A Terrible Tomboy

By Angela Brazil, 1904


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'Good sooth! I know not be she wench or swain;Her face proclaims her one, her deeds the other!'

'Peggy! Peggy! where are you? Peggy! Aunt Helen wants you! Oh, Peggy, do be quick! Wherever are you hiding?'

Getting no response to her calls, the speaker, a pretty fair-haired girl of fifteen, flung her brown holland cooking-apron over her head, and ran out across the farmyard into the lightly-falling rain. She peeped into the cart-shed, where the hens were scratching about among the loose straw. Certainly Peggy was not there. She searched in the kitchen garden, but there was nothing to be seen except the daffodils nodding their innocent heads under the gooseberry-bushes. Round through the orchard she sped, bringing down a shower of cherry-blossom as she brushed against the low-growing trees, and greatly disturbing a robin, who was feeding a young family in a hole in the ivy, but without any sign of the truant. Here and there Lilian ran, hunting in all Peggy's favourite haunts—now peeping into a hollow yew-tree, now peering at the top of a ladder, now rummaging in the tool-shed, then back through the sand-quarry into the stack-yard, where there was a very good chance that the young lady might be hidden away in some snug little hole among the hay; but though Lilian got a tolerable amount of hay-seed into her hair, her efforts were fruitless, and she was just turning away, hot and out of breath, to give up the useless search, when the sound of a low, chuckling laugh attracted her to the barn.

The door was slightly ajar, and she peeped in.

On the floor among the straw sat a little boy of between eight and nine years old, gazing with rapturous delight into the rafters of the roof. Following the direction of his eyes, Lilian glanced up, and beheld a sight which made her gasp with horror. The barn was a very large one, and was spanned by a great cross-beam, which ran across the whole length from one end to another. Mounted on this, fully fifteen feet above the ground, a small girl was slowly walking along, her gray eyes bright with excitement, her brown curls flying in wild disorder, and her arms stretched out on either side to balance herself as she went on her perilous journey.

Lilian gazed at her spellbound; she did not dare to speak or move, lest by some mischance the frail little figure should lose its nerve and come crashing down on to the stone floor below.

The child herself, however, did not seem to be troubled with the slightest fear, for she walked on as steadily as if the beam had been a plain turnpike road, giving a shout of triumph as she reached the cross-bar, and slid down the ladder on to the ground.

'Hurrah! hurrah!' cried Bobby, clapping his hands in an ecstasy of admiration.

Peggy turned round with a radiant face.

'It's perfectly easy!' she exclaimed; 'I could do it over again. Now, Bobby, you come up and try!'

But here Lilian's pent-up excitement and wrath burst forth.

'For shame, Peggy!' she cried. 'If you want to break your own neck, you shan't break Bobby's, at any rate! Don't you know what a horribly dangerous thing you have been doing? And the idea of your walking along there with your boot-lace dangling down in that way! You are really getting too old for these silly tricks; one can't look after you like a baby. Aunt Helen would be angry if she heard of this!'

Peggy sat down on the bottom rung of the ladder. The triumph had faded from her face, and left something not nearly so pleasant to look at behind.

'All right,' she said defiantly; 'go along and tell Aunt Helen if you like! I don't care!'

'Peggy, how horrid you are! Do I ever tell? Didn't I wash and iron your pinafore yesterday, when you fell into the pig-trough, and nobody even suspected? I call you right-down mean to go saying things like that!' And Lilian's pretty face flushed quite pink with righteous indignation.

Peggy had the grace to look rather ashamed of herself.

'No, Lil, you're a dear; you don't tell tales,' she said; 'and I haven't forgotten about the pinafore.'

'Promise me, then, that you won't go playing such mad pranks again, and leading Bobby into them, too?'

'All right—anything for a quiet life.'

'But promise, properly.'

'There! On my honour, I will never walk along that beam again, or let Bobby do it either. Will that suit you?'

Lilian heaved a sigh of relief, for whatever might be Peggy's sins and misdeeds, her word, once given, was not lightly broken.

'I've been looking for you everywhere,' she said. 'Aunt Helen sent me to fetch you in at once, and I've been such a long time in finding you. I'm afraid she'll be ever so cross.'

'What does she want me for?'

'To darn your stockings. Oh, Peggy, how could you go and hide all those pairs away under the dressing-table? It was really silly, for you might have known Aunt Helen would be sure to hunt them out; and now she's fearfully angry about it, and says you'll have to sit and mend away till they're all finished; and she won't let me help you, either.'

Peggy sighed philosophically.

'I suppose I shall have to come,' she said, getting up and shaking the straw out of her hair. 'Never mind; I'd really rather mend them all in one big heap than in a lot of little horrid pottering times; it spoils one's Saturdays so!'

'Aunt Helen said if I found Bobby he was to come in too, and learn his Latin,' continued Lilian, looking round. But that youth had prudently disappeared at the first hint of Saturday duties, and was nowhere to be seen.

Peggy chuckled.

'I'm afraid you won't find him,' she remarked; 'and it's no use looking. He's got the most lovely hiding-place in the world that he goes to when he doesn't want to be told to come in. I only found it out by accident myself, and I promised wild horses shouldn't wrench the secret from me. Come along; we may as well go and get the scolding over.'

And the young lady tossed back her tangled locks, shook her fist at the anticipated pile of darning; then, putting on an air of chastened and becoming meekness, as being most likely to soothe Aunt Helen's wrath, she marched sturdily into the house.

It was a beautiful old home into which Peggy entered, half castle, half farmhouse, with an air of having seen better days about it. The quaint timbered house, with its carved gables and red-tiled roof, was built in at one end into a kind of square tower or keep, with tiny turret windows and winding staircase, getting just a little ruinous in places, but held firmly together by masses of ivy, which clung round it like a green mantle. Beyond the tower lay the remains of an abbey, more ancient than the keep. Most of it had been carried away to build the large barns and stables, but the foundations could still be plainly traced, with here and there part of a wall thickly covered with ivy, the ruins of a shattered column, a delicate little piece of window tracery, or a few steps of corkscrew staircase. There were rows and heaps of mossy stones covered with nettles and elder-bushes, with patches of green grass in between, where the cows grazed and the pigeons flew about, cooing gently. In the ivy the jackdaws were always busy, and the children had many a perilous climb trying to reach the coveted nests. The earliest primroses grew here, and beds of sweet violets under the ruined walls, and there were so many turns and corners and sheltered nooks that it made the grandest play-place in the world for anyone who loved a game at hide-and-seek.

On the other side of the house stretched the garden—such a sweet, old-fashioned garden, where roses, lilies, and gillyflowers were all mixed up with the currants and gooseberries and cabbages. It was somewhat neglected, it is true, but perhaps it looked none the less picturesque for that, and certainly no one would be disposed to quarrel with the beautiful ripe strawberries and the sweet little yellow gooseberries with the hairy skins, or the big red plums that hung upon the old brick walls.

Inside the house was large and roomy, with rambling passages and odd little windows in unexpected corners. There was a large oak staircase, with wide, shallow steps, leading to a panelled gallery, where hung swords, and rusty armour, and moth-eaten tapestry, and many an ancient relic of the past; while in the best bedroom was a great carved four-post bed, hung with faded yellow curtains, where Queen Elizabeth herself was said to have slept in much state for two nights on her journey from Shrewsbury to Wrexham.