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but the next moment the door opened and Aunt Pike entered with a candle
in her hand, and followed by Anna.

"Dear, dear," she said, as she tripped over something, "how untidy!
What is it, Anna?"

Anna stooped and picked up one of Betty's discarded gray stockings.
For once Betty's untidiness served them a good turn. Seeing the
stockings on the floor, it never occurred to Aunt Pike but that they had
both undressed and got into bed in the usual fashion. The first thing,
though, that caught Anna's eye was the red bow in Kitty's hair.

"I - I didn't know - " she began, then glanced quickly at Betty's head,
where the blue bow showed up against the pillow, but instead of
remarking on it she suddenly grew silent. Kitty marvelled, for she had
remembered their hair ribbons almost at the same moment as Anna had
caught sight of them, and it was all she could do not to put up her hand
and grab hers off. With the remembrance she almost gave up hope of
escaping detection, and wished devoutly that they had stayed downstairs
and faced the consequences; for to be found out now, hiding in bed in
this fashion, made a discreditable matter of what was really not a very
bad one. But, to her increasing amazement, Anna said nothing, not even
when Aunt Pike said, "I must speak to Katherine in the morning. She has
either neglected to brush her hair at all, or she is very extravagant in
tying it up for the night with a good piece of ribbon. Now come away,
darling; it is quite time you were in bed. I am sure you must be quite
exhausted. You know I did tell you I thought you would not be able to
show them your prize to-night."

"Prize!" gasped Betty, sitting up in bed as soon as ever their visitors'
backs were turned. "Has she _really_ got a prize? I didn't think it
could be true when Aunt Pike said she would get one. Anyhow, I wonder
she isn't ashamed to show it, for she knows it would have been yours if
she hadn't behaved so disgustingly. But Anna is never ashamed of what
she does, no matter how bad it is."

"Oh yes, she is," said Kitty thoughtfully. "I think she is dreadfully
ashamed sometimes of some things, and very sorry."

"Then why doesn't she say so?" snapped Betty crossly.

"I believe she doesn't know how to. She is shy, or - or something; but I
do believe she would like to be able to." And she thought of the abject
way in which Anna had followed her about for days after that affair at
Hillside, and had tried to do things for her; and in her heart she knew
that it was Anna's curious way of expressing her gratitude to her for
not exposing her meanness. "I believe," she went on musingly, "that if
she could undo all that - that fuss in any other way than by owning up,
that she would; but there isn't any other way, and she hasn't got pluck
enough to do it in the right one. I believe she would rather die than
have Aunt Pike know how she behaved. Oh dear, I do wish I hadn't to get
up again and undress."

"So do I," agreed Betty. "I really can't brush my hair to-night, I am
_so_ sleepy."

"I wouldn't," said Kitty, who had a little habit of saying the most
comfortable thing. "Give it an extra brushing to-morrow; that will do."

"Very well," agreed Betty, "I will remember," and in another moment was
fast asleep.

Kitty lay down and drew the bedclothes cosily about her until a few dark
curls and a scarlet bow were all that were visible, but go to sleep she
could not. Thoughts went racing through her brain in the most
distracting manner - thoughts of the school and all the unpleasant ending
of her short connection with it; thoughts of Anna and her mother, and
Anna's want of courage.

"I believe she isn't really a bad sort," mused Kitty, "and yet - and yet
she does do such mean things, and doesn't seem to see that they are
mean; and she thinks that the only way to please people is to say nasty
things of some one else to them; and then, of course, one feels that to
other people she says the same of oneself. One can't help it. I do
wish she was different. I believe I could like her if she was."

Presently her thoughts merged into dreams, but such unpleasant ones that
she was quite glad to awaken from them; and so, constantly dozing and
half-waking, and dozing again, the hours wore on until at last she awoke
really wide awake, with a very strong and alarming feeling that
something was amiss, or that something unusual was happening. She had
not the faintest idea what it could be, and though she sat up in bed and
listened, she could not see or hear anything. The house seemed quiet
and still, and yet there were sounds - curious, mysterious sounds that
ceased while she listened for them, and left her wondering if she were
still dreaming, or if her ears were playing her tricks. Her first fear
was that there might be something the matter with Tony; then she thought
of Dan.

"I must go and see," she thought, and slipped very gently out of bed and
into her dressing-gown. When she was outside the door she paused to
listen. Yes, there certainly were sounds, and they came from Dan's
room, sounds of whispering and movements, and - yes, there was a curious
smell. "I believe it is fire!" she gasped, and ran down the corridor.
Dan's room was nearly at the end of it, and faced the staircase.
Tony's was a tiny room between the girls' and Dan's, while Anna's room
was beyond Dan's again. Kitty looked in at Tony, and found him safe,
and sleeping comfortably; then she hurried on. Dan's door was slightly
ajar, and there was a dim light within; here also was the curious smell
which had greeted Kitty's nose, only stronger, and here also was Anna,
in her gray dressing-gown, sitting on the floor, and apparently hugging
herself in an agony of pain. "What has happened? What is the matter?
Dan, tell me!"

At the first sound of her voice Dan wheeled round, and Anna started up
with a scream.

"How you did startle me!" cried Dan in a hoarse whisper. "But I'm
awfully glad you've come." Dan's face was perfectly white, and he was
trembling visibly. "Kitty, what _can_ I do? I have been such a - such a
fool; worse than a fool. Look!" holding up a paper partly burnt, and
pointing to a scorched mark on the curtain.

"Oh!" gasped Kitty. "O Dan, how did it happen? What were you doing?
Reading in bed? You might have been burnt to death."

"I should have been - we all should have been, and the house burnt down,
if it hadn't been for Anna," groaned Dan. "It'll teach me never to read
in bed again. I thought I was quite wide awake too. But look at Anna;
do try and do something for her. She has burnt her hands horribly, and
I didn't know what to put on them. What can I do? Kitty, do do
something; she is in frightful pain, and she was so plucky."

Even in her great pain Anna looked up gratified by this praise.
Kitty gently lifted her hands and looked at them, then laid them down
again with a little shocked cry, for the whole of the palms and the
fingers were covered with burns.

"Oh you poor, poor thing!" she cried. - "Dan, do creep down to the
surgery, and bring up the bottle of carron oil. You will find it on the
floor by the window. Father always keeps it there. - O Anna," putting
her arms round her cousin's quivering shoulders, "how you must be
suffering! I am _so_ sorry. I wish I could bear it for you."

Anna was almost beyond speaking, but she laid her head back against
Kitty's arm with a sigh of relief. "O Kitty, I am so glad to have done
something for you - that's all I think of. I don't mind the pain.
You have done so much for me, and I - I wanted to make it up to you
somehow."

"Don't you ever think of that again," said Kitty solemnly. "You have
saved Dan's life, perhaps all our lives, and that wipes out everything.
But oh! poor Dan, won't he be in a scrape to-morrow when this is all
found out!"

"But it won't be found out," said Anna. "We can easily get rid of the
paper, and the mark on the curtain won't show unless one looks for it;
and, you see, it won't be taken down till the winter is over, and
then - "

"But your hands," cried Kitty. "How can we explain about your burns?"

"Oh - h," said Anna slowly, as she tried to think of some plan, "I will
just say it is an accident - I needn't explain."

"But I shall," said Kitty firmly. "I am not going to have any
deceitfulness. We will all stand together, but you aren't going to
suffer for Dan. Dan wouldn't stand it, and I should be ashamed of him
if he did."

Anna did not answer, and Kitty thought she had won. Dan returned with
the oil, and from his own drawer produced a generous supply of torn
handkerchiefs.

"How did you find out about the fire?" questioned Kitty, as she bound up
the poor hands as skilfully as she knew how. Her "skill" would have
made a surgeon or a nurse smile, but the result was soothing and
comforting.

"I woke up suddenly and thought I smelt burning; then I was sure I did,
and I got out and opened my door and saw a bright light shining under
Dan's door." Here Anna had the grace to blush, for she remembered
another occasion when she had seen a light shining under a door, and had
_not_ flown in a frenzy of fear to save those inside. "I crept down the
passage, and then I knew that the smell of burning was coming from Dan's
room. I knocked, but he didn't answer, and the light grew so bright
that I got frightened, and I rushed in and snatched the paper out of his
hand, and beat out the flames." Her face, which had been very flushed,
was now deadly white. "I think I will go back to bed now," she said
faintly, "I am dreadfully tired."

And dreadfully tired she was too, thoroughly exhausted and overcome.
Kitty helped her to her room and tucked her in her bed, and as she was
bending over her, Anna raised her usually restless eyes to her very
pleadingly.

"Kitty, you must let me have my own way, or I shan't feel that I've done
anything towards - towards wiping out - you know what I mean."

"I know," said Kitty. "We won't talk any more about it to-night.
We will wait until to-morrow. Good-night, Anna," and for the first time
in her life she kissed Anna willingly.



CHAPTER XIV.


MOKUS AND CARROTS.

Kitty heard Dan go downstairs the next morning just as she was finishing
dressing, and her heart thumped painfully, for she knew he was going to
confess. When confessions had to be made Dan always made them as
quickly as possible so as to get them off his mind. Kitty hurriedly
finished her dressing, and followed him with some vague idea in her mind
of helping him.

But when they got down there was no one else about, and before they had
seen any one to whom to confess, Mrs. Pike burst into the dining-room
where they stood, miserably enough, waiting.

"Kitty, Dan, do either of you know where your father is? I want him to
come to Anna. She is so unwell, and in some extraordinary way has burnt
her hands dreadfully. Oh dear! oh dear! what troubles do come upon me.
I suppose it was foolish of me to leave her last night to put herself to
bed when she was so tired. I might have known she would tumble over the
lamp, or do something equally careless. It was kind of you, Kitty, to
attend to her burns for her, poor child, but you should have come and
called me." There were tears in Aunt Pike's eyes as she turned to thank
her niece. "You - she - Anna need not have been afraid. I did not know I
was so harsh with her that she was afraid to - " and poor Aunt Pike broke
off, quite overcome. The shock of finding Anna feverish and ill, and
with her hands bandaged, had upset her greatly.

Dan, sincerely touched and conscience-stricken, stepped forward.
"Aunt Pike," he began, "I - "

But Kitty with a look and a sign checked him. "Wait," she whispered.
"I think you had better wait, or you may make things worse for Anna."

Dan looked distressed. "I don't think I shall," he answered testily, as
Aunt Pike went out of the room. "I hate mystery. Why can't we speak
out and have it over? I am going to, Kitty."

"I want you to, as much as you do," she answered in a troubled voice,
"but we have to think of Anna. She did so much for us last night, and -
well, I believe if we were to tell Aunt Pike all about it now, it would
hurt her more than ever, because she would think Anna had been deceiving
her; and Anna did not mean to, she only meant to be kind to us."

So Dan, though most unwillingly, had to agree. It annoyed him, and hurt
his dignity, and offended his sense of honour to have to let Anna bear
the weight of his misdoing; but he still hoped that when he could see
Anna she might consent to his making a full confession. Here, though,
he was again doomed to disappointment, for Anna only turned to him
pleadingly. "Don't say anything about it," she cried. "O Dan, don't!
If mother was to know now she would be more angry than ever, and she
would never trust me again, or forgive either of us."

So Dan, out of his gratitude to her, had to give in; and there the
matter rested for the time at least. But it had brought about two
important changes - it cured Dan, and all of them, for some time, of
their love of reading in bed; and it made them more tolerant in their
feelings towards Anna.

Christmas, since that last one their mother had spent with them, had
never been a festive or a happy season in Dr. Trenire's house. To the
doctor it was too full of sad memories for him to be able to make it gay
or cheerful for his children, and the children did not know how to set
about making it so for themselves, while Aunt Pike had no ideas on the
subject beyond sending and receiving a few cards, giving Anna a
half-sovereign to put in the savings bank, and ordering a rather more
elaborate dinner on Christmas Day.

Kitty, Dan, and Betty this year felt a real yearning for a Christmas
such as they had read of, and discussed all manner of impossible plans,
but there it all ended. Dr. Trenire gave them a book each, and they sat
around the schoolroom fire reading them and munching the sweets they had
clubbed together to buy, and that was all the festivity they had that
year.

It was a damp, mild season, unseasonable and depressing, pleasant
neither for going out nor for staying indoors; and Dan, who had less
than five weeks' holidays, and had already had one of them spoilt by the
weather, grumbled loudly, fully convinced that he had every reason to do
so.

But with January came a change to high, cold winds, which dried up the
mud, and, having done that much service, departed, to be followed by
days of glorious sunshine. Just about the middle of the month Mrs.
Pike had to go away for a week or two to visit her sister in Yorkshire,
and with this circumstance, and the lovely weather combined, the
children's spirits rose. Dan had but a fortnight's holiday left, it is
true, but they meant to enjoy every possible minute of that fortnight,
and to begin with they decided on an expedition to Helbarrow Tors, one
of their most beloved of picnic places. Anna had never seen that
wonderful spot, and Anna, who did not accompany her mother on her
Yorkshire visit, was to be introduced to all its beauties on the very
day after her mother's departure.

As though knowing what was expected of it, the day broke most
promisingly. Of course it was not really light until about eight
o'clock - in fact, they got up and had their breakfast by gaslight, for
they really could not stay in bed late with such prospects as they had
before them; but already the weather signs were good, and Jabez was most
encouraging.

"I'll back a mist like that there," he said, "agin anything for turning
out a fine day. You mark my words now, Miss Kitty; and I'll go right
along and get that there donkey and cart for fear anybody else should be
put in the mind to 'ave a little egscursion too, and get un furst."

Fanny was as amiable as Jabez. When Kitty went out to the kitchen to
see about their food for the day she found her with a row of baskets on
the table before her, and Dan sitting on the corner of it superintending
her doings.

"There, Miss Kitty," she exclaimed, "that's the salt I've just put in,
so don't anybody say I forgot it, and don't anybody go unpacking it
any'ow or it'll be upset; and we don't want no bad luck, do we?"

Kitty looked at the baskets joyfully.

"I've put in what I calls a good allowance for six. Do 'ee think
that'll be enough?" asked Fanny anxiously, "or shall I put in a bit more
cake, and a pasty or two extra? P'r'aps I'd better."

"Perhaps you had," said Kitty thoughtfully. "You see, we have the whole
day, and one does get hungry out of doors, and there is never a shop
anywhere near - and if there is, we never have any money to spend in it."

Even while she was speaking Fanny was stowing the extra pasties and cake
into the basket. "Now, Master Dan, remember that's the basket you'm to
carry," pointing to a large square one with the cover securely fastened
down. "There's nothing to eat in it, but it's the 'eaviest, 'cause it's
got the milk in it, and a bottle of methylated spirits and the little
stove in case you can't get no sticks nor no fire."

"O Fanny, you _are_ cruel," sighed Dan. "I really don't know," with a
very good imitation of a catch in his voice, "how you can say to me the
nasty things you do."

"Ah!" said Fanny, with a knowing shake of her head. "I may be cruel,
and I have my failings, but I can read you through and through, Master
Dan, same as if you was a printed book. You take my word for that."

"X rays aren't in it," cried Dan. "Eyes of a hawk, and a heart of
stone. What a combination!"

"That there littlest basket," went on Fanny, turning to Kitty, "is for
Master Tony; and you must see that Master Dan don't get hold of it, and
let his little brother wear hisself out carrying the 'eavy one."

"Fanny, what do you take me for?"

"I take 'ee for what you are," said Fanny calmly - "an anointed young
limb, and as artful as you are high."

"Wait till I have gone back to school," said Dan wistfully, "then every
cruel and unjust thing you have said and thought of me will come back to
you, and 'Too late, ah, too late,' you will moan as you sob yourself
ill; 'and I loved that boy better than any one in the whole wide
world!'"

Which had enough of truth in it to make Fanny quite cross, or seem to
be.

"Master Tony's basket has got some lunch in it for you all to eat on
your way. There's a little pasty each, and some biscuits. I did put in
a big one for Master Dan, but I've more'n half a mind to take it out
again, seeing as he's be'aving so, sitting on the table and swinging his
legs. I s'pose those are the manners they learns him to school!"

Dan chuckled. "I wish they did," he said. "No, it's only you who let
me behave myself as I like, Fanny. No one else in the wide world is so
kind to me. O Fanny, I wish you were coming with us."

"So do I," cried Kitty. "Wouldn't it be fun!" And Fanny, quite
mollified, did not remove Dan's big pasty.

The door opened and Jabez came in. "I've got the moke," he said; "he's
in the yard; and I've put a few carrots in the cart for 'ee to 'tice un
along with, for if that there creetur haven't made up his mind a'ready
not to see Helbarrow Tor this day - well, I'm a Dutchman, and whatever my
failings I ain't that yet."

"The only enticing he'll get from me will be with the whip," said Dan
with great scorn, "so you can take out the carrots again." But Jabez
shook his head wisely.

"They won't take up much room," he said. "I'll put 'em in the nose-bag,
and if you don't need 'em on the way, you can give 'em to the creetur
when he gets there, by way of encouraging un another time. Now, are you
all ready, miss? It's best for 'ee to start before he falls asleep
again, for they'm always poor-tempered if they'm woke up, and then
they'm obstinater than ever."

The five of them could not all get into the cart at once, at least not
with any comfort, so they always, on these excursions, took it in turn
to ride and tie; and Dan, who did not crave for the glory of driving
Mokus through the street, walked on with Betty, leaving the others to
follow.

It was certainly cold when first they started; the air was fresh and
biting, with a touch of frost in it, and the sun had not yet come out.
Anna shivered beneath her fur-lined cloak, and Tony, thrusting his hands
deep down in his pockets, snuggled down between Kitty and Anna, and felt
very glad for once that he was not allowed an outside seat.

But by degrees the sun shone through the misty grayness, bathing the
road before them, and lighting up the bare hedges on either side until
it really seemed that spring had come, that the fresh morning air was
certainly full of the scent of primroses and violets, and the sweet
earthy smell of moss. The birds evidently thought so too, for they came
fluttering and flying from all manner of cosy hiding-places, and,
undaunted by the sight of the brown branches and the leafless twigs,
boldly perched themselves on telegraph wires and trees to survey the
scene while they made their summer plans.

What more could one want than brown branches if the sun was on them!
And how could one hurry or worry, or do anything but revel quietly in
the beauty that lay all about one, and tell oneself there were no gray
days to come!

Mokus, for one, evidently felt that this was no occasion for haste, and
Kitty did not contradict him. She herself felt that she wanted to
linger over every moment, and get the fullest enjoyment out of it all.

Dan, however, had other views, and when, at the foot of Tremellen Hill,
they found him and Betty perched on a low bridge awaiting them, he
upbraided them plaintively for their waste of time.

"But no girl ever could drive, even a donkey," he said loftily.
"He will find out now that he has met his master. Get up, Betty. Do be
quick. I want to reach Helbarrow to-day, and it must be lunch-time
already." At which Tony, who was scrambling down from the cart, reached
back for his basket.

"I fink I'd better take it wiv me," he said gravely. "If they are going
so fast, p'r'aps we shan't see them any more till we get there."

"I think we needn't be afraid of that," said Anna sarcastically, "if we
don't walk too fast."

Oh what a day it was! and what a donkey! and what a journey! And oh the
time it took! and how they did enjoy it all! When they had walked for
about a mile or more, the three sat down to rest and await the carriage
folk, of whom they had not caught a glimpse since they walked away and
left them. Then by degrees Tony's luncheon basket assumed a prominent
position in their thoughts and before their eyes. Morning air,
particularly in January, is hungry air; and to wait, with the food under
your very nose, and not be free to eat it, is not easy.

"I really must go back a little way to see if they are anywhere near,"
said Kitty at last, growing impatient and hungry. Anna and Tony were
hungry too, but they were too comfortable and lazy to move, so they
leaned luxuriously amongst the dry twigs and leaves and dead grass in
the hedge, and watched Kitty as she walked eagerly back again along the
level road they had just travelled. When she reached the brow of the
hill she stopped, and the next moment a peal of laughter announced the
fact that she had caught sight of the laggards.

It was unkind, perhaps, of her to laugh. Dan thought it was "beastly
mean," but then he was not in a frame of mind to see the humour of the
situation, for up the whole of that long steep hill he had marched at
Mokus's head, tugging with all his might at the bridle with one hand,
while the other held a huge carrot just beyond the obstinate creature's
reach. Dan was not only hot and tired and out of patience, but he was
extremely mortified.

"Where is Betty?" called Kitty, trying to check her laughter.

Betty, hearing her name, came round from the back of the cart; she was
almost purple in the face, and looked quite exhausted.

"I've been pushing," she gasped. "I believe it would have been easier
to have been harnessed in the shafts."

"You poor little thing," cried Kitty. "You must rest now and I'll take
a turn, and you shall both have our turn in the cart after lunch, and we
will walk. We aren't a bit tired."

"Thank you," they said, with stern decision in their voices, "we would
rather walk; it is so much easier."

Kitty felt quite sorry for them. "Anna and Tony are only a little way
ahead," she said encouragingly. "We've got such a jolly place to have
our lunch in, and we will have a nice rest there. Give the poor thing
the carrot now, Dan."


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