Great Uncle Hoot-Toot - Part 16

Part 16

"Hoot-toot!" said Mr. Byrne. He could not make it out. But we, who know in what a hurry Geoff wrote his note at the railway-station while Jowett was waiting to take it, can quite well understand why Vicky's letters had never reached him. For the address he _should_ have given was--


"This time," Mr. Byrne went on, "I'll see that the letter is sent to him direct. Jowett must manage it. Let Vicky address as before, and I'll see that it reaches him."

"What do you think she should write?" said Mrs. Tudor, anxiously.

"What she feels. It does not much matter. But let her make him understand that his home is open to him as ever--that he is neither forgotten nor thought of harshly. If I mistake not, from what I saw and what Eames told me, he will be so happy to find it is so, that all the better side of his character will come out. And he will say more to himself than any of us would ever wish to say to him."

"But, uncle dear," said Elsa, "if it turns out as you hope, and poor Geoff comes home again and is all you and mamma wish--and--if _all_ your delightful plans are realized, won't Geoff find out everything you don't want him to know at present? Indeed, aren't you afraid he may have heard already that you are the new squire there?"

"No," said Mr. Byrne. "Eames is a very cautious fellow; and from having known me long ago, or rather from his father having known me (it was I that got my cousin to give him the farm some years ago, as I told you), I found it easy to make him understand all I wished. Crickwood Bolders has stood empty so long, that the people about don't take much interest in it. They only know vaguely that it has changed hands lately, and Eames says I am spoken of as the new Mr. Bolders, and not by my own name."

"I see," said Elsa.

"And," continued Mr. Byrne, "of course Geoff will take it for granted that it was by the coincidence of his getting taken on at my place that we found him out. It _was_ a coincidence that he should have taken it into his head to go down to that part of the country, through its being on the way to Colethorne's."

"And you say that he is really working hard, and--and making the best of things?" asked Mrs. Tudor. She smiled a little as she said it. Geoff's "making the best of things" was such a _very_ new idea.

"Yes," replied Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot. "Eames gives him the best of characters. He says the boy is thoroughly to be depended upon, and that his work is well done, even to cleaning the pigs; and, best of all, he is never heard to grumble."

"Fancy Geoff cleaning the pigs!" exclaimed Elsa.

"I don't know that I find _that_ so difficult to fancy," said Frances.

"I think Geoff has a real love for animals of all kinds, and for all country things. We would have sympathized with him about it if it hadn't been for his grumbling, which made all his likes and dislikes seem unreal. I think what I pity him the most for is the having to get up so dreadfully early these cold winter mornings. What time did you say he had to get up, uncle?"

[Ill.u.s.tration: VICKY WRITING THE LETTER.]

"He has to be at the station with the milk before five every morning,"

said the old gentleman, grimly. "Eames says his good woman is inclined to 'coddle him a bit'--she can't forget who he really is, it appears. I was glad to hear it; I don't want the poor boy actually to suffer--and I don't want it to go on much longer. I confess I don't see that there can be much 'coddling' if he has to be up and out before five o'clock in the morning at this time of the year."

"No, indeed," said the girls. "And he must be _so_ lonely."

"Yes, poor fellow!" said the old gentleman, with a sigh, "I saw that in his face. And I was _glad_ to see it. It shows the lesson is not a merely surface one. You've had your wish for him to some extent, Elsa, my dear. He has at last known some hardships."

Elsa's eyes filled with tears, though Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot had had no thought of hurting her.

"Don't say that, please," she entreated. "I think--I am sure--I only wanted him to learn how foolish he was, for his own sake more than for any one's else even."

"I know, I know," the old gentleman agreed. "But I think he has had about enough of it. See that Vicky writes that letter first thing to-morrow."





Christmas had come and gone. It brought Geoff's home-sick loneliness to a point that was almost unbearable. He had looked forward vaguely to the twenty-fifth of December with the sort of hope that it would bring him some message, some remembrance, if it were but a Christmas card. And for two or three days he managed to waylay the postman every morning as he pa.s.sed the farm, and to inquire timidly if there were no letter--was he _sure_ there was no letter for James Jeffreys? But the postman only shook his head. He had "never had no letter for that name, neither with nor without 'care of Mr. Eames,'" as Geoff went on to suggest that if the farmer's name had been omitted the letter might have been overlooked.

And when not only Christmas, but New Year's Day too was past and gone, the boy lost hope.

"It is too bad," he sobbed to himself, late at night, alone in his bare little room. "I think they might think a _little_ of me. They might be sorry for me, even--even if I did worry them all when I was at home.

They might guess how lonely I am. It isn't the hard work. If it was for mother I was working, and if I knew they were all pleased with me, I wouldn't mind it. But I can't bear to go on like this."

Yet he could not make up his mind to write home again, for as things were it would be like begging for Mr. Byrne's charity. And every feeling of independence and manliness in Geoff rose against accepting benefits from one whose advice he had scouted and set at defiance. Still, he was sensible enough to see that he could not go on with his present life for long. "Work on a farm" had turned out very different from his vague ideas of it. He could not, for years to come, hope to earn more than the barest pittance, and he felt that if he were always to remain the companion of the sort of people he was now among, he would not care to live. And gradually another idea took shape in his mind--he would emigrate! He saw some printed papers in the village post-office, telling of government grants of land to able-bodied young men, and giving the cost of the pa.s.sage out, and various details, and he calculated that in a year, by scrupulous economy, he might earn about half the sum required, for the farmer had told him that if he continued to do well he would raise his wages at the end of the first six months.

"And then," thought Geoff, "I might write home and tell them it was all settled, and by selling all the things I have at home I might get the rest of the money. Or--I would not even mind taking it as a _loan_ from Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot. That would seem different; and of course I do owe him a great deal now, in a way, for he must be doing everything for mother and the girls, and if only I were a man that would be my business."

And for a while, after coming to this resolution, he felt happier. His old dreams of making a great fortune and being the good genius of his family returned, and he felt more interest in learning all he could of farm-work, that might be useful to him in his new life. But these more hopeful feelings did not last long or steadily; the pain of the home-sickness and loneliness increased so terribly, that at times he felt as if he _could_ not bear it any longer. And he would probably, strong as he was, have fallen ill, had not something happened.

It was about six weeks after the Sunday on which he had thought he had overheard Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot's voice through the hedge. It was a Sunday again. Geoff had been at church in the morning, and after dinner he was sitting in a corner of the kitchen, feeling as if he had no energy even to go for his favourite stroll in the grounds of the Hall, when a sudden exclamation from Mrs. Eames made him look up. The farmer's wife had been putting away some of the plates and dishes that had been used at dinner, and in so doing happened to pull aside a large dish leaning on one of the shelves of the high-backed dresser.


As she did so, a letter fell forward. It was addressed in a clear, good hand to


"Bless me!" cried the good woman. "What's this a-doing here? Jem, boy, 'tis thine. When can it have come? It may have been up there a good bit."

Geoff started up and dashed forward with outstretched hand.

"Give it me! oh, give it me, please!" he said, in an eager, trembling voice. A look of disappointment crossed his face for a moment when he saw the writing; but he tore the envelope open, and then his eyes brightened up again. For it contained another letter, round which a slip was folded with the words, "I forward enclosed, as agreed.--Ned Jowett."

And the second envelope was addressed to "Mr. James" in a round, childish hand, that Geoff knew well. It was Vicky's.

He darted out of the kitchen, and into his own little room. He could not have read the letter before any one. Already the tears were welling up into his eyes. And long before he had finished reading they were running down his face and dropping on to the paper. This was what Vicky said, and the date was nearly six weeks old!


"Why haven't you written to us? I wrote you a letter the minute I got your little note with the address, and I have written to you again since then. Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot says you are sure to get this letter. I think you can't have got the others. But still you might have written. I have been so _very_ unhappy about you. Of course I was glad to hear you were getting on well, but still I have been VERY unhappy. Mamma got better very slowly. I don't think she would have got better if she hadn't heard that you were getting on well, though. She has been very unhappy, too, and so have Elsa and Frances, but poor Vicky most of all. We do so want you at home again. Geoff, I can't tell you how good old Uncle Hoot-Toot is. There is something about money I can't explain, but if you understood it all, you would see we should not be proud about his helping us, for he has done more for us always than we knew; even mamma didn't. Oh, Geoff, darling, do come home. We do all love you so, and mamma and Elsa were only troubled because you didn't seem happy, and you didn't believe that they loved you. I think it would be all different now if you came home again, and we do so want you. I keep your room so nice. I dust it myself every day. Mamma makes me have tea in the drawing-room now, and then I have a little pudding from their dinner, because, you see, one can't eat so much at ladies' afternoon tea. But I was too miserable at tea alone in the school-room. I have wrapped up our teapot, after Harvey had made it very bright, and I won't ever make tea out of it till you come home. Oh, Geoffy, darling, do come home!

"Your loving, unhappy little "VICKY."

The tears came faster and faster--so fast that it was with difficulty Geoff could see to read the last few lines. He hid his face in his hands and sobbed. He was only fourteen, remember, and there was no one to see.

And with these sobs and tears--good honest tears that he need not have been ashamed of--there melted away all the unkind, ungrateful feelings out of his poor sore heart. He saw himself as he had really been--selfish, unreasonable, and spoilt.

"Yes," he said to himself, "that was all I _really_ had to complain of.

They considered me too much--they spoilt me. But, oh, I would be so different now! Only--I can't go home and say to Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot, 'I've had enough of working for myself; you may pay for me now.' It would seem _too_ mean. No, I must keep to my plan--it's too late to change. But I think I might go home to see them all, and ask them to forgive me. In three weeks I shall have been here three months, and then I may ask for a holiday. I'll write to Vicky now at once, and tell her so--I can post the letter when I go to the station. They must have thought me _so_ horrid for not having written before. I wonder how it was I never got the other letters? But it doesn't matter now I've got this one. Oh, dear Vicky, I think I shall nearly go out of my mind with joy to see your little face again!"

He had provided himself, luckily, with some letter-paper and envelopes, so there was no delay on that score. And once he had begun, he found no difficulty in writing--indeed, he could have covered pages, for he seemed to have so much to say. This was his letter:--

"Crickwood Farm, February 2.