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UP THE HILL

AND OVER

BY

ISABEL ECCLESTONE MACKAY
Author of "The House of Windows," etc.






_The road runs back and the road runs on,
But the air has a scent of clover_.
_And another day brings another dawn,
When we're up the hill and over_.



TO MY MOTHER

WHO MIGHT HAVE LIKED THIS BOOK HAD SHE LIVED TO READ IT





CHAPTER I


"From Wimbleton to Wombleton is fifteen miles,
From Wombleton to Wimbleton is fifteen miles,
From Wombleton to Wimbleton,
From Wimbleton to Wombleton,
From Wombleton--to Wimbleton--is fif--teen miles!"

The cheery singing ended abruptly with the collapse of the singer upon a
particularly inviting slope of grass. He was very dusty. He was very
hot. The way from Wimbleton to Wombleton seemed suddenly extraordinarily
long and tiresome. The slope was green and cool. Just below it slept a
cool, green pool, deep, delicious--a swimming pool such as dreams
are made of.

If there were no one about--but there was some one about. Further down
the slope, and stretched at full length upon it, lay a small boy. Near
the small boy lay a packet of school books.

The wayfarer's lips relaxed in an appreciative smile.

"Little boy," he called, somewhat hoarsely on account of the dust in his
throat, "little boy, can you tell me how far it is from here to
Wimbleton?"

Apparently the little boy was deaf.

The questioner raised his voice, "or if you can oblige me with the exact
distance to Wombleton," he went on earnestly, "that will do quite
as well."

No answer, civil or otherwise, from the youth by the pool. Only a
convulsive wiggle intended to cover the undefended position of the
school books.

The traveller's smile broadened but he made no further effort toward
sociability. Neither did he go away. To the dismayed eyes, watching
through the cover of some long grass, he was clearly a person devoid of
all fine feeling. Or perhaps he had never been taught not to stay where
he wasn't wanted. Mebby he didn't even know that he _wasn't_ wanted.

In order to remove all doubt as to the latter point, the small boy's
head shot up suddenly out of the covering grass.

"What d'ye want?" he asked forbiddingly.

"Little boy," said the stranger, "I thank you. I want for nothing."

The head collapsed, but quickly came up again.

"Ain't yeh goin' anywhere?" asked a despairing voice.

"I was going, little boy, but I have stopped."

This was so true that the small boy sat up and scowled.

"I judge," went on the other, "that I am now midway between Arden,
otherwise, Wimbleton, and Arcady, sometime known as Wombleton. The
question is, which way and how? A simple sum in arithmetic will--little
boy, do not frown like that! The wind may change. Smile nicely, and I'll
tell you something."

Urged by necessity, the badgered one attempted to look pleasant.

"That's better! Now, my cheerful child, what I really want to know is
'how many miles to Babylon?'"

A reluctant grin showed that the small boy's early education had not
been utterly neglected. "Aw, what yeh givin' us?" he protested
sheepishly, "if it's Coombe you're lookin' for, it's 'bout a mile and a
half down the next holler."

"Holler?" the stranger's tone was faintly questioning. "Oh, I see. You
mean 'hollow,' which being interpreted means 'valley,' which means, I
fear, another hill. Little boy, do you want to carry a knapsack?"

"Nope."

"No? Strange that nobody seems to want to carry a knapsack. I least of
all. Well," lifting the object with disfavour, "good-day to you. I
perceive that you grow impatient for those aquatic pleasures for which
you have temporarily abjured the more severe delights of scholarship.
Little boy, I wish you a very good swim."

"Gee," muttered the small boy, "gee, ain't he the word-slinger!"

He returned to the pool but something of its charm was dissipated. Vague
thoughts of school inspectors and retribution troubled its waters. Not
that he was at all afraid of school inspectors, or that he really
suspected the stranger of being one. Still, discretion is a wise thing
and word-slinging is undoubtedly a form of art much used in high
scholastic circles. Also there had been a remark about a simple sum in
arithmetic which was, to say the least, disquieting. With a bursting
sigh, the small sinner scrambled to his feet, reached for the hated
books, and disappeared rapidly in the direction of the halls of
learning.

Meanwhile the stranger, unconscious of the moral awakening behind him,
plodded wearily up the steep and sunny hill. As he is our hero we shall
not describe him. There is no hurry, and there will be other occasions
upon which he will appear to better advantage. At present let us be
content with knowing that there was no reason for the hat and suit he
wore save a mistaken idea of artistic suitability. "If I am going to be
a tramp," he had said, "I want to look like a tramp." He didn't, but his
hat and coat did.

He felt like a tramp, though, if to feel like a tramp is to feel hot and
sticky and hungry. Perhaps real tramps do not feel like this. Perhaps
they enjoy walking. At any rate they do not carry knapsacks, but betray
a touching faith in Providence in the matter of clean linen and
tooth brushes.

Before the top of the hill was reached, Dr. Callandar wished devoutly
that in this last respect he had behaved like the real thing. In setting
out to lead the simple life the ultimate is to be recommended--and
knapsacks are not the ultimate. They are heavy things with the property
of growing heavier, and prove of little use save to sit upon in damp
places. The doctor's feelings in regard to his were intensified by an
utter lack of dampness anywhere. The top of the hill was a sun-crowned
eminence, blazingly, blisteringly, suffocatingly hot. The valley, spread
out beneath him, was soaked in sunshine, a haze of heat quivered visibly
above the roofs of the pretty town it cradled. There was a river and
there were woods, but the trees hung motionless, and the river wound
like a snake of brass among them.

The doctor regarded both the knapsack and the prospect resentfully. He
had hoped for a breeze upon the hill-top, and there was no breeze.
Raising his hand to remove his hat, he noticed that the hand was
trembling, and swore softly. The hand continued to tremble, and holding
it out before him he watched it, interestedly, until a powerful will
brought the quivering nerves into subjection.

"Jove!" he muttered. "Not a moment too soon--this holiday!"

Then, hat in hand, he started down the hill.

It was a long hill, very long, much longer than it had any need or right
to be. It had a twist in its nature which would not allow it to run
straight. It meandered; it hesitated; it never knew its own mind, but
twisted and turned and thought better of it a dozen times in half a
mile. It was a hill with short cuts favourably known to small boys and
to tramps with a distaste for highways; but this tramp, not being a real
one, knew none of them, and was compelled to do exactly as the hill did.
The result was, that when at last it slipped into the cool shade of a
row of beeches at its base, its victim was as exhausted as itself.

He was thirsty, too, and, worse still, he knew from a certain dizzy
blindness that one of his bad headaches was coming on--and there still
lay another mile between him and the town. Pressing his hand against his
eyes to restore for the moment their normal clearness of vision, he saw,
a short way down the road, a gate; and through the gate and behind some
trees, the white gleam of a building. But better than all, he saw,
between the gate and the building, a red pump! Then the blindness and
pain descended again, and he stumbled on more by faith than by sight;
blundering through the half-open gate, his precarious course directed
wholly by the pump's exceeding redness, which shone like a beacon
fire ahead.

Fortunately, it was a real pump with real water and a sucker in good
standing, warranted to need no priming. At the stroke of the red handle
the good, cool water gurgled and arose with a delightful "plop!" It
splashed from the spout freely upon the face and hands of the victim of
the long hill--delicious, life-giving! The delight it brought seemed
compensation almost for heat and pain and weariness. Callandar felt that
if he could only let its sweetness stream indefinitely over his closed
eyes it would wash away the blindness and the ache. Perhaps--

"I am afraid I cannot allow you to use this pump!" said a crisp voice
primly. "This is not," with capital letters, "a Public Pump!"

Callandar wiped the surplus water from his face and looked up. There,
beside him in the yellow haze of his semi-blindness, stood the owner of
the voice. She appeared to be clothed in white, tall and commanding.
Surrounded by the luminous mist, her appearance was not unlike that of a
cool and capable avenging angel.

"This pump," went on the angel with nice precision, "is not for the use
of pedestrians."

"Ah!" said the pedestrian.

"If you will continue down the road," the voice went on, "you will find,
when you reach the town, a public pump. You may use that."

The pedestrian, feeling dizzier than ever, sat down upon the pump
platform. It was wet and cool.

"The objection to that," he said wisely, "is simple. I cannot continue
down the road."

"I should like you to go at once," patiently. "There is a pump--"

The pedestrian raised a deprecating hand.

"Let us admit the pump! Doubtless the pump is there, but there is a pump
here also, and a pump in the hand is worth two pumps, an ice-box and a
John Collins in town. You doubtless know the situation created by
Mahomet and the mountain? This is the same, with a difference. In this
case the pump will not come to me and I cannot go to the pump. Therefore
we both remain _in statu quo_. Do I make myself plain?"

Apparently he did, for there was no answer.



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