Meantime a sad riot had arisen in the dining-room, where the boys called loudly for their tea; and the young ladies drew their chairs all round the table, to wait till it was ready. Still nothing appeared; so everybody wondered more and more how long they were to wait for all the nice cakes and sweetmeats which must, of course, be coming; for the longer they were delayed, the more was expected.
The last at a feast, and the first at a fray, was generally Peter Grey, who now lost patience, and seized one of the two biscuits, which he was in the middle of greedily devouring, when Laura returned with Harry to the dining-room, and observed what he had done.
"Peter Grey," said she, holding up her head, and trying to look very dignified, "you are an exceedingly naughty boy, to help yourself! As a punishment for being so rude, you shall have nothing more to eat all this evening."
"If I do not help myself, nobody else seems likely to give me any supper! I appear to be the only person who is to taste anything to-night," answered Peter, laughing; while the impudent boy took a cup of milk, and drunk it off, saying, "Here's to your very good health, Miss Laura, and an excellent appetite to everybody!"
Upon hearing this absurd speech all the other boys began laughing, and made signs, as if they were eating their fingers off with hunger. Then Peter called Lady Harriet's house "Famine Castle," and pretended he would swallow the knives, like an Indian juggler.
"We must learn to live upon air, and here are some spoons to eat it with," said John Fordyce. "Harry! shall I help you to a mouthful of moonshine?"
"Peter, would you like a roasted fly?" asked Frank Abercromby, catching one on the window. "I daresay it is excellent for hungry people,--or a slice of buttered wall?"
"Or a stewed spider?" asked Peter. "Shall we all be cannibals, and eat one another?"
"What is the use of all those forks, when there is nothing to stick upon them?" asked George Maxwell, throwing them about on the floor.
"No buns!--no fruit!--no cakes?--no nothing!"
"What are we to do with those tea-cups, when there is no tea?" cried Frank Abercromby, pulling the table-cloth, till the whole affair fell prostrate on the floor. After this, these riotous boys tossed the plates in the air, and caught them, becoming at last so outrageous that poor old Andrew called them a "meal mob!" Never was there so much broken china seen in a dining-room before. It all lay scattered on the floor in countless fragments, looking as if there had been a bull in a china-shop, when suddenly Mrs. Crabtree herself opened the door and walked in, with an aspect of rage enough to petrify a milestone. Now old Andrew had long been trying all in his power to render the boys quiet and contented. He had made them a speech,--he had chased the ringleaders all round the room,--and he had thrown his stick at Peter, who seemed the most riotous,--but all in vain; they became worse and worse, laughing into fits, and calling Andrew "the police officer and the bailiff." It was a very different story, however, when Mrs.
Crabtree appeared, so flaming with fury she might have blown up a powder-mill.
Nobody could help being afraid of her. Even Peter himself stood stock still, and seemed withering away to nothing when she looked at him; and when she began to scold in her most furious manner, not a boy ventured to look off the ground. A large pair of tawse then became visible in her hand, so every heart sunk with fright, and the riotous visitors began to get behind each other, and to huddle out of sight as much as possible, whispering, and pushing, and fighting, in a desperate scuffle to escape.
"What is all this?" cried she at the full pitch of her voice; "has bedlam broke loose? Who smashed these cups! I'll break his head for him, let me tell you that! Master Peter, you should be hissed out of the world for your misconduct; but I shall certainly whip you round the room like a whipping-top."
At this moment Peter observed that the dining-room window, which was only about six feet from the ground, had been left wide open; so instantly seizing the opportunity, he threw himself out with a single bound, and ran laughing away. All the other boys immediately followed his example, and disappeared by the same road; after which, Mrs.
Crabtree leaned far out of the window and scolded loudly, as long as they remained in sight, till her face became red, and her voice perfectly hoarse.
Meantime the little misses sat soberly down before the empty table, and talked in whispers to each other, waiting, till their maids came to take them home, after which they all hurried away as fast as possible, hardly waiting to say "Good-bye!" and intending to ask for some supper at home.
During that night, long after Harry and Laura had been scolded, whipped, and put to bed, they were each heard in different rooms sobbing and crying as if their very hearts would break, while Mrs.
Crabtree grumbled and scolded to herself, saying she must do her duty, and make them good children, though she were to flay them alive first.
When Lady Harriet returned home some days afterwards, she heard an account of Harry and Laura's misconduct from Mrs. Crabtree, and the whole story was such a terrible case against them, that their poor grandmamma became perfectly astonished and shocked, while even Uncle David was preparing to be very angry; but before the culprits appeared, Frank most kindly stepped forward, and begged that they might be pardoned for this once, adding all in his power to excuse Harry and Laura, by describing how very penitent they had become, and how very severely they had already been punished.
Frank then mentioned all that Harry had told him about the starving party, which he related with so much humor and drollery that Lady Harriet could not help laughing; so then he saw that a victory had been gained, and ran to the nursery for the two little prisoners.
Uncle David shook his walking-stick at them, and made a terrible face, when they entered; but Harry jumped upon his knee with joy at seeing him again while Laura forgot all her distress, and rushed up to Lady Harriet, who folded her in her arms and kissed her most affectionately.
Not a word was said that day about the tea-party, but next morning Major Graham asked Harry very gravely, "if he had read in the newspaper the melancholy accounts about several of his little companions, who were ill and confined to bed from having eaten too much at a certain tea-party on Saturday last. Poor Peter Grey has been given over; and Charles Forrester, it is feared, may be not able to eat another loaf of bread for a fortnight!"
"Oh, Uncle David, it makes me ill whenever I think of that party!"
said Harry, coloring perfectly scarlet; "that was the most miserable evening of my life!"
"I must say it was not quite fair in Mrs. Crabtree to starve all the strange little boys and girls who came as visitors to my house, without knowing who had invited them," observed Lady Harriet.
"Probably those unlucky children will never forget, as long as they live, that scanty supper in our dining-room."
And it turned out exactly as Lady Harriet had predicted; for though they were all asked to tea, in proper form, the very next Saturday, when Major Graham showered torrents of sugar-plums on the table, while the children scrambled to pick them up, and the sideboard almost broke down afterwards under the weight of buns, cakes, cheese-cakes, biscuits, fruit, and preserves, which were heaped upon each other--yet, for years afterwards, Peter Grey, whenever he ate a particularly enormous dinner, always observed, that he must make up for having once been starved at Harry Graham's; and whenever any one of those little boys or girls again happened to meet Harry or Laura, they were sure to laugh and say, "When are you going to give us another
THE STORY OF FAIRYFOOT
By Frances Browne
Once upon a time there stood far away in the west country a town called Stumpinghame. It contained seven windmills, a royal palace, a market place, and a prison, with every other convenience befitting the capital of a kingdom. A capital city was Stumpinghame, and its inhabitants thought it the only one in the world. It stood in the midst of a great plain, which for three leagues round its walls was covered with corn, flax, and orchards. Beyond that lay a great circle of pasture land, seven leagues in breadth, and it was bounded on all sides by a forest so thick and old, that no man in Stumpinghame knew its extent.
Whether it was the nature of the place or the people, I cannot tell, but great feet had been the fashion there time immemorial, and the higher the family the larger were they. It was, therefore, the aim of everybody above the degree of shepherds, and such-like rustics, to swell out and enlarge their feet by way of gentility; and so successful were they in these undertakings that, on a pinch, respectable people's slippers would have served for panniers.
Stumpinghame had a king of its own, and his name was Stiffstep; his family was very ancient and large-footed. His subjects called him Lord of the World, and he made a speech to them every year concerning the grandeur of his mighty empire. His queen, Hammerheel, was the greatest beauty in Stumpinghame. Her majesty's shoe was not much less than a fishing-boat; their six children promised to be quite as handsome, and all went well till the birth of their seventh son.
For a long time nobody about the palace could understand what was the matter--the ladies-in-waiting looked so astonished, and the king so vexed; but at last it was whispered through the city that the queen's seventh child had been born with such miserably small feet that they resembled nothing ever seen or heard of in Stumpinghame, except the feet of the fairies.
The chronicles furnished no example of such an affliction ever before happening in the royal family.
The common people thought it portended some great calamity to the city; the learned men began to write books about it; and all the relations of the king and queen assembled at the palace to mourn with them over their singular misfortune. The whole court and most of the citizens helped in this mourning, but when it had lasted seven days they all found out it was of no use. So the relations went to their homes, and the people took to their work. If the learned men's books were written, nobody ever read them; and to cheer up the queen's spirits, the young prince was sent privately out to the pasture lands, to be nursed among the shepherds.
The chief man there was called Fleecefold, and his wife's name was Rough Ruddy. They lived in a snug cottage with their son Blackthorn and their daughter Brownberry, and were thought great people, because they kept the king's sheep. Moreover, Fleecefold's family were known to be ancient; and Rough Ruddy boasted that she had the largest feet in all the pastures. The shepherds held them in high respect, and it grew still higher when the news spread that the king's seventh son had been sent to their cottage. People came from all quarters to see the young prince, and great were the lamentations over his misfortune in having such small feet.
The king and queen had given him fourteen names, beginning with Augustus--such being the fashion in that royal family; but the honest country people could not remember so many; besides, his feet were the most remarkable thing about the child, so with one accord they called him Fairyfoot. At first it was feared this might be high treason, but when no notice was taken by the king or his ministers, the shepherds concluded it was no harm, and the boy never had another name throughout the pastures. At court it was not thought polite to speak of him at all. They did not keep his birthday, and he was never sent for at Christmas, because the queen and her ladies could not bear the sight. Once a year the undermost scullion was sent to see how he did, with a bundle of his next brother's cast-off clothes; and, as the king grew old and cross, it was said he had thoughts of disowning him.
So Fairyfoot grew in Fleecefold's cottage. Perhaps the country air made him fair and rosy--for all agreed that he would have been a handsome boy but for his small feet, with which nevertheless he learned to walk, and in time to run and to jump, thereby amazing everybody, for such doings were not known among the children of Stumpinghame. The news of court, however, travelled to the shepherds, and Fairyfoot was despised among them. The old people thought him unlucky; the children refused to play with him. Fleecefold was ashamed to have him in his cottage, but he durst not disobey the king's orders. Moreover, Blackthorn wore most of the clothes brought by the scullion. At last, Rough Ruddy found out that the sight of such horrid jumping would make her children vulgar; and, as soon as he was old enough, she sent Fairyfoot every day to watch some sickly sheep that grazed on a wild, weedy pasture, hard by the forest.
Poor Fairyfoot was often lonely and sorrowful; many a time he wished his feet would grow larger, or that people wouldn't notice them so much; and all the comfort he had was running and jumping by himself in the wild pasture, and thinking that none of the shepherds' children could do the like, for all their pride of their great feet.
Tired of this sport, he was lying in the shadow of a mossy rock one warm summer's noon, with the sheep feeding around, when a robin, pursued by a great hawk, flew into the old velvet cap which lay on the ground beside him. Fairyfoot covered it up, and the hawk, frightened by his shout, flew away.
"Now you may go, poor robin!" he said, opening the cap: but instead of the bird, out sprang a little man dressed in russet-brown, and looking as if he were an hundred years old. Fairyfoot could not speak for astonishment, but the little man said--
"Thank you for your shelter, and be sure I will do as much for you.
Call on me if you are ever in trouble; my name is Robin Goodfellow;"
and darting off, he was out of sight in an instant. For days the boy wondered who that little man could be, but he told nobody, for the little man's feet were as small as his own, and it was clear he would be no favourite in Stumpinghame. Fairyfoot kept the story to himself, and at last midsummer came. That evening was a feast among the shepherds. There were bonfires on the hills, and fun in the villages.
But Fairyfoot sat alone beside his sheepfold, for the children of his village had refused to let him dance with them about the bonfire, and he had gone there to bewail the size of his feet, which came between him and so many good things. Fairyfoot had never felt so lonely in all his life, and remembering the little man, he plucked up spirit, and cried--
"Ho! Robin Goodfellow!"
"Here I am," said a shrill voice at his elbow; and there stood the little man himself.
"I am very lonely, and no one will play with me, because my feet are not large enough," said Fairyfoot.
"Come then and play with us," said the little man. "We lead the merriest lives in the world, and care for nobody's feet; but all companies have their own manners, and there are two things you must mind among us; first, do as you see the rest doing; and secondly, never speak of anything you may hear or see, for we and the people of this country have had no friendship ever since large feet came in fashion."
"I will do that, and anything more you like," said Fairyfoot; and the little man taking his hand, led him over the pasture into the forest, and along a mossy path among old trees wreathed with ivy (he never knew how far), till they heard the sound of music, and came upon a meadow where the moon shone as bright as day, and all the flowers of the year--snowdrops, violets, primroses, and cowslips--bloomed together in the thick grass. There were a crowd of little men and women, some clad in russet colour, but far more in green, dancing round a little well as clear as crystal. And under great rose-trees which grew here and there in the meadow, companies were sitting round low tables covered with cups of milk, dishes of honey, and carved wooden flagons filled with clear red wine. The little man led Fairyfoot up to the nearest table, handed him one of the flagons, and said--
"Drink to the good company!"