“I have got so many plans in my head, that I think I shall burst,” said
Humphrey to Miles the next morning, as they stood on the door-steps,
watching the dog-cart vanishing in the distance, on its way to the
station, with their father and uncle. “Some of the things Uncle Charlie
was telling us about would be quite easy for us to do. You wouldn’t be
afraid, I suppose, to climb up the big tree overhanging the pond where
the water-lilies are?”
“No,” said Miles, rather doubtfully, “not if you went on first and gave
me your hand: but that tree is a long way off–wouldn’t one of the trees
in the orchard do?”
“Oh, no! it wouldn’t be half the fun. Don’t you remember the man in the
story crawled along the branch that stretched over the water? Well,
this tree has a branch hanging right over the pond; and I want to crawl
along it, like he did.”
“Hadn’t we better ask Virginie if we may go all that way alone?”
suggested Miles, in the vain hope of putting off the evil moment.
Humphrey, however, did not see the force of this argument, and so they
It was a very hot day, and after they had got out of the farm-yard there
was no shade at all.
Humphrey skipped through the meadows and over the gates, and Miles
followed him as quickly as he could, but the sun was very hot on his
head, and he soon got wearied and fell back.
Humphrey did not perceive how languidly his little brother was following
him, till a faint cry from behind reached him.
“Humphie, _please_ stop; I can’t keep up to you.”
Instantly he ran back.
“I’m _so_ tired, Humphie, and _so_ hot, shall we go home?”
“Go home! why we are close to the pond now. Look, Miles, it is only
across that meadow, and the corn-field beyond.”
Miles followed the direction of his brother’s finger, and his eye rested
ruefully on the expanse lying before him, where the sun was scorching up
“I’ll try, Humphie,” he said, resignedly.
“I tell you what!” exclaimed Humphrey, “I’ll _carry_ you!”
Miles felt a little nervous at the prospect, but he did not like to
“Just get over the gate,” continued Humphrey, “and then I’ll carry you
across the field, and we’ll soon be by the pond, where it will be as
cool as possible.”
Over the gate they scrambled, and then the elder boy disposed himself to
take his little brother in his arms. How shall I describe the intense
discomfort of the circumstances under which Miles now found himself!
One of Humphrey’s arms was so tightly round his neck, that he almost
felt as if he were choking, and the hand of the other grasped one of his
legs with a gripe which amounted almost to pain; and _still_ there was a
feeling of insecurity about his position which, already very strong
while Humphrey was standing still, did not diminish when he began to
Humphrey started with a run, but his speed soon slackened, and grave
doubts began to arise even in his own mind as to the accomplishment of
the task he had undertaken.
However, he staggered on. But when presently his long-suffering load
began to show signs of slipping, Humphrey tightened his grasp to such a
degree, that Miles, who till now had endured in silence, could endure no
longer, and he uttered a faint cry for mercy.
At the same moment, Humphrey caught his foot in a rabbit hole, and both
boys rolled over together. Peals of laughter from Humphrey followed the
catastrophe, but Miles did not quite enter into the spirit of the joke.
He was hot and tired, poor little fellow, and began to implore his
brother to take him under the neighboring hedge to rest.
Humphrey readily consented, and led him out of the baking sun.
“Perhaps we had better give it up,” said he, sighing, as he sat down by
Miles in the shade, “and try again in the cool of the evening. You could
do it, couldn’t you, if it were not for the heat?”
“Oh, yes,” said Miles, eagerly. With a respite in view, he was ready to
agree to anything.
“Very well,” said Humphrey, “then we’ll give it up and come again this
evening after tea. I declare,” he added, suddenly breaking off, “there’s
a mushroom out there!”
He was off in a moment, and returned in triumph. “Isn’t it a lovely one,
Miles? How fresh it smells and how beautiful it peels. If father were at
home, we’d have had it cooked for his dinner, he _is_ so fond of
“It wouldn’t keep good till Friday, I suppose, for the wild men’s dinner
party?” enquired Miles.
“One would be no use,” answered Humphrey, “but we might come here some
morning and get a lot if we brought a basket. I’ll tell you what, we’ll
get up _quite, quite_ early to-morrow, and come and have a regular
mushroom hunt. Won’t it be fun!”
“I’m afraid Virginie would not be awake to dress me,” observed Miles.
“Oh, never mind Virginie!” said Humphrey, “I’ll dress you, Miles; I
don’t think Virginie would care to get up so early, and it would be a
pity to wake her, poor thing! She goes to bed late, and is _so_ tired in
“So she is, poor thing!” said Miles.
“And besides, you know,” continued Humphrey, “she always thinks
something dreadful will happen if she doesn’t come with us, and it
would be a pity to frighten her for nothing.”
“So it would; a great pity,” repeated Miles. “But what’s that noise,
Humphie? Is it a cock crowing or a bull roaring?”
Both children listened.
There was many a sound to be heard round about on that summer morning;
the buzzing of bees as they flitted about among the clover, the chirrup
of the grasshoppers in the long grass, the crowing of a cock from the
farm, and the lowing of cattle in the distance, but that which had
attracted Miles’ attention was none of all these. It was the gradually
approaching sound of a female voice, which, as its owner neared the
meadow, assumed to the two little listeners the familiar tones of the
“M. Humphrey! M. Miles! M. Humphrey! où êtes-vous donc?”
“It’s Virginie!” they both exclaimed, jumping up.
Virginie it was; and great was the horror she expressed at their having
strayed so far from home, at the state of heat in which she found
Miles, and at his having been taken such a long walk.
Many were the reproaches she heaped upon Humphrey as they walked back to
the house for having caused _her_ such a hunt in the heat of the sun,
and her nerves such a shock as they had experienced when she had not
found him and his brother in their usual haunts.
Lastly she brought him up with the inquiry, “Et vos leçons! Savez vous
qu’il est midi passé?”
Humphrey’s ideas of time were always of the vaguest order, and when
anything of so exciting a nature as this morning’s expedition came in
the way, hours _were_ not in his calculations.
He did not mend matters much by saying he should have thought it had
been about half-past nine.
Virginie maintained a dignified silence after this explanation, till
they reached the hall door; and it now being too near dinner time to
make it worth while for Humphrey to get out his books, she informed him
that he would have to do all his lessons in the afternoon.
This was perhaps more of a punishment to Miles than to Humphrey.
Lessons were no trouble to Humphrey when once his attention was fixed on
them; and if it were not for the penance of having to sit still in a
chair, he did not really dislike them. But to Miles, his brother’s
lesson hours were times of dreary probation. He was not allowed to speak
to him, or distract his attention in any way; and had to sit turning
over the leaves of a picture book, or building a solitary castle of
bricks, in some part of the room where Humphrey could not see him
without regularly turning his head round.
Humphrey made a faint attempt after dinner to persuade Virginie to let
him do his lessons in the garden, under the big tree on the lawn; but it
was instantly negatived. In the nursery, with his back turned to Miles,
she did sometimes succeed in concentrating his attention on his reading;
but she knew too much of the all-powerful attractions out of doors to
comply with his proposal. Not to mention the chance of Carlo suddenly
jumping upon the book, or the tempting vicinity of the gardeners with
the mowing machine, there was always risk to his powers of attention in
chance butterflies and humble bees, the dropping of a blossom from the
tree above, or the sudden advent of a stray water-wag-tail.
Humphrey did not press the question, and opened his book with a slight
sigh, for which Virginie could not account.
Was there a memory floating in the child’s mind of a time when the same
request had never been made in vain?–of summer afternoons, dimly
remembered, when, sitting by his mother’s side under the same old tree,
he had learnt to read words of one syllable out of the baby primer on
her knee?–and when, if his attention _had_ sometimes wandered to the
summer sights and sounds around him, her gentle “Now, my darling try
and attend to your reading,” would instantly recall it. And then the
quick shutting up of the book when the specified stage had been reached,
the fond kiss of dismissal, and the joyous “Now run away, my child, and
play to your heart’s content!” as if she rejoiced as much as he did that
he should be released from his temporary bondage, and disport himself in
the sunshine once more!
Great stillness now reigned in the nursery for more than an hour. It was
only broken by the monotonous drone of Humphrey’s reading, and
Virginie’s occasional “Tenez-vous bien. Otez donc les bras de la table
Ne donnez pas des coups de pied à la chaise”–varied by the fall of
Miles’s bricks, as he knocked down one completed castle after another,
in despair at not being able to call upon his brother to admire them.
As the time at which Humphrey’s release was due approached, and there
were no signs of moving on Virginie’s part, Miles gave vent, at
intervals, to deep-drawn sighs.
It came at last; Virginie shut up the book, and put a mark in it, and
Humphrey, with a loud “Hurrah,” dashed his chair suddenly back, and
turned head over heels on the floor.
Miles threw himself upon him, and the two rolled over and over each
other, in the “abandon” of perfect enjoyment.
“We’ll start for the pond directly after tea,” whispered Humphrey.
But Virginie had other plans in view, and to the children’s disgust they
were taken for a walk with her, to visit the wife of one of the farmers.
The long confinement in the farmer’s kitchen, while Virginie and the
farmer’s wife talked about bonnets and trimmings, was very wearisome to
the two boys. Miles found some compensation in the discovery of a tiny
kitten on the hearth; and Humphrey, mounting on a chair, played with the
trigger of the farmer’s gun which hung over the mantelpiece, “just to
see whether it was loaded or not.”
They did not get home till Miles’s bed-time.
Humphrey established himself on the edge of the bath, and watched
Virginie carefully as she undressed his little brother, that he might
learn how Miles’s vestments succeeded each other; for he felt a little
doubtful of his own powers as a valet.
His face lengthened considerably when he saw how many strings there
would be to tie.
He drew nearer, in his eagerness, as Virginie untied them one after the
other; and began considering how to do the untying process backwards,
and wondering whether it would produce the desired result.
“Don’t be in such a hurry,” he called out, in his excitement, as she
pulled out the last tie, “I didn’t half see.”
Virginie’s look of astonishment recalled him to himself, and he
retreated hastily to his seat on the edge of the bath.
Fortunately for him, she was so taken up with reproving him for
speaking to her in English, that she forgot to inquire into his
extraordinary interest in the tape strings.