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Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 18008

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was a very shaken, tremulous trio which stood and faced each other in the tiny kitchen, after they had locked and bolted the door. Dick trembled with excitement and eagerness only, but Mrs. Perry was really frightened.

"But what of my poor hens!" she gasped, as Huldah poured out the adventures of the night. "Will the thieves come back again? What can I do? There's twelve of them; I can't bring them all indoors, and yet-oh, poor dears, and they so tame, and knowing me so well. I'd sooner see them all dead than in the hands of such men; and they'll be so frightened."

"They're all safe enough, ma'am," said Huldah, consolingly. "The thieves didn't as much as open the door before Dick was on them, and they won't be coming back here again in a hurry; they'll never feel sure but what Dick's under the wall waiting for them."

Mrs. Perry bent down, and patted Dick's head gratefully. It was the first time she had actually touched him. "Good dog," she said, warmly. "Oh, you good doggie, to protect a strange old woman and her belongings!" and Dick was overcome with pride and gratitude for her condescension.

"Oh, I am glad it has all ended so well," she exclaimed, with a deep sigh of thankfulness. "What with the shouting and the barking and confusion, I couldn't make out anything, or hear what you said, and I thought for certain they'd got away with the poor things;" and she patted Dick's head again, to his great delight and Huldah's. "I must sit down, I am that shaken," and she crept over to a chair and dropped into it wearily, "and I am sure you must be too, child. I wish the fire hadn't gone out; it seems chilly now, for all 'twas such a hot day,-at least, I am chilly."

"Let me light up the fire for you?" asked Huldah, eagerly. "You do look cold, ma'am. Shall I make you a cup of tea, or get you some milk or something?"

The scene they had just passed through seemed to have broken down some barrier, and drawn them as close together as though they had known each other a long time.

Martha Perry hesitated a moment, though not now because she distrusted Huldah. She was thinking, ought she to afford it?" Yes, child," she answered, at last. "I don't believe I could sleep if I went to bed as I am, I feel all unstrung and chilled." Then her mind went back to the thought which troubled her most-"I wonder if the fowls will be really all right," she mused, anxiously.

"Oh yes, ma'am." Huldah had no doubts on that point. "Those fellows would be afraid to come back. Dick did give them a scare, springing out of the dark on them like that, and they're too hurt about the legs to want to walk any further than they can help, yet awhile!"

"Oh yes, of course," in accents of great relief, "I'd forgotten. They wouldn't want to come and face Dick again, and they wouldn't know but what he was mine, and always living here."

A bright idea came to Huldah. "Would you like me to let Dick out into the garden again. He'd see that nobody came into it. Nobody wouldn't dare touch anything with him there, I know!"

The suggestion evidently pleased Mrs. Perry, and relieved her greatly. "Now that would be a comfort," she said, gratefully. "I'd feel ever so safe then. On a warm night like this he can't hurt, can he?"

Huldah laughed. "Dick doesn't know what 'tis to sleep in," she said.

"The most he ever had was a sack thrown down under the van, unless

when Charlie was put in a stable, and they'd let Dick go in too, but

Uncle Tom liked best to have him about, to guard the van."

All the time she was talking she was laying in the fire quickly and deftly. Mrs. Perry watched her interestedly. She felt the comfort of having someone cheerful to speak to; and when she remembered that but for this little stray waif she would have been alone now, and her hen-house robbed, her heart was very full of gratitude.

"Miss Rosamund will blame me when she hears about it," she said, presently. "She was always telling me I ought to have a strong lock on the hen-house door. She said it was tempting folk to be dishonest,-not to have anything but just the latch, and me known to keep good fowls always. 'Twas Miss Rose that gave them to me," she explained. "I mean, she gave me a sitting of her prize eggs, and every one hatched out."

"Oh my!" exclaimed Huldah, who had filled the kettle, and was now waiting for it to boil. She was immensely interested in all she saw and heard, and there seemed so much to see and hear in this new life into which she had suddenly found her way. "Is Miss Rose a-a lady?" She only put the question in the hope of leading Mrs. Perry on to talk more.

"A lady! I should think she was, indeed! One of the best that ever lived! 'Twould be a good thing for this world if there were more like her."

Huldah listened intently. She wondered if she should ever see this wonderful Miss Rose, and find out what it was that made Mrs. Perry speak so warmly about her. She thought it must be fine to be thought much of by anybody so superior as Mrs. Perry.

"I think you are the kindest lady in the world," she said, impulsively, looking up at her hostess with shy, grateful eyes. "Would Miss Rose have taken me and Dick in, if we had come to her house like we did to yours?"

"That she would!" declared Mrs. Perry, emphatically, "and 'twas the thought of what she would do that made me do it."

"I'd love to see Miss Rose," said Huldah, eagerly. "I wonder if I ever shall!" but the kettle boiled at that moment, and Mrs. Perry's mind was taken up with the making of the tea.

While they sat on each side of the hearth, drinking their tea and eating their crusts of bread, she wished Miss Rose could know about this little waif, who seemed really not a bad little waif, but honest and very thoughtful and kind. She wanted her advice as to what to do about her. Already her feelings towards the child had changed so much that she did not like to think of sending her away in the morning, to wander on alone again, with no home, no money or food, and no protection but Dick.

Dick might be killed, or stolen, and then the poor little soul would be alone in the world. Huldah looked up eagerly at her hostess more than once, but, though she was longing to ask some more questions, she did not like to interrupt her while she gazed with such grave, thoughtful eyes into the fire.

At last Mrs. Perry roused herself from her thoughts, with a tired sigh, and brought her eyes back to Huldah again. "Have a bit more bread," she urged, kindly, seeing that the little brown hand was empty. "You must be hungry."

Huldah was always hungry, but she was not accustomed to any notice being taken of the fact. "No, thank you, ma'am," she said, politely. She had already guessed that her kind protector was very poor, and she knew well what a difference every slice made to a loaf, so she said, "No, thank you, ma'am," though she could really have eaten the whole of the nice brown crusty top. But she was more interested in Miss Rose than in her own appetite.

"Does Miss Rose live near here?" she asked.

Mrs. Perry smiled. "Why, how funny!" she exclaimed. "I was thinking of Miss Rose too. Yes; she lives at the vicarage, and that's a little way further on in the main road. If you hadn't turned down this lane, you'd have come to it about half-a-mile further on. I wonder you didn't see the church tower as you came along."

"It was too dark," said Huldah. "Oh, I was glad when I saw your light shine out," she added, impetuously. "I didn't know what to do or where to go, and we were so tired! I very nearly lay down under the hedge, 'cause I felt as if I couldn't drag another step."

"It'd have been better for you if you hadn't seen it, but had gone on till you came to the vicarage."

"I don't think so," said Huldah, emphatically. "P'raps the servants would have driven us off,-anyway, they couldn't have been kinder than you was-"

"It wouldn't have been better for me if you'd gone on," added Mrs. Perry, gratefully. "I shouldn't have had any hens now, if it hadn't been for you, and I'd have been scared to death. I think I will go up to bed now," she added presently, in a weary voice. "I had thought I wouldn't go back again, but I am that tired."

"You do look tired," rejoined Huldah, sympathetically. Her own little body was aching all over, and she was so weary she could gladly have lain down anywhere and slept, but it never occurred to her to mention the fact. "Dick'll mind the garden, so don't you worry about that."

"Can you sleep on the sofa, do you think?"

"Oh yes, ma'am!" cried Huldah, rapturously, gazing at the hard black horse-hair covered thing as though it were the most luxurious couch in the world.

"I'll give you my big shawl, to wrap yourself up in, and you can use that cushion there for a pillow."

"Thank you, ma'am; but I think," she added, anxiously, "I'll run out first, and see that Dick's all right. You can bolt the door after me while I'm out."


a Perry did not do that, though. She stood there with the open door in her hand, and watched almost affectionately the little brown figure run down the garden path, and disappear in the gloom.

"Put Dick in the barn to sleep," she called after Huldah. "He'll be nice and comfortable there;" but Dick, wise dog, was already there, snugly curled up in the straw, and as happy as a dog could be. The hens, too, had settled down to sleep again in their house, and all was safe, so Huldah ran back again contentedly; and Martha Perry welcomed her as gladly as though they were old friends, and when she shut the door and bolted themselves in, it was with a sigh of relief that she had this little companion.

A few minutes later the old woman was stretched out comfortably in her bed, and the child was rolled up snugly on the hard sofa, and silence once more fell on cottage and garden, broken only by an occasional sleepy cluck, cluck of the hens, as they moved on their perches, or a whimper from Dick, as in his dreams he lived over again his rout of the enemy.

Huldah did not dream of thieves, or hens, or anything else. She just slept, and slept, a heavy, dreamless sleep, unconscious of everything. The hard sofa galled her poor, thin, aching body, the round hard pillow gave her a crick in the neck, but neither of them could make themselves felt through the sleep which held her fast in merciful unconsciousness.

It was broad daylight, and the sun had been shining for a long time when at last she woke with a start, and sprang up, wondering where she was, and what had happened. Then by degrees recollection came back to her, and she began to wonder what she could do. The old clock in the corner pointed to seven, but there was no sound of movement in the house. Huldah was afraid to get up and move about, lest Mrs. Perry should suspect her of being at some wickedness; and she was not sorry to lie still, for her limbs ached, and she felt very, very tired, so she stretched herself out on her hard couch, and gave herself up to studying the little kitchen, and all that was in it.

It was very wonderful, she thought, and very lovely. There were some dark green wooden chairs, and an arm-chair, and a little round table, scrubbed to spotless whiteness. Above her head, on a window-ledge stood some geraniums in full bloom, and on a row of shelves let into the wall stood a large Bible, with a crochet mat over it, and some other books, some vases and ornaments, and a box covered with shells. The only other things to see were the grandfather's clock in the corner, some well-polished bright things on the mantel-piece, a pair of brass candlesticks, a couple of tea-caddies, and a pair of snuffers on a tray.

There were some pictures on the wall, and an almanac. One picture showed two beautiful horses ploughing a field, a white horse and a brown one, the other was of the same two horses going slowly home, at the end of the day's work. The sight of the white horse brought Charlie to Huldah's mind, and filled her eyes with tears.

"Oh, if only Charlie was here too!" she thought, "and if only he looked like that horse there!"

There was indeed all the difference in the world between the well-fed, well-groomed horse in the picture, with his erect head, his bright eyes and glossy coat, and poor old Charlie, with his bones showing distinctly through his rough, neglected coat, his drooping head and sad eyes!

Huldah looked and looked again at the pictures; she thought they were perfectly beautiful; but by-and-by she began to fidget a little. She was tired of lying quiet, and the silence and stillness worried her. She slid off the sofa, and sat on the edge of it, wondering if she might move, if she might go and see Dick, or clean up the grate and light the fire.

Presently there was a whine at the back door. Dick had come in search of her. She stood up and quietly made a step or two towards the scullery and the back door, wondering if she would be taking a great liberty to let him in. She did long to. And then, while she stood hesitating she heard a voice calling weakly down the stairs, "Little girl-Huldah, are you there?"

Huldah, greatly relieved, sprang to the foot of the stairs. She was glad to have the silence broken at last. "Yes ma'am. It was only Dick whining to come in."

"Let him in, then come up to me, will you?"

Ordering Dick to stay below, Huldah mounted the stairs, full of awe. She had not been allowed up them before. She thought the little winding white staircase was wonderful, and oh, how clean it all was!

At the top was a landing about a yard square, and an open door. Through the doorway she saw an old-fashioned bed with pretty flowered frills and curtains, and lying on the bed was Mrs. Perry.

"Come in, child," she said, feebly. "I've been calling to you for ever so long, but I couldn't make you hear. I expect you were very tired, and slept heavy."

"I've been awake for a good bit," said Huldah, "but I didn't like to move about till you come. I wish I'd heard you. Did you want me?"

"Yes, I'm feeling very bad. I think I must have got a chill last night, or else the fright upset me."

"Oh, I am sorry," cried Huldah, with genuine feeling. Mrs. Perry really did look very white and ill, and Huldah felt quite alarmed. "Can I get you something? What can I do? Shall I light the fire?" she asked, eagerly.

"Yes, if you will, I'd be very much obliged. I'd like a cup of tea, as hot as I can drink it, and," pointing to some flannel lying on the bed, "if you could make that very hot, and bring it up to me, I'd be glad. Perhaps heat'll ease the pain a bit."

"I'll be as quick as I can," said Huldah, eagerly, turning to hurry downstairs. "Is there anything else?"

"Oh my, yes! there's the fowls; they'll be wanting their breakfast. It's all put ready for them in a pan in the scullery, if you'll give it to them. Don't let them out into the garden."

"I'll see to that," said Huldah, cheerfully.

"Then when they're out eating their food, go into the house, and see if there's any eggs in the nests."

"Yes, ma'am, and please may I borrow the loan of the bucket, to have a wash? I'm feeling all dusty and dirty."

Mrs. Perry smiled, in spite of her pain. "Yes, of course.

You'll find a basin and soap, and a rough towel in the scullery, too.

I'm glad you reminded me."

Huldah slipped down the stairs as blithe as a bird. This was keeping house in real earnest, and she loved it. She set to work to light the fire and tidy the stove first, then she went and fed the hens, and came back triumphantly, carrying three large eggs. When she had shown these to Mrs. Perry, and discussed their size and beauty-and surely there never had been such eggs found before-she went down and had her wash, and oh, how she did enjoy it! She wished she had a clean frock or apron to put on, too. But when she remembered all she had got, she felt ashamed of herself, for even thinking of wanting anything more.

In the scullery was a sweeping-brush, and the sight of it tempted her to sweep up the kitchen. She opened the door wide, to let in the sunshine and fresh air and the sweet scent of flowers, and then she went sweeping away, not only the doorstep, but the tiled path down the garden to the gate. For the moment she had forgotten her fear of being discovered. All here seemed so different, so safe and peaceful, and far away from her old unhappy life.

The sun was shining radiantly, drying up the dew on the flowers, and making the red-tiled path glow warmly; it seemed to fill the garden, the cottage, and all Huldah's world with cheerfulness. By the time she had finished sweeping, the kettle was singing, so Huldah got the teapot and warmed it. She even warmed the cup and saucer too, in her anxiety that Mrs. Perry should have her tea as hot as possible. Then she cut a slice of bread as neatly as she could and toasted it.

Dick was lying out in the sun, gnawing at the remains of his ham-bone, as happy as a dog could be. Huldah glanced out at him every now and then while she was toasting the bread, and tried to realise that they were the same two who only yesterday morning were thrashed so unmercifully-she, for giving Dick some bread and butter, and Dick for eating it, after which had followed that dreadful scene when her uncle Tom had kicked poor old helpless Charlie so cruelly, partly because the poor old horse moved slowly, but chiefly because he knew that it would hurt Huldah more than any beating or starving of herself could.

It hurt her so greatly that she felt she could not bear it any longer, and then and there made up her mind to run away. Half of Charlie's kicks and blows were given him, she knew, because they hurt and angered her. Perhaps, she thought, if she were gone life would become easier for him. So she went,-and that was only yesterday, and the only pang of feeling or remorse that she felt for what she had done was the loss of Charlie.

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