The Doctor understood this as dismissal, and asked for his horse, intimating, however, that he would gladly keep the boy till some arrangement had been decided upon. Then he rode home to tell his sister-in-law that he had done his best, and that he thought it a fortunate conjunction that the travelled brother had been present.
“A tell-tale in their company
They never could endure,
And whoso kept not secretly
Their pranks was punished sure.
It was a just and Christian deed
To pinch such black and blue;
Oh, how the commonwealth doth need
Such justices as you!”
Several days passed, during which there could be no doubt that Peregrine Oakshott knew how to behave himself, not merely to grown-up people, but to little Anne, who had entirely lost her dread of him, and accepted him as a playfellow. He was able to join the family meals, and sit in the pleasant garden, shaded by the walls of the old castle, as well as by its own apple-trees, and looking out on the little bay in front, at full tide as smooth and shining as a lake.
There, while Anne did her task of spinning or of white seam, Mrs. Woodford would tell the children stories, or read to them from the Pilgrim’s Progress, a wonderful romance to both. Peregrine, still tamed by weakness, would lie on the grass at her feet, in a tranquil bliss such as he had never known before, and his fairy romances to Anne were becoming mitigated, when one day a big coach came along the road from Fareham, with two boys riding beside it, escorting Lady Archfield and Mistress Lucy.
The lady was come to study Mrs. Woodford’s recipe for preserved cherries, the young people, Charles, Lucy, and their cousin Sedley, now at home for the summer holidays, to spend an afternoon with Mistress Anne.
Great was Lady Archfield’s surprise at finding that Major Oakshott’s cross-grained slip of a boy was still at Portchester.
“If you were forced to take him in for very charity when he was hurt,” she said, “I should have thought you would have been rid of him as soon as he could leave his bed.”
“The road to Oakwood is too rough for broken ribs as yet,” said Mrs. Woodford, “nor is the poor boy ready for discipline.”
“Ay, I fancy that Major Oakshott is a bitter Puritan in his own house; but no discipline could be too harsh for such a boy as that, according to all that I hear,” said her ladyship, “nor does he look as if much were amiss with him so far as may be judged of features so strange and writhen.”
“He is nearly well, but not yet strong, and we are keeping him here till his father has decided on what is best for him.”
“You even trust him with your little maid! And alone! I wonder at you, madam.”
“Indeed, my lady, I have seen no harm come of it. He is gentle and kind with Anne, and I think she softens him.”