I have always had an absent-minded streak when it comes to sending things into the world -the characters are not mine and belong to or else are inspired by L. M. Montgomery.

This grew out of After Ingleside, a kind of answer to various requests for what I had done with Di. This story then, runs alongside that, so that every now and again it acknowledges the happenings of the other story, in spite of the plot being very much its own.


Hillside house, as the name implied to anyone looking at the sign on the gate, was located atop a hill that fell away sharply at one end and by degrees at the other and overlooked the sea. Longer than it was tall it seemed almost out of proportion to the hill it balanced on, dwarfed as it was by the sublimity of the landscape. Nothing about it was usual, not the shape of the house, not its being made of wood, where the surrounding houses were stone –or else clapboard, not the curious second storey that was more nearly an attic, certainly not the people. Colette, who had worked in its kitchen during the last war, battling against rations while its owner, a Mr. R. Harris had battled against the Germans, could have told anyone that –did in fact tell people, and often. It was why she had come away from them, preferring instead the flat land and the sound of the sea to the steep isolation of the house and the lowing of its cattle.

Set against this report was that of Peter, who stood now at the train station awaiting the afternoon train, wondering if it should ever get in and reliably informed by the signal master that there had been a delay somewhere down the line. Nothing serious he had said, not a fatality, nothing like that, only some grazing animal or a catch failure in the actual signal itself, he had not given the details much mind. So far as Peter was concerned the people at the house on the hill were fundamentally good; perhaps they were not always happy, but had anyone been entirely that in these years just gone by? He suspected not and was entirely too practical to hold against the Harris family its idiosyncrasies. Presently the long-awaited train could be heard to whistle and then to clatter into the station.

It was not only Peter who was grateful to find the afternoon train at last reaching its destination. It had been a long journey, and as Di discovered when she got to the station, it was not to be the end of it. Glen Notes, when it had run the request for Mrs. R. Harris about having help, had said Burnt Church, indeed the operator, when she had rung and spoken to Mrs. R. Harris, had told her Burnt Church. Now a tall young man with snapping blue eyes, that suggested the sea when the sun was at its peak, was saying that after all, they would not go to Burnt Church, but somewhere between that and Alnwick, but that the place was registered by the censor as Burnt Church because that was the village it was nearest.

'You don't mind do you?' he said, in his funny musical way that over-exaggerated dental consonants and 'R's', though you would not have guessed at the 'R's' from that mild-mannered request.

'As long as it's somewhere,' Di had said.

'Oh yes, it's certainly that. Gyp, allez, vein-icitte,' said Peter, 'R's' no longer over-pronounced but only rolling, as a deeply, deeply black dog rose and trotted after him.

'You don't mind about dogs, do you?' that was the speaker again and Di assured him she did not.

'That's all right then,' and he lapsed into silence.

This, Di had discovered, as she alighted from the train, was Peter Cook. She had not been told to expect him, though he had clearly anticipated her, because he had put up his arm in greeting and said, 'you must be Miss Blythe? Mrs. Harris sent me to fetch you to Hillside.'

'However did you guess?' Di had wanted to know, because after the train, the boat and the train again, it was more than a little perplexing to be greeted so genially by a stranger. He waved the raised arm about the platform, which was how she caught the colour of his eyes, and grinned at her.

'It's not so many people as step off the train here. I am right then?'

'It would be a queer conversation for us to be having if I weren't.'

'That it would. I'm Peter, and that, over there, is Gyp. We say he's our dog at Hillside, but really I think we're his people.'

Di, retracting the hand she had given him, now folded her arms and said that if he was to be 'Peter' to her then he was to have the use of her Christian name, they might as well go on as they meant to continue, and he relented. It was at this point he had told her about the geographical complications of Hillside, and they began to move towards the car. Now she put out a hand to Gyp, and he came round from the far side of Peter to walk between them.

'I don't suppose,' said Peter, as he bundled Gyp and her case into the car, 'anyone's told you very much about the house?'

'Is there very much to tell?' Di climbed in through the door he held open and pushed Gyp's wet nose away from her shoulder.

'Lie down Gyp,' said Peter laughingly, 'we're on company manners for the time being.'

'I thought I'd talked you out of those,' said Di, and this earned her a proper laugh from him, a deep throated sound that resonated somewhere in the core of the earth.

'Just as well too, as I only have everyday manners, though they do get a polish now and again, on Sundays mostly before church, when I see to my shoes. Gyp though, at least notionally,' as he too pushed the dog away, 'does know how to treat company. Lie down, Gyp and show Di you remember about guests. Asseyez.' Gyp sat.

'Funny animal,' said Peter as he started the car going, 'The children's father brought him home one evening without any kind of explanation to me, and he's good enough at herding, which is as well for him, but half the time he's only got an ear for a language I can't speak, am I right Gyp?'

Gyp, as though on cue, gave an exuberant bark and Peter reached over his shoulder to muss the dog's ears.

'I was beginning to wonder,' Di confessed, 'languages were always my Waterloo. I got through school largely by parroting what I heard. I have never quite forgiven our district school board for making me teach Latin.'

Peter shook his head. 'It's only Gyp that talks in two languages, and mostly he talks English, though he'd just soon listen to the other. But that's by the by, I was telling you about the house, was I not?'

'And the people in it. There's only so much you take away from a letter.'

'Don't I know it. I've been over working for Mr. Harris and Hillside since before Richard was so much as thought of –he's the oldest of the children and nearly five -and I've had only letters from home, and the odd call of course, but never a proper visit. There's been time to go back, I suppose, once we're the far side of autumn calving –which I won't begin on or we'll talk of nothing else –but then the war got in the way and made travelling far complicated, and even if it hadn't, I am always left with the feeling the house will dissolve if I go much further than the Saturday market. I don't suppose that will have got into the letters.'

'No,' Di said, 'it didn't particularly.'

'I don't suppose it could have done, I don't believe they realize. Well, Caro does, I think, but for different reasons.' After that they lapsed into silence broken only by Di's picking up the thread of their waylaid conversation.

'Tell me about Richard and the others then, if I'm to be so much with them,' she said.

'I don't know about with them –well not with him anyway,' said Peter, grinning broadly.

'Richard's a right imp, always down among the boats and crawling in them and over them. He drives the fishers mad for being a nuisance and his father more so because he's what my own Gran would call a 'water child' and not a 'land one.' The test you know, stop me if you do, is to go down to the sea with the child and if he kneels down in the sand and brings it up by the handful he's a farmer like Adam. It's the ones that go diving headlong into the water without a thought for the rocks, the cold or the fish that have the sea in their blood, and that's Richard.

'I wonder,' said Di musingly, 'what your Gran would make of my brothers. One at least was predisposed to be one of your 'land people,' but the other was neither and still another was both.'

'Both?' and Peter seemed to ponder this conundrum for some length. 'I'll have to put that into my next letter home,' he said at last, 'but I reckon the one you say was neither had an ear tuned to heaven. There's no test for that –you have it or you haven't and not everyone has the knowing of how to tell.'

'Walter had it all right,' said Di, equal parts startled and admiring that Peter should hit so near the mark.

'Ah,' said Peter as understanding dawned, 'heaven always knows its own, doesn't it. I do rather wonder why it insists on reclaiming them so soon.' He pressed no more but defaulted again to Richard and his impishness. He sounded, Di thought as she listened to the lilting sing-song of Peter's voice, much like Jem at that age, though by all accounts the boy was dark in every particular, dark hair, skin tanned from where the sun had kissed it, and great black eyes, 'like water in a tempest' Peter said.

'His sister though –well there's two of them, and little Caro's sweet, and she looks like him, though her eyes aren't so dark, and she hasn't seen the sun more than she can help. It rained nearly all her first year into the world, so you can imagine how green the grass looked, and after, when she was old enough, they took her out and the sun went so to her head that the doctor had her in bed for two days, and her mum would give her nothing but water and broth. It was the other sister I was thinking of, Laura Lee, and she's always called by both names, never 'Laura' and certainly never 'Lee,' but always both together and the mercy is that she doesn't insist on her second name proper too, for I don't rightly remember what it is. She doesn't look a thing like brother or sister, hair like yours, marigold colour –Gran has an idiom for that but we'll not mind it now.'

'Some day you must tell me,' said Di, her curiosity peeked by this man who could make even the fiery red of her own, and seemingly Laura Lee's hair also sound bearable.

'Ah, but I won't, and you can be sure of that, it's not a thing to be talked about by me.' Di gave it up. Whatever Peter had in mind, it was obvious he would not be forthcoming about it.

'In any event, Laura Lee's enough like Richard that she's got the touch of the sprites about her, and St. Christopher suspects her of having drunk the fairy's milk some evenings, I shouldn't wonder. I suspect it myself.'

'St. Christopher?' said Di, thinking that whatever other nonsense Peter might come up with he couldn't surely mean that Hillside was housing the patron saint of travellers, or even a relic thereof.

'The cat, you'll meet him soon enough, and all the others.'

'I see. And Laura Lee, is she inclined to water or land or sky or what?'

'She's a fish; they all are except for Caro. She'll stick near you, I imagine, if you can bear to have her about.'

'I'd hardly be coming otherwise, would I?'

'No, I suppose you wouldn't at that. Mind you, their mum professes not to mind and they still ran her off her feet.'

'It's my turn not to wonder now –what little did stick was how close together those children were. There's four, is there not? Who have you missed out?'

'Who indeed,' said Peter, slowing the car so that a stoat could limp across the road. Gyp smelt rather than saw it and gave a bark of indignation that he was so confined as to be unable to chase it.

'You don't want to go after that Gyp,' said Peter soothingly, 'you'd never kill it sure, and then you'd bring it home and it would go for St. Christopher, and then what would we do. No good will come of seeing off that cat. He turned up the night the Harris family came to Hillside and got in through an open window, and he's never gone from it since. It was the belief of the man that worked that farm before I did, and I'll say with him, that St. Christopher's kept the trouble out of Hillside.'

No wonder he's called for a saint, Di thought, though she still wasn't convinced they'd settled on the right saint. Gyp barked again as though in agreement.

'Mind you,' said Peter, 'he's the most ill-tempered cat, saint or no, that I've ever come across, and I've seen a fair few; Gran always had cats to spare.'

'He cannot possibly,' said Di with surety, 'be worse than Doctor-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde, no cat could. Susan swore he was the devil incarnate, and I'm not convinced she missed her mark.'

'Susan?' asked Peter, but Di shook her head. 'You're remembering the child you've not told me about. Susan and Ingleside will keep for another time quite easily.'

'Oh all right,' said Peter with an air of affected hurt, 'but you must promise to tell me.' Di promised accordingly. Peter was easy enough to talk to that likely she would have told him in any case, without such extraction on his part.

'That's that sorted then. Now, let me think, Richard, Laura Lee, Caro and –Paul, I've missed out Paul. Well that's understandable enough, heaven knows. He doesn't make half the noise of the other two, unless he's whistling, and he's forever up a tree.'

'I thought you had them all down as fish?' interjected Di.

'Did I? That was while I was forgetting Paul –there's a lad Richard goes about with, who jabbers away as I was having to do with Gyp, and he is inclined towards water above anything else. No, they got lucky with Paul, he's the one that will manage Hillside, likely enough, when the time comes to hand it over. Richard's forever threatening to go to sea, and he's quite mad enough that I believe him; water people always strike me as a little mad, as I'm not one myself. But Paul is always up in the treetops; he's all of three but quite tall enough for it and clever enough to manage it. Then too Richard hasn't got the sense of rabbits where Paul's concerned, so he may very well have taught him what to do.'

It was on the tip of Di's tongue to ask what this tree-climbing child looked like, so that she'd know on the rare occasions she should see him, but before she could the car had gained the end of the hill it had been steadily climbing and a neat log cabin, longer than it was tall, came into view, and with it four children, two of which came pelting towards the car before it had nearly stopped, one of which hung back behind the oak ballast that held up the overhang above the low porch while another leapt, in a blur of stiff linen and copper hair, out of the crown of a beech tree, higher than he was tall, and joined brother and sister in running. Gyp, with no one to dissuade him, sat up and began barking in earnest, putting his paws to the windows of the car. Peter was preoccupied with the whirlwind that was the Harris children and so it was Di who turned and said to Gyp with great firmness, 'enough, Gyp, sit,' and found that against all odds, Gyp complied. Peter, fussing with the case in the back of the car and an over-eager Paul, dropped the case, though not the boy and said to Gyp, 'now why won't you do that for me?'

Di reached for the case as he said it, but Peter intercepted her saying, 'No, I'll see to it,' and tucked the case firmly under his unencumbered arm. 'Besides,' he said over his shoulder, 'here is Mrs. Harris come for you.'

Sure enough there was a tall auburn haired woman, who might have been slender if it weren't for the shadow of a baby beginning to shape itself. That went some way to explaining the look of the two middle children at any rate. In a moment she had both Di's hands in her own and was saying, 'oh but it's good to see you –I thought you would never get here –we've been watching. Caro, Caro-love, come and see,' and she released one of Di's hands long enough to motion to the little girl still sheltering behind the post on the porch.

'Oh that's all right,' said Di, laughing a little and shaking her head, 'I'm hardly going anywhere.'

'No, but it's the gesture of it. Caroline, vein-icitte.' Whether it was the Acadian or the application of her full name neither woman knew, but tentatively Caroline came forward, arms hugged tightly to herself.

'There, that's better, that's a good girl,' said her mother coaxingly, even as her daughter receded behind the front of the car.

'Now,' said Mrs. Harris, turning back to Di, 'you must tell me –was your journey all right? I know it's been long enough. I thought at first I could get someone in to help without looking abroad, but what I really want is someone who can cook food without masses of paprika in –I've stockpiled enough of the language to get by but I shall never get used to the cooking.'

Di made some attempt to answer but it was rapidly becoming apparent that Mrs. Harris was one of those people who needed very little encouragement to talk. She put an arm around Caroline and began to steer her back towards the house, where Peter now stood with three impatient children, Paul still squirming under his arm.

'Poor Peter,' she said sympathetically to Di now as they walked, 'I do rather wonder what he did to deserve us –to say nothing of what good thing we did to earn him. He's remembered, even if I haven't, that the others will want to show you over the house.'

'I don't think they'll let him forget,' said Di, squinting to confirm that Richard really was lying across Peter's feet as Gyp might have done and Laura Lee not quite hanging off his neck.

'Let him go at once, all of you!' their mother called up to them. Obligingly, Peter released Paul but the others never flinched.

'Really you two, whatever is Miss. Dianna to think of you?' said Mrs. Harris, trying to reach for Laura Lee and finding herself hindered by Caroline, who now clung to Peter like a limpet. Deftly, Peter swung Laura Lee down from her perch on his shoulder.

'Here she is,' said Peter handing her over, 'now you,' to Richard, 'up you come, come on, lève-toi.'

Di raised her eyebrows. 'I thought you said you kept everything that wasn't English for Gyp?'

'And these ones –it's all that time by the water, Richard's inhaled the language like breathing, so of course,' as he succeeded at raising Richard to his feet, 'the others caught it off of him.'

'Is that what it is?' asked Richard's mother, wonderingly. 'Here I was thinking it was Colette, when she still cooked for us.'

'No doubt her too, Mrs. Harris,' said Peter, negotiating first the screen door and then the heavier wood one behind it, still with Di's case and hampered now by Laura Lee, who, while no longer round his neck, had seized and would not relinquish his left arm.

'Don't mind him,' said Mrs. Harris to Di, 'whatever he says, you at least must call me Mimi. I've been trying and trying to tell him so for five years and never once succeeded.'

They now came to the inside of the house and Laura Lee relinquished Peter's arm for Di's, even as Richard took the one his sister rendered free, and they tugged her through the front of the house.

You must see, you must see,' they kept on saying, even as Di took in the sense of the house. It was certainly, as Peter had said, a warm house, covered all over in handiwork that must surely have been Mimi's and solid wood furniture that Di suspected of predating the house. There was one large, main room, what Di in her Redmond days would have called the 'house-space' dominated by a round varnished table and an austere fireplace, with a mantle that nearly ran the length of the room. Positioned between the two were a variety of well-covered sofas and chairs, unadorned end-tables and a long flat table made of wood rods clearly meant to hold a tea tray. At the moment it boasted an unfinished bit of tapestry and a vase of pussy willows, delphiniums and monkswood. The walls, where they were free of the mantle, were covered over in books and Di, yielding to the small hands that held hers captive, nodded to the room as she passed; yes, she thought, she had been right to come here, she would like it.