Author: De la Roche, Mazo, 1879-1961
Governesses — Fiction
Brothers — Fiction
Explorers of the Dawn
***Transcriber’s Notes: The partial phrase–”Child, it shall not be done,” consoled the–appears naturally in the original version on page 191 (Chapter VII, section II), and in a printer’s error, is inserted between two halves of a hyphenated word on page 204; the latter was omitted. The use of hyphens in words was made consistent throughout. Variant spelling and dialect was faithfully preserved.***
Explorers of the Dawn
NEW BORZOI NOVELS SPRING, 1922
Men of Affairs
The Fair Rewards
I Walked in Arden
Guest the One-eyed
The Garden Party
The Longest Journey
E. M. Forster
The Soul of a Child
Explorers of the Dawn
Mazo de la Roche
The White Kami
Edward Alden Jewell
Explorers of the Dawn
by Mazo de la Roche
With a Foreword by
Alfred A Knopf
Published February, 1922
Second Printing, March, 1922
Third Printing, May, 1922
Set up, electrotyped, and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., Binghamton, N. Y.
Paper supplied by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y.
Bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass.
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
But a short while ago, A. de la R. laughed with me over the adventures of these little fellows. To the memory of that happy laughter I dedicate the book.
M. de la R.
|III||Explorers of the Dawn||76|
|IV||A Merry Interlude||99|
|VI||D’ye Ken John Peel||160|
|IX||The Cobbler and His Wife||250|
|X||The New Day||276|
The publisher has asked me to write a note of introduction to this book. Surely it needs none; but it is a pleasant task to write prefaces for other people’s books. When one writes a preface to a book of one’s own, one naturally grovels, deprecates, and has no opportunity to call the friendly reader’s attention to what the author considers the beauties and significances of the work. How agreeable, then, to be able to do this service for another.
Moreover, one hopes that such a service may not be wholly vain. Every book has its own special audience, for whom—very likely unconsciously—it was written: the group of people, far spread over the curve of earth, who will find in that particular book just the sort of magic and wisdom that they seek. And, as every one who has studied the book business knows, books very often tragically miss just the public that was waiting for them. It is such an obscure and nebulous problem, getting the book into the hands of the people to whom it will appeal. One knows that there are thousands of readers for whom that book (whatever it may be) will mean keen pleasure. But how is one to find them and bring the volume to their eyes?
I owe to the “Atlantic Monthly” my own introduction to Miss de la Roche’s writing. Several years ago, when I was acting as a modest periscope for a publishing house, I read in the “Atlantic” a fanciful little story by her which seemed to me so delicate and humorous in fancy, so refreshing and happy in expression, that I wrote to the author in the hope of some day luring her to offer a book to the house with which I was connected. We had some pleasant correspondence. Time passed: I fell from the placid ramparts of the publishing business, into the more noisy but not less happy bustle of the newspaper world. But still, though I am not a conscientious correspondent, I managed to keep occasionally in touch with Miss de la Roche. For a while I seemed highly unsuccessful as her ambassador into the high court of publishing. Then, one day, lunching with Mr. Alfred Knopf at a small tavern on Vesey Street (which was subsequently abolished by the New York City Health Department as being unfit to offer what one of the small boys in this book calls “nushment”) I happened to tell him about Miss de la Roche’s work. I saw his eye, an eye of special clarity and brilliance, widen and darken with that particular emotion exhibited by a publisher who feels what is vulgarly known as a “hunch.” He said he would “look into” the matter; and this book is the result.
The phrase “look into” is perhaps appropriate as applied to this book. For it is one of those books where the eye of the attentive reader sees more than a mere sparkling flow of words on a running surface of narrative. Of course this is not one of those books that “everybody must read.” It is not likely to become fashionable. But it seems to me so truly charming, so felicitous in subtle touches of humour, so tenderly moved with an under-running current of wistfulness, that surely it will find its own lovers; who will be, perhaps, among those who utter the names of Barrie and Kenneth Grahame with a special sound of voice.
Perhaps, since I myself was one of a family of three boys, the story of Angel, Seraph and John, makes a prejudicial claim upon my affection. I must admit that it is evident the author of the book was never herself a small boy: sometimes their imperfections are a little too perfect, too femininely and romantically conceived, to make me feel one of them. They have not quite the rowdy actuality of Mr. Tarkington’s urchins. But the, fact that the whole story is told with a poet’s imagination, and viewed through a golden cloud of fancy, gives us countervailing beauties that a strictly naturalistic treatment would miss. Let us not forget that we are in a “Cathedral Town”; and next door is a Bishop. And certainly in the vigorous and great-hearted Mary Ellen we stand solidly on the good earth of human nature “as is.”
It is not the intention of the introducer to anticipate the reader’s pleasure by selfishly pointing out some of the dainty touches of humour that will arouse the secret applause of the mind. One thing only occurs to be said. The scene of the tale is said to be in England. And yet, to the zealous observer, there will seem to be some flavours that are hardly English. The language of the excellent Mary Ellen, for instance, comes to me with a distinct cisatlantic sound. Nor can I, somehow, visualize a planked back garden in an English Cathedral Town. I am wondering about this, and I conclude that perhaps it is due to the fact that Miss de la Roche lives in Toronto, that delightful city where the virtues of both England and America are said to be subtly and consummately blended. Her story, as simple and refreshing as the tune of an old song, and yet so richly spiced with humour, perhaps presents a blend of qualities and imaginations that we would only find in Canada; for the Canadians, after all, are the true Anglo-Americans. Perhaps they do not like to be called so? But I mean it well: I mean that they combine the good qualities of both sides.
And so one wishes good fortune to this book in its task—which every book must face for itself—of discovering its destined friends. There will be some readers, I think, who will look through it as through an open window, into a land of clear gusty winds and March sunshine and volleying church bells on Sunday mornings, into a land of terrible contradictions, a land whose emigrés look back to it tenderly, yet without too poignant regret—the Almost Forgotten Land of childhood.
Chapter I: Buried Treasure
Probably our father would never have chosen Mrs. Handsomebody to be our governess and guardian during the almost two years he spent in South America, had it not seemed the natural thing to hand us over to the admirable woman who had been his own teacher in early boyhood.
Had he not been bewildered by the sudden death of our young mother, he might have recalled scenes between himself and Mrs. Handsomebody that would have made him hesitate to leave three stirring boys under her entire control. Possibly he forgot that he had had his parents, and a doting aunt or two, to pad the angularities of Mrs. Handsomebody’s rule, and to say whether or not her limber cane should seek his plumpest and most tender parts.
Then, too, at that period, Mrs. Handsomebody was still unmarried. As Miss Wigmore she had not yet captured and quelled the manly spirit of Mr. Handsomebody. From being a blustering sort of man, he had become, Mary Ellen said, very mild and fearful.
On his demise Mrs. Handsomebody was left in solitary possession of a tall, narrow house, in the shadow of the grey Cathedral in the rather grey and grim old town of Misthorpe. Here, Angel and The Seraph and I were set down one April morning, fresh from the country house, where we had been born; our mother’s kisses still warm, one might say, on our round young cheeks.
Unaccustomed to restraint, we were introduced into an atmosphere of drabness and restraint, best typified, perhaps, by the change from our tender, springy country turf, to the dry, blistered planks of Mrs. Handsomebody’s back yard. Angel, fiery, candid, inconstant; the careless possessor of a beautiful boys’ treble, which was to develop into the incomparable tenor of today—next, myself, a year younger, but equally tall and courageous, in a more dogged way—then, The Seraph, three years my junior, he was just five, following where we led with a blind loyalty, “Stubborn, strong and jolly as a pie.”
Truly when I think of us, as we were then, and when I remember how we came like a wild disturbing wind into that solemn house, I am inclined to pity Mrs. Handsomebody.
Even when she sent us to bed in the colossal four-poster, in the middle of the afternoon, we were scarcely downcast, for it was not such a bad playground after all, and by drawing the curtains, we could shut ourselves completely away from the world dominated by petticoats.
Then there was Mary Ellen, with her “followers,” always our firm ally, brimming with boisterous good health. Looking back, I am convinced that Mrs. Handsomebody deserves our sympathy.
It was Saturday morning, and we three were in Mrs. Handsomebody’s parlour—Angel, and The Seraph, and I.
No sooner had the front door closed upon the tall angular figure of the lady, bearing her market basket, than we shut our books with a snap, ran on tiptoe to the top of the stairs, and, after a moment’s breathless listening, cast our young forms on the smooth walnut bannister, and glided gloriously to the bottom.
Regularly on a Saturday morning she went to market, and with equal regularity we cast off the yoke of her restraint, slid down the bannisters, and entered the forbidden precincts of the Parlour.
On other week days the shutters of this grim apartment were kept closed, and an inquisitive eye, applied to the keyhole, could just faintly discern the portrait in crayon of the late Mr. Handsomebody, presiding, like some whiskered ghost, over the revels of the stuffed birds in the glass case below him.
But on a Saturday morning Mary Ellen swept and dusted there. The shutters were thrown open, and the thin-legged piano and the haircloth furniture were furbished up for the morrow. Moreover Mary Ellen liked our company. She had a spooky feeling about the parlour. Mr. Handsomebody gave her the creeps, she said, and once when she had turned her back she had heard one of the stuffed birds twitter. It was a gruesome thought.
When we bounded in on her, Mary Ellen was dragging the broom feebly across the gigantic green and red lilies of the carpet, her bare red arms moving like listless antennæ. She could, when she willed, work vigorously and well, but no one knew when a heavy mood might seize her, and render her as useless as was compatible with retaining her situation.
“Och, byes!” she groaned, leaning on her broom. “This Spring weather do be makin’ me as wake as a blind kitten! Sure, I feel this mornin’ like as if I’d a stone settin’ on my stomach, an’ me head feels as light as thistledown. I wisht the missus’d fergit to come home an’ I could take a day off—but there’s no such luck for Mary Ellen!”
She made a few more passes with her broom and then sighed.
“I think I’ll soon be lavin’ this place,” she said.
A vision of the house without the cheering presence of Mary Ellen rose blackly before us. We crowded round her.
“Now, see here,” said Angel masterfully, putting his arms about her stout waist. “You know perfectly well that father’s coming back from South America soon to make a home for us, and that you are to come and be our cook, and make apple-dumplings, and have all the followers you like.”
Now Angel knew whereof he spoke, for Mary Ellen’s “followers” were a bone of contention between her and her mistress.
“Aw, Master Angel,” she expostulated, “What a tongue ye have in yer head to be sure! Followers, is it? Sure, they’re the bane o’ me life! Now git out av the way o’ the dust, all of yez, or I’ll put a tin ear on ye!” And she began to swing her broom vigorously.
We ran to the window and looked out but no sooner had we looked out than we whistled with astonishment at what we saw.
First you must know that on the west of Mrs. Handsomebody’s house stood the broad, ivy-clad mansion of the Bishop, grey stone, like the Cathedral; on the east was a dingy white brick house, exactly like Mrs. Handsomebody’s. In it lived Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Pegg and their three servants.
To us they seemed very elegant, if somewhat uninteresting people. Mrs. Mortimer Pegg frequently had carriage callers, and not seldom sallied forth herself in a sedate victoria from the livery stables. But beyond an occasional flutter of excitement when their horses stopped at our very gate, there was little in this prim couple to interest us. So neat and precise were they as they tripped down the street together, that we called them (out of Mrs. Handsomebody’s hearing) Mr. and Mrs. “Cribbage” Pegg.
Now, on this morning in mid-spring when we looked out of the window our eyes discovered an object of such compelling interest in the Pegg’s front garden that we rubbed them again to make sure that we were broad awake.
Striding up and down the small enclosure was a tall old man wearing a brilliant-hued, flowered dressing-gown, that hung open at the neck, disclosing his long brown throat and hairy chest, and flapping negligently about his heels as he strode.
He had bushy iron-grey hair and moustache, and tufts of curly grey beard grew around his chin and ears. His nose was large and sun-burned; and every now and again he would stop in his caged-animal walk and sniff the air as though he enjoyed it.
I liked the old gentleman from the start.
“Oo-o! See the funny old man!” giggled The Seraph. “Coat like Jacob an’ his bwethern!”
Angel and I plied Mary Ellen with questions. Who was he? Did he live with the Peggs? Did she think he was a foreigner? Mary Ellen, supported by her broom, stared out of the window.
“For th’ love of Hiven!” she ejaculated. “If that ain’t a sight now! Byes, it’s Mr. Pegg’s own father come home from somewheres in th’ Indies. Their cook was tellin’ me of the time they have wid him. He’s a bit light-headed, y’see, an’ has all his meals in his own room—th’ quarest dishes iver—an’ a starlin’ for a pet, mind ye.”
At that moment the old gentleman perceived that he was watched, and saluting Mary Ellen gallantly, he called out:
Mary Ellen, covered with confusion, drew back behind the curtain. I was about to make a suitable reply when I saw Mrs. Mortimer Pegg, herself, emerge from her house with a very red face, and resolutely grasp her father-in-law’s arm. She spoke to him in a rapid undertone, and, after a moment’s hesitation, he followed her meekly into the house.
How I sympathized with him! I knew only too well the humiliation experienced by the helpless male when over-bearing woman drags him ignominiously from his harmless recreation.
A bond of understanding seemed to be established between us at once.
The voice of Mary Ellen broke in on my reverie. She was teasing Angel to sing.
“Aw give us a chune, Master Angel before th’ missus gets back! There’s a duck. I’ll give ye a pocket full of raisins as sure’s fate!”
Angel, full of music as a bird, could strum some sort of accompaniment to any song on the piano. It was Mary Ellen’s delight on a Saturday morning to pour forth her pent up feelings in one of the popular songs, with Angel to keep her on the tune and thump a chord or two.
It was a risky business. But The Seraph mounted guard at the window while I pressed my nose against the glass case that held the stuffed birds and wondered if any of them had come from South America. “How jolly,” I thought, “to be there with father.”
Tum-te-tum-te-tum, strummed Angel.
“Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde,
His sweet reedy tones thrilled the April air.
And Mary Ellen’s voice, robust as the whistle of a locomotive, bursting with health and spirits, shook the very cobwebs that she had not swept down.
“Casey would waltz with th’ strawberry blonde,
Generally we had a faithful subordinate in The Seraph. He had a rather sturdy sense of honour. On this spring morning however, I think that the singing of Mary Ellen must have dulled his sensibilities, for, instead of keeping a bright lookout up the street for the dreaded form of Mrs. Handsomebody, he lolled across the window-sill, dangling a piece of string, with the April sunshine warming his rounded back.
And as he dangled the string, Mrs. Handsomebody drew nearer and nearer. She entered the gate—she entered the house—she was in the parlour!!
Angel and Mary Ellen had just given their last triumphant shout, when Mrs. Handsomebody said in a voice of cold fury:
“Mary Ellen, kindly cease that ribald screaming. David (David is Angel’s proper name) get up instantly from that piano stool and face me! John, Alexander, face me!”
We did so tremblingly.
“Now,” said Mrs. Handsomebody, “you three boys go up to your bedroom—not to the schoolroom, mind—and don’t let me hear another sound from you today! You shall get no dinner. At four I will come and discuss your disgraceful conduct with you. Now march!”
She held the door open for us while we filed sheepishly under her arm. Then the door closed behind us with a decisive bang, and poor Mary Ellen was left in the torture-chamber with Mrs. Handsomebody and the stuffed birds.
Angel and I scurried up the stairway. We could hear The Seraph panting as he laboured after us.
Once in the haven of our little room we rolled in a confused heap on the bed, scuffling indiscriminately. It was a favourite punishment with Mrs. Handsomebody, and we had a suspicion that she relished th