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Anxious Audrey

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Lionel Sear




  Author of 'A Waif and a Welcome,' 'Troublesome Ursula,' 'Zach and Debby,''In Cornwall's Wonderland,' Etc.



  When, though, it came to carrying up the chest of drawers,they all had to give a hand.]


  "Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home, The field-mouse has gone to her nest; The daisies have shut up their sleepy red eyes, And the birds and the bees are at rest."

  Mr. Carlyle, standing outside the nursery door, stayed a moment until thesweet low voice had reached the end of the verse, then, turning the handlevery gently, entered the room on tiptoe.

  Faith looked up with a smile, but with a warning finger held out, while ina lower and more crooning voice she began the next verse:

  "Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home, The glow-worm is lighting her lamp----"

  "Oh, dear!" as two round blue eyes looked up at her, full of sleepywickedness, "She is as wide awake when I began! Baby, you are not a nicelittle girl and I shan't be able to go on loving you if you don't go tosleep soon."

  The blue eyes, wandering from Faith's reproving face, fell on her father,and with a croon of delight a pair of plump dimpled arms was held outpleadingly. "Dad! Dad!" cooed the baby voice coaxingly, and the arms werenot held out in vain.

  Faith handed over her heavy, lovable burden with a mingled sigh of reliefand hopelessness. "This is all wrong, you know, father," with a wearylittle laugh, "a well brought up baby should be sound asleep by thistime--but how is one to make her sleep if she absolutely refuses to?"

  Mr. Carlyle looked down at his little daughter snuggling so happily in hisarms. "I don't know, dear," he said helplessly. "I suppose we aren'tvery good nurses. Perhaps we are not stern enough. I am sorry I came injust then, she might have gone off if I hadn't, but I wanted to speak toyou particularly; there is a great deal I want to discuss. How is yourmother? I haven't been in to see her. I saw that her room was dark,so I thought she was probably asleep."

  "I expect she is. She seemed very sleepy when I gave her her cornflour atseven. I haven't been able to go to her since, baby has been sorestless."

  "Isn't she well?"

  "Oh, yes, she is well, but while I was down making the cornflour I had toleave her with Tom and Debby, and they got playing, of course, and excitedher so much she can't go to sleep."

  "Couldn't Mary have made the cornflour or have looked after baby for thetime?"

  "No, she was ironing, and she doesn't know yet just how mother likes it."

  "Oh! but can't you come down, dear, until this minx is slumbering?"

  Faith looked at the grate where a few cinders only lay grey and lifelessat the bottom; then she looked at her father with a mischievous twinkle inher pretty brown eyes. "I can't unless we take baby too," she said."Of course it is very wrong and a real nurse would faint at suchbehaviour, but, shall we, daddy? It is cold up here, and lonely--and,oh! I am so hungry and quite hoarse with singing lullabies."

  "Poor child! Come downstairs and we will not think about what real nurseswould say. This little person is really so sleepy she will hardly realisewhat has happened."

  Faith's eyes sparkled. "We mustn't let Tom and Debby know, or they willbe down too. If we go very softly perhaps they won't hear, they werenearly asleep when I looked in at them just now. I hope baby won't give ayell on the stairs."

  "I will try to prevent her. Now then, come along."

  Baby Joan, as though she understood all about it, and what was expected ofher, smiled up at them knowingly, but she did not make a sound, not evenwhen they paused at her mother's bedroom door and looked in.

  The firelight shining on the invalid's face showed that she was sleepingpeacefully, so they tiptoed away again and reached the hall without havingdisturbed anyone. In the dining-room the lamp was lighted, but so badlythat it smelt horribly; the fire was out and the room was cold andcheerless.

  "Oh dear," sighed Faith, "no coal here, either," and dashed away to thekitchen in search of some. "Mary doesn't seem able to remember that firesgo out if there is nothing to put on them," she laughed, as she struggledback panting under the weight of a scuttle of coal and an armful of logs."But we shall be all right soon," she added as she knelt before the grateand began building up a fire. "I do love wood and a pair of bellows,don't you, daddy!" blowing away hard at hot embers. But Mr. Carlyle didnot answer her. Instead he asked with rather an anxious note in hisvoice, "Does Mary find she has too much to do?"

  Faith sat back on her heels and eyed the kindling sticks with a wellpleased air. "No-o, I don't think so, daddy. There might be too much--ifshe did it," with a little laugh, "but she says she likes being wherethere are no other servants, and plenty of life. In her last place therewere three or four servants and only an old lady to look after, and Marysays the quietness was awful. Nothing ever happened but the quarrels ofthe servants amongst themselves."

  "I suppose they were so occupied with their quarrels that Mary had nottime to learn how to do things--nicely?" Mr. Carlyle's eyes glanced sadlyabout the untidy room and then at the ill-laid supper table.

  Faith looked up at him in mild surprise; it had never occurred to her thatthere was anything lacking in the care of the house. Her glance followedhis and rested on the supper table too.

  "Oh, daddy, I believe you have had nothing since dinner. You must befrightfully hungry, I know you must, and the dinner was so badly cooked--oh, poor daddy! Why didn't you come home to tea?"

  "I had barely finished my round of calls in time to keep an appointmentDr. Gray had made with me. He wanted," he added more slowly, his facegrowing grave and troubled, "to talk to me about your mother."

  Faith looked up quickly at him, her large eyes full of anxiety, her heartthrobbing heavily. Then there was more trouble in store, more anxiety!She had felt it for days in her inmost heart, but had not had the courageto put her fears into words. "Is mother--worse?" her voice faltered andbroke.

  Mr. Carlyle, gazing, absorbed and troubled, into the fire, did not see herblanched cheeks and the dread that filled her eyes. He had no suspicionof the awful fear which had haunted her every waking moment, and evenher dreams, or he would not have kept her in suspense while his thoughtsran on to plans for the future.

  "No, dear," he said at last, "no dear, she is not worse, but the doctorsays it will be a long time before she is well again--well enough to walkabout and take up her old life. For a year, poor dear, she must lie on asofa, and live the life of an invalid. If she does, he says, she willbecome her old strong self again in a year or two, but if she----"

  "Oh, but she will, of course she will, that will be easy enough."In the intensity of her relief, Faith spoke so gaily that her fatherlooked up at her in surprise, her tone and words sounded almost heartless.

  "Easy! It will be a long and trying ordeal for her. Faith--just think ofit, a whole year in one room! You don't realise."

  "Oh yes I do, daddy, but we will manage beautifully. I will look afterthe house and the children, and--and see that mother isn't worried at all,and she can read and write, and--and oh, father, father, I am so glad--Idon't know what to do!" and without any warning Faith broke down and beganto sob.

  "Glad!" For a moment Mr. Carlyle looked at his little daughter as thoughhe feared she must be mad instead of glad. She spoke as though his newshad come as a relief. Relief from what? Then quite suddenly the truthbroke upon him.

  "Oh, you poor little woman! What have you been thinking? What have youb
een fearing, Faith dear--tell me. Did you think----?"

  Faith nodded. "Yes--yes--I thought," but she could not put her dread intowords.

  "You feared we might be going to lose her altogether. Oh, you poor child.My poor little girl. Why didn't you tell me?"

  "I couldn't, daddy."

  Mr. Carlyle drew her to him. "No wonder my news came to you as a relief,"he said softly, "instead of as the shock I feared. Why, Faith, how youare trembling. You look ready to faint too. Look here, I believe you aretired and famished. Come and have some supper. What have we got?Something tempting?"

  With either arm encircling a daughter, the vicar turned to survey thesupper table, but at sight of it his face fell a little. Neither thefood, nor the way in which it was placed before them would have temptedany but the most healthy, even ravenous appetite. Mary, the only maidthey could afford to keep, was more willing than able. The china andsilver had certainly been washed, but they were smeared and unpolished,the cloth was wrinkled and all askew, the food was dumped down anyhow.

  Fortunately for her own comfort, but unfortunately for the good of thehouse, Faith was not troubled by appearances. Her eyes did not noticedetails, the details which mean so much, for her home had always been inmore or less of a muddle. There were so many of them, Audrey, Faith, Tom,Deborah and baby Joan. Five of them ransacking and romping all over thehouse, until granny had come and taken Audrey away to live with her.

  They had always been in a muddle, but they had always been happy, and theyloved their home so dearly that, whatever it was like, it was right intheir eyes--excepting, perhaps, in Audrey's. And even if their clotheswere shabby--well, shabby clothes were much less of a worry than smartones; and if their food was plain, and not very daintily served, there wasalways enough, and there was plenty of fun and laughter as sauce for it.

  Mr. Carlyle, who had grown up in a well-ordered home where everything wasas neat and well-cared-for as things could be, did realise that there wasmuch that was lacking in his own home; but whatever he may have sufferedfrom the disorder, he never complained. His mother had had means, threegood servants, and only one child to make the home untidy; whereas hisyoung wife, who had been brought up in an Orphan School, had never knownreal home life until her marriage, had only small means, several youngbabies, and only one ignorant servant to help her.

  Audrey and Faith, as they grew out of babyhood, helped to dust the rooms,run errands, and look after the younger children, but they had only thevaguest notions as to how homes should be kept, or meals served, or thehundred and one other little things which make all the difference betweena well-kept house and an ill-kept one, and they were quite content withthings as they were.

  At least Faith was. Audrey often had misgivings that all was not as itshould be, and yearned for something more orderly, dainty, and neat; forprettier clothes and prettier manners. And then Granny Carlyle had comeon a visit, and had offered to take one of her many grandchildren to livewith her--for a time, at any rate. And, to the joy of Audrey, and therelief of the others, she was chosen and they were not; and, with all herfew possessions packed in her mother's old portmanteau, she had gone offto enjoy all the things that she considered best worth having--a largecomfortable home in a town, new clothes, school, tempting food, daintilycooked meals, and peace and quiet in which she could read and writeundisturbed. For though Audrey resembled her father's mother in manyways, she had also inherited her mother's taste for writing and reading.That was four years ago, when Audrey was eleven and Faith ten, and Deborahand Tom five and four respectively. Baby Joan, aged eighteen months,Audrey had not yet seen.

  Thoughts of his eldest daughter were uppermost in Mr. Carlyle's mind as heglanced from the unappetising remains of a joint lying on a dish on whichit had already appeared twice, to the scrap of dry cheese and theunpolished knife lying beside it.

  "I--I am afraid that is all there is, father. Won't it do?" Faith lookedat him with troubled eyes. "Shall I tell Mary to cook you some eggs?"

  "No, no. What is here will do very well for me, but you--wouldn't youprefer eggs--or----"

  "Oh no, thank you, I am so hungry I can eat anything," said Faithcheerfully. "Father, Joan is asleep, can't we tuck her up snugly on thesofa while we are having our supper? She would be certain to wake up if Itook her upstairs to her cot."

  "Of course she would. If you will make her a nice little nest on the sofaI will pop her into it so gently she will not know she has been moved.There now, wasn't that clever!"

  Faith again held up a warning finger, but Joan only stretched her limbs alittle in her new nest, and forthwith dropped asleep again.

  With a smile of triumph at each other the two nurses turned away to thesupper-table, and Mr. Carlyle said grace, and with her deep relief at thenews about her mother still glowing in her heart, Faith joined in with adeeper sense of real gratitude than she had known before.

  "Daddy," she said presently, "you said you wanted to talk to me.Was it about mother?"

  "Yes, dear, and--and other things too. I have been thinking matters oversince I left the doctor, and I have come to the conclusion that I mustsend and have Audrey home."

  "Audrey home! Oh, how jolly!" Faith's eyes lighted with pleasure."That will be lovely. But," with sudden misgiving, "why must she comehome, daddy?"

  "Well, for one thing, your mother will need companionship--more than youcan give her with the children taking up so much of your time.And, for another, it will be a relief to your mother to know that Audreyis here looking after things. We don't want a stranger, and, indeed,I can't afford to have anyone extra in just now. We have had so muchillness and such heavy expenses. After four years with your grandmother,Audrey should be quite capable. She always had a sensible head on hershoulders and for certain granny has given her a good training."

  "Ye-es," said Faith musingly, "I--I wonder how she will like coming away.I believe she will not like it at all." But Faith kept that last thoughtto herself.