Grandmother Dear Part 14

"'I went to his shop the very next morning,' she told me, 'to see if he still had the fellow to the cup I had bought, as I knew he had two of them, and he told me the other had been bought by a little girl. Ten shillings was too much to give for it, Nelly, a great deal too much for you to give, and more than the cup was really worth. It was not a very valuable cup, though the colour was so pretty that I was tempted to buy it to place among the others.'

"'I don't mind about the money, grandmother,' I replied. 'I would have given ever so much more if I had had it. You will keep the cup now?' I added. 'You won't make me take it back to the old man? And oh, grandmother, will you really forgive me?'

"She told me she had already done so, fully and freely, from the bottom of her heart. And she said she would indeed keep the cup, as long as she lived, and that if ever again I was tempted to distrust her I must look at it and take courage. And she explained to me that even if there had been reason for my fears, 'even if I had been a very harsh and severe grandmother, your concealment would have done no good in the end,' she said. 'It would have been like the first little tiny seed of deceit, which might have grown into a great tree of evil, poisoning all your life. Oh, Nelly, never _never_ plant that seed, for once it has taken root who can say how difficult it may be to tear it up?'

"I listened with all my attention; I could not help being deeply impressed with her earnestness, and I was so grateful for her kindness that her advice found good soil ready to receive it. And how many, many times in my life have I not recalled it! For, Ralph and Sylvia and Molly, my darlings, remember this--even to the naturally frank and honest there come times of sore temptation in life, times when a little swerving from the straight narrow path of uprightness would seem to promise to put all straight when things have gone wrong, times when the cost seems so little and the gain so great. Ah! yes, children, we need to have a firm anchor to hold by at these times, and woe for us then if the little evil seed has been planted and has taken root in our hearts."

Grandmother paused. The children too were silent for a moment or two.

Then Sylvia said gently,

"Did you tell your father and mother all about it, grandmother?"

"Yes," said grandmother, "I did--all about it. I told them everything. It was my own choice. My grandmother left it to myself. She would not tell them; she would leave it to me. And, of course, I did tell them. I could not feel happy till I had done so. They were very kind about it, _very_ kind, but still it was to my grandmother I felt the most grateful and the most drawn. From that time till her death, when I was nearly grown up, she was my dearest counsellor and guide. I had no concealment from her--I told her everything. For her heart was so wonderfully young; to the very last she was able to sympathise in all my girlish joys, and sorrows, and difficulties."

"Like you, grandmother dear," said Molly, softly stroking her grandmother's hand, which she had taken in hers. "She must have been just like you."

They all smiled.

"And when she died," pursued grandmother gently, almost as if speaking to herself, "when she died and all her things were divided, I begged them to give me the pink cup. I might have had a more valuable one instead, but I preferred it. It is one of those two over there on the little cabinet."

Molly's eyes turned eagerly in the direction of the little cabinet.

"Grandmother dear," she said, solemnly, "when you die--I don't _want_ you to die, you know of course, but when you _do_ die, I wish you would say that _I_ may have that cup--will you? To remind me, you know, of what you have been telling us. I quite understand how you mean: that day all my brooches were broken, I did awfully want not to tell you about them all, and I might forget, you see, about the little bad seed and all that, that you have been telling us so nicely. Please, grandmother dear, _may_ I have that cup when you die?"

"Molly," said Sylvia, her face growing very red, "it is perfectly horrible of you to talk that way. I am quite ashamed of you. Don't mind her, grandmother. She just talks as if she had no sense sometimes. How _can_ you, Molly?" she went on, turning again to her sister, "how _can_ you talk about dear grandmother dying? _Dear_ grandmother, and you pretend to love her."

Molly's big blue eyes opened wide with astonishment, then gradually they grew misty, and great tears welled up to their surface.

"I don't _pretend_--I _do_ love her," she said. "And I don't _want_ you to die, grandmother dear, do I? only we all must die some time. I didn't mean to talk horribly. I think you are very unkind, Sylvia."

"Children, children," said grandmother's gentle voice, "I don't like these words. I am sure Molly did not mean anything I would not like, Sylvia dear, but yet I know how _you_ mean. Don't be in such a hurry to judge each other. And about the cup, Molly, I'll consider, though I hope and believe you will not need it to remind you of the lesson I want to impress on you by the story of my long-ago troubles. Now kiss each other, dears, and kiss me, for it is quite bed-time. Good-night, my little girls. Ralph, my boy, open the door for your sisters, and pleasant dreams to you all."



"Sad case it is, as you may think For very cold to go to bed; And then for cold not sleep a wink."

WORDSWORTH'S _Goody Blaks_

"Grandmother," said Ralph, when they were all sitting at breakfast the next morning, "didn't you say that your grandmother once had an adventure that we might like to hear? It was at the beginning of the story you told us--I think it was something about the corkscrew staircase. I liked the story awfully, you know, but I'm fearfully fond of adventures."

Grandmother smiled.

"I remember saying something about it," she said, "but it is hardly worth calling an adventure, my boy. It showed her courage and presence of mind, however. She was a very brave little woman."

"Presence of mind," repeated Ralph. "Ah yes! that's a good thing to have.

There's a fellow at our school who saved a child from being burnt to death not long ago. It was his little cousin where he lives. It wasn't he that told me about it, he's too modest, it was some of the other fellows."

"Who is he? what's his name?" asked Molly.

"Prosper de Lastre," replied Ralph. "He's an awful good fellow every way."

"Prosper de Lastre!" repeated Molly, who possessed among other peculiarities that of a sometimes most inconveniently good memory.

"Prosper de Lastre! I do believe, Ralph, that's the very boy you called a cad when you first went to school."

Ralph's face got very red, and he seemed on the verge of a hasty reply.

But he controlled himself.

"Well, and if I did," he said somewhat gruffly, "a fellow may be mistaken, mayn't he? I don't think him a cad _now_, and that's all about it."

Molly was preparing some rejoinder when grandmother interrupted her.

"You are quite right, Ralph, _quite_ right not to be above owning yourself mistaken. Who _can_ be above it really? not the wisest man that ever lived. And Molly, my dear little girl, why can you not learn to be more considerate? Do you know what 'tact' is, Molly? Did you ever hear of it?"

"Oh yes, grandmother dear," said Molly serenely. "It means--it means--oh I don't quite know, but I'm sure I do know."

"Think of it as meaning the not saying or doing to another person whatever in that other's place you would not like said or done to you--that is _one_ meaning of tact anyway, and a very good one. Will you try to remember it, Molly?"

Molly opened her eyes.

"Yes, grandmother dear, I will try. But I _think_ all that will be rather hard to remember, because you see people don't feel the same. My head isn't twisty-turny enough to understand things like that, quickly. I like better to go bump at them, quite straight."

"Without, in nine cases out of ten, the faintest idea what you are going to go bump straight at," said aunty, laughing. "Oh, Molly, you are irresistible!"

The laughing at her had laughed back Ralph's good humour anyway, and now he returned to the charge.

"Twisty-turny is like a corkscrew, grandmother," he said slyly, "and once there was an old house with a corkscrew stair----"

"Yes," said grandmother, "and in that old house there once lived an old lady, who, strange to say, was not always old. She was not very old at the time of the 'adventure.' You remember, children, my telling you that during her husband's life, my grandmother and he used to spend part of the winter in the old house where she afterwards ended her days. My grandfather used to drive backwards and forwards to his farms, of which he had several in the neighbourhood, and the town was a sort of central place for the season of bad weather and short days. Sometimes he used to be kept rather late, for besides his own affairs, he had, like his son, my father, a good deal of magistrate's business to attend to. But however late he was detained my grandmother always sat up for him, generally in a little sitting-room she had on the storey above the long drawing-room I have described to you, almost, that is to say, at the top of the house, from attic to basement of which ran the lung 'twisty-turny, corkscrew staircase.' One evening, about Christmas time it was, I think, my grandfather was very late of coming home. My grandmother was not uneasy, for he had told her he would be late, and she had mentioned it to the servants, and told them they need not sit up. So there she was, late at night, alone, sewing most likely--ah girls, I wish I could show you some of her sewing--in her little parlour. She was not the least nervous, yet it was a little 'eerie' perhaps, sitting up there alone so late, listening for her husband's whistle--he always whistled when he was late, so that she might be _sure_ it was he, when she went down to open the door at his knock--and more than once she looked at the clock and wished he would come. Suddenly a step outside the room, coming up the stair, made her start. She had hardly time to wonder confusedly if it could be my grandfather, knowing all the time it could _not_ be he--the doors were all supposed to be locked and barred, and could only be opened from the inside--when the door was flung open and some one looked in. Not my grandfather certainly; the man who stood in the doorway was dressed in some sort of rough workman's clothes, and his face was black and grimy.

That was all she had time to catch sight of, for, not expecting to see her there, the intruder, startled, turned sharply round and made for the stair. Up jumped my little grandmother; she took it all in in an instant, and saw that her only chance was to take advantage of his momentary surprise and start at seeing her. Up she jumped and rushed bravely after him, making all the clatter she could. Downstairs he flew, imagining very probably in his fright that two or three people instead of one little woman were at his heels, and downstairs, round and round the corkscrew staircase, she flew after him. Never afterwards, she has often since told me, did she quite lose the association of that wild flight, never could she go downstairs in that house without the feeling of the man before her, and seeming to hear the rattle-rattle of a leathern apron he was wearing, which clattered against the banisters as he ran. But she kept her head to the end of the chase; she followed him--all in the dark, remember--down to the bottom of the staircase, and, guided by the clatter of his apron, through a back kitchen in the basement which opened into a yard--there she stopped--she heard him clatter through this cellar, banging the door--which had been left open, and through which he had evidently made his way into the house--after him, as if to prevent her following him farther. Poor thing, she certainly had no wish to do so; she felt her way to the door and felt for the key to lock it securely.

But alas, when she pushed the door closely to, preparatory to locking it, it resisted her. Some one or something seemed to push against her from the outside. Then for the first time her courage gave way, and thinking that the man had returned, with others perhaps, she grew sick and faint with fright. She sank down helplessly on the floor for a moment or two.

But all seemed quiet; her courage and common sense returned; she got up and felt all about the door carefully, to try to discover the obstacle.

To her delight she found that some loose sand or earth driven into a little heap on the floor was what prevented the door shutting. She smoothed it away with her hand, closed the door and locked it firmly, and then, faint and trembling, but safe, made her way back to the little room where her light was burning. You can fancy how glad she was, a very few moments afterwards, to hear my grandfather's cheerful whistle outside."

"But," interrupted Molly, her eyes looking bigger and rounder than usual, "but suppose the man had been waiting outside to catch him--your grandfather--grandmother, when he came in?"

"But the man wasn't doing anything of the sort, my dear Molly. He had gone off in a fright, and when my grandmother thought it over coolly, she felt convinced that he was not a regular burglar, and so it turned out.

He was a man who worked at a smithy near by, and this was his first attempt at burglary. He had heard that my grandfather was to be out late, through one of the servants, whom he had persuaded not to lock the door, on the pretense that he might be passing and would look in to say good-night. It all came out afterwards."

"And was he put in prison?" said Molly.

"No," said grandmother. "The punishments for housebreaking and such things in those days were so frightfully severe, that kind-hearted people often refrained from accusing the wrong-doers. This man had been in sore want of money for some reason or other; he was not a dishonest character.

I believe the end of it was that my grandfather forgave him, and put him in the way of doing better."

Chapter end

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