The Cottage On The Cliff
"Well, my dearie," said grandmamma, "uncle and I have just taken such a pretty little cottage for you all, high up on the cliff, looking right over the blue sea. And you are to go off and try if the fresh wind up there will put a little more colour into those cheeks of yours!"
My dear little friends, I had just nestled down snugly enough on grandmamma's silk dress and black lace shawl, never having the least idea of the dear, kind purpose of that long sixteen miles' drive, so you won't be surprised to hear that the news gave me such a start that I very nearly jumped out of the carriage. And Alick--well, I don't know whether he was really half a boy or three quarters, but his shout certainly made you fancy him quite a whole
boy at that minute!
Oh, the bright, bright pictures that came tumbling one over another in one's mind, at the idea of the cottage on the cliff, crabs and shrimps and shells and sea-weed, and merry, merry waves in one happy muddle! And do you know, nothing could induce the horses to trot fast enough up the long drive; they never seemed to consider one bit how much we had to tell, nor, indeed, how much we had to do
, in preparation for to-morrow. What if they had done a good thirty miles since breakfast, they could stay at home next day and eat hay from morning to night and leave it to Fairy and Whitefoot to do the hot work for us.
I really cannot tell you how much sleep we got that night. I have a distinct remembrance of kicking all the bed-clothes off ever so many times, and of calling out to Lottie in the next room, without the smallest respect to rules. And there was Jane as busy as could be, with Susette, packing up little frocks, and pinafores, and nightgowns. Every now and then she would stop to say, "Really, Miss Sissy, you must
be quiet, and go to sleep!" But, you know, that was just one of those remarks which it is of no use listening to.
It's funny how sometimes sleep seems to run away and won't be caught anyhow! Next night it was just the same. Only it was quite different, too. You know what I mean. That funny bedroom, with its white curtains covered with pink rose-buds, and the venetian blinds, and the moon shining through, mixed up somehow with the sound of the waves; and to have Lottie in the same large bed with me--oh, it was all so odd! And the narrow passages with two stairs at every turn, and the rooms opening right in each other's faces, so to say! It felt queer, too, to know that we were alone in the house with only Susette and Jane to take care of us, the woman of the house to do hard work, and Gus to run errands for us.
By some means or other we did go to sleep at last, and afterwards woke up in the morning to wonder where we were. And then came all the wonders of the new place to be discovered. Harry had persuaded grandmamma to send over the steady old pony with us, and no sooner was breakfast over than he appeared at the door led by Gus, for Master Harry to go, as he called it, on a voyage of discovery. I am not sure that our nurses were not rather glad to be rid of this "Turk of a boy," as they called him; for Harry, good-natured as he was, could not lose a chance of teasing the little ones, and sometimes, a little hurting their tempers.
There was a great hollow place in the cliff close to our house, down which was the way to the beach, which we took with the least possible delay. Then came the first delights of bathing, and when that was over, the digging in the sand and hunting for shells, while baby took his morning sleep on Susette's lap. By and by we went home to dinner, and after that, to hemming and sewing and reading with the nurses. And when early tea was over, it was cool enough for a fresh walk over the hills, or away to the rocks farther off.
This was the way we spent four pleasant weeks, getting as rosy and strong as any one could wish. Three or four times we were surprised in our morning play on the beach by the welcome sight of Uncle Hugh. For, every now and then, he would ride over to give grandmamma some news of the children. This was a great delight, for it was sure to mean, first of all, that there were letters from home for us all,--those foreign sheets that Lottie loved to see, and the long crossed letters full of mamma's love to me. And to us four elder ones, Harry and Lottie and Alick and me, uncle's visit always meant a glorious afternoon in a boat far out at sea. I hardly know whether Harry or Gus delighted most in the prospect of these visits. The pleasure simply of holding the "Capitaine's" horse was enough to make the French boy's eyes glisten and his teeth shine with the broadest smile. And to Harry the delight of handling an oar or managing a sail was beyond anything delicious.
But the visit which we had all most cause to remember was the last which Uncle Hugh paid us. He was going away to London on business--business which would soon end in another long voyage, the news of which brought a flush of pleasure to Gus's cheeks, soon changed to intense disappointment at the news that he must this time be left in England.
That afternoon we were longer than usual on the sea, only returning just in time for a late tea and bed. Uncle Hugh started about seven o'clock, and Harry as usual mounted his pony in great haste to go with him part of the way. I remember that uncle was in a hurry, and did not wait for him, for as I stood undressing near the window I saw Harry waving his hat and calling after him, with the two dogs at his side.
THROUGH THICK AND THIN
The long summer evening faded away; from my pillow I saw the stars come out one by one, and then kissing my hand to them, I let my sleepy eyes go shut, and was soon in the midst of pleasant dreamland. I don't know how long after this it was, that I was aroused by a sound of whispers at the door, and then by a little timid question from Lottie, "Susette, isn't Harry come home?" "But no, Miss Lottie," was the answer in a troubled voice, and Jane broke in: "Hush, hush! you'll wake Miss Sissy! Go to sleep, there's a darling. He'll be home directly now--no need to be frightened!"
"No need to be frightened!" said Susette, in her foreign accent. "But, yes----"
Jane had pulled her out of the room, and Lottie and I, now wide awake, were left to wonder, and talk in low, frightened tones. Lottie had heard the whining of one of the dogs under the window--both dogs had gone off with Harry--and she had heard Susette call Jane gently, and then they had whispered outside the door something about Gus and the dog; and after that she had heard Gus run off under the window, the dog barking joyfully and going, too. How we lay and trembled! By and by I got out of bed, and peeped through the Venetians, in spite of Lottie's entreaties.
"Oh, Sissy, please don't! Susette will be so angry! Please, Sissy, come back!"
I protested that Susette was not my
nurse, yet I knew she could scold in such a bewildering torrent of French as did sometimes frighten me; and as I could see nothing but the calm, beautiful starlit sky over the sleeping sea, I dropped the blind, and sprang back into bed. It made a noise as I dropped it, and for some time the fear of being heard, and the anxiety to appear asleep if any one came, made us forget our alarm about Harry. In fact, I think we were getting sleepy again--I was, at least--but we started up at the sound of the hall-door softly opened, and then men's footsteps on the stairs. There was a low moan as the steps passed our door. Oh, how breathlessly we waited! Once, even, I had the door ajar, and was peeping out, when a hurried hand outside suddenly shut it again, making me start back. By and by there was a sound of footsteps going downstairs, and in a moment Lottie and I were both in the passage entreating Jane to tell us what had happened.
"Master Harry has been tumbled over the pony's head, Miss Lottie," she said, "and he's been lying in a ditch nobody knows how long; but the dog's saved his life--him and Gus together--and the doctor hopes he won't be very bad, no bones being broken, only bruises and knocks of the head. He don't quite know himself, you see, yet, poor young gentleman! and we have to keep him quiet, so you must go and be as still as mice. The doctor'll be here in the morning, and the missis, too, may be!"
All this while she was tucking us into bed again, and when she drew the curtains and left us we were afraid to whisper even, for fear of being heard in the next room and hurting Harry.
At breakfast the next morning we were told that Gus was "nigh about at Beecham by this time," and before evening the carriage had come just in sight, and stopped, and grandmamma was walking up to the house.
Then followed a very quiet week, during which we never spoke aloud without getting a sharp "hush!" Indeed, we were not allowed to be in the house a minute longer than necessary, being down on the beach whenever we were not eating, drinking, or sleeping. By the end of the week, Harry was to be seen at these rare intervals looking very pale, and quiet, and unlike himself on the sofa. I distinctly remember feeling rather pleased as I looked from him to Alick, and thought how much more of a boy Alick looked with his brown, rosy face, than the pale, languid, almost girlish elder brother, speaking in a weak, tired voice from his pillow. It was about another ten days before the close carriage came from Beecham, and with plenty of soft cushions, Harry was laid in it, and driven away back to the Park.
When we saw him there on our return, he was almost himself again, merry and bright, but a little pale and easily tired.