Raw mushrooms

Little Miles was dreaming on a green bank, on the top of which he and
Humphrey were seated, making daisy-chains, when suddenly the midges
began to fly in his face in a most disagreeable manner. Buzz, buzz, they
came up against his cheeks like hard lumps, and he couldn’t drive them
away. He turned to Humphrey for assistance, and such a strong gust of
wind blew upon one side of his head and face that he fell over on his
side and began to slip down the hill. He clutched hold of his brother to
save himself, and woke–to find neither bank nor daisies but that
Humphrey was dragging him out of bed.

“At last!” whispered Humphrey. “I thought you never _were_ going to
wake. I’ve tried _everything_! I’ve thrown bits of biscuit in your
face, I’ve blown into your ear, I’ve shaken you till I was tired; I
couldn’t speak, you know, for fear of waking Virginie. Be very quiet,
for she’s moved once or twice.”

“But what do you want, Humphie?” asked Miles, rubbing his eyes. “Why do
you get out of bed in the middle of the night?”

“Middle of the night!” echoed Humphrey, “why it’s broad daylight! Look
at the hole in the shutter, how sunny it is out of doors. I’ve been
lying awake ever since the cock crew, watching the light get brighter
and brighter, and—-”

But before he had concluded his sentence his weary little brother had
settled himself again on his pillow.

“Miles! Miles!” whispered Humphrey in despair, stooping over him.

“Good night, Humphie,” said Miles, sleepily.

“Why, you’re going to sleep again,” said Humphrey in his ear.

“No, I’m not,” said the child, dreamily.

“Yes, you are!” exclaimed Humphrey, forgetting, in his excitement, that
he was speaking out loud.

“No, I’m not,” repeated Miles, trying to seem very wide-awake: but the
fringed eyelids drooped over the heavy eyes, and he tried to keep them
open in vain.

An ominous stir from the big bed prevented Humphrey from answering, and
he watched Virginie nervously, as she rolled over from one side to the
other.

Miles took advantage of the pause and fell asleep again directly.

“Wake up! wake up!” said Humphrey, returning to the charge.

Miles sat up in bed.

“What _is_ the matter, Humphie?”

“Nothing’s the matter, but don’t you remember our _delicious_ plan to
get up early and pick mushrooms?”

Miles remembered now, but the plan did not seem so delicious now,
somehow, as it had done the day before.

“Get up now, Humphie?” he said dejectedly.

“Yes,” answered his energetic brother, “you won’t mind it when we’re
once out in the fields. I’m going to dress you before I dress myself, so
be quick and jump up. You’ll feel all right when you’re out of bed.”

Little Miles looked half inclined to cry.

“I’m so sleepy,” he said wistfully.

“You’ll be better soon,” said Humphrey, pulling off the bed-clothes.

“Let’s go to-morrow instead, Humphie.” Humphrey had turned round to get
Miles’s boots and stockings, and did not hear this last proposal. When
he came back to the bed-side, to his horror, Miles had lain down again.

“What is to be done?” he exclaimed in despair. A sudden thought struck
him, and he went quickly off to the other end of the room.

Miles was not quite asleep, and attracted by a clatter, he raised
himself to see what his brother was about.

“What are you going to do, Humphie?” he exclaimed, as he saw Humphrey
coming slowly across the room with a great jug of water in his arms.

“Why you see,” said Humphrey in a loud whisper, and rather out of
breath, for he was oppressed by the weight of the water jug, “the best
way to wake people is to pour a jug of cold water suddenly on their
face, and so—-”

“Oh! I’m quite awake now, Humphie; indeed,” interrupted Miles, getting
out of bed in a great hurry, “you needn’t, really. Look at my eyes.” And
in great trepidation the child opened his large blue eyes to their
fullest extent.

Humphrey was satisfied, and put the jug down. Miles would have been
happier to see it safely replaced on the distant wash-hand stand, and
offered to help to carry it back, if his brother found it too heavy.

He was not much reassured by Humphrey’s answer:

“It’ll do very well there; and, besides, it’s better to have it near,
in case you get sleepy again.”

The toilette now began in earnest: Humphrey gave Miles his stockings to
put on while he proceeded to dress himself, and was all ready but his
jacket, when turning round he found Miles in great perplexity, with his
toe unaccountably fixed in the place where his heel ought to be.

“I can’t get it out, Humphie!”

“I must do it, I suppose,” said the elder boy; and he seized the leg,
nearly upsetting Miles as he did so, and proceeded to put on the
stocking wrong side out.

“It doesn’t matter the least,” he assured Miles, who was rather
discomfited at the bits of thread, and general unfinished appearance of
his leg. But what _did_ matter was, that the walking-boots had not, of
course, come up from being cleaned.

“Never mind,” said Humphrey; “shoes will do.”

On came the delicate child’s thin in-door shoes, without any reference
to the heavy dew and long grass attendant upon mushroom hunting. Miles
was then divested of his night-gown, and his under-clothes put on.

All went on smoothly till the first tying of strings, and here Humphrey
was completely at fault. It was no use.

“Don’t you think you could hold all your things together?” he suggested;
“and then I’ll pop on your blouse quick, and make the band very tight,
to keep it all steady?”

Miles agreed to this plan, as he did to all others, more especially as
he found the alternative was the insertion of a huge pin, with which
Humphrey offered to “make it all comfortable!”

“I don’t know how it is,” said little Miles, shaking himself about, “but
I don’t feel as warm as usual.”

“Don’t shake like that, Miles,” exclaimed Humphrey; “it’ll all come
down, you know. Get your hat, and let’s come along quietly.”

“Why! I have had no bath!” said Miles, stopping short.

“No more have I,” echoed Humphrey, “I quite forgot! And what’s this?”
he added, picking up a small flannel shirt.

“Why, it’s mine,” said Miles.

“So it is,” rejoined Humphrey, “of course; that’s why you felt cold.
Well, we can’t wait now. Come along: be very quiet.” And the two boys
stepped quietly out of the room, and of course left the door wide open
behind them.

It was not much more than half-past five by the clock in the hall, and
doors and windows were as yet all barred. The light came in fitfully
through any chinks or holes it could find, and gave a generally
mysterious aspect to the hall and staircase. Little Miles glanced rather
timidly round, and drew nearer to his brother, as they passed through
the library and billiard-room, as if the unwonted appearance of the
familiar apartments threw something of the supernatural round about
them.

Any one who has risen at an unusual hour, and come into the
sitting-rooms before the household is stirring, will understand
something of the child’s feeling. The chairs and tables are undergoing a
phase which to them is familiar, but which is quite strange to us.

We only know them as in connection with ourselves, and do not dream that
they have an existence in which we are not, with which we have nothing
to do. We know them in the busy day and in the lighted room at night;
but with the grey dawn creeping in upon them they are quite strangers,
and even mysterious.

Hans Christian Andersen recognized and expressed this feeling when he
laid the scene of one of his fairy tales in a drawing-room at dead of
night, and endowed the inanimate objects in the room with the attributes
of human beings.

The two little brothers found their way out by the conservatory, and
went to the tool-house to fetch some baskets, before setting out for the
mushroom fields.

The dew was heavy on flowers and grass and when they got into the
meadow, their feet, and legs got very wet.

At sight of the first batch of mushrooms in the distance, Humphrey got
wild, and with a scream of joy he bounded towards it. From one batch to
another he sped, picking as fast as he could, and was soon out of sight.

Humphrey had it all to himself, for Miles could not keep up, and he was
soon left far behind with his basket. He was a little disconcerted at
first, when he saw Humphrey gradually getting further and further away;
but having satisfied himself by a hasty glance round the field, that
there were no bulls near, he became reconciled to his solitude, and
began to fill his basket, humming a little tune to himself as he did so.

He was rather surprised, as he went along, to see how many mushrooms
Humphrey had left untouched. They were such lovely ones too! all red and
yellow outside, and white inside, and so huge!

He filled his basket with them in great triumph, and then sat down
under a tree to wait for Humphrey’s return.

The early morning air was rather fresh, and he began to feel a little
cold without his flannel shirt. His feet, too, were very wet, and he got
up to take a little run to warm himself. He caught sight of Humphrey
coming towards him, and ran to meet him.

“Oh, Humphie! I’ve got such a lot, and such beauties! Come and see them
under the tree.”

“Look here!” said Humphrey, holding up his basket; “did you ever see
such a quantity?”

Miles looked a little nervously at the white exteriors of Humphrey’s
mushrooms.

“Mine are quite different, Humphie.”

“You haven’t been picking fungus, I hope?” exclaimed Humphrey, stopping
short.

“Oh, no!” said Miles, quickly–“at least I don’t think I have,” he added
doubtfully, “But what _is_ fungus, Humphie?”

“Toadstools,” answered Humphrey, “horrid big yellow toads; there are
lots of them about in the fields. Where are they, Miles? Show them to
me, quick!”

“They’re under the trees,” said Miles; and both boys set off running.

“Toads, every one!” proclaimed Humphrey, emptying the basket on the
ground. “Not one mushroom in the lot. Why, Miles! do you know they’re
poison?”

Miles stood aghast–the awe of the announcement completely softening the
disappointment.

“It’s lucky I saw them before they were cooked,” continued Humphrey, in
a tone of great solemnity; “fancy, if all the wild men had been
poisoned! It would have been your fault.”




“Oh, Humphie!” said little Miles, in terror, “let’s throw them away.”

“We’ll smash them,” said Humphrey; “and that’ll do as well.”

So they made a heap of the fungus, and stamped upon them till their
shoes and stockings were covered with the nasty compound.

“What will Virginie say?” laughed Humphrey, as he looked at his legs.

“What _will_ she say?” echoed Miles, delighted. Suddenly he stopped
short. “Humphie! I never said my prayers!”

“Good gracious! No more have I.”

“What shall we do? We shall have to go home. It wouldn’t be right, I
suppose, to say them out of doors?”

“No harm at all,” said Humphrey; “let’s say them under the tree.”

And, suiting the action to the word, with his usual promptitude,
Humphrey knelt down; but he was up again directly.

“I was going to tell you, Miles, that we’d better take off our hats
while we say them; every one does when they go to church; which, of
course, you don’t know, as you’re too young to go there.”

Miles received the information with great respect, and began to
disentangle his elastic from his hair.

“Not yet!” exclaimed Humphrey; “wait till we kneel down; I’ll tell you
when.”

Miles kept his eyes fixed upon Humphrey, with his hand on the brim of
his hat, ready to take it off at the expected signal.

“Now!” said Humphrey. Down knelt the two little brothers on the grass,
baring their curly heads as they did so.

Little Miles was accustomed to repeat his prayer after Virginie, and did
not know it by heart; and he was in great perplexity till Humphrey had
finished, not knowing whether it would be best to remain kneeling or
not.

In about five minutes Humphrey jumped up and put on his hat. Miles rose
too, and confided his troubles. Humphrey instantly gave the subject his
earnest attention.

“It would never do for you to say my prayer after me,” he said,
reflectively; “you’re too young.”

“Too young,” repeated Miles, meekly.

“And I’ve forgotten my baby prayer, _of course_,” continued Humphrey;
“it’s so very very long since I used to say it—- I’ll tell you what,
Miles, you might say your grace!”

“My grace?” said Miles, rather scared; “why, that isn’t prayers, is it,
Humphie?”

“Oh, yes, it is,” answered Humphrey; “in your little book of ‘Prayers
for Children,’ your grace has got at the top of it, ‘A prayer after
meat.’ Meat, you know, means breakfast, dinner, and tea; even if you
only have bread and butter, or sop.”

“_Does_ it?” exclaimed Miles. “I thought meat was only beef and
mutton–hardly chicken!”

“Ah! but it does, though,” said Humphrey, in a superior tone; “you don’t
know, Miles. There’s lots of things you don’t know yet. Why you thought
grace wasn’t prayers, and yet it is. Now say this after me: ‘For what I
have received, may the Lord make me truly thankful.'”

“Why! that’s _your_ grace, Humphie, not _mine_! Mine is only, ‘Thank God
for my good breakfast.'”

“That will do,” said Humphrey.

“But, Humphie! I’ve not _had_ my breakfast! How can I say it?”

“To be sure,” said Humphrey, reflectively, “that makes it very awkward.
You’ve not even had a bit of bread. If you’d only had a biscuit, it
would have done–it’s very unlucky.”

He remained for some minutes in an attitude of deep thought.

“I know!” he exclaimed suddenly; “I always say a grace _before_ my
meals, and of course you’ll have some breakfast presently, so you can
say my grace after me. It’s very difficult for you, of course; but
still, if I say it very slowly, you can manage to do it. Now listen very
attentively: ‘For what I am going to receive, may the Lord make me truly
thankful.'”

Miles knelt down and repeated the little prayer, and then the two little
brothers sat down on the grass, and counted their mushrooms, to see how’
many there would be for the wild men apiece.

Meanwhile Virginie, awakened by the rush of cold air caused by the open
door, sat up in bed and looked about her.

The two little nightgowns on the floor and the jug of water in the
middle of the room, first attracted her attention; but the room being
partially dark, she did not perceive that the children had disappeared.
She got up and opened the shutters, and then stood staring at the empty
beds, the sheets and blankets scattered in all directions. And then she
advanced hurriedly to Humphrey’s bed, to see if the children were hidden
beneath it. She looked also under the wardrobe, behind the curtains, in
the toy cupboard. But her astonishment changed to alarm when she found
their clothes were missing, and she ran into the day-nursery, and hung
over the stairs shouting, “M. Humphrey! M. Miles!”

Not being dressed, she could not go down, so she rang the bell
violently, and began to put on her things as quickly as she could.

The housemaid who answered the bell could give no account of the young
gentlemen, but volunteered to search the house for them.

While she was absent Virginie’s eyes fell on Miles’s flannel shirt, and
she wrung her hands in despair.

“They must have gone out,” said the housemaid, returning; “the
conservatory door is wide open, and so is the outer door.”

“Impossible!” stuttered Virginie, in her broken English; “their walking
boots have not mounted; they have not but the thin shoes of the house!”

“They must be out,” repeated the housemaid, “for I’ve hunted every
corner. Have they taken their hats?”

Virginie strode across the room, and opened a drawer.

“Mon Dieu!” she exclaimed, when she saw it was empty.

“But, I say,” she continued, gesticulating violently with both hands,
“that M. Miles will catch the cold, the cough, the croup. See there,
Jeanne! he has not the flannel shirt he carries always. His chest will
inflame. He will die!”

She began to put on her bonnet.

“There they are!” exclaimed Jane, who had gone to the window. “Look
there! out in that field!”

“In the fields? sitting on the wet grass!” said Virginie in horror, as
she distinguished the two little figures in the distance, seated under a
tree. “Entrez, entrez, à l’instant!” she screamed to the children,
though they were much too far off to hear. She seized her shawl and ran
down-stairs.

The little boys were coming homewards when she got into the garden, and
she hurried on to meet them. Miles had hold of his brother’s hand, and
was walking rather wearily; but Humphrey, with his head still full of
the success of his morning sport, disregarded alike Miles’s languor and
Virginie’s infuriated appearance.

“Regardez!” he shouted in triumph, holding up his basket of mushrooms.

At the sight of Miles’s wet boots and flushed cheeks, Virginie forgot
all the reproaches she had prepared for Humphrey and merely with lofty
disdain confiscating his mushrooms, she took Miles up in her arms and
carried him home.

Humphrey trotted along by her side, entreating to have his basket
restored, but she took no notice of him.

She carried Miles straight up into the nursery, and began to undress
him. He presented a curious appearance when his blouse was taken
off–strings all knotted together, buttons forced into the wrong holes,
and hooks clinging to outlets that were never intended for them.

Miles yawned all the time, and sneezed once or twice, each time
provoking from Virginie an exclamation, half of alarm and half of anger.

“You needn’t scold Miles,” called out Humphrey, who was being washed in
the distance by the nursery-maid; “he didn’t want to come–it was all
me.”

When they were dressed again, the two little culprits were seated to
their breakfast, but forbidden to hold any communication with each other
except in French.

It was rather a slow ending to so pleasant a beginning, especially as
after breakfast Miles was so tired that he had to lie down, and Humphrey
was hardly allowed to move for fear of disturbing him.

Virginie would not let them out of her sight for the rest of the day,
and they took a dull walk in the afternoon, one on each side of her.

Towards evening, Miles gave forth an ominous cough, and was decidedly
croupy at night.

Virginie’s nerves always deserted her when the delicate boy was ill in
his father’s absence, and towards the middle of the next day she could
stand it no longer, and sent off for the doctor.

Humphrey was very remorseful when Virginie informed him it was his fault
that Miles was unwell, and remained in a state of great depression for
about three minutes. But the sight of the doctor’s gig coming up the
avenue sent it all out of his head, and he dashed down-stairs, three
steps at a time, to receive him at the hall door.

“Well, Doctor,” he called out; “how are you? Why, you’ve got new harness
to your horse! How jolly and clean it looks.”

“New harness?–yes,” said the doctor, dismounting; “but tell me what’s
the matter with your brother?”

“Oh, it was the mushrooms,” said Humphrey, vaguely, and with his eyes
running over the new reins and straps. “I wonder how long they’ll look
so fresh and clean?”

“Mushrooms!” exclaimed the doctor; “you don’t mean to say they let that
delicate child eat mushrooms? Has he got an attack of indigestion?”

“Oh, no,” said Humphrey, springing down the steps and patting the horse;
“a pain in his chest, I think. How glossy his coat is to-day, isn’t it?”

“Same thing–same thing,” said the doctor; “and I’m sure I don’t
wonder, if they let him eat mushrooms.”

Humphrey burst out laughing, having for the first time given his
attention to what the doctor was saying.

“Why, they were raw!” he said.

“Raw mushrooms!” exclaimed the doctor, “who could have allowed him to
eat them?”

“But he didn’t eat any,” said Humphrey, convulsed. And he rolled about
so, as he laughed at the doctor’s mistake, that he knocked up against
the horse, who immediately plunged.

“Take care, my dear child,” said the doctor, pulling him away; “you
mustn’t frighten black Bob–he won’t stand it. But, tell me,” he
continued, drawing the boy into the hall, “Why did you say the mushrooms
had given him a pain in his chest?”

“It was the flannel shirt—-” began Humphrey; but at the sound of hoofs
on the gravel outside, he broke off suddenly: “Oh there’s black Bob
plunging again; I _must_ go and see–let me go, please.” He broke from
the doctor’s grasp, and ran back to the door, calling out as he did so:
“It might have been the flannel shirt, perhaps, if it wasn’t the shoes;
but we were in such a hurry.”

Despairing of getting any sense out of him, the doctor let him go, and
pursued his way up-stairs, where he had full details from Virginie.

He did not think Miles very bad, but ordered him to be kept in two rooms
for the rest of the week.

I need hardly say that when he came down again Humphrey had persuaded
the groom to let him get into the gig, and there he was in the broiling
sun without his hat, driving black Bob round and round the approach.

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