|Five Francs ! A whole FIVE ! Two lovely crisp franc notes, and the rest in centimes.|
If Mike was honest, he liked the centimes better, even if each of them were worth less. They made such a lovely 'clunky' sound in his pocket when he moved.
He had been wandering around the school gardens for a while, but the stalls weren't open yet, nor were the competitions, and he was bored. The grown ups and 'those girls' were all busy and didn't really have much time for a small boy they saw all the time. He knew his sisters or cousins would try to set him to doing something useful, and he was nearly bored enough to go and find one. Maybe Bride. Bride always had time for him, she liked boats too. Most girls weren't much use, Mike felt. Either silly or bossy. But Bride would settle down on the floor with him, help him set his boats up and be either a ship under attack while Mike was a pirate, or be a bad pirate being chased by Mike's Royal Navy.
That girl Tom had come to visit too this time. Mike thought she was wonderful, and looked hopefully round to see if he could see her. She had carved him a few ships from sticks for him over the years, and even showed him how she did it. Mamma wouldn't let him use a knife that sharp yet, but Mike was looking forward to when he was big enough to do more than the little scraping of twigs he could do so far. That girl was alright, and Bride was good, for a cousin. She still bossed him sometimes, but not as much as the others did.
He located Tom at last, near her dolls house. He scorned such girly things, but if he was honest it was rather nifty - for a girls toy. He wandered over for a bit, but the big girl was too busy talking to do more than flash him a smile and suggest maybe Sir Francis Drake had had a house like this. That made it a BIT more interesting, but Mike didn't really believe Francis Drake had had something so boring as a house when he could have lived on a ship all the time.
The little things in the house were very clever, but he knew from last year's Sale that he wouldn't be allowed to take things out, or look at closely as he'd really like. So Mike wandered off a bit, and started towards the school building. He wasn't usually allowed in there on his own, the silly girls were always at lessons or in exams. Mike wasn't quite sure what an exam was, but the bigger ones made a big fuss about being in one, so he thought it must be quite uncomfortable. Maybe it was a big box with nails in it, like in that story Mr Maclaren had suggested to him the other day.
Remembering Mr Maclaren, Mike looked around hopefully, perhaps he was here. He was a strict tutor during school hours, but out of them he was great fun to be with. The Embrey boys might not be about much today, so Mike could perhaps play with Mr Maclaren without having to stick to games that didn't involve ships or boats. Paul Embrey had just started getting a bit bossy about that, and Mike didn't see why. There were so many good games that could be played with seafaring or boats in general.
Mike saw the familiar figure, and started towards him, then his face fell and he turned away. Mr Maclaren was with Maria Marini. He wouldn't be any fun today. They really were annoying, grown ups, either being bossy or 'falling in love'. It seemed just as uncomfortable and mystifying a phrase as being 'in exams'. It certainly changed otherwise sensible adults, that much Mike knew. Maria had looked after him before Mr Maclaren and been quite fun, though she was still bossy, like all girls were. Now she was no fun and neither was Mr Maclaren. Love was stupid, Mike thought.
He saw that Bride was busy being a nearly grown up, so wouldn't be any fun either, and turned back disconsolately to the school again. His second favourite girl cousin, Ailee, was all dressed up, so she wouldn't be able to play either. Ailee was a little tomboy normally, and the two quite enjoyed sailing make believe boats through the garden or being adventurers, but she was with all her schoolfriends at the moment, getting their stall ready, and he was sure she wouldn't be willing to play right now.
He mooched along, trying to see if anyone would let him join in, but there were people rushing about all around him, and all this chitter chatter was making his head ache. He found a little space off to one side of the entrance hall and sat on the floor next to a little table. A few of the girls and mistresses noticed him and kept a weather eye out for any Mike Mischief, but he knew better than to be naughty today, however bored he was. He knew that Sale Days were important ones, so he had to be on his best behaviour. He sighed. Best behaviour really was BORING though. Especially as he couldn't even buy anything yet, or play any of the competitions.
That reminded him, and he grinned in delight, running his fingers through the coins and rustling the notes. He knew just what he wanted to buy with them. Len had told him that there were some little carved boats in the sale, and a lovely pirate's hat made in their hobbies club.
He got the coins out of his pocket and grinned at the collection. He lined them up, putting them carefully just touching each other by the very edges, made a line, then a circle type shape. If anyone had looked at it they would have called it a flower, but Mike was fierce in his head, it was a pattern, nothing so girly as a flower.
He stuck his tongue out to one side in concentration next as he set them all up on their edges. He thought about lining them up like that on their edges, then tipping them over like a domino rally, but just then Aunty Nell came into the hall, and he could see she was watching. Aunty Nell wasn't bad too, as Aunts go, but she was usually a bit too 'On the spot'.
He sighed, tipping some of the balanced coins over in the gust of small boy frustration. The others wobbled, and that reminded him of another fun game with coins. He held a centime with fingers on either hand and tried to spin it. He managed a few slow circles, but they fell over very quickly. Mike frowned and tried again and again, concentrating hard to try to make them whirl the way Stephen could.
Then one of them nearly fell down the gap between the table and the wall, and Mike decided this was too risky a pursuit. He didn't want to risk losing a single centime, there were too many lovely things to spend them on. His very very own centimes, the first ones Mamma had said he could spend on exactly what he liked, so long as he didn't buy and eat just sweets.
He looked around the room and tried to decide what to do next. He tried a casual wander near the stairs, to see if he could explore the school a bit, but Aunty Matey caught his eye just as he started that way, and he knew it was no good. He decided it wasn't going to work today, he wasn't going to find out what an 'exam' looked like, so he may as well wander outside again.
That was when he saw it. A whistle. A shiny beautiful whistle. There wasn't anyone with it. In fact there weren't many people about at all at the moment. He picked it up and looked at it, and spun it on it's cord for a bit.
Mike liked whistles, even more since Bride had told him all about how people used whistles to order people about on ships, or to warn them. He couldn't really whistle yet, not as well as Len could, or Mamma. He could make a bit of a noise, but nothing really satisfying and ... and whistle-like. He put it to his mouth, and gave a tiny puff. A very quiet noise came out, but it was a noise, and Mike grinned. Afterwards he realised there wasn't much chance of the grown ups not noticing the noise and being cross, but his little soul was just itching to hear the whistle properly. Before he had time to even think about the consequences, he had blown his cheeks up and whoosed the air out, all in a rush.
He almost dropped it with the shock then totally forgot himself, and started blowing a few more times.
"Mike!!" The voice made him jump. Aunty Nell sounded really angry. He bit down on the whistle and hurt his teeth, then turned to her, guilt written all across his face. He spat it out, gave it a rub on his jumper and handed it over.
"You are a very naughty boy!" Nell Wilson scolded, looking her grimmest. She'd jumped herself at the unexpected noise and bitten her tongue, which didn't help her feeling more forgiving to the little boy.
Mike looked worried, then as Mamma arrived he looked faintly scared. Not that Mamma was scary, but there were suddenly lots and lots of people around, and he realised retribution must be on it's way.
"Mike again!" he heard Mamma say, and he squirmed. He didn't mean to be so naughty, especially this time when he had promised to be good. "Was it you who blew that whistle Mike?"
He nodded, and then his face fell even further, as she demanded his money back as punishment. This was terrible! His first ever money to spend as he liked. His pirate's hat, his go on the lucky dip, his toy boats and his goes on the competitions. All gone ! He wasn't going to disobey Mamma, though, especially when she looked like that. He tried to salvage at least something, saying imploringly "Please, Mamma, oh, please-" but she cut him off and held out her hand.
"I told you to give them to me" was all she said, and she took the money, putting it in her bag. "And now you can tell us why you blew the whistle."
He winked back the tears, an swallowed valiantly. He really had tried so hard to be good, and now his whole day had been spoiled. "I - I saw it - and I thought - it would be fun to b-blow it" he gulped out, then stopped there, on the very verge of tears.
"Very well" he heard Mamma say, and he could tell she meant it. "You've had your fun, and now you can pay for it. Five francs it'll cost you, but I supposed you thought it worth it."
Joey was sharper than she meant to be really, she herself knew that Mike's naughtiness more often than not was due to boredom or loneliness, as he wasn't quite old enough to be that close to Stephen and Charles, and as yet the twins were not really much fun for him. But she had been so enjoying just spending a few uninterrupted hours with Madge, and she felt guilty that she had left Mike to his own devices, forgetting that Mr Maclaren would be enjoying his time off with Maria. She'd been so happy, just relaxing and being the younger sister for once, rather than Mamma or Wife. So that, combined with embarrassment that yet another of her children had caused a sensation just when she relaxed her guard briefly, made her issue her terrible punishment.
Mike had desperately wanted to avoid crying in front of all these girls, but he couldn't hold back, and dug his fists in his eyes at this loss of his lovely plan for spending his money, his very own money.
Thankfully, help was at hand. Margia Stevens, who was there to open the sale put in a plea with Mamma, and she relented. She gave him back his centimes.
"I'll give you the loose change back" she said. "IF you manage to be a good boy for the rest of the day, you shall have the rest later, but that's as far as I'll go. Here you are!"
He gulped and quickly shoved the coins into his pocket. He would be as good as he could, for he knew Mamma was really cross. She kept him close for the next hour, and relented with his remaining two francs just before the afternoon selling began. He scooted straight off to where the coveted pirate hat had been earlier. Thankfully he found that thoughtful Len had made sure it wouldn't be sold, promising the francs herself if Mike wasn't in funds by then. He grinned from ear to ear. Len wasn't bad really, for a sister, though she was bossy too. He guessed that girls just WERE bossy, they couldn't help it, poor things.
In addition, Bride bought him a small sailboat, and his heroine Tom had promised to try to show him how to whistle by himself. Aunty Nell had stopped being angry with him quite quickly once her bitten tongue had healed. Mamma hadn't stayed cross too. She really was a very fair Mamma, he acknowledged to himself late that night, tucked up with his precious hat on his bedside table. Even if she wouldn't let him wear his hat to bed. He sighed happily, thinking of the day. Ailee had come and found him too, and let him help on their stall, so he had felt most grown up, holding the money bag for them. He had been kept far too busy by all his siblings, aunts and cousins after that to be bored or naughty.
So all in all, Mike thought drowsily, giirls aren't so bad, after all... sometimes.