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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 21. A Real Rousing Fright
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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 21. A Real Rousing Fright Post by :Greg_Aldrich Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1980

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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 21. A Real Rousing Fright

CHAPTER XXI. A REAL ROUSING FRIGHT

Wonderful to relate, the holidays passed smoothly enough. Hughie was the sort of boy to be touched by Rosamund's words. No one had before appealed to him just in Rosamund's way. He found, too, considerable pleasure and interest on his own account at The Follies, for Lady Jane was singularly kind to him, and gave him a pony to ride, and he was permitted the rare indulgence of going with the gamekeeper into the woods to take his first lesson in partridge-shooting; but this came later on.

Meanwhile Miss Frost made a great effort to recover her self-control; but such an agony of jealousy had taken possession of the poor lady that she could scarcely bear to be in the society either of her pupil or her little sister. Irene exercised more and more influence over Agnes, and for a long time that influence was altogether for good. When the child asked simple questions Irene replied simply. She felt ashamed of her own want of knowledge on many particulars. She went regularly to church twice every Sunday because little Agnes thought that no living person could do otherwise. She did not at all want to go, and she trembled as much as ever when the choir sang, and when the place became hushed and people called themselves "miserable sinners," and looked so unconcerned and so well-dressed. But for the sake of Agnes she restrained herself, for Agnes' little, pale, calm face appeared not to think at all about the matter.

Nevertheless, it was scarcely possible that such a cloudless state of things could continue. As to Hughie, he and Irene were more or less neutral, neither speaking much to the other. They were both absolutely different, but both were absolutely without fear.

There came a day, however, when Irene took it into her wild little head that Hughie needed a lesson to be taught him.

"I know by his looks," she thought, "that he hates my loving Agnes so much."

Accordingly, she made up her mind to administer a lesson, and to make it as stiff a piece of terrorism as she could devise.

"He thinks he knows a great deal; but I'll teach him!" thought the girl.

Some of her old wicked spirit had come back to her. She had no longer any lessons to employ her time; she had no longer Rosamund's wholesome influence--Rosamund who was in Switzerland, and whose letters, delightful as they were, could not take the place of her constant presence.

The day was a sultry one toward the end of August. Miss Frost, pale and dejected, was seated in one of the arbors. She was doing some needlework, and little Agnes was sitting on a low stool at her sister's feet. Miss Frost looked up when Irene suddenly entered.

"I wonder," she said, "if you and Agnes would go to town for me after lunch? Mother says you may have the pony-trap and drive in. I want you to get"----

She produced a list of all sorts of materials, including a new doll for Agnes.

"I want Agnes to have a doll, and a cradle to put it in at night, and she shall make the clothes for it. Between you and me, we can show her how. Would you like it, Agnes darling?"

"Oh, shouldn't I just love it!" said little Agnes. "Fancy my being your baby, and then having a baby of my own! Oh, it seems altogether too beautiful! Isn't she sweet, Emily?"

Miss Frost looked with her nervous eyes at her pupil. Irene's own bright eyes looked back in reply. They were full of dancing mischief.

"Mothery will give you some money to buy the necessary things," she said. "I have spoken to her about it; indeed, she is going with you, and lunch is to be a quarter of an hour earlier."

"But would you--would you," said Miss Frost, who was trembling all over with delight at the thought of having her beloved little sister all to herself for a whole afternoon--"wouldn't you like to keep Agnes? I would buy the things for her."

She felt herself very noble as she made this remark.

"No," said Irene, shaking her head. "No; I want Agnes to choose her own doll. You can have a boy-dolly or a girl-dolly," she said, "just as you please. There is a beautiful shop at Dartford, in the High Street, where you can buy everything you want. It is called Millar's. You know all about it, don't you, Frosty? Now, there is the luncheon-bell."

The luncheon-bell sounded. Miss Frost, little Agnes, Irene, and the rest of the party all assembled in the cool dining-room.

Soon after lunch, Lady Jane, Agnes, and Miss Frost started for Dartford, and Irene turned and faced Hughie.

"Hughie," she said, "would you like to come for a row on the lake with me?"

"If you wish," he replied.

He had kept his promise to Rosamund so far. He had made no further inquiries with regard to Irene. He had tried, as he expressed it, to wash his hands of her. He did not like her. He felt that he never could like her. There was something to him repugnant about her. He had a kind of uncanny feeling that she was a sort of changeling; that she could do extraordinary, defiant, and marvelous things. Now, as she looked full up at him, trying to steady her face, and trying to look as like an ordinary girl as possible, he endeavored to conceal a queer sort of fear which stole suddenly over his heart. He remembered the old stories; the servants who shrank from her, the wild creatures that seemed to be her constant companions, and the tricks she was capable of playing on any one.

"I will go with you, of course," he said. "Do you want me to row?"

"No; I want you to sit in the stern and steer. Will you come? Just wait a minute. I'll be ready in no time."

She flew upstairs, and came down in the obnoxious red dress, which she had not worn for such a long time. It made a queer change in her, giving her a more elf-like appearance than usual.

"Why do you wear that? It isn't pretty," said Hughie.

"Never you mind whether it is pretty or not," retorted Irene.

"Well, I'll try not; but a fellow must make remarks. You know, you look ripping in your white dresses, and that silk thing you wear in the evening; but I don't like that."

"Don't you? Well, I do. Anyhow, I'm going to wear it to-day while we are having our fun on the lake. It's just a perfect day for the lake. Do you know, there's a storm coming on."

As Irene spoke she fixed her bright eyes on the sky. It was blue over the house; but in the distance, coming rapidly nearer and nearer, was a terrible black cloud--a cloud almost as black as ink--and already there were murmurs in the trees and cawings among the birds, the breeze growing stronger and stronger--the prelude to a great agitation of nature.

"I suppose we won't go on the lake to get drowned," said Hughie. "That is a thunder-cloud."

"Never mind; it will be all the greater fun. I am in my red dress, and you can put on any shabby clothes you happen to have. If you are going to be a counter-jumper you must have got some very shabby things."

"Why do you speak to me in that tone?" said Hughie.

"Oh, I don't know. I didn't mean anything. You can put on anything you like, and you needn't come if you don't want to; but I thought you were a plucky sort of chap."

"You may be quite sure I am. Of course I will come with you. Let us run down to the boat-house. Perhaps," continued Hughie, struggling with the promise he had made to Rosamund, "the storm may go off in another direction, and we sha'n't have it."

"I see you are awfully afraid of it, and it mayn't come here at all," said Irene, who knew perfectly well that it would, for the cloud was coming more and more in the direction of the house each moment.

In a very short time the two children were in the boat, Irene taking both the oars, and giving Hughie simple directions to steer straight for the stream in the middle of the lake.

"Now I will give him a real rousing fright," she said to herself. "After that perhaps he will be my slave, the same as Carter was. Anyhow, I have a crow to pluck with him; and the storm, and my knowledge of the water, and his absolute ignorance will enable me to win the day."

Aloud, she said in a gentle voice, "Perhaps you'd like to take the oars?"

"I will if you like," said Hughie; "but the fact is, I'm not very good at rowing. I have never been much in a boat."

"Ah! I thought as much. But I can teach you. Come and sit here."

They had just entered the stream, which made the lake dangerous even on a calm day. Hughie stumbled to his feet; Irene sat in the stern, took the ropes, and skillfully guided the boat into the centre of the stream. It began to rock tremendously.

"Now pull! Pull hard!" she said to the boy.

Just then a blinding flash of lightning came across their faces.

"Oh!" said Hughie, "the storm is on us. It will rain in a few minutes. Hadn't we better get back?"

"What a coward you are!" said Irene. "It is the most awful fun to be out on the lake in a storm like this. Ah! do you hear that growl?"

"But I can't manage the boat a bit."

"I thought all boys could manage boats. You don't expect a girl to do it--a girl out in the midst of a storm of this sort? Besides, I must put up my umbrella or I shall be soaked."

"But I told you it would rain. You shouldn't have come out," said Hughie, who felt more annoyed, distressed, and angry than he had ever felt in his life before. He felt that suddenly the boat was quite unmanageable, that it was rocking and racing and taking them he did not know where.

All of a sudden Irene sprang to her feet.

"Get back into the stern," she said. "Sit quite still, and let me take the oars. I wanted to see if you could row. I see you can't. There is another flash of lightning. Don't be frightened. I know you are; but try to keep it under. I have something to say to you."

She seated herself, and the two children faced each other. The flash of lightning was followed by a crashing peal of thunder. The trees bowed low to meet the gale; the frightened birds, the swans and others, took shelter where they could best find it; but as yet there was not a drop of rain.

"How hot it is!" said Irene. "Let us fly down the stream."

"What do you mean by that?" said Hughie, whose freckled face was deadly white.

"I will tell you if you like; but don't speak."

He looked at her with fascinated eyes. In her red dress, with her witch-like face and glancing, dancing, naughty eyes, she became to him for the moment an object of absolute terror. Was this the gentle and exceedingly pretty girl whom little Agnes so adored? He was alone with her, and they were, so to speak, flying through the water, although she scarcely touched the oars, allowing them to lie almost idle by her side.

Suddenly she shipped them and bent toward him.

"We needn't row any more," she said. "We are in the current. The current will take us. Hughie, can you swim?"

"I don't know anything about swimming," he said.

"Well, that is rather bad for you; for in about five minutes of this sort of thing we go right down the cascade at the end of the lake and among the breakers. The boat will be upset, and you will have to fight for your life, unless I choose to save you. I could save you, for I have perfect control of myself in the water."

"But you don't mean to say you are going to do anything of that sort! Can't we get into the calmer part of the lake? I don't understand you," said Hughie.

"But I understand you. You don't like me, and I don't like you. From the very first you have been disagreeable. I like your little sister, but you don't want me to like her."

"Well, I think you are a bit rough on old Em," was Hughie's remark.

"What a flash that was!" said Irene; and her eyes danced with cruel pleasure. "Ah! here comes the rain."

A terrific hail-shower drenched the two children as they sat within the rocking boat. For the first time in her life Irene was really slightly frightened. Had she dared too much? Even she might not be able to get the boat out of the current just at present; and if she did not, and they really got among the breakers and over the cascade in the present storm, it might be beyond her power to save Hughie. As to herself, she was not at all afraid. She felt she could swim through anything and over anything; but she was not certain that she could swim and support a boy so big and strong as Hughie.

Then there rose before her vision the face of Rosamund--Rosamund's face with its noble expression, its clear, steadfast, dark eyes--Rosamund with her ringing voice. Oh, what influence for good she had exercised over Irene's wild, worthless, almost terrible life, and yet she was disobeying all her precepts now, and frightening poor Hughie almost to death!

"I tell you what it is," she said in a husky voice; "we will both try to get out of this current if you will make me a promise."

"It seems to me that I am spending my whole life in making promises," said Hughie. "But I will make any promise if that will help you now. Oh, what a flash that was! I expect we shall both be struck by the lightning."

"I suppose that doesn't matter. I suppose you are not afraid to die, are you?"

"I haven't thought of it," said the boy. "People of fourteen don't think much about dying, do they? But I don't think I'd be specially afraid. It might be a sort of relief to poor old Em to have only one of us to keep. But for you there is your mother and little Agnes."

"Yes; I wouldn't like to die on account of little Agnes," replied Irene very gravely. "I love her just as though she were my own little child."

"Well, I am her brother. I suppose you ought to be pleasant to me because I happen to be her brother, and Emily happens to be her sister," retorted the lad.

"That is true enough. I will tell you why I did this. I brought you out into the current to test your courage. If I do nothing, if we both sit still as we are now, in all probability you will be drowned; but if you will exert yourself and help me with all your might and main, then I will respect you as a truly courageous person, and perhaps we'll be better friends than we have hitherto been."

"What do you want me to do? I will do anything," said the boy.

"Well, look here. I will take one oar and you take the other, and we must get out of this current whatever happens. As soon as we are out of it we are safe. Oh, never mind the lightning, and don't listen to the thunder."

"It almost blinds me," said Hughie, passing his hand across his eyes as he spoke, dazzled by the vividness of the ever-increasing storm. Irene gave him strict directions.

"You are strong," she said. "When you see me pull, you must pull, too, and you must be very quick, for the nearer we get to the cascade the swifter runs the current. On a calm day I could save you, there wouldn't be a bit of fear; but on a rough day, in a storm like this, I mightn't be able to manage it. Now then, a strong pull, and a pull all together!"

The boy obeyed her directions. Whatever she might have thought of him a minute ago, he was indeed no coward. He pulled with all his might and main. Irene did likewise, and in a few minutes' time they were out of the dangerous current, in smooth water. But it was a close shave, and the girl's hands trembled and for a minute she dropped her oar.

"Never mind," she said to Hughie.

"But you look as white as death, just as though you would faint. Did that last flash touch your hair? It seemed to me that it was almost hot on my cheeks."

"No, it wasn't that; and the storm is going off," said Irene. "Somehow I am ashamed of myself. I oughtn't to have been so mean."

"Please tell me."

"I have tested you, and you are brave. You are not a coward like poor Carter."

"Who is Carter?"

"A governess I once had. I took her on to the lake, and into the central current, and she was in such terror! I wanted her to go away, and I wouldn't get out of the current, however hard she implored. But I promised to save her when we got among the breakers if only she would go afterward. She promised, and I did save her, and she is all right now; and Frosty--your dear Emily, I mean--and she are the best of friends. And I am friendly with her, too. I have been much better lately--much better since dear Rosamund came--only somehow I felt that you defied me, and I wanted to test you. I have tested you, and I respect you, for you weren't really frightened that time, and you did row all right. What a strong arm you have! I wish I had an arm like that."

Hughie colored with absolute pleasure.

"You are a plucky un," he said; "but I didn't know that you really wanted to drown me."

"Of course I didn't want to drown you. I knew a storm was coming on, and that it would be very rough in the current to-day, and I wanted to test you; and you have proved worthy of the test, and we are in safe water now. The storm is dying away, too; and shall it be _pax_? Shall we be friends for the remainder of your stay at The Follies?"

"I think you are a splendid girl, although you are quite the queerest I ever came across," said the boy.

"And you are awfully plucky. Now, I tell you what it is. Mothery and I will do our best to make you a gentleman by and by. You won't be too proud if mother and I help Frosty--your Emily, as you call her--to make you into something better than a counter-jumper?"

"Would you indeed?" he asked, his eyes glowing, and the color coming into his cheeks. "You know, I always hated the thought of it, for my people were gentry. My mother was such a refined woman, something like sweet little Agnes, and it always cut me to the very heart to think that I was going down in the social scale."

"You sha'n't," said Irene. And now the pair, dripping wet, landed at the little landing-stage.

Hughie helped Irene to put the boat into the boat-house, and then they stood there together until the storm died away, and the rain had ceased, and the birds were singing once more. Then they silently shook hands each with the other, without uttering a word.

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