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Peggy had no objection. Fernley Road was bare and glaring just about there, and the trees were very tempting.
"It's really getting like the country," said Peggy, as they pa.s.sed several pretty gardens, larger and much prettier than the small ones in Fernley Road.
"Yes," Light Smiley agreed, "but though gardings is nice, I don't hold with gardings anything like as much as fields. Fields _is_ splendid where you can race about and jump and do just as you like, and no fears of breakin' flowers or nothink."
"Do you think we shall come to fields like that soon?" said Peggy. "If there was a very nice one we might go into it p'raps and rest a little, and look at the mountings. I wish we could begin to see the mountings again, Sarah, it seems quite strange without them, and I'm getting rather tired of looking at gardens when we can't go inside them, aren't you?"
Sarah was feeling very contented and happy. She was, though a little body for her age, much stronger than Peggy, as well as two years older, and she looked at her companion with surprise when she began already to talk of "resting."
"Lor', missy, you bain't tired already," she was beginning, when she suddenly caught sight of something which made her interrupt herself.
This was another road crossing the one they were on at right angles, and running therefore in the same direction as Fernley Road again. "'Ere's our way," she cried, "now didn't I tell you so? And this way goes slopin' up a bit, you see. When we get to the top we'll see the 'ills straight 'afore us, and 'ave a beeyutiful view."
Peggy's rather flagging steps grew brisker at this, and the two ran gaily along the new road for a little way. But running uphill is tiring, and it seemed to take them a long time to get to the top of the slope, and when they did so, it was only to be disappointed. Neither mountains nor hills nor white cottage were to be seen, only before them a rather narrow sort of lane, sloping downwards now and seeming to lead into some rather rough waste ground, where it ended. Peggy's face grew rather doleful, but Sarah was quite equal to the occasion. A little down the hill she spied a stile, over which she persuaded Peggy to climb. They found themselves in a potato field, but a potato field with a path down the middle; it was a large field and at the other end of the path was a gate, opening on to a cart track scarcely worthy the name of a lane.
The children followed it, however, till another stile tempted them again, this time into a little wood, where they got rather torn and scratched by brambles and nettles as they could not easily find a path, and Sarah fancied by forcing their way through the bushes they would be sure to come out on to the road again.
It was not, however, till they had wandered backwards among the trees and brambles for some time that they got on to a real path, and they had to walk a good way along this till they at last came on another gate, this time sure enough opening into the high road.
Sarah's spirits recovered at once.
"'Ere we are," she said cheerfully, "all right. 'Ere's Fernley Road again. Nothink to do but to turn round and go 'ome if you're tired, missy. _I'm_ not tired, but if you'd rayther go no farther----"
Peggy did not answer for a moment; she was staring about her on all sides. The prospect was not a very inviting one; the road was bare and ugly, dreadfully dusty, and there was no shade anywhere, and at a little distance some great tall chimneys were to be seen, the chimneys of some iron-works, from which smoke poured forth. There were a good many little houses near the tall chimneys, they were the houses of the people who worked there, but they were not sweet little cottages such as Peggy dreamed of. Indeed they looked more like a very small ugly town, than like rows of cottages on a country road.
"This isn't a pretty road at all," said Peggy at last, rather crossly I am afraid, "it is very nugly, and you shouldn't have brought me here, Sarah. I can't see the mountings; they is quite goned away, more goned away than when it rains, for then they're only behind the clouds. This isn't Fernley Road, Light Smiley. I do believe you've losted us, and Peggy's so tired, and very, very un'appy."
It was Peggy's way when she grew low-spirited to speak more babyishly than usual; at such times it was too much trouble to think about being a big girl. Poor Sarah looked dreadfully distressed.
"Oh, missy dear, don't cry," she said. "If it bain't Fernley Road, it's _a_ road any way, and there's no call to be frightened. We can ax our way, but I'd rayther not ax it at the cottages, for they might think I was a tramp that'd stoled you away."
"And what would they do then?" asked Peggy, leaving off crying for a minute.
"They'd 'av me up mebbe, and put us in the lock-ups."
"The place where the pl'ice leaves folk as they isn't sure about."
"Prison, do you mean?" said Peggy, growing very pale.
"Well, not ezackly, but somethin' like."
Peggy caught hold of Sarah in sudden terror.
"Oh come along, Light Smiley, quick, quick. Let's get back into the fields and hide or anything. Oh come quick, for fear they should catch us." And she tugged at Sarah, trying to drag her along the road.
"Stop, missy, don't take on so; there's no need. We'll just go along quietly and no one'll notice us, only you stop crying, and then no one'll think any 'arm. We'll not go back the way we came, it's so drefful th.o.r.n.y, but we'll look out for another road or a path. I 'spects you're right enough--this 'ere bain't Fernley Road."
Peggy swallowed down her sobs.
"I don't think you look quite big enough to have stolened me, Sarah,"
she said at last. "But I would like to get back into the fields quick.
If only we could see the mountings again, I wouldn't be quite so frightened."
They had not gone far before they came upon a gateway and a path leading through a field where there seemed no difficulties. Crossing it they found themselves at the edge of the th.o.r.n.y wood, which they skirted for some way. Peggy's energy, born of fear, began to fail.
"Sarah," she said at last, bursting into fresh tears, "Peggy can't go no farther, and I'm so hungry too. I'm sure it's long past dinner-time. You must sit down and rest; p'raps if I rested a little, I wouldn't feel so very un'appy."
Sarah looked at her almost in despair. She herself was worried and vexed, very afraid too of the scolding which certainly awaited her at home, but she was not tired nor dispirited, though very sorry for Peggy, and quite aware that it was she and not "missy" who was to blame for this unlucky expedition.
"I'd like to get on," she said, "we're sure to get back into a road as'll take us 'ome before long. Couldn't I carry you, missy?"
"No," said Peggy, "you're far too little. And I can't walk any more without resting. You're very unkind, Light Smiley, and I wish I'd never seen you."
Poor Sarah bore this bitter reproach in silence.
She looked about for a comfortable seat in the hedge, and settled herself so that Peggy could rest against her. The sunshine, though it had seemed hot and glaring on the bare dusty road was not really very powerful, for it was only late April, though a very summerlike day.
Peggy left off crying and said no more, but leant contentedly enough against Sarah.
"I'm comf'able now," she said, closing her eyes. "Thank you, Light Smiley. I'll soon be rested, and then we'll go on."
But in a moment or two, by the way she breathed, Sarah saw that she had fallen asleep.
[Ill.u.s.tration: "And at last, though she was really so anxious and distressed, the quiet and the milder air, and the idleness perhaps, to which none of the Simpkins family were much accustomed, all joined together and by degrees hushed poor Light Smiley to sleep, her arms clasped round Peggy as if to protect her from any possible danger."
"Bless us," thought the little guardian to herself, "she may sleep for hours. Whatever 'ull I do? She's that tired--and when she wakes she'll be that 'ungry, there'll be no getting her along. She'll be quite faint-like. If I dared leave her, I'd run on till I found the road and got somebody to 'elp carry her. But I dursn't. If she woked up and me gone, she'd be runnin' who knows where, and mebbe never be found again.
Poor missy--it'll be lock-ups and no mistake, wusser I dessay for me, and quite right too. Mother'll never say I'm fit for a nussery after makin' sich a fool of myself."
And in spite of her courage, the tears began to trickle down Sarah's face. Peggy looked so white and tiny, lying there almost in her arms, that it made her heart ache to see her. So she shut her own eyes and tried to think what to do. And the thinking grew gradually confused and mixed up with all sorts of other thinkings. Sarah fancied she heard her mother calling her, and she tried to answer, but somehow the words would not come.
And at last, though she was really so anxious and distressed, the quiet and the mild air, and the idleness perhaps, to which none of the Simpkins family were much accustomed, all joined together and by degrees hushed poor Light Smiley to sleep, her arms clasped round Peggy as if to protect her from any possible danger.
It would have been a touching picture, had there been any one there to see. Unluckily, not merely for the sake of the picture, but for that of the children themselves, there was no one.
THE SHOES-LADY AGAIN
"I'll love you through the happy years, Till I'm a nice old lady."
_Poems written for a Child._
WHEN they woke, both of them at the same moment it seemed, though probably one had roused the other without knowing it, the sun had gone, the sky looked dull, it felt chilly and strange. Peggy had thought it must be past dinner-time before they had sat down to rest; it seemed now as if it must be past tea-time too!