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Authors: Lynn Collum

The Christmas Kittens

BOOK: The Christmas Kittens
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The Christmas Kittens

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Collum

 

Copyright ©2014 by Jerry L. Smith

Second Edition 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9960820-5-1 epub

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

www.lynncollumbooks.com

KIS

Chapter One
 

A sudden gust of cold wind whistled down the old nursery chimney, causing the grey flames to dance in protest. Neither of the young ladies seated before the fire looked up, for they had grown used to the sounds of Westwood House during their year of residence.

Karis Lockhart pushed the needle through the pink tulle fabric, and then eyed the silver leaf she'd stitched with a critical gaze. Satisfied with her work, she tied the thread and clipped the end. The dress for her cousin, Dorinda Westerly, was ready for the Christmas Ball at Medford Hall. `Twas an event the Lockhart sisters' had heard repeatedly extolled over the past month. Their cousin was determined to make a conquest of the duchess's grandson who was to attend.

Glancing to where her sister sat opposite her, Karis smiled at the look of concentration on the nine-year-old's pretty face as she cut a paper star to add to the decorative greenery placed about the room. Karis had tried, in some small way, to recreate the traditions from their small cottage in Oxford here at Westwood, but her efforts were confined to the small nursery.

A soft meow in the corner drew her attention away from her sister. A large grey cat's head appeared over the rim of a wooden box before the animal noiselessly leapt from the makeshift bed and padded across the floor. The large feline, called Mrs. Damon by her owner, purred loudly as she rubbed her head on the woolen fabric of Anthea's skirt.

Karis frowned at the appearance of the cat. It had been a near thing, with Aunt Flora wanting to ban the animal from the premise when they'd first arrived. But the sisters had prevailed with promises that Mrs. Damon would be no bother.

Unfortunately the cat had presented them with an unexpected litter of seven kittens in October. By some miracle Karis and Anthea had been able to keep the kittens' existence a secret from their aunt, but the rambunctious bunch were getting harder and harder to contain in the nursery. Karis could no longer delay the subject with her sister, for the tiny animals were eight weeks old and ready to leave their mother.

Looking back at the busy girl, she could see the tip of Anthea's tongue locked at the corner of her pink lips as she maneuvered the scissors back and forth making sharp points on the paper. When the excess vellum, painted silver for Christmas, fell to the table, the child held up her creation and crowed, “I did it. Look, Karis, `tis as good as the ones you make.”

“So it is, my dear,” Karis prevaricated, eyeing the somewhat misshapen star and giving her sister a smile of encouragement.

Anthea rose and skipped across the room to the windows, making her reddish blonde ringlets bounce. She tucked the paper luminary into the branches of fir which nestled on the sill, then stepped back to survey the display. “I shall make some more to make it look just right.”

“To be sure. There is plenty of paper.”

Anthea returned to her seat and began cleaning up the bits of paper from the last star before she started work on another.

Feeling an absolute coward, Karis continued to delay mentioning the kittens to her volatile little sister. Instead she made small talk. “`Tis dreadfully cold today. I am surprised that Aunt Flora and Dorinda decided to make morning calls.”

An angry glint appeared in Anthea's hazel eyes. “I am glad they went, for now you might spend the morning with me instead of running and fetching for Dorinda, and reading for Dorinda, and drawing sketches of Dorinda--”

“Now, Anthea, you know that we owe Aunt Flora a great deal for taking us in after Papa died. I do not mind--”

The door opened interrupting Karis. One of the upstairs maids who'd befriended them entered the room with her arms loaded with small logs.

“Good morning, Miss Lockhart, Miss Anthea, I brun' you some extra wood when no one was watchin'.”

“Mary, you mustn't get in trouble on our account.” Karis rose and went to lift the logs, one by one, from the little servant's arms and placed them in the fire box.

“Don't worry about me. Miss Dorinda and Lady Westerly done returned and the young lady's in such a rare takin' that no one is payin' attention to anythin' but makin' the troubled miss `appy.”

Anthea picked up her scissors and paper to begin work on a new star. She'd grown used to her cousin's tantrums and exhibited only the mildest interest. “What has made her peevish this time?”

Mary grinned and winked at Karis. “Seems `er Grace's nephew done sent `is regrets for the party next week. Miss Dorinda says it ain't worth `er time to deck `erself out if there ain't goin' to be anyone present above the rank of baron.”

Karis made no comment for she was not one to gossip with servants. She continued to place the logs in the box, wondering how she and Anthea would survive until their cousin was married and safely gone from Westwood.

Miss Dorinda Westerly was the most beautiful young lady Karis had ever seen. The seventeen-year-old miss was blessed with raven black curls, pale blue eyes and the face of an angel. Unfortunately she was also vain, arrogant and spiteful, characteristics she was often able to mask from the casual acquaintance with a cloyingly sweet manner. There could be little doubt that Karis would be in for a day filled with useless errands to appease her cousin's foul temper.

Lost in her worries about her cousin's temperament and with her back to the open door, Karis didn't see the small tan pug waddle into the nursery. Only Mrs. Damon, who'd been busy cleaning herself, took note of the dog's entry and destination. The grey cat darted across the room and positioned herself in front of the box where her kittens lay sleeping.

Dorinda's pampered pug rarely came to the upper floors, but with the commotion below, she'd followed a passing servant in hopes of finding a treat. What Princess discovered after her long journey, excited her interest. The animal continued towards the box. Curious about the strange scents emanating from the region and oblivious to the bristling mother cat, she drew closer and sniffed.

Mrs. Damon arched her back, her eyes rounded in fright. A low moaning began in her throat, then with a lightening swift motion she lunged forward, striking the advancing enemy on its flat nose.

Princess issued the loudest yowl ever in her short life and dashed for the door as fast as her short legs would take her. She ran straight into the outstretched arms of her mistress, come in search of her cousins.

Miss Westerly scooped up her howling dog, making kissing sounds. “My poor baby, my poor baby, what has happened to you?” She glared at Karis as if she'd inflected the tiny scratch on Princess's nose.

Aunt Flora's voice echoed in the hall behind her daughter, calling for Karis. She arrived on the scene eyeing her two nieces and Mary with unspoken accusation. A plain, large-boned woman with a round face and faded brown eyes, one would never think her the mother of the delicate beauty who stood beside her. “Why is everyone here in the nursery?”

Her question was greeted with silence. The maid looked at the floor and her nieces stood as if they were turned to stone.

As the pug whimpered, Lady Westerly glanced at Dorinda, watching the girl lavish kisses on the fat dog. She eyed the dog with distaste, then snapped, “I declare, Dory, you spoil that animal far too much.”

“Spoil! No such thing, Mama. I warned you having dogs and cats in the same house would come to no good end. That dreadful Miss Demon creature wounded my Princess.”

Anthea jumped to her feet. “Her name is Mrs. Damon. It is from Greek mythology which you would know if you read anything but ladies' magazines. As for my cat, she was in her room and Princess was the invader. Aunt Flora, you cannot punish her for she was only defending . . .” The child trailed off realizing she mustn't tell her aunt why the cat was in front of the box.

Karis stepped to her sister, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder. “We are truly sorry, Dorinda, but surely it is only a small scratch and we have kept the cat away from the dog as we promised.”

Before Dorinda could comment a din of tiny meows emanated from the box. The disturbance had awakened the kittens and they wanted out to play. Karis and Anthea exchanged a look of defeat.

A disapproving frown appeared on Lady Westerly's round face. “Is that what I think it is, Karis Lockhart?” When her niece nodded in the affirmative, Aunt Flora shook her head, her greying brown curls, which hung in great ringlets from under her cap, brush her lace collar. “I am greatly disappointed in you for taking advantage of my hospitality in this way. I agreed for Anthea to keep her cat, not to start a breeding farm up here.”

“Aunt, we have taken care that they did not disturb anyone and I have already made arrangement with Mrs. Shelby to take the litter to Whiteoaks.”

“Take them to Whiteoaks!” Anthea protested. “In this weather! But they are just babies. Aunt Flora, they are no trouble, please let them stay until they are older.”

“Posh! Dorinda has had enough upset this morning without adding to her distress. Either your sister must take them to Mrs. Shelby today or I shall have Daniel get rid of them some other way.” The baroness referred to Westwood's head groom who gave the appearance of hating man and animal alike.

“That won't be necessary, Aunt,” Karis insisted at once, for she suspected Daniel would simply do away with the kittens. “Mrs. Shelby is quite lonely in that big old house and would welcome the company.”

“Very well, Karis, but see that this sort of thing does not occur again.”

Karis gave a sigh of relief. Mrs. Damon was to be spared even if her kittens were now banished. “I shall see to the move at once. Perhaps Anthea might go down and play something soothing on the pianoforte which would calm Dorinda's shattered nerves.” Feeling her sister about to protest, Karis's fingers tightened on the child's shoulders in warning.

Lady Westerly cautiously eyed her daughter, not wanting a repeat of the scene enacted in the carriage after learning of the defection of Medford's heir. Pasting a smile on her face, she said, “Why, that is just the thing to soothe one's nerves, is it not, Dory dearest?”

Dorinda's eyes glittered maliciously at the sisters, but her tone was utterly sweet as she cooed, “Yes, I should like Anthea to play for me and, Karis, pray, don't dawdle at Whiteoaks, for I have some errands that must be finished before we dine this evening.”

“Well, that is all nicely settled. First we shall see to your precious little Princess's nose. I believe a little ointment will do the trick nicely.” Lady Westerly's voice was full of relief as she urged her daughter out of the nursery. She called over her shoulder, “We shall expect you in the drawing room in ten minutes Anthea.” Then the ladies disappeared down the hall, the sound of Dorinda speaking baby talk to her pug echoed back to the nursery.

“Why did you do that, Karis? You know how I dislike playing for Dorinda. She chatters and laughs the entire time and never listens.” Anthea glared up at her sister. At nine she had an extraordinary gift for the instrument, but was well aware her skills were wasted on the likes of her cousin.

“Because, my dear sister, I didn't want any more talk about Mrs. Damon and her kittens. I would not put it past Dorinda to insist that your cat should leave as well as the litter.”

Mary spoke up. “Listen to your sister, Miss Anthea. Miss Dorinda be a spiteful little creature. Don't be wise to be givin' that one excuses for doin' you a `arm. Lady Westerly `twould do near anythin' the chit wants to save a scene.”

Anthea's eyes grew round. “I am sorry, Karis. I always speak before I think. I shall go down and play until my fingers hurt. Pray, get the kittens safely to Mrs. Shelby and ask her if I might visit them tomorrow.”

The child started towards the door but halted at the sound of her sister's voice. “Anthea! No, funeral dirges please. I think you delight in playing only the gloomiest tunes for our relatives.”

The young girl grinned at her sister. “I do, for it makes Dorinda's face pucker in the most dreadful way. But this time I shall be good and play only Christmas music, I promise.” So saying, she tripped down the hall.

“Mary, can you find me a large basket?”

“That I can, miss.” The servant hurried out of the nursery.

Karis quickly went to retrieve her heaviest cloak and bonnet. Whiteoaks was nearly three miles through the woods and aunt would never think to offer her a carriage. Returning to the nursery dressed for outdoors in a sturdy grey wool cape, Karis found Mary waiting with a large old basket that was narrow but deep. They made a bed from an old blanket. Then they settled the seven protesting kittens inside--three grey, two black and two multi-coloured. Karis covered the basket with a small wool scarf, hoping to protect the young animals from the bitter cold.

Within ten minutes, she was well into the wood, shivering as the bitter wind whipped her cape around her ankles. The swaying of the basket on her arm appeared to have put the kittens asleep, for they'd grown quiet after a noisy beginning. She walked quickly, as much to hurry as to keep warm. Soon she could see the peaked roof of Whiteoaks through the trees and she hoped Mrs. Shelby was at home.

As she approached the lovely old Tudor style house, she wondered why the estate's owner left it abandoned. Despite its rundown condition, the half-timbered structure had character. The heir had left it in the capable hands of Mrs. Shelby and her husband ten years ago. But the housekeeper's spouse was dead these two years hence and the property had slowly fallen into ruin. There had been no extra funds forthcoming for Mrs. Shelby to hire additional help, a fact that the woman made clear to all and sundry residents of the neighborhood who dared lament the condition of the once beautiful property.

BOOK: The Christmas Kittens
2.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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