Miss Hurst had come out as soon as the music began, and Ida ran to talk with her. There was whispering between them, and pointing to one and another of the children, and then the governess, with a pleased face, disappeared again. She was away some time, but on her return two of the children were called into the house. Bare-footed they went in, but came forth again with shoes and stockings on, hardly able to comprehend what had happened to them. Then were summoned those who had nothing on their heads, and to each of these a straw hat was given, a less wonderful possession than the shoes and stockings, but a source of gladness and pride.
In the meantime, however, marvels had accumulated on the lawn. Whilst yet the organ was playing, there appeared two men, one of them carrying a big drum, the other hidden under a Punch and Judy show. Of a sudden there sounded a shrill note, high above the organ, a fluting from the bottom to the top of the gamut, the immemorial summons to children, the overture to the primitive drama. It was drowned in a scream of welcome, which, in its turn, was outdone by thunderous peals upon the drum.
Mr. Woodstock said little during the whole afternoon. Perhaps he thought the more.
Tables had been fixed in one part of the garden, and as the drama of Punch drew to an end, its interest found a serious rival in the spectacle of piled plates of cake. But there was to intervene nearly half-an-hour before the tea-urns were ready to make an appearance. The skipping-ropes came into requisition outside, but in the house was proceeding simultaneously a rather more serious pastime, which fell to Ida’s share to carry out. Choosing the little girl whose face was the dirtiest and hair the untidiest of any she could see, she led her gently away to a place where a good bowl of warm water and plenty of soap were at hand, and, with the air of bestowing the greatest kindness of all, fell to work to such purpose that in a few minutes the child went back to the garden a resplendent being, positively clean and kempt for the first time in her life.
“I know you’ll feel uncomfortable for a little, dear,” Ida said, dismissing the astonished maiden with a kiss, “but the strangeness will wear off; and you’ll see how much nicer it is.”
One after another, all were dealt with in this way, presently with a good-natured servant-girl’s assistance, as time pressed. The result was that a transformed company sat down to tea. The feeling wore off, as Ida said, but at first cleanliness meant positive discomfort, taking the form of loss of identity and difficulty of mutual recognition. They looked at their hands, and were amazed at the whiteness that had come upon them; they kept feeling their faces and their ordered hair. But the appetite of one and all was improved by the process.