HotFreeBooks.com
A Modern Tomboy - A Story for Girls
by L. T. Meade
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A Modern Tomboy

A Story for Girls

By MRS. L. T. MEADE

AUTHOR OF

"The Girls of Castle Rocco," "Girls of the True Blue," "The School Queens," "The School Favorite," Etc.

A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS NEW YORK



A MODERN TOMBOY.



CHAPTER I.

OPENING THE SCHOOL.

Mrs. Merriman and Lucy were standing at the white gates of Sunnyside, waiting for the arrival of the girls. Mrs. Merriman had soft brown hair, soft brown eyes to match, and a kindly, gentle face. Lucy was somewhat prim, very neat in her person, with thick fair hair which she wore in two long plaits far below her waist, a face full of intensity and determination, and a slightly set and formal way of speaking.

"Aren't you at all excited about their arrival?" said Mrs. Merriman, turning to her daughter as she spoke. "It will make a great change in the house, will it not?"

"How many of them are there, mother?" was Lucy's response.

"Oh, my dear child, how often I have explained all to you! There's Laura Everett, my dear friend Lady Everett's only daughter; then there is Annie Millar, whom I do not know anything about—but she is a friend of Laura's, and that alone is recommendation enough."

"Laura Everett, Annie Millar," quoted Lucy in a low tone. "Have you seen either of them, mother?"

"No, dear, of course not."

"Has father ever seen them?"

"No. But my dear friend Lady Everett——"

"Oh, mother darling, when have you seen your dear friend?"

"Not since we were girls. But it is so nice to think she should trust her daughter to me."

"Well, yes, mother, I suppose so. I suppose I must be quite satisfied. Well, that means two—Laura and Annie. How old are they, mother?"

"They are both fourteen."

"Then the others, mother?"

"Rosamund Cunliffe. I did meet her mother a year ago, who told me she was very pretty. I remember that. Then there is Phyllis Flower. Think of any one with such a dear name—Phyllis and Flower! The whole name is too sweet! I told your father that I knew I should fall in love with Phyllis."

"Mother dear, you really mustn't make favorites," said Lucy in a reproving tone. "If these girls must come to us and form the beginning of a school, why, we must behave accordingly. You are not half as steady as I am, mother, and I am fifteen, and you are——"

"Forty-five," said Mrs. Merriman; "but then I only feel twenty, and I am very happy about all this. The house is perfectly arranged, everything in apple-pie order, and they will have such a good time, dear girls! Well, now, let us count them over. Laura Everett, fourteen; Annie Millar, ditto; Rosamund Cunliffe, fifteen; and Phyllis Flower, thirteen. Then there is Jane Denton. Well, I know nothing whatever about her except that her mother says she is a good girl, and does her utmost to learn, and she is sure will be absolutely obedient. Then comes Agnes Sparkes. I quite expect she will be the witty one. Altogether that makes six girls, and you, my dear, are the seventh—the perfect number, you know."

"And the whole house turned topsy-turvy!" said Lucy. "Really and truly, mother, I wish we had thought it over before we did anything so queer."

"We could not help it, love. Your father's health is very bad, and he cannot continue his work as a professor. There is no other manner in which to earn money. Why not take the whole thing cheerfully, Lucy? Remember, you will have your education practically free."

"I don't suppose I'd mind the girls so very much," said Lucy, "if it were not for the horrid governesses. To think of having a creature like Mademoiselle Omont living in the house! And then, I am not specially in love with Miss Archer. But there, I suppose we must make the best of it."

"We must, and will, and can," said Mrs. Merriman in her cheery voice.

She had scarcely said the words before a wagonette was seen driving down the summer lane. Girls in different-colored dresses, with bright faces, eager eyes, suddenly appeared in view. The wagonette drew up at the gate, and Mrs. Merriman, to Lucy's disgust, went impulsively forward.

"Here you all are, dears!" she said. "Oh, I am so glad to welcome you! Now, you must tell me who's who. Won't you get down? It will be nice to stretch your legs in walking up the avenue. Your luggage, of course, is coming in the cart which was sent to meet the train.—Tell me, my love, are you Laura Everett?"

Mrs. Merriman darted forward and took the somewhat irresponsive hand of a tall, pale girl, who replied languidly that her name was Jane Denton.

"I beg your pardon, dear—I do truly. Then which is Laura? For I want to welcome the dear child of a very dear friend of my youth."

A girl with a merry face, bright blue eyes, and fair hair now extricated herself from the group of her companions. "I am Laura," she said, "and this is my friend Annie."

Mrs. Merriman rapturously kissed both girls.

"Welcome to Sunnyside!" she said. "You may be certain I will do my utmost to make you happy. This is my daughter Lucy."

"Can I show you the house, Miss Everett?" said Lucy, speaking stiffly; "and will you come, too, Miss Millar?"

The three girls went on in front.

"I must get to know the rest of you," said Mrs. Merriman, who was too much accustomed to Lucy to mind her ways. "Which is—now let me guess—which is Phyllis Flower? I am longing to know her. And which is Rosamund Cunliffe?—Jane Denton, I shall not forget you, dear. I am so glad to see you."

Here Mrs. Merriman gave Jane's hand an affectionate squeeze.

"And Agnes Sparkes—I have not noticed Agnes Sparkes. I am sure you—whoever you are, but I can't quite make out yet—will be the wit of the school. Ah! you are Agnes Sparkes?" and Mrs. Merriman pounced upon a small, very thin, dark girl, with no beauty whatever about her.

A peal of laughter greeted her ears. "Indeed, I am Phyllis Flower," said the young lady in question; and Mrs. Merriman started back with a look of disappointment. "You thought because I had rather a pretty name that I'd look it," continued the girl. "But I do not—I am neither witty nor beautiful, and I know I am not clever. I have got just nothing but my name. I'd rather like to live up to it; but somehow I don't think I can. Perhaps I may at Sunnyside. It seems such a novel idea to come to a sort of home school like this, and not to be treated a bit formally. Thank you so much, Mrs. Merriman!" and Phyllis held out a small, neatly gloved hand and clasped Mrs. Merriman's, looking at her all the time with delight beaming in her eyes.

The other girls followed suit. They managed to introduce themselves one by one, and presently Mrs. Merriman was seen trotting contentedly down the avenue, followed by her new pupils. She looked something like a well-groomed pony herself, and the girls were much amused at her way of greeting them, and so thoroughly pleased that peals of laughter reached the displeased ears of Lucy, who was waiting with Annie and Laura in the porch.

"Really," thought Lucy, "poor mother gets worse and worse. What sort of school will this be? Not the slightest vestige of order, and all these girls being spoken to at the gate. Mother has no dignity. It is really terrible. I shall be glad when Miss Archer and Mademoiselle Omont come. How are we to spend the present evening?"

The girls themselves seemed to arrange that matter. Having lost all shyness with regard to Mrs. Merriman, they were not likely to feel it towards Lucy. They accordingly requested to be taken into the house, and were much pleased with the arrangements made for their comfort. The old house of Sunnyside was one of the prettiest in the southwest of England. It had spacious grounds, beautiful gardens, and the rooms themselves, although somewhat low, were large and numerous. One or two girls had a room each, and the others were arranged two in a room, with a curtain between.

When Mrs. Merriman started the idea of a small school for the special education of special girls, she had spared no expense to have everything done in as thoroughly nice a manner as possible; and the girls themselves were delighted, and showed their appreciation by behaving in a hoydenish and school-girl fashion. They laughed and joked with each other, declaring that Mrs. Merriman was quite too funny for anything, but that she was also an old dear; that Lucy was rather a nuisance, and very prim, but that she shouldn't stand much in their way. And then they paced about in the garden arm-in-arm, and talked to one another, just, as Lucy said afterwards, as though they had lived there all their lives.

Poor Lucy in every respect was her mother's opposite. Neither did she specially take after her gentle, patient father, who was always satisfied to make the best of things, his motto being peace on any terms, and who was surprised now when Lucy ran up to him as he was pacing up and down in the walnut walk at some distance from the house.

"Ah, my little girl!" he said when he saw her approaching. "Why, what is the matter? How flushed your cheeks are!"

"And no wonder, father," answered Lucy. "If you could flush up at anything you'd feel hot and indignant now. Oh, father dear, I wish—I wish we weren't obliged to have those detestable girls!"

"What, Lucy! Have they come?"

"I should think they have. They'll waylay you in a minute or two."

"Oh, no, my dear. I don't specially want to see them now."

"Then let us go straight by this gate into the paddock. I don't suppose they will find the paddock before to-morrow. Father, I don't think mother is at all suited to keep a school."

"Lucy, I will not have your dear mother abused. Talk on any other subject, but I can't stand that."

"I suppose it is very wrong of me."

"It is more than wrong. You can scarcely realize what a good, brave, and noble woman she is. Who but she would have acted as she has done lately? She has taken the bull by the horns and saved us from absolute ruin. By her plucky ways and determination has she not just kept our heads above water? My dear Lucy, you little know what might have happened but for your mother's pluck and bravery."

"I know," said Lucy, softened on the spot. "But if she only wouldn't—wouldn't make so free with them when they come, and if there might be a little order, and if they could have been postponed till the resident governesses had arrived. But now they are there, all of them, as merry and jocular as you like, running about the place, racing here and there, and devouring all our best fruit, tramping in and out of the greenhouses and conservatory, and making such a noise just over your study. It would be much better to give up Sunnyside—anything would be better than this."

"I don't think so, and you will find after a time that you will like your school friends. Your education will be finished without any extra cost whatever. We are being very well paid for these girls, we know they are all ladies, and your mother will be happy and in her element. How could you turn your dear mother into a precise, stately woman? It isn't in her, and you would not wish it to be."

"I don't know," said Lucy. "I think I would. But, father, you always make me ashamed of myself. You, who suffer so much, are so good, so patient."

"If I am good and patient it is because of my dear wife and my dear daughter," said the man sadly. "And now, Lucy darling, go back to them all and try to help your mother. The governesses will come to-morrow, and the day after lessons will begin. In a week's time you will see perfect order arising out of chaos, and you will be surprised at your present feelings."

Lucy raised her father's hand to her lips. She loved her mother, but she adored him, with his slight stoop, his scholarly face, his gentle smile, his kindly eyes. There were few men more beloved than Professor Merriman. He had given some really great books to the world, and was a scholar in the truest and best sense of the word. When he instructed Lucy, which he did now and then, she regarded those moments as the happiest and most sacred of her life.

"Well, whatever happens, I have got him," she thought as she turned to go back to the house. "And if it adds any years to his precious life, surely I can endure anything. But I do hope he won't get to like any of those girls. Perhaps he will. Perhaps he will even offer to teach some of them. I sincerely trust none of them are clever. Oh, who is this queer little creature coming to meet me?"

The queer little creature in question, dressed in brown holland, with a small brown hat and cotton gloves, was no other than Phyllis Flower. She ran up to Lucy, and stood in front of her, and said, "Is your father really the great Professor Ralph Merriman?"

"Yes," said Lucy, coloring and smiling, for it was delightful to her to hear the appreciative tone in Phyllis's voice.

"I thought so, but I was not quite sure. Agnes Sparkes and I were arguing about it. Agnes said it couldn't be, but I said it was. I am very glad. I hope we shall see him sometimes."

"He is not well," said Lucy. "He can't be disturbed."

"We would none of us dream of disturbing him; but we would love to look at him sometimes, and perhaps sometimes to hear him speak."

"I dare say you will see him. When he is well enough he will dine with us," said Lucy. "But you must not expect"——

"Oh, we expect nothing—nothing certainly from you," said Phyllis Flower, flushing angrily, for there was a tone in Lucy's voice which she could scarcely stand. Then she, continued, "Why are you determined not to be nice to us, Miss Merriman?"

"You had better call me Lucy," said the girl after a pause. "We are all girls together. You are at school and I am at school."

"How old are you, Lucy?"

"I am fifteen."

"And I am thirteen and a half. How old do you think I look?"

"Oh, any age. You are so thin."

"And wizened," laughed Phyllis. "Well, never mind. I dare say I shall grow tall enough by-and-by. Now, my dear," she continued after a pause, "you have nothing whatever to be jealous of in me. I am not clever, I am not good-looking; in short, I am nothing at all, just the most ordinary person. But I can tell you something about the characters of your other school-fellows if you like. Would you care? There is plenty of time. Shall we walk up and down for a little?"

Lucy could not resist the temptation. Phyllis, who was quite as frank and free as Mrs. Merriman herself, laid her hand on Lucy's arm. Lucy shuddered, but submitted.

"The person who has got the greatest character among us is Rosamund Cunliffe. She will rule us all."

"She won't rule me," interrupted Lucy angrily.

"You can't help it, my dear. She has always ruled every one with whom she comes in contact; and she does it quite nicely, too, for she isn't unamiable. She simply has a strong character."

"I hardly know what she is like," said Lucy.

"Oh, you must have observed her—that tall, dark, pretty-looking girl, with rosy cheeks and a pretty mouth."

"Yes, I think I know whom you mean."

"And she is clever, too. But I don't think it is her beauty or her talent that makes her curious charm. It is something beyond all this. I never saw her do a really unamiable thing, and yet I think she must love power very much. You will soon find out for yourself what she is like. As for Janey Denton, she is just a good sort, something like me. And Laura Everett is very proud of her family, and she is clever. And Annie Millar is Laura's shadow, and does nothing whatever except what Laura wishes. Then there is Agnes Sparkes. She is supposed to be my friend, and she is very pretty, fair, and lively and clever. But of all the girls who have come here to-day the two who will make their mark in the world are beyond doubt Rosamund Cunliffe and Laura Everett. Now, I think I will let you find out the rest for yourself."



CHAPTER II.

ROSAMUND TAKES THE LEAD.

Before that day had come to an end, Lucy had discovered how true were Phyllis Flower's words. For Rosamund Cunliffe, without making herself in the least disagreeable, without saying one single rude thing, yet managed to take the lead, and that so effectively that even Lucy herself found that she could not help following in her train.

For instance, after dinner, when the girls—all of them rather tired, and perhaps some of them a little cross, and no one exactly knowing what to do—clustered about the open drawing-room windows, it was Rosamund who proposed that the rugs should be rolled back and that they should have a dance.

Lucy opened her eyes. Nobody before had ever dared to make such a suggestion in the house of Sunnyside. Lucy, it is true, had dancing lessons from a master who came once a week to instruct her and other girls in the winter season, and she had occasionally gone to a children's party. But beyond that she had never danced, looking forward to it, however, as a possible recreation by-and-by.

Rosamund's clear voice was now heard.

"Let us push back the sofas. This is a splendid room. We can roll up the rugs in a twinkling. Where is Mrs. Merriman? She will play the dance music. Oh, there are seven of us—one too many. Perhaps you will play for us, Lucy?"

"But I don't know any dance music," said Lucy; "and then mother would not like the rugs being disturbed. The room is arranged just as father and mother wish it to be. I think perhaps"——

She colored painfully.

"We will do nothing without leave, of course," said Phyllis Flower. "I'll just run and find Mrs. Merriman and ask her."

Before Lucy could prevent her, Phyllis had darted out of the room, returning in a minute or two with the required permission.

"It's all right, girls," she said; "we can trip it on the light fantastic toe as long as ever we please, and the rugs may go to Hong-kong for all Mrs. Merriman cares."

Lucy colored with rage. Rosamund gave a quiet smile—a smile which seemed to denote power. Phyllis's dancing eyes lit for a moment on Lucy's face. Those eyes said in the most provoking manner, "I told you so." And then some one went to the piano, and a minute or two later all the girls, Lucy included, were dancing round and round the room in the merry waltz.

Even Lucy enjoyed it when once it had begun, and the little performer at the piano played well, and kept excellent time. And by-and-by Lucy forgot herself, and could not help laughing when Rosamund seized her round the waist and whirled her round and round, and taught her to reverse, and instructed her in one or two other matters unknown to Lucy up to the present.

The dance lasted for over an hour; and just in the midst of it, when Lucy was really laughing in quite a heart-whole manner, she raised her eyes and saw no less a person than Mr. Merriman himself standing in the doorway. He was smiling, and his eyes were fixed on Rosamund's face.

The moment Rosamund saw him she stopped at once, and said to Lucy, "Is that your father, the great professor?"

"Yes," said Lucy.

"Please introduce him to me."

Lucy longed to say, "It will tire him; I can't do it." She longed to give any sort of excuse, but none would come to her lips. She was forced to take Rosamund up to Mr. Merriman.

"This is Rosamund Cunliffe," she said, "and she wants to know you, father."

"I am very much pleased to see you, Miss Cunliffe," said Mr. Merriman; and then Rosamund stood in the doorway and talked.

Lucy went back and tried to dance with another girl, and the dance music still went on. But she could not help straining her ears and trying to catch the subject of Rosamund's conversation. Why, she was absolutely laughing, and the Professor, who was generally so grave and quiet, was laughing also. What did it all mean?

"Father, aren't you tired?—Miss Cunliffe, you are tiring father," said Lucy at last, running up to the door and trying to speak calmly.

"No, my dear," said her father. "On the contrary, I am intensely interested.—You must tell me that story again, Miss Cunliffe. Would you like to come and see my library?"

The two went off together, and Lucy felt almost as though she must burst into tears. Phyllis's eyes again met her face, and she had to restrain her feelings. The "I told you so" look was too maddening almost for endurance.

Rosamund's love of power showed itself further in the arrangement of her bedroom. She took down the dividing curtain between herself and Jane Denton without asking any one's permission; and she slept in the bed intended for Jane, and rearranged the drawers, putting them into another part of the room; and complained about the wardrobe, saying that she would like it put opposite the door instead of in its present position. And whatever she wished was immediately done, and whatever she said was said so politely that no one took offense. And Lucy had to confess to herself that Phyllis was right, and that Rosamund would be a power—the leading power—in the school.

Early the next day the two teachers arrived. Mademoiselle Omont was very French in appearance, very dark, with sparkling black eyes and neatly arranged soft dark hair. She had a truly Parisian accent, and a pretty, graceful way about her. Miss Archer was a stolid-looking woman of about five-and-thirty years of age. She had a long talk, on her arrival, with Mrs. Merriman, and then she went to her room and stayed there for some little time, so that it was not until tea-time that the girls and the two resident governesses met.

Lucy looked with great approbation at Miss Archer when she took her seat opposite the tea-tray.

"She will bring order into this chaos," thought the girl. "She will force all these girls to behave properly. She will insist on order. I see it in her face."

But as the thought passed through Lucy's mind, Rosamund jumped suddenly up from her own place, requested Phyllis Flower to change with her, and sat down close to Miss Archer. During tea she talked to the English governess in a low tone, asking her a great many questions, and evidently impressing her very much in her favor.

"Oh, dear!" thought Lucy, "if this sort of thing goes on I shall lose my senses. If there is to be any order, if the whole scheme which mother has thought out so carefully, and father has approved of, means to establish a girl like Rosamund Cunliffe here as our leader, so that we are forced to do every single thing she wishes, I shall beg and implore of father and mother to let me go and live with Aunt Susan in the old Rectory at Dartford."

Lucy's cheeks were flushed, and she could scarcely keep the tears back from her eyes. After tea, however, as she was walking about in front of the house, wondering if she should ever know a happy moment again, Miss Archer made her appearance. When she saw Lucy she called her at once to her side.

"What a nice girl Rosamund Cunliffe seems!" was her first remark.

"Oh! don't begin by praising her," said Lucy. "I don't think I can quite stand it."

"What is the matter, my dear? You are little Lucy Merriman, are you not—the daughter of Mrs. Merriman and the Professor?"

"I am."

"And this house has always been your home?"

"I was born here," said Lucy almost tearfully.

"Then, of course, you feel rather strange at first with all these girls scattered about the place. But when lessons really begin, and you get into working order, you will be different. You will have to take your place with the others in class, and everything is to be conducted as though it were a real school."

"I will do anything you wish," said Lucy, and she turned a white face, almost of despair, towards Miss Archer. "I will do anything in all the world you wish if you will promise me one thing."

Miss Archer felt inclined to say, "What possible reason have you to expect that I should promise you anything?" but she knew human nature, and guessed that Lucy was troubled.

"Tell me what you wish," she said.

"I want you not to make a favorite of Rosamund Cunliffe. Already she has begun to upset everything—last night all the drawing-room arrangements, her own bedroom afterwards; then, to-day, the other girls have done nothing but obey her. If this goes on, how is order to be maintained?"

Miss Archer looked thoughtful.

"From the little I have seen of Rosamund, she seems to be a very amiable and clever girl," she said. "She evidently has a great deal of strength of character, and cannot help coming to the front. We must be patient with her, Lucy."

Lucy felt a greater ache than ever at her heart. She was certain that Miss Archer was already captivated by Rosamund's charms. What was she to do? To whom was she to appeal? It would be quite useless to speak to her mother, for her mother had already fallen in love with Rosamund; and indeed she had with all the young girls who had arrived such a short time ago. Mrs. Merriman was one of the most affectionate people on earth. She had the power of taking an unlimited number of girls, and boys, too, into her capacious heart. She could be spent for them, and live for them, and never once give a thought to herself. Now, in addition to the pleasure of having so many young people in the house, she knew she was helping her husband and relieving his mind from weighty cares. The Professor could, therefore, go on with the writing of his great work on Greek anthology; even if the money for this unique treatise came in slowly, there would be enough to keep the little family from the products of the school. Yes, he should be uninterrupted, and should proceed at his leisure, and give up the articles which were simply wearing him into an early grave.

Lucy knew, therefore, that no sympathy could be expected from her mother. It is true that her father might possibly understand; but then, dared she worry him? He had been looking very pale of late. His health was seriously undermined, and the doctors had spoken gravely of his case. He must be relieved. He must have less tension, otherwise the results would be attended with danger. And Lucy loved him, as she also loved her mother, with all her heart and soul.

When Miss Archer left her, having nothing particular to do herself and being most anxious to avoid the strange girls, she went up the avenue, and passing through a wicket-gate near the entrance, walked along by the side of a narrow stream where all sorts of wild flowers were always growing. Here might be seen the blue forget-me-not, the meadow-sweet, great branches of wild honeysuckle, dog-roses, and many other flowers too numerous to mention. As a rule, Lucy loved flowers, as most country girls do; but she had neither eyes nor ears for them to-day. She was thinking of her companions, and how she was to tolerate them. And as she walked she saw in a bend in the road, coming to meet her, a stout, elderly, very plainly dressed woman.

Lucy stood still for an instant, and then uttered a perfect shout of welcome, and ran into the arms of her aunt Susan.

Mrs. Susan Brett was the wife of a hard-working clergyman in a town about ten miles away. She had no children of her own, and devoted her whole time to helping her husband in his huge parish. She spent little or no money on dress, and was certainly a very plain woman. She had a large, pale face, somewhat flat, with wide nostrils, a long upper lip, small pale-blue eyes, and a somewhat bulgy forehead. Plain she undoubtedly was, but no one who knew her well ever gave her looks a thought, so genial was her smile, so hearty her hand-clasp, so sympathetic her words. She was beloved by her husband's parishioners, and in especial she was loved by Lucy Merriman, who had a sort of fascination in watching her and in wondering at her.

From time to time Lucy had visited the Bretts in their small Rectory in the town of Dartford. Nobody in all the world could be more welcome to the child in her present mood than her aunt Susan, and she ran forward with outstretched arms.

"Oh, Aunt Susy, I am glad to see you! But what has brought you to-day?"

"Why, this, my dear," said Mrs. Brett. "I just had three hours to spare while William was busy over his sermon for next Sunday. He is writing a new sermon—he hasn't done that for quite six months—and he said he wanted the house to himself, and no excuse for any one to come in. And he just asked me if I'd like to have a peep into the country; that always means a visit to Sunnyside. So I said I'd look up the trains, and of course there was one just convenient, so I clapped on my hat—you don't mind it being my oldest one—and here I am."

"Oh, I am so glad!" said Lucy. "I think I wanted you, Aunt Susan, more than any one else in all the world."

She tucked her hand through her aunt's arm as she spoke, and they turned and walked slowly along by the riverside.

Mrs. Brett, if she had a plain face, had by no means a correspondingly plain soul. On the contrary, it was attuned to the best, the richest, the highest in God's world. She could see the loveliness of trees, of river, of flowers. She could listen to the song of the wild birds, and thank her Maker that she was born into so good a world. Nothing rested her, as she expressed it, like a visit into the country. Nothing made the dreadful things she had often to encounter in town seem more endurable than the sweet-peas, the roses, the green trees, the green grass, the fragrance and perfume of the country; and when she saw her little niece—for she was very fond of Lucy—looking discontented and unhappy, Mrs. Brett at once perceived a reason for her unexpected visit to Sunnyside.

"We needn't go too fast, need we?" she said. "If we go down this path, and note the flowers—aren't the flowers lovely, Lucy?"——

"Yes," replied Lucy.

"We shall be in time for tea, shall we not? But tell me, how is your father, dear? I see you are in trouble of some sort. Is he worse?"

"No, Aunt Susy; I think he is better. He has had better nights of late, and mother is not so anxious about him."

"Then what is the worry, my love, for worry of some sort there doubtless is?"

"It is the girls, Aunt Susy."

"What girls, my love?"

"Those girls that mother has invited to finish their education at Sunnyside. They came yesterday, and the teachers, Mademoiselle Omont and Miss Archer, arrived to-day. And the girls don't suit me—I suppose I am so accustomed to being an only child. I cannot tell you exactly why, but I haven't been a bit myself since they came."

"A little bit jealous, perhaps," said Aunt Susan, giving a quick glance at Lucy's pouting face, then turning away with a sigh.

"You will be surprised, Lucy," she continued after a pause, "when I tell you that I used to be fearfully jealous when I was young. It was my besetting sin."

"Oh, Aunt Susy, I simply don't believe it!"

"You don't? Then I will show you some day, when you and I are having a snug evening at the old Rectory at Dartford, a letter I once received from my dear father. He took great pains to point out to me my special fault, as he called it; and his words had a wonderful effect, and I went straight to the only source of deliverance, and by slow degrees I lost that terrible feeling which took all the sunshine out of my life."

"Tell me more, please, Aunt Susan," said Lucy.

"Well, you see, dear, I was not like yourself an only child. I was one of several, and I was quite the plain one of the family. I am very plain now, as you perceive; but I had two beautiful little sisters. They were younger than I, and Florence had quite a beautiful little face, and so had Janet. Wherever they went they were admired and talked about, and I was thought nothing of. Then I had three brothers, and they were good-looking, too, and strong, and had excellent abilities, and people thought a great deal about them; but no one thought anything about me. I was the eldest, but I was never counted one way or the other as of the slightest consequence. My people were quite rich, and Florence and Janet were beautifully dressed, and taken down to the drawing-room to see visitors; but I was never noticed at all. I could go if I liked, but it did not gratify anybody, so by degrees I stayed away. You do not know what bitter feelings I had in my heart, for they really were undeniably some of the most attractive children you could possibly find; and Florence was so witty, and Janet so delicate and refined and sweet in all her ways! I could not be angry with them, but I did think it fearfully unfair that so many blessings should be poured on their heads and so few given to me, for I was not even specially clever.

"Then I thought I would make a friend of my brother Roger. He was a very fine fellow, and for a time I did get into his confidence, and I was fairly happy. But he went to Rugby, and at Christmas he brought some of his school-fellows back with him, and they paid the most absurd attentions to Florence and Janet, and they snubbed me; and I suppose Roger, poor dear! was weak enough to be influenced by them, for he took no notice of me either, so you can just imagine what a bad time I had.

"Well, my dear, one day there came a letter from an old cousin asking either of the two girls, Florence or Janet, or myself, to go to stay with her in the country. She had a very nice house, and a pony and trap, and she could take us about and give us a good time. My mother was exceedingly anxious that the twins—I forgot to tell you that they were twins—should go, and she said so to me. She said they wanted change of air, as they were looking quite cooped up in our poky town. But I said, 'I am the eldest, and I don't see why I shouldn't have the pleasure of going, as I also have been invited. I mean it is only fair to give me the first chance.'

"Then she said, 'I think that is quite fair, and you shall have the first chance, Susan;' and so I went.

"Florence and Janet were not a bit angry, poor dears! They kissed me and helped me to pack my things, and Florence offered me one of her prettiest necklaces, and Janet some wonderful embroidered gloves which had been given to her by Roger at Christmas. But I was too jealous to accept any of their trinkets, and I went away with a sore feeling in my heart. Ah, Lucy! that was a long time ago."

Aunt Susan paused. A spasm of pain crossed her face. After a time she said slowly, "I enjoyed myself for a week or two. Then came news from home. The fever which had been lurking in the town for some time reached our house, and the two beautiful little twins were smitten with it. And before I could hear again they were both dead. Had I given up my own way, and let them go to see my old cousin, they might have been alive now."

"But you—you might have taken the fever. Oh! I think it is fearfully sad; but how could you know? And you could not be blamed—you could not really be blamed," said Lucy with great earnestness.

"Perhaps not," said Aunt Susan, recovering herself on the spot. "And I do not mean to be morbid about it; only, at the time, my conscience troubled me, and your poor aunty had a very bad time. It was soon afterwards that my dear father wrote to me, and I shall always keep his letter. Since then I have never been jealous of any one, and I would advise you to lay my story to heart, Lucy, and to do your utmost to keep down the seeds of jealousy, for they make a man or woman miserable, and they do no good in the world."

Lucy did not know why Aunt Susan's talk affected her so much. She still kept her hand on the old lady's arm, and they walked slowly up to the house. As they were approaching it she said suddenly, "Now that I have seen you, I mean to do my very best. I know it is remarkably brave of mother to have started the school and to have the girls here, and I know I ought to help her, and not to be cross because her ideas are not my ideas. And I will try, and I will remember your story and what you have said, for you always suit me, and you always understand me, Aunt Susan. But may I ask you one thing, one great favor?"

"What is that, my dear?" asked her aunt.

"If I find matters quite intolerable, may I come to you for a week to the Rectory at Dartford—just for one week? Will you invite me?"

"You have a hearty welcome, child. You know what it is like: soup-kitchens, mothers' meeting, coal-tickets, reading aloud to the children, rushing about from this place to the other trying to help those who cannot help themselves. It will do you good, Lucy, and of course you shall come."



CHAPTER III.

A GYPSY TEA.

Lessons were not to begin until the following morning, and the six boarders were feeling in consequence a trifle disconsolate. They did not know what to do with themselves. They had explored the place the day before. They had visited the kitchen-garden and the flower-garden, and the paddocks and the shrubberies and the lawns, and they had wandered down towards the river. There seemed to be nothing special to do. The tennis-lawn was not properly mowed for tennis, and anyhow the net was not out, and there seemed to be no croquet-ground anywhere. In consequence, there was nothing whatever to do but to pace up and down under the shadow of the trees a little way from the house.

Rosamund Cunliffe walked with Phyllis Flower, Jane Denton with Agnes Sparkes, and Laura Everett with her special friend and factotum, Annie Millar. They were all good-natured, kind-hearted girls, ready to make the best of things; but as they walked now, pacing up and down, Rosamund suddenly stopped, faced round, and addressed the rest of her companions.

"Well, girls," she said, "I must say that I think we are placed in a rather disagreeable position at Sunnyside."

"What do you mean?" asked Laura, opening her wide blue eyes to their fullest extent.

"Why, can't you judge for yourself? That little Lucy Merriman is determined to be disagreeable to us. We cannot get her to make herself the least pleasant; whatever we do she interprets in the wrong manner, and how we are to keep the peace I don't know. I am sure I don't want to dislike her or be disagreeable to her; but she is at home, and we are strangers. She is exceedingly ill-bred, there is no doubt of that. Why should we put up with it? Ought we not at once to declare our independence, and to let her know that as we pay—or, rather, our parents pay for us—a very good sum for our education, she is bound at least not to make herself obnoxious?"

"Oh, I don't think she is obnoxious," said Agnes Sparkes. "She is just a little bit jealous. I used to be jealous of a girl once. It is a horrid sensation."

"Oh, my dear!" said Rosamund slowly, stamping her foot in her endeavor to speak with emphasis, "it is absolutely ridiculous for any one to give way to those morbid feelings in these days. If her mother wished us to come here to be educated, I suppose she had her good reasons for it, and that Lucy should be such a goose is really past enduring."

"I quite agree with what you say," replied Laura in her quiet voice, "and my only remedy is this: don't take the least notice of her."

"But that is not so easy when she pokes her disagreeable little face in at every turn."

"And her still more disagreeable little words," said Phyllis Flower.

"Now, Phyllis, don't you make mischief," said Annie Millar. "You know perfectly well that you are cleverer than the whole lot of us put together, whether you like to acknowledge it or not."

"I am not a bit clever, and I always say so," was Phyllis's response. "I have got far less than most people: no looks, no stature, no abilities. No one need ever come to me for anything, for I have nothing to give, having got nothing for myself."

"You have one gift, dear," said Rosamund, looking at her kindly; "you are an excellent listener, and you can make as pertinent a remark as any one in the school. I maintain that I consider you clever, and you will prove my words before many terms are over."

"But the point now," said Laura, "is Lucy. We begin lessons to-morrow. I should say that Miss Archer is an exceedingly nice woman—in fact, she is vastly superior to most—and the French governess is very good, too. They are both busy arranging our work for us; and of course we shall have masters innumerable, and several mistresses also, and we shall go to Dartford twice a week for lessons, so we shall be just as busy as bees. I think the only plan is to let Lucy alone."

It was while this conversation was going on, and the girls were standing together in a group, that Mrs. Brett, accompanied by no less a person than Lucy herself, appeared in view. Lucy shrank from the six girls who stood together under one of the big elm-trees, and she was about to loosen her hold of Mrs. Brett's arm, but that good lady drew her forward.

"Now come, Lucy; don't be silly. Now is your chance. I want to be introduced to those nice girls. Exceedingly nice they look, and pleasant companions they will be for you. Come and do your duty, my love."

"Oh, if only mother had such dignified manners!" thought the girl. She found herself yielding to Mrs. Brett's commands, and in a minute was standing amongst the other girls, introducing one after another to the wife of the rector of Dartford.

"My dears, I am heartily glad to see you," said Aunt Susan in her cheerful voice. "I am Aunt Susan, or Aunty Susy, to all the world, and any one who comes to Dartford finds his or her way to my cosy little bower sooner or later. Lucy is a special friend of mine.—Aren't you, Lucy?"

"You are my aunt, remember," said Lucy in a choking voice.

"She is her aunt, remember," said Phyllis Flower in a sort of mocking tone.

The other girls tittered. Mrs. Brett's calm voice continued: "I am a very plain old woman; I have no youth to boast of, and no looks to boast of; but I think I have got a somewhat capacious heart, and it is amply willing to take you all in if you wish to come. Now, let me see. This is Wednesday. I think you will come to Dartford on Saturday for lessons. Will you all come and have tea with me? You shall meet my husband, who is a very jolly sort of man, and we can show you some of our curiosities, which we have collected from time to time in our scanty travels. We are precious poor, so you mustn't expect anything but a very plain tea—bread and butter and jam; but you will have enough, and that is something, and you will see the inside of a plain working-man's house."

"Oh, Aunt Susy! Not a working-man!" said Lucy.

"Yes, a working-man, my dear," persisted Aunt Susy. "He is a minister of the Gospel, and he works hard for his Lord; and he is very proud of his Master, and very proud of the service among his Master's work-men.—So, girls, you can come if you like, or stay away if you like. We can all be very jolly together. Do you accept my invitation?"

"Indeed, we shall be delighted," said Agnes Sparkes eagerly. "What do you say, Jane?" she continued, turning to Jane Denton.

Jane Denton signified her approval with sparkling eyes, and the other girls followed suit.

"Well, that is settled," said Mrs. Brett. "You may call me Aunt Susy, those of you who like."

Lucy looked at her aunt almost as though she hated her at that moment. Mrs. Brett did not pretend to see the glance.

"Now," she said, "what are you going to do this afternoon? Why should not we all go and have tea down by the river? Why shouldn't we? Your mother wouldn't object, would she?"

"Oh, no; mother never objects to anything," said Lucy, with a little sigh.

"But you do, don't you, Lucy?" said Rosamund in a low voice.

"I dislike innovations," said Lucy.

Their eyes met. Rosamund's flashed angrily. Lucy felt that all the jealousy which she had promised Aunt Susan to bury for ever in a low grave was rising up stronger than before. Aunt Susan was in reality watching her niece, and was quite determined to have her way.

"Won't some one go into the house," she said, addressing the girls in a mass, "and ask Mrs. Merriman if you may yourselves carry down the cups and saucers and teapot, and jam and bread and butter, and whatever is required for a gipsy tea? I have just one hour before I must trot back to catch my train, and during that hour I can help you to get it. There is a lovely bank just above the river, where we can make our gipsy fire and enjoy ourselves."

Where was the ennui now? Agnes Sparkes rushed off to fulfil Mrs. Brett's bidding. Lucy, ashamed, she knew not why, followed her more slowly. In a few minutes, owing to Mrs. Brett's breezy talk, there were seven girls, all apparently happy, very busily preparing tea. The fire soon crackled and blazed; the kettle quickly did its part by singing merrily and boiling sturdily. Tea was made in the old brown teapot which was always kept for such occasions. How good it tasted in the open air! how different from any made indoors! No longer was Sunnyside a dull place, for Mrs. Brett kept all the girls laughing with the funny stories she told and the extraordinary sort of free-and-easy manner in which she did everything. And yet she was so good-natured, so full of fun and bonhomie!

With regard to Rosamund, Mrs. Brett saw at once that she would be Lucy's worst enemy, and she determined in her own mind to take the girl in tow.

"I will just knock some of her pride out of her, to begin with," thought the good lady.

Accordingly, when tea was over, and every scrap of bread and butter had been consumed, she selected Rosamund as the person to wash up the tea-things.

"Why me?" said Rosamund, opening her pretty brown eyes in some astonishment.

"Because you are the tallest, and you look the strongest," said Aunt Susan. "Now, be quick about it.—Lucy, did you bring out the towel?"

"I did," said Lucy; "and the little wooden bowl, and here is hot water. And do you want me to help, Aunt Susy?"

"Help, child? Of course you shall help. Rosamund shall wash and you shall dry. Now then, be as quick as ever you can."

The two girls were thus brought face to face with each other. Mrs. Brett looked at her watch, said that she had quite another ten minutes to spare, and suggested a walk down a favorite path, where they could gather some delicate maidenhair which she happened to know grew there.

How they walked and talked! Even Rosamund, left behind washing the tea-things while Lucy dried them, felt her ill-humor vanish.

"Isn't she charming?" she said.

"Yes," said Lucy; but then she added, "I don't want you to like her. That would be the last straw."

"And why shouldn't I like her?" asked Rosamund.

"Because she belongs to me."

Rosamund was quite silent for a minute. "While Mrs. Brett was here," she said slowly, "I was quite happy. Now I do not feel happy, and it is owing to you, Lucy. Can we not meet and talk this over, and come to a sort of compact, a sort of armistice? Do you mind if we do?"

Just then Mrs. Brett was seen returning. Lucy stood up hastily. "I will talk to you. It would be best," she said then.

"To-night," said Rosamund—"to-night, after prayers, let us meet outside under the elm-trees. We can talk there and put things a bit straight. I don't think we can go on as we have begun. It would make us both unhappy."

"My dear girls," called out Mrs. Brett—"ah! I see the tea-things are all washed up and put away in the basket. Well, they will be quite safe; there are no gipsies in these parts. Now, who will come with me as far as the station? Don't all speak at once. I shall be very glad of the company of those who like to come; but those who don't may stay behind, and they won't offend me in the very least."

But all the girls wanted to accompany Mrs. Brett; and, surrounded by a crowd of eager young people, the good lady walked to the railway station.



CHAPTER IV.

CASTING OF THE DIE.

Rosamund and Jane Denton shared the same bedroom. They had been friends from childhood, for they had lived in the same street and gone to the same kindergarten together, and their mothers had been old school-fellows before marriage, so their friendship had grown up, as it were, with their very lives.

But Jane was a girl of no very special characteristics; she leant on Rosamund, admiring her far more vivacious ways and appearance, glad to be in her society, and somewhat indifferent to every one else in the wide world.

She sat now on a low and comfortable seat near the open window. Prayers were over, but the time that Rosamund had fixed for meeting Lucy Merriman had not quite arrived. She yawned and stretched herself luxuriously.

"I shall go to bed. Our work begins to-morrow. What are you sitting up for, Rosamund?"

"I am going out again in a few minutes," said Rosamund.

"Are you indeed?" cried Jane. "Then may I come with you? I shan't be a bit sleepy if I am walking out in the moonlight. But I thought——However, I suppose rules don't begin to-day."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I heard Miss Archer say that we were not to go out after half-past nine unless by special permission."

"Oh, well, as you remarked, rules don't begin until to-morrow, so I can go out at any hour I like to-night."

"I wonder why?" said Jane, and she looked up with a languid curiosity, which was all she could ever rise to, in her light-blue eyes.

Rosamund knelt by the window-sill; she put her arms on it and gazed out into the summer night. She heard people talking below her in the shrubbery. A few words fell distinctly on her ears, "I hate her, and I shall never be her friend!" and then the voices died away in the distance.

Jane had risen at that moment to fetch a novel which she was reading, so she did not hear what Rosamund had heard.

Rosamund's young face was now very white. There was a steady, pursed-up expression about her mouth. She suddenly slammed down the window with some force.

"What is it, Rose? What is the matter? Why shouldn't we have the window open on a hot night like, this?"

"Because I like it to be shut. You must put up with me as I am," said Rosamund. "I will open it if you wish in a few minutes. I have changed my mind, I am not going out. I shall go to bed. I have a severe headache."

"But wouldn't a walk in the moonlight with me, on our very last evening of freedom, take your headache away?" said Jane in a coaxing voice.

"No; I would rather not go out. You can do as you please. Only, creep in quietly when I am asleep. Don't wake me; that's all I ask."

"Oh, I'll just get into bed, dear, if you have a headache. But how suddenly it has come on!"

"This room is so stifling," she said. "After all, this is a small sort of school, and the rooms are low and by no means airy."

Jane could not help laughing.

"I never heard you talk in such a silly way before. Why, it was you who shut the window just now. How can you expect, on a hot summer's evening, the room to be cool with the window shut?"

"Well, fling it open—fling it open!" said Rosamund. "I don't mind."

Jane quickly did so. There was a crunching noise of steps—solitary steps—on the gravel below. Jane put out her head.

"Why, there is Lucy Merriman!" she said.

Lucy heard the voice, and looked up.

"Is Rosamund coming down? I am waiting for her," she said.

Jane turned at once to Rosamund.

"Lucy is waiting for you. Was it with Lucy you meant to walk? She wants to know if you are going down."

"Tell her I am not going down," replied Rosamund.

"She can't go down to-night," said Jane. "She has a headache."

"I wish you wouldn't give excuses of that sort," said Rosamund in an angry voice when her friend put in her head once more. "What does it matter to Lucy Merriman whether I have a headache or not?"

Jane stared at her friend in some astonishment.

"I do not understand you, nor why you wanted to walk with her. I thought you did not like her."

"I tell you what," said Rosamund fiercely, "I don't like her, and I'm not going to talk about her. I am going to ignore her. I am going to make this house too hot for her. She shall go and live with her aunt Susan, or she shall know her place. I, Rosamund Cunliffe, know my own power, and I mean to exercise it. It is the casting of the die, Jane; it is the flinging down of the gauntlet. And now, for goodness' sake, let us get into bed."

Both retired to rest, and in a few minutes Jane was fast asleep; but Rosamund lay awake for a long time, with angry feelings animating her breast.

In the morning the full routine of school-life began, and even Lucy was drawn into a semblance of interest, so full were the hours, so animated the way of the teachers, so eager and pleasant and stimulating the different professors. Then the English mistress, Miss Archer, knew so much, and was so tactful and charming; and Mademoiselle Omont knew her own tongue so beautifully, and was also such a perfect German scholar! In short, the seven girls had their work cut out for them, and there was not a minute's pause to allow ambition and envy and jealousy to creep in.

Lucy had one opportunity of asking Rosamund why she did not keep her appointment of the night before.

"You surprised me," she said. "I thought you were honorable and would keep your word. I had some difficulty in getting Miss Archer out of the way, for she was talking to me so nicely and so wisely, I can tell you, I was quite enjoying it. But I managed to get right away from her, and to walk under your window, and you never came."

"I suppose I was at liberty to change my mind," said Rosamund, her dark eyes flashing with anger.

"Oh! of course you were. But it would have been more polite to let me know. Not that it matters. I was not particularly keen to talk to you. I am so glad that Miss Archer is my friend. She gave me to understand last night how much she liked me, and how much she meant to help me with my studies. I believe from what she says that she considers I shall be quite the cleverest girl in the school. She believes in hereditary talent, and my dear father is a sort of genius, so, of course, as his only child, I ought to follow in his footsteps."

"Of course you ought," said Rosamund in a calm voice. "Then be the cleverest girl in the school."

"I mean to have a great try," said Lucy, with a laugh; and Rosamund gave her an unpleasant glance.



CHAPTER V.

AN INVITATION.

If any girl failed to enjoy herself on the following Saturday at Dartford, she had certainly only herself to blame. As a matter of fact, the whole seven, without exception, had a right good time. Even Lucy forgot her jealousies, and even Rosamund forgot her anger. They were so much interested in Mrs. Brett and her husband, in the things they did, and the things they could tell, and the things they could show, and the whole manner of their lives, that they forgot themselves.

Now, to forget yourself is the very road to bliss. Many people take a long time finding out that most simple secret. When they do find it out and act on it they invariably live a life of great happiness and equanimity, and are a great blessing to other people. Lucy and Rosamund were far—very far—from such a desirable goal, but for a few hours they did act upon this simple and noble idea of life, and in consequence were happy.

But Saturday at the Bretts', with all its bliss, came to an end, and the girls returned to beautiful Sunnyside and to the life of the new and rather strangely managed school.

Sunday was a long and dreary day, at least in Rosamund's eyes, and but for an incident which occurred immediately after morning service, she scarcely knew how she could have got through it.

Mr. Merriman had a pew at one end of the church, which had belonged to his people for generations, and which was not altered when the rest of the church was restored. It was large enough now to hold his wife and himself and the seven girls; but the two teachers were accommodated in another part of the church. Rosamund found herself during the service seated next to Mr. Merriman. It was the first time she had really closely observed him, and she now noticed several peculiarities which interested her a good deal. He had a dignified and very noble presence. He was tall, with broad shoulders, had an aquiline nose, very piercing dark eyes, black hair, which he wore somewhat long, and an olive-tinted face.

Lucy did not in the least resemble her father, but took more after her mother, who was round and fat, and proportionately commonplace. Rosamund at first felt no degree of elation when her place was pointed out to her next to the Professor. But suddenly encountering Lucy's angry eyes, she began to take a naughty comfort to herself in her unexpected proximity. She drew a little closer to him on purpose to annoy Lucy; and then, when she found that he was short-sighted and could not find his places, she found them for him, thus adding to poor Lucy's torment; for this had once been Lucy's own seat, and she herself had seen to her father's comforts. From attending on him, Rosamund began to watch him, and then she found a good deal of food for meditation. In short, it is to be feared that she did not follow the service as she ought to have done. For the matter of that, neither did Lucy.

The Rectory near Sunnyside was occupied by a clergyman who had several young daughters. These girls were very prepossessing in appearance. Their father was a widower, their mother having died some years ago. There were six girls, and as they trooped up the aisle, two by two, they attracted Rosamund's attention. They were dressed very simply in different shades of green. The two eldest had the darkest tone of color, both in their hats and their quiet little costumes. The two next had one shade lighter and the two youngest one shade lighter again. They looked something like leaves as they went up the church, and they all had one special characteristic—a great wealth of golden-brown hair, which hung far down their backs. The two eldest girls must have varied in age between fourteen and twelve, the two next between ten and eight, and the little ones between seven and five. They had quiet, neatly cut features, and serene eyes. They walked up the church very sedately, and took their places in the Rectory pew. Rosamund longed to ask a thousand questions about them. They were so much more interesting than the girls who were staying at Sunnyside; they were so fresh, and their dress so out of the common.

A somewhat prim and very neatly dressed governess followed the six girls up the aisle and took her place at the end of the pew. But Rosamund could still see from where she sat the heads with the six green hats and the wealth of fair hair hanging below. She was full of interest, and altogether her thoughts were occupied first by the Professor and then with her neighbors.

By-and-by the rustle of a very rich silk caused her to turn her attention again to the outside world, and she observed a lady of about forty-five years of age, richly dressed in deep mourning, with a good deal of crape and a widow's bonnet, walking up the church. This lady entered a pew which she occupied all alone.

Then the choir, the rector, and the curate appeared, and the service began. It began, went on, and finished. Just as it came to a conclusion, Mrs. Merriman, bending towards Rosamund, said, "We will wait, if you please, until the rest of the congregation have dispersed. I am anxious to see Mr. Singleton, to ask him a question."

Rosamund wondered who Mr. Singleton was. But she was only too anxious to see her neighbors leaving the church, and was pleased at the idea of waiting.

The congregation filed down the centre aisle one by one, in orderly fashion, and the six little girls in their green costumes and their fair hair disappeared from view. The elderly governess primly followed, and then the lady in black silk also left her pew. But as she did so she paused and said something to the verger, who was in the aisle. Rosamund, whose eyes were fixed on her, noticed that the verger pointed to the pew in which she herself was sitting, and a minute later the lady came to the door of the pew and said something in a very low voice to Mrs. Merriman.

To Rosamund's amazement, Mrs. Merriman stretched out her hand across the pew and took one of hers.

"My dear, Lady Jane Ashleigh, an old friend of your mother's, wishes to see you. Will you go very quietly out, talk to her for a minute or two outside the church, and then wait for us in the porch?"

Rosamund obeyed, filled with the keenest interest. Lady Jane walked on in front, and Rosamund followed. They both entered the porch, whereupon the widow turned, grasped one of Rosamund's hands, and said, "If it were not church-time I should long to kiss you. I was a very, very great friend of your mother's. She wrote to me two days ago to say that you were coming to live here. I intended to call yesterday, but was prevented. I came to church to-day hoping to make your acquaintance. When will you come and see me? Can you come this afternoon?"

"Oh, indeed I can!" said Rosamund. "I remember mother quite well telling me about you. Your name used to be Lady Jane Stanisford, was it not?"

"Quite right, my dear. Oh, what a look you have of your mother! You must come and spend the rest of the day with me. You can come now; you can come in my carriage."

"Oh! I ought not to, for the others will be waiting for me."

"I will wait with you here. But no; I must hurry home at once. Then come this afternoon, and bring any one of your school friends that you like. I shall be glad to see you and to talk over old times. Dear Mrs. Merriman, she is a great friend of mine. Give her my love, and a message that you are to come and have tea with me, and supper, too. I will send you back to Sunnyside in my carriage late this evening. Good-bye for the present, dear."

It was a very beaming face that greeted Lucy and the rest of the party when, accompanied by Mr. Singleton (the father of the fair-haired girls, and the rector of the parish), they all appeared in the church porch. Lucy went straight up to Rosamund.

"What in the world are you smiling at?" she said. "You look as though you were thinking of something extremely funny; and it makes your face look so strange, not at all like the face of a person who has just been in church."

"Will you introduce me, Miss Lucy, to this young lady?" said Mr. Singleton's pleasant voice.

Lucy was obliged to comply. She muttered the introduction in a somewhat surly tone; but Mr. Singleton was by no means proof against Rosamund's bright and clever face, her smile, which was now quite charming, and her animated manner.

"You must come and spend a day with my little girls—that is, when you can obtain leave," he said.—"Ah, Mrs. Merriman! it will be very unlike you to be over strict with your young people. They must all come to the Rectory. When is your next half-holiday?"

"You must ask Miss Archer," said Mrs. Merriman.

Miss Archer replied that Wednesdays and Saturdays would be half-holidays, and Mr. Singleton clinched the invitation by asking the party to the Rectory for the following Wednesday.

On their way home Rosamund left Lucy's side, with whom she had been walking, and ran up to Mrs. Merriman.

"Lady Jane Ashleigh is a friend of mother's, and she has asked me to go to her after lunch to spend the rest of the day with her. May I go?"

"Not on Sundays, dear. We never allow our young people to pay visits on Sundays," said the professor, just turning his head and glancing kindly at Rosamund.

The smile vanished from her countenance. She colored high with annoyance.

"But I promised her I would go, and she is an old friend of mother's, and please may I go on this occasion?"

"I make a rule which cannot be broken, that no girls accept invitations for Sunday. That is the end of the matter."

He turned to speak to his wife, without giving Rosamund any further thought. He was feeling ill that day—worse than usual—and he did not notice the consternation, rage, and also determination which filled Rosamund's face. Lucy had not heard her words, but she exclaimed eagerly when the girl returned to her place among her school-fellows, "Well, what is it? What did Lady Jane say to you?"

"Oh, nothing—nothing particular."

"But you did seem so eager and pleased. You don't look at all pleased now."

"She said nothing in particular, really. How nice that field looks, with all that grass growing up so green after the haymaking."

"Oh, don't talk platitudes," said Lucy. She watched Rosamund narrowly.

By-and-by they reached the house. Rosamund went straight up to her own room. There such a wave of passion, anger, and revolt swept over her that she scarcely knew herself.

"I will go. I won't obey. Mother wrote to her about me. She is mother's friend. I will slip off and spend the day with her, and take the consequences, whatever they may be. I cannot stand those girls, and she is delightful! I win go to her, come what may."

Jane Denton did not understand Rosamund as she brushed her long hair and tidied herself for the early dinner.



CHAPTER VI.

VISIT TO LADY JANE.

Rosamund made herself altogether charming during the ensuing meal. She was so clever that even Lucy's watchful eyes could detect nothing unusual about her. The professor was charmed with her intelligent remarks, her interest in the architecture of the very old church where they had just enjoyed the service, and her eagerness to acquire a more profound knowledge of church architecture in general. This was one of his own special hobbies, and he promised to lend Rosamund books on the subject, and even invited her to go into his library in the course of the afternoon to look at some illustrations which he thought would interest her.

"But I like to spend Sunday quietly and alone," said Rosamund, raising innocent eyes to the professor's face. "Will it matter if I come to see your illustrations and your books to-morrow?"

He gave her a paternal glance of almost affection.

"You shall certainly spend your Sunday as you like best, my dear," he said. "For my part, I love to see spirited and happy girls like yourself devoting themselves to periods of thought and meditation. In no other possible way can they attain to true knowledge of what Sunday means."

Jane Denton looked at her friend in some astonishment, but Rosamund calmly returned her gaze.

When the meal came to an end the girls scattered here and there, and Jane ran up to Rosamund to know what she meant to do.

"To stay quietly by myself," was Rosamund's answer, "so for goodness' sake don't interfere with me, Janey. I am going to my room, to begin with. I want to have a good long think, and——But don't question me, and keep the others away—won't you?—there's a dear."

Jane promised readily enough, and Rosamund went to her room. There from her window she watched the whole party disappearing in different directions: some to the neighboring woods, three girls together to the bank of the river, others with books into hammocks or cosy seats in the pretty garden. The two teachers had gone for a walk some miles into the country. The professor was in his study, where Mrs. Merriman kept him company.

"Now is my time," thought Rosamund.

She changed her dress for one of the prettiest she possessed—a pale-blue muslin, beautifully made. She put on a large, black, shady hat, and catching up her gloves and parasol, started on foot to Lady Jane's place. She had not an idea where to go, but trusted to find the way by making inquiries. Once she was safe out of the neighborhood of those odious girls, as she was pleased to call them, she thought all would be easy enough. She soon reached the high-road, which was far more dusty than she had anticipated, and did not suit her pretty patent-leather shoes.

Presently she met a girl on her way to Sunday-school in the village, and asked her the direct road to Lady Jane Ashleigh's.

"Oh, my!" was the girl's response; "won't you find Miss Irene in a tantrum this afternoon! Do you mean to say you are going there? And on Sunday, too!"

"Yes," said Rosamund, forgiving the girl's apparent impertinence on account of the interest which her remarks aroused. "But who is Miss Irene?"

"Lady Jane's daughter, bless you! Why, I live there as kitchen-maid, and I tell you the tantrums of that young lady is enough to upset the nerves of the stoutest person. I have come out now, and glad I am to be away. You are a strange young lady, I take it, from your appearance. You had best not go there if you want rest."

"But I am going there," was Rosamund's reply, "so please tell me how; and what is the name of Lady Jane's place, for she did not tell me?"

"Why, anybody here must know The Follies, and the place is true to its name as place can be. Oh, Lady Jane is well enough, but it is Miss Irene. Well, I wish you luck. You walk straight down this road for a mile or so, and turn in at the first gates you come to, and there you will be; and I 'opes you'll enjoy yourself."

The girl dropped a somewhat impertinent curtsy and marched on her way.

Rosamund also went on, feeling more interested and pleased than ever.

"Irene—what a pretty name!" she said to herself. "And from all accounts she seems to be what old people would call a difficult young person, and to young people she is doubtless delightful. Anyhow, I expect I shall have some fun; and as my absence is certain to be found out, and I am certain to get into a row when I go back to the horrid Merrimans', I may as well enjoy myself while I can."

So she hurried her footsteps, and presently found that the kitchen-maid at The Follies had given her correct instructions. There, directly before her, were massive gates leading into the winding avenue, sheltered by tall trees, beech and elm. The place looked cool and soothing. Oh, what a contrast it made to the hot and dusty road over which Rosamund had traveled! When she found herself inside she stepped on the grass in order to get some of the dust off her pretty patent shoes. She shook out her pale-blue muslin dress, arranged her hat becomingly, and went up the drive, looking as dainty and as unlike an-ordinary English school-girl as girl could look. She knew, the value of appearances, and was determined to make the best of them. Of course, her mother had told her much of Lady Jane. Lady Jane was her mother's greatest friend when they were both girls together; and when she had married a certain Mr. Ashleigh, a man of great wealth, although their acquaintance had very much dropped into the background, yet still the stories about the beautiful and willful Lady Jane had delighted Rosamund when she was a little girl herself. Now, it seemed that Lady Jane was blessed with a daughter, and as naughty as she must have been in her own early days. This made matters exceedingly interesting to Rosamund.

She reached the front door and rang the ponderous iron bell which hung from a chain by the side of a Gothic column, and a man-servant in livery, with powdered hair, appeared in reply to her summons.

"Is Lady Jane Ashleigh within?"

"Yes, madam," he replied respectfully, and he motioned Rosamund into a large, cool hall, beautifully furnished with all sorts of antique specimens of oak and Sheraton furniture. From here he took her into a little room rendered beautifully cool by green silk blinds, which were partly let down at the windows, one of which was altogether open and looked out on a flower-garden partly sheltered by trees. Here Rosamund saw, just for a brief moment, a girl in red, swinging backward and forward idly in a swing suspended from two stalwart boughs. The girl had somewhat wild eyes, a very bright face, and a mischievous expression round her lips. When she saw Rosamund she leaped from the swing, and disappeared from view, and the next moment Lady Jane sailed into the room. The contrast between the girl in red and the lady in deep mourning who now appeared puzzled the girl a good deal; also the extreme calm and graciousness of Lady Jane's bearing, the absence of all that wildness in the eyes which Rosamund's own mother had explained so fully. In short, the graciousness of a perfectly balanced nature seemed to surround this charming woman. She thanked Rosamund for coming, and sitting down near her, proceeded to question her with regard to her mother.

"It is years since we met," she said, "but I have never forgotten her. She was my favorite school-fellow. Our paths in life led very much apart afterward, for I married my dearly beloved husband and lived in the country, whereas she traveled a good deal over the world. But still we did contrive to correspond from time to time, although we have not met, I verily believe, since your birth, Rosamund. How old are you, my dear?"

"I was fifteen my last birthday," replied Rosamund.

"In some ways you look older than that."

"I am glad," said Rosamund, her eyes brightening. "I want to be grown-up," she continued. "I want to have done with school."

"Why did your mother think of sending you to Mrs. Merriman's?"

"Oh, there were a lot of reasons. Jane Denton, who is my greatest friend—although I don't know why I am so fond of her—was coming here, and her mother knew Mrs. Merriman, and mother hates ordinary schools, and she thought this would just do. And then all of a sudden she remembered that you lived near, although she did not say anything to me about that, or you may be sure I should have been quite interested. I am so glad to see you, Lady Jane! And, please, when am I to be introduced to Irene?"

Rosamund was sorry the moment she had said these words, for over Lady Jane's face there passed an expression of absolute pain. After a moment's pause, she said, "Who has told you about my little daughter?"

"Does it pain you for me to speak about her?"

"Answer my question, dear. Who has told you?"

"I think it might have been your kitchen-maid. I will explain to you the very truth, Lady Jane. You know you asked me to come here to-day, and you said you would send me back to-night, and I was so pleased; but when I spoke about it to Mr. Merriman, he said at once that he did not allow girls to visit friends on Sunday, and that that was one of his strictest rules."

"And yet you came?" said Lady Jane, her eyes darkening.

"Yes, I came," replied Rosamund, "for I simply couldn't stand it. Why should I be coerced and told that things were wrong by a man like Mr. Merriman?"

"A great scholar and a noble gentleman," said Lady Jane quietly.

Rosamund felt herself coloring, and a sense of annoyance swept over her.

"Well, anyhow, I came," she said; "and I suppose you are not going to send me back now that I have braved the displeasure of every one to come to you?"

"I will drive you back myself after we have had tea together; and you must come and spend a week day with me. It was wrong to come, dear, and it was a pity. When you get to know Mr. Merriman well you will understand that when he says a thing he means it. I will try and intercede for you on this occasion. I myself do not think it at all wrong that you should come and minister to the wants of a lonely woman on Sunday. I noticed your bright face in church; and although you are not very like your mother, you have got something of her expression, and many of the tones of her voice, and it gives me pleasure to converse with you."

"But why should you be lonely when you have got"——

Just at that moment there was a noise outside, followed by a fierce scuffle and the banging about of furniture, and the room door was opened, and the girl whom Rosamund had seen swinging at the other end of the sunlit lawn appeared on the scene. She was one of the most beautiful girls Rosamund, who thought herself very good-looking, had ever beheld in her life, but her eyes were wild and almost unsteady. Her laugh was harsh and her voice unpleasant.

"Irene," said Lady Jane, turning pale, "what is the matter with you? Won't you behave?"

The girl gave a laugh, flung herself into a chair, then drew herself a little closer, and stared full at Rosamund.

"Never mind mother," she said. "Who are you?"

"My name is Rosamund Cunliffe," was Rosamund's reply.

She spoke steadily. There was a certain calm about her voice which seemed to exercise a beneficent influence over the queer girl.

"And my name is Irene Ashleigh. Won't you come out, and I'll swing you? You'd like to have a good swing this hot day, wouldn't you?"

"If you will promise, Irene, to be very careful," began Lady Jane; but Irene's only reply to this was to jump up as suddenly as she had seated herself, take Rosamund's hand, and pull her through the open French window.

"Never mind mother," she said again. "She is nothing but an old croak. There's a bit of spirit about you. Oh! they all tell stories about me; but I'm not half bad, only I think I'm a changeling. Did you ever think you were a changeling?"

"Of course not. I don't know what you mean."

"I'll explain to you. I quite like your look. May I put my arm round your waist?"

"If it pleases you," said Rosamund.

"How stiffly you speak! But I like you all the same. You are what might be called a good old sort, and there's nothing prim about you. Do you know why I came into the room just now?"

"I'm sure I cannot tell."

"Well, I'll let you know. I was listening at one of the windows, and I heard you tell mother—dear old puritanical mother—that you had crept away without leave from the learned professor, and had got into difficulties. Oh, didn't I just love you for it! There's a Miss Frost here who tries to teach me; but, bless you! she can't knock much learning into me. She is as terrified of me as she can be, is old Frosty. She and I had a squabble in the passage; she said I was not to come in because I had my red dress on. You know, it's only a year since father died, and mother is in deep mourning still; but I will wear red—it is my sort of mourning. I suppose we can all do as we please. Well, when I discovered that you were one of the naughty sort, I thought I'd have a nearer view of you, and I like you very much. You are pretty, you know, quite pretty. Not so pretty as I am! Now, look me full in the face. Did you ever see any one prettier?"

"Irene, you do talk in a wild way!"

"It is rather cheeky of you to call me Irene; but I don't much mind. I like you to be cheeky. Well, here's the swing. How high up do you want me to push you?"

"Not any way at all just at present. Let us walk about and talk before you swing me. I must know something about you. How old are you?"

"I'm sure I don't know—I've forgotten. Oh, by the way, you didn't understand me when I said I was a changeling."

"I didn't, and I don't. But why do you talk in that silly way?"

"Well, I seriously think I am, for if you had seen father when he was alive you'd have said if there was a dear—I was very fond of dad—if there was a dear, sober, conscientious old man—he was a good bit older than mother—you'd have pronounced that he was he."

"That is very funny English, Irene."

"Oh, never mind! I like to talk in a funny way. Anyhow, you'd have said that he was he. And then there is mother. You see how good she looks. She is very handsome, I know, and every one adores her, and so does her loving daughter Irene; but, all the same, I was made in a sort of fashion that I really cannot keep indoors. No rain that ever was heard of could keep me in, and no frost, either. And I have lain sometimes on the snow for an hour at a time and enjoyed it. And there's scarcely a night that I spend in bed. I get out, whatever poor old Frosty may do to keep me within bounds. I can climb up anything, and I can climb down anything, and I like to have a boat on the lake; and when they are very bad to me I spend the night there in the very centre of the lake, and they can't get at me, shout as they may. No, I never take cold."

"The only thing I am keen about is to be allowed to wear colors that I like. I love gay colors—red one day, yellow the next, the brightest blue the next I hate art shades. I am not a bit aesthetic. Once they took me to London, but I ran away home. Oh, what a time I had! I am a wild sort of thing. Now, do you suppose that any mother, of her own free-will, would have a daughter like me? Of course I am a changeling. I suppose I belong to the fairies, and my greatest wish on earth is to see them some day. Sometimes I think they will meet me in the meadows or in the forest, which is two miles away, or even in the lake, for I suppose fairies can swim. But they have never come yet. If they came I'd ask them to let me go back to them, for I do so hate indoor life and civilization and refinement. And now you see the sort I am, and if you are the sort I somehow think you are, why shouldn't we be friends? Perhaps you are a changeling, too. You know that dress doesn't suit you one bit; it is too grand and fine-ladyish; and you ought to let your hair stream down your back instead of having it tied behind with that ribbon. And you ought to have a hole in your hat instead of that grand black feather. And—oh, good gracious!—what funny boots! I never saw anything like them—all shiny, and with such pointed toes. How can you walk in them? I as often as not go barefoot all day long; but then I am a wild thing, a changeling, and I suppose, after all, you are not."

Rosamund felt herself quite interested while Irene was delivering herself of this wild harangue. She looked back at this moment, and saw Lady Jane standing in the French window. Irene's arm was still firmly clasped round Rosamund's waist. Rosamund could just catch a glimpse of the expression of Lady Jane's face, and it seemed to signify relief and approval. Rosamund said to herself, "We all have our missions in life; perhaps mine is to reclaim this wild, extraordinary creature. I shouldn't a bit mind trying. Of course, I don't approve of her; but she is lovely. She has a perfect little face, and she is just like any savage, quite untrained—a sort of free lance, in fact. Irene," she said aloud, "I am not going to let you swing me just now; but you may sit near me, and I will tell you something which may alter your views about your being a changeling."

"What do you mean by that?" said Irene, and she looked doubtful. "I cannot sit long," she continued. "Be as quick as ever you can."

"Yes, I will, and afterward"——

"Afterward I will go into the house and get Frosty to give us tea, and we will take it in the boat together. We will get into the very middle of the stream, where no human being can call us back, and we will have a right good time."

"Will you ask your mother's leave first?"

"Indeed I won't. I never ask her leave. I never ask any one's leave. I never trouble mother much, because she cries so badly when I vex her; but I don't mind how hard Frosty cries. Frosty is terribly afraid of me, but she has stayed with me longer than any other governess. They mostly go at the end of a week or a fortnight; but Frosty has been with me for close on four months. She is very worried. She was quite fat when she came, and now she is a sort of walking skeleton, and it is all owing to me, because I do work her so hard and terrify her so; and she can't teach me anything, however hard she tries. I tell you I'm a changeling, and changelings can't be taught. She told me the other night that she believed me. She looked as white as a sheet when she said the words, and I did laugh so, and clapped my hands. I woke mother, and mother came into the room; and Frosty told mother what I had said, and poor mother cried. I said, 'Never mind, mother. I am fond of you, but I like frightening Frosty.'

"Then Frosty went away to her own room, and I thought, of course, she would give notice the next day, but she didn't. She is very poor, and has to earn her own bread somehow. I expect that is why she stays."

"Well," said Rosamund stoutly, "I will say this, Irene, that you are—whether changeling or not—an exceedingly naughty girl. There, now!"

Irene opened those deep sapphire-blue eyes, which were one of her greatest charms, to their fullest extent; her little mouth pouted, and some pearly teeth showed beneath. She clinched her small hands, and then said stoutly, "Hurrah! I admire your courage. They never dare tell me I am naughty. I rule the house; they are all quite terrified of me."

"Well, I am not a scrap afraid of you," said Rosamund.

"Aren't you? What a relief! Well, come on; I can't sit still any longer. I have got to order our tea to be sent to the boat, and we will get into mid-stream and keep all the world at bay. Can't you tell me there what you wanted to say?"

"No; I will tell you now, and I am not at all sure that I am going in the boat with you, for Lady Jane said I had done wrong to come here; and if I did wrong to come, I suppose I must try and do right, for I can't talk of your faults while I have such a lot of my own."

"Oh, hurrah! You are nicer than ever. I am glad you are full of faults too. Do say why you think I am not a changeling."

"Because my mother told me that long ago your mother was rather naughty, although she is so good now. So I think, perhaps, when you are her age you will be good too."

"Oh, horror! Heaven preserve us!" cried Irene. "That is the final straw. Ever to sink into the apathy of my beloved mother would be beyond endurance. But there, I am off to Frosty, and you will have to come into the boat with me."

Irene flew fleet as the wind from Rosamund's side. Notwithstanding her exceedingly ugly red dress, its shortness, its uncouth make, she ran as gracefully as a young fawn. Soon she had disappeared round the corner, and as soon as she had done so Lady Jane was seen tripping across the grass. She motioned Rosamund to her side.

"She took to you," she said. "She seems to like you. Are you going to be good to her?" said the lady, her lips trembling as she spoke.

"If I can. Oh, I know she is very naughty; but she is so beautiful!" said Rosamund, with sudden enthusiasm, her own pretty dark eyes filling with tears.

"You are a sweet girl!" said Lady Jane. "Perhaps God has sent you here to effect the means of reform. Only sometimes I fear——But here she comes. She must not see me talking to you. If she thought that we were in league all would be lost."

Before Rosamund could reply, or even ask Lady Jane if she might go into the boat with Irene, that young lady had darted to her side.

"Now, what were you saying to the Mumsy-pums? I don't allow any one to talk in a confidential way to my Mumsy-pums except myself. Now, I was just watching you, and you kept nodding your head all the time. What were you saying? I know you were talking about me. What was the dear Pums saying with regard to her changeling? Was she running me down—eh?"

"No, nothing of the sort," said Rosamund stoutly.

"Then I know," said Irene, knitting her black eyebrows till they almost met in her anxiety to express herself clearly; "she was telling you to have a good influence over me. She always begins like that with the new governesses. She has an interview with them the morning after they arrive. They are generally by that time reduced to a state of pulp, and she has them, as she thinks, alone. But I generally contrive to listen. I am a great eavesdropper. Oh, I am not a bit ashamed of it—not a bit—so you needn't begin to preach. She tells them to try and reform me. She says money is no object if only I can be reformed. As though a changeling could be reformed! She has been asking you to reform me, hasn't she? I know her little ways, dear, good old Mumsy-pums. But she can't reform a changeling. Now the boat is ready, and Betty is toiling for dear life with our tea-tray. I darted into the kitchen, where she was having a Sunday doze. I sprang upon her back, and she gave such a shriek as though something awful had happened; and I said, 'Tea in a twinkling, or I'll dress up and frighten you when you are in bed to-night.' Oh, didn't she hop round as though she were walking on red-hot irons! And there she is now, panting down the path with our tea. Come along, Rosamund."

"But I don't think I must. I ought not to come," said Rosamund.

She was tempted, fascinated. To feel conscious that she was not one scrap afraid of this queer girl, to feel conscious also that the girl herself, notwithstanding her extreme naughtiness, could in the end be managed by her, brought such a rush of interest into her life that she forgot everything else for the moment; and, besides, Irene was exceedingly strong, and although she was much slimmer and not so tall as Rosamund, she dragged her down the path with a power that it was almost impossible to resist.

"That will do, Betty. I won't frighten you to-night by dressing up and making my eyes fiery," said Irene as the cook appeared with the tea.

"Oh, bless me, miss!" replied the cook, "for heaven's sake keep out of my bedroom. If you will only give me back my key and let me lock my door I wouldn't have such dreadful nightmares. I wish you would, Miss Irene."

"I give you back your key?" said Irene. "I'd have no fun if I hadn't power over you. There, that will do. You may sleep sound to-night. I always keep my word."

The cook departed, red and panting. She was as much afraid of Irene as any of the other servants. But the place was a good one, the wages exceedingly liberal, and Lady Jane the kindest and most patient of mistresses. In short, many of the servants stayed for her sake, notwithstanding the life of terror which naughty Irene gave them.

The little boat, painted sky-blue and tipped with white, was now pulled out of the boat-house. Irene put in the basket of provisions, and a moment later she and Rosamund were skimming across the smooth bosom of the lake. It was quite a big lake, being a quarter of a mile across and half a mile long, and in the centre was a rapid current which was considered, and really was in times of storm, somewhat dangerous. For this current Irene made, and when they got there she suddenly rested on her oars, and looking at Rosamund, said, "Are you afraid, or are you not? If the current gets a little stronger we will be drifted to the edge of the lake, and at the edge of the lake there is a waterfall, and over it we will go, and, splash! splash! splash! I took a girl there once; she was my governess, but I was quite tired of her, and knew the fright she would get in when I took her out in the boat. I never take those who are dead sick with fright; but I took her, and she was nearly drowned—not quite, for I can swim in almost any water, and I held her up and brought her safe to land. But she left that evening. She was a poor thing, absolutely determined to stop. I hated her the moment I saw her face, it was so white and pasty; and she wasn't at all interesting. She couldn't tell stories; she didn't believe in changelings. She had never read the Arabian Nights. She knew hardly any history; but she was great at dates. Oh, she was a horror! She was rather fond of grammar, too, and odds and ends of things that aren't a bit interesting. And needlework! Oh, the way she worried me to death with her needlework! She did criss-cross and cross-criss, and every other stitch that was ever invented. So I said to myself, 'Miss Carter must go,' and I took her out on a rather stormy day, and we got into mid-current. Mother and the servants came shouting to us to get out of it; but of course we couldn't, and poor Miss Carter, how she did shriek! And I said, 'We are certain to go over the fall; but we won't get drowned, for I won't let you, if you will promise faithfully to give notice the very instant you get back to the house.' Oh, poor thing, didn't she promise! Her very teeth were chattering. She was in a most awful state. Now, we can go over the waterfall to-day if you don't mind. You wouldn't be frightened, would you?"

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse