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- The Extra Day - 47/57 -
other caught the attention of the Tramp--a sort of panting sound, half-whistle and half-gasp. They paused and looked behind them.
"He's ready," remarked their Leader, with a laughing chuckle in his beard. "He's coming on!"
WEEDEN, sure enough, had quietly shouldered his shovel and empty sack, and was making after them, singing as he came. Judy was on the point of saying to her brother, "Good thing Aunt Emily isn't here!" when she caught a look in his eyes that stopped her dead.
AUNT EMILY FINDS--HERSELF
"My dear!" he exclaimed in his tone of big discovery.
Judy made a movement like a swan that inspects the world behind its back. She tried to look everywhere at once. It seemed she did so.
"Gracious me!" she cried. She instinctively chose prohibited words. "_My_ gracious me!"
For the places of the world had marvellously shifted and run into one another somehow. A place called "Somewhere Else" was close about her; and standing in the middle of it was--a figure. Both place and figure ought to have been somewhere else by rights. Judy's surprise, however, was quite momentary; swift, bird-like understanding followed it. Place was a sham and humbug really; already, without leaving the schoolroom carpet, she and Tim had been to the Metropolis and even to the East. This was merely another of these things she didn't know she knew; she understood another thing she didn't understand. She believed.
The rest of the party had disappeared inside the wood; only Tim remained--pointing at this figure outlined against the trees. But these trees belonged to a place her physical eyes had never seen. Perhaps they were part of her mental picture of it. The figure, anyhow, barred the way.
It was a woman, the last person in the world they wished to see just then. The face, wearing an expression as though it tried to be happy when it felt it ought not to be, was pointed; chin, ears, and eye- brows pointed; nose pointed too--round doors and into corners--an elastic nose; there was a look of struggling sweetness about the thin, tight lips; the entire expression, from the colourless eyes down to the tip of the decided chin, was one of marked reproach and disapproval that at the same time fought with an effort to be understanding, gentle, wise. The face wanted to be very nice, but was prevented by itself. It was pathetic. Its owner was dressed in black, a small, neat bonnet fastened carefully on the head, an umbrella in one hand, and big goloshes on both feet. There were gold glasses balanced on the nose. She smiled at them, but with a smile that prophesied rebuke. Before she spoke a word, her entire person said distinctly NO.
"Bother!" Tim muttered beneath his breath, then added, "It's her!" Already he felt guilty--of something he had not done, but might do presently. The figure's mere presence invited him to break all rules.
"We thought," exclaimed Judy, trying to remember what rules she had just disobeyed, and almost saying "hoped,"--"we thought you were at Tunbridge Wells." Then with an effort she put in "Aunty."
Yet about the new arrival was a certain flustered and uneasy air, as though she were caught in something that she wished to hide--at any rate something she would not willingly confess to. One hand, it was noticed, she kept stiffly behind her back.
"Children," she uttered in an emphatic voice, half-surprised remonstrance, half-automatic rebuke; "I am astonished!" She looked it. She pursed her lips more tightly, and gazed at the pair of culprits as though she had hoped better things of them and _again_ had been disappointed. "You know quite well that this is out of bounds." It came out like an arrow, darting.
"We were looking for some one," began Tim, but in a tone that added plainly enough "it wasn't you."
"Who's hiding, you see," quoth Judy, "but expecting us--at once." The delay annoyed her.
"You are both well aware," Aunt Emily went on, ignoring their excuses as in duty bound, "that your parents would not approve. At this hour of the morning too! You ought to be fast asleep in bed. If your father knew--!"
Yet, strange to say, the children felt that they loved her suddenly; for the first time in their lives they thought her lovable. A kind of understanding sympathy woke in them; there was something pitiable about her. For, obviously, she was looking just as they were, but looking in such a silly way and in such hopelessly stupid places. All her life she had been looking like this, dressed in crackling black, wearing a prickly bonnet and heavy goloshes, and carrying a useless umbrella that of course must bother her. It was disappointment that made her talk as she did. But it was natural she should feel disappointment, for it never rained when she had her umbrella, and her goloshes were always coming off.
"She's stuck in a hole," thought Tim, "and so she just says things at us. She hurts herself somewhere. She's tired."
"She has to be like that," thought Judy. "It's really all pretending. Poor old thing!"
But Aunt Emily was not aware of what they felt. They were out of bed, and it was her duty to find fault; they were out of bounds, and she must take note of it. So she prepared to scold a little. Her bonnet waggled ominously. She gripped her umbrella. She spoke as though it was very early in the morning, almost dawn--as though the sun were rising. There was confusion in her as to the time of day, it seemed. But the children did not notice this. They were so accustomed to being rebuked by her that the actual words made small impression. She was just "saying things"; they were often very muddled things; the attitude, not the meaning, counted. And her attitude, they divined, was subtly different.
"You know this is forbidden," she said. "It is damp and chilly. It's sure to rain presently. You'll get your feet wet. You should keep to the gravel paths. They're plain enough, are they not?" She looked about her, sniffing--a sniff that usually summoned disasters in a flock.
"Oh, yes," said Tim; "and they look like brown sugar, _we_ thought."
"It does not matter what you thought, Timothy. The paths are made on purpose to be walked upon and used--"
"They're beautifully made," interrupted Judy, unable to keep silent longer. "WEEDEN made them for us."
"And we've used them all," exclaimed Tim, "only we came to an end of them. We've done with them--paths!" The way he uttered the substantives made it instantly sound ridiculous.
Aunt Emily opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again without saying it. She stared at them instead. They watched her. All fear of her had left their hearts. A new expression rose struggling upon her pointed features. She fidgeted from one foot to the other. They felt her as "Aunty," a poor old muddled thing, always looking in ridiculous places without the smallest notion she was wrong. Tim saw her suddenly "all dressed up on purpose" as for a game. Judy thought "She's bubbling inside--really."
"There's WEEDEN in there," Tim mentioned, pointing to the wood behind her.
Something uncommonly like a smile passed into Aunt Emily's eyes, then vanished as suddenly as it came. Judy thought it was like a bubble that burst the instant it reached the sunlight on the surface of a pond.
"And how often," came the rebuke, automatically rather, "has your Mother told you _not_ to be familiar with the Gardener? Play if you want to, but do not play with your inferiors. Play with your Uncle Felix, with Colonel Stumper, or with me--"
Another bubble had risen, caught the sunshine, reflected all the colours of the prism, then burst and vanished into airy spray.
"But they're looking with us," Tim insisted eagerly. "We're all looking together for something--Uncle Felix, Come-Back Stumper, everybody. It's wonderful. It never ends."
Aunt Emily's hand, still clutching the umbrella, stole up and put her bonnet straight. It was done to gain a little time apparently. There was a certain hesitation in her. She seemed puzzled. She betrayed excitement too.
"Looking, are you?" she exclaimed, and her voice held a touch of mellowness that was new. "Looking!"
She stopped. She tried to hide the mellowness by swallowing it.
"Yes," said Tim. "There's some one hiding. It's Hide-and-Seek, you see. We're the seekers. It's enormous."
"Will you come with us and look too?" suggested Judy simply. Then while Aunt Emily's lips framed themselves as from long habit into a negative or a reprimand, the child continued before either reached delivery: "There are heaps of signs about; anything lovely or beautiful is a sign--a sign that we're getting warm. We've each got ours. Mine's air. What's yours, Aunty?"
Aunt Emily stared at them; her bewilderment increased apparently; she swallowed hard again. The children returned her stare, gazing innocently into her questioning eyes as if she were some strange bird at the Zoo. The new feeling of kinship with her grew stronger in their hearts. They knew quite well she was looking just as they were; _really_ she longed to play their game of Hide-and-Seek. She was very ignorant, of course, they saw, but they were ready and willing to teach her how to play, and would make it easy for her into the bargain.
"Signs!" she repeated, in a voice that was gentler than they had ever known it. There was almost a sound of youth in it. Judy suddenly realised that Aunt Emily had once been a girl. A softer look shone in
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