CHAPTER I THE BIRTHDAY GIFT
'O I've got a plum-cake, and a feast let us make, Come, school-fellows, come at my call; I assure you 'tis nice, and we'll all have a slice, Here's more than enough for us all.' JANE TAYLOR.
'It is come! Felix, it is come!'
So cried, shouted, shrieked a chorus, as a street door was torn open to admit four boys, with their leathern straps of books over their shoulders. They set up a responsive yell of 'Jolly! Jolly!' which being caught up and re-echoed by at least five voices within, caused a considerable volume of sound in the narrow entry and narrower staircase, up which might be seen a sort of pyramid of children.
'Where is it?' asked the tallest of the four arrivals, as he soberly hung up his hat.
'Mamma has got it in the drawing-room, and Papa has been in ever since dinner,' was the universal cry from two fine-complexioned, handsome girls, from a much smaller girl and boy, and from a creature rolling on the stairs, whose sex and speech seemed as yet uncertain.
'And where's Cherry?' was the further question; 'is she there too?'
'Yes, but—' as he laid his hand on the door— 'don't open the letter there. Get Cherry, and we'll settle what to do with it.'
'O Felix, I've a stunning notion!'
'Felix, promise to do what I want!'
'Felix, do pray buy me some Turkish delight!'
'Felix, I do want the big spotty horse.'
Such shouts and insinuations, all deserving the epithet of the first, pursued Felix as he entered a room, small, and with all the contents faded and worn, but with an air of having been once tasteful, and still made the best of. Contents we say advisedly, meaning not merely the furniture but the inmates, namely, the pale wan fragile mother, working, but with the baby on her knee, and looking as if care and toil had brought her to skin and bone, though still with sweet eyes and a lovely smile; the father, tall and picturesque, with straight handsome features, but with a hectic colour, wasted cheek, and lustrous eye, that were sad earnests of the future. He was still under forty, his wife some years less; and elder than either in its expression of wasted suffering was the countenance of the little girl of thirteen years old who lay on the sofa, with pencil, paper, and book, her face with her mother's features exaggerated into a look at once keen and patient, all three forming a sad contrast to the solid exuberant health on the other side the door.
Truly the boy who entered was a picture of sturdy English vigour, stout-limbed, rosy-faced, clear eyed, open, and straight-forward looking, perhaps a little clumsy with the clumsiness of sixteen, especially when conscience required tearing spirits to be subdued to the endurance of the feeble. It was, however, a bright congratulating look that met him from the trio. The little girl started up, 'Your sovereign's come, Felix!'
The father showed his transparent-looking white teeth in a merry laugh. 'Here are the galleons, you boy named in a lucky hour!...