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   Chapter 3 A DRIVE AND A SLICE OF CAKE.

Kitty Trenire By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 20966

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


With one thing and another Jabez was so agitated as to be quite incapable of hurrying, and Kitty, who could harness or unharness a horse as well as any one, had to help him. She fastened the trace on one side, buckled up the girths, and finally clambered up into the carriage while Jabez was still fumbling with the bit and the reins. She caught the braid of her frock in the step as she mounted, and ripped down many inches of it, but that did not trouble her at all.

"Have you got a knife in your pocket, Dan?" she asked calmly; and Dan not only produced a knife, but hacked off the hanging braid for her and threw it away.

"I do wish I could go too," said Betty wistfully. "I'd love to drive all over the downs at night, particularly if there was a storm coming. May I come too, Kitty?"

But Kitty, for several reasons, vetoed the suggestion. For one thing she wanted to be alone with her father, to try her powers of argument and persuasion against the summoning of Aunt Pike and Anna into their midst; for another, she felt that to be driving in the dark, and probably through a storm, was responsibility enough, without the care of Betty added; and she felt, too, that though her father might be induced to let one of them go with him, he would, under such circumstances, shrink from the pleasure of their united company.

"No, Bet," she answered firmly, "you can't come to-night. I-I want to talk things over with father; but," with sudden inspiration, "I tell you what you can do, and it would be awfully sweet of you. You coax Fanny to get something very nice for supper by the time we come home, and see that Emily has the table properly laid, and that the glasses are clean, and that there are knives enough, and-oh, you know, all sorts of things."

"I know," said Betty, quite as delighted with the responsibility thrust on her as she would have been with permission to go for the drive.

Dr. Trenire came out presently with some letters in his hand, which he gave to Jabez. "Post those without fail," he said, then mounted to his seat. He was so absorbed, or bothered, or tired, that he did not at first observe Kitty's presence, or, at any rate, object to it; and when he did notice her, all he said was, "O Kitty, are you going to drive me? That is very good of you; but isn't it rather late for you?"

"No, father," said Kitty, relieved by his tone. "I love driving by night, and I-I thought it would rest you to have some one to drive. Perhaps you will be able to have a nap on the way."

"I shouldn't be surprised if I did," said her father, with a smile.

"I feel as though my head is asleep already. Have we got the lamps?"

"Yes, I think everything is right," and, gathering up the reins, off she drove down through the street.

Every one they met smiled and saluted them in some way, and Kitty smiled back, well pleased. To be perched up on the box-seat, with the reins in her hand, in a position of real trust, gave her the happiest thrills imaginable. Horses, and riding and driving, were passions with her.

At the bottom of the street they branched to their left, and went more slowly up a steep hill, which wound on and on, gradually growing steeper and steeper, past villas and cottages and pretty gardens, until at last all dwellings were left behind, and only hedges bordered the wide road; and then the hedges were passed too, and they were out on the open downs with miles of rough level grassland stretching away on either side of them, broken only by the flat white road along which they rolled so easily.

Up here, on this height, with nothing to intercept it, a little breeze met them. It was a very faint little breeze, but it was refreshing. Kitty drew in deep breaths of it with pleasure, for the closeness and thunderousness of the atmosphere were very trying. The sky overhead looked heavy and angry, black, with a dull red glow burning through here and there, while a hot mist veiled the horizon.

For a time they drove on without speaking, Prue's regular footfalls, the noise of the wheels, and the sharp, clear calls of the birds alone breaking the silence. Kitty was thinking deeply, trying to summon courage to make her earnest, final appeal, and wondering how to begin.

"Father," she began at last, "I-I wish you would give us one more chance-trial, I mean. We would try to behave better, really we would; and-and I will do my best to look after the house and the servants properly. I am sure I can if I try. There shall always be hot water, and-well, you see I feel it is all my fault, and I have brought it all on the others-"

Dr. Trenire came back with a start from his drowsy musings, and tried to gather what it was that his daughter was saying, for she was rather incoherent. Her voice shook at first with nervousness. "Eh, what?" he stammered.

It was disconcerting to Kitty to find that he had not been taking in a word of what it had cost her such an effort to say. "I will do my best to look after the house and the servants," she repeated desperately, "if-"

"But I am afraid, child, you really don't know how. It is not in anger,

Kitty, that I am making this new arrangement. I am doing it because I

feel you have a task entirely beyond your power, and for all your sakes

I must see that you have an orderly and comfortable home, and-"

"It won't be comfortable," said Kitty pathetically. "It will never be that any more."

"You must not begin by being prejudiced against your aunt," reasoned her father gently.

"I am not, father, really; we are not prejudiced," she answered; "but we know, and-and every one else knows that-that-well, when I told Jabez what was going to happen, he sat down on a bucket and he looked-he looked at first as though he were going to faint, and then as though he would leave. I feel nearly certain he will not stay, I really do, father. Aunt Pike was always down on him."

Dr. Trenire felt a little uneasy. He hated changes amongst his servants when once he had grown used to them, and Jabez was a faithful and valuable one in spite of his peculiarities. "You should have thought of all this sooner," he said, rather crossly, "and not have made such a step necessary."

"But-but, father, if we promise now, and really mean it, and begin at once, and-and-" Kitty was so excited she could hardly get her words out, for she had quickly caught the signs of wavering in her father's voice and manner. Already she felt as though victory were near. "Anyhow, father, give us six months, or even three months more, just to let us show that-"

With an exclamation, Dr. Trenire leaned forward and pulled the right rein sharply. "Take care, child," he cried; "you will have us over in a moment. You have almost got this wheel over the edge of the ditch. You must learn to attend to the business in hand, or you will never succeed in anything. Another inch and you would have upset us, and probably have broken a spring."

Dr. Trenire's nerves were on edge, and he spoke more sharply than was usual with him. Kitty felt that she had made a bad beginning, her spirits sank, and she lapsed into silence. But when they were once more bowling smoothly along, her father's thoughts returned to her appeal.

"I am afraid it is too late now," he said gently, sorry for his momentary irritability. "I have already written to your aunt."

Kitty turned a stricken face to him, and her hold of the reins loosened again. "Written to Aunt Pike-already!" she gasped. "Oh!" But hope rose again a moment later. "But you haven't posted it?"

"Yes, I have. At least, I gave it, with some others, to Jabez to post.

It will have gone by the time we reach home."

"Oh, how dreadful!" Kitty's fingers tightened on the reins. Her impulse was to turn and drive back furiously to try and intercept that fatal letter. "Father, do let me just drive quickly back and stop it," she pleaded; but her father shook his head.

"I must get on to see Sir James as speedily as I can. It would take us nearly an hour to go home and reach this far again; the old gentleman would think I wasn't coming to-night. Look at the sky, too; we must try and get to Welland, if not home again, before the storm bursts. It will be a bad one when it comes, and anything but pleasant or safe to be driving through over an exposed road such as this; and even now I am afraid it will be dark before we get home."

Kitty knew that; but everything seemed trifling in comparison with this affair of Aunt Pike, and she drove on in a state of mutiny and misery very hard to bear, until by-and-by another comforting thought came to her. If she could not recall that letter, perhaps she could induce her father to write another to her aunt, telling her that after all he had made other arrangements, and that there was no occasion to trouble her. She would not say anything about it now though, and presently other things occurred which helped to banish for the moment this particular trouble from her mind.

By the time they reached Welland it was very nearly dark, and Kitty felt not a little nervous as she guided Prue through the gate leading into the Manor grounds; for the turning was an awkward one, and the gate not wide. She managed it, however, and drove along the drive and drew up before the door in quite a masterly fashion.

"I had better light the lamps by the time you come out," she said to her father as he got down from the carriage; but before he could tell her that One of the stablemen would probably come and see to the lamps and Prue too, the hall door was opened by an anxious-faced maid.

"We are glad you have come, sir," she exclaimed. "The master seems very bad, and the mistress is very anxious."

"I will be with your master in a moment," said the doctor cheerfully; then, turning again to Kitty, "Hadn't you better come inside, dear? You-"

"Oh no," cried shy Kitty, to whom the suggestion was full of horror. "Oh no. I would much rather stay here, please, father. It is cooler now, and I am very comfortable;" and Dr. Trenire, understanding her nature, let her have her way, and followed the impatient maid to the sickroom.

Kitty, greatly relieved, was fastening the reins to the splashboard before getting down to light the lamps, when a man appeared around the corner of the house, and came towards her.

"You had better go inside, miss, hadn't you?" he said, speaking as though he were bidding her to go rather than asking her a question

. "I'll look after the mare."

"Thank you," said Kitty decisively, "I would rather stay here."

"I think we'm going to have a storm, and you'll get wet through before the doctor comes out. I reckon he'll be some time."

Kitty felt strongly inclined to say she would like nothing better than to get wet through, and that she preferred sitting out in a storm to anything else in the world. Why couldn't people let her do as she liked best? It seemed to her that it was only for her to want to do one thing, for every one to conspire to make her do another. And how aggravating it was to have the man glued to Prue's bridle all the time, as though Prue ever needed holding, or Kitty were absolutely incapable! He was not at all a pleasant man; he spoke very sulkily and never smiled. She wished for his departure even more fervently than he, she felt, was wishing for hers, but she could not summon up courage to tell him to go, nor could she get over her irritation with him sufficiently to talk to him. So there they stayed in gloomy silence, and Kitty, to add to her annoyance, was made to feel that she was acting foolishly, and ought to have done what she particularly objected to doing.

"Oh!"

A sudden vivid flash of lightning drew the exclamation from her, and made even quiet old Prue toss her head; and immediately after the flash came a violent peal of thunder just above their heads, so violent that it seemed as though the heavens themselves were being rent and shaken and the house tumbling about them. Then came a quick patter, patter, patter, swish, swish, and a storm of rain descended on them.

"If you'll get out, miss, and go into the house, I'll take the mare and the carriage round and put them under shelter, or the cushions and things'll be soaking wet by the time the doctor comes out."

There was a tone in the man's voice that Kitty could not ignore, though she disliked him intensely for it-the more so, perhaps, because she felt that he was in the right. He addressed her as though she were a little wilful child, whose foolishness he had endured for some time, but was not going to endure any longer.

Kitty was so annoyed that for a moment she felt that nothing would induce her to dismount, and that if he chose to put the carriage under shelter he could take her there along with it; but the prospect of having to endure his society the whole time made her pause, and while she paused the hall door was opened, and a lady appeared, peering out into the darkness. Standing outlined against the lighted hall Kitty could see her distinctly, while she, her eyes dazzled for the moment by the light, could see nothing.

"Did Dr. Trenire bring one of his little girls with him, Reuben?"

"Yes'm."

"Do come in at once, child. Which is it? Kitty?"

"Yes," answered Kitty reluctantly.

"Then do come in. Whatever makes you stay out in the storm?" cried Lady

Kitson.

Kitty obediently, but most unwillingly, scrambled down from her seat. Even from the carriage, and through the darkness, she could see how charming and dainty Lady Kitson was looking. She had on a soft, flowing gray silk gown, with white lace about her shoulders and arms, and her beautiful golden hair gleamed brightly in the lamplight. Kitty, at sight of her, suddenly realized with overwhelming shame that in her zeal to drive her father and make her appeal, she had neither brushed her own hair nor washed her hands, nor changed her old garden hat or morning frock. She was, she knew, as disreputable-looking and untidy a daughter as any father could feel ashamed of.

"How stupid of me-how stupid of me," she thought, full of vexation with herself, "when I knew I was coming here, too."

There was nothing to be done, though, but to go in and live through this ordeal as best she might. "Why do these things always happen to me?" she groaned miserably. "If I had wanted very much to go in, and had had on all new beautiful clothes, I should have been left out here to spoil them. I wish father would come; he must have been gone quite half an hour, I am sure, and Sir James can't want him any longer."

In the hall Lady Kitson held out a delicate white hand, with sparkling rings on her fingers, and took Kitty's grubby one in hers. Some persons might not have noticed the roughness and stains and marks made by the reins, but Kitty knew that Lady Kitson did. Her keen eyes missed nothing, and probably before very long she would be retailing to Dr. Trenire all his daughter's shortcomings, and the crying necessity for sending her away to a good boarding-school at once.

None of the Trenire children liked Lady Kitson, though they could hardly have told you why. Poor Kitty felt now that she disliked her exceedingly.

"Come into the drawing-room; the girls are there."

"The girls" were Lady Kitson's step-daughters. They were both of them older than Kitty, but were inclined to be very friendly. The Trenire children, though, did not respond much to their advances; they found them uninteresting and silly, and never felt at home with them. The truth was, they had no tastes in common, and probably never would have.

Kitty felt glad of their presence now though, for anything would be better, she thought, than to have to sit for a long time with Lady Kitson alone. At least she felt glad until, having been directed to a low easy-chair facing them all, she suddenly caught sight of the two jagged ends of braid hanging from the front breadth of her dress-the braid Dan had hacked off with his knife. Both ends hung down two or three inches, and no eye could avoid seeing them. From them her glance travelled to her shabby old shoes, the spots on her frock, her hands. Her face flushed a fiery red and her eyes filled. Not for any consideration could she at that moment have raised her eyes. She knew, she felt those gimlet glances, the looks and meaning smiles that were being exchanged, and she writhed under them, while her heart felt very full and sore. She could not talk, her mind was weighed down. In her embarrassment she could think of nothing to say, and her hostesses were apparently too absorbed to make an effort either. Moment after moment of overwhelming wretchedness dragged by.

"I shall never, never forget this," thought Kitty, "all the rest of my life. It will make me miserable whenever I think of it."

At last, to every one's relief, Lady Kitson went upstairs to join her husband, and with her departure some, at least, of the stiffness was removed.

"Aren't you hungry?" asked Lettice, the elder of the two girls.

"I am sure you must be after that long drive."

"No, thank you," said Kitty soberly.

"Oh, I think you must be.-Maude, do go and ask Parkin to give us some cake for Kitty. Be sure and say it is for Kitty."

"Can't you go yourself?" asked Maude. "Parkin is in a fearful temper with me because I told mother about her giving things to Reuben."

"Bother! You are always rubbing the servants the wrong way. I let them do as they like, for the sake of keeping them amiable. I am awfully hungry, and so is Kitty, if she would only admit it; but if she refuses to, I suppose I must go hungry."

"We shall have dinner soon," said Maude sharply. "I should think you could wait until then."

"I will have some cake, if you really want me to," said Kitty, looking up at Lettice with a smile, the first she had been able to call to her lips. She liked Lettice the better of the two girls.

"Will you?" cried Lettice delightedly. "Then I will go and ask for something nice for you. I am sure Parkin will give me something if I promise her my little pansy brooch;" and off she went, returning a moment later with a plateful of huge slices of orange cake.

Kitty looked at the slices in dismay. "I can't eat a whole one," she said. "I shouldn't have time either, for I expect father will be down soon."

"Nonsense! you must. There is no knife to cut them smaller," cried Lettice, already making marked inroads on a slice herself. "Quick, take some, or I shall drop the plate."

Kitty unwillingly did as she was told, only to regret it bitterly as, at the first mouthful, a shower of crumbs descended on the polished floor. After that experience it took her so long to make up her mind to take a second bite, that just as she did so voices were heard outside the door, the handle was turned, and Lady Kitson, followed by Dr. Trenire, entered the room. At the first sounds Lettice had seized the plate of cake and made a hasty exit through the conservatory, but for Kitty there was no such escape.

"Well, dear, are you ready to face the storm?" asked her father, smiling down at her.

"I think I must lend you a wrap of some sort," said Lady Kitson.

"I suppose you have none?"

Kitty, her mouth full of cake and one hand grasping the remainder, tried to swallow it hastily that she might reply, and, of course, choked. As she often remarked afterwards, the misery of that visit would not have been complete without that final blow. Covered with shame and confusion, she rose awkwardly from her chair, looking about her for some place whereon to deposit that dreadful cake. There was none. The tables were covered with books and frames, vases and ornaments, but the vases were full of flowers, and there was not even a friendly flower-pot saucer. There was nothing for her to do but carry it with her.

"Don't hurry," said Lady Kitson politely; "stay and finish your cake."

"I can't," said Kitty desperately.

She could not even say "thank you." In fact, there seemed so little to give thanks for that it never entered her head to do so.

"Then we will start at once," said her father briskly; and to her immense relief she soon found herself, her farewells said, mounting once more the dear homely carriage. With the reins between her fingers, and the responsibility on her of driving through the storm and darkness, some of her courage and self-respect returned, but not until she had flung that wretched cake far from her into the darkness.

"I shall hate orange cakes all the rest of my life," she thought.

"It was kind of Lady Kitson to take you in out of the storm," remarked her father absently.

"Was it?" she questioned doubtfully. "I suppose it was. But-another time I-I would rather stay out in the very worst storm that ever was," she added mentally. "Nothing could be worse than what I have gone through, and what I shall feel whenever I remember it."

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