The Angels’ Music


Ellen Wood

First published in The Argosy, February 1876.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

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The Angels’ Music.

1.

How the Squire came to give in to it, was beyond the ken of mortal man. Tod turned crusty; called the young ones all the hard names in the dictionary, and said he should go out for the night. But he did not.

“Just like her!” cried he, with a fling at Mrs. Todhetley. “Always devising some rubbish or other to gratify the little reptiles!”

The “little reptiles” applied to the school children at North Crabb. They generally had a treat at Christmas; and this year Mrs. Todhetley said she would like it to be given by us, at Crabb Cot, if the Squire did not object to stand the evening’s uproar. After vowing for a day that he wouldn’t hear of it, the Squire (to our astonishment) gave in, and said they might come. It was only the girls: the boys had their treat later on, when they could go in for out-of-door sports. After the pater’s concession, she and the school-mistress, Miss Timmens, were as busy planning-out the arrangements as two bees in a honeysuckle field.

The evening fixed upon was the last in the old year—a Thursday. And the preparations seemed to me to be in full flow from the previous Monday. Molly made her plum-cakes and loaves on the Wednesday; on the Thursday after breakfast, her mistress went to the kitchen to help her with the pork-pies and the tartlets. To judge by the quantity provided, the school would require nothing more for a week to come.

The Squire went over to Islip on some matter of business, taking Tod with him. Our children, Hugh and Lena, were spending the day with the little Letsoms, who would come back with them for the treat; so we had the house to ourselves. The white deal ironing-board under the kitchen window was raised on its iron legs; before it stood Mrs. Todhetley and Molly, busy with the mysteries of pastry-making and patty-pan filling. I sat on the edge of the board, looking on. The small savoury pies were done, and in the act of baking, a tray-load at a time; every now and then Molly darted into the back kitchen, where the oven was, to look after them. For two days the snow had come down thickly; it was falling still in great flakes; far and near, the landscape showed white and bright.

“Johnny, if you will persist in eating the jam, I shall have to send you away.”

“Put the jar on the other side then, good mother.”

“Ugh! Much jam Master Johnny would leave for the tarts, let him have his way,” struck in Molly, more crusty than her own pastry, when I declare I had only dipped the wrong end of the fork in three or four times. The jam was not hers.

“Mind you don’t give the young ones bread-and-scrape, Molly,” I retorted, catching sight of no end of butter-pats through the open door. At which advice she only threw up her head.

“Who is this, coming up through the snow?” cried the mater.

I turned to the window and made it out to be Mrs. Trewin: a meek little woman who had seen better days, and tried to get her living as a dressmaker since the death of her husband. She had not been good for very much since: never seemed quite to get over the shock. Going out one morning, as usual, to his duties as an office clerk, he was brought home dead. Killed by an accident. It was eighteen months ago now, but Mrs. Trewin wore deep mourning still.

Not standing upon ceremony down in our country, Mrs. Todhetley had her brought into the kitchen, going on with the tartlets all the same, while she talked. Mrs. Trewin was making a frock for Lena, and had come up to say that the trimming ran short. The mater told her she was too busy to see to it then, and was very sorry she had come through the snow for such a trifle.

“’Twas not much further, ma’am,” was her answer: “I had to go out to the school to fetch home Nettie. The path is so slippery, through the boys making slides, that I don’t altogether like to trust the child to go to and fro to school by herself.”

“As if Nettie would come to any harm, Mrs. Trewin!” I put in. “If she went down, it would only be a Christmas gambol.”

“Accidents happen so unexpectedly, sir,” she answered, a shadow crossing her sad face. And I was sorry to have said it: it had put her in mind of her husband.

“You are coming up this evening, you know, Mrs. Trewin,” said mother. “Don’t be late.”

“It is very good of you to have asked me, ma’am,” she answered gratefully. “I said so to Miss Timmens. I’m sure it will be something new to have such a treat. Nettie, poor child, will enjoy it too.”

Molly came banging in with a tray of pork-pies, just out of the oven. The mater told Mrs. Trewin to take one, and offered her a glass of beer.

But, instead of eating the pie, she wrapped it in paper to take with her home, and declined the beer, lest it should give her a headache for the evening.

So Mrs. Trewin took her departure; and, under cover of it, I helped myself to another of the pork-pies. Weren’t they good! After that the morning went on again, and the tart-making with it.

The last of the paste was being used up, the last of the jam jars stood open, and the clock told us that it was getting on for one, when we had another visitor: Miss Timmens, the schoolmistress. She came in, stamping the snow from her shoes on the mat, her thin figure clad in an old long cloth cloak, and the chronic redness in her face turned purple.

“My word! It is a day, ma’am, this is!” she exclaimed.

“And what have you come through it for?” asked Mrs. Todhetley. “About the forms? Why, I sent word to you by Luke Mackintosh that they would be fetched at two o’clock.”

“He never came, then,” said Miss Timmens, irate at Luke’s negligence. “That Mackintosh is not worth his salt. What delicious-looking tartlets!” exclaimed she, as she sat down. “And what a lot of them!”

“Try one,” said the mother. “Johnny, hand them to Miss Timmens, and a plate.”

“That silly Sarah Trewin has gone and tumbled down,” cried Miss Timmens, as she thanked me and took the plate and one of the tartlets. “Went and slipped upon a slide near the school-house. What a delicious tart!”

“Sarah Trewin!” cried the mater, turning round from the board. “Why, she was here an hour ago. Has she hurt herself?”

“Just bruised all the one side of her black and blue, from her shoulder to her ankle,” answered Miss Timmens. “Those unruly boys have made slides all over the place, ma’am; and Sarah Trewin must needs go down upon one, not looking, I suppose, to her feet. She had only just turned out of the schoolroom with Nettie.”

“Dear, dear! And she is so unable to bear a fall!”

“Of course it might have been worse, for there are no bones broken,” remarked Miss Timmens. “As to Nettie, the child was nearly frightened out of her senses; she’s sobbing and crying still. Never was such a timid child as that.”

“Will Sarah Trewin be able to come this evening?”

“Not she, ma’am. She’ll be as stiff as buckram for days to come. I’d like to pay out those boys—making their slides on the pathway and endangering people’s lives! Nicol’s not half strict enough with them; and I’m tired of telling him so. Tiresome, rude monkeys! Not that my girls are a degree better: they’d go down all the slides in the parish, let ’em have their way. What with them, and what with these fantastical notions of the new parson, I’m sure my life’s a martyrdom.”

The mother smiled over her pastry. Miss Timmens and the parson, civilly polite to one another, were mentally at daggers drawn.

The time I am writing of was before the movement, set in of later years, for giving the masses the same kind of education as their betters; but our new parson at Crabb was before his age in these ideas. To experienced Miss Timmens, and to a great many more clear-sighted people, the best word that could be given to the movement was “fantastical.”

“He came in yesterday afternoon at dusk,” she resumed, “when I was holding my Bible Class. ‘And what has been the course of instruction today, Miss Timmens?’ asked he, as mild as new milk, all the girls gaping and staring around him. ‘It has been reading, and writing, and summing, and spelling, and sewing,’ said I, giving him the catalogue in full: ‘and now I’m trying to teach them their duty to Heaven and to one another. And according to my old-fashioned notion, sir,’ I summed up, ‘if a poor girl acquires these matters thoroughly, she is a deal more fitted to go through life in the station to which God has called her (as the catechism says), than she would be if you gave her a course of fine mincing uppishness, with your poetry and your drawing and your embroidery.’ Oh, he gets his answer from me, ma’am.”

“Mr. Bruce may be kind and enlightened, and all that,” spoke Mrs. Todhetley, “but he certainly seems inclined to carry his ideas beyond reasonable bounds, so far as regards these poor peasant children.”

“Reasonable!” repeated Miss Timmens, catching up the word, and rubbing her sharp nose with excitement: “why, the worst is, that there’s no reason in it. Not a jot. The parson’s mind has gone a little bit off its balance, ma’am; that’s my firm conviction. This exalted education applied to young ladies would be all right and proper: but where can be the use of it to these poor girls? What good will his accomplishments, his branches of grand learning do them? His conchology and meteorology, and all the rest of his ologies? Of what service will it be to them in future?”

“I’d have got my living nicely, I guess, if I’d been taught them things,” satirically struck in Molly, unable to keep her tongue still any longer. “A fine cook I should ha’ made!—kept all my places a beautiful length of time; I wouldn’t come with such flighty talk to the Squire, Miss Timmens, if ’twas me.”

“The talk’s other people’s; it isn’t mine,” fired Miss Timmens, turning her wrath on Molly. “That is, the notions are. You had better attend to your baking, Molly.”

“So I had,” said Molly. “Baking’s more in my line than them other foreign jerks. But well I should have knowed how to do it if my mind had been cocketed up with the learning that’s only fit for lords and ladies.”

“Is not that my argument?” retorted Miss Timmens, flinging the last word after her as she went out to her oven. “Poor girls were sent into the world to work, ma’am, not to play at being fine scholars,” she added to Mrs. Todhetley, as she got up to leave. “And, as sure as we are born, this new dodge of education, if it ever gets a footing, will turn the country upside down.”

“I’m sure I hope not,” replied the mother in her mild way. “Take another tart, Miss Timmens. These are currant and raspberry.”

2.

The company began to arrive at four o’clock. The snow had ceased to fall; it was a fine, cold, clear evening, the moon very bright. A large store-room at the back of the house had been cleared out, and a huge fire made in it. The walls were decorated with evergreens, and tin sconces holding candles; benches from the school-house were ranged underneath them. This was to be the principal play-room, but the other rooms were open. Mrs. Hill (formerly Mrs. Garth, who had not so very long before lost poor David) and Maria Lease came up by invitation to help Miss Timmens with the children; and Mrs. Trewin would have come but for her fall on the slide. Miss Timmens appeared in full feather: a purple gown of shot silk, with a red waist-band, and red holly berries in her lace cap. The children, timid at first, sat round on the forms in prim stillness, just like so many mice.

By far the most timid of all was a gentle little thing of seven years old, got up like a lady; white frock, black sash and sleeve ribbons. She was delicate-featured, blue-eyed, had curling flaxen hair. It was Nettie Trewin. Far superior she looked to all of them; out of place, in fact, amongst so many coarser natures. Her little arm and hand trembled as she clung to Miss Timmens’ gown.

“Senseless little thing,” cried Miss Timmens, “to be afraid in a beautiful room like this, and with all these kind friends around her! Would you believe it, Mr. Johnny, that I could hardly get her here? Afraid, she said, to come without mother!”

“Oh, Nettie! Why, you are going to have lots of fun! Is mother better this evening?”

“Yes,” whispered Nettie, venturing to take a peep at me through her wet eyelashes.

The order of the day was this. Tea at once, consisting of as much bread-and-butter and plum-cake as they could eat; games afterwards. The savoury pies and tartlets later on; more cake to wind up with, which, if they had no room for, they might carry home.

After all signs of tea had disappeared, and our neighbours, the Coneys, had come in, and several round rings were seated on the floor at “Hunt-the-Slipper,” I, chancing to draw within earshot, found Miss Timmens had opened out her grievance to the Squire—the parson’s interference with the school.

“It would be reversing the proper and natural order of things, as I look upon it,” she was saying, “to give an exalted education to those who must get their living by the sweat of their brow; as servants, and what not. Do you think so, sir?”

“Think so! of course I think so,” spluttered the Squire, taking up the subject hotly as usual. “It’s good for them to read and write well, to add up figures, and know how to sew and clean, and wash and iron. That’s the learning they want, whether they are to pass their lives serving in families, or as the wives of working men.”

“Yes, sir,” acquiesced Miss Timmens, in a glow of satisfaction; “but you may as well try to beat common sense into a broomstick as into Mr. Bruce. The other day—what, is it you again, Nettie!” she broke off, as the little white-robed child sidled up and hid her head in what appeared to be her haven of refuge—the folds of the purple gown. “Never was such a child as this, for shyness. When put to play with the rest, she’ll not stay with them. What do you think you are good for?”—rather wrathfully. “Do you suppose the gentlefolk are going to eat you, Nettie?”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, little lassie. What child is it?” added the Squire, struck with her appearance.

“Tell your name to the Squire,” said Miss Timmens, with authority. And the little one lifted her pretty blue eyes appealingly to his face, as if beseeching him not to bite her.

“It’s Nettie Trewin, sir,” she said in a whisper.

“Dear me! Is that poor Trewin’s child! She has a look of her father too. A delicate little maid.”

“And silly also,” added Miss Timmens. “You came here to play, you know, Nettie; not hide your face. What are they all stirring at, now? Oh, going to have ‘Puss-inthe-corner.’ You can play at that, Nettie. Here, Jane Bright! Take Nettie with you and attend to her. Find her a corner: she has not had any play at all.”

A tall, awkward girl stepped up: slouching shoulders, narrow forehead, stolid features, coarse hair all ruffled; thick legs, thick boots—Miss Jane Bright. She seized Nettie’s hand.

“Yes, sir, you are right: the child is a delicate, dainty little thing, quite a contrast to most of these other girls,” resumed Miss Timmens, in answer to the Squire. “Look at that one who has just fetched Nettie away: she is only a type of the rest. They come, most of them, of coarse, stupid parents, and will be no better to the end of the chapter, whatever education you may try to hammer into them. As I said to Mr. Bruce the other day when—— Well, I never! There he is!”

The young parson caught her eye, as he was looming in. Long coat, clerical waistcoat, no white tie to speak of round his bare neck; quite à la mode. The new fashions and the new notions that Mr. Bruce went in for, were not at all understood at North Crabb.

The Squire had gone on at first against the party; but no face was more sunshiny than his, now that he was in the thick of it. A select few of the children, with ours and the little Lawsons, had appropriated the dining-room for “Hunt-the-Whistle.” The pater chanced to look in just before it began, and we got him to be the hunter. I shall never forget it as long as I live. I don’t believe I had ever laughed as much before. He did not know the play, or the trick of it: and to see him whirling himself about in search of the whistle as it was blown behind his back, now seizing on this bold whistler, believing he or she must be in possession of the whistle, and now on that one, all unconscious that the whistle was fastened to the back button of his own coat; and to look at the puzzled wonder of his face as to where the whistle could possibly be, and how it contrived to elude his grasp, was something to be remembered. The shrieks of laughter might have been heard down at the Ravine. Tod had to sit on the floor and hold his sides; Tom Coney was in convulsions.

“Ah—I—ah—what do you think, Mr. Todhetley?” began Bruce, with his courteous drawl, catching the Squire, as he emerged later, red and steaming, from the whistle-hunt. “Suppose I collect these young ones around me and give them a quarter-of-an-hour’s lecture on pneumatics? I’ve been getting up the subject a little.”

“Pneumatics be hanged!” burst forth the pater, more emphatically than politely, when he had taken a puzzled stare at the parson. “The young ones have come here to play, not to have their brains addled. Be shot if I quite know myself what ‘pneumatics’ means. I beg your pardon, Bruce. You mean well, I know.”

“Pneumatics!” repeated old Coney, taking time to digest the word. “Don’t you think, parson, that’s more in the department of the Astronomer Royal?”

One required a respite after the whistle-hunt. I put my back against the wall in the large room, and watched the different sets of long tails, then pulling fiercely at “Oranges and Lemons.” Mrs. Hill and Maria Lease sat side by side on one of the benches, both looking as sad as might be, their memories, no doubt, buried in the past. Maria Lease had never, so to say, worn a smiling countenance since the dreadful end of Daniel Ferrar.

A commotion! Half-a-dozen of the “lemons,” pulling too fiercely, had come to grief on the ground. Maria went to the rescue.

“I was just thinking of poor David, sir,” Mrs. Hill said to me, with a sigh. “How he would have enjoyed this scene: so merry and bright!”

“But he is in a brighter scene than this, you know.”

“Yes, Master Johnny, I do know it,” she said, tears trickling slowly down her cheeks. “Where he is, all things are beautiful.”

In her palmy days Mrs. Todhetley used to sing a song, of which this was the first verse:—

“All that’s bright must fade,

The brightest still the fleetest;

All that’s sweet was made

But to be lost when sweetest.”

Mrs. Hill’s words brought this song to my memory, and with it the damping reminder that nothing lasts in this world, whether of pleasure or brightness. All things must fade, or die: but in that better life to come they will last for ever. And David had entered upon it.


“Now, where’s that senseless little Nettie?”

The words, spoken sharply, came from Miss Timmens. But if she did possess a sharp-toned tongue, she was good and kind at heart. The young crew were sitting down at the long table to the savoury pies and tartlets; Miss Timmens, taking stock of them, missed Nettie.

“Jane Bright, go and find Nettie Trewin.”

Not daring to disobey the curt command, but looking as though she feared her portion of the good things would be eaten up during her absence, Jane Bright disappeared. Back she came in a brace of shakes, saying Nettie “was not there.”

“Maria Lease, where’s Nettie Trewin?” asked Miss Timmens.

Maria turned from the table. “Nettie Trewin?” she repeated, looking about her. “I don’t know. She must be somewhere or other.”

“I wish to goodness you’d find her then.”

Maria Lease could not see anything of the child. “Nettie Trewin” was called out high and low; but it brought forth no response. The servants were sent to look over the house, with no better result.

“She is hiding somewhere in her shyness,” said Miss Timmens. “I have a great mind to punish her for this.”

“She can’t have got into the rain-water butt?” suggested the Squire. “Molly, go and look.”

It was not very likely: as the barrel was quite six feet high. But, as the Squire once got into the water-butt to hid himself when he was a climbing youngster, and had reasons for anticipating a whipping, his thoughts naturally flew to it.

“Well, she must be somewhere,” cried he when we laughed at him. “She could not sink through the floor.”

“Who saw her last?” repeated Miss Timmens. “Do you hear, children? Just stop eating for a minute, and answer.”

Much discussion—doubt—cross-questioning. The whole lot seemed to be nearly as stupid as owls. At last, so far as could be gathered, none of them had noticed Nettie since they began “Puss-inthe-corner.”

“Jane Bright, I told you to take Nettie to play with the rest, and to find her a corner. What did you do with her?”

Jane Bright commenced her answer by essaying to take a sly bite at her pie. Miss Timmens stopped her midway, and turned her from the table to face the company.

“Do you hear me? Now don’t stand staring like a gaby! Just answer.”

Like a “gaby” did Jane Bright stand: mouth wide open, eyes round, countenance bewildered.

“Please, governess, I didn’t do nothing with her.”

“You must have done something with her: you held her hand.”

“I didn’t do nothing,” repeated the girl, shaking her head stolidly.

“Now, that won’t do, Jane Bright. Where did you leave her?”

“’Twas in the corner,” answered Jane Bright, apparently making desperate efforts of memory. “When I was Puss, and runned across and came back again, I didn’t see her there.”

“Surely, the child has not stolen out by herself and run off home!” cried Mrs. Coney: and the schoolmistress took up the suggestion.

“It is the very thought that has been in my mind the last minute or two,” avowed she. “Yes, Mrs. Coney, that’s it, depend upon it. She has decamped through the snow and gone back to her mother’s.”

“Then she has gone without her things,” interposed Maria Lease, who was entering the room with a little black cloak and bonnet in her hand. “Are not these Nettie’s things, children?” And a dozen voices all speaking together, hastened to say Yes, they were Nettie’s.

“Then she must be in the house,” decided Miss Timmens. “She wouldn’t be silly enough to go out this cold night with her neck and arms bare. The child has her share of sense. She has run away to hide herself, and may have dropped asleep.”

“It must be in the chimbleys, then,” cried free Molly from the back of the room. “We’ve looked everywhere else.”

“You had better look again,” said the Squire. “Take plenty of light—two or three candles.”

It seemed rather a queer thing. And, while this talking had been going on, there flashed into my mind the old Modena story, related by the poet Rogers, of the lovely young heiress of the Donatis: and which has been embodied in our song “The Mistletoe Bough.” Could this timid child have imprisoned herself in any place that she was unable to get out of? Going to the kitchen for a candle, I went upstairs, taking the garret first, with its boxes and lumber, and then the rooms. And nowhere could I find the least trace or sign of Nettie.

Stepping into the kitchen to leave the candle, there stood Luke Mackintosh, whiter than death; his back propped against Molly’s press, his hands trembling, his hair on end. Tod stood in front of him suppressing his laughter. Mackintosh had just burst in at the back-door in a desperate state of fright, declaring he had seen a ghost.

It’s not the first time I have mentioned the man’s cowardice. Believing in ghosts and goblins, wraiths and witches, he could hardly be persuaded to cross Crabb Ravine at night, on account of the light sometimes seen there. Sensible people told him that this light (which, it was true, no one had ever traced to its source) was nothing but a will-o’-the-wisp, an ignis-fatuus arising from the vapour; but Luke could not be brought to reason. On this evening it chanced that the Squire had occasion to send Mackintosh to the Timberdale post-office, and the man had now just come in from the errand.

“I see the light, too, sir,” he was saying to Tod in a scared voice, as he ran his shaking hand through his hair. “It be dodging about on the banks of the Ravine for all the world like a corpse-candle. Well, sir, I didn’t like that, and I got up out of the Ravine as fast as my legs would bring me, and were making straight for home here, with my head down’ards, not wanting to see nothing more, when something dreadful met me. All in white, it was.”

“A man in his shroud, who had left his grave to take a moonlight walk,” said Tod, gravely, biting his lips.

“’Twere in grave-clothes, for sure; a long, white garment, whiter than the snow. I’d not say but it was Daniel Ferrar,” added Luke, in the low dread tones that befitted the dismal subject. “His ghost do walk, you know, sir.”

“And where did his ghost go to?”

“Blest if I saw, sir,” replied Mackintosh, shaking his head. “I’d not have looked after it for all the world. ‘Twarn’t a slow pace I come at, over the field, after that, and right inside this here house.”

“Rushing like the wind, I suppose.”

“My heart was all a-throbbing and a-skeering. Mr. Joseph, I hope the Squire won’t send me through the Ravine after dark again! I couldn’t stand it, sir; I’d a’most rather give up my place.”

“You’ll not be fit for this place, or any other, I should say, Mackintosh, if you let this sort of fear run away with your senses,” I put in. “You saw nothing; it was all fancy.”

“Saw nothing!” repeated Mackintosh in the excess of desperation. “Why, Mr. Johnny, I never saw a sight plainer in all my born days. A great, white, awesome apparition it were, that went rushing past me with a wailing sound. I hope you won’t ever have the ill-luck to see such a thing yourself, sir.”

“I’m sure I shan’t.”

“What’s to do here?” asked Tom Coney, putting in his head.

“Mackintosh has seen a ghost.”

“Seen a ghost!” cried Tom, beginning to grin.

Mackintosh, trembling yet, entered afresh on the recital, rather improving it by borrowing Tod’s mocking suggestion. “A dead man in his shroud come out walking from his grave in the churchyard—which he feared might be Ferrar, lying on the edge on’t, just beyond consecrated ground. I never could abear to go by the spot where he was put in, and never a prayer said over him, Mr. Tom!”

But, in spite of the solemnity of the subject, touching Ferrar, Tom Coney could only have his laugh out. The servants came in from their fruitless search of the dairy and cellars, and started to see the state of Mackintosh.

“Give him a cup of warm ale, Molly,” was Tod’s command. And we left them gathered round the man, listening to his tale with open mouths.

From the fact that Nettie Trewin was certainly not in the house, one only deduction could be drawn—that the timid child had run home to her mother. Bare-headed, bare-necked, bare-armed, she had gone through the snow; and, as Miss Timmens expressed it, might just have caught her death.

“Senseless little idiot!” exclaimed Miss Timmens in a passion. “Sarah Trewin is sure to blame me; she’ll say I might have taken better care of her.”

But one of the elder girls, named Emma Stone, whose recollection only appeared to come to her when digesting her supper, spoke up at this juncture, and declared that long after “Puss-inthe-corner” was over, and also “Oranges and Lemons,” which had succeeded it, she had seen and spoken to Nettie Trewin. Her account was, that in crossing the passage leading from the store-room, she saw Nettie “scrouged against the wall, half-way down the passage, like anybody afeared of being seen.”

“Did you speak to her, Emma Stone?” asked Miss Timmens, after listening to these concluding words.

“Yes, governess. I asked her why she was not at play, and why she was hiding there.”

“Well, what did she say?”

“Not anything,” replied Emma Stone. “She turned her head away as if she didn’t want to be talked to.”

Miss Timmens took a long, keen look at Emma Stone. This young lady, it appeared, was rather in the habit of romancing; and the governess thought she might be doing it then.

“I vow to goodness I saw her,” interrupted the girl, before Miss Timmens had got out more than half a doubt: and her tone was truthful enough. “I’m not telling no story, ‘m. I thought Nettie was crying.”

“Well, it is a strange thing you should have forgotten it until this moment, Emma Stone.”

“Please, ‘m, it were through the pies,” pleaded Emma.

It was time to depart. Bonnets and shawls were put on, and the whole of them filed out, accompanied by Miss Timmens, Mrs. Hill, and Maria Lease: good old motherly Dame Coney saying she hoped they would find the child safe in bed between the blankets, and that her mother would have given her some hot drink.

Our turn for supper came now. We took it partly standing, just the fare that the others had had, with bread-and-cheese added for the Squire and old Coney. After that, we all gathered round the fire in the dining-room, those two lighting their pipes.

And I think you might almost have knocked some of us down with a feather in our surprise, when, in the midst of one of old Coney’s stories, we turned round at the sudden opening of the door, and saw Miss Timmens amongst us. A prevision of evil seemed to seize Mrs. Todhetley, and she rose up.

“The child! Is she not at home?”

“No, ma’am; neither has she been there,” answered Miss Timmens, ignoring ceremony (as people are apt to do at seasons of anxiety or commotion) and sitting down uninvited. “I came back to tell you so, and to ask what you thought had better be done.”

“The child must have started for home and lost her way in the snow,” cried the Squire, putting down his pipe in consternation. “What does the mother think?”

“I did not tell her of it,” said Miss Timmens. “I went on by myself to her house; and the first thing I saw there, on opening the door, was a little pair of slippers warming on the fender. ‘Oh, have you brought Nettie?’ began the mother, before I could speak: ‘I’ve got her shoes warm for her. Is she very, very cold?—and has she enjoyed herself and been good?’ Well, sir, seeing how it was—that the child had not got home—I answered lightly: ‘Oh, the children are not here yet; my sister and Maria Lease are with them. I’ve just stepped on to see how your bruises are getting on.’ For that poor Sarah Trewin is good for so little that one does not care to alarm her,” concluded Miss Timmens, as if she would apologize for her deceit.

The Squire nodded approval, and told me to give Miss Timmens something hot to drink. Mrs. Todhetley, looking three parts frightened out of her wits, asked what was to be done.

Yes; what was to be done? What could be done? A sort of council was held amongst them, some saying one thing, some another. It seemed impossible to suggest anything.

“Had harm come to her in running home, had she fallen into the snow, for instance, or anything of that sort, we should have seen or heard her,” observed Miss Timmens. “She would be sure to take the direct path—the way we came here and returned.”

“It might be easy enough for the child to lose her way—the roads and fields are like a wide white plain,” observed Mrs. Coney. “She might have strayed aside amongst the trees in the triangle.”

Miss Timmens shook her head in dissent.

“She’d not do that, ma’am. Since Daniel Ferrar was found there, the children don’t like the three-cornered grove.”

“Look here,” said old Coney, suddenly speaking up. “Let us search all these places, and any others that she could have strayed to, right or left, on her road home.”

He rose up, and we rose with him. It was the best thing that could be done: and no end of a relief, besides, to pitch upon something to do. The Squire ordered Mackintosh (who had not recovered himself yet) to bring a lantern, and we all put on our great-coats and went forth, leaving the mater and Mrs. Coney to keep the fire warm. A black party we looked, in the white snow, Miss Timmens making one of us.

“I can’t rest,” she whispered to me. “If the child has been lying on the snow all this while, we shall find her dead.”

It was a still, cold, lovely night; the moon high in the sky, the snow lying white and pure beneath her beams. Tom Coney and Tod, all their better feelings and their fears aroused, plunged on fiercely, now amidst the deep snow by the hedges, now on the more level path. The grove, which had been so fatal to poor Daniel Ferrar, was examined first. And now we saw the use of the lantern ordered by the Squire, at which order we had secretly laughed: for it served to light up the darker parts where the trunks of the trees grew thick. Mackintosh, who hated that grove, did not particularly relish his task of searching it, though he was in good company. But it did not appear to contain Nettie.

“She would not turn in here,” repeated Miss Timmens, from the depth of her strong conviction; “I’m sure she wouldn’t. She would rather bear onwards towards her mother’s.”

Bounding here, trudging there, calling her name softly, shouting loudly, we continued our search after Nettie Trewin. It was past twelve when we got back home and met Mrs. Todhetley and Mrs. Coney at the door, both standing there in their uneasiness, enveloped in woollen shawls.

“No. No success. Can’t find her anywhere.”

Down sank the Squire on one of the hall-chairs as he spoke, as though he could not hold himself up a minute longer, but was dead beat with tramping and disappointment. Perhaps he was. What was to be done next? What could be done? We stood round the dining-room fire, looking at one another like so many helpless mummies.

“Well,” said the pater, “the first thing is to have a drop of something hot. I am half-frozen. What time’s that?”—as the clock over the mantelpiece chimed one stroke. “Half-past twelve.”

“And she’s dead by this time,” gasped Miss Timmens, in a faint voice, its sharpness gone clean out of it. “I’m thinking of the poor widowed mother.”

Mrs. Coney (often an invalid) said she could do no good by staying longer, and wanted to be in bed. Old Coney said he was not going in yet; so Tom took her over. It might have been ten minutes after this—but I was not taking any particular account of the time—that I saw Tom Coney put his head in at the parlour-door, and beckon Tod out. I went also.

“Look here,” said Coney to us. “After I left mother indoors, I thought I’d search a bit about the back-ground here: and I fancy I can see the marks of a child’s footsteps in the snow.”

“No!” cried Tod, rushing out at the back-door and crossing the premises to the field.

Yes, it was so. Just for a little way along the path leading to Crabb Ravine the snow was much trodden and scattered by the footsteps of a man, both to and fro. Presently some little footsteps, evidently of a child, seemed to diverge from this path and go onwards in rather a slanting direction through the deeper snow, as if their owner had lost the direct way. When we had tracked these steps half-way across the field. Tod brought himself to a halt.

“I’m sure they are Nettie’s,” he said. “They look like hers. Whose else should they be? She may have fallen down the Ravine. One of you had better go back and bring a blanket—and tell them to get hot water ready.”

Eager to be of use, Tom Coney and I ran back together. Tod continued his tracking. Presently the little steps diverged towards the path, as if they had suddenly discovered their wanderings from it; and then they seemed to be lost in those other and larger footsteps which had kept steadily to the path.

“I wonder,” thought Tod, halting as he lost the clue, “whether Mackintosh’s big ghost could have been this poor little white-robed child? What an idiotic coward the fellow is! These are his footmarks. A slashing pace he must have travelled at, to fling the snow up in this manner!”

At that moment, as Tod stood facing the Ravine, a light, looking like the flame of a candle, small and clear and bright as that of a glow-worm, appeared on the opposite bank, and seemed to dodge about the snow-clad brushwood around the trunks of the wintry trees. What was this light?—whence did it proceed?—what caused it? It seemed we were never tired of putting these useless questions to ourselves. Tod did not know; never had known. He thought of Mack’s fright and of the ghost, as he stood watching it, now disappearing in some particular spot, now coming again at ever so many yards’ distance. But ghosts had no charms for Tod: by which I mean no alarms: and he went forward again, trying to find another trace of the little footsteps.

“I don’t see what should bring Nettie out here, though,” ran his thoughts. “Hope she has not pitched head foremost down the Ravine! Confound the poltroon!—kicking up the snow like this!”

But now, in another minute, there were traces again. The little feet seemed to have turned aside at a tangent, and once more sought the deep snow. From that point he did not again lose them; they carried him to the low and narrow dell (not much better than a ditch) which just there skirted the hedge bordering the Ravine.

At first Tod could see nothing. Nothing but the drifted snow. But—looking closely—what was that, almost at his feet? Was it only a dent in the snow?—or was anything lying on it? Tod knelt down on the deep soft white carpet (sinking nearly up to his waist) and peered and felt.

There she was: Nettie Trewin! With her flaxen curls fallen about her head and mingling with the snow, and her little arms and neck exposed, and her pretty white frock all wet, she lay there in the deep hole. Tod, his breast heaving with all manner of emotion, gathered her into his arms, as gently as an infant is hushed to rest by its mother. The white face had no life in it; the heart seemed to have stopped beating.

“Wake up, you poor little mite!” he cried, pressing her against his warm side. “Wake up, little one! Wake up, little frozen snow-bird!”

But there came no response. The child lay still and white in his arms.

“Hope she’s not frozen to death!” he murmured, a queer sensation taking him. “Nettie, don’t you hear me? My goodness, what’s to be done?”

He set off across the field with the child, meeting me almost directly. I ran straight up to him.

“Get out, Johnny Ludlow!” he cried roughly, in his haste and fear. “Don’t stop me! Oh, a blanket, is it? That’s good. Fold it round her, lad.”

“Is she dead?”

“I’ll be shot if I know.”

He went along swiftly, holding her to him in the blanket. And a fine commotion they all made when he got her indoors.

The silly little thing, unable to get over her shyness, had taken the opportunity, when the back-door was open, to steal out of it, with the view of running home to her mother. Confused, perhaps, by the bare white plain; or it may be by her own timidity; or probably confounding the back-door and its approaches with the front, by which she had entered, she went straight across the field, unconscious that this was taking her in just the opposite direction to her home. It was she whom Luke Mackintosh had met—the great idiot!—and he frightened her with his rough appearance and the bellow of fear he gave, just as much as she had frightened him. Onwards she went, blindly terrified, was stopped by the hedge, fell into the ditch, and lay buried in the snow. Whether she could be brought back to life, or whether death had really taken her, was a momentous question.

I went off for Cole, flying all the way. He sent me back again, saying he’d be there as soon as I—and that Nettie Trewin must be a born simpleton.

“Master Johnny!—Mr. Ludlow!—Is it you?”

The words greeted me in a weak panting voice, just as I reached the corner by the store barn, and I recognized Mrs. Trewin. Alarmed at Nettie’s prolonged stay, she had come out, all bruised as she was, and extorted the fact—that the child was missing—from Maria Lease. I told her that the child was found—and where.

“Dead or alive, sir?”

I stammered in my answer. Cole would be up directly, I said, and we must hope for the best. But she drew a worse conclusion.

“It was all I had,” she murmured. “My one little ewe lamb.”

“Don’t cry, Mrs. Trewin. It may turn out to be all right, you know.”

“If I could only have laid her poor little face on my bosom to die, and said good-bye to her!” she wailed, the tears falling. “I have had so much trouble in the world, Master Johnny!—and she was all of comfort left to me in it.”

We went in. Cole came rushing like a whirlwind. By-and-by they got some warmth into the child, lying so still on the bed; and she was saved.

“Were you cold, dear, in the snow?—were you frightened?” gently asked the mother, when Nettie could answer questions.

“I was very cold and frightened till I heard the angels’ music, mother.”

“The angels’ music?”

“Yes. I knew they played it for me. After that, I felt happy and went to sleep. Oh, mother, there’s nothing so sweet as angels’ music.”

The “music” had been that of the church bells, wafted over the Ravine by the rarefied air; the sweet bells of Timberdale, ringing in the New Year.

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