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   Chapter 4 STORMS AT HOME AND ABROAD.

Kitty Trenire By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 27008

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Time might soften Kitty Trenire's recollections of that embarrassing visit of hers, but it could never dim her remembrance of the drive home that night over that wide expanse of moorland which stretched away black and mysterious under a sky which glowed like a furnace, until both were illuminated by lightning so vivid that one could but bow the head and close the eyes before it. A gusty wind, which had sprung up suddenly, chased the carriage all the way, while the rain, which came down in sheets, hissing as it struck the ground, thundered on the hood drawn over their heads, but left their vision clear to gaze in wondering awe at the marvels which surrounded them.

Dr. Trenire presently took the reins from Kitty, and tucking her well up in the wrap that had been lent her, left her free to gaze and gaze her fill. Prue did not relish the din and uproar in the heavens, the flashing lightning, or the rain beating on her; but though she shook her head and flapped her long ears in protest, she stepped out bravely.

When they came at last to the houses and the more shut-in roads the wild beauty was less impressive, and Kitty's thoughts turned with pleasure to home and dry clothes, and the nice meal Betty had undertaken to have in readiness for them. How jolly it all was, and how she did love her home, and the freedom and comfort of it.

The first sight of the house, though, decidedly tended to damp her pleasant anticipations, for there was not a light to be seen anywhere. All the windows were gaping wide to the storm, while from more than one a bedraggled curtain hung out wet and dirty.

Dr. Trenire drove straight in to the stable-yard, expecting to have to groom down and stable Prue himself. But Jabez had changed his mind about going home and early to bed, and was there ready to receive them. At the sight of his bandaged head Kitty's thoughts flew to the events of the day, to Aunt Pike and the fatal letter, and she simply ached with anxiety to know if Jabez had posted it or not.

While she was waiting for an opportunity to ask him Dr. Trenire solved the difficulty for her.

"Have you posted those letters I gave you, Jabez?" he asked, with, as it seemed to Kitty, extraordinary calm.

"Oh yes, sir," said Jabez cheerfully, very proud of himself for his unusual promptness. "I went down with 'em to once. When there's a hubbub on in the kitchen I'm only too glad to clear out."

For once Dr. Trenire did not appear particularly pleased with his assiduity, and Kitty turned dejectedly away. The letter, the fatal letter, was gone, her hopes were ended, fate was too strong for them. And to add to her trouble there had been a hubbub in the kitchen, which meant a quarrel. Oh dear, what could be the matter now? Emily was in a bad temper again, she supposed. Emily generally was.

As she went up to her room to change she met Emily coming down, and whatever else she might be in doubt about, she was in none as to the signs on Emily's face. It was at "very stormy," and no mistake.

"I am wet through," said Kitty brightly, hoping to smooth away the frown; "but oh it was grand to see the storm across the downs. I did enjoy it."

But Emily was not to be cajoled into taking an interest in anything. "I'm glad somebody's been able to enjoy themselves," she said pertly, and walked away down the stairs.

Poor Kitty's brightness vanished. Was there never to be anything but worry and unpleasantness? All her excitement, and interest, and hopefulness evaporated, leaving her depressed and dispirited. The memory rushed over her of former home-comings, before the dear mother died; the orderly comfort, the cheerfulness and joy which seemed always to be a part of the house in those days; and her eyes grew misty with the ache and loneliness of her heart, and the sense of failure which weighed her down. There rose before her that dear, happy face, with the bright smile and the ready interest that had never failed her.

"O mother, mother," she cried, "I want you so, I want you so! Everything is wrong, and I can't get them right. I am no use to any one, and I-I don't know how to do better."

The hot tears were brimming up and just about to fall over, when flying footsteps sounded on the stairs-Betty's footsteps. Kitty closed the door of her room, though she knew it was of no use. It was Betty's room too, and nothing, certainly not a mere hint, could keep Betty out; and she sighed, as she had often sighed before, for a room of her very own, for some place where she could be alone sometimes to think, or read, or make plans, or hide when the old heartache became too much for her.

But Betty shared her room, and Betty had every right to walk in, and Betty did so. She was quiet, and vouchsafed no account of her doings, but she was quite calm and unperturbed.

"What has made Emily in such a bad temper?" asked Kitty wearily.

"Emily always is in a bad temper, isn't she?" asked Betty placidly.

"I don't take any notice of her." Then with some slight interest,

"What did she say to you?"

"She didn't say anything," answered Kitty, "but she looked temper, and walked temper, and breathed temper. Have you got a nice supper for us? I am starving, and I am sure father must be."

Betty did not answer enthusiastically; in fact, she gave no real answer at all, but merely remarked in an off-hand manner, "I shouldn't have thought any one could want much to eat in this weather."

"Is it ready?"

"I don't know."

"Well, will you go down and see, and tell them to take it in at once if they haven't done so? I know father wants his supper."

"I-think," said Betty thoughtfully, "-p'r'aps you had better go yourself. Fanny said-Fanny's manners are awful; I think father ought to send them both away-"

"What did Fanny say?"

"Fanny told me-well, she said she would rather I-didn't go into the kitchen again-yet."

Kitty groaned. "What have you done to vex them both so, Betty?"

"I only tried to see that the table was nicely laid, and everything just as you told me; and because I took out all the glasses and told Emily they were dirty, she got as cross as anything; and they really were dirty, for I showed her all the finger-marks, so it wasn't as if I was complaining about nothing. If I'd 'cused her wrongly I shouldn't wonder at her getting mad; but I hadn't, and she couldn't deny it. The forks were dirty too; at least I showed her six that were."

Without any comment Kitty left the room and descended to the kitchen. All the way she went she was dreading what she should find when she got there, and wondering how she should best approach matters, and it was a relief to her on opening the kitchen door to find that Fanny was alone. Fanny was looking cross enough at that moment to daunt any ordinary courage, but, somehow, Kitty never felt as alarmed of her as of Emily.

"Well, Fanny," she began, intending to ignore the hints and rumours that had reached her, "we have got back. We were wet through nearly, and now father and I are longing for our supper. Have you got something very nice for us?" She tried to speak cheerfully, but it cost her a great effort.

Fanny took up the poker and made an attack on the stove. "You never ordered nothing, Miss Kitty, and 'tisn't my place to say what you should have."

"Oh but, Fanny, you generally do," said Kitty, half inclined to be indignant at Fanny's injustice, for she could not help remembering how Fanny, as a rule, resented any attempt on her part to order or arrange the meals. She knew, though, that her only chance now was to be patient, and to ignore a good many things. "And you manage so well, so much better than I can." She felt she must say something to restore peace and amiability, if they were to have any supper at all that night, and not incur greater disgrace than she had already.

"I don't want to boast," said Fanny, "'tisn't my nature to do so, but if I'm gived a free hand, well-I can turn out a passable meal; but when one doesn't like this and the other doesn't like that, and nothing I do is right, and there's nothing but rows and squabblings in the kitchen, and no peace nowhere-well, I gives it all up! P'r'aps somebody else could manage better."

Fanny's voice rose more and more shrilly. Poor Kitty's head by this time was aching badly, and her nerves were all on edge. "Fanny, what is the matter?" she asked despairingly. "What has happened while we've been away? I thought we were coming home to a nice comfortable meal and a happy evening, and when we drive up the house is all dark, and the rain beating in at the windows. Emily is in a fury, and-and oh it is all so miserable. I-I'd rather be out alone on the downs in the storm without any home at all, or-or-" Here Kitty's voice faltered, and once more the tears brimmed up in her eyes-a most unusual occurrence with her; but the events of the day, the storm, and the difficulties that beset her, were proving too much for her.

Fanny, hearing the break in her voice, looked round quickly, just in time to see the tears, the white, tired face, and the look of dejection. "Why, Miss Kitty," she cried, her soft heart touched at once, "don't 'ee take it like that. Why, 'tisn't nothing to fret about; it'll all come right again, my dear," and she put her big red arm round her little mistress, and drew her head down to rest on her shoulder. But Kitty, completely overcome now, shook her head mournfully.

"No, it won't, Fanny; it is too late now. Aunt Pike is to come and live here to look after us. Father says we must have some one, and-and I think he is right. I don't seem able to manage things, everything goes just as I don't want it to," and the tears brimmed over again and fell on Fanny's shoulder.

"Mrs. Pike!" gasped Fanny. "Mrs.-Pike-coming here-for good! Oh my!

Miss Kitty, you don't really mean it!"

"Yes, I do," groaned Kitty. "It is really true. Father has written to her, and-oh I never dreamed such a thing could happen, or I would have tried and tried to be more careful. It must be fate, though, as well as our bad managing, for I've never before known Jabez post a letter when he was told to; but he must have gone right down to the post at once with the one to Aunt Pike that sealed all our fates. If he hadn't I do believe I could have got father not to send it, or at least to give us another chance."

Fanny shook her head solemnly. "It do seem like it," she groaned.

"What has happened while I have been out, Fanny? Has Betty been rude to

Emily?"

"Well, you see, Miss Kitty," said Fanny, anxious to tell, but softened sufficiently to wish to make the best of the matter, "Miss Betty is so tackless. Emily's temper really wasn't so bad till Miss Betty kep' on with her. So soon as Emily had put the things on the table for supper, Miss Betty 'd bring them all out again one by one, and put them down before Emily, and every time she'd say, in that way she's got, 'Emily, that glass is filthy; you must wash it at once. I wonder you ain't ashamed to lay the things in such a state.' When she brought out the third lot Emily got mad, and when Miss Betty come out with the forks too-well, the storm bursted. Emily was cheeky, I don't deny, and Miss Betty was rude, and I had to tell 'em at last that they must go out of the kitchen if they was likely to go on like that. I wasn't going to have my place turned into a bear-garden."

"Emily shouldn't have put down dirty things," said Kitty, loyal to her sister. "She is always doing it, and she ought to know better." Her sympathies were all with Betty. She may have been "tackless," as Fanny called it, but however kindly Emily had been told of her carelessness she would have been certain to fly into a rage; and they had put up with so much from her without complaining, that no one could accuse them of being fidgety or captious.

As a matter of fact, Emily, who needed a very firm mistress of whom she would stand in awe, should have been sent away long before. Kitty could not manage her at all, and as she thought of all they had endured daily at Emily's hands, she felt almost thankful that soon the management of her would fall to Aunt Pike's lot.

"Did you say, Miss Kitty, that the master had asked Mrs. Pike to come here to live altogether, to look after us?"

Kitty nodded despairingly. After all, the managing of Emily seemed but a very trifling advantage to weigh against the Pike invasion and all that would follow on it. "O Fanny," she sighed brokenly, "if only-if only mother were alive! Nothing has gone right since, nor ever will again; and I feel it is almost all my fault that Aunt Pike has got to come, and-and-"

"Now don't take on like that, Miss Kitty," said Fanny, sniffing audibly, and not entirely able to throw off a sense of her own guilt in the matter. "'Tisn't nothing to do with you, I'm sure. If things 'as to be, they 'as to be, and we'll manage some'ow. I'm going to set about getting a nice supper so soon as ever I can. I think we'm all low with the thunder and the 'eat, and we'll be better when we've had some food. Now don't 'ee fret any more, that's a dear," and she wiped Kitty's eyes and then her own on her very soiled apron, but Kitty bore it gladly for the sake of the warm heart that beat beneath the soiled bib.

"Thank you, Fanny; you are a dear," she said gratefully; "and I will go and light some lights about the house by the time father has done with that patient he has in with him now."

Kitty had a great idea of making the house bright and cheerful, but in her zeal she forgot the heat of the night.

"Phew! my word!" gasped Dr. Trenire as he came presently to the dining-room. "Why, children, how can you breathe in this atmosphere? I have been turning down the gas all the way I've come. But how nice the table is looking, and how good something is smelling. I want some supper pretty badly; don't you, little woman?" with a friendly pull at Kitty's curls.

Kitty was not hungry now, but she was delighted by her father's appreciation, and she cut the bread very zealously, and passed him everything she thought he could want. It was not until she had done all that that the silence and the emptiness of the table struck her. "Why, where is Dan?" she cried.

"And where is Anthony?" asked Anthony's father.

Betty gave a little jump, but as quickly controlled herself again. "Oh,

I'd quite forgotten about him," she said calmly. "Tony is in bed."

"In bed?" cried Dr. Trenire and Kitty at the same moment. "Isn't he well?"

None of them had ever been sent to bed for being naughty, so that illness was the only explanation that occurred to them.

"Oh yes, he is all right; but I made him get under the feather-bed because of the lightning-"

"The what?"

"The lightning. They say it can't strike you if you are covered with feathers, and of course I didn't want it to strike Tony, speshally with nobody here but me to-to take the 'sponsibility," looking at her father with the most serious face imaginable. "So I made him get into the spare-room bed, 'cause it's a feather-bed, and then I put all the eider-downs over him, and I expect he's as safe as can be."

Dr. Trenire gave a low whistle and started to his feet. "Very thoughtful of you, child," he said, trying not to smile, "and I expect Tony is safe enough, if he isn't cooked or suffocated. For my part, I should prefer the risk to such a protection in this weather. I'll go and rescue him." But Kitty had already flown.

"I forgot to tell Kitty," went on Betty thoughtfully, "that I think the moths have got into the eider-downs, such a lot of them flew out when I moved the quilts."

Dr. Trenire groaned. "I suppose the quilts have never been attended to or put away since we ceased to use them?"

"No," said Betty gravely. "You see, if they are on the spare-room bed they are all out in readiness for when we want them."

"And for the moths when they want them," sighed her father. "I expect they will not leave much for us."

Kitty, her father's half-jesting words filling her with a deep alarm, had meanwhile raced up to the spare room. Somehow, on this dreadful day, anything seemed possible, certainly anything that was terrible, and she remembered suddenly that the spare bedroom was the very hottest room in the house. It was over the kitchen, and caught every possible gleam of sunshine from morning till evening. Also she knew Betty's thoroughness only too well, and her mind's eye saw poor little Tony buried deep and tucked in completely, head and all.

The whole house was stiflingly hot. Kitty's own face grew crimson with her race upstairs, and when she opened the door of the spare bedroom the heat positively poured out; but a terrible load was lifted from her mind, for, mercifully, Tony's head was uncovered. He was the colour of a crimson peony, it is true, but at any rate he was not suffocated, unless-Kitty stepped quickly forward and touched his cheek. It almost made her sick with dread to do so; but the red cheek was very, very hot and lifelike to the touch, and at the same moment Tony opened a y pair of large sleepy eyes, and stared up at his sister wonderingly.

"I'm not struck, am I?" he asked half nervously. "I am very hot, Kitty.

Is it the lightning?"

"No," said Kitty cheerfully, "it is feathers," and she flung back the pile of quilts. "Poor Tony. Get up, dear, and come down and have some supper. It is all ready, and father was wondering where you were."

Tony slipped with grateful obedience from his protection and followed Kitty, but rather languidly, it is true, for he was very hot and exhausted, and very rumpled, all but his sweet temper, which was quite unruffled.

"Is Dan come back?" he asked eagerly, as he crept slowly down the stairs.

"Dan!" cried Kitty, stopping and looking back at him anxiously.

She remembered again then that she had not seen Dan since her return.

"Did he go out?"

"Yes, he went to catch some fishes for daddy's supper. He heard you tell Betty to have a nice one ready, and he said, 'There's sure to be nothing nice in the house; there never is. I'll go and catch some trout,' and he went. Do you think he was out in all that funder and lightning?" Then, seeing Kitty's startled look, Tony grew frightened too. "You don't fink he is hurt, do you, Kitty?" he asked anxiously. "You don't fink Dan has been struck, do you?"

But at that moment, to their intense relief, Dan himself crossed the hall. From his appearance he might have been actually in the stream, getting the trout out without rod or line. Water was running off his hat, his clothes, and his boots. Tony heard it squishing with every step he took, and thought how splendid and manly it seemed.

Kitty called out to him, but Dan did not stay to talk.

"Where's father?" he asked, turning a very flushed but very triumphant face towards them, and waving his basket proudly.

"In the dining-room," said Kitty, and Dan hastened on. His face fell a little, though, when he saw the table, and his father already eating.

"I'm awfully sorry I'm late," he said disappointedly. "I thought I should have been in heaps of time. I've got you some jolly fine trout, father. I meant them for your supper. Just look! Aren't they beauties?" and he thrust his basket over the table and held it right under his father's nose. The mud and green slime dripped on tablecloth and silver and on the bread, and even on Dr. Trenire's plate and the food he was eating.

The doctor's much-tried patience gave way at last. "Look at the mess you are making-all over my food too! Look at the filth you have brought in!" he exclaimed angrily. "Take it away! take it away! What do you mean by coming into the room in that condition, bringing a filthy thing like that and pushing it under my very nose when you see I am eating? And why, Dan, once more, are you not here and decently neat, when a meal is ready? It is perfectly disgraceful. Here am I, and supper has been on the table I don't know how long, and only one of you is ready to sit down with me. Anthony is in bed, or somewhere else, Kitty is racing the house to find him, and you-I am ashamed of you, sir, for coming into a room in such a condition. You are perfectly hopeless. Here, take away my plate, take everything; you have quite spoilt my appetite. I couldn't eat another mouthful at such a table!" and Dr. Trenire rose in hot impatience and flung out of the room.

For a second Dan seemed unable to believe his ears, then without a word he closed his basket and walked away. He was more deeply hurt than he had ever been in his life before, and his face showed it. Kitty and Tony, hesitating in the hall, saw it, and their eyes filled with tears. "Throw it away, will you?" he said in a choked voice, holding out the unfortunate basket to Kitty.

Kitty, knowing how she would have felt under similar circumstances, took it without looking at him; instinctive delicacy told her not to. "Father didn't mean it," she whispered consolingly. "You will come down and have some supper when you have changed, won't you?"

They were not a demonstrative family; in fact, any lavishly expressed sympathy or affection would have embarrassed them; but they understood each other, and most of them possessed in a marked degree the power of expressing both feelings without a word being spoken.

Dan understood Kitty, but it was too soon to be consoled yet. "No," he said bitterly, "I have had supper enough, thank you," and hurried away very fast.

It really did seem as if Kitty was not to reach the Supper-table that night. Telling Tony to go in and begin his meal, she flew off with the basket, and, heedless of anything but Dan's request, was just about to fling it away-fish, basket, and all-when she paused. It was a very good basket, and Dan had no other. Kitty hesitated, then opened it and looked in. Six fine trout lay at the bottom on a bed of bracken and wet moss, evidently placed so that they could look their best. The sight of Dan's little arrangements brought the tears to her eyes. No, she could not throw away what he had taken so much pride in.

She turned back and went to the kitchen. "Fanny," she said, "will you cook these for father's breakfast? Dan has caught them for him."

"And fine and proud he was too," said Fanny, looking in at Dan's catch.

"He was, but he isn't now. I wish," with a deep sigh, "we didn't always do things the wrong way. I wonder why nothing ever comes quite right with us?" Then she turned away hastily, that Emily, who at that moment came into the kitchen, might not see the tears that would start to her eyes.

When at last Kitty sat down to the meal which she no longer wanted, every one else had left the table. She was not sorry, for it saved her from having to make a pretence of eating, and left her free to indulge in her own moods. It gave her time, too, to think over all that had happened, and might yet happen.

Before she went up to bed, though, she got a tray, and collecting on it a tempting meal, carried it to Dan's room. She hoped he would let her in, for she badly needed a talk with him, but just as she was about to knock at his door the murmur of voices within arrested her attention. Whom could Dan have got in there? she wondered in great surprise. Tony was in bed, and Betty was in her room. She listened more closely, and nearly dropped the tray in her astonishment, for the voice she heard was her father's, and she had never before known him go to their rooms to talk to them.

For a moment her heart sank with dread. Was he still angry? Was he scolding poor Dan again? he could hardly think so, for it was so unlike him to be harsh or severe with any of them.

Then, as the voice reached her again, though she caught only the tone of it, and not a word that was said, she knew that all was right, and with a sudden lightening of her heart, and a sense of happiness, she quietly crept away to her own room. All the time she was undressing she listened alertly for the sound of her father's footsteps, but she had been in bed some time before they passed down the corridor. "They must be having a nice long talk," she thought, as she lay listening, in a state of happy drowsiness; and she was almost in the land of Nod when a sudden thought turned her happiness to dismay, and drove all sleep from her.

"Oh!" she cried, springing up in her bed, "oh, how stupid of me!

How perfectly dreadfully stupid of me!"

"Whatever is the matter?" demanded Betty crossly. "I was just beginning a most beautiful dream, and now you have sent it right away."

"Never mind your dream," groaned Kitty. "That's nothing compared with that letter. I did mean to get him to write it to-night, and I would have posted it, so that it could reach almost as soon as the other, and-and I never did it, I never even asked him to write it, and now the post has gone, and-"

"Whatever are you talking about?" interrupted Betty impatiently.

"Why, the letter to Aunt Pike, of course. I was going to coax father to write another letter to her to-night, to say it was all a mistake, that we didn't want her, and-"

"Oh, that's all right," answered Betty coolly. "Don't worry. I have written to Aunt Pike and told her all that, and I posted it myself to make sure of its going. She will get it almost as soon as she gets-"

"Betty, you haven't?"

"Yes, I have," said Betty quietly. "Why not? I am sure it was best to. Fanny wouldn't live with her, I know, and Jabez said it would be more than his life was worth, and you know father hates changing servants, so I wrote and told her exactly all about it. I wrote quite plainly, and I think she will understand."

"O Betty, you shouldn't have. What will father say?"

"Father will be very glad, I think. He hates writing letters himself."

"Um-m!" commented Kitty dubiously, but said no more, for at that moment Dan's door was opened, and she heard her father's steps pass lightly along the corridor.

A few moments later she slipped out of bed and carried Dan's tray to his room, but she did not go in with it. Her instinct told her that he would rather she did not just then; so, laying it on the floor, she tapped lightly at his door, told him what was there, and crept back to bed again.

"What a day it has been," she thought to herself as she nestled down under the cool sheet. "Yet it began like all the others. I wonder how all will end. Perhaps it won't be so bad after all. I hope that Betty's letter won't do more harm than good. I shouldn't be at all surprised, though, if it made Aunt Pike make up her mind to come. But I'll try not to think about it," and turning over on her pillow, Kitty had soon forgotten Aunt Pike, Anna, torn braid, orange cake, and Lady Kitson, and was once again driving dear old Prue across the moor with the storm beating and roaring about them, only this time it was a dreamland moor and a dreamland storm.

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