A Story of Haddo Court School
By MRS. L. T. MEADE
"The Harmon Girls," "The Princess of the Revels," "Aylwyn's Friends," "The School Queens," "Seven Maids," Etc.
A. L. BURT, COMPANY, PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
I. YES OR NO 3 II. WAS FANNY ELATED? 14 III. GOING SOUTH 25 IV. RECEPTION AT HADDO COURT 36 V. THE VIVIANS' ATTIC 49 VI. A CRISIS 64 VII. SCOTCH HEATHER 80 VIII. A NEW MEMBER 91 IX. STRIVING FOR A DECISION 104 X. RULE I. ACCEPTED 120 XI. A SPECIALITY ENTERTAINMENT 133 XII. A VERY EVENTFUL DAY 137 XIII. A SPOKE IN HER WHEEL 151 XIV. TEA AT FARMER MILES'S 169 XV. A GREAT DETERMINATION 180 XVI. AFTERWARDS 194 XVII. A TURNING-POINT 224 XVIII. NOT ACCEPTABLE 234 XIX. "IT'S DICKIE!" 246 XX. A TIME OF DANGER 254 XXI. A RAY OF HOPE 266 XXII. FARMER MILES TO THE RESCUE 282 XXIII. RESTORATION 290
YES OR NO
Haddo Court had been a great school for girls for many generations. In fact, for considerably over a century the Court had descended from mother to daughter, who invariably, whatever her husband's name, took the name of Haddo when she became mistress of the school. The reigning mistress might sometimes be unmarried, sometimes the reverse; but she was always, in the true sense of the word, a noble, upright, generous sort of woman, and one slightly in advance of her generation. There had never been anything low or mean known about the various head mistresses of Haddo Court. The school had grown with the times. From being in the latter days of the eighteenth century a rambling, low old-fashioned house with mullioned windows and a castellated roof, it had gradually increased in size and magnificence; until now, when this story opens, it was one of the most imposing mansions in the county.
The locality in which Haddo Court was situated was not very far from London; but for various reasons its name will be withheld from the reader, although doubtless the intelligent girl who likes to peruse these pages will be easily able to discover its whereabouts. Haddo Court, although within a measurable distance of the great metropolis, had such large grounds, and such a considerable area of meadow and forest land surrounding it, that it truly seemed to the girls who lived there that they were in the heart of the country itself. This was indeed the case; for from the Court you could see no other house whatsoever, unless it were the picturesque abode of the head gardener or that of the lodge-keeper.
The school belonged to no company; it was the sole and undivided possession of the head mistress. It combined the advantages of a first-class high school with the advantages that the best type of private school affords. Its rooms were lofty and abundantly supplied with bright sunshine and fresh air. So popular was the school, and such a tone of distinction did it confer upon the girls who were educated there, that, although Mrs. Haddo did not scruple to expect high fees from her pupils, it was as difficult to get into Haddo Court as it was for a boy to become an inmate of Winchester or Eton. The girl whose mother before her had been educated at the Court usually put down her little daughter's name for admission there shortly after the child's birth, and even then she was not always certain that the girl could be received; for Mrs. Haddo, having inherited, among other virtues from a long line of intelligent ancestors, great firmness of character, made rules which she would allow no exception to break.
The girls at Haddo Court might number one hundred and fifty; but nothing would induce her, on any terms whatsoever, to exceed that number. She had a staff of the most worthy governesses, many of whom had been educated at the Court itself; others who bore testimony to the lamented and much-loved memory of the late Miss Beale of Cheltenham; and others, again, who had taken honors of the highest degree at the two universities.
Mrs. Haddo never prided herself on any special gift; but she was well aware of the fact that she could read character with unerring instinct; consequently she never made a mistake in the choice of her teachers. The Court was now so large that each girl, if she chose, could have a small bedroom to herself, or two sisters might be accommodated with a larger room to share together. There was every possible comfort at the Court; at the same time there was an absence of all that was enervating. Comforts, Mrs. Haddo felt assured, were necessary to the proper growth and development of a young life; but she disliked luxuries for herself, and would not permit them for her pupils. The rooms were therefore handsomely, though somewhat barely, furnished. There were no superfluous draperies and few knick-knacks of any sort. There was, however, in each bedroom a little book shelf with about a dozen of the best and most suitable books—generally a copy of Ruskin's "Sesame and Lilies," of Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus," of Milton's "Paradise Lost"; also one or two books by the best writers of the present day. Works of E. V. Lucas were not forgotten in that collection, and Mrs. Ewing's "Jackanapes" was a universal favorite.
The girls had one special library where classical works and books of reference were found in abundance; also standard novels, such as the best works of Thackeray and Dickens. In addition to this was a smaller library where the girls were allowed to have their own private possessions in the shape of books and drawings. This room was only used by the girls of the upper school, and was seldom interfered with either by the head mistress or the various teachers.
Out of one hundred and fifty girls it would be impossible to describe more than a few; but at the time when this story opens there was in the upper school a little band of devoted friends who adored each other, who had high aims and ambitions, who almost worshiped Mrs. Haddo, and, as far as possible, endeavored to profit by her excellent training. The names of the girls in question were Susie Rushworth, who was seventeen years of age, and would in a year's time be leaving the Court; Fanny Crawford, her cousin and special friend—Fanny and Susie were much of the same age, Fanny being a little the younger of the two—two sisters named Mary and Julia Bertram; Margaret Grant, who was tall, dark, and stately, and Olive Repton, everybody's favorite, a bright-eyed, bewitching little creature, with the merriest laugh, a gay manner, and with brilliant powers of repartee and a good-natured word for every one—she was, in short, the life of the upper school.
None of these girls was under sixteen years of age; all were slightly above the average as regards ability, and decidedly above the average as regards a very high standard of morals. They had all been brought up with care. They knew nothing of the vanities of the world, and their great ambition in life was to walk worthily in the station in which they were born. They were all daughters of rich parents—that is, with the exception of Olive Repton, whose mother was a widow, and who, in consequence, could not give her quite so many advantages as her companions received. Olive never spoke on the subject, but she had wild, impossible dreams of earning her own living by and by. She was not jealous nor envious of her richer schoolfellows. She was thoroughly happy, and enjoyed her life to the utmost.
Among the teachers in the school was a certain Miss Symes, an Englishwoman of very high attainments, with lofty ideas, and the greatest desire to do the utmost for her pupils. Miss Symes was not more than six-and-twenty. She was very handsome—indeed, almost beautiful—and she had such a passion for music and such a lovely voice that the girls liked to call her Saint Cecilia. Miss Arundel was another teacher in the school. She was much older than Miss Symes, but not so highly educated. She only occasionally came into the upper school—her work was more with the girls of the lower school—but she was kind and good-natured, and was universally popular because she could bear being laughed at, and even enjoyed a joke against herself. Such a woman would be sure to be a favorite with most girls, and Mary Arundel was as happy in her life at the Court as any of her pupils. There were also French and German governesses, and a lady to look after the wardrobes of the older girls, and attend to them in case of any trifling indisposition.
Besides the resident teachers there was the chaplain and his wife. The chaplain had his own quarters in a distant wing of the school. His name was the Reverend Edmund Fairfax. He was an elderly man, with white hair, a benign expression of face, and gentle brown eyes. His wife was a somewhat fretful woman, who often wished that her husband would seek preferment and leave his present circumscribed sphere of action. But nothing would induce the Reverend Edmund Fairfax to leave Mrs. Haddo so long as she required him; and when he read prayers morning and evening in the beautiful old chapel, which had been built as far back as the beginning of the eighteenth century, the girls loved to listen to his words, and even at times shyly confided their little troubles to him.
Such was the state of things at Haddo Court when this story opens. Mrs. Haddo was a woman of about thirty-eight years of age. She was tall and handsome, of a somewhat commanding presence, with a face which was capable, in repose, of looking a little stern; but when that same face was lit up by a smile, the heart of every girl in the school went out to her, and they thought no one else like her.
Mrs. Haddo was a widow, and had no children of her own. Her late husband had been a great friend of Mr. Fairfax. At his death she had, after careful reflection, decided to carry on the work which her mother had so successfully conducted before her. Everything was going well, and there was not a trace of care or anxiety on Mrs. Haddo's fine face.
There came a day, however, when this state of things was doomed to be altered. There is no Paradise, no Garden of Eden, without its serpent, and so Janet Haddo was destined to experience. The disturbing element which came into the school was brought about in the most natural way. Sir John Crawford, the father of one of Mrs. Haddo's favorite pupils, called unexpectedly to see the good lady.
"I have just got the most exciting piece of news for you," he said.
"Indeed!" replied Mrs. Haddo.
She never allowed herself to be greatly disturbed, but her heart did beat a trifle faster when she saw how eager Sir John appeared.
"I have come here all the way from Yorkshire in order not to lose a moment," continued the good baronet. "I don't want to see Fanny at present. This has nothing whatever to do with Fanny. I have come to tell you that a wonderful piece of news has reached me."
"What can that be?" asked Mrs. Haddo. She spoke with that gracious calm which always seemed to pervade her presence and her words.
"Do relieve my mind at once!" said Sir John. "Is it possible that you—you, Mrs. Haddo, of Haddo Court—have at the present moment three vacancies in your school?"
Mrs. Haddo laughed. "Is that all?" she said. "But they can be filled up to-morrow ten times over, if necessary."
"But you have three vacancies—three vacancies in the upper school? It is true—I see it is true by your face. Please assure me on that point without delay!"
"It happens to be true," said Mrs. Haddo, "although I do not want the matter mentioned. My three dear young pupils, the Maitlands, have been unable to return to school owing to the fact that their father has been made Governor of one of the West India Islands. He has insisted on taking his family out with him; so I have lost dear Emily, Jane, and Agnes. I grieve very much at their absence. They all came to see me last week to say good-bye; and we had quite a trying time, the children are so affectionate. I should have greatly loved to keep them longer; but their father was determined to have them with him, so there was nothing to be done but submit."
"Oh, Mrs. Haddo, what is one person's loss is another person's gain!"
"I don't understand you, Sir John," was the good lady's reply.
"If you have three vacancies, you can take three more girls. You can take them into the school at once, can you not?"
"I can, certainly; but, as a matter of fact, I am in no hurry. I shall probably be obliged to fill up the vacancies next term from the list of girls already on my books. I shall, as my invariable custom is, promote some girls from the lower school to the upper, and take three new little girls into the lower school. But there is really no hurry."
"Yes, but there is every hurry, my friend—every hurry! I want you to take three—three orphan girls—three girls who have neither father nor mother; I want you to take them at once into the upper school. They are not specially well off; but I am their guardian, and your terms shall be mine. I have just come from the death-bed of their aunt, one of my dearest friends; she was in despair about Betty and Sylvia and Hester Vivian. They are three sisters. They have been well educated; and, although I don't know them personally, any girl brought up by Frances Vivian, my dear friend who has just passed away, could not but be in all respects a desirable inmate of any school. I am forced to go to India immediately, and must ask you to look after Fanny for me during the next vacation. Now, if you would only take the Vivians I should go away with a light heart. Do you say 'Yes,' my dear friend! Remember how many of my name have been educated at Haddo Court. You cannot refuse me. I am certain you will not."
"I never take girls here on the plea of friendship—even for one like yourself, Sir John. I must know much more about these children before I agree to admit them into my school."
Sir John's face became very red, and just for a minute he looked almost angry.
"Oh, Mrs. Haddo," he said then, "do banish that alarmingly severe expression from your face and look kindly on my project! I can assure you that Frances Vivian, after whom my own Fanny has been called, had the finest character in the world. Ah, my dear friend, I have you now—her own sister was educated here. Now, isn't that guarantee enough? Look back on the past, refer to the old school-books, and you will see the name of Beatrice Vivian in the roll-call."
"What can you tell me about the girls themselves?" said Mrs. Haddo, who was evidently softened by this reference to the past. "I remember Beatrice Vivian," she continued, before the baronet had time to speak. "She was a very charming girl, a little older than myself, and she was undoubtedly a power for good in the school."
"Then, surely, that makes it quite all right?" said Sir John. "Mrs. Haddo, you must pity me. I have to place these girls somewhere in a week from now. I am responsible for them. They are homeless; they are young; they are good-looking."
"Tell me something about their characters and dispositions," said Mrs. Haddo.
"I can tell you nothing. I only saw Betty for two or three minutes; she was in a state of wild, tempestuous grief, poor child! I tried to comfort her, but she rushed away from me. Sylvia was nearly as bad; while as to poor Hetty, she was ill with sorrow."
"Well, I will think the matter over and let you know," said Mrs. Haddo. "I never decide anything hastily, so I cannot say more at present."
The baronet rose. "I had best have a peep at Fanny before I go," he said. "I am only going as far as London to-night, so you can wire your decision—'Yes' or 'No'—to the Ritz Hotel. Poor Fanny! she will be in trouble when she hears that I cannot receive her at Christmas; but I leave her in good hands here, and what can any one do more?"
"Please promise me one thing, Sir John," said Mrs. Haddo. "Do not say anything to Fanny about the Vivians. Allow me to tell her when I have decided that they are to come to the school. If I decide against it, she need never know. Now, shall I ring and ask one of the servants to send her to you? Believe me, Sir John, I will do my very utmost to oblige you in this matter; but I must be guided by principle. You know what this school means to me. You know how earnestly I have at heart the welfare of all my children, as I call the girls who live at Haddo Court."
"Yes, yes, I know; but I think, somehow, that you will agree to my request."
"Send Miss Crawford here," said Mrs. Haddo to a servant who appeared at that moment, and a minute later Fanny entered the room. She gave a cry of delight when she saw her father, and Mrs. Haddo at once left them alone together.
The day was a half-holiday, and the head mistress was glad of the fact, for she wanted to have a little time to think over Sir John's request. Haddo Court had hitherto answered so admirably because no girl, even if her name had been on the books for years, was admitted to the school without the head mistress having a personal interview, first with her parents or guardians, and afterwards with the girl herself. Many an apparently charming girl was quietly but courteously informed that she was not eligible for the vacancy which was to be filled, and Mrs. Haddo was invariably right in her judgment. With her shrewd observation of character, she saw something lacking in that pretty, or careless, or even thoughtful, or sorrowful face—something which might aspire, but could never by any possibility attain, to what the head mistress desired to inculcate in the young lives around her—and now Mrs. Haddo was asked to receive three girls under peculiar circumstances. They were orphans and needed a home. Sir John Crawford was one of her oldest friends. The Crawfords had always been associated with Haddo Court, and beautiful Beatrice Vivian had received her education there. Surely there could not be anything wrong in admitting three young girls like the Vivians to the school? But yet there was her invariable rule. Could she possibly see them? One short interview would decide her. She looked round the beautiful home in which had grown up the fairest specimens of English girlhood, and wondered if, for once, she might break her rule.
Sir John Crawford had gone to the Ritz Hotel. There he was to await Mrs. Haddo's telegram. But she would not telegraph; she would go to London herself. She took the first train from the nearest station, and arrived unexpectedly at the "Ritz" just as Sir John was sitting down to dinner.
"I see by your face, my dear, good friend, that you are bringing me the best of news!" said the eager man, flushing with pleasure as Mrs. Haddo took a seat by his side. "You will join me at dinner, of course?"
"No, thank you, Sir John. I shall have supper at the Court on my return. I will tell you at once what I have come about. I have, as you must know well, never admitted a girl into my school without first seeing her and judging for myself what her character was likely to be. I should greatly like to help you in the present case, which is, I will admit, a pressing one; and girls of the name of Vivian, and also related to you, have claims undoubtedly on Haddo Court. Nevertheless, I am loath to break my rule. Is it possible for me to see the girls?"
"I fear it is not," said Sir John. "I did not tell you that poor Frances died in the north of Scotland, and I could not possibly get the girls up to London in time for you to interview them and then decide against them. It must be 'Yes' or 'No'—an immediate 'Yes' or 'No,' Mrs. Haddo; for if you say 'No' and I pray God you won't—I must see what is the next best thing I can do for them. Poor children! they are very lonely and unhappy; but, of course, there are other schools. Perhaps you could recommend one, if you are determined to refuse them without an interview?"
Mrs. Haddo could never tell afterwards why a sudden fit of weakness and compassion overcame her. Perhaps it was the thought of the other schools; for she was a difficult woman to please, and fastidious and perhaps even a little scornful with regard to some of the teaching of the present day. Perhaps it was the sight of Sir John's troubled face. Perhaps it was the fact that there never was a nicer girl in the school than Beatrice Vivian—Beatrice, who was long in her grave, but who had been loved by every one in the house; Beatrice, whom Mrs. Haddo herself remembered. It was the thought of Beatrice that finally decided the good lady.
"It is against my rule," she said, "and I hope I am not doing wrong. I will take the children; but I make one condition, Sir John, that if I find they do not fulfill the high expectations which are looked for in every girl who comes to Haddo Court, I do my best to place them elsewhere."
"You need not be afraid," said Sir John. His voice shook with delight and gratitude. "You will never regret this generous act; and, believe me, my dear friend, there is no rule, however firm, which is not sometimes better broken than kept."
Alas, poor Sir John! he little knew what he was saying.
WAS FANNY ELATED?
Mrs. Haddo slept very little that night. Miss Symes, who adored the head mistress, could not help noticing that something was the matter with her; but she knew Mrs. Haddo's nature far too well to make any inquiries. The next day, however, Miss Symes was called into the head mistress's presence.
"I want to speak to you all alone," said Mrs. Haddo. "You realize, of course, Emma, how fully I trust you?"
"You have always done so, dear Mrs. Haddo," replied the young teacher, her beautiful face flushing with pleasure.
"Well, now, I am going to trust you more fully still. You noticed, or perhaps you did not, that Sir John Crawford, Fanny's father, called to see me yesterday?"
"Fanny herself told me," replied Miss Symes. "I found the poor, dear child in floods of tears. Sir John Crawford is going to India immediately, and Fanny says she is not likely to see him again for a year."
"We will cheer her up all we can," said Mrs. Haddo. "I have many schemes for next Christmas which will, I am sure, give pleasure to the girls who are obliged to stay here. But time enough for all that later on. You know, of course, Emma, that there are three vacancies in the upper school?"
"Caused by the absence of the dear young Maitlands," replied Miss Symes. "I cannot tell you how much we miss them."
"We do miss them," said Mrs. Haddo, who paused and looked attentively at Miss Symes. "I don't suppose," she continued, "that there is any teacher in the school who knows so much about the characters of the girls as you do, my dear, good Emma."
"I think I know most of their characters," said Miss Symes; "characters in the forming, as one must assuredly say, but forming well, dear Mrs. Haddo. And who can wonder at that, under your influence?"
Mrs. Haddo's face expressed a passing anxiety.
"Is anything wrong?" said Miss Symes.
"Why do you ask me, Emma? Have you—noticed anything?"
"Yes, certainly. I have noticed that you are troubled, dear friend; and Mary Arundel has also observed the same."
"But the girls—the girls have said nothing about it?" inquired Mrs. Haddo.
"No; but young girls cannot see as far into character as older people can."
"Well, now," said Mrs. Haddo, "I will be frank with you. What I say to you, you can repeat to Mary Arundel. I feel proud to call you both my flag lieutenants, who always hold the banner of high principle and virtue aloft, and I feel certain you will do so to the end. Emma, Sir John Crawford came to see me yesterday on a very important matter; and, partly to oblige him, partly because of an old memory, partly also because it seemed to me that I must trust and hope for the best in certain emergencies, I have agreed to do what I never did before—namely, to take three girls into the school—yes, into the upper school, in place of the three Maitlands. These girls are called Betty, Sylvia, and Hester Vivian. They are the nieces of that dear woman, Beatrice Vivian, who was educated at this school years ago. I expect them to arrive here on Monday next. In the meantime you must prepare the other girls for their appearance on the scene. Do not blame me, Emma, nor look on me with reproachful eyes. I quite understand what you are thinking, that I have broken a rule which I have always declared I would never break—namely, I am taking these girls without having first interviewed them. Such is the case. Now, I want you, in particular, to tell Fanny Crawford that they are coming. Fanny is their cousin. Sir John is their guardian. Sir John knows nothing whatever about their disposition, but I gather from some conversation which I had with him last night that Fanny is acquainted with them. Observe, dear, how she takes the news of their coming. If dear Fanny looks quite happy about them, it will certainly be a rest to my mind."
"Oh, I will talk to her," said Miss Symes, rising. "And now, please, dear Mrs. Haddo, don't be unhappy. You have done, in my opinion, the only thing you could do; and girls with such high credentials must be all right."
"I hope they will prove to be all that is desirable," said Mrs. Haddo. "You had better have a talk with Miss Ludlow with regard to the rooms they are to occupy. Poor children! they are in great trouble, having already lost both their parents, and are now coming to me because their aunt, Miss Vivian, has just died. It might comfort them to be in that large room which is near Fanny's. It will hold three little beds and the necessary furniture without any crowding."
"Yes, it would do splendidly," said Miss Symes. "I will speak to Miss Ludlow. I suppose, now, I ought to return to my school duties?"
Miss Symes was not at all uneasy at what Mrs. Haddo had told her. Hers was a gentle and triumphant sort of nature. She trusted most people. She had a sublime faith in the good, not the bad, of her fellow-creatures. Still, Mrs. Haddo had done a remarkable thing, and Miss Symes owned to herself that she was a little curious to see how Fanny Crawford would take the news of the unexpected advent of her relatives.
It was arranged that the Vivians were to arrive at Haddo Court on the following Monday. To-day was Wednesday, and a half-holiday. Half-holidays were always prized at Haddo Court; and the girls were now in excellent spirits, full of all sorts of schemes and plans for the term which had little more than begun, and during which they hoped to achieve so much. Fanny Crawford, in particular, was in earnest conversation with Susie Rushworth. They were forming a special plan for strengthening what they called the bond of union in the upper school. Fresh girls were to be admitted, and all kinds of schemes were in progress. Susie had a wonderfully bright face, and her eager words fell on Miss Symes's ears as she approached the two girls.
"It's all very fine for you, Susie," Fanny was heard to say; "but this term seems to me quite intolerable. You will be going home for Christmas, but I shall have to stay at the school. Oh, of course, I love the school; but we are all proud of our holidays, and father had all but promised to take me to Switzerland in order to get some really good skating. Now everything is knocked on the head; but I suppose I must submit."
"I couldn't help overhearing you, Fanny," said Miss Symes, coming up to the girls at that moment; "but you must look on the bright side, my love, and reflect that a year won't be long in going by. I know, of course, to what you were alluding—your dear father's sudden departure for India."
"Yes, St. Cecilia," replied Fanny, looking up into Miss Symes's face; "and I am sure neither Susie nor I mind in the least your overhearing what we were talking about. Do we Susie?"
"No," replied Susie; "how could we? St. Cecilia, if you think you have been playing the spy, we will punish you by making you sing for us to-night."
Here Susie linked her hand lovingly through Miss Symes's arm. Miss Symes bent and kissed the girl's eager face.
"I will sing for you with pleasure, dear, if I have a moment of time to spare. But now I have come to fetch Fanny. I want to have a little talk with her all by herself. Fan, will you come with me?"
Fanny Crawford raised her pretty, dark eyebrows in some surprise. What could this portend? There was a sort of code of honor at the school that the girls were never to be disturbed by the teachers during the half-holiday hours.
"Come, Fanny," said Miss Symes; and the two walked away in another direction for some little distance.
The day was a glorious one towards the end of September. Miss Symes chose an open bench in a part of the grounds where the forest land was more or less cleared away. She invited Fanny to seat herself, and took a place by her side.
"Now, my dear," she said, "I have a piece of news for you which will, I think, please you very much."
"Oh, what can please me when father is going?" said Fanny, her eyes filling with tears.
"Nevertheless, this may. You have, of course, heard of—indeed, I have been given to understand that you know—your cousins, the Vivians?"
Fanny's face flushed. It became a vivid crimson, then the color faded slowly from her cheeks; and she looked at Miss Symes, amazement in her glance. "My cousins—the Vivians!" she exclaimed. "Do you mean Betty—Betty and her sisters?"
"Yes, I think Betty is the name of one of the girls."
"There are three," said Fanny. "There's Betty, who is about my age; and then there are the twins, Sylvia and Hetty."
"Then, of course, you do know them, dear?"
"Yes, I know them. I went to stay with them in Scotland for a week during last holidays. My cousin—their aunt, Miss Vivian—was very ill, however, and we had to keep things rather quiet. They lived at a place called Craigie Muir—quite beautiful, you know, but very, very wild."
"That doesn't matter, dear."
"Well, why are you speaking to me about them? They are my cousins, and I spent a week with them not very long ago."
"You observed how ill Miss Vivian was?"
"I used to hear that she was ill; Sylvia used to tell me. Betty couldn't stand anything sad or depressing, so I never spoke to her on the subject."
"And you—you liked your cousins? You appreciated them, did you not, Fanny?"
"I didn't know them very well," said Fanny in a slightly evasive voice.
Miss Symes felt her heart sink within her. She knew Fanny Crawford well. She was the last girl to say a word against another; at the same time she was exceedingly truthful.
"Well, dear," said Miss Symes, "your father came here yesterday in order to——"
"To see me, of course," interrupted Fanny; "to tell me that he was going to India. Poor darling dad! It was a terrible blow!"
"Sir John came here on other business also, Fanny. He wanted to see Mrs. Haddo. You know that poor Miss Vivian is dead?"
"Oh, yes," said Fanny. Then she added impulsively, "Betty will be in a terrible state!"
"It may be in your power to comfort her, dear."
"To comfort Betty Vivian! What do you mean?"
"It has just been arranged between Mrs. Haddo and your father, who is now the guardian of the girls, that they are all three to come here as pupils in the school. They will arrive here on Monday. You are glad, are you not, Fan?"
Fanny started to her feet. She stood very still, staring straight before her.
"You are glad—of course, Fanny?"
Fanny then turned and faced her governess. "Do you want the truth, or—or—a lie?"
"Fanny, my dear, how can you speak to me in that tone? Of course I want the truth."
"Then I am not glad."
"But, my dear, consider. Those poor girls—they are orphans almost in a double sense. They are practically alone in the world. They are your cousins. You must have a very strong reason for saying what you have said—that you are not glad."
"I am not glad," repeated Fanny.
Miss Symes was silent. She felt greatly disturbed. After a minute she said, "Fanny, is there anything in connection with the Vivians which, in your opinion, Mrs. Haddo ought to know?"
"I won't tell," said Fanny; and now her voice was full of agitation. She turned away and suddenly burst out crying.
"My dear child! my dear child! you are upset by the thought of your father's absence. Compose yourself, my love. Don't give way, Fanny, dear. Try to have that courage that we all strive to attain at Haddo Court."
Fanny hastily dashed away her tears. Then she said, after a pause, "Is it fixed that they are to come?"
"Yes, it is quite fixed."
"Miss Symes, you took me at first by surprise, but when the Vivians arrive you will see that I shall treat them with the affection due to cousins of my own; also, that I will do my utmost to make them happy."
"I am sure of it, my love. You are a very plucky girl!"
"And you won't tell Mrs. Haddo that I seemed distressed at the thought of their coming?"
"Do you really wish me not to tell her?"
"I do, most earnestly."
"Now, Fanny, I am going to trust you. Mrs. Haddo has been more or less driven into a corner over this matter. Your dear, kind father has been suddenly left in sole charge of those three young girls. He could not take them to India with him, and he had no home to offer them in this country. Mrs. Haddo, therefore, contrary to her wont, has agreed to receive them without the personal interview which she has hitherto thought essential."
Fanny smiled. "Oh, can I ever forget that interview when my turn came to receive it? I was at once more frightened and more elated than I believed it possible for any girl to be. I loved Mrs. Haddo on the spot, and yet I shook before her."
"But you don't fear her now, dear?"
"I should fear her most frightfully if I did anything wrong."
"Fanny, look down deep into your heart, and tell me if, in keeping something to yourself which you evidently know concerning your cousins, you are doing right or wrong."
"I will answer your question to-morrow," replied Fanny. "Now, may I go back to the others; they are waiting for me?"
"Yes, you may go, dear."
"The Vivians come here on Monday?" said Fanny as she rose.
"Yes, dear, on Monday. By the way, Miss Ludlow is arranging to give them the blue room, next to yours. You don't object, do you?"
"No," said Fanny. The next minute the girl was out of sight.
Miss Symes sat very still. What was the matter? What was Fanny Crawford trying to conceal?
That evening Mrs. Haddo said to Miss Symes, "You have told Fanny that her cousins are coming?"
"And how did she take it?"
"Fanny is very much upset about her father's absence," was Miss Symes's unexpected answer.
Mrs. Haddo looked attentively at the English teacher. Their eyes met, but neither uttered a single word.
The next day, after school, Fanny went up to Miss Symes. "I have been thinking over everything," she said, "and my conscience is not going to trouble me; for I know, or believe I know, a way by which I may help them all."
"It is a grand thing to help those who are in sorrow, Fanny."
"I will do my best," said the girl.
That evening, to Miss Symes's great relief, she heard Fanny's merry laugh in the school. The girls who formed the Specialities, as they were called, had met for a cheerful conference. Mary and Julia Bertram were in the highest spirits; and Margaret Grant, with her beautiful complexion and stately ways, had never been more agreeable. Olive Repton, the pet and darling of nearly the whole of the upper school, was making the others scream with laughter.
"There can be nothing very bad," thought Miss Symes to herself. "My dear friend will soon see that the charitable feeling which prompted her to receive those girls into the house was really but another sign of her true nobility of character."
Meanwhile Fanny, who was told not to keep the coming of the Vivians in any way a secret, was being eagerly questioned with regard to them.
"So you really saw them at their funny home, Craigie Muir?" exclaimed Olive.
"Yes; I spent a week there," said Fanny.
"And had a jolly good time, I guess?" cried Julia Bertram.
"Not such a very good time," answered Fanny, "for Miss Vivian was ill, and we had to be very quiet."
"Oh! don't let's bother about the time Fanny spent in that remote part of Scotland," said Olive. "Do tell us about the girls themselves, Fan. It's so unusual for any girls to come straight into the upper school, and also to put in an appearance in the middle of term. Are they very Scotch, to begin with?"
"No, hardly at all," replied Fanny. "Miss Vivian only took the pretty little cottage in which they live a year ago."
"I am glad they are not too Scotch," remarked Susie; "they will get into our ways all the sooner if they are thoroughly English."
"I don't see that for a single moment," remarked Olive. "For my part, I love Scotch lassies; and as to Irish colleens, they're simply adorable."
"Well, well, go on with your description, Fan," exclaimed Julia.
"I can tell you they are quite remarkable-looking," replied Fanny. "Betty is the eldest. She is a regular true sort of Betty, up to no end of larks and fun; but sometimes she gets very depressed. I think she is rather dark, but I am not quite sure; she is also somewhat tall; and, oh, she is wonderfully pretty! She can whistle the note of every bird that ever sang, and is devoted to wild creatures—the moor ponies and great Scotch collies and sheep-dogs. You'll be sure to like Betty Vivian."
"Your description does sound promising," remarked Susie; "but she will certainly have to give up her wild ways at Haddo Court."
"What about the others?" asked Olive.
"Sylvia and Hetty? I think they are two years younger than Betty. They are not a bit like her. They are rather heavy-looking girls, but still you would call them handsome. They are twins, and wonderfully like each other. Sylvia is very tender-hearted; but Hetty—I think Hetty has the most force of character. Now, really," continued Fanny, rising from her low chair, where her chosen friends were surrounding her, "I can say nothing more about them until they come. You can't expect me, any of you, to overpraise my own relations, and, naturally, I shouldn't abuse them."
"Why, of course not, you dear old Fan!" exclaimed Olive.
"I must go and write a letter to father," said Fanny; and she went across the room to where her own little desk stood in a distant corner.
After she had left them, Olive bent forward, looked with her merry, twinkling eyes full into Susie Rushworth's face, and said, "Is the dear Fan altogether elated at the thought of her cousins' arrival? I put it to you, Susie, as the most observant of us all. Answer me truthfully, or for ever hold your peace."
"Then I will hold my peace," replied Susie, "for I cannot possibly say whether Fan is elated or not."
"Now, don't get notions in your head, Olive," said Mary Bertram. "That is one of your faults, you know. I expect those girls will be downright jolly; and, of course, being Fan's relations, they will become members of the Specialities. That goes without saying."
"It doesn't go without saying at all," remarked Olive. "The Specialities, as you know quite well, girls, have to stand certain tests."
"It is my opinion," said Susie, "that we are all getting too high and mighty for anything. Perhaps the Vivians will teach us to know our own places."
It was a rough stone house, quite bare, only one story high, and without a tree growing anywhere near it. It stood on the edge of a vast Scotch moor, and looked over acres and acres of purple heather—acres so extensive that the whole country seemed at that time of year to be covered with a sort of mantle of pinky, pearly gold, something between the violet and the saffron tones of a summer sunset.
Three girls were seated on a little stone bench outside the lonely, neglected-looking house. They were roughly and plainly dressed. They wore frocks of the coarsest Scotch tweed; and Scotch tweed, when it is black, can look very coarse, indeed. They clung close together—a desolate-looking group—Betty, the eldest, in the middle; Sylvia pressing up to her at one side; Hetty, with her small, cold hand locked in her sister's, on the other.
"I wonder when Uncle John will come," was Hetty's remark after a pause. "Jean says we are on no account to travel alone; so, if he doesn't come to-night, we mayn't ever reach that fine school after all."
"I am not going to tell him about the packet. I have quite made up my mind on that point," said Betty, dropping her voice.
"Oh, Bet!" The other two looked up at their elder sister.
She turned and fixed her dark-gray eyes first on one face, then on the other. "Yes," she said, nodding emphatically; "the packet is sure to hold money, and it will be a safe-guard. If we find the school intolerable we'll have the wherewithal to run away."
"I've read in books that school life is very jolly sometimes," remarked Sylvia.
"Not that school," was Betty's rejoinder.
"But why not that school, Betty?"
Betty shrugged her shoulders. "Haven't you heard that miserable creature, Fanny Crawford, talk of it? I shouldn't greatly mind going anywhere else, for if there's a human being whom I cordially detest, it is my cousin, Fanny Crawford."
"I hear the sound of wheels!" cried Sylvia, springing to her feet.
"Ah, and there's Donald coming back," said Betty; "and there is Uncle John! No chance of escape, girls! We have got to go through it. Poor old David!"—here she alluded to the horse who was tugging a roughly made dogcart up the very steep hill—"he'll miss us, perhaps; and so will Fritz and Andrew, the sheep-dogs. Heigh-ho! there's no good being too sorrowful. That money is a rare comfort!"
By this time the old white horse, and Donald, who was driving, and the gentleman who sat at the opposite side of the dogcart, drew up at the top of the great plateau. The gentleman alighted and walked swiftly towards the three girls. They rose simultaneously to meet him.
In London, and in any other part of the south of England, the weather was warm at this time of the year; but up on Craigie Muir it was cold, and the children looked desolate as they turned in their coarse clothes to meet their guardian.
Sir John came up to them with a smile. "Now, my dears, here I am—Betty, how do you do? Kiss your uncle, child."
Betty raised her pretty lips and gave the weather-beaten cheek of Sir John Crawford an unwilling kiss. Sylvia and Hetty clasped each other's hands, clung a little more closely together, and remained mute.
"Come, come," said Sir John; "we mustn't be miserable, you know! I hope that good Jean has got you something for supper, for the air up here would make any one hungry. Shall we go into the house? We all have to start at cockcrow in the morning. Donald knows, and has arranged, he tells me, for a cart to hold your luggage. Let's come in, children. I really should be glad to get out of this bitter blast."
"It is just lovely!" said Betty. "I am drinking it in all I can, for I sha'n't have any more for many a long day."
Sir John, who had the kindest face in the world, accompanied by the kindest heart, looked anxiously at the handsome girl. Then he thought what a splendid chance he was giving his young cousins; for, although he allowed them to call him uncle, the relationship between them was not quite so close.
They all entered the sparsely furnished and bare-looking house. Six deal boxes, firmly corded with great strands of rope, were piled one on top of the other in the narrow hall.
"Here's our luggage," said Betty.
"My dear children—those deal boxes! What possessed you to put your things into trunks of that sort?"
"They are the only trunks we have," replied Betty. "And I think supper is ready," she continued; "I smell the grouse. I told Jean to have plenty ready for supper."
"Good girl, good girl!" said Sir John. "Now I will go upstairs and wash my hands; and I presume you will do the same, little women. Then we'll all enjoy a good meal."
A few minutes later Sir John Crawford and the three Misses Vivian were seated round a rough table, on which was spread a very snowy but coarse cloth. The grouse were done to a turn. There was excellent coffee, the best scones in the world, and piles of fresh butter. In addition, there was a small bottle of very choice Scotch whiskey placed on the sideboard, with lemons and other preparations for a comforting drink by and by for Sir John.
The girls were somewhat silent during the meal. Even Betty, who could be a chatterbox when she pleased, vouchsafed but few remarks.
But when the supper-things had been cleared away Sir John said emphatically, turning to the three girls, "You got my telegram, with its splendid news?"
"We got your telegram, Uncle John," said Hetty.
"With its splendid news?" repeated Sir John.
Hetty pursed up her firm lips; Sylvia looked at him and smiled; Betty crossed the room and put a little black kettle on the peat fire to boil.
"You would like some whisky-punch?" Betty said. "I know how to make it."
"Thank you, my dear; I should very much. And do you three lassies object to a pipe?"
"Object!" said Betty. "No; Donald smokes every night; and since—since——" Her voice faltered; her face grew pale. After a minute's silence she said in an abrupt tone, "We go into the kitchen most nights to talk to Donald while he smokes."
"Then to-night you must talk to me. I can tell you, my dears, you are the luckiest young girls in the whole of Great Britain to have got admitted to Haddo Court; and my child Fan will look after you. You understand, dears, that everything you want you apply to me for. I am your guardian, appointed to that position by your dear aunt. You can write to me yourselves, or ask Fan to do so. By the way, I have been looking through some papers in a desk which belonged to your dear aunt, and cannot find a little sealed packet which she left there. Do you know anything about it, any of you?"
"No, uncle, nothing," said Betty, raising her dark-gray eyes and fixing them full on his face.
"Well, I suppose it doesn't matter," said Sir John; "but in a special letter to me she mentioned the packet. I suppose, however, it will turn up. Now, my dears, you are in luck. When you get over your very natural grief——"
"Oh, don't!" said Betty. "Get over it? We'll never get over it!"
"My dear, dear child, time softens all troubles. If it did not we couldn't live. I admire you, Betty, for showing love for one so worthy——"
"If you don't look out, Uncle John," suddenly exclaimed Hetty, "you'll have Betty howling; and when she begins that sort of thing we can't stop her for hours."
Sir John raised his brows and looked in a puzzled way from one girl to the other. "You will be very happy at Haddo Court," he said; "and you are in luck to get there. Now, off to bed, all three of you, for we have to make an early start in the morning." Sir John held out his hand as he spoke. "Kiss me, Betty," he said to the eldest girl.
"Are you my uncle?" she inquired.
"No; your father and I were first cousins. But, my poor child, I stand in the place of father and guardian to you now."
"I'd rather not kiss you, if you don't mind," said Betty.
"You must please yourself. Now go to bed, all of you."
The girls left the little sitting-room. It was their fashion to hold each other's hands, and in a chain of three they now entered the kitchen.
"Jean," said Betty, "he says we are to go to bed. I want to ask you and Donald a question, and I want to ask it quickly."
"And what is the question, my puir bit lassie?" asked Jean Macfarlane.
"It is this," said Betty—"you and Donald can answer it quickly—if we want to come back here you will take us in, won't you?"
"Take you in, my bonny dears! Need you ask? There's a shelter always for the bit lassies under this roof," said Donald Macfarlane.
"Thanks, Donald," said Betty. "And thank you, Jean," she added. "Come, girls, let's go to bed."
The girls went up to the small room in the roof which they occupied. They slept in three tiny beds side by side. The beds were under the sloping roof, and the air of the room was cold. But Betty, Sylvia, and Hetty were accustomed to cold, and did not mind it. The three little beds touched each other, and the three girls quickly undressed and got between the coarse sheets. Betty, as the privileged one, was in the middle. And now a cold little hand was stretched out from the left bed towards her, and a cold little hand from the right bed did ditto.
"Betty," said Sylvia in a choking voice, "you will keep us up? You are the brave one."
"Except when I cry," said Betty.
"Oh, but, Betty," said Hetty, "you will promise not to! It's awful when you do! You will promise, won't you?"
"I will try my best," said Betty.
"How long do you think, Betty, that you and Hetty and I will be able to endure that awful school?" said Sylvia.
"It all depends," said Betty. "But we've got the money to get away with when we like. It was left for our use. Now, look, here, girls. I am going to tell you a tremendous secret."
"Oh, yes! oh, yes!" exclaimed the other two. "Betty, you're a perfect darling; you are the most heroic creature in the world!"
"Listen; and don't talk, girls. I told a lie to-night about that packet; but no one else will know about it. There was one day—now don't interrupt me, either of you, or I'll begin howling, and then I can't stop—there was one day when Auntie Frances was very ill. She sent for me, and I went to her; and she said, 'I am able to leave you so very little, my children; but there is a nest-egg in a little packet in the right-hand drawer of my bureau. You must always keep it—always until you really want it.' I felt so bursting all round my heart, and so choky in my throat, that I thought I'd scream there and then; but I kept all my feelings in, and went away, and pretended to dearest auntie that I didn't feel it a bit. Then, you know, she, she—died."
"She was very cold," said Sylvia. "I saw her—I seem to see her still. Her face made me shiver."
"Don't!" said Betty in a fierce voice. "Do you want me to howl all night long?"
"I won't! I won't!" said Sylvia. "Go on, Betty darling—heroine that you are!"
"Well, I went to her bureau straight away, and I took the packet. As a matter of fact, I already knew quite well that it was there; for I had often opened auntie's bureau and looked at her treasures, so I could lay my hands on it at once. I never mean to part with the packet. It's heavy, so it's sure to be full of gold—plenty of gold for us to live on if we don't like that beastly school. When Sir John—or Uncle John, as he wants us to call him——"
"He's no uncle of mine," said Hetty.
"I like him, for my part," said Sylvia.
"Don't interrupt me," said Betty. "When Uncle John asked me about the packet I said 'No,' of course; and I mean to say 'No' again, and again, and again, and again, if ever I'm questioned about it. For didn't auntie say it was for us? And what right has he to interfere?"
"It does sound awfully interesting!" exclaimed Sylvia. "I do hope you've put it in a very, very safe place, Betty?"
Betty laughed softly. "Do you remember the little, old-fashioned pockets auntie always wore inside her dress—little, flat pockets made of very strong calico? Well, it's in one of those; and I mean to secure a safer hiding-place for it when I get to that abominable Court. Now perhaps we'd better go to sleep."
"Yes; I am dead-sleepy," responded Sylvia.
By and by her gentle breathing showed that she was in the land of slumber. Hetty quickly followed her twin-sister's example. But Betty lay wide awake. She was lying flat on her back, and looking out into the sort of twilight which still seemed to pervade the great moors. Her eyes were wide open, and wore a startled, fixed expression, like the eyes of a girl who was seeing far beyond what she appeared to be looking at.
"Yes, I have done right," she said to herself. "There must always be an open door, and this is my open door; and I hope God, and auntie up in heaven, will forgive me for having told that lie. And I hope God, and auntie up in heaven, will forgive me if I tell it again; for I mean to go on telling it, and telling it, and telling it, until I have spent all that money."
While Betty lay thinking her wild thoughts, Sir John Crawford, downstairs, made a shrewd and careful examination of the different articles of furniture which had been left in the little stone house by his old friend, Miss Frances Vivian. Everything was in perfect order. She was a lady who abhorred disorder, who could not endure it for a single moment. All her letters and her neatly receipted bills were tied up with blue silk, and laid, according to date, one on top of the other. Her several little trinkets, which eventually would belong to the girls, were in their places. Her last will and testament was also in the drawer where she had told Sir John he would find it. Everything was in order—everything, exactly as the poor lady had left it, with the exception of the little sealed packet. Where was it? Sir John felt puzzled and distressed. He had not an idea what it contained; for Miss Vivian, in her letter to him, had simply asked him to take care of it for her nieces, and had not made any comment with regard to its contents. Sir John certainly could not accuse the girls of purloining it. After some pain and deliberate thought, he decided to go out and speak to the old servants, who were still up, in the kitchen. They received him respectfully, and yet with a sort of sour expression which was natural to their homely Scotch faces.
Donald rose silently, and asked the gentleman if he would seat himself.
"No, Donald," replied Sir John in his hearty, pleasant voice; "I cannot stay. I am going to bed, being somewhat tired."
"The bit chamber is no' too comfortable for your lordship," said Jean, dropping a profound curtsey.
"The chamber will do all right. I have slept in it before," said Sir John.
"Eh, dear, now," said Jean, "and you be easy to please."
"I want you, Jean Macfarlane, to call the young ladies and myself not later than five o'clock to-morrow morning, and to have breakfast ready at half-past five; and, Donald, we shall require the dogcart to drive to the station at six o'clock. Have you given orders about the young ladies' luggage? It ought to start not later than four to-morrow morning to be in time to catch the train."
"Eh, to be sure," said Donald. "It's myself has seen to all that. Don't you fash yourself, laird. Things'll be in time. All me and my wife wants is that the bit lassies should have every comfort."
"I will see to that," said Sir John.
"We'll miss them, puir wee things!" exclaimed Jean; and there came a glint of something like tears into her hard and yet bright blue eyes.
"I am sure you will. You have, both of you, been valued servants both to my cousin and her nieces. I wish to make you a little present each." Here Sir John fumbled in his pocket, and took out a couple of sovereigns.
But the old pair drew back in some indignation. "Na, na!" they exclaimed; "it isn't our love for them or for her as can be purchased for gowd."
"Well, as you please, my good people. I respect you all the more for refusing. But now, may I ask you a question?"
"And whatever may that be?" exclaimed Jean.
"I have looked through your late mistress's effects——"
"And whatever may 'effects' be?" inquired Donald.
"What she has left behind her."
"Ay, the laird uses grand words," remarked Donald, turning to his wife.
"Maybe," said Jean; "but its the flavor of the Scotch in the speech that softens my heart the most."
"Well," said Sir John quickly, "there's one little packet I cannot find. Miss Vivian wrote to me about it in a letter which I received after her death. I haven't an idea what it contained; but she seemed to set some store by it, and it was eventually to be the property of the young ladies."
"Puir lambs! Puir lambs!" said Jean.
"I have questioned them about it, but they know nothing."
"And how should they, babes as they be?" said Jean.
"You'll not be offended, Jean Macfarlane and Donald Macfarlane, if I ask you the same question?"
Jean flushed an angry red for a moment; but Donald's shrewd face puckered up in a smile.
"You may ask, and hearty welcome," he said; "but I know no more aboot the bit packet than the lassies do, and that's naucht at all."
"Nor me no more than he," echoed Jean.
"Do you think, by any possibility, any one from outside got into the house and stole the little packet?"
"Do I think!" exclaimed Jean. "Let me tell you, laird, that a man or woman as got in here unbeknownst to Donald and me would go out again pretty quick with a flea in the ear."
Sir John smiled. "I believe you," he said. He went upstairs, feeling puzzled. But when he laid his head on his pillow he was so tired that he fell sound asleep. The sleep seemed to last but for a minute or two when Jean's harsh voice was heard telling him to rise, for it was five o'clock in the morning. Then there came a time of bustle and confusion. The girls, with their faces white as sheets, came down to breakfast in their usual fashion—hand linked within hand. Sir John thought, as he glanced at them, that he had never seen a more desolate-looking little trio. They hardly ate any of the excellent food which Jean had provided. The good baronet guessed that their hearts were full, and did not worry them with questions.
The pile of deal boxes had disappeared from the narrow hall and was already on its way to Dunstan Station, where they were to meet a local train which would presently enable them to join the express for London. There was a bewildered moment of great anguish when Jean caught the lassies to her breast, when the dogs clustered round to be embraced and hugged and patted. Then Donald, leading the horse (for there was no room for him to ride in the crowded dogcart), started briskly on the road to Dunstan, and Craigie Muir was left far behind.
By and by they all reached the railway station. The luggage was piled up on the platform. Sir John took first-class tickets to London, and the curious deal boxes found their place in the luggage van. Donald's grizzly head and rugged face were seen for one minute as the train steamed out of the station. Betty clutched at the side of her dress where Aunt Frances' old flat pocket which contained the packet was secured. The other two girls looked at her with a curious mingling of awe and admiration, and then they were off.
Sir John guessed at the young people's feelings, and did not trouble them with conversation. By and by they left the small train and got into a compartment reserved for them in the London express. Sir John did everything he could to enliven the journey for his young cousins. But they were taciturn and irresponsive. Betty's wonderful gray eyes looked out of the window at the passing landscape, which Sir John was quite sure she did not see; Sylvia and Hester were absorbed in watching their sister. Sir John had a queer kind of feeling that there was something wrong with the girls' dress; that very coarse black serge, made with no attempt at style; the coarse, home-made stockings; the rough, hobnailed boots; the small tam-o'-shanter caps, pushed far back from the little faces; the uncouth worsted gloves; and then the deal boxes! He had a kind of notion that things were very wrong, and that the girls did not look a bit at his own darling Fanny looked, nor in the least like the other girls he had seen at Haddo Court. But Sir John Crawford had been a widower for years, and during that time had seen little of women. He had not the least idea how to remedy what looked a little out of place even at Craigie Muir, but now that they were flying south looked much worse. Could he possibly spare the time to spend a day in a London hotel, and buy the girls proper toilets, and have their clothes put into regulation trunks? But no, in the first place, he had not the time; in the second, he would not have the slightest idea what to order.
They all arrived in London late in the evening. Sylvia and Hetty had been asleep during the latter part of the journey, but Betty still sat bolt upright and wide awake. It was dusk now, and the lamp in the carriage was lit. It seemed to throw a shadow on the girl's miserable face. She was very young—only the same age as Sir John's dear Fanny; and yet how different, how pale, how full of inexpressible sadness was that little face! Those gray eyes of hers seemed to haunt him! He was the kindest man on earth, and would have given worlds to comfort her; but he did not know what to do.
RECEPTION AT HADDO COURT
Having made up her mind to receive the Vivian girls, Mrs. Haddo arranged matters quite calmly and to her entire satisfaction. There was no fuss or commotion of any kind; and when Sir John appeared on the following morning, with the six deal boxes and the three girls dressed in their coarse Highland garments, they were all received immediately in Mrs. Haddo's private sitting-room.
"I have brought the girls, Mrs. Haddo," said Sir John. "This is Betty. Come forward, my dear, and shake hands with your new mistress."
"How old are you?" asked Mrs. Haddo.
"I was sixteen my last birthday, and that was six months ago, and one fortnight and three days," replied Betty in a very distinct voice, holding herself bolt upright, and looking with those strange eyes full into Mrs. Haddo's face. She spoke with extreme defiance. But she suddenly met a rebuff—a kind of rebuff that she did not expect; for Mrs. Haddo's eyes looked back at her with such a world of love, sympathy, and understanding that the girl felt that choking in her throat and that bursting sensation in her heart which she dreaded more than anything else. She instantly lowered her brilliant eyes and stood back, waiting for her sisters to speak.
Sylvia came up a little pertly. "Hetty and I are twins," she said, "and we'll be fifteen our next birthday; but that's not for a long time yet."
"Well, my dears, I am glad to welcome you all three, and I hope you will have a happy time in my school. I will not trouble you with rules or anything irksome of that sort to-day. You will like to see your cousin, Fanny Crawford. She is busy at lessons now; so I would first of all suggest that you go to your room, and change your dress, and get tidy after your journey. You have come here nice and early; and in honor of your arrival I will give, what is my invariable custom, a half-holiday to the upper school, so that you may get to know your companions."
"Ask Miss Symes to be good enough to come here," said Betty, but Betty would not raise her eyes. She was standing very still, her hands locked tightly together. Mrs. Haddo walked to the bell and rang it. A servant appeared.
"Ask Miss Symes to be good enough to come here," said Mrs. Haddo.
The English governess with the charming, noble face presently appeared.
"Miss Symes," said Mrs. Haddo, "may I introduce you to Sir John Crawford?"
Sir John bowed, and the governess bent her head gracefully.
"And these are your new pupils, the Vivians. This is Betty, and this little girl is Sylvia. Am I not right, dear?"
"No; I am Hester," said the girl addressed as Sylvia.
"This is Hetty, then; and this is Sylvia. Will you take them to their room and do what you can for their comfort? If they like to stay there for a little they can do so. I will speak to you presently, if you will come to me here."
The girls and Miss Symes left the presence of the head mistress. The moment they had done so Mrs. Haddo gave a quick sigh. "My dear Sir John," she said, "what remarkable, and interesting, and difficult, and almost impossible girls you have intrusted to my care!"
"I own they are not like others," said Sir John; "but you have admitted they are interesting."
"Yes," said Mrs. Haddo, speaking slowly. "I shall manage them yet. The eldest girl, Betty, is wonderful. What a heart! what a soul! but, oh, very hard to get at!"
"I thought, perhaps," said Sir John, fidgeting slightly, "that you would object to the rough way they are clothed. I really don't like it myself; at least, I don't think it's quite the fashion."
"Their clothes do not matter at all, Sir John."
"But the less remarkable they look the better they will get on in the school," persisted Sir John; "so, of course, you will get what is necessary."
"Naturally, Miss Symes and I will see to that."
"They led a very rough life in the country," continued Sir John, "and yet it was a pure and healthy life—out all day long on those great moors, and with no one to keep them company except a faithful old servant of Miss Vivian's and his wife. They made pets of dogs and horses, and were happy after their fashion. You will do what you can for them, will you not, Mrs. Haddo?"
"Having accepted them into my school, I will do my utmost. I do not mind simple manners, for the noblest natures are to be found among such people; nor do I mind rough, ungainly clothing, for that, indeed, only belongs to the outward girl and can quickly be remedied. I will keep these girls, and do all that woman can for them, provided I see no deceit in any of them; but that, you will clearly understand, Sir John, is in my opinion an unpardonable sin."
"Do they look like girls who would deceive any one?" was Sir John's rejoinder.
"I grant you they do not. Now, you must be very busy, so you must cast the girls from your mind. You would like to see Fanny. I know she is dying to have a talk with you."
Meanwhile Miss Symes had conducted the girls upstairs. The room they entered was much grander than any room they had ever seen before. It was large—one of the largest bedrooms in the great house. It had three noble windows which reached from floor to ceiling, and were of French style, so that they could be opened wide in summer weather to admit the soft, warm air. There was a great balcony outside the windows, where the girls could sit when they chose. The room itself was called the blue room; the reason of this was that the color on the walls was pale blue, whereas the paint was white. The three little beds stood in a row, side by side. There was a very large wardrobe exactly facing the beds, also a chest of large drawers for each girl, while the carpet was blue to match the walls. A bright fire was burning in the cheerful, new-fashioned grate. Altogether, it would have been difficult to find a more charming apartment than the blue room at Haddo Court.
"Are we to sleep here?" asked Betty.
"Yes, my dear child. These are your little beds; and Anderson, the schoolroom maid, will unpack your trunks presently. I see they have been brought up."
Miss Symes slightly started, for the six wooden trunks, fastened by their coarse ropes, were standing side by side in another part of the room.
"Why do you look at our trunks like that?" asked Sylvia, who was not specially shy, and was quick to express her feelings.
But Betty came to the rescue. "Never mind how she looks," remarked Betty; "she can look as she likes. What does it matter to us?"
This speech was so very different from the ordinary speech of the ordinary girl who came to Haddo Court that Miss Symes was nonplussed for a moment. She quickly, however, recovered her equanimity.
"Now, my dears, you must make yourselves quite at home. You must not be shy, or lonely, or unhappy. You must enter—which I hope you will do very quick—into the life of this most delightful house. We are all willing and anxious to make you happy. As to your trunks, they will be unpacked and put away in one of the attics."
"I wish we could sleep in an attic," said Betty then in a fierce voice. "I hate company-rooms."
"There is no attic available, my dear; and this, you must admit, is a nice room."
"I admit nothing," said Betty.
"I think it's a nice room," said Hester; "only, of course, we are not accustomed to it, and that great fire is so chokingly hot. May we open all the windows?"
"Certainly, dears, provided you don't catch cold."
"Catch cold!" said Sylvia in a voice of scorn. "If you had ever lived on a Scotch moor you wouldn't talk of catching cold in a stuffy little hole of a place like this."
Miss Symes had an excellent temper, but she found it a trifle difficult to keep it under control at that moment. "I must ask you for the keys of your trunks," she said; "for while we are at dinner, which will be in about an hour's time, Anderson will unpack them."
"Thanks," said Betty, "but we'd much rather unpack our own trunks."
Miss Symes was silent for a minute. "In this house, dear, it is not the custom," she said then. She spoke very gently. She was puzzled at the general appearance, speech, and get-up of the new girls.
"And we can, of course, keep our own keys," continued Betty, speaking rapidly, her very pale face glowing with a faint tinge of color; "because Mrs.——What is the name of the mistress?"
"Mrs. Haddo," said Miss Symes in a tone of great respect.
"Well, whatever her name is, she said we were to be restricted by no rules to-day. She said so, didn't she, Sylvia? Didn't she, Hetty?"
"She certainly did," replied the twins.
"Then, if it's a rule for the trunks to be unpacked by some one else, it doesn't apply to us to-day," said Betty. "If you will be so very kind, Miss——"
"Symes is my name."
"So very kind, Miss Symes, as to go away and leave us, we'll begin to unpack our own trunks and put everything away by dinner-time."
"Very well," said Miss Symes quite meekly. "Is there anything else I can do for your comfort?"
"Yes," remarked Sylvia in a pert tone; "you can go away."
Miss Symes left the room. When she did so the two younger girls looked at their elder sister. Betty's face was very white, and her chest was working ominously.
Sylvia went up to her and gave her a sudden, violent slap between the shoulders. "Now, don't begin!" she said. "If you do, they'll all come round us. It isn't as if we could rush away to the middle of the moors, and you could go on with it as long as you liked. Here, if you howl, you'll catch it; for they'll stand over you, and perhaps fling water on your head."
"Leave me alone, then, for a minute," said Betty. She flung herself flat on the ground, face downwards, her hair falling about her shoulders. She lay as still as though she were carved in stone. The twin girls watched her for a minute. Then very softly and carefully Sylvia approached the prone figure, pushed her hand into Betty's pocket (a very coarse, ordinary pocket it was, put in at the side of her dress by Jean's own fingers), and took out a bunch of keys.
Sylvia held up the keys with a glad smile. "Now let's begin," she said. "It's an odious, grandified room, and Betty'll go mad here; but we can't help it—at least, for a bit. And there's always the packet."
At these words, to the great relief of her younger sisters, Betty stood upright. "There's always the packet," she said. "Now let's begin to unpack."
Notwithstanding the fact that there were six deal trunks—six trunks of the plainest make, corded with the coarsest rope—there was very little inside them, at least as far as an ordinary girl's wardrobe is concerned; for Miss Frances Vivian had been very poor, and during the last year of her life had lived at Craigie Muir in the strictest economy. She was, moreover, too ill to be greatly troubled about the girls' clothing; and by and by, as her illness progressed, she left the matter altogether to Jean. Jean was to supply what garments the young ladies required, and Jean set about the work with a right good will. So the coarsest petticoats, the most clumsy stockings, the ugliest jackets and blouses and skirts imaginable, presently appeared out of the little wooden trunks.
The girls sorted them eagerly, putting them pell-mell into the drawers without the slightest attempt at any sort of order. But if there were very few clothes in the trunks, there were all sorts of other things. There were boxes full of caterpillars in different stages of chrysalis form. There was also a glass box which contained an enormous spider. This was Sylvia's special property. She called the spider Dickie, and adored it. She would not give it flies, which she considered cruel, but used to keep it alive on morsels of raw meat. Every day, for a quarter of an hour, Dickie was allowed to take exercise on a flat stone on the edge of the moor. It was quite against even Jean Macfarlane's advice that Dickie was brought to the neighborhood of London. But he was here. He had borne his journey apparently well, and Sylvia looked at him now with worshiping eyes.
In addition to the live stock, which was extensive and varied, there were also all kinds of strange fossils, and long, trailing pieces of heather—mementos of the life which the girls lived on the moor, and which they had left with such pain and sorrow. They were all busy worshiping Dickie, and envying Sylvia's bravery in bringing the huge spider to Haddo Court, when there came a gentle tap at the door.
Betty said crossly, "Who's there?"
A very refined voice answered, "It's I;" and the next minute Fanny Crawford entered the room. "How are you all?" she said. Her eyes were red, for she had just said good-bye to her father, and she thoroughly hated the idea of the girls coming to the school.
"How are you, Fan?" replied Betty, speaking in a careless tone, just nodding her head, and looking again into the glass box. "He is very hungry," she continued. "By the way, Fan, will you run down to the kitchen and get a little bit of raw meat?"
"Will I do what?" asked Fanny.
"Well, I suppose there is a kitchen in the house, and you can get a bit of raw meat. It's for Dickie."
"Oh," said Fanny, coming forward on tiptoe and peeping into the box, "you can't keep that terror here—you simply won't be allowed to have it! Have you no idea what school-life is like?"
"No," said Betty; "and what is more, I don't want you to tell me. Dickie darling, I'd let you pinch my finger if it would do you any good. Sylvia, what use are you if you can't feed your own spider? If Fan won't oblige her cousins when she knows the ways of the house, I presume you have a pair of legs and can use them? Go to the kitchen at once and get a piece of raw meat."
"I don't know where it is," said Sylvia, looking slightly frightened.
"Well, you can ask. Go on; ask until you find. Now, be off with you!"
"You had better not," said Fanny. "Why, you will meet all the girls coming out of the different classrooms!"
"What do girls matter," said Betty in a withering voice, "when Dickie is hungry?"
Sylvia gathered up her courage and departed. Betty laid the glass box which contained the spider on the dressing-table.
If Fanny had not been slightly afraid of these bold northern cousins of hers, she would have dashed the box out on the balcony and released poor Dickie, giving him back to his natural mode of life. "What queer dresses you are wearing!" she said. "Do, please, change them before lunch. You were not dressed like this when I saw you last. You were never fashionable, but this stuff——"
"You'd best not begin, Fan, or I'll howl," said Betty.
"Hush! do hush, Fanny!" exclaimed Hester. "Don't forget that we are in mourning for darling auntie."
"But have you really no other dresses?"
"There's nothing wrong with these," said Hester; "they're quite comfortable."
Just at that moment there came peals of laughter proceeding from several girls' throats. The room-door was burst open, and Sylvia entered first, her face very red, her eyes bright and defiant, and a tiny piece of raw meat on a plate in her hand. The girls who followed her did not belong to the Specialities, but they were all girls of the upper school. Fanny thanked her stars that they were not particular friends of hers. They were choking with laughter, and evidently thought they had never seen so good a sight in their lives.
"Oh, this is too delicious!" said Sibyl Ray, a girl who had just been admitted into the upper school. "We met this—this young lady, and she said she wanted to go to the kitchen to get some raw meat; and when I told her I didn't know the way she just took my hand and drew me along with her, and said, 'If you possessed a Dickie, and he was dying of hunger, you wouldn't hesitate to find the kitchen.'"
"Well, I'm not going to interfere," said Fanny; "but I think you know the rules of the house, Sibyl, and that no girl is allowed in the kitchen."
"I didn't go in," said Sibyl; "catch me! But I went to the beginning of the corridor which leads to the kitchen. She went in, though, boldly enough, and she got it. Now, we do want to see who Dickie is. Is he a dog, or a monkey, or what?"
"He's a spider—goose!" said Sylvia. "And now, please, get out of the way. He won't eat if you watch him. I've got a good bit of meat, Betty," she continued. "It'll keep Dickie going for several days, and he likes it all the better when it begins to turn. Don't you Dickie?"
"If you don't all leave the room, girls," said Fanny, "I shall have to report to Miss Symes."
The girls who had entered were rather afraid of Fanny Crawford, and thought it best to obey her instructions. But the news with regard to the newcomers spread wildly all over the house; so much so that when, in course of time, neat-looking Fanny came down to dinner accompanied by her three cousins, the whole school remained breathless, watching the Vivians as they entered. But what magical force is there about certain girls which raises them above the mere accessories of dress? Could there be anything uglier than the attire of these so-called Scotch lassies? And was there ever a prouder carriage than that of Betty Vivian, or a more scornful expression in the eye, or a firmer set of the little lips?
Mrs. Haddo, who always presided at this meal, called the strangers to come and sit near her; and though the school had great difficulty in not bursting into a giggle, there was not a sound of any sort whatever as the three obeyed. Fanny sat down near her friend, Susie Rushworth. Her eyes spoke volumes. But Susie was gazing at Betty's face.
At dinner, the girls were expected to talk French on certain days of the week, and German on others. This was French day, and Susie murmured something to Fanny in that tongue with regard to Betty's remarkable little face. But Fanny was in no mood to be courteous or kind about her relatives. Susie was quick to perceive this, and therefore left her alone.
When dinner came to an end, Mrs. Haddo called the three Vivians into her private sitting-room. This room was even more elegant than the beautiful bedroom which they had just vacated. "Now, my dears," she said, "I want to have a talk with you all."
Sylvia and Hester looked impatient, and shuffled from one ungainly clad foot to the other; but Mrs. Haddo fixed her eyes on Betty's face, and again there thrilled through Betty's heart the marvelous sensation that she had come across a kindred soul. She was incapable, poor child, of putting the thought into such words; but she felt it, and it thawed her rebellious spirit.
Mrs. Haddo sat down. "Now," she said, "you call this school, and, having never been at school before, you doubtless think you are going to be very miserable?"
"If there's much discipline we shall be," said Hester, "and Betty will howl."
"Don't talk like that!" said Betty; and there was a tone in her voice which silenced Hetty, to the little girl's own amazement.
"There will certainly be discipline at school," said Mrs. Haddo, "just as there is discipline in life. What miserable people we should be without discipline! Why, we couldn't get on at all. I am not going to lecture you to-day. As a matter of fact, I never lecture; and I never expect any young girl to do in my school what I would not endeavor to do myself. Above all things, I wish to impress one thing upon you. If you have any sort of trouble—and, of course, dears, you will have plenty—you must come straight to me and tell me about it. This is a privilege I permit to very few girls, but I grant it to you. I give you that full privilege for the first month of your stay at Haddo Court. You are to come to me as you would to a mother, had you, my poor children, a mother living."
"Don't! It makes the lump so bad!" said Betty, clasping her rough little hand against her white throat.
"I think I have said enough on that subject for the present. I am very curious to hear all about your life on the moors—how you spent your time, and how you managed your horses and dogs and your numerous pets."
"Do you really want to hear?" said Betty.
"Certainly; I have said so."
"Do you know," said Hetty, "that Sylvia would bring Dickie here. Betty and I were somewhat against it, although he is a darling. He is the most precious pet in the world, and Sylvia would not part with him. We sent her to the kitchen before dinner to get a bit of raw meat for him. Would you like to see him?"
Mrs. Haddo was silent for a minute. Then she said gently, "Yes, very much. He is a sort of pet, I suppose?"
"He is a spider," said Betty—"a great, enormous spider. We captured him when he was small, and we fed him—oh, not on little flies—that would be cruel—but on morsels of raw meat. Now he is very big, and he has wicked eyes. I would rather call him Demon than Dickie; but Sylvia named him Dickie when he was but a baby thing, so the name has stuck to him. We love him dearly."
"I will come up to your room presently, and you shall show him to me. Have you brought other pets from the country?"
"Oh, stones and shells and bits of the moor."
"Bits of the moor, my dear children!"
"Yes; we dug pieces up the day before yesterday and wrapped them in paper, and we want to plant them somewhere here. We thought they would comfort us. We'd like it awfully if you would let one of the dogs come, too. He is a great sheep-dog, and such a darling! His name is Andrew. I think Donald Macfarlane would part with him if you said we might have him."
"I am afraid I can't just at present, dear; but if you are really good girls, and try your very best to please me, you shall go back to Donald Macfarlane in the holidays, and perhaps I will go with you, and you will show me all your favorite haunts."
"Oh, will you?" said Betty. Her eyes grew softer than ever.
"You are quite a dear for a head mistress," said Sylvia. "We've always read in books that they are such horrors. It is nice for you to say you will come."
"Well, now, I want to say something else, and then we'll go up to your room and see Dickie. I am going to take you three girls up to town to-morrow to buy you the sort of dresses we wear in this part of the world. You can put away these most sensible frocks for your next visit to Craigie Muir. Not a word, dears. You have said I am a very nice head mistress, and I hope you will continue to think so. Now, let us come up to your room."
THE VIVIANS' ATTIC
Mrs. Haddo was genuinely interested in Dickie. She never once spoke of him as a horror. She immediately named the genus to which he belonged in the spider tribe, and told the girls that they could look up full particulars with regard to him and his ways in a large book she had downstairs called "Chambers's Encyclopedia." She suggested, however, that they should have a little room in one of the attics where they could keep Dickie and his morsels of meat, and the different boxes which contained the caterpillars. She volunteered to show this minute room to the young Vivians at once.
They looked at her, as she spoke, with more and more interest and less and less dislike. Even Sylvia's little heart was melted, and Hetty at once put out her hand and touched Mrs. Haddo's. In a moment the little brown hand was held in the firm clasp of the white one, which was ornamented with sparkling rings.
As the children and Mrs. Haddo were leaving the blue room, Mrs. Haddo's eyes fell upon the deal trunks. "What very sensible trunks!" she said. "And so you brought your clothes in these?"
"Yes," replied Betty. "Donald Macfarlane made them for us. He can do all sorts of carpentering. He meant to paint them green; but we thought we'd like them best just as they are unpainted."
"They are strong, useful boxes," replied Mrs. Haddo. "And now come with me and I will show you the room which shall be your private property and where you can keep your pets. By the way," she added, "I am exceedingly particular with regard to the neatness of the various rooms where my pupils sleep; and these bits of heather and these curious stones—oh, I can tell you plenty about their history by and by—might also be put into what we will call 'the Vivians' attic.'"
"Thank you so much!" said Betty. She had forgotten all about howling—she had even forgotten for the minute that she was really at school; for great Mrs. Haddo, the wonderful head mistress, about whom Fanny had told so many stories, was really a most agreeable person—nearly, very nearly, as nice as dear Aunt Frances.
The little attic was presently reached; the pets were deposited there; and then—wonderful to relate!—Mrs. Haddo went out herself with the girls and chose the very best position in the grounds for them to plant the pieces of heather, with their roots and surrounding earth. She gave to each girl a small plot which was to be her very own, and which no other girl was to have anything whatever to do with. When presently she introduced them into the private sitting-room of the upper school, Betty's eyes were shining quite happily; and Sylvia and Hetty, who always followed her example, were looking as merry as possible.
Fanny Crawford, being requested to do so by Susie Rushworth, now introduced the Vivians to the Specialities. Mary and Julia Bertram shook hands with them quite warmly. Margaret Grant smiled for a minute as her dark, handsome eyes met those of Betty; while Olive Repton said in her most genial tone, "Oh, do sit down, and tell us all about your life!"
"Yes, please—please, tell us all about your life!" exclaimed another voice; and Sibyl Ray came boldly forward and seated herself in the midst of the group, which was known in the school as the Specialities.
But here Margaret interfered. "You shall hear everything presently, Sibyl," she said; "but just now we are having a little confab with dear Fanny's friends, so do you mind leaving us alone together?"
Sibyl colored angrily. "I am sure I don't care," she said; "and if you are going to be stuck-up and snappish and disagreeable just because you happen to call yourselves the Specialities, you needn't expect me to take an interest in you. I am just off for a game of tennis, and shall have a far better time than you all, hobnobbing in this close room."
"Yes, the room is very close," exclaimed Betty. Then she added, "I do not think I shall like the South of England at all; it seems to be without air."
"Oh, you'll soon get over that!" laughed Susie. "Besides," she continued, "winter is coming; and I can tell you we find winter very cold, even here."
"I am glad of that," said Betty. "I hate hot weather; unless, indeed," she added, "when you can lie flat on your back, in the center of one of the moors, and watch the sky with the sun blazing down on you."
"But you must never lie anywhere near a flat stone," exclaimed Sylvia, "or an adder may come out, and that isn't a bit jolly!"
Sibyl had not yet moved off, but was standing with her mouth slightly gaping and her round eyes full of horror.
"Do go! do go, Sibyl!" said Mary Bertram; and Sibyl went, to tell wonderful stories to her own special friends all about these oddest of girls who kept monstrous spiders—spiders that had to be fed on raw meat—and who themselves lay on the moors where adders were to be found.
"Now tell us about Dickie," said Susie, who was always the first to make friends.
But Betty Vivian, for some unaccountable reason, no longer felt either amiable or sociable. "There's nothing to tell," she replied, "and you can't see him."
"Oh, please, Betty, don't be disagreeable!" exclaimed Fanny. "We can see him any minute if we go to your bedroom."
"No, you can't," said Betty, "for he isn't there."
Fanny burst out laughing. "Ah," she said, "I thought as much! I thought Mrs. Haddo would soon put an end to poor Dickie's life!"
"Then you thought wrong!" exclaimed Sylvia with flashing eyes, "for Mrs. Haddo loves him. She was down on her knees looking——Oh, what is the matter, Betty?"
"If you keep repeating our secrets with Mrs. Haddo I shall pinch you black and blue to-night," was Betty's response.
Sylvia instantly became silent.
"Well, tell us about the moor, anyhow," said Margaret.
"And let's go out!" cried Olive. "The day is perfectly glorious; and, of course," she continued, "we are all bound to make ourselves agreeable to you three, for we owe our delightful half-holiday to you. But for you Vivians we'd be toiling away at our lessons now instead of allowing our minds to cool down."
"Do minds get as hot as all that?" asked Hester.
"Very often, indeed, at this school," said Olive with a chuckle.
"Well, I, for one, shall be delighted to go out," said Betty.
"Then you must run upstairs and get your hats and your gloves," said Fanny, who seemed, for some extraordinary reason, to wish to make her cousins uncomfortable.
Betty looked at her very fiercely for a minute; then she beckoned to her sisters, and the three left the room in their usual fashion—each girl holding the hand of another.
"Fan," said Olive the moment the door had closed behind them, "you don't like the Vivians! I see it in your face."
"I never said so," replied Fanny.
"Oh, Fan, dear—not with the lips, of course; but the eyes have spoken volumes. Now, I think they are great fun; they're so uncommon."
"I have never said I didn't like them," repeated Fanny, "and you will never get me to say it. They are my cousins, and of course I'll have to look after them a bit; but I think before they are a month at the school you will agree with me in my opinion with regard to them."
"How can we agree in an opinion we know nothing about?" said Margaret Grant.
Fanny looked at her, and Fanny's eyes could flash in a very significant manner at times.
"Let's come out!" exclaimed Susie Rushworth. "The girls will follow us."
This, however, turned out not to be the case. Susie, the Bertrams, Margaret Grant, Olive Repton, waited for the Vivians in every imaginable spot where they it likely the newcomers would be.
As a matter of fact, the very instant the young Vivians had left the sitting-room, Betty whispered in an eager tone, first to one sister and then to the other, "We surely needn't stay any longer with Fanny and those other horrid girls. Never mind your hats and gloves. Did we ever wear hats and gloves when we were out on the moors at Craigie Muir? There's an open door. Let's get away quite by ourselves."