The Hawthorns; a Story about Children
by Amy Walton
This is a nice little book, which would certainly appeal
its intended audience
of eleven- or twelve-year-old little
girls. Its background
late Victorian, but
nevertheless a modern child would find nothing it could not
relate to other than the more pleasant general atmosphere
of those days.
Amy Walton has written a sequel to this book, "Penelope and
the Others," also published on the Athelstane website.
THE HAWTHORNS; A STORY ABOUT CHILDREN
BY AMY WALTON
Quite close to the nursery
window at Easney Vicarage there grew a very
old pear-tree. It was so old that the ivy had had time to hug its trunk
with strong rough arms, and even to stretch them out nearly to the top,
and hang dark green wreaths on every bough. Some day, the children had
been told, this would choke the life out of the tree and kill it; that
would be a pity, but there seemed no danger of it yet, for every spring
the pear-tree still showed its head crowned with white blossoms, and
every summer the pears grew yellow and juicy, and fell with a soft
"splosh!" on the gravel
path beneath. It was interesting to watch that,
and it happened so often, that it was hard to imagine a windsor pear
without a great gash where the sharp stones had cut into it; it was also
natural to expect when you picked it up that there would be a cunning
yellow wasp hidden
somewhere about it, for all the little Hawthorns had
always found it so except the baby, and she was too small to have any
experience. Five little Hawthorns, without counting the baby, had
looked out of the nursery
window and watched the pear-tree blossom, and
the sparrows build their nests, and the pears fall; but by the time this
story begins, four of them, whose names were Penelope, Ambrose, Nancy,
and David, were schoolroom
children, and learnt
lessons of Miss Grey
down-stairs. They had no longer much time for looking out of the
window, and the nursery
was left in the possession of Dickie and Cicely
the baby. Dickie, whose real name was Delicia, was three years old--a
great girl now she thought--but she was still fond of kneeling up in the
window seat and flattening her little nose against the glass. She could
not see very much. Through the branches of the pear-tree a little to
the left appeared the church tower, and a glimpse
here and there of grey
and white tombstones in the churchyard. Straight in front of her there
was a broad lawn sloping down to a sunk fence, and beyond that a meadow
with tall elms in it, and after that another meadow
where cows were
feeding, and that was all. In the spring the meadows turned to gold and
silver with the buttercups and daisies, and the rooks cawed noisily in
the elms; but in the summer it was all very green and very quiet.
Particularly at lesson time, when the "others" were busy with Miss Grey,
and Dickie must not make a noise because baby was asleep. Then there
was only Andrew to be seen in the distance, bending over his barrow or
rake or spade; but he never looked up to the nursery
window, and this
was not surprising, for Andrew had a great deal to do. He worked in the
garden, and fed the chickens, and took care of Ruby the horse, and
sometimes drove the wagonette into Nearminster; he also rang the church
bell, and was parish
clerk. Perhaps it was because he had so much on
his mind that he was of a melancholy
disposition, and seldom disposed
for conversation with the children.
They thought it a pity sometimes that neither the nursery
schoolroom window looked out to the front of the house, for it was only
a little way back from the street; not that there was much going on in
the village, but still you could hear the "clink, clink" from the
blacksmith's forge opposite, and see anyone passing the white gate which
led out into the road. The vicarage was an old house; many and many a
vicar had lived in it, and altered or added to it according to his
liking, so that it was full of twists and turns, inside and out, and had
wonderful nooks and corners, and strange cupboards under the stairs.
Pennie, who was eleven years old, and a great hand at "making up,"
thought a good deal about those old bygone vicars, and founded some of
her choicest romances upon them. There was one particular vicar, a
tablet to whose memory was placed in the chancel just opposite the
Hawthorns' seat in church.
"Godfrey Ablewhite, sometime
vicar of this parish," etcetera.
It seemed to Pennie, as she sat staring up at this during her father's
sermons, that she saw plainly
what sort of man this Godfrey Ablewhite
had been. He was broad and strong, and rode a tall white horse, and had
doubtless built those large stables at the vicarage, because he was fond
of hunting. From this she would go on to adorn his character
daring feats of horsemanship, and by the time the sermon
was over there
was another story ready to be eagerly
listened to by the other
children--and, indeed, believed also, for they had an infinite
Pennie. This was partly
because she was the eldest, and partly
she "made up" so well, and had such good ideas about games and plans.
No one could make a better plan than Pennie if she put her mind to it,
and this was a valuable
faculty, for toys were not plentiful
Vicarage, and the children had to find their own amusements. These,
fortunately, did not depend upon anything to be bought in shops, for
there was only one in the village, and that was the post-office
There you could get bacon, and peppermint drops, and coarse
stockings; but for anything more interesting you had to drive to
Nearminster, ten miles away. Mother went over there sometimes, and took
each child with her in turn, but even then there was a serious drawback
to buying much, and that was want of money.
Some children would doubtless
think living at Easney a very dull affair.
No shops, nothing new to play with, and very little new to wear.
Pennie _did_ get a little tired sometimes of always wearing serge in
winter and holland
in summer; but neither she nor her brothers and
sisters ever found their lives dull. They would have been astonished at
the idea. There were so many interesting things to do. For instance,
there was a large family of pet beasts and birds, some living in the
barn in cages, and some free. Snuff the terrier was the most intimate
and friendly of these last, and Methuselah the tortoise
stranger. The children regarded him with respectful
awe, for he passed
so much of his life hidden
away in the cold dark earth, that he must
know many strange and wonderful things which went on there; but, like
all people of really wide experience, he was singularly modest
retiring in his behaviour, and appeared on the border the first mild day
in spring after his disappearance, with no fuss at all, and as if he had
done nothing remarkable.
Pennie's jackdaw, a forward bird, who hopped about with an air of
understanding everything, was one day found perched on the tortoise's
shell with the evidentintention
of making some searching inquiries.
Methuselah, however, had very prudently drawn in his head, and Jack was
both baffled and disgraced.
Next to the animals in point of interest came the Wilderness. This was
a part of the garden shut off from the rest by a shrubbery, and given up
to the children as their very own. Here they messed and muddled to
their hearts' content, carried out a great many interesting designs, and
reared quantities of mustard
and cress; once they each had a garden, but
Nancy, Ambrose, and David had lately
struck out the bold idea of joining
their plots of ground and digging a well. It was a delightful
occupation, and when the hole got deep it was pleasant to see how the
small frogs and other slimy reptiles crawled about at the bottom; but,
after much heated labour, there were no signs of water. Interest
flagged then, and the well was deserted, until the ever-ready Pennie
suggested the game of Joseph and his brethren, and it became a favourite
amusement to lower Dickie down in a basket amongst
the frogs and newts.
Dickie was both small and brave, two very necessary qualities for her
part, for the basket was narrow, and wobbled about a good deal in its
descent; but she was used to perilous
positions, and had a soul above
The Wilderness was certainly very interesting; nevertheless
at a certain
time in the summer it was completely forsaken, and that was when the hay
was down. Then everyone
must help to get it in; and there could be no
lessons done, for even Miss Grey was in the hay-field. Then the excited
children, with flushed faces, worked as hard as though the whole matter
depended on them alone, and even Dickie, with tiny rake and sturdy
planted wide apart, did brave service. Then the maids, with sun-bonnets
tilted well forward on their foreheads, came out to toss a little hay,
a great deal, and say how hot it was; then the surly Andrew
threw sour looks of scorn at them, and the vicar, casting aside his
black coat, did more real work than anyone. Then mother came into the
field with Cicely in her arms, and was welcomed with acclamations, and
forthwith seated on a royal throne
of hay; then, under her watchful
eyes, the ambitious
Ambrose worked feverishly, and threw his arms and
legs about like an excited spider. Then Nancy laughed at him, and David
pushed him down, and Pennie covered him with hay; and it got into his
eyes and down his throat
and he choked and kicked, and mother said:
"That will do, children!" Then tea was brought out and laid under the
great oak-tree, and everyone's face was very red, and everyone
thirsty. And then the cool evening came stealing on, and a tiny breeze
blew, and the hay smelt sweet, and the shadows lengthened, and it was
bed-time just as things were getting pleasant.
Each time all this happened it was equally
delightful, and it seemed a
pity when the field stood bare and desolate
after the hay was carried,
shorn of its shadowy
grass and pretty flowers; yet there was consolation
too in the size of the stack which the children had helped to make, and
which they always thought "bigger than last year."
Soon after this autumn came and made the orchard
and woods and lanes
interesting with apples and nuts and blackberries; and then, after the
apples and nuts had been stored away, and the blackberries made into
jam, it was time to look forward to the winter.
Winter brought a great deal that was very pleasant; for sometimes he
came with snow and ice, and the children would wake up to find that in
the night he had quietly covered everything out-of-doors with a
sparkling white garment.
Then what could be more delicious
than to make a snow man or a snow
Pennie, who was a great reader, and always anxious
to carry out
something she had read about, inclined towards the palace; but the
others had less lofty minds. It quite contented
them to make a snow
man, to put one of Andrew's pipes in his mouth and a battered hat on his
head, and stick in bits of coal for his eyes.
"Isn't he lovely?" Nancy would exclaim when all these adornments were
"Zovely!" echoed Dickie, clapping red worsted mittens ecstatically.
"I think he's rather vulgar," Pennie said doubtfully
on one of these
occasions with an anxiously
puckered brow; "and besides, there's nothing
to make up about him. What can you pretend?"
The snow man certainly looked hopelessly
prosaic as Ambrose tilted his
hat a little more to one side.
"Guy Fawkes?" suggested David, having studied
the matter solidly for
"No," said Pennie, "not Guy Fawkes--he's so common--we've had him heaps
of times. But I'll tell you what would be splendid; we'll make him a
martyr in Smithfield."
The boys looked doubtful, but Nancy clapped her hands.
"That's capital," she said.
"You know," continued Pennie for the general information, "they burned
"Alive?" inquired Ambrose eagerly.
"How jolly!" murmured David.
"Jolly! jolly! jolly!" repeated
Dickie, jumping up and down in the snow.
"Why were they burned?" asked Ambrose, who was never tired of asking
questions, and liked to get to the bottom of a matter if possible.
"_Why_, I am not quite sure," answered Pennie cautiously, "because I've
only just got to it; but I _think_ it was something about the Bible.
I'll ask Miss Grey."
"Oh, never mind all that," interrupted the practical Nancy impatiently;
"we'll make a splendid bonfire all round him and watch him melt. Come
and get the wood."
"And we'll call him `a distinguished
martyr,'" added Pennie as she moved
slowly away, "because I can't remember any of their real names."
Pennie was never satisfied to leave things as they were; she liked to
adorn them with fancies and make up stories about them, and her busy
little mind was always ready to set to work on the smallest event of the
children's lives. Nothing was too common or familiar to have mysteries
woven round it; and this was sometimes a most useful
faculty, for winter was not always kind enough to bring snow and ice
with him. Very often there was nothing but rain and fog and mud, and
then mother uttered those dreadful
"The children must not go out."
Then when lessons were over, and all the games exhausted, and it was
still too early for lights, the schoolroom
became full of dark corners,
and the flickering fire cast mysterious
shadows which changed the very
furniture into something dim and awful.
Then was Pennie's time--then, watching her hearers' upturned faces by
light of the fire, she saw surprise or pity or horror
them as her story proceeded, and, waxing warmer, she half believed it
true herself. And this made the tales very interesting and thrilling.
Yet once Pennie's talent
had an unfortunate
result, as you shall hear in
the next chapter.
The children all thought that Pennie's best stories were about a certain
lumber-room in the vicarage which was called the "Garret." They were
also the most dreadful
and thrilling, for there was something about the
garret which lent itself readily
to tales of mystery
and horror. The
very air there was always murky and dim, and no sunlight
through the tiny lattice window which came poking out from the roof like
a half-shut eyelid. Dust and cobwebs had covered the small leaded panes
that a dusky gloom always dwelt there, and gave an unnatural
and rather awful look to the various objects. And what a strange
collection it was! Broken spindle-legged chairs, rickety boxes, piles
of yellow old music-books and manuscripts, and in one corner an ancient
harp in a tarnished gilt frame. Poor deserted dusty old things! They
had had their day in the busy world once, but that was over now, and
they must stay shut up in the silent garret
with no one to see them but
the spiders and the children. For these last came there often; treading
they climbed the steep stairs and unlatched the creaky door
and entered, bold but breathless, and casting anxious
glances over their
shoulders for strange things that might be lurking in the corners. They
never saw any, but still they came half hoping, half fearing; and they
had, besides, another object in their visits, which was a great great
secret, and only known to Pennie, Nancy, and Ambrose. It was indeed a
daring adventure, scarcely to be spoken
of above a whisper, and
requiring a great deal of courage. This was the secret: