Before I speak of what happened at school, I must say how and when I first became known to the doctor’s boy.
It was during the previous Christmastide. On Christmas Eve I awoke in the dead of night with the sense of awakening in another world. The church-bells were ringing, and there was singing outside our house, under the window of my mother’s room. After listening for a little while I made my voice as soft as I could and said:
“Mamma, what is it’?”
“Hush, dear! It is the Waits. Lie still and listen,” said my mother.
I lay as long as my patience would permit, and then creeping over to the window I saw a circle of men and women, with lanterns, and the frosty air smoking about their red faces. After a while they stopped singing, and then the chain of our front door rattled, and I heard my father’s loud voice asking the singers into the house.
They came in, and when I was back in bed, I heard them talking and then laughing in the room below, with Aunt Bridget louder than all the rest, and when I asked what she was doing my mother told me she was serving out bunloaf and sherry-wine.
I fell asleep before the incident was over, but as soon as I awoke in the morning I conceived the idea of singing the Waits myself. Being an artful little thing I knew that my plan would be opposed, so I said nothing about it, but I got my mother to play and sing the carol I had heard overnight, until my quick ear had mastered both tune and words, and when darkness fell on Christmas night I proceeded to carry out my intention.
In the heat of my impatience I forgot to put on cloak or hat, and stealing out of the house I found myself in the carriage drive with nothing on but a pair of thin slippers and the velvet frock that left my neck and arms so bare. It was snowing, and the snow-flakes were whirling round me and making me dizzy, for in the light from my mother’s window they seemed to come up from the ground as well as down from the sky.
When I got out of the light of the window, it was very dark, and I could only see that the chestnuts in the drive seemed to have white blankets on them which looked as if they had been hung out to dry. It was a long time before I got to the gate, and then I had begun to be nervous and to have half a mind to turn back. But the thought of the bunloaf and the sherry-wine buoyed me up, and presently I found myself on the high road, crossing a bridge and turning down a lane that led to the sea, whose moaning a mile away was the only sound I could hear.
I knew quite well where I was going to. I was going to the doctor’s house. It was called Sunny Lodge, and it was on the edge of Yellow Gorse Farm. I had seen it more than once when I had driven out in the carriage with my mother, and had thought how sweet it looked with its whitewashed walls and brown thatched roof and the red and white roses which grew over the porch.