“I forgot you had been having your tea, my poor boy,” said she.
“And you don’t pant a bit!” was his encomium.
“Dear me, no; not more than a bird. You might as well try to catch a bird.”
Young Crossjay gave a knowing nod. “Wait till I get my second wind.”
“Now you must confess that girls run faster than boys.”
“They may at the start.”
“They do everything better.”
“They learn their lessons.”
“You can’t make soldiers or sailors of them, though.”
“And that is untrue. Have you never read
of Mary Ambree? and Mistress
Hannah Snell of Pondicherry? And there was the bride of the celebrated
William Taylor. And what do you say to Joan of Arc? What do you say to
Boadicea? I suppose you have never heard of the Amazons.”
“They weren’t English.”
“Then it is your own countrywomen you decry, sir!”
Young Crossjay betrayed anxiety about his false position, and begged for the stories of Mary Ambree and the others who were English.
“See, you will not read for yourself, you hide and play truant with Mr. Whitford, and the consequence is you are ignorant of your country’s history.”
Miss Middleton rebuked him, enjoying his wriggle between a perception of her fun and an acknowledgment of his peccancy. She commanded him to tell her which was the glorious Valentine’s day of our naval annals; the name of the hero of the day, and the name of his ship. To these questions his answers were as ready as the guns of the good ship Captain, for the Spanish four-decker.
“And that you owe to Mr. Whitford,” said Miss Middleton.
“He bought me the books,” young Crossjay growled, and plucked at grass blades and bit them, foreseeing dimly but certainly the termination of all this.
Miss Middleton lay back on the grass and said: “Are you going to be fond of me, Crossjay?”
The boy sat blinking. His desire was to prove to her that lie was immoderately fond of her already; and he might have flown at her neck had she been sitting up, but her recumbency and eyelids half closed excited wonder in him and awe. His young heart beat fast.
“Because, my dear boy,” she said, leaning on her elbow, “you are a very nice boy, but an ungrateful boy, and there is no telling whether you will not punish any one who cares for you. Come along with me; pluck me some of these cowslips, and the speedwells near them; I think we both love wild-flowers.” She rose and took his arm. “You shall row me on the lake while I talk to you seriously.”
It was she, however, who took the sculls at the boat-house, for she had been a playfellow with boys, and knew that one of them engaged in a manly exercise is not likely to listen to a woman.
“Now, Crossjay,” she said. Dense gloom overcame him like a cowl. She bent across her hands to laugh. “As if I were going to lecture you, you silly boy!” He began to brighten dubiously. “I used to be as fond of birdsnesting as you are. I like brave boys, and I like you for wanting to enter the Royal Navy. Only, how can you if you do not learn? You must get the captains to pass you, you know. Somebody spoils you: Miss Dale or Mr. Whitford.”