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   Chapter 7 A MEETING AND AN ALARM.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 14372

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Autumn had come now; late autumn with winter not so very far off, and the days were growing very short and dark; so short and dark that there was no chance of working early in the morning before she went downstairs, nor after she went to bed at night, except by candlelight, and she could not, of course, burn candles. So Mrs. Perry had to be taken into the secret, and Huldah worked in comfort by the fire in the afternoons, after she had done her housework.

And how she did love those cosy afternoons, and how the memory of them lived with her all her life after! The wind and rain storming outside, the snug little kitchen, where they sat so cosy and warm, Dick lying contentedly on his rug, Mrs. Perry sitting in her armchair by the fire, reading aloud from one of her few but precious books. They were old, those stories, but to Huldah they were more beautiful than any she ever came across later on.

Then came the glad day when the basket was completed. Huldah had taken more pains with it than with any she had ever made, and her care was rewarded, for a prettier, daintier basket no one could wish to possess. As soon as it was finished there arose the great question of how, and when, and where the gift should be made.

"I want it to seem as if it comes from a brownie," Huldah insisted, eagerly. "I couldn't make it at night, as the brownies would have done, but couldn't I leave it, as they left their gifts, just where it is sure to be found? It would be much nicer, wouldn't it? Miss Rose would laugh, and be so pleased. I am sure she would like to have it that way."

At last, after a great deal of thought, and a great many plans had been made and set aside as not quite suitable, it was decided that Huldah should get up early in the morning and walk to the vicarage, then creeping softly into the stable, she would tie the parcel on to Rob's back, or to his manger, where he could not reach it. Miss Carew always went out early, to feed her hens, and to take Rob some bread and sugar, so she would be sure to see it.

Another plan was for Huldah to creep into Miss Rose's sitting-room when the maid's back was turned, and leave the parcel on the table; but they did not like this plan very well, for one thing, Huldah did not like creeping stealthily in and out of the house, and for another, Miss Rose might not find the basket for hours. She was always so busy about the garden and Rob and the hen-houses that she might not go to her room till quite late in the day.

No; Rob, they decided, must be the medium, and Huldah thrilled with excitement.

When she went to bed that night, she was so full of fears that she would not wake in good time in the morning that she tried to keep awake all night. But, after a while the time seemed so long, the night so endless, and the morning so far off, she longed to be able to go to sleep, to bring it nearer more quickly, and while she was wondering if the kitchen clock had really struck ten, or was it really six, and time to get up, she fell asleep, and the next thing she was conscious of was Mrs. Perry calling her, and the old clock in the kitchen striking six as hard as it could strike.

"You dress and get ready, and I will light the fire," she said; and when Huldah presently went downstairs, the kitchen was bright with lamp and firelight, the kettle was singing gaily, and Mrs. Perry was already warming the tea-pot.

By the time they had had their tea and Huldah was ready to start, it was already growing light out of doors. The night had been cold, and there was a thin layer of ice on the puddles in the road, and a nipping little wind made Huldah glad to wrap her old shawl snugly about her,-the shawl which Mrs. Perry had lent her, to save the new cloak. Dick bounded along delightedly; it was not often now that he had a walk at that hour of the morning, and he rejoiced in every inch of it; though he was rather hurt when, on reaching the vicarage gate, Huldah took a piece of string from her pocket and fastened it to his collar. It was only his perfect trust in his mistress that enabled him to bear such an indignity, and he followed her full of wonder as to what was to happen next.

Keeping on the grass by the side of the drive, they made their way noiselessly round to the courtyard and stables. No one was about out of doors, Huldah rejoiced to see, but guessed that Dinah was already up and in the kitchen, for smoke was coming out of a chimney.

With Dick keeping obediently close to her side, she timidly opened the stable door and crept swiftly in. Rob knew her well enough by this time, and only looked mildly surprised at her appearance. He had a horse-cloth over him, fastened round him by a girth, and while he scrunched up the sugar Huldah had brought him she secured her basket on his back by the girth, as fast as her nervous fingers could manage it. "Miss Rose can't help seeing it there," she thought, delightedly, "and Rob can't harm it before she comes." She stood for a second gazing in sheer joy at her handiwork, the dainty basket and the big white label tied to it, with "From a grateful Brownie," written in large letters on it. Then, fearful of being discovered, she hurried quickly out, fastened the door behind her, and with Dick still close at her heels raced away as quietly as ever she could, and never paused until she had reached the top of Woodend Lane once more.

Stephen Lea, the groom, had been ill, and was late that morning, and Miss Rose reached the stable first. Almost at once her eye was caught by something unusual on the pony's back, but in the dim light of the stable she could not make out what it was.

"Why, Rob," she exclaimed, laughing, "what have you been doing? Where have you been to pick up a load?" Then she searched his side, and made out what the load really was. "Oh, that dear child!" she cried, as she read the inscription written in a big round hand on a sheet of paper, and her eyes grew misty, "From a grateful Brownie." "Now when could she have brought that, and tied it there, I wonder. Rob, you bad boy, why don't you tell me all about it? You know you have been gobbling down sugar this morning, greedy little creature that you are; but I should never have known it from you, if I hadn't seen the crumbs. You are the best secret-keeper I know, but I do wish you could tell me about this, Rob dear."

She looked at the pretty basket with eyes full of tenderness and admiration. "Dear, kind little brownie!" she whispered softly.

Later that day, Rob, still looking as though he did not know what a secret or a brownie was, trotted down Woodend Lane, and drew up as a matter of course before the cottage gate. Indeed, his feelings would have been quite hurt if he had been told that he must not stop there, but must go further down the lane.

Huldah heard his steps, and saw him arrive, watched Miss Rose get down from the carriage and fasten Rob to the railings,-then, in a sudden access of shyness, flew out of the back door and down to the very bottom of the garden.

There Miss Rose found her, a few minutes later. "Huldah," she said, smiling, her pretty blue eyes full of pleasure, and gratitud

e, and affection, "I found on Rob's back this morning, left there by the brownies, a basket so pretty and so dainty that everyone who has seen it wants one like it. It was a brownie's basket, and as you are the only one of them that I know who can do work like it, I have come to bring you the order."

"Oh!" gasped Huldah, forgetting her shyness in her delight.

"I am going to call them 'Brownie baskets,' to distinguish them from any others; but the reason shall be our secret, shall it not? Thank you very, very much little brownie, for your sweet gift," and she stooped down and kissed Huldah on the forehead.

The child's eyes filled with tears, glad, grateful tears. "Oh, Miss Rose," she exclaimed, "I am so happy, I don't know what to do; it is all too lovely. I am always afraid I shall wake up and find it a dream."

"It is no dream, brownie; so long as you go on trying to make others happy you will find your own happiness is quite real. Happiness lies in helping others and bringing sunshine into their lives. You will have some disappointments. It will seem as though some people do not want to be made happy, others would not admit it if they were. Such people need a lot of patience shown them, but you must go on trying. There is always something to be done for someone. You must come indoors, though, or you will be taking cold, and we cannot afford to have that happen."

Huldah followed Miss Rose along the path, hardly conscious that her feet touched the earth. Her heart was throbbing with joy, her eyes were dancing. Dick followed his mistress, his tail wagging contentedly, he knew by instinct why she was happy, and his senses told him that she had been very happy ever since they started for that beautiful walk that morning.

"I am going to begin the work to-morrow morning," Huldah said, eagerly, to Mrs. Perry that evening, as they sat over their supper before the fire. "I expect Miss Rose would like to have the baskets soon, and they will take a little while to make."

Alas, though, when morning came, Huldah's eagerness received a sharp check. She had only the least little bit of raffia left, and to get more she would have to go into Belmouth.

"What a pity!" she cried, disappointedly; "it will take hours to walk there and back, and I meant to have done such a lot to-day!" She could have wept with vexation. Belmouth was four miles off, and one of the hilliest four miles imaginable. But it was not this that daunted her, it was the length of time that she would be kept from her work. However, there was no good done by worrying over it, or by delaying, so, as soon as she had done her housework, and dinner was over and the dishes put away, she put on her new brown cloak, and with Dick for company she started.

They stepped out briskly, for the days were short now, and Mrs. Perry grew anxious if they were long away, and nervous if she were left alone when the light began to fade. They stepped along so briskly that by half-past two they were in the town, and making their way to the shop where Miss Rose had bought the raffia before. The purchase took a little time, for the shopman had not enough out, and had to send to the stock-room to get some. But, now that she was there, Huldah did not mind that. She loved watching the people coming in and making their purchases; it was all so lively and new and interesting. The shopkeeper, who had seen her come there with Miss Carew, and had heard about her basket-making, was nice and friendly too. He seemed to take quite an interest in her work, and promised to get her some orders if he could, so that altogether Huldah came out of that shop feeling extremely happy, and not in the least sorry that she had had to come.

"I feel almost too happy," she was saying to herself, as she stepped out into the street, where the setting sun was flooding the place with radiance, a dazzling, rosy radiance that shone right in Huldah's eyes, and blinded her to all about her.

"It is all so lovely," she added, "it seems as if it can't be true, as if I can't be really me"-a sudden sharp, excited barking on the part of Dick made her turn quickly. She turned her back to the sun, and the dazzle went out of her eyes, and with it the sunshine from her life,-or so it seemed to her,-for there, drawn up by the opposite pavement was her uncle's van, and old Charlie! and, as Huldah knew, the owners themselves would not be far off!

Dick had recognised Charlie-that was the meaning of his excitement, and therein lay the greatest danger, for he was barking and leaping about the old horse in such delight that everyone's attention was attracted, and it was only a question as to how soon he would attract Uncle Tom's attention too. Huldah's own heart yearned to go over and speak to the dear old horse, but her fears were stronger. She felt half paralysed with terror, and for a moment her wits so forsook her that she did not know what to do. Then inspiration came to her, and she turned and hurried away as fast as her feet could carry her. She did not run, she was trembling too much for that, she dared not whistle for Dick, for that would have called attention to them both. She could only walk away, and trust to his following her; but even as she went she heard a dreaded voice shout out excitedly, "Why there's our Dick! Dick, Dick, come here"-but at the sound of it Dick felt the old fear in his heart leap to life, and with his old instinct to fly from his master, he dashed along the street as swiftly as his long legs could carry him, and was very quickly out of sight. So swiftly did he race that he shot past Huldah without recognising her, and her heart beat faster with thankfulness, for the further away he got the better, and it was better for both of them that they should not be seen together.

How she got over those four long miles home Huldah never knew. Her head swam, her legs trembled, indeed, her whole body shook with nervous dread, so that, in spite of her anxiety to get home quickly, she had to stand still many times, to quiet the beating of her heart, and get breath to go on again.

Half a mile out of the town she found Dick, running wildly backwards and forwards looking for her, and troubled and ashamed at having lost her. She wished, though, that he had gone all the way home, for if they were followed and seen together she would be recognised instantly, and she would have no power of escape such as Dick had had.

She took her hat off, and drew her hood over her head, but with Dick beside her nothing would save her, she knew. So slowly had she come that darkness was already beginning to fall. Seeing this, she tried to hurry on more quickly, and once within sight of their own lane relief gave her strength to run. In the lane the twilight was deeper, and already Mrs. Perry, growing nervous, had lighted the lamp in the kitchen. The warm glow streamed out on poor frightened Huldah, and welcomed her. At the sound of her footsteps the house door flew open, and Mrs. Perry came out on the step to meet her; but instead of her usual smile and greeting, Huldah fell exhausted into her arms and burst into a passion of bitter sobs.

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