Read STORY ONE - CHAPTER 12 of Freaks on the Fells Three Months' Rustication , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

FOUND.

We left Mr Sudberry and his children in the nearly dry bed of a mountain-torrent, indulging the belief that matters were as bad as could be, and that, therefore, there was no possibility of their getting worse.

A smart shower of rain speedily induced them to change their minds in this respect.  Seeking shelter under the projecting ledge of a great cliff, the party stood for some time there in silence.

“You are cold, my pet,” said Mr Sudberry.

“Just a little, papa; I could not help shuddering,” said Lucy, faintly.

“Now for the brandy,” said her father, drawing forth the flask.

“Suppose I try to kindle a fire,” said George, swinging the bundle containing Jacky off his shoulder, and placing it in a hollow of the rocks.

“Well, suppose you try.”

George proceeded to do so; but on collecting a few broken twigs he found that they were soaking wet, and on searching for the match-box he discovered that it had been left in the provision-basket, so they had to content themselves with a sip of brandy all round ­excepting Jacky.  That amiable child was still sound asleep; but in a few minutes he was heard to utter an uneasy squall, and then George discovered that he had deposited part of his rotund person in a puddle of water.

“Come, let us move on,” said Mr Sudberry, “the rain gets heavier.  It is of no use putting off time, we cannot be much damper than we are.”

Again the worthy man was mistaken; for, in the course of another hour, they were all so thoroughly drenched, that their previous condition might have been considered, by contrast, one of absolute dryness.

Suddenly, a stone wall, topped by a paling, barred their further progress.  Fred, who was in advance, did not see this wall ­he only felt it when it brought him up.

“Here’s a gate, I believe,” cried George, groping about.  It was a gate, and it opened upon the road!  For the first time for many hours a gleam of hope burst in upon the benighted wanderers.  Presently a ray of light dazzled them.

“What! do my eyes deceive me ­a cottage?” cried Mr Sudberry.

“Ay, and a witch inside,” said George.

“Why, it’s old ­no, impossible!”

“Yes, it is, though ­it’s old Moggy’s cottage.”

“Hurrah!” cried Fred.

Old Moggy’s dog came out with a burst of indignation that threatened annihilation to the whole party; but, on discovering who they were, it crept humbly back into the cottage.

“Does she never go to bed?” whispered George, as they approached and found the old woman moping over her fire, and swaying her body to and fro, with the thin dirty gown clinging close to her figure, and the spotlessly clean plaid drawn tightly round her shoulders.

“Good-evening, old woman,” said Mr Sudberry, advancing with a conciliatory air.

“It’s mornin’,” retorted the old woman with a scowl.

“Alas! you are right; here have we been lost on the hills, and wandering all night; and glad am I to find your fire burning, for my poor daughter is very cold and much exhausted.  May we sit down beside you?”

No reply, save a furtive scowl.

“What’s that?” asked Moggy, sharply, as George deposited his dirty wet bundle on the floor beside the fire opposite to her.

The bundle answered for itself; by slowly unrolling, sitting up and yawning violently, at the same time raising both arms above its head and stretching itself.  Having done this, it stared round the room with a vacant look, and finally fixed its goggle eyes in mute surprise on Moggy.

The sight of this wet, dirty little creature acted, as formerly, like a charm on the old woman.  Her face relaxed into a smile of deep tenderness.  She immediately rose, and taking the child in her arms carried him to her stool, and sat down with him in her lap.  Jacky made no resistance; on the contrary, he seemed to have made up his mind to submit at once, and with a good grace, to the will of this strange old creature ­to the amazement as well as amusement of his relations.

The old woman took no further notice of her other visitors.  She incontinently became stone deaf; and apparently blind, for she did not deign to bestow so much as a glance on them, while they circled close round her fire, and heaped on fresh sticks without asking leave.  But she made up for this want of courtesy by bestowing the most devoted attentions on Jacky.  Finding that that young gentleman was in a filthy as well as a moist condition, she quietly undressed him, and going to a rough chest in a corner of the hut drew out a full suit of clothing, with which she speedily invested him.  The garb was peculiar ­a tartan jacket, kilt, and hose; and these seemed to have been made expressly for him, they fitted so well.  Although quite clean, thin, threadbare, and darned, the appearance of the garments showed that they had been much-worn.  Having thus clothed Jacky, the old woman embraced him tenderly, then held him at arm’s-length and gazed at him for a few minutes.  Finally, she pushed him gently away and burst into tears ­ rocking herself to and fro, and moaning dismally.

Meanwhile Jacky, still perfectly mute and observant, sat down on a log beside the poor old dame, and stared at her until the violence of her grief began to subside.  The other members of the party stared too ­at her and at each other ­as if to say, “What can all this mean?”

At last Jacky began to manifest signs of impatience, and, pulling her sleeve, he said ­

“Now, g’anny, lollipops!”

Old Moggy smiled, rose, went to the chest again, and returned with a handful of sweetmeats, with which Jacky at once proceeded to regale himself, to the infinite joy of the old woman.

Mr Sudberry now came to the conclusion that there must be a secret understanding between this remarkable couple; and he was right.  Many a time during the last two weeks had Master Jacky, all unknown to his parents, made his way to old Moggy’s hut ­attracted thereto by the splendid “lollipops” with which the subtle old creature beguiled him, and also by the extraordinary amount of affection she lavished upon him.  Besides this, the child had a strong dash of romance in his nature, and it was a matter of deep interest to him to be a courted guest in such a strange old hovel, and to be fondled and clothed, as he often was, in Highland costume, by one who scowled upon everyone else ­excepting her little dog, with which animal he became an intimate friend.  Jacky did not trouble himself to inquire into the reason of the old woman’s partiality ­sufficient for him that he enjoyed her hospitality and her favour, and that he was engaged in what he had a vague idea must needs be a piece of clandestine and very terrible wickedness.  His long absences, during these visits, had indeed been noticed by his mother; but as Jacky was in the habit of following his own inclinations in every thing and at all times, without deigning to give an account of himself; it was generally understood that he had just strayed a little farther than usual while playing about.

While this was going on in Moggy’s hut, George had been despatched to inform Mrs Sudberry of their safety.  The distance being short, he soon ran over the ground, and burst in upon his mother with a cheer.  Mrs Sudberry sprang into his arms, and burst into tears; Mrs Brown lay down on the sofa, and went into quiet hysterics; and little Tilly, who had gone to bed hours before in a condition of irresistible drowsiness, jumped up with a scream, and came skipping down-stairs in her night-gown.

“Safe, mother, safe!”

“And Jacky?”

“Safe, too, all of us.”

“Oh!  I’m so thankful.”

“No, not all of us,” said George, suddenly recollecting Peter.

Mrs Sudberry gasped and turned pale.  “Oh!  George! quick, tell me!”

“Poor Peter,” began George.

“Please, sir, I’ve bin found,” said a meek voice behind him, at which George turned round with a start ­still supporting his mother.

Mrs Brown, perceiving the ludicrous nature of the remark, began to grow violent on the sofa, and to kick a little.  Then Mrs Sudberry asked for each of the missing ones individually ­sobbing between each question ­ and at each sob Tilly’s sympathetic bosom heaved, and Mrs Brown gave a kick and a subdued scream.  Then George began to tell the leading features of their misfortunes rapidly, and Mrs Brown listened intently until Mrs Sudberry again sobbed, when Mrs Brown immediately recollected that she was in hysterics, and recommenced kicking.

“But where are they?” cried Mrs Sudberry, suddenly.

“I was just coming to that ­they’re at old Moggy’s hut, drying themselves and resting.”

“Oh!  I’ll go down at once.  Take me there.”

Accordingly, the poor lady threw on her bonnet and shawl and set off with George for the cottage, leaving Mrs Brown, now relieved from all anxiety, kicking and screaming violently on the sofa, to the great alarm of Hobbs, who just then returned from his fruitless search.

“My son, my darling!” cried Mrs Sudberry, as she rushed into the cottage, and clasped Jacky in her arms.  She could say no more, and if she had said more it could not have been heard, for her appearance created dire confusion and turmoil in the hovel.  The lost and found wanderers started up to welcome her, the little dog sprang up to bark furiously and repel her, and the old woman ran at her, screaming, with intent to rescue Jacky from her grasp.  There was a regular scuffle, for the old woman was strong in her rage, but George and Fred held her firmly, though tenderly, back, while Mr Sudberry hurried his alarmed spouse and their child out of the hut, and made for home as fast as possible.  Lucy followed with George almost immediately after, leaving Fred to do his best to calm and comfort the old woman.  For his humane efforts Fred received a severe scratching on the face, and was compelled to seek refuge in flight.