Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/38

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18
chap.
LIFE OF OCTAVIA HILL

in the work-room, and what they brought was very poor fare. Octavia suggested that they should club together to buy their food, and that each girl in turn should cook it. The long table was cleared, and a white cloth laid, and the food served nicely. Octavia brought over her own luncheon to eat with the girls, and, after the Grace had been sung, it was a pretty sight to see the sad, careworn faces of the children light up, as they sat round the table while she talked to them. Among other things, she learnt to scrub the floor, in order to teach the children to keep the work-room clean.

"A good many of the girls were older than Octavia and inclined to be insubordinate, but she very soon established order, and that without recourse to punishment. The girls had been accustomed to be fined for offences, and they were quite amazed when they found this was no longer the case. On one occasion they refused to scrub the work-tables, which was part of their daily duty. Immediately Octavia and her two younger sisters set to work to do the scrubbing, and soon the girls gave in. They had been fined for swearing, but the swearing soon ceased, and they sang hymns or nice songs. Octavia was their leader and companion in all that they did, and this sharing in their work, and yet leading the way, won them all to obey as well as to love her. Sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon, she would take her little group of workers for a walk to Hampstead Heath or Bishop's Wood. Her sister Gertrude remembers walking in Highgate Lane on a spring afternoon with Professor Owen, who was quietly explaining something about the mosses on Lord Mansfield's fence—all being very still—when, to her surprise, the hedge was broken open, and, with a burst of joy, who should leap down from the bank with a staff in her hand and a straw hat torn by the thicket but Octavia, followed by a troop of ragged toy-workers, happy and flushed, each with a lap full of blue-bells. Octavia stayed for a minute to speak to her sister and the Professor; then off they all went back into the wood and away towards Finchley.

"Schools were not what they are now, and Octavia was amazed at the ignorance of these girls. They quite believed that wolves and bears might be lurking in the woods; and they did