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As soon as the children reached the open air Tom said, "Here, Lucy, you come along with me," and walked off to the place where the toads were, as if there were no Maggie in existence. Lucy was naturally pleased that Cousin Tom was so good to her, and it was very amusing to see him tickling a fat toad with a piece of string, when the toad was safe down the area, with an iron grating over him.
Still Lucy wished Maggie to enjoy the sight also, especially as she would doubtless find a name for the toad, and say what had been his past history; for Lucy loved Maggie's stories about the live things they came upon by accident—how Mrs. Earwig had a wash at home, and one of her children had fallen into the hot copper, for which reason she was running so fast to fetch the doctor. So now the desire to know the history of a very portly toad made her run back to Maggie and say, "Oh, there is such a big, funny toad, Maggie! Do come and see."
Maggie said nothing, but turned away from her with a deep frown. She was actually beginning to think that she should like to make Lucy cry, by slapping or pinching her, especially as it might vex Tom, whom it was of no use to slap, even if she dared, because he didn't mind it. And if Lucy hadn't been there, Maggie was sure he would have made friends with her sooner.
Tickling a fat toad is an amusement that does not last, and Tom by-and-by began to look round for some other mode of passing the time. But in so prim a garden, where they were not to go off the paved walks, there was not a great choice of sport.
"I say, Lucy," he began, nodding his head up and down, as he coiled up his string again, "what do you think I mean to do?"
"What, Tom?" said Lucy.
"I mean to go to the pond and look at the pike. You may go with me if you like."
"O Tom, dare you?" said Lucy. "Aunt said we mustn't go out of the garden."
"Oh, I shall go out at the other end of the garden," said Tom. "Nobody 'ull see us. Besides, I don't care if they do; I'll run off home."
"But I couldn't run," said Lucy.
"Oh, never mind; they won't be cross with you," said Tom. "You say I took you."
Tom walked along, and Lucy trotted by his side. Maggie saw them leaving the garden, and could not resist the impulse to follow. She kept a few yards behind them unseen by Tom, who was watching for the pike—a highly interesting monster; he was said to be so very old, so very large, and to have such a great appetite.
"Here, Lucy," he said in a loud whisper, "come here."
Lucy came carefully as she was bidden, and bent down to look at what seemed a golden arrow-head darting through the water. It was a water-snake, Tom told her; and Lucy at last could see the wave of its body, wondering very much that a snake could swim.
Maggie had drawn nearer and nearer; she must see it too, though it was bitter to her, like everything else, since Tom did not care about her seeing it. At last she was close by Lucy, and Tom turned round and said,—
"Now, get away, Maggie. There's no room for you on the grass here. Nobody asked you to come."
Then Maggie, with a fierce thrust of her small brown arm, pushed poor little pink-and-white Lucy into the cow-trodden mud.
Tom could not restrain himself, and gave Maggie two smart slaps on the arm as he ran to pick up Lucy, who lay crying helplessly. Maggie retreated to the roots of a tree a few yards off, and looked on. Why should she be sorry? Tom was very slow to forgive her, however sorry she might have been.
"I shall tell mother, you know, Miss Mag," said Tom, as soon as Lucy was up and ready to walk away. It was not Tom's practice to "tell," but here justice clearly demanded that Maggie should be visited with the utmost punishment.
"Sally," said Tom, when they reached the kitchen door—"Sally, tell mother it was Maggie pushed Lucy into the mud."
Sally, as we have seen, lost no time in presenting Lucy at the parlour door.
"Goodness gracious!" Aunt Pullet exclaimed, after giving a scream; "keep her at the door, Sally! Don't bring her off the oilcloth, whatever you do."
"Why, she's tumbled into some nasty mud," said Mrs. Tulliver, going up to Lucy.
"If you please, 'um, it was Miss Maggie as pushed her in," said Sally. "Master Tom's been and said so; and they must ha' been to the pond, for it's only there they could ha' got into such dirt."
"There it is, Bessy; it's what I've been telling you," said Mrs. Pullet. "It's your children; there's no knowing what they'll come to."
Mrs. Tulliver went out to speak to these naughty children, supposing them to be close at hand; but it was not until after some search that she found Tom leaning with rather a careless air against the white paling of the poultry-yard, and lowering his piece of string on the other side as a means of teasing the turkey-cock.
"Tom, you naughty boy, where's your sister?" said Mrs. Tulliver in a distressed voice.
"I don't know," said Tom.
"Why, where did you leave her?" said his mother, looking round.
"Sitting under the tree against the pond," said Tom.
"Then go and fetch her in this minute, you naughty boy. And how could you think o' going to the pond, and taking your sister where there was dirt? You know she'll do mischief, if there's mischief to be done."
The idea of Maggie sitting alone by the pond roused a fear in Mrs. Tulliver's mind, and she mounted the horse-block to satisfy herself by a sight of that fatal child, while Tom walked—not very quickly—on his way towards her.
"They're such children for the water, mine are," she said aloud, without reflecting that there was no one to hear her; "they'll be brought in dead and drownded some day. I wish that river was far enough."
But when she not only failed to see Maggie, but presently saw Tom returning from the pond alone, she hurried to meet him.
"Maggie's nowhere about the pond, mother," said Tom; "she's gone away."
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