The Balduin Library
441+ -'; 2 L7CG
Z -c ^7 7 Af
A WATER STORY
E,ic's Drea .
is r.4 'o
Erzc s D c~
A Water Story
'SUN, MOON, AND STARS,' 'AMONG THE STARS,' 'THE WORLD'S FOUNDATIONS,' ETC.
SAnd the pleasant water-courses,
You could'trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter.'
With Sixteen Illustrations
SEELEY & CO., 46, 47 & 48, ESSEX STREET, STRAND
(Late of 54, FLEET STREET)
All Rights Reserved
I. ERIC'S NEW FRIEND I
II. A STRANGE VISITANT 7
III. QUEEN MAB 14
IV. THE THREE OTHERS 21
V. ABOUT REX 28
VI. WHITE-WATER" 33
VII. A RECKLESS STEP 40
VIII. A STORY OF THE PAST 48
IX. "SUCH A LARK" 57
X. DEW-DROPS 66
XI. ROB GONE! 73
XII. ROB'S ESCAPE 79
XIII. THE STORM 88
XIV. HAILSTONES 95
XV. A CHARMING SCHEME 03
XVI. JOURNALIZING III
XVII. CAUGHT IN THE FOG 117
XVIII. FATHER ALDUR'S BEARD 125
XIX. NIGHT IN A TENT 140
XX. WHAT BECAME OF THE FOG 148
XXI. THE RIVER-VOICE 155
XXII. AN INTERLUDE 164
XXIII. THROUGH A LOCK 179
XXIV. IN DANGER 87
XXV. "EVER SINCE--" 9
XXVI. A BOTTLE OF SALT WATER 199
XXVII. THE RIVER IN A HURRY 205
XXVIII. MAB AS A CRITIC 213
XXIX. A MYSTERIOUS LETTER 221
XXX. THE FLOODS- 229
XXXI. BOATING OVER THE MEADOWS 237
XXXII. ICE-NEEDLES 247
XXXIII. OUT IN A SNOW-STORM 253
XXXIV. A PERILOUS SLEEP 260
XXXV. "THE WATERY EVENING" 266
XXXVI. ROB'S SPEECH 273
XXXVII. ALDURSMOUTH 282
XXXVIII. A SHINGLE CAUSEWAY 290
XXXIX. A NIGHT ON THE ISLAND 299
XL. TIDES 307
XLI. A TELEGRAM 314
XLII. ON THE ROCKS 320
XLIII. JUST IN TIME 326
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
ERIC'S DREAM Fronisfiece
THE GORGE 44
ROB'S ISLAND 64
FATHER ALDUR AND HIS FRIENDS 80
A SUMMER STORM 86
AFTER THE. STORM 104
AT THE SOURCE OF THE ALDUR I14
MALLOW LOCK 182
MALLOW WEIR 88
FATHER ALDUR IN A HURRY 206
AN AUTUMN FLOOD 231
A VISIT. FROM FATHER ALDUR 270
CAUGHT BY THE TIDE 298
ERIC'S MAP 310
WIND AND WAVES 328
A WATER STORY
ERIC'S NEW FRIEND.
"RIVER, River, I wonder where you come from," mur-
He was lying alone, one sunny spring day, on the
very grassiest and mossiest of banks beside the stream-
a wide clear stream, reflecting the blue of heaven, and
flowing past with steady ceaseless motion.
The River always flowed thus. Day by day, and
night by night, it poured onward and onward per-
There were trees on either side, growing along the
edge, and stooping to dip their boughs into the limpid
water. Birds twittered and sang in the branches over-
head, not indeed so enthusiastically as in spring, but
with the more sleepy and contented happiness belonging
to July days; and the river chanted a low accompani-
ment to their songs. The sound which Eric liked best,
however, was the soft suck-suck-ing of the water, as it
2 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
swept by the banks, for it sounded exactly as if the
river were kissing the land.
They were formed of red earth, these banks, mixed
up with pebbles, and bound together by countless root-
fibres. And a great many delicate ferns had their
homes in little sheltered nooks and corners, which
seemed just made to be the haunt of a "Midsummer
Night's Dream" fairy.
Above the steep piece of bank was a gentle grass-slope,
looking like part of a private garden-and so indeed it
was-upon which Eric lay.
He had his book open in his hand, but there seemed
no possibility of reading in such a scene.
It was only a few weeks since he, with his father,
brothers and sisters, had come to live in this pretty
home, and country delights were still quite new to
Every day seemed to be full of fresh beauty and
fresh pleasure. Every day they were learning to know
better their companion, the smiling sparkling River.
Not indeed always smiling or always sparkling, for the
river had at least as many moods as any human being.
One day blue, another day grey; one hour singing,
another hour moaning; one time full and rapid, another
time low and languid; but always beautiful.
The Grevilles had made no friends as yet in the
neighbourhood. Very few people lived within easy
calling-distance, and Mr. Greville was a reserved quiet
man, caring more for reading than conversation, and
very slow to respond to the advances of strangers.
This mattered little to his children. It really ap-
peared as if they needed no other playmates, they
had such a playmate in their river-the River Aldur
Eric's New Friend. 3
To Eric especially the River was not merely a play-
mate, but a dear friend. He was a fragile dreamy
boy, full of imaginative and fanciful ideas. The river,
beside which he spent so many hours, was to him not
merely a stream of water, but a thing to be loved, a
real living moving companion, with a personality of
its own, with an actual character, with powers of feeling
He might have been, perhaps, about thirteen years
old, judging from his appearance, as he lay there on
the bank,-a slender pale-faced lad, with thick brown
hair falling in a kind of pent-house over the broad
white forehead, and deep gentian-blue eyes beneath,
which had the look of being able to see much farther
than most eyes could see. They were tired eyes very
often, and eyes that could sparkle too, with any degree
of boyish fun. Eric had a large amount of weariness
and pain to bear at times, but he rarely complained,
and his high spirits seldom failed him.
Only he certainly was addicted to odd moods, full of
queer fancies and wandering thoughts. At such times
he liked much to get quite away from other people, and
to "have his think out alone," as he comically expressed
it. Some such mood must have been on him now, as
he lay on the grassy bank, watching the limpid flow of
the water with those serious far-seeing eyes, and speak-
ing at length aloud:
River, River, I wonder where you come from."
The River made no answer-only rippled and dimpled
on, murmuring and kissing as it went.
Eric raised himself on one elbow, and studied his
friend still more intently.
There was something very wonderful in this steady
ceaseless onward flow. As fast as the water passed
4 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
away, more water came to supply its place. The river
was made up of tiny drops, each a thing of itself,
separate and complete. So is a human being-so far
as his body is concerned-made up of little particles,
each complete in itself. But a man is a man for all
that; and a river is a river for all that, too. Eric was
no more disposed to think of his River-friend as a mere
collection of little drops than any of us would be dis-
posed to think of a man-friend as a mere bundle of small
I wonder where you come from," mused the boy.
He had been some distance both up and down the
river. He had seen the steep wood-clothed banks
which lay higher, and the narrow cliff-gorge through
which the waters rushed with impatient speed on their
way hither; and just the other way he had seen the
low meadows .through which the widening stream
passed seaward. The delicacy of health from which
he suffered was not of a kind to affect greatly his
walking powers. But beyond a few miles either way,
the country around was as yet unknown land to him.
"What fun it would be to explore to the source !"
Eric's eyes sparkled at the thought. Why shouldn't
we some day? I declare I'll put it into Guy's mind.
The distance wouldn't be anything very great, I should
think. We might make a regular little trip-camp out,
and so on. Bertha may shake her wise head, but we'll
get her to join; and father never minds anything that
we wish. I should like to see our river in its baby-
hood. I suppose you are middle-aged here, River-or
getting old ?" Eric went on, speaking to the stream.
"Only a little way from the end of your life."
But the flowing water made no response.
Poor old River !" said the boy. I wish you could
Eric's New Friend. 5
speak, and what stories you could tell! I wonder how
long you have gone pouring and pouring on in this
fashion. I wonder what made you first begin to pour.
I wonder what changes you have seen on your banks,
and whether you have always kept on at it just the
same. Shouldn't I like to hear your story, dear old
River ? Wouldn't it be jolly if a 'spirit of the flood'
would come and talk to me? If I had been the chief
on Tiber's banks, when the 'father of the Roman flood,
appeared to him, I'd have made better use of the inter-
view! Wouldn't I just have asked him a lot of ques-
tions about the river's history ?"
Eric laughed at the notion; and then he found him-
self saying half aloud the words which had recurred to
'Twas night; and weary nature lulled asleep
The birds of air, and fishes of the deep,
And beasts, and mortal men. The Trojan chief
Was laid on Tiber's banks, oppressed with grief,
And found in silent slumber late relief.
Then, through the shadows of the poplar wood,
Arose the father of the Roman flood;
An azure robe was o'er his body spread,
A wreath of shady reeds adorned his head;
Thus, manifest to sight, the god appeared,
And with these pleasing words his sorrow cheered ;- '
"But I should have been ever so much better pleased
if the old fellow had given a history of the Roman flood
itself," said Eric, breaking off in the quotation, and
lying flat down on the grass once more.
He had been lately reading aloud Dryden's transla-
tion of Virgil to his sister Bertha, which accounted for
these words coming vividly to his mind.
Now whether that which followed is to be ex-
6 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
plained by theories of either waking or sleeping dreams,
I leave to others to judge. Eric was not at all, like
the Trojan chief, oppressed with grief," and 'twas day
instead of night as he lay there. Nevertheless, he
might, no doubt, have followed the example of that
ancient hero, and quite unintentionally have betaken
himself to silent slumber." At all events, anybody is
at liberty, for his own satisfaction, to adopt that ex-
The birds twittered contentedly still, carrying on
little musical talks together, on the affairs of birdland;
and the river kept up its perpetual ripple-ripple; and
bees hummed to and fro with their endless monotones
about nothing; and crickets mingled their notes of
shrill rejoicing with the rest. Altogether the chorus of
soft sounds was very soothing, and no doubt provo-
cative of slumber.
Eric had not the least intention of going to sleep.
He only put himself into a comfortable position for
"having out his think."
But presently the book which he still held slipped
from his fingers, and lay on the grass unnoticed. And
the thinking grew to be just a little vague in kind.
Then the murmur of the River seemed to grow louder,
louder, till it was deep and full in tone, like a Church
organ. And there came a sound of words into the
murmur, as if the River were trying to speak.
Eric opened his eyes wonderingly, and sat up.
A STRANGE VISITANT.
THE water still flowed past, but it rushed more tumul-
tuously than usual, and silver spray broke from the
crest of rising waves.
A struggle seemed to be going on, for there were
strong hearings to and fro, and still that strange deep
sound continued, as of a voice striving for utterance.
Eric could detect a shape of words in the sounds, but
as yet no distinct speech came to his ears.
Soon he saw something rising out of the river-
something dim and shadowy, hardly more substantial
than a mountain-mist.
At first it was only like wreaths of river-fog twined
loosely together. But the wreaths shrank closer, and
the hazy outlines grew into a definite form. And on
the border of the stream stood an old man, dressed in
a flowing robe of deep sky-blue, which dipped below
the water. He had a high wrinkled forehead-wrinkled
exactly like the surface of the river on a breezy day-
and he wore a venerable beard, white as foam, reach-
ing down to his waist. A circlet of river-rushes crowned
his head; and countless drops of water, sparkling like
diamonds, adorned the simple coronet, while necklaces
of liquid drops hung round his neck. Now and then a
shower of spray was flung over him by the river-waves,
8 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
and where a drop touched his robe, there it hung
Are you the 'father of the flood'?" asked Eric.
He was deeply interested, but not at all alarmed,
and his astonishment was by no means incredulous.
It seemed perfectly natural that this stately azure-
robed old man should rise out of his dear river.
No immediate answer came to the question. Per-
haps the old man would not condescend to parley with
a boy. But he began to speak in slow solemn tones,
rich and deep, like the notes of a Church organ, yet
with a soft musical ripple and flow running through
Long, long ago, my story began.
"How long I cannot say. Man may measure the
lapse of ages where a River may not. A River has no
sun-dials, no almanacks, no time-pieces. Our records
are printed in the rocks and sands of earth; and our
busy streams are ever at work, washing out and re-
writing those records.
"A watery world is this. Aye, a watery world!
No time-pieces have we. The mighty sun rises
and sets; and seasons come and go; and centuries
roll by. But to a River-spirit centuries are days, and
the life of a man is as an insect's breath.
Does not man himself know this ? Has not one
of your own puny race written of the flowing stream:
"' Men may come, and men may go,
But I go on for ever'? "
The ripples seemed to take up these words, chanting
with soft refrains:
"I go on for ever-for ever-for ever-
I go on for ever !"
A Strange Visitdnt. 9
"Ah, yes Tennyson," said Eric, as the sounds died
The old man. evidently objected to interruptions.
He frowned, and shook his azure robe vexedly; and
another shower of diamond-drops fell over him from
Long ages ago," he said in solemn tones, there
were no rivers in this land. For the whole country lay
"Then changes came, and the land rose, until it
reached above the surface of the sea. And that which
had been the ocean-floor, grew into dry ground.
The higher mountain-peaks showed first; then the
hill-tops, and the raised table-lands; lastly the lower
As these mighty changes came about-land being
seen where formerly ocean-tides had ebbed and flowed
-then it was that Rivers were born into existence.
For there cannot be dry land without streams of
water flowing downwards to the ocean.
Water falls from above, in rain and hail and snow;
water drops as dew and hoarfrost; water runs from
hill-tops into valleys; water rises from underground
reservoirs. And all these waters must collect in rivulets
and streams, uniting lastly into rivers, and finding their
way to the sea.
"The life of a River begins with a little mountain
spring, or a tiny streamlet. It is fed by clouds above,
by springs below, by brooks and rivulets on either
side. At every step it gathers force and width and
"And the final goal of every River is the vast and
boundless Ocean; even as the final goal of every human
being is the great and limitless Eternity."
Io Father Aldur: a Water Story.
"Please, please go on," entreated Eric, as the old
"The River has witnessed many changes-many
changes," mused the old man. Strange days these-
a light and fickle age !
"Time was when no human beings frolicked near
my banks. For there were none in all the wide
"The river-bed lay then at a higher level. The
waters have carved a way for themselves-here through
soft earth, there through hard stone. Time and per-
severance work wonders: and centuries of patient toil
are nothing in the life of a River.
"You puny human creatures-you go to gaze at
yonder rocky gorge, and wonder at its beauty. How
often do you pause to think of those past ages, when
no such gorge existed? For moment by moment,
drop. by drop, the waters have done their work, cutting
a narrow channel as with a knife. And still the work
goes on. Each year the gorge is deepened.
Long long ago, there grew dense forests round
about the stream throughout its course, shutting off
all sunlight from its waters. And wild beasts, such as
no human beings have seen, roamed under the solemn
shade; and mighty crocodiles crept to and fro beneath
the river-banks. And no man or woman or child
came ever then, with restless steps and impatient
voice, to disturb our grand solitude. Ah-those were
The old man sighed heavily, and some of the
diamond drops rolled sadly downward, losing their
sparkle. Eric felt quite sorry for him.
We had our Ice-Age, too-when all watery streams
were bound fast as with iron chains; and vast rivers
A Strange Visitant, II
of ice lay over great part of this island. A strange time
that-but grand, nevertheless. It passed in time like
everything else. Changes come and go, come and go.
Only the River goes on for ever."
Eric privately thought this reference not quite ap-
propriate, in connection with a time when all rivers were
frozen. But he did not venture to say so; and the old
No greater change ever came than in the appear-
ance of Man on the river-brink.
S"We could not tell it then. When first I saw a
slim and puny creature beside the stream, half-clothed
in skins, he seemed but another of the wild forest
prowlers. I pitied his defenceless state, for the use of
shield and bow was not then known to a River-spirit in
this land. I little deemed that he was the chief of a
wandering tribe of men, who should subdue the country
"Yet so it was; and soon there grew villages of huts
upon my banks; and boats of skin and wicker, bearing
wild and masterful human creatures, floated on my
waters; and the beasts of the forest fled before these
wondrous weaklings; and the grand repose of undis-
turbed ages was at an end."
Do you dislike men so much? I am sorry," Eric
said regretfully. "I love the beautiful River."
The old man sighed again. Too much babble-too
much clatter-too much restlessness," he said. No
steadiness of aim-no flowing on for ever in one channel,
with one song of content. Man cannot rest or let nature
rest. He knows no repose. Always cutting down and
building up, and spoiling earth's loveliness with his
great terrible cities. Sad! sad sad !"
"0 do not leave me yet !" cried Eric. "Tell me
12 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
some of the things you have seen between those days
"Scenes like the changes in a kaleidoscope," mur-
mured the old man. Generations dying out, and
fresh generations arising. Infants growing up to man-
hood and passing away, each in turn to be mourned
for and forgotten. New habits, new customs, new
ways, coming in and going out. A creature of change
is man; full of weakness and full of power; feeble, yet
strong; mysteriously contemptible, yet mysteriously
great; pleased with a trifle, but never content, and ever
craving after that which he has not. A riddle, not to
be read in centuries of study. His life is a shadow, yet
death to him is not the end of life; and while he fears
the future, he lives but for the present."
"Tell me more about the River?" entreated Eric,
as the deep voice sank. I would rather hear about
the River than about men. Where does all the water
come from ?"
The old man waved his hand, with a gesture of im-
This is a watery world-a watery world," he said,
in solemn accents. Water above and water below,-
water in the air and water underground,-water in
seas and rivers,-water in lakes and streams,-water
in clouds and mists,-water as vapour,-water as
rain,-water as ice and snow! Yes, a watery watery
"'Water, water, everywhere-
The quotation remained unfinished. Perhaps the
old man felt that the next words were scarcely suitable
to the occasion.
A- Strange Visitant. 13
He was growing hazy and indefinite once more. The
azure hue of his robe faded into a pale grey; the
wrinkles in his high bald forehead seemed to ripple
into smiles, like the surface of the river. Then the long
white beard vanished, and a little heap of foam floated
down. the stream. And a cloud of mist, hovering on
the brink where the old man had stood, gently dis-
tilled into a small shower of rain-drops, weeping itself
One of these drops, carried by the breeze, fell upon
Eric's brow. It felt like a soft kiss from the River-
THE River flowed on still, quietly, softly, as before. No
waves now broke its even surface, and no splashes of
snow-white spray were flung hither or thither.
Eric lay musing, one arm thrown under his head,
and his eyes half-open, gazing at the spot where the
old man had stood. He was in no hurry to come back
to everyday life.
But presently a slight stir close at hand made him
open his eyes quite wide, and then, with one quick
movement, he stood upright.
For he had another unexpected visitant.
It was not an old man this time, with foam-white
beard and azure robe; but a child, with clouds of long
fair hair falling to her waist, and a plain white frock,
and blue ribbons.
She was not, perhaps, so very much younger than
Eric himself, only slight and small in make, with the
tiniest little doll-like hands. And she had a soft
sweet rosebud of a mouth, and large loving brown
At the first moment Eric felt quite bewildered. He
almost thought he must be dreaming still, and he half
expected the little girl to speak in deep solemn tones,
like a Church-organ, or else to vanish away in mist.
Queen Mab. 15
But she did neither. She only stood quite still,
gazing very earnestly at Eric. Then he began to feel
sure that she really was a human being.
He would have doffed his cap; for Eric was a
thorough gentleman; but the cap already lay upon the
grass. So he only put out his hand to take hers, and
I wonder who you are."
I'm Queen Mab," was the answer, in sweet clear
tones, much more resembling a flute than an organ.
That seemed all right. No spot more appropriate to
a Queen Mab could well be found.
"And is there anything you want ?" asked Eric.
"Yes," she replied quite simply. I want to know
It was rather odd, Eric thought; but he could not
help feeling flattered. So he handed her to a comfort-
able seat on the grass, and took up his own position
just a step lower, and waited to see what would happen
next. This seemed to be a land of surprises. He
could not feel perfectly certain yet that she might
not take a dive into the river and disappear from
sight,-somewhat after the fashion of the famous
But that illusion was soon dispelled. For the little
girl began to tell him that her home was quite near
" Riverside,"-the very next house, in fact, not much
more than half a mile distant. She lived there alone
with two aunts; and one of the aunts was always ill,
and the other cared for nothing but chickens and
gardening. And it was very dull. At least, it would
have been dull, but for her dear boys, Phil and Fred,
who had always played with her.
And now those dear boys were gone away,-oh, quite
16 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
away !-and Queen Mab had no playmates, and she
didn't know what to do without them.
It made her miserable to see their home all shut up,
looking so dreary and empty, and to know that they
were never coming back. Queen Mab had cried so
about those dear boys, that her aunts had thought she
would be ill; and they had sent her away to the sea-
side with a servant for two months. But that was dull
too, very dull. Queen Mab loved the river and the sea,
of course,-yes, certainly she did,-but what was water
without boys ?
Now she was come back, and she felt very lonely.
And. she had heard that some boys had come to live at
Riverside, where there used to be only one tiresome
old gentleman. So she had thought she would see
what those boys were like. Was it dreadfully rude of
her to walk into the grounds without leave? She had
not meant to be rude, but she did so wish to see.
"And that is why I want to know you," added
Queen Mab. Because I am sure you are nice, and I
shall like you very much. Phil and Fred were smaller
than me, and you are bigger; but I shouldn't think
that mattered. I am quite twelve now; and I don't
believe you are too old to be my friend."
Then, almost without waiting for a response, and
seeming to count the matter of acquaintanceship
settled, she said:
Were you asleep when I saw you first ?"
"I don't know. Was I ?" asked Eric.
Queen Mab's eyes and mouth broke into soft
"Why, what a funny boy you must be!" she said.
"(Not to know whether you have. been asleep! I
Queen Mab. 17
"I don't think I am quite sure," said Eric. Queen
Mab, did you see an old man standing just at the
water's edge ?"
Queen Mab's eyes grew very large and earnest.
"No," she said wonderingly.
"And you didn't hear him speak ?"
No," she repeated. Did you ?"
"Yes," Eric answered; and she clapped her little
"What was he like? Do tell me!" she entreated.
"He was quite old; and he had a beautiful white
beard. It dropped away into a little heap of foam at
last," said Eric dreamily. "But he stood there,-
just down there, Queen Mab, on that little patch of
sand, close to the river, and he had a long blue robe,
which dipped into the water. He talked to me ever so
"What did he say? Tell me all about it. 0 do
tell me all about it, you dear delightful boy!" cried
Queen Mab beseechingly.
"You won't tell anybody else without my leave ?"
"No, indeed and indeed and truly I won't," said
Queen Mab, with great impressiveness. "I'll have a
secret all to myself with you."
Then Eric described more fully his strange visitant.
He spoke of the soft river-murmurings, of the splashing
spray, of the sparkling diamond-drops. And he re-
peated the old man's utterances, recalling one sentence
after another, till the whole seemed to come back with
a strange vividness. Eric went softly on with his tale,
looking over or into the flowing water; and Queen
Mab sat, with her tiny hands clasped, and her great
brown eyes drinking in every word.
18 Father Aldur: a Water-Story.
"Was it real ?" she said at the end, in an awe-
What do you think, Queen Mab ?" asked Eric.
"I think we'll make it real," said Queen Mab
Then after a little pause she asked:
Did you know it all before, about the river, and the
ice, and England being under the sea, and the men
that wore skins, and the water cutting through rock?
Because, if you didn't, it couldn't possibly have been a
dream all out of your own head."
"Well, yes,-I suppose I did," said Eric.
What a clever boy you must be Why, I don't know
one quarter as much," said Queen Mab admiringly.
I've plenty of time for reading. One soon picks
up things," said Eric.
But anyhow, we'll make it real," Queen Mab said
again, in her serious manner. And perhaps, if we
think and think very hard that it is all quite quite true,
-perhaps some day the River-spirit will talk to you
again,-oh! I wish he would,-and to me too! And
even if he doesn't, we shall know now what the River
means, when it talks to itself, and says little murmurs.
Hark! it's whispering now-don't you hear that soft
soft swishy sound, like somebody telling a secret ? I
suppose the River tells its secrets to the flowers and
She held up a silencing finger, and the two listened
"I believe the River is almost always talking," re-
sumed Queen Mab, in a hushed voice, as if afraid of
disturbing somebody. But I never could hear what
it said before. And now we shall know it is only
grumbling about people living on its banks. I do
Queen Mab. 19
wonder if you'll ever see that dear old man again. I
wonder what he was,-really and truly. No, you're
not to look like that, and say 'if'-because we're going
to make it real, you know."
"I think he must have been a River-spirit,-the
Spirit of the River," said Eric, entering into her view
of the question. You see, he didn't explain his
identity very clearly, Queen Mab,- "
"What big words you do use!" murmured Queen
Mab, in admiring parenthesis.
I mean," Eric said, "he didn't exactly say who or
what he was. I took him for a 'father of the flood,'-
like the River-god that appeared to Virgil's hero, you
know. Don't you know? I'll read it to you some
day. We are not heathen, and of course we don't
believe in river-gods, and so on. Only I don't see why
we shouldn't think of him as a River-spirit-a sort of
Personification of the River. Is that word too long,
Queen Mab? When the Romans talked of Father
Tiber, and the 'Father of the Flood,' I fancy they
meant pretty much that,-and I don't see why we
shouldn't call our river 'Father Aldur.' We might
name my old man 'Father Aldur.' He certainly talked
of himself and the River, as if they were much the
same,-not as if he were separate from the River, or
superior to it."
I don't think I understand you, the very least bit,"
responded Queen Mab calmly. But it doesn't matter,
because I like to hear you talk. I think you must be
most dreadfully clever; and I should like you to tell
me all about Tiber and his father. And I do love the
dear dear old man in blue, and I hope he'll come to
you again some day. But I can't understand what you
20 Father Aldur: a Water-Story.
Eric pointed to the River, smiling.
Look, Queen Mab," he said, there is the blue of
his robe; and there is a little patch of his foamy beard;
and the diamond-sparkles are there too; and rushes
are growing on the other side. Don't you understand
"I almost think I do now," said Queen Mab.
THE THREE OTHERS.
RIVERSIDE was a low-built gable-roofed house, standing
in a large garden.
Until a very short time earlier, the home of the
Grevilles had been in a great manufacturing city; not,
indeed, so large as Manchester or Leeds, but little less
sooty and smoky.
If Mr. Greville could have afforded a change of
home, he would gladly have gone to live elsewhere, on
account of Eric's increasing delicacy. But he could
not afford to give up his town-work.
Then suddenly, through the unexpected death of Mr.
Greville's first cousin, a somewhat crusty and unso-
ciable old bachelor, the house and grounds of Riverside
had come into his possession.
The income accompanying was not large, and Mr.
Greville. would still be no rich man. But he would
have enough to live upon comfortably, and that quite
decided the matter. He gave up at once his work in
the large town, and his home of twenty years, and
came with his children to live at Riverside.
It was a wonderful change for them all, to be in this
wild sweet country place, with few neighbours, and
with lovely walks in every direction, and with healthy
22 Father Aldur : a Water-Story.
The great sea lay only some thirty miles distant.
A river skirted part of the Riverside grounds, passing
thence through low meadows, and onward still with
many windings, till it reached the sea-shore, and lost
itself in ocean waters. The little village and Church of
Radford lay in this direction, about a mile or more
In the opposite direction, some three miles higher
up the river, was a small country town, called Aldrin.
All the way between this town and Riverside, the
banks were more or less wild and high, in parts exqui-
sitely wooded. Some three miles beyond the town
was a narrow rock-gorge of singular beauty, where the
stream had to flow between upright bare cliffs. But at
Riverside the banks were grassy, and very gentle in
Near the town of Aldrin a good boys' school had been
found. To this school Guy and Robert went daily,
walking the six or seven miles to and fro, sometimes with
and sometimes without the help of a rough pony, and
making nothing of the distance. Regular schooling was
at present forbidden to Eric, and he only studied at
home in an easy fashion, with his father's help.
It had been Mr. Greville's wish, ever since his wife's
death, to keep his children together as long as possible,
instead of sending the boys to large schools. Some
counted him unwise to follow this plan. But that
which might have proved a failure in nine cases out of
ten, seemed hitherto in this particular instance to have
led to no ill results.
Behind Riverside House were the kitchen-garden and
orchard, a poultry-yard, and one or two small fields.
Also there was a small stable for the pony.
In front of the house were lawns and flower-beds, and
The Three Others. 23
scattered trees. Part of this flower-garden was bounded
by a small private wood or shrubbery; and beyond the
wood grassy banks led down to the river. But in
another direction the river-edge could be reached,
without passing through the little wood at all. For
the stream took a bend just here, and skirted fully two
sides of "Riverside" flower-garden.
Eric's favourite spot for solitary thinking was a little
grassy dip beyond the wood. It was there that Queen
Mab found him, after the vanishing of his other strange
Guy, on the contrary, preferred that part of the river
which was a little higher up, nearer to the garden-
entrance and to the bridge which lay just outside the
gate. The water here was more easily reached for
boat-launching purposes. A furious shipping-fever-
on a small scale-had lately assailed Guy and his faith-
ful shadow, Rob.
Is Bertha very busy ?" asked Mr. Greville, putting
his head into the morning-room.
They always called it "the morning-room," though
really a more appropriate name might have been found.
No other room in the house was so much used as this,
from morning till night.
Untidiness elsewhere was not permitted; but here
the boys might do pretty much as they liked. Here,
consequently, they were nearly always to be found,
when indoors at all. And where the boys were, there
Bertha liked to be.
Nobody would have guessed Bertha to be close upon
seventeen years old,-she was so fresh and childlike in
appearance, with her rounded plumpness of face and
figure, and her frank simple manner. Without being
24 Father Aldur : a Water-Story.
pretty, she had a very pleasant face,-always full of
When Mr. Greville put his head round the door, and
then slowly entered, Bertha was seated at the table,
busily arranging the rigging of a small ship with her
neat capable fingers.
Many people mistook Guy for the elder of the two,-the
big loose-limbed good-humoured boy opposite, scarcely
fifteen in age, but ever so much larger in frame than
his sister. He was not in the least like Eric, being
plain-featured, physically strong, and by no means
given to dreamy fancies. Nevertheless, Guy and Eric
were fast friends. Guy had, an immense respect for
Eric's mental gifts; and Eric looked with great admi-
ration upon his elder brother's bodily powers.
Guy seemed to be in some measure occupied with a
Greek translation. But writing did not advance very
fast; and perhaps this was scarcely surprising. For
a dainty little steamer lay on his lexicon; and two tiny
rowing-boats flanked the inkstand; and a half-made
rudder claimed his attention between each half-dozen
One other boy stood beside Bertha, earnestly watch-
ing her manipulations. Robert, always known as Rob,
was nine years old, a squarely-built solidly-made child,
with curly brown hair, a broad forehead, and an air of
solemn wistful attention.
Rob was a general favourite. He had something of
Eric's dreaminess, mingled with much of Guy's bodily
vigour. Now one side of Rob's nature asserted itself,
and now the other. Guy was his hero, Eric was his
model, and Bertha was his confidante.
"What,-boats still!" said Mr. Greville, as he
The Three Others. 25
"Boats still, father," Guy said, with a little laugh.
Mr. Greville surveyed the scene meditatively. He
was rather tall, and rather thin, with a kind but some-
what melancholy face.
"And Bertha's doing it all herself," said Rob, in a
sweet slow silvery voice, uttering each word distinctly
and deliberately. "Look, father! Isn't Bertha a
most awfully clever girl ? She's done every scrap of
the rigging all herself."
"Ah !" said Mr. Greville. "Yes,-Bertha is a clever
And we're going to have stations all along the river.
And we're going to give them names," pursued Rob,
with intense satisfaction. "And there's to be a pier,
and a coaling-wharf, and-and-oh, lots of fun. And
Guy's going to make a raft."
Mr. Greville patted the curly head.
"That reminds me," he said,-" I have been on the
look-out for a boat; and I hope I have found one that
will do. We must have the little old boat-house re-
Guy's grammar went up to the ceiling, and Rob's
shout came as a slow echo after his.
Only boating mustn't take the place of work, my
boy," said Mr. Greville, with just a touch of in-
dulgent rebuke, as he smoothed a page of the ill-used
No, father. This is only extra holiday work," ex-
plained Guy. "Bertha advised me to get ahead a
little, while she was finishing off Rob's boat."
For Bertha, young as she was, and younger still as
she looked, occupied the position of household manager,
referee, and adviser. Bertha was the pivot upon which
everything seemed to turn; and the boys showed them-
26 Father Aldur : a Water-Story.
selves, as a rule, wonderfully willing to submit to her
decisions. But then Bertha never abused her authority,
or worried, them by needless objections and fidgety
fault-findings; and she was always ready to enter into
"My ship," Rob protested.
"Oh, to be sure,-I forgot! Rob's three-decker-
Rob's floating leviathan."
"Father, is it a sailing-boat ?" asked Rob, looking
up at Mr. Greville.
No, my boy; it is a rowing-boat. I hope you will
all enjoy yourselves very much, when it comes. Bertha,
do you know where Eric is ?"
He was so tired with the heat, father, he said he
would go and lie down by the river."
Eric's beloved river," Mr. Greville remarked, half-
I say-here he comes-and something or some-
body with him," announced Guy..
And the next moment Eric, with Queen Mab, was in
She wants to know us, father, and I made her
come in," he explained, with eagerness. Her name
is Queen Mab, and she lives quite near, and she has
nobody to play with."
My name is Mabel Bertram, but I like best to be
called 'Queen Mab,'" Eric's companion explained
seriously. "I have a brother and two aunts, but my
brother is almost always away, and my aunts don't go
anywhere. And I am so very lonely. My aunt Jane
Bertram did promise to come here some day, and see
you all; but she is so very very long thinking and wait-
ing that I got tired, and so I came instead. And I like
Eric ever so much. I think he will do beautifully
The Three Others. 27
instead of Phil and Fred, though he is bigger. May I
see him sometimes ? You won't mind, will you ?"
The large brown eyes looked pleadingly from one to
another, and Queen Mab folded her little hands with
quite a pathetic sigh. Mr. Greville glanced at Bertha,
and Bertha stooped down to kiss the child.
"Isn't it curious, Queen Mab ?" she said. "Your
aunt, Miss Bertram, has actually been here this very
afternoon, and has told us all about you; and we
have asked her to let you run in and out as often as
Queen Mab's eyes flashed with pleasure, and she
folded her hands in a new position.
"Then I shall be quite happy now," she said,-
"quite! I didn't think aunt Jane would come. How
kind of her! And may I really-really-be here very
very often ?"
"The more we see of you the better, my.dear," said
Mr. Greville kindly.
STRANGE to say, though Queen Mab had been living
for more than two years in the neighbourhood of River-
side, she had not once been to see the Gorge.
The two aunts never went anywhere, so of course
they had not taken her. AndI Queen Mab's com-
panions, Phil and Fred, had been much too young to
act as her escort, except in the near vicinity of their
Queen Mab had a brother certainly, a tall grown-up
brother, more than twice her age, who was curate to a
clergyman in London. Reginald Bertram was very
fond of his little sister, and she of him. Indeed, Queen
Mab did not hesitate to declare positively that there
never had been, and never could be, anybody in all the
whole world like Rex. He was "so handsome, and so
clever, and so good, and so funny and kind and nice
and good-natured, and altogether delightful."
But also he was so busy that he could seldom get
away from his work. And when he could, he some-
times preferred to take a little trip into Wales or Scot-
land, having Mabel all to himself for the time, rather
than to pay a visit to Willow-Lea, where Mabel spent
most of the year. He thought the change good for his
About Rex. 29
On those particular occasions, when he really had
run down to Willow-Lea, it had always most unfortu-
nately happened, either that the weather would allow
of no excursions, or that Mab had been prisoner with a
cold, and unable to accompany him.
Reginald Bertram, in his London lodgings, and in
the midst of his busy London work, often felt anxious
about this dear little sister Mab, living far away in the
quiet village of Radford, beside the River Aldur. He
did not like the rather sad and monotonous tone of her
letters to him, or the grey tinge which seemed to have
come into her life. She appeared to be growing too
dreamy and unchildlike, and wrapped up in her own
thoughts. He knew that the Miss Bertrams could not
understand Queen Mab, and he longed for more childish
companionship for her. It was not quite natural that
a little girl of twelve should write so mournfully still
about-" my dear dear boys, Phil and Fred," and
"having nobody to play with, Rex dear, except the
river; and you know I do love the river, but the river
can't talk to me. I wish it could. It only whispers
and whispers, and makes me think of when Phil and
Fred were here."
But suddenly there came a change, and an eager
excited epistle reached Rex, full of new interests and
strange delightful fancies.
Rex really did not quite know what to make of it all.
He had been meditating for some time past a run down
to Radford; and now this letter decided him.
Meanwhile, an excursion to the Gorge had been
settled, greatly to the delight of Queen Mab.
Only a week had passed since her first appearance
at Riverside, and already she seemed to have become
30 Father Aldur : a Water-Story.
quite one of the Greville family. Nobody could help
loving the gentle child, even though she did show now
and then a certain wilfulness of spirit. She had crept
at once into a warm corner of Bertha's heart, and the
boys would do anything for her pleasure. But Eric
remained her prime favourite.
The two old ladies, Miss Susan and Miss Jane
Bertram, were charmed to have her off their hands for
so many hours each day. They were extremely fond of
their niece, of course, but she was rather too much of a
care and a perplexity for them, especially in holiday-
time, when she never could be content indoors, and
they never could feel happy to have her wandering
about alone. It was of no use to set her down to
the prettiest kettle-holder, or the most fascinating of
samplers. So surely as Miss Jane went off to feed her
chickens, the little bird left behind had flown. And
the chickens at all events could not be neglected.
But now the aunts could send her straight to River-
side directly after breakfast, and shelve all responsibility
until Guy brought her home in the evening.
The only doubt which troubled their minds was as
to whether they really ought to be so much beholden
to such new acquaintances. Miss Jane laboured under
a distressful impression that things were very different
in her young days." And Miss Susan chimed in sigh-
ingly, Ah, yes, dear,-it is such an impatient age,-
what with steam and gas and express trains, and ladies
going in hansoms, and young people doing exactly what
they please,-very very sad !" Which speech would
certainly have made Eric think of his River-spirit's
lamentings, had he heard the dialogue.
However, Mr. Greville went himself with his
daughter to see the Miss Bertrams; and Bertha
About Rex. 31
pleaded so prettily for Queen Mab every day and
all day through the holidays," that there was no with-
"A very agreeable young person indeed,-that Miss
Greville," pronounced Miss Jane Bertram. "Quite
unlike most young people of the day. Particularly
sweet manners,-so simple and unaffected. I hope
you will grow up like her, Mabel."
And Queen Mab, who happened just then to be lost
in a little dream of her own, curled up on a low window-
seat, with one leg hanging down, and two hands folded
together, actually gazed up vacantly into Miss Jane
Bertram's face, murmuring:
"A watery world! I wonder what he really did
mean. I should think it was a very dry world."
"Was there ever such a child seen?" demanded
Miss Bertram despairingly. "Will you never learn to
have your wits about you, Mabel?"
I forgot,-it's my secret," said Mabel, blushing.
It's no secret with anybody that we're having the
dryest season we ever had for twenty years past," said
Miss Bertram. Hardly a drop of rain all June and
July,-and they're the wet months too. If August
keeps on the same, it'll be serious for the country soon.
I never saw the river so low. What do you mean by a
secret, Mabel? Secrets are very bad things."
It's only-only-something that somebody told
me," responded Queen Mab, with a deeply thoughtful
air. "And I mustn't tell again. Aunt Jane, should
you think the world was very very watery? I
The world watery What on earth is she driving
at now?" asked Miss Bertram in perplexity.
I only wanted just to know that," said Queen Mab.
32 Father Aldur: a Water-Story.
'" Somebody-at least something-said it was a watery
world. And I've been thinking. There's such lots of
dry ground, and only a little water. Only the river.
And England is so big. Of course there's the sea,-
but then there are heaps of other countries too. And
it doesn't rain so very often. We've had almost no
rain for weeks and weeks. Should you call it' a watery
world,' aunt Jane ?"
"There's a pretty good deal of wet and dry too,"
said aunt Jane judiciously, while in a back corner of
her mind she was observing to herself: Dear! dear !
dear! that child! I do wish she had a little more
But Queen Mab had plenty of sense; only it wanted
room to expand in; and there was not room at Willow-
I think there is a great deal more dry than wet,"
remarked Mabel. "And so he was wrong, after all."
"He ?" questioned Miss Bertram.
"I mean--I mean-it!" said Mabel confusedly.
"The-the person-the thing-that said it."
I think you have talked quite enough nonsense for
one day, Mabel," Miss Bertram observed in a rather
But I'm not talking nonsense,-really, truly, aunt
Jane 1" cried Mabel, quite distressed, tears filling her
large brown eyes.
And to divert Mab's attention from the subject in
hand, aunt Jane told her of the proposed excursion to
the Gorge three or four days later.
As Miss Bertram truly observed, the season thus far
had been for many weeks unusually dry, and the Aldur
was in consequence unusually low.
After leaving the sleepy country town, which lay
three miles or so distant from Riverside, anybody
following up the stream would have had another three
or four miles to accomplish before reaching the famous
A walk of twelve or fifteen miles was nothing to Guy
and Rob; but the pony-chaise brought Eric and the
girls from Riverside.
The scenery here was such as one does not com-
monly come across in an English landscape. The
rock-cliffs stood upright and stern, with a narrow deep
channel between, down which the river foamed rapidly.
On either side was a shelf or rocky ledge, now high
and dry, but in times of flood often quite covered.
Here and there a small boulder checked the course
of the current, and caused a great squirming and
eddying of white foam.
A few bushes grew half-way up the cliffs, where
some slight foothold and earthy deposits might be
found; and along the top, on either side, was a fringe
of pines and larches.
34 Father A Idur: a Water Story.
Many people said that the general effect was quite
like a slice out of Swiss mountain scenery. Only, of
course, the mountains were lacking.
Near the upper end of the Gorge, an easy slant led
a little way down to a small grassy plateau, shaded
from sunshine by cliff and tree, and overlooking the
river. Thence a very rugged and break-neck pathway
descended to the rocky ledge.
This steep descent was the great delight of the Gre-
ville boys,-not to speak of Bertha, who had taken to
climbing like a cat," as Guy said, after years of town-
life and flat pavements.
But when Queen Mab found herself on the grassy
plateau, looking down into the shady depth, at the
bottom of which the Aldur foamed past in stormy
fashion, she stood still, declining to go any farther.
"0 no, I couldn't, I couldn't !" she pleaded, when
urged by Guy. I never can go down steep places.
It always makes me giddy. I am quite sure I should
fall into the water."
The boys were rather astonished, for Mabel had
shown herself, in many respects, to be a child of fear-
less and independent spirit. But this was her weak
point. She gazed over the depth with a shudder,
turning quite white, and clutching Bertha's arm.
"I couldn't! Please don't make me. I'll just sit
up here till you all come back." A:
Bertha would have yielded at once, offering to remain
with Mabel, and Guy too hesitated, but Eric took her
"I don't think that will do, Queen Mab," he said.
"We shall stay there a good while, and have all sorts
of fun; and we couldn't leave you alone here. And if
you are going to be one of us, you will have to go to
places where we go. Guy and I will get you down the
path without a single slip. It's not half so bad as it
looks. The Queen of the Fairies mustn't be so easily
beaten. And I want you to see the River in a passion,
-Father Aldur shaking his white beard."
Guy and Bertha laughed at the last sentence, taking
it for a passing joke. For Eric had never yet told
anyone except Mabel of the River-spirit. He had an
odd reluctance to speak openly on the subject.
Mab sighed deeply.
But everything is going round," she said.
Shut your eyes, and then everything won't," Eric
answered encouragingly. "Don't open them again
till I give you leave. Guy and I will take care where
you put your feet."
Mabel made no further resistance. It was very odd
to walk down the rough rocky slope, blindfolded, so to
speak, guided and held up by Guy and Eric. But she
soon found that there was no danger of a slip. Guy
was so strong, and both were so firm-footed, that in
spite of her fears she could not help feeling entirely
safe. Dizziness soon went off, and but for the fun of
it, she would have opened her eyes.
Not yet. Don't look yet," Eric said, once or twice.
Then she found herself on level ground, and Guy
uttered-" Now !"
Queen Mab's eyes opened widely, and one "Oh !"
escaped her lips.
It was only a ledge on which she stood, varying in
width from perhaps two to four yards. Another and
narrower ledge was opposite; and on either side the
rocky cliffs stood up, steep and rugged and stern, with
a fringe of trees above, and a strip of blue sky far
36 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
Just below, in the deep sharply-carved channel
between these two ledges, the Aldur poured past; not
softly singing as at Riverside, but with one loud rush
of continuous sound. No gentle kissing of the land
was here, but rather a perpetual struggle with the hard
Ah, that had been a long fight, carried on through
centuries. And in the end the River had the best of
it. For the hard rock was slowly slowly worn and
crumbled away, by the perpetual rush of water, and the
incessant grinding of sandy particles and tiny stones
borne along by the stream. The Aldur seemed always
impatient and vexed, because it could not wear away
its channel faster; but had the rocks spoken their
version of the matter, they would have said,-" Quite
fast enough, and too fast for us; oh, rushing bois-
terous water !"
Mabel stood still, near the edge, frightened no longer,
with clasped hands and intent eyes. It was so beauti-
ful and wonderful.
They were near the upper end of the Gorge. The
River flowed above between high and well-wooded
banks; and then suddenly it had to enter this con-
tracted channel, making up in depth and speed for the
loss of free space.
On, on, on, poured ever the swift strong sheet of
foaming water. Here a perpetual wave curled over its
long white edge; there a fringe of snowy water boiled
incessantly round a big boulder; then again a small
swift waterfall might be seen, falling arch-like over a
broad impeding rock; and yonder a straight shoot im-
pinging on the bank glanced off with a changeless
To those who had seen the Aldur here in flood-time
the present rush of foam and water would not have
seemed much; but no such past recollections damped
the admiration of the Grevilles or Queen Mab.
So the busy stream came down from the right, and
poured off to the left through the Gorge,-after which
. But where Mab stood no beyond could be seen.
A slight bend in the Gorge hid the farther and lower
Rob called Guy away to look at something in that
direction, and Bertha followed. Eric stood still by
Mab; and presently she glanced up at him.
You like this, Queen Mab ?"
Very much. O very much," repeated Mabel. I
am so glad you made me come. It is lovely. But I
do so want to see that old man, Eric. I have been
trying hard, and I can't."
It's just the place for him," said Eric.
"Isn't it ? That's just what I was thinking. And
the River seems to be saying such a lot. Hark isn't
that like a voice; talking, talking? If the old man
came, he would tell us what it all means."
Mabel gazed so earnestly at Eric with her brown
eyes, that he began to wonder whether she actually did
expect to see some day a real old white-bearded man
rise up out of the river.
But, Mab--" he began, in a rather expostulating
"Yes,-hark! Don't you hear ?" Mab broke in.
" It's like voices He's saying something, if only we
could understand. And you're not to look like that,
and say But,' because you know we settled to make it
real. Father Aldur is a real River-man to us."
Eric laughed, pointed to the foam, and said:
"There is some of his beard, at all events."
38 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
The water is so white here," observed Queen Mab.
They say that gave the name to the river," replied
Eric. Al means 'white,' and dur 'water.' 'Aldur'
is only 'White Water.' People suppose that it was
named 'Aldur' from all this white foam."
Father White-Water," suggested Mabel.
"All churned up into foam, isn't it ?" added Eric.
" I'll show you down below what becomes of the foam,
-when you are tired of this."
"I'm not tired,-I couldn't be tired. It's lovely.
And did the river really and truly cut its way through
these rocks? Could it, Eric ?"
Eric nodded. "The cutting is going on still," he
"But water is soft, and rock is so hard."
Yes; but don't you see, Queen Mab, there's always
fresh water coming and coming, and no fresh rock
comes. The hardest rock will wear away in time, if
water is always running over it. Besides, there is
something in the water that helps-a gas that eats
Gas in the water !" said Mab, astonished.
"To be sure. Why, water is made up of gases,"
"I do wish I knew everything," sighed Mab. I
suppose nobody does that,-not even Rex. He's very
clever, though,-as clever as you, Eric, and ever so
much older. So of course he knows lots more. But I
suppose he hasn't learnt some things,-at least he says
not. I don't know. anything at all, hardly,-I wish I
did. I should like to know all about the river,-and
about other rivers, and the sea, and rain,-oh, and all
about water everywhere. Your dear old man said it
was such a watery world, and I can't think what he
meant. I think it is such a dry world. There's
only water in the river, and one or two ponds, and
the well, and the cistern. And the ponds are almost
dried up. I should like to know what Father Aldur
truly meant. Couldn't you have another dream, and
ask him, and then let me know? O Eric, do ?"
Eric smiled a rather odd smile. "If I could manage
it," he said.
A RECKLESS STEP.
ERIC and Mabel presently followed the other three
along the ledge, passing downward through the Gorge,
to the lower end.
Guy and Rob were having a scramble here, where
the cliffs were less high and more broken. Bertha
had betaken herself to a green shady nook, completely
beyond and outside the Gorge, and there Mab and Eric
Father Aldur underwent a sudden change of mood
in this part of his course. After a passionate rush
through the narrow gorge, he seemed to become all at
once tired and lazy and silent,-almost sullen.
The widening of the steep rocks made it possible for
him to broaden, and then of course there was no more
need for such furious speed.
A very decided bend in the river took place directly
after the rock-gorge; and round this bend the Aldur
flowed most placidly. Exactly under the spot where
Bertha had seated herself was a considerable extent
of still water; the current passing steadily downward
beyond, near to the opposite bank.
But this seemingly stagnant extent of water was not
really still or stagnant. It was a large slow whirlpool.
Bertha pointed out to Mabel how twigs and leaves
A Reckless Step. 41
came down the stream, and were borne slowly round
and round this whirlpool. One could never tell, when
first they appeared, whether they would be drawn into
the whirlpool, or would pass onward down the river.
It was quite an exciting occupation to watch and
speculate on the fate of any particular twig. Eric
flung small boughs in, higher up, and gave them
names; and then all three grew eager to see what
For one bough would pass swiftly and merrily down
the stream. And another would be drawn within the
whirlpool's power, and make one or two slow circlings,
yet after all escape. And a third would be hopelessly
caught, floating round and round in narrowing circles,
till it reached the centre or was stranded under the
bank, there to remain and rot.
Besides leaves and pieces of wood, quantities of foam
came floating from the Gorge.. These collected into
little heaps, sometimes quite like miniature icebergs,
such as one sees depicted in books about the Arctic
regions. Tufts of Father Aldur's beard," Eric called
them; and Bertha laughed at the conceit, without
Guy and Rob presently joined the trio, and the
boys took to aiming stones at the heaps of foam.
Several small floating islands were thus broken up.
This quiet sort of amusement was very well for a
time. But the boys were in high spirits, and presently
they grew tired of sitting still. Guy produced some
tiny wooden boats, and proposed launching them, one
at a time, above the rapids, that their course might be
followed and watched.
No sooner was the suggestion made than acted upon.
Bertha stipulated for prudence, but was quite ready to
42 Father A Idur: a Water Story.
join in the fun; and the shady gorge soon rang with
merry laughter, as boys and girls ran lightly along the
ledge, following the swift downward rush of a tiny
boat, and seeing it wrecked upon a boulder or floated
bottonriup, swept down the stream beyond or kidnapped
by the sullen whirlpool.
Mabel had never in her life more thoroughly enjoyed
herself. She grew wilder than the boys, flushed,
excited, and almost as passionately interested in each
small vessel, as if human beings had verily been on
They had come to their last boat,-a larger and
better one than the rest, which Guy had not intended
to dispose of in this summary fashion. But they were
all by this time in a somewhat reckless and over-excited
mood, and he could not resist the temptation to have
one more try. It might run the rapids safely, and be
secured again lower down. Somehow there was a
general expectation that this particular boat,-named
on the spot The Fairy Queen,"-must not and would
not come to grief.
Guy chose carefully a spot for launching it. "Now!"
he cried. "Look out! Off !"
The little boat floated gracefully at first, under
shelter of a projecting piece of rock,-and then the
current caught it.
Down-down-with a rush; the boat on the water,
boys and girls on land. Bertha followed more quietly;
but Queen Mab, wildly excited, with sparkling eyes and
dancing step and flowing fair hair, was well in advance
of the boys and the boat.
Down, down, swiftly,-now making straight for a
boulder,-now borne round it and floating in the lee of
a rock,-then again in the grasp of the torrent,-once
A Reckless Step. 43
more in peril,-ha almost capsized, yet not quite, for
the brave little vessel rights itself, and shoots splendidly
an arrowy sheet of water white as snow. But that is
its final feat, for the next instant it turns bottom up,
and is swept towards a seething mass of foam.
Another moment, and the boat itself is forgotten by
all present !
Mabel, still ahead, had reached the lower end of the
Gorge. Here the ledge was lower, and in dry seasons
such as the present, another ledge lower still was visible,
almost level with the water. As the overturned boat
came floating downward, nearly submerged, Mab's ex-
citement passed all bounds. To Bertha's horror she
dropped suddenly upon the ledge beneath, and made
thence one step to a rock jutting out of the stream, with
evident intent to seize the boat.
But the boat swept on untouched. For as Mab's
foot reached the rock, it gave a lurch beneath her, and
she was within a hair's breadth of falling into the
current,-a current so deep and rapid, even close to
the ledge, that she must have been instantly carried
Bertha screamed, but Mab did not. Quick as thought
she made a spring, and gained a second boulder beyond,
farther out in the stream.
The feat was no light one for a child of her years.
In cooler moments she would never have dreamt of
attempting it. Indeed, the instant leap was rather
a matter of instinct than of wisdom. Had she at-
tempted to draw back, she would almost inevitably
have gone down.
The second boulder was just reached,-and only
just. Mabel could not have told how she got there.
She only found herself suddenly kneeling on a small
44 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
flat surface, with a swift dizzying rush of water on
O Mab! Mab! how could you?" Bertha cried;
but Mabel did not hear.
Mab i" Guy shouted. I say, Mab! don't look at
the river. Look at me. Stand up, and hold out your
hand-quick! I'll try to catch it, and help you to
spring. Quick don't wait! Mab, make haste !"
No answer came. The child crouched as if paralyzed
in an attitude of utter helplessness, her large dilated
eyes fixed on the seething foam, her cheeks white, her
lips blue. If she turned giddy and fell into the water,
she would certainly be borne against some of the rocks
a little farther down.
Guy could have leaped to the boulder,-he had often
made a longer leap. But with Mabel there, no stand-
ing room remained for another. And the boys both
knew that a strong man attempting to wade the river
hereabouts had been immediately carried off his feet.
"Mab !" Guy shouted again. "Don't be frightened,
but listen Mab, if you will just hold. out your hand
as far as possible- "
But Mab showed no signs of hearing, and Guy
stopped in despair. I must wade to her," he said.
There's nothing else to be done,-and after all the
river is low now. She looks so awfully pale. Here,
Bertha, take care of my watch." And then he saw
that Eric's jacket was already half off.
"No, no-not you !" cried the elder boy.
"Yes-listen, Guy! If you hold my hand you can
help me, more than I can help you. There isn't a
moment to be lost," said Eric. Quick !"
And still Mabel knelt on, like one fascinated-unable
to move, unable to speak, unable to lift her eyes from
-I_ :_e= ....,'
A Reckless Step. 45
the reach of white foam. The loud rush of water filled
her ears, and everything seemed to be whirling, whirling
round, as the dizzying stream swept past. The beau-
tiful river showed a new and terrible side that day to
Queen Mab; and in this hour of peril the world did
indeed seem a watery world. But she could not think
clearly of that or anything else. She could only cling
to the rock with all her little strength, feeling each
moment as if she were more and more surely going
down, down, into the torrent of snowy water.
And Eric was putting himself forward, eager to
wade, not now indulging in any pretty conceits about
Father Aldur, but only wrapped up in the one thought
of dear little Mab's danger. And Guy, with set lips,
was pulling off his jacket, bent on being the one to
venture. And Bertha, pale and quiet, stood on the
ledge, looking, fearing,-ah, and praying so earnestly
down in her heart that neither Mab nor the boys might
be borne away by the. stream.
Then a man's voice sounded through the Gorge, and
somebody unknown to the Grevilles came rushing in hot
haste along the ledge, to the spot where Bertha stood.
Mabel heard the stranger, though she had not heard
Guy. She lifted her face, looking away at last from
the water, and then she held out her two little hands
beseechingly, and a cry was heard-
0 Rex-Rex-Rex 0 Rex-Rex !"
And it really was her brother Reginald Bertram. He
had been coming down unexpectedly; and hearing of
the proposed excursion, he chose to get out of the train
at an earlier station than Aldrin, and to walk to the
Gorge that he might give Mab a pleasant surprise.
He seemed to take in the whole at a glance, and
only one questioning word passed his lips-" How ?"
46 Father A dur : a Water Story.
She stepped to that rock, and it gave way, so she
jumped," Guy explained quickly. "Nobody was near
enough to stop her."
Reginald gave a little nod of assent, threw off his
coat, and descended to the lower ledge. He was a
slender lithe young man, with a somewhat pale face,
and eyes like those of Mab.
"The stream is tremendously strong about here,"
Guy said warningly.
Reginald nodded again, and then spoke in distinct
"Mab, it will be all right. Look towards me, and
do as I tell you, dear. Don't be frightened. If you
slip, I'll be in the water directly, with you."
Mab's lips could be seen to move.
Now stand up carefully,-look this way, and hold
out your hands. Then make a good spring to that
rock. Never mind its giving way. I shall have you.
Steady, dear,-don't be flurried. Cheer up, and do
bravely. That's right," as the child drew herself
slowly to her feet. Look here,-hands well out, and
a good jump. Now!"
The other three watched with breathless interest.
The young. man balanced himself strongly, leaning
forward, with extended arms; and Mabel made one
faltering leap forward. The rock yielded again beneath
her foot, but at the same instant she was in her
brother's grasp,-and then his arms were folded
round her, and Mab's fair hair was straying over his
One low "Thank God!" escaped him, and next,
Mab dear, how could you ?"
Mab did not speak. She only clung to him closer,
burying her face.
A Reckless Step. 47
Reginald stepped up to the broader ledge, carrying
his burden still, and saying simply, I must introduce
myself as Mabel's brother. She has told me of her
new kind friends."
And Mab has told us. I am so thankful you came
just now," Bertha said huskily, as if she could not at
once recover from her alarm; while Eric was leaning
against the cliff, almost as pale as Mab herself. Rex
looked from one to the other.
"Mab has been very wrong to startle you all so
much," he said. But I don't think she will do it
again-will you, dear ?"
0 no, no," Mab half sobbed. "0 Rex, it was
so very dreadful! I did really think I should be
A STORY OF THE PAST.
SOMEHOW the Grevilles all felt immediately at home
with Reginald Bertram, and he found himself no less
speedily at home with them.
The very manner of their first encounter had broken
down barriers of shyness. They seemed at once to
have known one another quite a long while.
Bertha proposed an immediate return home, thinking
that the brother and sister would wish to be as soon as
possible alone together. Nobody seconded this move,
however. Rob's rosy face showed disappointment;
and Reginald inquired what plans had been made.
Kettle-drum of cakes and biscuits beside the river at
four o'clock; then games; then a cool walk back.
"Just the thing," Rex said brightly. "Would he be
in the way if he stayed too, and had a share in the
That of course settled the question. Bertha could
but welcome the proposal.
Mab was upset and tremulous with her adventure.
For a while she would only cling to her brother,
shedding quiet tears, and refusing to be happy. But
Rex did not allow this to continue. He thought it
unfair to her friends.
So Mab was half petted, half scolded, to a more
A Story of the Past. 49
cheerful frame of mind; and the cake kettle-drum
proved a further restorative. Two or three games
followed, on the grassy slopes outside the Gorge, Rex
joining in them as heartily as anyone.
Then Eric was missed, and after a severe hunt they
found him in Bertha's favourite nook, just above the
whirlpool, lying on the grass, with an arm thrown over
Was anything the matter?" Bertha asked anxiously,
as the boy started up, ashamed.
"O no, nothing!" was the answer, of course; but
Bertha took a seat, and Eric was evidently glad to
throw himself down again, with his head against her.
He was much given to sudden failures of strength.
Neither Bertha nor Guy would hint at the fact that his
over-fatigue was due to the fright Mab had given him,
but they knew it well enough; and they knew, too,
that the drive home was better deferred till Eric had
had a good rest.
"Couldn't be a better place than this to sit in for
a lazy half-hour," Guy remarked, after suggesting a
And Rex will tell us a story," cried Queen Mab, clap-
ping her hands. She had by'this time quite regained
her usual spirits. He tells such delicious stories some-
times. Do, do, please, Rex! Mayn't he, Bertha?"
Bertha was softly passing her hand over Eric's fore-
head, in the quiet motherly way she had, though so
young. If Mr. Bertram does not mind, we should all
like it very much indeed," she said.
Rex made no objection. Mab took a position close
to him, looking up in his face with eager eyes; while
Guy and Rob disposed themselves in comfortable atti-
50 Father A Idur i a Water Story.
The trees overhead kept up a soft rustling, and let
snatches of warm sunlight through upon the grass. A
blackbird near was doing his utmost in the musical
line. The big slow whirlpool kept on its lazy circling;
and little heaps of foam went floating down the stream
beyond. The shady opening of the Gorge made a
stern contrast to the bright surrounding light. And
the strong rush of the torrent between the rocks
sounded here like soft perpetual music.
What sort of a story is it to be ?" Rex asked.
Something-something-about water," said Mab.
Eric, without stirring, muttered, "Father Aldur !"
He had not the remotest idea that Reginald would
know what he referred to.
But Rex gave him a quick glance, and said: "Very
"What's to be the story's name ?" asked Mab.
And Rex answered: "'Some Passages in the Life
of Father Aldur.' Will that be watery enough for
you, Mab? Or would you prefer, 'The World of
"Have you got them both in your head?" asked
Queen Mab, opening her eyes very wide. How
curious! I should like"'The Life of Father Aldur'
to-day, because we're sitting and looking at him.
And some other day you'll tell us 'The World of
Waters.' And you mustn't forget it."
Is Father Aldur the River?" inquired Rob.
"Well, yes, I believe so," said Rex; and without
further delay, he began:
"Once upon a time the River-spirit walked through
the lonely wilds of Britain, looking for the work which
he had to do."
"Why,-what sort of work ?" asked Rob.
A Story of the Past. 5r
Rivers have a great deal of very important work to
do," said Reginald. They have to drain the country
round about of too much water, and to bear off all that
isn't needed. They have to carry away earth, and to
crumble stones, and to wear down rocks. They have
to support life in mosses and plants and trees and
animals and human beings,-not to speak of fishes.
All this, and a great deal more besides."
Rob made a very round-" Oh-h !"
"The River-spirit of my tale knew well that there
would be some particular part of the land where he
was needed. He could not tell where yet. He had
been waiting to know. People often have to wait
awhile before they learn what their life-work is to be."
"But he wasn't a person. He wasn't anything
really," said Rob.
"That is just as you like to view the question,"
replied Rex. "I should count a river to be some-
"Oh-if he was a river,-but then why didn't he
pour water ?" persisted Rob.
He had no channel to pour in yet. A river must
have its appointed channel; just as a man must have
his appointed place. Everybody and everything has
his or her or its own especial work,-work to be done
for God. Not a single green leaf in the world can do
the work of another green leaf; and not one single
drop of water can do the work of another drop;
because each one can never do more than its own
work. So every brook has its own particular business
to carry out,-and every stream,-and every river.
In the days I am telling you of, Britain was in a
very rough and unfinished state. Parts of the land
had lately risen up out of ocean waters; and other
52 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
parts were still rising. Many rivers already flowed
busily seaward, and many more were beginning to
flow, as the rising of the land made them needful.
"Well, our friend the River spirit wandered to
and fro, looking for his channel. He saw some very
tempting beds, but they were already occupied. One
broad stream, passing eastward, had on its banks a
lonely spot, where, long ages after, a huge city called
London was to be built. But in those days no towns
existed; for the face of man had never yet been seen
At last the River-spirit came to these parts. He
found a place where need for a river was beginning to
be apparent. No channel ready-made awaited him;
but the land had risen steadily; and springs had been
forming; and many brooks and streamlets were begin-
ning to trickle about. It was quite time that a big
fatherly River should gather them all into one channel,
and conduct them to the ocean.
So the River-spirit settled down hereabouts, with
no further delay. He called upon the hill-springs of
the neighbourhood, the underground streams, the falling
rain-drops, and all the brooks, runnels and rivulets, to
work under and with him; and drawing all together
into the bed he had chosen, he made himself a.great
centre of useful influence.
Of course the River-spirit had too much common-
sense to expect impossibilities. He knew perfectly
well that water never will run uphill, therefore he took
care not to select a bed higher than the springs. On
the contrary, he was wise enough to fix upon the very
lowest level he could possibly find: so that all the
water in the country around might have no difficulty
in flowing towards him.
A Story of the Past. 53
"One day he made a speech of general advice and
He told the river-drops to be sure that they never
quarrelled with the rain-drops; or the spring-water
with the brook-water; for all were sisters and brothers,
and all had the same objects in view.
"He told them to press steadily, steadily, onward
toward the great ocean. And they were not to be
daunted by difficulties on their way. Certain parts of
the river-course would be easy, and certain parts would
be difficult. Some little yielding was allowable,-just
a bending to right or left in graceful curves, if a diffi-
culty might be avoided thereby. But where this could
not be, the waters were to pour resolutely straight
forward. In one particular spot there were great rocks
which had to be encountered and overcome. A road
for the stream must be patiently carved out; and every
drop had his own little part of the toil to do. If each
single drop worked willingly, there could be no fear
that in time the hardest rock would not yield.
Moreover, the waters were to hold themselves
always ready to give help, where help might be needed.
That was a very important part of their mission. Not
a tree or a plant or a grass-blade might die of thirst,
within reach of the River's influence.
Lastly, the River-spirit commanded the waters to
sing,-always to sing. When work was easy they
might sing softly; but when it became difficult, they
were to sing more heartily. For the duty of a River is
to be beautiful as well as useful; and though some
listeners might not understand the River-language, and
might even mistake the singing for grumbling, still the
waters must sing on, unchecked, for that was to be
part of their appointed work.
54 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
And from those days to these, the River has sung
incessantly. Sometimes its tunes grow a little plaintive;
and sometimes, in dull weather, one may hear a song in
the minor key. But the Aldur never works in sulky
silence anywhere through its course, except in this one
whirlpool corner.. And I am not sure that that is real
sulkiness. On the whole, I think the Aldur is only ex-
hausted with its great rush through the Gorge."
"Perhaps it's too hoarse to sing," suggested Rob.
"What was that River-spirit's name, please ?"
I am not sure that he had any name then," said
Rex. "Later on, the River had its name 'Aldur' given
to it. In time people began to call it Father Aldur,'-
just as the Romans called their river Father Tiber.' "
Eric was rather astonished at this allusion, but he
said nothing, and others took it quite naturally. Bertha
quoted in a soft voice,-
"And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the towers of Rome,
0 Tiber Father Tiber-'"
"Just so," Rex said, smiling, as she left her quotation
"But go on,-please go on !" cried Mab. I want
to know what the dear old man-I mean, the River-
spirit-did. Was he very nice? And did people call him
'Father Aldur ?"
Certainly," Rex answered, glancing at Eric, whose
pale cheeks were gaining a slight flush.
And what did he do with himself all day? What
was he like ?"
"Well,-if report speaks truly," Reginald observed
deliberately,-"he is a fine-looking old gentleman, with
a snow-white beard, exactly like foam, and a robe
A Story of the Past. 55
of blue, and a crown of rushes. There is a story
told of his appearance one day-not so very long
ago-to an English boy lying on the bank of the
river. They say he complained a good deal of
human doings; and gave quite a little history of his
own past for the boy's instruction; and- he ended by
melting away in a shower of rain-drops. One doesn't
quite know what to think of such a report,-unless of
course it is on particularly good authority. If the boy
who conversed with the old gentleman were to describe
the interview to me, with his own lips- "
"Are you laughing at us, Mr. Bertram ?" asked
Bertha, in a puzzled voice. Reginald's air was
Mab turned very red; for Eric raised himself to a
sitting posture, and Queen Mab !" escaped his lips
0 Rex !" she said, and burst into tears.
"My dear Mab! what now?" asked Rex. "You
don't mean to weep yourself away too, I hope, in a
shower of tear-drops."
0 Rex,-I didn't mean you to say all that,"
gasped Mab. It was a secret, and I thought I told
you! 0 Eric, I'm so very sorry. I always do tell
Rex everything-always; but I didn't think he would
let it out."
"You promised not to tell anybody, Queen Mab,"
But Rex isn't anybody,' was the truly feminine
excuse, accompanied by despairing sobs.
"Have I made a dreadful blunder ?" asked Rex.
"Will you forgive us both, Eric ? If Mab promised to
tell nobody, she was quite wrong to tell me; but I hope
she will be more careful another time."
56 Father A Idur : a Water Story.
What is it all about, Eric ?" asked his sister.
0 nothing,-not of any consequence, I mean.
Only an absurd dream I had one day. Queen Mab
came up directly after, and I let it out to her. I
don't mind your all hearing it now,-if it's worth
Rex half-told tale of the River-spirit gave place
to Eric's graphic description of stately old Father
Aldur, in diamond-besprinkled azure robe and reedy
coronet. The story was received with such genuine
interest by Eric's circle of listeners, that he really could
not regret having had at last to speak out.
The River will always be Father Aldur to us, after
this," Bertha observed, smiling.
"SUCH A LARK."
VERY early indeed, one morning, not many days later,
Rob might have been seen stealing softly across the
Not stealing" in the sense of doing it shamefacedly.
Rob was free from the smallest intention of wrong-
doing. He only wanted to carry out a little scheme
of his own, without rousing anybody.
For it was scarcely half-past four o'clock; and all
the inmates of Riverside except himself were wrapped
in profound slumber.
Generally Rob, too, was sound asleep at this hour.
But a bright notion had crept into his busy though
somewhat slow brain, and Rob was now acting
Rob's notions were apt to develop gradually. For
several days past he had been cogitating deeply on the
subject of Eric's azure-robed friend; till he was almost
as much bent on seeing that remarkable personage as
Mab herself could be.
Rob's view of the case was alike more prosaic and
more original than Queen Mab's. He didn't believe
the River-spirit to be anything really," as he would
have expressed it. He entirely accepted the dream
theory. But on the other hand he felt perfectly certain
58 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
that if only he could manage to go to sleep beside the
river, as Eric had done, he would undoubtedly enjoy a
repetition of Eric's dream.
It was an odd idea for a boy of nine years old. Rob
always had been an odd child, however,-both too old
and too young for his age.
He had made two or three attempts to bring about
the right condition of affairs; but these attempts proved
failures. Rob never did and never could sleep in the
daytime. It was no manner of use for him to lie down
on the grass, and shut his eyes. Sleep refused to visit
his vigorous little frame.
So at last it occurred to Rob that if only he could
wake up quite early some morning, and dress, and
creep out to the water's edge, there to end an un-
finished night, he would not fail to obtain his object.
Two attempts at early waking failed; but on the
third morning Rob actually did open his eyes in time
to hear the solemn tones of the hall-clock announc-
Delicious!-or as Rob expressed it to himself in a
whisper of delight,-" What a lark !"
Guy and Eric slept together, and Rob had a tiny
room alone, which made his scheme the more easy
of fulfilment. He rose softly, washed, dressed, and
brushed his curly hair. After some little hesitation he
said his short morning prayer; deciding wisely that
though his night was not yet ended, he might not find
time later. Then he went noiselessly downstairs into
the drawing-room, unbolted the conservatory door,
and made his way down a flight of steps into the
By this time Rob was of course as completely awake
Such a Lark." 59
as he had ever been in his life; no suspicion of an
inclination towards any more sleep showing in his
happy wide-open eyes.
A sunnier and sweeter morning is seldom to be seen.
Dew-drops sparkled on every leaf and flower; and birds
sang as if half-frantic with delight. Rob meandered
slowly over the wet lawn, smiling to himself with im-
mense satisfaction, and proceeded thence through the
little wood, down to the grassy spot on the river-bank,
famous for Eric's interview.
"It's wet," Rob remarked aloud, viewing com-
placently the dripping condition of grass and leaves at
his feet. But what boy ever minded dew? Down
went Rob flat on the ground. Wet it was undoubtedly,
very wet indeed; and Rob speedily became aware of
the same through sensation as well as sight. He
shut his eyes fast, however, and endeavoured to fall
No such easy matter! Rob tried and tried in vain.
Even through his eyelids he seemed to see the brilliant
sunshine; and the perpetual soft swish of the water
murmuring past was to Rob anything but slumbrous;
and leaves rustled overhead, and bees hummed in
wakeful tones. A brisk "tweet!" close at hand made
Rob look up, to meet the bright eyes of a slim brown
bird, gazing upon him from a twig. The bird cocked
his small head on one side, and then flew off in a
tremendous hurry, as Rob burst into a fit of laughter.
dear me, I don't feel the least atom sleepy.
But it's awfully nice here," meditated Rob aloud.
The grassy couch on which he lay was damp as well
as nice. Rob was growing conscious of this fact to
an uncomfortable degree. He sat up at length, asked,
"Where does such a lot of it come from ?"-"it" bearing
60 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
reference to the dew,-and then going to the edge of
the bank, he peered over into the flowing stream.
I say! Oh, I say! If that isn't a trout i" exclaimed
Rob. "What a jolly big one! Don't I wish I could
catch you, old fellow? Well,-we're going to begin
fishing, now we've got our boat, and some day you
won't have a chance !"
A splendid thought came to Rob, dawning upon his
brain. Only two days earlier the new boat had arrived,
receiving at Eric's suggestion the name of "White-
Water." Bertha and the boys had been on the water
for hours already, and Rob had handled an oar most
successfully, really helping to move the boat, and not
catching a single crab.
Going to sleep by the river-side, even in hopes of
seeing a blue-robed Father Aldur, was not after all so
very much of a "lark." But to have a row on the
river, all alone, at five o'clock in the morning, would
certainly be a magnificent enterprise.
Rob sprang up straightway, and rushed along the
The boat-house stood near the garden-entrance, and
consequently away from the little wood. The boat
was, however, not in the boat-house. It floated quietly
on the stream, in a sheltered nook, close to land, being
moored to the bank, which here shelved very gradually.
Rob without the least hesitation unmoored the boat,
stepped in, and took possession of an oar. He was a
remarkably strong-limbed capable child, and though
"slow," very "sure." Till now he .had never been
alone in a boat, but several times he had been allowed
to take an oar for half-an-hour, when Mr. Greville had
hired a rowing-boat from the town. Also he had
received some little instruction in the art of steering.
"Such a Lark." 61
It never occurred to Rob to feel afraid, or to doubt
whether his present action was right. Rob was nature
ally fearless, and the Grevilles had been trained into
Perhaps few boys could be safely trusted with quite
so much liberty as these boys had. Bertha, while
housekeeper and referee, had not ceased to be quite
one of themselves; and Mr. Greville, though a most
affectionate father, was not at all given to nervousness.
A series of little adventures and narrow escapes seemed
to him quite the correct thing for a boy; and he never
expected uncomfortable conclusions to the adventures.
So long as lessons were not neglected for play, his
children might amuse themselves pretty much as and
how they liked, without any expectation of blame.
Indeed, Mr. Greville never did find fault except for
actual wrong-doing; and many deeds which would be
wrong in most children, because involving disobedience,
were not wrong in the Greville boys, simply because
their father laid so very few restrictions on them.
Where he gave a command he was strictly obeyed,-
and even where he expressed a wish. Had he found his
boys to be failing in obedience, in truthfulness, in right
feeling, he would have been terribly grieved. But he
had always reposed in them a large amount of confi-
dence; and that confidence had never been wilfully
Rob, stepping calmly into the boat, was untroubled
by any fears of Mr. Greville's displeasure. It seemed
to him the most natural thing in the world to do, under
the circumstances. He only thought and whispered
that it was "such a lark!"-his square beaming face
and happy eyes bearing witness to the sincerity of the
62 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
Close to the bank where "White-Water" lay, the
current seemed to be almost at a stand-still. Some
slight Imotion existed, of course; and this, combined
with vigorous pushes from Rob's oar, brought the boat
gradually within reach of the current. Another minute,
and Rob was floating placidly down the Aldur.
Rowing was at present really needless, since Rob
was in no hurry to proceed faster than the river could
carry him; but he kept an oar trailing, and gave an
occasional guiding stroke. Questions as to his return
journey had not yet begun to trouble him.
Things so far being found satisfactory, Rob presently
tried the effect of variety. He pulled in the oar, and
leant over the boat's edge, to enjoy a prolonged gaze
at the crew of little fishes which seemed to be following
devotedly in his wake.
"You jolly little things !" murmured Rob. And
then-" I say !"-as he noted the big rolling eyes of a
jack, lying lazily on the bed of the river just below.
This fascinating sight was followed shortly by a
smart bump, which rolled Rob over,-not into the
river, but into the bottom of his vessel.
"I say!" repeated Rob, recovering his normal
The bump had been against a steep clay bank, on
the right-hand side of the river, against which un-
guided "White-Water" had made her way, midst a
growth of rushes. The bank, standing some four feet
above the stream, was well dotted with rat-holes, and
bore a luxuriant growth of wild plants. Rob eyed these
holes with intense interest, and looked longingly also at
a fringe of inaccessible forget-me-nots adorning the top.
Then taking an oar, he pushed off laboriously, begin-
ning to feel himself quite an experienced voyager.
Such a Lark." 63
The river widened and grew more sluggish some
little distance below the Riverside grounds; Radford
village occupying a flat and marshy position quite a
mile lower down. About half-way between Riverside
and Radford was the Miss Bertrams' house, Willow
Lea,-not close to the river, but separated from it by
two or three meadows, in which willow-trees flourished.
Just at this time they were fine dry meadows; but the
pollard willows' told a true tale, nevertheless, for in a
wet season matters were mightily different.
Rob began to think what fun it would be to land
near Willow Lea, and pay Queen Mab an early morning
call. Two more river-bends, and the red chimneys of
Mab's home would become visible.
Close ahead, however, in the very middle of the
stream, lay a pretty little low island or eyot. The
greater part of it was covered by a growth of osier
willows, but on one side was a patch of long grass,
shadowed by two or three small elm-trees.
Rob, entirely absorbed in the thought of his projected
visit and of a possible breakfast to follow, forgot the
existence of "Willow Isle." He had his back turned
to it, having taken to an oar by way of variety, and
perhaps of helping the advance of White-Water."
Bump !-again,-not at all a severe .bump; and
again Rob was at a stand-still.
His first impulse was to push off immediately, but
the boat declined to stir. Stranded this time, and no
mistake. Rob struggled for a minute in vain. Then
he dropped his oar, and took a good look round.
It really was a very pretty spot. But for his inward
cravings after breakfast, Rob would have been de-
lighted to spend half an hour on the islet. As it was,
he resolved to defer that pleasure.
64 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
But if the boat were really stuck fast, and could not
be persuaded to move, what then?
Rob was about to renew the struggle, when some-
thing white under the trees attracted his attention.
The mystery proved irresistible. He scrambled out,
and ran across the island. Several martins rose and
flew away, uttering sharp cries as they went. Rob
stood still to watch them, and then pressed forward to
the white attraction.
Only a crumpled up piece of paper-the remnant of
some untidy excursion party. Small picnics were
occasionally held on this island, and plainly such a
one had taken place recently.
Rob unfolded the paper, of course, and absolutely
found three good-sized lunch biscuits within; a very
welcome find indeed.
He disposed of one on the spot, with great satisfac-
tion, and then sauntered back, getting rid of a second.
Rob came suddenly to a dismayed pause! For
behold the boat was gone. Lightened of its weight,
it had swung off with the current, and was now floating
down the river, just about to disappear round the next
Plucky little fellow though Rob was, he certainly did
feel startled. Not a word escaped him, however. He
only stood quite still, clutching his biscuits, and gazing
hard after the vanishing boat.
What would become of the boat ?-the dear new
possession ? And what was Rob himself to do ?
Well, this was not a land of thieves, and unless Father
Aldur himself carried off "White-Water as a present
to the Ocean, it would probably turn up again somehow.
But the question as to Rob himself pressed severely.
He tried shouting, without avail. Rob hardly ex-
IRob's --s/a ---.
ki, 1., 7
Such a Lark." 65
pected any result. This was in general a very unfre-
quented part of the river, the nearest road being at a
Swimming was, alas out of the question; for Rob
could not swim. He never seemed able to learn. Guy
had striven to teach him in vain. A theory at River-
side ascribed this incapacity to the size of Rob's square
head rendering him top-heavy." But whether or no
that were the true explanation, the fact remained that
Rob was unable to swim.
Wading would probably be no less out of the ques-
tion. Somewhat lower down a man, perhaps even a
boy, might have got across safely enough, this dry
season. Just here, however, the very presence of the
island rendered the stream on either side deeper and
more rapid. Rob was short, and he had sense enough
to know that it would be a very doubtful undertaking.
On the whole, there seemed nothing to do but to wait.
He and the boat would soon be missed, and a search
was pretty sure to be set going. He would shout from
time to time, and keep a good look-out.
The latter was a wise resolution. Sometimes wise
resolutions fail to be carried out.
Rob ate the remainder of his biscuits, and found
amusement for a while in rummaging about among the
osiers. Then he took up his station under one of the
small trees, blinked rather sleepily up the river, gaped,
and wished Guy would come.
Early rising, after-exertion, and lack of breakfast,
were doing their work. Another ten minutes saw Rob
coiled up comfortably in the midst of long dry grass,
slumbering as profoundly as he could have wished.
But no vision of a white-bearded Father Aldur came
to disturb his rest,
BREAKFAST at Willow Lea was rather late, to accom-
modate the invalid aunt, Miss Bertram. The other
aunt, Miss Jane Bertram, who objected wisely to habits
of tardy rising for her niece, insisted always that Queen
Mab should be dressed quite half an hour before break-
In dull and cold weather Mab counted this rule
something of a grievance, but when the mornings were
light and sunny,-above all, when her beloved Rex was
at home,-she would readily be up at any hour.
On the day of Rob's boating-feat, Mab came down
before her usual time,-before even aunt Jane's first
visit to the chickens. This was quite an unusual event.
When aunt Jane passed by, in her primitive straw hat
and loose brown-holland gardening suit, carrying a
bowl of mixed-up mess for the downy pets, she nodded
her head approvingly at the sight of Mab pacing the
"Good girl!" she said. "That's the way to be
healthy, wealthy, and wise! Always up with the larks!
I've no notion of lie-a-bed people Except it's in case
of illness, and that makes all the difference, of
course. But no good ever comes of laziness, depend
upon it I shouldn't wonder, now, if you'd like to be
useful for once, and carry my bowl for me."
"0 please, please, aunt Jane," cried Mab, in dis-
tress. O please If I go down the garden, I shall
miss Rex! He's coming directly, I am quite sure,
because I saw his head over the muslin blind. And I
do want to have a walk with him before breakfast."
He wouldn't go anywhere without finding you first)
child," said Miss Bertram. "But there,-do as you
like, my dear. The chickens won't care, so long as
they get their feed. Mind you're back in good time for
Prayers, that's all."
Aunt Jane trotted off, with her funny little short
steps, and wide figure, and round good-humoured face;
while Mab took another turn on the gravel.
It was a splendid morning,-as Rob had found out
a good deal earlier. Already the sun blazed down quite
hotly, giving promise of a sultry day; and the breeze,
which had been pleasantly fresh between four and five
o'clock, had now only just strength to rustle the leaves
of a white poplar which stood at the corner of the
house. It did not take much at any time to set th6se
Other folk beside Rob had passed some busy hours
before Queen Mab's appearance on the scene. Close
to the path an active bee was creeping in and out of
some purple blossoms, his little pollen-bags already
laden with golden dust from the flower-stamens. A
tiny ant, from a neighboring ant-hill, was dragging
across the lawn a burden bigger than himself; too big,
in fact, for presently he had to call another ant to his
assistance. And a spider had spun upon the nearest
laurel-bush a delicate large web, having circles and
spokes of finest silk, dotted with sticky drops to catch
68 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
unwary flies. The spider was resting now in a corner,
after his busy morning, waiting till breakfast should
come to him.
Mab stood on tip-toe to gain a'clearer view of the
clever speckled little monster. She didn't quite know
whether to admire him most for his cleverness, or to
dislike him most for his bloodthirstiness. On the
whole, breakfast was a necessity to everybody,-to
Queen Mab herself, for instance; and she would have
no objection whatever to some broiled fish. But the
spider's food was not likely to be broiled that morning,
-even in the heat of the sun,-since the laurel-tree
stood very much in the shade.
A touch on Mab's shoulder brought her face suddenly
Rex, how you did startle me Why, Rex, what
made you come that way ?"
"I didn't happen to come the other way," Rex
answered, stooping for a kiss. "Good morrow, sister
fair. Slept well ? Do you know that you are standing
on very wet grass ?"
"Am I? It seemed quite dry on the lawn," said
Mab, retreating a step.
It is very far from quite dry here," said Rex.
Look at your boots."
Oh, well,-but it hasn't been raining. That's
only dew: and I thought dew never hurt anybody,"
said Mab. "Rex, do come!--I want a nice walk
before breakfast, and I want to ask you something."
"All right," responded Rex. "Lead on, and I will
Rather a rash promise, this. Rex speedily found
himself at the top of some stone steps beside a little
gate leading from the kitchen garden into the nearest
meadow. It was a large flat meadow, dotted with
pollard willows, and in an ordinary season crossed'by
many small streamlets. These had lately vanished
through the generaldrought: but beyond the steps lay a
goodly growth of long dank grass, sheltered by the high
garden-hedge from the sun, and literally steeped in wet.
"No, no, Mab,-that won't do. Come the other
way by the path,-if you want to cross the meadows."
"But that isn't half so nice," protested wilful Mab.
" I want to get down quick to the river, and have a talk
there-by Father Aldur,-and there won't be any time
at all if we go by the path. This is ever so much the
My dear child, look at the state of the grass,"
It's only dew," said Mab.
Rex shook his head, unconvinced. But he never
could bear to see Mabel disappointed: and when her
sweet face gained a mournful look, he suddenly caught
her up in his strong arms, and strode right through the
long wet herbage, till the warm open space beyond was
"There, it's quite dry here,-almost quite!" cried
Mab triumphantly, as he set her down. "It hasn't
been raining. It's only the dew. And there hasn't
been any dew here."
"Plenty of dew here too, if you had come early
enough to see it," said Rex. The sun has been at
work for a good while, pumping up water."
Mab gazed hard at him, and Rex inquired:
What did you want to ask me ?"
I'll ask that presently,-when we're down by the
river," said Mab. Rex, what do you mean by the sun
pumping up water ?"
70 Father Aldur': a Water Story.
"Why,-I. mean what I say," replied Rex.
But the sun doesn't pump.' It can't."
"Can't it ?"
"It hasn't got a pump," Mab said, half-amused, half-
"Yes, it has,-a huge atmospheric pump, all round
Mab shook her head.
A sort of enormous soft invisible sponge," said Rex
slowly. "And that sponge has to be kept moist,-
always moist,-people couldn't live, otherwise. Animals
and plants would die, if once it were allowed to become
quite dry. But it never does. It is always drinking,
drinking, drinking up water. Sometimes it gets too
full, and then a few drops of dew or some big showers
of rain have to be squeezed out."
"Are you telling a fairy-tale ?" asked Mab. There
isn't any sponge.really, Rex."
"Yes, there is. We call it 'The air.' "
Oh," Mab answered, with an enlightened manner;
" But the air isn't like a sponge, truly. I know it isn't.
And the air is sometimes quite dry. Aunt Jane said
one day lately how dry the air was."
It has been very dry lately,-very thirsty indeed,"
said Rex. ."That is why it has been drinking up all
the ponds and rivulets at such a rate,-and sucking
away such a quantity of water from the river. And
that is why the dew has disappeared so fast to-day,
everywhere except in the shade. Very often you would
see it all over the meadow much later than this. The
air is so thirsty, that it has been drinking up all the
drops of dew as quickly as possible. But the air is
never perfectly dry, Mab."
I never heard of air being thirsty before,".said Mab,
laughing. "But Rex, you said just now it was the sun
that pumped up the water."
"Yes,-the sun uses the air as his great pump to
pump up moisture,-or, if you like, as his great sponge,
to soak it up. The air can only hold a certain amount
of invisible water,-but Warm air can hold a larger
amount than cold air. So when the sun's rays heat the
air, then the air becomes more thirsty, and drinks up
Sucks it up-where from ?" asked Mab meditatively.
"From anywhere and everywhere. From the
surface of the whole ocean, to begin with, From lakes
:and ponds, and rivers and streams, all over the world.
From every kind of damp surface which the air can
Rex stopped short. They had reached a little water-
course, where usually a rivulet crossed the meadow,-
now nearly, but not quite dry. A small puddle re-
mained in a shady corner: and Rex, drawing a clean
silk handkerchief from his pocket, dipped it into this
Rex !" exclaimed Mab.
"There!" Rex said: and he hung the soaked
handkerchief on a willow bough, just where the sun
could shine full upon it.
"What did you do that for ?" asked Mab.
"What will happen to the handkerchief, if we leave
it here till we come back ?"
"Why-somebody might steal it," said Mab. "Only
I don't think anybody goes by here."
"No, I think not. But shall we find it quite so
0 no. It will get dry very fast in the sun," said
Father Aldur: a Water Story.
"Ah !" Rex answered. But how will it 'get dry ?'
Where will all this water go.?"
"I suppose," Mab said thoughtfully, I suppose the
air will drink it up, out of the handkerchief. How
"Just that," said Rex. And on a day like this, it
will not take long, because the air is thirsty. But in
damp cold weather the handkerchief would dry very
slowly, because the air would then contain almost as
much moisture as it could hold."
"I do wonder if the dear old man was thinking
about that, when he said it was such a very very
.watery world," remarked Mab. "I should think he
:must have been. I didn't know before that the air had
such lots and lots of drops of water in it. I thought
there was only water in the sky, and in the sea and the
Not drops of water, Mab. Drops of water can be
seen. I am talking now of water in a state when it
cannot be seen. We call it vapour then-vapour of
MAB led her brother to a pretty little nook among the
willows, quite near the water's edge.
The Aldur flowed here very softly, scarcely singing,
but only keeping up a whispered murmur, as if telling his
secrets to the summer sunshine. But he uttered no
word to his early visitors of a certain reedy eyot, only
two bends higher up, where a little boy lay quietly,
"Do you come alone to play here, Mab ?" asked
"Yes-very often," she said. "At least, I used to
come very often, before I began to go to Riverside
every day. I used to come here and cry for Phil and
Fred, because I felt so dreadfully lonely."
Ah it is a watery world," said Rex. "And you
call that play '?"
"No," Mab answered, shaking her long fair hair.
"But I did play sometimes. I like this place-and
last summer it was so wet, I could hardly ever get
Don't tumble into the river some day, trying to
catch the fishes," said Rex. "What do you want to
ask me, Mab ? We must only stay a few minutes, for
you have to change those wet boots before breakfast."
74 Father Aldtur: a Water Story.
Mab flushed, hung her head, and was silent.
Anything troubling you, Mab ?" he asked.
"No," said Mab. "At least, I don't think so. I
only want to be quite sure,-and I'm not quite sure.
It's about Eric's old man-Father Aldur."
Rex patted her little hand encouragingly, and she
crept closer to his side.
I do so love that dear old man," she said, in a low
voice, with almost a sob. : "And I like to believe
he is real-quite real. He really is real, isn't he, Rex?
-if we lille to make him so. And Eric and I do. He
is truly Father Aldur to us. And sometimes I do truly
thihk he is alive, and I. almost feel as if I could see
him. Is it wrong, Rex?"
Rex was rather surprised, He had not expected
this.. He had not quite realized what an imaginative
sensitive little nature needed to be dealt with in Mabel.
It almost puzzled him to see the earnest anxious look
in her dark eyes, as she waited for his answer.
"What makes you afraid that it is wrong, Mab ?" he
"I don't know,-only-only-of course it isn't really
true," said Mab. "And I like to fancy that. it is; and
I don't know whether I ought."
Rex spoke. slowly, after a moment's thought. I do
not think you are in any danger of actually, with
your heart, believing in fairies and river-spirits, Mab.
You are quite too wise and sensible a girl for that. I
cannot see the slightest, harm in your having these
pleasant fancies, if you keep them in the right place.
Father Aldur is only a sort of River-person to you,-
and the river is a real companion. You have learnt
some things worth knowing, since you began to think
so much about him; and you may learn a great many
Rob Gone! 75
more, And having any number of pretty ideas need
not make you ever forget that it is God's River, doing
Then Rex told her of one day, when he had been in
Wales, standing on a hill which overlooked a river.
From where he stood he could see the windings of the
river, backwards and forwards like a snake, bend follow-
ing bend. And an old man, who kept a farm there, had
come up and begun to talk about the river, in a quaint
grave style. Just look at those windings, sir," he
had said,-" out there, and in yonder, and right on,
and then back again! Yes-wonderful are the ways
of Providence, sir That's what I say, when I look on
them windings of the river from this hill, Wonderful
are the ways of Providence."
But I always think," Rex added softly, stroking
his little sister's hair,-" I always think that word
'Providence' sounds too cold and distant. When I
look on a beautiful river, or anything else that is beau-
tiful, it makes me remember what a loving Father I
have in Heaven,-and 'Father' means a great deal
more than 'Providence,' Mab."
"I can't remember my father the very least,".said
Mab. I wonder if that is why I like so much to
call the river Father Aldur!' I'm so glad you don't
think it wrong of me, because it has been so very nice.
But I mean to think of that too,-when the river shines
and looks lovely,-I shall always remember what you
told me just now; and I shall say in a whisper, 'Our
Father which art in Heaven.'"
And then Mab grew very shy, and hid her face on
Rex' shoulder, till it was time to go home.
Breakfast at Willow Lea was st at an end when
Breakfast at Willow Lea was just at an end, when,
76 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
to everybody's surprise, a hasty rap sounded at the
door, and Guy burst in, without waiting for an answer.
It was not at all Guy's way to burst into rooms and
startle old ladies. But he did not look like himself
this morning. He seemed quite hot and flurried; and
instead of saying Good-morning," or uttering a word
of apology for his early appearance, he only exclaimed
Then Rob's not here !"
Aunt Jane drew up her little plump figure behind the
teapot, with an air of great dignity; and aunt Susan
said in a tone of mild rebuke, meant to remind Guy of
How do you do, Mr. Guy Greville? I hope you are
all quite well at home. Pray take a seat."
Mab was staring at Guy with two widely-operied
eyes, and Rex asked:
Anything wrong ?"
Guy could just get out these two words, and no
more. Big strong schoolboy that he was, he had
never been nearer a break-down. His face, already
flushed, grew scarlet all over, and a little sound as if
he were choking followed the utterance.
Rob gone !" repeated Miss Bertram. Dear me,
how strange !"
Rob gone !" echoed Miss Jane. "That nice little
Robert ? You don't mean to say he has run away ? I
shouldn't have thought it of him,-really I shouldn't.
But it's just like the ways of the present day,-just
like! I don't really know what we are coming to
Has Rob gone for a ramble, and hidden himself?"
asked Rex, not understanding Guy's look.;
Rob Gone 77
No," Guy said.hoarsely.. "The river-the boat."
Guy turned short off to the nearest window, and
stood with his back to them all. It was very un-
mannerly, of course; but even Miss Jane forgave him
at that moment.
There was an instant's silence; and then Queen Mab
slid her chair back softly, and walked up to Guy.
"'Has- Rob been out in the boat this morning?" she
asked. Did he tell you he meant to go ? Where is
No answer came; and Miss Jane lifted her eyebrows
dolorously, nodding at her sister.
I always did say no good would come of that boat,"
Then Mab's voice was heard again: "Guy, don't
cry,-please don't! Has Rob lost himself?"
I'm not crying-of course !" Guy said in extremely
husky tones, turning round to face them all. "Non-
sense, Mab. It's only-I dare say he's all right--
somewhere. Only he's so little, and he doesn't know
what it is tobe. afraid. And he was gone this morning,
and the boat too. I suppose he thought he would have
a row early. Jem Stokes saw him, about five o'clock,
just beyond our garden, floating down the stream,-
seeming to. know how to manage, he says. If only he
had had the wits to go after Rob! We didn't find out
that he was gone till just before breakfast. I came
straight off to see about him. Father wasn't anxious,
but he thought it best. I went to the village first, and
met Jem Stokes on my way."
Have you found out anything yet ?" asked Rex.
Guy nodded, crimsoning again. The boat is there,"
78 Father Aldur : a Water Story,
SDown at Radford." It floated into some shallows,
and was stopped, But-"
It was empty," Guy said very low.
Another short deep silence,-very short. Rex was
thinking; and Mab looked from one to another, with
Is Rob drowned ?" she said, and a sob came into
the words; while aunt Jane looked at aunt Susan
"0 no,-we need not think that," Rex said quickly
in a cheerful tone. Very likely he lost his balance,
and fell over. But in many parts of the river, now it
is so low, he might wade to the shore. And besides,
he is able to'swim, is he not ? You all swim, Guy?"
"Not Rob. He never seems able to learn," said
Come,-I think we had better go at once in search
of him," said Rex, standing up. He may be any-
where along the banks, in a dripping state,-if, indeed,
he has not found his way home by this time."
IF Rob had kept watch, according to his intentions, he
would very soon have been discovered.
But Rob asleep was a different matter. It took a
good deal to rouse Rob at any time. And now he was
really tired; so he slept with unusual soundness.
Rex and Guy passed along the very bank, close to
where the islet lay; and there as elsewhere they called
and shouted vigorously. But it was of no use. Rob,
wrapped in slumber, did not hear; and Rob's little
frame lay so flat among the tall grass and reeds and
rushes, as to be quite invisible to anyone standing on
So the two passed on, very desponding and sad at
heart, to pursue a vain search, and at last to carry home
the heavy tidings that Rob-dear little Rob-was
nowhere to be seen. And some very bitter and sorrow-
ful hours were passed that day by the inmates of
Riverside, which might have been spared them.
Rob meanwhile obtained to the full the opportunity
he had desired for a possible interview with Father
Aldur: only Father Aldur failed to appear.
I must not run the risk of forgetting, or letting my
readers forget, that all this time the River Aldur is my
real hero,-not Rob, or Guy, or Eric, or the good
80 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
Bertha, or even sweet Queen Mab. As Father Aldur's
intimate friends, they all have their places in my tale.
But our real hero is the River.
And the River had other friends, beside these merry
boys and girls,-many friends, and many dependents
too, whose very existence hung on the flow of his pure
He had his fishes for example,-any number of them.
Speckled trout haunted the shady banks; and hungry
perch went watchfully back and forth in favourite
sheltered nooks; and shoals of pretty roach passed
up and down in company; while smaller fish innumer-
able might -be seen here, there, and everywhere.
Anglers were not yet common in this quiet neighbour-
He had too his bird-acquaintances; pretty singing
creatures, living on his brink, and ever and anon coming
to drink of his waters. Singing birds suited well the
singing River; better perhaps in some senses than the
dumb silent fishes, if indeed fishes really are so dumb
and silent as we suppose. They cannot use tones that
we are able to hear; but that proves -little. Fishes
have some means of making known ideas to one
another, even as birds and beasts have; only we do
not know what the means may be.
And then he had his friends and dependents of
slimier, and smaller sorts; his lissom eels, wriggling
among the floating weeds; his millions of water-snails,
living on the river-bed, or crawling comically upside
down just below the water-surface, like flies on a
ceiling; his thousands of restless little water-beetles;
his myriads upon myriads of gnats and midges and
other insects flocking through the air above the water-
surface. One might fill a volume with describing the
'I 1 I ?
Fatrer AIdier and ris Friends.
Eathe Aldir audhis Fiends
Rob's Escape. 81
insects alone which passed their busy fussy little lives
in Father Aldur's neighbourhood.
If one turned from his animal-friends to his vegetable-
friends, the number did indeed become legion. For
every kind of growing thing, from tall trees on his
banks down to small patches of yellow lichen on his
stones, rejoiced in the flowing stream.
What would the elms and ashes and birches near
at hand have done this dry summer, if their roots had
not gone digging down deep underground, to where
Father Aldur's waters might filter through the soil and
supply their needs ? And when the green leaves over-
head swung softly, looking fresh and fair in the sunlight,
few people cared to remember that the moisture in
those pretty leaves was really a little of Father Aldur's
water, which drop by drop had crept up the roots,
and up the trunk, and along the boughs, and through
the twigs, and into the delicate branching vessels
of the leaf, there to help in the making of the green
The best of the matter was Father Aldur's readiness
to assist and feed all round. He showed no favouritism.
Any day or hour he was quite as ready to give drink to
a thirsty lichen as to a drooping elm. The potentillas
and wild strawberry plants, the meadow-sweet and
loose-strife, the red geranium and blue forget-me-not,
the very reeds, rushes, grass-blades and water-loving
mosses, all found as hearty a benefactor in Father
Aldur as even his favourite willow-trees. And every-
body knows what a close friendship has existed from
time immemorial between rivers and willow-trees.
How Father Aldur's birds did sing round Rob, as
he lay asleep on the island; and the sunbeams shone
upon him; and the leaves hung drooping over his
82 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
head; and insects buzzed about ; and the river on
either side kept up its perpetual murmur. Rob heard
nothing of it all. Once a blue-backed king-fisher
flashed past quite near, looking like a radiant azure
streak. Rob would have been delighted with the sight,
but, alas, he missed that also.
A change was coming over the day, so brilliant in its
beginning. Very early the breeze had quite died away,
and a heavy oppressive heat seemed to weight the air
like lead: while a kind of murky thickness crept over
the blue sky,-not exactly cloud or mist, but an inde-
scribable yellow-grey pall, almost resembling a London
fog overhead. Some said that it looked like rain,
others, that it felt like thunder. Whatever the birds
said or thought among themselves, they felt depressed,
it was evident, since singing almost ceased. And even
Father Aldur's tone became sad, while his face grew
dull and grey.
Eric, always sensitive to threatening thunder, woke
up that morning so languid and unwell that Bertha
made him stay in bed to breakfast. She was very
glad afterwards that it was so, since they were able to
keep from him for a time the dreadful anxiety they
As the morning crept by, and nothing more was
discovered or heard of Rob, it was decided that the
river must be dragged,-in the hope of at least finding
Rob's poor little body.
And while this decision was being reached, Rob
woke up, after a long and profound sleep, feeling very
He tried shouting again, but to no purpose. He
walked to and fro, and waited, but nobody came. He
cogitated much as to the depth of the flowing water on
Rob's Escape. 83
either side of his temporary island-home. Would it
be possible for him to wade? Rob could not feel
at all sure. He dropped in a stone, and watched it
sink with a seemingly wiggle-waggle motion to the
bottom. A second stone followed, leaving Rob none
Then he came to a decision, pulled off shoes and
stockings, and tried two or three steps cautiously on
the Radford side. Visions of a possible breakfast at
Willow Lea attracted him thither.
But it would not do. The depth increased too
rapidly, and the current was too strong. Rob had to
beat an ignominious retreat.
The stream on the other side was undoubtedly
shallower and less powerful. Rob looked about him
in vain for help in the way of a walking-stick. No
such necessities were supplied by the isle.
Cautiously and slowly Rob ventured in, bearing him-
self solidly against the stream, and happily untroubled
by fear of giddiness. Step by step he advanced, using
his arms with steadying fin-like motion.
Really, it was great fun. He almost wished the
river were twice as broad; if only he could be sure that
it would not grow any deeper. That if" was an im-
portant one, however.
For the stream rose slowly. From his waist to his
arm-pits came the level of grey water; then up to his
shoulders. A little more would be serious: but perhaps
"a little more" would not follow. Rob thought of
turning back, yet pluckily struggled on. The quietness
of the current enabled him to keep his balance.
Over the worst at last: for his shoulders were rising
out of the water. Rob gave one little chuckle of satis-
faction,-and stepped perhaps less cautiously. The
84 Father Aldur: a Water Story.
next instant his foot slipped on a stone; and the stream
swept him up in a moment.
Happily no harm came. Before Rob could quite
realise what had happened, he was borne straight
under the nearest bank, and found himself clinging
desperately to a strong projecting root.
It was no easy matter to climb out, but Rob slowly
pulled himself up, working hand over hand from one
tough root to another of the friendly old tree which
grew there, and gradually bringing his feet into play
also. Finally he landed safely on his. knees, where a
little grassy slant came to the verge of the bank.
Free at last, and glad to be free,-though very wet,
very hungry, and very uncomfortable.
Moreover Rob had left his shoes and stockings
behind on the islet. He found this out with a sense of
some dismay. Walking on bare feet might delay his
arrival at either Willow Lea or Riverside, and Rob
wanted his breakfast.
Had he landed on the opposite bank, he would un-
doubtedly have made his way first to Willow Lea.
But the necessity now of going round by the bridge at
Radford caused Willow Lea to be practically no nearer
than Riverside. Also it occurred to Rob as just
possible that his home-folks might be a little puzzled by
his long absence. He had not thought of that before.
So he set off thither at once, making for the bridge
which lay just beyond the gate of Riverside garden.
Quick progression was no easy matter under the cir-
cumstances. Rob's unaccustomed feet suffered from
every stick and stone which they encountered; and his
soaked clothes hung heavily. Little streams of water
ran from him, dripping into the dry earth, where no
doubt they were gratefully received.
Rob's Escape. 85
Rob followed mainly a small path, which led among
trees; not far from the river, but often not within sight
The great heat had been steadily increasing, till the
air felt like the air of a bakehouse; and the sun was
almost hidden by yellow murkiness. Heavy dark clouds
were rolling up in Rob's rear; but as yet not a leaf
Nobody happened to be passing that way.. Rob
walked on alone, not getting over the ground very fast.
Partly his bare feet and wet clothes were the cause;
partly also the strange stifling weight in the atmo-
sphere delayed his, advance. Perhaps that weight had
helped to keep Rob so long asleep. He felt now as if
his eyelids were pulled downward against his will: and
hunger was gone: and he could hardly drag one foot
before the other.
Suddenly the storm, which had for hours been brew-
ing, burst upon the scene.
Rob was rather more than half-way home, when all
at once a dazzling flash leaped out from one great
murky cloud to pass into a second; and a fierce out-
break of thunder followed instantly.
Rob came to a stand-still. He knew he had no busi-
ness among.trees in a thunder-storm.
Once upon a time Rob had witnessed some electrical
experiments in a room. He had seen a bright spark of
electricity made to pass from one metal point to
another very near; and he had heard the sharp loud
crackling which filled the room,-the noise made by the
passage of the electric spark from point to point.
But he had found it difficult to believe that a
lightning-flash in a storm is just such a spark of
electricity,-only of course enormously larger and more
86 Father Aldur : a Water Story.
powerful,-leaping from cloud to cloud, or from a
cloud to the earth. Still more difficult had it been
to believe that a thunder-crash was only the same
sound on a very great scale as the crackling of the little
electric spark in a room.
Strange to say, however, this particular peal did
remind Rob of that crackling sound. For instead of
the long rolling thunder-echoes, commonly heard in a
storm, the clap was tremendously loud and sharp, with
a kind of metallic ring in it. That only meant that the
storm was very near indeed.
Rob looked round for shelter, and happily remem-
bered seeing an empty old cow-shed, a little way back.
He set off thither immediately, as fast as his two bare
feet could carry him, and not at all too soon.
For there followed immediately a second flash, this
time a bright blue zig-zag: and a third rushed upward
from near the horizon like a streak of liquid silver
towards the zenith. And the crashes of sound accom-
panying were enough to bewilder a lonely child,-even
so spirited a child as Rob.
Lookers-on might have said that the angry dark
clouds were having a battle, firing great guns of light-
ning one at another, in a very grand and terrific
But there was no battle at all, really. It was only
a giving up from one to another, to make things
When one cloud which had too much electricity met
another which had too little, then the lightning stream
had to pass from one to the other,-just as the water
in the Aldur had to flow downward, in the effort to
make a level surface. Water is always trying to keep
a level surface; and electricity is always trying to
A SummzIer Slormz
Rob's Escape. 87
spread itself about equally. And the electric flash could
no more help making a noise in its leap, than a cart-
wheel can help making a noise as it rolls over the hard
Next, with a violent rush, the wind came, bending
the slender tree-trunks, and almost carrying Rob off
A few large drops of rain splashed slowly, like big
tears from the sky. Then hailstones fell in multitudes,
swishing down, dancing on the caked earth, and half-
blinding Rob,-small round pellets just at first; but
larger ice-stones came showering after, hard and fast,
great jagged lumps, such as the boy had never seen in
his life before.
One minute later, and Rob could not have advanced
another step in this direction; for the gale rose to a
blast which almost rivalled the thunder-peals in its
roar; and the hailstones were a perfect cannonade.
But he had gained his little refuge just in time, and
cowered away in a corner,-for once actually shivering
with fear and awe.