A DIXIE SCHOOL GIRL
By GABRIELLE E. JACKSON
Made In U.S.A.
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY CHICAGO :: NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT 1913 BY M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
Made in U. S. A.
TO MY TWO DIXIE NEIGHBORS,
whose entertaining tales of their childhood escapades have helped to make these stories, this first volume of the "Dixie Girl" is most affectionately inscribed by their friend. G. E. J.
FULL SPEED FOR FOUR CORNERS
Four straight country roads running at right angles. You cannot see where they begin because they have their beginning "over the hills and far away," but you can see where they end at "Four Corners," the hub of that universe, for there stand the general store, which is also the postoffice, the "tavern," as it is called in that part of the world, the church, the rectory, and perhaps a dozen private dwellings.
"Four Corners" is oddly mis-named, because there are no corners there at all. It is a circle. Maybe it was originally four corners, but today it is certainly a circle with a big open space in the center, and in the very middle of that stands a flag staff upon which floats the stars and stripes. The whole open space is covered with the softest green turf. Not a lawn, mind you, such as one may see in almost any immaculately kept northern town, with artistic flower beds dotting it, and a carefully trimmed border of foliage plants surrounding it. No, this circle has real Virginia turf; the thick, rich, indestructible turf one finds in England, which, as an old gardener told the writer, "we rolls and tills it for a thousand years." Nature had been rolling and tilling this green plot of ground for a good many thousand years.
The circle was encompassed by an iron rail fence to which the people from the surrounding community hitched their saddle or carriage horses when they came to the "Store" for their mail, or to make various purchases. And there the beasties often stood for hours, rubbing noses and exchanging the gossip of the paddocks, horse (or mule) fashion.
There were always several hitched there, and they were always gossiping or dozing as they waited for their owners to start toward home, and they represented all sorts and conditions of their kind just as those owners represented all sorts and conditions of men. Some were young men, some middle-aged, some old. Some were of the gentry of the surrounding country, some the humbler white folk, some the negroes who had managed to acquire small tracts of land which they farmed successfully or otherwise. Among them, too, was the typical shiftless, "triflin' no-'count" darkey who "jist sits 'round a-waitin'," though it would be hard for him to tell what he was waiting for.
Nevertheless, the "Corners" is the center of the activities of that community, though to make those who most frequently gather there, comprehend the limitations of its activities they would have to be set down in the midst of some big, hustling city.
Still, some who go to the Corners are very much alive to this fact, for they have journeyed throughout the length and breadth of their own land and many other lands beside. But they do not tell their less travelled brothers much of the wonders which lie beyond the towering mountains, which is just as well, perhaps. The stay-at-home might be less happy and content were they to learn of the doings of the big world beyond the barriers of their snug, peaceful valley, which seems to the wiser ones so far away from the trials, struggles, and worries of the world beyond.
And, curiously enough, when those of wider knowledge return to the valley they find again the peace and tranquility which they left there, and, breathing a sigh of relief, settle back into its restful atmosphere, and tranquil content, as one settles into a comfortable old chair.
The nearest "real, sure-enough town" to the Corners is Sprucy Branch and that is fourteen miles from Luray, with its famous caverns. To reach Sprucy Branch from Four Corners one must drive or ride "a right smart distance," and then to reach Luray take a railway trip or drive the fourteen miles. It is a beautiful part of this big world, and the valley is a happy one. Moreover, it would be hard to find a more delightful, little social world than its gentlefolk represent. Not the formal, artificial, rigidly conventional social world of the big northern cities, where few have time or inclination to be absolutely genuine, but the rare, true social life of the well-bred southerner, to whom friendship means much, kinship more, and family ties everything. Whose sons go forth into the world to make their mark, and often their fortunes, too, yet still retain the charm of their up-bringing, the traditions of their families, and their intense love of "the home back yonder." Whose daughters, though brought up, "raised," they often say, in the simplicity of country life, and more often than not having very limited financial resources, are in the truest sense of that beautiful old word, the gentlewomen we picture, prepared to grace their homes, or the outer world and reflect credit upon the land of their birth. And this is the conviction of her northern sister, the first of nine generations to be born beyond the borders of the old Bay State, so she can hardly be accused of a biased opinion.
And this lovely September morning, when the air holds just the faintest suggestion of autumn, when the leaves are beginning to hint of richer tints than the soft greens which they have worn all summer, when the native birds are hobnobbing and gossiping with their friends who are journeying farther south, "All the news of the north to the sunny south bringing," and the squirrels are chattering and scolding as they gather their hoard of chinkapins and other fodder for the long winter at hand, something is stirring. Yes, stirring vigorously, too, if one may judge by the hullabaloo which suddenly arises far down the East Pike. The people gathered upon the porch at the store prick up their ears to listen. There are a dozen or more there upon one errand or another, for the store is the commercial center of the district, and from it can be bought or ordered every nameable thing under the sun. It is also the postoffice, so, once, at least, each day there wends his or her way to it, every human being who expects, hopes for, or by any chance may receive a letter.
It was mail time. Hence the number of people gathered about to prick up their ears as the racket down the road grew louder and louder each second, and the thud of horses' hoofs, the shouts of boys' voices and a girl's ringing laugh were borne to them.
"Yonder comes the Woodbine bunch, I'll bet a dollar, and they're sure enough a-hittin' it up, too. Reckon that young one of the old Admiral's is a-settin' the pace, too. She's a clipper, all right," commented a man seated upon a tilted-back chair, his hat pushed far back upon his shock head. He was guiltless of coat, and his jean trousers were hitched high about his waist by a pair of wool suspenders.
Hardly had he ceased speaking when three horses came pounding into view, the leader ridden by a girl about fifteen years of age. The animal was a little mouse-colored beastie with white markings and eyes which gave a pretty strong hint of a good bit of broncho disposition to which the markings also pointed. He was lithe and agile as a cat and moved with something of the sinuous gliding of that animal, rather than the bounding motions of his eastern-bred mates. The two horses running neck and neck behind him were evidently blooded animals, and all three were a-lather from the pace set by their leader, all mud-bespattered to the point of being wholly disreputable, for a shower the previous night had left many a wide puddle in the road.
The girl leading rode as only a southern girl, accustomed to a saddle all her life, can ride. The saddle was of the Mexican type, but the headstall was the lightest possible, with a simple snaffle bit, even that seeming almost superfluous for she guided her mount more by the motions of her body than the bridle. She held the reins at arm's length in her left hand, while with her right she waved above her head a soft felt hat, her banner of defiance and derision of her pursuers. Swaying ever so slightly in her saddle, she brought her wiry little mount up to the platform, and slid from his back as snow slides from a hillside. The reins were tossed over his head and the race was ended.
Running across the porch she nodded or bowed comprehensively to all seated or standing upon it—the greeting accompanied by a sunny, happy smile which revealed faultlessly pretty teeth.
As she disappeared within the store her friends came rushing up to the platform, shouting after her as they drew up their horses:
"Here, come back! Hold on! That's no fair, even if you did beat. We're going to decide the kind of candy. You'll do us out of our last cent if we let you get it."
"Of course! Why not?" was called back, banteringly.
"Do you think I'm going to run Apache off his legs, risk breaking my neck and then not have the say-so in the end? I reckon not. It's just got to be chocolates this time. Cinnamon suckers are all right enough for a little race, but this was a two-mile go-it-for-all-you're-worth one, and besides, you'd better be nice to me, while you have the chance, because you won't have me with you very much longer."
"Ah, cut that out. We know it well enough. You needn't rub it in," was the chorus of answers.
"Shut up, Bev," added the taller of the two boys, a fair haired lad of sixteen or seventeen. He was a handsome boy, with eyes of such a deep blue that they seemed violet, wavy golden hair and a fine, clear skin, though it was tanned many shades darker than nature intended it to be. The nose was clean cut, and the mouth and chin indicated considerable strength of character. He carried himself as though very sure of his place in the world, and his intention to hold it. Nevertheless, the face was a cheery, happy one.
The other boy was so like the girl that it was laughable. Exchange their garments and it would have puzzled the cleverest person to tell "t'other-from-which." To label them twins would have been superfluous. Nature had attended to that little matter fifteen years earlier in their lives, and even their old mammy used to say: "Now don' none of yo' other chillern go ter projectin' wid dem babies whilst I's got my haid turn'd 'way, cause if yo' does dey's gwine fer to get mixed pintedly, an' den I's gwine ter have ter spend a hull hour mebbe a-gettin' my mind settled pon which is which again."
Moreover, the fifteen years of daily association had only served to consummate what Dame Nature had so ably begun, for the girl and the boy almost thought and felt in unison. In all those years they had hardly been separated for a day. That is no further than a strict quarantine beneath the same roof had separated them, and that had been entirely Beverly's doings. At five she began the performance by contracting whooping-cough; at seven she tried mumps; at nine turned a beautiful lobster hue from measles, and at eleven capped the climax by scaring the family nearly to death with scarlet fever, and thereby causing her grandfather, Admiral Ashby, to exclaim:
"Lord bless my soul, Beverly, you are worse than the potato bugs; they do skip the fatal second year now and again, but you never let up."
Perhaps this criticism had called a halt in her performances in the line of contagious diseases, for since the scarlet fever scare she had quit frightening the family into spasms, and at fifteen was as charming, healthy, and tantalizing a bit of girlhood as one could wish to see, though about as much of a tomboy as one could find.
While Beverly Ashby is squabbling good-naturedly with her brother and chum, suppose we take this opportune moment in which to learn something about the trio?
Beverly and her brother, Athol, had elected to enter this world exactly fifteen years and four months prior to the opening of this story. They also chose the thirteenth of May, 1897, to spring their first surprise upon their family by arriving together, and had managed to sustain their reputations for surprising the grownups by never permitting a single year to pass without some new outbreak, though it must be admitted that Beverly could certainly claim the greater distinction of the two in that direction.
"Woodbine," their home, had been the family seat for many generations. It had seen many a Seldon enter this world and many a one depart from it. It had witnessed the outgoing of many brides from its broad halls, and seen many enter to become its mistress. It was a wonderful old place, beautiful, stately, and so situated upon its wooded upland that it commanded a magnificent view of the broad valley of Sprucy Stream. Over against it lay the foothills of the blue, blue mountains, the Blue Ridge range, and far to the westward the peaks of the Alleghanies peeped above the Massanutton range nearer at hand.
The valley itself was like a rare painting. The silvery stream running through the foreground, the rich woodlands and fertile fields, the marvelous lights and shadows ever holding the one looking upon it entranced. And all this lay before the broad acres of Woodbine, so named because that graceful vine hung in rich festoons from every column, gallery, portico and even the eaves to which it had climbed, a delicate gray-green adornment in early spring, a rich, darker tone in midsummer, and a gorgeous crimson in the autumn.
It was a spacious old mansion and would have been considered a large one even in the north, where, during the past fifty years, palaces have sprung into existence under the misnomer of "cottages." Happily, it did not tower up into the air as many of the so-called cottages do, but spread itself comfortably over the greensward, the central building being the only one ambitious enough to attain to two stories and a sharply peaked roof, in which were set several dormer windows from which a most entrancing view of the valley and distant mountain ranges could be obtained.
These dormer window chambers were rarely used, and, excepting during the semi-annual house cleaning, rarely visited. That one of these rare visits should have been paid one of them upon this particular day of which we are writing was simply Kismet. But of that a little later. Let us finish our picture of lovely Woodbine.
Across the entire front of the main floor as well as the second story, ran a wide piazza, gallery they call it in that part of the country. The lower gallery gave upon a broad, velvety lawn dotted with elms, beeches, oaks and feathery pines. No path led to this gallery, and when one stepped from it one's feet sank into the softest green turf. The door which opened upon it fairly spoke hospitality and welcome from its beautiful fan-like arch to its diamond-paned side lights and the hall within was considered one of the more perfect specimens of the architecture of its period to be found in the state, as was the stately circular double stairway leading to the floor above. Half way up, upon a broad landing, a stained glass window, brought long, long ago from England, let the western sunlight filter through its richly tinted panes and lie in patches of exquisite color upon polished stairs and floor.
At the north and south ends of the house were the real entrances from the carefully raked, wide driveway which described almost a complete circle from the great stone gateway half a mile across Woodbine's lawn. Could this driveway have run straight through the house the circle would have been perfect, but it had to stop at the big south portico, with its graceful columns, and resume its sweep from the north one which gave upon the "office," the overseer's cottage, the various buildings devoted to the business "ob de gr'et house," as the darkies called it, and away further to the stables, carriage house, granaries and other buildings of the estate, with the servants' cabins behind these. All upon the north side of Woodbine was devoted to the practical, utilitarian needs of the place, all upon its southern to its pleasures and luxuries, for in the buildings circling away from the south end were the spacious kitchens, dairy, smoke house, laundry and other buildings necessary to the domestic economy of the household. None of these buildings touched directly upon the main house, but were connected with it by a roofed-over colonnade upon which the woodbine ran riot, as it did upon all the detached buildings, producing an effect charming beyond description. The colonnades described a semicircle from the north-west and south-west corners of the big house, and led from the kitchen to the big dining room, and from the office to the Admiral's study. All the buildings were constructed of rich red brick, brought from England generations ago, the pillars being of white marble. The effect against the dark green foliage was picturesque to agreed.
Unlike many of the old southern homes, Woodbine had always been kept in perfect repair, and by some miracle of good fortune, had escaped the ravages of the Civil War. Its present owner, Admiral Athol Seldon, enjoyed a very comfortable income, having been wise enough during the troublous times of the war to invest his fortune where it would be reasonably safe. He would not have been called a wealthy man, as wealth is gauged in the great northern cities, but in this peaceful valley, where needs were simple and diversions sensible, he was regarded as a man of affluence and no little importance.
During the war he had served in the Confederate Navy, and served with all the strength of his convictions. When it ended in a lost cause he returned to Woodbine to learn in what condition the home he so loved had come through the conflict, for it was situated in the very vortex of the disturbance. Finding it but slightly harmed, and having sufficient means to repair it, he resolved to end his days there. He had never married, an early romance having come to a tragic end in the death of his fiancee soon after the outbreak of the war. Consequently, beautiful Woodbine lacked a mistress, to the great distress of the old family servants.
To remedy this he sent for his brother's widow and her little two-year-old daughter, Mary. Beverly Seldon, two years his brother's junior, had been killed at the battle of Winchester in 1864, and the little Mary had entered this world exactly five months after her father's death. Her mother came very near following her father into the great beyond, but survived the shock to live beneath Athol Seldon's hospitable roof until Mary was eleven years of age, then quietly went to sleep, leaving Mary to her uncle's care. The child then and there became mistress not only of Woodbine, but of every living thing upon the place, her uncle included, and no only daughter could have been cared for, petted, spoiled or spanked more systematically than the Madcap Mary Seldon.
At twenty-six she married Turner Ashby, the grandson of one of the Admiral's oldest friends. Two years later a little daughter was born, but died before she was a year old. Then, just when the old Admiral was beginning to grumble because there seemed to be no prospect of a grand-nephew to inherit Woodbine, Mary Ashby presented him with not only an heir but an heiress as well, and the old gentleman came very near a balloon ascension.
The twins were christened Athol Seldon Ashby and Beverly Turner Ashby before they had fully decided that they were really American citizens, and for seven years no happier household could have been found in the state. Then another calamity visited it. Turner Ashby was killed in a railway accident while north on a business trip. It was a frightful blow to the home in which he was adored by every member, from the Admiral straight down to the blackest little piccaninny upon the estate, and to make it, if possible, more tragic, all that ever came back to Woodbine was the seal ring he had worn, picked up in the charred ruins of the parlor coach. More than eight years had passed since that tragedy, and those years had changed Mary Ashby from a light-hearted, happy young wife and joyous mother to a quiet, dignified woman. Never again did her children find in her the care-free, romping play-fellow they had always known, though she never ceased to be the gentle, tender mother.
And how they missed it. They were too young to fully appreciate their loss, though they grieved deeply for the tall, handsome, golden-haired, blue-eyed father who had been their jolly comrade, riding, romping with them, rowing, playing all manner of games, and always ready to relate some thrilling tale, and who, after eleven years of married life, had remained as much their mother's lover as upon the day he married her. Indeed, all the countryside mourned for Turner Ashby, for such a personality could not be snatched from its environment without leaving a terrible blank for many years.
Athol was like him in character, but not the least in personal appearance, for both children were Seldon from the crowns of their dark heads to the tips of their small feet. Their chum, and inseparable companion, Archie Carey, might more readily have been taken for Turner Ashby's son: he was so tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed. Two years their senior and living upon the adjacent estate of "Uplands," he had grown up in an uninterrupted companionship with Athol and Beverly, and was regarded by them very much as an elder brother so far as camaraderie went, though by no means accorded an older brother's privileges by Miss Beverly. Indeed, she was more often the leading spirit in the fun, frolics or scrapes into which they were constantly plunging, as for example the one alluded to in the opening chapter. But that must have a chapter all to itself.
FROM THE DORMER WINDOW
Woodbine, as has been said, lay about two miles from Four Corners, the road leading to the post office clearly visible for almost its entire length.
It had always been the custom at Woodbine and Uplands to send to Four Corners twice daily for the mail, the children as a rule doing the errand and only too glad of the diversion, for they never failed to hear some bit of neighborhood gossip at the post office, or meet friends from some of the adjacent estates. Moreover, there was invariably the speculation regarding the writers of the letters taken from the box even when the letters were addressed to other members of their respective families, for neither Beverly, Athol or Archie had extensive correspondence with the world beyond the mountains. Just now, however, a new and vital interest had arisen, for after a grave family conclave it had been definitely settled that the time had arrived when Beverly and Athol must break away from the old order of things and be sent to boarding schools. Up to the present time a governess or a tutor had taught their young ideas to shoot, (straight or otherwise) with Admiral Seldon as head of the discipline department, a position by no means a sinecure since Beverly represented one-half the need of such a department. Until the children were twelve the governess had been all sufficient but at that point Athol rebelled at being "a sissy" and demanded a tutor, Beverly entirely concurring in his views. So a tutor had been installed and had remained until the previous July, when he was called to fill a more lucrative position elsewhere. Thus Woodbine's young shoots were left without a trainer, to the dismay of its older members and distress of its younger ones, for both Beverly and Athol had grown very fond of Norman Lee, who seemed but little older than themselves, though in reality quite ten years their senior. In the schoolroom he had been the staid, dignified instructor but beyond its walls no better chum and comrade could have been found. He was hale-fellow in all their good times and frolics. Consequently his resignation "just broke up the whole outfit," as Athol put it, and both children vowed they wouldn't have anybody else at Woodbine because nobody else could ever be half so nice as Norman Lee. Long before the three years of his tutorship ended he had become "Norman" to all the household, even the children adopting the more familiar appellation beyond the schoolroom doors, though within it the concession of "Mr. Norman" was yielded, which secretly amused the young tutor not a little, and often caused him to wonder how the boy and girl contrived to maintain the attitude so consistently and with such perfect gravity. For four hours of the day he might have been Methuselah's own brother from their standpoint but upon the school-room's threshold they dropped as garments the relations of pupils and teacher and became the best of good chums.
It had been a singularly happy relation and it was not surprising that it seemed to them well-nigh impossible to renew it with an entire stranger.
And truth to tell the Admiral and Mrs. Ashby were not in the least sanguine of being able to find any one else capable of repeating it and for a time were a good deal daunted by the outlook for the coming year.
The previous year Archie Carey had gone away to school and during his holidays had come back to Uplands brimful of enthusiasm and determined to have Athol join him. Athol was quite as eager to do so, the one fly in his ointment of pure joy being the thought of the separation from Beverly, though boy-like, he kept this fact deep buried in his heart. Nevertheless, it made him feel queer when the possibility of going upon divided ways to different schools became a very definite one indeed. The boy and girl were like a pair of horses which has been driven together fifteen years and suddenly separated. True, the separation was not as yet a fact, but human beings can suffer more in anticipation than the brute creation can in reality. The great question at present was which of many schools to select. Admiral Seldon had written to several for circulars and information, and had been nearly swamped with replies in every conceivable form. At length he had weeded the mass down to three, entering into more definite correspondence with these, and the replies to his last letters were now being eagerly awaited by Beverly, Athol and Archie. The school now under most favorable consideration for Beverly was about thirty-five miles from Sprucy Branch, the town nearest Four Corners and Woodbine.
It was the coming of these letters which had caused the excitement at Woodbine as the boys and girl were about to go for the morning mail, Athol upon his little thoroughbred, Royal, Archie mounted upon his own handsome hunter, Snowdrift, and Beverly on a wiry little broncho which had been sent to her by an old friend of the Admiral's who had become the owner of a ranche in Arizona. The friend had assured Admiral Seldon that "Apache" had been "thoroughly gentled," and Beverly, who had never known the meaning of fear from the hour she could bestride a horse, had welcomed him with delight. Whether the old Admiral had done likewise is open to doubt, but Mrs. Ashby frankly protested. As a girl she had ridden every ridable thing upon the place but it was literally a horse of another color when it came to the point of Beverly doing as she had done. So Apache had been tolerated, not welcomed, by Mrs. Ashby, and having been an eye-witness to some of the little beast's astonishing performances when he first came two years before, she has exacted from Beverly a promise to be very cautious when riding him. Until his arrival Beverly had ridden Jewel, her fourteen-hand pony, and been quite content, but Jewel's luster was dimmed by Apache's brilliant "shines," as old Uncle Abel called his cavortings when feeling exceptionally fit from his unaccustomed diet of oats and feed. Out in Arizona his food had consisted of alfalfa grass with an occasional "feed" thrown in, so it is not surprising that the new order of high living somewhat intoxicated him. But Apache had won his place at Woodbine.
As the young people were about to set forth upon their two-mile trip for the mail Mrs. Ashby warned:
"Now Beverly be careful, dear. Apache has a lively tickle in his toes this crisp morning, and besides the roads are terribly muddy and slippery from last night's shower."
"I'll be careful mumsey dear," answered the girl, as she ran down the steps to spring upon her mount.
"Careful and no racing with the boys, remember," Mrs. Ashby called after her.
Perhaps Beverly did not hear the concluding admonition. At any rate we'll give her the benefit of the doubt, for at that moment Apache gave testimony of the tickle in his toes by springing straight up into the air in as good an imitation of a "buck" as any "thoroughly gentled" little broncho could give in the polite society of his aristocratic Virginia cousins. Mrs. Ashby gave a startled exclamation, but Beverly, secure in her seat, waved a merry good-by and was off after the boys who were calling to her to "hurry up."
Of course they had not heard one word of the foregoing conversation. Had they done so it is safe to say that they would never had proposed the two-mile race to the post office nor tormented Beverly for being "no sort of a sport," and "scared to back her painted plug against their thoroughbreds." They were honorable lads and would have felt honor-bound to respect Mrs. Ashby's wishes. But not having heard, they gave Beverly "all that was coming to her for riding a calico nag," though said "nag" was certainly a little beauty.
Nearly a quarter of the distance to Four Corners had been ridden when Beverly's temper, never too elastic, snapped. Her riding crop descended with a thwack, first upon Royal's round flank, then upon Snowdrift's and finally upon Apache's side as she cried:
"You-all hush up and ride. I'll beat you to Four Corners or die in the attempt!"
The sudden onslaught brought the result to be expected. The two thoroughbreds plunged forward with snorts of indignant protest, answered by Apache's very plebian squeal of rage as he shook his bony little head and struck into a gait such as Beverly had never dreamed a horse could strike. It was like a tornado let loose, and, expert little horsewoman that she was, she found ample occupation for all her wits and equestrian skill, though she managed to jerk out as she whirled past her companions:
"Two pounds of Huyler's candy if I do beat those giraffes of yours."
Hence the commotion at Four Corners a few moments later, the whirlwind arrived and the conversation recorded in the first chapter.
"Mr. Telford, have you got any Huyler boxes?" asked the winner of the race, resting her gauntleted hands and her riding crop upon the counter. "These boys are trying to make me take two pounds of cinnamon suckers on a bet. Did you ever hear such nonsense? I couldn't eat them in a year and real, sure-enough bets mean something better than suckers."
"Wall, Miss Bev'ly, I aint rightly knowin' what kind o' lollypops is in them boxes, most times folks jist helps theirselves an' I don't pay no 'tention ter the brand. It's all candy, I reckon," answered the shop keeper, drawing two or three boxes from his case and placing them upon his counter. From the appearance of the wrappings they belied Huyler's advertisement of being "fresh every hour," though one of the boxes bore that firm's name. The others were stamped by Martha Washington, Lowney and one or two other widely known manufacturers.
"Yes this one's Huyler's but I've got to have two this time. Yes I have too! Athol's got to put up for one and you for the other. Why just look at me! The mud on me ought to just naturally make you both want to do something to pay up for making me get into such a state."
"We didn't make you! You started the circus," protested her brother.
"Blessed if I'd do a thing for you if it wasn't likely to be the last race we'll have in one while. Look at those," interjected Archie Carey, coming over from the letter window where he had gone to ask for the mail and slamming upon the counter beside the boxes of candy half a dozen plump letters. Three bore the addresses of the schools under consideration. All three faces grew sober.
"I'll bet those will settle your hash Bev," was Athol's comment.
"Ah, why couldn't you have been a boy instead of a girl anyhow," protested Archie. "Then you'd have come along with us as a matter of course and our good times wouldn't have all been knocked into a cocked hat."
"Come on. Let's go home," said Beverly soberly, as she gathered up her boxes, nodded to Mr. Telford, and took her mud-splashed self from the store, the boys lingering to pay the bill.
She had remounted Apache when they joined her, Archie carrying the letters which he stuffed viciously into the mail-bag strapped to his saddle. Then the two boys sprang upon their waiting horses. As they rode in silence Beverly glanced down at her khaki riding skirt and at Apache's mud-splashed body, and the next moment had stopped short, exclaiming:
"Look at us, and I promised mother I wouldn't race!"
"You did!" exclaimed the boys in duet.
"I sure did," she repeated with a solemn nod.
This was too much for her companions and the woodland bordering the road echoed to their shouts. When they had regained some self-control Athol asked:
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"Do? I'm going to stop at the branch and scrub some of this mud off Apache and myself, for if we show up like this mother will think I've been acting ten times worse that I really have, though goodness knows it's bad enough as it is. I didn't mean to break my promise, but I couldn't let you boys put it all over me like you did and not get back at you. Now get out of the way while I clean up, and maybe you could do a little on your own accounts and not suffer for it either. 'Snowdrift!' He looks exactly like one after a spring thaw."
The boys glanced at the beautiful white horse and then at each other. The ensuing fifteen minutes were spent in the vigorous grooming of their steeds, Beverly scrubbing Apache as energetically as Archie and Athol did Royal and Snowdrift. Flat sticks served as scrapers and bunches of dry grass for cloths. When the animals looked a little less like animated mud pies Beverly turned her attention to her riding skirt. To restore that to its pristine freshness might have daunted a professional scourer. The more she rubbed and scrubbed the worse the result and finally, when she was a sight from alternate streaks of mud and wet splotches, she sprang upon the startled Apache crying:
"Come along home quick! If I've got to face the music the quicker it's done the better," and was off down the road in a fair way to being as muddy when she reached Woodbine as she was when she began her cleansing processes at the branch, while up in one of the dormer windows of the big house her mother stood smiling to herself. It was one of the rare occasions when she had occasion to go to that room for some stored away winter clothing against Beverly's pending departure for boarding school. As the riders resumed their homeward journey she smiled and said softly:
"How exactly like Beverly. Now will come confession and repentance and shall I be able to keep a sober face?"
"Yes, I just forgot all about it, for of course I wasn't going to let the boys run me to death, and oh, mother, Apache can get over the ground! I never saw anything like the way he ran."
"No, neither have I," replied Mrs. Ashby significantly.
"You!" asked Beverly in surprise.
Mrs. Ashby nodded though her lips twitched.
Beverly's face clouded and her lips set.
"How did you see me?" she demanded.
"From the window of the north-east dormer chamber."
The girl's dark eyes grew darker and signs of a pending tempest lowered as she asked:
"Mother did you go up there to spy upon me? You almost never go into that room. Didn't you believe me? Did you think I had to be watched? I think that was horrid, horrid of you. You know I didn't mean to break my word. I just forgot when the boys teased me about my calico plug and you wouldn't have stood for that if you'd been in my place. You just know you wouldn't. You used to do crazier things when you were a girl for Uncle Athol has told me just dozens and dozens of them. Why did you spy upon me? Why? Why? I loathe being distrusted."
The storm had burst with a vengeance.
"Beverly hush and listen to me. If you will pause a moment you will know perfectly well that I had no idea of 'spying' upon you. Have I ever done so? You know better. It seems to me you are displaying some doubt also. If I did not know it to be the outcome of your excitement I should decline to make any explanation. As it is I'll tell you that I went up there to get out your winter things in order to have them remodeled. By chance I looked out of the window—it is a view rather worth looking upon, you'll admit—and, well I saw a moving picture instead of the usual quiet landscape and it was 'going some' as Athol would say." Mrs. Ashby smiled involuntarily as she recalled the spirited action of that moving picture.
"Yes wasn't it?" cried Beverly eagerly. "And, oh that little Apache is some horse, mumsey."
Then her face resumed its defiant expression and she continued: "But I showed them that they couldn't put it all over me and not pay for it. They got the try-out of their lives and I got two pounds of decent candy if I did get some mud into the bargain. I'd have come home to tell you anyway; you know I would don't you?"
"Have I intimated a doubt of it, dear?" The tone was very disarming, and warm-hearted, quick tempered just-souled little Beverly succumbed. Throwing her arms about her mother's neck she buried her head upon her shoulder as she sobbed.
"Oh, do forgive me. I was the horrid one for doubting you and saying such nasty things. Please give me bally hack and send me away to school quick. Then maybe I'll learn to think twice before I sass once, as Mammy Riah says. I reckon what I need is a good strict schoolmarm to boss me 'round."
"I hope the 'bossing' element will be absent from the school we shall choose. I doubt it would work very well with you, Beverly. Sparks and gunpowder are apt to lead to pretty serious explosions and I dislike pyrotechnics which are likely to spread disaster. Now go change your clothes and make yourself presentable for I hear Uncle Athol calling and I dare say the momentous question is about to be answered. But what am I going to do without my little whirlwind to keep things stirring?" ended Mrs. Ashby, tenderly drawing the penitent into her arms.
"And oh, mumsey, mumsey where shall I ever find any one who will be as patient with the whirlwind? I suspect I'm going to be desperately homesick more days than once. But I'll truly, truly try not to disgrace you and Woodbine. Yes, we're coming Uncle Athol," as the Admiral's stentorian tones came booming up the broad stairway.
"Mary Beverly, come along quick and hear these letters. Lord save us, I'd rather run a blockade than choose a school for a couple of youngsters. I'll be gray, dead and buried before it's done! Come down I say."
"We are coming Uncle," called Mrs. Ashby, laughing softly as she pictured the gray-haired old Admiral striding up and down the wide hall anathematizing all the schools in creation and launching side shots at the boys because they were laughing at him. His roar was far worse than his attack as the lads well knew, as sitting—no, sprawling—upon the big claw-foot sofa they did not hesitate to let fly a projectile or two in return, only to howl at the result, for well both knew his weakness for his grandniece. "She could wind him around her little finger," they said.
A moment later Mrs. Ashby appeared at the top of the landing to be greeted by:
"Come and hear these letters. Where's Beverly?"
"She will be down as soon as she changes her riding skirt."
The boys snickered.
Turning upon them the Admiral demanded:
"What are you young scamps chortling about?"
"Bev," answered his nephew. "Did you see her when she came in?"
"Now what was the matter with her? She's usually all right."
"Oh, nothing. Just a trifle muddy. Mother can describe her appearance better than we can I reckon," laughed Athol, Jr.
The Admiral bent his keen eyes upon the boys. He was a handsome old gentleman and wonderfully well-preserved for his seventy-three years.
"And I'll lay a wager you fellows started the ball rolling and Beverly had to brace up and stop it," he nodded.
"We didn't! Honest, Uncle Athol, we didn't! Did we Arch?"
"Ask Bev. Here she comes," laughed Archie pointing toward the stairs down which a demure, spick and span, duck-clothed young lady was making her way with all the propriety of a young boarding-house-miss-in-the-making.
Instantly Athol had sprung to his feet and was mincing along behind the Admiral in such perfect mimicry of his sister that Archie hooted. Beverly scorned to notice the by-play and asked:
"Do you want me Uncle Athol?"
"Yes, come along into my study for this er-er—well perplexing question is going to be settled right here and now."
Realizing that the settling meant a separation for a shorter or longer time, and for a greater or less distance, however determined, the boys sobered down and followed the others into the study.
There is no use going into details. The letters were duly read and discussed and it was decided that early the next morning Admiral Seldon and Mrs. Ashby should visit two of the schools, those nearest Sprucy Branch being selected.
"And please, Uncle Athol, choose Leslie Manor. It's so near Kilton Hall that the boys can ride over to see me and I can go to see them," begged Beverly, clasping her hands about her great-uncle's arm and looking up into his face in a manner to coax the birds off the bushes.
He drew her into his circling arm and turning her face up to his asked, as he kissed the soft lips.
"And how in kingdom come do you suppose I'm going to get on without your coming to see me often, you torment of my soul. And how do you expect the boys to cover those ten miles between Leslie Manor and Kilton Hall, much less you? And a pretty stir-up it would make if you were to go to their school, wouldn't it, you huzzy."
"Why, I'm Athol's sister, and almost Archie's too. Why couldn't I go? We'll have our horses, of course."
"Lord bless my soul, are you counting on moving the whole of Woodbine up yonder?" asked the Admiral in dismay.
"Why no, Uncle Athol, but of course we must take Snowdrift, Royal and Apache," answered Beverly as a matter of course. Whereupon Archie and Athol, standing just behind the Admiral, and Beverly fell upon each other's necks. Such an idea as taking their horses with them had never for a moment entered the boy's heads.
"Well, we'll see; We'll see," temporized the old gentleman, "No" seeming to have been left out of the vocabulary he employed in speaking to Beverly.
An hour was spent in discussing the subject pro and con and at its end Admiral Seldon cried:
"Quit running on dead reckoning and tell Mammy Riah to pack our grips, for your mother and I are off on the eight-thirty from Sprucy Branch and that means stepping lively tomorrow morning, Mary. And I want Uncle Abel to understand that the carriage is to be at the door at seven-thirty,—not nine-thirty."
And so the die was cast. At seven-thirty the following morning the carriage accompanied by the three most interested in what the verdict would be upon its return, sped down the broad driveway, the leaves which had fallen during the night crinkling beneath the wheels, the carriage horses cutting all sorts of antics in sympathy with their saddle companions cavorting beside them, for the young people were acting as body guard.
It was not at all likely that the older people would return that night, for train service was limited, so all preparations were made for an overnight trip.
Bidding them good-by at the railway station Beverly, Athol and Archie rode back to Woodbine, in no mood for one of their wild stampedes. The real parting was too close at hand.
That day and evening seemed the longest to Beverly that she had ever known. Archie was to spend the night at Woodbine, and Aunt Caroline, Mammy Riah and Earl Queen, the butler, did their best to make up for the absence of the heads of the house, but it surely was a sober little group which sat down at the brightly polished mahogany dining table. Beverly in her mother's seat, Athol in his uncle's and Archie as guest. Aunt Caroline had sent up her daintiest preserves and had prepared a supper "fitten' for a queen," she averred. Her fried chicken would have put Delmonico's to shame and her hot waffles were "lak ter fly up offen de dish I serve 'em on," was Queen's affirmation as he took them from her, but nothing was eaten with its usual relish.
At ten the next morning came a long distance phone call from Admiral Seldon.
Beverly reached the phone first.
"And it's all settled? Which one? Leslie Manor? Good! And Ath's going to Kilton Hall? Oh, splendid! You'll be down on the three o'clock train? Meet you? Of course. Yes, I'll tell the boys. Mother sends love? Give her ours and tell her we are all right and have been as good as gold. Good-by!" and the phone was hung up with a snap as Beverly spun round and catching the one nearest at hand who happened to be Archie, turkey trotted him the length of the big hall before she'd end their curiosity.
And thus came the selection of the two schools. Athol with Archie at Kilton Hall, and Beverly at Leslie Manor, ten miles away, and near one of the most wonderful and beautiful caprices of that capricious lady Dame Nature, that human eye is ever likely to rest upon.
They were to leave Woodbine and Uplands on the last day of September, as the school term began October first, the intervening days being full of the excitement incident to their departure.
The thirtieth of September came at once too rapidly and too slowly, and dawned crisp and clear; a good omen for the start.
Good-bys were said to the servants, Mrs. Ashby was embraced tempestuously by Beverly and given a bear hug by Athol, Archie shook hands and all three followed Admiral Seldon in to the waiting carriage, to wave good-bys to Mrs. Ashby who stood upon the south portico, and to all the servants gathered in the south colonnade.
Then Mrs. Ashby re-entered the silent house, went upstairs to Beverly's deserted room, dropped into a chair beside her bed and burying her head in the tumbled pillow wept like a girl.
A moment later Mammy Riah entered the room, caught sight of the weeper, grabbed up an old muddy shoe of Beverly's and raining tears into it forthwith raised a genuine darkey wail of woe which very nearly turned Mrs. Ashby's tears into hysterics.
It was the opening day at Leslie Manor. Late the evening before the last girl had come straggling reluctantly back after a long summer vacation. This morning all was hustle and bustle. At the rear of the building the last trunks were being bumped down from the express wagon which had brought them from the railway station, and under the direction of Wesley Watts Mather, the dusky porter, janitor and general handy man, were being conveyed to the various rooms in which they and their owners would bide for the ensuing eight months, for Leslie Manor did not open its doors to its pupils until October first and closed them the first week in June. This was at the option of Miss Woodhull, the principal, who went abroad each June taking with her several of her pupils for a European tour, to return with her enlightened, edified charges in September. It was a pleasurable as well as a profitable arrangement for the lady who was absolutely free of encumbrance and could do as she chose.
Leslie Manor had once been the home of a widely known southern family whose fortunes had sadly decreased during the war and completely evaporated after it. For several years the place was entirely deserted and neglected, then Miss Woodhull, recently graduated from a New England college, and fairly bristling with degrees, for which she had exchanged the freshness, sweetness and spontaneity of youth and health, was ordered to spend at least a year in the south in the doubtful hope of recovering the youth and health.
Just where to find these valuable assets was the hardest question to answer. Her only relatives were an elderly maiden aunt and an irascible old uncle whose time was too filled with providing the wherewithal to maintain a very elaborate establishment for a very vain wife and three frivolous daughters, to leave any left over in which to think of the welfare of his only sister's child. Moreover, his wife and daughters could not endure her, and, truth to tell, they had about as much affinity for one another as have oil and water. They might flow side by side forever but never mingle.
The maiden aunt was her father's sister, an austere dignified old party who resided most exclusively in her ancestral home on Beacon Street, and lived in a rut worn ages deep by tradition, conviction and self-will. Virginia was, so-to-speak, heiress-presumptive. Not that she was likely to be supplanted by the birth of some one having greater claim to her aunt's fortune. Her possible rivals for the very substantial income which her aunt enjoyed were foundling asylums, a new religious cult just then in its infancy in the hub of the universe, and innumerable "movements" and "reforms."
She had sent Virginia through college, provided her with a fair allowance, bidden her make something of herself for the sake of her name and then washed her hands of all responsibility. In her own sight she had fulfilled all her duty. When Virginia Woodhull left —— College after attaining degrees galore, but in broken health, and with twenty-eight years checked off upon her life's calendar, she seemed to have run plump up against a stone wall.
Dozens of positions were almost forced upon her. Mentally she was qualified to fill any of them, physically not one. Nor could she remain near the only relatives she possessed had they even cared two straws to have her remain.
While in this depressing state of mind and body a girl whom she had coached in the college graduated and was about to return to her home in Virginia. She was several years Virginia's junior, pretty, warm-hearted and charming, and possessed the power of looking a little deeper below the surface than the average human being possesses. She invited Miss Woodhull to accompany her to Roanoke and fate stepped in and did the rest. The month was spent in a lovely old home, Virginia Woodhull gained in health and strength, and recovered something in the way of nerve control and mental poise. When the month ended she decided to "do" the state whose name she bore and spent the rest of the year in going from one point to another in it until she knew its entire topography by heart.
In the course of her journeyings she visited the Luray Caverns as a matter of course, and enroute came upon picturesque, deserted, decrepit Leslie Manor, and fell as enthusiastically in love with it as it was given to her repressed nature to fall in love.
Moreover, for a long time she had been obsessed with a desire to bring into this happy, easy-going, contented state something of the energy, progress, intellectual activities (as she gauged them) of New England. The general uplift inspired by the seat of learning she had just left after post-graduate courses unto the nth degree: To thoroughly stir things up and make these comfortable, contented, easy-going Virginians sit up and take notice of their shortcomings. She was given a work in life, though quite unsought, and she meant to undertake it exactly as she has undertaken her college course and make a fine job of it.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, according to the viewpoint taken, the aunt in Boston was ceremoniously tucked away in the tomb of her ancestors just as this resolution crystalized and Virginia Woodhull found herself in possession of a very comfortable income, though said income had a string attached to it which was intended to yank it back to the religious cult before mentioned in the event of Virginia's marriage or death. Either way considered, it was a rather dubious heritage. But it served to purchase Leslie Manor and the school became a fait accompli. This was in the early eighties and from its opening day the school had flourished. Perhaps this was due to New England energy and culture, or possibly some credit rested with Mrs. Bonnell, the matron, and real head of the house; a sweet lovable, gracious Southern gentlewoman whose own family and fortunes had vanished when she was a tiny child, but who had grown up with relatives in whose home love ruled supreme and in which the little Veronica Dulany had blossomed as a flower. At forty years of age she still retained a genuine love and understanding of her fellow-beings in spite of many sorrows, and the death when she was still a mere girl of husband and little daughter before she had been called Mrs. Percy Bonnell five years.
At any rate, for ten years Mrs. Bonnell had ruled supreme at Leslie Manor, engaging its servants as she saw fit, directing the household, economizing as she felt wisest; feeding hungry girls, cuddling the homesick ones, caring for the ailing ones, and loved by every creature human or animal upon the place. Miss Woodhull had no time for domestic matters and all the sentiment in her had been killed in her early childhood.
And curiously enough the academic force at Leslie Manor was about equally divided into Woodhull and Bonnell factions. Miss Stetson, the teacher of mathematics was in keen sympathy with Miss Woodhull, as was Miss Forsdyke the Latin teacher, and Miss Baylis, the teacher of history and literature, but Miss Dalton the gymnasium and physical culture teacher, and Miss Powell who had charge of the little girls, sided with Mrs. Bonnell as did Monsieur Santelle, and old Herr Professor Stenzel. Even Miss Juliet Atwell, who came twice each week for aesthetic dancing, and several other stunts, openly worshiped at the Bonnell's shrine. Herr Stenzel's admiration had more than once proved an embarrassing proposition to the lady, for Herr Stenzel loved the flesh pots of Leslie Manor and knew right well who presided over them. But Mrs. Bonnell was equal to a good many Herr Stenzels.
But in one sense we have wandered a long way from Beverly Ashby and opening day at Leslie Manor, though all these people vitally concern her.
Leslie Manor stood in the centre of a wide, rolling, thickly wooded estate encompassed by a holly hedge noted for miles around for its beauty and its prickly barrier to freedom. The house had been restored and added to in order to meet the demands of a school harboring sixty or seventy girls, though it still retained its old lines of beauty and its air of hominess.
Miss Woodhull's first concern had been "to make the place sanitary," the last word spelled with italics, and to this end modern improvements and conveniences had supplanted the old, easy-going expedients of domestic economy. Everything in Leslie Manor became strictly modern and up-to-date. The upper floors were arranged in the most approved single bed-chambers or suites for the teachers and the seniors, the lower ones were accurately divided into living, dining and reception rooms. In one wing were the model recitation rooms and Miss Woodhull's office; in another the undergraduate's rooms. Nor had the grounds been overlooked. They were very trim, very prim, very perfectly kept and made one realize this at every turn. It also made one wonder how the old owner would feel could he return from his nameless grave at Appomatox and be obliged to pace along the faultless walks where formerly he had romped with his children across the velvety turf. But he and his were dead and gone and the spirit of New England primness, personified in Virginia Woodhull, spinster aged fifty-seven, now dominated the place.
It was lovely to look upon, and compelled one's admiration, though it left some indefinable longing unsatisfied. It was so orderly it almost made one ache.
Perhaps something of this ache unconsciously obsessed Beverly Ashby as she sat upon one of the immaculate garden seats, placed at the side of an immaculate gravel walk, and looked through a vista of immaculately trimmed trees at the dozens of girls boiling out of the door of the wing in which most of the undergraduate's rooms were situated, for all members of the under classes were housed in the south wing, the seniors rooming in the more luxurious quarters of the main building. Not that the seniors were the happier for their exaltation. They had enjoyed some pretty merry hours in that old south wing, but with the advent of the senior year were forced to live up to the dignity of the main building. The faculty occupied the north end of it.
Beverly had arrived the previous afternoon and, owing to the fact that she had never been at school before in all her fifteen years, nor journeyed very far afield from dear old Woodbine, she did not know a soul at Leslie Manor so far as she now knew.
The parting of the ways when Athol and Archie bade her good-by at Front Royal and, accompanied by Admiral Seldon, went on to Kilton Hall gave Beverly an entirely new sensation. She then fully realized that she was growing up and that the old happy-go-lucky days of boy and girl frolicking were slipping into the background. That from that very spot where the roads branched she must begin her journey toward young-ladyhood, as the boys must begin theirs toward manhood, and the thought hurt like a physical pain. She didn't want to grow up and leave those happy days behind.
She had been met at Front Royal by one of the teachers who was returning to the school. Beverly had tried to talk to her as she would have talked with any one at home. But Miss Baylis did not encourage familiarity upon the part of the pupils, and promptly decided that Beverly was one of those irresponsible, impulsive Southern girls who always proved such trials to her and Miss Woodhull before they could be brought to understand strict conventions. Consequently, she had met Beverly's warm-hearted, spontaneous manner with frigid politeness and had relieved herself of the young girl's society the moment the school was reached.
Luckily, Beverly had fallen into Mrs. Bonnell's hands directly she reached Leslie Manor, so some of the ice coating in which she had made the five-mile drive from the railway station had been thawed by that lovable lady. But she had passed a desperately lonely evening in her room unpacking and getting settled, and had gone to bed in a frame of mind rarely experienced by Beverly Ashby.
Her room-mate, like many other tardy ones, would not arrive until the next day, and the whole atmosphere of the place spelled desolation for Beverly.
Her first Waterloo had been encountered early that morning when, feeling lonelier than she ever had felt in all her life, she dressed early and ran out to the stable to visit Apache. He seemed as lonely and forlorn as his little mistress and thinking to cheer him as well as herself, she had led him forth by his halter and together they had enjoyed one grand prance down the driveway. Unluckily, Miss Baylis had seen this harmless little performance, and not being able to appreciate perfect human and equine grace, had been promptly scandalized. It was at once reported to Miss Woodhull and Beverly was informed that "such hoydenish actions should be relegated to the uncultured herd."
Beverly did not ask whether she must number herself among that herd but the fact had been implied nevertheless, and she smarted under what she felt to be an unmerited and unduly severe rebuke, if not an open insult.
She was still smarting as she sat hidden in her nook, and sorely in need of an antidote for the smart.
Presently it came in the homeopathic form of like curing like.
Naturally, no real work was done on opening day. Miss Woodhull, stately and austere sat in her office directing her staff with the air of an empress. One of the old girls declared that all she lacked was a crown and sceptre, and the new ones who entered that office to be registered, "tagged" the above mentioned girl called it, came out of it feeling at least three inches shorter than when they entered. During her reign in Leslie Manor, Miss Woodhull had grown much stouter and one seeing her upon this opening day would scarcely have recognized in her the slender, hollow-eyed worn-out woman who had opened its doors to the budding girlhood of the land nearly thirty years before. She was now a well-rounded, stately woman who carried herself with an air of owning the state of her adoption, and looked comparatively younger in her fifty-eighth year than she had in her twenty-eighth.
As Beverly sat in her nook watching the little girls of the primary grades run out to their playground at the rear of the building, the old girls of the upper classes pair off and stroll away through the extensive grounds, and the new ones drift thither and yonder like rudderless craft, she saw two girls come from Miss Woodhull's office. One was a trifle shorter than Beverly and plump as a woodcock. She was not pretty but piquant, with a pair of hazel eyes that crinkled at the corners, a saucy pug nose, a mouth like a Cupid's bow and a mop of the curliest red-brown hair Beverly had ever seen. Her companion was tall, slight, graceful, distinguished. A little aristocrat from the top of her raven black hair to the tips of her daintily shod feet was Aileen Norman and though only sixteen, she was the one girl in the school who could hold Miss Woodhull within the limits of absolute courtesy under all circumstances. Although descended from New England's finest stock, Miss Woodhull also possessed her full share of the New Englander's nervous irritability which all the good breeding and discipline ever brought to bear can never wholly eradicate. Her sarcasm and irony had caused more than one girl's cheeks to grow crimson and her blood to boil under their stinging injustice, for Miss Woodhull did not invariably get to the root of things. She was a trifle superior to minor details. But Aileen possessed an armor to combat just such a temperament and her companion, Sally Conant's wits were sharp enough to get out of most of the scrapes into which she led her friend. So the pair were a very fair foil to each other and a match for Miss Woodhull. What their ability would prove augmented by Beverly's characteristics we will learn later.
As they came down the steps from Miss Woodhull's office, said office, by-the-by, being in the wing in which the recitation rooms were situated and quite separate from the main building, Sally's eyes were snapping, and her head wagging ominously; Aileen's cheeks were even a deeper tint than they ordinarily were, and her head was held a little higher. Evidently something of a disturbing nature had taken place. They did not see Beverly in her bosky nook and she did not feel called upon to reveal herself to them.
"It was all very well to stick three of us together when we were freshmen and sophomores, but juniors deserve some consideration I think. If Peggy Westfield had come back this year it would have been all well and good, but to put a perfect stranger in that room is a pure and simple outrage. Why we haven't even an idea what she's like, or whether she'll be congenial, or nice, or—or—anything. Why couldn't she have given us one of the girls we know?" stormed Sally.
"Because she likes to prove that she is great and we are small, I dare say," answered Aileen. "Of course the new girl may be perfectly lovely and maybe we'll get to like her a lot, but it's the principle of the thing which enrages me. It seems to me we might have some voice in the choice of a room-mate after being in the school three years. There are a dozen in our class from which we could choose the third girl if we've got to have her, though I don't see why just you and I couldn't have a suite to ourselves. Mercy knows there are enough rooms in our wing and next year we'll have to be in the main house anyway, and I just loathe the thought of it too."
"Ugh! So do I! But let's reconnoiter and try to spot our bugbear. I wonder if it wouldn't be appropriate to call her by another name? We've got to share our rooms with her even if we haven't got to share our bed. Why didn't the Empress tell us her name? the stubborn old thing! Just 'a girl from Sprucy Branch will share your suite this year. She arrived last evening and has already arranged her things in A of Suite 10.' A of course! The very nicest of the three bedrooms opening out of that study and the only one which has sunshine all day long. You or I should have had it. I don't call it fair. She's probably trying to make a good impression upon Miss Sprucy Branch. The name sounds sort of Japanesy, doesn't it? Wonder if she looks like a Jap too?"
"Well if you are speaking of me I can tell you right now that Miss Woodhull hasn't succeeded in making any too pleasing an impression upon Miss Sprucy Branch and so far as keeping Room A in suite 10, is concerned, either of you is welcome to it, because it would take just mighty little to make me beat it for the stables, mount Apache, habit or no habit, and do those thirty-five miles between this luck-forsaken place and Woodbine in just about four hours, and that is allowing something for the mountains too. Apache's equal to a good deal better time, but I should hate to push him, when we were heading toward home. That would pay up for any amount of delay. Thus far I haven't found Leslie Manor as hospitable as our servant's quarters at Woodbine."
Beverly's cheeks were as red as Aileen's, and her eyes snapping as menacingly as Sally's by the time she had come to the end of her very deliberately uttered speech, though she had not moved a hair's breadth upon her bench, nor had she changed her position. Her head was propped upon her hand as her arm rested upon the back of the seat, but she was looking straight at the astonished girls as she spoke.
Never had there been a more complete ambush sprung upon a reconnoitering party, and for a moment both girls were speechless. It was Sally who saved the day by springing away from Aileen and landing upon the seat beside Beverly as she cried:
"Are you to be our room-mate?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. I've got to be somebody's I suppose and I've been assigned A 10. And from your conversation, which I couldn't very well help overhearing, you two seem to have been assigned B and C for study 10. But I've just given vent to my point of view."
There was still a good bit of electricity in the atmosphere, but it must be admitted that for the past eighteen hours Beverly had been pretty steadily brushed the wrong way, and it was an entirely new experience for her. Add to this a good dose of homesickness and a sense of utter loss at her separation from Athol, and her present frame of mind is not difficult to understand.
"Are you Beverly Ashby of Woodbine?" persisted Sally, while Aileen dropped down upon the seat beside Sally to listen.
"Yes," was the laconic if uncompromising reply.
"Well that's the best news I've heard since I left Richmond, and I'm just tickled nearly to death!" exclaimed Sally, spinning about to hug Aileen rapturously. This sudden change of base was so astonishing that Beverly's sense of humor came to her rescue and she laughed.
Sally again pivoted toward her crying:
"Why I know you perfectly well! I've known you all my life! And you know me just as well as I know you. Don't you know you do?"
"Not so that it overwhelms me," laughed Beverly.
"Where did you meet Miss Ashby?" asked Aileen who felt it was about time she came in for this wholesale discovery of "auld acquaintance."
"Oh, I beg your pardon. This is Aileen Norman, the third girl for suite 10. She's from Charlottesville and ought to know your family too. I reckon you know hers. Everybody does. Just like they know yours. Why your mother and mine went to Catonsville to school together. Didn't you know that? She was Sarah Wirt then. Why I think it's too lovely for words! And we were just as mad as fury when we started out to hunt up the new girl we had to room with this year and here you aren't a new girl at all but one we've always known. Why I'm so tickled I'm foolish. Hug me Aileen or it will all seem like a dream and I'll wake up and find we've got to roost with someone like that stupid Electra Sanderson, or Petty Gordon, who can't do a thing but talk about that midshipman at Annapolis to whom she says she's engaged, and she's only just seventeen. She makes me tired."
"I hope you'll forgive us for all we said as we came down the walk. We certainly had no personal feeling as you must understand, but we were pretty well stirred up over the idea of having to begin junior year with someone we didn't know after having had the same room-mate for three years," explained Aileen diplomatically, striving to pour a drop or two of oil upon perturbed waters.
"I couldn't very well feel any resentment toward you or Miss Conant when I didn't know either of you from Eve, and I'm sorry if I seemed to. The truth is I was lonely and homesick and just ready to light into anybody. Is Miss Woodhull always so high and mighty, and Miss Baylis so like an iceberg?"
"Mercy, did you fall into her clutches the first jump? She's the limit! Oh, Miss Woodhull's so deadly afraid she won't uphold the dignity of dear Bosting and her Massy Alma Mater that she almost dies under the burden, but thank goodness, we don't see much of her, and Miss Baylis is such a fool we laugh behind her back. She's trying to make herself solid with the Empress because she thinks she will succeed to her honors when the high and mighty lady retires. But she's harmless because all her airs and graces are veneer. Give her one good scratch some day and you'll see how thin the veneer really is. But come on up to No. 10, and let's get settled. Neither Aileen nor I had any heart to do a thing until we found out who had been popped into A. Cricky, but I'm glad it's you," and slipping her arm through Beverly's right one while Aileen took possession of the left, all three hurried toward the house, Sally announcing:
"We'll introduce you to all the nice girls and we'll call ourselves the "Three Mousquetaires." There may not be any such word, but that doesn't matter in the least: It's Frenchy and I love French. And besides, we mean to band together to fight for our rights and down oppression," asserted this young Jacobin, as arm in arm all three made their way to the pretty suite allotted to them on the second floor of the wing, for Beverly had entered Leslie Manor as a junior, her previous work under Norman Lee having well fitted her to do so.
By the end of October, the golden month, and always beautiful in Virginia, things had shaken into routine. During that time suite Number 10 had become one of the most popular in the school, as well as one of the most attractive, for, to the intense satisfaction of the trio their belongings were in as perfect harmony as themselves, Beverly's things being pink, Sally's the softest green and Aileen's all white and gold. Consequently all went merry as a marriage bell.
But there had been hours of intense longing upon Beverly's part for the freedom of bygone days and Athol. The brother and sister had been entirely too united in every way to find perfect compensation in the companionship of others, however warm the friendships formed, and each missed the other sorely. Of course letters had been exchanged during the month, but letters are a poor substitute for the voice of those we love best. Only Mrs. Ashby realized how intense was the brother's and sister's longing to see each other. Archie, also, fumed under the enforced separation and vowed that "something was going to break loose mighty sudden if his people and Athol's didn't get busy and do something."
Had Beverly been at liberty to ride Apache as formerly the ten miles separating the two schools would have meant merely a jolly cross country run, but she was only permitted to ride when the other girls rode, and under the supervision of a groom who was held responsible for his charges.
Nor had the boys been allowed to visit Beverly, the male sex being regarded by Miss Woodhull as a sort of natural enemy whose sole aim in life was to circumvent, deprive and rob hers of its just rights. Miss Woodhull was essentially a militant suffragette and her stanch admirers, Miss Baylis and Miss Stetson were her enthusiastic partisans. Miss Atwell, the teacher of esthetic dancing and posing, who came thrice weekly to instill grace into the graceless and emphasize it in those who were already graceful, sat, so to speak, upon the fence, undecided which way to jump. She inclined strongly to the strictly feminine attitude of dependence upon the stronger sex, but was wise to the advantage of keeping in touch with those occupying the seats of the mighty at Leslie Manor.
At Kilton Hall rules were less stringent. The boys could ride every afternoon if they chose and often did so, ranging the country far and wide. Many a time they had gone tearing past Leslie Manor when the girls were stived up within and been exasperated at being "so near and yet so far," as an old song puts it. Hence Archie's frame of mind, and his determination to change the existing state of affairs before long if possible. Letters sent home by the boys and those Beverly wrote to her mother were the seeds sown which the three hoped would later start the "something doing." Meanwhile Beverly chafed under the restraint, and such chafing generally leads to some sort of an outbreak.
It was Wednesday afternoon, October twenty-ninth, and riding-lesson day. Every Wednesday and Saturday Andrew Jackson Jefferson, whose name was as queer a combination as himself, for he seemed to be about half horse, so wonderful was his understanding of those animals, and so more than wonderful theirs of him, took his "yo'ng sem'nary ladies a-gallopin' th'oo de windin's ob de kentry roads," proud as a Drum Major of his charges.
And well he might be, for Andrew Jackson Jefferson had not only entire charge of the horses belonging to Leslie Manor, but he had bought them, and he knew good horseflesh. So the Leslie Manor horses as well as the half dozen boarded there by the students, were always a credit to the school. Their coats shone like satin, their hoofs were spick and span, no shoes ever clicked for want of the proverbial nail, fetlocks were trimmed like a bridegroom's hair, and manes and forelocks brushed to the silkiness of a bride's. Harness and bits were scrupulous. Jefferson knew his business.
When Apache was sent to Leslie Manor he was such a contrast to the other horses that Jefferson at first looked askance at him, but Apache was a wise little beast. As a preliminary move he gently nozzled Jefferson, then by way of showing him that he was not to be taken too seriously, he flew up into the air, executed a wild fling and descended upon the exact spot from which he had risen, which exhibition so tickled Jefferson that he grinned broadly and announced to his underlings:
"Dat's some hawse! Yo' hyar me! Befo' he's done been in dis hyre stable a week he gwine ter be eatin' outer ma hand," and Apache verified the statement by becoming Jefferson's abject slave before four days had passed, and Beverly basked in reflected glory, for was she not Apache's "Yo'ng Mist'ess?"
"Kyant tech dat chile nothin' 'bout ridin'", was Jefferson's fiat when he saw Beverly astride her little mouse-colored and white mount. "She paht ob dat hawse!"
There had already been several riding lessons since school opened, and each time Jefferson's delight in his newest charges increased. Born and brought up with the race, Beverly knew how to handle the negroes, and Jefferson as promptly became her slave as Apache had become his.
Now the prescribed route for these riding excursions was within a five-mile radius of the school. "No further," said Miss Woodhull. Those bounds seemed safe from encroachment upon the part of the Kilton Hall students, even had their Wednesday and Saturday mornings and afternoons not been entirely given over to athletics, thus precluding excursions upon horseback.
As a rule Jefferson took out eight or ten girls, but this particular Wednesday afternoon several had obtained permission to go to town with Mrs. Bonnell to do some shopping, have some photographs taken, see the dentists and what not, so the riders were reduced to Sally, Aileen, Petty Gaylord, Hope MacLeod, a senior, and Beverly. All were well mounted and each was looking her best in her trim habit.
It was customary for the party to stop at the porte cochere to be inspected by Miss Woodhull, but on this particular afternoon Miss Woodhull was absent at a social function in the neighborhood and the duty devolved upon Miss Stetson, the teacher of mathematics, a strong-minded lady with very pronounced views. She dressed as nearly like a man as was compatible with law and decency, wore her hair short, and affected a masculine stride. She came from Miss Woodhull's state.
Jefferson drew up his cavalcade of five and awaited the appearance of Miss Stetson whom he despised with all your true negro's power to despise "white folks what doesn't know dey is white." Miss Stetson insisted upon calling him Mr. Jefferson, affirming that "the race never could be self-respecting or, indeed, wholly emancipated, until treated as the equals of the white race."
She now strode out upon the piazza, cast a critical eye upon the horses, nodded and said:
"Very fit. Very fit. Quite in order. You are to be commended Mr. Jefferson, but er—isn't there something a little peculiar in the appearance of your horses' er—er—headgear? Their eyes seem to be exposed more than usual; and look somewhat bare, so to speak. Can it be possible that you have forgotten something?"
"Fergot?" queried Jefferson, looking from one animal to the other. "Ah cyant see nothin' I'se done fergot, Miss Ste'son. What it look lak ain't on de hawses, ma'am?"
"Why their eyes seem so prominent. They seem to see too much, er—"
Beverly was attacked with a sudden paroxysm of coughing. Jefferson nearly disgraced himself, but managed to stammer:
"We doesn't ingen'ally put blinders on de saddle hawses, Miss, but ef yer says so I'll tak 'em long back ter de stables an' change de saddle headstalls fer de kerridge ones, tho' it sure would look mighty cur'ous."
"No! No! Certainly not. It was merely a remark in passing. You are the better judge of the requirements I dare say," and Miss Stetson beat a hasty retreat, entirely forgetting to warn her charges against venturing beyond bounds.
Could she have seen Beverly's lips set she might have grown suspicious. The riding party started, Jefferson muttering:
"Ma Lawd! dat 'oman suah do make me tired. Blinders on ma saddle hawses! Huh! 'Mr. Jefferson'. Reckon I bettah tek ter callin' her Sis' Angeline," Angeline being Miss Stetson's christian name.
When the grounds of the school were left a few miles behind her Beverly drew up to Sally's side and said significantly:
"She did not tell us to keep within bounds."
"She forgot to. She was too busy missing the blinders," laughed Sally. Beverly laughed softly and continued:
"You girls hold in your horses when we've gone a little further. I want to ride on ahead with Jefferson. I've a word to say and I've an idea he is in a receptive mood."
"What are you up to, Bev?" asked Aileen.
"Just watch out. We'll take a new route today unless I'm much mistaken," and touching Apache lightly with her heel she cavorted to Jefferson's side. He had been too absorbed in his thoughts of Miss Stetson to leave room for any others: Your darkie is not unlike a horse in that respect; his brain is rarely capable of holding two ideas at once. Perhaps that explains why darkies and horses are usually in such accord.
As Apache careened against Jumbo's side the big horse gave a plunge forward which jerked Jefferson's wits back to his surroundings. That was exactly what Beverly wished.
"Lor' Miss Bev'ly, you done scare Jumbo an' me foolish," he exclaimed, striving to bring Jumbo down to his usual easy pace, for the tall hack had resented the little broncho's familiarity, though he could not know that his own grandsire and Apache's were the same.
"Jefferson, will you do something to please me this afternoon?" she asked eagerly.
"I shore will if it aint gwine ter get me into no fuss wid de Misses," temporized Jefferson.
"It won't get you into any fuss with anybody. Miss Woodhull is not at home and Miss Stetson was too busy trying to find out where the horses had lost their blinders to tell us not to take the road to Kilton Hall."
Jefferson almost chortled.
"So, when we come to that road will you turn down it and leave the rest to me? And don't be surprised or frightened at anything Apache may do."
"I aint scared none at what you an' dat hawse doin'. He's got sense and—" added Jefferson with concession—"so has you. I aint got no time ter be a troublin' 'bout you-all. It's dese yo'ng ladies I has ter bat my eyes at; an' dey shore do keep me busy sometimes. Now what I tell you? Look at dat?" and as though in sympathy with Beverly's schemes, Chicadee, the little mare Petty Gaylord was riding chose that moment to shy at some leaves which fluttered to the ground and, of course, Petty shrieked, and then followed up the shriek with the "tee-hee-hee," which punctuated every tenth word she spoke whether apropos or not.
That was exactly the cue Beverly needed. A slight pressure of her knee upon Apache's side was sufficient. He was off like a comet, and to all intents and purposes entirely beyond his rider's control.
Sally and Aileen laughed outright. Petty stopped her giggle to scream: "Oh, she's being run away with!"
"Not so much as it would seem," was Hope MacLeod's quiet comment as she laid in place a lock of Satin Gloss's mane, and quieted him after his sympathetic plunge.
"Well ef she is, she is, but I'm bettin' she knows whar she a-runnin' at," said Andrew Jackson Jefferson more quietly than the situation seemed to warrant. "But just de same I'm thinkin' we might as well fool oursefs some," and he hastened his pace, the others doing likewise. It would never do to let one of his charges be run away with and not make an effort to save her from a possible calamity.
Meanwhile the runaways were having the very time of their lives. Not since that two-mile race to Four Corners for the letter which proved the wedge to divide her own and Athol's ways, had Beverly been able to "let out a notch," as she put it. Nor had the little broncho been permitted to twinkle his legs as they were now twinkling over that soft dirt road. Virginia roads were made for equestrians, not automobiles. Head thrust forward as far as his graceful slender neck permitted, ears laid back for the first unwelcome word to halt, eyes flashing with exhilaration, and nostrils wide for the deep, full inhalations and exhalations which sent the rich blood coursing through each pulsing artery, little Apache was enjoying his freedom as much as his rider. In two seconds they were at the top of a rise of ground, down at the further side and out of sight of the others. Then, to make the exhibition realistic, Beverly drew out her hat pin, gave it a toss to the side of the road, and the wind completed the job by whisking her soft felt hat off her head and landing it upon the roadside bush.
Oh, it was glorious! Five miles? What were five miles to the little beastie which had many a time pounded off twenty-five without turning a hair? Or to Beverly who had often ridden fifty in one day with Uncle Athol and her brother? Just a breather. And when there swept through the gateway of Kilton Hall a most exalted, hatless, rosy-cheeked, dancing-eyed lassie mounted upon a most hilarious steed, the gate-keeper came within an ace of having apoplexy, for she was a portly old body.
But Beverly did not pause for explanations. Her objective point was the athletic field at the rear of the building and her appearance upon it might have been regarded in the light of a distinct sensation. It would never do to forsake too promptly the role of being run away with. There were coaches and referees upon tennis court, cinder path and football field, and boys galore, in every sort of athletic garb, performing every sort of athletic stunt.
When Beverly set out to do anything she rarely omitted any detail to make it as near perfect as possible. As she tore across the lawn which led to the field her sharp eyes discovered Athol upon one of the tennis courts and closer at hand a lot of other boys sprinting, gracefully or otherwise, around the cinder path, taking hurdles placed about a hundred feet apart.
Now, if there was one thing in this world upon which Apache and his young mistress agreed more entirely than another, it was the pure delight of skimming over a fence. A five-footer was a mere trifle. The three-foot hurdles upon the cinder path a big joke. The tennis nets? Pouf!
If Beverly really was tugging upon Apache's bridle he was not permitting anything so trivial as a girl's strength to bother him, and her knees told him quite a different story as he swept upon the cinder path, took two hurdles like a deer and was off over the tennis courts and over a net before the astonished players could draw a full breath.