: Nearly Bedtime
"He is gentil that doth gentil dedes."--CHAUCER.
The birds have been awake, chirping and twittering for more than an
hour, and the sun has stolen the first cool freshness from the clear
dewdrops, as a pair of small feet come scudding across the lawn and
down the gravel path.
Phil is up betimes to-day. He had opened his eyes as he heard cook's
heavy, deliberate tread on the stai
s--she is stout and old, and he
knows her step well--and then he knew that it must be quite early,
about half-past five.
Very gaily he tumbled out of his bed, and struggled into his white
He grew rather mixed over the buttons. There seemed so many along the
top of his small knickerbockers! What could be the use of them all?
One was quite enough to hold the things together, and he made up
his mind to ask nurse to cut off all the others.
Not now, though! Oh no! He only peeped into her room through the
half-open door, with a mischievous smile on his sweet bonny face, and
looked at her still sleeping figure, until she stirred a little. Then
he promptly drew back his head, and snatching up his garden shoes, ran
noiselessly down the stairs.
He watched from behind the hall curtain until cook had opened the garden
door, and gone to fetch her pail.
Now came his opportunity! Pulling on his shoes, he was quickly
scuttling over the grass, looking very like a small white rabbit,
as he disappeared among the trees and shrubs.
I don't think that my little motherless, six-year-old friend knew that
he was doing anything naughty when he escaped in this way from the
vigilance of his lawful guardians.
There was an honest, unselfish desire in his heart which had prompted
this deeply laid plan, and he had been waiting for several days, with a
patience rarely seen in a child his age, for an opportunity to carry it
As he trotted past his own strip of garden, at the further end of the
Rose Walk, he was thinking to himself--
"Of course, nobody must see me do it. Gentlemen never do things because
they want to be thanked. I should hate it so if she said 'thank you,'
And away went the fat legs down the kitchen garden, and across the
paddock, towards Farmer Greeson's corn field, where the golden grain
stood helplessly in closely packed shocks.
Poor Farmer Greeson thought it very hard that Club Day should come just
in the middle of his "harvesting;" that his precious wheat must stand a
whole day waiting to be carried; and that another field must wait uncut
while the club enjoyed itself. But, then, the old man was obliged to
remind himself that the harvest was much later than usual this year.
Unsettled weather and frequent storms had upset so many farming
Ah! But what was a lost day to Farmer Greeson was Phil's golden
He had listened to the servants' talk about their holiday, and though he
did not quite understand what "Club Day" meant, he was quite sure that
he need not be afraid of intruders upon his darling scheme at this early
hour, and so he climbed the farmer's gate, and dropped with a merry
"hurrah" on to the stubbly ground.
An hour later still finds Phil alone in the field, stooping over the
ground and moving slowly along. He looks like a tiny old man, with his
bent form and his hat pushed to the back of his head.
Phil is gleaning.
Steadily and laboriously he gathers up the scattered ears of corn.
He finds it harder work than he thought, and he stops now and then to
take out his handkerchief and wipe his hot face, with a quaint imitation
of the labourers he has so often watched. Then he stands with his arms
akimbo, to rest before setting to work again with determined energy.
There is quite a large bundle of gleanings lying on his outspread
handkerchief. He has brought his best and largest to hold his gains; and
now the heap of corn almost eclipses the border of kittens and puppies,
with arched backs and bristling tails, that Phil thinks "so jolly."
Hark! What a delicious peal of laughter.
The little gleaner has stopped again to straighten his back, and is
watching the merry gambols of two brown baby rabbits that, quite
unconscious of Phil's nearness, are playing round one of the shocks,
as if they thought it had been put there solely for their amusement.
Round and round, in and out, they scamper, until Phil's laughter breaks
into a shout, and he claps his hands in keen delight.
This brings the entertainment to an abrupt end.
Off fly the terrified animals--their fun and frolic turned to fear by
that very human and boyish cry; and the child's merriment dies too.
He begins his labours again, saying to himself, "Well, you bunnies are
awfully easily scared! It's a good thing gentlemen can be braver than
And so the sturdy legs trudge backwards and forwards across the field.
The sun shines warmly, and Phil's face grows hot and red. Phil begins to
feel hungry too.
"If I was a big man, I think I should have a nice lot of bread and
cheese! I wish I was a man. But I can be a gentleman now, father
He stands with his head on one side and his hands in his pockets,
looking down thoughtfully at his gleanings. He is sure that he has got
enough now; but he is not quite so sure that he can carry them all at
once. However, he boldly grasps the corner of his gay handkerchief
lifts the bundle, and staggers under its weight across the uneven
Through the little gate on the other side of the corn field, with his
back turned to his own home, Phil pushes his way, and passes into the
cool shadows of the lane, just as a servant-maid enters the field by
the other gate.
If you wanted to escape observation, you did not enter the lane a minute
too soon, little Phil.
Look at the earnest purpose in his blue eyes, and the brave determination
with which he sets his teeth and struggles on with his load. A little
further and he reaches an old broken gate, standing open and leading to
a neglected garden.
Phil stops for a moment and listens. He hears nothing.
Yes; an old hen is clucking with motherly satisfaction over two
long-legged chickens that are racing for a fat green caterpillar. That
So Phil is satisfied, and plods up the narrow garden footway until
he comes to a standstill at an old cottage door. He has to put his
precious bundle on the ground while he stands on tiptoe and raises the
"Who's there? Is any one there?" says a quavering old voice, and the
child nods his curly head and smiles, but says nothing.
Pushing the door open very softly, he enters the one room of which the
cottage consists. On a bed in a corner lies a very old woman; her thin
hands clasped patiently on the counterpane, and her sightless eyes
covered with a broad white bandage.
"Ah, daughter, I've had a long, long night; and I'll be glad of my cup
of tea. But you're main early, ain't you, dearie? I don't feel the sun
upon my face yet!"
How difficult it is for Phil to hold his tongue, as he crosses the
cottage floor and stands for a moment by Dame Christy's bedside, looking
at her with a whole world of pity in his bonny eyes.
This is by no means the first time that he has been in this humble
home; but never has he come as the silent smiling visitor he is to-day.
He puts his bundle on the bed by the old woman's side, looks wistfully
at the bandaged eyes, and then creeps slowly and softly across the room
and runs out into the sunlight--down the lane.
With tired arms swinging from a sense of relief, with bright curls
tossing, and dusty feet plodding over the ground, Phil enters the corn
field, and runs--into the outstretched arms of Jane, the housemaid.
And this is the greeting she gives him--
"Well, you are a naughty boy, Master Phil! Nurse is in a rare taking,
thinking you've gone and drownded yourself or got a sunstroke or
something. You deserve to be kept in bed all day, you bad child! And
I wish your pa was at home to whip you as well."
Poor little Phil trudges back by the side of the scolding maid, feeling
sobered and crestfallen. It has come upon him like a rough awakening
from a sweet sleep that what he has done may look like naughtiness in
the eyes of others.
Would they understand if he told them all about it?
But, then, if he told, it would spoil it all--for "gentlemen did kind
things, but never talked about them." Those were the very words father
had said. Father must know. He had been a gentleman all his life.
Choking down a rebellious sob of disappointment, the child faces nurse's
wrath with a brave heart. He says, "I'm very, very sorry, nursie," so
humbly, when her half-angry, half-tearful scolding is over, and his
winsome face looks so sweet in its unusual gravity, that her loving old
heart melts at once.
She hugs and kisses "her boy" again and again; telling him "not to go
and get into mischief like this, and never to give her such another
* * * * *
Three days later Phil's father comes home.
Nurse finds an early opportunity for telling him the story of his
little son's escapade, adding, however, a sequel of which Phil knows
nothing. For on the previous day, Dame Christy's daughter had sent up a
message to the nursery, "Might she trouble Mrs. Nurse to step downstairs
for a minute?"
And on her entering the housekeeper's room, she had displayed a large
handkerchief, having an artistic and warlike border of quarrelsome cats
and dogs. With tears in her eyes the young woman spoke of the dear
little master's gift and the hard labour it must have cost him.
"And we should never have knowed who did it, but for this, which told
the tale. For he came and went so quiet, that mother she thought it must
have been a dog as had got into her room, never speaking a word, and
coming right away without any one knowing! His handkercher I knowed
directly, 'cause he showed it to me only the other day. He's a rale
little gentleman, isn't he now?"
Nurse had wisely begged Dame Christy's daughter not to mention, or let
her mother speak of the gift, but to leave the child in happy ignorance
that his good deed had been discovered. She instinctively felt that "her
boy" who would "do good by stealth" would "blush to find it fame."
But now she tells her master all about it, dwelling with pardonable
pride on the "sweet nature of the bairn."
That same evening Phil's father stands by his boy's crib and looks down
at the bonny face as it lies on the pillow, while he strokes the curly
crop with a loving hand.
The blue eyes are just a little bit sleepy. Nurse has tucked him up
for the night, and drawn down the blind. But they are not too sleepy
to shine with love and admiration as they look up into the kind face
bending over him.
"So, my little son gave nurse a fright the other day?"
"Please, father, I'm very sorry."
The child's lips quiver, but the soft eyes still look trustingly
upwards. "I was really trying to be a gentleman--and--and you said
gentlemen didn't tell when they tried to be kind, didn't you?"
And now father quite understands the motive which has closed his child's
lips--the tender sense of manly honour, which, even in its early growth,
is strong enough to influence the heart of his boy.
That Phil is already "learning the luxury of doing good," and beginning
a chain of those "little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and
of love," which form "the best portion of a good man's life," fills his
heart with a glow of thankfulness.
He stoops, and kissing the pleading, wistful face, says--
"Yes, Phil. Yes, dear little lad, I did say so. You need not tell me
any more unless you like. I quite trust you. Remember always that you
are a gentleman--or better still, try and follow in the steps of that
Perfect Example of a loving and gentle Man--and you will make father