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[Illustration: "I'VE SPILT THE SOUP, AND BROKE THE JUG."]
F. BAYFORD HARRISON,
Author of "Brothers in Arms;" "Battlefield Treasure;"
BLACKIE &SON, LIMITED, 49 OLD BAILEY, E.C.
GLASGOW, EDINBURGH, AND DUBLIN.
* * * * *
CHAPTER I. THE LOCK-HOUSE.
The mist of a July morning shrouded the river and its banks. It was a soft thin mist, not at all like a winter fog, and through it, and high above it, the sun was shining, and the larks singing; and Edward Rowles, the lock-keeper, knew well that within an hour or two the brightest sunshine would gladden England's river Thames.
He came out from his house, which was overgrown with honeysuckle and clematis, and he looked up the stream and down the stream, and then at the weir over which the water tumbled and roared; he saw that everything was all right after its night's rest. So he put his hands in his pockets, and went round to the back of the house to see how his peas and beans were conducting themselves. They were flourishing. Next he looked at some poultry in a wired-off space; they seemed very glad to see him, even the little chickens having good appetites, and being ready for their breakfasts.
After this inspection Edward Rowles went indoors again, and looked at his son Philip, who was still asleep in his little camp-bed in the corner of the sitting-room.
"Get up, lad, get up," said the father; "don't be the last."
Philip opened his eyes and rubbed them, and within a few minutes was washing and dressing.
In the meantime Mrs. Rowles was lighting the fire in the kitchen, filling the kettle with water from the well, getting down bread and butter from a shelf, and preparing everything for the morning meal.
Presently there appeared a little girl, Emily by name, who slept in a tiny attic all by herself, and who was very slow in dressing, and generally late in coming down.
"Come, bustle about, Emily," said her mother. "Here, this slice of bread is very dry, so toast it, and then it will be extra nice."
Emily obeyed. Philip got a broom and swept out the kitchen; Mr. Rowles brought in a handful of mustard-and-cress as a relish for bread-and-butter. And soon they were all seated at the table.
"Not a boat in sight," said Mr. Rowles; "nor yet a punt."
"It is early yet," replied his wife; "wait until the first train from London comes in."
"Like enough there will be folks come by it," rejoined Rowles; "they must be precious glad to get out of London this hot day."
"Why must they be glad, father?" asked Philip.
"Because London is awful hot in hot weather; it seems as if it had not got enough air for all the folks to breathe that live in it. Millions of people, Philip. Write down a million on your slate, boy."
Philip brought his slate and pencil and wrote 1,000,000.
"Write it over again, and twice more. Now that seems a good many, eh? Well, there are more people in London than all those millions on your slate. What do you think of that?"
The boy had no idea at all of what a million of people would look like, nor a million of lemon drops, nor a million of anything. He did not even try to gain an idea on the subject.
"Mother," said Emily, "does Aunt Mary live in London? And Albert and Juliet and Florry and Neddy-and-and all the others."
"Yes, poor things! they live in London."
"And they don't like hot days in London?"
"Hot days must be better than cold ones. I say, Rowles," and his wife turned to him and spoke in a gentler tone, "do you know I have been thinking so much lately about Mary and all of them. It is a long time since we had a letter. I wonder if it is all right with them."
"As right as usual, I'll be bound," said Rowles gruffly.
"I've a sort of feeling on me," Mrs. Rowles pursued, "that they are not doing well. The saying is, that no news is good news; but I'm not so sure of that-not always."
"Mary went her own way," said the lock-keeper, "and if it turns out the wrong way it is no business of mine. When a woman marries a fine, stuck-up London printer, who works all night on a morning paper and sleeps half the day, what can you expect? Can you expect good health, or good temper, or good looks from a man who turns night into day and day into night?"
"Children, run and give these crumbs and some barley to the chickens. Now, Rowles, you know very well that I never did join you in your dislike to Thomas Mitchell. Printing was his trade, and there must be morning papers I suppose, and I daresay he'd like to work by day and sleep by night if he could. I think your sister Mary made a mistake when she married a Londoner, after being used to the country where you
"It costs more," said Rowles.
A long, distant whistle was heard.
"There they come!" and Rowles rose from his chair, and took his burly figure out into the garden-plot which lay between the cottage and the lock.
Mrs. Rowles followed him, saying, "There is a train at 10.22; and if I leave the dinner all ready you can boil the potatoes for yourself."