"No, child, there is no paddling for me to-day, or playing wild man of the woods or anything else. I have a long round in the morning, and another in the afternoon. I have just been out interviewing Jabez."
"Oh," gasped Kitty, "I had forgotten Jabez. Of course he can't drive you, his head is all bandaged. I will go, father; I'd love to drive you." And she meant it. She would quite readily have given up her day in Wenmere Woods to go with him.
Dr. Trenire laid his hand tenderly on her shoulder. "It is all right, dear; I shall have Jabez. He has discarded his bandages, and is quite presentable. He says he took them off last night to have a look at the wound, and when he saw what a little bit of a place it was, he made up his mind he wasn't going about with his head tied up for people to poke fun at him later on when they saw what he had been bandaged up for. Go and enjoy yourself, child, and tell me all about it to-night; and do try to keep out of mischief, all of you."
In the kitchen, when Kitty at last reached it, Fanny was making pasties; and when Fanny chose she could make a pasty to perfection. She made them one each now with their initials on them, made of curly bits of pastry, and promised to have them baked and ready by the time Miss Pooley was gone. Emily was in a good temper too. The prospect of being free from the children all day, and of having no meals to get for them till supper, quite cheered her. She even, without being asked, cut them some sandwiches, filled a bottle with milk, and produced a store of apples, which she packed in their basket. When the children, having escaped from patient, easy-going Miss Pooley, rushed out to the kitchen for their pasties and milk, and found things in this unusually happy state, they marvelled at their good fortune, and accepted it thankfully.
"Fanny and Emily are quite nice sometimes," remarked Betty, as they left the house, "only the worst of it is you never know when they are going to be. Sometimes they laugh at everything one says, and another time they grumble."
"To-day they are like people are when you are ill and they are sorry for you," said Tony, who had been puzzling himself for some minutes to know how to express what he wanted to. "I fink they are sorry for us 'cause Aunt Pike is coming."
"'O wise young judge!'" said Dan, "I shouldn't be surprised if you were right." Dan had begun to read Shakespeare, and was full of quotations. "It is rather like living in the shadow of the gallows. I expect people in the French Revolution felt as we do."
"I don't feel the least little bit like French Revolutions, or gallows, or shadows, or even Aunt Pike and darling Anna, on such a glorious day as this," cried Kitty joyfully. "I can't think of them, and I am not going to—yet. Now, if you are all ready, let's race."
Their way led them down a steep hill almost opposite their own house— a hill with just a house here and there on either side of it, and a carpenter's shop, whence wafted out a sweet, fresh scent of newly-cut wood. The children raced to the very foot of it, and then retraced their steps to gather up the fragments of the milk-bottle, which had come to grief within the first twenty yards. Then on they went again, past more cottages and sundry turnings, until at last they reached a curious old rough-and-tumble wharf on one side of the road, where the coal which had been brought by train was piled up in great stacks for the coalmen to take round presently in their carts. Here, too, was drawn up a train—one such as only those who lived in those parts have ever been privileged to see. It was composed of an old-fashioned squat little engine called the "Rover," and a few open carriages, with seats along the sides for passengers, and some trucks for any goods that might be needed.
No passengers occupied the seats at that moment; in fact, they were generally conspicuous by their absence, save once a year, when the whole accommodation was bespoken for the Brianite Sunday-school treat. The "Rover," in fact, spent most of her noble life in drawing coal, clay, and sand up and down the seven miles which lay between Gorlay and Wenbridge. It seemed a limited sphere, but only to the ignorant, who knew nothing of her services to the dwellers by the roadside, the parcels she delivered, the boots she took to be mended and restored again to their owners, the messages she carried, and the hundred and one other little acts of usefulness which filled her daily round. I say "her," for to every one privileged to know her the "Rover" was a lady; one who deserved and received all men's deference and consideration, and the gentlest of handling too.
As Kitty and Dan lingered now by the gate to look at her, they saw Dumble, the driver, lovingly passing a cloth over her, as though to wipe the perspiration from her iron forehead, while Tonkin, the fireman, stood leaning against her, with his arm caressingly outstretched. Behind Dan and Kitty, on the farther side of the road, grew a high hawthorn hedge, under the shelter of which was a seat where people sat and sunned themselves by the hour, and at the same time gazed at the life and bustle with which the wharf woke up now and then. There were two old men on the seat now. They touched their hats to Dan and his sister, and with a melancholy shake of their old heads sighed in sympathy with Kitty as she cried, "O Dan, I wish we could all go by train, all the way to Wenbridge. It will be perfectly lovely down the line."
But Dan seemed less eager than Kitty or the old men. "We shall reach the woods before they do, if we walk on," he said, moving away; "and there is such a lot to see on the way."
Tony and Betty—who was carrying the basket because she felt she could trust no one else with it—were nearly out of sight, so Dan and Kitty hurried after them. One side of the road was lined by fields, the other by houses, and at the foot of their gardens ran the railway line until it emerged through some allotment gardens on to the open road, after which, for a while, train and foot passengers, and sometimes a drover, with a herd of cattle, meandered along side by side in pleasant talk or lively dispute—the latter usually, when Dan was on the road—until, about a mile farther on, two more cottages, and the last, having been passed, the road came to an abrupt end, and only the railway was left, with a rough footpath along its edge, which pedestrians had worn for themselves.
The quartette wandered on contentedly, stopping when they pleased, and that was every few minutes. Overhead the sky was a deep pure blue, and the larks were singing rapturously; the sun shone brilliantly, drawing out the smell of the tar from the "sleepers," and the scent from the flowers. Under the hawthorn hedges which bordered most of the way the petals lay in a thick carpet.
On one side of the road, just before it terminated, was a well, buried deep in a little green cave in the hedge, while the pure water from it flowed generously over the floor of the cave, and ran in a never-failing stream along one side of the way, past the gardens of the cottages, from which at one time a root or maybe a seed only of the "monkey plant" had been thrown, and taking root had flourished and flourished until the stream now was hidden beneath a mass of lush green leaves and stems crowned by tawny golden blossoms speckled and splashed with a deep rich brown.
At the well a halt was always called, for the water of it had healing properties, and from their babyhood the children had, as a matter of duty, tested its powers by bathing their eyes; but to-day, as they stooped over it, a weird shriek in the distance brought them to their feet again. Then came a great racket, as though a pile of all the loose iron in the world were tumbling over, the ground vibrated, and the noise drew closer and closer.
"The 'Rover';" cried Dan. "She is coming! Here's sport! I'll duck them."
Betty's was the only hat that would hold any quantity of water, and she lent it gladly; but the brim was limp with age and hard wear, and a broad-brimmed straw hat at its best is not an ideal vessel from which to throw water over a flying foe. The larger share of it Dan received in his own shoes amidst the derisive laughter of his two intended victims on the engine; and so completely mortified was he that Dumble, for a wonder, refrained from his usual revenge, that of squirting hot water from the engine over him.
Dan looked red and foolish, Betty was furious, Kitty wished they had let the men alone, but at the same moment began to wonder how she could avenge this humiliation they had put upon Dan.
After this little episode they walked on again, and for a while very soberly, Tony busily engaged in picking up stones and spars in search of some rare specimen that might please his father, Betty still clinging to the basket, though her arm was aching with the weight of it. By the time they at last reached the woods they were all rather tired and distinctly hungry, but they were never too tired or hungry to be roused to enthusiasm by the sight that met them there. No mere words can depict the charm and beauty of Wenmere Woods. No one can thoroughly appreciate them who has not actually seen them. No one who has seen them can forget them. To see them was to stand with a glad heart, speechless, wide-eyed, wondering, and thanking God for such a sanctuary, yet half incredulous that such a spot was real, was there always, untouched, undefiled, waiting for one. It might have been a fairy place, that would fade and vanish as soon as one turned one's eyes away.
The woods were of no great extent, the trees were of no great size, but, tall and graceful, they clothed the side of the hill without a break down to the very edge of the river which ran through a valley which was fairyland itself, and on the opposite side stretched away, almost from the river's brink, up, and up, and up, until to all seeming they met the sky. Delicate, feathery larches and quivering birches they were for the most part, and here and there, underneath their spreading branches, were open spaces carpeted with wind-flowers and bluebells, primroses and wild orchids, while ferns, large and small, grew in glorious profusion, some as tall as Tony, others as fragile and tiny as a fairy fern might be. In other spots large lichen-covered rocks raised their heads out of a tangle of bracken and bushes, while here and there, down by the river's brink, gleamed little bays of silver-white sand.
In Dr. Trenire's library were several large bound volumes of Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," illustrated by Gustav Dore, and Kitty had never a doubt in her mind that these were the woods the artist had depicted. There could be no others like them. Here Enid rode with Launcelot by her side; on that silvery beach, where the old bleached tree trunk lay as it must have lain for generations, Vivien had sat at Merlin's feet. There, in that space carpeted by wind-flowers and primroses, Queen Guinevere and Launcelot had said their last farewells.
To Kitty the whole beautiful spot was redolent of them. They had been there, ridden and walked, talked and laughed, loved, wept, and parted; and in that beauty and mystery and silence it seemed to her that some day, any day, they all would come again. They were only sleeping somewhere, waiting for some spell to be removed. She was sure of it, as sure as she was that King Arthur sat sleeping in his hidden cave, spellbound until some one, brave and good and strong enough, should find him and blow a huge blast on the horn which lay on the table before him, and so waken him from his long magic sleep. In her heart of hearts she had a secret conviction that some day she would find the magic cave, and Dan it would be who would possess the power to blow the magic horn.
She pictured herself dressed in flowing robes of white and gold, with her hair in long plaits reaching to her knees, riding away beside the king through those very woods, with the sunlight gleaming through the trees and flashing on the water, and on her other hand would ride Dan in shining armour, a second Sir Galahad. She saw herself a woman, such a beautiful, graceful woman, with earnest eyes and gentle face. She saw a knight, oh! such a splendid, courtly knight, and he looked at her and looked again, and—
A little way up the hill she sat alone, her chin on her hand, gazing down at the sun-flecked river, the shining sand, the fairy-like trees, and saw it all as plainly as though it were then happening. She saw the graceful steeds, richly caparisoned, daintily picking their way through underwood and rocks. A stick cracked somewhere near. Could they be coming? She hardly dared look about her lest she should be disappointed.
TEA AT THE FARM.
"Kitty, are you coming, or are you not? It is very mean of you to keep us waiting all this time when you know how hungry we are!"
With a deep, regretful sigh and a little shake Kitty rose and made her way to the large flat rock by the water's edge, on which the others had grouped themselves in more or less easy attitudes, with the food as a centrepiece. Betty had spread a sheet of white paper, and on it had arranged the pasties according to their length.
"You need not have waited for me," said Kitty, annoyed at having her dreams so broken in upon. "We have each got our own, and can eat them when we like."
"But we never do begin until we all begin together," said Betty reproachfully, "It would seem dreadfully mean; besides, we want you to say which is my pasty and which Dan's. The letter has been broken on one, and knocked right off another. I carried them ever and ever so carefully, so it can't be my fault. Don't you think this is meant for a 'D,' and that one"—holding out the largest—"without any letter at all, is mine?"
Dan felt so sure of getting his rights that he lay quite undisturbed, throwing bits of moss into the water, and left the others to settle the dispute.
"No, I don't," said Kitty, without the slightest hesitation. "Dan always has the largest, whether there is a letter on it or not, and you always have the smallest but one."
Betty accepted the decision without dispute. She had really not expected any other, but she liked to assert herself now and then.
"I can't see," she said musingly, "why you should be expected to want less to eat if you are only ten than if you are twelve. It seems to me so silly. It isn't your age that makes you hungry."
As a rule the others left Betty to find the answer to her own arguments, so she expected none from them. She got none now. They were all too busy and too hungry to argue. Tony alone was not eating. He was sitting with his pasty in one hand, while the other one was full of anemones that he had gathered on his way, intending to take them home to Fanny; but already the pretty delicate heads had begun to droop, and Tony was gazing with troubled eyes at them. He loved flowers so much he could never refrain from gathering them, but the clasp of his hot little hand was almost always fatal, and then he was grieved and remorseful.
Kitty, watching him, knew well what was in his mind. He looked up presently and caught her eye.
"I think I would put them in the river, if I were you, dear," she said. "You see we shan't get home for hours yet, and they will be quite dead long before that. If you put them in the river they will revive."
"Won't it be drowning them?" asked Tony anxiously.
"No; they will float."
"I know what I will do," he said, cheered by an idea that had come into his head. He laid down his pasty and trotted down to the edge of the river. In the wet sand he made little holes with his fingers, put the stems in the holes, and covered them up as though they were growing; then, greatly relieved, he returned and ate his pasty contentedly.
A pasty, even to a Cornish child, makes a satisfying meal, and when it is flanked by sandwiches, and apples, and a good draught of river water, there is no disinclination to remain still for a little while. The four sat on quietly, and talked in a lazy, happy way of the present, the future, and the past—of what each one hoped to be, and of Dan's career in particular; whether he would go away to school, and where. Aunt Pike came under discussion too, but not with that spirit of bitterness which would have been displayed at home, or before a less satisfying repast. Here, in the midst of this beauty and peace, everything seemed different. Wrongs and worries appeared so much smaller and less important—any grievance was bearable while there was this to come to.
They talked so long that a change came over the aspect of the woods. The sun lost its first clear, penetrating brilliancy, and took on a deeper glow. Dan noticed it first, and sprang to his feet.
"Let's move on," he cried, "or it will be tea-time before we have done anything."
"If we are going to have ham and eggs for tea," said matter-of-fact Betty, "I think one of us had better order them soon, or Mrs. Henderson may say she can't cook them in time."
The appeal did not touch them so keenly as it would have done had their last meal been a more distant memory. But, at the same time, the ham and eggs and cream tea was to be a part of their day, and they were not going to be deprived of it. So they clambered up through the woods again till they reached the railway line, and strolled along it until they came to the farm.
Kitty, being the eldest, was chosen to go in and order the tea, while the others hung over the gate and sniffed in the mingled perfume of the roses, the pinks, and all the other sweet-scented flowers with which the little garden was stocked. Across the garden, in the hedge, was another gate through which they could see a steep sunny field stretching away down to the river bank, which was steeper here and higher, with old gnarled trees growing out of it, their large roots so exposed that one wondered how they managed to draw sustenance enough from the ground to support the great trunks and spreading branches.
"I have ordered ham and eggs, and cream, and jam, and cake," said Kitty, as she rejoined them, "and it will all be ready in an hour. It is three o'clock now."
"Only three!" sighed Dan in mock despair. "One whole hour to wait! Will it take all that time to get it ready?"
"I think it is a good thing," said Betty, "that we have to wait, for we are not very hungry now—at least I am not; and you see we've got to pay the same however little we eat, and it does seem a pity to waste our money."
"What a mind she has!" cried Dan, pretending to be lost in admiration. But at that same moment there once more reached their ears sounds as of an approaching earthquake.
"The train!" cried Betty, and seizing Tony's hand, drew him carefully back close to the gate.
Dan cast a hasty look around him for handy missiles. Kitty saw it, and knew what was in his mind.
"Don't throw things at them, Dan, please! Think of yesterday, and Jabez, and Aunt Pike. Don't throw anything to hurt them."
The "Rover" was lumbering nearer and nearer. The two men on it had already caught sight of the quartette at the gate, and were grinning at them derisively. It really was almost more than any human boy could be expected to endure.
"Ha, ha!" jeered the men, as they lumbered by, "be yer boots dry yet, sir? Wonderful cooling to the brain a wet 'at is—cooling to the feet, too, sometimes!"
Dan's blood rose. He felt he simply had to throw something, or do something desperate. Betty's basket, still well supplied, was hanging on her arm close beside him. With one grab he seized the contents, and first an apple went flying through the air, then a paper packet. Tonkin, the fireman, caught the apple deftly; the packet hit Dumble on the chest, and dropped to the floor. Dumble himself was too fat to stoop, so Tonkin pounced on it. The engine was at a little distance now, and aim was easier. Another apple, well directed, hit Tonkin fair and square on the top of his head, while a third caught Dumble with no mean force full on his very broad nose, making him dance and shout with pain.
As the engine disappeared round the bend, with the two men grasping their spoils and their bruises, Dan felt himself avenged, and the one cloud on his day was lifted.
Kitty drew a deep sigh of relief that the episode was ended; Betty, one of regret.
"There were six large sandwiches in that packet," she said reproachfully, "and the apples were beauties. I wish now I had eaten more. I am sure I could have if I had tried."
Though there was plenty to do in the woods, that hour to tea-time seemed somehow a very long one, and quite ten minutes before it was up they were back at the farm to inquire if it was four o'clock yet. Mrs. Henderson smiled knowingly as she saw them gathered at the door, but she noticed that the eager faces were flushed and weary-looking, and she asked them in to sit down and rest, promising she would not keep them long.
As they were to have "a savour to their tea" they were to have the meal in the house, instead of in the garden, and glad enough they were to sink into the slippery, springless easy-chairs, which seemed to them then the most luxurious seats the world could produce—at least they did to Kitty and Dan, who took the only two; Betty got on the window-seat and stretched herself out; Tony, a very weary little man indeed, scrambled on to Kitty's lap; and all of them, too tired to talk much, gazed with interest about the long, low room.
It was not beautiful, and they knew it well, yet the fascination of it never failed. On the walls were hung large framed historical and scriptural scenes, worked in cross-stitch with wool's of the brightest hues, varied by a coloured print of a bird's-eye view of the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, an almanac for the current year, and a large oleograph of a young lady und a dog wreathed in roses that put every flower in the garden to shame for size and brilliancy. But none of these could give a tithe of the pleasure the worked ones did; there was such fascination in counting how many stitches went to the forming of a nose, how many red and how many white to the colouring of a cheek, or the shaping of the hands, and fingers, and toes.
"I didn't know that Robert Bruce had six toes!" said Betty, very solemn with the importance of her discovery, her eyes fastened on a representation of that hero asleep in a cave, while a spider as large as his head wove a web of cables across the opening. "Did you, Dan?"
"Didn't you?" answered Dan gravely. "Don't you know that in Scotland they have an extra toe in case one should get frost-bitten and drop off?"
"Of course I know it is very cold up there," said Betty, who was never willing to admit ignorance of anything; "but supposing two got frost-bitten and dropped off, what would they do then?"
Dan, pretending not to hear her question, strolled over to the bookcase.
"Surely it must be tea-time!" he exclaimed.
Betty, seeing that no answer was forthcoming, slipped from her seat to examine more closely some wax fruit which, under a glass case, adorned a side-table.
"I do think it is wonderful how they make them," she said impressively; "they are so exactly like real fruit."
Mrs. Henderson, coming into the room at that moment, heard the remark, and her heart was won. She had more than once had a suspicion that some of her visitors laughed at her treasured ornaments, and made jokes about them, and the thought had hurt her, for her affections clung to them, and particularly to the was fruit, which had been one of her most prized wedding gifts, so Betty's remark went straight to her heart. She beamed on Betty, and Betty beamed back on her.
"You have such a lot of beautiful things, Mrs. Henderson," she said in her politest manner. "I can't help admiring them."
"It's very kind of you, I'm sure, miss. Of course we all get attached to what's our own, specially when 'tis gived to us; and I'm very proud of my fruit, same as I am of my worked pictures."
"I think they are wonderful," breathed Betty, turning from the wax fruit to gaze at Eli and Samuel. "Did you"—in a voice full of awe— "really work them yourself, Mrs. Henderson?"
"I did, missie, every stitch of them," said their owner proudly; "and all while I was walking out with Henderson."
"While you were walking!" gasped Betty. "But how could you see where you were going?"
Mrs. Henderson laughed. "No, missie; I mean the years we was courting."
"How interesting," said Betty solemnly. "I think I shall work some for my house when I am married. Do you work them on canvas? Can I get it in Gorlay?"
"Yes, miss; but you needn't hurry to begin to-night," said Mrs. Henderson, laughing. "If you want any help, though, when you do begin, or would like to copy mine, I'll be very glad to do what I can for you."
"Oh, thank you very much. I should like to do some exactly like yours," cried Betty excitedly. "Then, when I'm far away, they'll always remind me of you and the farm, and—and I'd like to begin with Robert Bruce and his six toes, and—"
"You would never have patience to do work like that," interrupted Dan cruelly, "nor the money either; and I don't suppose you will ever go out of Gorlay."
"You wait," said Betty, very much annoyed by his humiliating outspokenness. "You wait"—with a toss of her head—"until I am grown up, then I shall marry some one, and I shall travel, and—"
"All right," said Dan, "I will wait; and I hope I never have a headache till it happens."
THE "ROVER" TAKES THEM HOME.
Tony was nearly asleep on Kitty's shoulder, and Kitty herself was distinctly drowsy, but the arrival of the teapot and the ham and eggs roused them effectually. Kitty took her place before the tea-tray, Dan before the hot dish, Betty got as near the cream as she could, and Tony drew a chair close to Kitty, and very soon their spirits began to rise to their highest, and their tiredness vanished. The tea was refreshing, the ham and home-made bread and everything on the table were perfectly delicious, and they ate, and ate, and talked and laughed until Kitty wondered how it was that Mrs. Henderson did not come in and ask them to be quiet. They had all, at the same moment, reached that mood when everything one says, or thinks, or does, sounds or seems amusing; and they laughed and laughed without being able to check themselves, until at last Kitty found herself with her head in the tea-tray, while Dan hung limply over the back of his chair, and Betty and Tony laid their heads on the table and held their aching sides.
"Oh dear!" cried Kitty, straightening herself and trying to compose her face. "They say it is unlucky to laugh so much. I wonder if it is true. It does seem hard, doesn't it?"
The thought sobered them a little, and they gave themselves up to their tea.
"I never know," said Betty thoughtfully, after a somewhat long silence, "whether it is better to begin with ham and end with cream and jam, or to begin with cream and then have the ham, but it seems to me that it is just the same whichever I do—I can't eat much of both. I have tried and tried."
"I call that a real affliction," said Dan soberly. "Of course there is just a chance that you may grow out of it in time, but it is hard lines."
"Yes," sighed Betty, "it really is," and lapsed into quietness. "Another time," she said at last, very gravely, "I think I shall come twice, and not have both at the same tea."
"Perhaps you would like Mrs. Henderson to save you some till to-morrow," suggested Dan ironically.
"No—o," said Betty seriously, "I don't think I will. I don't expect I shall want any more as soon as to-morrow, but—"
"You aren't feeling ill, are you?" asked Kitty anxiously, as she studied Betty's face.
"No—o," answered Betty slowly, "not ill; but it's funny that what is so nice to think about before tea isn't half as nice after."
"If I were you," said Dan pointedly, "I would go and sit in the meadow for a bit, and keep very still until it is time to go home."
"I think I will," said Betty gravely, and started; but they had all finished their meal by this time, and following Dan's advice, strolled out once more to the scented garden, and down through the sloping meadow to the riverside. It was nearly time to wind their way homewards, but they must have a little rest first, and one more look at the river and the woods, so they perched themselves about on the old tree roots, which formed most comfortable and convenient seats—all but Dan, who seemed to prefer to perch on a rock which stood in the middle of the river, which was shallower here and wider. To get to it he had to take off his shoes and stockings and wade, which perhaps made up for the uncomfortableness of the seat when he reached it, and soon sent him wading back through the cool rippling water again.
The handkerchiefs of the family having been commandeered in place of a towel, and Dan's feet clad once more, they all sat on in a state of lazy, happy content, playing "Ducks and Drakes," or talking, until at last Kitty, looking at the sky, saw with a shock that the sun was already setting, and realizing that they still had the long walk home before them, roused the party to sudden activity.
They were all on their feet in a moment. "I think we had better get out on the road by this gate, instead of going back to the house again," she said, hurrying towards one at the end of the field which brought them at once out on to the road.
"But hadn't you better pay Mrs. Henderson?" questioned Betty, as she panted after her hurrying sister.
"Oh!" Kitty stood still and gasped, "I had quite forgotten! How stupid of me! I am glad you remembered, Betty," and they all streamed back to the farm again and into the little garden, more heavily scented than ever now as the flowers revived in the dew and cooler air.
Mrs. Henderson came out to them quite smilingly, and apparently not at all concerned about their debt to her. In her hand she was holding a flower-pot with a sturdy-looking little rose bush flowering in it. The children eyed it admiringly. It had two delicate pink roses in full bloom on it, and several little buds. "I was wondering, missie," she said, turning to Betty, and holding out the rose to her, "if you would be pleased to have this little plant; 'tis off my old monthly rose that I've had for so many years. I planted this one last year and it has come on nicely. Would you be pleased to accept it?"
Betty gasped. For a moment she was so surprised and overjoyed as to be speechless. "Me! For me!" she cried at last. "Oh, how lovely! Thank you so much, Mrs. Henderson. I'll keep it always, and 'tend to it myself every day. I have never had a plant of my own before, and I shall love it," and Betty took her rose in her arms and hugged it in pure joy.
"You have made Betty very happy now, Mrs. Henderson," said Kitty, without a trace of envy in her heart. "Thank you for all you have done for us. Good-night."
"Good-night, and thank you for our fine tea," said Dan, and one by one they passed out of the scented garden, and on their homeward way.
A soft evening mist was creeping slowly up over the river and the sloping meadow; the distant woods looked desolate, and almost awesome. Kitty could nut picture them now peopled as they had been in the morning, and her efforts to do so were soon interrupted by a little piteous voice beside her.
"My feets do hurt me," said Tony plaintively. "I s'pose I mustn't take off my boots?"
"Poor old Tony," cried Dan. "Here, let me carry you," and he hoisted his tired little brother on to his shoulders. But Dan was tired too, and the way was long, and they had either to walk in single file along the tiny track worn beside the sleepers, or over the sleepers themselves, and that meant progressing by a series of hops and jumps, which might perhaps be amusing for a few minutes at the beginning of a day's pleasuring, but is very far from amusing when one is tired and the way is long. The summer evening was warm too.
"I wish the old 'Rover' would come along," panted Dan at the end of about a quarter of an hour's march. "I'd get those fellows to give us a lift for part of the way at any rate."
"Oh," sighed Betty, "how lovely that would be! But things don't happen when you want them to, do they?"
Miss Betty's sad and cynical view of life was wrong though, for not so very much later the familiar rumbling and shaking, and puffing and rattling, reached their ears once more, and coming, too, from the direction of Wenbridge.
In a state of anxious excitement they all stood to await it. "Hadn't we better hold up a pocket-handkerchief for a white flag to show them we are friendly?" asked Betty anxiously.
"They wouldn't understand if we did," said Dan impatiently. "They'd only think we were trying to frighten them. Kitty, if you go back towards them, holding up your hand, they will know it's all right. They will trust you. It's only me they are down on, really."
Kitty went back at once, and fortunately, just as she was trying to attract their attention and make them understand that she had only friendly intentions, they brought the engine to a standstill for Tonkin to get down and collect some faggots which lay beside the way. The engine snorted, and spit, and panted, and Dumble watched Kitty's approach with an eye which was not encouraging; but Kitty, though her heart was quaking a little, advanced bravely.
"Dumble," she called to him, in a friendly, conciliating voice, stretching up to him confidingly—"Dumble, we are so tired. My little brother Tony can hardly get on at all, his feet are hurting him so badly, and he is too heavy for Dan to carry all the way; and Dan is tired too, and—and we wondered if—if you would give us a lift, even if it is only for a little way. Will you?"
Dumble, his face rather flushed, straightened himself. "Look at my nose, miss," he said meaningly. "Look at my nose," pointing to that poor feature, which certainly looked red and swollen. "That's your brother's doings, heaving apples and not caring what he strikes with 'em, and yet after that you can come and ask me to take 'ee all aboard of my train."
"I am very sorry, Dumble, that you got hit, I am really, but—well, you did get the apples and some nice sandwiches too, you know; and when you aim at Dan it is never with anything nicer than hot water, and you know you did really scald him once but he never told how it was done."
Dumble looked rather foolish. "Didn't 'ee now?" he said, but his tone was less indignant. "Yes, we had the apples, and fine ones they were too. Well, come along. Tell 'em all to look sharp and hop up, for 'tis 'bout time we was to 'ome, and the 'Rover' put up for the night."
Gladly enough the others obeyed her eager signals. Joyfully they scrambled up into the high carriage and dropped on the dusty, gritty seats. Dan and his enemies exchanged broad, sheepish smiles, but they were amiable smiles. Tonkin flung up the last of the faggots and climbed up on the engine, and off they started. And what a journey it was! All about them stretched the country, vast and still and empty, they themselves, seemingly, the only living creatures in it, the panting and rumbling of the engine the only sound to be heard, for it drowned all such gentle sounds as the "good-nights" of the birds, the distant lowing of cows, the rippling of the brook beside the way.
Daylight was fading fast. Here and there the way was narrow, and the hedges so high that the hawthorns almost met overhead; and here and there, where tall fir trees lined the road on either side, it was very nearly dark.
By two of them, at least, that journey in the fading light was never forgotten. It had been such a happy day, so free from worries and naughtiness or squabbles, or any cause for regret; and now they were going home, happy but tired, and longing to be in the dear old untidy, shabby home again. Kitty, with Tony nestling against her, leaned back in her corner restfully, and thought of her home with a depth of feeling she could not have defined. "If it could only be like this always," she said to herself, "and there is no reason why it shouldn't if only we were good and every one was nice. I wonder, I wonder if I cannot make it so that father wouldn't want any one to live with us."
On they rattled and jolted, past the two cottages, with their windows lighted up now and the blinds drawn; past the little well, its cave looking dark and mysterious under its green canopy. Kitty, lost to the others and their talk, gazed with loving eyes at everything. "Dear little well," she thought. "Dear old 'Rover,' and Gorlay, and home, how I do love every inch and stick and stone of it! I think I should die if I had to leave—"
"Kitty, have you got a shilling?" Dan shrieked in her ear with such vigour that Kitty really leaped in her seat.
"What is the matter?" she demanded crossly. It was not pleasant to be roused from her musings and brought back thus to everyday, prosaic matters; and it happened to her so often, or so it seemed.
"I have asked you three times already. Have you got a shilling? We shall have to get down presently, or we shall be seen, and the men and all of us will get into a row because we are travelling without tickets. We had better get down when they come to the 'lotment gardens, and we must tip them; but Betty has only got tuppence, and I have only fourpence, and that is all in coppers, mostly ha'pennies. I don't like to offer it to them."
"I haven't a shilling," said Kitty regretfully. "I have only eightpence left; the tea cost a good deal," and she produced from her purse a sixpenny bit and two pennies.
Dan looked at their combined wealth disgustedly. "They'll think we've been saving up for this little go," he said in a mortified voice; "but I'll give them the lot, and tell them it is all we have left."
"I don't suppose they will mind ha'pennies," said Kitty consolingly.
"Of course they won't," said Betty, who was rather cross at having to lay down her beloved rose and dive for her purse; "they aren't so silly. Besides, they have had our apples and sandwiches already."
"Well, don't remind them of that again," said Kitty anxiously, for it was just the kind of thing Betty would do; but before she could extract a promise the engine slowed down and they hastily prepared to dismount.
Dan coloured as he put the sixpenny bit and the coppers into Dumble's grimy hand. "I am sorry there's such a lot of pence," he said shyly; "but it is all we've got left, and—and—"
"Aw," said Dumble, who had expected nothing, and was rather embarrassed than otherwise by their generosity, "thank 'ee kindly, sirs, and young leddies; there wasn't no 'casion to give us nothing; but thank 'ee very much all the same, and 'nother time we'll be glad to 'blige 'ee with 'nother lift."
"Thank you very much," said Dan. "But it isn't as much as it looks; it is only fourteen pence altogether. I—I thought I'd tell you for fear you'd be disappointed;" and thankful for the darkness which hid his embarrassment, he joined the others, and with many friendly "Good-nights" to the "Rover" they started on the last stage of their journey.
Briskly enough they started; but their pace soon changed; their feet were weary, and there was really no great need to hurry now. There would be no scoldings or punishments when they got home, even if they were late, for no one there was very particular as to time, and there was so much to see that they did not usually see that they stopped repeatedly to look about them. The cottages were all lighted up now, and in some of them the blinds had been left undrawn and the windows open. Even the old wharf, too, had here and there a light gleaming out of its blackness, adding to the weird mystery of the place, and then in rattled the "Rover," and drew up panting and throwing out deep breaths of steam and smoke and sparks, as though she had come at breakneck speed on urgent business from the extreme limits of the earth, and could scarcely be restrained from starting off again. In the dim light they could see Dumble and Tonkin wandering round and lovingly criticizing their fiery steed. "'Er 'ave gone well to-day," they heard Dumble saying proudly. "'Er 'ave gone like a little 'are."
"Ay, ay, proper!" responded Tonkin with solemn emphasis. "Since 'er was cleaned I'd back 'er agin all the new-fangled engines in the world. Give the 'Rover' a fair bit of line to travel over, and 'er'll—well, 'er'll do it."
The children chuckled to themselves and moved on. "To-night, with the 'Rover' drawn up in it, it doesn't look quite so much like Quilp's Wharf as usual," said Kitty, looking back lingeringly at the black, ramshackle collection of old tarred sheds; "but I am sure I shall see Quilp's boy standing on his head there one day."
A BAD BEGINNING.
On again they went, past more cottages with groups of people gossiping at their doors, or sitting about on low steps or the edges of the pavement, enjoying the cool and calm of the summer evening; up the steep hill where the milk-bottle had come to grief in the morning, past the carpenter's shop, fast closed now, all but the scent of the wood, which nothing could keep in.
It was a stiff pull to the top for tired people, but it was reached at last. With a deep sigh of satisfaction they crossed the quiet street in leisurely fashion to their own front door, where, summoning what energy they had left, they gave a friendly "whoop!" to let their arrival be known, and burst into the house pell-mell; then stopped abruptly, almost tumbling over each other with the shock, and stared before them in silent, speechless amazement at a pile of luggage which filled the centre of the hall. Betty stepped back and looked at the plate on the door to make quite sure that they had not burst into the wrong house; but Kitty, with a swift presentiment, realized to whom that luggage belonged and what it meant, and her heart sank down, down to a depth she had never known it sink before.
Before she could speak, though, Emily appeared from somewhere, her face a picture of rage, offended dignity, and fierce determination; but as soon as she caught sight of the bewildered, wondering quartette, her whole expression changed. She came to them, as Kitty said afterwards, as though there had been a death in the family and she had to break the news to them. But it was an arrival she had to announce, not a departure, and she announced it abruptly.
"She's come!" she gasped in a whisper more penetrating than a shout; and her face added, "You poor, poor things, I am sorry for you."
For once Emily's sympathies were with them, and even while staggering under the blow they had just received, Kitty could not help noticing the fact.
"What?—not Aunt Pike?—to stay?" gasped Dan.
Emily nodded, a world of meaning in the action. "You'd best go up and speak to her at once, or she'll be crosser than she is now, if that's possible. She's as vexed as can be 'cause there wasn't nobody to the station to meet her, nor nobody here when she come."
"But we didn't know. How could we? And who could have even dreamed of her coming to-day!" they argued hotly and all at once.
"A tellygram come soon after you'd a-gone," said Emily, with a sniff; "but there wasn't nobody here to open it. And how was we to know what was inside of it; we can't see through envelopes, though to hear some people talk you would think we ought to be able to."
Kitty knew it was her duty to check Emily's rude way of speaking of her aunt, but a common trouble was uniting them, and she felt she could not be severe then.
"Doesn't father know yet?" she asked.
"Poor father! Has Aunt Pike really come to stay, Emily?"
"I can't make out for certain, miss; but if she isn't going to stay now, she is coming later on. I gathered that much from the way she talked. She said it didn't need a very clever person to see that 'twas high time somebody was here to look after things, instead of me being with my 'ead out of win—I mean, you all out racing the country to all hours of the night, and nothing in the house fit to eat—"
"I've got to go and get the spare-room ready as soon as she comes out of it," went on Emily. "A pretty time for anybody to have to set to to sweep and dust."
Kitty, though, could not show any great sympathy there; having to sweep and dust seemed to her at that moment such trifling troubles. "Where is she now, Emily?"
"In the spare-room."
"Oh, the dust under the bed!" groaned Kitty. "She is sure to see it; it blows out to meet you every time you move!"
"Never mind that now," said Dan; "it is pretty dark everywhere. But we had better do a bunk and clean ourselves up a bit before she sees us," and he set the example by kicking off his shoes and disappearing like a streak up the stairs.
In another moment the hall was empty, save for eight very dirty shoes and the pile of severe-looking luggage.
To convince Aunt Pike that her presence and care were absolutely unnecessary was the one great aim and object which now filled them all, and as a means to this end their first idea was to dress, act, and talk as correctly and unblamably as boys and girls could. So, by the time the worthy lady was heard descending, they were all in the drawing-room, seated primly on the stiffest chairs they could find, and apparently absorbed in the books they gazed at with serious faces and furrowed brows. To the trained eye the "high-water marks" around faces and wrists were rather more apparent and speaking than their interest in their books. Their heads, too, were strikingly wet and smooth around their brows, but conspicuously tangled and unkempt-looking at the back.
However, on the whole they appeared well-behaved and orderly, and the expression of welcome their faces assumed as soon as their aunt was heard approaching was striking, if a little overdone. It was unfortunate, though, that they and Emily had forgotten to remove their dirty shoes from the hall, or to light the gas, for Aunt Pike, groping her way downstairs in the dark, stumbled over the lot of them—stumbled, staggered, and fell! And of all unyielding things in the world to fall against, the corner of a tin box is perhaps the worst.
The expression of welcome died out of the four faces, their cheeks grew white; Kitty flew to the rescue.
"I'm jolly glad it isn't my luggage," murmured Dan, preparing to follow.
"She shouldn't have left it there," said Betty primly.
"I expect it's our shoes she's felled over," whispered Tony in a scared voice. "I jumped over them when I came down, but I don't 'spect Aunt Pike could."
Dan and Betty looked at each other with guilty, desperate eyes.
"Well, you left yours first," said Betty, anxious to shift all blame, "and you ran upstairs first, and—and we did as you did, of course."
"Oh, of course," snapped Dan crossly, "you always do as I do, don't you? Now go out and tell Aunt Pike that, and suck up to her. If she's going to live here, it's best to be first favourite." At which unusual outburst on the part of her big brother Betty was so overcome that she collapsed on to her chair again, and had to clench her hands tightly and wink hard to disperse the mist which clouded her eyes and threatened to turn to rain.
But a moment later the entrance of Aunt Pike helped her to recover herself—Aunt Pike, with a white face and an expression on it which said plainly that her mind was made up and nothing would unmake it. Betty and Tony stepped forward to meet her.
"How do you do, Elizabeth?—How do you do, Anthony? I should have gone to your bedrooms to see you, thinking naturally that you two, at least, would be in bed, but I was told you were still racing the country. Anna goes to bed at seven-thirty, and she is a year older than you," looking at Betty very severely.
"Is Anna here too?" asked Kitty, saying anything that came into her head by way of making a diversion.
"No, she is not. She will join me later. We were just about to move to another hydropathic establishment when your poor father's letter reached me, and I felt that, no matter at what sacrifice on my part, it was my duty to throw up all my own plans and come here at once."
"Then the postman must have missed my letter," said Betty indignantly. "What a pity! for it would have told you we didn't want—I mean, it would have saved you the trouble—"
"It was your letter, Elizabeth, which decided me to come," said Mrs. Pike, turning her attention to poor Betty. "It reached me by the same post as your poor father's, and when I read it I felt that I must come at once—that my place was indeed here. So I confided Anna to the care of friends, and came, though at the greatest possible inconvenience, by the next train. And what," looking round severely at them all, "did I find on my arrival? No one in the house to greet me! My nephews and nieces out roaming the country alone, no one knew where! One maid out without leave, and the other—well, you might almost say she was out too, for her head protruded so far from her bedroom window that I could see it almost from the bottom of the street."
"Emily will hang out of window," sighed Kitty.
"And when I reprimanded her she was most impertinent. Is she always so when she is reprimanded, Katherine?"
"We—we don't reprimand her," admitted Kitty. "I am afraid she would be if we did," she added honestly.
At that moment Dan burst into the room carrying a bottle. "If you put some of this on the bruises," he said, offering it to his aunt, "it'll take the pain out like anything. Jabez has it for the horses, and I've used it too; it is capital stuff."
Mrs. Pike looked at the bottle with an eye which for a moment made Kitty quake, for Dan had brought it in with the fine crust of dirt and grease on it that it had accumulated during a long sojourn in the coach-house. But something, perhaps it was Dan's thoughtfulness, checked the severe remark which had almost burst from her lips.
"Thank you, Daniel," she said, almost graciously. "If you will ask one of the servants to clean the outside of the bottle, I shall be very glad of the contents, for I feel sure I have bruised myself severely."
Betty was about to offer her pocket-handkerchief for the purpose when she remembered that she had not one with her, and so saved herself from further humiliation.
"At what hour do you dine—or sup?" asked Mrs. Pike, turning to Kitty.
"We have supper at—at—oh, when father is home, or we—or we come home, or—when it is convenient."
"Or when the servants choose to get it for you, perhaps," said Aunt Pike sarcastically, but hitting the truth with such nicety that Kitty coloured. "Well," she went on, "if you can induce the maids to give us a meal soon I shall be thankful, for I have had nothing since my lunch; and I really feel, with all the agitation and shocks and blows I have had this day, as though I were nearly fainting."
Poor Kitty, with a sinking heart, ran off at once, glad to escape, but overwhelmed with dread of what lay before her. To her relief she found that Fanny had returned; but Fanny was hot with the first outburst of indignation at the news that awaited her, and was angry and mutinous, and determined to do nothing to make life more bearable for any of them.
In response to Kitty's meek efforts to induce her to do her best to make the supper-table presentable, and not a shame to them all, she refused point-blank to stir a finger.
"There's meat pasties, and there's a gooseberry tart, and cheese, and cold plum-pudding, and cake, and butter and jam," she said, enumerating thing after thing, designed, so it seemed to Kitty, expressly for the purpose of giving Aunt Pike a nightmare; "and I've got some fish for the master, that I am going to cook when he comes, and not before."
"O Fanny, do cook it for Aunt Pike, please. It is just the thing for her, and I am sure father would rather she should have it than that she should complain that she had nothing to eat—"
"Well, Miss Kitty," burst in Fanny indignantly, "I don't know what you calls nothing. I calls it a-plenty and running over; and if what's good enough for us all isn't good enough for Mrs. Pike, well—"
"It is good enough, Fanny," urged Kitty; "only, you see, we like it and can eat it, but Aunt Pike can't. You know the last time she was here she said everything gave her indigestion—"
"Them folks that is so afflicted," said Fanny, "should stay in their own 'omes, or the 'ospital. I'm sure master don't want patients indoors so well as out, and be giving up the food out of his own mouth to them. The bit of fish I've got for master I'm going to keep for master. If anybody's got to have the indigestion it won't be him, not if I knows it; he's had nothing to eat to-day yet to speak of, and if nobody else don't consider him, well, I must," and with this parting thrust Fanny left the kitchen to go to her bedroom.
Kitty longed to be able to depart to her room too, to lock herself in and fasten out all the worries and bothers, and all thoughts of supper and Aunt Pike, and everything else that was worrying. "I wish I had stayed in the woods," she thought crossly; "there would be peace there at any rate," and her mind wandered away to the river and the little silvery bays, and the tree-covered slopes rising up and up, and she tried to picture it as it must be looking then at that moment, so still, and lonely, and mysterious.
"I'll see that it all looks nice, Miss Kitty," said Emily with unusual graciousness. She felt really sorry for Kitty and the position she was in, and having quite made up her mind to leave now that this new and very different mistress had come, she was not only beginning already to feel a little sad at the thought of parting from them all, but a lively desire to side with them against the common enemy. She failed quite to realize that her past behaviour had reconciled Kitty more than anything to the "enemy's" presence, and made her coming almost a relief. "I'll get Fanny to poach some eggs, or make an omelette or something. Don't you worry about it."
Kitty, immensely relieved and only too glad to follow Emily's last bit of advice, wandered out and through the yard towards the garden. She felt she could not go back to the company of Aunt Pike again, for a few moments at any rate.
Prue was standing with her head out of her window, anxiously wondering where Jabez was with her supper. Kitty spoke to her and passed on. She strolled slowly up the steps, past the fateful garden wall and the terrace above to the next terrace, where stood a pretty creeper-covered summer-house. It was a warm night, and very still and airless. Kitty sat down on the step in the doorway of the summer-house, and staring before her into the dimness, tried to grasp all that had happened, and what it would mean to them. She thought of their lazy mornings, when they lay in bed till the spirit moved them to get up; of the other mornings when they chose to rise early and go for a long walk to Lantig, or down to Trevoor, the stretch of desolate moorland which lay about a mile outside the town, and was so full of surprises—of unexpected dips and trickling streams, of dangerous bogs, and stores of fruits and berries and unknown delights—that, well though they knew it, they had not yet discovered the half of them. She thought of their excursions, such as to-day's, to Wenmere Woods, and those others to Helbarrow Tors. They usually took a donkey and cart, and food for a long day, when they went to this last. Her mind travelled, too, back over their favourite games and walks, and what she, perhaps, loved best of all, those drives, when she would have the carriage and Prue all to herself, and would wander with them over the face of the country for miles.
At those times she felt no nervousness, no loneliness, nothing but pure, unalloyed happiness. Sometimes she would take a book with her, and when she came to a spot that pleased her, she would turn Prue into the hedge to graze, while she herself would stay in the carriage and read, or dismount and climb some hedge, or tree, or gate, and gaze about her, or lie on the heather, thinking or reading; and by-and-by she would turn the old horse's head homewards, and arrive at last laden with honeysuckle or dog-roses, bog-myrtle, ferns, or rich-brown bracken and berries.
THE COMING OF ANNA.
The next week or two were full of change, excitement, and unrest. No one knew what the next day might bring forth, and the children never felt sure of anything. Any hour might bring a surprise to them, and it was not likely to be a pleasant surprise—of that they felt sure. One of the changes decided on was that Dan was to go very soon—the next term, in fact—to a public school as a boarder.
To all but Dan the news came as an overwhelming blow. Katherine and Elizabeth, as their aunt persisted in calling them, considered it one of the most cruel and treacherous acts that Mrs. Pike could have been guilty of. Of course they blamed her entirely for it. "Dan was to be turned out of his home-banished—and by Aunt Pike!" they told each other.
"I expect she will banish us next," said Betty. "If she does, I shall run away from school and become something—a robber, or a gipsy, or a heroine."
But the cruellest part, perhaps, of the blow was that Dan himself did not resent it. In fact, he showed every sign of delight with the plan, and was wild with excitement for the term to begin. To the girls this seemed rank treachery, a complete going over to the enemy, and they felt it keenly.
"I didn't think Dan would have changed so," said Kitty dejectedly, as she and Betty lay in their beds discussing the serious state of affairs.
"I don't know," said Betty darkly. "I thought he was very odd the night Aunt Pike came. First there was the rude way he spoke to me about my making up to her, and then he went and got that bottle of embercation for her. I called that sucking up to her."
"But Dan is always polite," said Kitty, warm in defence of him at once. She might sometimes admit to herself that there was a flaw in her brother, but she could not endure that any one else should see one; "and he is always sorry for people when they are hurt, and it was our fault that she was hurt."
"Yes, it was his fault really," said Betty, whose memory was a good one—too good at times, some said—"for he was the first to kick off his boots and leave them there."
"I know; but he didn't tell us to do the same. And you see we had all agreed to be polite to Aunt Pike, and you could have got the embrocation for her if you had liked."
"But I don't see why it should be called 'polite' if Dan does it, but 'sucking up' if I do it," argued Betty.
Kitty sighed. She often wished that Betty would not want things explained so carefully. She never made allowances for changes of mood or sudden impulses. Kitty herself so constantly experienced both, that she could sympathize with others who did the same, and as she put it to herself—"What can you do if you feel sorry for a person that you hated only a little while before?"
Kitty could not understand the right and the wrong of these things, or what to do under such circumstances. She wished she could, for they made her feel mean to one side or the other, and nothing was really further from her intention.
The next arrangement made—and this was an even greater blow to them than the "banishment" of Dan—was that Kitty and Betty were to go as day girls to school, instead of having Miss Pooley to the house.
The plan, being Aunt Pike's, would probably have been objected to in any case; but to Kitty, with her shy dread of strangers—particularly girls of her own age—the prospect was appalling, and she contemplated it with a deep dread such as could not be understood by most girls.
Betty complained loudly, but soon found consolation. "At any rate," she said, "we need not walk to school with Anna, and we needn't see as much of her there as we should have to at home; and I think it will be rather jolly to know a lot of girls."
"Do you?" sighed Kitty, looking at her sister with curious, wondering eyes, and a feeling of awe. "I can't think so. I can't bear strange girls." It seemed to her incredible that any one should want to know strangers, or could even contemplate doing so without horror. She envied them, though, for being able to. "It must make one feel ever so much more happy and comfortable," she thought, "to have nothing to be afraid of." She would have given a very great deal not to feel shy and embarrassed when with strangers, and to be able to think of something to say to them. But she never could. Nothing that she had to say seemed interesting or worth saying. Betty, with her self-confidence and fluent tongue, was a constant source of admiration to Kitty.
"You will get on all right," she said, with another sigh; "but I was never meant to go where there are other people."
"That is why you've got to go. It is good for you; I heard Aunt Pike saying so to father. She said you were growing up shy and gauche. I don't know what gauche means; do you?"
"No," said Kitty, colouring. "I expect I ought to, and I expect it is something dreadful; but if I am happier so, why can't I go on being gauche?"
"Father said you were very shy, but he didn't think you were the other thing—gauche."
"Did he?" cried poor Kitty, brightening; but her face soon fell again. "Father doesn't notice things as quickly as some people do—Aunt Pike, and Lady Kitson, and others; and I expect they are right. It is always the disagreeable people and the disagreeable things that are right. Did Aunt Pike say the same thing of you?"
"No; she said I had too much—it was a long word—too much self—self— oh, I know, confidence—self-confidence. I don't know what it means, but I am sure I haven't got it; and if I have," wound up Betty defiantly, "I won't get cured of it. Do you know what it means, Kitty?"
"Yes," said Kitty thoughtfully, "I think I do; but I don't see how going to the same school can cure us both."
At the end of a few days Mrs. Pike went away to get Anna, and to collect their numerous belongings; and the doctor's household felt that it had before it one week of glorious freedom, but only one.
In anticipation of this, their last happy free time, the children had made plans for each day of it, intending to enjoy them to the utmost. Somehow, though, things were different. There was a shadow even over their freedom—if it was not there in the morning, it fell before night—and they returned home each day weighted with a sense of weariness and depression. There was the shadow, too, of Dan's departure, and a very deep shadow it was.
"Things will never, never be the same again," said Kitty sagely. "Dan won't know about all that we do; and when he gets a lot of boy friends he won't care very much."
There was also the shadow of their own school and the constant companionship of Anna, and this was a dense shadow indeed.
"It wouldn't be so bad if she was jolly and nice, but it will be like having a spy always with us," said Betty. "She will tell Aunt Pike everything."
"You don't know," said Dan, to tease them. "Anna may have grown up quite different from what she was, and be as jolly as possible." But the suggestion did not console the girls; to them it only seemed that Dan was already forsaking them, that this was but another step over to the enemy.
"She couldn't be jolly," said Betty firmly. "She wouldn't know how, and Aunt Pike wouldn't let her if she wanted to. And even if she seemed so, I shouldn't feel that I could trust her."
"Bosh!" said Dan emphatically. "One can always tell if a person is to be trusted or not."
"Well, I can tell that I shall not trust Anna ever," cried Betty viciously, roused to deep anger by Dan's championship of Anna Pike.
But Dan was not impressed. "Oh well," he said, turning carelessly on his heel, "if you are so narrow-minded and have made up your mind not to like her, it is no use to say anything more."
"I am not narrow-minded," cried Betty hotly. "I don't know what you mean."
"I don't suppose you do," laughed Dan. "Never mind. Cheer up, Elizabeth, I will give you a dictionary on your birthday."
"No, you won't, 'cause you won't have money enough," said Betty; "and— and I wouldn't accept it if you got it."
"I'll leave you my old one when I go to school, and I advise you to study it well before you go to Miss Richards's. It may save you from putting your foot in it sometimes."
"I wonder," said Betty, with a sudden thought, "if it would tell me what self-confidence is?"
"I can tell you that," said Dan. "Why do you want to know?"
"Oh—oh, because—but tell me first what it means, and then I will tell you—perhaps."
"Well, it means—oh—you know—"
"No, I don't; and—and I don't believe you do either," nodding her head very knowingly at her brother.
"Yes, I do," cried Dan hotly. "It means having a too jolly good opinion of yourself, and thinking you can do anything. Now, tell me why you wanted to know."
But Betty was walking away with her head held very high, and her cheeks very red. "I think it is quite time you started for the station to meet Aunt Pike and Anna," she called back over her shoulder.
"Don't be late, whatever you do."
"But you are coming too, Bet, aren't you?"
"No," she answered frigidly, as she closed the door, "I am not," and to herself she added, with proud indignation, "After Aunt Pike's calling me such a name as that, I shouldn't think of going to meet her."
Kitty, Dan, and Tony were on the platform when the train arrived. Their father had expressly wished them to go to meet their aunt and cousin, as he was unable to; so they went to please him, they told each other. But they would put up with a good deal for the sake of a jaunt to the station, and there really was some little anxiety and excitement, too, in their hearts as to what Anna would be like.
When she had stayed with them before she had been a little fair, slight thing, with a small face, frightened restless eyes, and a fragile body as restless as her eyes. Anna Pike gave one the impression of being all nerves, and in a perpetual state of tremor. She was said to be very clever and intellectual, and certainly if being always with a book was a proof of it, she was; but there were some who thought she did little with her books beyond holding them, and that it would have been better for her in every way if she had sometimes held a doll, or a skipping-rope, or a branch of a tree instead.
"She was rather pretty, I think, wasn't she?" said Kitty musingly, as they strolled up and down the platform waiting for the train.
"She was awfully skinny," said Dan.
"Will Anna be bigger than me?" asked Tony, who did not remember her.
"Oh yes, she is as old as Dan, I think; but I always feel as though she were older even than I am. She used to seem so grown-up and clever, and she always did the right thing; and, oh dear, how dreadful it will be if she is still the same."
Tony sighed. "I wish there was somebody little, like me, to play with," he said wistfully; "somebody as young as me."
"But, Tony darling, you don't feel you want some one else, do you? Why, we all play with you," cried Kitty reproachfully.
"Yes, I know; but you only pretend. You don't think things are really-truly, like I do."
"But I do, dear, I do, really; only yours are fairies and giants, and mine are knights and kings and ladies," and her thoughts flashed right away from the busy station, with its brick platform and gleaming rails, the ordinary-looking men and women pacing up and down, and the noise and rattle of the place, to the quiet, still woods and hurrying river, with their mystery and calm, and to those other men and women pacing so stately amidst the silence and beauty. But Tony, tugging at her hand, very soon brought her abruptly back to her real surroundings.
"It is coming! it is coming!" he cried. "I hear it."
And a moment later, with a fast-increasing roar, the engine rounded the curve, and gradually slowing down, drew up alongside the platform.
Mrs. Pike was one of those persons who keep their seats until all other passengers have left the carriage, and make every one belonging to them do the same; and Kitty and Dan had twice walked the whole length of the train, and were just turning away, not quite certain whether they felt relieved or not at seeing no sign of their travellers, when they heard a well-remembered voice calling to them, and, turning, saw their aunt standing in a carriage doorway, beckoning to them as frantically as an armful of parcels and bags would allow her. She retreated when she had attracted their attention, and in her place there stepped from the carriage a tall, lanky girl, who was evidently very shy and embarrassed at being thrust out alone to greet her strange cousins.
It was Anna. Though she had grown enormously, they knew her in a moment, for the thin white face was the same, the restless eyes, the nervous fidgeting movements of the hands and feet and body. Her straight, light hair had grown enormously too; it was a perfect mane now, long, and thick, and heavy—too heavy and long, it seemed, for the thin neck and little head. Kitty eyed it enviously, though; her own dark hair was frizzy and thick as could be, but it never had grown, and never would grow more than shoulder length, she feared, and she did so admire long, straight, glossy hair.
But when she looked from her cousin's hair to her cousin, a sudden sense of shyness came over her, and it was awkwardly enough that she advanced.
"Ought I to kiss her," she was asking herself, "on a platform like this, and before a lot of people? She might think it silly;" and while she was still debating the point, she had held out her hand and shaken Anna's stiffly, with a prim "How do you do," and that was all.
Her aunt she had overlooked entirely, until that lady recalled her wandering wits peremptorily. "Well, Katherine, is this the way you greet your aunt and cousin? Have you quite forgotten me? Come and kiss us both in a proper manner.—Well, Daniel, how are you? Yes, I shall be obliged to you if you will go in search of our luggage;" for Dan, fearing that he, too, might be ordered to kiss them both, had shaken hands heartily but hastily, while uttering burning desires to assist them by finding their boxes.—"Anthony, come and be introduced to your cousin Anna. I dare say you scarcely remember her."
Tony kissed his severe-looking cousin obediently, but his hopes of a playmate died there and then.
"Elizabeth, I do not see her!"
"No—o; she has not come, Aunt Pike," said Kitty lamely. She felt absolutely incapable at that moment of giving any reason why Betty had absented herself, so she said no more.
"Anna was particularly anxious to meet her cousin Elizabeth," continued Mrs. Pike. "Being so near of an age, she hopes to make her her special companion.—Don't you, Anna?"
"Yes, mother," said Anna, rubbing her cotton-gloved hands together nervously, and setting Kitty's teeth on edge to such an extent that she could scarcely speak. But somehow the enthusiasm of Anna's actions was not echoed in her voice.
Dan, who had rejoined them, smiled to himself wickedly as he thought of Betty's last speech about her cousin.
"The porter is taking the luggage out to the omnibus," he said. "Will you come out and get up?" He led the way, and they all followed. The big yellow 'bus with its four horses stood in the roadway outside the platform palings. The driver and conductor, who knew the Trenires quite well, beamed on them, and touched their hats.
"I've kept the front seat for you, missie," said Weller, the conductor, to Kitty, and he moved towards the short ladder placed against the 'bus in readiness for her to mount. "Will the other ladies go 'pon top, too?" he asked; and Kitty, with one foot on the lower step, looked round at her aunt to offer her her seat.
"Katherine! Katherine! what are you doing? Come down, child, at once. You surely aren't thinking of clambering up that ladder? Let Dan do so if he likes, but you will please come inside with Anna and me."
Kitty's face fell visibly. She could hardly believe, though, that she had heard aright. "I feel ill if I go inside, Aunt Pike," she explained. "Father always lets us go on top; he tells us to. He says it is healthier; and it is such a lovely evening, too, and the drive is beautiful. I am sure you would—"
"Katherine, please, I must ask you not to stand there arguing in that rude manner with me," said Mrs. Pike with intense severity, "Get inside the omnibus at once. I will speak to your father on the subject when I get home." And poor Kitty, so long mistress of her own actions, walked, bitterly humiliated, under the eyes of the many onlookers, and got into the hot, close 'bus, where the air was already heavy with the mixed smell of straw and paint and velvet cushions, which she never could endure.
"Anthony, you may go outside with Daniel if you prefer it, as the 'bus is rather full inside," said Mrs. Pike, stopping him as he clambered in after Kitty. But Tony declined the offer.
"I would rather go with Kitty, please," he said loyally. "I'd—I'd rather." He had a feeling that by so doing he was somehow helping her.
Kitty, with compressed lips and flashing eyes, took her seat. She did not notice who was beside her; her only object was to get as far as possible from her aunt, for, feeling as she felt then, she could not possibly talk to her.
"It is a shame to make us go inside. It always makes me feel ill too; but I've always got to," whispered a low, indignant voice through the rattling and rumbling of the 'bus. With a start of surprise Kitty turned quickly to see who had spoken, and found that she had seated herself beside her cousin Anna.
For a moment Kitty stared at her, bewildered. It could not have been Anna who spoke, for Anna was staring absorbedly out of the window opposite her, apparently lost in thought, or fascinated by the scenery through which they were passing. But just as she had determined that she had made a mistake, a side-long glance from Anna's restless eyes convinced her that she had not.
"Are you feeling ill now?" asked Kitty, but Anna in reply only glanced nervously at her mother, and bestowed on Kitty a warning kick; and Kitty, indignant with them both, could not bring herself to address another remark to her. All through that long, wretched drive home Kitty's indignation waxed hotter and hotter, for she kept her gaze studiously on the window, and the glimpses she got of all the beauty they were passing through only served to increase it. Here the way lay through the soft dimness of a plantation of young larches, their green, feathery branches almost meeting across the road; then came a long steep hill, up which the horses walked in a leisurely way—quite delightful if one were outside and able to gaze down at the glorious valley which spread away and away below, until a curve in the road suddenly cut it off from view, but infinitely wearying when every moment was spent in a hot, stuffy atmosphere, with nothing before one's eyes but the hedge or one's fellow-passengers.
Oh the relief in such case when the top of the hill was reached, and the driver stirred up his horses to a canter, and the heavy 'bus covered the level ground quickly and rumbled down the next steep hill at a good pace. How Kitty did hate it all now, and how she did love it ordinarily! Winter and summer, hitherto, she had always gone to and fro mounted high up on the front seat, and knew every curve and corner, and hill and dip; but best of all, perhaps, did she love that quick run down the steep hill, when the horses cantered along at their smartest, and the 'bus came rumbling and swaying after them, as though at any moment it would break loose entirely and go its own wild way. And then would come the demurer pace as they came to the town, and the narrow streets where sharp corners had to be turned carefully, and where, from the high 'bus-top, one could quite easily see into the funny little rooms of the old houses on either side. Then came the main street—to the Trenire children fit to vie in breadth and beauty with any street in any city in the world—and then home!
To Kitty it had always been the greatest joy to come home. No matter where she had stayed, or how delightful the visit had been, she had always been glad to get home again, and her heart beat faster, and her breath caught with something that was not merely excitement or pleasure, at the sight of the low, broad old house in the bare, wind-swept street, that was the only home she had known, or wanted to know. But now, for the first time, she felt no joy, only misery and indignation, and a sense of hopeless, helpless resentment that all the old joy and freedom was ended, that everything was to be altered and spoiled for them.
By degrees the 'bus emptied of all passengers but themselves, and Aunt Pike drew nearer to Kitty. "I hope," she said, "that things have gone on nicely while I have been away, and that the house has been kept in a neat and orderly fashion."
Kitty did not answer for a moment, for the simple reason that she had no answer to give. They had all been too much occupied in making the most of their spell of freedom to observe how the house was kept. "I—I believe so," she stammered at last.
"And I hope you have arranged a nice little meal for us," went on Mrs. Pike, "to welcome Anna on her first arrival in her new home. I did not say anything about it, as I thought it would be so good for you to have the arranging of it."
At this Kitty really did jump in her seat, and her heart beat fast with shame and dismay, for she had not only not arranged a "nice little meal," but had never given a thought to any meal at all.
It is fair to say she had never been told that it was left to her to do so. When first her aunt had come Kitty had handed over to her the reins of government, willy-nilly, and she had not thought it her duty to take them up again in Mrs. Pike's absence; but it is to be feared that in any case she would not have prepared a feast of welcome for Anna. And the result was that they would arrive tired and hungry after their long, hot journey, and probably find no preparations at all made for them, no welcome, not even food enough for a meal—certainly no special feast.
Kitty had not been wilfully careless. She would have seen to things had she thought of it; but the obstinate fact remained that, if not wilfully, she had been culpably careless, and her heart sank with shame. She hoped—oh, how devoutly she hoped—that Fanny had been more thoughtful; but the prospect was slight, and for the rest of the way she sat in a perfect panic of dread and shame.
The very moment the omnibus drew up before the house she sprang out of it, and, regardless of what her aunt might think, rushed in and through the house to the kitchen.
"O Fanny," she cried, desperation in face and voice; but even in that distressful moment she remembered a former occasion when Aunt Pike's arrival had thrown her into just such a frantic state, "what about supper? Aunt Pike has asked about it, and I hadn't even thought about it; and—oh, what can I do? I suppose there is nothing in the house?"
For a second or two Fanny went on calmly and deliberately with what she was about. "Well, miss," she said at last in her severest tone, "there is something, and a plenty, thanks to me and Miss Betty. If there 'adn't a been, it wouldn't 'ave been no manner of use to come rushing out to me now, when it's time for it to be on the table. Of course, when folks comes unexpected that's one thing, but—"
Kitty in her great relief did not heed Fanny's lecture in the least. "O Fanny, you are a dear," she cried joyfully. "I will do something for you some day.—Hullo! Betty," for Betty at that moment came tiptoeing into the kitchen.
"'Twas Miss Betty as first thought of it," said Fanny honestly. "I s'pose 'twould 'ave come into my 'ead some time, but I'm bound to say it 'adn't till Miss Betty mentioned it."
Betty beamed with pleased importance, but tried to look indifferent. "I wanted Aunt Pike to see that we do know how to do things. What is Anna like?" she broke off to ask anxiously.
"She is like Anna exactly," said Kitty bluntly, "and no one else; she never could be. She'll never change, not if she lives to be eighty. Come along up, and get ready. Oh, I am so glad you thought about the supper, Betty dear. How clever you are! Aunt Pike would have thought worse of me than ever if you hadn't, and—"
"Um!" responded Betty, with a toss of her head, "perhaps if Aunt Pike knew that if it hadn't been for me she'd have had no supper, she wouldn't say rude things about me again. I think it's awfully hard. If you don't do things you are scolded, and if you do do them you are called too self—self-confidential."
"I wouldn't mind what I was called," said Kitty, as she hurried away to get ready, "as long as I could manage to do the right thing sometimes, and not always forget till too late."
LESSONS, ALARMS, AND WARNINGS.
The days that followed were strange and very trying. It was not at all easy for any of them to settle down to the new life. Kitty, though, did not feel the giving up of the keys and the role of housekeeper as much as she had expected to; for, in the first place, the keys had generally been lost, and in the second, she had never really "kept house" in the true meaning of the term, and it really was a great relief to find the meals appearing regularly and satisfactorily without any effort on her part, or, perhaps, one should say, without any remorse, or occasion for remorse, for not having made any effort.
It was really a comfort, too, not to have to try to manage the servants, or blame herself for not doing so. But, on the other hand, they all missed their freedom dreadfully—their freedom of speech and act, their freedom in getting up and going to bed, in their goings and comings; for Aunt Pike believed, quite rightly, of course, in punctuality and early rising, and keeping oneself profitably employed, and she disapproved strongly of their roaming the country over, as they had done, as strongly as she disapproved of their sitting on garden walls, wandering in and out of stables, coach-house, and kitchen, talking to the servants, or teasing Jabez.
Jabez grew quite moped during the weeks that followed, for he was not even allowed to come into the kitchen for a comforting cup of tea as of old. "And if anybody can't have a bit of a clack sometimes," groaned poor Jabez, "nor a cup of tea neither, why he might so well be dumb to once. I've ackshally got to talk to the 'orses and the cat to keep my powers of speech from leaving me."
Life seemed very dull and dreary to all the household, except, perhaps, to Mrs. Pike and Dr. Trenire. The latter was too busy just then to realize the changes going on in his home; while Mrs. Pike was fully occupied with all that lay at her hand to do.
Anna's presence did not add at all to the liveliness of the house. She was shy and nervous. Of Dan she was, or pretended to be, quite afraid, and if she happened to have blossomed into talk during his absence, she would stop the moment he appeared—a habit which annoyed him extremely. To Betty, who was to have been her special companion, she showed no desire to attach herself, but to Kitty she clung in a most embarrassing fashion, monopolizing her in a way that Kitty found most irksome, and made Betty furious, for hitherto Kitty had been Betty's whenever Betty needed her. Now she was rarely to be found without Anna. But Kitty, along with the others, never felt that she could trust Anna; and they could not throw off the feeling that they had a spy in their midst.