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   Chapter 6 TEA AT THE FARM.

Kitty Trenire By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 12864

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Kitty, are you coming, or are you not? It is very mean of you to keep us waiting all this time when you know how hungry we are!"

With a deep, regretful sigh and a little shake Kitty rose and made her way to the large flat rock by the water's edge, on which the others had grouped themselves in more or less easy attitudes, with the food as a centrepiece. Betty had spread a sheet of white paper, and on it had arranged the pasties according to their length.

"You need not have waited for me," said Kitty, annoyed at having her dreams so broken in upon. "We have each got our own, and can eat them when we like."

"But we never do begin until we all begin together," said Betty reproachfully, "It would seem dreadfully mean; besides, we want you to say which is my pasty and which Dan's. The letter has been broken on one, and knocked right off another. I carried them ever and ever so carefully, so it can't be my fault. Don't you think this is meant for a 'D,' and that one"-holding out the largest-"without any letter at all, is mine?"

Dan felt so sure of getting his rights that he lay quite undisturbed, throwing bits of moss into the water, and left the others to settle the dispute.

"No, I don't," said Kitty, without the slightest hesitation. "Dan always has the largest, whether there is a letter on it or not, and you always have the smallest but one."

Betty accepted the decision without dispute. She had really not expected any other, but she liked to assert herself now and then.

"I can't see," she said musingly, "why you should be expected to want less to eat if you are only ten than if you are twelve. It seems to me so silly. It isn't your age that makes you hungry."

As a rule the others left Betty to find the answer to her own arguments, so she expected none from them. She got none now. They were all too busy and too hungry to argue. Tony alone was not eating. He was sitting with his pasty in one hand, while the other one was full of anemones that he had gathered on his way, intending to take them home to Fanny; but already the pretty delicate heads had begun to droop, and Tony was gazing with troubled eyes at them. He loved flowers so much he could never refrain from gathering them, but the clasp of his hot little hand was almost always fatal, and then he was grieved and remorseful.

Kitty, watching him, knew well what was in his mind. He looked up presently and caught her eye.

"I think I would put them in the river, if I were you, dear," she said. "You see we shan't get home for hours yet, and they will be quite dead long before that. If you put them in the river they will revive."

"Won't it be drowning them?" asked Tony anxiously.

"No; they will float."

"I know what I will do," he said, cheered by an idea that had come into his head. He laid down his pasty and trotted down to the edge of the river. In the wet sand he made little holes with his fingers, put the stems in the holes, and covered them up as though they were growing; then, greatly relieved, he returned and ate his pasty contentedly.

A pasty, even to a Cornish child, makes a satisfying meal, and when it is flanked by sandwiches, and apples, and a good draught of river water, there is no disinclination to remain still for a little while. The four sat on quietly, and talked in a lazy, happy way of the present, the future, and the past-of what each one hoped to be, and of Dan's career in particular; whether he would go away to school, and where. Aunt Pike came under discussion too, but not with that spirit of bitterness which would have been displayed at home, or before a less satisfying repast. Here, in the midst of this beauty and peace, everything seemed different. Wrongs and worries appeared so much smaller and less important-any grievance was bearable while there was this to come to.

They talked so long that a change came over the aspect of the woods. The sun lost its first clear, penetrating brilliancy, and took on a deeper glow. Dan noticed it first, and sprang to his feet.

"Let's move on," he cried, "or it will be tea-time before we have done anything."

"If we are going to have ham and eggs for tea," said matter-of-fact Betty, "I think one of us had better order them soon, or Mrs. Henderson may say she can't cook them in time."

The appeal did not touch them so keenly as it would have done had their last meal been a more distant memory. But, at the same time, the ham and eggs and cream tea was to be a part of their day, and they were not going to be deprived of it. So they clambered up through the woods again till they reached the railway line, and strolled along it until they came to the farm.

Kitty, being the eldest, was chosen to go in and order the tea, while the others hung over the gate and sniffed in the mingled perfume of the roses, the pinks, and all the other sweet-scented flowers with which the little garden was stocked. Across the garden, in the hedge, was another gate through which they could see a steep sunny field stretching away down to the river bank, which was steeper here and higher, with old gnarled trees growing out of it, their large roots so exposed that one wondered how they managed to draw sustenance enough from the ground to support the great trunks and spreading branches.

"I have ordered ham and eggs, and cream, and jam, and cake," said

Kitty, as she rejoined them, "and it will all be ready in an hour.

It is three o'clock now."

"Only three!" sighed Dan in mock despair. "One whole hour to wait!

Will it take all that time to get it ready?"

"I think it is a good thing," said Betty, "that we have to wait, for we are not very hungry now-at least I am not; and you see we've got to pay the same however little we eat, and it does seem a pity to waste our money."

"What a mind she has!" cried Dan, pretending to be lost in admiration. But at that same moment there once more reached their ears sounds as of an approaching earthquake.

"The train!" cried Betty, and seizing Tony's hand, drew him carefully back close to the gate.

Dan cast a hasty look around him for handy missiles. Kitty saw it, and knew what was in his mind.

"Don't throw things at them, Dan, please! Think of yesterday, and

Jabez, and Aunt Pike. Don't throw anything to hurt them."

The "Rover" was lumbering nearer and nearer. The two men on it had already caught sight of the quartette at

the gate, and were grinning at them derisively. It really was almost more than any human boy could be expected to endure.

"Ha, ha!" jeered the men, as they lumbered by, "be yer boots dry yet, sir? Wonderful cooling to the brain a wet 'at is-cooling to the feet, too, sometimes!"

Dan's blood rose. He felt he simply had to throw something, or do something desperate. Betty's basket, still well supplied, was hanging on her arm close beside him. With one grab he seized the contents, and first an apple went flying through the air, then a paper packet. Tonkin, the fireman, caught the apple deftly; the packet hit Dumble on the chest, and dropped to the floor. Dumble himself was too fat to stoop, so Tonkin pounced on it. The engine was at a little distance now, and aim was easier. Another apple, well directed, hit Tonkin fair and square on the top of his head, while a third caught Dumble with no mean force full on his very broad nose, making him dance and shout with pain.

As the engine disappeared round the bend, with the two men grasping their spoils and their bruises, Dan felt himself avenged, and the one cloud on his day was lifted.

Kitty drew a deep sigh of relief that the episode was ended; Betty, one of regret.

"There were six large sandwiches in that packet," she said reproachfully, "and the apples were beauties. I wish now I had eaten more. I am sure I could have if I had tried."

Though there was plenty to do in the woods, that hour to tea-time seemed somehow a very long one, and quite ten minutes before it was up they were back at the farm to inquire if it was four o'clock yet. Mrs. Henderson smiled knowingly as she saw them gathered at the door, but she noticed that the eager faces were flushed and weary-looking, and she asked them in to sit down and rest, promising she would not keep them long.

As they were to have "a savour to their tea" they were to have the meal in the house, instead of in the garden, and glad enough they were to sink into the slippery, springless easy-chairs, which seemed to them then the most luxurious seats the world could produce-at least they did to Kitty and Dan, who took the only two; Betty got on the window-seat and stretched herself out; Tony, a very weary little man indeed, scrambled on to Kitty's lap; and all of them, too tired to talk much, gazed with interest about the long, low room.

It was not beautiful, and they knew it well, yet the fascination of it never failed. On the walls were hung large framed historical and scriptural scenes, worked in cross-stitch with wool's of the brightest hues, varied by a coloured print of a bird's-eye view of the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, an almanac for the current year, and a large oleograph of a young lady und a dog wreathed in roses that put every flower in the garden to shame for size and brilliancy. But none of these could give a tithe of the pleasure the worked ones did; there was such fascination in counting how many stitches went to the forming of a nose, how many red and how many white to the colouring of a cheek, or the shaping of the hands, and fingers, and toes.

"I didn't know that Robert Bruce had six toes!" said Betty, very solemn with the importance of her discovery, her eyes fastened on a representation of that hero asleep in a cave, while a spider as large as his head wove a web of cables across the opening. "Did you, Dan?"

"Didn't you?" answered Dan gravely. "Don't you know that in Scotland they have an extra toe in case one should get frost-bitten and drop off?"

"Of course I know it is very cold up there," said Betty, who was never willing to admit ignorance of anything; "but supposing two got frost-bitten and dropped off, what would they do then?"

Dan, pretending not to hear her question, strolled over to the bookcase.

"Surely it must be tea-time!" he exclaimed.

Betty, seeing that no answer was forthcoming, slipped from her seat to examine more closely some wax fruit which, under a glass case, adorned a side-table.

"I do think it is wonderful how they make them," she said impressively; "they are so exactly like real fruit."

Mrs. Henderson, coming into the room at that moment, heard the remark, and her heart was won. She had more than once had a suspicion that some of her visitors laughed at her treasured ornaments, and made jokes about them, and the thought had hurt her, for her affections clung to them, and particularly to the was fruit, which had been one of her most prized wedding gifts, so Betty's remark went straight to her heart. She beamed on Betty, and Betty beamed back on her.

"You have such a lot of beautiful things, Mrs. Henderson," she said in her politest manner. "I can't help admiring them."

"It's very kind of you, I'm sure, miss. Of course we all get attached to what's our own, specially when 'tis gived to us; and I'm very proud of my fruit, same as I am of my worked pictures."

"I think they are wonderful," breathed Betty, turning from the wax fruit to gaze at Eli and Samuel. "Did you"-in a voice full of awe- "really work them yourself, Mrs. Henderson?"

"I did, missie, every stitch of them," said their owner proudly; "and all while I was walking out with Henderson."

"While you were walking!" gasped Betty. "But how could you see where you were going?"

Mrs. Henderson laughed. "No, missie; I mean the years we was courting."

"How interesting," said Betty solemnly. "I think I shall work some for my house when I am married. Do you work them on canvas? Can I get it in Gorlay?"

"Yes, miss; but you needn't hurry to begin to-night," said Mrs. Henderson, laughing. "If you want any help, though, when you do begin, or would like to copy mine, I'll be very glad to do what I can for you."

"Oh, thank you very much. I should like to do some exactly like yours," cried Betty excitedly. "Then, when I'm far away, they'll always remind me of you and the farm, and-and I'd like to begin with Robert Bruce and his six toes, and-"

"You would never have patience to do work like that," interrupted Dan cruelly, "nor the money either; and I don't suppose you will ever go out of Gorlay."

"You wait," said Betty, very much annoyed by his humiliating outspokenness. "You wait"-with a toss of her head-"until I am grown up, then I shall marry some one, and I shall travel, and-"

"All right," said Dan, "I will wait; and I hope I never have a headache till it happens."

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