I am not sure but that they were just a little jealous of the new brother. I am afraid they felt as if he had some how put both their small noses out of joint.
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So now you understand why Rafe and Alix were sitting rather disconsolately under the ilex, though the sun was shining brightly enough to melt away all clouds and mists inside as well as outside, any one would have thought. Alix turned round. She was sitting on the end of the rustic bench, swinging her legs, which was not difficult, as they scarcely reached the ground, and staring up at the thickly-growing branches overhead. But now she looked at Rafe — he felt a little nervous; was she going to take offence at his speech? They came out of the hum of her spinning-wheel somehow, and the children could hear them when they sat down on the floor beside her.
Oh , if we could find somebody like that!
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If there have never been any, what began all the fairy stories? Both children sat silent for a moment or two, their eyes gazing before them. Suddenly on the short green turf appeared a tiny figure, a wren, so tame that she hopped fearlessly to within a very short distance of the little brother and sister, and then, standing still, seemed to look up at them with her bright eyes, her small head cocked knowingly on one side.
The wren hopped on a few steps, still looking back at them. The children slipped off the seat and moved softly after her without speaking. On she went, hopping, then fluttering just a little way above the ground, then hopping again, till in this way she had led them right across the wide stretch of lawn to some shrubberies at the far side.
Over the low wall clambered the children, to find to their delight that the wren was in the lane before them, just a little way ahead. But now she took to flying higher and faster than she had yet done; to keep up with her at all they had to run, and even with this they sometimes lost sight of her altogether for a minute or two. But they kept up bravely — they were too eager and excited to waste breath by speaking.
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The race lasted for some minutes, till at last, just as Alix was about to give in, Rafe suddenly twitched her arm. They both stood still and looked. Yes, there was Madam Wren on the topmost bar of a dilapidated wooden gate, standing between two solid posts at what had once been the entrance to the beautiful garden of an ancient house. How beautiful neither the children nor any one now living knew, for even the very oldest inhabitants of that part of the country could only dimly remember having been told by their grandparents, or great-grandparents perhaps, how once upon a time Ladywood Hall had been the pride of the neighbourhood.
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The wren flapped her wings, then rose upwards and flew off. This time, somehow, the children felt that it was no use trying to follow her. We must go in now or they will come hunting us up and find out all about it; and you know, Rafe, if it has anything to do with fairies we must keep it a secret. The children were not very fortunate in their nurse. Perhaps this helped to make them feel lonely and dull sometimes, when there scarcely seemed real reason for their being so.
She was a good woman, and meant to be kind, and their mother trusted her completely. But she was getting old, and was rather tired of children. She had had such a lot to bring up — the four big brothers and sisters of Rafe and Alix, and before them a large family of their cousins. The walk this afternoon would not have been any livelier than usual, so far as nurse was concerned, but the children were so brimful of their new ideas that they felt quite bright and happy, and after a while even nurse was won over to enter into their talk, or at least to answer their questions pretty cheerfully.
For though of course they had not the least idea of telling her their secret, it was too much on their minds for them not to chatter round about it, so to say. People have to work too hard nowadays to give any thought to fairies or fairyland. Sayings I may have heard, just countryside talk, when I was a child. My old granny, who lived and died in the village here, would have it that, for those that cared to look for them, there were odd sights and sounds in the grounds of the old house down the lane. Beautiful singing her mother had heard there when she was a girl; and once when a cow strayed in there for a night, they said when she came out again she was twice the cow she had been before, and that no milk was ever as good as hers.
It was but an old tale.
This was very satisfactory so far as it went, but nurse would say no more, doubtless because she had nothing more to say. We must go to work very cautiously, so as not to offend them in any way. The wren brought a regular message. She had seen so little of the children lately that she was feeling rather sorry for them, and all the more ready to agree to any wish of theirs. So they had no difficulty in getting her consent to their picnic plan for to-morrow.
And the weather was wonderfully settled, as it sometimes is even in England, though early in the year. So the next morning saw them set off, carrying a little basket of provisions and a large parasol, full of eagerness and excitement as to what might be before them. They did not cross the lawn as they had done the day before, for they had a sort of feeling that they did not wish anyone to see them start, or to know exactly which way they went. It added to the pleasant mystery of the expedition.
The sight of the gate-posts reminded Alix of the bird, and she stopped short with some misgiving. I never thought of it before.
There was no difficulty in getting into the grounds, for though the gate on its rusty hinges would have been far too heavy for the children to move, there was a space between it and the posts where the wood had rotted away, through which it was easy for them to creep. First came Rafe, then the basket, next Alix, and finally the big parasol.
It was a good while since they had been in the Ladywood garden, and when they had got on to their feet again, they stood still for a minute or two looking round them.
It was a curious-looking place certainly; the very beauty of it had something strange and dream-like about it. Please return books to us within fifteen working days.
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