Tinku was looking for pine cones. Three months had passed since her coming to the little town of Duliatal on the hills. Three months since she had joined the Hilltop school which had roses on its tilted roof and wisteria creepers on its walls. And a garden which sloped upwards to reach the road on the upper shelf. It was full of flowers in every color you could think of with hosts of butterflies flocking round them. Tinku could not imagine why she had disliked it so much at first. True, it was very different from Delhi and she still missed her old friends at times. But Duliatal was a lovely place to be in. And her new friends were jolly too.
Tinku liked the pine trees best of all. They looked so tall and majestic against the sky! And the pine cones were lovely. She was collecting them for her friends in Delhi. She was sure they would like the cones. She had quite a collection already. Ashish had pointed out a pine grove way up above and the rough and narrow track leading to it. All of them had planned to have a picnic there some day. But it would have to be during a weekend because it was quite a climb. It would take quite some time to get there and back.
Tinku was really keen to get to the pine grove. She wanted to go there at once and not wait for weeks. Supposing she went there by herself? She knew the way. But no, that might be a foolish thing to do. Supposing it started raining or a mist came down as it often did? It wouldn't be at all funny to get lost in the hills! It could be quite scary. But there was nothing to be scared of in the wood just above their cottage. She had been there hundreds of times looking for butterflies. Bablu and Mona had promised to come for tea that evening. Tinku decided to run up to the wood and look for pine cones and wild flowers till they arrived.
The wood was an interesting jumble of all kinds of trees growing together. There were pines and oaks and rhododendrons and many others whose names she did not know. And there were all kinds of wild flowers. Tinku ran towards a clamp of bright violet flowers. She had never noticed them before. 'They will look lovely in mummy's shallow crystal vase' said Tinku to herself, 'I wonder what they are called?'
'Just violets' said a voice behind her.
Tinku turned back, startled. A girl of her own age stood there smiling at her. 'Hello' she said in a friendly voice, 'I am Mirry. You are Tinku, aren't you?'
Tinku looked at her pretty hair plaited with bright red ribbons. She had golden hair and eyes as blue as the violets. She was obviously a foreigner. But she seemed very much at home at Duliatal. Then she remembered that she had heard her father say that a lot of foreigners, specially missionaries, who had come to India during the British Raj, had stayed back in the hills even after Independence. Some had even taken Indian citizenship. Obviously Mirry's father was one of them.
'How did you know I am Tinku?' she asked, 'I've never met you before!'
'Oh I know everyone here' said Mirry in an airy voice, 'I live up there in the cottage among the pines. You can't see it from here, of course, but it's not too far if you take a short cut.'
'Have you been here long?' asked
'Oh ages!' said Mirry, 'I was born here. My dad's a doctor. He knows everyone here too.'
'I don't think I've ever met him' said Tinku.
'How can you?' answered Mirry laughing, 'You haven't been ill! No one sends for a doctor unless they're sick. The people here know him very well ... and his horse.'
'Horse? You mean he goes to see his patients on horseback?' asked Tinku opening her eyes wide, 'How interesting! I've never known a doctor who does that.'
'Well, how else can he visit patients who live right up in the hills ?' asked Mirry.
'Of course' assented Tinku, 'I've hardly seen any cars here - the roads are all so narrow. I suppose you can ride too?'
'Not very well' said Mirry sounding wistful, 'I haven't been very well, you see and I am not allowed to do anything my father thinks strainous.'
'Why don't you come to school? asked Tinku curiously, 'You are not ill now, are you?'
'No, I'm not ill any more. But my father's still worried about me. So I have a governess who teaches me at home. I don't have a mother, you see.'
'Oh I am sorry' cried Tinku, 'It must be horrid not to have a mother'
'I have Nanny and she is a dear. But I don't like my governess. She is always running to daddy with tales about me.'
'How horrid!' said Tinku. 'Did your mother appoint her?'
'No. Mummy died soon after I was born. I don't remember her at all. Anyway, what were you looking for?'
'Pine cones' said Tinku, 'I am collecting them'
'You'll find nice, big ones in the wood out there. Come with me and I'll show you.'
Tinku liked Mirry. She didn't seem like a stranger at all.
'I hope we won't get lost' she said a little apprehensively, 'I've been told by everyone here not to wander off alone'
'Lost?' Mirry laughed, 'I know this whole place like the back of my hand. And you're not alone. I'm here and there's Shadow as well.'
'Who is Shadow?'
There was a tiny bark and Tinku turned back to see the sweetest, cutest little puppy wagging its tail.
'What a darling!' cried Tinku, 'Is he yours?'
'He is. He always follows me everywhere just like a shadow. So I call him that. Also because he is usually so silent.'
They walked along the winding path, Shadow at their heels.
'What's that sound?' asked Tinku looking about her.
'The waterfall, of course'
'I didn't know there was a waterfall so near. Is it a proper one?'
'Look there' said Mirry. And there behind the row of pines a waterfall rushed down in cascades hurling down on the rocks way down below.
'It's strange no one told me anything about it' said Tinku staring at the water fascinated, 'Where does all that water go to?'
'To the lake down below. The Duliatal. Haven't you seen it?'
'Yes I have. Daddy told me that this place is named after the lake. But I didn't see any waterfall nearby' said Tinku, 'I suppose I didn't look carefully.'
'Sometimes there's very little water so you don't notice it. It gushes along like this only when it rains hard' said Mirry, 'There are your pine cones - lots of them.'
Tinku clapped her hands and ran down to collect them. Mirry joined her and started picking cones too. 'Why don't you come home with me, Mirry?' said Tinku after she had filled up her little bag, 'Please do. My friends would love to meet you and so would my mother.'
'Sorry, but I can't' said Mirry looking serious, 'And you must promise me that you won't tell anyone about me'.
'Why ever not?' asked Tinku surprised.
'Because I am not supposed to step outdoors and run about' said Mirry, 'No one knows I am out. Nanny's resting and my governess has gone shopping. She'll be returning any moment. If she finds I'm not there she'll tell daddy and there will be a real to-do. And I'll never be allowed to run about in the woods sagain. I'll be absolutely miserable and so will Shadow. You don't want me to get into trouble, do you?'
'Of course not' said Tinku, 'Don't worry I won't tell anyone that I met you.'
The sound of bells wafted across the pines. 'What's that ?' asked Tinku.
'The church bell. It always rings at this time.'
'I always thought that the church was on the other hill?' said Tinku surprised.
'This is another one' said Mirry, 'It's much smaller than the other.'
Mirry looked at her quaint watch which looked like a bracelet, 'It's nearly four' she said, 'Aren't you expecting friends to tea?'
'How did you know?' asked Tinku amazed.
'I just guessed' said Mirry laughing, 'Here are some more cones.'
They heard the sound of horse's hooves in the distance.
'That must be daddy' cried Mirry, 'I must rush! Run down that slope in that corner and you'll be home in two secs. Ta ta!'
'Ta ta' said Tinku clutching the cones as she made for the slope shown by Mirry. A strange girl, thought Tinku. Strange but really nice. She made up her mind to bring her home the next time.
Those who are interested in reading more about Tinku may buy the book "Tinku at Duliatal" directly from www.orientlongman.com
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