She certainly felt better for the food, and more fit to face the long drive home; and never to her life’s end did she forget that drive on that sunny June morning—the dazzling white dusty road stretching before them, the hedges powdered with dust, the scent of the dog-roses and meadow-sweet blossoming so bravely and sending up their fragrance, in spite of their dusty covering, to cheer the passers-by. Then, when at last they reached the town, familiar faces looked up and recognized her, and most of them greeted her sympathetically.
It was all so natural, so unchanged; yet to Kitty, seeing it for the first time with eyes dazed with trouble, it seemed as though she had never seen it before—at least, not as it looked to her now. She tried to realize that it was only she who had changed, that all the rest was just as it had always been. She felt suddenly very much older, that life was a more serious and important thing than it had been—so serious and important that it struck her as strange that any one could smile or seem gay.
With kind thoughtfulness Rowe did not stop at all on his way as usual, but drove the ’bus straight up to the house at once. As they drew near, Kitty, glancing up to speak to him, saw him look anxiously up over the front of the house. “It’s all right,” he murmured to himself; then aloud he said more cheerfully, “I’m hoping, missie, you may find your poor aunt better,” and Kitty knew that he had feared lest they might find the blinds drawn down.
KITTY’S HANDS ARE FULL.
As soon as the ’bus had drawn up, the door of the house was flung open and Fanny tore out. “Oh, my dear!” she cried, almost lifting her little mistress down bodily in her plump arms. “Oh, my dear Miss Kitty, I’m that glad to see ’ee! They said as the tellygram couldn’t reach ’ee in time to catch that train, but I knew better. I knew if you got that there message you’d come by that early train, even if it had started.”
“What telegram?” asked Kitty. “I haven’t had one.”
“Why, to tell ’ee to come ’ome ’cause Mrs. Pike is so ill. And if it haven’t reached ’ee, why the postmaster-general ought to be written to ’bout it. But,” breaking off with sudden recollection, “you’m come; and if you didn’t get that tellygram, whatever made ’ee to? You didn’t have no token, did ’ee?”
“I had Betty’s letter,” said Kitty, trying to sort things out in her mind. “That was all I had, and that brought me. I expect I had left before the telegram reached. I remember now I passed a boy on my way to the station. But what about Betty? Have you heard anything? Has she come back? Have you sent in search of her? Weller told me about poor Aunt Pike—oh, Isn’t it dreadful, Fanny! Two such awful things to happen in one day! But he didn’t know anything about Betty, and I didn’t tell him. She hasn’t been found, I suppose? I must go. I think I may be able to find her if I start at once—but there is Aunt Pike. What must I do first?” despairingly. “I must find Betty. She has no one else to look after her, while Aunt Pike has you.”