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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGirls Of The Forest - Chapter 21. The White Bay
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Girls Of The Forest - Chapter 21. The White Bay Post by :ni_rumi Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :749

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Girls Of The Forest - Chapter 21. The White Bay


Penelope did not repeat her threat, but she watched Pauline. Miss Tredgold also watched Pauline. Verena felt uncomfortable, without quite knowing why. The keen vigor and joy of the first days at the seaside had departed. Pauline became pale once more, and Miss Tredgold's anxieties about her were revived. The Dales were a healthy race, but one or two of the Tredgolds had died of consumption. Miss Tredgold remembered a young--very young--sister of her own who had reached Pauline's age, and then quite suddenly had become melancholy, and then slightly unwell, and then more unwell, until the fell scourge had seized her as its prey. She had died when between sixteen and seventeen. Miss Tredgold seemed to see her sister's face in Pauline's. She did not for a single moment accuse the child of any wrong-doing. She did not imagine that what ailed her could have to do with the mind. Nevertheless she was anxious about her. Miss Tredgold had a good deal of penetration, but she was not accustomed to children. She thought that children of Pen's age were more little animals than anything else. It did not occur to her that a small child like Pen could have a mind of a very extraordinary order, and that the mind of this child could work in a direction which might hurt others. She did not suppose such a terrible child could exist.

Pauline was therefore more or less a prey to the naughtiness of Pen, who used her as a weapon for her own enjoyment. Pen was quite determined to enjoy herself at the seaside. She would have her bucket and spade and make castles in the sand as long as ever she liked, and she would play with other children, and would make acquaintance with them. She insisted also on going very often to the shops to buy caramels or chocolates. In short, she was determined that during her brief stay at Easterhaze she would have as good a time as possible. It is quite on the cards that she would not have had so good a time as she did but for the agency of Pauline. Pauline, however, in spite of herself, sided with Pen. She almost hated Pen, but she sided with her. She used to throw her voice into the scale of Pen's desires, and Pen in consequence got pretty much what she wanted.

There came a day when two children, a boy and a girl of the name of Carver, ran up to Pen and asked her if she would join them in going round the next promontory and gathering shells in a wide bay on the other side, which was known as the White Bay. The way to this bay, except at low-water, was not very safe, as during high-tide the sea was apt to come up and cut off retreat. Pen, however, knew nothing about this. The moment she was asked to go it occurred to her that there could be no such delightful place as the White Bay anywhere else in the world. She knew well, however, that Miss Tredgold never allowed her to go fifty yards from the house on either side. She looked up. Pauline was walking along the upper walk. She had a story-book in her hand. She meant to reach one of the shelters and sit down there to read. Pen turned to the two Carvers and said that she must ask permission, but she would be with them in a minute. She then scrambled up the path and ran to Pauline's side.

"Pauline," she said, "I am going to the White Bay with the Carvers--those two children there--that boy and girl; you see 'em. We are going at once. They have got a basket of cakes, and we are going to gather shells and have a jolly time. We won't be back till one o'clock."

"But you can't go," said Pauline. She did not know of any danger in going; she only thought that Penelope meant to disobey Miss Tredgold. "Aunt Sophy is out, and she has not given you leave," she said. "You must stay where you are, Pen."

"But you can give me leave, Paulie, darling, can you not?"

"I can't do anything of the sort; you mustn't ask me."

Pen's eyes danced. The children on the sands called out to her.

"Be quick, little girl, or we'll be cotched. If nurse comes out she won't let us go. We can go if we start at once."

"Well, I'm off. You must give me leave, Paulie. If you don't I will----"

"Don't!" said Pauline, backing away from her sister. She felt a sort of terror when Penelope taunted her with her superior knowledge and the cruel use she meant to put it to.

"Go if you like," she said, in a white heat of passion. "You are the worry of my life."

Pen gave her a flashing, by no means good sort of glance, and then tore down the winding path which led to the sands. Pauline got up; she left her seat by the shore and went inland.

"I don't know how I am to bear it," she said to herself. "Pen has made me so wretched. I was hoping that nothing would be known. I was trying to forget, and I was making a lot of good resolves, and I am loving Aunt Sophy more and more each day. Why have I got such a dreadful little sister as Pen? She is like none of the rest. It seems almost incredible that I should be in the power of such a small child. Nevertheless I am in her power. I had no right to let her go to the White Bay; still, I told her to go, for I couldn't bear the agonies I should have to go through if I refused. Oh, I am wretched! Pen practically knows everything; so does Patty, and so does Briar. But they're safe enough; they won't betray me--they wouldn't for all the world. As to Pen, I don't know what she is made of. She will be a terrible woman by-and-by."

Pauline walked on until she heard Verena's voice. She then turned back.

"Aunt Sophy said we were to go up to the town to meet her," said Verena. "She's doing some shopping. She wants to get a new autumn hat for you, and another for me. Come along, Paulie. We are to be at Murray's in the High Street at eleven o'clock."

Pauline turned and walked soberly by her sister's side.

"Are you as tired as ever this morning, Paulie?" asked Verena.

"I am not tired at all," replied Pauline.

Verena considered for a minute.

"Aunt Sophy is often anxious about you," she said. "I can't imagine why, but she is. She says that she doesn't think you are at all strong."

"Oh, I am!" interrupted Pauline. "I wish she wouldn't worry about me. I wish you'd tell her not to worry. I am really as strong as any girl could be. Do tell her not to fret about me any more."

"Where is Pen?" said Verena suddenly.

Pauline did not speak.

"I suppose she is down on the beach as usual," said Verena again in a careless tone. "She's always down there. She is such a queer little mite!"

"Don't let's talk about her," said Pauline almost crossly.

The girls turned their conversation to other matters, and when they joined Miss Tredgold at Murray's shop they had both forgotten the existence of their little sister Penelope.

Meanwhile that young person was having a good time. Having gained her wish, she was in excellent spirits, and was determined to make herself extremely agreeable to the Carvers. She thought them quite nice children. They were different from the children at home. They had lived almost all their lives in London. They told Pen a good many stories about London. It was the only place worth living in, Harry Carver said. When you went out there you always turned your steps in the direction of the Zoo. Pen asked what the Zoo was. Harry Carver gave her a glance of amazement.

"Why, it's chock-full of wild beasts," he said.

Pen thought this a most exciting description. Her cheeks paled; her eyes grew big. She clasped hold of Harry's arm and said in a trembling voice:

"Are you joking, or do you mean real lions and bears and tigers?"

"I mean real lions and bears and tigers," said Harry. "Oh, if you only heard the lions roar! We see them fed, too. It is fun to hear them growling when they get their meat; and the way they lick it--oh, it's most exciting!"

"So it is," said Nellie Carver. "It's awful fun to go to the Zoo."

"You must be very courageous," said Pen, who did not know that the wild beasts were confined in cages.

Neither Eleanor nor Harry Carver thought it worth while to enlighten Pen with regard to this particular; on the contrary, they determined to keep it to themselves. It was nice to have a little girl like Pen looking at them with awe.

"It isn't everybody who can go to the Zoo," proceeded Harry. "There are people that the wild beasts don't ever care to touch. Nellie and I are that sort; we're made that way. We walk about amongst them; we stroke them and pet them. I often sit on the neck of a lion, and quite enjoy myself."

"My pet beast for a ride is a panther," said Nellie, her eyes sparkling with fun at her own delicious ideas; "but most children can never ride on lions and panthers."

"I don't believe you ride on them," said Pen. "You don't look half brave enough for that."

"Why don't you think us brave?" asked Harry. "You are not a nice girl when you talk in that way. You wouldn't even be brave enough to ride on the elephants. Oh, it's very jolly for the real brave people when they go to the Zoo."

"And is that the only place to go to in London?" asked Pen.

As she spoke she quickened her steps, for the children were now crossing the extreme end of the promontory round which was the celebrated White Bay.

"There are other places. There's the British Museum, full of books. There are miles and miles of books in London, and miles and miles of pictures."

"What an awful place!" said Pen, who had no love for either books or pictures. "Don't tell me any more about it. Go on ascribing the wild animals. Is there serpents at the Zoo?"

"Tons of 'em. When they have gorged a rabbit or a lamb or a girl whole, they lie down and sleep for about a week."

"They don't gorge girls!"

"They think nothing of it; that is, if the girl is the sort of child they don't like."

"I won't go," said Pen. "I am not the sort of child the wild beasts would love. I think maybe I might be crunched up by the lions. I shan't go."

"Well, no one asked you," said Harry. "You are quite certain to be eaten, so you had best stay away."

"Why do you say that?"

Harry glanced at his sister. Nellie laughed. Harry laughed also.

"Why do you talk in that way, you horrid boy?" said Pen, stamping her foot. "What do you mean?"

"I'll tell you, only you need not try to kill me with your eyes. The wild beasts only like good uns. You ain't good. The wild beasts would soon find that out."

For some extraordinary reason Pen found herself turning pale. She had a moment of actual fear. At this instant she would have resigned the thimble--the golden thimble, with its sapphire top and turquoise rim--to the safe keeping of Pauline. For if Pauline had the thimble Pen would have very little to say against her. As long as she possessed the thimble she felt that Pauline was in her power. She liked the sensation, and she was honest enough to own as much.

The conversation was now quickly turned. The children found plenty of shells in the White Bay. Soon they were sitting on the sands picking them up and enjoying themselves as only children can.

"So," said Pen, pushing back her hat and fixing her eyes on Harry's face, "you comed here without leave?"

"Of course we did," said Harry. "Won't nurse be in a state when she finds we've gone! She will rush up and down in front of the house and cry, for father and mother have gone away for the whole day, and nurse is in sole charge. Oh, won't she be in a state! She went off to walk with her young man, and we thought we'd play a joke on her, for she's often told us not to come here. 'If you go near that White Bay,' she said, 'you will be drowned as sure as sure.' She daren't tell father and mother because of her young man. Isn't it fun?"

"Yes," said Penelope, "it's prime fun; but isn't this fun, too? You won't be able to go to that Zoo place any more."

"Now what do you mean?"

"Why, this: the animals will eat you up. You are bad, same as me. You two won't be able to go to any more Zoos;" and Pen rolled round and round in fiendish delight.

The other children looked at her with anything but approval.

"I don't like her," whispered Nellie to her brother.

"Of course you don't like bad little girls," replied Harry. "Let's run away at once and leave her. Let's."

They scrambled to their feet. To love a new playmate and yet without an instant's warning to desert her was quite in accordance with their childish ideas. In a moment they were running as fast as their legs would permit across the sands. The tide had been coming in fast for some time.

For a moment Pen sat almost petrified; then she rushed after them. She was wild with passion; she had never been so angry in all her life. There were many times when the other children at The Dales treated her with scant courtesy, but to be suddenly deserted in this fashion by strange children was more than she could endure.

"Oh, how bad you have got! You are so bad--so dreadfully, horribly bad--that the tide is certain to come in and drown you up," she cried. "You can't go away from me; you can't. Oh, see! it has comed;" and Pen danced up and down and clapped her hands in triumph.

She was right. She had gained a complete victory. Just at the extreme end of the promontory a gentle wave, peaceful, pretty, and graceful, curled up against the solid rock. It had scarcely retired in bashful innocence when another wave tumbled after it. They looked like charming playfellows. Then came a third, then a fourth and a fifth. Faster and faster they rolled in, flowing up the white sands and making a white foam round the rock.

The little Carvers stood still, transfixed with a curious mingling of delight, excitement, and horror. Pen ceased to jump up and down. Presently she ceased to laugh. She was only a very small girl, and did not in the least realize her danger; nevertheless, as she used her eyes to good purpose, and as she quickly perceived that the opposite side of the bay was now shut away by a great body of water, it did occur to her that they would have to stay in their present shelter for some time. Harry turned round slowly. Harry was ten years old, and he understood. He had heard his father talk of the dangerous White Bay. He went straight up to Pen, and, taking her hand, burst out crying.

"It don't matter," he said--"it don't matter whether we are good or whether we are bad. We can none of us ever go to the Zoo again. Nellie and I won't ever go any more, and you can never go at all."

"What do you mean?" asked Pen.

Her heart began to beat fast and loud.

"What do you mean? Oh, you dreadful bad----"

"Don't call names," said Harry. "You will be sorry by-and-by; and by-and-by comes soon. We have got to be drowned, all three of us."

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