Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Brave and True, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  It does not take long to make a kite, if you know how, have the rightthings for the purpose, and Cook is in a good temper. But then, cooksare not always amiable, and that's a puzzle; for disagreeable people aregenerally yellow and stringy, while pleasant folk are pink-and-white andplump, and Mrs Lester's Cook at "Lombardy" was extremely plump, so muchso that Ned Lester used to laugh at her and say she was fat, whereuponCook retorted by saying good-humouredly: "All right, Master Ned, so Iam; but you can't have too much of a good thing."

  There was doubt about the matter, though. Cook had a most fiery temperwhen she was busy, and when that morning Ned went with Tizzy--so calledbecause she was christened Lizzie--and found Cook in her privatepremises--the back kitchen--peeling onions, with a piece of bread stuckat the end of the knife to keep the onion-juice from making her cry, andasked her to make him a small basin of paste, her kitchen majestyuttered a loud snort.

  "Which I just shan't," she cried; "and if your Mar was at home youwouldn't dare to ask. I never did see such a tiresome, worriting boy asyou are, Master Ned. You're always wanting something when I'm busy; andwhat your master's a-thinking about to give you such long holidays atmidsummer I don't know."

  "They aren't long," said Ned, indignant at the idea of holidays beingtoo long for a boy of eleven.

  "Don't you contradict, sir, or I'll just tell your Mar; and the sooneryou're out of my kitchen the better for you. Be off, both of you!"

  It was on Tizzy's little red lips to say: "Oh, please do make somepaste!" but she was not peeling onions, and had no knife with a piece ofbread-crumb at the end to keep the tears from coming. So come they did,and sobs with them to stop the words.

  "Never mind, Tiz," cried Ned, lifting her on to a chair. "Here, get onmy back and I'll carry you. Cook's in a tantrum this morning."

  Tizzy placed her arms round her brother's neck and clung tightly whilehe played the restive steed, and raised Cook's ire to red-hot point bypurposely kicking one of the Windsor chairs, making it scroop on thebeautifully-white floor of the front kitchen, and making the queen ofthe domain rush out at him, looking red-eyed and ferocious, for theonion-juice had affected her.

  "Now, just you look here, Master Ned."

  But Ned didn't stop to look; for, after the restive kick at the chair,he had broken into a canter, dashed down the garden and through the gateinto the meadow, across which he now galloped straight for the newhaystack, for only a week before that meadow had been forbidden groundand full of long, waving, flowery strands.

  The grasshoppers darted right and left from the brown patches where thescythes had left their marks; the butterflies fled in their butterflyfashion.

  So did a party of newly-fledged sparrowkins, and, still playing thepony, Ned kept on, drawing his sister's attention to the variousobjects, as he made for the long row of Lombardy poplars which grew sotall and straight close to the deep river-side, and gave the name"Lombardy" to the charming little home.

  But it was all in vain; nothing would pacify the sobbing child, not eventhe long red-and-yellow monkey barge gliding along the river, steered bya woman in a print hood, and drawn by a drowsy-looking grey horse at theend of a long tow-rope, bearing a whistling boy seated sidewise on hisback and a dishcover-like pail hanging from his collar.

  "Oh, I say, don't cry, Tizzy," protested Ned, at last, as he felt thehot tears trickling inside his white collar.

  "I can't help it, Teddy," she sobbed. "I did so want to see the kitefly!"

  "Never mind, pussy," said her brother; "I'll get the butterfly-net."

  "No, no," she sobbed; "please don't."

  "The rod and line, then, and you shall fish. I'll put on the worms."

  "No, no, I don't want to," she said, with more tears. "Put me down,please; you do joggle me so. You'll be going back to school soon, and,now the grass is cut, I did so wa-wa-want to see the kite fly!"

  "So did I," said the boy ruefully. "But don't cry, Tiz dear. Tell mewhat to do. It makes me so miserable to see you cry."

  "Does it, Teddy?" she said, looking up wistfully in her brother's face,and then kissing him. "There, then: I won't cry any more."

  She had hardly spoken when the sunshine returned to her pretty littleface, for, though she did not know it, that sorrowful countenance hadquite softened Cook's heart, and she stood in the kitchen doorway,calling the young people and waving a steaming white basin, which sheset down on the window-sill with a bang.

  "Here's your paste, Master Ned," she shouted; and then, muttering toherself something about being such a "soft," she disappeared.

  Five minutes later the young folk were in the play-room and Ned wascovering the framework of his simply-made kite with white paper, Tizzyhelping and getting her little fingers pasty the while. Then a loop wasmade on the centre lath; the wet kite was found to balance well; wingswere made, and a long string with a marble tied in the thumb of a gloveattached to the end for a tail; the ball of new string taken off the topof the drawers, and the happy couple went off in high glee to fly thekite.

  "It's half-dry already," said Ned. "Paste soon dries in hot weather."

  "Do let me carry the string, Teddy," cried Tiz; and the next minute shewas stepping along with it proudly, while Ned, with his arm through theloop and the kite on his back, looked something like a Knight Crusaderwith a white shield.

  The grasshoppers and butterflies scattered; the paper dried rapidly inthe hot sun, as the kite lay on the grass while the string was fastened,Tizzy having the delightful task of rolling the ball along the grass tounwind enough for the first flight; and then, after Ned had thrown astray goose-feather to make sure which way the wind blew, this beingtowards the tall poplars, Tizzy was set to hold up the kite as high asshe could.

  "Mind and don't tread on its tail, Tiz," shouted Ned, as he ran off towhere the ball of spring lay on the grass.

  "No; it's stretched right out," she cried.

  "Ready?" shouted Ned.


  "Higher then. Now, off!"

  The string tightened as the boy ran off facing the wind, and, as if gladto be released, the kite seemed to pluck itself out of its holder'shands and darted aloft, the little girl clapping her hands with glee.For it was a good kite, Ned being a clever maker, of two summers'experience. Away it went, higher and higher, till there was no need forthe holder to run, and consequently he began to walk back towards Tizzy,unwinding more and more string till there was but little left, when thestring was placed in Tizzy's hands, and, breathless and flushed withexcitement, she held on, watching the soaring framework of paper, withits wings fluttering and its tail invisible all but the round knob atthe end, sailing about in the air.

  But alas! how short-lived are some of our pleasures! That fine twinewas badly made, or one part was damaged, for, just when poor Tizzy'slittle arm was being jerked by the kite in its efforts to escape and flyhigher, the string parted about half-way, and the kite learned that,like many animated creatures, it could not fly alone, for it went offbefore the wind, falling and falling most pitifully, with Ned going atfull speed after the flying string which trailed over the grass. Hecaught up to it at last, but too late, for it was just as the kiteplunged into the top of one of the highest trees by the river, and thereit stuck.

  Tizzy came crying up, while Ned jerked and tugged at the string till heknew that if he pulled harder the kite would be torn; but there itstuck, and Tizzy wept.

  "Oh," she cried, "and such a beautiful kite as it was!"

  "Don't you cry," said Ned, caressing her. "I'll soon get it again."

  "Oh, but you can't, Teddy!"

  "Can't I?" he cried, setting his teeth. "I'll soon show you. Hold thisstring."

  As his sister caught the string the boy dashed to the tree.

  "Oh, Teddy, don't; you'll fall--you'll fall!" cried Tizzy.

  "That I won't," he said stoutly. "I've climbed larger trees than thisat school."

  And, taking advantage of the rough places of the bark, the boy swarmedup to where the branches made the climbing less laborious, and then hewent on up and up, higher and higher, till the tree began to quiver andbend, and he shouted to his sister, breathlessly watching him, herlittle heart beating fast the while.

  She was not the only watcher, for another barge was coming along theriver, and, as it drew nearer, the boy on the horse stopped his steedand the man steering lay back to look up. And higher and higher wentNed, till the tree began to bend with his weight, and he laughingly gaveit an impetus to make it swing him when he was about six feet from wherethe kite hung upside down by its tangled tail, but happily untorn."Look out, Tiz!" shouted Ned.

  "Yes, yes, dear; but do take care."

  "All right," he cried. "I'm going to cut off his tail, and I shall saywhen. Then you pull the string and it will come down. Wo-ho!" hecried, as he tugged out his knife, for the tree bent and bent like afishing-rod, the spiny centre on which he was being now very thin.Then, steadying himself, he climbed the last six feet and hung overbackwards, holding up his legs and one hand, as he used his knife anddivided the string tail. "Pull, Tiz, pull!" he shouted, "Run!"

  Tizzy obeyed and the kite followed her.

  "Hoo-ray," shouted Ned, taking off his cap to give it a wave, when,crick! crack! the tree snapped twenty feet below him, and the nextmoment poor Ned was describing a curve in the air, for the wood and barkheld the lower part like a huge hinge, while Ned clung tightly for somemoments before he was flung outwards, to fall with a tremendous splash.

  Poor Tizzy heard the sharp snap of the tree and turned, to gaze inhorror at her brother's fall, uttering a wild shriek as she saw himdisappear in the sparkling water; and then in her childlike dread sheclosed her eyes tightly, stopped her ears, and ran blindly across themeadow, shrieking with all her little might and keeping her eyes fastclosed, till she found herself caught up and a shower of questions wereput.

  They were in vain at first, for the poor child was utterly dazed, hardlyrecognising the friendly arms which had caught her up, till those armsgave her a good shake.

  "Master Ned!--why don't you speak, child?--where's your brother?"

  "Oh," shrieked Tizzy, "the water--the water! Tumbled in."

  "Oh, my poor darling bairn!" cried Cook, hugging Tizzy to her, as sheran towards, the river. "I knew it--I knew it! I was always sure myown dear boy would be drowned."

  There was no ill-temper now, for Cook was sobbing hysterically as sheran, with the tears streaming down her cheeks, till she saw somethingtaking place on the river which seemed to take all the strength out ofher legs, for she dropped upon her knees now with her lips moving fast,but not a sound was heard.

  The next minute she was hurrying again to the river-bank, towards whicha man was thrusting the stern of the long narrow barge which had beenpassing with the heavy long boathook, which had been used to draw poorNed out of the water as soon as he had risen to the surface.

  Cook reached the bank with the child in her arms just at the same momentas the man, who leaped off the barge, carrying Ned, whose eyes wereclosed and head drooping over the man's shoulder.

  "Oh, my poor darling boy!" wailed Cook. "He's dead--he's dead!"

  "Not he, missus," cried the bargeman. "I hooked him out too sharp.Here, hold up, young master. Don't you cry, little missy; he's on'yswallowed more water than's good for him. Now then, perk up, my lad."

  Poor Ned's eyes opened at this, and he stared wildly at the man, then,as if utterly bewildered, at Cook, and lastly at Tizzy, who clungsobbing to him, where he had been laid on the grass, streaming withwater.

  "Tiz!" he cried faintly.

  "Teddy! Teddy!" she wailed. "Oh, don't die! What would poor Mammado?"

  "Die?" he said confusedly. "Why--what? Here," he cried, asrecollection came back with a rush, "oh, Tizzy, don't say you've lostthe kite!"

  "Lost the kite!" cried Cook, furiously now. "Oh, you wicked, wickedboy! What will your Mar say?"

  "As she was precious glad I was a-comin' by," said the man, grinning."There: don't scold the youngster, missus. It was all an accident,wasn't it, squire? But, I say, next time you climb a tree don't youtrust them poplars, for they're as brittle as sere-wood. There: you'reall right now, aren't you?"

  "Yes," said Ned. "Did you pull me out?"

  "To be sure I did."

  "Then there's a threepenny-piece for you," said Ned. "I haven't got anymore."

  "Then you put it back in your pocket, my lad, to buy something for yourlittle sis. I don't want to be paid for that."

  "You wait till his poor Mar comes home," cried Cook excitedly, "and I'msure she'll give you a bit of gold."

  "Nay," growled the man. "I've got bairns of my own. I don't want to bepaid. Yes, I do," he said quickly; "will you give me a kiss, littleone, for pulling brother out?"

  Tizzy's face lit up with smiles, as she held up her hands to be caughtup, and the next moment her little white face was pressed against abrown one, her arms closing round the bargeman's neck, as she kissed himagain and again.

  "Thank you, thank you, sir," she babbled. "It was so good of you, and Ilove you very, very much."

  "Hah!" sighed the man, as he set her down softly. "Now take brother'shand and run home with him to get some dry clothes. Morning, missus.He won't hurt."

  He turned away sharply and went back to his barge, from which he lookedat the little party running across the meadow, Cook sobbing and laughingas she held the children's hands tightly in her own.

  "And such a great, big, ugly man, ma'am," Cook said to her mistress,when she was telling all what had passed.

  The tears of thankfulness were standing in Mrs Lester's eyes, andseveral of them dropped like pearls, oddly enough, just as she wasthinking that the outsides of diamonds are sometimes very rough.