torstai 7. tammikuuta 2016

Chapter Six: For A Lady’s Sake

“Please, tell us about the knights”, urged Ethel. “Kitty Brown showed me yesterday pictures of her book, and they looked so brave and handsome!”

It was a dusty Saturday afternoon in the old orchard on the banks of the pond. The sun had shone warmly the whole day, and the air was thick and tiring. The children lolled on the dry grass and looked down to the deepness of the pond, dreaming about the heroes of Five Cherry Trees.

It was a week since Tom had arrived to the manor, and now he felt like he had been living there all his life. How he loved these afternoon hours, when everybody was a little weary of play and work, and they just sat together and Louisa told something!

Now only a half an hour was left before Louisa should go and milk the cow. She did not usually need to do that because Aunt Maggie was wisely sure that free palying time was more useful for a 12-year-old girl than doing as much chores as possible. But now Aunty and Laura were asked for a wedding in Glennari, wherefrom they would not return until late, and it was Louisa’s duty to take care of Clover the cow in that kind of situation.

“Well, I must confess I don’t know much about them”, said Louisa. “Only that they were gentlemen — they honoured ladies, and sometimes they competited for their sake. At the competitions — they were called tournaments — the knight used to wear his lady’s scarf or something with her colours to show for who’s sake he was battling.”

“Were there any knights at Five Cherry Trees?” asked Myra, who sniffed a romance.

“No, I guess, because the knights used to exist hundreds of years before Five Cherry Trees was founded. But maybe there were some among our family ghosts — I’ll ask Mommy or Aunty and tell you tomorrow after the Sunday school. But now I think I’ll go to Clover, she’s so cranky if milking’s late.”

But Louisa never told about knights, because a real competition for a lady’s sake took place in the children’s peaceful life.

It is hard to say whose fault it was in the first place. Maybe Laura MacDonald’s; when she had during the years written to Cristen Callanger about her children, she had described Louisa a real dream-girl, who was always imagining things and telling stories. So, when Mrs Callanger was buying presents for the MacDonald family before Tom’s leave, she chose for Louisa a hard-covered note book with creamy leaves and the sweetest pencil she could find in the shops of London. It almost took Louisa’s breath away, when she unwrapped the papers and found a little pine-tree box with the pencil on a velvet pillow. It was pearly, silverly shining one, with golden letters “L. M.”

She had carried the pencil with her in the Sunday school a week before, because she wanted to mark her verses in the Bible with such a beautiful thing, but nobody had really noticed it because of the mess of Carrie the mouse. The day after the discussion about the knights at the pond, Louisa took again the pencil, when she collected her things for the Sunday school.

This time the class was behaving. Tom and Geordie wanted to say aloud their chapters in Genesis, though Miss Marshall tried to refuse, and they did it so brilliantly that they both received a little book-mark of thick cardboard.

But when the class was dismissed, Geordie Kerr asked to see Louisa home.

“Well, I’m going with the others, anyway”, she said with a little — just little — flirting airs.

“But I thought you’d like to see our new kittens”, said Geordie. “They’ve just opened their eyes.”

“Ethel likes cats, too.”

“I want to show them to you. Won’t you come with me and drop in?” Geordie smiled so that Louisa could not refuse. So she told her sisters she had something to do and would be a little late for the Sunday lunch — though shen knew that mother would not like that.

The kittens were the sweetest things Louisa had ever seen. But when she was leaving the barn with Geordie, she dropped something to the dusty floor.

“Oh”, she cried, “my pencil!”

“Isn’t it a fine one”, said Geordie admiring while picking it up. “Where did you get it?”

“Tom gave it to me.”

“Tom?” Geordie knitted his eyebrows. “Really?”

“You know, he’s rich”, told Louisa innocently. “They have a great house in London and he’s got a nanny and a tutor and so on. You should have seen the other marvellous things he gave to us!”

Louisa had no intention to make Geordie jealous. But it was what she did. Geordie saw her home almost speechless. He had liked Tom well since they had got acquainted in the Sunday school a week before, but now he felt he could not bear him anymore.

“I’ve heard those English things get broken easily”, he said at the gate of Five Cherry Trees.

“Oh, maybe I’ll get a new one. Bye!” Louisa swinged her hand and rushed in, because she saw her family at the dinner table and did not want scolding.

“At last you came, Louisa”, said Laura, when she arrived with rosy cheeks. “I met Mrs Cunningham at the church, and she asked us for a visit. You know, she’s old and lonely, and she especially wishes to see you children.”

“That’s nice”, said Louisa and took her seat. “I’m sorry I’m late, but I was over at the Kerr’s place to see the new kittens.”

“Oh, do they have kittens?” gasped Ethel. “Why didn’t you ask me along?”

“Geordie wanted only me.” Louisa took her spoon with a little proud airs.

Tom stared at her. That was fine, indeed! “Geordie wanted only me” — who had given Geordie Kerr a right to want anybody, especially Louisa?

“May I excuse?” he said.

“You haven’t eaten your soup”, said Aunt Maggie. “You need to eat properly to get well soon.”

“I’m just not hungry. Please?”

“You can go”, said Laura, and Tom stood up and went to the yard.

“What’s wrong with him?” asked Myra.

“Maybe he’s excited for the visit. Now, eat your meal, girls, so we can leave.”

Mrs Cunningham was a round, rosy widow of eighty, who had no grandchildren. That was why she adored the Lochdhu children, and had always something special for them. When the MacDonalds arrived, she had some honeysticks ready. Honeysticks were the newest fashion among the Lochdhu scholars; they were wooden sticks put into honey till it covered them thickly. Honeysticks were so sweet that one could not eat many of them at one time, and so tacky that Aunt Maggie had once used a whole afternoon washing the fingerprints from the girls’ aprons.

After the tea the children received their honeysticks, and then they ran to the yard, where an old oak was spreading its branches. It was the best tree for climbing in the whole village.

At the same time Geordie Kerr came through the gate. His mother had sent him over to carry some eggs for Mrs Cunningham.

“Hello!” cried Ethel from the arms of the oak. “Shall you come and play with us?”

“I don’t think so”, muttered Geordie and glowed at Tom. “I think you have company enough.”

“Don’t be silly”, said Louisa. “Of course you’ll come.”

“What’s that ‘of course’?” asked Tom suddenly. “We’ll do fine without him — better!”

“Is that what you say, London boy?” Geordie’s voice was bitter. “Do not tear your silk stockings!”

“Well, I don’t have to carry around eggs like some old woman!” cried Tom.

Geordie blushed. With two steps he was under the tree.

“Repeat that if you dare, London boy!”

“Like an old woman — like an old ugly woman!”

“All right, London boy. Come down so I’ll show you!”

“What you could show — a couple of kittens?” Tom’s anger grew when he remembered Louisa’s happy face at the lunch.

“Tom, are you crazy?” exclaimed Myra. “Stop that quarreling, or Mommy and Aunty will hear!”

“Yep, London boy”, said Geordie. “You’d better to believe what the other girls say!”

That was the last drop for Tom. This lad — who called himself Louisa’s beau — would not humble him anymore! He came down from the tree.

“Show me then, if you please!”

Geordie forgot his basket of eggs. He rushed on Tom — this London boy would not charm Louisa with fancy pencils or nannies!

Ethel began to cry, Myra screamed, Louisa was horrified. In some way she understood which was the reason for this fight. But she was not old enough to enjoy the competition of those two — she just felt miserable and guilty. That blessed pencil! Next time she would not take it to Sunday school! But it did not help now.

She swinged herself down to the ground and ran to the boys.

“Stop!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you hear me — stop it! You fools!”

None of them heard her, so she tried to go between the fighters. But just at that moment Geordie tried to hit Tom. He never did; the blow reached Louisa, who flew on her back with a bleeding nose.

That was oil for the waves of anger. Tom and Geordie stopped their fight and stared at the girl, who was lieing on the ground with so pale, bloody face and closed eyes.

“You killed her!” Myra jumped down. “You killed her, you awful, mean, disgusting boys! Oh, Louisa, say something — just something!” She bowed over her sister and tried to wipe the blood off with her handkerchief. “Oh, Ethel, get Mommy — we need Mommy!”

Little Ethel rushed in. After a while Laura, Aunt Maggie, and Mrs Cunningham came with horror.

“What’s going on here — Louisa, my little girl, are you all right?” Laura kneeled on her side.

“She’s fainted”, told Aunt Maggie. “I’ll get some water.”

“And she needs handkerchieves, too.” Mrs Cunningham followed Aunt Maggie. “All fiddlesticks!”

At the yard Geordie had stepped to Laura.

“I hit her”, he whispered. “I didn’t mean to — she was just on my way.”

“He fought with Tom”, gossiped Ethel.

“Fought! Why on earth?”

The lads looked each other.

“I asked a question.” Laura’s gentle voice was full of iron. “Why did you fight?”

“Because… because…” Tom fingered his torn shirt. “We just…”

Geordie had a long breath.

“Louisa had got a beautiful pencil from Tom and I didn’t want her to boast with it so much and I thought the London boy needs a lesson!”

Laura sighed. The old story!

“Well, you have right to solve your problems and disagreements, but for heaven’s sake not in that way! Louisa, darling, are you all right?”

Louisa opened slowly her eyes.

“Mommy… Oh, my head… What happened?”

“Something terrible, but now it’s over. Can you rise and sit?”

“I — guess — so.” Louisa rose and leant against her mother’s shoulder, when Aunt Maggie came with the water and Mrs Cunningham with the handkerchieves.

“Is she alive? Thank heaven”, Aunt Maggie sighed. “But we must staunch that bleeding. Your nose is a fine piece of a potato now, young lady!”

“It wasn’t Louisa’s fault”, interrupted Myra, who had been too shocked to speak. “She tried to separate Tom and Geordie!”

“Maybe it’s best Louisa comes in and has a good rest on my coach”, suggested Mrs Cunningham. “Such a jolt!”

At the same time Geordie remembered again the eggs. He turned to take the basket, but — well, the basket was there, but the eggs had been dropped out and got broken and covered not only the yard but their clothes, too.

“Your mother will like that”, said Mrs Cunningham more friendly than sarcastically. “Come in, all of you, and I warm some water, so you can wash yourselves. And there’s a couple of honeysticks left, girls. One for Louisa, of course, sugar is best after that kind of happenings.”

For two hours Louisa lolled on the coach, while the lads washed themselves and their clothes in the little bathroom. They had to wear Mrs Cunningham’s late husband’s old clothes while their own were out drying, and the girls teased them with all their hearts, when Tom came in wearing a long nightgown with frills and Geordie had trousers that where until his armpit.

“Really, Louisa, I’m sorry”, said Tom and stepped nearer. “I didn’t mean to be such a fool.”

“You never mean to be anything, Thomas Callanger”, pointed Louisa. “But you never think.”

“I assure you I think that on!”

“I’m sorry, too”, said Geordie. “Really I had no intention to turn your nose upside down!”

“If it’s spoiled forever, it’s your fault”, said Louisa cruely and squinted to see the said nose. “But Aunt Maggie told me it’ll be all right in a week or so, so I maybe can forgive you. Now, sit down, and I tell you something.”

“About knights?” asked Ethel hopefully.

“No, there have been enough tournament for one day, I think. I tell you about the wild horses. I read about them one day in some of Daddy’s books.”

And Louisa told, till all of them imagined themselves riding over the prairie on a wild horse’s back, and Aunt Maggie came to them and said,

“Time to go home, you little vandals.”

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