The sea came pouring in.
THAT going to the seaside was the very beginning of everything — only it seemed as though it were going to be a beginning without an end, like the roads on the Sussex downs which look like roads and then look like paths, and then turn into sheep tracks, and then are just grass and furze bushes and tottergrass and harebells and rabbits and chalk.
The children had been counting the days to The Day. Bernard indeed had made a calendar on a piece of cardboard that had once been the bottom of the box in which his new white sandshoes came home. He marked the divisions of the weeks quite neatly in red ink, and the days were numbered in blue ink, and every day he crossed off one of those numbers with a piece of green chalk he happened to have left out of a penny box. Mavis had washed and ironed all the dolls’ clothes at least a fortnight before The Day. This was thoughtful and farsighted of her, of course, but it was a little trying to Kathleen, who was much younger and who would have preferred to go on playing with her dolls in their dirtier and more familiar state.
“Well, if you do,” said Mavis, a little hot and cross from the ironing board, “I’ll never wash anything for you again, not even your face.”
Kathleen somehow felt as if she could bear that.
“But mayn’t I have just one of the dolls” was, however, all she said, “just the teeniest, weeniest one? Let me have Lord Edward. His head’s half gone as it is, and I could dress him in a clean hanky and pretend it was kilts.”
Mavis could not object to this, because, of course, whatever else she washed she didn’t wash hankies. So Lord Edward had his pale kilts, and the other dolls were put away in a row in Mavis’s corner drawer. It was after that that Mavis and Francis had long secret consultations — and when the younger ones asked questions they were told, “It’s secrets. You’ll know in good time.” This, of course, excited everyone very much indeed — and it was rather a comedown when the good time came, and the secret proved to be nothing more interesting than a large empty aquarium which the two elders had clubbed their money together to buy, for eight-and-ninepence in the Old Kent Road. They staggered up the front garden path with it, very hot and tired.
“But what are you going to do with it?” Kathleen asked, as they all stood around the nursery table looking at it.
“Fill it with seawater,” Francis explained, “to put sea anemones in.”
“Oh yes,” said Kathleen with enthusiasm, “and the crabs and starfish and prawns and the yellow periwinkles — and all the common objects of the seashore.”
“We’ll stand it in the window,” Mavis added: “it’ll make the lodgings look so distinguished.”
“And then perhaps some great scientific gentleman, like Darwin or Faraday, will see it as he goes by, and it will be such a joyous surprise to him to come face-to-face with our jellyfish; he’ll offer to teach Francis all about science for nothing — I see,” said Kathleen hopefully.
“But how will you get it to the seaside?” Bernard asked, leaning his hands on the schoolroom table and breathing heavily into the aquarium, so that its shining sides became dim and misty. “It’s much too big to go in the boxes, you know.”
“Then I’ll carry it,” said Francis, “it won’t be in the way at all — I carried it home today.”
“We had to take the bus, you know,” said truthful Mavis, “and then I had to help you.”
“I don’t believe they’ll let you take it at all,” said Bernard — if you know anything of grown-ups you will know that Bernard proved to be quite right.