The End of the Holidays

“Ingred! Ingred, old girl! I say, Ingred! Wherever have you taken yourself off to?” shouted a boyish voice, as its owner, jumping an obstructing gooseberry bush, tore around the corner of the house from the kitchen garden on to the strip of rough lawn that faced the windows. “Hullo! Cuckoo! Coo-ee! In-gred!”

“I’m here all the time, so you needn’t bawl!” came in resigned tones from under the shade of a large fuchsia. “You’re enough to wake the dead, Chumps! What is it you want now! It’s too hot to go a walk till after tea. I’m trying to get ten minutes peace and quiet!”

Hereward, otherwise “Chumps,” put his feet together in the second position, flung out his arms in what was intended to be a graceful attitude, and made a mock bow worthy of the cinema stage.

“Have them by all means, Madam!” he replied in mincing accents. “Your humble servant has no wish to disturb your ladyship’s elegant repose. He offers a thousand apologies for his unceremonious entrance into your august presence, and implores you to condescend⁠—Ow! Stop it, you brute!

Hereward’s burst of eloquence was brought to an abrupt end by the violent onslaught of a fox-terrier puppy which flung itself upon him and began to worry his ankles with delighted yelps of appreciation.

“Stop it! Keep off, I tell you! I won’t be chewed to ribbons!” he protested, dodging the attacks of the playful but all too sharp teeth, and catching the little dog by the piece of tarred rope that formed its collar. “Here, you’ll get throttled in a minute if you don’t mend your manners.”

“Give him to his auntie, bless his heart!” laughed Ingred, extending welcoming arms to the fat specimen of puppyhood, and rolling him about on her knee. “Oh, he did make you dance! You looked so funny! There, precious! Don’t chump auntie’s fingers. Go bye-byes now. Snuggle down on auntie’s dress, and⁠—”

“If you’ve quite finished talking idiotic nonsense to that little beast,” interrupted Hereward sarcastically, “you’ll perhaps kindly oblige me by mentioning whether you’re coming or not!”

“Not coming anywhere⁠—too hot!” grunted Ingred, resettling her cushion under the fuchsia bush.

“Right you are! Please yourself and you’ll please me! Though I should have thought the run to Chatcombe⁠—”

Ingred sprang to her feet, dropping the puppy unceremoniously.

“You don’t mean to say Egbert’s finished mending the motor bike? You abominable boy! Why couldn’t you tell me so before?”

“You never gave me the chance⁠—just said offhand you wouldn’t go anywhere. Yes, the engine’s running like a daisy, and the sidecar’s on, and Egbert’s fussing to be off. If you really change your mind and want to go⁠—”

But by this time Ingred was round the corner of the house; so, shaking a philosophic head at the ways of girls in general, her brother gathered a gooseberry or two en route, and followed her in the direction of the stable-yard.

The Saxons were spending their summer holidays at a farm near the seaside, and for the first time in four long years the whole family was reunited. Mr. Saxon, Egbert, and Athelstane had only just been demobilized, and had hardly yet settled down to civilian life. They had joined the rest of the party at Lynstones before returning to their native town of Grovebury. The six weeks by the sea seemed a kind of oasis between the anxious period of the war that was past and gone, and the new epoch that stretched ahead in the future. To Ingred they were halcyon days. To have her father and brothers safely back, and for the family to be together in the midst of such beautiful scenery, was sufficient for utter enjoyment. She did not wish her mind to venture outside the charmed circle of the holidays. Beyond, when she thought about it all, lay a nebulous prospect, in the center of which school loomed large.

On this particular hot August afternoon, Ingred welcomed an excursion in the sidecar. She had not felt inclined to walk down the white path under the blazing sun to the glaring beach, but it was another matter to spin along the high road till, as the fairy tales put it, her hair whistled in the wind. Egbert was anxious to set off, so Hereward took his place on the luggage-carrier, and, after some backfiring, the three started forth. It was a glorious run over moorland country, with glimpses of the sea on the one hand, and craggy tors on the other, and round them billowy masses of heather, broken here and there by runnels of peat-stained water. If Egbert exceeded the speed-limit, he certainly had the excuse of a clear road before him; there were no hedges to hide advancing cars, neither was there any possibility of whisking round a corner to find a hay-cart blocking the way. In the course of an hour they had covered a considerable number of miles, and found themselves whirling down the tremendous hill that led to the seaside town of Chatcombe.

Arrived in the main street they left the motorcycle at a garage, and strolled on to the promenade, joining the crowd of holidaymakers who were sauntering along in the heat, or sitting on the benches watching the children digging in the sand below. Much to Ingred’s astonishment she was suddenly hailed by her name, and, turning, found herself greeted with enthusiasm by a schoolfellow.

“Ingred! What a surprise!”

“Avis! Who’d have thought of seeing you?”

“Are you staying here?”

“No, only over for the afternoon.”

“We’ve rooms at Beach View over there. Come along and have some tea with us, and your brothers too. Yes, indeed you must! Mother will be delighted to see you all. I shan’t let you say no!”

Borne away by her hospitable friend, Ingred presently found herself sitting on a seat in the front garden of a tall boardinghouse facing the sea, and while Egbert and Hereward discussed motorcycling with Avis’s father, the two girls enjoyed a confidential chat together.

“Only a few days now,” sighed Avis, “then we’ve got to leave all this and go home. How long are you staying at Lynstones, Ingred?”

“A fortnight more, but don’t talk of going home. I want the holidays to last forever!”

“So do I, but they won’t. School begins on the twenty-first of September. It will be rather sport to go to the new buildings at last, won’t it? By the by, now the war’s over, and we’ve all got our own again, I suppose you’re going back to Rotherwood, aren’t you?”

“I suppose so, when it’s ready.”

“But surely the Red Cross cleared out ages ago, and the whole place has been done up? I saw the paperhangers there in June.”

“Oh, yes!” Ingred’s voice was a little strained.

“You’ll be so glad to be living there again,” continued Avis. “I always envied you that lovely house. You must have hated lending it as a hospital. I expect when you’re back you’ll be giving all sorts of delightful parties, won’t you? At least that’s what the girls at school were saying.”

“It’s rather early to make plans,” temporized Ingred.

“Oh, of course! But Jess and Francie said you’d a gorgeous floor for dancing. I do think a fancy-dress dance is about the best fun on earth. The next time I get an invitation, I’m going as a Quaker maiden, in a gray dress and the duckiest little white cap. Don’t you think it would suit me? With your dark hair you ought to be something Eastern. I can just imagine you acting hostess in a shimmery sort of white-and-gold costume. Do promise to wear white-and-gold!”

“All right,” laughed Ingred.

“It’s so delightful that the war’s over, and we can begin to have parties again, like we used to do. Beatrice Jackson told me she should never forget that Carnival dance she went to at Rotherwood five years ago, and all the lanterns and fairy lamps. Some of the other girls talk about it yet. Hullo, that’s the gong! Come indoors, and we’ll have tea.”

Ingred was very quiet as she went back in the sidecar that evening, though Hereward, sitting on the luggage-carrier, was in high spirits, and fired off jokes at her the whole time. The fact was she was thinking deeply. Certain problems, which she had hitherto cast carelessly away, now obtruded themselves so definitely that they must at last be faced. The process, albeit necessary, was not altogether a pleasant one.

To understand Ingred’s perplexities we must give a brief account of the fortunes of her family up to the time this story begins. Mr. Saxon was an architect, who had made a good connection in the town of Grovebury. Here he had designed and built for himself a very beautiful house, and had liberally entertained his own and his children’s friends. When war broke out, he had been amongst the first to volunteer for his country’s service, and, as a further act of patriotism, he and his wife had decided to offer the use of “Rotherwood” for a Red Cross Hospital. The three boys were then at school, Egbert and Athelstane at Winchester, and Hereward at a preparatory school; so, storing the furniture, Mrs. Saxon moved into rooms with Quenrede and Ingred, who were attending the girls’ college in Grovebury as day boarders. For the whole period of the war this arrangement had continued; Rotherwood was given over to the wounded soldiers, and Mrs. Saxon herself worked as one of their most devoted nurses.

In course of time Egbert and Athelstane had also joined the army, and with three of her menkind at the front, their mother had been more than ever glad to fill up at the hospital the hours when her girls were absent from her at school. Then came the Armistice, and the blessed knowledge that, though not yet home again, the dear ones were no longer in danger. By April the Red Cross had finished its work in Grovebury; the remaining patients regretfully departed, the wards were dismantled of their beds, and Rotherwood was handed back to its rightful owners.

Naturally it needed much renovation and decorating before it was again fit for a private residence, and paperers and painters had been busy there for many weeks. They had only just removed the ladders by the middle of July.

It was nearly August before Mr. Saxon, Egbert, and Athelstane were finally demobilized, and they had gone straight to Lynstones to join the rest of the family at the farmhouse rooms. What was to happen after the delirious joy of the holiday was over, Ingred did not know. She had several times mentioned to her mother the prospect of their return to Rotherwood, but Mrs. Saxon had always evaded the subject, saying: “Wait till Daddy comes back!” and the welcoming of their three heroes had seemed a matter of such paramount importance that in comparison with it even the question of their beloved Rotherwood might stand aside.

The Saxons were a particularly united family, tremendously proud of one another, and interested in each other’s doings. Their name bespoke their old English origin, which (except in the case of Ingred) was further vouched for by their blue eyes, fair skins, and flaxen hair. Egbert and Athelstane were strapping young fellows of six feet, and thirteen-year-old Hereward was taller already than Ingred. Quenrede, immensely proud of her quaint Saxon name, and not at all pleased that the family generally shortened it to Queenie, had just left school, and had turned up her long fair pigtail, put on a grownup and rather condescending manner, powdered the tip of her classic little nose, and was extremely particular about the cut of her skirts and the fit of her suede shoes. It was a grievance to Quenrede that, as she expressed it, she had “missed the war.” She had longed to go out to France and drive an ambulance, or to whirl over English roads on a motorcycle, buying up hay for the Government, or to assist in training horses, or to help in some other patriotic job of an equally interesting and exciting character.

“It’s too bad that just when I’m old enough all the jolly things are closed to women!” she groused. “If Mother had only let me leave school a year ago, I’d at least have had three months’ fun. Life’s going to be very slow now. There’s nothing sporty to do at all!”

Ingred, the youngest but one, and fifteen on her last birthday, was the only dark member of the fair Saxon family. At present she was not nearly so good-looking as pretty Quenrede; her mouth was a trifle heavy and her cheeks lacked color; but her eyes had depths that were not seen in her sister’s, and her thick brown hair fell far below her waist. She would gladly have exchanged it for the lintwhite locks of Hereward.

“Queenie was always chosen for a fairy at school plays,” she grumbled, “and they never would have me, though her dresses would have come in for me so beautifully. I don’t see why some fairies shouldn’t have dark hair! And it was just as bad when we acted The Merchant of Venice. Miss Carter gave ‘Portia’ to Francie Hall, and made me take ‘Jessica,’ and Francie was a perfect stick, and spoilt the whole thing! Next time, I declare I’ll bargain to wear a golden wig, and see what happens.”

Ingred had been educated at Grovebury College since the morning when, a fat little person of five, she had taken her place in the Kindergarten. She and Quenrede had always been favorites in the school. In prewar days they had been allowed to give delightful parties at Rotherwood to their form-mates, and though that had not been possible during the last five years, everybody knew that their beautiful home had been lent to the Red Cross, and admired their patriotism in thus giving it for the service of the nation. From Avis’s remarks that afternoon it was evident that the girls at the college expected the Saxons to return immediately to Rotherwood, and were looking forward to being invited to entertainments there during the coming autumn and winter. Ingred had contrived to parry her friend’s interested questions, but she felt the time had come when she must be prepared to give some definite answer to those who inquired about their future plans. She managed to catch her mother alone next morning for a quiet chat.

“Mumsie, dear,” she began. “I’ve been wanting to ask you this⁠—are we going back to Rotherwood after the holidays?”

Mrs. Saxon folded up her sewing, put her thimble and scissors away in her workbasket, and leaned her elbow on the arm of the garden seat as if prepared for conversation.

“And I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this, Ingred. Shall you be very disappointed when I tell you ‘No’?”

“Oh, Muvvie!” Ingred’s tone was agonized.

“It can’t be helped, little woman! It can’t indeed! I think you’re old enough now to understand if I explain. You know this war has hit a great many people very hard. There has been a sort of general financial seesaw; some have made large fortunes, but others have lost them. We come in the latter list. When your father went out to France, he had to leave his profession to take care of itself, and other architects have stepped in and gained the commissions that used to come to his office. It may take him a long while to pull his connection together again, and the time of waiting will be one of much anxiety for him. Then, most of our investments, which used to pay such good dividends, are worth hardly anything now, and only bring us in a pittance compared with former years. Instead of being rich people, we shall have to be very careful indeed to make ends meet. To return to Rotherwood is utterly out of the question, and with the price of everything doubled and trebled, and our income in the inverse ratio, it is impossible to keep up so big an establishment nowadays.”

“Where are we going to live, then?” asked Ingred in a strangled voice.

“At the bungalow that Daddy built on the moors. Fortunately the tenant was leaving, and we had not let it to anyone else. In present circumstances it will suit us very well. Athelstane is to be entered in the medical school at Birkshaw; he can ride over every day on the motor-bicycle. We had hoped to send him to study in London, but that’s only one of the many plans that have ‘gane agley.’ ”

“Are Hereward and I to go in to Grovebury every day?”

“Hereward can manage it all right, but I shall arrange for you to be a weekly boarder at the new hostel. You can come home from Friday to Monday. Now, don’t cry about it, childie!” as a big tear splashed down Ingred’s dress. “After all, we’ve much to be thankful for. If we had lost Father, or Egbert, or Athelstane out in France we might indeed grieve. So long as we have each other we’ve got the best thing in life, and we must all cling together as a family, and help one another on. Cheer up!”

“It will be simply h⁠—h⁠—h⁠—hateful to go back to school this term, and not live at R⁠—r⁠—r⁠—rotherwood!” sobbed Ingred.

Her mother patted the dark head that rested against her knee.

“Poor little woman! Remember it’s just as hard for all the rest of us. We’ve each got a burden to carry at present. Suppose we see who can be pluckiest over it. We’re fighting fortune now, instead of the Hun, and we must show her a brave face. Won’t you march with the family regiment, and keep the colors flying?”

“I’ll try,” said Ingred, scrubbing her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief.