FRIARSWOOD POST OFFICE
FRIARSWOOD POST OFFICE
CHARLOTTE M. YONGE
CHAPTER I--THE STRANGE LAD
'Goodness! If ever I did see such a pig!' said Ellen King as she
mounted the stairs. 'I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs!'
'Who?' said a voice from the bedroom.
'Why that tramper who has just been in to buy a loaf! He is a
perfect pig I declare! I only wonder you did not find of him up
here! The police ought to hinder such folk from coming into decent
people's shops! There you may see him now!'
'Is that he upon the bridge--that chap about the size of our Harold?'
'Yes. Did you ever see such a figure? His clothes aren't good
enough for a scarecrow--and the dirt you can't see that from here
but you might sow radishes in it!'
'Oh he's swinging on the rail just as I used to do. Put me down
Nelly; I don't want to see any more.' And the eyes filled with
tears; there was a working about the thin cheeks and the white lips
and a long sigh came out at last 'Oh if I was but like him!'
'Like him! I'd wish something else before I wished that' said
Ellen. 'Don't think about it Alfred dear; here are Miss Jane's
'I don't want the pictures' said Alfred wearily as he laid his head
down on his white pillow and shut his eyes because they were hot
Ellen looked at him very sadly and the feeling in her own mind was
that he was right and nothing could make up for the health and
strength that she knew her mother feared would never return to him.
There he lay the fair hair hanging round the white brow with the
furrows of pain in it the purple-veined lids closed over the great
bright blue eyes the long fingers hanging limp and delicate as a
lady's the limbs stretched helplessly on the couch whither it cost
him so much pain to be daily moved. Who would have thought that not
six months ago that poor cripple was the merriest and most active boy
in the parish?
The room was not a sad-looking one. There were spotless white dimity
curtains round the lattice window; and the little bed and the walnut
of the great chest and of the doors of the press-bed on which Alfred
lay shone with dark and pale grainings. There was a carpet on the
floor and the chairs had chintz cushions; the walls were as white as
snow and there were pretty china ornaments on the mantel-piece many
little pictures hanging upon the walls and quite a shelf of books
upon the white cloth laid so carefully on the top of the drawers. A
little table beside Alfred held a glass with a few flowers a cup
with some toast and water a volume of the 'Swiss Family Robinson;'
and a large book of prints of animals was on a chair where he could
A larger table was covered with needle-work shreds of lining
scissors tapes and Ellen's red work-box; and she herself sat beside
it a very nice-looking girl of about seventeen tall and slim her
lilac dress and white collar fitting beautifully her black apron
sitting nicely to her trim waist and her light hair shining like
the newly-wound silk of the silk-worm round her pleasant face; where
the large clear well-opened blue eyes and the contrast of white
and red on the cheek were a good deal like poor Alfred's and gave
an air of delicacy.
Their father had been as their mother said 'the handsomest coachman
who ever drove to St. James's;' but he had driven thither once too
often; he had caught his death of cold one bitter day when Lady Jane
Selby was obliged to go to a drawing-room and had gone off in a deep
decline fourteen years ago when the youngest of his five children
was not six weeks old.
The Selby family were very kind to Mrs. King who besides her
husband's claims on them had been once in service there; and
moreover had nursed Miss Jane the little heiress Ellen's foster-
sister. By their help she had been able to use her husband's savings
in setting up a small shop where she sold tea tobacco and snuff
tape cottons and such little matters besides capital bread of her
own baking and various sweet-meats the best to the taste of her own
cooking the prettiest to the eye brought from Elbury. Oranges too
and apples shewed their yellow or rosy cheeks at her window in their
season; and there was sometimes a side of bacon displaying under the
brown coat the delicate pink stripes bordering the white fat. Of
late years one pane of her window had been fitted up with a wooden
box with a slit in it on the outside and a whole region round it
taken up with printed sheets of paper about 'Mails to Gothenburg--
Weekly Post to Vancouver's Island'--and all sorts of places to which
the Friarswood people never thought of writing.
Altogether she throve very well; and she was a good woman whom
every one respected for the pains she took to bring up her children
well. The eldest Charles had died of consumption soon after his
father and there had been much fear for his sister Matilda; but Lady
Jane had contrived to have her taken as maid to a lady who usually
spent the winter abroad and the warm climate had strengthened her
health. She was not often at Friarswood; but when she came she
looked and spoke like a lady--all the more so as she gave herself no
airs but was quite simple and humble for she was a very good right-
minded young woman and exceedingly fond of her home and her good
Ellen would have liked to copy Matilda in everything; and as a first
step she went for a year to a dress-maker; but just as this was
over Alfred's illness had begun; and as he wanted constant care and
attendance it was thought better that she should take in work at
home. Indeed Alfred was such a darling of hers that she could not
have endured to go away and leave him so ill.
Alfred had been a most lively joyous boy with higher spirits than
he quite knew what to do with all fun and good-humour and yet very
troublesome and provoking. He and his brother Harold were the
monkeys of the school and really seemed sometimes as if they COULD
NOT sit still nor hinder themselves from making faces and playing
tricks; but that was the worst of them--they never told untruths
never did anything mean or unfair and could always be made sorry
when they had been in fault. Their old school-mistress liked them in
spite of all the plague they gave her; and they liked her too though
she had tried upon them every punishment she could devise.
Little Miss Jane the orphan whom the Colonel and Mrs. Selby had left
to be brought up by her grandmother had a great fancy that Alfred
should be a page; and as she generally had her own way he went up to
the Grange when he was about thirteen years old and put on a suit
thickly sown with buttons. But ere the gloss of his new jacket had
begun to wear off he had broken four wine-glasses three cups and a
decanter all from not knowing where he was going; he had put sugar
instead of salt into the salt-cellars at the housekeeper's dining-
table that he might see what she would say; and he had been caught
dressing up Miss Jane's Skye terrier in one of the butler's clean
cravats; so though Puck the aforesaid terrier liked him better
than any other person Miss Jane not excepted a regular complaint