get pretty nigh disheartened."
"You've had a sorrowful life," the farmer said. "Some dead, others false and mean, but you've much to be proud of. The bairnies are strong an' winsome, an' I'm sure the little one's just a real credit to you."
"Ah! the poor little lad. I think his father would be astonished to see him. Yes, I'm bound to say he's done well, all things considered."
"But, if I may say it, I think you're a bit mistaken to treat him any differently from the others. Surely he's strong an' hearty enough now."
"Mother talks like that," Mrs. MacDougall replied; "but I must be just. There's many a time when I'd be glad to give the others a little more and Robbie a little less, but I regard it as a temptation to be resisted. He has a double claim upon me, an' if I were to push him to the wall, or let him be sacrificed in any way, the dead would rise up an' reproach me."
"But his father never intended you to make a difference between the children," the farmer continued. "I'm thinking if it mightn't make a jealousy among 'em, which wouldn't be a good thing for any of them."
"Children don't remark much," Mrs. MacDougall replied. "They know how weakly he is, an' they wouldn't be jealous. It's circumstances has made the difference. If their father had lived there'd have been plenty for all, doubtless, but now the strong ones must go without, since they can't all have everything; an' they know it must be so."
"Well, well, you do your best; but I will say I agree with the old dame," Farmer Jarrett replied; and then they changed the subject.
In the meantime Elsie, having seen her mother depart, and had her grumble against Robbie, turned back into the cottage. Mrs. MacDougall was very greatly mistaken in supposing that Elsie was not jealous. Duncan's matter-of-fact mind took things as he found them, and did not trouble to inquire why they were so or whether they should be different, but Elsie was quite the opposite. She was always troubling herself about things that did not concern her, and not being of an open, ingenuous disposition, which turns naturally to some other person for a solution of its difficulties, she formed her own conclusions, which, more often than not, were very erroneous ones.
It was not yet seven, so that there were more than two hours wanting to school-time. Elsie was very busy about the house for a little time; she changed her week-day clothes for her Sunday ones, and made Duncan do the same; she opened their money-boxes, and carefully counted the coppers they contained: they amounted altogether to elevenpence, halfpennies and farthings included. These she tied up in a handkerchief, and put in her pocket. Then she went to the pantry, and took from it a loaf of bread and some Dutch cheese, which she put into a basket.
This done, she called sharply to Duncan to make haste, for she was "going to have a run on the moor before school." Robbie asked timidly if he might come too, but Elsie would not hear of it.
"You can tell granny when she comes downstairs that we're not coming home to dinner. I've taken our dinner in a basket," she said to Robbie.
The little fellow stood at the door, and watched them wistfully as they ran off. It was dull to turn back into the empty kitchen, and wait there till the old dame came downstairs. If Robbie could have put his feelings into words, he would have said that he would have been happier roughing it with Duncan and Elsie than with the constant care and consideration that separated him from them. Perhaps, after all, Farmer Jarrett was right.
Elsie was in an extraordinary state of excitement this morning. She danced along, laughing and talking merrily. Duncan wondered to see her in such spirits, for it was seldom that she had nothing to grumble at.
By-and-by they reached a point where there were two roads: the one leading to the village, the other a short cut to the school, running along the back of the village. Elsie took the long one.
"Where are you going?" Duncan asked, in astonishment.
Elsie looked at him gleefully, and burst out laughing. "I don't mind telling you now," she replied; "you can't let it out. We're going to England, and we've got the whole day before us, for granny won't expect us home till after afternoon school, and mother won't be home till sunset. Oh! wasn't it just a capital idea of mine?"
"To England?" echoed Duncan, somewhat ruefully, for the idea was, after all, sudden enough to take him aback. "Then let's be quick, Elsie. Shall we get there to-night?"
"That depends," Elsie returned, with the air of a person who knows all about it. "If we get a lift on the road, we shall get along quickly."
It had occurred to her that they might not reach London that evening, but she was not daunted by the thought, for she had a plan in her mind in case of such an event, only she considered it wiser to keep Duncan in ignorance of any possible difficulty.
CHAPTER VI.—ON THE WAY.
As far as the village the way was straight enough. Elsie and Duncan skipped along merrily. Presently the sun began to struggle through the clouds and disperse the haze. The day promised to be fine and warm, which was certainly a great advantage.
The few straggling houses that formed the village of Dunster were soon passed, and then arose the first difficulty. The road for some little distance was direct enough, but at last it came to a sudden termination, or rather, opened out into a wider space, where there was a dirty pond, a patch of grass, and two roads: the one to the left, the other to the right. Right before them, filling up the way they ought to take in order to carry out Elsie's plan of keeping straight on, stood a tiny crofter's cottage, surrounded by its meagre crops enclosed within low stone walls. Beyond it the ground began to rise into hills, and far away in the distance rose the black-looking peaks of mountains.
Elsie stood still for a few minutes in puzzled thought. "If we begin to take turnings we are sure to lose our way," she said to herself, in woeful disappointment at this sudden check; but presently her spirits revived. "I see it all!" she cried, "Of course, if the road went straight on, apart from having to go right through the croft, it would lead us just straight away into the mountains; an' I'd like to know how we'd ever get over the top of that big one, with the clouds hanging over it. The road takes you clear away through the glen, of course, and it runs a bit to the side, no doubt. We'll just keep in the right direction, an' it'll be right enough. Let us think a minute. Is London to the right or the left, Duncan? Which think you?"
"It's more on the right side of the map, I think," Duncan replied, doubtfully.
"Ah! but, you little silly, we're up in Scotland, and we're to walk down the map. You must just reverse it, to be sure," Elsie replied.
"The map's a funny sort of shape, where it joins on to England," Duncan muttered. "It seems to run off more sideways like; we ought to twist about, I'm sure, or else we'll be going straight through the bottom of Scotland into the sea!"
"Oh, you baby!" Elsie cried, scornfully. "Do you think we couldn't walk along the edge? I'm not so sure it wouldn't be the best. We should be certain to know our way then, when once we got to the coast."
"S'pose we was to fall over?" urged Duncan.
"Oh, it is just the best idea of all!" Elsie cried, clapping her hands. "We'll just find the sea first of all; and won't it be a real bonny sight, with the ships sailing on it. Then we'll go along till we get into England, and any one'll tell us the way to London. This turning seems the most like going straight, so we'll take it."
This knotty point decided, Elsie tripped along with no sort of misgiving. Duncan was by no means so sure. He had received geography lessons, in which he had been told how many hundred miles