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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter IV. Off to the Country

THE letter which came in such good time to relieve Mrs. Lloyd from the difficulty about Bert’s fondness for the guardroom and its hurtful influences, was from her father, and contained an invitation so pressing as to be little short of a demand, for her to pay him a long visit at the old homestead, bringing Bert with her.

Mrs. Lloyd very readily and gladly accepted the invitation. Midsummer was near at hand. She had not visited her old home for some years. Her father and mother were ageing fast; and then, naturally enough, she was eager to show them what a fine boy Bert was growing to be.

When Bert heard of it he showed the utmost delight. Three years before, he had spent a summer at grandfather’s; but, then, of course, he was too young to do more than be impressed by the novelty of his surroundings. The huge oxen, the noisy pigs, the spirited horses, even the clumsy little calves, bewildered, if they did not alarm him. But now he felt old enough to enjoy them all; and the very idea of going back to them filled him with joy, to which he gave expression after his own boisterous fashion.

“Mother, are we going to grandfathers to-morrow?” he would eagerly ask, day after day, his little heart throbbing with impatience.

“We ’re going soon, Bert dear. You must be patient, you know,” his mother would gently reply; and the little fellow would make a very heroic effort to control himself.

At length the day of departure arrived. Too full of importance and great expectations to manifest a proper amount of sorrow at leaving his father and sister, who felt very reluctant, indeed, to part with him, Master Bert took his place in the cab and drove up to the railway station. Hardly had he entered it than he made a dash for the train, climbed up on the rear platform with the agility of a monkey, much to the amusement of the conductor, whose proffer of assistance he entirely ignored; and when Mr. Lloyd entered the train a minute later, he found his enterprising son seated comfortably upon a central seat, and evidently quite ready for the train to start.

“Would you go away without saying good-bye to your father and to Mary?” asked Mr. Lloyd, in a deeply reproachful tone.

Bert blushed violently on being thus reminded of his apparent selfishness, and, with the threat of a tear in his eye, was about to make some sort of a defence, when his father put him all right again by saying brightly:

“Never mind, my boy. It isn’t every day you go off on a hundred-and-fifty-miles’ journey. Mary and I will forgive you for forgetting us this time, won’t we, Mary?”

The lunch basket, the wraps, and their other belongings were placed on the seat, the engine whistled, “all aboard,” the bell rang, the conductor shouted, affectionate farewells were hastily exchanged, and presently the train rolled noisily out of the dark station into the bright sunshine; and Bert, leaning from the window, caught a last glimpse of his father and sister as they stood waving the handkerchiefs which one of them, at least, could not refrain from putting to another use, as the last car swept round the turn and vanished.

But Bert was in no mood for tears. In fact, he never felt less like anything of the kind. He felt much more disposed to shout aloud for very joy, and probably would have done so, but for the restraining influence exercised by the presence of the other passengers, of whom there were a good many in the carriage. As it was, he gave vent to his excited feelings by being as restless as a mosquito, and asking his mother as many questions as his active brain could invent.

“You’ll be tired out by mid-day, Bert, if you go on at this rate,” said his mother, in gentle warning.

“Oh, no, I won’t, mother; I won’t get tired. See! What’s that funny big thing with the long legs in that field?"

“That’s a frame for a hay stack, I think. You’ll see plenty of those at grandfather’s.”

“And what’s that queer thing with arms sticking out from that building?”

“That’s a wind-mill. When the wind blows hard those arms go round, and turn machinery inside the barn.”

“And has grandpapa got a wind-mill, mother?”

“Yes; he has one on his big barn.”

“Oh, I’m so glad; I can watch it going round, and stand quite close, can’t I?”

“Yes, but take care not to go too close to the machinery. It might hurt you very much, you know.” And so it went on all through the morning. Mrs. Lloyd would have liked very much to read a little in an interesting book she had brought with her, but what with watching Bert’s restless movements, and answering his incessant questions, there seemed slight hope of her succeeding in this until, after they had been a couple of hours on their journey, a good-natured gentleman on the opposite seat, who had finished his paper, and had nothing particular to do, took in the situation and came to her relief.

“Won’t you come over and keep me company for a while, my little man? ” he said, pleasantly, leaning across the seat. “I will try and answer all your questions for you.”

Bert looked curiously at the speaker, and then, the inspection proving satisfactory, inquiringly at his mother. She nodded her assent, so forthwith he ran over to his new friend, and climbed up beside him. He was given the corner next the window, and while his bright eyes took in everything as the train sped on, his tongue wagged no less swiftly as question followed question in quick succession. Mrs. Lloyd, thoroughly at ease now, returned to her book with a grateful sigh of relief, and an hour slipped away, at the end of which Bert’s eyes grew heavy with sleep. He no longer was interested in the scenery; and at last, after a gallant struggle, his curly head fell over on the cushion, and he went into a deep sleep, from which he did not waken until at mid-day the train drew up at the station, beyond which they could not go by rail.

“Come, Bert, wake up! We must get out here,” cried his mother, shaking him vigorously.

Rubbing his eyes hard, yawning as though he would put his jaws out of joint, and feeling very uncomfortable generally, Bert nevertheless managed to pull himself together sufficiently to thank the gentleman who had been so kind to him, before he followed his mother out of the car.

They had dinner at Thurso, and by the time it was ready Bert was ready too. He had been altogether too much excited at breakfast time to eat much then, but he made up for it now. Mrs. Lloyd laughed as he asked again and again for more, but she did not check him. She knew very well that the contented frame of mind produced by a good dinner was just the right thing with which to enter upon the second part of their journey. This was to be by coach, and as even the best of coaches is a pretty cramped sort of an affair unless you have it all to yourself, the quieter Bert was disposed to be the better for all concerned.

“What are we to ride in now, mother?” asked Bert, after the vacancy underneath his blue blouse had been sufficiently filled to dispose him to conversation.

“In a big red coach, dear, with six fine horses to draw us,” answered Mrs. Lloyd.

“Oh, mother, won’t that be splendid? And may I sit up with the driver?”

“Perhaps you may, for a little while, anyway, if he will let you.”

“Hooray!” cried Bert, clapping his hands with delight; “I’m sure the driver will let me, if you’ll only ask him. You will, won’t you, mother?”

“Yes, I will, after we get out of the town. But you must wait until I think it’s the right time to ask him.”

“I’ll wait, mother, but don’t you forget.”

Forget! There was much likelihood of Mrs. Lloyd forgetting with this lively young monkey before her as a constant reminder.

They had just finished dinner, when, with clatter of hoofs, rattle of springs, and crush of gravel under the heavy wheels, the great Concord coach drew up before the hotel door in dashing style.

Bert was one of the first to greet it. He did not even wait to put on his hat, and his mother, following with it, found him in the forefront of the crowd that always gathers about the mail coach in a country town, gazing up at the driver, who sat in superb dignity upon his lofty seat, as though he had never beheld so exalted a being in his life before.

There was something so impassive, so indifferent to his surroundings, about this big, bronzed, black-moustached, and broad-hatted driver, that poor Bert’s heart sank within him. He felt perfectly sure that he could never in the world muster up sufficient courage to beg for the privilege of a seat beside so impressive a potentate, and he doubted if his mother could, either.

Among the passengers Bert was glad to see the gentleman who had befriended him on the train, and when this individual, after having the audacity to hail the driver familiarly with, “Good-morning, Jack; looks as if we were going to have a pleasant trip down,” sprang up on the wheel, and thence to the vacant place beside Jack Davis, just as though it belonged to him of right, a ray of hope stole into Bert’s heart. If his friend of the train, whose name, by the way, he told Bert, was Mr. Miller, was on such good terms with the driver, perhaps he would ask him to let a little boy sit up in front for a while.

Taking much comfort from this thought, Bert, at a call from his mother, who was already seated, climbed up into the coach, and being allowed the corner next the window, with head thrust forth as far as was safe he awaited eagerly the signal to start.

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