Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Little Princess of Tower Hill, Page 2

L. T. Meade



  Ralph's mother was a widow. She had traveled on the Continent for a longtime, but had at last taken a small house in London. Sir John intended weekafter week to go and see his sister, and week after week put off doing so,until it suddenly dawned upon him that Ralph's society might do his ownlittle princess good. Sir John told his wife to say nothing to Maggie abouther cousin's visit, as it was quite uncertain whether his mother wouldspare him, and he did not wish the little maid to be disappointed. Maggie,however, was a very sharp child, and she was much interested in sundrymysterious preparations which were taking place in a certain very prettybedroom not far from her own nurseries. A little brass bedstead, quite newand bright, was being covered with snowy draperies; and sundry articleswhich girls were not supposed to care about, but which, nevertheless,Maggie looked at with eyes of the deepest veneration and curiosity, werebeing placed in the room; among these articles might have been seen somecricket-bats, a pair of boxing-gloves, a couple of racket-balls, and even alittle miniature gun. The little gun was harmless enough in its way; it hadbelonged to Sir John when a lad, but why was it placed in this room, andwhat did all these preparations mean? Maggie eagerly questioned Rosalie,the under-housemaid, but Rosalie could tell her nothing, beyond the factthat she was bid to make certain preparations in the room, and she supposedone of master's visitors was expected.

  "He must be a very short man," said Maggie, laying herself down at fulllength on the little white bed, and measuring the distance between her feetand the bright brass bars at the bottom; "he'll be about half a foot biggerthan me," and then she scampered off to Miss Grey.

  "Father's visitor's room is all ready," she said. "How tall should youthink he'd be, Miss Grey?"

  "Dear me, Maggie, how can I tell? If the visitor is a man, he'll be sure tobe somewhere between five feet and six feet; I can't tell you the exactnumber of inches."

  "No, you're as wrong as possible," answered Maggie, clapping her hands."There's a visitor coming to father, and of course he's a man, or hewouldn't be father's visitor, and he's only about one head bigger than me.He's very manly, too; he likes cricket, and racket, and boxing, and firingguns. His room is full of all those 'licious things. Oh, I wish I was a mantoo. Miss Grey, darling, how soon shall I be growed up?"

  "Not for a long, long time yet. Now do sit straight, dear, and don't crossyour legs. Sit upright on your chair, Maggie, like a little lady. Here isyour hemming, love; I have turned down a nice piece for you. Now be sureyou put in small stitches, and don't prick your finger."

  These remarks and these little injunctions always drew a deep frownbetween Maggie's arched brows.

  "Sewing isn't meant for rich little girls like me," she said. "I'm notgoing to sew when I grow up; I know what I'll do then. I know quite well;when I'm tired I'll sit in an easy-chair and eat lollipops, and when I'mnot tired I'll ride on all the wildest horses I can find, and I'll playcricket, and fire guns, and fish, and--and--oh, I wish I was grown up."

  Miss Grey, who was by this time quite accustomed to Maggie's erraticspeeches, thought it best to take no notice whatever of her presentremarks. Maggie would have liked her to argue with her and remonstrate; shewould have preferred anything to the calm and perfect stillness of thegoverness. She was allowed to talk a little while she was at her hemming,and she now turned her conversation into a different channel.

  "Miss Grey," she said, "which do you think are the best off, very richlittle only children girls, or very poor little many children girls?"

  "Maggie dear," replied her governess, "you are asking me, as usual, asilly question. The fact of a little girl being rich and an only child, orthe fact of a little girl being poor and having a great many brothers andsisters, has really much less to do with happiness than people think.Happiness is a very precious possession, and sometimes it is given topeople who look very pale and suffering, and sometimes it is denied tothose who look as if they wanted for nothing."

  "That's me," said Maggie, uttering a profound sigh. "I'm rich and I wantfor nothing, and I'm the mis'rable one, and Jim, the cripple in ourvillage, is poor, and he hasn't got no nice things, and he's the happy one.Oh, how I wish I was Jim the cripple."

  "Why, Maggie, you would not surely like to give up your dear father andmother to be somebody else's child."

  "No, of course not. They'd have to be poor too. Mother would have to takein washing and father--I'm afraid father would have to put on raggedclothes, and go about begging from place to place. I don't think Jim, thecripple, has any father, but I couldn't do without mine, so he'd have to bea beggar and go about from place to place to get pennies for mother and me.We'd be darling and poor, and we couldn't afford to keep you, Miss Grey,and I wouldn't mind that at all, 'cause then I need never do reading andhemming, and I'd be as ignoram as possible all my days."

  Just at this moment somebody called Maggie, and she was told to put on herout-door things, and to go for a drive with her mother in the carriage.

  Maggie was a very sharp little girl, and she could not help noticing acertain air of expectancy on Lady Ascot's face, and a certain brighteningof her eyes, particularly when Maggie, in her usual impetuous fashion,asked eager questions about the very short gentleman visitor who was comingto stay with father.

  "He's not four feet high," said Maggie. "I am sure I shall like himgreatly; he'll be a sort of companion to me, and I know he must be verybrave."

  "Why do you know that, little woman?" asked Lady Ascot in an amused voice"Oh, 'cause, 'cause--his gun, and his fishing-tackle, and his boxing-gloveshave been sent on already. Of course he must be brave and manly, or fatherwould have nothing to say to him. But as he's only three inches taller thanme, I'm thinking perhaps he'll be tired keeping up with father's longsteps, when they go out shooting together; and so perhaps he will reallylike to make a companion of me."

  "I should not be surprised, Maggie--I should not be the least surprised,and now I'm going to tell you a secret. We are going at this very moment todrive to Ashburnham station to meet father and his gentleman visitor."

  "Oh, mother!" exclaimed Maggie, "and do you know the visitor? Have you seenhim before? What is his name?"

  "His name is Ralph, and though I have heard a great deal about him, it sohappens I have never seen him."

  "Mr. Ralph," repeated Maggie, softly; "it's a nice short name, and easy toremember. I think Mr. Ralph is a very good name indeed for father's littletiny gentleman visitor."

  All during their drive to Ashburnham Maggie chattered, and laughed, andwondered. Her bright little face looked its brightest, and her merry blueeyes quite danced with fun and happiness. No wonder her mother thought hera most charming little girl, and no wonder the village children looked atthe pretty and beautifully dressed child with eyes of envy and admiration!

  When they reached Ashburnham station, Lady Ascot got out of the carriage,and taking Maggie's hand in hers, went on the platform. They had scarcelyarrived there before the train from London puffed into the station, and SirJohn Ascot was seen to jump out of a first-class smoking carriage,accompanied by a brown-faced, slender-looking boy, whose hands were full ofparcels, and who began to help Sir John vigorously, and to indignantlydisdain the services of the porter, and of Sir John's own groom, who cameup at that moment.

  "No, thank you; I wish to hold these rabbits myself," he exclaimed, "andmy pigeons. Uncle John, will you please hand me down that cage? Oh, aren'tmy fantails beauties!"

  "Mother," exclaimed Maggie in a low, breathless voice, "is that thegentleman visitor?"

  "Yes, darling, your cousin Ralph Grenville. Ralph is your visitor, Maggie,not your father's. Come up and let me introduce you. Ralph, my dear boy,how do you do? I am your aunt. I am very glad to see you. Welcome to TowerHill!"

  "Are you Aunt Beatrice?" answered the brown-faced boy. "How do you do, AuntBeatrice? Oh, I do hope my fishing-tackle is safe."

  "And this is your Cousin Maggie," proceeded Lady Ascot. "You and Maggiem
ust be great friends."

  "Do you like fantails?" asked Ralph, looking full at his little cousin.

  "Do you mean those darling white birds in the cage?" answered Maggie, hercheeks crimsoning.

  "I CAUGHT HIM MY OWN SELF."--Page 21.]

  "Yes; I've got some pouters at home, but I only brought the fantails here.I hope you've got a nice pigeon-cote at Tower Hill. Oh, my rabbits, mybunnies! Help me, Maggie; one of them has got loose; help me, Maggie, tocatch him."

  Before either Sir John or Lady Ascot could interfere, the two children haddisappeared into a crowd of porters, passengers, and luggage. Lady Ascotuttered a scream of dismay, but Sir John said coolly:

  "Let them be. The little lad has got his head screwed on the right way; andif I don't mistake, my pretty maid can hold her own with anybody. Don'tagitate yourself, Bee; they'll be back all right in a moment."

  So they were, Maggie holding a huge white rabbit clasped against herbeautiful embroidered frock. The rabbit scratched and struggled, but Maggieheld him without flinching, although her face was very red.

  "I caught him my own self," she screamed. "Ralph couldn't, 'cause his handswere too full."

  "Pop him into this cage now," exclaimed the boy. "Uncle John, has aseparate trap come for all the luggage? and if so, may I go home in it? Imust watch my bunnies, and I should like to keep the fantails on my lap."

  "Well, yes, Ralph," replied Sir John Ascot in an amused voice. "I have nodoubt the dog-cart has turned up by now. Do you think you can manage tostick on, my boy? The mare is very fresh."

  "I stick on? Rather!" answered Ralph. "You may hold the cage with thebunnies, if you like, while I step up, Jo--Maggie, I mean."

  "I'd like to go up there, too, father," whispered little Miss Ascot's fullround tones.

  "No, no, bairnie," answered the baronet. "I don't want your pretty littleneck to be broken. There, hop into the carriage beside mother, and I'll getin the dog-cart to keep this young scamp out of mischief. Now then, off wego. We'll all be at home in a twinkling."