The Diddakoi | Chapter 8 of 15

Author: Rumer Godden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1037 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter Three

In Mrs Blount’s classroom Kizzy’s place stayed empty. ‘I suppose those other travellers have taken her away,’ said Mrs Blount.

‘That is what I’m afraid has happened.’ Mr Blount was discouraged. ‘It’s not much use trying with those children. They’re here today and gone tomorrow,’ but it seemed Kizzy was not gone. Soon the wildest rumours were in the school and village: the wicked travellers had set the Lovell caravan on fire, stolen everything in it: Admiral Twiss had chased the travellers out of the orchard and burned the wagon himself. Then, Kizzy Lovell was at the House with Admiral Twiss. The boys and girls looked at one another. With Admiral Twiss! ‘Impossible,’ said the village, but it was not impossible. Mrs Cuthbert had it from the butcher’s boy – he had delivered beef for making beef tea. Kizzy was ill. She had been burnt in the fire. Nat had been seen in Rye buying things at the chemist: a child’s hot-water bottle: cough syrup: prescriptions. Kizzy had not been burnt. She had pneumonia.

‘Pneumonia!’ Mrs Blount felt guilty. ‘I knew she had no coat,’ she told Miss Brooke. ‘I knew and did nothing about it.’

‘Dear Mildred, that wouldn’t have given her pneumonia,’ said Miss Brooke.

For a while Kizzy did not know where she was, at Amberhurst House or anywhere else; she was too ill. There were days of pain and struggling for breath; Peters sponged her burning forehead and wrists with cool water, gave her sips of water or ice cream, but to her he was only a face that loomed near and went away. There were nights when she cried out or screamed in terror about Joe and the knacker . . . the wagon and flames . . . Boyo . . . Mrs Doe’s slap . . . and about school. The Admiral, who sat up with her, learned a great deal about school in those nights. ‘Diddakoi,’ cried Kizzy. ‘Gypsy gypsy joker, get a red hot poker . . . When’s your birthday? . . . bump bump . . . Don’t pull my hair – don’t, don’t!’ It rose to a shriek and the Admiral had to quiet her. He, Peters and Nat took it in turns to stay with Kizzy and it was amazing how gentle and thorough were those male hands that lifted her, changed her, tended her, but Kizzy did not know anything about it until she woke one morning when outside the sun was shining from a sky as blue as the quilt that covered her, and she found herself in a small room, sparsely furnished as old-fashioned rooms for children often were, a little shabby but with a fire burning that sent firelight up the walls. The wallpaper had a pattern of apple blossom, faded now so that it was only a suggestion but, in her haziness, it made Kizzy feel she was back in the orchard. Yet when she looked at herself, was it herself? Were these her own hands and arms and, as she looked under the bedclothes, her own legs? She was wearing a striped jacket and trousers and, I’m clean, thought Kizzy. She had a moment of panic, then Nat was there with his comforting horse smell. ‘’S’all right, you’re at the House,’ said Nat.

‘Joe?’ croaked Kizzy.

‘Safe and well and waiting for the buttercups. Now drink this,’ said Nat.

‘Who is going to look after her?’ asked Mrs Blount.

‘They are,’ said Miss Brooke.

‘Those three men!’

‘But how can they?’ and that was what the village asked. ‘How can they? Poor mite, in that great house,’ and, ‘Men can’t look after a sick child.’ Mrs Cuthbert said it positively, but the Admiral, Peters and Nat looked after Kizzy so well that Doctor Harwell had to agree she did not need a nurse. It was Peters who washed her and gave her a blanket bath every day, washing her with warm water and soap as gently as any woman, an arm or leg at a time, the rest folded in warm blankets; it was Peters who sent Nat into Rye to buy bath powder, a brush and comb and pyjamas. Nat bought boys’ pyjamas – he would not go into a woman’s or girl’s shop, but as Kizzy had never had any she did not know the difference. ‘I slept in my vest,’ she told Nat. Peters made her meals, bringing her soup or milk and honey in little cups, or a spoonful or two of jelly and, when her throat was sore, ice cream.

Kizzy was far too thin; ‘Underweight,’ said Doctor Harwell, ‘and under-nourished.’

‘Well, I can guess they lived on bread and tea.’ Admiral Twiss was vexed with himself. ‘Mrs Lovell had probably grown too old to cook.’

‘It seems the child wouldn’t eat the school dinners. Her teacher thinks the other children told her that hers weren’t paid for.’

‘Not only that,’ said Mr Blount, who had come up to the House about Kizzy. ‘She tore her meat with her fingers and that shocked them.’

‘I ought to have thought about food,’ said the Admiral. ‘I knew the child was there, but one scarcely ever saw her.’

Now Peters was building Kizzy up – in every way. ‘Drink this up, saucepot.’ ‘Now I don’t want a crumb left of that.’ He kept her room clean and polished, with a fire that burned day and night; when it was dusk Kizzy lay and watched the firelight flickering on the walls and ceiling. The fire made work; Peters had to carry coals up twice a day, ‘but an electric fire dries the air,’ said Peters. ‘Not good for her lungs.’

When he was busy, Nat came and sat with her. He rubbed her back – ‘Coo! your bones stick out like a chicken’s,’ said Nat – and told her stories of the horses he had looked after: of Royal who had run in the Derby and the Admiral’s favourite show hunter, Rainbird. ‘Best of all classes at Richmond. I’ll show you his cups and some of the rosettes when you are well,’ but even Nat’s stories were not as good as the Admiral’s, especially the one about Joe. He told Kizzy how Joe had been foaled – ‘Must be twenty-eight years ago. He’s one of the oldest horses I have ever seen,’ – foaled on a farm in Antrim, ‘which is in Ireland.’ How he had been trained as a hunter, lunged over fences and, as a five-year-old, been taken to Dublin for the Summer Show How he had been bought and travelled on the ferry to England, and of the cups and rosettes he, like Rainbird, had won. How, one day, Joe had put his foot in a rabbit hole and broken a bone in his fetlock, ‘so he couldn’t jump any more.’ Then how Kizzy’s grandfather had bought Joe in a sale and Joe had pulled the wagon along the country lanes in England, following the strawberry, hops and apple picking from Kent to Worcestershire and back again, but always landing up in the Admiral’s orchard to spend the winter, until at last he had stayed there all the time with Gran. It was a made-up story, of course, ‘But it might have been Joe?’ asked Kizzy. ‘It easily might,’ said the Admiral.

Every morning he would wrap her in the camel hair dressing gown and carry her to the window and Nat brought Joe, in his halter, on to the drive below. Then the Admiral would put Kizzy in a small rocking chair – she was allowed to sit up now – tuck a rug round her and Peters would bring their ‘elevenses’ on a silver tray, a mug of milk for Kizzy, coffee for the Admiral, and they would have them together. These days of convalescence were perhaps the happiest Kizzy had ever known. With Gran she had been content, but now she was radiantly happy until she had – ‘visitors’ said Kizzy.

‘I am Kizzy Lovell’s teacher. May I see her, please?’ It was Peters’ afternoon out and when the bell rang, Admiral Twiss answered the door. ‘You would never have been let in, else,’ said Mrs Cuthbert.

‘It isn’t curiosity,’ Mrs Blount told the Admiral quickly and, ‘What could I do but let her in,’ he told Peters afterwards.

‘Kizzy,’ said the Admiral when he had opened the bedroom door. ‘Your teacher has come to see you,’ but where was Kizzy? At the word ‘teacher’ she had dived to the bottom of the bed under the bedclothes. ‘School doesn’t seem to be popular,’ said the Admiral.

Mrs Blount was distressed. ‘I tried, indeed I did, but some of them teased her, children can be cruel. Perhaps if I had done what Miss Brooke said . . .’

‘What did she say?’

‘Try to make them interested in her, make her romantic . . . I thought it was rather nonsense at the time.’

‘Sounds more like sense,’ and the Admiral asked, ‘Is that the Miss Brooke who has just been made a magistrate?’

‘I never know how to place Olivia Brooke,’ Mrs Cuthbert had had to admit. It was annoying as, usually, given half an hour, she had people clearly and properly labelled, ‘as if we were all tidy glass jars,’ said Miss Brooke.

‘Glass jars? I never said that.’ Mrs Cuthbert was nettled. ‘And what do you think people are?’

‘More like caves to explore,’ said Miss Brooke. ‘Mysterious caves. One never gets to the end of them.’

‘Well, if anyone’s mysterious, Olivia, you are.’

Miss Brooke had bought the cottage and appeared in the village without any explanation; the village liked things explained, but Miss Brooke had seemed to be so busy making her new garden that she had little time to talk and, though Olivia, as they soon called her, was perfectly friendly, for all her probings Mrs Cuthbert had learned little more.

Miss Brooke was small and, ‘When you really look at her,’ said Mrs Cuthbert, ‘very plain,’ with a pale face and mouse hair twisted into a bun, but her hazel eyes were remarkable and deceived one into thinking her pretty, which was odd as she did not seem to bother much about clothes and never went to a hairdresser. Mrs Cuthbert knew too that she had strange habits – Mildred Blount had told her how the supper things were often left unwashed because Miss Brooke wanted to listen to music, nor would she answer the door while it was going on. ‘Sometimes she doesn’t do a thing in the house but make her bed,’ Mrs Blount reported. ‘She goes straight out to garden.’

‘If it’s a fine day, why not?’ Miss Brooke asked, unperturbed.

‘She doesn’t seem to care a fig what people think,’ said Mrs Blount, ‘and yet she’s not proud. You couldn’t call her that.’

‘N-no,’ said Mrs Cuthbert.

Mr Blount was a staunch admirer. ‘Look how she took Mildred and me in while we were waiting for our house. Kindness itself.’

‘Ye-es,’ said Mrs Cuthbert. The truth was that Miss Brooke had a poise for which Mrs Cuthbert could see no reason; she was obviously poor – the cottage was simple almost to bareness, ‘And she makes her own bread.’

‘I like making it,’ said Miss Brooke. She would bake and garden but would not sew or knit or join the flower-arranging classes for which Mrs Cuthbert was recruiting. ‘But you’re so fond of flowers, Olivia.’

‘In my garden, or in cottage bunches,’ said Miss Brooke.

She would take the most menial tasks at village gatherings, seeming to prefer washing-up behind the scenes to figuring on committees or meeting people – ‘Even when the Princess came to open the Hospital wing,’ said Mrs Blount – so that it was a shock to the village when Miss Brooke was made a Justice of the Peace. ‘They must know something about her we don’t,’ said Mrs Blount.

‘Still, I don’t understand it,’ said Mrs Cuthbert, who would dearly have liked to be a magistrate herself. ‘She’s so mousy and quiet.’

‘Perhaps it’s because she is quiet.’ That was the Vicar. ‘She listens and doesn’t interrupt.’

‘And lets you get a word in,’ said Doctor Harwell, who had wanted her on the Hospital Board. In fact, Miss Brooke could have been on several committees but, unlike Mrs Cuthbert, did not want to be. ‘The Court work is enough if I do it properly,’ said Miss Brooke, ‘and I like my house and garden.’

‘If you ask me, she’d rather talk to flowers than humans,’ said Mrs Cuthbert. The Admiral would have understood that; he would rather have talked to horses and, ‘She seems a wise person,’ he said now.

Mrs Blount blushed – it was almost as if he had called her unwise – and she turned to the little mound hidden far down in the bed. ‘Kizzy come out,’ she coaxed. ‘I have something for you. Something she ought to have had long ago,’ she told the Admiral. ‘It might have prevented this. I blame myself.’

Admiral Twiss stripped off the bedclothes, took Kizzy and sat her upright against her pillows. ‘Sit up at once,’ he said sternly. ‘Give your hand to your teacher and say “How do you do”. We don’t behave like this at Amberhurst.’

Kizzy reluctantly held out her hand; Mrs Blount took it and, watching the Admiral’s eyebrows, did not keep it but shook it politely and laid it down; then she put a big paper bag on the bed, a fresh bag with the name of a shop on it. ‘It’s a warm coat for you,’ she told Kizzy. ‘For you. It hasn’t belonged to anyone else. It’s new. Won’t you open it?’

‘Open it.’ The Admiral’s order was curt, as he might have spoken to a rating on the bridge of his flagship.

It was a duffel coat, new as Mrs Blount said, of soft, thick brown wool, with a hood and a plaid lining in scarlet and blue and polished wood toggles for buttons.

‘I can guess that you bought that with your own money,’ said the Admiral and Mrs Blount nodded.

‘I felt guilty.’

‘You shouldn’t have.’ The eyebrows and moustaches worked. ‘I believe you have just married, Mrs Blount, and are getting a new house.’

‘Yes,’ she blushed again. ‘We hope to move in next week.’

‘So you must need every penny, every moment. Very good of you to do this,’ said Admiral Twiss.

Mrs Blount had hoped Kizzy might smile, give a gasp of surprise and pleasure, but Kizzy did not open her lips; nor, when she had lifted the coat out of the bag, did she touch it again. ‘See, it still has the tickets on it.’ As Mrs Blount spread the coat on the bed, she sounded as if she were pleading.

‘Say “thank you”,’ said the Admiral to Kizzy.

‘Thank you,’ emotionless.

‘You can wear it when you come back to school,’ Mrs Blount said. Kizzy went still as a stone and, when Admiral Twiss had taken Mrs Blount away and Kizzy, listening, had heard her footsteps growing fainter down the drive, she took the duffel coat and threw it out of the window.

Peters found it on the drive and brought it in to the Admiral, who did not lam Kizzy as Gran had lammed her when she put Prue’s clothes down the apple tree. He told Peters to dry the coat, brush it and hang it up. ‘She’ll wear it by and by.’

‘Will I have to go back to school?’ Kizzy asked the Admiral.

‘Of course. When you are well.’

‘I am still ill,’ said Kizzy.

‘You are much better.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Don’t you want to get up?’

Kizzy thought. ‘Tell you what,’ she said. ‘I’ll stay in bed till four o’clock, then get up and have my breakfast. When I go to bed at night I’ll stay there until four o’clock next day.’

As if the coat had sparked it off, ‘She can get up and dress now,’ said Doctor Harwell – but Kizzy could not, she had nothing to dress in. Peters had burnt her clothes – ‘That’s all they were fit for,’ – and thrown away her old boots. ‘Leakin’,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid we’ll have to buy her some clothes, Admiral Sir.’

‘You or Nat had better go into Rye.’

There was a silence, then: ‘Wouldn’t be much good in girls’ shops, Nat and I.’ Peters was decided. ‘And think of the gossip,’ – and for once the gnomes rebelled. ‘I know, sir,’ said Peters. ‘If you went up to London you could get everything she needs in one big shop and no one the wiser. Much better for Kizzy, sir,’ but Admiral Twiss, who had fought his way through with convoys to Russia in the war, been torpedoed twice and won the Distinguished Service Order, quailed. ‘Just jerseys and skirts, sir,’ Peters tried to encourage him. ‘Those pinafore things . . . I’ll measure her for you,’ said Peters helpfully, but the Admiral was still appalled. ‘Peters,’ he whispered, ‘What . . . what do they wear underneath?’

Peters made a chart in which a paper-doll Kizzy had her measurements laid out like a diagram for a ship, height, width, depth, and Admiral Twiss went to London and walked along Oxford Street looking at the shop windows, but there were so many filled with small girls’ clothes that he was bewildered. He knew where to get his shoes made, buy his hats, order his shirts, but this . . . At last he went to his tailor and ordered a jacket he did not need. Then, ‘Phipps,’ he said, ‘what’s the best place to buy children’s clothes?’

‘Rowe’s of Bond Street,’ said Phipps.

That was quite close, but when he found it the Admiral stood looking at the window for a long time: a model girl was wearing a pale blue coat with a velvet collar and white gloves; another had a yellow silk smock; they did not at all look like Kizzy There was, too, a little girl figure in riding clothes; Admiral Twiss admired the cut of the jodhpurs, the fitted tweed jacket showing a glimpse of white shirt and brown tie, the brown velvet riding hat. Must get Kiz a pony, he thought, then suddenly recollected she was not his. He looked at the blue coat again, shook his head and went away.

He took refuge at his barber’s and had a haircut though his hair did not really need one. ‘John,’ he asked the young barber. ‘You have children?’

‘Three, sir.’

‘Where do you buy their clothes?’

‘Marks and Sparks, sir. Marks and Spencers, that is – branches all over the place. Wonderful value they are. One of their biggest shops is in Oxford Street.’

It was a big shop. Admiral Twiss wandered up and down its aisles where the goods were set out on long counters or hung on rails. The shop was full and after Amberhurst seemed to the Admiral a nightmare of movement and noise; he was jostled and hustled, the lights dazzled him. He did find a rack full of children’s dressing gowns and it occurred to him that Kizzy ought to have a dressing gown of her own, that his was too large for her, but he could see no one to serve him. The Admiral was used to small exclusive shops where assistants, full of deference, sprang to meet him; he did not understand that he should search for what he needed and then find a salesgirl – added to which he did not really know what he should buy. After a little while he gave up, hailed a taxi, and went to his Club for lunch. ‘Luncheon and a stiff drink,’ said the Admiral. Then he caught the next train home.

‘Well, well,’ said Peters. ‘Probably have been the same meself No use sending Nat. We’ll have to ask that Mrs Blount.’

And have trouble with Kizzy? Besides, Mrs Blount would surely talk.’

‘It would be all over the village,’ and, ‘If we want that,’ said Peters, ‘better to ask Mrs Cuthbert.’

The Admiral was pondering. ‘There’s one woman who doesn’t talk,’ he said. ‘I will go and ask Miss Brooke.’

‘Two of everything?’ Miss Brooke asked in a businesslike way. ‘Or three?’

‘But is three enough? I buy shirts and socks in dozens,’ said Admiral Twiss.

‘This is a child. They grow,’ and Miss Brooke said, ‘One on, one off and one in the wash. That’s enough.’

‘But you will get her – er – everything?’ asked the Admiral.

‘Of course. Pyjamas, vests, pants, tights. That’s what they wear these days. I had better get them in London if you don’t want talk. I’ll go up tomorrow, won’t bring them but have them sent express. I will make out a list and keep an account.’

‘Handkerchiefs,’ said the Admiral suddenly. ‘She ought to have those – I like mine of lawn, hand-rolled.’

‘I will find her some pretty ones.’

‘A hat? Shouldn’t she have a hat? And an umbrella?’

‘I can guess Kizzy wouldn’t know what to do with them.’ Then, ‘My dear Admiral,’ said Miss Brooke, as he handed her ten ten-pound notes, ‘I shan’t need all that. Thirty pounds should do it but I will take forty in case; it’s no use buying too cheaply.’ She peeled off four notes and gave him back the rest. ‘Thank you, Admiral.’

‘Thank you.’ It was heartfelt and, as he turned from the cottage, ‘That’s done,’ said Admiral Twiss, relieved. Somehow it never crossed his mind not to trust Miss Brooke.

The clothes arrived in boxes from London and were so pretty Kizzy forgot they brought school nearer. There were three sets of underclothes, pink, blue, white, scattered with flowers: two skirts, one plaid, one cherry red, as if Miss Brooke knew she liked bright colours; there were jerseys, a warm cardigan, a pair of walking shoes and a red pair to wear in the house – Kizzy had never had shoes before, only boots. She was puzzled by the handkerchiefs. ‘Thought they were for wearing round her neck,’ Peters told the Admiral. ‘Only they’re too small,’ said Kizzy. ‘What are they for?’ and, when Peters told her, ‘Blow your nose on a handkerchief!’ Kizzy was shocked. ‘I have a finger and thumb, haven’t I?’ she wanted to say. ‘Or else my skirt.’

She went in to the Admiral: ‘Thank you for choosing my clothes.’

‘I didn’t choose them.’

Kizzy’s head jerked up. ‘Who did?’

‘Miss Brooke. A nice lady.’

Kizzy scowled. ‘I don’t like nice ladies.’

When she was dressed and looked at herself in a long mirror, she only recognized herself by her curls and the gold rings in her ears. She had grown taller and thinner – and paler, thought Kizzy, or was that because she was washed? Gran had washed her each night before she went to bed, carrying the water in a bucket, but here it was not only every day, ‘Three times a day,’ said Kizzy – and at night in a bathtub. She sniffed her hands; they smelled freshly of soap and a longing swept over her for the old smell of wood smoke, of open air and Joe. ‘When can we go back?’ Kizzy could have cried. It was then she had her second visitor.

The Easter holidays had started and, ‘I’m going to the House,’ Clem Oliver told his mother.

‘Do you think you should?’ Mrs Oliver was doubtful.

‘I’m a boy . . . Admiral Twiss won’t mind and that little girl’s my friend,’ and, sure enough, Kizzy broke into one of her rare smiles when Peters brought Clem up. ‘Clem! You’ve come to see me!’ She was dazzled.

‘Sure,’ said Clem, and, ‘What a house!’ he said. ‘What a house!’

‘Is it?’ asked Kizzy. She did not know enough about houses to judge. ‘It’s nice and old.’

She meant that Amberhurst House, in spite of its grandeur, was comfortably shabby. ‘Well, generations of us have lived here,’ Admiral Twiss would have said but, ‘I wouldn’t like to,’ said Clem. Coming from his bustling crowded farmhouse home, Amberhurst seemed huge and empty to Clem. Admiral Twiss, he thought, must be lonely. The kitchens where Clem had come in and this nursery wing above it were smaller, warmer, more homely but, ‘Think of coming down that great stone staircase for breakfast,’ said Clem, ‘and having it at that long table with the big silver candlesticks – one little place at the end.’ Clem had seen it when Peters took him in to the Admiral. ‘And libraries and drawing rooms, a billiard room, a gunroom. His bedroom must have empty rooms all round it – and all them portraits staring down at you. No, thank you,’ said Clem, yet Amberhurst was friendly to him.

He had tea in the kitchen with Kizzy Nat and Peters. ‘Mr Peters made us sausages and chips and he made scones. He can cook as well as you, Mum,’ Clem told his mother. Admiral Twiss was not there; he dined alone at eight, but after tea he showed Clem his racing cups, his fishing-rods – he promised to let Clem fish the lake and trout stream – and the workshop where he made his models. ‘Cor! it was fascinating,’ Clem told at home. ‘He’s making a tug, it’ll work with real steam. You should see it.’

Kizzy was pleased – and flattered – by Clem’s visit. ‘He’s one of the biggest boys in the school, but he came to see me,’ she boasted to Peters.

‘Nice lad,’ said Peters. Nat said the same and the Admiral said Clem could come when he liked, but Kizzy’s time of peace at Amberhurst House was over. The world outside was beginning to creep in.

‘Clem Oliver went up to Amberhurst.’

‘He had tea at the House.’

‘Went to see the little gypsy.’

‘Clem Oliver.’

‘If Clem went, why not me?’ said Prudence Cuthbert.

‘Kizzy can go out,’ Doctor Harwell put away his stethoscope. ‘She’s over it well. You made an excellent job of her,’ he said to Peters. ‘She can go out but wrap her up well.’

‘You can come with me this morning to see Joe,’ the Admiral told her.

‘In his meadow?’ Kizzy’s face was lit with joy.

‘Yes, but put on your coat.’

The joy departed. ‘Haven’t got a coat,’ muttered Kizzy.

‘Yes, you have,’ said Admiral Twiss. ‘The coat Mrs Blount gave you. It’s hanging in the cloakroom.’

That coat!’

‘That coat,’ said Admiral Twiss and added, ‘No coat and you don’t come and see Joe.’ He walked away down the drive. Slowly Kizzy went to the cloakroom to get the coat.

‘You see, Kiz,’ said the Admiral when they had seen Joe – he had put her up on his back, she had hugged the huge old neck and they had given Joe apples – ‘We can’t always do as we like.’

‘That’s only children,’ Kizzy burst out.

‘It isn’t only children, unfortunately,’ the Admiral sounded sad, ‘and it isn’t only the coat.’ He had buttoned Kizzy into it, put up the hood. ‘The coat isn’t all we shall have to accept, you and I.’

‘I want to see Kizzy Lovell.’

Though Peters did not like women he was not, normally, cross to little girls, but something in Prudence’s sharp little face, her primped-up hair, bright pink coat and smart white shoes, made him feel dislike; dislike, too, for the imperious way she spoke which was quite different from Clem’s ‘Please, sir, could I see Kizzy?’‘I want to see Kizzy Lovell,’ said Prue.

‘But does she want to see you?’ Peters’ barrel shape filled the back door.

‘But I have come to see her.’ Prudence was surprised.

‘We don’t have to see everyone who comes. You wait there, young lady, while I go and ask.’ But it was not easy to keep Prudence Cuthbert out, as Miss Brooke or Mrs Blount could have told him. Prue slipped into the kitchen after Peters and came face to face with Kizzy.

Kizzy had stood rooted by the kitchen table as soon as she heard Prue’s voice. Prue stopped too when she saw her and they looked at one another, ‘like two kittens with their fur on end,’ Peters told the Admiral afterwards. Then, ‘Go away,’ said Kizzy.

‘That’s nice,’ said Prue. ‘When I have come all this way to see you.’ Kizzy knew that was not true. Prudence had come to see Amberhurst House. ‘So she could tell about it at school,’ said Kizzy afterwards.

‘Clem went, so why can’t I?’ Prudence had told the girls.

‘You’d never dare.’

‘I would.’

‘They won’t let you in.’

‘We’ll see,’ and Prudence had tossed her head. Now she was in, though only as far as the kitchen and, ‘Go away,’ said Kizzy.

Prue had sleeked her fur down. ‘You’ll be coming back to school soon, so I thought we could be friends,’ but Kizzy knew Prue did not really mean it; she was too busy looking over Kizzy’s shoulder down the corridor where a baize door led into the House. ‘Couldn’t we?’ coaxed Prudence, looking longingly at the door.

‘No,’ said Kizzy.

‘You have nice clothes,’ said Prudence admiringly. ‘You look really pretty.’

‘Go away.’

Prudence’s fur rose up again. ‘You needn’t be so high and mighty just because you’re up at the House. Soon as you’re well you’ll have to leave, my Mum said so. They’re having a meeting about you next week. Probably they’ll put you in a Home. How’ll you like that?’

‘I won’t live in a Home,’ said Kizzy.

‘Where’ll you live then?’ taunted Prue.

‘I shall live by myself.’

‘Don’t be soft. Anyway, your caravan’s burnt.’

Kizzy’s chin came up. ‘Sir Admiral’s going to make me a little wagon, just for my own.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘He is.’

‘I don’t believe it.’

‘He is. He is!’ Admiral Twiss heard that child’s cry in his study. ‘He is!’ and he got up.

‘Then he’s barmy.’ The Admiral was in time to see Prudence and Kizzy fly at one another, kicking and spitting and biting in fury until Peters took each of them by the back of the neck and shook them apart.

Mrs Cuthbert came up to complain and met the Admiral on the drive. ‘An absolute little savage,’ she shrilled. ‘Prudence came home black and blue with a huge scratch on her cheek.’

‘You should see the scratch on Kizzy’s,’ said the Admiral.

Peters was more severe. ‘That’s no way to behave,’ he told Kizzy. ‘Even however horrid she is.’

‘I’ll always do it to anyone horrid,’ declared Kizzy.

‘None of your lip, saucepot; while you’re at Amberhurst you’ll behave. If you come from Amberhurst you’ll behave, or you’ll disgrace us at the meeting.’

Kizzy stared at him. So it was true: there was to be a meeting. She felt suddenly cold.

Admiral Twiss was in his workshop putting the last touches on the miniature tug, the Elsie May, when Kizzy appeared. She watched, her head almost level with the high workshop table, as his long clever fingers fitted a cage of brass over the little starboard light. ‘Just in case she collides with anything,’ he explained, and said, ‘When I tried her out on the lake one of the swans attacked her. Can’t protect the searchlight though; it must swivel as she changes direction.’ No one but the Admiral, thought Kizzy, could make a tiny searchlight that swivelled. She took a deep breath.

‘Will you make a wagon for me?’

The Admiral gave her a shrewd glance from under his eyebrows, then said, ‘I only make models.’

‘Will you – buy me a wagon?’

‘When you are eighteen.’ His fingers did not falter as he worked over the light and, without any unnecessary questions, he added, ‘They wouldn’t let you live in one until you are eighteen. Then they couldn’t stop you.’

‘Can’t I live with you?’

He shook his head. ‘They wouldn’t let us, Kiz.’

‘Why not?’

‘We haven’t a woman here.’

‘Why do you need a woman when you have me? I looked after Gran.’

‘I know you did.’

‘I could sell bunches of flowers, and pegs if you would make them for me; that could pay for me if you haven’t enough money.’

The Admiral stopped fitting the cage, took Kizzy’s hand and led her into the library; he sat down in his chair and drew her to stand against his knee. ‘At this meeting, Kiz, they will decide that Amberhurst House isn’t a fit place for a little girl and we cannot argue.’

Kizzy did argue.

‘A little girl lived here once, Clem says so.’

‘This is a girl’s room,’ Clem had said, looking round Kizzy’s bedroom.

‘Is it?’ Again Kizzy had not enough experience of rooms to know.

‘Yes, look at it.’ And certainly the white bed, the miniature dressing table, the small white rocking chair, blue carpet, muslin curtains and apple blossom paper looked like a girl’s. ‘I thought they only had boys,’ Clem had said, ‘but there must have been a girl.’

‘Long long ago,’ Admiral Twiss said now and added, ‘There’s a painting of her in the drawing room.’

They went together into the big disused drawing room with its pale green panelled walls and stiff brocade curtains; the chairs and sofas had dust sheets over them but Kizzy could see small gilded tables, faint colours of embroidered carpets, a mirror framed in gold. Over the fireplace was a life-size painting of a little girl, much the same age as Kizzy but with a thin, fine-boned face that was like the Admiral’s; she had his brown eyes too and they seemed to follow Kizzy across the room. The girl had brown ringlets and was wearing a dress of maroon cloth with full white muslin sleeves, and a wide band of blue velvet running round the skirt. ‘You can tell it’s velvet though it’s only painted,’ whispered Kizzy in awe. The small bodice was laced in blue up to a narrow white ruffle at the neck; the hands were holding a spray of roses. ‘I can guess she would rather they had been a pair of reins,’ said the Admiral. ‘She grew up to be a fine horsewoman.’

‘Who was she?’ asked Kizzy.

‘My grandmother.’

‘Your Gran . . . but she’s a little girl.’

‘Girls grow up,’ said the Admiral. ‘She married my grandfather – married very young. Her name was Kezia Cunningham; she was the last Cunningham. My grandfather was another Admiral Twiss, but because Amberhurst House and the land were hers, they called themselves Cunningham Twiss.’

‘Like you,’ said Kizzy.

‘Like me. They had sons, the eldest was my father. My father had me – my mother died soon after I was born – so you see there were only boys.’ Kizzy studied the painting. Though she did not like girls, she liked this one; the brown eyes were steady and friendly.

‘Kezia Cunningham Twiss – did she sleep in my room?’ Kizzy asked.

‘It was hers when she was a child. Come to think of it, Kiz, you might have been called after her. Kizzy might be from Kezia. She knew your Gran; they were friends. She liked gypsies.’

Kizzy looked at her again. ‘Kezia.’ It gave her a curiously happy feeling to think they shared a name. ‘When was her birthday?’ Kizzy asked it earnestly.

‘I must look it up,’ and back in the library Admiral Twiss opened a big Bible that had a stand all to itself. ‘Here we are: Kezia Cunningham, born December 9th, 1858.’

‘I’ll take it for mine,’ and, just as she had studied the painting, Kizzy pored over the writing, the list of names.

‘All our family are in this book,’ said the Admiral.

‘Wish I could be in it,’ said Kizzy and sighed. ‘She would have wanted me to stay, especially if I’m Kezia.’

The Admiral did not answer.

‘No one comes to the house,’ argued Kizzy, ‘’cept Clem and he wouldn’t let on. Suppose you told everyone that I had gone away, Mrs Doe had taken me, and I stayed here in your grandmother’s room until I was eighteen?’

The Admiral ran his hand through Kizzy’s curls. ‘They wouldn’t let us, Kiz.’

‘They wouldn’t know, only you and Peters and Nat, and they wouldn’t tell either. I could stay here with you and them – and Joe – and I wouldn’t have to go to school.’

‘It’s a nice idea,’ said Admiral Twiss, ‘but it wouldn’t do.’

Kizzy set her lips.


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