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slowly and carefully through.

"Isn't it dreadful?" sighed Kitty, looking up at her as she laid the
letter down.

"It is a trouble for you certainly, dear," said Miss Pidsley. "But I
think you have every reason to hope that your father may soon be well
and strong again, and in the meantime I see he has given you plenty to
do for him. Don't let him know that you are not able or willing to do
what he asks you to."

"What has he asked me to do?" cried Kitty, starting up eager to begin
then and there.

Miss Pidsley held out the letter, and pointed out one particular
paragraph. "If you want to help me - and I know you will - you must be as
happy and do as well at school as you possibly can. That will help me
more than anything."

"But that can't really help him, and - and it is so difficult." Kitty
looked up into Miss Pidsley's face very dolefully.

"But it does help, dear, more than you can imagine. Nothing would worry
your father more than to feel you were unhappy. Do try, for his sake.
You can't refuse his request, can you?"

"No," said Kitty mournfully, "I can't. I - I will try, but - it is very
hard to begin at once, isn't it? One is frightened and unhappy before
one knows one is going to be, and then it is so hard to forget it again
and try to feel brave and happy, and all that sort of thing; and oh, it
does seem so dreadful that father should be ill, and have to go away
from us. I can hardly believe it."

"You must try not to think of it in that way, dear, but think that he
has been ill for some time without being able to do anything to make
himself well again, and that now he is about to be cured, and if he has
rest and change and an easy mind every day will see him a little
stronger and happier. He has worked hard and long, and often, probably,
when he has been feeling quite unfit; but now he is going to have a real
rest, and to enjoy himself. It is good to think of, isn't it?"

"Oh yes," cried Kitty, much more cheerfully, "and I hope he will get off
soon, for I know he will get no rest while he is in Gorlay. I have
never known father have a holiday."

"Then let us all try to make it a really happy one now," said Miss
Pidsley, and she went away leaving Kitty much comforted.

Three days later Dr. Trenire came up to say "good-bye," and at the end
of a long, pleasant day together, happy in spite of the parting before
them, Kitty bade him "good-bye" with a brave and smiling face, and sent
him back to Gorlay cheered and comforted, and with at least one care
less on his mind; for in his heart he had been dreading that day,
because of Kitty's grief at parting.



CHAPTER XIX.


BETTY'S ESCAPADE.

June had come, a brilliantly fine June, and overpoweringly hot.
Wind-swept, treeless Gorlay lay shadeless and panting under the blazing
sun, and the dwellers there determined that they preferred the cutting
winds and driving rains to which they were better accustomed.

Dr. Trenire had gone, and Betty and Tony had been inconsolable.
The "locum," Dr. Yearsley, had come, and Jabez had long since announced
that he had no great opinion of him, coming as he did from one of the
northern counties.

"I don't say but what he may be a nice enough gentleman," he said;
"but coming from so far up along it stands to reason he can't know
nothing of we or our ailments. I s'pose the master had his reasons for
choosing him, but it do seem a pity."

Aunt Pike did not approve of the newcomer, but for another reason.
"He was so foolish about the children," she complained. "It is very
nice to say you are fond of them, but it is perfectly absurd to make so
much of them; it only encourages them to be forward and opinionated, and
puts them out of their place." And to balance all this Aunt Pike
herself became a little more strict than usual, and very cross. It may
have been that she felt the heat very trying, and perhaps was not very
well, but there was no doubt that she was very irritable and particular
at that time - more so than she used to be - and nothing that the children
did was, in her eyes, right.

Anna was irritable too, but there was much excuse for her, for having
had pneumonia in the winter, and measles in the spring, her mother was
determined that she should not have bronchitis, or rheumatism, or
pneumonia again in the summer, and through that overpoweringly hot
weather poor Anna was condemned to go about clothed in a fashion which
might have been agreeable in the Highlands in January, but in Gorlay in
the summer was really overwhelming, and kept poor Anna constantly in a
state bordering on heat apoplexy, or exhaustion and collapse.

Had Dr. Trenire been at home he would have interfered, and rescued her
from her wraps and shawls, heavy serge frock, woollen stockings, and
innumerable warm garments; or, perhaps, if Anna had not been so afraid
of her mother, but had appealed to her candidly and without fear, she
might have obtained relief. This, unfortunately, was not Anna's way,
for Anna's ways were still as crooked and shifty as her glances. She
would think out this plan and that plan to avoid the only one that was
straightforward and right, though it must be said for her that she did
try to be more open and honourable - at times she tried quite hard; but
since Kitty had gone, and she had been so much with her mother, all her
old foolish fears of her had come back with renewed strength, and all
her old mean ways and crooked plans for getting her own way and escaping
scoldings.

Now, instead of asking to be relieved from some of her burdensome
clothing, she made up her mind to destroy the things she detested most,
and trust to not being found out; or, if she was found out - well,
"the things must have been lost at the laundry." This seemed to her an
excellent explanation.

So, one day when her mother was out and Betty and Tony had gone for a
drive with Dr. Yearsley, Anna betook herself to the garden with some of
her most loathed garments under her arm, and a box of matches in her
pocket. A bonfire on a summer's day is easy to ignite, and there was
just sufficient breeze to fan the flame to active life, so Anna was in
the midst of her work of destruction almost before she realized it.
But, while waiting for her mother to depart, Anna had forgotten that the
time was hurrying on towards Betty's and Tony's return. In fact, they
drove up but a moment or so after she had left the house on her guilty
business.

"Miss Anna has gone up the garden," said Fanny in answer to Betty's
inquiries; and Betty, following her slowly, was in time to see a blaze
leaping up, and a cloud of smoke and sparks. She quickened her steps,
for something interesting seemed to be happening. "Surely Anna isn't
trying to smoke out that wasps' nest," she thought in sudden alarm.
"She will be stung to death if she is," and Betty took to her heels to
try to stop her. But when she got past the rows of peas and beans that
had hidden Anna, she saw that what her cousin was poking up was not a
wasps' nest, but a heap that was blazing on the ground.

"What are you doing?" gasped Betty excitedly. "What a lovely fire!"

At the sound of a voice Anna spun round quickly, the very picture of
frightened guilt; but when she saw Betty her fear turned to anger, hot
and uncontrollable because she was frightened.

"You are always spying and prying after me," she cried passionately.
"Why can I never have a moment to myself? Other people can, and why
can't I?"

Poor Anna was hot and overdone, and her nerves were so much on edge that
she scarcely knew what she was doing or saying. But Betty had no
knowledge of nerves, and under this unfair accusation she could make no
allowance for her cousin, and her temper rose too.

"How dare you say I pry and spy! You know it is not true, Anna. I only
came to ask you to play with us, and - and how was I to know that you
were doing something that you didn't want any one to see? Why don't you
want any one to see you? What are you burning?" Betty stepped nearer
and looked more closely. "O Anna, it is your clothes that you are
burning. Oh, how did it happen? You didn't do it on purpose, did you?"

"It doesn't matter to you how it happened. If _you_ don't want to wear
things you hate, you just go and tell tales to your father. You can get
everything you want. But I haven't any one to stick up for me, and I've
_got_ to do things for myself."

"Then you set this on fire on purpose! Oh, how wicked; and they cost
such a lot too! I wonder you aren't afraid to be so wicked!" cried
Betty indignantly.

"I don't care," said Anna, trying to put on a bold front. "I never did
want the things, and I never shall. I should die if I went about much
longer a perfect mountain of clothes. How would you like to wear a
'hug-me-tight' under a serge coat in this weather?"

"Not at all. But what shall you say to Aunt Pike?"

"I shan't say anything; but I suppose you will," sneered Anna.
"I do wish you wouldn't be always poking and prying about where you are
not wanted. You might know that people like to be left alone
sometimes."

"I am sure," cried Betty, quite losing her temper at that, "I would
leave you quite alone always, if I could; and I am _not_ a sneak, and
that you know. It would have been better for Kitty if I had been.
I don't know how you can say such things as you do, Anna, when you know
what we have had to bear for you. I suppose you think I don't know that
it was you who should have been sent away from Miss Richards's, and not
Kitty! But I do know - I have known it all the time, though Kitty
wouldn't tell me - and I think that you and Lettice Kitson are the two
meanest, wickedest girls in all the world to let Kitty bear the blame
all this time and never clear her. But after this - "

"Betty!" Aunt Pike's voice rose almost to a scream to get above the
torrent of Betty's indignation. "How _dare_ you speak to Anna so!
How _dare_ you say such shocking things! You dreadful, naughty child,
you are in such a passion you don't know what you are saying, and you
are making Anna quite ill! Look at her, poor child! - Anna dear, come to
me; you look almost fainting, and I really don't wonder."

Anna was certainly ghastly white, and trembling uncontrollably, but as
much at the sight of her mother as from Betty's fiery onslaught.
"Yes - I do feel faint," she gasped, but she was able to walk quickly to
her mother's side, and to lead her at a brisk step away from that
smouldering heap on the ground.

"Poor child, I will take you to your room. You must lie down and keep
very quiet for a time. - Elizabeth, follow us, please, and wait for me in
the dining-room. I will come and speak to you there when I have seen to
Anna. In the meantime try to calm yourself, and prepare to apologize
for the dreadful things I heard you saying."

Betty did not reply, nor for a few moments did she attempt to follow.
Her aunt's determination to believe Anna all that was good and innocent
and injured, and herself and Kitty all that was mean and bad, increased
her resentment a thousand times. Betty could never endure injustice.

"I won't apologize. I won't. I can't. I couldn't. I have nothing to
apologize for," she thought indignantly. "It is Aunt Pike who ought to
do that, and Anna, and ask us to forgive them. I've a good mind to tell
everything. I think it is my duty to Kitty and all of us!" and Betty
strutted down the garden looking very determined and important.
Her childlike face was undaunted, her little mouth set firm.

"It is my duty to all of us," she kept repeating to herself; "it really
is. I am not going to let Kitty bear the blame always. I know that
most people feel quite sure that she really did carry those letters, and
then wouldn't own up, but told stories about it, and Aunt Pike has never
been nice to her since, and Lady Kitson scarcely speaks to her, and Miss
Richards doesn't speak at all, and - and that mean Anna won't clear her,
and - "

"Well, Elizabeth, I have come to hear your explanations and apologies
for your shocking attack on Anna."

"It was Anna who attacked me," said Betty. "It was only when she called
me a pry and a spy that I - that I - "

"Hurled all sorts of wicked accusations at her. Oh, I heard you.
You said the most shocking and untrue things in your passion."

"I didn't say a word that wasn't true," said Betty firmly, "and - and
Anna knows it. Anna could have cleared Kitty, but she wouldn't, and I
am not going to let Kitty bear the blame for her and Lettice any longer;
and if they won't clear her, I will. Anna called me a sneak, and I said
she was mean and bad, and I meant it; and so she is, to let Kitty go on
bearing the blame and the disgrace all her life because she is too
honourable to tell how mean they are."

"Did you say that Anna knew who went to Lettice with that letter that
night, and that - it wasn't Kafcherine?" asked Aunt Pike, but so quietly
and strangely that Betty was really quite frightened by her curious
voice and manner.

"Oh, I wish I had not told," was the thought that rushed through her
mind, while her cheeks grew hot with nervousness. But it was too late
now to draw back; she must stick to her guns. "Yes," she said, but with
evident reluctance. "Ask Anna, please. I - I mustn't say any more.
Father wouldn't like - "

"Was it - Anna - herself?" asked Mrs. Pike, still in that strange low
voice, only it sounded stranger and farther away this time.

"Oh, I can't tell you! I can't tell you!" cried Betty, shrinking now
from telling the dreadful truth.

"There - is - no - need to," gasped Aunt Pike; but she spoke so low that
Betty hardly heard the words, and the next moment the poor, shocked,
stricken mother had slipped from her chair to the ground unconscious.

Betty saw her fall, and flew from the room screaming for help. Help was
not long in coming. Dr. Yearsley ran from the study and the servants
from the kitchen, and very soon they had raised her and laid her on the
couch. But none of the restoratives they applied were of any avail, and
presently they carried her upstairs and laid her on her bed.

But before that had happened, Betty, terrified almost out of her senses
by the result of her indiscretion, had flown - flown out of the room and
out of the house.

"Oh, what have I done! what have I done!" she moaned. "Father didn't
want her to know, and Kitty didn't want her to, and now I have told her
and it has killed her. I am sure I have killed her. And father is
away, and Kitty - oh, what can I do? I can never go home any more.
P'r'aps if I'm lost they'll be sorry and will forgive me," and Betty ran
on, nearly frantic with fear, and weeping at the pathetic picture of her
own disappearance.

The next morning Kitty, on her way from the music-room, where she had
been practising before breakfast, saw the morning's letters lying on the
hall table, and amongst them one directed to herself in Betty's hand.
Without waiting to have it given to her in the usual way, she picked it
up, and, little dreaming of the news it held, opened it at once.

"Dear Kitty," she read, "I have run away for ever, and I am never going
home any more. I think I have killed Aunt Pike. I told her something,
and she fell right down on the floor. She was dead, I am sure, and I
ran away. I am too frightened to go home, so do not ask me to. I am
going to earn my living. I am hiding at the farm. Mrs. Henderson
thinks I am going home soon, but I am not; and if she won't let me sleep
here, I shall sleep in the woods. To-morrow I shall try to get a place
as a servant or something. I wish I looked older, and that I had one of
your long skirts. I can put my hair up, but my dress is so short.
Good-bye for ever. -

"Your loving Betty."

"S.P. - Give my love to father if he will except it from me, and tell him
I did not mean to be a bad child to him."

Kitty stood staring blankly at the letter, scarcely able to grasp its
meaning. It seemed too wild, too improbable to be true. Betty had run
away; was frightened, desperate, too frightened to go home; had been out
all night alone; and they were all far away from her, all but Tony.
Kitty felt stunned by the unexpectedness and greatness of the trouble,
but she realized that she must act, and act quickly.

Miss Pidsley and Miss Hammond were gone to an early service at the
church, but it never occurred to Kitty to wait for them and consult
them. She only realized that a train left for Gorlay in twenty minutes'
time, and that if she could catch it she could be at home in little more
than two hours, and on the spot to seek for Betty. She cleared the
stairs two at a time, and in less than three minutes was flying down
them again and out of the house, buttoning her coat as she went, and had
vanished round the corner and down the road. She felt absolutely no
fear of meeting her teachers, for it never entered her head that she was
doing anything wrong. Miss Pidsley had once said that if she was wanted
at home she could go, and Kitty had never, since then, felt herself a
prisoner at school. She did hope that she might not meet them, or any
one else she knew, for time was very precious, and explanations would
cause delay; but that they might forbid her to go never once entered her
head. Her mind was full of but one thought - Betty was lost, and no one
but herself had any clue as to her whereabouts.

But the only person that Kitty met was a telegraph boy. Miss Pidsley
and Miss Hammond, coming home by another route, met the telegraph boy
too at the gate, and took the telegram from him.

"Oh," exclaimed Miss Pidsley as she opened it and mastered its contents,
"dear, dear! This brings bad news for Katherine Trenire. Listen," and
she read aloud, "Mrs. Pike seriously ill. Send Miss Trenire at once.
Yearsley."

"Shall I break it to the poor child?" asked Miss Hammond anxiously.

"Please."

Miss Hammond hurried into the house and to the schoolroom, but Kitty was
not there. Then she went to the music-room, but there was no Kitty
there; then by degrees they searched the whole house and garden, but in
vain, and at last stood gazing at each other, perplexed and alarmed.
Kitty, with never a thought of all the trouble she was causing, had
caught her train and was speeding home, little dreaming, though, of all
that lay before her, for in her alarm for Betty she had quite failed to
grasp the other and more serious news that Betty had written; and, as
the long minutes dragged by, and the train seemed but to crawl, it was
only for Betty that her anxiety increased, is her mind had time to dwell
on what had happened, and picture all the dreadful things that might
have occurred to her.

"It was a wet night, and it was a very dark one, and such strange sounds
fill a wood at night, and - oh, I hope she kept away from the river!
If anything chased her, and she ran, and in the darkness fell in -
O Betty, Betty!"

Then "Gorlay at last!" she cried in intense relief as she recognized the
well-known landmarks. Long before the train could possibly draw up, she
got up and stood by the door with the handle in her hand, a sense of
strangeness, of unreality, growing upon her. She felt as though she
were some one else, some one older and more experienced, who was
accustomed to moving amidst tragedies and the serious events of life.
Even the old familiar platform, the white palings, the 'bus and the
drowsy horses that she knew so well, seemed to her to have changed too,
and to wear quite a different aspect.

"I feel like a person just waking out of a dream, not knowing whether it
is dream or reality," she thought to herself as she opened the door and
stepped out on to the platform. "I suppose I am not dreaming?"

But as she stood there for a moment trying to collect herself, Weller,
the 'busman, came up to her, and he was real enough, and his anxious
face was no dream-face.

"Good-morning, missie," he said sympathetically. "I'm sorry enough, I'm
sure, to see you come home on such an errant. 'Tis wisht, sure enough."

Kitty was startled. She thought he was referring to Betty, and wondered
how he could know of her escapade. "You knew she was gone?" she asked
anxiously.

The man looked shocked. "Gone! Is she, poor lady? Law now, miss, you
don't say so! I hadn't heard it. She was just conscious when I called
fore this morning to inquire, and they 'ad 'opes that she'd rally."

"Then they have found her; but - but is she ill? Did she get hurt? - the
river! - O Weller, do tell me quickly. I came home on purpose to go to
look for her. Is she very ill?" Poor Kitty was nearly exhausted with
anxiety and the shocks she had received.

Weller looked puzzled. "Why," he said slowly, "I never heard nothing
about any river. She was took ill and fell down in the room, missie.
Haven't you heard? They told me they was going to tellygraff for you so
soon as the office was open, 'cause your poor aunt said your name once
or twice - almost the only words they've been able to make out since she
was took ill; and with the master away and you the eldest, they thought
you ought to be sent for."

Then the rest of Betty's letter came back to her mind, and as the
importance of it was borne in on her, Kitty's heart sank indeed in the
face of such a double trouble.

"Oh, if only father were home!" was her first thought. "But even if we
send at once he can't be here for ever so long." A moment later,
though, she remembered his health, and how bad such news would be for
him, with all those miles between, too; and she felt that unless it was
absolutely necessary, they must spare him this trouble.

Rowe, the driver, came forward to help her to her seat. "I think you'd
best go outside, missie," he said gently, "you'm looking so white.
P'r'aps the air'll do 'ee good. I'm afraid you've had a bad shock."

"I - I think I have," gasped Kitty, as, very grateful for his sympathy,
she mounted obediently.

Then Weller, who had suddenly disappeared, came back carrying a cup of
steaming tea and a plate of bread and butter. "Drink this, missie, and
eat a bit," he said, clambering carefully up with his precious burden,
"then you'll feel better. You look as if you hadn't tasted nothing but
trouble lately," he added sympathetically, as he arranged the tray on
the seat beside her, and hurried down again to escape any thanks.

Tears of gratitude were in Kitty's eyes as she ate and drank; and from
sheer desire to show how much she appreciated his kindness, she finished
all he had brought her, knowing that that would gratify him more than
any thanks could.

She certainly felt better for the food, and more fit to face the long
drive home; and never to her life's end did she forget that drive on
that sunny June morning - the dazzling white dusty road stretching before
them, the hedges powdered with dust, the scent of the dog-roses and
meadow-sweet blossoming so bravely and sending up their fragrance, in
spite of their dusty covering, to cheer the passers-by. Then, when at
last they reached the town, familiar faces looked up and recognized her,
and most of them greeted her sympathetically.

It was all so natural, so unchanged; yet to Kitty, seeing it for the
first time with eyes dazed with trouble, it seemed as though she had
never seen it before - at least, not as it looked to her now. She tried
to realize that it was only she who had changed, that all the rest was
just as it had always been. She felt suddenly very much older, that
life was a more serious and important thing than it had been - so serious
and important that it struck her as strange that any one could smile or
seem gay.

With kind thoughtfulness Rowe did not stop at all on his way as usual,
but drove the 'bus straight up to the house at once. As they drew near,
Kitty, glancing up to speak to him, saw him look anxiously up over the
front of the house. "It's all right," he murmured to himself; then
aloud he said more cheerfully, "I'm hoping, missie, you may find your
poor aunt better," and Kitty knew that he had feared lest they might
find the blinds drawn down.



CHAPTER XX.


KITTY'S HANDS ARE FULL.

As soon as the 'bus had drawn up, the door of the house was flung open
and Fanny tore out. "Oh, my dear!" she cried, almost lifting her little
mistress down bodily in her plump arms. "Oh, my dear Miss Kitty, I'm
that glad to see 'ee! They said as the tellygram couldn't reach 'ee in
time to catch that train, but I knew better. I knew if you got that
there message you'd come by that early train, even if it _had_ started."

"What telegram?" asked Kitty. "I haven't had one."


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