“Thou art the
sky, and thou art the nest as well.”
By the shimmer of blue under the beeches Roy knew that summer—“really truly summer!”—had come back at last. And summer meant picnics and strawberries and out-of-door lessons, and the lovely hot smell of pine-needles in the pine-wood, and the lovelier cool smell of moss cushions in the beech-wood—home of squirrels and birds and bluebells; unfailing wonderland of discovery and adventure.
Roy was an imaginative creature, isolated a little by the fact of being three and a half years older than Christine, and “miles older” than Jerry and George, mere babies, for whom the magic word adventure held no meaning at all.
Luckily, there was Tara, from the black-and-white house: Tara, who shared his lessons and, in spite of the drawback of being a girl, had long ago won her way into his private world of knight-errantry and romance. Tara was eight years and five weeks old; quite a reasonable age in the eyes of Roy, whose full name was Nevil Le Roy Sinclair, and who would be nine in June. With the exception of grown-ups, who didn’t count, there was no one older than nine in his immediate neighbourhood. Tara came nearest: but she wouldn’t be nine till next year; and by that time, he would be ten. The point was, she couldn’t catch him up if she tried ever so.
It was Tara’s mother, Lady Despard, who had the happy idea of sharing lessons, that would otherwise be rather a lonely affair for both. But it was Roy’s mother who had the still happier idea of teaching them herself. Tara’s mother joined in now and then; but Roy’s mother—who loved it beyond everything—secured the lion’s share. And Roy was old enough by now to be proudly aware of his own good fortune. Most other children of his acquaintance were afflicted with tiresome governesses, who wore ugly jackets and hats, who said “Don’t drink with your mouth full,” and “Don’t argue the point!”—Roy’s favourite sin—and always told you to “Look in the dictionary” when you found a scrumptious new word and wanted to hear all about it. The dictionary, indeed! Roy privately regarded it as one of the many mean evasions to which grown-ups were addicted.
His ripe experience on the subject was gleaned partly from neighbouring families, partly from infrequent visits to “Aunt Jane”—whom he hated with a deep unreasoned hate—and “Uncle George,” who had a kind, stupid face, but anyhow tried to be funny and made futile bids for favour with pen-knives and half-crowns. Possibly it was these uncongenial visits that quickened in him very early the consciousness that his own beautiful home was, in some special way, different from other boys’ homes, and his mother—in a still more special way—different from other boys’ mothers....