A POPULAR SCHOOLGIRL
Illustrated by Balliol Salmon
New York Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers Copyright, 1920, by Frederick A. Stokes Company All Rights Reserved First published in the United States of America, 1921
I. The End of the Holidays
II. Opening Day
IV. Intruder Bess
V. The Fifth-form Fete
VI. The School Parliament
VIII. An Unpleasant Experience
IX. A Hostel Frolic
X. The Whispering Stones
XI. On Strike
XII. The Rainbow League
XIII. Quenrede Comes Out
XIV. The Peep-hole
XV. Brotherly Breezes
XVI. An Easter Pilgrimage
XVII. The Rivals
XVIII. Bess at Home
XIX. The Nun's Walk
XX. Under the Lanterns
XXI. The Abbey Recital
Under the Lanterns
"Let's Call ourselves the Foursome League"
A Friend in Need
"You look nice—you do, really, with your hair down"
"You may think you know everything, Bess Haselford, but you don't know this!"
A Tall Figure, clothed in some White Garment, was gliding towards them
A POPULAR SCHOOLGIRL
The End of the Holidays
"Ingred! Ingred, old girl! I say, Ingred! Wherever have you taken yourself off to?" shouted a boyish voice, as its owner, jumping an obstructing gooseberry bush, tore around the corner of the house from the kitchen garden on to the strip of rough lawn that faced the windows. "Hullo! Cuckoo! Coo-ee! In-gred!"
"I'm here all the time, so you needn't bawl!" came in resigned tones from under the shade of a large fuchsia. "You're enough to wake the dead, Chumps! What is it you want now! It's too hot to go a walk till after tea. I'm trying to get ten minutes peace and quiet!"
Hereward, otherwise "Chumps," put his feet together in the second position, flung out his arms in what was intended to be a graceful attitude, and made a mock bow worthy of the cinema stage.
"Have them by all means, Madam!" he replied in mincing accents. "Your humble servant has no wish to disturb your ladyship's elegant repose. He offers a thousand apologies for his unceremonious entrance into your august presence, and implores you to condescend——Ow! Stop it, you brute!"
Hereward's burst of eloquence was brought to an abrupt end by the violent onslaught of a fox-terrier puppy which flung itself upon him and began to worry his ankles with delighted yelps of appreciation.
"Stop it! Keep off, I tell you! I won't be chewed to ribbons!" he protested, dodging the attacks of the playful but all too sharp teeth, and catching the little dog by the piece of tarred rope that formed its collar. "Here, you'll get throttled in a minute if you don't mend your manners."
"Give him to his auntie, bless his heart!" laughed Ingred, extending welcoming arms to the fat specimen of puppyhood, and rolling him about on her knee. "Oh, he did make you dance! You looked so funny! There, precious! Don't chump auntie's fingers. Go bye-byes now. Snuggle down on auntie's dress, and——"
"If you've quite finished talking idiotic nonsense to that little beast," interrupted Hereward sarcastically, "you'll perhaps kindly oblige me by mentioning whether you're coming or not!"
"Not coming anywhere—too hot!" grunted Ingred, resettling her cushion under the fuchsia bush.
"Right you are! Please yourself and you'll please me! Though I should have thought the run to Chatcombe——"
Ingred sprang to her feet, dropping the puppy unceremoniously.
"You don't mean to say Egbert's finished mending the motor bike? You abominable boy! Why couldn't you tell me so before?"
"You never gave me the chance—just said off-hand you wouldn't go anywhere. Yes, the engine's running like a daisy, and the sidecar's on, and Egbert's fussing to be off. If you really change your mind and want to go——"
But by this time Ingred was round the corner of the house; so, shaking a philosophic head at the ways of girls in general, her brother gathered a gooseberry or two en route, and followed her in the direction of the stable-yard.
The Saxons were spending their summer holidays at a farm near the seaside, and for the first time in four long years the whole family was reunited. Mr. Saxon, Egbert, and Athelstane had only just been demobilized, and had hardly yet settled down to civilian life. They had joined the rest of the party at Lynstones before returning to their native town of Grovebury. The six weeks by the sea seemed a kind of oasis between the anxious period of the war that was past and gone, and the new epoch that stretched ahead in the future. To Ingred they were halcyon days. To have her father and brothers safely back, and for the family to be together in the midst of such beautiful scenery, was sufficient for utter enjoyment. She did not wish her mind to venture outside the charmed circle of the holidays. Beyond, when she thought about it all, lay a nebulous prospect, in the center of which school loomed large.
On this particular hot August afternoon, Ingred welcomed an excursion in the sidecar. She had not felt inclined to walk down the white path under the blazing sun to the glaring beach, but it was another matter to spin along the high road till, as the fairy tales put it, her hair whistled in the wind. Egbert was anxious to set off, so Hereward took his place on the luggage-carrier, and, after some back-firing, the three started forth. It was a glorious run over moorland country, with glimpses of the sea on the one hand, and craggy tors on the other, and round them billowy masses of heather, broken here and there by runnels of peat-stained water. If Egbert exceeded the speed-limit, he certainly had the excuse of a clear road before him; there were no hedges to hide advancing cars, neither was there any possibility of whisking round a corner to find a hay-cart blocking the way. In the course of an hour they had covered a considerable number of miles, and found themselves whirling down the tremendous hill that led to the seaside town of Chatcombe.
Arrived in the main street they left the motorcycle at a garage, and strolled on to the promenade, joining the crowd of holiday-makers who were sauntering along in the heat, or sitting on the benches watching the children digging in the sand below. Much to Ingred's astonishment she was suddenly hailed by her name, and, turning, found herself greeted with enthusiasm by a schoolfellow.
"Ingred! What a surprise!"
"Avis! Who'd have thought of seeing you?"
"Are you staying here?"
"No, only over for the afternoon."
"We've rooms at Beach View over there. Come along and have some tea with us, and your brothers too. Yes, indeed you must! Mother will be delighted to see you all. I shan't let you say no!"
Borne away by her hospitable friend, Ingred presently found herself sitting on a seat in the front garden of a tall boarding-house facing the sea, and while Egbert and Hereward discussed motor-cycling with Avis's father, the two girls enjoyed a confidential chat together.
"Only a few days now," sighed Avis, "then we've got to leave all this and go home. How long are you staying at Lynstones, Ingred?"
"A fortnight more, but don't talk of going home. I want the holidays to last forever!"
"So do I, but they won't. School begins on the twenty-first of September. It will be rather sport to go to the new buildings at last, won't it? By the by, now the war's over, and we've all got our own again, I suppose you're going back to Rotherwood, aren't you?"
"I suppose so, when it's ready."
"But surely the Red Cross cleared out ages ago, and the whole place has been done up? I saw the paperhangers there in June."
"Oh, yes!" Ingred's voice was a little strained.
"You'll be so glad to be living there again," continued Avis. "I always envied you that lovely house. You must have hated lending it as a hospital. I expect when you're back you'll be giving all sorts of delightful parties, won't you? At least that's what the girls at school were saying."
"It's rather early to make plans," temporized Ingred.
"Oh, of course! But Jess and Francie said you'd a gorgeous floor for dancing. I do think a fancy-dress dance is about the best fun on earth. The next time I get an invitation, I'm going as a Quaker maiden, in a gray dress and the duckiest little white cap. Don't you think it would suit me? With your dark hair you ought to be something Eastern. I can just imagine you acting hostess in a shimmery sort of white-and-gold costume. Do promise to wear white-and-gold!"
"All right," laughed Ingred.
"It's so delightful that the war's over, and we can begin to have parties again, like we used to do. Beatrice Jackson told me she should never forget that Carnival dance she went to at Rotherwood five years ago, and all the lanterns and fairy lamps. Some of the other girls talk about it yet. Hullo, that's the gong! Come indoors, and we'll have tea."
Ingred was very quiet as she went back in the sidecar that evening, though Hereward, sitting on the luggage-carrier, was in high spirits, and fired off jokes at her the whole time. The fact was she was thinking deeply. Certain problems, which she had hitherto cast carelessly away, now obtruded themselves so definitely that they must at last be faced. The process, albeit necessary, was not altogether a pleasant one.
To understand Ingred's perplexities we must give a brief account of the fortunes of her family up to the time this story begins. Mr. Saxon was an architect, who had made a good connection in the town of Grovebury. Here he had designed and built for himself a very beautiful house, and had liberally entertained his own and his children's friends. When war broke out, he had been amongst the first to volunteer for his country's service, and, as a further act of patriotism, he and his wife had decided to offer the use of "Rotherwood" for a Red Cross Hospital. The three boys were then at school, Egbert and Athelstane at Winchester, and Hereward at a preparatory school; so, storing the furniture, Mrs. Saxon moved into rooms with Quenrede and Ingred, who were attending the girls' college in Grovebury as day boarders. For the whole period of the war this arrangement had continued; Rotherwood was given over to the wounded soldiers, and Mrs. Saxon herself worked as one of their most devoted nurses.
In course of time Egbert and Athelstane had also joined the army, and with three of her menkind at the front, their mother had been more than ever glad to fill up at the hospital the hours when her girls were absent from her at school. Then came the Armistice, and the blessed knowledge that, though not yet home again, the dear ones were no longer in danger. By April the Red Cross had finished its work in Grovebury; the remaining patients regretfully departed, the wards were dismantled of their beds, and Rotherwood was handed back to its rightful owners.
Naturally it needed much renovation and decorating before it was again fit for a private residence, and paperers and painters had been busy there for many weeks. They had only just removed the ladders by the middle of July.
It was nearly August before Mr. Saxon, Egbert, and Athelstane were finally demobilized, and they had gone straight to Lynstones to join the rest of the family at the farmhouse rooms. What was to happen after the delirious joy of the holiday was over, Ingred did not know. She had several times mentioned to her mother the prospect of their return to Rotherwood, but Mrs. Saxon had always evaded the subject, saying: "Wait till Daddy comes back!" and the welcoming of their three heroes had seemed a matter of such paramount importance that in comparison with it even the question of their beloved Rotherwood might stand aside.
The Saxons were a particularly united family, tremendously proud of one another, and interested in each other's doings. Their name bespoke their old English origin, which (except in the case of Ingred) was further vouched for by their blue eyes, fair skins, and flaxen hair. Egbert and Athelstane were strapping young fellows of six feet, and thirteen-year-old Hereward was taller already than Ingred. Quenrede, immensely proud of her quaint Saxon name, and not at all pleased that the family generally shortened it to Queenie, had just left school, and had turned up her long fair pigtail, put on a grown-up and rather condescending manner, powdered the tip of her classic little nose, and was extremely particular about the cut of her skirts and the fit of her suede shoes. It was a grievance to Quenrede that, as she expressed it, she had "missed the war." She had longed to go out to France and drive an ambulance, or to whirl over English roads on a motorcycle, buying up hay for the Government, or to assist in training horses, or to help in some other patriotic job of an equally interesting and exciting character.
"It's too bad that just when I'm old enough all the jolly things are closed to women!" she groused. "If Mother had only let me leave school a year ago, I'd at least have had three months' fun. Life's going to be very slow now. There's nothing sporty to do at all!"
Ingred, the youngest but one, and fifteen on her last birthday, was the only dark member of the fair Saxon family. At present she was not nearly so good-looking as pretty Quenrede; her mouth was a trifle heavy and her cheeks lacked color; but her eyes had depths that were not seen in her sister's, and her thick brown hair fell far below her waist. She would gladly have exchanged it for the lint-white locks of Hereward.
"Queenie was always chosen for a fairy at school plays," she grumbled, "and they never would have me, though her dresses would have come in for me so beautifully. I don't see why some fairies shouldn't have dark hair! And it was just as bad when we acted The Merchant of Venice. Miss Carter gave 'Portia' to Francie Hall, and made me take 'Jessica,' and Francie was a perfect stick, and spoilt the whole thing! Next time, I declare I'll bargain to wear a golden wig, and see what happens."
Ingred had been educated at Grovebury College since the morning when, a fat little person of five, she had taken her place in the Kindergarten. She and Quenrede had always been favorites in the school. In pre-war days they had been allowed to give delightful parties at Rotherwood to their form-mates, and though that had not been possible during the last five years, everybody knew that their beautiful home had been lent to the Red Cross, and admired their patriotism in thus giving it for the service of the nation. From Avis's remarks that afternoon it was evident that the girls at the college expected the Saxons to return immediately to Rotherwood, and were looking forward to being invited to entertainments there during the coming autumn and winter. Ingred had contrived to parry her friend's interested questions, but she felt the time had come when she must be prepared to give some definite answer to those who inquired about their future plans. She managed to catch her mother alone next morning for a quiet chat.
"Mumsie, dear," she began. "I've been wanting to ask you this—are we going back to Rotherwood after the holidays?"
Mrs. Saxon folded up her sewing, put her thimble and scissors away in her work-basket, and leaned her elbow on the arm of the garden seat as if prepared for conversation.
"And I've been wanting to talk to you about this, Ingred. Shall you be very disappointed when I tell you 'No'?"
"Oh, Muvvie!" Ingred's tone was agonized.
"It can't be helped, little woman! It can't indeed! I think you're old enough now to understand if I explain. You know this war has hit a great many people very hard. There has been a sort of general financial see-saw; some have made large fortunes, but others have lost them. We come in the latter list. When your father went out to France, he had to leave his profession to take care of itself, and other architects have stepped in and gained the commissions that used to come to his office. It may take him a long while to pull his connection together again, and the time of waiting will be one of much anxiety for him. Then, most of our investments, which used to pay such good dividends, are worth hardly anything now, and only bring us in a pittance compared with former years. Instead of being rich people, we shall have to be very careful indeed to make ends meet. To return to Rotherwood is utterly out of the question, and with the price of everything doubled and trebled, and our income in the inverse ratio, it is impossible to keep up so big an establishment nowadays."
"Where are we going to live, then?" asked Ingred in a strangled voice.
"At the bungalow that Daddy built on the moors. Fortunately the tenant was leaving, and we had not let it to any one else. In present circumstances it will suit us very well. Athelstane is to be entered in the medical school at Birkshaw; he can ride over every day on the motor-bicycle. We had hoped to send him to study in London, but that's only one of the many plans that have 'gane agley'."
"Are Hereward and I to go in to Grovebury every day?"
"Hereward can manage it all right, but I shall arrange for you to be a weekly boarder at the new hostel. You can come home from Friday to Monday. Now, don't cry about it, childie!" as a big tear splashed down Ingred's dress. "After all, we've much to be thankful for. If we had lost Father, or Egbert, or Athelstane out in France we might indeed grieve. So long as we have each other we've got the best thing in life, and we must all cling together as a family, and help one another on. Cheer up!"
"It will be simply h—h—h—hateful to go back to school this term, and not live at R—r—r—rotherwood!" sobbed Ingred.
Her mother patted the dark head that rested against her knee.
"Poor little woman! Remember it's just as hard for all the rest of us. We've each got a burden to carry at present. Suppose we see who can be pluckiest over it. We're fighting fortune now, instead of the Hun, and we must show her a brave face. Won't you march with the family regiment, and keep the colors flying?"
"I'll try," said Ingred, scrubbing her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief.
The Girls' College at Grovebury, under its able head-mistress, Miss Burd, had made itself quite a name in the neighborhood. The governors, realizing that it was outgrowing its old premises, decided to erect others, and had put up a handsome building in a good situation near the Abbey. No sooner was the last tile laid on the roof, however, than war broke out, and the new school was immediately commandeered by the Government as a recruiting office, and it had been kept for that purpose until after the Armistice.
The girls considered it a very great grievance to be obliged to remain cramped so long in their old college. The foundation stone of the new building had been laid by Queen Mary herself, and they thought the Government might have fixed upon some other spot in which to conduct business, instead of keeping them out of their proper quarters. All things come to an end, however, even the circumlocution and delays of Government offices, and by the beginning of the autumn term the removal had been effected, and the ceremony arranged for the opening of the new college. Naturally it was to be a great day. The Members of Parliament for Grovebury, and the Mayor, and many other important people were to be present, to say nothing of parents and visitors. The pupils, assembled in the freshly color-washed dressing-rooms, greeted one another excitedly.
"How do you like it?"
"Oh, it's topping!"
"Beats the old place hollow!"
"There's room to turn around here!"
"And the lockers are just A1."
"Have you seen the class-rooms?"
"The gym's utterly perfect!"
"And so is the lab."
"Shame we've had to wait for it so long!"
"Never mind, we've got into it at last!"
Among the numbers of girls in the capacious dressing-rooms, Ingred also hung up her hat and coat, and passed on into the long corridor. Like the others she was excited, interested, even a little bewildered at the unfamiliar surroundings. It seemed extraordinary not to know her way about, and she seized joyfully upon Nora Clifford, who by virtue of ten minutes' experience could act cicerone.
"We're to be in VA.," Nora assured her. "All our old set, that is, except Connie Lord and Gladys Roper and Meg Mason. I've just met Miss Strong, and she told me. She's moved up with us, and there's a new mistress for VB. Haven't seen her yet, but they say she's nice, though I'd rather stick to Miss Strong, wouldn't you?"
"I don't know," temporized Ingred, screwing her mouth into a button.
"Oh, of course! I forgot! You're not a 'Strong' enthusiast—never were! Now I like her!"
"It's easy enough to like anybody who favors you. Miss Strong was always down on me somehow, and I'd rather have tried my luck with a fresh teacher. I wonder if Miss Burd would put me in VB. if I asked her."
"Of course she wouldn't! Don't be a silly idiot! I think Miss Strong's absolutely adorable. Don't you like the decorations in the corridor? Miss Godwin and some of the School of Art students did them. But just wait till you've seen the lecture-hall! Here we are! Now then, what d'you say to this?"
The big room into which Nora ushered her companion was lighted from the top, and the walls, distempered in buff, had been decorated with stencils of Egyptian designs, the bright barbaric colors of which gave a very striking effect. There was a platform at the far end, where were placed rows of chairs for the distinguished visitors, and also pots of palms and ferns and geraniums to add an air of festivity to the opening ceremony. The long lines of benches in the body of the hall were already beginning to fill with girls, their bright hair-ribbons looking almost like a further array of flowers. Mistresses here and there were ushering them to their places, the Kindergarten children to the front seats, Juniors to the middle, and Seniors to the rear. Ingred and Nora, motioned by Miss Giles to a bench about three-quarters down the room, took their seats and talked quietly with their nearest neighbors. A general buzz of conversation, constantly restrained by mistresses, kept rising and then falling again to subdued whispers. In a short time the hall was full, Miss Perry had opened the piano, and the choir leaders had ranged themselves round her. In dead silence all the girls, big and little, turned their eyes towards the platform. The door behind the row of palms and ferns was opening, and Miss Burd, in scholastic cap and gown, was ushering in the Mayor, the Mayoress, several Town Councilors and their wives, a few clergy, the head-master of the School of Art, and, to the place of honor in the middle, Sir James Hilton, the Member of Parliament for Grovebury, who was to conduct the ceremony of the afternoon. He was a pleasant, genial-looking man, and though, as he assured his audience, he had never before had the opportunity of addressing a room full of girls, he seemed to be able to rise to the occasion, and made quite a capital speech.
"You're lucky to have this handsome building in which to do your lessons," he concluded. "Our environment makes a great difference to us, and I think it is far easier to turn out good work in the midst of beautiful surroundings. Grovebury College has reaped a well-deserved reputation in the past, and I trust that its hitherto excellent standards will be maintained or even surpassed in the future. As member for the town there's a special word I wish to say to you. Train yourselves to be good women citizens. Some day, when you're grown up, you will have votes, and in that way assist in the self-government of this great nation. The better educated and the more enlightened you are, the better fitted you will be for your civic responsibility. Every girl who does her duty at school is helping her country, because she is making herself efficient to serve it in some capacity. At present England stands at a great crisis; if we are to keep up the traditions of our forefathers we want workers, not slackers, in every department of life. Even the smallest of those little girls sitting in the front row can do her bit. As for you elder girls, think of yourselves as a Cadet Corps, training for the service of the British Empire, and let every lesson you learn be not for your own advantage, but for the good you can do with it afterwards to the world. I have very great pleasure in declaring this new building open."
After Sir James had sat down, the Mayor and several other people made short speeches, and when all the clapping had finally subsided, the piano struck up, and the school sang an Empire Song and the National Anthem. Then the door at the back of the platform opened again for the exit of the visitors, who, chatting among themselves, made their way to Miss Burd's study to be hospitably entertained with tea and cakes. The whole ceremony had barely occupied an hour, and it was not yet four o'clock. The girls, in orderly files, marched from the lecture-hall, and betook themselves first to their new form-rooms, where textbooks were given out with preparation for the next day, and desks allotted; then, when the great bell rang for dismissal, to the playground and cloak-rooms, en route for home.
Ingred, with a goodly pile of fresh literature under her arm, walked slowly downstairs. She was not in any hurry to leave the class-room, and lingered as long as the limits of Miss Strong's patience lasted. She knew there was a certain ordeal to be faced with her form-mates, and she was not sure whether she wanted to put it off, or to get it over at once.
"Better let them know and have done with it," she said to herself after a few moments' consideration on the landing. "After all, it's my business, not theirs!"
It was a rather airily-defiant Ingred who strolled into the cloak-room and put on her hat. Francie Hall, trying to thread her boot with a lace that had lost its tag, looked up, smiled, and made room for her on the form.
"Cheery-ho, Ingred! How do you like our new diggings? Some removal, this, isn't it? I must say the place looks nice. It's topping to be here at last. By the by, I suppose you'll be getting in Rotherwood soon? Or have you got already?"
Ingred was stooping to lace her shoe, so perhaps the position accounted for her stifled voice.
"We're not going back there."
"Not going back!" Francie's tone was one of genuine amazement. "Why, but you said it was being done up for you, and you'd be moving before the term started!"
"Well, we're not, at any rate."
"What a disappointment for you!" began Beatrice Jackson tactlessly, as several other girls who were standing near turned and joined the group. "You always said you were just longing for Rotherwood."
"Do the Red Cross want it again?" queried Jess Howard.
"No, they don't; but we're not going to live there. Where are we going to live? At our bungalow on the moors, and I'm a weekly boarder at the hostel. Are there any other impertinent questions you'd like to ask? Don't all speak at once, please!"
And Ingred, having laced both shoes, got up, seized her pile of books, and, turning her back on her form-mates, stalked away without a good-by. She knew she had been rude and ungracious, but she felt that if she had stopped another moment the tears that were welling into her eyes would have overflowed. Ingred had many good points, but she was a remarkably proud girl. She could not bear her schoolfellows to think she had come down in the world. She had thrown out so many hints last term about the renewed glories of Rotherwood, that it was certainly humiliating to have to acknowledge that all the happy expectations had come to nothing. On the reputation of Rotherwood both she and Quenrede had held their heads high in the school; she wondered if her position would be the same, now that everybody knew the truth.
As a matter of fact, most of the girls giggled as she went out through the cloak-room door.
"My lady's in a temper!" exclaimed Francie.
"Lemons and vinegar!" hinnied Jess.
"Why did she fly out like that?" asked Beatrice.
"Well, really, Beatrice Jackson, after all the stupid things you said, anybody would fly out, I should think," commented Verity Richmond. "I'm sorry for Ingred. I'd heard the Saxons can't go back to their old house. It's hard luck on them after lending it all these years to the Red Cross."
"But why aren't they going back?"
"Why, silly, because they can't keep it up, I suppose. If you've any sense, you won't mention Rotherwood to Ingred again. It's evidently a sore point. Don't for goodness sake, go rubbing it into her."
"I wasn't going to!" grumbled Beatrice. "Surely I can make an innocent remark without you beginning to preach to me like this! I call it cheek!"
Verity did not reply. She had had too many squabbles with Beatrice in the past to want to begin a fresh campaign on the first day of a new term. She discreetly pretended not to hear, and addressing Francie Hall, launched into an account of her doings during the holidays.
"We're moving out to Repworth at the September quarter," she concluded. "And it's too far for me to bicycle in to school every day, so I've started as a boarder at the hostel. I shall go home for week-ends, though. Nora Clifford and Fil Trevor are there too. They'll be glad Ingred's come. With four of us out of one form, things ought to be rather jinky. Hullo, here they are! I say, girls, let's go to our diggings."
The two girls who came strolling up arm-in-arm were the most absolute contrast. Nora was large-limbed, plump, rosy, with short-cut hair, a lively manner, and any amount of confidence. Without being exactly pretty, she gave a general impression of jolly, healthy girlhood, and reminded one of an old-fashioned, sweet-scented cabbage rose that had just burst into bloom. Dainty little Filomena might, on the other hand, be described as the most delicate of tea roses. She was fair to a fault, a lily-white maid with the silkiest of flaxen tresses. Her pale-blue eyes, with their light lashes, and rather colorless little face with its straight features were of the petite fairy type. You felt instinctively that, like a Dresden china vase, she was made more for ornament than for use, and nobody—even school-mistresses—expected too much from her. Experience had shown them that they did not get it.
For two years, ever since her mother's death, Fil had been a boarder at the College, and because at first she had been such a pathetic little figure in her deep mourning, the girls had petted her, and had continued an indulgent attitude long after the black dress had been exchanged for colors. If Fil had rather got into the habit of posing as the mascot of the form, she certainly deserved some consideration, for she was a dear little thing, with a very sweet temper, and never made any of the ill-natured remarks that some of the other girls flung about like missiles. She was so manifestly unfitted to take her own part that somebody else invariably took it for her.
Verity Richmond, who, with Nora, Filomena and Ingred, represented VA. in the hostel, was a brisk, up-to-date, go-ahead girl, full of fun and high spirits. She was a capital mimic, and had a turn for repartee that, quite good-naturedly, laid any adversary flat in the dust. If Nora and Fil were like rose and lily, she was decidedly the robin of the party. Her fair complexion seemed to add force to the brightness of her twinkling brown eyes, and her general restlessness and quick alert ways made one think of a bird always hopping about. Though not quite such a romp as Nora, she was ready for any fun that was going, and intended to get as much enjoyment as possible out of the coming term. She linked herself now on to Fil's disengaged arm, taking the latter's pile of books with her own and began towing her two friends in the direction of the hostel.
"I've hardly had time even for a squint at our dormitory yet," she announced. "Mrs. Best said I was late, and made me pop down my bag and fly; but she told me we were all four together, so I went off with an easy mind. I'd been worrying for fear I'd be boxed up with some kids, or sandwiched in among the Sixth. I told you Ingred was to be with us, didn't I? Let's go and hunt her out; she'll have wiped her eyes and got over her jim-jams by now. We'll have time to do some unpacking before tea, if they've carried up our boxes."
The hostel was a separate house, built at the opposite side of the school playground. It could accommodate thirty girls, and twenty-six were already entered on its register. After a brief peep into the attractive dining-hall, and an equally pleasant-looking boarders' sitting-room, the three girls went upstairs to a dormitory marked 2. They found Ingred already at work on her task of unpacking, putting clothes away in drawers, and spreading the shelf that served as a dressing-table with an assortment of photos, books, and toilet requisites. She looked rather in the dumps, but it was impossible for anybody to remain gloomy when in the presence of such lively spirits as Nora and Verity, and by the time the gong sounded for tea she had cheered up, and was sitting on her bed discussing school news.
"Look here!" said Verity. "If we want to have a jolly term we four must stick together. Let's make a compact that, both in school and in the hostel, we'll support each other through thick and thin. We'll be a sort of society of Freemasons. I haven't made up any secrets yet, but whoever betrays them will be outlawed! Let's call ourselves 'The Foursome League.' Now then, put your right hands all together on mine, and say after me: 'I hereby promise and vow on my honor as a gentlewoman that I'll stand by my chums in No. 2 Dormitory at any cost.' That's a good beginning. When we've time, we'll draw up the rules. Subscriptions? Oh, bother! You can each give sixpence if you like, and we'll spend the money on a chocolate feast. Remember, Fil, not a word to anybody! It's to be kept absolutely quiet. There's the gong. If the tea's up to the standard of the rest of the hostel, I shan't object. Glad we're not rationed now, for I'm as hungry as a hunter."
Though the College only opened on Tuesday afternoon, the short remainder of the week seemed enormously long to Ingred. Her form mates were the same, but everything else was absolutely changed; she might have been at a new school. She appreciated the convenient arrangements of the handsome building: the lecture-hall, with its stained-glass window and polished floor, the airy class-rooms, the studio with its facilities for every kind of art work, the three music-rooms, the laboratory, the gymnasium, and, last but not least, the hostel. Ingred had never before been a boarder, and she had not expected to like the experience, but there is a subtle charm in community life that infects everybody with "the spirit of the hive," and in spite of herself she began to be interested in the particular set of faces that met round the table for meals. The greater part of the girls were in the middle and lower school, but there were a few members of the Sixth, who sat next to Mrs. Best, the matron, and Nurse Warner, and looked with superior eyes on the crowd of intermediates and juniors. To have secured such congenial room-mates was an asset for which she could not be sufficiently thankful. Whatever troubles might await her downstairs, it was a comfort to know that she had three allies ready to flock to her support. She had not known any of them well in the past, but as they seemed prepared to offer their friendship, she also was ready to act the part of chum. By exchanging desks with Linda Slater, she managed to secure a seat next to Verity in school, and entered into an arrangement with her that they should supply the missing gaps in each other's notes, for Miss Strong often lectured so rapidly that it was impossible to keep up with her.
"I wish I knew shorthand," grumbled Ingred, comparing scribbles with Verity as the girls tidied their hair for tea. "How anybody's expected to get down all Miss Strong tells us, I can't imagine! It's impossible."
"I don't try," admitted Fil. "At least I do try—I put a bit here and there, but I write so slowly, I'm only half-way through before she's bounced on to something else, and I've missed the beginning of it. I have to stop, too, sometimes, to think how to spell the words."
The others laughed, for Fil's spelling was proverbial in the form, and was often of a purely phonetic character. Miss Strong had periodical crusades to improve it, but generally gave them up as a bad job, and recommended constant use of a dictionary instead.
"Though you can't go about the world with a dictionary perpetually under your arm," she had remarked on the last occasion. "If you have to write a letter in a hurry, and you begin 'Dear Maddam' and end 'Yours trueley'—well! Please don't let anybody know you've been educated here, that's all, or it will be a poor advertisement for the College!"
Ingred was not at all delighted to be still in Miss Strong's form. She only moderately liked this mistress. Undoubtedly Miss Strong was a clever teacher, but sarcasm was one of her favorite weapons of discipline. Some of the girls did not mind it, indeed thought it rather amusing, even when directed against themselves, and enjoyed it hugely when someone else was the victim of the sally. Ingred, however, proud and sensitive, writhed under the attacks of Miss Strong's sharp tongue, and would often have preferred a punishment to a witticism. As a matter of fact, the mistress rarely gave punishments, and was proud of her ability to control her form without resorting to them. She was short in stature, but made up in spirit for her lack of inches, and would fix her dark eyes on offenders against discipline with the personal magnetism of a circus trainer or a leopard-tamer. Schoolgirls are irreverent beings, and though to her face her pupils showed her all respect, behind her back they spoke of her familiarly as "The Bantam," in allusion to her small size but plucky disposition, or sometimes, in reference to her sarcastic powers, as "The Sark," which by general custom became "The Snark." On the whole Miss Strong's pithy, racy, humorous style of teaching made her a far greater favorite than mistresses of duller caliber. She had a remarkable faculty for getting work out of the most unwilling brains. Her form always made excellent progress, and she had a reputation for obtaining record successes in examinations. To judge from the first few days of term, she meant to keep up her standard of efficiency. Miss Burd had mapped out a heavy time-table for VA., and it was Miss Strong's business to see that the girls got through it. Of course they grumbled. After the long weeks of the summer holidays it was doubly difficult to apply their minds to lessons, and set to work in the evenings to perform the enormous amount of preparation demanded from them. To some the task was wellnigh impossible, and poor Fil would send in very imperfect exercises, but others, Ingred and Verity among the number, had ambitions, and boosted up the record of the form.
It was after a most strenuous few days that Ingred came to the close of the first week of the new term, and, taking her books and hand-bag, started off to spend the week-end at home. She left the College with a feeling of intense relief. She had dreaded the return there, and the confession of her altered circumstances. It had not proved quite so disagreeable an ordeal as she had anticipated, for, after the first expressions of surprise, nobody had referred again to Rotherwood; yet Ingred, on the look-out for slights, imagined that she was not treated with as much consideration as formerly. Avis Marlowe and Jess Howard had hardly spoken to her, and, though the omission was probably owing to sheer lack of time or opportunity, she chose to set it down to a desire to show her the cold shoulder.
"Now I have no parties to offer them, they don't care about me!" she thought bitterly. "They'll hunt about till they find somebody else who's likely to act entertainer."
Fortunately, as Ingred stepped out of the College on that first Friday afternoon, the fresh breeze and the bright September sunshine blew away the cobwebs, and sent her almost dancing down the street. She had a naturally buoyant disposition, and her uppermost thought was: "I'm going home! I'm going home! Hurrah!"
The journey was really quite a little business. She had to take a tram to the Waterstoke terminus, then change on to a light electric railway that ran along the roadside for seven miles to Wynch-on-the-Wold. Grovebury, an old town that dated back to mediaeval times, lay in a deep hollow among a rampart of hills, so that, in whatever direction you left it, you were obliged to climb. The scenery was very beautiful, for trees edged the river, and clothed the slopes till they gave way to the gorse and heather of the wild moorlands. Wynch-on-the-Wold was a hamlet which, since the opening of the electric railway, was just beginning to turn into a suburb of Grovebury. Close to the terminus neat villas had sprung up like mushrooms; there were a few shops and a branch post office, and a brass plate to the effect that Dr. Whittaker had consulting hours twice a week. Tradesmen's carts drove out constantly, and the electric railway did quite a little business in the conveyance of parcels.
Wynchcote, the house where the Saxons had retired to try their scheme of retrenchment, lay at some little distance beyond the terminus, and might be considered the outpost of the new suburb. It was a small, picturesque modern bungalow; Mr. Saxon had built it as an architectural experiment, intending it for a sort of model country cottage. The tenants who had occupied it during the period of the war had just returned to Scotland, so, as it was vacant, it had seemed a convenient place in which to settle. It was near enough to Grovebury to allow him to attend his office, and far enough away to cut them adrift from old associations. After four and a half years of war work, Mrs. Saxon wanted a complete rest from committees, creches, canteens, and recreation huts, and would be glad to urge the excuse of distance to those who appealed for her help. Perhaps also she felt that in their straitened circumstances it was wiser to live where they could not enter into social competition with their former acquaintances.
"I just want to be quiet, to attend to my family, and to enjoy the moors and our garden," she declared. "I believe I'm going to be very happy at Wynchcote."
Though it was small, the bungalow was admirably planned, and had many advantages. The view from its French window was one of the finest in the district, and it faced a magnificent gorge, wild, rocky, and thickly wooded, at the bottom of which wound the silver river that ran through Grovebury. Civilization, in the shape of fields and hedges, stretched out fingers as far as Wynchcote, and there stopped abruptly. Past the bungalow lay the open wold with miles of heather, gorse, and bracken, and a road edged with low, grassy fern-covered banks instead of walls. The air blew freshly up here, and was far more bracing and healthy than down in the hollow of Grovebury. The residents of the new suburb affected seaside fashions, and went their moorland walks without hats or gloves.
Ingred was joined in the tram-car by Hereward, who attended the King George's School, and made the journey daily.
"Getting quite used to it now!" he assured his sister airily. "I had a terrific run yesterday for the train, but I caught it! There's another fellow in our form living up here, so we generally go together—Scampton, that chap in the cricket cap standing by the door. He's A1. He won't come near now, though, because he says he's terrified of girls. He's going to give me a rabbit, and I shall make a hutch for it out of one of those packing-cases. See, I've bought a piece of wire-netting for the door. There's heaps of room at the bottom of the garden. I believe I'll ask him to bring it over after tea."
"But the hutch isn't ready," objected Ingred.
"Oh, that won't matter! I can keep it in a packing-case for a day or two."
When Ingred and Hereward reached home they found that tea had been set out on the patch of grass under the apple trees, and Mother and Quenrede were sitting sewing and waiting for them. It was one of those beautiful September days when the air seems almost as warm as in August, and with the clock still at summer time, the sun had not climbed very far down the valley. The garden, where Mother and Quenrede had been working busily all the afternoon, was gay with nasturtiums and asters, and overhead hung a crop of the rosiest apples ever seen. Minx, the Persian cat, wandered round, waving a stately tail and mewing plaintively for her saucer of milk. Derry, the fox terrier, barked an enthusiastic greeting.
"Come along, you poor starving wanderers!" said Mrs. Saxon. "The kettle's boiling, and we'll make the tea in half a moment. Isn't it glorious here? Queenie and I have been digging up potatoes, and we quite enjoyed it. We felt exactly as if we were 'on the land.' How is your cold, Hereward? Ingred, you look tired, child! Sit down and rest while Queenie fetches the teapot."
Ingred sank into a garden-chair with much satisfaction. Wynchcote might not be Rotherwood, but it looked an uncommonly pretty little place in the September sunshine. To live there would be like a perpetual picnic. Mother and Queenie looked so complacently smiling that it seemed impossible to grouse, especially with newly-baked scones and rock-cakes on the tea-table.
The men kind of the family had not yet returned home. Mr. Saxon and Egbert rarely left their office before six, and Athelstane had that day gone over to Birkshaw on the motor-bicycle, to arrange about the medical course which he was to take at the University. There was plenty of news, however, to be exchanged. Ingred had to give a full account of her experiences at school and hostel, and to hear in return the various achievements in the shape of home-carpentry, mending, making, and altering which are always an essential part of settling into a new establishment.
"I hardly feel I've been round the estate properly yet," she said, when tea was over, and she sat leaning back lazily in her deck-chair, with Minx purring upon her knee.
"Then come and lend me a hand with my rabbit-hutch," suggested Hereward. "Put down that wretched pampered beast of a cat, for goodness sake! If it gets at my new rabbit, I'll finish it! Yes, I will! I'll hang it or drown it! Get along, you brute!"
Hereward's blood-thirsty remarks were ignored by Minx, who, finding herself dropped from Ingred's lap, took a flying run up his back, and settled herself on his shoulder, rubbing her head into his neck. He scratched her under the chin, swung her gently down, and shook a reproving finger at her.
"Don't try to come round me with your blarneyings, you siren!" he declared. "Who was it ate my goldfinch? Yes, you may well look guilty! Don't blink your eyes at me like that! I haven't forgiven you yet, and I don't think I ever shall. Ingred, old sport, are you coming to help me, or are you not? I want some one to hold the wire."
"All right, Uncle Podger, I'll come and 'podge' for you," laughed Ingred. "Don't hammer my fingers, that's all I bargain for. Wait a moment till I get my overall. Your joinering performances are apt to be somewhat grubby and messy."
There was quite a good garden at the back of the bungalow, with rows of vegetables and gooseberry bushes and fruit-trees. At the end was a wooden shed where the motor-bicycle was kept, and a small wired enclosure originally made for hens.
"It's exactly the place for rabbits, when I get a hutch for them," explained Hereward, putting down his box of tools, and turning over the packing-case with a professional eye. "Now a wooden frame covered with wire, and a pair of hinges will just do the job. I can saw these pieces to fit. Hold the wood steady, that's a mascot!"
The two were kneeling on the ground by the side of the packing-case, much absorbed in the process of exact measurements, when suddenly there was a rustling and a scrambling noise, and on the wall close to them appeared a collie dog, growling, snarling, and showing its teeth. Ingred sprang to her feet in alarm. Wynchcote was so retired that they had scarcely realized that its garden adjoined the garden of another house. The collie must have jumped up on to the dividing wall, and, being an ill-tempered beast, did not use proper discrimination between neighbors and tramps.
"Shoo! Get away!" urged Ingred, with rather shaking knees.
"Be off, you ill-mannered brute!" shouted Hereward.
The dog, however, appeared to think the wall was his own special property, and that it was his business to drive them away from their own garden. It continued to bark and snarl. Now, as Hereward wished to fix the rabbit-hutch in exactly the spot over which the creature had mounted guard, he was naturally much annoyed, and sought for some ready means of dislodging it from its point of vantage. He did not relish the prospect of being bitten, so did not want to engage it at close quarters, and no pole or other weapon lay handy.
Looking hastily round, his eye fell upon the garden-syringe with which Athelstane sometimes cleaned the motor-bicycle. It had been left, with a bucket of water, outside the shed. He drew out the piston, filled the syringe, then discharged its contents straight at the dog. But at that most unlucky moment a quick change took place on the wall; the collie retired in favor of his master, and the stream of water charged full into the astonished countenance of a precise and elderly gentleman from next door. For a few moments there was a ghastly silence, while he wiped his face and recovered his dignity. Then he demanded in withering tones:
"May I ask what is the meaning of this?"
Ingred and Hereward, overwhelmed with confusion, stuttered out apologies and explanations. The old gentleman listened with his busy gray eyebrows knitted and his mouth pursed into a thin line.
"I shall immediately take steps to ensure that my dog has no further opportunities of annoying you," he remarked stiffly, and took his departure.
"Who is he?" whispered Ingred, as the footsteps on the other side of the wall shuffled away.
"His name's Mr. Hardcastle. He's retired, and lives there with a housekeeper. Great Scot! I've put my foot in it, haven't I? Who'd have thought he was just going to pop his head up? Dad was going to ask him to lend us his garden-roller, but it's no use now. I expect I've made an enemy of him for life!"
"I hope he means to keep that savage dog fastened up," said Ingred. "It's a horrid idea to think that it may, any time, pounce over the wall at us. It's like having a wolf loose in the garden."
As a matter of fact, Mr. Hardcastle kept his word in a way that the Saxons least anticipated. Instead of chaining the dog, he had a tall wooden paling erected along the top of the wall, making an effectual barrier between the two gardens. It was not a beautiful object, and it cut off the sunshine from a whole long flower-bed; so, though it insured privacy, it might be regarded as a doubtful benefit for the bungalow.
"It makes one feel so suburban," mourned Quenrede.
"We shan't be visible, at any rate, when we're digging potatoes," laughed Mrs. Saxon, "and that's a great point to me, for I'm past the age that looks fascinating in an overall. If we've Suburbia on one side of us, we've the open moor on the other, which is something to be thankful for."
"Yes, until it's sold in building plots," sighed Quenrede, who was in a fit of blues, and unwilling to count up her blessings.
Ingred, after a blissful week-end, returned to Grovebury by the early train on Monday morning, and, wrenching her mind with difficulty from the interests of Wynch-on-the-Wold, focused it on school affairs instead. There was certainly need of mental concentration if she meant to make headway in the College. The standard of work required from VA. was very stiff, and taxed the powers of even the brightest girls to the uttermost.
"Miss Strong reminds me of Rehoboam!" wailed Fil, fresh from the study of the Second Book of Chronicles. "Her little finger's thicker than her whole body used to be, and, instead of whips, she chastises us with scorpions. I want to go and bow the knee to Baal."
"Rather mixed up in your Scripture, child, but we understand your meaning," laughed Verity. "The Bantam's certainly piling it on nowadays in the way of prep."
"Shows an absolutely brutal lack of consideration," agreed Nora.
"So do all the mistresses," groaned Ingred. "Each of them seems to think we've nothing to do but her own particular subject. Dr. Linton actually asked me if I could practise two hours a day. Why, he might as well have suggested four! I can only get the piano for an hour, even if I wanted it longer. It's a frightful business at the hostel to cram in all our practicing, isn't it? I nearly had a free fight with Janie Potter yesterday. She commandeered the piano, and though I showed her the music time-table, with my name down for '5 to 6' she wouldn't budge. I had to tilt her off the stool in the end. It was like a game of musical chairs. She wouldn't look at me to-day, she's so cross about it. Not that I care in the least!"
Music was a favorite subject with Ingred, and one in which she excelled. She would willingly have given more time to it, had the school curriculum allowed. She was a good reader, and had a sympathetic, if rather spidery touch. This term she had begun lessons with Dr. Linton, who was considered the best master in Grovebury. He was organist at the Abbey Church, and was not only a Doctor of Music, but a composer as well. His anthems and cantatas were widely known, he conducted the local choral society and trained the operatic society for the annual performance. His time was generally very full, so he did not profess to teach juniors; it was only after celebrating her fifteenth birthday that Ingred had been eligible as one of his pupils. He had the reputation of being peppery tempered, therefore she walked into the room to take her first lesson with her heart performing a sort of jazz dance under her jersey. Dr. Linton, like many musicians, was of an artistic and excitable temperament, and highly eccentric. Instead of sitting by the side of his new pupil, he paced the room, pursing his lips in and out, and drawing his fingers through his long lank dark hair.
"Have you brought a piece with you," he inquired. "Then play to me. Oh, never mind if you make mistakes! That's not the point. I want to know how you can talk on the piano. What have you got in that folio? Beethoven? Rachmaninoff? M'Dowell? We'll try the Beethoven. Now don't be nervous. Just fire away as if you were practising at home!"
It was all very well, Ingred thought, for Dr. Linton to tell her not to be nervous, but it was a considerable ordeal to have to perform a test piece before so keen a critic. In spite of her most valiant efforts her hands trembled, and wrong chords crept in. She kept bravely at it, however, and managed to reach the end of the first movement, where she called a halt.
"It's not talking—it's only stuttering and stammering on the piano," she apologized.
Dr. Linton laughed. Her remark had evidently pleased him. He always liked a pupil who fell in with his humor.
"You've the elements of speech in you, though you're still in the prattling-baby stage," he conceded. "It's something, at any rate, to find there's material to work upon. Some people wouldn't make musicians if they practised for a hundred years. We've got to alter your touch—your technique's entirely wrong—but if you're content to concentrate on that, we'll soon show some progress. You'll have to stick to simple studies this term: no blazing away into M'Dowell and Rachmaninoff yet awhile."
"I'll do anything you tell me," agreed Ingred humbly.
Dr. Linton's manner might be brusque, but he seemed prepared to take an interest in her work. He was known to give special pains to those whose artistic caliber appealed to him. In his opinion pupils fell under two headings: those who had music in them, and those who had not. The latter, though he might drill them in technique, would never make really satisfactory pianists; the former, by dint of scolding or cajoling, according to his mood at the moment, might derive real benefit from his tuition, and become a credit to him. It was a by-word in the school that his favorites had the stormiest lessons.
"I'm thankful I'm not a pet pupil," declared Fil, whose playing was hardly of a classical order. "I should have forty fits if he stalked about the room, and tore his hair, and shouted like he does with Janie. He scared me quite enough sitting by my side and saying: 'Shall we take this again now?' with a sort of grim politeness, as if he were making an effort to restrain his temper. I know I'm not what he calls musical, but I can't help it. I'd rather hear comic opera any day than his wretched cantatas, and when I'm not practising I shall play what I like. There!"
And Fil, who was sitting at the piano, twirled round on the stool and strummed "Beautiful K—K—Katie" with a lack of technique that probably would have brought her teacher's temper up to bubbling-over point had he been there to listen to her.
It was exactly ten days after the term had begun that Bess Haselford came to the College. She walked into the Upper Fifth Form room one Monday morning, looking very shy and lost and strange, and stood forlornly, not knowing where to sit, till somebody took pity on her, and pointed to a vacant desk. It happened to be on a line with Ingred's, and the latter watched her settle herself. She looked her over with the critical air that is generally bestowed on new girls, and decided that she was particularly pretty. Bess was the image of one of the Sir Joshua Reynolds' child angels in the National Gallery. The likeness was so great that her mother had always cut and curled her golden-brown hair in exact copy of the picture. She was a slim, rosy, bright-eyed, smiling specimen of girlhood, and, though on this first morning she was manifestly afflicted with shyness, she had the appearance of one whose acquaintance might be worth making. Ingred decided to cultivate it at the earliest opportunity, and spoke to the new arrival at lunch-time. Bess replied readily to the usual questions.
"We've only come lately to Grovebury. We used to live at Birkshaw. Yes, I'm fairly keen on hockey, though I like tennis better. Have you asphalt courts here, and do you play in the winter? I adore dancing, but I hate gym. I'm learning the violin, and I'm to start oil-painting this term."
She seemed such a pleasant, winsome kind of girl that Ingred, who was apt to take sudden fancies, constituted herself her cicerone, and showed her round the school. By the time they had made the entire tour of the buildings, Ingred began to wonder whether, without offense, it would be possible to leave her desk, next to Verity, and sit beside Bess. There was a great charm of voice and manner about the new-comer, and Ingred's musical ear was sensitive to gentle voices. She discussed Bess with the others next morning before school.
"Yes, she's pretty, and that blue dress is simply adorable," conceded Nora. "I'm going to have an embroidered one myself next time."
"Her hair is so sweet," commented Francie.
"I call her ripping!" said Ingred with enthusiasm.
"Well, you ought to take an interest in her, Ingred, considering that she lives at Rotherwood," put in Beatrice.
"Yes, didn't you know that?"
Ingred, under pretence of distributing exercise-books, turned hastily away. Her heart was in a sudden turmoil. This was indeed a bolt from the blue. She, of course, knew that Rotherwood was let, but she had not heard the name of the tenants, and, as the subject was a sore one, had forborne to ask any questions at home. It was surely the irony of fate that the house should be taken by people who had a daughter of her own age, and that this daughter should come to the College, and actually be placed in the same form as herself. She seemed a rival ready-made. Biased by jealous prejudice, Ingred's hastily-formed judgment reversed itself.
"I'm thankful I didn't move away from Verity to sit next to her," she thought. "I expect she'll be ever so conceited and give herself airs, and the other girls will truckle to her no end. I know them! I wish to goodness she hadn't come to the College. Why didn't they send her away to a boarding school? I'm not going to make a fuss over her, so she needn't think it."
Poor Bess, quite unaware of being any cause of offence, and grateful for the kindness shown her the day before, greeted Ingred in most friendly fashion, and looked amazement itself at the cool reception of her advances. She stared for a moment as if hardly believing the evidence of her eyes and ears, then turned away with a hurt look on her pretty, sensitive face.
Ingred shut her desk with a slam. She was feeling very uncomfortable. She had liked Bess with a kind of love-at-first-sight, and if the latter had come to live at any other house in the town than Rotherwood, would have been prepared to go on liking her. Generosity whispered that her conduct was unjust, but at this particular stage of Ingred's evolution she did not always listen to those inner voices that act as our highest guides. Like most of us, she had a mixed character, capable of many good things but with certain failings. Rotherwood was what the girls called "the bee in her bonnet," and the knowledge that Bess was in possession of the beautiful home she had lost was sufficient to check the incipient friendship.
It was otherwise with the rest of the form. They frankly welcomed the new-comer, and if they did not, as Ingred had bitterly prognosticated, exactly "truckle" to her, they certainly began to treat her as a favorite. She was asked at once to join the Photographic Society and the Drawing Club, and her very superior camera, beautiful color-box, and other up-to-date equipments were immensely admired. Ingred, on the outside of the enthusiastic circle, preserved a stony silence. Her own camera was three years old, and she did not possess materials for oil-painting. She thought it quite unnecessary for Verity to want to look at Bess's paraphernalia. Verity, who was a kind-hearted little soul, perhaps divined the cause of her chum's glumness, for she came presently and took Ingred's arm.
"I've something to tell you, Ingred," she whispered. "We are to have the election on Friday afternoon, and everybody's saying you'll be chosen warden for the form."
"Don't suppose I've the remotest chance!" grunted Ingred gloomily.
"Nonsense! Don't be a blue-bottle! Cheery-ho! In my opinion you'll just have an easy walk over."
With the removal into the new building, Miss Burd had instituted many innovations and changes. Among the most important of these was the College Council, which really served as a sort of House of Parliament for the school. Each form among the seniors and intermediates was to elect a representative called a warden, and these, with such permanent officers as the prefects and the games captain, were to meet once a fortnight to discuss questions of self-government. It was a new experiment, and the head mistress hoped it would give the girls some idea of responsibility, and train them to understand civic duties later on. The girls themselves voted it a "ripping" idea. They took it up most enthusiastically. It would be fun to have elections, and it seemed desirable that there should be a warden to look after the interests of each separate form.
"When I was in the Fourth we never got a chance for the tennis courts, and it was utterly hopeless to appeal to the prefects," said Ingred. "I always used to feel there ought to be some way of making one's voice heard."
"Well, if you're elected, you'll have a chance to make your maiden speech!" laughed Verity. "By the bye, will there be a 'Strangers' Gallery, so that we can come and listen to you? I'd be sorry to miss the fun!"
Friday afternoon had been fixed for the election, and a bright idea originated in VA., circulated through the school, and finally crystallized in the Sixth. It was nothing less than that each form should make a special fete of the affair. Lispeth Scott, the head girl, went boldly to Miss Burd, and asked permission for those who liked to bring thermos flasks, cups, and bags of buns and cakes, and hold parties in the various class-rooms.
"It would make so much more of the whole thing," she urged. "If we simply stop for ten minutes after school and vote, I'm afraid it may fall rather flat. But if every form has its festival to elect its own warden, it will make the council seem a much more important business. We'd like to be allowed to stay till about half-past five, if we may, so that there would be time to have some fun over it. We'd promise not to make a mess with our picnicking."
Miss Burd, looking rather astonished, nevertheless consented. She was a wise woman, and believed in permitting a certain amount of liberty, within limits.
"You may try it this once," she conceded. "But it's on the distinct understanding that you're all on your good behavior. I shall hold you prefects responsible for controlling the school. If you hear a great noise, you must go into their form-rooms and stop them. I can't allow the College to be turned into a bear-garden."
"We won't! I'll put them all on their honor to behave, and I'll leave the door of our form-room open so that I can hear what's going on. Thank you so much, Miss Burd!"
And Lispeth departed, fearful lest any other qualifications should be added to temper the joy of the proceedings.
Six girls, waiting outside the door to hear the result of the negotiations, waved signals of success to others farther down the corridor, and, in an almost incredibly short space of time, the happy news had spread to the remotest corners of the school.
"But how are we hostelites going to manage our share?" asked Ingred anxiously.
"Don't you worry about that," Jess and Francie assured her. "Ten girls in our form have promised to bring thermos flasks, and if we pool to tea there'll be heaps to go round, and the same with buns and cakes. We'll each bring a little extra to make enough. The hostel will very likely lend you each a cup if you ask for it. That's all you'll need!"
"Right-o! We'll cast ourselves on the charity of the form!" agreed Ingred.
The Fifth-form Fete
By a general indulgence issued from head-quarters, the dismissal bell rang at 3:45 the next Friday afternoon, instead of, as usual, at four o'clock. The mistresses entered up the marks, put away their books, said "Good afternoon, girls!" and made their exit, leaving the building for once in the sole possession of the pupils. Miss Strong, indeed, who disapproved of the whole business, took the precaution of locking her desk before her departure, a proceeding which provoked indignant sniffs from the witnesses; but, sublimely indifferent to public opinion, she put the key in her pocket, and stalked from the room. The girls gave her a few moments' grace to get out of earshot, then broke into a babble of conversation.
"Which are we having first, the election or the tea?"
"Oh, the tea!"
"No, no! Business first and pleasure afterwards."
"I can't vote till I've had some tea."
"It's too early!"
"No, it isn't! We're most of us ready for it."
"Look here!" suggested Ingred. "Let's settle it this way. Have tea first, then the election, and then some fun afterwards. Don't you think that would sandwich things best?"
"True, O Queen! I don't mind what happens afterwards, so long as I get a bun quick!"
"Let's fetch the prog," agreed Linda Slater, leading the way towards the cloak-room where the baskets had been stored.
The giggling procession met emissaries from other forms, bent on a like errand, and exchanged a brisk banter as they passed on the stairs.
"We've got jam tartlets!"
"Not as nice as our cheese cakes!"
"Nellie's brought a whole pound of macaroons!"
"Oh! will you swap with us for rock buns?"
"I should just think not!"
"Dolly Arden has five oranges!"
"Well, we've got bananas!"
After successfully fetching the provisions, having routed a marauding band of juniors who were poking inquisitive fingers into the baskets, the members of VA. returned to the form-room, closed the door, and gave themselves up to festivity. The four girls from the hostel need have had no fear of scarcity, for the others had brought ample to compensate for their deficiency. By general consent all the cakes were pooled, set out on hard-backed exercise books in lieu of plates, and handed round the company. Bess, whose basket contained two thermos flasks, a dozen cheese cakes, and some meringues, was felt to have brought a valuable contribution. It seemed a new experience to be sitting at their desks, drinking tea and eating cakes, instead of doing translation or writing exercises.
"Pity the Snark didn't stop! She doesn't know what she's missing!" remarked Joanna Powers, as she took a meringue.
"Oh, Kafoozalum! We shouldn't have had much fun if the Snark had stayed! Don't bring her back, for goodness' sake, Jo!"
"I wasn't going to! Besides which, she's probably half-way down town at present, having tea in a cafe. She generally does on Fridays."
"She won't get a better tea than we're having!"
"I'll undertake she won't! This meringue is absolutely topping! I wonder if there's another left."
"No, they're gone, every one of them!"
Though the hour might be early, the girls' appetites were quite equal to the task of finishing the various delicacies in the way of sweet stuff which they had brought with them. Cakes disappeared like snow in summer, and chocolate boxes, passed round impartially, soon returned empty to their owners. When everything seemed almost finished, Bess produced another hamper, which she had carried up from the cloak-room, and stowed away under her desk. She handed it rather shyly to Beatrice, who happened to be her nearest neighbor.
"Mother sent these, and wants you all to share them," she remarked.
Beatrice, Francie, and Linda opened the hamper all three together, then with a delighted "O-Oh!" of satisfaction drew out six beautiful bunches of purple grapes. Ingred, finishing her cup of tea, choked and coughed. She knew those grapes well. They grew in the vinery at Rotherwood, and had been the pride of her father and of the head-gardener. She had not tasted one of them for five years, for during the war they had always been given to the patients in the Red Cross Hospital, but she could not forget their delicious flavor. Why had her father let the vinery with the house? The grapes ought to be hers to give away—not this girl's. Nobody else in the room cared in the least where the fruit came from, so long as it was there. Appreciative eyes looked on in glad anticipation while Beatrice and Francie divided the bunches with as much mathematical accuracy as they could muster at the moment. A portion was laid upon each desk, and the girls fell to.
"Never tasted better in my life!"
"Makes one want to go and live in a vineyard!"
"They're exactly ripe!"
"Ingred, you're not eating yours!"
"I don't want them, thanks," said Ingred hurriedly. "I don't indeed. I've had enough. Pass them on to somebody else, please!"
"Well, if you really don't want them, they won't go a-begging, I dare say!"
Ingred felt as if the grapes would choke her. She could not touch one of them. She hated Bess for having brought them to school, quite irrespective of the fact that she would have done exactly the same in her place, had she been fortunate enough to have the opportunity. Bess, looking shy, and anxious to evade the thanks that poured in upon her, bundled the hamper away under the desk again, and made a palpable effort to change the subject.
"What about this election?" she asked. "Time's getting on. It's after half-past four."
"Good night! Have we been all that time feeding? Here, girls, if you've quite finished, let's get to business," said Avis, rapping on her desk as a signal for silence, and constituting herself spokeswoman for the occasion. "You know what we've met here for—to choose a warden to represent us on the School Council. Well, I feel we couldn't do better than send up Ingred Saxon. She'd look after our interests all right, if anybody would. I beg to propose Ingred Saxon."
"And I beg to second that!" called Nora.
"Hands up, those in favor!"
Such a forest of arms immediately waved in the air that (though in strict order) it seemed hardly necessary for Avis to call out:
No opposition hands appeared, so without further discussion the election was carried.
"Congrats, Ingred!" said Nora, patting the heroine on the back.
"I told you it would be a walk over, old sport!" whispered Verity.
"We'd talked it over beforehand, you see, and everybody had agreed to choose you, so it was really only a matter of form," explained Francie.
"The Sixth are having a ballot," put in Jess.
"And VB. are going to fight like Kilkenny cats over Magsie and Barbara."
"There'll be some hullabaloo in several of the forms, I expect."
"Thanks awfully for electing me," replied Ingred. "I suppose I ought to make a speech, but I really don't know what to say!"
"You've got to say it all the same!" laughed Verity. "Members of Parliament always make speeches to their constituents. Here, take the Snark's desk as your thingumgig—rostrum, or whatever it's called, and begin your jaw-wag!"
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!" squeaked Kitty Saunders.
Pushed forward by a dozen hands, Ingred found herself occupying the mistress's place, and, facing her audience, made a valiant attempt at oratory. With cheeks aglow, and dark eyes shining like stars, she looked an attractive little figure, and a bright and suitable leader for the form.
"I can't really think why you should have chosen me," she began ("don't be too modest!" yelled a voice from the back), "but as you have made me your warden, I'll take care that all our grievances are very well aired at the School Council." ("You'll have your work cut out!" interrupted Francie.) "Of course I know it won't all be plain sailing, and that the Sixth need a great deal of sticking up to over many matters." ("That's so!" came from the front desk.) "But perhaps they'll be prepared to talk things over now, and make some concessions." ("Time they did!") "At any rate, I shall be able to tell them what you all think" ("Flattering for them!"), "and to make things as smooth as possible for VA. Now, as I'm warden, may I propose that we have some fun before we go? Shall we have music, or games? Hands up for an Emergency Concert!"
"A very neat way of getting out of further speechifying!" said Verity, as by general consent the concert carried the day; "but you shall open it yourself, Madam Warden, so I warn you! You're not going to be let off, don't you think it! Silence! Ladies and gentlemen, the first item on the program will be a piano solo by Miss Ingred Saxon, the celebrated musical star, brought over at enormous expense, on purpose for this occasion."
"You blighter!" murmured Ingred, as the prospective audience shouted "Hear! Hear!"
"Not a bit of it!" purred Verity. "I guess we'll take sparks out of the Sixth and everybody else."
VA. that afternoon was certainly in a position to boast itself. It was the only form in possession of a piano: for by the sheerest accident it had one. The instrument was only a temporary visitor, placed there for convenience while some repairs were being done to a leaking gas-pipe in one of the music rooms. It's an ill wind, however, that blows nobody good, and it gave VA. an opportunity that was denied even to the Sixth. Ingred was at once escorted to the piano, and officious hands piled exercise books on a chair to make her seat high enough.
"I can't remember anything! I can't indeed!" she protested vigorously.
"Now don't twitter nonsense!" said Nora. "I've heard you play dozens—yes, dozens!—of things without music at the hostel, so you've just got to try!"
"I shall break down, I know I shall!"
"Then you can begin again at the beginning. Fire away, and don't be affected!" commanded Nora.
It is one thing to play a piece from memory when you have the room to yourself, and quite another to play it with half a dozen girls hanging over the piano, and the rest of the audience sitting on their desks. Ingred wisely did not venture on anything too classical, but tried a bright "Spanish Ballade," and managed to get successfully to the end of it without any breakdown. In the midst of the clapping that followed came a loud rap-tap-tap at the door, which immediately opened to admit—much to the astonishment of the Fifth—two of the prefects, and a consignment of Sixth form girls.
"Whatever have we been and gone and done now?" murmured Verity.
"Is music taboo?" asked Ingred guiltily, slipping away from the piano.
The errand of the prefects, however, was evidently one of conciliation, and not of reproof. They were smiling, and looking amiability itself.
"We thought, as you've got a piano in your room," began Lilias Ashby, "that we might as well come and join you, if you don't mind. Janie's got a book of songs with her."
"Oh, by all means, of course!" replied VA. politely and unanimously. "We're just having a sort of concert, you know."
"Sure you don't mind?"
"Not a bit of it!"
"Right-o! Run and tell Janie then, Susie, and ask her to bring the others."
An invasion from the Sixth was indeed an unwonted honor, which probably nothing short of a piano would have accomplished. The hostesses, somewhat overwhelmed, seated the distinguished guests to the best of their ability in the rather limited accommodation, and hospitably passed round their few remaining pieces of chocolate.
"We'll leave the door open, please," said Lispeth, "because I promised Miss Burd not to let those intermediates get too outrageous, and I have to listen out for them."
Janie Potter, with her book of songs, was pushed forward, and began to entertain the company with popular selections of the day, to which they chanted the choruses. She had a good clear voice, and the audience joined with enthusiasm in the various ditties.
The clapping which followed was continued down the landing, and, through the open door, peered the interested faces of most of the members of VB. who had come to share the fun.
"May we butt in?" they asked hopefully.
"Not a square inch of room for you," answered Lispeth, "but you may squat in the corridor outside if you like. Anybody who performs can join the show, but that's all. I'll tell you when it's your turn. It's VA. next. Now then," (turning to the hostesses), "who else can do anything? Francie Hall, come along at once!"
"I can't! I can't!" objected Francie. "So it's no use asking me; it isn't indeed! I'll tell you what—Bess Haselford plays the violin, and, what's more, she's got it with her, for I saw her put it away in the dressing-room."
"O-O-Oh! It was my lesson with Signor Chianti this afternoon, that's why I had to bring it!" said Bess, turning red.
"Go and fetch it, Francie!" ordered Lispeth. "You know where it is."
Francie returned in a short time, and handed the neat leather case to its owner. Bess, looking flustered and nervous, drew out the violin, and began to tune it.
"I've brought your music too!" said Francie, triumphantly opening a folio, "so you've no excuse for saying you can't remember anything. Who'll play your accompaniment? Here, Ingred!"
"Oh! somebody else would do it far better," protested Ingred. "Janie——"
"I'm no reader."
"Couldn't to save my life!"
"Go ahead, Ingred, and don't waste time!" said Lispeth firmly.
Ingred sat down to the piano without a smile. Her schoolmates took her unwillingness for modesty, but in her heart of hearts her main thought was: "Why should I help this new girl to show off?" She would have played accompaniments gladly for anybody else, but she considered that Bess had already received quite enough attention in one afternoon. For her own credit, however, she must do her best, so she concentrated her energies on the prelude. When the first strains of the violin joined in, her musical ear recognized immediately that Bess's playing was of a very high quality. The tone was pure, the notes were perfectly in tune, and there was a ringing sweetness, a crisp power of expression, and a haunting pathos in the rendering of the melody that showed the performer to be capable of interpreting the composer's meaning. In spite of her disinclination, Ingred warmed to the accompaniment. When the violin seemed to be bringing out laughter and tears, the piano must do its part, and not merely supply a succession of unimpassioned chords. Ingred was a good reader for a girl of fifteen, but she surpassed herself on this occasion, and seemed to accomplish the difficult passages almost by instinct. She played the final notes very softly as the last fairy strains of the melody thrilled slowly away.
There was a second of silence, then the girls, inside and outside the room, clapped their loudest.
"It was capital!" declared Lispeth encouragingly. "Bess, we shall want you again for school concerts. You and Ingred ought to practise together. Let me look at your violin. I wish I could play like that!"
"Thanks ever so much!" murmured Bess to Ingred, as the latter got up from the piano.
"Oh! it's all right!" replied Ingred airily, moving away in a hurry to the other side of the room. She did not want Bess to take up Lispeth's no doubt well meant but rather embarrassing suggestion that they should practise together, and was quite ready with an excuse if it should be proposed.
"It's the turn of the Sixth now," she jodelled.
"VB. haven't done anything yet; I'll call one of them in," said Lispeth, stepping out to the landing.
Once through the door, however, her ears were assailed by such an absolute din proceeding from the farther end of the corridor, that she dropped her character of impresario for the duties of head-girl, and calling two of her fellow prefects, went to investigate the cause of the disturbance. She returned in a short time, looking flushed and flurried.
"It's those wretched kids in IVB.," she proclaimed. "They were behaving disgracefully, pelting each other with the remains of their buns, and fencing with rulers. And they actually had the cheek to tell me they weren't making any more noise than we were with our singing and playing! I sent them home at once, and I think we'd all better go too. Those intermediates always overstep the line if they've an atom of a chance. I told them what I thought about them. It's been quite a ripping concert, and I'm sorry to break it up, but you understand, don't you?"
"Rather!" replied the others, as they began their exodus into the corridor.
The School Parliament
During the excitement of the concert Ingred had hardly time to realize the greatness of the honor thrust upon her in being chosen as warden to represent her form. All it stood for struck her afterwards.
"My word! You'll have to sit up and behave yourself after this, Madame!" remarked Quenrede, when she mentioned the matter at home.
"Yes, of course they'll all look to you now as an example!" added Mother.
"Oh, I don't think they will!" declared Ingred, who had not considered her new office from that point of view. "I've just to speak up for the interests of the form, you know."
"There are obligations as well as interests," said Mother seriously. "Try to make VA. a useful factor in the school. That would be something worth doing, wouldn't it?"
In arranging for the School Parliament, Miss Burd had allowed wardens to be chosen by each form, from IIIB. upwards, but had decided that the smaller girls were too young to take part in public affairs. Every form that sent a representative constituted itself into a kind of club, and chose a special name. These were placed on the Council Register as follows:
VI. The True Blues. VA. The Pioneers. VB. The Amazons. IVA. The Old Brigade. IVB. The Mermaids. IIIA. The Dragonflies. IIIB. The Cuckoos.
"You can compare marks every fortnight," said Miss Burd, "and whichever gets the best average shall hold a cup that I intend to present. The marks of the whole form will count, so that slackers will be a distinct drawback to their own companies. Any girl who loses a mark hinders her form from gaining the cup, and of course vice versa, those who work will help."
The question of marks had been a much debated subject with Miss Burd. She had discussed it in detail at several educational conferences, and had come to the conclusion that, on the whole, the system was highly desirable.
"It's all very well to talk about the evils of emulation, and work for work's sake," she confided to Miss Strong, "but you can't get children to see things altogether in the same light as grown-ups. I own that, when I was a child myself, I made tremendous efforts so that I might be head of my form, and when the arrangements were changed at our school, and, instead of carefully-registered marks and places, we only had first, second, or third class, I slacked off considerably. I knew that a lesson not quite so perfectly learnt, or an exercise with one or two mistakes, would still find me in the First Class, so why should I make such enormous exertions? When every slip might mean the loss of my chance to be top, I was far more careful. Of course I know that Emulation, with a big E, is supposed to be all wrong, but really I think people make too much fuss about it. It was quite friendly rivalry when I was at school, and the girls with whom I competed were my dearest chums. I believe my new system here is going to unite both methods. Every girl will work for herself, but her marks will also count for her form, and if she slacks, and so pulls down the standard, I hope her companions will give her as bad a time as they do to a 'butter-fingers' at cricket, and that's saying something!"
The idea of each form constituting a club appealed to the school. It was far more interesting to be "Amazons" or "Cuckoos" than merely VB. or IIIB., and as awards were to be according to averages, it was thrilling to feel that girls of twelve could wrest away the silver cup from the hands of the very prefects themselves.
"It makes it just like playing a game!" declared Ida Brooke.
"Yes, a sort of tug-of-war when everybody's got to pull, and mustn't let go!" added Cissie Barnes, "Do you remember playing 'Oranges and Lemons' once with the Sixth? We all held on to each others' waists like grim death, and Janie Potter gave way and broke their chain, so we won!"
"We'll beat them again, too! I'd like to see that cup on our mantelpiece!"
"The Pioneers," otherwise VA., were as anxious as any of the other forms to carry off laurels. Even Fil, much under protest, really made quite an effort to work.
"You ought to help me with my exercises, though, Ingred," she wheedled. "Remember, it's for the benefit of the form. If you let me make mistakes, well—it's the form that will suffer. You can't call it my fault, it's on your own head. You know as well as I do that I simply can't spell, and it takes me hours to hunt up words in the dictionary. I'm looking for 'phenomenon' now."
"You certainly won't find it in the F's," laughed Ingred. "What an infant in arms you are! Here, then, go ahead, and I'll act as dictionary. You've only written half a page yet. You'll be a week of Sundays at this rate."
"And I haven't touched my Latin or French!" sighed Fil dismally. "I wish I could go to a school where there isn't any homework, and that somebody would invent a typewriter that would just spell the words ready-made when you press a button."
"There's a fortune waiting for the man who does!" agreed Ingred. "'The Royal-Road-to-Learning Typewriter: spells of itself.' It would sell by the million, I should think."
Ingred washed her hands, plaited her hair, and put on her best brooch and her new bangle to attend the first meeting of the School Parliament. The function was held in the Sixth Form room, which she thought slightly unfair, for the prefects, being on their own ground, felt a distinct advantage, and acted as hostesses. There were four of them, so with the games captain they made a party of five from the Sixth, as opposed to six representatives of lower forms, a quite undue proportion in the opinion of the younger girls. Whatever successes the intermediates might win later on, "The True Blues" had carried all before them so far, and had won the cup by an average at least a dozen marks in advance of "The Mermaids," who came second. The trophy stood on their mantelpiece, and they had brought an ornamental glazed tile on which to place it, as if they meant it to stay there.
On the whole they received the other wardens very graciously, and gave them opportunities to speak and air their views. Questions such as the due apportioning of the asphalt tennis-courts, basket-ball and hockey fixtures, and various school societies were discussed, and the general business of the term got under way.
"It helps things to be able to talk it over and know what you all think," said Lispeth. "We're making so many changes with coming into the new building, that it's almost like an entirely fresh start. Miss Burd wants us to get up a sort of Reconstruction Society in the school. She hasn't quite planned it out yet, but she told me a little about it, and I think it's ever so nice. As soon as it's quite fixed up, I'm going to call a general meeting, and explain it to everybody. I expect that will be next Wednesday. Will you give me power to do this on my own, or must I call a special committee on Monday to discuss it first, before I put it to the school?"
"It's my music lesson on Monday, I couldn't come," demurred Ingred.
"And I have to go to the dentist immediately after four," chimed in Alys Horner, the warden of "The Amazons."
"If Miss Burd has arranged it, I suppose it's all serene," said Mabel Hughes, of "The Old Brigade."
"You'll like it, I know. I'd explain now, only I haven't got any of the papers, and besides, it would take such a long time, and it's rather late, and I want to be getting home. Anyway, I hope we shall all take it up hot and strong. Be sure to keep Wednesday free, though I'm going to ask Miss Burd to let us have the meeting in school hours if possible, then we're absolutely sure of everybody."
"Right you are!" agreed the wardens, separating in a rather unparliamentary fashion to admire a vinaigrette, scented with heliotrope, which Althea took from her pocket and handed round for appreciative sniffs.
All the girls felt that Lispeth Scott was to be trusted. She was a worthy leader for the new order of things. She was a tall, stout, fair girl of almost eighteen, and rather grown-up for her age. She was the youngest member of a large family who had made enormous exertions during the war, and, with sisters who had nursed in Serbia, driven motor-ambulances in France, served in canteens, in Y. M. C. A. huts, and worked at munitions, she had excellent examples of what it is possible to do for one's country. She was a decided favorite in the College, being athletic as well as clever, and of a very jolly merry temperament with a vein of great earnestness. Though the girls sometimes called her "Jumbo," they meant the nickname in token of friendship, and submitted to her dictatorship far more readily than they would have done to that of any other member of the Sixth who had been put in her place. Miss Burd had great confidence in Lispeth, and consequently, when they had talked over the matter of the new society which she wished to be formed in the school, she decided to leave its institution entirely in the hands of her head girl.
"It will be far better for the mistresses not to be present at the meeting," she said. "I can trust you, Lispeth, to explain things, and the girls will like it much more if it seems to emanate from the new Council. Talk to them in your own way, and they'll understand you. I want the Society to be an absolutely voluntary one, or it's of no use. Don't let them think they must join merely to please me. I'd rather have a dozen who are in earnest over it than a hundred half-hearted members. Only those who feel enthusiastic need give in their names. I don't mind if it begins in quite a humble way. Indeed, I only expect a small membership at first."
"On the contrary, Miss Burd, I think it will catch on," replied Lispeth.
In consequence of this conversation, the head prefect pinned a paper on the notice-board, convening a general meeting of all girls over twelve years of age, to be held in the big hall on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 sharp, the last lesson of the day having been remitted by orders from the Study. There was a universal feeling that something important was on foot, so those forms that were eligible trooped in a body to the hall, while the disappointed juniors tried to console themselves with the reflection that they would be able to go home half an hour earlier than their elders. After considerable shuffling about, places were taken. Unwilling to waste further time, Lispeth mounted the platform, and rang the bell for silence.
"Are we all here? Well, I can't wait for anybody else. Those who come in late will have to hear what they can, and you must tell them the rest afterwards. Oh, here they are! Quietly, please! There's plenty of room over there. Violet, will you shut the door? Now that we're all together, I want to have a talk with you. You know I'm what may be called 'Prime Minister' of our School Parliament, and, though your wardens will report all we say in council, I think it is well to have a public meeting sometimes. This term everything seems to have made a fresh start. We're in new buildings, and we have new rules, and our very Parliament is a new institution. You're all in new forms, and I'm the new Head Prefect. It's not only in school that everything's different, but in the outside world as well. This is our first term since peace was signed. I can remember our first term after War was declared. I was only in IIIA. then—quite a youngster! Hetty Hughes, who was the head girl, made a speech, and told us what we ought to do to try to help our country. I think some of us who were here have never forgotten that. We nearly hurrahed the roof off, and we formed a Knitting Club and a Soldiers' Parcel Society on the spot. You know for yourselves how we worked to keep those up. Well, to-day the Empire is at peace, but our country needs our help as much as ever, or even more. It's making a fresh start, and we want the new world to be a better place than the old. Hundreds of thousands of gallant young lives have been gladly given to establish this new world—in this school alone we know to our cost—and we owe it to our heroic dead not to let their sacrifice be in vain. We want a better and purer England to rise up and make a clean sweep of the bad things that disgraced her before. I expect you'll say: 'Oh, that's for politicians, and not for us schoolgirls!' but it isn't. Popular opinion is a mighty thing. The schoolgirls of to-day are the women of to-morrow, and the women of a country have an enormous amount to do with the formation of public opinion—more nowadays than ever before—and their influence will go on increasing with every year that passes. If each of us tries to help the world instead of hindering it, think what an asset each one may be to the country! It's really a tremendous honor to know that we can all take our part in the reconstruction of England. It's like each being allowed to lay a brick in the foundation of a new building. Of course you'll ask me: 'Well, and how are we going to help?' That's just what I want to talk about. We pride ourselves on being practical at the College. Some of us thought we might start a new society, to be called 'The Rainbow League.' It's a sort of 'Guild of Helpers,' and we want to do all kinds of jolly things to help in the town, something like our old 'Knitting Club' and 'Soldiers' Parcel Society,' only of course different. We could give concerts and make clothes for war orphans, and toys for the hospitals, and scrap-books for crippled children. There are heaps of nice things like that you'll just love doing. It's called 'The Rainbow League,' because a rainbow was set in the sky after the Flood, to help people to remember, and we want, in our small way, not to let the Great War be forgotten, but to do our bit to help with the future of the race.