I was too glad to keep them from Bessy’s observation, as well as her unparalleled powers of destruction, which I knew well. I put them into a slim glass on my table, and looked stupidly at them, and then out of the window at Mary’s Meadow,
So they had lived—and grown—and settled there—and were now in bloom. My plants.
Next morning I was sitting, drawing, in the school-room window, when I saw the Old Squire coming up the drive. There is no mistaking him when you can see him at all. He is a big, handsome old man, with white whiskers, and a white hat, and white gaiters, and he generally wears a light coat, and a flower in his button-hole. The flower he wore this morning looked like —, but I was angry with myself for thinking of it, and went on drawing again, as well as I could, for I could not help wondering why he was coming to our house. Then it struck me he might have seen Chris trespassing, and he might be coming at last to lay a formal complaint.
Twenty minutes later James came to tell me that Father wished to see me in the library, and when I got there, Father was just settling his eye-glass in his eye, and the Old Squire was standing on the hearth-rug, with a big piece of paper in his hand. And then I saw that I was right, and that the flowers in his button-hole were hose-in-hose.
As I came in he laid down the paper, took the hose-in-hose out of his button-hole in his left hand, and held out his right hand to me, saying: “I’m more accustomed to public speaking than to private speaking, Miss Mary. But—will you be friends with me?”
In Mary’s Meadow my head had got all confused, because I was frightened. I was not frightened to-day, and I saw the whole matter in a moment. He had found the double cowslips, and he knew now that I was neither a liar nor a thief. I was glad, but I could not feel very friendly to him. I said, “You can speak when you are angry.”
Though he was behind me, I could feel Father coming nearer, and I knew somehow that he had taken out his glass again to rub it and put it back, as he does when he is rather surprised or amused. I was afraid he meant to laugh at me afterwards, and he can tease terribly, but I could not have helped saying what came into my head that morning if I had tried. When you have suffered a great deal about anything, you cannot sham, not even politeness.
The Old Squire got rather red. Then he said, “I am afraid I am very hasty, my dear, and say very unjustifiable things. But I am very sorry, and I beg your pardon. Will you forgive me?”
I said, “Of course, if you’re sorry, I forgive you, but you have been a very long time in repenting.”
Which was true. If I had been cross with one of the others, and had borne malice for five months, I should have thought myself very wicked. But when I had said it, I felt sorry, for the old gentleman made no answer. Father did not speak either, and I began to feel very miserable. I touched the flowers, and the Old Squire gave them to me in silence. I thanked him very much, and then I said—
“I am very glad you know about it now. . . . I’m very glad they lived. . . . I hope you like them? . . . I hope, if you do like them, that they’ll grow and spread all over your field.”
The Old Squire spoke at last. He said, “It is not my field any longer.”
I said, “Oh, why?”
“I have given it away; I have been a long time in repenting, but when I did repent I punished myself. I have given it away.”
It overwhelmed me, and when he took up the big paper again, I thought he was going, and I tried to stop him, for I was sorry I had spoken unkindly to him, and I wanted to be friends.
“Please don’t go,” I said. “Please stop and be friends. And oh, please, please don’t give Mary’s Meadow away. You mustn’t punish yourself. There’s nothing to punish yourself for. I forgive you with all my heart, and I’m sorry I spoke crossly. I have been so very miserable, and I was so vexed at wasting the hose-in-hose, because Bessy’s great-aunt gave them to me, and I’ve none left. Oh, the unkindest thing you could do to me now would be to give away Mary’s Meadow.”
The Old Squire had taken both my hands in his, and now he asked very kindly—“Why, my dear, why don’t you want me to give away Mary’s Meadow?”
“Because we are so fond of it. And because I was beginning to hope that now we’re friends, and you know we don’t want to steal your things, or to hurt your field, perhaps you would let us play in it sometimes, and perhaps have Saxon to play with us there. We are so very fond of him too.”
“You are fond of Mary’s Meadow?” said the Old Squire.
“Yes, yes! We have been fond of it all our lives. We don’t think there is any field like it, and I don’t believe there can be. Don’t give it away. You’ll never get one with such flowers in it again. And now there are hose-in-hose, and they are not at all common. Bessy’s aunt’s aunt has only got one left, and she’s taking care of it with a shovel. And if you’ll let us in we’ll plant a lot of things, and do no harm, we will indeed. And the nightingale will be here directly. Oh, don’t give it away!”
My head was whirling now with the difficulty of persuading him, and I did not hear what he said across me to my father. But I heard Father’s reply —
“Tell her yourself, sir.”
On which the Old Squire stuffed the big paper into my arms, and put his hand on my head and patted it.
“I told you I was a bad hand at talking, my dear,” he said, “but Mary’s Meadow is given away, and that’s the Deed of Gift which you’ve got in your arms, drawn up as tight as any rascal of a lawyer can do it, and that’s not so tight, I believe, but what some other rascal of a lawyer could undo it. However, they may let you alone. For I’ve given it to you, my dear, and it is yours. So you can plant, and play, and do what you please there. ‘You, and your heirs and assigns, for ever,’ as the rascals say.”
It was my turn now to be speechless. But as I stared blankly in front of me, I saw that Father had come round, and was looking at me through his eyeglass. He nodded to me, and said, “Yes, Mary, the Squire has given Mary’s Meadow to you, and it is yours.”
Oh, how delighted the others were when they heard that Mary’s Meadow belonged to me.
“It’s like having an Earthly Paradise given to you, straight off!” said Harry.
“And one that doesn’t want weeding,” said Adela. “And oh, Mary, Mary!” cried Arthur. “Think of the yards and yards of top-spit. It does rejoice me to think I can go to you now when I’m making compost, and need not be beholden to that old sell-up-your-grandfather John for as much as would fill Adela’s weeding basket, and that’s about as small an article as any one can make-believe with.”
“It’s very heavy when it’s full,” said Adela.
“Is everything hers?” asked Christopher. “Is the grass hers, and the trees hers, and the hedges hers, and the rooks hers, and the starlings hers, and will the nightingale be hers when he comes home, and if she could dig through to the other side of the world, would there be a field the same size in Australia that would be hers, and are the sheep hers, and ———”
“For mercy’s sake stop that catalogue, Chris,” said Father. “Of course the sheep are not hers; they were moved yesterday. By the bye, Mary, I don’t know what you propose to do with your property, but if you like to let it to me, I’ll turn Some sheep in to-morrow, and I’ll pay you so much a year, which I advise you to put into the Post Office Savings Bank.”
I couldn’t fancy Mary’s Meadow always without sheep, so I was too thankful; though at first I could not see that it was fair that dear Father should let me have his sheep to look pretty in my field for nothing, and pay me, too. He is always teasing me about my field, and he teases me a good deal about the Squire, too. He says we have set up another queer friendship in the family, and that the Old Squire and I are as odd a pair as Aunt Catherine and Chris.
I am very fond of the Old Squire now, and he is very kind to me. He wants to give me Saxon, but I will not accept him. It would be selfish. But the Old Squire says I had better take him, for we have quite spoilt him for a yard dog by petting him, till he has not a bit of savageness left in him. We do not believe Saxon ever was savage; but I daren’t say so to the Old Squire, for he does not like you to think you know better than he does about anything. There is one other subject on which he expects to be humoured, and I am careful not to offend him. He cannot tolerate the idea that he might be supposed to have yielded to Father the point about which they went to law, in giving Mary’s Meadow to me. He is always lecturing me on encroachments, and the abuse of privileges, and warning me to be very strict about trespassers on the path through Mary’s Meadow; and now that the field is mine, nothing will induce him to walk in it without asking my leave. That is his protest against the decision from which he meant to appeal.
Though I have not accepted Saxon, he spends most of his time with us. He likes to come for the night, because he sleeps on the floor of my room, instead of in a kennel, which must be horrid, I am sure. Yesterday, the Old Squire said, “One of these fine days, when Master Saxon does not come home till morning, he’ll find a big mastiff in his kennel, and will have to seek a home for himself where he can.”
Chris has been rather whimsical lately. Father says Lady Catherine spoils him. One day he came to me, looking very peevish, and said, “Mary, if a hedgehog should come and live in one of your hedges, Michael says he would be yours, he’s sure. If Michael finds him, will you give him to me?”
“Yes, Chris; but what do you want with a hedgehog?”
“I want him to sleep by my bed,” said Chris. “You have Saxon by your bed; I want something by mine. I want a hedgehog. I feel discontented without a hedgehog. I think I might have something the matter with my brain if I didn’t get a hedgehog pretty soon. Can I go with Michael and look for him this afternoon?” and he put his hand to his forehead.
“Chris, Chris!” I said, “you should not be so sly. You’re a real slyboots. Double-stockings and slyboots.” And I took him on my lap.
Chris put his arms round my neck, and buried his cheek against mine.
“I won’t be sly, Mary,” he whispered; and then, hugging me as he hugs Lady Catherine, he added, “For I do love you; for you are a darling, and I do really think it always was yours.”
“If not,” said Chris, “why was it always called MARY’S MEADOW?”