ROBIN and Jill de Salis stood by the window of the Hill View Private Hotel and watched the rain driving and scudding across the corner of the street and splashing up from the wet pavement below them.
“I suppose there was a view once,” said Robin, blowing on the window-pane and drawing a face with its mouth all turned down at the corners. “That’s what I feel like,” he continued glumly.
“You look rather like it too!” she said. “Oh, blow the rain! We could at any rate go and look for the hills if it was fine. I can’t say that those mustard coloured curtains opposite are exactly what I’d call a view.”
“It isn’t there,” said Bunkle, whose real name was Billy but who was nicknamed Bunkle by his brother and sister because (they said) he talked such a lot of bunk.
He was busy painting at a table behind them.
“What isn’t there?” asked Jill, without looking round.
“The view,” Bunkle replied.
“That’s just what we were saying, you boob,” said Robin.
“I know, but there is a view,” said Bunkle.
“Of Mrs. Snookum’s mustard coloured curtains, yes,” said Jill.
“No, of the hills,” said Bunkle, sucking his brush.
Robin turned round.
“Poor boy,” he remarked, sadly, “there must be a hole in it. Unlucky, in all this rain,” and he went over to Bunkle and felt his head.
“Yes, that’s the trouble. I thought so.”
“What do you mean?” asked Bunkle suspiciously.
“Water on the brain, my boy. Serious disease. Often fatal,” said Robin seriously.
“Well, anyhow, there is,” he said.
“Up there,” said Bunkle, waving his paint brush in the direction of the ceiling. “When it isn’t raining,” he added.
“I say,” asked Jill, “do you feel quite all right, Bunkle? You haven’t got a headache or anything?”
“No, why should I have?” asked Bunkle, surprised. “I only had two kippers for breakfast, besides porridge and things.”
Jill caught hold of his chair and pulled it round to face the window.
“Now,” she said. “Can you see a house with two storeys and mustard coloured curtains in all the windows and other houses all up and down the street on either side of it?”
“Well, then, where’s the view?”
“Now I’ll ask some questions,” he said, in a weary voice. “Hills are high things, aren’t they?”
“Of course,” answered Jill, puzzled.
“And a two-storeyed house is a fairly low thing, isn’t it?”
“Well, the view’s up there. . . over the chimneys. . . when there is one.”
“You mean you really can see the hills from here, when it’s fine? How do you know?” asked Robin.
“Ada told me. She said they look ‘ever so pretty when the sun is shining’ but that she ‘don’t take no notice, not as a general rule.’ She ‘do be too busy dusting they cobwebs, drat them.’ ”
Bunkle’s voice was so exactly like the maid’s that Jill and Robin burst out laughing.
“Do some more,” said Jill. “It’s exactly like Ada!”
But Bunkle had gone back to his painting.
“I wish I could think of something to do,” said Robin, moodily. “If only Mummy was here!”
“I know. It’s rotten,” said Jill. “Still you can’t exactly blame her, wanting to be in London if there’s any chance of seeing Daddy.”
“No, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t all have gone too,” said Robin.
“Well there’s not much point in being evacuated from a danger area in the term if you go back to one in the holidays, is there?” asked Jill reasonably. “Bunkle, don’t do that!” she added.
“Don’t do what?” said Bunkle, looking up surprised.
“Don’t suck your brush.”
“It’ll make you ill.”
Bunkle dipped his brush in the very dirty water and sucked it again.
“It never has yet,” he said, “and I’ve always done it. For years and years I’ve done it.”
“Rot! You haven’t painted for years and years,” said Robin.
“I have,” said Bunkle firmly. “For years and years and years I’ve painted.”
“Oh, all right,” said Robin, turning back to the window. “Have it your own way. But don’t blame us if you die.”
“I shan’t die,” said Bunkle, sucking his brush. Then, “Why shall I die?” he asked interestedly.
“Because lots of paints are poisonous,” said Jill. “That’s why.”
“Mine aren’t,” replied her younger brother placidly.
“How do you know they aren’t?” asked Robin.
“Then why did you say. . . ?”
“Oh, do shut up!” said Bunkle. “How can I concentrate if you’re both jawing at me all the time?”
“Wait till you come to Winchester, my boy,” said his brother grimly. “You won’t be so cocky then!”
He kicked an unoffending footstool across the room.
“Of all the utterly beastly, mouldy, miserable, weather,” he went on crossly. “Do you realize we haven’t even seen the sun since we came here?”
“I know,” said Jill. “I always thought the West Country was supposed to be so lovely in winter. The trouble is,” she continued seriously, “that we’re just the wrong age. If we were older we should all be doing something, and if we were little we’d just play with toys and things and not know anything about the beastly war. It’s so awful feeling that Daddy and Mummy may be bombed at any moment and that we just can’t do anything at all about it. Most of the time I try not to worry, but sometimes I can’t help it.”
“The only thing to do is to concentrate,” said Bunkle in a smug voice. “I concentrate like anything.”
“What on?” asked Robin curiously.
“It all depends,” said Bunkle airily. “I think I concentrate most on knitting.”
“If going all cross-eyed is concentration, you certainly do,” said Jill. “I’m sure you’ll have a squint before you’ve finished that scarf. How many stitches have you got on now?”
“Well I don’t quite know,” said Bunkle. “I started with sixty and after lunch yesterday I had fifty-five, then after tea I had sixty-six, but I forgot to count this morning. Still, I should think I’m averaging about sixty,” he ended cheerfully.
He held up his painting and frowned at it.
“It’s a funny thing how difficult it is to make purple,” he said. “It always seems to come bright blue or bright pink or else it looks just like mud.”
“Let’s see,” said Jill.
She studied the painting critically for a minute.
“You’re not doing the trees properly,” she said. “Look, I’ll show you.”
“No!” said Bunkle, trying to pull the drawing-book away from her.
“Don’t be silly,” said Jill. “You’ll never do things right unless you let people help you.”
“I’m not silly,” said Bunkle angrily.
He tried to elbow her away and, as he did so, his arm caught the water and it overturned and flooded on to his painting.
“You pig!” he cried furiously to his sister. “You beastly, bossy, interfering pig! You’ve spoilt it!” And he hurled the drawing book at her head.
“Now then!” said Robin, catching hold of him, “Temper! Temper!”
“Let go, will you,” yelled Bunkle and kicked his brother on the shin.
“Ow!” cried Robin, taken by surprise. “You little brute, you.”
“Well it was my painting, wasn’t it?” said Bunkle, pink with rage. “Why can’t I paint it as I like?”
He picked up the book from the floor where it had dropped and looked at it again.
“Yes, it’s quite spoilt,” he cried. “And I was doing it for Mummy, for Christmas.”
Snatching up a cushion from the sofa, he started to bang Robin’s head with it as hard as he could. Robin, retreating backwards and defending himself good-humouredly, cannoned into a wicker stand on which was balanced an aspidistra in a peculiarly ugly china pot.
Crash! went the pot.
“Golly!” said Jill, dropping on her hands and knees to pick up the pieces, but Bunkle and Robin had now started a proper pillow-fight and were chucking the sofa cushions backwards and forwards at each other as fast as they could.
“Boys,” said Jill, bobbing up from behind the sofa. “Boys, for goodness sake stop! Or the Widow Twankey will be rushing up to see what all the noise is about.”
Almost as she spoke the door opened and for one moment the Manageress, nicknamed by the children the Widow Twankey, but whose real name was Mrs Brown, stood framed in it.
Then Robin ducked, to avoid a well-aimed shot from Bunkle, and the cushion, sailing over him, hit the Manageress squarely on her capacious bosom and burst in a cloud of variegated feathers.