perjantai 8. tammikuuta 2016

Chapter Seven: Weakness of the London Boy

Louisa’s face got better soon. On the Sunday she was just resting, but on Monday morning she was already clipping paper dolls for Ethel. And when her nose was in showable condition again, Laura arranged The Great Peace Picnic on the summer stones. Geordie Kerr came over and made a solemn peace treaty with Tom, though none of them did not forget the quarrel too soon.

The life at Five Cherry Trees went on. Laura had to sew hard, but a letter came from Angus MacDonald, and this was delight of the house for weeks. Tom made friends with the village boys and worked busy at the house — he enjoyed even getting dirty during the gardening, because “Mother always tells me not to get dirty and now I’m allowed to”.

But in a rainy June afternoon Aunt Maggie found Tom at the parlour window looking the raindrops splashing against the glass. The girls were up on the garret playing Summernight’s Dream.

“What are you doing here, young man?” Aunt Maggie asked friendly. “I thought you are with the lassies.”

“I — I just feel like being alone.”

“You don’t seem alone but lonely, if you ask me.” Aunt Maggie sat on a chair by Tom. “Troubles?”

“Not exactly.”

“Angus always told me that when he’d done something terrible as a boy. Now, what’s it?”

Tom gave a deep, desperate sigh.

“Just that — that I feel like a baby with the other fellows!”

“What do you mean? The boys of the village like you, I guess, and I’ve heard you have marvellous time together.”

“That’s true, but…” Tom turned to Aunt Maggie. “I’m still so weak after the illness — I can play and run and climb and swim as the others do, but I get tired all too soon, and if I run a long way I have to gasp, and if I hurt myself in a play I cannot help crying… The boys never say anything, but I just know they think I’m a London crybaby!”

“Crybaby fiddlesticks”, said Aunt Maggie. “Haven’t you told them you’ve been ill?”

“They know that. But yesterday I really got out of my breath after a race and had to lie down and gasp — and Donald MacGregor said, he didn’t mean I’d hear it, but he whispered so loudly — he said, ‘such an old woman he is. I’ve been ill three times and every time I was okay on a week!’ It — it just hurts, Aunty!”

“The MacGregors have always been fools”, muttered Aunt Maggie. “Well now, lad-o-mine, let’s talk it over. At the first place — we Scots think far too much of ourselves. We are excellent people, but you are half-a-Scot and as good as any of us. And what comes to Donald’s illnesses, his mother told me once that he only had cried and moaned all the time, when he had just toothache!”

“But the others… I can’t ever be as firm and healthy as they are!”

“They are country boys”, comforted Aunt Maggie. “Born and grown up in the countryside, breathed fresh country air, eaten good strong country food — you’ll be like them after a while, you’ll see. I’ll take care of that you’ll be a fine Highland lad when you return to London.”

Tom smiled sadly.

“Now, Tommie, you’ll go to the garret. I’m sure the girls need a hero up there.”

“Nobody else needs me but — the girls.”

“Don’t make a fool of yourself! We women always need heroes. Hurry up!”

Tom had learned to like that “hurry-up”. So he climbed to the garret and had a brilliant rainy day with Shakespeare and the MacDonald girls.

The rain continued for days, till all the ways and paths had turned into mud, and the pond was flowing through the old orchard. The little garden of Five Cherry Trees seemed so sad that Ethel sometimes peeped through the back door and said something friendly just to comfort it.

“Now, that would be enough”, said Laura in one morning, when sky was again as grey as iron. “I have no absolute want to swim to Lochdhu today.”

“Couldn’t you stay home, Mommy?” asked Myra. “You’ve been sewing for weeks, you never have time for us.”

“Darling, I wish I could”, Laura said and kissed her. “But we mustn’t complain. The Captain wants to see his crew straight and sound when he comes.”

“But oh, when he comes?” urged Ethel.

“God only knows. Now, it’s time to leave. Give my umbrella, Louisa — thank you. Be good children, and Tom, I think it would be better for you to stay in bed today. Your cough is getting worse.”

“Oh, it’s nothing”, Tom murmured.

“I’ll see he stays in bed”, promised Aunt Maggie. “Stop moaning now, young man.”

Tom remembered Donald MacGregor and quietened.

But the next morning was joyful everywhere in the village. Sun shone, there was no clouds on the bright blue sky, and all the world was washed and fresh.

By the noon Geordie Kerr came over for Tom. He had been at Five Cherry Trees few times after The Great Peace Picnic and did not feel so embarrassed there anymore.

“We’ll go to the Wood”, he said. “Will Jameson has a book of pioneers and Indians and we’re goin’ to play it. I need you to build a fortress with me.”

Tom had not not liked Will Jameson’s ideas after the first Sunday school, and he knew that the Wood would be still soaking, but he left with Geordie. He was not a London crybaby, he would show those Highland lads!

“What shall we do?” asked Myra, when they were left in the parlour. “That’s wrong with the brothers — they’re always leaving!”

“Let’s go to the orchard”, said Louisa. “Maybe the water in the pond is warm enough and we can swim.”

“The boys are in the Wood.”

“Does it matter? They won’t come to the pond, I guess.”

“I feel like swimming”, said Ethel briskly. She had learned to swim the summer before. “Let’s go.”

The way through the Wood was bright and warm, though the wet grass and leaves watered the girls’ dresses all over. But “it will dry till afternoon so Aunty notes nothing”, as Myra said, swinging her swimming suit. They could hear boys’ voices far away, but this part of the Wood was quiet and peaceful.

It was wonderful to swim in the cool water, though it was muddy after the heavy rain. But when Louisa and Myra got tired, Ethel did not. She was so proud of her almost new skill that she just swam to and fro in the pond.

“C’mon”, told Louisa. “You’ll catch cold there. Shall we go to he orchard and pick up some rain-dropped branches for a vase?”

“You may go”, said Ethel. “I swim that time.”

“I won’t leave you alone”, said Louisa. “It’s dangerous.”

“In what way?” asked Ethel and stopped for a while by the bank. “I’ll take care of myself. I can swim.”

“Let’s go”, said Myra. “We won’t stay away long, and she’s old enough to come up if she feels cold.”

“I’m not sure of it”, said Louisa. “You may go, I stay here.”

“Don’t be silly.” Myra was secretly wishing a special family story alone with Louisa. “Come with me, now?”

Louisa bit her lip.

“All right, then”, she finally said. “But remember, Ethel — at once you feel cold you must come up! And don’t swim to the deep end, and stay near the banks.”

“All right, Granny”, cried Ethel and splashed water like a baby duck.

Louisa left, but did not enjoy picking up the beautiful branches. She knew she should not have left Ethel, and she did not speak much, for Myra’s disappointment. Suddenly she heard voices.

“Something’s wrong — let’s run!” Louisa rushed through the orchard without even knowing what was going on.

When they reached the pond they saw Tom wading up from the water with Ethel on his arms. The little girls hair was all muddy and wet — she must have been under the water — and she was as white as chalk.

“Ethel!” Louisa cried and pushed some boys off her way. “What’s happened? Ethel, dearie!”

“I think she got a cramp”, said Tom and gently put Ethel on the grass. “We were just coming here when we heard her crying — she was in the middle of the pond, almost drowning. She had been twice under the water before I caught her.”

“Tom just ran into the water”, said Geordie, who had took his jacket off and offered it for Ethel. “He saved her, none of us could have done it as quickly.”

Tom looked away and blushed. Women need heroes, had Aunty said, but it seemed as if the boys had been looking at him admiringly, too.

“Mommy!” Ethel began to cough and cry. “Am I in heaven?”

“No, you’re at the pond”, said Louisa as tenderly as she could. “It’s all right now.”

“Louisa!” Ethel hold out her hands. “Oh, Louisa, I thought I would die! It was horrible!”

“Tom saved you”, said Myra. “He’s a hero.”

“Nonsense”, said Tom.

“I know what he is and he is wet”, said Louisa. “We must get both of you into house. Please, Geordie, would you run beforehand and tell Aunty to have warm water — much of warm water for two baths.”

“Ay-ay, sir!” Geordie rushed away.

The other boys had began to draw back. They did not want to be accused for the accident, and besides they both envied and admired the London boy.

“You’ll take Ethel’s shawl”, said Myra to Tom, who took Ethel on his arms again. “It’s warm.”

When they entered the house, Aunt Maggie ran to the steps.

“Oh, you… Are you all right, Ethel? And you, Tom? Really I won’t dare even to wink after that, I see — gimme the lassie, there’s warm bath for her soon, and you go and get out of your clothes, Tom. Louisa and Myra, have more towels. Geordie, please run to the village and call for Mrs MacDonald, she’s at the Cunningham’s.” Aunt Maggie gave orders as a general, and her soldiers obeyed as good soldiers do — without asking.

Later in the evening, when both Ethel and Tom had got warm and the worst upset had gone, the family had a long discussion. Laura did not scold the children, because it would not have done any good, but she reminded them of duty.

“I know I shouldn’t have left Ethel”, admitted Louisa.

“But she didn’t obey us”, pointed Myra.

“So all of you were guilty. And Tom, dearie, without you…” Laura looked down, but there was something wet in her lashes and she sobbed before smiling. “Well, that’s all over. But, for heaven’s sake, never has it happened so much as in this summer!”

This was not my fault, at last”, grinned Tom.

“No, it wasn’t, and I’m sure that your reputation as the rescuer of Ethel’s life will be wider-spred as that as a mouse-owner and a china-broker.”

The children laughed.

“What did I tell you, you weak London crybaby”, whispered Aunt Maggie and pinched Tom gently with her needlestick. “Half-a-Scot and as good as any Highlander!”

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