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   Chapter 5 SURPRISES.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 20116

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The confession had been made, the story told, and, to her unspeakable joy and relief, Huldah had not been sent to Uncle Tom or to the workhouse. The latter fate she had dreaded even more than the former, for if she had been sent to the workhouse she certainly would have had to part with Dick; whereas, if she had gone back to the caravan, she would have had both him and Charlie, and she would rather endure hunger and beatings than lose Dick.

She had, though, escaped both fates, and life for the time seemed to Huldah almost too beautiful to be anything but a dream, for it had been arranged that both she and Dick were to stay on for the present with Martha Perry in the cottage. Since the night of the attempted robbery Mrs. Perry had been very ailing and nervous. She could not bear Dick to leave the house, when once twilight began to fall, and she would not have stayed there at all at night without him. She had grown to rely on the lanky yellow creature as though he had been a man. No harm, she felt, could come to her or her hens, as long as Dick was about the house or garden.

She needed company and help too, so Huldah was to stay on, to keep the cottage tidy, and run the errands, and be at hand, in case Mrs. Perry was ill again.

A tiny room, which was scarcely more than a cupboard or a 'lean-to' jutting out over the scullery, was transformed into a bedroom for Huldah. A little iron bed was sent down from the vicarage, and sheets and blankets, a chair, and even a little square looking-glass to hang on the wall. Huldah was in a perfect turmoil of glad excitement. She thought her room perfectly beautiful, and from the little window she could look right over the back garden, and away to a great stretch of country beyond.

"I don't know what to do for a chest of drawers for you," said Mrs. Perry, thoughtfully; "you ought to have something to put your clothes in." But Huldah pooh-poohed the idea.

"Oh, I shan't want anything," she said, cheerfully; "you see I haven't got any clothes."

"Ah, but wait," said Mrs. Perry, knowingly, then stopped abruptly, and said no more. Huldah did not understand. "If I can sell some baskets, I'll be able to get an apron or two," she said, gravely. "I'd like fine to have some, but I could keep them on my chair."

Mrs. Perry smiled. "A box would be better. If I could get you a nice big box, that would do for the time, wouldn't it?"

"Oh yes, that would do grand," agreed Huldah, readily, "but don't you worry about it, ma'am. I've got to make my baskets first and sell them, and then I'll have the aprons to make; there won't be any need to worry till I've got them," she added, in her old-fashioned thoughtful way. "Wouldn't it be lovely, ma'am," she added, a moment later, "to have a new frock, a whole real new one?" It took a moment for such a possibility to even enter her head. "A blue one," she added, revelling in it, now it had come, "and a blue hat, too! Oh my!" She looked at Mrs. Perry with clasped hands and eyes full of rapture. "I've never had a new frock or hat, not in all my life. I suppose some people do?"

"Yes, some do," agreed Mrs. Perry, gravely. Then a bright smile passed over her face, and her eyes lighted up almost as eagerly as Huldah's had, a moment before. Miss Carew's pony-cart had come jingling down the lane, and had drawn up before the garden gate.

Huldah sprang forward gladly to open the door, but Mrs. Perry was at it first. "I will go," she said, hastily, "I understand Miss Rose wants me."

Huldah, puzzled and disappointed, did not move another step. Through the open door she saw the dear fat pony, and longed to pat him; she saw Miss Rose smiling and talking, and longed to be there to receive one of her smiles. She saw her too lifting boxes and bundles out of the pony-cart, and piling them in Mrs. Perry's arms.

"Why can't I go out and help?" she asked herself. Everyone was out there, even Dick, and she felt forlorn and left out. Then she saw Miss Carew fasten the pony to the railings by his strap, and, picking up the last of the boxes, follow Mrs. Perry up the garden.

"Good morning, brownie," she said, brightly, and her voice and smile drove the "left out" feeling from Huldah's heart in a moment.

"I am trying to pretend to be a good fairy to-day, but I am too big and clumsy for the part."

Huldah gazed wonderingly, not understanding.

"I wanted you to have some new clothes, brownie, so I waved my wand,-and here they are."

"New-clothes!" gasped Huldah, "for me!" She looked round, and caught sight of Mrs. Perry's face, wreathed in glad smiles. "But I never have any, miss, I was telling Mrs. Perry so as you drove up. Old ones is plenty good enough for me. I should be afraid to wear new ones, for fear of spoiling them."

"Then you must learn to, little brownie. Oh, you have lots to learn yet. There's only one thing I am sorry for, you won't be a brownie any longer, nor yet a fairy dressed in green"; and with the same she whisked the cover off the big box she had been carrying, and there lay neatly folded three little plain print frocks, one lavender, one pink, and one blue.

Huldah cried aloud in sheer amazement. She had never seen anything so pretty in her life. Underneath the frocks were some plain holland aprons. Huldah began to fear it was all a beautiful dream, from which she would awaken presently.

"Open that other box, please, Mrs. Perry," said Miss Rose, briskly; and in that one was a neat sun-hat, with a black ribbon bow on it, and beneath the hat were two little pink cotton petticoats, some calico garments, some stockings and handkerchiefs.

Huldah by that time was in such a state of excitement, she could no longer exclaim, she could hardly breathe, and when the last of the parcels was opened, and disclosed a pair of good boots and a pair of slippers, the tears which had gradually been welling up in her eyes fell over, and with a sob she threw her arms round Mrs. Perry and buried her face on her breast.

"Oh, it's too much, it's too much, I can't take it all! I can't do anything for anybody, and I can't pay for nothing. I haven't got any money, and you mustn't give me such a lot-"

"Huldah, dear," said Miss Rose, softly, laying a gentle hand on the little girl's shaking shoulders, "You have what is better than money. You have a kind, willing heart, and a wise little head, and these are of more value than money, for no money can buy them, but you have given them both to us all this time, asking no return. And you know, dear, brownies are always repaid in this way. You can soon pay for these things, by taking care of Mrs. Perry, doing all you can to help her, and making her happy and comfortable. Then, with your basket-making you will be able to earn enough to clothe yourself in the future, and perhaps help others as well. So don't cry, child, but turn round and smile, and let us see how nice you look in one of your new frocks."

Huldah swung round eagerly, her cheeks flushed, her eyes sparkling with happiness. "Oh yes, yes, so I can. I'll be able to help by-and-by! Oh, Miss Rose, you are so kind to me, I don't hardly know what to say, it seems as if it can't be real, its all too beautiful."

"It isn't too beautiful, brownie. Life can be as beautiful as any dream, even more so. It all depends upon ourselves, and what we make it for each other."

"Oh, I will try to make it beautiful for those who are so good to me," thought Huldah, with almost passionate determination, as she arrayed herself in some of her new clothes; and her heart beat fast and her spirits rose, as she dreamed beautiful dreams of her coming life.

All this had happened the day before, and now Huldah stood in the garden in her blue print frock and holland apron, her hair well brushed and shining, her face full of sober gladness. On the line hung the old brown frock, which had been washed and spread out to dry.

"Life can be as beautiful as any dream, even more beautiful. It all depends upon ourselves, and what we make of it for each other." As she stood looking away from the garden to the quiet sunny stretch of country beyond, the words echoed and re-echoed through her brain, "What we make of it for each other."

"Why, of course," she thought to herself, "the world is just the same, the sun and the breeze, the earth and the sky, just the same as they were when I was living with Uncle Tom and Aunt Emma. 'Tis Miss Rose and Mrs. Perry who have made it all seem so beautiful. Just fancy two people making such a difference. I wish, oh, I wish I could make something seem beautiful to somebody, just as they have for me."

The busy hens had ceased their scratching, to gaze wonderingly at the little blue figure standing so still in the path near them. Dick sat in front of her, and stared up at her with perplexed, uneasy eyes. It was unlike his little mistress to be dressed as she was, and to be so quiet. A little whimper of distress broke from him, he could bear the silence no longer. The sound roused Huldah from her reverie. "Why, Dick, what's the matter?" she cried, throwing her arm round him, and kissing the top of his head. "Why, there's nothing to fret about now, it's all lovely. You and me have got a home, and we've got work to do, and oh, Dick, we've got to do a lot, to make up for all that's been done for us; and we'll do it, won't we, old man! We'll never mind what we do, as long as it's to help somebody."

Dick wriggled and wagged his tail in joyful assent, and barked loudly, to show how much he appreciated the arrangement.

Mrs. Perry came to the door, looking down the garden, to see if they were there. "Huldah," she called, "Huldah! I want you to go into the village to get some tea; we have run out, and we want some sugar, too."

Huldah turned and ran quickly into the house. She was quite ready to go, but in her heart of hearts she always shrank a little from going into the village; the people stared at her so, and asked all manner of questions, which she found it difficult to

answer.

A little girl and a dog cannot arrive in a village as though they had dropped out of the sky, without, of course, people wanting to know who they are, and where they come from, and why they came, and with whom they lived before, and with whom they are staying now, and how long they are going to stay.

Mrs. Perry had adopted Huldah as her niece, but a number of people in the village did not really believe she was so, and, having very little to do or think about, they were anxious to find out, and Huldah, when she did go amongst them, found it very trying.

Dick did not find it trying, though, he loved a walk, no matter in what direction it lay, and questions and curiosity did not trouble him at all. He looked wistfully from Huldah to Mrs. Perry, begging with his eyes that he might be allowed to go too.

"Yes, take him," said Mrs. Perry; "it is only three o'clock, and you'll be back by four. I don't mind being alone in broad daylight like this." So Huldah, not a little pleased with her appearance in her pretty blue frock and new hat, started off, basket in hand, and Dick, very proud and pleased, trotted off beside her.

It was not until she drew near the village that she began to wonder what the people would think of the change in her appearance, and a great shyness seized her, and reluctance to go on and meet their looks of surprise, and their open remarks. The feeling grew and grew with every step she took, until she had begun to wonder if she could ever bring herself to face them, when suddenly her mind was lifted off her fears by the extraordinary behaviour of Dick.

Growling savagely, his hair rising stiffly along his back, he was walking more and more slowly, and drawing in closer and closer to Huldah, as his habit was when he felt he must protect her.

"Why, Dick," she cried, puzzled and half-alarmed, "what is it old man? whatever is the matter?" Then, her eyes following the direction of his, she saw, standing by a gate deep-set in the hedge, two young men. To her they seemed harmless enough, just two ordinary-looking strangers, and if it had not been for Dick's behaviour, she would have passed them by without a thought. But evidently they were not harmless in Dick's eyes, for his growls and snarls grew louder and more forbidding the nearer he approached.

The men looked surprised and frightened, and, like most frightened people, they lost their tempers. "Hold in your dog, can't you?" cried one. "You've no right to keep a brute like that."

At the sound of the man's voice Huldah felt a shock of surprise, and Dick's anger increased alarmingly. Where had she heard that voice before? She was sure it sounded familiar.

Without replying, she laid her hand on Dick's collar, and held him close to her.

The other man grew more threatening. "I'll go to the p'lice, and tell 'em you've got a savage dog that ought to be shot, 'cause he isn't safe!" he shouted out, furious with anger and fear.

"He isn't savage, he's good-tempered," Huldah burst forth, at last. "He won't hurt anybody unless they was up to no good, and-and deserved it." She was very near the verge of tears, but she felt she must not break down then.

"Call him good-tempered, do you? We wasn't doing anything but just standing here, and he come along ready to fly at our throats!"

Huldah could not deny the man's statement, nor could she explain. The men certainly seemed to be doing no harm, and Dick's behaviour was very extraordinary. All she could do was to clutch his collar with all her strength, and hurry away as fast as she could go. All thoughts of the village people's looks and remarks were gone from her mind now. She was shaking with nervousness and excitement and fears for Dick, and could think of nothing else.

How she did her errands she never knew, for the scare had driven almost everything else out of her head, her one idea being to hurry home as quickly as possible, and get herself and Dick into safety. The men were strangers to her, and she hoped they would never find out where she and Dick lived.

All the way back until she got past the gateway she still clutched Dick by the collar, much to his surprise and annoyance, for there was much to interest him on a walk like that, and he had quite forgotten his anger and the strangers who had aroused it.

When they had got safely past the dreaded gateway, Huldah's fears calmed down a little.

The men had departed, and all the road ahead of them looked empty.

"You may run now, Dickie," she said, with a sigh of relief, "and don't go getting into any more rows, for I can't bear it."

Dick, with a joyous flick of his tail and a bark of delight, bounded forward delightedly, and Huldah, free at last to attend to other things, looked over her parcels anxiously, to see if she had forgotten anything, for she had really only had half her wits about her when she was in the shop.

"Tea, sugar, box of matches-" A sharp yell made her look up quickly, her heart seeming to stand still with terror. It was Dick's voice, and Dick was in the middle of the road rolling about and crying out sharply, in evident pain.

"Dick! Dick! Come here, what has happened? Oh, Dick!" she called frantically, as she flew to his side; but before she could reach him a big stone came whizzing from the hedge, and another sharp cry of pain showed that poor Dick had been struck again.

"Oh, Dick, Dick dear! what have they done to you?" she cried, dropping on her knees in the dust beside him. The dog tried to struggle to his feet, but could not; every movement caused him to yelp with pain. He looked up at her imploringly, and licked her hand, as she put her arm under him to raise him, and the pain and helplessness in his loving eyes made her tears overflow. What was she to do? He was too big and heavy for her to carry all the way home. She looked about her helplessly, but there was no one in sight, or likely to be at that time of the day; only those two cowards hiding behind the hedge; for it had not taken Huldah long to guess who Dick's assailants were.

From time to time Dick gave a little whimper, and Huldah lifted his head upon her lap; but she was almost afraid to touch him, lest she should cause him more pain. How long, she wondered miserably, would it be before help came? Would those cowards throw more stones? It was horrible to stay there alone with that cowardly heartless pair hidden behind the hedge, and the feeling that at any moment more stones might be hurled at Dick. To protect him she placed herself between him and the hedge.

At last, at long last, when she had begun to wonder anxiously if night would fall and still find her there; and to think how frightened Mrs. Perry must be getting already, the sound of wheels struck on her ears, and it seemed to her the most welcome sound she had ever heard in her life.

The cowards heard it too, apparently, for "Come on, Bill," called a low voice, in the direction of the hedge. Huldah gave a great start of surprise. Where had she heard that voice and those very words before? Why, of course, it was all plain now. That first night at the cottage, the barn, the fowl-robbers!-it all came back to her with a rush. No wonder Dick had been angry when he saw them again,- and she, in her stupidity, had blamed him for showing temper. Dear clever, wise, brave Dick! He, too, recognised the voice now, and growled again with all his former spirit. Huldah's indignation rose beyond control. "Oh, you cowards!" she called out in a shrill angry voice, "I know you now. You came robbing a hen-roost, and the dog drove you off. You ran away from him, but he bit your legs. No wonder he growled when he saw you again. He knew what you were. I wish now I hadn't held him in. I wish I'd let him go at you, then p'raps it would have been you lying in the road howling, not him. Oh, you thieves and cowards!"

Her voice rang out clear and loud, but how much the men heard no one will ever know. Probably they did not stay to hear much, for the last thing they wanted was to meet people, or to run any risk of being seen.

The wheels drew nearer, then the vicarage pony-carriage came round the bend. For one moment Miss Carew stared bewildered at the group in the middle of the road, the little blue-clad girl, the yellow dog, and the basket of groceries all on the ground in the dust together; then she saw that something was wrong, and sprang out quickly to their assistance.

"Why, brownie! What has happened?" she cried, alarmed. "Dick, oh, poor old doggie, whatever have you been doing?"

Well she might ask, for poor Dick was covered with dust. He had a lump on his head, and a cut on his shoulder, and he could not help whining, as he made another effort to rise to greet her.

Then, amidst sobs and tears Huldah told her story, and Dick meanwhile looked up at her, a little protecting whimper escaping him from time to time. Now that the strain was over, and relief had come, Huldah broke down completely for a time. She was trembling in every limb, and was white to the lips. Miss Rose saw that the best thing for them both was to get them home as quickly as possible.

Half lifting Huldah, she helped her into the carriage. Then she put Dick in across her lap, and her basket at her feet, and finally got in herself.

"Now then," she said, cheeringly, "we shall soon be home, and Dick shall have his bruises bathed and his poor leg bound up. Don't cry any more, brownie, or you will frighten Mrs. Perry, and we mustn't do that on any account, must we? Dick is going to be very brave-he always is-and you are going to be as plucky as Dick. See there, he is better already," as the invalid gave a bark of excitement, at the sight of some sparrows in the road.

Huldah smiled, then laughed. If Dick was all right, nothing else seemed to matter. Dick turned his head and smiled up at her, to assure her he was better; and so, on the whole, it was quite a cheerful little party which drew up a few moments later before Mrs. Perry's gate.

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