longer with being journalists and bandits and
things like them, but to send for sample and instructions how to
earn two pounds a week each in our spare time. We had seen the
advertisement in the paper, and we had always wanted to do it, but
we had never had the money to spare before, somehow. The
advertisement says: 'Any lady or gentleman can easily earn two
pounds a week in their spare time. Sample and instructions, two
shillings. Packed free from observation.' A good deal of the
half-crown was Dora's. It came from her godmother; but she said
she would not mind letting Dicky have it if he would pay her back
before Christmas, and if we were sure it was right to try to make
our fortune that way. Of course that was quite easy, because out
of two pounds a week in your spare time you can easily pay all your
debts, and have almost as much left as you began with; and as to
the right we told her to dry up.
Dicky had always thought that this was really the best way to
restore our fallen fortunes, and we were glad that now he had a
chance of trying because of course we wanted the two pounds a week
each, and besides, we were rather tired of Dicky's always saying,
when our ways didn't turn out well, 'Why don't you try the sample
and instructions about our spare time?'
When we found out about our half-crown we got the paper. NoEl was
playing admirals in it, but he had made the cocked hat without
tearing the paper, and we found the advertisement, and it said just
the same as ever. So we got a two-shilling postal order and a
stamp, and what was left of the money it was agreed we would spend
in ginger-beer to drink success to trade.
We got some nice paper out of Father's study, and Dicky wrote the
letter, and we put in the money and put on the stamp, and made H.
O. post it. Then we drank the ginger-beer, and then we waited for
the sample and instructions. It seemed a long time coming, and the
postman got quite tired of us running out and stopping him in the
street to ask if it had come.
But on the third morning it came. It was quite a large parcel, and
it was packed, as the advertisement said it would be, 'free from
observation.' That means it was in a box; and inside the box was
some stiff browny cardboard, crinkled like the galvanized iron on
the tops of chicken-houses, and inside that was a lot of paper,
some of it printed and some scrappy, and in the very middle of it
all a bottle, not very large, and black, and sealed on the top of
the cork with yellow sealing-wax.
We looked at it as it lay on the nursery table, and while all the
others grabbed at the papers to see what the printing said, Oswald
went to look for the corkscrew, so as to see what was inside the
bottle. He found the corkscrew in the dresser drawer - it always
gets there, though it is supposed to be in the sideboard drawer in
the dining-room - and when he got back the others had read most of
the printed papers.
'I don't think it's much good, and I don't think it's quite nice to
sell wine,' Dora said 'and besides, it's not easy to suddenly begin
to sell things when you aren't used to it.'
'I don't know,' said Alice; 'I believe I could.' They all looked
rather down in the mouth, though, and Oswald asked how you were to
make your two pounds a week.
'Why, you've got to get people to taste that stuff in the bottle.
It's sherry - Castilian Amoroso its name is - and then you get them
to buy it, and then you write to the people and tell them the other
people want the wine, and then for every dozen you sell you get two
shillings from the wine people, so if you sell twenty dozen a week
you get your two pounds. I don't think we shall sell as much as
that,' said Dicky.
'We might not the first week,' Alice said, 'but when people found
out how nice it was, they would want more and more. And if we only
got ten shillings a week it would be something to begin with,
wouldn't it?'
Oswald said he should jolly well think it would, and then Dicky
took the cork out with the corkscrew. The cork broke a good deal,
and some of the bits went into the bottle. Dora got the medicine
glass that has the teaspoons and tablespoons marked on it, and we
agreed to have a teaspoonful each, to see what it was like.
'No one must have more than that,' Dora said, 'however nice it is.'
Dora behaved rather as if it were her bottle. I suppose it was,
because she had lent the money for it.
Then she measured Out the teaspoonful, and she had first go,
because of being the eldest. We asked at once what it was like,
but Dora could not speak just then.
Then she said, 'It's like the tonic Noel had in the spring; but
perhaps sherry ought to be like that.'
Then it was Oswald's turn. He thought it was very burny; but he
said nothing. He wanted to see first what the others would say.
Dicky said his was simply beastly, and Alice said Noel could taste
next if he liked.
Noel said it was the golden wine of the gods, but he had to put his
handkerchief up to his mouth all the same, and I saw the face he
Then H. O. had his, and he spat it out in the fire, which was very
rude and nasty, and we told him so.
Then it was Alice's turn. She said, 'Only half a tea-spoonful for
me, Dora. We mustn't use it all up.' And she tasted it and said
Then Dicky said: 'Look here, I chuck this. I'm not going to hawk
round such beastly stuff. Any one who likes can have the bottle.
And Alice got out 'Ego' before the rest of us. Then she said, 'I
know what's the matter with it. It wants sugar.'
And at once we all saw that that was all there was the matter with
the stuff. So we got two lumps of sugar and crushed it on the
floor with one of the big wooden bricks till it was powdery, and
mixed it with some of the wine up to the tablespoon mark, and it
was quite different, and not nearly so nasty.
'You see it's all right when you get used to it,' Dicky said. I
think he was sorry he had said 'Quis?' in such a hurry.
'Of course,' Alice said, 'it's rather dusty. We must crush the
sugar carefully in clean paper before we put it in the bottle.'
Dora said she was afraid it would be cheating to make one bottle
nicer than what people would get when they ordered a dozen bottles,
but Alice said Dora always made a fuss about everything, and really
it would be quite honest.
'You see,' she said, 'I shall just tell them, quite truthfully,
what we have done to it, and when their dozens come they can do it
for themselves.'
So then we crushed eight more lumps, very cleanly and carefully
between newspapers, and shook it up well in the bottle, and corked
it up with a screw of paper, brown and not news, for fear of the
poisonous printing ink getting wet and dripping down into the wine
and killing people. We made Pincher have a taste, and he sneezed
for ever so long, and after that he used to go under the sofa
whenever we showed him the bottle.
Then we asked Alice who she would try and sell it to. She said: 'I
shall ask everybody who comes to the house. And while we are doing
that, we can be thinking of outside people to take it to. We must
be careful: there's not much more than half of it left, even
counting the sugar.'
We did not wish to tell Eliza - I don't know why. And she opened
the door very quickly that day, so that the Taxes and a man who
came to our house by mistake for next door got away before Alice
had a chance to try them with the Castilian Amoroso. But about
five Eliza slipped out for half an hour to see a friend who was
making her a hat for Sunday, and while she was gone there was a
knock. Alice went, and we looked over the banisters. When she
opened the door, she said at once, 'Will you walk in, please?'
The person at the door said, 'I called to see your Pa, miss. Is he
at home?'
Alice said again, 'Will you walk in, please?'
Then the person - it sounded like a man - said, 'He is in, then?'
But Alice only kept on saying, 'Will you walk in, please?' so at
last the man did, rubbing his boots very loudly on the mat.
Then Alice shut the front door, and we saw that it was the butcher,
with an envelope in his hand. He was not dressed in blue, like
when he is cutting up the sheep and things in the shop, and he wore
knickerbockers. Alice says he came on a bicycle. She led the way
into the dining-room, where the Castilian Amoroso bottle and the
medicine glass were standIng on the table all ready.
The others stayed on the stairs, but Oswald crept down and looked
through the door-crack.
'Please sit down,' said Alice quite calmly, though she told me
afterwards I had no idea how silly she felt. And the butcher sat
down. Then Alice stood quite still and said nothing, but she
fiddled with the medicine glass and put the screw of brown paper
straight in the Castilian bottle.
'Will you tell your Pa I'd like a word with him?' the butcher said,
when he got tired of saying nothing.
'He'll be in very soon, I think,' Alice said.
And then she stood still again and said nothing. It was beginning
to look very idiotic of her, and H. O. laughed. I went back and
cuffed him for it quite quietly, and I don't think the butcher
But Alice did, and it roused her from her stupor. She spoke
suddenly, very fast indeed - so fast that I knew she had made up
what she was going to say before. She had got most of it out of
the circular.
She said, 'I want to call your attention to a sample of sherry wine
I have here. It is called Castilian something or other, and at the
price it is unequalled for flavour and bouquet.'
The butcher said, 'Well - I never!'
And Alice went on, 'Would you like to taste it?'
'Thank you very much, I'm sure, miss,' said the butcher.
Alice poured some out.
The butcher tasted a very little. He licked his lips, and we
thought he was going to say how good it was. But he did not. He
put down the medicine glass with nearly all the stuff left in it
(we put it back in the bottle afterwards to save waste) and said,
'Excuse me, miss, but isn't it a little sweet? - for sherry I
'The real isn't,' said Alice. 'If you order a dozen it will come
quite different to that - we like it best with sugar. I wish you
would order some.' The butcher asked why.
Alice did not speak for a minute, and then she said -
'I don't mind telling you: you are in business yourself, aren't
you? We are trying to get people to buy it, because we shall have
two shillings for every dozen we can make any one buy. It's called
a purr something.'
'A percentage. Yes, I see,' said the butcher, looking at the hole
in the carpet.
'You see there are reasons, Alice went on, 'why we want to make our
fortunes as quickly as we can.'
'Quite so,' said the butcher, and he looked at the place where the
paper is coming off the wall.
'And this seems a good way,' Alice went on. 'We paid two shillings
for the sample and instructions, and it says you can make two
pounds a week easily in your leisure time.'
'I'm sure I hope you may, miss,' said the butcher. And Alice said
again would he buy some?
'Sherry is my favourite wine,' he said. Alice asked him to have
some more to drink.
'No, thank you, miss,' he said; 'it's my favourite wine, but it
doesn't agree with me; not the least bit. But I've an uncle drinks
it. Suppose I ordered him half a dozen for a Christmas present?
Well, miss, here's the shilling commission, anyway,' and he pulled
out a handful of money and gave her the shilling.
'But I thought the wine people paid that,' Alice said.
But the butcher said not on half-dozens they didn't. Then he said
he didn't think he'd wait any longer for Father - but would Alice
ask Father to write him?
Alice offered him the sherry again, but he said something about
'Not for worlds!' - and then she let him out and came back to us
with the shilling, and said, 'How's that?'
And we said 'Ai.'
And all the evening we talked of our fortune that we had begun to
Nobody came next day, but the day after a lady came to ask for
money to build an orphanage for the children of dead sailors. And
we saw her. I went in with Alice. And when we had explained to
her that we had only a shilling and we wanted it for something
else, Alice suddenly said, 'Would you like some wine?'
And the lady said, 'Thank you very much,' but she looked surprised.
She was not a young lady, and she had a mantle with beads, and the
beads had come off in places - leaving a browny braid showing, and
she had printed papers about the dead sailors in a sealskin bag,
and the seal had come off in places, leaving the skin bare.
We gave her a tablespoonful of the wine in a proper wine-glass out
of the sideboard, because she was a lady. And when she had tasted
it she got up in a very great hurry, and shook out her dress and
snapped her bag shut, and said, 'You naughty, wicked children!
What do you mean by playing a trick like this? You ought to be
ashamed of yourselves! I shall write to your Mamma about it. You
dreadful little girl! - you might have poisoned me. But your
Then Alice said, 'I'm very sorry; the butcher liked it, only he
said it was sweet. And please don't write to Mother. It makes
Father so unhappy when letters come for her!' - and Alice was very
near crying.
'What do you mean, you silly child?' said the lady, looking quite
bright and interested. 'Why doesn't your Father like your Mother
to have letters - eh?'
And Alice said, 'Oh, you ... !'and began to cry, and bolted out of
the room.
Then I said, 'Our Mother is dead, and will you please go away now?'
The lady looked at me a minute, and then she looked quite
different, and she said, 'I'm very sorry. I didn't know. Never
mind about the wine. I daresay your little sister meant it
kindly.' And she looked round the room just like the butcher had
done. Then she said again, 'I didn't know - I'm very sorry. . .'
So I said, 'Don't mention it,' and shook hands with her, and let
her out. Of course we couldn't have asked her to buy the wine
after what she'd said. But I think she was not a bad sort of
person. I do like a person to say they're sorry when they ought to
be - especially a grown-up. They do it so seldom. I suppose
that's why we think so much of it.
But Alice and I didn't feel jolly for ever so long afterwards. And
when I went back into the dining-room I saw how different it was
from when Mother was here, and we are different, and Father is
different, and nothing is like it was. I am glad I am not made to
think about it every day.
I went and found Alice, and told her what the lady had said, and
when she had finished crying we put away the bottle and said we
would not try to sell any more to people who came. And we did not
tell the others - we only said the lady did not buy any - but we
went up on the Heath, and some soldiers went by and there was a
Punch-and-judy show, and when we came back we were better.
The bottle got quite dusty where we had put it, and perhaps the
dust of ages would have laid thick and heavy on it, only a
clergyman called when we were all out. He was not our own
clergyman - Mr Bristow is our own clergyman, and we all love him,
and we would not try to sell sherry to people we like, and make two
pounds a week out of them in our spare time. It was another
clergyman, just a stray one; and he asked Eliza if the dear
children would not like to come to his little Sunday school. We
always spend Sunday afternoons with Father. But as he had left the
name of his vicarage with Eliza, and asked her to tell us to come,
we thought we would go and call on him, just to explain about
Sunday afternoons, and we thought we might as well take the sherry
with us.
'I won't go unless you all go too,' Alice said, 'and I won't do the
Dora said she thought we had much better not go; but we said 'Rot!'
and it ended in her coming with us, and I am glad she did.
Oswald said he would do the talking if the others liked, and he
learned up what to say from the printed papers.
We went to the Vicarage early on Saturday afternoon, and rang at
the bell. It is a new red house with no trees in the garden, only
very yellow mould and gravel. It was all very neat and dry. Just
before we rang the bell we heard some one inside call 'Jane! Jane!'
and we thought we would not be Jane for anything. It was the sound
of the voice that called that made us sorry for her.
The door was opened by a very neat servant in black, with a white
apron; we saw her tying the strings as she came along the hall,
through the different-coloured glass in the door. Her face was
red, and I think she was Jane. We asked if we could see Mr Mallow.
The servant said Mr Mallow was very busy with his sermon just then,
but she would see.
But Oswald said, 'It's all right. He asked us to come.'
So she let us all in and shut the front door, and showed us into a
very tidy room with a bookcase full of a lot of books covered in
black cotton with white labels, and some dull pictures, and a
harmonium. And Mr Mallow was writing at a desk with drawers,
copying something out of a book. He was stout and short, and wore
He covered his writing up when we went in - I didn't know why. He
looked rather cross, and we heard Jane or somebody being scolded
outside by the voice. I hope it wasn't for letting us in, but I
have had doubts.
'Well,' said the clergyman, 'what is all this about?'
'You asked us to call,' Dora said, 'about your little Sunday
school. We are the Bastables of Lewisham Road.'
'Oh - ah, yes,' he said; 'and shall I expect you all to-morrow?'
He took up his pen and fiddled with it, and he did not ask us to
sit down. But some of us did.
'We always spend Sunday afternoon with Father,' said Dora; 'but we
wished to thank you for being so kind as to ask us.'
'And we wished to ask you something else!' said Oswald; and he made
a sign to Alice to get the sherry ready in the glass. She did -
behind Oswald's back while he was speaking.
'My time is limited,' said Mr Mallow, looking at his watch; 'but
still -' Then he muttered something about the fold, and went on:
'Tell me what is troubling you, my little man, and I will try to
give you any help in my power. What is it you want?'
Then Oswald quickly took the glass from Alice, and held it out to
him, and said, 'I want your opinion on that.'
'On that,' he said. 'What is it?'
'It is a shipment,' Oswald said; 'but it's quite enough for you to
taste.' Alice had filled the glass half-full; I suppose she was
too excited to measure properly.
'A shipment?' said the clergyman, taking the glass in his hand.
'Yes,' Oswald went On; 'an exceptional opportunity. Full-bodied
and nutty.'
'It really does taste rather like one kind of Brazil-nut.' Alice
put her oar in as usual.
The Vicar looked from Alice to Oswald, and back again, and Oswald
went on with what he had learned from the printing. The clergyman
held the glass at half-arm's-length, stiffly, as if he had caught
'It is of a quality never before offered at the price. Old
Delicate Amoro - what's its name -'
'Amorolio,' said H. O.
'Amoroso,' said Oswald. 'H. O., you just shut up - Castilian
Amoroso - it's a true after-dinner wine, stimulating and yet ...'
'Wine?'said Mr Mallow, holding the glass further off. 'Do you
know,' he went on, making his voice very thick and strong (I expect
he does it like that in church), 'have you never been taught that
it is the drinking of wine and spirits - yes, and BEER, which makes
half the homes in England full of wretched little children, and
degraded, MISERABLE parents?'
'Not if you put sugar in it,' said Alice firmly; 'eight lumps and
shake the bottle. We have each had more than a teaspoonful of it,
and we were not ill at all. It was something else that upset H. O.
Most likely all those acorns he got out of the Park.'
The clergyman seemed to be speechless with conflicting emotions,
and just then the door opened and a lady came in. She had a white
cap with lace, and an ugly violet flower in it, and she was tall,
and looked very strong, though thin. And I do believe she had been
listening at the door.
'But why,' the Vicar was saying, 'why did you bring this dreadful
fluid, this curse of our country, to me to taste?'
'Because we thought you might buy some,' said Dora, who never sees
when a game is up. 'In books the parson loves his bottle of old
port; and new sherry is just as good - with sugar - for people who
like sherry. And if you would order a dozen of the wine, then we
should get two shillings.'
The lady said (and it was the voice), 'Good gracious! Nasty,
sordid little things! Haven't they any one to teach them better?'
And Dora got up and said, 'No, we are not those things you say; but
we are sorry we came here to be called names. We want to make our
fortune just as much as Mr Mallow does - only no one would listen
to us if we preached, so it's no use our copying out sermons like
And I think that was smart of Dora, even if it was rather rude.
Then I said perhaps we had better go, and the lady said, 'I should
think so!'
But when we were going to wrap up the bottle and glass the
clergyman said, 'No; you can leave that,' and we were so
upset we did, though it wasn't his after all.
We walked home very fast and not saying much, and the girls went up
to their rooms. When I went to tell them tea was ready, and there
was a teacake, Dora was crying like anything and Alice hugging her.
I am afraid there is a great deal of crying in this chapter, but I
can't help it. Girls will sometimes; I suppose it is their nature,
and we ought to be sorry for their affliction.
'It's no good,' Dora was saying, 'you all hate me, and you think
I'm a prig and a busybody, but I do try to do right - oh, I do!
Oswald, go away; don't come here making fun of me!'
So I said, 'I'm not making fun, Sissy; don't cry, old girl.'
Mother taught me to call her Sissy when we were very little and
before the others came, but I don't often somehow, now we are old.
I patted her on the back, and she put her head against my sleeve,
holding on to Alice all the time, and she went on. She was in that
laughy-cryey state when people say things they wouldn't say at
other times.
'Oh dear, oh dear - I do try, I do. And when Mother died she said,
"Dora, take care of the others, and teach them to be good, and keep
them out of trouble and make them happy." She said, "Take care of
them for me, Dora dear." And I have tried, and all of you hate me
for it; and to-day I let you do this, though I knew all the time it
was silly.'
I hope you will not think I was a muff but I kissed Dora for some
time. Because girls like it. And I will never say again that she
comes the good elder sister too much. And I have put all this in
though I do hate telling about it, because I own I have been hard
on Dora, but I never will be again. She is a good old sort; of
course we never knew before about what Mother told her, or we
wouldn't have ragged her as we did. We did not tell the little
ones, but I got Alice to speak to Dicky, and we three can sit on
the others if requisite.
This made us forget all about the sherry; but about eight o'clock
there was a knock, and Eliza went, and we saw it was poor Jane, if
her name was Jane, from the Vicarage. She handed in a brown-paper
parcel and a letter. And three minutes later Father called us into
his study.
On the table was the brown-paper parcel, open, with our bottle and
glass on it, and Father had a letter in his hand. He Pointed to
the bottle and sighed, and said, 'What have you been doing now?'
The letter in his hand was covered with little black writing, all
over the four large pages.
So Dicky spoke up, and he told Father the whole thing, as far as he
knew it, for Alice and I had not told about the dead sailors' lady.
And when he had done, Alice said, 'Has Mr Mallow written to you to
say he will buy a dozen of the sherry after all? It is really not
half bad with sugar in it.'
Father said no, he didn't think clergymen could afford such
expensive wine; and he said he would like to taste it. So we gave
him what there was left, for we had decided coming home that we
would give up trying for the two pounds a week in our spare time.
Father tasted it, and then he acted just as H. O. had done when he
had his teaspoonful, but of course we did not say anything. Then
he laughed till I thought he would never stop.
I think it was the sherry, because I am sure I have read somewhere
about 'wine that maketh glad the heart of man'. He had only a very
little, which shows that it was a good after-dinner wine,
stimulating, and yet ... I forget the rest.
But when he had done laughing he said, 'It's all right, kids. Only
don't do it again. The wine trade is overcrowded; and besides, I
thought you promised to consult me before going into business?'
'Before buying one I thought you meant,' said Dicky. 'This was
only on commission.' And Father laughed again. I am glad we got
the Castilian Amoroso, because it did really cheer Father up, and
you cannot always do that, however hard you try, even if you make
jokes, or give him a comic paper.
The part about his nobleness only comes at the end, but you would
not understand it unless you knew how it began. It began, like
nearly everything about that time, with treasure-seeking.
Of course as soon as we had promised to consult my Father about
business matters we all gave up wanting to go into business. I
don't know how it is, but having to consult about a thing with
grown-up people, even the bravest and the best, seems to make the
thing not worth doing afterwards.
We don't mind Albert's uncle chipping in sometimes when the thing's
going on, but we are glad he never asked us to promise to consult
him about anything. Yet Oswald saw that my Father was quite right;
and I daresay if we had had that hundred pounds we should have
spent it on the share in that lucrative business for the sale of
useful patent, and then found out afterwards that we should have
done better to spend the money in some other way. My Father says
so, and he ought to know. We had several ideas about that time,
but having so little chink always stood in the way.
This was the case with H. O.'s idea of setting up a coconut-shy on
this side of the Heath, where there are none generally. We had no
sticks or wooden balls, and the greengrocer said he could not book
so many as twelve dozen coconuts without Mr Bastable's written
order. And as we did not wish to consult my Father it was decided
to drop it. And when Alice dressed up Pincher in some of the
dolls' clothes and we made up our minds to take him round with an
organ as soon as we had taught him to dance, we were stopped at
once by Dicky's remembering how he had once heard that an organ
cost seven hundred pounds. Of course this was the big church kind,
but even the ones on three legs can't be got for
one-and-sevenpence, which was all we had when we first thought of
it. So we gave that up too.
It was a wet day, I remember, and mutton hash for dinner - very
tough with pale gravy with lumps in it. I think the others would
have left a good deal on the sides of their plates, although they
know better, only Oswald said it was a savoury stew made of the red
deer that Edward shot. So then we were the Children of the New
Forest, and the mutton tasted much better. No one in the New
Forest minds venison being tough and the gravy pale.
Then after dinner we let the girls have a dolls' tea-party, on
condition they didn't expect us boys to wash up; and it was when we
were drinking the last of the liquorice water out of the little
cups that Dicky said -
'This reminds me.'
So we said, 'What of?'
Dicky answered us at once, though his mouth was full of bread with
liquorice stuck in it to look like cake. You should not speak with
your mouth full, even to your own relations, and you shouldn't wipe
your mouth on the back of your hand, but on your handkerchief, if
you have one. Dicky did not do this. He said -
'Why, you remember when we first began about treasure-seeking, I
said I had thought of something, only I could not tell you because
I hadn't finished thinking about it.'
We said 'Yes.'
'Well, this liquorice water -'
'Tea,' said Alice softly.
'Well, tea then - made me think.' He was going on to say what it
made him think, but Noel interrupted and cried out, 'I say; let's
finish off this old tea-party and have a council of war.'
So we got out the flags and the wooden sword and the drum, and
Oswald beat it while the girls washed up, till Eliza came up to say
she had the jumping toothache, and the noise went through her like
a knife. So of course Oswald left off at once. When you are
polite to Oswald he never refuses to grant your requests.
When we were all dressed up we sat down round the camp fire, and
Dicky began again.
'Every one in the world wants money. Some people get it. The
people who get it are the ones who see things. I have seen one
Dicky stopped and smoked the pipe of peace. It is the pipe we did
bubbles with in the summer, and somehow it has not got broken yet.
We put tea-leaves in it for the pipe of peace, but the girls are
not allowed to have any. It is not right to let girls smoke. They
get to think too much of themselves if you let them do everything
the same as men. Oswald said, 'Out with it.'
'I see that glass bottles only cost a penny. H. O., if you dare to
snigger I'll send you round selling old bottles, and you shan't
have any sweets except out of the money you get for them. And the
same with you, Noel.'
'NoEl wasn't sniggering,' said Alice in a hurry; 'it is only his
taking so much interest in what you were saying makes him look like
that. Be quiet, H. O., and don't you make faces, either. Do go
on, Dicky dear.'
So Dicky went on.
'There must be hundreds of millions of bottles of medicines sold
every year. Because all the different medicines say, "Thousands of
cures daily," and if you only take that as two thousand, which it
must be, at least, it mounts up. And the people who sell them must
make a great deal of money by them because they are nearly always
two-and- ninepence the bottle, and three-and-six for one nearly
double the size. Now the bottles, as I was saying, don't cost
anything like that.'
'It's the medicine costs the money,' said Dora; 'look how expensive
jujubes are at the chemist's, and peppermints too.'
'That's only because they're nice,' Dicky explained; 'nasty things
are not so dear. Look what a lot of brimstone you get for a penny,
and the same with alum. We would not put the nice kinds of
chemist's things in our medicine.'
Then he went on to tell us that when we had invented our medicine
we would write and tell the editor about it, and he would put it in
the paper, and then people would send their two-and-ninepence and
three-and-six for the bottle nearly double the size, and then when
the medicine had cured them they would write to the paper and their
letters would be printed, saying how they had been suffering for
years, and never thought to get about again, but thanks to the
blessing of our ointment -'
Dora interrupted and said, 'Not ointment - it's so messy.' And
Alice thought so too. And Dicky said he did not mean it, he was
quite decided to let it be in bottles. So now it was all settled,
and we did not see at the time that this would be a sort of going
into business, but afterwards when Albert's uncle showed us we saw
it, and we were sorry. We only had to invent the medicine. You
might think that was easy, because of the number of them you see
every day in the paper, but it is much harder than you think.
First we had to decide what sort of illness we should like to cure,
and a 'heated discussion ensued', like in Parliament.
Dora wanted it to be something to make the complexion of dazzling
fairness, but we remembered how her face came all red and rough
when she used the Rosabella soap that was advertised to make the
darkest complexion fair as the lily, and she agreed that perhaps it
was better not. Noel wanted to make the medicine first and then
find out what it would cure, but Dicky thought not, because there
are so many more medicines than there are things the matter with
us, so it would be easier to choose the disease first.
Oswald would have liked wounds. I still think it was a good idea,
but Dicky said, 'Who has wounds, especially now there aren't any
wars? We shouldn't sell a bottle a day!' So Oswald gave in
because he knows what manners are, and it was Dicky's idea. H. O.
wanted a cure for the uncomfortable feeling that they give you
powders for, but we explained to him that grown-up people do not
have this feeling, however much they eat, and he agreed. Dicky
said he did not care a straw what the loathsome disease was, as
long as we hurried up and settled on something. Then Alice said -
'It ought to be something very common, and only one thing. Not the
pains in the back and all the hundreds of things the people have in
somebody's syrup. What's the commonest thing of all?'
And at once we said, 'Colds.'
So that was settled.
Then we wrote a label to go on the bottle. When it was written it
would not go on the vinegar bottle that we had got, but we knew it
would go small when it was printed. It was like this:
CERTAIN CURE FOR COLDS Coughs, Asthma, Shortness of Breath, and all
infections of the Chest
One dose gives immediate relief
It will cure your cold in one bottle
Especially the larger size at 3s. 6d.
Order at once of the Makers
To prevent disappointment
D., O., R., A., N., and H. O. BASTABLE
150 Lewisham Road, S. E.
(A halfpenny for all bottles returned)
Of course the next thing was for one of us to catch a cold and try
what cured it; we all wanted to be the one, but it was Dicky's
idea, and he said he was not going to be done out of it, so we let
him. It was only fair. He left off his undershirt that very day,
and next morning he stood in a draught in his nightgown for quite
a long time. And we damped his day-shirt with the nail-brush
before he put it on. But all was vain. They always tell you that
these things will give you cold, but we found it was not so.
So then we all went over to the Park, and Dicky went right into the
water with his boots on, and stood there as long as he could bear
it, for it was rather cold, and we stood and cheered him on. He
walked home in his wet clothes, which they say is a sure thing, but
it was no go, though his boots were quite spoiled. And three days
after Noel began to cough and sneeze.
So then Dicky said it was not fair.
'I can't help it,' Noel said. 'You should have caught it yourself,
then it wouldn't have come to me.
And Alice said she had known all along Noel oughtn't to have stood
about on the bank cheering in the cold.
Noel had to go to bed, and then we began to make the medicines; we
were sorry he was out of it, but he had the fun of taking the
We made a great many medicines. Alice made herb tea. She got sage
and thyme and savory and marjoram and boiled them all up together
with salt and water, but she WOULD put parsley in too. Oswald is
sure parsley is not a herb. It is only put on the cold meat and
you are not supposed to eat it. It kills parrots to eat parsley,
I believe. I expect it was the parsley that disagreed so with
Noel. The medicine did not seem to do the cough any good.
Oswald got a pennyworth of alum, because it is so cheap, and some
turpentine which every one knows is good for colds, and a little
sugar and an aniseed ball. These were mixed in a bottle with
water, but Eliza threw it away and said it was nasty rubbish, and
I hadn't any money to get more things with.
Dora made him some gruel, and he said it did his chest good; but of
course that was no use, because you cannot put gruel in bottles and
say it is medicine. It would not be honest, and besides nobody
would believe you.
Dick mixed up lemon-juice and sugar and a little of the juice of
the red flannel that Noel's throat was done up in. It comes out
beautifully in hot water. NoEl took this and he liked it. NoEl's
own idea was liquorice-water, and we let him have it, but it is too
plain and black to sell in bottles at the proper price.
NoEl liked H. O.'s medicine the best, which was silly of him,
because it was only peppermints melted in hot water, and a little
cobalt to make it look blue. It was all right, because H. O.'s
paint-box is the French kind, with Couleurs non Vgngneuses on it.
This means you may suck your brushes if you want to, or even your
paints if you are a very little boy.
It was rather jolly while Noel had that cold. He had a fire in his
bedroom which opens out of Dicky's and Oswald's, and the girls used
to read aloud to Noel all day; they will not read aloud to you when
you are well. Father was away at Liverpool on business, and
Albert's uncle was at Hastings. We were rather glad of this,
because we wished to give all the medicines a fair trial, and
grown-ups are but too fond of interfering. As if we should have
given him anything poisonous!
His cold went on - it was bad in his head, but it was not one of
the kind when he has to have poultices and can't sit up in bed.
But when it had been in his head nearly a week, Oswald happened to
tumble over Alice on the stairs. When we got up she was crying.
'Don't cry silly!' said Oswald; 'you know I didn't hurt you.' I
was very sorry if I had hurt her, but you ought not to sit on the
stairs in the dark and let other people tumble over you. You ought
to remember how beastly it is for them if they do hurt you.
'Oh, it's not that, Oswald,' Alice said. 'Don't be a pig! I am so
miserable. Do be kind to me.'
So Oswald thumped her on the back and told her to shut up.
'It's about Noel,' she said. 'I'm sure he's very ill; and playing
about with medicines is all very well, but I know he's ill, and
Eliza won't send for the doctor: she says it's only a cold. And I
know the doctor's bills are awful. I heard Father telling Aunt
Emily so in the summer. But he was , and perhaps he'll die or
Then she began to cry again. Oswald thumped her again, because he
knows how a good brother ought to behave, and said, 'Cheer up.' If
we had been in a book Oswald would have embraced his little sister
tenderly, and mingled his tears with hers.
Then Oswald said, 'Why not write to Father?'
And she cried more and said, 'I've lost the paper with the address.
H. O. had it to draw on the back of, and I can't find it now; I've
looked everywhere. I'll tell you what I'm going to do. No I
won't. But I'm going out. Don't tell the others. And I say,
Oswald, do pretend I'm in if Eliza asks. Promise.'
'Tell me what you're going to do,' I said. But she said 'No'; and
there was a good reason why not. So I said I wouldn't promise if
it came to that. Of course I meant to all right. But it did seem
mean of her not to tell me.
So Alice went out by the side door while Eliza was setting tea, and
she was a long time gone; she was not in to tea. When Eliza asked
Oswald where she was he said he did not know, but perhaps she was
tidying her corner drawer. Girls often do this, and it takes a
long time. NoEl coughed a good bit after tea, and asked for Alice.
Oswald told him she was doing something and it was a secret.
Oswald did not tell any lies even to save his sister. When Alice
came back she was very quiet, but she whispered to Oswald that it
was all right. When it was rather late Eliza said she was going
out to post a letter. This always takes her an hour, because she
WILL go to the post-office across the Heath instead of the
pillar-box, because once a boy dropped fusees in our pillar-box and
burnt the letters. It was not any of us; Eliza told us about it.
And when there was a knock at the door a long time after we thought
it was Eliza come back, and that she had forgotten the back-door
key. We made H. O. go down to open the door, because it is his
place to run about: his legs are younger than ours. And we heard
boots on the stairs besides H. O.'s, and we listened spellbound
till the door opened, and it was Albert's uncle. He looked very
'I am glad you've come,' Oswald said. 'Alice began to think Noel
Alice stopped me, and her face was very red, her nose was shiny
too, with having cried so much before tea.
She said, 'I only said I thought Noel ought to have the doctor.
Don't you think he ought?' She got hold of Albert's uncle and held
on to him.
'Let's have a look at you, young man,' said Albert's uncle, and he
sat down on the edge of the bed. It is a rather shaky bed, the bar
that keeps it steady underneath got broken when we were playing
burglars last winter. It was our crowbar. He began to feel Noel's
pulse, and went on talking.
'It was revealed to the Arab physician as he made merry in his
tents on the wild plains of Hastings that the Presence had a cold
in its head. So he immediately seated himself on the magic carpet,
and bade it bear him hither, only pausing in the flight to purchase
a few sweetmeats in the bazaar.'
He pulled out a jolly lot of chocolate and some butterscotch, and
grapes for Noel. When we had all said thank you, he went on.
'The physician's are the words of wisdom: it's high time this kid
was asleep. I have spoken. Ye have my leave to depart.'
So we bunked, and Dora and Albert's uncle made Noel comfortable for
the night.
Then they came to the nursery which we had gone down to, and he sat
down in the Guy Fawkes chair and said, 'Now then.'
Alice said, 'You may tell them what I did. I daresay they'll all
be in a wax, but I don't care.'
'I think you were very wise,' said Albert's uncle, pulling her
close to him to sit on his knee. 'I am very glad you telegraphed.'
So then Oswald understood what Alice's secret was. She had gone
out and sent a telegram to Albert's uncle at Hastings. But Oswald
thought she might have told him. Afterwards she told me what she
had put in the telegram. It was, 'Come home. We have given Noel
a cold, and I think we are killing him.' With the address it came
to tenpence-halfpenny.
Then Albert's uncle began to ask questions, and it all came out,
how Dicky had tried to catch the cold, but the cold had gone to
Noel instead, and about the medicines and all. Albert's uncle
looked very serious.
'Look here,' he said, 'You're old enough not to play the fool like
this. Health is the best thing you've got; you ought to know
better than to risk it. You might have killed your little brother
with your precious medicines. You've had a lucky escape,
certainly. But poor Noel!'
'Oh, do you think he's going to die?' Alice asked that, and she was
crying again.
'No, no,' said Albert's uncle; 'but look here. Do you see how
silly you've been? And I thought you promised your Father -' And
then he gave us a long talking-to. He can make you feel most
awfully Small. At last he stopped, and we said we were very sorry,
and he said, 'You know I promised to take you all to the
So we said, 'Yes,' and knew but too well that now he wasn't going
to. Then he went on -
'Well, I will take you if you like, or I will take Noel to the sea
for a week to cure his cold. Which is it to be?'
Of course he knew we should say, 'Take Noel' and we did; but Dicky
told me afterwards he thought it was hard on H. O.
Albert's uncle stayed till Eliza came in, and then he said good
night in a way that showed us that all was forgiven and forgotten.
And we went to bed. It must have been the middle of the night when
Oswald woke up suddenly, and there was Alice with her teeth
chattering, shaking him to wake him.
'Oh, Oswald!' she said, 'I am so unhappy. Suppose I should die in
the night!'
Oswald told her to go to bed and not gas. But she said, 'I must
tell you; I wish I'd told Albert's uncle. I'm a thief, and if I
die to-night I know where thieves go to.' So Oswald saw it was no
good and he sat up in bed and said - 'Go ahead.' So Alice stood
shivering and said - 'I hadn't enough money for the telegram, so I
took the bad sixpence out of the exchequer. And I paid for it with
that and the fivepence I had. And I wouldn't tell you, because if
you'd stopped me doing it I couldn't have borne it; and if you'd
helped me you'd have been a thief too. Oh, what shall I do?'
Oswald thought a minute, and then he said -
'You'd better have told me. But I think it will be all right if we
pay it back. Go to bed. Cross with you? No, stupid! Only
another time you'd better not keep secrets.'
So she kissed Oswald, and he let her, and she went back to bed.
The next day Albert's uncle took Noel away, before Oswald had time
to persuade Alice that we ought to tell him about the sixpence.
Alice was very unhappy, but not so much as in the night: you can be
very miserable in the night if you have done anything wrong and you
happen to be awake. I know this for a fact.
None of us had any money except Eliza, and she wouldn't give us any
unless we said what for; and of course we could not do that because
of the honour of the family. And Oswald was anxious to get the
sixpence to give to the telegraph people because he feared that the
badness of that sixpence might have been found out, and that the
police might come for Alice at any moment. I don't think I ever
had such an unhappy day. Of course we could have written to
Albert's uncle, but it would have taken a long time, and every
moment of delay added to Alice's danger. We thought and thought,
but we couldn't think of any way to get that sixpence. It seems a
small sum, but you see Alice's liberty depended on it. It was
quite late in the afternoon when I met Mrs Leslie on the Parade.
She had a brown fur coat and a lot of yellow flowers in her hands.
She stopped to speak to me, and asked me how the Poet was. I told
her he had a cold, and I wondered whether she would lend me
sixpence if I asked her, but I could not make up my mind how to
begin to say it. It is a hard thing to say - much harder than you
would think. She talked to me for a bit, and then she suddenly got
into a cab, and said -
'I'd no idea it was so late,' and told the man where to go. And
just as she started she shoved the yellow flowers through the
window and said, 'For the sick poet, with my love,' and was driven
Gentle reader, I will not conceal from you what Oswald did. He
knew all about not disgracing the family, and he did not like doing
what I am going to say: and they were really Noel's flowers, only
he could not have sent them to Hastings, and Oswald knew he would
say 'Yes' if Oswald asked him. Oswald sacrificed his family pride
because of his little sister's danger. I do not say he was a noble
boy - I just tell you what he did, and you can decide for yourself
about the nobleness.
He put on his oldest clothes - they're much older than any you
would think he had if you saw him when he was tidy - and he took
those yellow chrysanthemums and he walked with them to Greenwich
Station and waited for the trains bringing people from London. He
sold those flowers in penny bunches and got tenpence. Then he went
to the telegraph office at Lewisham, and said to the lady there:
'A little girl gave you a bad sixpence yesterday. Here are six
good pennies.'
The lady said she had not noticed it, and never mind, but Oswald
knew that 'Honesty is the best Policy', and he refused to take back
the pennies. So at last she said she should put them in the plate
on Sunday. She is a very nice lady. I like the way she does her
Then Oswald went home to Alice and told her, and she hugged him,
and said he was a dear, good, kind boy, and he said 'Oh, it's all
We bought peppermint bullseyes with the fourpence I had over, and
the others wanted to know where we got the money, but we would not
Only afterwards when Noel came home we told him, because they were
his flowers, and he said it was quite right. He made some poetry
about it. I only remember one bit of it.
The noble youth of high degree
Consents to play a menial part,
All for his sister Alice's sake,
Who was so dear to his faithful heart.
But Oswald himself has never bragged about it. We got no treasure
out of this, unless you count the peppermint bullseyes.
A day or two after Noel came back from Hastings there was snow; it
was jolly. And we cleared it off the path. A man to do it is
sixpence at least, and you should always save when you can. A
penny saved is a penny earned. And then we thought it would be
nice to clear it off the top of the portico, where it lies so
thick, and the edges as if they had been cut with a knife. And
just as we had got out of the landing-window on to the portico, the
Water Rates came up the path with his book that he tears the thing
out of that says how much you have got to pay, and the little
ink-bottle hung on to his buttonhole in case you should pay him.
Father says the Water Rates is a sensible man, and knows it is
always well to be prepared for whatever happens, however unlikely.
Alice said afterwards that she rather liked the Water Rates,
really, and Noel said he had a face like a good vizier, or the man
who rewards the honest boy for restoring the purse, but we did not
think about these things at the time, and as the Water Rates came
up the steps, we shovelled down a great square slab of snow like an
avalanche - and it fell right on his head . Two of us thought of
it at the same moment, so it was quite a large avalanche. And when
the Water Rates had shaken himself he rang the bell. It was
Saturday, and Father was at home. We know now that it is very
wrong and ungentlemanly to shovel snow off porticoes on to the
Water Rates, or any other person, and we hope he did not catch a
cold, and we are very sorry. We apologized to the Water Rates when
Father told us to. We were all sent to bed for it.
We all deserved the punishment, because the others would have
shovelled down snow just as we did if they'd thought of it - only
they are not so quick at thinking of things as we are. And even
quite wrong things sometimes lead to adventures; as every one knows
who has ever read about pirates or highwaymen.
Eliza hates us to be sent to bed early, because it means her having
to bring meals up, and it means lighting the fire in Noel's room
ever so much earlier than usual. He had to have a fire because he
still had a bit of a cold. But this particular day we got Eliza
into a good temper by giving her a horrid brooch with pretending
amethysts in it, that an aunt once gave to Alice, so Eliza brought
up an extra scuttle of coals, and when the greengrocer came with
the potatoes (he is always late on Saturdays) she got some
chestnuts from him. So that when we heard Father go out after his
dinner, there was a jolly fire in Noel's room, and we were able to
go in and be Red Indians in blankets most comfortably. Eliza had
gone out; she says she gets things cheaper on Saturday nights. She
has a great friend, who sells fish at a shop, and he is very
generous, and lets her have herrings for less than half the natural
So we were all alone in the house; Pincher was out with Eliza, and
we talked about robbers. And Dora thought it would be a dreadful
trade, but Dicky said -
'I think it would be very interesting. And you would only rob rich
people, and be very generous to the poor and needy, like Claude
Dora said, 'It is wrong to be a robber.'
'Yes,' said Alice, 'you would never know a happy hour. Think of
trying to sleep with the stolen jewels under your bed, and
remembering all the quantities of policemen and detectives that
there are in the world!'
'There are ways of being robbers that are not wrong,' said Noel;
'if you can rob a robber it is a right act.'
'But you can't,' said Dora; 'he is too clever, and besides, it's
wrong anyway.'
'Yes you can, and it isn't; and murdering him with boiling oil is
a right act, too, so there!' said Noel. 'What about Ali Baba? Now
then!' And we felt it was a score for NoEl.
'What would you do if there was a robber?' said Alice.
H. O. said he would kill him with boiling oil; but Alice explained
that she meant a real robber - now - this minute - in the house.
Oswald and Dicky did not say; but Noel said he thought it would
only be fair to ask the robber quite politely and quietly to go
away, and then if he didn't you could deal with him.
Now what I am going to tell you is a very strange and wonderful
thing, and I hope you will be able to believe it. I should not, if
a boy told me, unless I knew him to be a man of honour, and perhaps
not then unless he gave his sacred word. But it is true, all the
same, and it only shows that the days of romance and daring deeds
are not yet at an end.
Alice was just asking Noel how he would deal with the robber who
wouldn't go if he was asked politely and quietly, when we heard a
noise downstairs - quite a plain noise, not the kind of noise you
fancy you hear. It was like somebody moving a chair. We held our
breath and listened and then came another noise, like some one
poking a fire. Now, you remember there was no one to poke a fire
or move a chair downstairs, because Eliza and Father were both out.
They could not have come in without our hearing them, because the
front door is as hard to shut as the back one, and whichever you go
in by you have to give a slam that you can hear all down the
H. O. and Alice and Dora caught hold of each other's blankets and
looked at Dicky and Oswald, and every one was quite pale. And Noel
whispered -
'It's ghosts, I know it is' - and then we listened again, but there
was no more noise. Presently Dora said in a whisper -
'Whatever shall we do? Oh, whatever shall we do - what shall we
And she kept on saying it till we had to tell her to shut up.
O reader, have you ever been playing Red Indians in blankets round
a bedroom fire in a house where you thought there was no one but
you - and then suddenly heard a noise like a chair, and a fire
being poked, downstairs? Unless you have you will not be able to
imagine at all what it feels like. It was not like in books; our
hair did not stand on end at all, and we never said 'Hist!' once,
but our feet got very cold, though we were in blankets by the fire,
and the insides of Oswald's hands got warm and wet, and his nose
was cold like a dog's, and his ears were burning hot.
The girls said afterwards that they shivered with terror, and their
teeth chattered, but we did not see or hear this at the time.
'Shall we open the window and call police?' said Dora; and then
Oswald suddenly thought of something, and he breathed more freely
and he said -
'I know it's not ghosts, and I don't believe it's robbers. I
expect it's a stray cat got in when the coals came this morning,
and she's been hiding in the cellar, and now she's moving about.
Let's go down and see.'
The girls wouldn't, of course; but I could see that they breathed
more freely too. But Dicky said, 'All right; I will if you will.'
H. O. said, 'Do you think it's really a cat?' So we said he had
better stay with the girls. And of course after that we had to let
him and Alice both come. Dora said if we took Noel down with his
cold, she would scream 'Fire!' and 'Murder!' and she didn't mind if
the whole street heard.
So Noel agreed to be getting his clothes on, and the rest of us
said we would go down and look for the cat.
Now Oswald said that about the cat, and it made it easier to go
down, but in his inside he did not feel at all sure that it might
not be robbers after all. Of course, we had often talked about
robbers before, but it is very different when you sit in a room and
listen and listen and listen; and Oswald felt somehow that it would
be easier to go down and see what it was, than to wait, and listen,
and wait, and wait, and listen, and wait, and then perhaps to hear
It, whatever it was, come creeping slowly up the stairs as softly
as It could with Its boots off, and the stairs creaking, towards
the room where we were with the door open in case of Eliza coming
back suddenly, and all dark on the landings. And then it would
have been just as bad, and it would have lasted longer, and you
would have known you were a coward besides.
Dicky says he felt all these same things. Many people would say we
were young heroes to go down as we did; so I have tried to explain,
because no young hero wishes to have more credit than he deserves.
The landing gas was turned down low - just a blue bead - and we
four went out very softly, wrapped in our blankets, and we stood on
the top of the stairs a good long time before we began to go down.
And we listened and listened till our ears buzzed.
And Oswald whispered to Dicky, and Dicky went into our room and
fetched the large toy pistol that is a foot long, and that has the
trigger broken, and I took it because I am the eldest; and I don't
think either of us thought it was the cat now. But Alice and H. O.
did. Dicky got the poker out of Noel's room, and told Dora it was
to settle the cat with when we caught her.
Then Oswald whispered, 'Let's play at burglars; Dicky and I are
armed to the teeth, we will go first. You keep a flight behind us,
and be a reinforcement if we are attacked. Or you can retreat and
defend the women and children in the fortress, if you'd rather.'
But they said they would be a reinforcement.
Oswald's teeth chattered a little when he spoke. It was not with
anything else except cold.
So Dicky and Oswald crept down, and when we got to the bottom of
the stairs, we saw Father's study door just ajar, and the crack of
light. And Oswald was so pleased to see the light, knowing that
burglars prefer the dark, or at any rate the dark lantern, that he
felt really sure it was the cat after all, and then he thought it
would be fun to make the others upstairs think it was really a
robber. So he cocked the pistol - you can cock it, but it doesn't
go off - and he said, 'Come on, Dick!' and he rushed at the study
door and burst into the room, crying, 'Surrender! you are
discovered! Surrender, or I fire! Throw up your hands!'
And, as he finished saying it, he saw before him, standing on the
study hearthrug, a Real Robber. There was no mistake about it.
Oswald was sure it was a robber, because it had a screwdriver in
its hands, and was standing near the cupboard door that H. O. broke
the lock off; and there were gimlets and screws and things on the
floor. There is nothing in that cupboard but old ledgers and
magazines and the tool chest, but of course, a robber could not
know that beforehand.
When Oswald saw that there really was a robber, and that he was so
heavily armed with the screwdriver, he did not feel comfortable.
But he kept the pistol pointed at the robber, and - you will hardly
believe it, but it is true - the robber threw down the screwdriver
clattering on the other tools, and he did throw up his hands, and
said -
'I surrender; don't shoot me! How many of you are there?'
So Dicky said, 'You are outnumbered. Are you armed?'
And the robber said, 'No, not in the least.'
And Oswald said, still pointing the pistol, and feeling very strong
and brave and as if he was in a book, 'Turn out your pockets.'
The robber did: and while he turned them Out, we looked at him. He
was of the middle height, and clad in a black frock-coat and grey
trousers. His boots were a little gone at the sides, and his
shirt-cuffs were a bit frayed, but otherwise he was of gentlemanly
demeanour. He had a thin, wrinkled face, with big, light eyes that
sparkled, and then looked soft very queerly, and a short beard. In
his youth it must have been of a fair golden colour, but now it was
tinged with grey. Oswald was sorry for him, especially when he saw
that one of his pockets had a large hole in it, and that he had
nothing in his pockets but letters and string and three boxes of
matches, and a pipe and a handkerchief and a thin tobacco pouch and
two pennies. We made him put all the things on the table, and then
he said -
'Well, you've caught me; what are you going to do with me?
Alice and H. O. had come down to be reinforcements, when they heard
a shout, and when Alice saw that it was a Real Robber, and that he
had surrendered, she clapped her hands and said, 'Bravo, boys!' and
so did H. O. And now she said, 'If he gives his word of honour not
to escape, I shouldn't call the police: it seems a pity. Wait till
Father comes home.'
The robber agreed to this, and gave his word of honour, and asked
if he might put on a pipe, and we said 'Yes,' and he sat in
Father's armchair and warmed his boots, which steamed, and I sent
H. O. and Alice to put on some clothes and tell the others, and
bring down Dicky's and my knickerbockers, and the rest of the
And they all came, and we sat round the fire, and it was jolly.
The robber was very friendly, and talked to us a great deal.
'I wasn't always in this low way of business,' he said, when Noel
said something about the things he had turned out of his pockets.
'It's a great come-down to a man like me. But, if I must be
caught, it's something to be caught by brave young heroes like you.
My stars! How you did bolt into the room, - "Surrender, and up
with your hands!" You might have been born and bred to the
Oswald is sorry if it was mean, but he could not own up just then
that he did not think there was any one in the study when he did
that brave if rash act. He has told since.
'And what made you think there was any one in the house?' the
robber asked, when he had thrown his head back, and laughed for
quite half a minute. So we told him. And he applauded our valour,
and Alice and H. O. explained that they would have said
'Surrender,' too, only they were reinforcements.
The robber ate some of the chestnuts - and we sat and wondered when
Father would come home, and what he would say to us for our
intrepid conduct. And the robber told us of all the things he had
done before he began to break into houses. Dicky picked up the
tools from the floor, and suddenly he said -
'Why, this is Father's screwdriver and his gimlets, and all! Well,
I do call it jolly cheek to pick a man's locks with his own tools!'
'True, true,' said the robber. 'It is cheek, of the jolliest! But
you see I've come down in the world. I was a highway robber once,
but horses are so expensive to hire - five shillings an hour, you
know - and I couldn't afford to keep them. The highwayman business
isn't what it was.'
'What about a bike?' said H. O.
But the robber thought cycles were low - and besides you couldn't
go across country with them when occasion arose, as you could with
a trusty steed. And he talked of highwaymen as if he knew just how
we liked hearing it.
Then he told us how he had been a pirate captain - and how he had
sailed over waves mountains high, and gained rich prizes - and how
he did begin to think that here he had found a profession to his
'I don't say there are no ups and downs in it,' he said,
'especially in stormy weather. But what a trade! And a sword at
your side, and the Jolly Roger flying at the peak, and a prize in
sight. And all the black mouths of your guns pointed at the laden
trader - and the wind in your favour, and your trusty crew ready to
live and die for you! Oh - but it's a grand life!'
I did feel so sorry for him. He used such nice words, and he had
a gentleman's voice.
'I'm sure you weren't brought up to be a pirate,' said Dora. She
had dressed even to her collar - and made Noel do it too - but the
rest of us were in blankets with just a few odd things put on
anyhow underneath.
The robber frowned and sighed.
'No,' he said, 'I was brought up to the law. I was at Balliol,
bless your hearts, and that's true anyway.' He sighed again, and
looked hard at the fire.
'That was my Father's college,' H. O. was beginning, but Dicky said
- 'Why did you leave off being a pirate?'
'A pirate?' he said, as if he had not been thinking of such things.
'Oh, yes; why I gave it up because - because I could not get over
the dreadful sea-sickness.'
'Nelson was sea-sick,' said Oswald.
'Ah,' said the robber; 'but I hadn't his luck or his pluck, or
something. He stuck to it and won Trafalgar, didn't he? "Kiss me,
Hardy" - and all that, eh? I couldn't stick to it - I had to
resign. And nobody kissed me.'
I saw by his understanding about Nelson that he was really a man
who had been to a good school as well as to Balliol.
Then we asked him, 'And what did you do then?'
And Alice asked if he was ever a coiner, and we told him how we had
thought we'd caught the desperate gang next door, and he was very
much interested and said he was glad he had never taken to coining.
'Besides, the coins are so ugly nowadays,' he said, 'no one could
really find any pleasure in making them. And it's a
hole-and-corner business at the best, isn't it? - and it must be a
very thirsty one - with the hot metal and furnaces and things.'
And again he looked at the fire.
Oswald forgot for a minute that the interesting stranger was a
robber, and asked him if he wouldn't have a drink. Oswald has
heard Father do this to his friends, so he knows it is the right
thing. The robber said he didn't mind if he did. And that is
right, too.
And Dora went and got a bottle of Father's ale - the Light
Sparkling Family - and a glass, and we gave it to the robber. Dora
said she would be responsible.
Then when he had had a drink he told us about bandits, but he said
it was so bad in wet weather. Bandits' caves were hardly ever
properly weathertight. And bush-ranging was the same.
'As a matter of fact,' he said, 'I was bush-ranging this afternoon,
among the furze-bushes on the Heath, but I had no luck. I stopped
the Lord Mayor in his gilt coach, with all his footmen in plush and
gold lace, smart as cockatoos. But it was no go. The Lord Mayor
hadn't a stiver in his pockets. One of the footmen had six new
pennies: the Lord Mayor always pays his servants' wages in new
pennies. I spent fourpence of that in bread and cheese, that on
the table's the tuppence. Ah, it's a poor trade!' And then he
filled his pipe again.
We had turned out the gas, so that Father should have a jolly good
surprise when he did come home, and we sat and talked as pleasant
as could be. I never liked a new man better than I liked that
robber. And I felt so sorry for him. He told us he had been a
war-correspondent and an editor, in happier days, as well as a
horse-stealer and a colonel of dragoons.
And quite suddenly, just as we were telling him about Lord
Tottenham and our being highwaymen ourselves, he put up his hand
and said 'Shish!' and we were quiet and listened.
There was a scrape, scrape, scraping noise; it came from
'They're filing something,' whispered the robber, 'here - shut up,
give me that pistol, and the poker. There is a burglar now, and no
'It's only a toy one and it won't go off,' I said, 'but you can
cock it.'
Then we heard a snap. 'There goes the window bar,' said the robber
softly. 'Jove! what an adventure! You kids stay here, I'll tackle
But Dicky and I said we should come. So he let us go as far as the
bottom of the kitchen stairs, and we took the tongs and shovel with
us. There was a light in the kitchen; a very little light. It is
curious we never thought, any of us, that this might be a plant of
our robber's to get away. We never thought of doubting his word of
honour. And we were right.
That noble robber dashed the kitchen door open, and rushed in with
the big toy pistol in one hand and the poker in the other, shouting
out just like Oswald had done -
'Surrender! You are discovered! Surrender, or I'll fire! Throw
up your hands!' And Dicky and I rattled the tongs and shovel so
that he might know there were more of us, all bristling with
And we heard a husky voice in the kitchen saying -
'All right, governor! Stow that scent sprinkler. I'll give in.
Blowed if I ain't pretty well sick of the job, anyway.'
Then we went in. Our robber was standing in the grandest manner
with his legs very wide apart, and the pistol pointing at the
cowering burglar. The burglar was a large man who did not mean to
have a beard, I think, but he had got some of one, and a red
comforter, and a fur cap, and his face was red and his voice was
thick. How different from our own robber! The burglar had a dark
lantern, and he was standing by the plate-basket. When we had lit
the gas we all thought he was very like what a burglar ought to be.
He did not look as if he could ever have been a pirate or a
highwayman, or anything really dashing or noble, and he scowled and
shuffled his feet and said: 'Well, go on: why don't yer fetch the
'Upon my word, I don't know,' said our robber, rubbing his chin.
'Oswald, why don't we fetch the police?'
It is not every robber that I would stand Christian names from, I
can tell you but just then I didn't think of that. I just said -
'Do you mean I'm to fetch one?'
Our robber looked at the burglar and said nothing.
Then the burglar began to speak very fast, and to look different
ways with his hard, shiny little eyes.
'Lookee 'ere, governor,' he said, 'I was stony broke, so help me,
I was. And blessed if I've nicked a haporth of your little lot.
You know yourself there ain't much to tempt a bloke,' he shook the
plate-basket as if he was angry with it, and the yellowy spoons and
forks rattled. 'I was just a-looking through this 'ere
Bank-ollerday show, when you come. Let me off, sir. Come now,
I've got kids of my own at home, strike me if I ain't - same as
yours - I've got a nipper just about 'is size, and what'll come of
them if I'm lagged? I ain't been in it long, sir, and I ain't
'andy at it.'
'No,' said our robber; 'you certainly are not.' Alice and the
others had come down by now to see what was happening. Alice told
me afterwards they thought it really was the cat this time.
'No, I ain't 'andy, as you say, sir, and if you let me off this
once I'll chuck the whole blooming bizz; rake my civvy, I will.
Don't be hard on a cove, mister; think of the missis and the kids.
I've got one just the cut of little missy there bless 'er pretty
'Your family certainly fits your circumstances very nicely,' said
our robber. Then Alice said -
'Oh, do let him go! If he's got a little girl like me, whatever
will she do? Suppose it was Father!'
'I don't think he's got a little girl like you, my dear,' said our
robber, 'and I think he'll be safer under lock and key.'
'You ask yer Father to let me go, miss,' said the burglar; "e won't
'ave the 'art to refuse you.'
'If I do,' said Alice, 'will you promise never to come back?'
'Not me, miss,' the burglar said very earnestly, and he looked at
the plate-basket again, as if that alone would be enough to keep
him away, our robber said afterwards.
'And will you be good and not rob any more?' said Alice.
'I'll turn over a noo leaf, miss, so help me.'
Then Alice said - 'Oh, do let him go! I'm sure he'll be good.'
But our robber said no, it wouldn't be right; we must wait till
Father came home. Then H. O. said, very suddenly and plainly:
'I don't think it's at all fair, when you're a robber yourself.'
The minute he'd said it the burglar said, 'Kidded, by gum!' - and
then our robber made a step towards him to catch hold of him, and
before you had time to think 'Hullo!' the burglar knocked the
pistol up with one hand and knocked our robber down with the other,
and was off out of the window like a shot, though Oswald and Dicky
did try to stop him by holding on to his legs.
And that burglar had the cheek to put his head in at the window and
say, 'I'll give yer love to the kids and the missis' - and he was
off like winking, and there were Alice and Dora trying to pick up
our robber, and asking him whether he was hurt, and where. He
wasn't hurt at all, except a lump at the back of his head. And he
got up, and we dusted the kitchen floor off him. Eliza is a dirty
Then he said, 'Let's put up the shutters. It never rains but it
pours. Now you've had two burglars I daresay you'll have twenty.'
So we put up the shutters, which Eliza has strict orders to do
before she goes out, only she never does, and we went back to
Father's study, and the robber said, 'What a night we are having!'
and put his boots back in the fender to go on steaming, and then we
all talked at once. It was the most wonderful adventure we ever
had, though it wasn't treasure-seeking - at least not ours. I
suppose it was the burglar's treasure-seeking, but he didn't get
much - and our robber said he didn't believe a word about those
kids that were so like Alice and me.
And then there was the click of the gate, and we said, 'Here's
Father,' and the robber said, 'And now for the police.'
Then we all jumped up. We did like him so much, and it seemed so
unfair that he should be sent to prison, and the horrid, lumping
big burglar not.
And Alice said, 'Oh, no - run! Dicky will let you out at the back
door. Oh, do go, go now.'
And we all said, 'Yes, go,' and pulled him towards the door, and
gave him his hat and stick and the things out of his pockets.
But Father's latchkey was in the door, and it was too late.
Father came in quickly, purring with the cold, and began to say,
'It's all right, Foulkes, I've got -' And then he stopped short and
stared at us. Then he said, in the voice we all hate, 'Children,
what is the meaning of all this?' And for a minute nobody spoke.
Then my Father said, 'Foulkes, I must really apologize for these
very naughty -'
And then our robber rubbed his hands and laughed, and cried out:
'You're mistaken, my dear sir, I'm not Foulkes; I'm a robber,
captured by these young people in the most gallant manner. "Hands
up, surrender, or I fire," and all the rest of it. My word,
Bastable, but you've got some kids worth having! I wish my Denny
had their pluck.'
Then we began to understand, and it was like being knocked down, it
was so sudden. And our robber told us he wasn't a robber after
all. He was only an old college friend of my Father's, and he had
come after dinner, when Father was just trying to mend the lock H.
O. had broken, to ask Father to get him a letter to a doctor about
his little boy Denny, who was ill. And Father had gone over the
Heath to Vanbrugh Park to see some rich people he knows and get the
letter. And he had left Mr Foulkes to wait till he came back,
because it was important to know at once whether Father could get
the letter, and if he couldn't Mr Foulkes would have had to try
some one else directly.
We were dumb with amazement.
Our robber told my Father about the other burglar, and said he was
sorry he'd let him escape, but my Father said, 'Oh, it's all right:
poor beggar; if he really had kids at home: you never can tell -
forgive us our debts, don't you know; but tell me about the first
business. It must have been moderately entertaining.'
Then our robber told my Father how I had rushed into the room with
a pistol, crying out ... but you know all about that. And he laid
it on so thick and fat about plucky young-uns, and chips of old
blocks, and things like that, that I felt I was purple with shame,
even under the blanket. So I swallowed that thing that tries to
prevent you speaking when you ought to, and I said, 'Look here,
Father, I didn't really think there was any one in the study. We
thought it was a cat at first, and then I thought there was no one
there, and I was just larking. And when I said surrender and all
that, it was just the game, don't you know?'
Then our robber said, 'Yes, old chap; but when you found there
really was some one there, you dropped the pistol and bunked,
didn't you, eh?'
And I said, 'No; I thought, "Hullo! here's a robber! Well, it's
all up, I suppose, but I may as well hold on and see what
And I was glad I'd owned up, for Father slapped me on the back, and
said I was a young brick, and our robber said I was no funk anyway,
and though I got very hot under the blanket I liked it, and I
explained that the others would have done the same if they had
thought of it.
Then Father got up some more beer, and laughed about Dora's
responsibility, and he got out a box of figs he had bought for us,
only he hadn't given it to us because of the Water Rates, and Eliza
came in and brought up the bread and cheese, and what there was
left of the neck of mutton - cold wreck of mutton, Father called it
- and we had a feast - like a picnic - all sitting anywhere, and
eating with our fingers. It was prime. We sat up till past twelve
o'clock, and I never felt so pleased to think I was not born a
girl. It was hard on the others; they would have done just the
same if they'd thought of it. But it does make you feel jolly when
your pater says you're a young brick!
When Mr Foulkes was going, he said to Alice, 'Good-bye, Hardy.'
And Alice understood, of course, and kissed him as hard as she
And she said, 'I wanted to, when you said no one kissed you when
you left off being a pirate.' And he said, 'I know you did, my
dear.' And Dora kissed him too, and said, 'I suppose none of these
tales were true?'
And our robber just said, 'I tried to play the part properly, my
And he jolly well did play it, and no mistake. We have often seen
him since, and his boy Denny, and his girl Daisy, but that comes in
another story.
And if any of you kids who read this ever had two such adventures
in one night you can just write and tell me. That's all.
You have no idea how uncomfortable the house was on the day when we
sought for gold with the divining-rod. It was like a
spring-cleaning in the winter-time. All the carpets were up,
because Father had told Eliza to make the place decent as there was
a gentleman coming to dinner the next day. So she got in a
charwoman, and they slopped water about, and left brooms and
brushes on the stairs for people to tumble over. H. O. got a big
bump on his head in that way, and when he said it was too bad,
Eliza said he should keep in the nursery then, and not be where
he'd no business. We bandaged his head with a towel, and then he
stopped crying and played at being England's wounded hero dying in
the cockpit, while every man was doing his duty, as the hero had
told them to, and Alice was Hardy, and I was the doctor, and the
others were the crew. Playing at Hardy made us think of our own
dear robber, and we wished he was there, and wondered if we should
ever see him any more.
We were rather astonished at Father's having anyone to dinner,
because now he never seems to think of anything but business.
Before Mother died people often came to dinner, and Father's
business did not take up so much of his time and was not the bother
it is now. And we used to see who could go furthest down in our
nightgowns and get nice things to eat, without being seen, out of
the dishes as they came out of the dining-room. Eliza can't cook
very nice things. She told Father she was a good plain cook, but
he says it was a fancy portrait. We stayed in the nursery till the
charwoman came in and told us to be off - she was going to make one
job of it, and have our carpet up as well as all the others, now
the man was here to beat them. It came up, and it was very dusty
- and under it we found my threepenny-bit that I lost ages ago,
which shows what Eliza is. H. O. had got tired of being the
wounded hero, and Dicky was so tired of doing nothing that Dora
said she knew he'd begin to tease Noel in a minute; then of course
Dicky said he wasn't going to tease anybody - he was going out to
the Heath. He said he'd heard that nagging women drove a man from
his home, and now he found it was quite true. Oswald always tries
to be a peacemaker, so he told Dicky to shut up and not make an ass
of himself. And Alice said, 'Well, Dora began - And Dora tossed
her chin up and said it wasn't any business of Oswald's any way,
and no one asked Alice's opinion. So we all felt very
uncomfortable till NoEl said, 'Don't let's quarrel about nothing.
You know let dogs delight - and I made up another piece while you
were talking -
Quarrelling is an evil thing,
It fills with gall life's cup;
For when once you begin
It takes such a long time to make it up.'
We all laughed then and stopped jawing at each other. Noel is very
funny with his poetry. But that piece happened to come out quite
true. You begin to quarrel and then you can't stop; often, long
before the others are ready to cry and make it up, I see how silly
it is, and I want to laugh; but it doesn't do to say so - for it
only makes the others crosser than they were before. I wonder why
that is?
Alice said Noel ought to be poet laureate, and she actually went
out in the cold and got some laurel leaves - the spotted kind - out
of the garden, and Dora made a crown and we put it on him. He was
quite pleased; but the leaves made a mess, and Eliza said, 'Don't.'
I believe that's a word grown-ups use more than any other. Then
suddenly Alice thought of that old idea of hers for finding
treasure, and she said - 'Do let's try the divining-rod.'
So Oswald said, 'Fair priestess, we do greatly desire to find gold
beneath our land, therefore we pray thee practise with the
divining-rod, and tell us where we can find it.'
'Do ye desire to fashion of it helms and hauberks?' said Alice.
'Yes,' said Noel; 'and chains and ouches.'
'I bet you don't know what an "ouch" is,' said Dicky.
'Yes I do, so there!' said Noel. 'It's a carcanet. I looked it
out in the dicker, now then!'
We asked him what a carcanet was, but he wouldn't say.
'And we want to make fair goblets of the gold,' said Oswald.
'Yes, to drink coconut milk out of,' said H. O.
'And we desire to build fair palaces of it,' said Dicky.
'And to buy things,' said Dora; 'a great many things. New Sunday
frocks and hats and kid gloves and -'
She would have gone on for ever so long only we reminded her that
we hadn't found the gold yet.
By this Alice had put on the nursery tablecloth, which is green,
and tied the old blue and yellow antimacassar over her head, and
she said -
'If your intentions are correct, fear nothing and follow me.'
And she went down into the hall. We all followed chanting
'Heroes.' It is a gloomy thing the girls learnt at the High
School, and we always use it when we want a priestly chant.
Alice stopped short by the hat-stand, and held up her hands as well
as she could for the tablecloth, and said -
'Now, great altar of the golden idol, yield me the divining-rod
that I may use it for the good of the suffering people.'
The umbrella-stand was the altar of the golden idol, and it yielded
her the old school umbrella. She carried it between her palms.
'Now,' she said, 'I shall sing the magic chant. You mustn't say
anything, but just follow wherever I go - like follow my leader,
you know - and when there is gold underneath the magic rod will
twist in the hand of the priestess like a live thing that seeks to
be free. Then you will dig, and the golden treasure will be
revealed. H. O., if you make that clatter with your boots they'll
come and tell us not to. Now come on all of you.'
So she went upstairs and down and into every room. We followed her
on tiptoe, and Alice sang as she went. What she sang is not out of
a book - Noel made it up while she was dressing up for the
Ashen rod cold
That here I hold,
Teach me where to find the gold.
When we came to where Eliza was, she said, 'Get along with you';
but Dora said it was only a game, and we wouldn't touch anything,
and our boots were quite clean, and Eliza might as well let us. So
she did.
It was all right for the priestess, but it was a little dull for
the rest of us, because she wouldn't let us sing, too; so we said
we'd had enough of it, and if she couldn't find the gold we'd leave
off and play something else. The priestess said, 'All right, wait
a minute,' and went on singing. Then we all followed her back into
the nursery, where the carpet was up and the boards smelt of soft
soap. Then she said, 'It moves, it moves! Once more the choral
hymn!' So we sang 'Heroes' again, and in the middle the umbrella
dropped from her hands.
'The magic rod has spoken,' said Alice; 'dig here, and that with
courage and despatch.' We didn't quite see how to dig, but we all
began to scratch on the floor with our hands, but the priestess
said, 'Don't be so silly! It's the place where they come to do the
gas. The board's loose. Dig an you value your lives, for ere
sundown the dragon who guards this spoil will return in his fiery
fury and make you his unresisting prey.'
So we dug - that is, we got the loose board up. And Alice threw up
her arms and cried -
'See the rich treasure - the gold in thick layers, with silver and
diamonds stuck in it!'
'Like currants in cake,' said H. O.
'It's a lovely treasure,' said Dicky yawning. 'Let's come back and
carry it away another day.'
But Alice was kneeling by the hole.
'Let me feast my eyes on the golden splendour,' she said, 'hidden
these long centuries from the human eye. Behold how the magic rod
has led us to treasures more - Oswald, don't push so! - more bright
than ever monarch - I say, there is something down there, really.
I saw it shine!'
We thought she was kidding, but when she began to try to get into
the hole, which was much too small, we saw she meant it, so I said,
'Let's have a squint,' and I looked, but I couldn't see anything,
even when I lay down on my stomach. The others lay down on their
stomachs too and tried to see, all but Noel, who stood and looked
at us and said we were the great serpents come down to drink at the
magic pool. He wanted to be the knight and slay the great serpents
with his good sword - he even drew the umbrella ready - but Alice
said, 'All right, we will in a minute. But now - I'm sure I saw
it; do get a match, Noel, there's a dear.'
'What did you see?' asked Noel, beginning to go for the matches
very slowly.
'Something bright, away in the corner under the board against the
'Perhaps it was a rat's eye,' Noel said, 'or a snake's,' and we did
not put our heads quite so close to the hole till he came back with
the matches.
Then I struck a match, and Alice cried, 'There it is!' And there
it was, and it was a half-sovereign, partly dusty and partly
bright. We think perhaps a mouse, disturbed by the carpets being
taken up, may have brushed the dust of years from part of the
half-sovereign with his tail. We can't imagine how it came there,
only Dora thinks she remembers once when H. O. was very little
Mother gave him some money to hold, and he dropped it, and it
rolled all over the floor. So we think perhaps this was part of
it. We were very glad. H. O. wanted to go out at once and buy a
mask he had seen for fourpence. It had been a shilling mask, but
now it was going very cheap because Guy Fawkes' Day was over, and
it was a little cracked at the top. but Dora said, 'I don't know
that it's our money. Let's wait and ask Father.'
But H. O. did not care about waiting, and I felt for him. Dora is
rather like grown-ups in that way; she does not seem to understand
that when you want a thing you do want it, and that you don't wish
to wait, even a minute.
So we went and asked Albert-next-door's uncle. He was pegging away
at one of the rotten novels he has to write to make his living, but
he said we weren't interrupting him at all.
'My hero's folly has involved him in a difficulty,' he said. 'It
is his own fault. I will leave him to meditate on the incredible
fatuity - the hare- brained recklessness - which have brought him
to this pass. It will be a lesson to him. I, meantime, will give
myself unreservedly to the pleasures of your conversation.'
That's one thing I like Albert's uncle for. He always talks like
a book, and yet you can always understand what he means. I think
he is more like us, inside of his mind, than most grown-up people
are. He can pretend beautifully. I never met anyone else so good
at it, except our robber, and we began it, with him. But it was
Albert's uncle who first taught us how to make people talk like
books when you're playing things, and he made us learn to tell a
story straight from the beginning, not starting in the middle like
most people do. So now Oswald remembered what he had been told, as
he generally does, and began at the beginning, but when he came to
where Alice said she was the priestess, Albert's uncle said -
'Let the priestess herself set forth the tale in fitting speech.'
So Alice said, 'O high priest of the great idol, the humblest of
thy slaves took the school umbrella for a divining-rod, and sang
the song of inver - what's-it's-name?'
'Invocation perhaps?' said Albert's uncle.
'Yes; and then I went about and about and the others got tired, so
the divining-rod fell on a certain spot, and I said, "Dig", and we
dug - it was where the loose board is for the gas men - and then
there really and truly was a half-sovereign lying under the boards,
and here it is.'
Albert's uncle took it and looked at it.
'The great high priest will bite it to see if it's good,' he said,
and he did. 'I congratulate you,' he went on; 'you are indeed
among those favoured by the Immortals. First you find half-crowns
in the garden, and now this. The high priest advises you to tell
your Father, and ask if you may keep it. My hero has become
penitent, but impatient. I must pull him out of this scrape. Ye
have my leave to depart.'
Of course we know from Kipling that that means, 'You'd better bunk,
and be sharp about it,' so we came away. I do like Albert's uncle.
I shall be like that when I'm a man. He gave us our jungle books,
and he is awfully clever, though he does have to write grown-up
We told Father about it that night. He was very kind. He said we
might certainly have the half-sovereign, and he hoped we should
enjoy ourselves with our treasure-trove.
Then he said, 'Your dear Mother's Indian Uncle is coming to dinner
here to-morrow night. So will you not drag the furniture about
overhead, please, more than you're absolutely obliged; and H. O.
might wear slippers or something. I can always distinguish the
note of H. O.'s boots.'
We said we would be very quiet, and Father went on -
'This Indian Uncle is not used to children, and he is coming to
talk business with me. It is really important that he should be
quiet. Do you think, Dora, that perhaps bed at six for H. O. and
Noel -'
But H. O. said, 'Father, I really and truly won't make a noise.
I'll stand on my head all the evening sooner than disturb the
Indian Uncle with my boots.'
And Alice said Noel never made a row anyhow. So Father laughed and
said, 'All right.' And he said we might do as we liked with the
half-sovereign. 'Only for goodness' sake don't try to go in for
business with it,' he said. 'It's always a mistake to go into
business with an insufficient capital.'
We talked it over all that evening, and we decided that as we were
not to go into business with our half-sovereign it was no use not
spending it at once, and so we might as well have a right royal
feast. The next day we went out and bought the things. We got
figs, and almonds and raisins, and a real raw rabbit, and Eliza
promised to cook it for us if we would wait till tomorrow, because
of the Indian Uncle coming to dinner. She was very busy cooking
nice things for him to eat. We got the rabbit because we are so
tired of beef and mutton, and Father hasn't a bill at the poultry
shop. And we got some flowers to go on the dinner-table for
Father's party. And we got hardbake and raspberry noyau and
peppermint rock and oranges and a coconut, with other nice things.
We put it all in the top long drawer. It is H. O.'s play drawer,
and we made him turn his things out and put them in Father's old
portmanteau. H. O. is getting old enough now to learn to be
unselfish, and besides, his drawer wanted tidying very badly. Then
we all vowed by the honour of the ancient House of Bastable that we
would not touch any of the feast till Dora gave the word next day.
And we gave H. O. some of the hardbake, to make it easier for him
to keep his vow. The next day was the most rememorable day in all
our lives, but we didn't know that then. But that is another
story. I think that is such a useful way to know when you can't
think how to end up a chapter. I learnt it from another writer
named Kipling. I've mentioned him before, I believe, but he
deserves it!
It was all very well for Father to ask us not to make a row because
the Indian Uncle was coming to talk business, but my young
brother's boots are not the only things that make a noise. We took
his boots away and made him wear Dora's bath slippers, which are
soft and woolly, and hardly any soles to them; and of course we
wanted to see the Uncle, so we looked over the banisters when he
came, and we were as quiet as mice - but when Eliza had let him in
she went straight down to the kitchen and made the most awful row
you ever heard, it sounded like the Day of judgement, or all the
saucepans and crockery in the house being kicked about the floor,
but she told me afterwards it was only the tea-tray and one or two
cups and saucers, that she had knocked over in her flurry. We
heard the Uncle say, 'God bless my soul!' and then he went into
Father's study and the door was shut - we didn't see him properly
at all that time.
I don't believe the dinner was very nice. Something got burned I'm
sure - for we smelt it. It was an extra smell, besides the mutton.
I know that got burned. Eliza wouldn't have any of us in the
kitchen except Dora - till dinner was over. Then we got what was
left of the dessert, and had it on the stairs - just round the
corner where they can't see you from the hall, unless the first
landing gas is lighted. Suddenly the study door opened and the
Uncle came out and went and felt in his greatcoat pocket. It was
his cigar-case he wanted. We saw that afterwards. We got a much
better view of him then. He didn't look like an Indian but just
like a kind of brown, big Englishman, and of course he didn't see
us, but we heard him mutter to himself -
'Shocking bad dinner! Eh! - what?'
When he went back to the study he didn't shut the door properly.
That door has always been a little tiresome since the day we took
the lock off to get out the pencil sharpener H. O. had shoved into
the keyhole. We didn't listen - really and truly - but the Indian
Uncle has a very big voice, and Father was not going to be beaten
by a poor Indian in talking or anything else - so he spoke up too,
like a man, and I heard him say it was a very good business, and
only wanted a little capital - and he said it as if it was an
imposition he had learned, and he hated having to say it. The
Uncle said, 'Pooh, pooh!' to that, and then he said he was afraid
that what that same business wanted was not capital but management.
Then I heard my Father say, 'It is not a pleasant subject: I am
sorry I introduced it. Suppose we change it, sir. Let me fill
your glass.' Then the poor Indian said something about vintage -
and that a poor, broken- down man like he was couldn't be too
careful. And then Father said, 'Well, whisky then,' and afterwards
they talked about Native Races and Imperial something or other and
it got very dull.
So then Oswald remembered that you must not hear what people do not
intend you to hear - even if you are not listening and he said, 'We
ought not to stay here any longer. Perhaps they would not like us
to hear.'
Alice said, 'Oh, do you think it could possibly matter?' and went
and shut the study door softly but quite tight. So it was no use
staying there any longer, and we went to the nursery.
Then Noel said, 'Now I understand. Of course my Father is making
a banquet for the Indian, because he is a poor, broken-down man.
We might have known that from "Lo, the poor Indian!" you know.'
We all agreed with him, and we were glad to have the thing
explained, because we had not understood before what Father wanted
to have people to dinner for - and not let us come in.
'Poor people are very proud,' said Alice, 'and I expect Father
thought the Indian would be ashamed, if all of us children knew how
poor he was.'
Then Dora said, 'Poverty is no disgrace. We should honour honest
And we all agreed that that was so.
'I wish his dinner had not been so nasty,' Dora said, while Oswald
put lumps of coal on the fire with his fingers, so as not to make
a noise. He is a very thoughtful boy, and he did not wipe his
fingers on his trouser leg as perhaps Noel or H. O. would have
done, but he just rubbed them on Dora's handkerchief while she was
'I am afraid the dinner was horrid.' Dora went on. 'The table
looked very nice with the flowers we got. I set it myself, and
Eliza made me borrow the silver spoons and forks from
Albert-next-door's Mother.'
'I hope the poor Indian is honest,' said Dicky gloomily, 'when you
are a poor, broken-down man silver spoons must be a great
Oswald told him not to talk such tommy-rot because the Indian was
a relation, so of course he couldn't do anything dishonourable.
And Dora said it was all right any way, because she had washed up
the spoons and forks herself and counted them, and they were all
there, and she had put them into their wash-leather bag, and taken
them back to Albert-next-door's Mother.
'And the brussels sprouts were all wet and swimmy,' she went on,
'and the potatoes looked grey - and there were bits of black in the
gravy - and the mutton was bluey-red and soft in the middle. I saw
it when it came out. The apple-pie looked very nice - but it
wasn't quite done in the apply part. The other thing that was
burnt - you must have smelt it, was the soup.'
'It is a pity,' said Oswald; 'I don't suppose he gets a good dinner
every day.'
'No more do we,' said H. O., 'but we shall to-morrow.'
I thought of all the things we had bought with our half-sovereign
- the rabbit and the sweets and the almonds and raisins and figs
and the coconut: and I thought of the nasty mutton and things, and
while I was thinking about it all Alice said -
'let's ask the poor Indian to come to dinner with us to-morrow.'
I should have said it myself if she had given me time.
We got the little ones to go to bed by promising to put a note on
their dressing-table saying what had happened, so that they might
know the first thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night
if they happened to wake up, and then we elders arranged
I waited by the back door, and when the Uncle was beginning to go
Dicky was to drop a marble down between the banisters for a signal,
so that I could run round and meet the Uncle as he came out.
This seems like deceit, but if you are a thoughtful and considerate
boy you will understand that we could not go down and say to the
Uncle in the hall under Father's eye, 'Father has given you a
beastly, nasty dinner, but if you will come to dinner with us
tomorrow, we will show you our idea of good things to eat.' You
will see, if you think it over, that this would not have been at
all polite to Father.
So when the Uncle left, Father saw him to the door and let him out,
and then went back to the study, looking very sad, Dora says.
As the poor Indian came down our steps he saw me there at the gate.
I did not mind his being poor, and I said, 'Good evening, Uncle,'
just as politely as though he had been about to ascend into one of
the gilded chariots of the rich and affluent, instead of having to
walk to the station a quarter of a mile in the mud, unless he had
the money for a tram fare.
'Good evening, Uncle.' I said it again, for he stood staring at
me. I don't suppose he was used to politeness from boys - some
boys are anything but - especially to the Aged Poor.
So I said, 'Good evening, Uncle,' yet once again. Then he said -
'Time you were in bed, young man. Eh! - what?'
Then I saw I must speak plainly with him, man to man. So I did.
I said -
'You've been dining with my Father, and we couldn't help hearing
you say the dinner was shocking. So we thought as you're an
Indian, perhaps you're very poor' - I didn't like to tell him we
had heard the dreadful truth from his own lips, so I went on,
'because of "Lo, the poor Indian" - you know - and you can't get a
good dinner every day. And we are very sorry if you're poor; and
won't you come and have dinner with us to-morrow - with us
children, I mean? It's a very, very good dinner - rabbit, and
hardbake, and coconut - and you needn't mind us knowing you re
poor, because we know honourable poverty is no disgrace, and -' I
could have gone on much longer, but he interrupted me to say -
'Upon my word! And what's your name, eh?'
'Oswald Bastable,' I said; and I do hope you people who are reading
this story have not guessed before that I was Oswald all the time.
'Oswald Bastable, eh? Bless my soul!' said the poor Indian. 'Yes,
I'll dine with you, Mr Oswald Bastable, with all the pleasure in
life. Very kind and cordial invitation, I'm sure. Good night,
sir. At one o'clock, I presume?'
'Yes, at one,' I said. 'Good night, sir.'
Then I went in and told the others, and we wrote a paper and put it
on the boy's dressing- table, and it said -
'The poor Indian is coming at one. He seemed very grateful to me
for my kindness.'
We did not tell Father that the Uncle was coming to dinner with us,
for the polite reason that I have explained before. But we had to
tell Eliza; so we said a friend was coming to dinner and we wanted
everything very nice. I think she thought it was Albert-next-door,
but she was in a good temper that day, and she agreed to cook the
rabbit and to make a pudding with currants in it. And when one
o'clock came the Indian Uncle came too. I let him in and helped
him off with his greatcoat, which was all furry inside, and took
him straight to the nursery. We were to have dinner there as
usual, for we had decided from the first that he would enjoy
himself more if he was not made a stranger of. We agreed to treat
him as one of ourselves, because if we were too polite, he might
think it was our pride because he was poor.
He shook hands with us all and asked our ages, and what schools we
went to, and shook his head when we said we were having a holiday
just now. I felt rather uncomfortable - I always do when they talk
about schools - and I couldn't think of anything to say to show him
we meant to treat him as one of ourselves. I did ask if he played
cricket. He said he had not played lately. And then no one said
anything till dinner came in. We had all washed our faces and
hands and brushed our hair before he came in, and we all looked
very nice, especially Oswald, who had had his hair cut that very
morning. When Eliza had brought in the rabbit and gone out again,
we looked at each other in silent despair, like in books. It
seemed as if it were going to be just a dull dinner like the one
the poor Indian had had the night before; only, of course, the
things to eat would be nicer. Dicky kicked Oswald under the table
to make him say something - and he had his new boots on, too! - but
Oswald did not kick back; then the Uncle asked -
'Do you carve, sir, or shall I?'
Suddenly Alice said -
'Would you like grown-up dinner, Uncle, or play-dinner?'
He did not hesitate a moment, but said, 'Play-dinner, by all means.
Eh! - what?' and then we knew it was all right.
So we at once showed the Uncle how to be a dauntless hunter. The
rabbit was the deer we had slain in the green forest with our
trusty yew bows, and we toasted the joints of it, when the Uncle
had carved it, on bits of firewood sharpened to a point. The
Uncle's piece got a little burnt, but he said it was delicious, and
he said game was always nicer when you had killed it yourself.
When Eliza had taken away the rabbit bones and brought in the
pudding, we waited till she had gone out and shut the door, and
then we put the dish down on the floor and slew the pudding in the
dish in the good old-fashioned way. It was a wild boar at bay, and
very hard indeed to kill, even with forks. The Uncle was very
fierce indeed with the pudding, and jumped and howled when he
speared it, but when it came to his turn to be helped, he said,
'No, thank you; think of my liver. Eh! - what?'
But he had some almonds and raisins - when we had climbed to the
top of the chest of drawers to pluck them from the boughs of the
great trees; and he had a fig from the cargo that the rich
merchants brought in their ship - the long drawer was the ship -
and the rest of us had the sweets and the coconut. It was a very
glorious and beautiful feast, and when it was over we said we hoped
it was better than the dinner last night. And he said:
'I never enjoyed a dinner more.' He was too polite to say what he
really thought about Father's dinner. And we saw that though he
might be poor, he was a true gentleman.
He smoked a cigar while we finished up what there was left to eat,
and told us about tiger shooting and about elephants. We asked him
about wigwams, and wampum, and mocassins, and beavers, but he did
not seem to know, or else he was shy about talking of the wonders
of his native land.
We liked him very much indeed, and when he was going at last, Alice
nudged me, and I said - 'There's one and threepence farthing left
out of our half-sovereign. Will you take it, please, because we do
like you very much indeed, and we don't want it, really; and we
would rather you had it.' And I put the money into his hand.
'I'll take the threepenny-bit,' he said, turning the money over and
looking at it, 'but I couldn't rob you of the rest. By the way,
where did you get the money for this most royal spread - half a
sovereign you said - eh, what?'
We told him all about the different ways we had looked for
treasure, and when we had been telling some time he sat down, to
listen better and at last we told him how Alice had played at
divining-rod, and how it really had found a half-sovereign.
Then he said he would like to see her do it again. But we
explained that the rod would only show gold and silver, and that we
were quite sure there was no more gold in the house, because we
happened to have looked very carefully.
'Well, silver, then,' said he; 'let's hide the plate-basket, and
little Alice shall make the divining-rod find it. Eh! - what?'
'There isn't any silver in the plate-basket now,' Dora said.
'Eliza asked me to borrow the silver spoons and forks for your
dinner last night from Albert-next-door's Mother. Father never
notices, but she thought it would be nicer for you. Our own silver
went to have the dents taken out; and I don't think Father could
afford to pay the man for doing it, for the silver hasn't come
'Bless my soul!' said the Uncle again, looking at the hole in the
big chair that we burnt when we had Guy Fawkes' Day indoors. 'And
how much pocket-money do you get? Eh! - what?'
'We don't have any now,' said Alice; 'but indeed we don't want the
other shilling. We'd much rather you had it, wouldn't we?'
And the rest of us said, 'Yes.' The Uncle wouldn't take it, but he
asked a lot of questions, and at last he went away. And when he
went he said -
'Well, youngsters, I've enjoyed myself very much. I shan't forget
your kind hospitality. Perhaps the poor Indian may be in a
position to ask you all to dinner some day.'
Oswald said if he ever could we should like to come very much, but
he was not to trouble to get such a nice dinner as ours, because we
could do very well with cold mutton and rice pudding. We do not
like these things, but Oswald knows how to behave. Then the poor
Indian went away.
We had not got any treasure by this party, but we had had a very
good time, and I am sure the Uncle enjoyed himself.
We were so sorry he was gone that we could none of us eat much tea;
but we did not mind, because we had pleased the poor Indian and
enjoyed ourselves too. Besides, as Dora said, 'A contented mind is
a continual feast,' so it did not matter about not wanting tea.
Only H. O. did not seem to think a continual feast was a contented
mind, and Eliza gave him a powder in what was left of the
red-currant jelly Father had for the nasty dinner.
But the rest of us were quite well, and I think it must have been
the coconut with H. O. We hoped nothing had disagreed with the
Uncle, but we never knew.
Now it is coming near the end of our treasure-seeking, and the end
was so wonderful that now nothing is like It used to be. It is
like as if our fortunes had been in an earthquake, and after those,
you know, everything comes out wrong-way up.
The day after the Uncle speared the pudding with us opened in gloom
and sadness. But you never know. It was destined to be a day when
things happened. Yet no sign of this appeared in the early
morning. Then all was misery and upsetness. None of us felt quite
well; I don't know why: and Father had one of his awful colds, so
Dora persuaded him not to go to London, but to stay cosy and warm
in the study, and she made him some gruel. She makes it better
than Eliza does; Eliza's gruel is all little lumps, and when you
suck them it is dry oatmeal inside.
We kept as quiet as we could, and I made H. O. do some lessons,
like the G. B. had advised us to. But it was very dull. There are
some days when you seem to have got to the end of all the things
that could ever possibly happen to you, and you feel you will spend
all the rest of your life doing dull things just the same way.
Days like this are generally wet days. But, as I said, you never
Then Dicky said if things went on like this he should run away to
sea, and Alice said she thought it would be rather nice to go into
a convent. H. O. was a little disagreeable because of the powder
Eliza had given him, so he tried to read two books at once, one
with each eye, just because Noel wanted one of the books, which was
very selfish of him, so it only made his headache worse. H. O. is
getting old enough to learn by experience that it is wrong to be
selfish, and when he complained about his head Oswald told him
whose fault it was, because I am older than he is, and it is my
duty to show him where he is wrong. But he began to cry, and then
Oswald had to cheer him up because of Father wanting to be quiet.
So Oswald said -
'They'll eat H. O. if you don't look out!' And Dora said Oswald
was too bad.
Of course Oswald was not going to interfere again, so he went to
look out of the window and see the trams go by, and by and by H. O.
came and looked out too, and Oswald, who knows when to be generous
and forgiving, gave him a piece of blue pencil and two nibs, as
good as new, to keep.
As they were looking out at the rain splashing on the stones in the
street they saw a four-wheeled cab come lumbering up from the way
the station is. Oswald called out -
'Here comes the coach of the Fairy Godmother. It'll stop here, you
see if it doesn't!'
So they all came to the window to look. Oswald had only said that
about stopping and he was stricken with wonder and amaze when the
cab really did stop. It had boxes on the top and knobby parcels
sticking out of the window, and it was something like going away to
the seaside and something like the gentleman who takes things about
in a carriage with the wooden shutters up, to sell to the drapers'
shops. The cabman got down, and some one inside handed out ever so
many parcels of different shapes and sizes, and the cabman stood
holding them in his arms and grinning over them.
Dora said, 'It is a pity some one doesn't tell him this isn't the
house.' And then from inside the cab some one put out a foot
feeling for the step, like a tortoise's foot coming out from under
his shell when you are holding him off the ground, and then a leg
came and more parcels, and then Noel cried -
'It's the poor Indian!'
And it was.
Eliza opened the door, and we were all leaning over the banisters.
Father heard the noise of parcels and boxes in the hall, and he
came out without remembering how bad his cold was. If you do that
yourself when you have a cold they call you careless and naughty.
Then we heard the poor Indian say to Father -
'I say, Dick, I dined with your kids yesterday - as I daresay
they've told you. jolliest little cubs I ever saw! Why didn't you
let me see them the other night? The eldest is the image of poor
Janey - and as to young Oswald, he's a man! If he's not a man, I'm
a nigger! Eh! - what? And Dick, I say, I shouldn't wonder if I
could find a friend to put a bit into that business of yours - eh?'
Then he and Father went into the study and the door was shut - and
we went down and looked at the parcels. Some were done up in old,
dirty newspapers, and tied with bits of rag, and some were in brown
paper and string from the shops, and there were boxes. We wondered
if the Uncle had come to stay and this was his luggage, or whether
it was to sell. Some of it smelt of spices, like merchandise - and
one bundle Alice felt certain was a bale. We heard a hand on the
knob of the study door after a bit, and Alice said -
'Fly!' and we all got away but H. O., and the Uncle caught him by
the leg as he was trying to get upstairs after us.
'Peeping at the baggage, eh?' said the Uncle, and the rest of us
came down because it would have been dishonourable to leave H. O.
alone in a scrape, and we wanted to see what was in the parcels.
'I didn't touch,' said H. O. 'Are you coming to stay? I hope you
'No harm done if you did touch,' said the good, kind, Indian man to
all of us. 'For all these parcels are for you.'
I have several times told you about our being dumb with amazement
and terror and joy, and things like that, but I never remember us
being dumber than we were when he said this.
The Indian Uncle went on: 'I told an old friend of mine what a
pleasant dinner I had with you, and about the threepenny-bit, and
the divining-rod, and all that, and he sent all these odds and ends
as presents for you. Some of the things came from India.'
'Have you come from India, Uncle?' Noel asked; and when he said
'Yes' we were all very much surprised, for we never thought of his
being that sort of Indian. We thought he was the Red kind, and of
course his not being accounted for his ignorance of beavers and
He got Eliza to help, and we took all the parcels into the nursery
and he undid them and undid them and undid them, till the papers
lay thick on the floor. Father came too and sat in the Guy Fawkes
chair. I cannot begin to tell you all the things that kind friend
of Uncle's had sent us. He must be a very agreeable person.
There were toys for the kids and model engines for Dick and me, and
a lot of books, and Japanese china tea-sets for the girls, red and
white and gold - there were sweets by the pound and by the box -
and long yards and yards of soft silk from India, to make frocks
for the girls - and a real Indian sword for Oswald and a book of
Japanese pictures for Noel, and some ivory chess men for Dicky: the
castles of the chessmen are elephant-and-castles. There is a
railway station called that; I never knew what it meant before.
The brown paper and string parcels had boxes of games in them - and
big cases of preserved fruits and things. And the shabby old
newspaper parcels and the boxes had the Indian things in. I never
saw so many beautiful things before. There were carved fans and
silver bangles and strings of amber beads, and necklaces of uncut
gems - turquoises and garnets, the Uncle said they were - and
shawls and scarves of silk, and cabinets of brown and gold, and
ivory boxes and silver trays, and brass things. The Uncle kept
saying, 'This is for you, young man,' or 'Little Alice will like
this fan,'or 'Miss Dora would look well in this green silk, I
think. Eh! - what?'
And Father looked on as if it was a dream, till the Uncle suddenly
gave him an ivory paper-knife and a box of cigars, and said, 'My
old friend sent you these, Dick; he's an old friend of yours too,
he says.' And he winked at my Father, for H. O. and I saw him.
And my Father winked back, though he has always told us not to.
That was a wonderful day. It was a treasure, and no mistake! I
never saw such heaps and heaps of presents, like things out of a
fairy-tale - and even Eliza had a shawl. Perhaps she deserved it,
for she did cook the rabbit and the pudding; and Oswald says it is
not her fault if her nose turns up and she does not brush her hair.
I do not think Eliza likes brushing things. It is the same with
the carpets. But Oswald tries to make allowances even for people
who do not wash their ears.
The Indian Uncle came to see us often after that, and his friend
always sent us something. Once he tipped us a sovereign each - the
Uncle brought it; and once he sent us money to go to the Crystal
Palace, and the Uncle took us; and another time to a circus; and
when Christmas was near the Uncle said -
'You remember when I dined with you, some time ago, you promised to
dine with me some day, if I could ever afford to give a
dinner-party. Well, I'm going to have one - a Christmas party.
Not on Christmas Day, because every one goes home then - but on the
day after. Cold mutton and rice pudding. You'll come? Eh! -
We said we should be delighted, if Father had no objection, because
that is the proper thing to say, and the poor Indian, I mean the
Uncle, said, 'No, your Father won't object - he's coming too, bless
your soul!'
We all got Christmas presents for the Uncle. The girls made him a
handkerchief case and a comb bag, out of some of the pieces of silk
he had given them. I got him a knife with three blades; H. O. got
a siren whistle, a very strong one, and Dicky joined with me in the
knife, and Noel would give the Indian ivory box that Uncle's friend
had sent on the wonderful Fairy Cab day. He said it was the very
nicest thing he had, and he was sure Uncle wouldn't mind his not
having bought it with his own money.
I think Father's business must have got better - perhaps Uncle's
friend put money in it and that did it good, like feeding the
starving. Anyway we all had new suits, and the girls had the green
silk from India made into frocks, and on Boxing Day we went in two
cabs - Father and the girls in one, and us boys in the other.
We wondered very much where the Indian Uncle lived, because we had
not been told. And we thought when the cab began to go up the hill
towards the Heath that perhaps the Uncle lived in one of the poky
little houses up at the top of Greenwich. But the cab went right
over the Heath and in at some big gates, and through a shrubbery
all white with frost like a fairy forest, because it was Christmas
time. And at last we stopped before one of those jolly, big, ugly
red houses with a lot of windows, that are so comfortable inside,
and on the steps was the Indian Uncle, looking very big and grand,
in a blue cloth coat and yellow sealskin waistcoat, with a bunch of
seals hanging from it.
'I wonder whether he has taken a place as butler here?' said Dicky.
'A poor, broken-down man -'
Noel thought it was very likely, because he knew that in these big
houses there were always thousands of stately butlers.
The Uncle came down the steps and opened the cab door himself,
which I don't think butlers would expect to have to do. And he
took us in. It was a lovely hall, with bear and tiger skins on the
floor, and a big clock with the faces of the sun and moon dodging
out when it was day or night, and Father Time with a scythe coming
out at the hours, and the name on it was 'Flint. Ashford. 1776';
and there was a fox eating a stuffed duck in a glass case, and
horns of stags and other animals over the doors.
'We'll just come into my study first,' said the Uncle, 'and wish
each other a Merry Christmas.' So then we knew he wasn't the
butler, but it must be his own house, for only the master of the
house has a study.
His study was not much like Father's. It had hardly any books, but
swords and guns and newspapers and a great many boots, and boxes
half unpacked, with more Indian things bulging out of them.
We gave him our presents and he was awfully pleased. Then he gave
us his Christmas presents. You must be tired of hearing about
presents, but I must remark that all the Uncle's presents were
watches; there was a watch for each of us, with our names engraved
inside, all silver except H. O.'s, and that was a Waterbury, 'To
match his boots,' the Uncle said. I don't know what he meant.
Then the Uncle looked at Father, and Father said, 'You tell them,
So the Uncle coughed and stood up and made a speech. He said -
'Ladies and gentlemen, we are met together to discuss an important
subject which has for some
weeks engrossed the attention of the honourable member opposite and
I said, 'Hear, hear,' and Alice whispered, 'What happened to the
guinea-pig?' Of course you know the answer to that.
The Uncle went on -
'I am going to live in this house, and as it's rather big for me,
your Father has agreed that he and you shall come and live with me.
And so, if you're agreeable, we're all going to live here together,
and, please God, it'll be a happy home for us all. Eh! - what?'
He blew his nose and kissed us all round. As it was Christmas I
did not mind, though I am much too old for it on other dates. Then
he said, 'Thank you all very much for your presents; but I've got
a present here I value more than anything else I have.'
I thought it was not quite polite of him to say so, till I saw that
what he valued so much was a threepenny-bit on his watch-chain,
and, of course, I saw it must be the one we had given him.
He said, 'You children gave me that when you thought I was the poor
Indian, and I'll keep it as long as I live. And I've asked some
friends to help us to be jolly, for this is our house-warming. Eh!
- what?'
Then he shook Father by the hand, and they blew their noses; and
then Father said, 'Your Uncle has been most kind - most -'
But Uncle interrupted by saying, 'Now, Dick, no nonsense!'
Then H. O. said, 'Then you're not poor at all?' as if he were very
The Uncle replied, 'I have enough for my simple wants, thank you,
H. O.; and your Father's business will provide him with enough for
yours. Eh! - what?'
Then we all went down and looked at the fox thoroughly, and made
the Uncle take the glass off so that we could see it all round and
then the Uncle took us all over the house, which is the most
comfortable one I have ever been in. There is a beautiful portrait
of Mother in Father's sitting-room. The Uncle must be very rich
indeed. This ending is like what happens in Dickens's books; but
I think it was much jollier to happen like a book, and it shows
what a nice man the Uncle is, the way he did it all.
Think how flat it would have been if the Uncle had said, when we
first offered him the one and threepence farthing, 'Oh, I don't
want your dirty one and three-pence! I'm very rich indeed.'
Instead of which he saved up the news of his wealth till Christmas,
and then told us all in one glorious burst. Besides, I can't help
it if it is like Dickens, because it happens this way. Real life
is often something like books.
Presently, when we had seen the house, we were taken into the
drawing-room, and there was Mrs Leslie, who gave us the shillings
and wished us good hunting, and Lord Tottenham, and
Albert-next-door's Uncle - and Albert-next-door, and his Mother
(I'm not very fond of her), and best of all our own Robber and his
two kids, and our Robber had a new suit on. The Uncle told us he
had asked the people who had been kind to us, and Noel said, 'Where
is my noble editor that I wrote the poetry to?'
The Uncle said he had not had the courage to ask a strange editor
to dinner; but Lord Tottenham was an old friend of Uncle's, and he
had introduced Uncle to Mrs Leslie, and that was how he had the
pride and pleasure of welcoming her to our house-warming. And he
made her a bow like you see on a Christmas card.
Then Alice asked, 'What about Mr Rosenbaum? He was kind; it would
have been a pleasant surprise for him.'
But everybody laughed, and Uncle said -
'Your father has paid him the sovereign he lent you. I don't think
he could have borne another pleasant surprise.'
And I said there was the butcher, and he was really kind; but they
only laughed, and Father said you could not ask all your business
friends to a private dinner.
Then it was dinner-time, and we thought of Uncle's talk about cold
mutton and rice. But it was a beautiful dinner, and I never saw
such a dessert! We had ours on plates to take away into another
sitting-room, which was much jollier than sitting round the table
with the grown-ups. But the Robber's kids stayed with their
Father. They were very shy and frightened, and said hardly
anything, but looked all about with very bright eyes. H. O.
thought they were like white mice; but afterwards we got to know
them very well, and in the end they were not so mousy. And there
is a good deal of interesting stuff to tell about them; but I shall
put all that in another book, for there is no room for it in this
one. We played desert islands all the afternoon and drank Uncle's
health in ginger wine. It was H. O. that upset his over Alice's
green silk dress, and she never even rowed him. Brothers ought not
to have favourites, and Oswald would never be so mean as to have a
favourite sister, or, if he had, wild horses should not make him
tell who it was.
And now we are to go on living in the big house on the Heath, and
it is very jolly.
Mrs Leslie often comes to see us, and our own Robber and
Albert-next-door's uncle. The Indian Uncle likes him because he
has been in India too and is brown; but our Uncle does not like
Albert-next-door. He says he is a muff. And I am to go to Rugby,
and so are Noel and H. O., and perhaps to Balliol afterwards.
Balliol is my Father's college. It has two separate coats of arms,
which many other colleges are not allowed. Noel is going to be a
poet and Dicky wants to go into Father's business.
The Uncle is a real good old sort; and just think, we should never
have found him if we hadn't made up our minds to be Treasure
Seekers! Noel made a poem about it -
Lo! the poor Indian from lands afar,
Comes where the treasure seekers are;
We looked for treasure, but we find
The best treasure of all is the Uncle good and kind.
I thought it was rather rot, but Alice would show it to the Uncle,
and he liked it very much. He kissed Alice and he smacked Noel on
the back, and he said, 'I don't think I've done so badly either, if
you come to that, though I was never a regular professional
treasure seeker. Eh! - what?'

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