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some, or I shall drop the plate."

Kitty unwillingly did as she was told, only to regret it bitterly as, at
the first mouthful, a shower of crumbs descended on the polished floor.
After that experience it took her so long to make up her mind to take a
second bite, that just as she did so voices were heard outside the door,
the handle was turned, and Lady Kitson, followed by Dr. Trenire, entered
the room. At the first sounds Lettice had seized the plate of cake and
made a hasty exit through the conservatory, but for Kitty there was no
such escape.

"Well, dear, are you ready to face the storm?" asked her father, smiling
down at her.

"I think I must lend you a wrap of some sort," said Lady Kitson.
"I suppose you have none?"

Kitty, her mouth full of cake and one hand grasping the remainder, tried
to swallow it hastily that she might reply, and, of course, choked.
As she often remarked afterwards, the misery of that visit would not
have been complete without that final blow. Covered with shame and
confusion, she rose awkwardly from her chair, looking about her for some
place whereon to deposit that dreadful cake. There was none.
The tables were covered with books and frames, vases and ornaments, but
the vases were full of flowers, and there was not even a friendly
flower-pot saucer. There was nothing for her to do but carry it with
her.

"Don't hurry," said Lady Kitson politely; "stay and finish your cake."

"I can't," said Kitty desperately.

She could not even say "thank you." In fact, there seemed so little to
give thanks for that it never entered her head to do so.

"Then we will start at once," said her father briskly; and to her
immense relief she soon found herself, her farewells said, mounting once
more the dear homely carriage. With the reins between her fingers, and
the responsibility on her of driving through the storm and darkness,
some of her courage and self-respect returned, but not until she had
flung that wretched cake far from her into the darkness.

"I shall hate orange cakes all the rest of my life," she thought.

"It was kind of Lady Kitson to take you in out of the storm," remarked
her father absently.

"Was it?" she questioned doubtfully. "I suppose it was. But - another
time I - I would rather stay out in the very worst storm that ever was,"
she added mentally. "Nothing _could_ be worse than what I have gone
through, and what I shall feel whenever I remember it."



CHAPTER IV.


STORMS AT HOME AND ABROAD.

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.


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