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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGirls Of The Forest - Chapter 20. Pen Victorious
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Girls Of The Forest - Chapter 20. Pen Victorious Post by :ni_rumi Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2518

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Girls Of The Forest - Chapter 20. Pen Victorious

CHAPTER XX. PEN VICTORIOUS

Penelope managed to reach home unattended. She was tired and draggled and dusty, and also very much scratched. Her sisters received her with whoops of astonishment and welcome. They had not missed her, it is true, but when they saw her coming sadly and sheepishly in at the wicket-gate they concluded that they had. Adelaide was the first to reach her.

"Don't ask me any questions and you'll hear no lies," was Pen's remark. She waved her fat hand as she spoke. "I am going to nursey straight away. I has something I wants to say to nursey. Has the post gone? I want to catch the post immediate."

"You are too queer for anything," said Adelaide; "but go your own way. You'll catch it for being out all by yourself in the woods."

"I won't catch it, but there are others who will," replied Penelope. "And now keep out of my way. I want to find nursey."

She marched in a most defiant and even queenly style towards the house; and the others, after laughing for a moment, returned to their various pursuits and forgot all about her.

When nurse saw Penelope she uttered a groan.

"There you come," she said. "You are a handful! You never turned up at dinner-time, although we looked for you everywhere. Now, where were you hiding?"

"Never mind that, nursey. Get out your writing 'terials."

"Now, whatever does the child mean? Sakes! you are scratched, and your nice new holland frock is all torn, and you are dusty and pale and trembling--as pale and trembling as can be."

"Is it pale I am?" cried Penelope. "Is it? Is it? Nursey, I love you, love you, love you!"

With a flop Penelope's fat arms were flung round nurse's neck; her hot little lips caressed nurse's cheeks.

"Oh," she cried, "how much I love you! Get writing 'terials quick. Get pen and ink and paper, and sit down and write. I will tell you what to say. You must write this instant minute. It is the most 'portant thing in all the world. Write, and be quick. If you don't I'll go to Betty, and she'll do what I want her to do."

"You needn't do that," cried nurse. "You are a queer child, and more trouble than you're worth, but when you are in a bit of a mess I'm not the one to refuse my aid. Who have I to write to?"

"To my darlingest Aunt Sophy."

"My word! What on earth have you got to say to her?"

"Get 'terials and you'll know."

Nurse complied somewhat unwillingly. She produced a portfolio, got out her ink-bottle and pen, dipped the pen in ink, and looked up at Penelope.

"Go on, and be quick," she said. "I can't be fashed with the whims of children. What is it that you want to say?"

"Write, 'Dear, darling Aunt Sophia.'"

"You are too queer!"

Nevertheless nurse put the words on the sheet of paper, and Pen proceeded to deliver herself quickly.

"'I am paled down, and want change of air. My breaf is too quick. My legs is all tored with briers and things. I has got a prickly feeling in my froat, and I gets wet as water all over my hands and round my neck and my forehead. It's 'cos I'm weak, I 'spect.'"

"Miss Penelope," said the nurse, "if those symptoms are correct, it is the doctor you want."

"'I has a doubly-up pain in my tum-tum,'" proceeded Penelope, taking no notice of nurse's interruption. "'I shrieks in my sleep. I wants change of air. I am very poorly. Nursey is writing this, and she knows I am very poorly. I feel sort of as though I could cry. It's not only my body, it's my mind. I has got a weight on my mind. It's a secret, and you ought to know. Send for me quick, 'cos I want change of air.

Pen.'"

"I never wrote a queerer letter," said nurse; "and from the looks of you there seems to be truth in it. You certainly don't look well."

"You will send it, nursey?" asked Pen, trembling with excitement.

"Yes, child; you have dictated it to me, and it shall go by the post. Whether Miss Tredgold will mind a word you say or not remains to be proved. Now leave me, and do for goodness' sake try not to run about wildly any more for to-day at least."

Penelope left the room. She stooped slightly as she walked, and she staggered a little. When she got near the door she coughed. As she reached the passage she coughed more loudly.

"It's my froat," she said in a very sad tone, and she crept down the passage, nurse watching her from the open door of the nursery.

She did not guess that when Penelope turned the last corner she gave a sudden whoop, leapt nearly a foot into the air, and then darted out of the house as fast as she could.

"I 'spect I's done it this time," thought Pen.

Meanwhile in the nursery, after a moment's reflection, nurse added a postscript of her own to Pen's letter.

"Miss Penelope is very queer, and don't look well at all."

That letter was put in the post, and in due time received by Miss Tredgold.

Penelope began to count the hours. She knew that no answer could come for some time after the letter was written. During the next day she went at intervals to visit Betty, and begged her for drinks of vinegar; and as she paid Betty by more and more presents out of Pauline's old bandbox, she found that individual quite amenable. After drinking the vinegar Penelope once again suffered from the "doubly-up pain in her tum-tum." She spoke of her agonies to the others, who pitied her a good deal, and Josephine even presented her with some very precious peppermints for the purpose of removing it. Towards evening she seemed better, and talked continually of the seaside and how she intended to enjoy herself there. And then she suggested that her sisters should come and help her to pack her things. The girls naturally asked why they were to do it, and she replied:

"'Cos I'm going on a journey, and it's most 'portant. None of you are going, but I am."

"You're not going on any journey," said Lucy. "You do talk rubbish."

"What you bet?" asked Penelope, who saw an instant opportunity of making a little money.

"Nothing," replied Lucy. "You are talking rubbish. Get out of my way. I'm very busy."

Pen looked wildly around her. She was in such a state of suppressed excitement that she could stop at nothing. Her sisters were all close at hand. Patty and Briar were sitting as usual almost in each other's pockets. Adelaide, Josephine, Lucy, and Helen made a group apart. Pen thought carefully.

"There's six of 'em," she said to herself. "I ought to make a little money by six of 'em. Look here!" she called out. "You all say I'm not going on a journey to-morrow; I say I am. Will you give me a penny each if I go? Is it done? Is it truly done? If I don't go I'll give you a penny each."

"But you haven't got any pence to give us."

"I will borrow from nursey. I know she'll lend me the money. But I shan't need it, for I am going. Will you give me a penny each if I go?"

"Oh, yes, if you want it," said Adelaide.

"But remember," continued Lucy, "we shall keep you to your part of the bargain if you don't go."

"All right," cried Pen; and, having received the promise, she walked sedately across the grass.

"Six pennies! I'll find them useful at the seaside," she thought. "There's nothing like having a little money of your own. It buys sweetmeats and cakes. I'll tell Aunt Sophy that my froat is so sore, and that I must have constant sweetmeats. Six pennies will get a lot."

She walked more slowly. She was in reality in excellent health; even the vinegar was not doing her much harm.

"How hungry I'll be when I get to the seaside!" she said to herself. "I'll swell out and get very red and very fat. My body will be 'normous. Oh, there's father!"

Mr. Dale was seated near his window. His head was bent as usual over his work.

"Father could give me something," thought Pen. "He could and he ought. I'll ask him. Dad!" she called.

Mr. Dale did not answer.

"Dad!" called Pen again.

He looked up with a fretful expression.

"Go away, my dear," he said. "I am particularly busy."

"I will if you'll give me sixpence."

"Go away."

Pen's father bent again over his book. He forgot Penelope.

"He's sure to give me sixpence if I worrit him long enough," thought the naughty little girl.

She stood close to the window. Suddenly it occurred to her that if she drew down the blind, which she could easily do by pushing her hand inside the window and then planting her fat little person on the window-sill, she would cause a shadow to come before the light on her father's page.

"That will make him look up," she thought. "When he does I'll ask him again for sixpence. I'll tell him I won't go away till I get it."

She sat down on the window-sill, cleverly manipulating the blind, and Mr. Dale found an unpleasant darkness steal over his page.

"Draw up that blind and go away, Penelope," he said. "Do you hear? Go away."

"I will 'mediately you give me sixpence. I will draw up the blind and I'll go away," said Pen.

"I will give you nothing. You are an extremely naughty little girl."

Penelope sat on. Mr. Dale tried to read in the darkening light. Presently he heard a sniff. The sniff grew louder.

"My froat," said Penelope.

He glanced towards her. She was sitting huddled up; her back looked very round.

"Do go away, child. What is wrong?"

"My froat. I want something to moisten it. It is so dry, it hurts me."

"Go and get a drink of water."

"Oh, my froat! Oh, my tum-tum! Oh, my froat!" said Penelope again.

Mr. Dale rose from his seat at last.

"I never was so worried in my life," he said. "What is it, child? Out with it. What is wrong?"

Penelope managed to raise eyes brimful of tears to his face.

"If you knowed that your own little girl was suffering from bad froat and doubly-up tum-tum, and that sixpence would make her well--quite, really, truly well--wouldn't you give it to her?" said Penelope.

"How can sixpence make you well? If you really have a sore throat and a pain we ought to send for the doctor."

"Sixpence is much cheaper than the doctor," said Penelope. "Sixpence will do it."

"How?"

"It will buy peppermints."

"Well, then, here it is, child. Take it and be off."

Penelope snatched it. Her face grew cheerful. She shot up the blind with a deft movement. She jumped from her seat on the window-ledge. She was no longer doubled up.

"Thank you, dad," she said. "Thank you--thank you."

She rushed away.

"I'll have another sixpence to-morrow," she thought. "That's a whole beautiful shilling. I will do fine when I am at the seaside."

Penelope could scarcely sleep that night. She got up early the next morning. She was determined to stand at the gate and watch for the postman. The letters usually arrived about eight o'clock. The postman hove in sight, and Pen rushed to meet him.

"Have you letters--a letter for me?" she asked.

"No, Miss Penelope, but there is one for your nurse."

"It is from Easterhaze," said the child. "Thank you--thank you, posty."

She snatched the first letter away from the old man and darted away with it. Into the nursery she rushed.

"Here it is, nursey. Open it, quick! I am to go; I know I am."

Nurse did open the letter. It was from Miss Tredgold, and it ran as follows:

"DEAR NURSE: Penelope is evidently too much for you. I intend to remain two or three days longer in this pleasant place, so do not expect me home next week. I shall have Penelope here, so send her to me by the first train that leaves Lyndhurst Road to-morrow. Take her to the station and put her into the charge of the guard. She had better travel first-class. If you see any nice, quiet-looking lady in the carriage, put Penelope into her charge. I enclose a postal order for expenses. Wire to me by what train to expect the child."

The letter ended with one or two more directions, but to these Pen scarcely listened. Her face was pale with joy. She had worked hard; she had plotted much; she had succeeded.

"I feel as though I'd like to be really quite good," was her first thought.

Nurse expected that she would be nearly mad with glee; but she left the nursery quietly. She went downstairs quietly. Her sisters were at breakfast. She entered the room and stood before them.

"Pennies, please," she said.

"What do you mean?" asked Briar, who was pouring out coffee.

"Pennies from all of you, quick."

Josephine put on a supercilious face; Lucy sniffed; Helen and Adelaide went on with their breakfast as though nothing had happened.

Penelope came a little nearer.

"Must I speak up?" she said. "Must I ask again? Is you all deaf? I am going to Easterhaze to Aunt Sophy. Darling aunty can't do without me. She has sent for me as she wants me so badly. I'm going by the first train. I am much the most 'portant person in the house, and I's won my bet. I like betting. A penny from you all if you please."

The girls were excited and amazed at Pen's news.

"You are clever," said Briar. "How in the world did you get her to do it?"

"Tum-tum and sore froat," said Penelope bluntly. "Oh! and vinegar and paling down."

"You are really such an incomprehensible child that I am glad Aunt Sophy is going to manage you," was Patty's remark. "Here are your pence. Shall we help you to pack your things?"

"They are a'most packed. I did some myself last night. I took your new little trunk, Briar. I don't 'uppose you'll mind."

Briar did mind, but she knew it was useless to expostulate.

By eleven o'clock Penelope was off to Lyndhurst Road station. By twelve o'clock she was in charge of a red-faced old lady. In five minutes' time she was _en route for Easterhaze. The old lady, whose name was Mrs. Hungerford, began by considering Pen a plain and ordinary child; but she soon had reason to change her views, for Pen was not exactly plain, and was certainly by no means ordinary. She stared fixedly at the old lady, having deliberately left her own seat and planted herself on the one opposite.

"Vinegar will do it," she said.

"What are you talking about, child?" asked Mrs. Hungerford.

"You are so red--such a deep red, I mean--much the same as chocolate. Vinegar will do it. Take three small glasses a day, and pay your Betty with vulgar sort of things out of an old bandbox."

"The unfortunate child is evidently insane," was Mrs. Hungerford's thought. She spoke, therefore, in a reassuring way, and tried to look as though she thought Pen's remarks the most natural in the world.

Pen, however, read through her.

"You don't believe me," she said. "Now you listen. I look a pale little girl, don't I? I am nearly eight years old. I don't see why a girl of eight is to be trampled on; does you? I wanted to go, and I am going. It's tum-tum-ache and sore froat and paling cheeks that has done it. If you want to get what you don't think you will get, remember my words. It's vinegar does it, but it gives you tum-ache awful."

The old lady could not help laughing.

"Now, I wonder," she said, opening a basket of peaches, "whether these will give tum-ache."

Penelope grinned; she showed a row of pearly teeth.

"Guess not," she said.

The old lady put the basket between Penelope and herself.

"I have also got sandwiches--very nice ones--and little cakes," she said. "Shall we two have lunch together, even if my face is like chocolate?"

"It's a beauty face, even if it is, and I love you," said Penelope. "I think you are quite 'licious. Don't you like to look like chocolate?"

The old lady made no answer. Penelope dived her fat hand into the basket of peaches and secured the largest and ripest.

"It is the best," she said. "Perhaps you ought to eat it."

"I think I ought, but if you don't agree with me you shall have it."

Penelope hesitated a moment.

"You wouldn't say that if you didn't mean me to eat it," she said. "Thank you."

She closed her teeth in the delicious fruit and enjoyed herself vastly. In short, by the time Mrs. Hungerford and her curious charge reached Easterhaze it seemed to them both that they had known each other all their days.

Miss Tredgold, Verena, and Pauline met the train. The girls looked rosy and sunburnt. This was an ideal moment for Penelope. She almost forgot Mrs. Hungerford in her delight at this meeting with her relatives. But suddenly at the last moment she remembered.

"How are you, Aunt Sophy? I am scrumptiously glad to see you. How are you, Verena? How are you, Paulie? Oh! please forgive me; I must say good-bye to the chocolate old lady."

And the chocolate old lady was hugged and kissed several times, and then Pen was at liberty to enjoy the delights of the seaside.

The lodgings where Miss Tredgold was staying were quite a mile from the station. Pen enjoyed her drive immensely. The look of the broad sea rolling on to the shore had a curious effect upon her strange nature. It touched her indescribably. It filled that scarcely awakened little soul of hers with longings. After all, it might be worth while to be good. She did not know why the sea made her long to be good; nevertheless it did. Her face became really pale.

"Are you tired, dear?" asked Miss Tredgold, noticing the curious look on the expressive little face.

"Oh, no, not that," replied Pen; "but I have never seen the sea before."

Miss Tredgold felt that she understood. Pauline also understood. Verena did not think about the matter. It was Verena's habit to take the sweets of life as they came, to be contented with her lot, to love beauty for its own sake, to keep a calm mind and a calm body through all circumstances. She had accepted the sea as a broad, beautiful fact in her life some weeks ago. She was not prepared for Pen's emotion, nor did she understand it. She kept saying to herself:

"Nurse is right after all; it was not mere fancy. Little Penelope is not well. A day or two on the sands in this glorious air will soon put her straight."

Pauline, however, thought that she did understand her little sister. For to Pauline, from the first day she had arrived at Easterhaze, the sea had seemed to cry to her in one incessant, reiterating voice:

"Come, wash and be clean. Come, lave yourself in me, and leave your naughtiness and your deceits and your black, black lies behind."

And Pauline felt, notwithstanding her present happiness and her long days of health and vigor and glee, that she was disobeying the sea, for she was not washing therein, nor getting herself clean in all that waste of water. The old cry awoke again in her heart with an almost cruel insistence.

"Come, wash and be clean," cried the sea.

"I declare, Pauline, you are looking almost as pale as your sister," said Miss Tredgold. "Well, here we are. Now, Pen," she added, turning to Penelope, "I hope you will enjoy yourself. I certainly did not intend to ask you to join us, but as nurse said you were not well, and as your own extremely funny letter seemed to express the same thing, I thought it best to ask you here."

"And you did quite right, Aunty Sophy," said Penelope.

Then the look of the sea faded from her eyes, and she became once again a suspicious, eager, somewhat deceitful little girl. Once again the subtle and naughty things of life took possession of her. At any cost she must keep herself to the front. At any cost she must assume the power which she longed for. She was no longer a nursery child. She had won her way about coming to the seaside; now she must go still further. She must become a person of the greatest moment to Aunt Sophia. Aunt Sophia held the keys of power; therefore Penelope determined to devote herself to her.

The lodgings were extremely cheerful. They were in a terrace overhanging the sea. From the big bay-windows of the drawing-room you could see the sunsets. There was a glorious sunset just beginning when Penelope walked to the window and looked out. Miss Tredgold had secured the best rooms in this very handsome house, and the best rooms consisted of a double drawing-room, the inner one of which was utilized as a dining-room; a large bedroom overhead in which Verena and Pauline slept; and a little room at the back which she used for herself, and in which now she had ordered a cot to be placed for Penelope.

Penelope was taken upstairs and shown the arrangements that had been made for her comfort. Her eyes sparkled with delight when she saw the little cot.

"There's no time like the night for telling things," she thought to herself. "Aunt Sophy can't get away from me at night. It's only to stay awake, perhaps to pertend to have a nightmare. Anyhow, night is the time to do what I have to do."

Being quite sure, therefore, that she would get her opportunity of talking to Aunt Sophia, she revived for the time being to enjoy herself. Her volatile spirits rose. She laughed and talked, and ate an enormous meal. After the sort of tea-dinner was over the three girls went out by themselves on the sands.

"You may stay out half-an-hour," said Miss Tredgold: "no longer, for Penelope has to go to bed. Afterwards I will take a walk with you two elder ones if you care to have me."

"Of course we care to have you, dear Aunt Sophy," said Verena in her gentlest tone; and then the three started off. Penelope, in honor of her recent arrival, was promoted to the place in the middle. She laid a hand on each sister's arm and swung herself along. People remarked the trio, and said to themselves what a remarkably fat, healthy-looking little girl the one in the middle was.

"Well, Pen," said Pauline as they approached the house, having discussed all sorts of subjects, "I can't see where the tum-ache and the sore throat and the pale cheeks come in."

"They're gone," said Penelope. "I knew the sea would cure 'em. I am quite perfect well. I am going to be quite perfect well while I am here. I love the sea; don't you?"

"Come, wash and be clean," whispered the sea to Pauline.

She was silent. Verena said, however, that she greatly liked the sea. They went back to the house. Penelope was escorted upstairs. Pauline helped her to undress, and presently she was tucked into her little bed.

"It seems a'most as if I wor still a nursery child," she said to her elder sister.

"Why so?" asked Pauline.

"Being sent to bed afore you and Renny. I am quite as old as you and Renny--in my mind, I mean."

"Don't talk nonsense," said Pauline almost crossly.

"Paulie," said Penelope, taking hold of her hand and pulling her towards her, "I went to see Nancy King t'other day."

"Why did you do that?" asked Pauline.

"Because I wanted to come to the sea, and there was no other way. Vinegar wouldn't do it, nor tum-aches, but I thought Nancy might."

"I don't know what you mean," said Pauline. "In what possible way could Nancy King have brought you here?"

"Only that I got so desperate after seeing her that I wrote that funny, funny letter, and nursey helped me; and now I'm here, and I think I can do what I like. You had best be friends with me now, for I can do just what I like."

Pauline felt just a little afraid. She knelt down by Pen.

"Tell me why you went," she said. "You know you disobeyed Aunt Sophy when you went."

"Yes; but what's one more in a family doing disobeying things?" answered Pen in her glib fashion. "But now listen. I will tell you."

She related her adventures with much glee--her walk through the woods, her arrival, the terrible way in which Lurcher had treated her, the kindness of the farmer, the proposed dinner, Nancy's manners. She was working up to the grand climax, to the moment when she should speak about the thimble.

"What do you think?" she said suddenly. "Nancy put me on a sofa, and I slept. I slept sound, and when I woke up I saw Nancy sitting by the window sewing. She wor making a blue scarf, and her thimble went flashing in and out; and what do you think, Paulie? What _do you think?"

"Well?" said Pauline.

"Pauline, dear, are you ready?" called a voice from below.

"I must go," said Pauline; "but tell me at once, Pen, what you mean."

"It was the thimble--the lost one," said Penelope--"the one with the dark-blue top and the light-blue stones round the rim, the goldy thimble which was Aunt Sophy's."

In spite of her efforts Pauline did find herself turning white.

"Pauline, dear, we can't wait any longer," said Miss Tredgold's voice.

"I must go," said Pauline. "Tell me afterwards."

"Whisper," said Penelope, pulling her hand. "I have got it. The deep-blue top and the light-blue stones and the goldy middle--I have it all. And I can tell Aunt Sophy, and show it, and I will if--if you don't tell me about----"

"About what?"

"About that time when three peoples walked across the lawn--the night after your birthday, I mean. Will you tell? I asked Briar, and she said she didn't know. She told a lie. Are you going to tell a lie, too? If you do I will---- Well, I won't say any more; only I have put it in the safest of places, and you will never find it. Now you can go down and go out with Aunt Sophy. Now you know, 'cos I've told you."

Pauline slowly left the room. She felt dazed. Once again Miss Tredgold called her. She ran to her washstand, filled her basin with cold water, and dipped her face into it. Then she ran downstairs. She found it difficult to analyze her own sensations, but it seemed to her that through her little sister's eyes she saw for the first time her own wickedness.

"To think that Pen could do it, and to think that I could be afraid of her!" she thought.

She went out and walked with her aunt and Verena, but the insistent voice of the sea, as with each swish of the waves it cried, "Come, wash and be clean," hit like a hammer on her brain.

"What is the matter with Pauline?" thought Verena.

"The child is tired; she is not quite well yet," was Miss Tredgold's mental reflection.

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