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Two Rough Stones by George Manville Fenn

 

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

There was doubt about the matter, though. Cook had a most fiery temper when she was busy, and when that morning Ned went with Tizzy—so called because she was christened Lizzie—and found Cook in her private premises—the back kitchen—peeling onions, with a piece of bread stuck at the end of the knife to keep the onion-juice from making her cry, and asked her to make him a small basin of paste, her kitchen majesty uttered a loud snort.

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

“They aren't long,” said Ned, indignant at the idea of holidays being too long for a boy of eleven.

“Don't you contradict, sir, or I'll just tell your Mar; and the sooner you'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 some paste!” but she was not peeling onions, and had no knife with a piece of bread-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 on my 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 while he played the restive steed, and raised Cook's ire to red-hot point by purposely kicking one of the Windsor chairs, making it scroop on the beautifully-white floor of the front kitchen, and making the queen of the domain rush out at him, looking red-eyed and ferocious, for the onion-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 gate into the meadow, across which he now galloped straight for the new haystack, for only a week before that meadow had been forbidden ground and full of long, waving, flowery strands.

The grasshoppers darted right and left from the brown patches where the scythes had left their marks; the butterflies fled in their butterfly fashion.

So did a party of newly-fledged sparrowkins, and, still playing the pony, Ned kept on, drawing his sister's attention to the various objects, as he made for the long row of Lombardy poplars which grew so tall 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 even the long red-and-yellow monkey barge gliding along the river, steered by a woman in a print hood, and drawn by a drowsy-looking grey horse at the end of a long tow-rope, bearing a whistling boy seated sidewise on his back and a dishcover-like pail hanging from his collar.

“Oh, I say, don't cry, Tizzy,” protested Ned, at last, as he felt the hot tears trickling inside his white collar.

“I can't help it, Teddy,” she sobbed. “I did so want to see the kite fly!”

“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 me what 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 little face, for, though she did not know it, that sorrowful countenance had quite softened Cook's heart, and she stood in the kitchen doorway, calling the young people and waving a steaming white basin, which she set down on the window-sill with a bang.

“Here's your paste, Master Ned,” she shouted; and then, muttering to herself something about being such a “soft,” she disappeared.

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

“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 she was stepping along with it proudly, while Ned, with his arm through the loop and the kite on his back, looked something like a Knight Crusader with a white shield.

The grasshoppers and butterflies scattered; the paper dried rapidly in the 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 to unwind enough for the first flight; and then, after Ned had thrown a stray goose-feather to make sure which way the wind blew, this being towards the tall poplars, Tizzy was set to hold up the kite as high as she could.

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

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

“Ready?” shouted Ned.

“Yes.”

“Higher then. Now, off!”

The string tightened as the boy ran off facing the wind, and, as if glad to be released, the kite seemed to pluck itself out of its holder's hands 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 for the holder to run, and consequently he began to walk back towards Tizzy, unwinding more and more string till there was but little left, when the string was placed in Tizzy's hands, and, breathless and flushed with excitement, she held on, watching the soaring framework of paper, with its wings fluttering and its tail invisible all but the round knob at the end, sailing about in the air.

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

Tizzy came crying up, while Ned jerked and tugged at the string till he knew that if he pulled harder the kite would be torn; but there it stuck, 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 this string.”

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 this at school.”

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

She was not the only watcher, for another barge was coming along the river, and, as it drew nearer, the boy on the horse stopped his steed and the man steering lay back to look up. And higher and higher went Ned, till the tree began to bend with his weight, and he laughingly gave it an impetus to make it swing him when he was about six feet from where the 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 say when. Then you pull the string and it will come down. Wo-ho!” he cried, as he tugged out his knife, for the tree bent and bent like a fishing-rod, the spiny centre on which he was being now very thin. Then, steadying himself, he climbed the last six feet and hung over backwards, holding up his legs and one hand, as he used his knife and divided 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 next moment poor Ned was describing a curve in the air, for the wood and bark held the lower part like a huge hinge, while Ned clung tightly for some moments before he was flung outwards, to fall with a tremendous splash.

Poor Tizzy heard the sharp snap of the tree and turned, to gaze in horror at her brother's fall, uttering a wild shriek as she saw him disappear in the sparkling water; and then in her childlike dread she closed her eyes tightly, stopped her ears, and ran blindly across the meadow, shrieking with all her little might and keeping her eyes fast closed, till she found herself caught up and a shower of questions were put.

They were in vain at first, for the poor child was utterly dazed, hardly recognising the friendly arms which had caught her up, till those arms gave 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 she ran towards, the river. “I knew it—I knew it! I was always sure my own dear boy would be drowned.”

There was no ill-temper now, for Cook was sobbing hysterically as she ran, with the tears streaming down her cheeks, till she saw something taking place on the river which seemed to take all the strength out of her 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 which a man was thrusting the stern of the long narrow barge which had been passing with the heavy long boathook, which had been used to draw poor Ned 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 moment as the man, who leaped off the barge, carrying Ned, whose eyes were closed 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'y swallowed 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 clung sobbing to him, where he had been laid on the grass, streaming with water.

“Tiz!” he cried faintly.

“Teddy! Teddy!” she wailed. “Oh, don't die! What would poor Mamma do?”

“Die?” he said confusedly. “Why—what? Here,” he cried, as recollection came back with a rush, “oh, Tizzy, don't say you've lost the kite!”

“Lost the kite!” cried Cook, furiously now. “Oh, you wicked, wicked boy! 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 you trust them poplars, for they're as brittle as sere-wood. There: you're all 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 any more.”

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

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

“Nay,” growled the man. “I've got bairns of my own. I don't want to be paid. Yes, I do,” he said quickly; “will you give me a kiss, little one, for pulling brother out?”

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

“Thank you, thank you, sir,” she babbled. “It was so good of you, and I love you very, very much.”

“Hah!” sighed the man, as he set her down softly. “Now take brother's hand 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 looked at the little party running across the meadow, Cook sobbing and laughing as 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, and several of them dropped like pearls, oddly enough, just as she was thinking that the outsides of diamonds are sometimes very rough.

 
 
 

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