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   Chapter 5 IN WENMERE WOODS.

Kitty Trenire By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 20999

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"I could not think, for the moment," said Kitty, sitting up in bed and clasping her knees, "why I woke with a feeling that something dreadful had happened. Of course it is Aunt Pike that is on my mind.

"She needn't be, then," said Betty, stretching herself luxuriously in her little bed. "My letter will settle all that worry."

"Um!" remarked Kitty thoughtfully, with none of the confidence shown by her young sister. "If your letter doesn't make her come by the very first train, it will only be because she missed it. I shouldn't be at all surprised to see her walk in, and Anna too."

"You don't really think she will?" Betty, struck by something in Kitty's voice, had stopped stretching herself, and looked across at her sister. "Kitty, you don't really mean that? Oh no, of course you don't; she couldn't really come to-day, she would have lots to do first-packing and saying 'good-byes.'"

"I should think she hadn't a friend to say 'good-bye' to," said Kitty naughtily. "Any way, I am not going to worry about her. If she doesn't come-oh, it'll be perfectly lovely; and if she does-well, we will get all the fun we can beforehand, and after, too, of course; but we will try and have some jolly times first, won't we? What shall we do to-day? I wonder if Dan has planned anything."

What Dan's plan might be was really the important point, for according to him the others, as a rule, shaped their day.

"I don't know if Dan has made any," cried Betty with sudden alertness, "but I know what would be simply lovely. Let's spend the day in Wenmere Woods, and take our lunch with us, and then have tea at the farm-ham and eggs, and cream, and cake, and-"

"Oh, I know," interrupted Kitty; "just what Mrs. Henderson always gives us-"

"No," interrupted Betty anxiously, "not what she always gives us; we will have fried ham and eggs as well, because, you see, it is a kind of special day."

"Very well, we will if we have money enough. I wonder if Dan will agree."

"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight," clanged out the town clock viciously. Betty sprang up in bed at once. "It is time to get up, Kitty," she said peremptorily. "We've got to do everything right to-day, and be very punctual at meals, and very tidy and all that sort of thing, so that father will see that Aunt Pike isn't wanted. Do you think he will be vexed when he knows about my writing to her? P'r'aps she won't tell."

Kitty scoffed at such an idea. "Aunt Pike is sure to tell; but father is never very angry."

"But he might be," said Betty wisely; "he looked so last night when all the mud dropped on his plate; but, of course, this is different-there is nothing very bad about my writing the letter. I did it to save him trouble."

"Perhaps you had better tell father so," said Kitty dryly. "Honour bright, though, Betty, I really would tell him, and not let him first find it out from Aunt Pike."

"Um!" ejaculated Betty thoughtfully, as she collected Kitty's sponge and bath-towel before departing to the bathroom. But there was nothing very hearty in her tone.

When she returned, looking very fresh and rosy, and damp about the curls, she found Kitty sitting on the side of her bed, and still in her night-gown. Hearing Betty's returning footsteps, she had managed to get so far before the door was flung open, but that was all.

"Isn't it dreadful," she sighed wearily, "to think that day after day, year after year, all my life through, I shall have to get up in the morning and go through all the same bother of dressing, and I-I hate it so."

"P'r'aps you won't have to," said Betty cheerfully; "p'r'aps you'll be a bed-lier like Jane Trebilcock, and you won't have to have boots, or dresses, or hats."

But the prospect did not cheer Kitty very greatly. "I didn't say I didn't want dresses and things. I do. I want lots of them, but I don't want the bother of putting them on."

"Well, they wouldn't be much good if you didn't put them on," retorted practical Betty. "I hate getting up too"-Betty never failed in her experience of any form of suffering or unpleasantness-"but I try to make it a little different every day, to help me on. Sometimes I pretend the bath is the sea, and I am bathing; other times I only paddle my feet, and sometimes I don't bath at all-that's when I am playing that I am a gipsy or a tramp-"

"Betty, you nasty, horrid, dirty little thing!" cried Kitty, looking shocked.

But Betty was quite unabashed. "I've known you not wash either," she remarked calmly.

Kitty coloured. "But-but that was only once when I forgot; that is quite different."

"But I don't see that it is," said Betty firmly. You are not cleaner because you forget to wash than if you don't wash on purpose. Hark! O Kitty!"

"What shall I do?" cried Kitty despairingly as the boom of the breakfast-gong sounded through the house. "I haven't begun to dress, and-Fanny might have told me she was going to be punctual to-day."

"P'r'aps she didn't know it herself," said Betty, tugging away at her tangle of curls with a comb, and scattering the teeth of it in a shower. "I expect it is an accident."

"Then I wish she wouldn't have accidents," snapped Kitty. "It is awfully hard on other people."

Try as hard as one may, one cannot bath and dress in less than five minutes. Kitty declared she could have done it in that time, if Dan had not had possession of the bathroom, and Betty had not used her bath-towel and left it so wet that no one else could possibly use it.

"But I couldn't use my own," protested Betty, when the charge was brought against her, "for I hadn't one, and of course I had to use something."

When the discussion had proceeded for some time, Dr. Trenire looked up from his paper with a half-resigned air. "What is the matter, children? Haven't we bath-towels enough to go round? Kitty, you should tell me when things are needed. But never mind; your aunt will see to everything of that sort now."

"I don't think she will," murmured Betty knowingly, but her father did not hear her. Kitty felt too dismayed to speak; there was something so final in her father's tone, it made the coming of the dreaded aunt seem quite inevitable.

"What are you children going to do to-day?" he went on kindly. "It is a glorious morning after the storm. You ought to be out as much as possible, all of you. You should start as soon as you have finished your work with Miss Pooley."

Miss Pooley was the governess who came daily from ten till one to instruct them. At least she instructed them as often as she had the opportunity, but it very frequently happened that when she arrived she was told that the children had gone out for the day, or even oftener a little note to the same effect reached her, adding that as they would be engaged all day they wished to save her the trouble of coming for nothing.

This morning they had intended to do the same thing. Kitty was to write the note, and Tony to deliver it, but their father's remark, and his look, touched their consciences. Dan, too, for some reason or another, was against it; he said he thought that after all it was a bit sneaky and underhand, and he wasn't going to have any more of it. Betty felt the foundations of her world shake, and life bristled with new difficulties; but Dan had said it, so no one questioned. After Dan had put things in that light, Kitty suddenly realized that their conduct in the matter had been neither honourable nor honest.

"We will have our lessons and leave directly after," she planned cheerfully. "I will ask Fanny to let us have some food to take with us for our dinner, and then we will go to the farm for tea, and come home in time for supper. Won't it be jolly! And we will have our dinner down by the river-by that dear little silvery, sandy beach, you know."

"It sounds fine," said their father, returning to the room just in time to hear the arrangements. "I wish I could go too."

"I wish you could," cried Kitty. "Wouldn't it be fun to see father exploring the woods, and catching beetles and minnows, and paddling in the river, and-daddy, can't you come, just this once?"

"No, child, there is no paddling for me to-day, or playing wild man of the woods or anything else. I have a long round in the morning, and another in the afternoon. I have just been out interviewing Jabez."

"Oh," gasped Kitty, "I had forgotten Jabez. Of course he can't drive you, his head is all bandaged. I will go, father; I'd love to drive you." And she meant it. She would quite readily have given up her day in Wenmere Woods to go with him.

Dr. Trenire laid his hand tenderly on her shoulder. "It is all right, dear; I shall have Jabez. He has discarded his bandages, and is quite presentable. He says he took them off last night to have a look at the wound, and when he saw what a little bit of a place it was, he made up his mind he wasn't going about with his head tied up for people to poke fun at him later on when they saw what he had been bandaged up for. Go and enjoy yourself, child, and tell me all about it to-night; and do try to keep out of mischief, all of you."

In the kitchen, when Kitty at last reached it, Fanny was making pasties; and when Fanny chose she could make a pasty to perfection. She made them one each now with their initials on them, made of curly bits of pastry, and promised to have them baked and ready by the time Miss Pooley was gone. Emily was in a good temper too. The prospect of being free from the children all day, and of having no meals to get for them till supper, quite cheered her. She even, without being asked, cut them some sandwiches, filled a bottle with milk, and produced a store of apples, which she packed in their basket. When the children, having escaped from patient, easy-going Miss Pooley, rushed out to the kitchen for their pasties and milk, and found things in this unusually happy state, they marvelled at their good fortune, and accepted it thankfully.

"Fanny and Emily are quite nice sometimes," remarked Betty, as they left the house, "only the worst of it is you never know when they are going to be. Sometimes they laugh at everything one says, and another time they grumble."

"To-day they are like people are when you are ill and they are sorry for you," said Tony, who had been puzzling himself for some minutes to know how to express what he wanted to. "I fink they are sorry for us 'cause Aunt Pike is coming."

"'O wise young judge!'" said Dan

, "I shouldn't be surprised if you were right." Dan had begun to read Shakespeare, and was full of quotations. "It is rather like living in the shadow of the gallows. I expect people in the French Revolution felt as we do."

"I don't feel the least little bit like French Revolutions, or gallows, or shadows, or even Aunt Pike and darling Anna, on such a glorious day as this," cried Kitty joyfully. "I can't think of them, and I am not going to-yet. Now, if you are all ready, let's race."

Their way led them down a steep hill almost opposite their own house- a hill with just a house here and there on either side of it, and a carpenter's shop, whence wafted out a sweet, fresh scent of newly-cut wood. The children raced to the very foot of it, and then retraced their steps to gather up the fragments of the milk-bottle, which had come to grief within the first twenty yards. Then on they went again, past more cottages and sundry turnings, until at last they reached a curious old rough-and-tumble wharf on one side of the road, where the coal which had been brought by train was piled up in great stacks for the coalmen to take round presently in their carts. Here, too, was drawn up a train-one such as only those who lived in those parts have ever been privileged to see. It was composed of an old-fashioned squat little engine called the "Rover," and a few open carriages, with seats along the sides for passengers, and some trucks for any goods that might be needed.

No passengers occupied the seats at that moment; in fact, they were generally conspicuous by their absence, save once a year, when the whole accommodation was bespoken for the Brianite Sunday-school treat. The "Rover," in fact, spent most of her noble life in drawing coal, clay, and sand up and down the seven miles which lay between Gorlay and Wenbridge. It seemed a limited sphere, but only to the ignorant, who knew nothing of her services to the dwellers by the roadside, the parcels she delivered, the boots she took to be mended and restored again to their owners, the messages she carried, and the hundred and one other little acts of usefulness which filled her daily round. I say "her," for to every one privileged to know her the "Rover" was a lady; one who deserved and received all men's deference and consideration, and the gentlest of handling too.

As Kitty and Dan lingered now by the gate to look at her, they saw Dumble, the driver, lovingly passing a cloth over her, as though to wipe the perspiration from her iron forehead, while Tonkin, the fireman, stood leaning against her, with his arm caressingly outstretched. Behind Dan and Kitty, on the farther side of the road, grew a high hawthorn hedge, under the shelter of which was a seat where people sat and sunned themselves by the hour, and at the same time gazed at the life and bustle with which the wharf woke up now and then. There were two old men on the seat now. They touched their hats to Dan and his sister, and with a melancholy shake of their old heads sighed in sympathy with Kitty as she cried, "O Dan, I wish we could all go by train, all the way to Wenbridge. It will be perfectly lovely down the line."

But Dan seemed less eager than Kitty or the old men. "We shall reach the woods before they do, if we walk on," he said, moving away; "and there is such a lot to see on the way."

Tony and Betty-who was carrying the basket because she felt she could trust no one else with it-were nearly out of sight, so Dan and Kitty hurried after them. One side of the road was lined by fields, the other by houses, and at the foot of their gardens ran the railway line until it emerged through some allotment gardens on to the open road, after which, for a while, train and foot passengers, and sometimes a drover, with a herd of cattle, meandered along side by side in pleasant talk or lively dispute-the latter usually, when Dan was on the road-until, about a mile farther on, two more cottages, and the last, having been passed, the road came to an abrupt end, and only the railway was left, with a rough footpath along its edge, which pedestrians had worn for themselves.

The quartette wandered on contentedly, stopping when they pleased, and that was every few minutes. Overhead the sky was a deep pure blue, and the larks were singing rapturously; the sun shone brilliantly, drawing out the smell of the tar from the "sleepers," and the scent from the flowers. Under the hawthorn hedges which bordered most of the way the petals lay in a thick carpet.

On one side of the road, just before it terminated, was a well, buried deep in a little green cave in the hedge, while the pure water from it flowed generously over the floor of the cave, and ran in a never-failing stream along one side of the way, past the gardens of the cottages, from which at one time a root or maybe a seed only of the "monkey plant" had been thrown, and taking root had flourished and flourished until the stream now was hidden beneath a mass of lush green leaves and stems crowned by tawny golden blossoms speckled and splashed with a deep rich brown.

At the well a halt was always called, for the water of it had healing properties, and from their babyhood the children had, as a matter of duty, tested its powers by bathing their eyes; but to-day, as they stooped over it, a weird shriek in the distance brought them to their feet again. Then came a great racket, as though a pile of all the loose iron in the world were tumbling over, the ground vibrated, and the noise drew closer and closer.

"The 'Rover';" cried Dan. "She is coming! Here's sport! I'll duck them."

Betty's was the only hat that would hold any quantity of water, and she lent it gladly; but the brim was limp with age and hard wear, and a broad-brimmed straw hat at its best is not an ideal vessel from which to throw water over a flying foe. The larger share of it Dan received in his own shoes amidst the derisive laughter of his two intended victims on the engine; and so completely mortified was he that Dumble, for a wonder, refrained from his usual revenge, that of squirting hot water from the engine over him.

Dan looked red and foolish, Betty was furious, Kitty wished they had let the men alone, but at the same moment began to wonder how she could avenge this humiliation they had put upon Dan.

After this little episode they walked on again, and for a while very soberly, Tony busily engaged in picking up stones and spars in search of some rare specimen that might please his father, Betty still clinging to the basket, though her arm was aching with the weight of it. By the time they at last reached the woods they were all rather tired and distinctly hungry, but they were never too tired or hungry to be roused to enthusiasm by the sight that met them there. No mere words can depict the charm and beauty of Wenmere Woods. No one can thoroughly appreciate them who has not actually seen them. No one who has seen them can forget them. To see them was to stand with a glad heart, speechless, wide-eyed, wondering, and thanking God for such a sanctuary, yet half incredulous that such a spot was real, was there always, untouched, undefiled, waiting for one. It might have been a fairy place, that would fade and vanish as soon as one turned one's eyes away.

The woods were of no great extent, the trees were of no great size, but, tall and graceful, they clothed the side of the hill without a break down to the very edge of the river which ran through a valley which was fairyland itself, and on the opposite side stretched away, almost from the river's brink, up, and up, and up, until to all seeming they met the sky. Delicate, feathery larches and quivering birches they were for the most part, and here and there, underneath their spreading branches, were open spaces carpeted with wind-flowers and bluebells, primroses and wild orchids, while ferns, large and small, grew in glorious profusion, some as tall as Tony, others as fragile and tiny as a fairy fern might be. In other spots large lichen-covered rocks raised their heads out of a tangle of bracken and bushes, while here and there, down by the river's brink, gleamed little bays of silver-white sand.

In Dr. Trenire's library were several large bound volumes of Tennyson's "Idylls of the King," illustrated by Gustav Dore, and Kitty had never a doubt in her mind that these were the woods the artist had depicted. There could be no others like them. Here Enid rode with Launcelot by her side; on that silvery beach, where the old bleached tree trunk lay as it must have lain for generations, Vivien had sat at Merlin's feet. There, in that space carpeted by wind-flowers and primroses, Queen Guinevere and Launcelot had said their last farewells.

To Kitty the whole beautiful spot was redolent of them. They had been there, ridden and walked, talked and laughed, loved, wept, and parted; and in that beauty and mystery and silence it seemed to her that some day, any day, they all would come again. They were only sleeping somewhere, waiting for some spell to be removed. She was sure of it, as sure as she was that King Arthur sat sleeping in his hidden cave, spellbound until some one, brave and good and strong enough, should find him and blow a huge blast on the horn which lay on the table before him, and so waken him from his long magic sleep. In her heart of hearts she had a secret conviction that some day she would find the magic cave, and Dan it would be who would possess the power to blow the magic horn.

She pictured herself dressed in flowing robes of white and gold, with her hair in long plaits reaching to her knees, riding away beside the king through those very woods, with the sunlight gleaming through the trees and flashing on the water, and on her other hand would ride Dan in shining armour, a second Sir Galahad. She saw herself a woman, such a beautiful, graceful woman, with earnest eyes and gentle face. She saw a knight, oh! such a splendid, courtly knight, and he looked at her and looked again, and-

A little way up the hill she sat alone, her chin on her hand, gazing down at the sun-flecked river, the shining sand, the fairy-like trees, and saw it all as plainly as though it were then happening. She saw the graceful steeds, richly caparisoned, daintily picking their way through underwood and rocks. A stick cracked somewhere near. Could they be coming? She hardly dared look about her lest she should be disappointed.

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