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Grandmother Dear Part 12

"I don't know that I did," said grandmother. "I was a very tom-boy little girl, Molly. And lessons were not nearly so interesting in those days as they are made now."

"Then they must have been--_dreadful_," said Molly solemnly, pausing for a sufficiently strong word.

"What did you like when you were little, grandmother?" said Sylvia. "I mean, what did you like best?"

"I really don't know what I liked _best_," said grandmother. "There were so many nice things. Haymaking was delicious, so were snow-balling and sliding; blindman's buff and snapdragon at Christmas were not bad, nor were strawberries and cream in summer."

The children drew a long breath.

"Had you all those?" they said. "Oh, what a happy little girl you must have been!"

"And all the year round," pursued grandmother, "there was another delight that never palled. When I look back upon myself in those days I cannot believe that ever a child was a greater adept at it."

"What was that, grandmother?" said the children, opening their eyes.

"_Mischief_, my dears," said grandmother. "The scrapes I got into of falling into brooks, tearing my clothes, climbing up trees and finding I could not get down again, putting my head through window-panes--ah dear, I certainly had nine lives."

"And what did your grandmother say? Did she scold you?" asked Molly--adding in a whisper to Ralph and Sylvia, "Grandmother must have been an _awfully_ nice little girl."

"My grandmother was to outward appearance quiet and rather cold," replied _their_ grandmother. "For long I was extremely afraid of her, till something happened which led to my knowing her true character, and after that we were friends for life--till her death. It is hardly worth calling a story, but I will tell it to you if you like, children."

"Oh, _please_ do," they exclaimed, and Molly's eyes grew round with satisfaction at having after all inveigled grandmother into story telling.

"I told you," grandmother began, "that my grandmother lived in a queer, very old-fashioned house in the little town near which was our home. It was such a queer house, I wish you could have seen it, but long ago it was pulled down, and the ground where it stood used for shops or warehouses. When you entered it, you saw no stair at all--then, on opening a door, you found yourself at the foot of a very high spiral staircase that went round and round like a corkscrew up to the very top of the house. By the by that reminds me of an adventure of my grandmother's which you might like to hear. It happened long before I was born, but she has often told it me. Ah, Molly, I see that twinkle in your eyes, my dear, and I know what it means! You think you have got grandmother started now--wound up--and that you will get her to go on and on; ah well, we shall see. Where was I? Taking you up the corkscrew stair. The first landing, if landing it could be called, it was so small, had several doors, and one of these led into a little ante-room, out of which opened again a larger and very pretty drawing-room. It was a long, rather narrow room, and what I admired in it most of all were wall cupboards with glass doors, within which my grandmother kept all her treasures. There were six of them at least--in two or three were books, of which, for those days, grandmother had a good many; another held Chinese and Indian curiosities, carved ivory and sandal-wood ornaments, cuscus grass fans, a pair or two of Chinese ladies' slippers--things very much the same as you may see some of now-a-days in almost every prettily furnished drawing-room. And one, or two perhaps, of the cupboards contained treasures which are rarer now than they were then--the _loveliest_ old china! Even I, child as I was, appreciated its beauty--the tints were so delicate and yet brilliant. My grandmother had collected much of it herself, and her taste was excellent. At her death it was divided, and among so many that it seemed to melt away. All that came to my share were those two handleless cups that are at the top of that little cabinet over there, and those were by no means the most beautiful, beautiful as they undoubtedly are. I was never tired of feasting my eyes on grandmother's china when I used to be sent to spend a day with her, which happened every few weeks. And _sometimes_, for a great treat, she used to open the wall cupboards and let me handle some of the things--for it is a curious fact that a child _cannot_ admire anything to its perfect satisfaction without touching it too, and looking back upon things now, I can see that despite her cold manner, my grandmother had a very good knowledge of children and a real love and sympathy for them.

"One day--it was a late autumn day I remember, for it was just a few days after my ninth birthday--my birthday is on the fifteenth of November,--my mother told me that my father, having to drive to the town the following day, would take me with him to spend the day with grandmother.

"'And Nelly,' said my mother, 'do try to be very good and behave prettily. I really fear, my dear, that you will never be like a young lady--it is playing so much with your brothers, I suppose, and you know grandmother is very particular. The last time you were there you know you dressed up the cat and frightened poor old Betsy (my grandmother's cook) so. Do try to keep out of mischief this time.'

"'I can't,' I said. 'There is no one to play with there. I would rather stay at home;' and I teased my mother to say I need not go. But it was no good; she was firm about it--it was right that I, the only girl at home, should go to see my grandmother sometimes, and my mother repeated her admonitions as to my behaviour; and as I really loved her dearly I promised to 'try to be very good;' and the next morning I set off with my father in excellent spirits. There was nothing I liked better than a drive with him, especially in rather cold weather, for then he used to tuck me up so beautifully warm in his nice soft rugs, so that hardly anything but the tip of my nose was to be seen, and he would call me his 'little woman' and pet me to my heart's content.

"When we reached my grandmother's I felt very reluctant to descend from my perch, and I said to my father that I wished he would take me about the town with him instead of leaving me there.

"He explained to me that it was impossible--he had all sorts of things to do, a magistrate's meeting to attend, and I don't know all what. Besides which he liked me to be with my grandmother, and he told me I was a silly little goose when I said I was afraid of her.

"My father entered the house without knocking--there was no need to lock doors in the quiet streets of the little old town, where everybody that passed up and down was known by everybody else, and their _business_ often known better by the everybody else than by themselves. We went up to the drawing-room, there was nobody there--my father went out of the room and called up the staircase, 'Mother, where are you?'

"Then I heard my grandmother's voice in return.

"'My dear Hugh--is it you? I am so sorry. I cannot possibly come down. It is the third Tuesday of the month. My wardrobe day.'

"'And the little woman is here too. What shall I do with her?' said my father. He seemed to understand, though I did not, what 'wardrobe day'

meant.

"'Bring her up here,' my grandmother called back. 'I shall soon have arranged all, and then I can take her downstairs again.'

"I was standing on the landing by my father by this time, and, far from loth to discover what my grandmother was about, I followed him upstairs.

You have no idea, children, what a curious sight met me! My grandmother, who was a very little woman, was perched upon a high stool, hanging up on a great clothes-horse ever so many dresses, which she had evidently taken out of a wardrobe, close by, whose doors were wide open. There were several clothes-horses in the room, all more or less loaded with garments,--and oh, what queer, quaint garments some of them were! The clothes my grandmother herself had on--even those I was wearing--would seem curious enough to you if you could see them now,--but when I tell you that of those she was hanging out, many had belonged to _her_ grandmother, and mother, and aunts, and great-aunts, you can fancy what a wonderful array there was. Her own wedding-dress was among them, and all the coloured silks and satins she had possessed before her widowhood. And more wonderful even than the dresses were a few, not very many, for indeed no room or wardrobe would have held _very_ many, bonnets, or 'hats,' as I think they were then always called. Huge towering constructions, with feathers sticking straight up on the top, like the pictures of Cinderella's sisters in old-fashioned fairy-tale books--so enormous that any ordinary human head must have been lost in their depths."

"Did you ever try one on, grandmother?" said Molly.

Grandmother shook her head.

"I should not have been allowed to take such a liberty," she said. "I stood and stared about me in perfect amazement without speaking for a minute or two, till my grandmother got down from her stool, and my father told me to go to speak to her.

"'Are you going away, grandmother?' I said at last, my curiosity overcoming my shyness. 'Are these all your clothes? You will want a great many boxes to pack them in, and what queer ones some of them are!'

"'Queer, my dear,' said my grandmother. 'They are certainly not like what you get now-a-days, if that is what you mean by queer. See here, Nelly, this is your great-grandmother's wedding dress--white Padusoy embroidered in gold--why, child, it would stand alone! And this salmon-coloured satin, with the pea-green slip--will the stuffs they dye now keep their colour like that a hundred years hence?'

"'It's good strong stuff certainly,' said my father, touching it as he spoke. But then he went on to say to my grandmother that the days for such things were past. 'We don't want our clothes to last a century now, mother,' he said. 'Times are hurrying on faster, and we must make up our minds to go on with them and leave our old clothes behind. The world would get too full if everybody cherished bygone relics as you do.'

"I don't think she much liked his talking so. She shook her head and said something about revolutionary ideas, which I didn't understand. But my father only laughed; his mother and he were the best of friends, though he liked to tease her sometimes. I wandered about the room, peeping in among the rows of quaint costumes, and thinking to myself what fun it would be to dress up in them. But after a while I got tired, and I was hungry too, so I was very glad when grandmother, having hung out the last dress to air, said we must go down to dinner--my father had left some time before----"

"What did you have for dinner, grandmother?" said Sylvia. "It isn't that I care so much about eating," she added, blushing a little, "but I like to know exactly the sort of way people lived, you know."

"Only I wish you wouldn't interrupt grandmother," said Molly. "I'm _so_ afraid it'll be bed-time before she finishes the story."

"Which isn't yet begun--eh, Molly?" said grandmother. "I warned you my stories were sadly deficient in beginning and end, and middle too--in short they are not stories at all."

"Never mind, they're _very_ nice," said Molly; "and if I may sit up till this one's done I don't mind your telling Sylvia what you had for dinner, grandmother dear."

"Many thanks for your small majesty's gracious permission," said grandmother. "But as to what we had for dinner, I really can't say. Much the same as you have now, I fancy. Let me see--it was November--very likely a roast chicken and rice pudding."

"Oh!" said Sylvia, in a tone of some disappointment; "go on then, please, grandmother."

"Where was I?" said grandmother. "Oh yes--well, after dinner we went up to the drawing-room, and grandmother, saying she was a good deal tired by her exertions of the morning, sat down in her own particular easy chair by the fire, and, spreading over her face a very fine cambric handkerchief which she kept, I strongly suspect, for the purpose, prepared for her after-dinner nap. It was really a regular institution with her--but I noticed she always made some little special excuse for it, as if it was something quite out of the common. She told me to amuse myself during her forty winks by looking at the treasures in the glass-doored cupboards, which she knew I was very fond of admiring, and she told me I might open the book cupboard if I wanted to take out a book, but on no account any of the others.

"Now I assure you, children, and by your own experience you will believe what I say, that, but for my grandmother's warnings, the idea of opening the glass doors when by myself would never have come into my head. I had often been in the drawing-room alone and gazed admiringly at the treasures without ever dreaming of examining them more closely. I had never even _wished_ to do so, any more than one wishes to handle the moon or stars or any other un-get-at-able objects. But now, unfortunately, the idea was suggested, it had been put into my head, and there it stayed. I walked round the room gazing in at the cupboards in turn--the book ones did not particularly attract me--long ago I had read, over and over again, the few books in my grandmother's possession that I could feel interested in, and I stood still at last in front of the prettiest cupboard of all, wishing that grandmother had not forbidden my opening it. There were such lovely cups and saucers! I longed to handle them--one in particular that I felt sure I had never seen before. It had a deep rose pink ground, and in the centre there was the sweetest picture of a dear little shepherdess curtseying to an equally dear little shepherd.

"As I gazed at this cup the idea struck me that it would be delicious to dress one of my dolls in the little shepherdess's costume, and, eager to see it more minutely, I opened the glass door, and was just stretching up my hand for the cup, when I again remembered what my grandmother had said. I glanced round at her; she was fast asleep; there was no danger; what harm _could_ it do for me to take the cup into my hand for a moment?

I stretched up and took it. Yes, it was really most lovely, and the little shepherdess's dress seemed to me a perfect facsimile of the one I had most admired upstairs in my grandmother's wardrobe--a pea-green satin over a pale pink or rather salmon-coloured quilted slip. I determined that Lady Rosabella should have one the same, and I was turning over in my mind the possibilities of getting satin of the particular shades I thought so pretty, when a slight sound in the direction, it seemed to me, of my grandmother's arm-chair, startled me. I turned round hastily--how it was I cannot tell, but so it was--the beautiful cup fell from my hands and lay at my feet in, I was going to say, a thousand fragments."

"Oh!" exclaimed Sylvia and Molly--"oh, grandmother, what _did_ you do?"

"First of all," grandmother continued, "first of all I stooped down and picked up the pieces. There were not a thousand of them--not perhaps above a dozen, and after all, grandmother was sleeping quietly, but to all appearance soundly. The sound that had startled me must have been a fancied one, I said to myself, and oh dear, what a terrible pity I had been startled!

"I gathered the bits together in my handkerchief, and stood staring at them in perfect despair. I dared not let myself burst out crying as I was inclined to do, for grandmother would have heard me and asked what was the matter, and I felt that I should sink into the earth with shame and terror if she saw what I had done, and that I had distinctly disobeyed her. My only idea was to conceal the mischief. I huddled the bits up together in my handkerchief, and huddled the handkerchief into my pocket--the first pocket I had ever had, I rather think--and then I looked up to see if the absence of the cup was very conspicuous. I thought not; the saucer was still there, and by pulling one or two of the other pieces of china forward a little, I managed to make it look as if the cup was just accidentally hidden. To reach up to do this, I had to draw forward a chair; in getting down from it again I made some little noise, and I looked round in terror to see if grandmother was awake. No, she was still sleeping soundly. _What_ a blessing! I got out of one of the book cupboards a book I had read twenty times at least, and sitting down on a stool by the fire I pretended to read it again, while really all my ideas were running on what I should, what I _could_ do. For I had no manner of doubt that before long the accident would be discovered, and I felt sure that my grandmother's displeasure would be very severe. I knew too that my having tried to conceal it would make her far less ready to forgive me, and yet I felt that I _could_ not make up my mind to confess it all. I was so miserable that it was the greatest relief to me a minute or two afterwards to hear the hall door open and my father's hearty voice on the stair."

"'I have come to fetch you rather sooner than I said, little woman,' he exclaimed, as he came in, and then he explained that he had promised to drive a friend who lived near us home from the town in our gig, and that this friend being in a hurry, we must leave earlier than usual. My grandmother had wakened up of course with my father's coming in. It seemed to me, or was it my fancy?--that she looked graver than usual and rather sad as she bade us good-bye. She kissed me very kindly, more tenderly than was her habit, and said to my father that he must be sure to bring me again very soon, so that as I was going downstairs with him, he said to me that he was glad to see how fond grandmother was getting of me, and that he would bring me again next week. _I_ did not feel at all pleased at this--I felt more unhappy than ever I had done in my life, so that my father, noticing it, asked what was the matter. I replied that I was tired and that I did not care for going to grandmother's, and then, when I saw that this ungracious answer vexed my kind father, I felt more and more unhappy. Every moment as we walked along--we were to meet the carriage at the inn where it had been left--the bits of broken china in my pocket bumped against my leg, as if they would not let themselves be forgotten. I wished I could stop and throw them away, but that was impossible. I trudged along, gloomy and wretched, with a weight on my heart that it seemed to me I would never get rid of. Suddenly--so suddenly that I could hardly believe my own senses, something caught my eye that entirely changed my whole ideas. I darted forward, my father was a few steps in front of me--the footpath was so narrow in the old town that there was often not room for two abreast--_and_----"

Just at this moment the door opened, and grandmother's maid appeared with the tea-tray. Molly gave an impatient shake.

"Oh, _what_ a bother!" she said. "I quite forgot about tea. And immediately after tea it is always time for us to go to bed. It is eight o'clock now, oh grandmother, _do_ finish the story to-night."

"And why cannot my little girl ask it without all those shakes and 'bothers?'" said grandmother. She spoke very gently, but Molly looked considerably ashamed.

"Yes, grandmother dear," she replied meekly. Then she got up from the rug and stood by aunty patiently, while she poured out the tea, first "grandmothering" each cup to keep it from slipping about, then warming them with a little hot water, then putting in the beautiful yellow cream, the sugar, and the nice rich brown tea, all in the particular way grandmother liked it done. And during the process, Molly did not once wriggle or twist with impatience, so that when she carried grandmother's tea to her, very carefully and steadily, without a drop spilling over into the saucer in the way grandmother disliked to see, she got a kiss by way of reward, and what was still better perhaps, grandmother looked up and said,

"That's _my_ good little woman. There is not much more of what you call 'my story,' to tell, but such as it is, you may sit up to hear it, if you like."

Chapter end

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