‘IT’S ALL RIGHT!’
JESSIE fancied that if she rang the
bell and asked for Cecil, she should be either sent
away or shown into the great schoolroom; and the idea
of facing Mr. Bardsley and all the boys seemed to
her very terrible almost too terrible to
be entertained for a moment. But then, to leave
Cecil in ignorance of the good tidings that she had
run all this way to bring to him! to let
him go on through the day still feeling himself in
disgrace, and not knowing that all was explained!
No, she could not bear that either. She put up
a trembling hand, and not daring to meddle with the
big knocker, which looked prepared to make any amount
of noise, took hold of the bell at the side of it,
and gave a feeble tinkle, which would scarcely have
been audible to the housemaid had she not happened
to be close at hand cleaning the hall lamp. She
opened the door so suddenly, that Jessie, who was
prepared to wait some time, was quite startled, and
so confused that she could not say anything.
‘Did you ring?’ asked
the maid sharply, looking down in amazement at the
dusty little figure and flushed frightened face.
‘Yes; oh, please,’ said
Jessie, recovering herself, ’is Master Cunningham
here? and would you tell him that I want to speak to
him a minute?’
‘The young gentlemen are in
school they can’t be disturbed now,’
replied the servant, preparing to shut the door.
’But oh, please, if you would
tell him I’ve come with news from home, and
I want to see him so much,’ said Jessie desperately;
’I’m his sister.’
The maid looked hard at her, and Jessie
felt sure she spied out the gloveless hands under
the holland cape; but with as much dignity as she
could muster, the child added, ‘I’m Miss
Jessie Cunningham;’ and something in her tone
and manner must have borne out the assertion, for
with a quick ‘Step in here, please, and I’ll
speak to Mrs. Bardsley,’ the maid opened the
door wider instead of shutting it, and allowed her
to enter the hall.
She then gave her a chair, and went
into a room close by, from which she soon reappeared,
followed by a quiet-looking lady, not very old, but
with a cap and spectacles, and something about her
which made Jessie feel quite ashamed of her own heated,
’You have come with a message
for Master Cunningham, I understand; I trust no accident
has occurred at his home,’ said Mrs. Bardsley
in a voice as quiet as her face.
’Oh no! it’s all good
news, and I thought I should have overtaken him, but
I didn’t; and oh! if you would please let me
see him, and then perhaps he would come back with
’I don’t think he can
return till after school, unless you have brought
an order from his father to that effect,’ said
the schoolmaster’s wife; ’but come and
sit down, and then perhaps you will be able to explain
yourself more fully.’
She took Jessie into a prim-looking
sitting-room; and in rather a confused way the little
girl did contrive to explain what had brought her,
and how important her news would be to Cecil.
’And if Mr. Bardsley would let him come back
with me I don’t think father would mind, and
mother would like it so much better than my going back
alone. I oughtn’t to have come, I’m
afraid,’ she wound up, feeling every minute more
and more dismayed at herself.
‘I fear you must be causing
anxiety at home,’ said Mrs. Bardsley, still
rather stiffly. ’I will send and ask Mr.
Bardsley to allow your brother to speak to you for
a minute;’ and she went out of the room, leaving
Some minutes passed, and Jessie grew
more and more nervous; but at length appeared Cecil,
looking very schoolboyish, with a great dab of ink
on his collar.
She jumped off her chair and ran to
him, and got out one great ’Oh, Cecil!’
and then, instead of saying anything more, she began
‘What is it? what’s up?’
said he in utter amazement. ’Don’t
cry, don’t cry; is anything wrong at home?’
’Oh no! it’s all right!
and you’ve got enough marks, and you’re
to go back after the holidays. And oh, Cecil!
I’m so glad! and I’m so hot, and I’ve
run all the way!’
‘And you’re obliged to
cry about it,’ said Cecil, laughing, and kissing
her. ’I say, sit down here in this arm-chair;
there, I’ll fan you with my pocket-handkerchief.
How’s it all come out? has the Doctor written or
’Yes, I think it was he; and
father’s so glad, and he said himself you should
go back. He counted up the marks wrong not
father, but somebody, you know and you’ve
got plenty, and you’re not a bit to blame; father
says you’re not.’
A sort of dancing light came into
the boy’s black eyes, but he didn’t say
a word. Jessie was quite astonished, and a good
deal disappointed, at his taking the matter so quietly.
‘Aren’t you glad?’
she said; ’I thought you would have been ready
to jump out of your skin for joy. I was; but
I came straight off, thinking I should overtake you.
How fast you must have walked to get here first!
Oh, Cecil, do you think I could have a little water?’
‘You’re too hot to drink
cold water,’ said Cecil in a wise, elder-brotherly
way. ’I’ve got an apple in my pocket;
you shall have a bit of that.’
It was rather a greenish specimen,
and one bite of it more than satisfied Jessie, without
refreshing her in the least; but she sat holding it
in her hand, and looking at Cecil with loving eyes,
too happy to mind much about her thirst and fatigue.
‘Do you think Mr. Bardsley will
let you come back with me?’ she said presently.
’Not till twelve o’clock,
I’m sure; perhaps he would then. Father
didn’t say I was to come, did he?’
’No, I was so silly I didn’t
wait to ask him; he didn’t know I was coming.
Cecil, do you think they will be very angry with me?
I have never been so far alone before.’
‘I’m afraid mother won’t
like it,’ said Cecil; but he thought to himself
that he should always love her for it; and if he had
been a girl instead of a boy, he would have told her
so. ’I must go back to study now; but I
think you had better wait here, if Mrs. Bardsley will
let you,’ he continued, after a minute’s
’But what will they think at
home? They must have missed me. Cecil, I’d
better go;’ and she stood up, feeling how dreary
the lonely walk back would be, with those tired feet
of hers that had run along so merrily when the thought
of telling the joyful news had been the only one present
to her mind.
‘There’s father, I do
declare, in old Mr. Rawson’s gig!’ exclaimed
Cecil, who was looking out of the window; and sure
enough, at this moment, a funny old-fashioned carriage
drew up at the door, and Mr. Cunningham got down from
it and shook hands with the owner.
He was not afraid of the big
knocker, but the maid was much longer in answering
his rat-tat-tat than Jessie’s feeble ring; and
only a sense that they were not in their own house,
and must not take liberties, restrained the children
from opening the door themselves. They could not
resist running out into the hall to meet him, thus
forestalling any inquiry for them by their immediate
’Well, Cecil!’ oh,
such a different ‘well’ from the one that
had greeted him on his return for the holidays! then
to Jessie: ’And so you are here,
little madam! Mother is making herself quite unhappy
Before Jessie could answer, he turned
to the maid, asking her to request Mr. Bardsley to
see him for a minute; and she ushered him into the
sitting-room where the children had been, and went
off with the message.
Then his little daughter got hold
of his hand and whispered, ’I didn’t mean
to vex mother; I thought I could have overtaken Cecil.
I am very sorry.’
‘Well, I don’t think I
need tell you not to do such a thing again,’
said Mr. Cunningham with a smile, ’for the temptation
is not likely to recur. These things don’t
happen every day; do they, Cecil? My boy, I am
sorry for this week of disgrace, and more glad than
I can tell you to find it was not deserved.’
Cecil looked down, coloured, put his
hands in his pockets and took them out again, twisted
his eyes in a vain attempt to see the whole extent
of the ink spot on his collar, and finally, standing
quite upright, and looking straight before him, said
in a very modest and yet manly way, ’I am glad
you know that I was not really idle, father; but I
didn’t work so hard as I ought the last week,
and I was stuck-up and made too sure of success.
I would rather you knew that.’
Jessie, looking to see how her father
took this, was struck by the shining of his eyes as
they rested on his son; but before he had time to
make any reply, Mr. Bardsley came in; only, Cecil was
sure, by the way his father’s hand remained
upon his shoulder while he was speaking to the master,
that he understood and appreciated the frank confession,
and that they should be closer friends henceforth
than ever before.
Mr. Bardsley gave leave for Cecil
to return home at once; and Mr. Cunningham said he
would call again the next day, out of school hours,
to explain more fully how Cecil’s prospects were
altered, and ’make some arrangement.’
Jessie was rather alarmed at the sound of this, but
Cecil guessed that his father meant to withdraw him
from the day school, and wished to offer some compensation
for taking him away in this sudden fashion, just at
the beginning of the half-year.
Spite of Jessie’s tired feet,
the walk back was very pleasant; and neither she nor
Cecil were insensible to the honour of having their
father all to themselves, and at this unusual time
of day too. He explained that he had met their
mother in the village, so anxious about Jessie, that
instead of waiting till towards twelve o’clock
to go into Fairview, he had got Mr. Yorke to finish
his parish business for him, and had started off at
once, accepting a lift from Mr. Rawson by the way.
And when he added quietly, ’You will take care
that she is never made uneasy again by any thoughtlessness
on your part, Jessie!’ the little girl answered,
‘Yes, father,’ in a very subdued and humble
tone, and felt quite as sorry as if he had lectured
her for an hour.
’Do you think Mr. Yorke will
be at home again now? Might I run in for a minute,
father?’ said Cecil as they passed the curate’s
‘I am not sure; you can see
if you like.’ And Cecil did see;
and finding his friend busily engaged sermon-writing
in the queer little dining-room, tarried only for
a few words.
‘I suppose father has told you,’ he said
as he burst in.
‘Yes, I am so glad;’
and Cecil’s inky little paw was enfolded in the
curate’s heartiest grasp.
‘I shan’t forget this
week in a hurry,’ the boy continued; ’but
I’m not so very sorry now that it all happened.
Thank you for that nice Sunday.’
He did not say, but he implied how
much it had helped him through; and Mr. Yorke answered
cheerily, ’I could have sympathized more if I
had known all that I know now; but I don’t think
you wanted pity. I believe your father’s
sermon showed you the way to bear your trouble.’
Cecil’s cheeks were burning,
and he only said shyly, ’You showed me too;’
and then hastily adding, ’I want to catch up
with father before he gets home,’ ran off again,
after one more hearty shake of the hand had been exchanged
If the memory of pain could be effaced
by after-happiness, the remainder of this day would
have amply sufficed to blot out the past week.
Never did Cecil feel more glad than when his mother
kissed him, called him her own darling boy, and at
his request forgave Jessie’s escapade, and gave
her and Frances a week’s holiday, that he might
have as much of their company as he chose. And
on the following Sunday, when he took his place in
the choir again, and Mr. Yorke came to dinner at the
Rectory, and all was thankful rejoicing, that sorrowful
Sunday on which he had felt as if the whole world
were against him seemed already far away.
The trial was gone by, and some of
the effects it had left behind it were very pleasant.
But for it, Cecil felt he never could have known Mr.
Yorke so well, nor his own little sister Jessie.
They were his especial friends from henceforth, in
a way which they had never been before, even though
Jessie had always been regarded by Percy and others
as ’Cecil’s particular chum.’
Percy himself had seemed hitherto at an immeasurable
distance from Cecil, and had generally appeared to
expect to be treated with the same sort of respect
as would have been shown to a school ‘senior;’
but now, wonderful to relate, a change came over him,
and he condescended to unbend not only a little, but
a very great deal. It actually seemed as if he
had begun to respect Cecil! No one but a schoolboy,
with an admired and venerated elder brother rather
given to snubbing, can quite realize how astonishing
this change appeared to the person most concerned.
For Percy to invite Cecil to come out fishing with
him, in the genial tone of an equal who really cared
for his companionship, instead of ordering him in
a lordly way to take his tackle down to the river
for him, was something so unexpected and flattering,
that it went nearer to turning Cecil’s head than
anything that had happened yet. Perhaps it really
might have done so, but for the wholesome lessons
the boy had learned during his time of humiliation.
These fishings with Percy became a
sort of institution during that week, which Jessie
had rather counted on for having Cecil all to herself.
’Francie doesn’t care, because she wants
to do her gardening; but what made me like so to have
holidays, was only that I might go about with Cecil,
and now he goes off with Percy and doesn’t want
me!’ thought the poor little maiden, in rather
an injured way, as she sat forlornly in the wide window-seat
on Wednesday morning, watching the retreating figures
of her brothers. Spite of all her unselfishness,
that sense of injury would come, and was very
‘Who will take the boys’
dinner down to the meadows for them by and by?’
said her father, coming suddenly into the room.
’I have promised them a long, uninterrupted
time for their sport to-day, because to-morrow we
are all going for a picnic to the Beacon, and there
will be no fishing then. You and Francie are
the two idlest folk in the house just now, aren’t
you, Jessie? so suppose you turn errand-women?’
‘Oh, father, are they going
to fish all day?’ exclaimed Jessie, jumping
up when she was spoken to, but showing no great alacrity
in offering her services.
’Till tea-time, I believe, if
they don’t get tired of it. Do you know
I am so glad of these fishings, Jessie?’
‘Are you, father?’ she
said, rather drearily, conscious that there was no
gladness in her own face or voice.
’Yes, because I know what a
brother’s friendship is worth. I believe
Percy’s good-natured patronage seems to Cecil
the greatest reward he has had yet for his bravery
in bearing his misfortunes.’
Jessie did not like the idea much;
it seemed to her that if it were true, her father
and she had both reason to feel slighted.
‘Use your imagination, Jessie,’
said Mr. Cunningham, smiling; ’you have plenty,
I know, and the great use of it is to help us to see
things from other people’s point of view.
Shall I tell you something else? I am so glad
of this companionship because I believe Cecil, though
the younger, will do Percy good.’
Jessie quite understood this; her
face brightened, as it always did at anything like
praise of Cecil, and she felt it very delightful to
be taken into her father’s confidence in such
a ‘grown-up’ kind of way.
‘I can carry the dinner, if
you like, father,’ she said briskly.
’Suppose Francie and you both
go, and take your own dinners as well? That will
be a kind of picnic on a small scale, almost as pleasant,
perhaps, as the grand one of to-morrow. You can
come away afterwards, and leave the boys to their
Jessie looked rather cloudy again
for a minute; it was so like being offered a little
slice when she had wanted the whole loaf!
Her father was standing quite near
her now, and he smoothed down her hair softly with
his hand, as he said, ’Jessie, have you ever
thought what a sweet and happy thing love is when
it has overcome jealousy? It is not worth very
much till then.’
For one moment there was a sharp struggle
within her, and then she pressed her cheek against
his arm, with a loving, grateful gesture. He
had no fear that his little maiden would give way to
jealousy any longer. Now that he had given the
sore feeling a name, he knew that she would be as
anxious to drive it away as he was.
That dinner in the meadows was very
pleasant ’Quite enchanting,’
Frances declared. ‘Awfully jolly,’
said Cecil, who was not so choice in his vocabulary.
Percy looked on it as rather a childish entertainment,
and said more than once that he wished ‘they’
hadn’t forgotten that he always took pepper
with everything; but he never blamed either of his
sisters, only this mysterious ‘they,’ and
made an excellent dinner, spite of the absence of
the pepper-box. He was very kind to Jessie too, so
kind that she quite forgave Cecil from henceforth for
thinking Percy’s notice a very grand sort of
thing; it seemed as if he almost included her
in the new respect he had begun to have for his younger
brother. And then, Cecil! Cecil was so entirely
delightful on this occasion, that she wondered how,
even for a moment, she could have thought him anything
but the most perfect of all possible brothers.
From the noble way in which he dispensed the tart,
only leaving himself a very small piece, though she
knew he liked it better than anything, down
to the good-nature with which he gave his last bit
of cheese to the lame old setter, that had limped
down to see after them, everything in his behaviour
was just according to her own heart, and totally unlike
the selfish greediness of what she called ‘common
schoolboys.’ And then, when, instead of
going back to his fishing directly after dinner, he
asked her to walk with him as far as the bridge and
watch the trout leap, she was the very happiest and
proudest of little sisters. If it had not been
for what her father had said, she would have lingered
near him the whole afternoon; but as it was, she came
away quite contentedly after she had watched his angling
for a minute or two, and really felt how nice it was
that Percy and he should have become such allies, how
much pleasanter for him than having only her for a
companion. Percy’s vacation would be over
before his, and then her time would come perhaps;
anyhow, she was much too sure of Cecil’s love
to have any excuse for jealousy in seeing him taken
up with others. He had opened his heart to her
when he was in trouble, she should never forget that.
Oh! how dear this had made him to her, both ‘for
then and for always!’
No after-trial worth recording shadowed
Cecil’s boyhood; and now he is a man just
such a man as Jessie longed to see him. He very
seldom thinks of the incidents here related, but yet
the lesson he learnt in that memorable week is still
bearing fruit in his life; and when any trial comes
to him, he does not say it is ‘very hard,’
but takes it as a new proof of the fatherly love that
watches over him, and, in dark seasons as well as
bright ones, is ready to sing with the psalmist, ’Every
day will I give thanks unto Thee, and praise Thy name
for ever and ever.’