Open main menu


CHAPTER IX
The Morning After


'Wake up!' whispered Charlotte, sitting up very wide awake and pinching her sister gently but firmly.

'Why?' Caroline asked, very warm and sleepy. 'We aren't called yet, and it’s quite dark.'

'Called!' Charlotte echoed in contempt. 'And the curtains aren't drawn, so of course it's dark. Wake up, silly; don't you remember?'

'All right!' Caroline murmured, and went to sleep again.

You can’t have forgotten yesterday, and how we were detectives, and you were Sherlock Holmes wrong way out, and about Rupert, Rupert, Rupert?'

And at that Caroline did wake up, and sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.

'Isn't it glorious?' Charlotte asked, jumping up and down on the bed; 'our splendid secret and the rose and everything? I do think we're lucky, don't you?'

'I suppose so,' Caroline answered, yawning. 'But what are we going to do with him?'

'Conceal him, of course,' Charlotte answered briskly, 'and answer for him with our lives. Until the answer comes to the Indian letter.'

'The letter didn't go, you know,' Caroline reminded her, and put one foot out of bed.

'What's the matter with you?' Charlotte asked. 'You don’t seem a bit keen.'

'I don't feel keen,' Caroline answered. 'I wish it hadn't happened. I feel as if I didn't want to do anything but to be quiet and have nothing happen, like it used to. My inside mind feels quite stiff and sore.’

'That's using it so much yesterday; being so clever, you know. Of course your mind feels stiff. It isn't used to it,' said Charlotte rightly, bounced off the bed and ran to draw the curtains. 'Oh!' she said, and stood quite still with the curtain in her hand.

'What?' Caroline asked, anxiously, for the tone was tragic.

'It's raining,' said Charlotte, 'that's all. Hard.'

'How awful,' said Caroline.

Somehow no one had expected it to rain. The sun had shone now for days and days, and it had seemed as though it must always go on shining.

'Rupert won’t be able to hide in the wood, will he?' said Charlotte after a dismal silence.

'Oh, Charlotte,’ said Caroline in deep reproach, holding- up her little silver watch, 'it's only a quarter to five. I'm going to sleep again. You know how thin and rotten you feel in the afternoon if you get up too early. Come on. Perhaps it won't be raining when it's proper getting-up time.'

But it was, as hard as ever. And it was a dismal little breakfast party. The dining-room, usually so sunny and delightful at this hour, was sombre and brown and dull. The books all looked like lesson-books, and even the portrait of the Lady with the ruff had but little interest for the children. It seemed as though some one had turned off all sunshine and all magic at the very meter.

Anxiety about Rupert mingled with the usual wet-day feelings, and every one was at first too miserable even to tell the others how miserable it was.

Almost in silence Caroline poured out the milk, Charles served the bacon, and Charlotte handed the toast. And quite in silence they ate and drank. But breakfast soon began its healing work, and before it came to the marmalade, Charlotte was able to say:

'This is the time to do something desperate. I'll have some tea, please, Caro. Aunt Emmeline says it's a dreadful drug and people take it instead of beer. I don't like it,' she hastened to add. 'It's only to show how desperate we are.'

'Yes, but your drinking tea won't help Rupert. He'll be soaked in the woods,' said Caroline heavily.

'Still, he'll be safe,' Charles pointed out. 'No one will go looking for him in the sopping wet. I'll have tea too. Let's call it a carouse in the smugglers' cave.’

But the others thought this was going a little too far.

'I don't feel as if we ought to play till we know about Rupert and whether he's had any breakfast. And I know the Wilming-cat won’t let us go out in the rain, Charlotte said.

'One of us must go out and see William, that's all,' said Caroline. 'I'll go, if you like, and chance the Wil-cat. No; we can't all go. People notice you so much more if there's a lot of you.'

Thus William at work in the harness-room was visited by a small figure in a damp mackintosh and red tam-o'-shanter frosted with rain-drops.

'Where is he?' it whispered, 'and has he had his breakfast?'

'Now you be off, miss,' said William, very loud and plain. 'I ain't up to talking so early. Be off with you.' As he spoke he pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket and wrote on the table:

'Come at 12,' and smeared it out with his cuff, just as the gardener came to the door and said:

'Don't look like clearing up.'

Caroline understood.

'We shall be wanting some flowers,' she said, 'to send in a letter. And it's too wet to go and get them. I thought perhaps William would.'

'Flowers ain't William’s business, nor yet his pleasure,’ said the gardener, 'or he wouldn't 'ave a dead un in his button-hole like what he's got.' He pointed to William's coat, hanging on a saddle-perch and still bearing in its button-hole the withered rose of secrecy.

'Perhaps you would, then?' Caroline suggested. 'I want four red roses, no—five, and ten buds. And is there any stephanotis? I think it means absent friends.'

'No, there ain't,' said the gardener.

'Well, then, traveller's joy. That means safety.'

'Plenty of that—nasty weed,' said the gardener, but not unkindly. 'Right you are, Miss. I'll bring 'em to the dining-room window to save my boots on cook's flagstones.'

'So that's all right,' said Caroline, returning to the others. 'We're to go at twelve. Only now we must write to Aunt Emmeline and send her some traveller's joy, because I said we wanted to send it in a letter. Yes, you must, too, Charles. We shall be doing an unselfish act, because I'm sure no one wants write to Aunt Emmeline, and she says unselfishness makes the sun shine on the cloudiest days.'

'All right, we'll try it on,' said Charles, but not hopefully; and soon there was a deep stillness, broken only by the slow scratching of pens.

Presently the gardener brought some roses and clematis to the window.

'That's what you want?' he asked, handing in the wet red and green bouquet.

'Quite,' said Caroline; 'and do you know it's just as well you hadn't any stephanotis, because I see it doesn't mean what I thought it meant. It means 'Will you accompany me to the East?' and Aunt Emmeline would have been so upset wondering what we meant.’

'She wouldn't 'a been the only one,' said the gardener, and clumped away on those boots which were not considered suitable for cook's flagstones.

When the letters were done it was only eleven o'clock, and it was decided that, as Rupert must have had his breakfast, it wouldn’t be unfeeling to play desert islands, just to pass the time till it should be twelve.

The dining-room table made an excellent island, and the arm-chair was a ship which held the three of them, and could, with reasonable care, be wrecked quite safely on the deep waters of the hearth-rug. The card-table from the window, turned wrong way up, made a charming raft; and the girls' pinafores, fastened to the poker and tongs, did for sails. You steered with the fire-shovel and brought bags of biscuit (which looked like cushions) from the good vessel, the Golden Vanity, which, disguised as the sofa, lay derelict across the Carpet Bay. It was a grand game, and when some one began to say 'Twelve o'clock,' the shipwrecked sailors were quite astonished. The person who began to say 'Twelve,' was, of course, the tall clock with the silver face inlaid with golden roses.

'We ought to go at once,' said Caroline, putting the masts back in the fender; 'but if we leave everything like this, the Wil-cat——'

'We'll clear up,’ said Charlotte with a noble effort, 'to make up for being beastly yesterday. You go, Caro. We'll come out as soon as we’ve done, and stand in the door till you tell us it's all right.’

'That’s jolly decent of her,' Charles told Caroline. 'And I say the same.’

‘Jolly decent of you,' said Caroline, and went.

It was still raining. Caroline stood at the back door with a rose and two buds in her hand, and watched the rain splashing in the puddles and on to the sack-covered shoulders of the gardener and the gardener's boy and the stable-boy as they went off to their dinners. As soon as she could be quite sure that they had really gone and wouldn’t be likely to come back for anything they’d forgotten, she ran across to the harness-room.

'Here's your new secret rose,' she said; 'and now, can I see Rupert? The others'll be out directly.'

'Go and tell them to stay where they are,' said William, crossly. 'There won't be much secret rosing left if you're all hanging about here. And Mrs. Whats-her-name's equivalent to a bit of secret nosing herself, if you come to that. Hurry up now, afore they comes along.'

The others were not pleased, but they had to own that most likely William knew best.

Thus it was Caroline alone who followed William into the straw-loft, which at first seemed to have nothing in it but straw, very dark in the corners and very yellow under the skylight.

'Where is he?' Caroline asked, and the straw rustled and opened, revealing Rupert, rather tousled and strawy about the head, and the bright eyes and black ears of a small fox-terrier.

'I hid when I heard you on the ladder,' he said. 'You can't be too careful.' He spoke in a low, hoarse voice.

'Now, I'll keep about down in the stable said William, 'and if I whistle, you lay low.'

He retreated down the ladder, and they heard him say 'Over' to one of the horses.

'I wish this was over,' said Rupert, rather fretfully.

'It is beastly having it rain,' said Caroline sympathetically; 'but it'll be fine to-morrow, I expect, and I’ve brought you a secrecy rose.' He took it and said 'Thank you!' but not enthusiastically. 'And,' she went on—'wait till I get it out—it's rather a tight fit for my pocket—I've brought you Robinson Crusoe, and a pencil and paper to really write to your father and mother. And I'll post it as soon as the rain stops.'


The Wonderful Garden -p141.jpg

'If I whistle, you lay low.'


'Well, you are a brick,' he said. 'I shall be all right with something to read. But you've simply no idea how slow time goes when you're in concealment. I can't think how those Royalist chaps stood it as they did; and the Man in the Iron Mask and Sir Walter Raleigh and Mary Queen Of.'

'I am sorry,' said Caroline again. 'How long will it take to get an answer from India?'

'Oh, weeks,’ said Rupert wearily. 'I was just thinking I couldn't stick it, and perhaps I'd better really run away to sea, only not Hastings, of course. But it doesn't seem so bad now I've got the book, and Pinchers rather jolly, and you too, of course,' he added with sudden politeness.

'Tell me all about last night.' Caroline settled comfortably into a nest of straw. 'What happened after we left you?'

'Oh, William came and brought me in, and gave me a rug and the dog and some more bread and cheese. And bread and bacon this morning.'

'I say, you are hoarse.'

'Oh, it’s nothing. I say, don't think me a pig, but I should like something to eat. I feel as if I'd been eating bread and cheese and cold bacon for long years, and it’s all fat—the bacon is, I mean.'

Caroline said how stupid it was of her and she’d bring him something when the men went home to their teas. And then suddenly there seemed to be nothing more to say.

There was a silence, broken by Rupert putting his head under the blanket to cough in a suppressed manner.

'I hope you haven't taken a chill.' said Caroline, with motherly anxiety. 'Aunt Emmeline says you never take them if you keep your windows open at night; but of course you can't here, because there aren't any.’

'No, said Rupert. 'I say, do you play chess, or draughts, or halma or anything?’

'I could bring them,' she said; 'but I only know the moves at chess and when you bring down the Queen and the Bishop, and the other person is called the Fool's Mate—only they always see it before you get it finished.'

'I'll teach you,’ said Rupert yawning. 'I say, everything is pretty beastly, isn't it? It's jolly in India. I wish I was there.'

'So do I,' said Caroline. 'At least I don't mean that. But I wish you were not so mizzy.’

'There ought to be a Society for the Prevention of Schools,’ Rupert went on; 'then everything would be all right.'

'I'll tell you what,' said Caroline; 'I think this is a dumpy day. I felt quite flat this morning, as if nothing mattered. But it got better. I’ll look in my book when I get back and see if there's any flower that means cheer up. And if there is I'll bring it to you, and perhaps it will work a cheering charm on you.’

Caroline herself, sitting among the straw, wrinkling her forehead in the effort to think of some way of cheering the prisoner, was almost a cheering charm herself. Rupert perhaps felt something of this, for he said:

'I'm all right. Only I feel so jolly rotten.'

'You write the letter,' said Caroline. 'I don't feel half as flat as I did. I'll think of all sorts of things to amuse the captive. And I'll bring you——

William whistled below. The two children stiffened to the stillness of stone and held their breaths. Voices! Mrs. Wilmington's voice!

'Have you seen Miss Caroline, William?' she was saying. 'I am afraid she has run out in the reen.'

'She's up in the loft, mum,' said William. I let her up just to 'ave a peep. 'Ere, Miss, you come along down. You seen all there is to see.'

Caroline rustled through the straw and down the ladder. Mrs. Wilmington, cloaked and with a brown plaid shawl over her head stood in the stable door.

'I'm quite dry—really I am,' said Caroline, as William climbed the ladder to padlock the trap-door.

'You best come in at once,' said Mrs. Wilmington. And at that moment a faint sound was heard from the loft. Rupert had coughed again.

'What's that?' Mrs. Wilmington asked, pausing on one galosh to listen.

'My dawg's up there,' said William; ''e catches rats now and again.'

'It was a strange noise for a dog,' said the housekeeper with a thoughtful air.

'Weren't it now?' said William admiringly. 'Can't think ow they does it! You wouldn't believe the noises dogs make when they're after rats. It's the way it takes ’em, you see.'

'I see, said Mrs. Wilmington, and turned away, picking her galoshed steps delicately, and followed by Caroline, who now ventured to breathe again, and splashed in all the puddles.

'Your uncle,' said the housekeeper, taking off her shawl and shaking it at the back door, to Caroline, 'was inquiring for you. He does not weesh you to go out in the reen.'

'No,' said Caroline.

'And I always understood,' said the housekeeper, 'that young ladies was, were, better away from low company.'

'If you mean William,' began Caroline hotly, but Mrs Wilmington interrupted her with—

'I mean dogs in straw-lofts. Now you know.'

Caroline decided to get Mrs. Wilmington a soothing bouquet as soon as the rain cleared off.

'Your uncle’s in the dining-room,' said the housekeeper. 'Wipe your shoes on the mat, please.'

From the dining-room came the sound of talking. Caroline heard:

'You see, uncle, you just sit on the wreck and we'll come and rescue you with the raft.'

She paused in the doorway. Could it be true that the Uncle was playing? No, it could not.

'Thank you,' said the Uncle; 'I feel safer on the wreck. I'm glad you've been having a game,' he said, blinking kindly at her.

'I hope you don't mind the room being a little untidy, Uncle,' Charlotte was saying. For, indeed, the others had decided the clearing-up bargain was off, and had gone on with the game.

'Not at all, if you don't break things,' said their uncle, a little nervously.

'We're most awfully careful,' Charles explained. 'You see we keep the raft on the carpet for fear of scratching it.'

'Ithink it polishes it, being dragged about on this Turkish sea,' Charlotte told them.

'And so you're not dull, even on this rainy day? I feared you might find it wearisome.'

'Oh, no,' said everyone. 'It's the loveliest house in the world.' And Charlotte asked him kindly how his magic was getting on

'Poorly,' he said. 'And yours?'

There was a silence, full of the thoughts of the magic of fern-seed and of the great Rupert secret.

'We've invented a Secret Society,' Caroline said, difficultly and in haste: 'the Secret Society of the Rose. You wear one full-bloom rose and two buds, you see.'

'I see. And what is the secret?' asked the innocent and kindly uncle.

Every one became scarlet except the Uncle, who looked more like oyster shells than ever, and said:

'I beg your pardon.'

'We'd tell you in a minute if we could. But you see it is a secret society.'

'I see. I am very sorry I was so indiscreet. But tell me this,' he added, hastily. 'You haven't broken anything, have you?'

'Not a thing.'

'I thought you wouldn't,' the Uncle assured them. 'Mrs. Wilmington was of opinion that you would break almost everything in the house. But that was before she saw you, of course. If you do break anything you'll tell me, won't you?'

'Of course,' they answered in various tones of surprise.

'Quite so. I might have known. I wish I could do something to amuse you. If you had any friends in the neighbourhood you might have the carriage and drive out to see them. But of course you have no acquaintances here.'

'The clergyman is a friend of ours,' Charles remarked.

And Caroline said if only they might go and see him.

'By all means,' said the uncle. 'Bring him back to tea with you. I am sincerely glad to find that you are making yourselves at home.'

With that he went away.

'Do you think that was snarkasm? About making ourselves at home?' Charles asked.

'Not it,' Charlotte assured him. 'I'm sure the Uncle's open as the day.'

'All the same we'd better clear up,' said Charlotte, and on the word Harriet came in to lay the cloth. Mrs. Wilmington followed. And it was she who cleared up, with pinched lips and a marked abstaining from reproaches.

The children dined alone, and the cook remarked on the sudden growth of their appetites. How was she to know that generous double helpings of beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, summer cabbage, rhubarb-pie, and custard were hidden behind the books on the dining-room shelf, for the later refreshment of a runaway boy at present hidden in the straw-loft?

'We must put the things in tumblers,' Caroline said, 'because plates would be missed; but the tumblers live in the sideboard, and there are dozens.' So a row of tumblers, containing such greasy things as never before had profaned their limpid depths, stood in a row like beakers on the bench of a secret laboratory.

'It's all very well,' said Charlotte, replacing the last book and ringing the bell, 'but how shall we get them to him?'

'William will manage it at tea-time,' Caroline was sure.

'But we've got to bring the clergyman home to tea.'

'Oh, bother!' was the remark that sprang to the lips of Caroline. 'I never thought of that.'