"Where is Betty?" called Kitty, trying to check her laughter.
Betty, hearing her name, came round from the back of the cart; she was almost purple in the face, and looked quite exhausted.
"I've been pushing," she gasped. "I believe it would have been easier to have been harnessed in the shafts."
"You poor little thing," cried Kitty. "You must rest now and I'll take a turn, and you shall both have our turn in the cart after lunch, and we will walk. We aren't a bit tired."
"Thank you," they said, with stern decision in their voices, "we would rather walk; it is so much easier."
Kitty felt quite sorry for them. "Anna and Tony are only a little way ahead," she said encouragingly. "We've got such a jolly place to have our lunch in, and we will have a nice rest there. Give the poor thing the carrot now, Dan."
"Give him the carrot!" cried Dan indignantly. "I should like to see myself! After his behaviour, he'll never even have a sniff of it again, if I can help it," and Dan sent the carrot flying over the hedge to show that he meant what he said.
A good lunch, though, restored both his strength and his temper, and after it was over they all managed to pack into the cart for the rest of the short distance they had to go. Anna took the reins this time, and whether it was that Mokus felt the firmness of her grip, or guessed that rest and freedom for a few hours lay awaiting him at the end of another mile, no one knew, but he started off down the next hill at quite a quick trot, which he never once slackened until he was drawn up beside the low stone hedge which in some long-past age had been erected around the foot of the tors. Dan declared it was the weight of himself and Betty on the tail-board which made him go, and having once been started he could not stop if he wanted to. In any case Mokus was forgiven, and it was with very kindly hands and many a pat that they unharnessed him from the cart and tethered him by a long rope to the stump of a stunted hawthorn bush, close to the remains of a little hut, which, with the old wall, had often caused the children much speculation as to when and why it was built there, and by whom.
Then, each carrying a basket, they started to climb to the top to find first of all a cosy, sheltered spot for a dining-room. On the tors the sun was shining and the wild thyme smelling as sweetly as though it were April rather than January.
"Oh, look at the robins!" cried Tony delightedly. They were pausing in their climb, and the little bright-eyed, warm-breasted creatures were hopping about them quite boldly. "Kitty, do let me give them some crumbs, they are such darlings, and I think they are quite glad to see us. They aren't a bit afraid."
"'To see a robin in a cage Puts all heaven in a rage,'"
quoted Kitty dreamily.
Anna looked quite shocked. "O Kitty," she said, "how can you? You are quite profane."
Kitty laughed. "Am I?" she said. "What a dreadful word to use! I didn't mean to be. I didn't make up those lines, you know. Oh, don't you think," she went on eagerly, "it would be a nice game to try how many different verses about robins we can remember?"
"Do you mean nursery verses and all?" asked Dan. Kitty nodded; her brain was already busy.
"I think it will be lovely," said Betty. "I know quite a lot."
"Go ahead then," urged Dan, "and remember to give author and book."
"Nursery verses and nursery rhymes haven't got any author," said Betty with a very superior air.
Dan was on the alert at once; he loved to torment Betty.
"No author! Oh! oh! what an appalling display of childish ignorance," he cried in pretended horror, "and after all the trouble I have taken with you too. My dear child, don't you know that some one must have composed them or they wouldn't be—but there, I suppose little children can't be expected to understand these things."
"But I do," cried Betty indignantly. "You don't know all I know. I know a great deal more than you think, though you may not think so."
"Dear me! Do you really now?" said Dan, pretending to be enormously impressed. "What a genius we may have in the family without our ever suspecting it. Tell us who wrote:
"'And when they were dead, The robins so red Took strawberry leaves and over them spread,'"
"What would be the good?" said Betty, with a sigh as if of hopeless despair. "You wouldn't reckernize the name if I told you."
"No, I don't expect I should," laughed Dan derisively. "Not the way you would pronounce it, at least."
"Stop teasing her, Dan," cried Kitty. "We all of us have to think. Let us take it in turns. Now then, you begin."
For a moment Dan looked somewhat taken aback, then memory came suddenly to him.
"'Who killed Cock Robin? "I," said the Spar—'"
"That is not right," said Betty; "you are not beginning at the beginning; you are missing out half."
"Of course, as if I didn't know that," retorted Dan, but he looked rather foolish; "but we are only here for the day, after all, and I am not going to spend it all in saying nursery rhymes. If we were going to stay a week it would be different."
"That's all very well, but I believe you don't know it," said Betty softly but decisively.
Whereupon Dan in great wrath burst forth,—
"'It was on a merry time When Jenny Wren was young,'" etc., etc.
When he had chanted three verses, they begged him to stop. When he had reached the twelfth they all went on their knees to him and implored him to stop; but no, on he went, and on and on to the very last line. "Next time," he said, turning to Betty when he had reached the end, "I hope you will believe me."
"If I don't I won't say so," remarked Betty softly, with a sigh of relief; "but of course I can't make myself believe you if I don't."
"Oh, can't you?" said Dan. "You try once and see. Now then, Anna, your turn."
"I don't know anything about robins," said Anna. "Mother thought nursery rhymes were foolish. So do I."
"Oh no, you don't really," cried four voices in tones of mingled amazement and disgust.
"Yes, I do. Why not?"
"What a pity," said Kitty softly. "I think they are beautiful. I am glad my mother thought so too, But it need not be a nursery rhyme, Anna. Don't you know,
"'Little bird with bosom red, Welcome to my humble shed,'
"or any other?"
"Ye—es," said Anna doubtfully. "I had to learn that once at school, but, somehow, I didn't think that it was about a robin."
"What did you think it was about?" asked Kitty.
"Oh, I don't know. I thought it was just poetry. I never think poetry has any meaning in it. It seems to me such silly stuff, all about nothing."
"I suppose even poetry must be about something," said Dan sarcastically.
"I don't think so," said Anna. She, the prize-winner of her class, was not going to be snubbed by her cousins. "As long as the words rhyme, it doesn't matter what the rest is like."
To Kitty that seemed neither the time nor the place to argue with Anna, so she let the subject drop. "Now then, Betty."
"I know so many," said Betty very anxiously, "that they seem to be all jumbled up in my head, and I can't get one quite right. Let me see now—"
"Do let me say mine while you are finking. Shall I?" pleaded Tony eagerly.
"Little Robin Redbreast Perched upon a tree, Up went Pussy Cat And down went he.'"
By the time he reached the end of the second verse he was almost breathless. "I was afraid you would say it before me," he gasped as he concluded the last line; "that's why I hurried so."
"Oh, I was trying to think of something much more—more, well, not so babyish; more like what Kitty said than what you and Dan said."
"Perhaps you had better compose something yourself," said Dan, "and we will go on and light the fire and get the dinner ready while you are about it."
"You needn't be in a bad temper," retorted Betty severely, "even if you couldn't make the donkey go." And Dan thought perhaps it might be wiser not to torment his younger sister any more.
They all struggled to their feet after that, collected their baskets, and resumed their climb, over big boulders, through furze and bracken, dead now and withered, but beautiful in the glow of the clear wintry sunshine, until at last they came to an immense flat rock, with another rising high behind it, sheltering them from the wind and catching every gleam of sunshine that possibly could be caught.
Here they spread their cloth, laying large pebbles on the corners of it to keep it down, and on it they spread their feast, and then at last there was nothing left to do but sit down and enjoy it. The sun shone quite warmly, a soft little breeze blew up from the valley, bringing with it the mingled scents of peat smoke, crushed thyme, and wet moss. From their high perch they looked down on long stretches of brown fields ploughed in ridges, with here and there a big gray rock dropped into the middle of it, and here and there a roughly-built cottage, not much bigger, seemingly, than some of the rocks. In a distant field a man was carrying mangolds to a flock of sheep. The bleating of the sheep floated up to them through the still air, and, with the voices of the birds, made the only sounds of life that reached them. The scene, though lovely in the eyes of the children, was desolate to a degree. Scarcely a tree marked the landscape, and those there were were bowed and stunted, leaning landwards as though running before the cold winds which blew with such force across the few miles of flat, bare country which alone lay between them and the Atlantic Ocean.
To-day, though, it was hard to believe that that sunny spot was often so bleak and storm-swept that man and beast avoided it. Anna gazed about her wonderingly, but somewhat awed.
"It seems dreadfully wild and lonely," she said, with a shiver. "And how flat and ugly it is, all but these tors. I wonder how they came to be here like this. I should think the people who used to live here must have piled up all these rocks to clear them out of the fields. They left a good many behind, though."
"No one could have lifted rocks like these, and piled them up like this," said Dan scornfully. "They were thrown up like this by an earthquake, father says, and after the earthquake the sea—you know the sea used to cover all the country as far as we can see—"
"Nonsense!" interrupted Anna. "Now you are trying to take me in; but you won't make me believe such nonsense as that."
"Very well," crossly, "don't believe it then; only don't ask questions another time if you mean to turn round and sneer when a fellow tries to explain. I suppose you won't believe either that giants used to live here?"
Anna laughed even more scornfully. "No, I will not," she said loftily. "I am not quite stupid enough to believe all the nonsense you would like to make me."
"If you could only realize it, it is you who are talking nonsense," said Dan crushingly, and he turned away from her. He was not going to tell any of his beloved legends and stories for Anna to sneer at. "It is simply a sign of ignorance," he said, with his most superior air, "not to believe in things because we haven't actually seen them with our very own eyes. I suppose you will not believe that St. Michael's Mount used to be surrounded with woods where there is sea now, until a huge wave rushed in and swamped everything, right up to the foot of the Mount, and never went back again?"
"No," said Anna obstinately, "of course I shouldn't believe it. Such things couldn't happen. It is silly to tell such stories as you Cornish people do, and expect other people to believe them."
Kitty looked at her in pained surprise. It seemed to her that Anna's way of speaking was quite irreverent. She longed to know, yet shrank from asking her, if she scorned, too, those other stories, so precious and real to Kitty, the story of King Arthur in his hidden resting-place, waiting to be roused from his long sleep; of Tristram and Iseult asleep in the little chapel beneath the sea; of—oh, a hundred others of giants and fairies, witches and spectres. But she held her peace rather than hear them scoffed at and discredited.
The sunshine, chased by a cloud and a fresh little breeze, disappeared. Anna shivered and looked about her.
"Oh, how gloomy and lonely it all looks directly the sun goes in!" she cried. "I should hate to be here in the dark, or in a storm. Shouldn't you, Kitty? I think I should die of fright; I know I should if I were here alone."
"I'd love to be here in a storm," said Kitty firmly, "a real thunderstorm. It would be grand to watch it all from the top of the tors. I don't think I would very much mind being up here all night either. You see, there is nothing that could possibly hurt one, no wild beasts or robbers. Bad people would be afraid to come."
"I think it would be perfectly dreadful," shuddered Anna. "You would never know who was coming round the rocks, or who was hiding; and robbers could come behind you and catch you, and you wouldn't be able to see or hear them until they were right on you; and you might scream and scream with all your might and main and no one would hear you."
"If I sneered at giants, I wouldn't talk of robbers if I were you," said Dan severely. "Imagine robbers coming to a place like this! Why, there's nothing and nobody to rob."
"They would come here to hide, of course, not to rob," said Anna crushingly, and Dan felt rather small.
Betty and Tony began to feel bored.
"I am going to get sticks for the fire," said Betty. "Come along, Tony. You others can come, too, if you like."
"Betty is beginning to think of her tea already," laughed Dan, but they all joined her in her search—not that there was any need to search, for dry sticks and furze bushes lay all around them in profusion.
"Oh, here's the cromlech," cried Kitty, coming suddenly on the great rock, which was poised so lightly on top of other great rocks that it would sway under the lightest touch, yet had remained unmoved by all the storms and hurricanes of the ages that had passed over it. She ran lightly up and on to it, and stood there swaying gently, the breeze fluttering out her skirts and flushing her cheeks.
"You must make a wish while you are standing on it, and then if you can make the rock move you will get your wish," explained Betty to Anna. "It isn't every one who can. I don't suppose you could, 'cause you don't believe in things like we do."
Nevertheless Anna was bent on trying, and grew quite cross because the rock would not move for her. "No, I don't believe it," she snapped. "You Cornish people are so suppositios; and it is dreadfully ignorant to be so. Mother said so."
Dan fairly shrieked with delight; he always did when Anna or Betty used a wrong word, particularly if it was a long one.
"Though it is so early, I am going to light the fire now," said Kitty, anxious to make a diversion and prevent squabbles, "because I want to smell the smell of the burning fuz."
Which she did then and there; and then, perhaps in absent-mindedness, she put the kettle on, and it boiled before any one could believe the water was even warm, and then, of course, there was nothing to be done but make the tea and drink it. But the air up there was so wonderful that no matter how quickly the meals came the appetites were ready.
"The smell of the smoke was feast enough in itself," Kitty said.
But she did not omit to take a liberal share of more solid food as well. And oh! how good it all tasted—the tea, the bread and butter, the saffron cake, all had a flavour such as they never had elsewhere, and the air was growing fresh enough to make the hot tea very acceptable and comfortable.
They did not sit long after they had done, for it really was beginning to grow chilly.
"Now you had all better go and have a game of some kind or other," said Kitty, "and I will pack the baskets ready to go into the cart, and then I'll come and play too."
It took her longer, though, than she had counted on to pack all the things so that they would travel safely, and she had put them in and taken them out again so many times that when at last she had done, and glanced up with a sigh of relief to look for the others, she saw with dismay that the short winter's day was well-nigh over. The sun had disappeared quite suddenly, leaving behind it a leaden, lowering sky, while in the distance hung a thick mist, which told of heavy rain not far off.
"I will call the others. I think we had better be starting soon; the weather has changed," she murmured, and, springing to her feet, she shouted, and shouted, and shouted again. No answer came.
Still calling, she went around the tors to another point, but she could catch no glimpse of any living being, and in that great waste of rocks and furze and underbrush it was not surprising. Kitty, though, was surprised and a little bit alarmed, and she ran from point to point, calling and calling again; but for a long time the only answer was the long sighs the wind gave as it rushed over the level land, and lost itself with a little wail of anger amongst the old tors. Then at last came a long shout, and Dan appeared, and almost at the same moment a drop fell smartly on Kitty's cheek, then another and another, and suddenly a heavy downpour descended on them.
"I saw it coming," gasped Dan. "Look!" and Kitty looked across the land stretching below, and saw rain in a dense column rushing towards them, driven by a squall which dashed it into them pitilessly.
In little more than a moment the whole place had changed from a sunny, idyllic little paradise to a bleak, howling wilderness, lonely, weird, exposed to all the worst storms of heaven.
"Where are the others?" gasped Kitty, seizing some of the packages to run with them to the cart.
"I told them not to climb up here again, but to start for home and we would overtake them as quickly as we could. It wasn't raining then, or I'd have told them to run to the little shanty; but I should think they'd have the sense to do that," said Dan.
"Oh yes, I expect they are all right. Now then, run, but run carefully," added Kitty. "All the cups are in that basket, and Aunt Pike will be very angry if we break any."
But it was not easy to run at all, or even to hurry down that rugged slope, while carrying five baskets and a rug or two, with a squall catching them at every turn, and the short, dry grass becoming as slippery as glass with the rain; but at long last they reached the foot and the little hut, and there they found Betty struggling with all her might to get Mokus between the shafts of the cart.
"He will have to be taken out again, I expect," said Dan in an aside to Kitty. "She has probably done up every strap wrongly. It is good of her, though, to try."
"I am glad she made Tony stand in under shelter," said Kitty thankfully, as her eye fell on her little brother in the doorway of the hut. "Where is Anna? I suppose she is inside."
"You bet," said Dan shortly. "Anna knows how to take care of herself."
But Anna was not in the shanty, or anywhere within reach of their shouts.
"I expect she is ever so far towards home by now," said Betty absently, quite absorbed in the interest of harnessing Mokus. "She started to walk home as fast as ever she could. I called to her to wait, but she wouldn't listen."
"Oh, well, it's all right; she can't miss the road, and we shall soon overtake her," said Dan. "Now then, in you get."
It was great fun packing themselves into the cart. Betty and Tony, in great spirits, sat in the bottom of it, with a rug drawn over them like a tent, and two little peepholes to peer through, and were as happy and warm as could be. Kitty and Dan sat upon the seat with the other rug round their shoulders, and the moment they were ready and had gathered up the reins, Mokus, who had been standing flapping his long ears crossly when the rain struck him particularly smartly, started off at a really quick trot, which covered the ground rapidly, but rattled and jolted the cart to such an extent that it was all Dan and Kitty could do to keep their seats, while as for the two in the bottom of the cart, they were tossed about like parched peas in a frying-pan. And oh! how they all laughed! It is not always the funniest or wittiest things that cause the most laughter, and somehow to-day the sight of Mokus flying along on his little hoofs, the dreary scene, the lashing rain, themselves wrapped up like a lot of gipsies, with the risk of finding themselves at any moment tossed out and left sitting in the mud, made them laugh and laugh until they ached. And all the time Dan kept on saying the silliest things, and waving his whip about his head as though he were a Roman driving a chariot drawn by fiery horses, urging Mokus on to a more and more reckless pace, until at last they had to beg him to stop, they were aching so with laughter.
But except for some forlorn-looking geese on the common, who hissed at them as they passed, they did not meet a living creature the whole of the way they went.
"Cheer up, old ladies!" Dan shouted to the geese consolingly, "you've nothing on to spoil. If I'd been made to stand a flood as you have, I wouldn't make a fuss about a little summer shower like this."
"If you want your last glimpse of the tors," said Kitty, who knew every inch of the way, "look back now." And they all looked, and all shuddered as their eyes travelled over the spot where they had so lately been basking in the sunshine. It looked gloomy and awe-inspiring now, with black clouds lowering over it, a heavy mist wrapping it round, while at the foot the little neglected shanty added the last desolate touch to the wild scene. "Doesn't it seem impossible that we were playing there only a little while ago," said Kitty, "and I was wishing I could sleep there?" Then, with sudden recollection, "I wonder where Anna is. She must have walked very fast."
"I only hope she isn't still up there," said Dan with a laugh, waving his hand towards the tors. "Poor old Anna!"
"Oh!" squealed Betty, who loved horrors and excitements, "suppose she is, and sees us going farther and farther away from her. If she called and called, nobody would hear her, and oh, she'll be so frightened. If she had to stay there all night, I am sure she would die of fright," and Betty looked utterly horrified. "What shall we do? Isn't it egsciting!"
"No, not at all," said Dan impatiently; "don't be silly. Why should she be there? I told you all to hurry homewards, and Anna did as she was told. That is the difference between you and Anna, you see."
"Well," said Betty thoughtfully, "I didn't do as I was told, but I think I've got the best of it—especially," she added, "if Anna is left behind."
Dan seemed to take it as a personal insult that she should dwell on such a possibility. "If you say anything more about Anna being left behind," he said, "I'll put you out of the cart and send you back to look for her."
"Then there would be two of us lost instead of one," said Betty aggravatingly, "and oh, wouldn't you get into a row when you got home!"
"She must be on ahead," said Kitty, anxious to make peace. "Only I didn't think she had had time to get so far."
"Perhaps some one has given her a lift," said Dan, with sudden hope. "Anna is sharp enough to take or to ask for one if she had the chance. She knows it is a tight pack for us all to get in this cart at once, and she would think Mokus would behave as badly going home as he did on the way out."
This all seemed to them so likely, that they drove on again gaily, their minds quite easy about her; all except Betty, who persisted in gazing back at the tors as long as they were in view, in the hope of seeing a signal of distress. Mokus stepped out at a pace that the carrots had never roused him to on the outward journey, yet darkness had come on before they reached Gorlay.
"Isn't it like old times," sighed Betty happily, "driving through the dark and the wet, and then reaching home, and changing and having a jolly tea by the fire, and there will be no Aunt Pike, and we will be able to stay up as late as we like—"
"But there will be Anna," said Tony. "It won't be quite the same."
But, alas, there was no Anna, and her absence on this particular occasion did much more to upset their evening than her presence would have done. In answer to their inquiries as to when and how she got back, they were told that she had not got back at all. No one had seen her, and a dreadful conviction began to steal over them that she would not come—that, in fact, she was lost, and probably, as Betty had suggested, wandering about those dangerous tors, frightened nearly out of her senses. What was to be done? At first they were for waiting; but then, as the rain continued to stream down, and the wind to blow gustily, they felt that it was no time for delay. Something must be done, and done quickly.
"Oh, if only father were home!" cried Kitty despairingly. But unfortunately Dr. Trenire was in Plymouth on business, and would certainly not be home that night.
Dan sprang up, and began to put on his boots and leggings. "I am going back there again," he announced. "It is only three miles or so, and I can walk it in an hour."
"But you can't go alone."
"Yes, I can; and I can get people out there to help me search, and if I find her I'll get some one to drive us home;" and flinging on his coat and cap, he was rushing out of the house before they realized what he was doing.
"But, Dan," Kitty called after him, "which way are you going?"
"The same, of course. There is but one—at least only one that Anna knows," he called back, and he raced off into the darkness before any one could say another word.
Kitty was vexed. "How foolish of him," she said. "Of course there are other ways, and Anna must have taken one of them, or we should have passed her; and he shouldn't have gone alone either, he should have taken Jabez and a lantern. What can he do if he finds her?"
"And he may get lost too," said Betty comfortingly. But Dan was already racing up through the dark wet street, too absorbed by the heroic side of his actions to spare a thought for the common sense.
Kitty dropped into a chair in a state of deep despondency, blaming herself for everything. "Why had she started for home without making sure about Anna? How wrong it was of her not to turn back! What would Aunt Pike say when she knew?" and so the thoughts poured through her mind until she was well-nigh distracted.
Tony, worn out by his long day in the fresh air, was fast asleep. Betty, exhausted by excitement and alarm, was scarcely able to keep awake. The servants were in the kitchen regaling themselves and Jabez with supper and a dish of horrors, when suddenly Kitty sprang to her feet with the force of an idea that had come to her. She would take the carriage and Jabez, and drive very slowly and carefully by another road straight back to Helbarrow Tors. They would inquire at every house they passed, and—only she did not tell Jabez this, for fear of alarming him—if need be, they would search even the tors themselves.
It would be very difficult, she knew; but what did difficulties matter at such a time as this? With Anna lost on such a night, her father and aunt away, and she alone responsible, they must do something, they must, they must, and quickly too. She looked at the clock; it was only seven. There was just a chance that they might find Anna and have her home in warmth and safety by ten. She ran to the kitchen and broached her plan to Jabez. He winced at the prospect, but raised no objection. Indeed, they were all too greatly alarmed to object to anything. Jabez had been picturing Anna in turn killed, walking into the water, stolen, wandering about lost and crying for help, so he could hardly refuse his help in rescuing her from one of these fates.
In a very short time Prue was harnessed, and with Kitty beside him, and a pile of rugs and wraps, Jabez was driving off at a good pace, while those at home prepared fires and hot blankets and everything else they could think of.
But many long, weary hours elapsed before the fires and the hot blankets were needed, and the next day was dawning, bleak and cold, when at last, to the intense relief and excitement of the weary watchers, old Prue's step was heard coming quickly down the street, and the two servants flew out to the door. But Jabez drove straight round to the yard with his load, and there, with the help of Kitty and Dan—who was with them—they lifted down a big still bundle, which was Anna, wet through, worn out, unconscious. They carried her in very tenderly and put her to bed at once, and everything they could do for her ease and comfort they did. But though her strength revived and the dreadful exhaustion passed away, it was soon evident that she was ill—very ill, it seemed to them—and Fanny in alarm ran for Dr. Lang; and at his request telegrams were sent to Dr. Trenire and Aunt Pike, bidding them come home at once; while poor Kitty, overcome with fatigue and anxiety and remorse that this should have happened while she was in charge of them all, went and shut herself up in her room, locking out even Betty.
The story of that night's search she told later—of their long, slow drive over the bleak roads in the teeth of a high wind and a driving rain; of their close examination of every yard of the way, one walking while the other drove; and of their hopelessness when they looked at the gateways and fields, into any of which Anna might have turned, and the lanes down which she might have wandered. But of her own feelings she could not speak—the awful anxiety and remorse; the sense of responsibility and blameworthiness that filled her; her remembrance of Anna's sacrifice for Dan the night she saved his life; her dread of what they might see or hear—those were feelings too deep for words. So, too, was her agony of joy and relief when at last, almost by a miracle, they came on her lying in a linhay down a lane they had very nearly overlooked in the darkness.
How she had wandered there no one would ever know, and Anna could never tell. She must have doubled back when she found she had taken the wrong road, and then, in her fright and confusion, have gone round, and up and down, until she had lost herself far more effectually than if she had tried to. That she had met no one to ask her way of was not wonderful on such a night and in a neighbourhood where there were only half a dozen cottages altogether, and at long distances apart.
She had recognized Kitty and Jabez when they roused her, but in her relief had had a fit of hysterics which frightened them both nearly out of their wits, and then had fainted.
Poor Kitty did her best to keep calm, and she and Jabez carried Anna to the carriage, and there, wrapped in all the rugs and shawls they could muster, she lay in Kitty's arms while Jabez drove quickly home.
Their shortest and best way now was the road they had travelled so happily in the morning, so once again Kitty had a dim glimpse of the tors, standing up so lonely and desolate in the black night, lashed by the rain and swept by the wind, but she turned her eyes away, half shuddering. They were nearly home when they met Dan crawling along, hopeless and dead beat. He was soaked to the skin, his feet were galled and raw with walking in wet boots, but, worst of all, his search had been fruitless. Crawling painfully, miserably homewards, with a mind full of the fate that might have overtaken Anna—Anna, who had saved his life—was it any wonder that he broke down and cried when, on hearing wheels, and turning to ask for a lift, he recognized first old Prue, then Jabez and Kitty, and, best of all, Anna, and knew that his search was ended?
Kitty was to be sent away to school. That was what that unlucky day had done for Kitty. The fiat had gone forth, and there was no escape.
Aunt Pike had been very frightened indeed when she was summoned home, and learned all about Anna's Helbarrow Tors experience, and found her seriously ill with pneumonia as a result of it. She was very angry and very indignant, and angry fright, or fright and anger combined, make the worst form of anger as a rule.
"Kitty was responsible, and there could not possibly be any excuse for her leaving the spot without her cousin," declared Mrs. Pike. "Kitty knew that there were many ways amongst which she might get lost, and how lonely it was, and she and Dan should have gone in search of poor Anna, and not have left the place until they had found her or heard for certain where she was. The idea of coming all the way home without her, and with never a thought or a care as to what had become of her! It was almost incredible!"
"I did think. I did care," pleaded Kitty. "Of course I thought she was ahead of us. I never dreamed that she could have lost her way, or of course I shouldn't have come home without looking for her."
"Then you should have dreamed, or have taken the trouble to find out. In any case, you should not have left the spot without her."
"But we really thought she was ahead of us," repeated Kitty earnestly, "and we hurried on to pick her up."
"How could you overtake her or pick her up, when you were hurrying as fast as you could away from her, leaving her alone, poor child, to wander about that dreadful, dreadful place, in that awful storm in the dead of night?" demanded Aunt Pike angrily.
"But—" began Kitty, then realized the hopelessness of trying to explain, and said no more.
"For the future I shall always feel," said Aunt Pike severely, "that I not only cannot trust you, Katherine, but that I can never know what mischief you may be leading the younger ones into. I am sure they would not be so wild if they hadn't you as a ringleader."
Kitty's cheeks flamed with indignation. She could not be trusted! She led the others into mischief! Her eyes darkened with anger at the injustice, for all the trouble had been caused by Anna deciding, in her pig-headed way, that she knew a short cut home, and would take it without waiting for the others and the donkey. She had thought she would get home first and be able to laugh at them and Mokus. She herself had admitted as much.
Kitty's mind travelled back over that night search—the cold, the wet, the horror of it, her own exhaustion and Dan's; then she came back again suddenly to the present, and Aunt Pike's voice saying,—
"You know, Katherine, I have had to overlook more than one serious piece of ill-behaviour on your part since I have been here. Of course I put down much to the lawless, careless way in which you grew up, but, at the same time, I must admit that, after that very unpleasant episode with Lettice Kitson, I have never felt really quite easy in allowing Anna to be much with you. I could not avoid feeling that you were having anything but a good influence over her, and but for your poor father's sake—"
Kitty's cheeks were white enough now, and her eyes were very wide and full of indignation as she met her aunt's stern gaze, but there was no fear or shame in them. She opened her lips, but before a word escaped them she closed them again, hesitated, and then walked quickly away. And the next thing she knew was that she was to be sent away, and when she heard it she thought her heart would break indeed.
Her father, though most reluctantly, had agreed to the plan, because he could see no prospect of peace or happiness for her at home. He very often in those days sighed deeply from a heavy heart, for his home was very different from what he had hoped it would be. It was true that things were more orderly, but the old careless joyousness, the muddle and confusion, seemed now vastly preferable.
Aunt Pike had never approved of Kitty. Her careless, dreamy nature was a constant offence in her eyes; her sudden impulses, her want of concentration, her idle moods, when she sat just thinking and thinking and doing nothing, irritated Mrs. Pike beyond endurance. They were as opposite to each other in tastes and natures as any two persons could be, and neither could understand or make allowance for the other. And Dr. Trenire, seeing all this, and how they irritated and annoyed each other, saw how bad it was, too, for Kitty's character, and at last consented, though very, very reluctantly, to Mrs. Pike's strongly-urged proposals that Kitty should be sent to a boarding-school.
Poor Kitty! If ever there was in this world one poor little mortal more stricken with home-sickness than another, that poor little mortal was Kitty. She loved every inch of the house and garden, of Gorlay, and of her county, and every person and animal who made up her home and her home life—loved all, too, with such an intensity that she felt it would be utterly impossible to live day after day away from them.
It was a relief to her to hear that the school she was to go to was no farther off than Plymouth, but beyond that she took no interest in it, for the school was of Mrs. Pike's selecting, and wicked Kitty detested it before she even knew anything about it, and made up her mind to go on detesting it, no matter what it turned out to be. To her it was simply a prison, and she could not and would not try to love her jailers. She felt, too, a conviction that her aunt would have told Miss Pidsley, the headmistress, all the story of the suspicion which had rested on her, and told it from her own point of view, of course.
There was one good outcome of the resentment Kitty bore her aunt for "getting her sent away," as she put it—it made her determine not to let Mrs. Pike see how much she felt it, and so helped her to bear up bravely. Helped her, that is, to bear up by day, but oh the nights! Oh, those long, miserable nights of heart-break and homesickness, when the pain was so intense as almost to drive her to appeal on her knees to Aunt Pike to let her stay at home, to promise abjectly to be and do all that she could wish. And there were those other terrible moments, too, when misery nearly drove her to tell the truth about Anna and Lettice.
Those were, perhaps, the hardest impulses of all to fight, for she knew that but to speak would mean, probably, that she would be considered fit to remain in her home, and Anna it would be who would be sent away.
All her life after Kitty was thankful that she had had the strength given her to resist this temptation, but it was a very real one at the time. There was to be no delay in sending her away. She was to go at the end of the Christmas holidays, and active preparations for her outfit began at once. To Betty this was most enthralling, and largely made up for the painful part, but Kitty took no interest in it whatever. Not even the fact of having a new Inverness and umbrella, and four new dresses all at once, not to speak of gloves, and hats, and shoes, and a number of other things, could rouse her to any sense of pleasure.
She was very sorry later, and wept many a bitter tear over the new blotter her father bought her, and the nice muff and boa he gave her. When it was too late, she could never see them without remembering the delight with which he unwrapped them and gave them to her, the expectant look in his kind eyes of the pleasure they would bring to her, and of her own coldness, her unsmilingness, the indifference with which she took them and laid them down with scarcely a glance, yet all the while her heart was breaking, breaking with her love for him and all he did for her. How could she care what she wore, or did, or used, if she was exiled from him!
Then came the day when Mrs. Pike took her to her school and left her. It was a wet, stormy day, and Kitty sat looking through the streaming windows at the rain-swept country with a heart as stormy. But though everything looked old and worn, and as unbeautiful as the day itself, she gained some consolation from the sight. "The next time I see them," she thought, gazing wistfully at the trees and houses, the bridges and fields, "I shall be going home! home! home!"
"Yes, but thirteen long weeks must elapse first," came the next thought.
"But what are thirteen weeks?" said the worn-looking objects cheeringly. "Nothing! We have seen years pass by, and thirteen weeks are but so many moments, flying already."
Then at last they reached their station, and their journey was over; but in all the years to come, never, never again would Kitty Trenire pass the long, ugly rows of squalid backs of houses just outside the station, and dull depressing streets, never again would she enter that station itself, without living through once more and tasting again the misery, the strangeness, the forlornness which filled her heart that afternoon. She might come in the height of happiness, in the company of those she loved best, with hope and joy before and behind her, but never could the sight of it all, the smells, and the sounds, fail to bring back to Kitty memories of that supremely miserable day, and through any happiness make her taste again for a moment the forlornness, the black misery which swamped her as she first stood on that draughty, dingy platform.
There was a smart tussle with the porter over the getting out of Kitty's luggage, for Aunt Pike was one of those unfortunate persons who never fail to come to words with porter or cabman, who, in fact, rub every one the wrong way to start with by taking for granted that they are trying to shirk their duties and to cheat her.
Then came the inevitable tussle with the cabman as to the fare, during which Kitty glanced about her at the people on the platform, picking out with special interest those boys and girls who looked as though they also were going to school, and expending on them a great amount of pity which was probably in some cases quite wasted.
At last came the summons to "get in," and Kitty got into the musty old cab beside her aunt, and they were started on the last stage of their journey through rain-washed busy streets, where the people were hurrying along under umbrellas, or in omnibuses and cabs. Now and then a cab laden with luggage would lumber past them on its way to the station, and Kitty's mind would follow the people inside it through a whole long chapter of imaginary happenings until something else passed and distracted her thoughts.
By-and-by they left the streets, and came to a quiet suburb, where road after road, lined on either side with houses exactly like each other, stretched in depressing monotony. To Kitty it looked the very acme of correct, neat, yet hateful propriety, and her thoughts flew back longingly to the dear old irregular wind-swept street of Gorlay, which was to her then the most lovable and lovely spot on the face of the earth. At last, when she was almost tired of speculating on the people who lived in the houses they were passing, and of pitying them for being condemned to such a fate, the jolting cab drew up before a corner house, one of the primmest of all the houses in the dullest of all the roads they had passed that afternoon, and Kitty saw a shining brass plate on the rails at the foot of the tiny patch of trim garden, and on the brass plate "Miss Pidsley."
That was all. And this was the place that was to be her home! It was quite a small school to which she had been banished—a small private one where a few girls "who needed particular attention and training received the individual care they needed," as Aunt Pike carefully read out from the prospectus, dealing poor Kitty thus the last and most crushing insult.
If the outside of the house had been unlike home and Gorlay, the inside was even more so; the extreme neatness, the absolute spotlessness of everything, the bareness, the high, square, ugly rooms, each and all weighed on Kitty's spirits with a fresh load of depression. At the thought of being left there for months together with not a face about her that she knew, or a person who cared for her, she felt positively sick with misery. She even dreaded the moment when Aunt Pike should depart. But the moment soon came, and with a peck at Kitty's cheek, and a last request that she would make the most of the excellent opportunities for improvement now opening out before her, and a desire that she would try to be a good girl. Aunt Pike left her, and Kitty gazed after her with eyes aching with the tears she would not shed. She pictured her journeying home to Gorlay, saw her driving up through the street, drawing up before the old house, the door opening and the light streaming out, and Betty and Tony—and then the tears came, whether she would or no, and drowned every thought and sight and sound but that of her own misery.
No. 127 Laburnum Road was under the joint partnership of two ladies, Miss Pidsley and Miss Hammond. Miss Pidsley was the chief partner, and took the lead. She interviewed the parents, managed the house, the meals, and almost everything, while Miss Hammond's duties lay more especially with the girls, their lessons and games.
Before ever Kitty went to the school she had decided that she could not like Miss Pidsley. She declared that she knew exactly what she would be like. She would be cold, and stern, and hateful, or Aunt Pike would not have taken to her; and when Miss Pidsley came into the room to receive them, she knew that to some extent she was right. Her new mistress welcomed them—at least she shook hands with them—and she smiled—at least she half closed her eyes in a weary fashion, and widened her lips, but there was no heartiness or gladness in it. But while Kitty felt the chilliness of it, she could not help sympathizing with Miss Pidsley. To her it would have been wonderful if any one had been able to smile in such a house as that.
Presently tea was brought in, and for nearly half an hour Kitty sat holding tea and bread and butter, trying her best to swallow both, but vainly. Miss Hammond did not appear at tea. She had only just arrived, Miss Pidsley explained, and was tired. The other pupils had not yet come; there were only four of them, and they travelled by later trains from higher up the line.
After tea, Kitty, who was to have a room to herself that term as there was no room-mate for her, was shown her little bare bedroom, and there Aunt Pike said her farewells, and left her alone amidst her boxes; and there she remained crying and crying her heart out, her boxes untouched, everything forgotten but her own overpowering misery. "She could not bear it," she moaned, "she could not bear it!" She thought of her father, and Tony, and Betty, and felt sure her heart must break.
"Poor child! We all have to bear it, dear, once in our lives, and some of us many times," said a soft voice very quietly, while a soft hand was laid on her bowed head.
Kitty was so startled that she forgot her disfigured face and looked up; and when she had once looked, and her eyes met the kind eyes gazing into hers, she did not mind, for they were misty too with sympathy.
"You remind me so of the day that I first went away to school, Katherine. You are Katherine, aren't you?"
"Yes," murmured the owner of the name; "but they always call me Kitty at home, all but Aunt Pike."
"May I call you Kitty?"
"Please do," said Kitty eagerly.
"Well, dear, I want you to unpack your things now, and try to make your room less bare and unhomelike. It will look so different when you have your own pretty things about it, and will seem more your own."
"I don't want it to," said Kitty miserably. "It isn't home, and it never could be; in fact, I don't want it to."
"Oh, come now, Kitty dear, don't talk like that; call up your courage, and make the best of things. It is only for a time, only for a little time," said wily Miss Hammond; "but however short it is, it is always better to try and make it a pleasant time to look back upon. Think of that, Kitty; always when you are hesitating and feel tempted to be disagreeable, or to make things disagreeable, think of the future, and what the present will be like to look back upon."
Kitty was impressed. She looked up with a brighter, more interested face.
"Have you a mother and father?"
"Mother is dead," said Kitty softly.
"Poor child," said Miss Hammond, laying her cool fingers against Kitty's hot cheek. "For your father's sake then, dear, try to be as brave and cheerful as you can. It is sad enough for him, I am sore, to have this parting, but to know that you are grieving and unhappy will double his sadness. Besides which," she went on thoughtfully, "you know he is paying a good deal of money for your education here, and for his sake you should try to get all the good you can from what he is doing for you. Doesn't the thought of working hard for his sake comfort you?"
"Oh yes," sighed Kitty eagerly, clutching at any kind of comfort, at anything she could do for those she loved. "Oh yes, it will. I—I hadn't thought of that; but I feel now as if I must work and work—" then she broke off, embarrassed, and actually laughed at herself.
"There, I knew you had plenty of spirit," cried Miss Hammond delightedly. "Now I am going to unpack some of my boxes, and then they are going to bring me some tea to my room. Will you come and join me, dear? I am sure you can manage another tea."
"Oh yes, thank you," smiled Kitty, "I am sure I can. I would love to come."
Left alone, Kitty began at once to unpack and arrange her belongings. She felt a little choky as she took out and looked at the photographs and the various little parting gifts that had been given her, particularly when she came across a piece of spar that Tony, without saying a word to any one, must have wrapped up and tucked in amongst her things as a pleasant surprise for her. It was a very pretty bit that he had himself found, and was immensely proud of. Kitty's eyes filled as she held the little cold stone and kissed it. Then she hung up a calendar that Betty had given her, one of her own manufacture. "I shall soon be able to mark off one day," she thought with some relief.
Her room grew to look so different and so nice that she became quite interested, and rather a long time had elapsed before she tidied herself and went out in search of Miss Hammond's room. It was not difficult to find, for it was on the same landing as her own, and had Miss Hammond's name painted on the door.
"Come in," said a voice in answer to her knock. "Come in. I was just about to begin without you. Sit down here, dear, in this low chair by the table. We will have a 'plate tea' and a drawing-room tea combined;" and Kitty dropped gladly into a pretty low chair beside the tea-table, which was drawn up to the fire, and Miss Hammond drew up her chair to the other side.
"Oh, what a grand thing tea is! I love it," she exclaimed with a sigh of pleasure. It was said so girlishly and impulsively that Kitty laughed as she agreed.
"Pamela Peters has come," said Miss Hammond a moment later, "and I have asked her to tea too."
Kitty felt just a little feeling of disappointment. She did not want to meet any more strangers then; she was tired and shy, and she knew that her eyes were still swelled. She wanted, too, to have Miss Hammond to herself—she was so sympathetic and understanding, and so bright and interesting. Kitty had never before met any one like her, and was charmed.
"I will not say I want you two to be friends, or that I think you will like each other, for I know that that is the surest way to make you determine you never could, would, or should be. But I do think you will like Pamela, and I thought it would be nice for you to get to know one of your future companions a little before meeting them all together."
Kitty could not but agree. One stranger now, with Miss Hammond to break the ice, was infinitely preferable to four by-and-by, when she would be alone. And then came a knock at the door, and Pamela Peters walked in.
Pamela was a taller and altogether larger girl than Kitty. She looked rather older too. Perhaps a certain air of self-possession gave one that impression. Kitty gazed at her first with interest and then with wonder, for she looked as smiling and happy as though she had just reached home for the holidays, instead of returning to school for the term. She had to check her surprise while Miss Hammond introduced them and made room for Pamela at the table, but it soon returned again with double force.
"I am very glad to see you," said Pamela heartily, turning to Kitty again. "Isn't it jolly to be back?"
"Jolly!—what!—isn't it what?" stammered Kitty, at a loss to understand her.
Miss Hammond laughed. "Kitty Trenire thinks it anything but jolly; her heart is miles away from here; but I hope that in time she will find something here to care for too." And even Kitty actually felt that in time perhaps she might. In that cosy little room, and with those two new friends, it did not seem so absolutely impossible; but when Kitty's thoughts flew to Miss Pidsley, the bare, unhomelike room downstairs, and the dreary road outside, her mind began to waver, and she felt anything but hopeful.
"I am so glad to be back," sighed Pamela, with genuine pleasure. She was not exaggerating in the least—even Kitty could see that. "But," she added, "if you have a nice home and people to leave, it must be awfully hard. I expect it is what I feel at the end of term when I have to leave here."
"Oh, it is much worse than that; it must be," gasped Kitty, her astonishment overcoming her shyness. "But you are laughing. You really love going home, of course?"
"No, I don't. I am miserable. You see, I have no real home, only a guardian, an old man, who doesn't want me any more than I want to go, and is just as anxious as I am for the holidays to be over. He is old, and an invalid too, poor old man, and he never will have any one to stay in the house, or allow me to; so it is dull, and one doesn't feel very overjoyed at going home to it. I can assure you I find it much more exciting to come back to school. I suppose you have brothers and sisters and a real home?" looking across at Kitty with wistful eyes.
"Oh yes!" said Kitty, and then she fell to talking of them; and Miss Hammond and Pamela listened with such interest and laughter to her account of their escapades and adventures, that Kitty talked on and on, until at last they were interrupted by a cab drawing up before the house, and Miss Hammond had to go to welcome the new arrivals.
"I feel as though I knew Betty and Dan and Tony already," said Pamela as they strolled down the corridor to their rooms. "I wish I did. And your father must be a perfect dear, I think."
"He is," said Kitty warmly, but with a catch in her voice; and from that moment she loved Pamela. "I do wish," she said impulsively, "I do wish you could come and stay with us, and know them all. There isn't very much to see at Gorlay, but there are beautiful places all round it, and we could have some jolly times."
"I'd love to come," said Pamela heartily. "I know I should enjoy myself tremendously, I feel it in my bones. But don't ask me if you don't really mean it, for I shall come, I tell you plainly."
Kitty laughed, actually laughed quite gaily, and made up her mind that it should not be her fault if Pamela did not have at least one happy holiday.
The next day the girls were allowed to write home to announce their safe arrival. Kitty wrote to her father a letter full of eagerness and promises, and longings for the holidays, which made Dr. Trenire smile and sigh as he laid it away in his pocket-book, and made the house seem emptier and less itself even than it had done before. In with her father's letter Kitty put one for Betty. It was the first that young person had ever received, and it so filled her with a sense of importance that Anna and Tony said she was almost unbearable all the rest of the day. How many times she read it over no one could have counted, but at every opportune and inopportune moment it was drawn out of her pocket, until at last it grew quite frayed at the edges, and, though scarcely a word it contained was confided to the others, Betty read it again and again with compressed lips and frowning brows, and an air of seriousness that nearly drove them frantic.
There was not much in it either to give rise to all this.
"Dearest Betty," wrote Kitty, "I have so much I want to say that I don't know what to say first. I am very lonely, but one day and night are over, and one of the girls is very nice, I think. She is called Pamela Peters, and I want to bring her home with me for the holidays, because she has no father or mother, or home, or anything but a guardian, a very cross old man, and I want her to see what jolly times we have. I think I shall like another girl too, called Hope Carey. She is quite little, about your age, and is very unhappy. Her mother was very ill when she left home, and she is always thinking about her and fretting. I think it was very cruel to send her back until her mother was better. I do feel so sorry for her.
"One of the first things I did was to take off my gray stockings and put them all away. I shall give them to one of the maids. It is lovely to be without the hateful things. I wonder what you are all doing at this very minute, and if you are thinking of me. I am always thinking of you all the time, and saying, 'Another minute gone, another hour gone,' but it only seems to make the time pass more slowly. I have a bedroom to myself, I am glad to say, and it looks very nice with my things about it, but of course I don't really care for it at all. I think Miss Pidsley isn't as nasty as I thought she was when Aunt Pike was with her. I think she is ill, or worried, or something, and not so very cross. Miss Hammond, the other principal, is a dear. I like her very much. We are all going out shopping one day with Miss Hammond. We are allowed to go on one Wednesday afternoon each month. Sometimes she takes the girls to see something, or to a concert, instead of going shopping. I do not want to buy anything for myself, but I think I shall get some flowers for Miss Hammond, and something for Hope, she is so unhappy, and she has very little pocket-money. We go for excursions in the summer and have theatricals at Christmas, and you and father will be invited to those. It is rather nice, isn't it? But of course I don't take any real interest in it. I hate being here, but I am going to work hard to make the time pass. I hope Anna is better. Give Tony my love, and tell him he was a perfect dear to give me his precious piece of spar. I shall always take it with me wherever I go. I will write to him next time. Mind you write and tell me everything, and give my love to Fanny, and Jabez, and Grace, and kiss Prue and Billy for me. Kiss Prue on her dear old cheek and her soft nose.—Your loving sister,
"GOOD IN EVERYTHING."
Betty's satisfaction, though, ended with the day. "I am never happy one day but what I've got to be unhappy the next," she said plaintively to her father the following evening, when telling him her woes.
"You might put it another way," he said, smiling, "and say you are never very unhappy one day but what you are very happy the next."
Betty shook her head gravely. "But I am not," she said. "I can't be sure I am going to be happy, but I can be that I am going to be unhappy, and sometimes it lasts for ever so long."
"You poor little suffering martyr," said Dr. Trenire, "what is wrong now?"
"It's my stockings," said Betty solemnly.
"Whatever is wrong with your stockings? Stand still, child, can't you, and tell me."
"No," said Betty, "I can't, my legs itch so. I am sure I shall be crazy before long. I almost wish I'd been sent away to school too, then I could give them away, as Kitty has."
"Given away what?—her legs? What made Kitty do it, and what is wrong with the stockings? Are they new, that they have only just begun to irritate you?"
"No, they aren't new, but—well, you see, I've only just been found out."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you see, Aunt Pike would make us wear these ugly, woolly, itchy things, and "—Betty's voice waxed indignant—"she wouldn't believe us when we said we couldn't, and so—well, I thought of it first—we wore our black cotton ones under these, and then we didn't feel them."
"I see," said Dr. Trenire, a smile beginning to twinkle in his eyes. "And you were not found out?"
"Not till to-day," with a triumphant air; "but to-day there was a hole in the gray ones, and I didn't know it; but Aunt Pike saw the black showing through, and she screamed out, 'Elizabeth, what has happened to your leg?' And oh! I did jump so; and then I looked, and there was a great black spot, and everybody was looking and laughing. It was—oh, it was dretful, and Aunt Pike was so angry, she made me go home and take off the black ones; and now she has taken all my cotton ones away, and—and I've got to wear these, and it's—it's awful, it really is, daddy," and poor Betty's eyes grew pink with tears.
"I know," said her father sympathetically. "I suffer in the same way myself. Don't cry, child; it will be all right. I will explain to your aunt."
But Betty had borne much that day, and the tears, at least a few, had to come. "She said if Tony can bear it, I can; but Tony doesn't mind, he doesn't feel it; he says, though, he would never have said he didn't if he had known it would make it harder for me and Kitty."
"Loyal Tony!" laughed Dr. Trenire. "I like his spirit. Well, don't fret about it any more; you shall have some others. I think, though, that we will have some other colour; they aren't very pretty, are they?"
"Pretty!" cried Betty; "they are 'trocious. No one else would have worn them. I'll take them off now; shall I, father?"
"Hadn't you better wait till you have some others to put on?"
"Oh no, thank you. Fanny wouldn't take long getting me some. If you will give her some money, she won't be more than a few minutes. I'll wrap my feet up in two shawls for the time."
"I see there is to be no time wasted," said Dr. Trenire. "You are a business-like young person, Betty."
"Yes," said Betty, with satisfaction. "You see, I can't do anything until I have them; and if they are going to be bought, they may as well be bought quickly."
"Your logic is admirable; but, dear, why didn't you speak to me about it before? It would have been much better than pretending to obey your aunt all these weeks, and deceiving her."
Betty looked ashamed. To have the word "deceive" used about herself without any glossing of it over made her feel very small and mean.
"We did think of it, father," she said earnestly; "but Kitty said she didn't want to seem to be always complaining about Aunt Pike."
"I see," said Dr. Trenire quietly, and he gazed for a moment gravely into the fire before he left the room.
Betty never knew what passed between her father and her aunt; but she heard no more about the gray stockings, and she wrote off delightedly to Kitty to tell her all about it.
Kitty was out when the letter came. It was the day on which the girls were taken for an afternoon's shopping or sight-seeing.
"I really must get some presents to take home to them all," she had said quite seriously to Pamela in the morning.
Pamela laughed. "There are eleven more weeks to do it in," she said.
But Kitty covered her ears. "Don't, don't," she cried—"just when I have been telling myself that time is flying, and that I haven't many more chances."
"Well, you haven't many," laughed Pamela. "Of course we don't go every week. I think you are wise, though, to get your things while you have the money, and if you see things later that you like better you mustn't mind."
"I shall keep my eyes turned away from the shops," said Kitty. "Now be quiet, Pamela, while I make my list."
"Mine is ready," said Pamela, with something between a laugh and a sigh, and she held up a blank sheet.
"Haven't you any one to get anything for?" said Kitty sympathetically, sorry At once that she had talked so much about herself. "Poor Pamela!"
"Only Miss Hammond," said Pamela. "We generally give her some flowers— most of us do, at least. Rhoda Collins doesn't; she says it seems such a waste of money, as flowers fade so soon. I suggested one day that she should give Miss Hammond a cake instead, as that at any rate was useful."
"And did she?"
"No; she said one couldn't get anything very nice for a penny."
Kitty tittered. "Flowers for Miss Hammond," she wrote on her list. "What do you give to Miss Pidsley?"
"Miss Pidsley!" Pamela looked surprised at her question. "Oh, nothing. You see, Miss Hammond goes with us, and—and—well, we all like her; but Miss Pidsley—I don't know why, but I think we never thought of giving her anything. I should be afraid to."
The shopping was really great fun; the girls swarmed about the counters and wandered about the shops, going into raptures over this thing and hesitating about buying that thing, until it really seemed as though all the purchases never would be made. Yet by degrees they somehow acquired a great many curious possessions.
Kitty bought a nice pocket-book for her father, a little brooch for Betty, a book for Tony, and a penknife for Anna; but it took so long to decide on these that she left her presents for the servants to get another day, for she still had to buy her flowers for Miss Hammond, and teatime was fast approaching. The flower-shop was perhaps the most fascinating of all; the cut flowers, the ferns, and the plants in the pots were perfectly bewildering in their beauty. Kitty was in raptures, and almost wished she had bought flowers to take home to them all, instead of the things she had got.
"Father would simply love that fern," she cried, "and Betty would go wild over that little white basket with the ferns and hyacinths in it. O Pamela, I do so want it for her! I want them all!"
Pamela had not lost her head as Kitty had. "Well, the hyacinths will have faded long before you go home, Kitty, and the brooch is easier to pack."
Kitty laughed somewhat shamefacedly. Her eye was already caught by a lovely little flowering rose-bush in a pot. "I must buy that," she said with determination, "and I am going to."
"For Miss Hammond? Oh, how nice! Stupid me had never thought of a plant for her. I always get cut flowers for her room."
"It isn't for Miss Hammond," said Kitty rather shyly; "I have bought violets for her. I think I will take the rose back to Miss Pidsley."
"Miss Pidsley! You funny girl, Kitty."
"Well, at any rate I will offer it to her, and if she doesn't like it— she can't hurt me; and it does seem rather hard that she should miss all this, and not have anything taken back to her either. She seems to have all the dull, disagreeable things to do, and none of the nice ones."
"I had never thought of that," said Pamela. "I suppose she chose what should be her work, and what should be Miss Hammond's."
"Then she must be a good sort to have given all the nicest things to others to do, and have kept all the dull ones for herself," said Kitty, with the frankness with which schoolgirls discuss their elders in private.
"Come along, girls," called Miss Hammond, returning to the shop. "I have ordered tea, and it will be ready in five minutes."
By this time it was getting dark, and it was very pleasant to turn from the cold, windy streets into the snug, brightly-lighted room where tea was laid for them at a couple of tables placed in the window. The blinds were up, and they could watch the people and the busy life in the streets, or could turn their eyes inwards and look at that in the room, where every table was occupied. They were all very hungry and pleased and excited. The food was good and the tea was good, and the girls could talk and laugh to their hearts' content.
Then there was the walk home through the busy streets again, where the shops were all brilliantly lighted now, making everything look very gay and cheerful. Kitty felt the exhilaration of it tingling in her blood as she stepped along through the strange scenes which, in her eyes, were so exciting and gay and full of interest.
When they reached home and the others all flew off to their rooms, Kitty stood for a moment hesitating; then, with a little added flush on her cheeks, she walked along the hall to Miss Pidsley's private room and knocked. There was a moment's silence, then "Come in," said Miss Pidsley in a voice that was not exactly encouraging, for it was that of a person who had reached the limits of her patience.
Kitty almost wished she had not come. She seemed to be doing such a dreadful thing by interrupting, and suddenly her pretty rose looked very poor and insignificant; but there was no drawing back now, so she opened the door and went in. Miss Pidsley looked up very sharply.
"Oh, surely, Katherine," she began, when she saw who it was, "it is not time for your music lesson yet?" Then she noticed that Kitty had on her hat, and had evidently only just come in.
"Oh no, Miss Pidsley," said Kitty, "there is an our yet before that. I hope I haven't interrupted you. I brought you home a little rose-tree, which I hope—I—I thought you might like it," and she put the beautiful, cheery-looking little crimson rambler down on the table beside her.
Miss Pidsley looked completely surprised, but quite pleased. "How kind of you, Katherine—how very kind of you to think of me," she said, and Katherine noticed that her voice sounded strangely. Then her head dropped on her hand, and she gave a deep, deep sigh. "Oh," she exclaimed, and the words seemed to be forced from her, "I am so worried, and oh! so tired, so tired." Then she looked up again with almost an embarrassed air. "I am afraid I spoke sharply when you knocked. I feared it might be Jane again, and after the scene I have had with her I really do not want to see her for some time yet. She has quarrelled with the house-maid, and both have given me notice; and what to do I don't know, just at the beginning of term and all." Miss Pidsley talked on as though she really could not keep her troubles to herself any longer. "It has been a most trying scene; they upset me dreadfully, they were so violent."
Had any one else in the house heard the usually reserved headmistress talking so unreservedly they would have gasped with astonishment. But Kitty was too full of sympathetic interest to think of anything else. She had a little unconscious way of her own of winning confidence from the most unlikely of people, and poor Miss Pidsley, who was so weary, so overburthened with worries, so perplexed and altogether out of heart, could not refrain from pouring her troubles out to her; for, first of all, her sympathy, and, secondly, her little gift of the rose had carried her straight into Miss Pidsley's lonely, aching heart.
There was Miss Hammond, of course, for her to confide in, and Miss Hammond would have been told some of the worries by-and-by, but deep down in Miss Pidsley's heart lurked a little pain, a little trouble that Miss Hammond's advice could never lessen. Miss Hammond was attractive, charming, genial, and every one liked her; the girls all adored her. Miss Pidsley was not attractive, and she had not a genial manner, and she told herself that nobody cared for her, and that the girls feared and disliked her. And, unfortunately, this feeling, which hurt her cruelly, made her withdraw herself more and more from all but what one might call the business part of the life, and so gave the girls a real reason for feeling towards her as they did.
Fortunately Kitty had not known Miss Pidsley long enough to realize how very unlike herself she was now, so she was not at all embarrassed, but only intensely full of a desire to help.
"Miss Pidsley," she said, after a moment's pause, "if you would let me, I will write to father and ask him if he knows of any girls that would do for you. He often does hear of servants wanting places—nice ones too. You see, he knows so many poor people."
Miss Pidsley looked up surprised. She had never thought of Kitty as a possible helper in her dilemma. "It is very kind of you, Katharine, to think of it," she said warmly. "I should indeed be most grateful to your father if he could help me. He would know that the girls were respectable and nice. But I really do not like to trouble him, he is such a busy man."
"Oh, father wouldn't think it a trouble. I will write to-night," said Kitty, delighted at the prospect of being able to help. "I wish you had been with us this afternoon, Miss Pidsley; you would have enjoyed it so. We had a lovely time."
"I wish I had," said Miss Pidsley. "At any rate I should have had some tea, which is more than I got at home."
"No tea!" Kitty was shocked. No wonder she found her mistress tired and overdone. "Shall I tell them to get you some now?" she asked, moving towards the door.
"Oh no!" cried Miss Pidsley, alarmed. "I would not ask for anything while matters are in such a state in the kitchen." Then she laughed with some embarrassment at her confession of fear.
"I will go and take off my things now," said Kitty, and she left rather abruptly and ran quickly to her room.
The throwing off of her hat and coat occupied less than a minute; then, taking out from a tin box a spirit-lamp and kettle, she filled the latter and put it on to boil. That done, she ran softly down the stairs to the pantry. Fortunately for her, Nellie, the schoolroom maid, was there alone. Nellie, who was an easy-going, good-tempered girl, had been the pleased recipient of the discarded gray stockings, and had ever since showed a gratitude which was beyond Kitty's comprehension, for in her opinion it was she who had most cause to be grateful. To Nellie Kitty explained her wants, and after a brief, whispered consultation she was soon speeding back with a little jug of milk, some tea in a small teapot, and a plate of biscuits on a tray. In her room she had a pretty teacup of her own, which she meant to use.
The kettle was singing by the time she got back, and a few moments later she made her way proudly down to Miss Pidsley's room with a fragrant scent of tea marking her path. This time, when she knocked, Miss Pidsley really did think she had come for her music lesson, and a little sigh again escaped her, a sigh which turned to an exclamation of real pleasure when she saw what Kitty was bringing her. Cornish Kitty had forgotten all about sugar or a teaspoon, but Miss Pidsley needed her tea so badly she did not heed the omission, but sat down at once to enjoy to the full her little picnic meal.
When Kitty returned to her own room again she was surprised at herself for feeling so happy. "School isn't all bad," she said thoughtfully. "I dare say I should get quite to like it in time."
Then her eye fell on Betty's newly-arrived letter, and tearing it open, she read of all her woes and triumphs connected with the detested woollen stockings. There was a long letter from Dan too, full of a sort of laughing sympathy as well as jokes and fun, but with here and there the strain of seriousness which so often astonished Dan's friends, and made him the dear, lovable old boy he was.
"It was rough on you," he wrote, "to pack you off to school like that, and jolly unfair too; and I expect you felt you would never smile again. But you will, and before many weeks are gone by, too; and I do believe it is the best thing for both of us. We didn't make any friends at home; there was no one we cared for, and we are such a funny, reserved crew—at least that's what they say here about me, and I believe I was the best of us—in that way, I mean. It won't be so very long before we shall be going home, and, my word, it is worth while going away just to have the going home again. So cheer up, old girl; it isn't every one that can boast of a brother like me. Hurry up and write, just to show you appreciate your blessings."
"There are some things to make up for being away," thought Kitty, and she wrote Dan a long, bright, hopeful letter, and another to Betty.
A week or so later she wrote to her father to broach her desire to bring home Pamela with her. She thought it wise to mention it early, as it would take some time to reconcile Aunt Pike to the thought. For more than a week she had no reply and no letter from any one, and she was just beginning to worry very much about it when a letter came from her father.
"I shall be delighted to welcome your young friend," he wrote, "and I am very glad you have one you want to bring home with you. But I can only consent conditionally, for poor unfortunate Anna is down with measles, and is very unwell, poor child. I have not spoken to your aunt yet about your plan, for she is too worried about Anna, and some other matters, to bear any more agitation. If Betty and Tony do not develop measles, and I am taking every precaution to prevent its spreading, the house will be free of infection and safe for you all to come to; but should they develop it—well, it does no good to climb our hills before we reach them, and we will not anticipate any such blow. When Anna is free from infection and able to travel, her mother will take her to the sea for a thorough bracing up. I am sure you will understand how things are at present, and make the best of them if they should not turn out as you wish."
Poor Kitty! She saw at once that what her father tried not to anticipate was the possibility of her not being able to come home at all for the holidays, nor Dan either; and how could one help climbing such a hill before one came to it, or at least standing at its foot and gazing anxiously up its rough, stony sides?
"I do think Anna was born to aggravate," she said crossly, but a few moments later her anger against her cooled. "It must be horrid for her too," she added, "for she never seems to get any fun out of anything, not even out of being ill."
But Betty and Tony behaved extremely well. They escaped the measles, and all risk of infection was over long before the end of term came—and even a first term at school must come to an end some time.
Kitty at last had but seven more slips to tear off and seven more dates to strike through, and for sheer pleasure she left them untouched. Time did not need helping along now.
Then came the last day, when the boxes stood packed and strapped and labelled, and a general air of holidays and freedom from rules pervaded the whole house. Rhoda and Cicely Collins were leaving very early. Rhoda wanted to go by the earliest train because the fares were slightly lower. Rhoda was of a saving disposition. It always gave her the greatest pleasure to be able to economize in any way, and her stores of twine and paper, old corks, scraps of writing-paper, old pens, and other things, afforded food for endless jokes amongst the rest of the girls. Cicely, on the other hand, was the exact opposite of her sister; but being the younger, and less masterful, she gave in to Rhoda, and on the day they were to go home she rose, at Rhoda's command, from her bed at six o'clock, very unwillingly though, for the saving of threepence on her journey was nothing to Cicely in comparison to the discomfort of rising early.
Hope Carey had gone home some weeks before, having fretted herself ill with anxiety about her mother. Kitty and Pamela were to wait until the eleven o'clock train, for Dan, who broke up on the same day, could join them then at their station, and they could all travel down together. It was not nearly eleven when they reached the station; but how could they stay quietly in the dull, deserted house waiting for the hours to go by? Miss Hammond saw that it was too much to expect of them, so took them down very early; for a railway station, with its bustle and life, is a capital place for making time pass.
"It all seems too lovely to be real," sighed Kitty happily. "To be going home, to be meeting Dan, to be travelling by ourselves, and to have no lessons for more than three weeks! It seems too much happiness all at once, and I am afraid I shall wake up presently and find it a dream, as I so often have. I understand now what Dan meant by saying it was almost worth going away to have the going home. I do think, though," with sudden alarm, "that Dan must have missed his train. I am sure it must be nearly afternoon."
"It is five minutes past eleven," laughed Miss Hammond, "and there is his train now coming in, and there—if I don't mistake—is Dan."
But Kitty had seen him first, and was flying down the platform to meet him. Dan, recognizing the flying figure, stood and warded her off with the umbrella and bag he had in his hands. "Now, if you kiss me here," he cried, "I shall call for help, I really shall; it is taking a mean advantage, and I am not going to stand it. I wouldn't mind if you were by yourself, but the others would be imitating you!"
Kitty laughed. "I forgot you were still a little boy," she said teasingly. "I know little boys do mind. When they are real men they don't. Come along, Dan, and speak to Miss Hammond and Pamela," and Dan followed quite sedately to make his best bow to Kitty's friends.
"You must be very thankful the holidays are come," he said solemnly to Miss Hammond. "I know, of course, how wearing Kitty is."
"I expect some of your masters feel they have cause for gratitude to-day too," laughed Miss Hammond. "Now we must hurry if we want to find nice seats. I see your train is in."
Pamela and Dan looked at each other and smiled somewhat embarrassedly; but Dan, who had been rather annoyed at first by Kitty's asking to bring home a friend with her, let his heart melt a little towards her, for he somehow felt that things were not going to be as bad as he had feared; and when they had found an empty compartment, and seemed likely to have it to themselves all the way, he graciously thawed still more, and his spirits rose to their usual height.
Alas, though, for plans. The train was on the point of starting, the whistle had gone, and the guard was just about to signal to the engine-driver, when there was a shout and a rush, and with a "Here you are, ma'am!" a porter laid hold of the handle of their door, flung it open, almost pushed two ladies in, threw in some bags and parcels after them, and banged the door to again. Off started the engine with a jerk which threw the ladies on to the seat opposite Kitty, who, with dismayed face and sinking spirits, had already recognized them as Lady Kitson and Lettice.
"She will be with us all the time, and everything is spoilt," she groaned inwardly. She was intensely disappointed. "Strangers would not have been so bad, or any one but those particular two."
Pamela was sitting in the corner opposite her, and Dan was in the corner at the other end of her seat. Lady Kitson and Lettice were at first too cross and too much shaken to notice any one; but presently, having recovered and arranged their packages, and settled down in their seats, they glanced about the compartment, and, with a look of not very pleased surprise, recognized their companions.
"Oh, how do you do, Dan?" said Lady Kitson, and smiled quite affably on him, but to Kitty she vouchsafed only the merest acknowledgment.
Lettice blushed hotly when she saw Kitty, and gave her one of her broad, meaning smiles.
"How do you do?" said Kitty very stiffly, and with no shadow of a smile.
"How is your poor little cousin, Dan?" said Lady Kitson presently. "I hope she is growing strong again after her two serious illnesses?"
"Yes, thank you," said Dan. "She has gone away for change of air."
"Oh, indeed. I am glad she is able to. It was so alarming her being so ill. Oh, I heard about your shocking behaviour in leaving her behind to walk home by herself, on such a night too, and in such a wild spot."
"I am afraid you haven't heard the right story, Lady Kitson," said Dan gravely, but with a flash of his eye.
Lady Kitson smiled a most aggravating little smile. "Oh, I think so," she said meaningly. Then, "You are not all going away with Anna, I hope," she remarked severely. "I am sure the poor child must require perfect peace and great care."
"No, Aunt Pike has gone with her. We are going home, and Kitty's friend is coming to stay with us," and Dan looked towards Pamela. "May I introduce Miss Pamela Peters—Lady Kitson, Miss Kitson," said Dan very formally, and growing very red.
Pamela smiled and bowed very prettily to Lady Kitson. Lady Kitson stared at Pamela, but gave her only the vaguest of acknowledgments. Lettice nodded as though her neck were loose at the joint.
"You don't mean to say that while Mrs. Pike is away your poor father is going to have you all on his hands, and a stranger as well? Poor Dr. Trenire. I really think it is too much for him, he looks so ill and worn already. He really needs a holiday more than do any of you."
"Father looks ill!" gasped Kitty. It was the first hint she had had of any such thing, and a sudden cold fear filled her heart. She forgot her dislike of Lady Kitson and Lettice, and the wrong they had done her. "Is father really ill, Lady Kitson?" she asked anxiously, leaning towards her. "He has never mentioned it to me, nor has Aunt Pike."
"He is too good and unselfish to complain," said Lady Kitson coldly. "You should use your own eyes, and not wait for him to tell you he is ill. He has not actually told me that he is, but I can see that he looks overworked and unwell, and certainly not fit to battle with a houseful of noisy, restless boys and girls."
"Of course we shouldn't be noisy if father was not well," said Kitty, with quiet dignity. She was feeling intensely uncomfortable on Pamela's account as well as her father's. Lady Kitson's remarks were not polite to their guest.
Lady Kitson sat back in her seat and unfolded a paper, as though to intimate that she had no more to say. Lettice crossed over and sat beside Kitty, evidently intending to talk to her, but Kitty could not bring herself to be friendly to her late school-fellow; besides which, she had Pamela to talk to, and there was this news about her father to fill her mind.
"He can't be very ill," said Pamela comfortingly, seeing Kitty's quiet distress. "Your aunt or Betty would have said something to you about it. While I am with you I can take the children out all day long if you like, so that you can keep the house quiet, and we won't be any trouble. But of course you must send me home if it is not convenient for me to stay."