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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesRed Rose And Tiger Lily - Chapter 9. "I Broke My Word," Said Annie
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Red Rose And Tiger Lily - Chapter 9. 'I Broke My Word,' Said Annie Post by :Suzanne_Knight Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1337

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Red Rose And Tiger Lily - Chapter 9. "I Broke My Word," Said Annie

CHAPTER IX. "I BROKE MY WORD," SAID ANNIE

In utter ignorance of the tragic events which were happening in Friar's Wood, Annie Forest and her two little companions were having a gay time at the Towers. Annie's old passion for children had not deserted her. She was often heard to say that she was happier with a frank, original child than she was with most grown people. Boris was certainly frank; Nell was certainly original. Annie's beauty and brightness had won Boris's heart from the moment of her arrival; Nell's affections went out to her also, but for a different reason. Nell lived in a world of romance, and Annie's conduct in giving up her own pleasure had seemed to Nell to fit in with her fairy tales and other story-books. The three were, therefore, supremely happy during that long afternoon. The picnic behind the laurustinus hedge being quite a thing of the past, they proceeded to explore the tower, the old ruined chapel, where services used to be held morning and night more than three hundred years ago, the dungeon under the chapel, and all the other places of historic interest. Then the children's gardens were visited; and, finally, Annie was persuaded to seat herself in the swing and be sent up into space as high as Boris's and Nell's united efforts could accomplish. In their turn they were swung by Annie; and then followed tea in the play-room, where Nell presided, sitting solemnly in front of the dolls' tea-service and helping Annie and Boris and herself to unlimited weak tea, with heaps of cream.

The heat of the day was over at last, a perfect summer's evening had set in.

"When are they all likely to be back?" asked Annie.

"Not until night, dark night," said Boris with a little sigh.

"What are you sighing for?" asked Annie. "You look quite sad, and I don't like you sad; I like you with your eyes smiling and your face puckered up with laughter. Nell looks pale and sad, too. What is it Nell? what is it Boris?"

"I'd like to be at the picnic now," said Boris, "I didn't mind it in the daytime when it was so hot; but now they're lighting another bonfire and they're going to have tea, and after tea Guy will tell stories."

"All about bogies," struck up Nell; "yes, I wish I were there."

Annie looked at them both reflectively. She never cared to be with children unless she could succeed in making them almost boisterously happy.

"But it doesn't matter a bit," said Nell, seeing the shadow cross her face; "I shouldn't be very happy in any case to-night."

"Why?" said Annie.

"I'd rather not say, please. You have been good to us; you have helped us to have a beautiful day; we are grateful to you, aren't we, Boris?"

"We love her," said Boris.

"You are two darlings," said Annie. "Well, now, suppose we have a bit of fun on our own account. How far is it from here to the Grange?"

"By the road, three miles," said Boris; "but across the fields, only a mile and a half."

"We'll go to the Grange across the fields," said Annie. "I heard Hester say this morning that she was going to try and induce you all to come back to the Grange to supper, so we three will join the rest of the party at supper, and if we start at once well be ready to welcome them when they arrive."

"What a spiffin' plan," said Boris; "do let's start at once."

Nell clapped her hands.

"Now I've made you happy again, that's all right," said Annie. She took a hand of each child, and they started on their pleasant walk. Boris was very messy and untidy, his face was stained with fruit and his hands were dirty. Nell's blue cotton frock was also considerably out at the gathers round the waist, but the children did not give a thought to their clothes or personal appearance in the sudden rapture with which they hailed Annie's suggestion.

The walk across the fields in the sweet freshness of the summer's evening was all that was delightful, and in an incredibly short space of time, the three found themselves at the other side of the turnstile which led into the grounds of the Grange.

"We'll be there long before the others," said Boris. "Suppose we light a great bonfire on the lawn to welcome them." But even wild Annie did not see the propriety of this suggestion.

"No, we won't do that," she said. "If the Grange were our own place we would. We'll just go and sit on the terrace and watch for them."

"Won't Kitty jump when she sees us?" said Boris, a look of satisfaction radiating all over his face. "She'll see that we have had our lark as well as the rest of them; oh, I call it real spiffin' fine."

They were walking rapidly through the shrubbery now, and as Boris finished his speech they came out on the broad sweep in front of the house.

Just before the entrance a brougham was standing, and instead of solitude they found themselves surrounded by familiar figures.

Kitty was the first to observe them. She gave a stifled sort of scream, and pushing aside Boris, who was prepared to rush into her arms, came up to Annie, took one of her hands, and looked into her face.

"I kept the secret true as true," she said; "but it almost killed me, and it has nearly quite killed Nora." Her poor little voice broke with these last words, and she burst into the frantic sobs which she had bravely kept back until now.

"What in the world is the matter?" said Annie, kneeling down and putting her arm round the excited child.

"Why, that's Dr. Jervis's carriage," shouted Boris. "What can be up?"

"Why are you back so early from the picnic?" asked Nell.

But Kitty sobbed on unable to reply.

She felt the comfort of Annie's arms round her, and presently she laid her hot, flushed, little face on Annie's neck and wetted her frill with her plentiful tears, but no information could be got at present from poor Kitty's lips.

"There's Molly, and there's Hester," exclaimed Boris, "they'll tell us; oh, and there's Nan, too. Hullo Nan, come here and tell us what the rumpus is about."

Nan rushed up excitedly.

"Nora is nearly killed," she said; "she fell from a tree over twenty feet from the ground, and her back is hurt awfully, and Hester said she'd better come here, and she's lying in the library and Dr. Jervis is there. I haven't the faintest idea how it happened," continued Nan; "only it seems to be your fault, Annie; it seems to have something to do with you and a secret, only Kitty won't tell."

Kitty ceased to cry; she raised her face and looked at Annie. Annie struggled to her feet.

She was about to reply to Nan when Hester came up and spoke to her.

"Oh, Annie," she said, "where have you been all day? We have been dreadfully anxious about you; and poor Nora has been hurt, and Kitty seems in trouble of some sort, and says that she won't tell her secret. What can it all mean?"

"Well, really!" said Annie. She paused a minute; the rich colour mantled her cheeks; her bright eyes seemed to flash fire.

"I'm awfully sorry about Nora," she said; "but I fail to see how I am to blame. From your manner, Nan, and yours, Hester, I seem to be accused of something. What is it, pray?"

"Oh, it's nothing, indeed," said Molly, who had come up now and joined Hester. "What does it matter, Hetty, when we are all so awfully wretched? Poor Annie did not mean anything. Do let her alone!"

"I did not mean anything?" echoed Annie. "I'm afraid I can't allow myself to be let alone. I must find out what I'm accused of. Kitty, you say you kept my secret safely. Speak now and tell everybody."

"I can't stay to listen," said Molly, turning away; "it's too--too trivial!"

Hester and Nan, however, still stood facing Annie, and the boys, Guy and Harry, also came and joined the group.

"Speak, Kitty," said Annie.

"You were kind," said Kitty; "it's wicked to say you weren't kind. You found out that Boris hadn't come to the picnic, and you said you'd go back for him; you'd walk back all in the heat, and you didn't mind the bull, nor the bull-dog, nor--nor--anything; and you said I wasn't to tell, and 'twould be a surprise when you came back with Boris and, perhaps, Nell, too--and I promised. Then we had dinner, and you weren't there, and everybody asked for you and everybody wondered where you could be; but Hester said you were a sort of 'centric girl, and that you was grown up and we needn't fret; and Nan said you was nothing if you wasn't unexpected; so nobody fretted, and I kept my secret locked up tight. But Nora wanted you more than the others, and she saw my lips shut tight and my eyes watching for you through the trees, and she guessed I had a secret; and I said I had, but I wouldn't tell; and she said she'd take me to mother, and that mother would make me tell, and so I climbed up into the beech-tree to get away from her; and I was naughty and cross, and she was naughty and cross, too, and she followed me up into the beech-tree, and I got out upon a rotten bough, where I thought she'd be sure not to come; but she did come, cause I was real naughty and I taunted her; and the bough broke and she fell, but I didn't fall 'cause I caught on to a bough higher up. It's been dreadful ever since," continued Kitty, pressing her hands tightly together. "Worse than when I forgot to give water to Harry's canary and it died, and worse than when I pulled up all Guy's canariensis in mistake for weeds; its been awful, but I did keep the secret."

"Is that all?" said Annie.

"Yes, that's all," replied Kitty. "I did keep the secret."

"I understand," said Annie. "I should have come back, of course. I did not remember that I might get you into trouble, Kitty; it did not occur to me that you were the plucky sort of child you are."

"Plucky?" echoed Guy with some scorn. "I don't call it plucky to be just decently _honourable_. We don't tell lies. Kitty would have told a lie if she had broken her word."

"And I promised to come back, and I broke my word," said Annie. "Yes, I fully understand; it's just like me."

She turned away as she spoke, and, plunging into the shrubbery, was lost to view.

"Leave her alone, children," said Hester to the astonished children, who were preparing to follow her. "I knew it would cut her to the heart, but it can't be helped. She'll be all right by-and-by, but she can't stand any of you now; you must leave her alone."

Boris came up to Kitty, put his arms round her neck, and kissed her. His kiss was of the deepest consolation to her; she walked away with him slowly, and Nell took Hester's hand. Nell's face was like a little white sheet; she was trembling in her agitation.

"Oh, what is the matter?" she gasped. "Is Nonie awfully hurt? Is it dangerous? Oh, Hetty, it's worse than the colts! Oh, I felt bad this morning, but it was nothing to this--nothing! May I stay with you for the present, Hetty?"

"Yes, darling," said Hester in her kindest voice. "Come into the house with me. We are all very anxious until we get the doctor's opinion. Your father and mother are both with Nora; and Dr. Jervis is there and Jane. Everything is being done that can be done, and we know nothing at present. Come, Nell, we must be brave--and here is Molly; she is just as anxious as you."

Nell looked at Molly, who was standing in the porch; she flew to her eldest sister's side, clasped her arms round her neck, and shed a few of those silent, rare tears which only came to her now and then, for Nell was no ordinary child, and rarely showed her deepest feelings.

"I don't know how I'm to live through this suspense," said poor Molly.

But even as she spoke it came to an end.

Mr. Lorrimer came out of the study, closing the door softly behind him. He strode quickly through the hall, and entered the porch where the three girls were standing. Molly stepped forward quickly and seized his arm.

"Well?" she asked.

He gave her a quick look; his face was very pale, and a sudden contraction of pain flitted across his brow.

"Well, my loves," he said, "we must all try to be as cheerful as we can and not break down; there isn't a bit of use in breaking down."

"But how is she, father?" asked Molly. "What does Dr. Jervis say?"

"He says, Molly, that poor Nora is very seriously hurt; but it is impossible to form a reliable opinion on her case so soon. He wishes us to get Dr. Bentinck from London to see her, and I am going to drive to Nortonbury to telegraph to him to come at once. Now, don't keep me, my dears. By the way, Molly, mother says you had better take the children home as soon as ever you can."

"Oh, may I not stay?" asked Molly.

"No, my dear, I think not; there must be some head at home. Jane Macalister will stay and help your mother to-night until we can get the services of a proper nurse. Take the children back as soon as you can, Molly. God bless you, my love."

The Squire stepped into the doctor's brougham and was driven rapidly away. Molly raised her hand to her forehead.

"I feel stunned," she said. "Nora was the gayest and the brightest and the prettiest of us all. Nothing ever seemed to happen to Nora, and now she is so ill that I may not even see her."

"She will be better to-morrow, I am sure," said Hester.

"Oh, Hetty, if I could only stay here," cried poor Molly.

"I wish you could, Molly, with all my heart."

"We'll know nothing of how she's getting on at the Towers," continued Molly. "I think it will drive me mad not to know."

"I'll come over very early in the morning and tell you, and perhaps something may be arranged to-morrow so that you can stay here."

"I might stay instead of Jane. I know I could help mother far better than Jane can. But there, I suppose I must have patience. Come, Nell."

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