"Please, sir, is this Plumfield?" asked a ragged boy of the man who opened the
great gate at which the omnibus left him.
"Yes. Who sent you?"
"Mr. Laurence. I have got a letter for the lady."
"All right; go up to the house, and give it to her; she'll see to you, little chap."
The man spoke pleasantly, and the boy went on, feeling much cheered by the
words. Through the soft spring rain that fell on sprouting grass and budding
trees, Nat saw a large square house before him a hospitable-looking house, with
an old-fashioned porch, wide steps, and lights shining in many windows. Neither
curtains nor shutters hid the cheerful glimmer; and, pausing a moment before he
rang, Nat saw many little shadows dancing on the walls, heard the pleasant hum
of young voices, and felt that it was hardly possible that the light and warmth and
comfort within could be for a homeless "little chap" like him.
"I hope the lady will see to me," he thought, and gave a timid rap with the great
bronze knocker, which was a jovial griffin's head.
A rosy-faced servant-maid opened the door, and smiled as she took the letter
which he silently offered. She seemed used to receiving strange boys, for she
pointed to a seat in the hall, and said, with a nod:
"Sit there and drip on the mat a bit, while I take this in to missis."
Nat found plenty to amuse him while he waited, and stared about him curiously,
enjoying the view, yet glad to do so unobserved in the dusky recess by the door.
The house seemed swarming with boys, who were beguiling the rainy twilight
with all sorts of amusements. There were boys everywhere, "up-stairs and down-
stairs and in the lady's chamber," apparently, for various open doors showed
pleasant groups of big boys, little boys, and middle-sized boys in all stages of
evening relaxation, not to say effervescence. Two large rooms on the right were
evidently schoolrooms, for desks, maps, blackboards, and books were scattered
about. An open fire burned on the hearth, and several indolent lads lay on their
backs before it, discussing a new cricket-ground, with such animation that their
boots waved in the air. A tall youth was practising on the flute in one corner, quite
undisturbed by the racket all about him. Two or three others were jumping over
the desks, pausing, now and then, to get their breath and laugh at the droll
sketches of a little wag who was caricaturing the whole household on a
In the room on the left a long supper-table was seen, set forth with great pitchers
of new milk, piles of brown and white bread, and perfect stacks of the shiny
gingerbread so dear to boyish souls. A flavor of toast was in the air, also
suggestions of baked apples, very tantalizing to one hungry little nose and
The hall, however, presented the most inviting prospect of all, for a brisk game of
tag was going on in the upper entry. One landing was devoted to marbles, the
other to checkers, while the stairs were occupied by a boy reading, a girl singing
a lullaby to her doll, two puppies, a kitten, and a constant succession of small