Read CHAPTER III - RAVENSNEST of Milly and Olly, free online book, by Mrs. Humphry Ward, on

“Poor little souls!  How late they are sleeping.  They must have been tired last night.”

So said nurse at eight o’clock, when she came back into the nursery from a journey to the kitchen after the breakfast things, and found the children still fast asleep; so fast that it looked as if they meant to go on sleeping till dinner-time.

“Milly!” she called softly, shaking her very gently, “Milly, it’s breakfast-time, wake up!”

Milly began to move about, and muttered something about “whistles” and “hedges” in her sleep.

Then nurse gave her another little shake, and at last Milly’s eyes did try very hard to open ­“What is it?  What do you want, Nana?  Where are we? ­Oh, I know!”

And up sprang Milly in a second and ran to the window, her sleepy eyes wide open at last.  “Yes, there they are!  Come and look, Nana!  There, past those trees ­don’t you see the mountains?  And there is father walking about; and oh! do look at those roses over there.  Dress me quick, dress me quick, please, dear Nana.”

Thump! bump! and there was Olly out of bed, sitting on the floor rubbing his eyes.  Olly used always to jump out of bed half asleep, and then sit a long time on the floor waking up.  Nurse and Milly always left him alone till he was quite woke up.  It made him cross if you began to talk to him too soon.

“Milly,” said Olly presently, in a sleepy voice, “I’m going right up the mountains after breakfast.  Aren’t you?”

“Wait till you see them, Master Olly,” said nurse, taking him up and kissing him, “perhaps your little legs won’t find it quite so easy to climb up the mountains as you think.”

“I can climb up three, four, six, seven mountains,” said Olly stoutly; “mountains aren’t a bit hard.  Mother says they’re meant to climb up.”

“Well, I suppose it’s like going up stairs a long way,” said Milly, thoughtfully, pulling on her stockings.  “You didn’t like going up the stairs in Auntie Margaret’s house, Olly.”

Auntie Margaret’s house was a tall London house, with ever so many stairs.  The children when they were staying there were put to sleep at the top, and Olly used to sit down on the stairs and pout and grumble every time they had to go up.

But Olly shook his obstinate little head.

“I don’t believe it’s a bit like going up stairs.”

However, as they couldn’t know what it was like before they tried, nurse told them it was no good talking about it.  So they hurried on with their dressing, and presently there stood as fresh a pair of morning children as anyone could wish to see, with rosy cheeks, and smooth hair, and clean print frocks ­for Olly was still in frocks ­though when the winter came mother said she was going to put him into knickerbockers.

And then nurse took them each by the hand and led them through some long passages, down a pretty staircase, and through a swing door, into what looked like a great nagged kitchen, only there was no fireplace in it.  The real kitchen opened out of it at one side, and through the door came a smell of coffee and toast that made the children feel as hungry as little hunters.  But their own room was straight in front, across the kitchen without a fireplace, a tiny room with one large window hung round with roses, and looking out on to a green lawn.

“Nana, isn’t it pretty?  Nana, I think it’s lovely!” said Milly, looking out and clapping her hands.  And it was a pretty garden they could see from the window.  An up-and-down garden, with beds full of bright flowers, and grass which was nearly all moss, and so soft that no cushion could be softer.  In the distance they could hear a little splish-splash among the trees, which came, Milly supposed, from the river mother had told them about; while, reaching up all round the house, so that they could not see the top of it from the window, was the green wild mountain itself, the mountain of Brownholme, under which Uncle Richard’s house was built.

The children hurried through their breakfast, and then nurse covered them up with garden pinafores, and took them to the dining-room to find father and mother.  Mr. and Mrs. Norton were reading letters when the children’s curly heads appeared at the open door, and Mrs. Norton was just saying to her husband: 

“Aunt Emma sends a few lines just to welcome us, and to say that she can’t come over to us to-day, but will we all come over to her to-morrow and have early dinner, and perhaps a row afterward ­”

“Oh, a row, mother, a row!” shouted Olly, clambering on to his mother’s knee and half-strangling her with his strong little arms; “I can row, father said I might.  Are we going to-day?”

“No, to-morrow, Olly, when we’ve seen a little bit of Ravensnest first.  Which of you remembers Aunt Emma, I wonder?”

“I remember her,” said Milly, nodding her head wisely, “she had a big white cap, and she told me stories.  But I don’t quite remember her face, mother ­not quite.”

“I don’t remember her, not one bit,” said Olly.  “Mother, does she keep saying, ‘Don’t do that;’ ‘Go up stairs, naughty boys,’ like Jacky’s aunt does?”

For the children’s playfellows, Jacky and Francis, had an aunt living with them whom Milly and Olly couldn’t bear.  They believed that she couldn’t say anything else except “Don’t!” and “Go up stairs!” and they were always in dread lest they should come across an aunt like her.

“She’s the dearest aunt in the whole world,” said mother, “and she never says, ‘Don’t,’ except when she’s obliged, but when she does say it little boys have to mind.  When I was a little girl I thought there was nobody like Aunt Emma, nobody who could make such plans or tell such splendid stories.”

“And, mother, can’t she cut out card dolls? asked Milly.  Don’t you know those beautiful card dolls you have in your drawer at home ­didn’t Aunt Emma make them?”

“Yes, of course she did.  She made me a whole family once for my birthday, a father and a mother, and two little girls and two little boys.  And each of the children had two paper dresses and two hats, one for best and one for every day ­and the mother had a white evening dress trimmed with red, and a hat and a bonnet.”

“I know, mother! they’re all in your drawer at home, only one of the little boys has his head broken off.  Do you think Aunt Emma would make me a set if I asked her?”

“I can’t say, Milly.  But I believe Aunt Emma’s fingers are just as quick as ever they were.  Now, children, father says he will take you out while I go and speak to cook.  Olly, how do you think we’re going to get any meat for you and Milly here?  There are no shops on the mountains.”

“Then we’ll eat fisses, little fisses like those!” cried Olly, pointing to a plate of tiny red-spotted fish that father and mother had been having for breakfast.

“Thank you, Olly,” said Mr. Norton, laughing; “it would cost a good deal to keep you in trout, sir.  I think we’ll try for some plain mutton for you, even if we have to catch the sheep on the mountains ourselves.  But now come along till mother is ready, and I’ll show you the river where those little fishes lived.”

Out ran the children, ready to go anywhere and see anything in this beautiful new place, which seemed to them a palace of wonders.  And presently they were skipping over the soft green grass, each holding one of father’s hands, and chattering away to him as if their little tongues would never stop.  What a hot day it was going to be!  The sky overhead was deep blue, with scarcely a cloud, they could hear nothing in the still air but the sleepy cooing of the doves in the trees by the gate, and the trees and flowers all looked as if they were going to sleep in the heat.

“Father, why did that old gentleman at Willingham last week tell mother that it always rained in the mountains?” asked Milly, looking up at the blue sky.

“Well, Milly, I’m afraid you’ll find out before you go home that it does know how to rain here.  Sometimes it rains and rains as if the sky were coming down and all the world were going to turn into water.  But never mind about that now ­it isn’t going to rain to-day.”

Down they went through the garden, across the road, and into a field on the other side of it, a beautiful hay-field full of flowers, with just a narrow little path through it where the children and Mr. Norton could walk one behind another.  And at the end of the path what do you think they found?  Why, a chattering sparkling river, running along over hundreds and thousands of brown and green pebbles, so fast that it seemed to be trying to catch the birds as they skimmed across it.  The children had never seen a river like this before, where you could see right to the very bottom, and count the stones there if you liked, and which behaved like a river at play, scrambling and dancing and rushing along as if it were out for a holiday, like the children themselves.

“What do you think of that for a river, children?” said Mr. Norton.  “Very early this morning, when you little sleepyheads were in bed, I got up and came down here, and had my bath over there, look ­in that nice brown pool under the tree.”

“Oh, father!” cried both children, dancing round him.  “Let us have our baths in the river too.  Do ask Nana ­do, father!  We can have our bathing things on that we had at the sea, and you can come too and teach us to swim.”

“Well, just once perhaps, if mother says yes, and it’s very warm weather, and you get up very very early.  But you won’t like it quite as much as you think.  Rivers are very cold to bathe in, and those pretty stones at the bottom won’t feel at all nice to your little toes.”

“Oh, but, father,” interrupted Milly, “we could put on our sand shoes.”

“And wouldn’t we splash!” said Olly.  “Nurse won’t let us splash in our bath, father, she says it makes a mess.  I’m sure it doesn’t make a great mess.”

“What do you know about it, shrimp?” said Mr. Norton, “you don’t have to tidy up.  Hush, isn’t that mother calling?  Let’s go and fetch her, and then we’ll go and see Uncle Richard’s farm, where the milk you had for breakfast came from.  There are three children there, Milly, besides cows and pigs, and ducks and chickens.”

Back ran Milly and Olly, and there was mother watching for them with a basket on her arm which had already got some roses lying in it.

“Oh, mother! where did you get those roses?” cried Milly.

“Wheeler, the gardener, gave them to me.  And now suppose we go first of all to see Mrs. Wheeler, and gardener’s two little children.  They live in that cottage over there, across the brook, and the two little ones have just been peeping over the wall to try and get a look at you.”

Up clambered Milly and Olly along a steep path that seemed to take them up into the mountain, when suddenly they turned, and there was another river, but such a tiny river, Milly could almost jump across it, and it was tumbling and leaping down the rocks on its way to the big river which they had just seen, as if it were a little child hurrying to its mother.

“Why, mother, what a lot of rivers,” said Olly, running on to a little bridge that had been built across the little stream, and looking over.

“Just to begin with,” said Mrs. Norton.  “You’ll see plenty more before you’ve done.  But I can’t have you calling this a river, Olly.  These baby rivers are called becks in Westmoreland ­some of the big ones, too, indeed.”

On the other side of the little bridge was the gardener’s cottage, and in front of the door stood two funny fair-haired little children with their fingers in their mouths, staring at Milly and Olly.  One was a little girl who was really about Milly’s age, though she looked much younger, and the other was a very shy small boy, with blue eyes and straggling yellow hair, and a face that might have been pretty if you could have seen it properly.  But Charlie seemed to have made up his mind that nobody ever should see it properly.  However often his mother might wash him, and she was a tidy woman, who liked to see her children look clean and nice, Charlie was always black.  His face was black, his hands were black, his pinafore was sure to be covered with black marks ten minutes after he had put it on.  Do what you would to him, it was no use, Charlie always looked as if he had just come out of the coal-hole.

“Well, Bessie,” said Mrs. Norton to the little girl, “is your mother in?”

“Naw,” said Bessie, without taking her fingers out of her mouth.

“Oh, I’m sorry for that.  Do you know when she’s likely to be in?”

“Naw,” said Bessie again, beginning to eat her pinafore as well as her fingers.  Meanwhile Charlie had been creeping behind Bessie to get out of Olly’s way; for Olly, who always wanted to make friends, was trying to shake hands with him, and Charlie was dreadfully afraid that he wanted to kiss him too.

“What a pity,” said Mrs. Norton, “I wanted to ask her a question.  Come away, Olly, and don’t tease Charlie if he doesn’t want to shake hands.  Can you remember, Bessie, to tell your mother that I came to see her?”

“Yis,” said Bessie.

“And can you remember, too, to ask her if she will let you and Charlie come down to tea with Miss Milly and Master Olly, this afternoon, at five o’clock?”

“Yis,” said Bessie, getting shyer and shyer, and eating up her pinafore faster than ever.

“Good-bye, then,” said Mrs. Norton.

“Good-bye, Bessie,” said Milly, softly, taking her hand.

Bessie stared at her, but didn’t say anything.

Olly, having quite failed in shaking hands, was now trying to kiss Charlie; but Charlie wouldn’t have it at all, and every time Olly came near, Charlie pushed him away with his little fists.  This made Olly rather cross, and he began to try with all his strength to make Charlie kiss him, when suddenly Charlie got away from him, and running to a pile of logs of wood which was lying in the yard he climbed up the logs like a little squirrel, and was soon at the top of the heap, looking down on Olly, who was very much astonished.

“Mother, do let me climb up too!” entreated Olly, as Mrs. Norton took his hand to lead him away.  “I want to climb up krick like that!  Oh, do let me try!”

“No, no, Olly! come along.  We shall never get to the farm if you stay climbing here.  And you wouldn’t find it as easy as Charlie does, I can tell you.”

“Why, I’m bigger than Charlie,” said Olly, pouting, as they walked away.

“But you haven’t got such stout legs; and, besides, Charlie is always out of doors all day long, climbing and poking about.  I daresay he can do outdoor things better than you can.  You’re a little town boy, you know.”

“Charlie’s got a black face,” said Olly, who was not at all pleased that Charlie, who was smaller than he was, and dirty besides, could do anything better than he could.

“Well, you see, he hasn’t got a Nana always looking after him as you have.”

“Hasn’t he got any Nana?” asked Olly, looking as if he didn’t understand how there could be little children without Nanas.

“He hasn’t got any nurse but his mother, and Mrs. Wheeler has a great deal else to do than looking after him.  What would you be like, do you think, Olly, if I had to do all the housework, and cook the dinner, and mind the baby, and there was no nurse to wash your face and hands for you?”

“I should get just like shock-headed Peter,” said Olly, shaking his head gravely at the idea.  Shock-headed Peter was a dirty little boy in one of Olly’s picture-books; but I am sure you must have heard about him already, and must have seen the picture of him with his bushy hair, and his terrible long nails like birds’ claws.  Olly was never tired of hearing about him, and about all the other children in that picture-book.

“What a funny little girl Bessie is, mother!” said Milly.  “Do they always say Naw and Yis in this country, instead of saying No and Yes, like we do?”

“Well, most of the people that live here do,” said Mrs. Norton.  “Their way of talking sounds odd and queer at first, Milly, but when you get used to it you will like it as I do, because it seems like a part of the mountains.”

All this time they had been climbing up a steep path behind the gardener’s house, and now Mr. Norton opened a door in a high wall, and let the children into a beautiful kitchen-garden made on the mountain side, so that when they looked down from the gate they could see the chimneys of Ravensnest just below them.  Inside there were all kinds of fruit and vegetables, but gooseberry bushes and the strawberries had nothing but green gooseberries and white strawberries to show, to Olly’s great disappointment.

“Why aren’t the strawberries red, mother?” he asked in a discontented voice, as if it must be somebody’s fault that they weren’t red.  “Ours at home were ripe.”

“Well, Olly, I suppose the strawberries know best.  All I can tell you is, that things always get ripe here later than at Willingham.  Their summer begins a little later than ours does, and so everything gets pushed on a little.  But there will be plenty by-and-by.  And suppose just now, instead of looking at the strawberries, you give just one look at the mountains.  Count how many you can see all round.”

“One, two, three, five,” counted Olly.  “What great big humps!  Should we be able to touch the sky if we got up to the top of that one, mother?” and he pointed to a great blue mountain where the clouds seemed to be resting on the top.

“Well, if you were up there just now, you would be all among the clouds, and it would seem like a white fog all round you.  So you would be touching the clouds at any rate.”

Olly opened his eyes very wide at the idea of touching the clouds.

“Why, mother, we can’t touch the clouds at home!”

“That comes of living in a country as flat as a pancake,” said Mr. Norton.  “Just you wait till we can buy a tame mountain, and carry it to Willingham with us.  Then we’ll put it down in the middle of the garden, and the clouds will come down to sit on the top of it just as they do here.  But now, who can scramble over that gate?”

For the gate at the other end of the garden was locked, and as the gardener couldn’t be found, everybody had to scramble over, mother included.  However, Mr. Norton helped them all over, and then they found themselves on a path running along the green mountain side.  On they went, through pretty bits of steep hay-fields, where the grass seemed all clover and moon-daisies, till presently they came upon a small hunched-up house, with a number of sheds on one side of it and a kitchen-garden in front.  This was Uncle Richard’s farm; a very tiny farm, where a man called John Backhouse lived, with his wife and two little girls and a baby-boy.  Except just in the hay-time, John Backhouse had no men to help him, and he and his wife had to do all the work, to look after the sheep, and the cows, the pigs, the horse, and the chickens, to manage the garden and the hayfield, and to take the butter and milk to the people who wanted to buy it.  When their children grew up and were able to help, Backhouse and his wife would be able to do it all very well; but just now, when they were still quite small, it was very hard work; it was all the farmer and his wife could do to make enough to keep themselves and their children fed and clothed.

Milly and Olly were very anxious to see the farmer’s children and looked out for them in the garden as they walked up to the house, but there were no signs of them.  The door was opened by Mrs. Backhouse, the farmer’s wife, who held a fair-haired baby in her arms sucking a great crust of brown bread, and when Mr. and Mrs. Norton had shaken hands with her ­“I’m sure, ma’am, I’m very pleased to see you here,” said Mrs. Backhouse.  “John told me you were come (only Mrs. Backhouse said ’coom’), and Becky and Tiza went down with their father when he took the milk this morning, hoping they would catch a sight of your children.  They have been just wild to see them, but I told them they weren’t likely to be up at that time in the morning.”

“Where are they now?” asked Mrs. Norton.  “Mine have been looking out for them as we came along.”

“Well, ma’am, I can’t say, unless they’re in the cherry-tree.  Becky!  Tiza!”

A faint “Yis” came from the other end of the garden, but still Milly and Olly could see nothing but a big cherry-tree growing where the voice seemed to come from.

“You go along that path, missy, and call again.  You’ll be sure to find them,” said Mrs. Backhouse, pointing to the tree.  “And won’t you come in, ma’am, and rest a bit?  You’ll be maybe tired with walking this hot day.”

So Mr. and Mrs. Norton went into the farmhouse, and the children went hand-in-hand down the garden, looking for Becky and Tiza.

Suddenly, as they came close to the cherry-tree, they heard a laugh and a little scuffling, and looking up, what should they see but two little girls perched up on one of the cherry-tree branches, one of them sewing, the other nursing a baby kitten.  Both of them had coloured print bonnets, but the smaller had taken hers off and was rolling the kitten up in it.  The little girl sewing had a sensible, sober face; as for the other, she could not have looked sober if she had tried for a week of Sundays.  It made you laugh only to look at Tiza.  From the top of her curly head to the soles of her skipping little feet, she was the sauciest, merriest, noisiest creature.  It was she who was always playing tricks on the cows and the horse, and the big sheep-dogs; who liked nothing so well as teasing Becky and dressing up the kittens, and who was always tumbling into the milkpail, or rolling downstairs, or losing herself in the woods, without somehow ever coming to any harm.  If she and Olly had been left alone in the world together they must have come to a bad end, but luckily each of them had wiser people to take care of them.

“Becky,” said Milly, shyly, looking up into the tree, “will you come down and say how do you do to us?”

Becky stuck her needle in her work and scrambled down with a red shy face to shake hands; but Tiza, instead of coming down, only climbed a little higher, and peeped at the others between the branches.

“We came down to the house when fayther took the milk this morning,” said Becky.  “We thought maybe we’d see you in the garden.  Only Tiza said she’d run away if she did see you.”

“Why doesn’t Tiza come down?” asked Olly, looking hard up into the tree.  “I want to see her.”

Thump!  What was that rattling down on Olly’s head?  He looked down at his feet very much astonished, and saw a bunch of green cherries which Tiza had just thrown at him.

“Throw some more!  Throw some more!” he cried out, and Tiza began to pelt him fast, while Olly ran here and there picking them up, and every now and then trying to throw them back at Tiza; but she was too high up for him to reach, and they only came rattling about his head again.

“She won’t come down,” said Becky, looking up at her sister.  “Maybe she won’t speak to you for two or three days.  And if you run after her she hides in such queer places you can never find her.”

“But mother wants you and her to come to tea with us this afternoon,” said Milly; “won’t Tiza come?”

“I suppose mother’ll make her,” said Becky, “but she doesn’t like it.  Have you been on the fell?”

Milly looked puzzled.  “Do you mean on the mountain?  No, not yet.  We’re going to-morrow when we go to Aunt Emma’s.  But we’ve been to the river with father.”

“Did you go over the stepping-stones?”

“No,” said Milly, “I don’t know what they are.  Can we go this evening after tea?”

“Oh yes,” said Becky, “they’re just close by your house.  Does your mother let you go in the water?”

Now Becky said a great many of these words very funnily, so that Milly could hardly understand her.  She said “doos” and “oop,” and “knaw,” and “jist,” and “la-ike,” but it sounded quite pretty from her soft little mouth, and Milly thought she had a very nice way of talking.

“No, mother doesn’t let us go in the water here, at least, not unless it’s very warm.  We paddle when we go to the sea, and some day father says we may have our bath in the river if it’s very fine.”

“We never have a bath in the river,” said Becky, looking very much astonished at the idea.

“Do you have your bath in the nursery like we do?” asked Milly.

“We haven’t got a nursery,” said Becky, staring at her, “mother puts us in the toob on Saturday nights.  I don’t mind it but Tiza doesn’t like it a bit.  Sometimes she hides when it’s Saturday night, so that mother can’t find her till it’s too late.”

“Don’t you have a bath except on Saturday?” said Milly.  “Olly and I have one every morning.  Mother says we should get like shock-headed Peter if we didn’t.”

“I don’t know about him,” said Becky, shaking her head.

“He’s a little boy in a picture-book.  I’ll show him you when you come to tea.  But there’s mother calling.  Come along, Olly.  Tiza won’t come down Becky says.”

“She’s a very rude girl,” said Olly, who was rather hot and tired with his game, and didn’t think it was all fun that Tiza should always hit him and he should never be able to hit Tiza.  “I won’t sit next her when she comes to tea with us.”

“Tiza’s only in fun,” said Becky, “she’s always like that.  Tiza, are you coming down?  I am going to get baby out, I heard him crying just now.”

“May you take baby out all by yourself?” asked Milly.

“Why, I always take him out, and I put him to sleep at nights; and mother says he won’t go to sleep for anybody as quick as for me,” said Becky proudly.

Milly felt a good deal puzzled.  It must be funny to have no Nana.

“Will you and he,” said Becky, pointing to Olly, “come up this afternoon and help us call the cows?”

“If we may,” said Milly; “who calls them?”

“Tiza and I,” answered Becky; “when I’m a big girl I shall learn how to milk, but fayther says I’m too little yet.”

“I wish I lived at a farm,” said Milly disconsolately.

Becky didn’t quite know what to say to this, so she began to call Tiza again.

“Swish!” went something past them as quick as lightning.  It was Tiza running to the house.  Olly set out to run after her as fast as he could run, but he came bang up against his mother standing at the farmhouse door, just as Tiza got safely in and was seen no more.

“Ah, you won’t catch Tiza, master,” said Mrs. Backhouse, patting his head; “she’s a rough girl, always at some tricks or other ­we think she ought to have been a boy, really.”

“Mother, isn’t Becky very nice?” said Milly, as they walked away.  “Her mother lets her do such a lot of things ­nurse the baby, and call the cows, and make pinafores.  Oh, I wish father was a farmer.”

“Well, it’s not a bad kind of life when the sun shines, and everything is going right,” said Mrs. Norton; “but I think you had better wait a little bit till the rain comes before you quite make up your mind about it, Milly.”

But Milly was quite sure she knew enough about it already to make up her mind, and all the way home she kept saying to herself, “If I could only turn into a little farmer’s girl!  Why don’t people have fairy godmothers now like Cinderella?”