The Diddakoi | Chapter 8 of 15 - Part: 1 of 8

Author: Rumer Godden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1037 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter Three

In Mrs Blount’s classroom Kizzy’s place stayed empty. ‘I suppose those other travellers have taken her away,’ said Mrs Blount.

‘That is what I’m afraid has happened.’ Mr Blount was discouraged. ‘It’s not much use trying with those children. They’re here today and gone tomorrow,’ but it seemed Kizzy was not gone. Soon the wildest rumours were in the school and village: the wicked travellers had set the Lovell caravan on fire, stolen everything in it: Admiral Twiss had chased the travellers out of the orchard and burned the wagon himself. Then, Kizzy Lovell was at the House with Admiral Twiss. The boys and girls looked at one another. With Admiral Twiss! ‘Impossible,’ said the village, but it was not impossible. Mrs Cuthbert had it from the butcher’s boy – he had delivered beef for making beef tea. Kizzy was ill. She had been burnt in the fire. Nat had been seen in Rye buying things at the chemist: a child’s hot-water bottle: cough syrup: prescriptions. Kizzy had not been burnt. She had pneumonia.

‘Pneumonia!’ Mrs Blount felt guilty. ‘I knew she had no coat,’ she told Miss Brooke. ‘I knew and did nothing about it.’

‘Dear Mildred, that wouldn’t have given her pneumonia,’ said Miss Brooke.

For a while Kizzy did not know where she was, at Amberhurst House or anywhere else; she was too ill. There were days of pain and struggling for breath; Peters sponged her burning forehead and wrists with cool water, gave her sips of water or ice cream, but to her he was only a face that loomed near and went away. There were nights when she cried out or screamed in terror about Joe and the knacker . . . the wagon and flames . . . Boyo . . . Mrs Doe’s slap . . . and about school. The Admiral, who sat up with her, learned a great deal about school in those nights. ‘Diddakoi,’ cried Kizzy. ‘Gypsy gypsy joker, get a red hot poker . . . When’s your birthday? . . . bump bump . . . Don’t pull my hair – don’t, don’t!’ It rose to a shriek and the Admiral had to quiet her. He, Peters and Nat took it in turns to stay with Kizzy and it was amazing how gentle and thorough were those male hands that lifted her, changed her, tended her, but Kizzy did not know anything about it until she woke one morning when outside the sun was shining from a sky as blue as the quilt that covered her, and she found herself in a small room, sparsely furnished as old-fashioned rooms for children often were, a little shabby but with a fire burning that sent firelight up the walls. The wallpaper had a pattern of apple blossom, faded now so that it was only a suggestion but, in her haziness, it made Kizzy feel she was back in the orchard. Yet when she looked at herself, was it herself? Were these her own hands and arms and, as she looked under the bedclothes, her own legs? She was wearing a striped jacket and trousers and, I’m clean, thought Kizzy. She had a moment of panic, then Nat was there with his comforting horse smell. ‘’S’all right, you’re at the House,’ said Nat.

‘Joe?’ croaked Kizzy.

‘Safe and well and waiting for the buttercups. Now drink this,’ said Nat.

‘Who is going to look after her?’ asked Mrs Blount.

‘They are,’ said Miss Brooke.

‘Those three men!’

‘But how can they?’ and that was what the village asked. ‘How can they? Poor mite, in that great house,’ and, ‘Men can’t look after a sick child.’ Mrs Cuthbert said it positively, but the Admiral, Peters and Nat looked after Kizzy so well that Doctor Harwell had to agree she did not need a nurse. It was Peters who washed her and gave her a blanket bath every day, washing her with warm water and soap as gently as any woman, an arm or leg at a time, the rest folded in warm blankets; it was Peters who sent Nat into Rye to buy bath powder, a brush and comb and pyjamas. Nat bought boys’ pyjamas – he would not go into a woman’s or girl’s shop, but as Kizzy had never had any she did not know the difference. ‘I slept in my vest,’ she told Nat. Peters made her meals, bringing her soup or milk and honey in little cups, or a spoonful or two of jelly and, when her throat was sore, ice cream.

Kizzy was far too thin; ‘Underweight,’ said Doctor Harwell, ‘and under-nourished.’

‘Well, I can guess they lived on bread and tea.’ Admiral Twiss was vexed with himself. ‘Mrs Lovell had probably grown too old to cook.’

‘It seems the child wouldn’t eat the school dinners. Her teacher thinks the other children told her that hers weren’t paid for.’

‘Not only that,’ said Mr Blount, who had come up to the House about Kizzy. ‘She tore her meat with her fingers and that shocked them.’

‘I ought to have thought about food,’ said the Admiral. ‘I knew the child was there, but one scarcely ever saw her.’

Now Peters was building Kizzy up – in every way. ‘Drink this up, saucepot.’ ‘Now I don’t want a crumb left of that.’ He kept her room clean and polished, with a fire that burned day and night; when it was dusk Kizzy lay and watched the firelight flickering on the walls and ceiling. The fire made work; Peters had to carry coals up twice a day, ‘but an electric fire dries the air,’ said Peters. ‘Not good for her lungs.’

When he was busy, Nat came and sat with her. He rubbed her back – ‘Coo! your bones stick out like a chicken’s,’ said Nat – and told her stories of the horses he had looked after: of Royal who had run in the Derby and the Admiral’s favourite show hunter, Rainbird. ‘Best of all classes at Richmond. I’ll show you his cups and some of the rosettes when you are well,’ but even Nat’s stories were not as good as the Admiral’s, especially the one about Joe. He told Kizzy how Joe had been foaled – ‘Must be twenty-eight years ago. He’s one of the oldest horses I have ever seen,’ – foaled on a farm in Antrim, ‘which is in Ireland.’ How he had been trained as a hunter, lunged over fences and, as a five-year-old, been taken to Dublin for the Summer Show How he had been bought and travelled on the ferry to England, and of the cups and rosettes he, like Rainbird, had won. How, one day, Joe had put his foot in a rabbit hole and broken a bone in his fetlock, ‘so he couldn’t jump any more.’ Then how Kizzy’s grandfather had bought Joe in a sale and Joe had pulled the wagon along the country lanes in England, following the strawberry, hops and apple picking from Kent to Worcestershire and back again, but always landing up in the Admiral’s orchard to spend the winter, until at last he had stayed there all the time with Gran. It was a made-up story, of course, ‘But it might have been Joe?’ asked Kizzy. ‘It easily might,’ said the Admiral.

Every morning he would wrap her in the camel hair dressing gown and carry her to the window and Nat brought Joe, in his halter, on to the drive below. Then the Admiral would put Kizzy in a small rocking chair – she was allowed to sit up now – tuck a rug round her and Peters would bring their ‘elevenses’ on a silver tray, a mug of milk for Kizzy, coffee for the Admiral, and they would have them together. These days of convalescence were perhaps the happiest Kizzy had ever known. With Gran she had been content, but now she was radiantly happy until she had – ‘visitors’ said Kizzy.

‘I am Kizzy Lovell’s teacher. May I see her, please?’ It was Peters’ afternoon out and when the bell rang, Admiral Twiss answered the door. ‘You would never have been let in, else,’ said Mrs Cuthbert.

‘It isn’t curiosity,’ Mrs Blount told the Admiral quickly and, ‘What could I do but let her in,’ he told Peters afterwards.

‘Kizzy,’ said the Admiral when he had opened the bedroom door. ‘Your teacher has come to see you,’ but where was Kizzy? At the word ‘teacher’ she had dived to the bottom of the bed under the bedclothes. ‘School doesn’t seem to be popular,’ said the Admiral.

Mrs Blount was distressed. ‘I tried, indeed I did, but some of them teased her, children can be cruel. Perhaps if I had done what Miss Brooke said . . .’

‘What did she say?’

‘Try to make them interested in her, make her romantic . . . I thought it was rather nonsense at the time.’

‘Sounds more like sense,’ and the Admiral asked, ‘Is that the Miss Brooke who has just been made a magistrate?’

‘I never know how to place Olivia Brooke,’ Mrs Cuthbert had had to admit. It was annoying as, usually, given half an hour, she had people clearly and properly labelled, ‘as if we were all tidy glass jars,’ said Miss Brooke.


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