“Did you know I am going with Ooie tomorrow with a load of young cattle. Father says it is 16 miles and we will be off before you are out of bed. Aha! ” And the 11-year-old put his head on one side and flashed his bright eyes triumphantly at me. “You couldn’t walk so far. I can.”
Meekly I admit my inferiority, proud to be even part owner of such sturdy boys.
They put sandwiches in their pockets and a few coins to purchase each a bottle of lemonade on the way.
The beautiful sunshine induced them to search out their summer straws and Ooie actually came down stairs in a becoming flannel suit for there were villages to pass through and who knows how many pairs of girlish eyes would glance with interest at the well-dressed young cattle-men.
Willie and Ailie had the grandest morning to themselves in the absence of the bigger brothers; never for a moment separated, talking and laughing incessantly with a brief interlude of loud whispering when in wrestling Ailie was thrown to the ground or when in swinging a big stick she struck her brother’s leg.
Great was their delight when they learned that father was taking the car to bring the boys back from the far end. It isn’t that they love motoring particularly; it is merely that, like the rest of us, they are fond of a change and of getting about. For a car provides rather a confined space in which little ones can play and they are a charge to the older occupants when they persist in moving about and hanging over first one side and then the other.
They behaved, however, pretty well and I tried to keep a hand on at least one of them at a time.
After we had gone a dozen miles or so there were signs in the road way. “It is not so long.” said father. “Since the cattle passed here.” Round another bend were farther signs, “We will be up to them directly.”
We slowed up to ask some road menders how far it was to such a farm and if two boys had passed with a bunch of young cattle. Then we spied the group straggling on the wide grassy side way with two straw hats bobbing behind.
In a flash we came up to them, the wee one limping slightly. “Would you like to get into the car, John?” asked father.
“It doesn’t matter,” was the stout reply. “I can finish. I can walk all the way.”
But the glance that met mine wasn’t as triumphant as the one I got the previous evening. “Cheero, little soldier,” I cried as we flashed away from them. But I worried at the thought of the hot sun and the long, long brae the limping foot had to climb. So when father stopped the car at the top to make enquiries at the nearest house, Ailie and I walked back to meet them and found a little house at the roadside where a card dangled informing us that mineral waters were sold there. We got two bottles and a tumbler — Ailie carrying the opener — and very soon the weary procession came up to us. Not the smallest drop of the precious liquid was left, and Ailie, and I had to buy other two bottles to carry to the car for the babes.
When John learned that the destination of the cattle was a quarter of a mile away, beyond the top of the hill, his pride gave way and he consented to let father complete the journey for him.
“It’s the last house,” the road men told us. “After you get to the top of the hill, it’s the last house,” was the answer shouted from the doorway of the “mineral waters” cottage.
“Go on until you come to the last house,” was the direction given at the next farm, evidently a small scattered clanship, one house of which was the last.
Cars have their moods and their whimsies. Ours was not at all in a good humour going — very irritating to the driver but quite agreeable to such as I who do not love being whisked past the spring woods at lightning speeds. But returning, it appeared as if she were a sentient animal that knew she was going home for a meal and I had to clutch at my hat and hold on to the corner of a rug with no spare fingers for the restless weans who were in constant movement and changed their position 100 times in half an hour.
“Now,” I thought, “Willie is safe down there at the bottom and Ailie is going to fall asleep, her feet on my knee and her head against John.”
Alas, while I was in the middle of this comforting muse, there was a sudden upheaval of legs, heads, arms and hats and I had to make a frantic clutch at the end of an escaping rug while my veil parted from my head or vice versa and I had a confused impression of three young boys all changing places and re-arranging themselves in fresh disorder.
“Where’s Ailie’s hat I managed to breath. Don’t step on those hats.” For convention’s sake, they are sent out with covered heads but each was now bearing the big brother’s brown head in front and three lighter pows pows behind . “Oh, the hats are alright,” said John cheerily.
To my relief I saw Ailie set herself comfortably at my feet her little Liberty — miraculously untrodden — by her side. Then, as we turned the last and worst corner, where we always sway greatly to the outer side, I saw a flash of white straw hats disappearing towards the hedge and then a cry of astonishment arose from us when we found that Ailie had disappeared with them.
The farther door had sprung open and the swing of the car shot her clean out on to the grassy turf. Beyond the fright she was quite unhurt and, as I sprang out for her, she had risen to her feet and was gathering up the three straw hats crying beautifully as well she might. When we had all recovered from the fright later on, finding that she had escaped without a bruise, father laughed at the memory of the first sight of her as he looked back, carrying her bundle of hats.
The long walk had tired John so much that when Willie begged me to go for a walk in the woods he would not go with us. So we had rather a quiet little walk. Willie was looking out for a suitable tree to climb when a voice shouted hullo and there was John, his limp nearly gone, his eyes quite bright and his voice as cheery as yesterday’s. He had felt it dull without us. They selected their favourite tree and gave me an exhibition of their power as climbers, pointing out the precise knoll on which I could sit and have a uninterrupted view of their performance.
Ailie at this moment appeared and to my astonishment climbed to the arm chair more keenly than Willie settling herself in the fork of the branches and swinging in a way to make me giddie. It was just as well we do not see with our older eyes all the escapades the young ones are up to.