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   Chapter 2 THE NEWS, AND HOW THEY RECEIVED IT.

Kitty Trenire By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 15984

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When the door opened and Dr. Trenire came in with the heavy tread of a very weary man, and the face of a very worried one, another and a larger wave of shame and remorse rushed over them all.

Dan stepped forward at once to put his feelings into words. "I am fearfully sorry, father," he said impetuously. "I-I was a brute to throw the things at Jabez; but I-I never meant to hurt him. Is it very bad?"

"It is not a serious wound by any means," said the doctor slowly; "but, of course, the wood was old and dirty, and the nail rusty, and there is always danger of blood-poisoning."

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that," said Dan, looking alarmed.

"No, that is just it," sighed the doctor; "you don't think. No one in the house thinks, it seems to me. I suppose, though, it isn't your fault; you have no one to teach you," and he sighed a heavy, harassed sigh.

The children's mother had died nearly five years earlier, when Kitty was nine, and Anthony but a year old. For a time a housekeeper had been employed to manage both children and servants; but so uncomfortable had been her rule, so un-homelike the house, so curbed and dreary the children's lives, that when Kitty reached the mature age of thirteen her father, only too glad to banish the stranger from their midst, had given in to her pleading, and with high hopes of a home which would be happy and homelike once more, allowed her to become housekeeper and mistress of the house.

Unfortunately, though, Kitty had had no training. Her mother had been an excellent manager; but Kitty was only a little thing when she lost her, and her life had mostly been spent, happily enough, in nursery and schoolroom. Mrs. Trenire's wish had been that her children should have a happy childhood, so all family troubles, all anxieties, domestic worries and details, were kept from them, and the result was that, beyond the nursery and schoolroom life, they knew nothing. Kitty had not the least idea how rooms were cleaned, or meals provided, or anything. Then had come the housekeeper, who for other reasons had kept the children to their own quarters. She resented any interference or questioning, and objected to any trouble they might give her, but as long as they amused themselves and kept out of her way, they were free to do pretty much as they wished.

Under the circumstances it was not greatly to be wondered at that when Kitty took up the reins of management, life at Dr. Trenire's was not well-ordered and free from muddle, and that the doctor himself looked worried, and sad, and careworn.

The pity of it was that Kitty did not try to learn even the very simplest things in housekeeping, and in that lay the root of the trouble and the cause of all that followed. Though when four wild young spirits, that have been bottled up and corked down for years, suddenly find themselves free and able to do what they like when they like, without having to render an account to any one, it would be rather wonderful if they did settle down and become quite staid and steady all at once.

Kitty it was, though, who was most at fault. She had begged to be allowed to manage the house, and, having got her wish, she just seized the advantages and revelled in the freedom, but ignored the responsibilities; and no one was more acutely aware of this fact than was Kitty herself during the next half-hour, when their father talked so gravely to them all in the schoolroom.

"I have been thinking a great deal," he said, as he dropped wearily into the roomy old chair by the fireplace-the chair where their mother used to sit and tell them stories, and hear them say their prayers before they went to bed. "I have thought over the whole situation, as well as my tired brain will let me, and I have come to the conclusion that for all our sakes I must get some one to come and look after us."

"O father!" gasped Kitty in utter dismay. She had never thought that anything as dreadful as this could happen.

"Evidently the management of the house and all of us is beyond Kitty," went on Dr. Trenire; "and that is not to be wondered at. We are a large family on the whole, and a doctor's house is not an ordinary one, and it is not surprising that everything should have got into a state of muddle and confusion."

Kitty felt, but could not say, that she had never really tried to manage it; that as long as things had gone on without any open fiasco, and they had been able to enjoy themselves, and the servants had not been bad-tempered, she had been quite content. She could not make that confession now, and if she had it would not have done any good.

"The house must be orderly and well managed, the meals properly arranged and served, and the servants kept in order, and I should be very culpable if I did not see that it was so," went on her father slowly. "So, after much thought and hesitation, for I am very reluctant to admit even a comparative stranger into our midst again, I feel that the only thing to be done is to write to your dear mother's cousin, Mrs. Pike, and ask her to come and make her home with us. She once offered to, and I think now, if she is still willing, it will be well to accept her kind offer."

A stifled cry of dismay broke from the four shocked listeners-a cry they could not repress. "Aunt Pike!" Aunt Pike, of all people, to come to live with them! Oh, it was too dreadful! It could not be-they could never bear it! She had stayed with them once for a fortnight, and it might have been a year from the impression it had left on their memories. When she had left they had had a thanksgiving service in the nursery, and Betty-solemn Betty-had prayed aloud, "From Aunt Pike, pestilence, and famine, please deliver us."

And now this dreaded aunt was to be asked to come again-not for a fortnight only, but for many fortnights; and not as a guest, but as head and mistress of them all, to manage them, to order them about, to make them do as she chose. Oh, it was overwhelming, appalling, too appalling to be true!

"But there is Anna!" gasped Kitty.

"I know," said Dr. Trenire, who really felt nearly as bad about it as did his children. "Anna will live here too, probably. Of course we could not expect her mother to leave her."

This was the hardest blow, the final drop of bitterness their cup could hold, the last straw on four overburthened camels.

"But we all hate Anna," said Betty with slow, deliberate emphasis; "and we shall hate her more if she is here always, wanting to play with us, and go about with us, and-and-"

"Betty, those remarks are unworthy of you," said her father gravely.

"But they are quite true, daddy," said Tony solemnly, "and we've got to speak the truth and shame the devil. Jabez told us so."

Dr. Trenire did not feel able or inclined to argue the point then. Betty drew nearer to him and leaned against his shoulder. "Daddy," she said in her grave, confiding way, "you won't like it either, a bit. When Anna was here before you often used to say, 'Oh, that child!' and you looked quite glad, as glad as we did, when she went away. I am sure you will be sorry if she comes, nearly as sorry as we shall be, only you will be able to go your rounds and get away from them every day; but we," pathetically, "can't do that."

Again Dr. Trenire was silent. He sometimes wished his younger daughter's memory was less acute, and her love of reasoning less strong. No one spoke, and until some one did, remarks would go on dropping from Betty's lips. It was a way she had. She had never been known to cease talking without being forcibly made to do so. "It does seem dreadful," she went on thoughtfully, "that just because Jabez got his head hit we must have Aunt Pike and Anna here for ever and ever, and be made very unhappy. I am sure Jabez would rather have us punished in some other way. Shall I ask him what he would like done to us instead?" she finished up eagerly.

"I don't want to punish you," said Dr. Trenire. "Don't run

away with the idea, children, that I am doing it for that purpose. It is that I think it will be the best plan for all of us-for our comfort and happiness, and your future good. I can't have you all growing up like savages, untrained, uneducated, uncared for. What would you all say to me when you grew up?" looking round at them with a smile.

"I would say, 'Thank you,'" said Betty gravely.

"I'd rather be a savage than anything," said Tony eagerly.

Kitty and Dan were silent. Dan was old enough to realize something of what his father meant; Kitty was altogether too upset to answer. She was thinking that it was she who had brought all this on them; that she might have saved them from it. The others blamed Jabez and his tale-bearing; but Kitty in her heart of hearts felt that Jabez with his cut forehead and his tale of woe was but a last link in the long chain which she had forged-a chain which was to grapple to them Aunt Pike and the unwelcome Anna. At the same time the injury to Jabez was a last link, without which the chain might never have been completed.

It was completed though, for that their father's mind was made up, his decision final, they recognized only too clearly, and the glorious summer day turned suddenly to blackest, dreariest night for all of them.

By-and-by, though, after their father had left them, and they had talked things over amongst themselves, some of Kitty's remorse gave way to a rebellion against fate. "How could they have known," she demanded tragically, "that by just sitting on the garden wall that afternoon they were changing and spoiling their lives for ever, and giving Aunt Pike the chance she had been longing for, the chance of coming there to 'boss' them? How was one to know what one might do and what one mightn't? What was the use of trying? There was no going against 'fate'! If it was their fate to have everything spoilt by her, she would have come even if Jabez had never been hurt at all, and everything had been quite right and perfect."

"I shall never sit on that old wall again without expecting something to happen," said Betty in solemn tones.

"And you will never be disappointed after she comes," Dan foreboded gloomily, "so it is just as well to be prepared." At which they all groaned in miserable chorus.

By-and-by they straggled downstairs again and out into the yard. The house was really unbearably hot, and seemed too small to allow their minds to grasp all they had to grasp. They had a sort of gloomy longing, too, to revisit the spot where so much had happened, to go over the familiar ground and see if the bright outer world looked different at all; there surely must be some sign of the tragedy that had befallen them.

In the outer world things had changed very much. The sun had disappeared, and the sky was heavy and overcast with threatenings of the storm that had been brewing all the day; the old wall looked gray, and sad, and uninviting.

"Just as though it knew," thought Kitty.

In the yard Prue was standing somewhat dejectedly, evidently waiting to be harnessed; Jabez was creeping about, getting out the carriage in preparation for a journey. He looked quite imposing with his bandaged head, and he was taking himself very seriously. He glanced furtively at the children, and bore himself with an air of patient but superior resignation. In his heart he was really vexed with himself for having complained of them, though he felt it would not do to let them know it.

Betty, Dan, and Tony felt so bitterly the ill turn he had done them that they walked through the yard and up into the garden without a word or a glance-a cut on the forehead seemed so trifling compared with what they had to bear. Jabez, who had expected anger or teasing on their parts, felt this coldness greatly; he was not used to that kind of treatment, and it hurt him. Kitty, though, was so struck by the sight of his preparations that for the moment she forgot him and his injuries.

"Father hasn't to go out again to-night, has he, Jabez?" she asked anxiously, staying behind while the others strolled on.

"Yes, miss, he hev. He've got to go to Welland to once. They've just sent in."

"Are you going too?" looking at his bandaged head.

"No, miss," with a resigned air. "Master says I'm to go 'ome and 'ave a good night's rest-that is if so be as I can get to sleep."

"But who is going to drive father?" interrupted Kitty.

"Master said as 'ow he'd drive hisself."

Kitty remembered the weary look on her father's face, the sleepless night he had had, the long, busy day. "Jabez," she said with quiet firmness, "I am going to drive father; then perhaps he will be able to sleep a little in the carriage. Don't say anything to him, but I'll be in the carriage when you drive it round for him, and then I expect he will let me go."

Jabez looked dubiously first at the sky and then at Kitty.

"I can drive; you know I can," she said eagerly. "Now don't be nasty,

Jabez; we have got trouble enough as it is."

"'Tis my belief there's a nasty storm brewing-"

"I love a storm, especially when I am driving through it."

"I was putting in the old mare on purpose, 'cause she stands thunder and lightning better than what Billy does, but-"

"Jabez, you may say what you like, but I am going, unless father stops me; so don't bother to say any more about it. I know the way, and father trusts me to drive."

"I wasn't going against 'ee, Miss Kitty. If you'm set on it you'm set on it, and 'tisn't no manner of use for me to talk."

Dan and the others came sauntering down from the garden again. "Jabez, you might give me the nail out of that bit of wood," said Dan; "every half-ounce counts, and I want to get enough iron to sell."

Jabez shook his head knowingly. He would rather not have had any further reference made to the affair, for he was really devoted to them all, and was ashamed of his part in it. He always made a point, though, of seeming to distrust them; he thought it safer.

"Ah, I ain't so sure," he began, "that it'd be wise of me to let 'ee 'ave it. I dunno what more 'arm you mightn't be doing with it."

"We couldn't do more harm than you have done already," snapped Dan. "You've nailed Aunt Pike fast to the house with it, and it will take more than we can do to get her away again."

"What be saying of, sir?" asked Jabez, bewildered, and suddenly realizing that their sombre faces and manner meant something more than usual. "Mrs. Pike-"

"Father is going to send and ask Aunt Pike to live here, and it's your fault," said Betty concisely. "It was your complaining about Dan that did it."

Jabez gasped. He knew the lady well, and preserved a vivid recollection of her former visit. "She hain't a-coming visiting here again, is she, sur?" he groaned.

"Visiting! It's much worse than that, a thousand times worse. She is coming here for good, to manage all of us-and you too!" they gasped.

Jabez dropped helpless on to an upturned bucket, the picture of hopeless dejection. "There won't be no peace in life no more," he said, "and I shan't be allowed to show my nose in the kitchen. I'd have had my old 'ead scat abroad every day of my life and never have told rather than I'd have helped to do this. Was it really me telling on 'ee, sur, that made the master settle it so?"

"Yes," nodded Dan, "that finished it."

Jabez groaned again in sheer misery. "I dunno, I'm sure, whatever made me take and do it. I've stood so much more from all of 'ee and never so much as opened my lips. I reckon 'twas the weather made me a bit peppery like-"

"It was fate," interposed Kitty gravely. "It must have been something, for sure," breathed Jabez, with a dreary shake of his head.

"Make haste and get Prue harnessed," said Kitty, "or the storm will begin before we start, and then father won't let me go;" and Jabez, with another gloomy shake of his head, rose from the upturned bucket and proceeded with his task.

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