For the Sake of the School
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BLACKIE & SON LIMITED 16/18 William IV Street, Charing Cross, LONDON, W.C.2 17 Stanhope Street, GLASGOW
BLACKIE & SON (INDIA) LIMITED 103/5 Fort Street, BOMBAY
BLACKIE & SON (CANADA) LIMITED TORONTO
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FOR THE SAKE OF THE SCHOOL
Author of "The School on the Loch" "The School at the Turrets", &c.
Blackie & Son Limited London and Glasgow Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd., Glasgow
TO THE SCHOOLGIRL READERS WHO HAVE SENT ME SUCH NICE LETTERS
I. THE WOODLANDS 11
II. A FRIEND FROM THE BUSH 24
III. ROUND THE CAMP-FIRE 36
IV. A BLACKBERRY FORAY 51
V. ON SUFFERANCE 66
VI. QUITS 76
VII. THE CUCKOO'S PROGRESS 87
VIII. THE "STUNT" 104
IX. A JANUARY PICNIC 117
X. TRESPASSERS BEWARE! 130
XI. RONA RECEIVES NEWS 142
XII. SENTRY DUTY 156
XIII. UNDER CANVAS 170
XIV. SUSANNAH MAUDE 183
XV. A POINT OF HONOUR 194
XVI. AMATEUR CONJURING 208
XVII. A STORM-CLOUD 221
XVIII. LIGHT 233
XIX. A SURPRISE 249
FOR THE SAKE OF THE SCHOOL
"Are they never going to turn up?"
"It's almost four now!"
"They'll be left till the six-thirty!"
"Oh, don't alarm yourself! The valley train always waits for the express."
"It's coming in now!"
"Oh, good, so it is!"
"Late by twenty minutes exactly!"
"Stand back there!" yelled a porter, setting down a box with a slam, and motioning the excited, fluttering group of girls to a position of greater safety than the extreme edge of the platform. "Llangarmon Junction! Change for Glanafon and Graigwen!"
Snorting and puffing, as if in agitated apology for the tardiness of its arrival, the train came steaming into the station, the drag of its brakes adding yet another item of noise to the prevailing babel. Intending passengers clutched bags and baskets; fathers of families gave a last eye to the luggage; mothers grasped children firmly by the hand; a distracted youth, seeking vainly for his portmanteau, upset a stack of bicycles with a crash; while above all the din and turmoil rose the strident, rasping voice of a book-stall boy, crying his selection of papers with ear-splitting zeal.
From the windows of the in-coming express waved seventeen agitated pocket-handkerchiefs, and the signal was answered by a counter-display of cambric from the twenty girls hustled back by an inspector in the direction of the weighing-machine.
"And Ruth, surely!"
"Oh! where's Marjorie?"
"There! Can't you see her, with Doris?"
"That's Mamie, waving to me!"
"What's become of Kathleen?"
One moment more, and the neat school hats of the new-comers had swelled the group of similar school hats already collected on the platform; ecstatic greetings were exchanged, urgent questions asked and hasty answers given, and items of choice information poured forth with the utmost volubility of which the English tongue is capable. Urged by brief directions from a mistress in charge, the chattering crew surged towards a siding, and made for a particular corridor carriage marked "Reserved". Here handbags, umbrellas, wraps, and lunch-baskets were hastily stowed away in the racks, and, Miss Moseley having assured herself that not a single lamb of her flock was left behind, the grinning porter slammed the doors, the green flag waved, and the local train, long overdue, started with a jerk for the Craigwen Valley.
Past the grey old castle that looked seawards over the estuary, past the little white town of Llangarmon, with its ancient walls and fortified gates, past the quay where the fishing smacks were lying idly at anchor and a pleasure-steamer was unloading its human cargo, past the long stretch of sandy common, where the white tents of the Territorials evoked an outcry of interest, then up alongside the broad tidal river towards where the mountains, faint and misty, rose shouldering one another till they merged into the white nebulous region of the cloud-flecked sky. Those lucky ones who had secured window seats on the river side of the carriage were loud in their acclamations of satisfaction as familiar objects in the landscape came into sight.
"There's Cwm Dinas. I wish they could float a big Union Jack on the summit."
"It would be a landmark all right."
"Oh, the flag's up at Plas Cafn!"
"We'll have one at school this term?"
"Oh, I say! Move a scrap," pleaded Ulyth Stanton plaintively. "We only get fields and woods on our side. I can't see anything at all for your heads. You might move. What selfish pigs you are! Well, I don't care; I'm going to talk."
"You have been talking already. You've never stopped, in fact," remarked Beth Broadway, proffering a swiftly disappearing packet of pear drops with a generosity born of the knowledge that all sweets would be confiscated on arrival at The Woodlands.
"I know I have, but that was merely by the way. It wasn't anything very particular, and I've got something I want to tell you—something fearfully important. Absolutely super! D'you know, she's actually coming to school. Isn't it great? She's to be my room-mate. I'm just wild to see her. I hope her ship won't be stopped by storms."
"By the Muses, whom are you talking about?"
"'She' means the cat," sniggered Gertrude Oliver.
"Why! can't you guess? What stupids you are! It's Rona, of course—Rona Mitchell from New Zealand."
"It's a fact. It is indeed!"
The incredulity on the countenances of her companions having yielded to an expression of interest, Ulyth continued her information with increased zest, and a conscious though would-be nonchalant air of importance.
"Her father wants her to go to school in England, so he decided to send her to The Woodlands, so that she might be with me!"
"Do you mean that girl you were so very proud of corresponding with? I forget how the whole business began," broke in Stephanie Radford.
"Don't you remember? It was through a magazine we take. The editor arranged for readers of the magazine in England to exchange letters with other readers overseas. He gave me Rona. We've been writing to each other every month for two years."
"I had an Australian, but she wouldn't write regularly, so we dropped it," volunteered Beth Broadway. "I believe Gertrude had somebody too."
"Yes, a girl in Canada. I never got farther than one short letter and a picture post card, though. I do so loathe writing," sighed Gertrude. "Ulyth's the only one who's kept the thing up."
"And do you mean to say this New Zealander's actually coming to our school?" asked Stephanie.
"That's the joysome gist of my remarks! I can't tell you how I'm pining and yearning to see her. She seems like a girl out of a story. To think of it! Rona Mitchell at school with us!"
"Suppose you don't like her?"
"Oh, I'm certain I shall! She's written me the jolliest, loveliest, funniest letters! I feel I know her already. We shall be the very best of friends. Her father has a huge farm of I can't tell you how many miles, and she has two horses of her own, and fords rivers when she's out riding."
"When's she to arrive?"
"Probably to-morrow. She's travelling by the King George, and coming up straight from London to school directly she lands. I hope she's got to England safely. She must have left home ever such a long time ago. How fearfully exciting for her to——"
But here Ulyth's reflections were brought to an abrupt close, for the train was approaching Glanafon Ferry, and her comrades, busily collecting their various handbags, would lend no further ear to her remarks.
The little wayside station, erstwhile the quietest and sleepiest on the line, was soon overflowing with girls and their belongings. Miss Moseley flitted up and down the platform, marshalling her charges like a faithful collie, the one porter did his slow best, and after a few agitated returns to the compartments for forgotten articles, everything was successfully collected, and the train went steaming away down the valley in the direction of Craigwen. It seemed to take the last link of civilization with it, and to leave only the pure, unsullied country behind. The girls crossed the line and walked through the white station gate with pleased anticipation writ large on their faces. It was the cult at The Woodlands to idolize nature and the picturesque, and they had reached a part of their journey which was a particular source of pride to the school.
Any admirer of scenery would have been struck with the lovely and romantic view which burst upon the eye as the travellers left the platform at Glanafon and walked down the short, grassy road that led to the ferry. To the south stretched the wide pool of the river, blue as the heaven above where it caught the reflection of the September sky, but dark and mysterious where it mirrored the thick woods that shaded its banks. Near at hand towered the tall, heather-crowned crag of Cwm Dinas, while the rugged peaks of Penllwyd and Penglaslyn frowned in majesty of clouds beyond. The ferry itself was one of those delightful survivals of mediaevalism which linger here and there in a few fortunate corners of our isles. A large flat-bottomed boat was slung on chains which spanned the river, and could be worked slowly across the water by means of a small windlass. Though it was perfectly possible, and often even more convenient, to drive to the school direct from Llangarmon Junction, so great was the popular feeling in favour of arrival by the ferry that at the autumn and spring reunions the girls were allowed to avail themselves of the branch railway and approach The Woodlands by way of the river.
They now hurried on to the boat as if anticipating a pleasure-jaunt. The capacities of the flat were designed to accommodate a flock of sheep or a farm wagon and horses, so there was room and to spare even for thirty-seven girls and their hand luggage. Evan Davis, the crusty old ferryman, greeted them with his usual inarticulate grunt, a kind of "Oh, here you are again, are you!" form of welcome which was more forceful than gracious. He linked the protecting chains carefully across the end of the boat, called out a remark in Welsh to his son, Griffith, and, seizing the handle, began to work the windlass. Very slowly and leisurely the flat swung out into the river. The tide was at the full and the wide expanse of water seemed like a lake. The clanking chains brought up bunches of seaweed and river grass which fell with an oozy thud upon the deck. The mountain air, blowing straight from Penllwyd, was tinged with ozone from the tide. The girls stood looking up the reach of water towards the hills, and tasting the salt on their lips with supreme gratification. It was not every school that assembled by such a romantic means of conveyance as an ancient flat-bottomed ferry-boat, and they rejoiced over their privileges.
"I'm glad the tide's full; it makes the crossing so much wider," murmured Helen Cooper, with an eye of admiration on the woods.
"Don't suppose Evan shares your enthusiasm," laughed Marjorie Earnshaw. "He's paid the same, whatever the length of the journey."
"Old Grumps gets half a crown for his job, so he needn't grumble," put in Doris Deane.
"Oh, trust him! He'd look sour at a pound note."
"What makes him so cross?"
"Oh, he's old and lame, I suppose, and has a crotchety temper."
"Here we are at last!"
The boat was grating on the shore. Griffith was unfastening the movable end, and in another moment the girls were springing out gingerly, one by one, on to the decidedly muddy stepping-stones that formed a rough causeway to the bank. A cart was waiting to convey the handbags (all boxes had been sent as "advance luggage" two days before), so, disencumbered of their numerous possessions, the girls started to walk the steep uphill mile that led to The Woodlands.
Miss Bowes and Miss Teddington, the partners who owned the school, had been exceptionally fortunate in their choice of a house. If, as runs the modern theory, beautiful surroundings in our early youth are of the utmost importance in training our perceptions and aiding the growth of our higher selves, then surely nowhere in the British Isles could a more suitable setting have been found for a home of education. The long terrace commanded a view of the whole of the Craigwen Valley, an expanse of about sixteen miles. The river, like a silver ribbon, wound through woods and marshland till it widened into a broad tidal estuary as it neared the sea. The mountains, which rose tier after tier from the level green meadows, had their lower slopes thickly clothed with pines and larches; but where they towered above the level of a thousand feet the forest growth gave way to gorse and bracken, and their jagged summits, bare of all vegetation save a few clumps of coarse grass, showed a splintered, weather-worn outline against the sky. Penllwyd, Penglaslyn, and Glyder Garmon, those lofty peaks like three strong Welsh giants, seemed to guard the entrance to the enchanted valley, and to keep it a place apart, a last fortress of nature, a sanctuary for birds and flowers, a paradise of green shade and leaping waters, and a breathing-space for body and soul.
The house, named "The Woodlands" by Miss Bowes in place of its older but rather unpronounceable name of Llwyngwrydd (the green grove), took both its Welsh and English appellations from a beautiful glade, planted with oaks, which formed the southern boundary of the property. Through this park-like dell flowed a mountain stream, tumbling in little white cascades between the big boulders that formed its bed, and pouring in quite a waterfall over a ledge of rock into a wide pool. Its steady rippling murmur never stopped, and could be heard day and night through the ever-open windows, gentle and subdued in dry weather, but rising to a roar when rain in the hills brought the flood down in a turbulent torrent.
Through lessons, play, or dreams this sound of many waters was ever present; it gave an atmosphere to the school which, if passed unnoticed through extreme familiarity, would have been instantly missed if it could have stopped. To the girls this stream was a kind of guardian deity, with the glade for its sacred grove. They loved every rock and stone and cataract, almost every patch of brown moss upon its boulders. Each morning of the summer term they bathed before breakfast in the pool where a big oak-tree shaded the cataract. It was so close to the house that they could run out in mackintoshes, and so retired that it resembled a private swimming-bath. Here they enjoyed themselves like water-nymphs, splashing in the shallows, plunging in the pool, swinging from the boughs of the oak-tree, and scrambling over the lichened boulders. It was a source of deep regret to the hardier spirits that they were not allowed to take their morning dip in the stream all the year round; but on that score mistresses were adamant, and with the close of September the naiads perforce withdrew from their favourite element till it was warmed again by the May sunshine.
The house itself had originally been an ancient Welsh dwelling of the days of the Tudors, but had been largely added to in later times. The straight front, with its rows of windows, classic doorway, and stone-balustraded terrace, was certainly Georgian in type, and the tower, an architectural eyesore, was plainly Victorian. The taste of the early nineteenth century had not been faultless, and all the best part of the building, from an artistic point of view, lay at the back. This mainly consisted of kitchens and servants' quarters, but there still remained a large hall, which was the chief glory of the establishment. It was very lofty, for in common with other specimens of the period it had no upper story, the roof being timbered like that of a church. The walls were panelled with oak to a height of about eight feet, and above that were decorated with elaborate designs in plaster relief, representing lions, wild boars, stags, unicorns, and other heraldic devices from the coat-of-arms of the original owner of the estate. A narrow winding staircase led to a minstrels' gallery, from which was suspended a wooden shield emblazoned with the Welsh dragon and the national motto, "Cymru am byth" ("Wales for ever").
If the hall was the main picturesque asset of the building, it must be admitted that the unromantic front portion was highly convenient, and had been most readily adaptable for a school. The large light rooms of the ground floor made excellent classrooms, and the upper story was so lavishly provided with windows that it had been possible, by means of wooden partitions, to turn the great bedrooms into rows of small dormitories, each capable of accommodating two girls.
The bright airy house, the terrace with its glorious view of the valley, the large old-fashioned garden, and, above all, the stream and the glade made a very pleasant setting for the school life of the forty-eight pupils at The Woodlands. The two principals worked together in perfect harmony. Each had her own department. Miss Bowes, who was short, stout, grey-haired, and motherly, looked after the housekeeping, the hygiene, and the business side. She wrote letters to parents, kept the accounts, interviewed tradespeople, superintended the mending, and was the final referee in all matters pertaining to health and general conduct. "Dear Old Rainbow", as the girls nicknamed her, was frankly popular, for she was sympathetic and usually disposed to listen, in reason, to the various plaints which were brought to the sanctum of her private sitting-room. Her authority alone could excuse preparation, order breakfast in bed, remit practising, dispense jujubes, allow special festivities, and grant half-holidays. It was rumoured that she thought of retiring and leaving the school to her partner, and such a report always drew from parents the opinion that she would be greatly missed.
Miss Teddington, younger by many years, took a more active part in the teaching, and superintended the games and outdoor sports. She was tall and athletic, a good mathematician, and interested in archaeology and nature study. She led the walks and rambles, taught the Sixth Form, and represented the more scholastic and modern element. Her enterprise initiated all fresh undertakings, and her enthusiasm carried them forward with success. "Hard-as-nails" the girls sometimes called her, for she coddled nobody and expected the utmost from each one's capacity. If she was rather uncompromising, however, she was just, and a strong vein of humour toned down much of the severity of her remarks. To be chided by a person whose eye is capable of twinkling takes part of the sting from the reprimand, and the general verdict of the school was to the effect that "Teddie was a keen old watch-dog, but her bark was worse than her bite."
Of the other mistresses and girls we will say more anon. Having introduced my readers to The Woodlands, it is time for the story to begin.
A Friend from the Bush
Ulyth Stanton was a decided personality in the Lower Fifth. If not exactly pretty, she was a dainty little damsel, and knew how to make the best of herself. Her fair hair was glossy and waved in the most becoming fashion, her clothes were well cut, her gloves and shoes immaculate. She had an artistic temperament, and loved to be surrounded by pretty things. She was rather a favourite at The Woodlands, for she had few sharp angles and possessed a fair share of tact. If the girls laughed sometimes at what they called her "high-falutin' notions" they nevertheless respected her opinions and admired her more than they always chose to admit. It was an accepted fact that Ulyth stuck to her word and generally carried through anything that she once undertook. She alone of six members of her form who had begun to correspond with girls abroad, at the instigation of the magazine editor, had written regularly, and had cultivated the overseas friendship with enthusiasm. The element of romance about the affair had appealed to Ulyth. It was so strange to receive letters from someone you had never seen. To be sure, Rona had only given a somewhat bald account of her home and her doings, but even this outline was so different from English life that Ulyth's imagination filled the gaps, and pictured her unknown correspondent among scenes of unrivalled interest and excitement. Ulyth had once seen a most wonderful film entitled "Rose of the Wilderness", and though the scenes depicted were supposed to be in the region of the Wild West, she decided that they would equally well represent the backwoods of New Zealand, and that the beautiful, dashing, daring heroine, so aptly called "the Prairie Flower", was probably a speaking likeness of Rona Mitchell. When she learnt that owing to her letters Rona's father had determined to send his daughter to school at The Woodlands, her excitement was immense. She had at once petitioned Miss Bowes to have her as a room-mate, and was now awaiting her advent with the very keenest anticipation.
There was a little uncertainty about the time of the new girl's arrival, for it depended upon the punctuality of the ocean liner, a doubtful matter if there were a storm; and the feeling that she might be expected any hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. made havoc of Ulyth's day. It was impossible to attend to lessons when she was listening for the sound of a taxi on the drive, and even the attractions of tennis could not decoy her out of sight of the front door.
"I must be the very first to welcome her," she persisted. "Of course it's not the same to all the rest of you—I understand that. She's to be my special property, my Prairie Rose!"
"All serene! If you care to waste your time lounging about the steps you can. We're not in such a frantic state to see your paragon," laughed the girls as they ran down the garden to the courts. After all, the waiting was in vain. Tea-time came without a sign of the new-comer. It was unlikely that she would turn up now until the evening train, and Ulyth resigned herself to the inevitable. But when the school was almost half-way through its bread and butter and gooseberry jam, a sudden commotion occurred in the hall. There was a noise such as nobody ever remembered to have heard at The Woodlands before.
"Thank goodness gracious I've got meself here at last!" cried a loud nasal voice. "Where'll I stick these things? Oh yes, there's heaps more inside that automobile! Travelling's no joke, I can tell you; I'm tired to death. Any tea about? I could drink the sea. My gracious, I've had a time of it coming here!"
At the first word Miss Bowes had glided from the room, and the voice died away as the door of her private study closed. Sounds suggestive of the carrying upstairs of luggage followed, and a hinnying laugh echoed once down the stairs. The girls looked at one another; there was a shadow in Ulyth's eyes. She did not share in the general smile that passed round the table, and she finished her tea in dead silence.
"Going to sample your new property?" whispered Mary Acton as the girls pushed back their chairs.
"What's the formula for swearing an undying friendship?" giggled Addie Knighton.
"Was it Rose of Sharon you called her?" twinkled Christine Crosswood. "Or Lily of the Valley?"
Ulyth did not reply. She walked upstairs very slowly. The nasal twang of that high-pitched voice in the hall had wiped the bloom off her anticipation. The small double dormitory in which she slept was No. 3, Room 5. The door was half-open, so she entered without knocking. Both beds, the chairs, and most of the floor was strewn with an assortment of miscellaneous articles. On the dressing-table was a tray with the remains of tea. Over a large cabin trunk bent a girl of fourteen. She straightened herself as she heard footsteps.
Alas! alas! for Ulyth's illusions. The enchanting vision of the prairie flower faded, and Rona Mitchell stood before her in solid fact. Solid was the word for it—no fascinating cinema heroine this, but an ordinary, well-grown, decidedly plump damsel with brown elf locks, a ruddy sunburnt complexion, and a freckled nose.
Where, oh, where, were the delicate features, the fairy-like figure, and the long rich clustering curls of Rose of the Wilderness? Ulyth stood for a moment gazing as one dazed; then, with an effort, she remembered her manners and introduced herself.
"Proud to meet you at last," replied the new-comer heartily. "You and I've had a friendship switched on for us ready-made, so to speak. I liked your letters awfully. Glad they've put us in together."
"Did—did you have a nice journey?" stammered Ulyth.
It was a most conventional enquiry, but the only thing she could think of to say.
"Beastly! It was rough or hot all the time, and we didn't get much fun on board. Wasn't it a sell? Too disappointing for words! Mrs. Perkins, the lady who had charge of me coming over, was just a Tartar. Nothing I did seemed to suit her somehow. I bet she was glad to see the last of me. Then I was sea-sick, and when we got into the hot zone—my, how bad I was! My face was just skinned with sunburn, and the salt air made it worse. I'd not go to sea again for pleasure, I can tell you. I say, I'll be glad to get my things fixed up here."
"This is your bed and your side of the room," returned Ulyth hastily, collecting some of the articles which had been flung anywhere, and hanging them in Rona's wardrobe; "Miss Moseley makes us be very tidy. She'll be coming round this evening to inspect."
"Guess she'll drop on me pretty often then! No one's ever called neatness my strong point. Are those photos on the mantelpiece your home folks? I'm going to look at them. What a lot of things you've got: books, and albums, and goodness knows what! I'll enjoy turning them over when I've time."
At half-past eight that night a few members of the Lower Fifth, putting away books in their classroom, stopped to compare notes.
"Well, what do you think of your adorable one, Ulyth?" asked Stephanie Radford, a little spitefully. "You're welcome to her company so far as I'm concerned."
"Rose of the Wilderness, indeed!" mocked Merle Denham.
"Your prairie rose is nothing but a dandelion!" remarked Christine Crosswood.
"I never heard anyone with such an awful laugh," said Lizzie Lonsdale.
"Don't!" implored Ulyth tragically. "I've had the shock of my life. She's—oh, she's too terrible for words! Her voice makes me cringe. And she pawed all my things. She snatched up my photos, and turned over my books with sticky fingers; she even opened my drawers and peeped inside."
"Oh, she hasn't the slightest idea of how to behave herself! She asked me a whole string of the most impertinent questions: what I'd paid for my clothes, and how long they'd have to last me. She's unbearable. Yes, absolutely impossible. Ugh! and I've got to sleep in the same room with her to-night."
"Poor martyr, it's hard luck," sympathized Lizzie. "Why did you write and ask the Rainbow to put you together? It was rather buying a pig in a poke, wasn't it?"
"I never dreamt she'd be like this. It sounded so romantic, you see, living on a huge farm, and having two horses to ride. I shall go to Miss Bowes, first thing to-morrow morning, and ask to have her moved out of my room. I only wish there was time to do it this evening. Oh, why did I ever write to her and make her want to come to this school?"
"Poor old Ulyth! You've certainly let yourself in for more than you bargained for," laughed the girls, half sorry for her and half amused.
Next morning, after breakfast, the very instant that Miss Bowes was installed in her study, a "rap-tap-tap" sounded on her door.
"Come in!" she called, and sighed as Ulyth entered, for she had a shrewd suspicion of what she was about to hear.
"Please, Miss Bowes, I'm sorry to have to ask a favour, but may Rona be changed into another dormitory?"
"Why, Ulyth, you wrote to me specially and asked if you might have her for a room-mate!"
"Yes, I did; but I hadn't seen her then. I thought she'd be so different."
"Isn't it a little too soon to judge? You haven't known her twenty-four hours yet."
"I know as much of her as I ever want to. Oh, Miss Bowes, she's dreadful! I'll never like her. I can't have her in my room—I simply can't!"
There was a shake, suggestive of tears, in Ulyth's voice. Her eyes looked heavy, as if she had not slept. Miss Bowes sighed again.
"Rona mayn't be exactly what you imagined, but you must remember in what different circumstances she has been brought up. I think she has many good qualities, and that she'll soon improve. Now let us look at the matter from her point of view. You have been writing to her constantly for two years. She has come here specially to be near you. You are her only friend in a new and strange country where she is many thousand miles away from her own home. You gave her a cordial invitation to England, and now, because she does not happen to realize your quite unfounded expectations, you want to back out of all your obligations to her. I thought you were a girl, Ulyth, who kept her promises."
Ulyth fingered the corner of the tablecloth nervously for a moment, then she burst out:
"I can't, Miss Bowes, I simply can't. If you knew how she grates upon me! Oh, it's too much! I'd rather have a bear cub or a monkey for a room-mate! Please, please don't make us stop together! If you won't move her, move me! I'd sleep in an attic if I could have it to myself."
"You must stay where you are until the end of the week. You owe that to Rona, at any rate. Afterwards I shall not force you, but leave it to your own good feeling. I want you to think over what I have been saying. You can come on Sunday morning and tell me your decision."
"I know what the answer will be," murmured Ulyth, as she went from the room.
She was very angry with Miss Bowes, with Rona, and with herself for her own folly.
"It's ridiculous to expect me to take up this savage," she argued. "And too bad of Miss Bowes to make out that I'm breaking my word. Oh dear! what am I to write home to Mother? How can I tell her? I believe I'll just send her a picture post card, and only say Rona has come, and no more. Miss Bowes has no right to coerce me. I'll make my own friends. No, I've quite made up my mind she shan't cram Rona down my throat. To have that awful girl eternally in my bedroom—I should die!"
After all her heroics it was a terrible come-down for poor Ulyth now the actual had taken the place of the sentimental. Her class-mates could not forbear teasing her a little. It was too bad of them; but then they had resented her entire pre-appropriation of the new-comer, and, moreover, had one or two old scores from last term to pay off. Ulyth began to detest the very name of "the Prairie Flower". She wondered how she could ever have been so silly.
"I ought to have been warned," she thought, trying to throw the blame on to somebody else. "No one ever suggested she'd be like this. The editor of the magazine really shouldn't have persuaded us to write. It's all his fault in the beginning."
Though the rest of the girls were scarcely impressed with Rona's personality, they were not utterly repelled.
"She's rather pretty," ventured Lizzie Lonsdale. "Her eyes are the bluest I've ever seen."
"And her teeth are so white and even," added Beth Broadway. "She looks jolly when she smiles."
"Perhaps she'll smarten up soon," suggested Addie Knighton. "That blue dress suits her; it just matches her eyes."
To Ulyth's fastidious taste Rona's clothes looked hopelessly ill-cut and colonial, especially as her room-mate put them on anyhow, and seemed to have no regard at all for appearances. A girl who did not mind whether she looked really trim, spruce and smart, must indeed have spent her life in the backwoods.
"Didn't you even have a governess in New Zealand?" she ventured one day. She did not encourage Rona to talk, but for once her curiosity overcame her dislike of the high-pitched voice.
"Couldn't get one to stop up-country, where we were. Mrs. Barker, our cowman's wife, looked after me ever since Mother died. She was the only woman about the place. One of our farm helps taught me lessons. He was a B.A. of Oxford, but down on his luck. Dad said I'd seem queer to English girls. I don't know that I care."
Though Rona might not be possessed of the most delicate perceptions, she nevertheless had common sense enough to realize that Ulyth did not receive her with enthusiasm.
"I suppose you're disappointed in me?" she queried. "Dad said you would be, but I laughed at him. Pity if our ready-made friendship turned out a misfit! I think you're no end! Dad said I'd got to copy you; it'll take me all my time, I expect. Things are so different here from home."
Was there a suspicion of a choke in the words?
Ulyth had a sudden pang of compunction. Unwelcome as her companion was to her, she did not wish to be brutal.
"You mustn't get home-sick," she said hastily. "You'll shake down here in time. Everyone finds things strange at school just at first. I did myself."
"I guess you were never as much a fish out of water as me, though," returned Rona, and went whistling down the passage.
Ulyth tried to dismiss her from her thoughts. She did not intend to worry over Rona more than she could possibly help. Fortunately they were not together in class, for Rona's entrance-examination papers had not reached the standard of the Lower Fifth, and she had been placed in IV B.
Ulyth was interested in her school-work. She stood well with her teachers, and was an acknowledged force in her form. She came from a very refined and cultured home, where intellectual interests were cultivated both by father and mother. Her temperament was naturally artistic; she was an omnivorous reader, and could devour anything in the shape of literature that came her way. The bookcase in her dormitory was filled with beautiful volumes, mostly Christmas and birthday gifts. She rejoiced in their soft leather bindings or fine illustrations with a true book-lover's enthusiasm. It was her pride to keep them in daintiest condition. Dog-ears or thumb-marks were in her opinion the depths of degradation. Ulyth had ambitions also, ambitions which she would not reveal to anybody. Some day she planned to write a book of her own. She had not yet fixed on a subject, but she had decided just what the cover was to be like, with her name on it in gilt letters. Perhaps she might even illustrate it herself, for her love of art almost equalled her love of literature; but that was still in the clouds, and must wait till she had chosen her plot. In the interim she wrote verses and short stories for the school magazine, and her essays for Miss Teddington were generally returned marked "highly creditable".
This term Ulyth intended to study hard. It was a promotion to be in the Upper School; she was beginning several new subjects, and her interest in many things was aroused. It would be a delightful autumn as soon as she had got rid of this dreadful problem, at present the one serious obstacle to her comfort. But in the meantime it was only Friday, and till at least the following Monday she would be obliged to endure her uncongenial presence in her bedroom.
Round the Camp-fire
It was the first Saturday of the term. So far the girls had been kept busily occupied settling down to work in their fresh forms, and trying to grow accustomed to Miss Teddington's new time-tables. Now, however, they were free to relax and enjoy themselves in any way they chose. Some were playing tennis, some had gone for a walk with Miss Moseley, a few were squatting frog-like on boulders in the midst of the stream, and others strolled under the trees in the grove.
"Thank goodness the weather's behaving itself!" said Mary Acton, who, with a few other members of the Lower Fifth, was sitting on the trunk of a fallen oak. "Do you remember last council? It simply poured. The thing's no fun if one can't have a real fire."
"It'll burn first-rate to-night," returned Lizzie Lonsdale. "There's a little wind, and the wood'll be dry."
"That reminds me I haven't found my faggot yet," said Beth Broadway easily.
"Girl alive! Then you'd better go and look for one, or you'll be all in a scramble at the last!"
"Bother! I'm too comfy to move."
"Nice Wood-gatherer you'll look if you come empty-handed!"
"I'd appropriate half your lot first, Lizzikins!"
"Would you, indeed? I'd denounce you, and you'd lose your rank and be degraded to a candidate again."
"Oh, you mean, stingy miser!"
"Not at all. It's the wise and foolish virgins over again. I shan't have enough for myself and you. I've a lovely little stack—just enough for one—reposing—no, I'd better not tell you where. Don't look so hopeful. You're not to be trusted."
"What are you talking about?" asked Rona Mitchell, who had wandered up to the group. "Why are some of you picking up sticks? I saw a girl over there with quite a bundle just now. You might tell me."
So far Rona had not been well received in her own form, IV B. She was older than her class-mates, and they, instead of attempting to initiate her into the ways of the Woodlands girls on this holiday afternoon, had scuttled off and left her to fend for herself. She looked such an odd, wistful, lonely figure that Lizzie Lonsdale's kind heart smote her. She pushed the other girls farther along the tree-trunk till they made a grudging space for the new-comer.
"I'm a good hand at camp-fires, if you want any help," continued Rona, seating herself with alacrity. "I've made 'em by the dozen at home, and cooked by them too. Just let me know where you want it, and I'll set to work."
"You wouldn't be allowed," said Beth bluntly. "This fire is a very special thing. Only Wood-gatherers may bring the fuel. No one else is eligible."
"Why on earth not?"
"Oh, I can't bother to explain now! It would take too long. You'll find out to-night. Girls, I'm going in!"
"Turn up here at dusk if you want to know, and bring a cup with you," suggested Lizzie, with a half-ashamed effort at friendliness, as she followed her chums.
"You bet I'll turn up! Rather!"
That evening, just after sunset, little groups of girls began to collect round an open green space in the glade. They came quietly and with a certain sense of discipline. A stranger would have noticed that if any loud tone or undue hilarity made itself heard, it was instantly and firmly repressed by one or two who seemed in authority. That the meeting was more in the nature of a convention than a mere pleasure-gathering was evident both from the demeanour of the assemblage and from the various badges pinned on the girls' coats. No teacher was present, but there was an air of general expectancy, as if the coming of somebody were awaited. To the pupils at The Woodlands this night's ceremony was a very special occasion, for it was the autumn reunion of the Camp-fire League, an organization which, originally of American birth, had been introduced at the instigation of Miss Teddington, and had taken great root in the school. Any girl was eligible as a candidate, but before she could gain admission to even the initial rank she had to prove herself worthy of the honour of membership, and pass successfully through her novitiate.
The organizer and leader of the branch which to-night was to celebrate its third anniversary was a certain Mrs. Arnold, a charming young American lady who lived in the neighbourhood. She had been an enthusiastic supporter of the League in Pennsylvania before her marriage, and was delighted to pass on its traditions to British schoolgirls. Her winsome personality made her a prime favourite at The Woodlands, where her influence was stronger even than she imagined. Miss Teddington, though it was she who had asked Mrs. Arnold to institute and take charge of the meetings, had the discretion to keep out of the League herself, realizing that the presence of teachers might be a restraint, and that the management was better left in the hands of a trustworthy outsider.
To become an authorized Camp-fire member was an ambition with most of the girls, and spurred many on to greater efforts than they would otherwise have attempted. All looked forward to the meetings, and there could be no greater punishment for certain offences than a temporary withdrawal of League privileges.
This September, after the long summer holiday, the reunion seemed of even more than ordinary importance.
The sun had set, the last gleam of the afterglow had faded, and the glade had grown full of dim shadows by the time everybody was present in the grove. The gentle rustle of the leafy boughs overhead, and the persistent tumbling rush of the stream, seemed like a faint orchestral accompaniment of Nature for the ceremonial.
"Is it a Quakers' Meeting or a Freemasons' Lodge? You're all very mum," asked Rona, whom curiosity had led out with the others.
"Sh-sh! We're waiting for our 'Guardian of the Fire'," returned Ulyth, trying to suppress the loudness of the high-pitched voice. "Mrs. Arnold's generally very punctual. Oh, there! I believe I hear her ringing her bicycle bell now. I'm going down the field to meet her."
Ulyth regarded Mrs. Arnold with that intense adoration which a girl of fifteen often bestows on a woman older than herself. She ran now through the wood, hoping she might be in time to catch her idol on the drive and have just a few precious moments with her before she was joined by the others. There were many things she wanted to pour into her friend's ready ears, but she knew it would be impossible to monopolize her as soon as the rest of the girls knew of her arrival. She fled as on wings, therefore, and had the supreme satisfaction of being the first in the field. Mrs. Arnold, young, very fair, graceful, and golden-haired, looked a picture in her blue cycling costume as she leaned her machine against a tree and greeted her enthusiastic admirer.
"Oh, you darling! I've such heaps to tell you!" began Ulyth, clasping her tightly by the arm. "Rona Mitchell has come, and she's the most awful creature! I never was so disappointed in my life. Don't you sympathize with me, when I expected her to be so ripping? She's absolute backwoods!"
"Yes, I've heard all about her. Poor child! She must have had a strange training. It's time indeed she began to learn something."
"She's not learned anything in New Zealand. Oh, her voice will just grate on you! And her manners! She's hopeless! Everything she does and says is wrong. And to think she's been foisted on to me, of all people!"
"Poor child!" repeated Mrs. Arnold. ("Which of us does she mean?" thought Ulyth.) "She's evidently raw material. Every diamond needs polishing. What an opportunity for a Torch-bearer!"
Ulyth dropped her friend's arm suddenly. It was not at all the answer she had expected. Moreover, at least a dozen girls had come running up and were claiming their chief's attention. In a species of triumphant procession Mrs. Arnold was escorted into the glade and installed on her throne of state, a seat made of logs and decorated with ferns. Everyone clustered round to welcome her, and for the moment she was the centre of an enthusiastic crowd. Ulyth followed more slowly. She was feeling disturbed and put out. What did Mrs. Arnold mean? Surely not——? A sudden thought had flashed into her mind but she thrust it away indignantly. Oh no, that was quite impossible! It was outrageous of anybody to make the suggestion. And yet—and yet—the uneasy voice that had been haunting her for the last four days began to speak with even more vehemence. With a sigh of relief she heard the signal given for "Attention", and cast the matter away from her for the moment. Every eye was fixed on their leader. The ceremony was about to begin.
Mrs. Arnold rose, and in her clear, sweet voice proclaimed:
"The Guardian of the Fire calls on the Wood-gatherers to bring their fuel."
At once a dozen girls came forward, each dragging a tolerably large bundle of brushwood. They deposited these in a circle, saluted, and retired.
"Fire-makers, do your work!" commanded the leader.
Eight girls responded, Ulyth among the number, and seizing the brushwood, they built it deftly into a pile. All stood round, waiting in silence while their chief struck a match and applied a light to some dried leaves and bracken that had been placed beneath. The flame rose up like a scarlet ribbon, and in a few moments the dry fuel was ablaze and crackling. The gleam lighting up the glade displayed a picturesque scene. The boles of the trees might have been the pillars in some ancient temple, with the branches for roof. Close by the cascade of the stream leapt white against a background of dim darkness. The harvest moon, full and golden, was rising behind the crest of Cwm Dinas. An owl flew hooting from the wood higher up the glen. Mrs. Arnold stood waiting until the bonfire was well alight, then she turned to the expectant girls.
"I've no need to tell most of you why we have met here to-night; but for the benefit of a few who are new-comers to The Woodlands I should like briefly to explain the objects of the Camp-fire League. The purpose of the organization is to show that the common things of daily life are the chief means of beauty, romance, and adventure, to cultivate the outdoor habit, and to help girls to serve the community—the larger home—as well as the individual home. In these ultra-modern times we must especially devote ourselves to the service of the country, and try by every means in our power to make our League of some national use. First let us repeat together the rules of the Camp-fire League:
"'1. Seek beauty. 2. Give service. 3. Pursue knowledge. 4. Be trustworthy. 5. Hold on to health. 6. Glorify work. 7. Be happy.'
"Seeking beauty includes more than looking for superficial adornment. Beauty is in all life, in Nature, in people, in the love of one's heart, in virtue and a radiant disposition. The value of service depends largely upon the attitude of mind of the one rendering it. Joy in the performance of some needed service in behalf of parent, teacher, friend, or country constitutes a part of the very essence of goodness, and multiplies the good already abiding in the heart. This is the third anniversary of the founding of a branch of the League at The Woodlands. So far the work has been very encouraging, and I am glad to say that to-night we have candidates eligible for all three ranks. It shall now be the business of the meeting formally to admit them. Candidates for Wood-gatherers, present yourselves!"
Six of the younger girls came forward and saluted.
"Can you repeat, and will you promise to obey, the seven rules of the Camp-fire law?"
Each responded audibly in the affirmative.
"Then you are admitted to the initial rank of Wood-gatherers, you are awarded the white badge of service, and may sign your names as accepted members of the League."
The six retired to make way for a higher grade, and eight other girls stepped into the firelight.
"Candidates for Fire-makers, you have passed three months with good characters as Wood-gatherers, and you have proved your ability to render first aid, keep accounts, tie knots, and prepare and serve a simple meal; you have each committed to memory some good poem, and have acquainted yourself with the career of some able, public-spirited woman. Having thus shown your wish to serve the community, repeat the Fire-maker's desire."
And all together the eight girls chanted:
"As fuel is brought to the fire So I purpose to bring My strength, My ambition, My heart's desire, My joy, And my sorrow To the fire Of human kind. For I will tend As my fathers have tended And my fathers' fathers Since time began, The fire that is called The love of man for man, The love of man for God."
Mrs. Arnold said a few kind words to each as she pinned on their red badges. Only novices who had stood the various tests with credit were raised to the honour of the second rank. Those who had failed must perforce continue as Wood-gatherers for another period of three months.
There remained one further and higher rank, only attainable after six months' ardent and trustworthy service as Fire-makers. To-night three girls were to be admitted to its privileges, and Helen Cooper, Doris Deane, and Ulyth Stanton presented themselves. With grave faces they repeated the Torch-bearer's desire:
"That light which has been given to me I desire to pass undimmed to others."
Ulyth kissed Mrs. Arnold's pretty hand as the long-coveted yellow badge was fastened on to her dress, side by side with the Union Jack. She was so glad to be a Torch-bearer at last. She had become a candidate when the League was first founded three years ago, and all that time she had been slowly working towards the desired end of the third rank. One or two slips had hindered her progress, but last term she had made a very special effort, and it was sweet to meet with her reward. Torch-bearers were mostly to be found among the Sixth and Upper Fifth; she was the only girl in V B who had won so high a place. She touched the yellow ribbon tenderly. It meant so much to her.
Now that the serious business of the meeting was over, the fun was about to begin. The big camp-kettle was produced and filled at the stream, and then set to boil upon the embers. Cups and spoons made their appearance. Cocoa and biscuits were to be the order of the evening, followed by as many songs, dances, and games as time permitted. Squatting on the grass, the girls made a circle round their council-fire. Marjorie Earnshaw, one of the Sixth, had brought her guitar, and struck the strings every now and then as an earnest of the music she intended to bring from it later on. Everybody was in a jolly mood, and inclined to laugh at any pun, however feeble. Mrs. Arnold, always bright and animated, surpassed herself, and waxed so amusing that the circle grew almost hysterical. The Wood-gatherers, whose office it was to mix the cocoa, supplied cup after cup, and refilled the kettle so often that they ventured to air the time-honoured joke that the stream would run dry, for which ancient chestnut they were pelted with pebbles.
When at last nobody could even pretend to be thirsty any longer, the cups were rinsed in the pool and stacked under a tree, and the concert commenced. Part-songs and catches sounded delightful in the open air, and solos, sung to the accompaniment of Marjorie's guitar, were equally effective. The girls roared the choruses to popular national ditties, and special favourites were repeated again and again. Several step-dances were executed, and had a weird effect in the unsteady light of the waning fire. Mrs. Arnold, who was a splendid elocutionist, gave a recitation on an incident in the American War, and was enthusiastically encored. The moon had risen high in the sky, and was peeping through the tree-tops as if curious to see who had invaded so sylvan a spot as the glade. The silver beams caught the ripples of the stream and made the shadows seem all the darker.
It was a glorious beginning for the new term, as everybody agreed, and an earnest of the fun that was in store later on.
"We shan't be able to camp out next meeting, but we'll have high jinks in the hall," purred Beth Broadway.
"Yes; Mrs. Arnold says she has a lovely programme for the winter, and we're to have candles instead of fuel," agreed Lizzie Lonsdale, who had been raised that evening to the rank of Fire-maker.
"Trust Mrs. Arnold to find something new for us to do!" murmured Ulyth, looking fondly in the direction of her ideal.
"My gracious, I call this meeting no end!" piped a cheerful voice in her ear; and Rona, smiling with all-too-obtrusive friendliness, plumped down by her side. "You've good times here, and no mistake! I think I'll be a candidate myself next, if that's the game to play. You're a high-and-mighty one, aren't you? Let's have a look at your badge!"
"If you dare to touch it!" flared Ulyth, putting up her hand to guard her cherished token.
"Why, I wouldn't do it any harm, I promise you; I wouldn't finger it! It means something, doesn't it? I didn't quite catch what it was. You might tell me. How'm I ever to get to know if you won't?"
Rona's clear blue eyes, unconsciously wistful, looked straight into Ulyth's. The latter sprang to her feet without a word. The force of her own motto seemed suddenly to be revealed to her. She rushed away into the shadow of the trees to think it over for herself.
"That light which has been given to me I desire to pass undimmed to others."
Those were the words she had repeated so earnestly less than an hour ago. And she was already about to make them a mockery! Yes, that was what Mrs. Arnold had meant. She had known it all the time, but she would not acknowledge it even to her innermost heart. Was this what was required from a Torch-bearer—to pass on her own refinement and culture to a girl whose crudities offended every particle of her fastidious taste? Ulyth sat down on a stone and wept hot, bitter, rebellious tears. She understood only too well why she had been so miserable for the last three days. She had disliked Miss Bowes for hinting that she was not keeping her word, and had told herself that she was a much-tried and ill-used person.
"I must do it, I must, or fail at the very beginning!" she sobbed. "I know what Mother would say. It's got to be; if for nothing else, for the sake of the school. A Torch-bearer mustn't shirk and break her pledge. Oh, how I shall loathe it, hate it! Ulyth Stanton, do you realize what you're undertaking? Your whole term's going to be spoilt."
The big bell in the tower was clanging its summons to return, with short, impatient strokes. Everybody joined hands in a circle round the ashes of the camp-fire, to sing in a low chant the good-night song of the League and "God Save the Queen". Mr. Arnold, who had come to fetch his wife, was sounding his hooter as a signal on the drive. The evening's fun was over. Regretfully the girls collected cups, spoons, and kettle, and made their way back to the house.
On Sunday morning Ulyth, with a very red face, marched into the study, and announced:
"Miss Bowes, I've been having a tussle. One-half of me said: 'Don't have Rona in your room at any price!' and the other half said: 'Let her stop!' I've decided to keep her."
"I knew you would, when you'd thought it over," beamed Miss Bowes.
"Are all New Zealanders the same?" asked Ulyth. "I've not met one before."
"Certainly not. Most of them are quite as cultured and up-to-date as ourselves. There are splendid schools in New Zealand, and excellent opportunities for study of every kind. Poor Rona, unfortunately, has had to live on a farm far away from civilization, and her education and welfare in every respect seem to have been utterly neglected. Don't take her as a type of New Zealand! But she'll soon improve if we're all prepared to help her. I'm glad you're ready to be her real friend."
"I'll try my best!" sighed Ulyth.
A Blackberry Foray
Having made up her mind to accept the responsibility which fate, through the agency of the magazine editor, had thrust upon her, Ulyth, metaphorically speaking, set her teeth, and began to take Rona seriously in hand. Being ten months older than her protegee, in a higher form, and, moreover, armed with full authority from Miss Bowes, she assumed command of the bedroom, and tried to regulate the chaos that reigned on her comrade's side of it. Rona submitted with an air of amused good nature to have her clothes arranged in order in her drawers, her shoes put away in the cupboard, and her toilet articles allotted places on her washstand and dressing-table. She even consented to give some thought to her personal appearance, and borrowed Ulyth's new manicure set.
"You're mighty particular," she objected. "What does it all matter? Miss Bowes gave me such a talking-to, and said I'd got to do exactly what you told me; and before I came, Dad rubbed it into me to copy you for all I was worth, so I suppose I'll have to try. I guess you'll find it a job to civilize me though." And her eyes twinkled.
Ulyth thought, with a mental sigh, that she probably would find it "a job".
"No one bothered about it at home," Rona continued cheerfully. "Dad did say sometimes I was growing up a savage, but Mrs. Barker never cared. She let me do what I liked, so long as I didn't trouble her. She was no lady! We couldn't get a lady to stay at our out-of-the-way block. Dad used to be a swell in England once, but that was before I was born."
Ulyth began to understand, and her disgust changed to a profound pity. A motherless girl who had run wild in the backwoods, her father probably out all day, her only female guide a woman of the backwoods, whose manners were presumably of the roughest—this had been Rona's training. No wonder she lacked polish!
"When I compare her home with my home and my lovely mother," thought Ulyth, "yes—there's certainly a vast amount to be passed on."
The other girls, who had never expected her to keep Rona in her bedroom, were inclined to poke fun at the proceeding.
"Your bear cub will need training before you teach her to dance," said Stephanie Radford tauntingly.
"She has no parlour tricks at present," sniggered Addie Knighton.
"Are you posing as Valentine and Orson?" laughed Gertie Oliver. Gertrude had been Ulyth's room-mate last term, and felt aggrieved to be superseded.
"I call her the cuckoo," said Mary Acton. "Do you remember the young one we found last spring, sprawling all over the nest, and opening its huge, gaping beak?"
In spite of her ignorance and angularities there was a certain charm about the new-comer. When the sunburn caused by her sea-voyage had yielded to a course of treatment, it left her with a complexion which put even that of Stephanie Radford, the acknowledged school beauty, in the shade. The coral tinge in Rona's cheeks was, as Doris Deane enviously remarked, "almost too good to look natural", and her blue eyes with the big pupils and the little dark rims round the iris shone like twinkling stars when she laughed. That ninnying laugh, to be sure, was still somewhat offensive, but she was trying to moderate it, and only when she forgot did it break out to scandalize the refined atmosphere of The Woodlands; the small white even teeth which it displayed, and two conspicuous dimples, almost atoned for it. The brown hair was brushed and waved and its consequent state of new glossiness was a very distinct improvement on the former elf locks. In the sunshine it took tones of warm burnt sienna, like the hair of the Madonna in certain of Titian's great pictures. Lessons, alack! were uphill work. Rona was naturally bright, but some subjects she had never touched before, and in others she was hopelessly backward. The general feeling in the school was that "The Cuckoo", as they nicknamed her, was an experiment, and no one could guess exactly what she would grow into.
"She's like one of those queer beasties we dug up under the yew-tree last autumn," suggested Merle Denham. "Those wriggling transparent things, I mean. Don't you remember? We kept them in a box, and didn't know whether they'd turn out moths, or butterflies, or earwigs, or woodlice!"
"They turned into cockchafer beetles, as a matter of fact," said Ulyth drily.
"Well, they were horrid enough in all conscience. I don't like Nature study when it means hoarding up creepy-crawlies."
"You're not obliged to take it."
"I don't this year. I've got Harmony down on my time-table instead."
"You'll miss the rambles with Teddie."
"I don't care. I'll play basket-ball instead."
"How about the blackberry foray?"
"Oh, I'm not going to be left out of that! It's not specially Nature study. I've put my name down with Miss Moseley's party."
The inmates of The Woodlands were fond of jam. It was supplied to them liberally, and they consumed large quantities of it at tea-time. To help to meet this demand, blackberrying expeditions were organized during the last weeks of September, and the whole school turned out in relays to pick fruit. A dozen girls and a mistress generally composed a party, which was not confined to any particular form, but might include any whose arrangements for practising or special lessons allowed them to go. Dates and particulars of the various rambles planned, with the names of the mistresses who were to be leaders, were pinned up on the notice-board, and the girls might put their names to them as they liked, so long as each list did not exceed twelve.
On Saturday afternoon Miss Moseley headed a foray in the direction of Porth Powys Falls, and Merle, Ulyth, Rona, Addie, and Stephanie were members of her flock.
"I'm glad I managed to get into this party," announced Merle, "because I always like Porth Powys better than Pontvoelas or Aberceiriog. It's a jollier walk, and the blackberries are bigger and better. I was the very last on the list, so I'd luck. Alice had to go under Teddie's wing. I'd rather have Mosie than Teddie!"
"So would I," agreed Ulyth. "I scribbled my name the very first of all. Just got a chance to do it as I was going to my music-lesson, before everyone else made a rush for the board. Porth Powys will be looking no end to-day."
Swinging their baskets, the girls began to climb a narrow path which ran alongside the stream up the glen. Some of them were tempted to linger, and began to gather what blackberries could be found; but Miss Moseley had different plans.
"Come along! It's ridiculous to waste our labour here," she exclaimed. "All these bushes have been well picked over already. We'll walk straight on till we come to the lane near the ruined cottage, then we shall get a harvest and fill our baskets in a third of the time. Quick march!"
There was sense in her remarks, so Merle abandoned several half-ripe specimens for which she had been reaching and joined the file that was winding, Indian fashion, up the path through the wood. Over a high, ladder-like stile they climbed, then dropped down into the gorge to where a small wooden bridge spanned the stream. They loved to stand here looking at the brown rushing water that swirled below. The thick trees made a green parlour, and the continual moisture had carpeted the woods with beautiful verdant moss which grew in close sheets over the rocks. Up again, by an even steeper and craggier track, they climbed the farther bank of the gorge, and came out at last on to the broad hill-side that overlooked the Craigwen Valley.
Here was scope for a leader; the track was so overgrown as to be almost indistinguishable, and ran across boggy land, where it was only too easy to plunge over one's boot-tops in oozy peat. Miss Moseley found the way like a pioneer; she had often been there before and remembered just what places were treacherous and just where it was possible to use a swinging bough for a help. By following in her footsteps the party got safely over without serious wettings, and sat down to take breath for a few minutes on some smooth, glacier-ground rocks that topped the ridge they had been scaling. They were now at some height above the valley, and the prospect was magnificent. For at least ten miles they could trace the windings of the river, and taller and more distant mountain peaks had come into view.
"Some people say that Craigwen Valley's very like the Rhine," volunteered Ulyth. "It hasn't any castles, of course, except at Llangarmon, but the scenery's just as lovely."
"Nice to think it's British then," rejoiced Merle. "Wales can hold its own in the way of mountains and lakes. People have no need to go abroad for them. What's New Zealand like, Rona?"
"We've ripping rivers there," replied the Cuckoo, "bigger than this by lots, and with tree-ferns up in the bush. This isn't bad, though, as far as it goes. What's that place over across on the opposite hill?"
"Where the light's shining? Oh, that's Llanfairgwyn! There's a village and a church. We've only been once. It's rather a long way, because you have to cross the ferry at Glanafon before you can get to the other side of the river."
"And what's that big white house in the trees, with the flag?"
"That's Plas Cafn. It's the place in the neighbourhood, you know," said Stephanie, fondly fingering her necklace.
"I don't know. How should I?"
"Well, you know it now, at any rate."
"Does it belong to toffs?"
"It belongs to Lord and Lady Glyncraig. They live there for part of the year."
"Oh!" said Rona. She put her chin on her hand and surveyed the distant mansion for several moments in silence. "I reckon they're stuck up," she remarked at last.
"I believe they're considered nice. I've never spoken to them," replied Ulyth.
"I have," put in Stephanie complacently. "I went to tea once at Plas Cafn. It was when Father was Member for Rotherford. Lord Glyncraig knew him in Parliament, of course, and he happened to meet Father and me just when we were walking past the gate at Plas Cafn, and asked us in to tea."
Merle, Addie, and Ulyth smiled. This visit, paid four years ago, was the standing triumph of Stephanie's life. She never forgot, nor allowed any of her schoolfellows to forget, that she had been entertained by the great people of the neighbourhood.
"He wasn't Lord Glyncraig then; he was only Sir John Mitchell, Baronet. He's been raised to a peerage since," said Merle, willing to qualify some of the glory of Stephanie's reminiscences.
"We don't grow peers in Waitoto, or baronets either, for the matter of that," observed Rona. "I don't guess they're wanted out with us. We'd have no place in the bush for a Lord Glyncraig."
"You'd better claim acquaintance with him, as your name's Mitchell too. How proud he'd be of the honour!" teased Addie.
Coral flooded the whole of the Cuckoo's face. She had begun to understand the difference between her rough upbringing and the refined homes of the other girls, and she resented the sneers that were often made at her expense.
"Our butcher at home is Joseph Mitchell," hinnied Merle.
"Mitchell's a common enough name," said Ulyth. "I know two families in Scotland and some people at Plymouth all called Mitchell. They're none of them related to each other, and probably not to Merle's butcher or to Lord Glyncraig."
"Nor to me," said Rona. "I'm a democrat, and I glory in it. Stephanie's welcome to her grand friends if she likes them."
"I do like them," sighed Stephanie plaintively. "I love aristocratic people and nice houses and things. Why shouldn't I? You needn't grin, Addie Knighton; you'd know them yourself if you could. When I come out I'd like to be presented at Court, and go to a ball where the people are all dukes and duchesses and earls and countesses. It would be worth while dancing with a duke, especially if he wore the Order of the Garter!"
"Until that glorious day comes you'll have to dance with poor little me for a partner," giggled Merle.
"Aren't you all rested? We shall get no blackberries if we don't hurry on," called Miss Moseley from the other end of the rock.
Everybody scrambled up immediately and set out again over the bracken-covered hill-side. Another half-mile and they had reached the bourne of their expedition. The narrow track through the gorse and fern widened suddenly into a lane, a lane with very high, unmortared walls, over which grew a variety of bramble with a particularly luscious fruit. Every connoisseur of blackberries knows what a difference there is between the little hard seedy ones that commonly flourish in the hedges and the big juicy ones with the larger leaves. Nature had been prodigal here, and a bounteous harvest hung within easy reach.
"They are as big as mulberries—and oh, such heaps and heaps!" exclaimed Addie ecstatically. "No, Merle, you wretch, this is my branch! Don't poach, you wretch! Go farther on, can't you!"
"I wish we could send the jam to the hospital when it's made," sighed Merle.
The party spread itself out; some of the girls climbed to the top of the wall, so that they could reach what grew on the sunnier side, and a few skirted round over a gate into a field, where a ruined cottage was also covered with brambles. They worked down the lane by slow degrees, picking hard as they went. At the end a sudden rushing roar struck upon the ear, and without even waiting for a signal from Miss Moseley the girls with one accord hopped over a fence, and ran up a slight incline. The voice of the waterfall was calling, and the impulse to obey was irresistible. At the top of the slope they stopped, for they had reached a natural platform that overlooked the gorge. The scene rivalled one of the beauty-spots of Switzerland. The Porth Powys stream, flowing between precipitous rocks, fell two hundred feet in a series of four splendid cascades. The rugged crags on either side were thickly covered with a forest of fir and larch, and here and there a taller stone-pine reared its darker head above the silvery green. Dashing, roaring, leaping, shouting, the water poured down in a never-ceasing volume: the white spray rose up in clouds, wetting the girls' faces; the sound was like an endless chorus of hallelujahs.
"Porth Powys is in fine form to-day. There must have been rain up in the mountains last night," remarked Ulyth. "What do you think of it, Rona?"
"It's a champion! I'm going to climb down there and get at the edge."
"No, you won't!" said Miss Moseley sharply. "Nobody is to go a single step nearer. You must all come back into the lane now, and get on with blackberry-picking. Your baskets are only half full yet."
Very reluctantly the girls followed. The fall exercised a fascination over them, and they could have stayed half an hour watching its white swirl. They did not wish, however, to earn the reputation of slackers. Two other parties had gone out blackberrying that afternoon, and there would be keen competition as to which would bring back the most pounds. They set to work again, therefore, with enthusiasm, counting stained fingers and scratches as glorious wounds earned in the good cause. Rona picked with zeal, but she had a preoccupied look on her face.
"Say, I liked that waterfall," she remarked to Ulyth. "One can't see anything of it down in this old lane. I'm going to get a better view."
"You mustn't go off on your own," commanded Ulyth. "Miss Moseley will report you if you do!"
"Don't excite yourself. I only said I was going to get a better view. It's quite easy."
Rona put her basket in a safe place, and with the aid of a hazel bush climbed to the top of the wall. Apparently the prospect did not satisfy her.
"I'm going a stave higher still. Keep your hair on!" she shouted down to Ulyth, and began swarming up the bole of a huge old oak-tree that abutted on the wall. She was strong and active as a boy, and had soon scrambled to where the branches forked. A mass of twisted ivy hung here, and raising herself with its aid, she stood on an outstretched bough.
"It's ripping! I can see a little bit of the fall; I'll see it better if I get over on to that other branch."
"Take care!" called Miss Moseley from below.
Rona started. She had not known the mistress was so near. The movement upset her decidedly unstable balance; she clutched hard at the ivy, but it gave way in her fingers; there was a sudden crash and a smothered shriek.
White as a ghost, Miss Moseley climbed the wall, expecting to find the prostrate form of her pupil on the other side. To her surprise she saw nothing of the sort. Near at hand, however, came a stifled groan.
"Rona, where are you?" shrieked the distracted governess.
"Here," spluttered the voice of the Cuckoo; "inside the tree. The beastly old thing's rotten, and I've tumbled to the very bottom of the trunk!"
"Are you hurt?"
"No, nothing to speak of."
"Here's a pretty go!" murmured the girls, who all came running at the sound of shouts. "How's she going to get out again?"
"Can't you climb up?" urged Miss Moseley.
"No, I can't stir an inch; I'm wedged in somehow."
What was to be done? The affair waxed serious. Miss Moseley, with a really heroic effort, and much help from the girls, managed to scale the tree and look down into the hollow trunk. She could just see Rona's scared face peeping up at her many feet below.
"Can you put up your hand and let me pull you?"
"No; I tell you I'm wedged as tight as a sardine."
"We shall have to send for help then. May and Kathleen, run as quickly as you can down the lane. There's a farm at the bottom of the hill. Tell them what's the matter."
"I hope to goodness they'll understand English!" murmured Merle.
"Will I have to stop here always?" demanded a tragic voice within the tree. "Shall you be able to feed me, or will I have to starve? How long does it take to die of hunger?"
"You won't die just yet," returned Miss Moseley, laughing a little in spite of herself. "We'll get you out in course of time."
"I guess I'd better make my will, though. Has anybody got a pencil and paper, and will they please write it down and send it home? I want to leave my saddle to Pamela Higson, and Jake is to have the bridle and whip—I always liked him better than Billy, though I pretended I didn't. Jane Peters may have my writing-desk—much she writes, though!—and Amabel Holt my old doll. That's all I've left in New Zealand. Ulyth can take what I've got at school—'twon't be any great shakes to her, I expect. You didn't tell me how long it takes to die!"
"Cheer up! There's not the slightest danger," Miss Moseley continued to assure her.
"It's all very well to say 'cheer up' when you're standing safe on the top," said the gloomy voice of the imprisoned dryad. "It feels a different matter when you're boxed up tight with tree all round you. It's jolly uncomfortable. Where are the girls?"
"Here's one," replied Ulyth, climbing the tree to relieve poor Miss Moseley, who gladly retired in her favour. "I'm going to stay and talk to you till somebody comes to get you out. Oh, here are May and Kathleen at last! What a fearful time they've been!"
The two messengers came panting back with many excuses for their delay. It was a long way down the lane to the farm, and when they arrived there they had considerable difficulty in explaining their errand. No one could understand English except a little boy, who was only half-able to translate their remarks into Welsh. They had at length made the farmer realize what had happened, and he had promised to come at once. In the course of a few minutes they were followed by David Jones and his son, Idwal, bearing a rope, an axe, and a saw, and looking rather dismayed at the task in store for them. It proved indeed a matter of considerable difficulty to rescue Rona without hurting her; a portion of the tree-trunk was obliged to be sawn away before she could obtain sufficient room to help to free herself, and it was only after an hour's hard work that she stood at last in safety on the ground.
"How do you feel?" asked Miss Moseley anxiously, fearing broken bones or a sprain from the final effort of extraction.
"Well, I guess it's taken the bounce out of me. I'm as stiff as a rheumatic cat! Oh, I'll get back to school somehow, don't alarm yourself! I'm absolutely starving for tea. Good-bye, you wood-demon; you nearly finished me!" and Rona shook her fist at the offending oak-tree as a parting salute.
"She called it demon to rhyme with lemon!" gurgled Addie, almost sobbing with mirth as she followed, holding Merle's arm. "The Cuckoo will cause me to break a blood-vessel some day. It hurts me most dreadfully to laugh. I've got a stitch in my side. Oh dear! I wonder whatever she'll go and do next?"
"Scratch, scratch, scratch, Scratch went the old black hen! Every fowl that scrapes in the barn Can scratch as well as your pen!"
So sang Rona, bounding noisily one afternoon into No. 3, Room 5, and popping her hands from behind over Ulyth's eyes as the latter sat writing at a table near the window.
"What are you always scratching away for? Can't you finish your work at prep.? Why don't you come downstairs and play basket-ball? You're mighty studious all of a sudden. What have you got here?"
Ulyth flushed crimson with annoyance, and turned her sheets of foolscap hastily over to hide them from her room-mate's prying eyes.
"You're not to touch my papers, Rona! I've told you that before."
"Well, I wasn't touching them. Looking's not touching, anyway. What are you doing? It's queer taste to sit scribbling here half your spare time."
"What I was doing is my own concern, and no business of yours."
"Now you're riled," said the Cuckoo, sitting down easily on her bed. "I didn't mean any harm. I always seem sticking my foot into it somehow."
Ulyth sighed. Nobody in the school realized how much she had to put up with from her irrepressible room-mate, whose hearty voice, extraordinary expressions, and broad notions of fun grated upon her sensitive nature. Rona did not appreciate in the least the heroic sacrifice that Ulyth was making. It had never occurred to her that she might be placed in another dormitory, and that she only remained on sufferance in No. 3. She admired Ulyth immensely, and was quite prepared to take her as a model, but at present the copy was very far indeed from the original. The mistresses had instituted a vigorous crusade against Rona's loud voice and unconventional English, and she was really making an effort to improve; but the habits of years are not effaced in a few weeks, and she still scandalized the authorities considerably. Ulyth could tolerate her when she kept to her own side of the bedroom, but to have meddlesome fingers interfering with her private possessions was the last straw to her burden of endurance.
"Do you understand?" she repeated emphatically. "You're not to touch my papers at all!"
"All serene! I won't lay a finger on them—honest—sure!" returned the Cuckoo, chanting her words to the air of "Swanee River", and drumming an accompaniment on the bedpost. "What d'you think Stephanie called me just now? She said I was an unlicked cub."
"Oh, surely she didn't! Are you certain?"
"Heard her myself. She said it to my face and tittered. You bet I'll pay her out somehow. Miss Stephanie Radford needs taking down a peg. Oh, don't alarm yourself, I'll do it neatly! There'll be no clumsy bungling about it. Well, if you won't go down and play basket-ball I shall. It's more fun than sitting up here."
As the door banged behind Rona, Ulyth heaved an ecstatic "Thank goodness!" She sat for a few moments trying to regain her composure before she recommenced the writing at which she had been interrupted. The manuscript on which she was engaged was very precious. She had set herself no less a task than to write a book. The subject had come to her suddenly one morning as she lay awake in bed, and she regarded it as an inspiration. She would make a story about The Woodlands, and bring in all the girls she knew. It was no use struggling with a historical plot or a romance of the war—she had tried these, and stuck fast in the first chapters; it was better to employ the material close at hand, and weave her tale from the every-day incidents which happened in the school. So she had begun, and though she floundered a little at the difficulty of transferring her impressions to paper, she was making distinct progress.
"I'd never dare to have it published, of course," she ruminated. "Still, it's a beginning, and I shall like to read it over to myself. I think there are some rather neat bits in it, especially that shot at Addie and Stephie. How wild they'd be if they knew! But there's no fear of that. I'll take good care nobody finds out."
When to make time to go on with her literary composition was the difficulty. It was hard to snatch even an occasional half-hour during the day. Where there is a will, however, there is generally also a way, and Ulyth hit upon the plan of getting up very early in the morning and writing while Rona was still asleep. The Cuckoo never stirred until the seven o'clock bell rang, when she would awake noisily, with many yawns and stretchings of arms, so Ulyth flattered herself that her secret was absolutely safe.
Where to hide the precious papers was another problem. She did not dare to put them in any of her drawers, her desk would not lock, and her little jewel-box was too small to contain them.
The fireplace in the bedroom had an old-fashioned chimney-piece that was fitted with a loose wooden mantel-board, from which hung a border of needlework. It was quite easy to lift up this board and slip the papers between it and the chimney-piece; the border completely screened the hiding-place, and, except at a spring-cleaning, the arrangement was not likely to be disturbed. Ulyth congratulated herself greatly upon her ingenuity. It was interesting to have a secret which nobody even guessed. She often looked at the chimney-piece, and chuckled as she thought of what lay concealed there.
The days were rapidly closing in now, and the time between tea and preparation, which only a few weeks ago was devoted to a last game of tennis or a run by the stream, was perforce spent by the schoolroom fire. It was only a short interval, not long enough to make any elaborate occupation worth while, so the girls sat knitting in the twilight and chatting until the bell rang for evening work.
One afternoon, when tea was finished, Ulyth, instead of joining the others as usual, walked upstairs to put away some specimens in the Museum. She passed V B classroom as she did so, and heard smothered peals of mirth issuing from behind the half-closed door.
"What are they doing?" she thought. "I believe I'll go and see." But catching Rona's laugh above the rest, she changed her mind, walked on, and bestowed her fossils carefully in a spare corner of one of the cases. Meanwhile, the group assembled round the fire in V B were enjoying themselves. The room was growing dusk, but, seated on the hearthrug, Addie Knighton could see quite sufficiently to read aloud extracts from a document she was perusing, extracts to which the others listened with thrilling interest, interspersed with comments.
"'The girls of the Oaklands'," so she read, "'were a rather peculiar and miscellaneous set, especially those in the Lower Fifth. Scarcely any of them could be called pretty—'" ("Oh! oh!" howled the attentive circle.) "'One of them, Valerie Chadford, imagined herself so, and gave herself fearful airs in consequence; she was very set up at knowing smart people, and often bragged about it.'" ("I'll never forgive her, never!" screamed Stephanie.) "'The twins, Pearl and Doris, were fat, stodgy girls, who wore five-and-a-halfs in shoes and had twenty-seven-inch waists.'" ("Oh! Won't Merle and Alice be just frantic when they hear?") "'But even they were more interesting than Nellie Clacton, who usually sat with her mouth open, as if she was trying to catch flies.'" ("Does she mean me?" gasped Mary Acton indignantly.) "'Florence Tulliver was inclined to be snarly, and often said mean things about other people behind their backs.'" ("I'll say something now!" declared Gertrude Oliver.) "'And Annie Ryton was——'" but here Addie broke off abruptly and exploded.
"Go on! Go on!" commanded the girls.
"It's too lovely!" spluttered Addie. "O—ho—ho! So that's what she thinks of me, is it?"
"Read it, can't you?"
"Here, give the paper to me!"
"No, no! I'll go on—but—I didn't know my eyes were like faded gooseberries, and my hair like dried seaweed!"
"Has she described herself!" asked Stephanie.
"I haven't come to it yet. Oh yes! here we are, farther on: 'Our heroine, Morvyth Langton, was an unusually——'"
But here Addie stopped abruptly, for a blazing little fury stood in the doorway.
"Addie Knighton, how dare you? How dare you? Give me that paper this instant!"
"No, no! It's much too interesting. Let go! Don't be silly! How can you? Oh, what a shame!" as Ulyth in her anger tore the manuscript across and flung it into the fire.
"Whew! Now you've gone and done it!" whistled Rona.
Ulyth was holding down the last flaming fragment with the poker. When it had expired she turned to the guilty circle. "Who took my papers from my bedroom?"
Her voice was sharp, and her eyes fixed full on Rona.
"I didn't touch them. I never laid so much as a finger on them," protested the Cuckoo.
"But you told someone where they were?"
Rona winked in reply. Yes, alas! winked consciously and deliberately. (It was well for her that Miss Moseley was not in the room.)
"I knew you'd got something there," she admitted. "Were you such an innocent as to think I never saw you scribbling away hard in the early mornings? Why, I was foxing! I used to watch you while I was snoring, and nearly died with laughing because you never found me out."
If eyes could slay, Ulyth's would have finished Rona at that moment. But Addie Knighton, whose suspension of mirth had been merely a species of temporary paralysis, now relapsed into a choking series of guffaws, in which the others joined boisterously.
"I can't—get—over—seaweed—and faded gooseberries!" crowed Addie hysterically.
"I don't catch flies with my open mouth!" shouted Mary Acton, suspending her knitting in her indignation.
"Will somebody please measure the twins' waists?" bleated Christine.
"I didn't say it was meant for any of you. If the cap fits, put it on. Listeners hear no good of themselves, and no more do people who read what isn't intended for them. It serves you all right, so there!" and Ulyth flounced out of the room.
She ran straight up to her bedroom, and burst into tears. It was such a tragi-comedy ending to her literary ambition. She would rather the girls had been more indignant than that they had laughed so much.
"I'll never write another line again," she resolved; and then she thought of the binding she had always intended to have on her first published book, and wept harder.
"Ulyth," said the Cuckoo, stealing in rather shamefacedly, "I'm really frightfully sorry if you're riled. I didn't know you cared all that much about those old papers. I told Addie, as a joke, and she went and poked them out. I think they were fine. It was a shame to burn them. Can't you write them over again?"
"Never!" Ulyth replied, wiping her eyes. "Rona, you don't realize what damage you've done. There! oh yes, I'll forgive you, but if you want to keep friends with me, don't go and do anything of the sort again, that's all!"
Ulyth felt a little shy of meeting her class-mates after their discovery of the very unflattering description she had written of them, but the girls were good-natured and did not bear malice. They treated the whole affair as an intense joke, and even took to calling one another by the assumed names of the story. They composed extra portions, including a lurid description of Ulyth herself, illustrated by rapid sketches on the black-board. The disappointed authoress took it with what calm she could muster. She knew they meant to tease, and the fewer sparks they could raise from her the sooner they would desist and let the matter drop. It would probably serve as a target for Addie's wit till the end of the term, unless the excitement of the newly formed ambulance class chased it from her memory. The Woodlanders were trying to do their duty by their country, and all the girls were enthusiastically practising bandaging.
"I wish we'd some real patients to bind up," sighed Merle one day, as V B took its turn under Nurse Griffith's instructions.
"I'd be sorry for them if they were left to your tender mercies," retorted Mavis, who had been posing as patient. "My arm's sore yet with your vigorous measures."
"What nonsense! I was as gentle as a lamb."
"A curious variety of lamb then, with a wolf inside."
"I believe The Woodlands would make a gorgeous hospital," suggested Addie hopefully. "When we're through our course we might have some real patients down and nurse them."
"Don't you think it! The Rainbow won't carry ambulance lessons as far as that!"
Ulyth, brushing her hair before the looking-glass one morning, hummed cheerily.
"You seem in spirits," commented Rona, from the washstand. "It's more than I am. Miss Lodge was a pig yesterday. She said my dictation was a disgrace to the school, and I'd got to stop in during the interval this morning and write out all the wrong words a dozen times each. It's too sickening! I'd no luck yesterday. Phyllis Chantrey had my book to correct, and her writing and mine are such opposite poles, we daren't try it on."
"Try what on?" asked Ulyth, pausing with the brush in her hand.
"Why, the exchange dodge, you know."
"I don't know."
"Don't you take dictation in V B? Well, in our form we get it twice a week, and Miss Lodge makes us correct each other's books. We make it up to try and exchange with a girl whose writing's pretty like one's own; then, you see, we can alter things neatly, and allow full marks. It generally works, but it didn't yesterday."
Ulyth's face was a study.
"You mean to tell me you correct each other's mistakes!"
"Why not?" said Rona, not the least abashed. "Miss Lodge never finds out."
Ulyth collapsed into a chair. What was she to do with such a girl?
"Don't you know it's the most atrocious cheating?"
"Is it? Why, the whole form does it," returned the Cuckoo unconcernedly.
"Then they're abominable little wretches, and don't deserve to be candidates for the Camp-fire League. I'm thoroughly ashamed of them. Have they no sense of honour?"
The Cuckoo was looking perplexed.
"Ulyth Stanton, you're always rounding something new on me," she sighed. "I can't keep up with you. I keep my hair tidy now, and don't leave my things lying round the room, and I try to give a sort of twitter instead of laughing, and I've dropped ever so many words you object to, and practise walking down the passage with a book on my head. What more do you want?"
"A great deal," said Ulyth gravely. "Didn't you learn honour at home?"
"Catch Mrs. Barker!"
"But surely your father——?"
"I saw so little of Dad. He was out all day, and sometimes off for weeks together at our other block. When he was at home he didn't care to be bothered overmuch."
An amazed pity was taking the place of Ulyth's indignation. This was, indeed, fallow ground. Mrs. Arnold's comment flashed across her mind:
"What an opportunity for a Torch-bearer!"
"I don't want to be turned into a prig," urged the Cuckoo.
"You needn't. There's a certain amount of slang and fun that's allowable, but noblesse oblige must always come first. You don't understand French yet? Well, never mind. All that matters is that you simply must realize, Rona—do listen, please—that all of us here, including you, mustn't—couldn't—cheat at lessons. For your own sake, and for the sake of the school, you must stop it."
"You think a lot of the school!"
"And quite right too! The school stands to us for what the State does to grown-up people. We've got to do our best to keep the tone up. Cheating brings it down with a run. It's as bad as tearing up treaties."
"Go ahead. Rub it in," returned the Cuckoo, beginning to whistle a trifle defiantly.
She thought the matter over, nevertheless, and returned to the subject that night when they were going to bed.
"Ulyth, I told the girls exactly what you said about them. My gracious, you should have seen their faces! Boiled lobsters weren't in it. That hit about the Camp-fire Guild seemed specially to floor them. I don't fancy, somehow, there'll be any more correcting done in dictation. You've touched them up no end."
"I'm extremely glad if what I said has brought them to their senses," declared Ulyth.
Rona got on tolerably well among her comrades, but there was one exception. With Stephanie she was generally in a state of guerrilla warfare. The latter declared that the vulgar addition to the school was an outrage on the feelings of those who had been better brought up. Stephanie had ambitions towards society with a big S, and worshipped titles. She would have liked the daughter of a duke for a schoolfellow, but so far no member of the aristocracy had condescended to come and be educated at The Woodlands. Stephanie felt injured that Miss Bowes and Miss Teddington should have accepted such a girl as Rona, and lost no opportunity of showing that she thought the New Zealander very far below the accepted standard. The Cuckoo's undoubted good looks were perhaps another point in her disfavour. The school beauty did not easily yield place to a rival, and though she professed to consider Rona's complexion too high-coloured, she had a sneaking consciousness that it was superior to her own.