Author of "A Fortunate Term"
"The Princess of the School" &c.
Illustrated by Treyer Evans
DEDICATED TO THOSE READERS WHO ASKED ME TO WRITE THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MAVIS AND MERLE
* * * * *
I. A LAST BATHE
II. A SCHOOL BALLOT
III. THE NEW MONITRESS
IV. CHAGMOUTH FOLK
V. MISS MITCHELL, B.A.
VII. MUSICAL STARS
IX. FACING THE FOOTLIGHTS
X. THE MUMPS
XI. BAMBERTON FERRY
XII. FIFTH FORM JUSTICE
XIII. "THE KITTIWAKE"
XIV. THE HAUNTED TREE
XVI. THE TADPOLE CLUB
XVII. THE FOURTH OF JULY
* * * * *
"WHY DIDN'T 'EE FASTEN UP THE CHAIN?"
"WE'RE JUST READY! YOU CAN COME IN IF YOU LIKE!"
MR. CASTLETON DID NOT LOOK AT ALL PLEASED
SHE HAD BROUGHT HER WONDERFUL STRADIVARIUS VIOLIN
HE KEPT THEM DAWDLING
THE FOURTH OF JULY PARADE
* * * * *
A Last Bathe
The warm, mellow September sunshine was streaming over the irregular roofs and twisted chimneys of the little town of Chagmouth, and was glinting on the water in the harbour, and sending gleaming, straggling, silver lines over the deep reflections of the shipping moored by the side of the jetty. The rising tide, lapping slowly and gently in from the ocean, was floating the boats beached on the shingle, and was gradually driving back the crowd of barefooted children who had ventured out in search of mussels, and was sending them, shrieking with mirth, scampering up the seaweed-covered steps that led to the fish market. On the crag-top above the town the corn had been cut, and harvesters were busy laying the sheaves together in stooks. The yellow fields shone in the afternoon light as if the hill were crowned with gold.
Walking along the narrow cobbled path that led past the harbour and up on to the cliff, Mavis and Merle looked at the scene around with that sense of rejoicing proprietorship with which we are wont to revisit the pet place of our adoption. It was two whole months since they had been in Chagmouth, and as they both considered the little town to be the absolute hub of the universe it was really a great event to find themselves once more in its familiar streets. They had spent the summer holidays with their father and mother in the north, and had come back to Durracombe just in time for the reopening of school. On this first Saturday after their return to Devonshire they had motored with Uncle David to his branch surgery at Chagmouth, and were looking forward to several hours of amusement while he visited his patients at the sanatorium.
Readers who have followed the adventures of Mavis and Merle Ramsay in A Fortunate Term will remember that the sisters, on account of Mavis's health, had come to live with their great-uncle Dr. Tremayne at Durracombe, where they attended school daily at 'The Moorings.' Dr. Ramsay, their father, had decided shortly to leave his practice at Whinburn and go into partnership with Dr. Tremayne, but the removal to Devonshire could not take place till nearly Christmas, so the girls were to spend another term in sole charge of Uncle David, Aunt Nellie, and Jessop the elderly housekeeper, an arrangement which, though they were sorry to be parted from their parents, pleased them uncommonly well. It was a favourite excursion of theirs to accompany their uncle on Saturdays when he motored to visit patients at Chagmouth. On these occasions they would have lunch and tea with him at Grimbal's Farm, where he had his surgery, and would spend the intervening time on the seashore or wandering along the cliffs. To-day, tempted by the brilliant sunshine, they had brought their bathing costumes, towels, and tea-basket, and meant to secure the last dip of the holidays in case the weather should change and further mermaiding should prove impossible. They chatted briskly as they climbed the path up the cliff.
"Too bad Bevis has gone back to school! I thought we should just have seen him before he went!"
"And Tudor too! I met Babbie, while you were inside Carlyon's shop buying chocs, and she told me Tudor started yesterday, and Gwen went last Tuesday to a boarding-school near London. It was decided quite in a hurry because there happened to be a vacancy for her. It's a very fashionable school where they take the girls out to theatres and concerts and all sorts of places. Gwen's fearfully thrilled to go. They wanted to send her there before, only they couldn't get her in. Somebody else has left unexpectedly though, so there was a cubicle at liberty for her."
"It will just suit Gwen! But she'll miss her riding. She nearly lived on Taffy's back as a rule. Won't it be very lonely for Babbie all by herself with a governess? Will she come to school for French and dancing as usual?"
"She's coming to 'The Moorings' altogether. They're going to motor her over every day, and fetch her back at four. She's quite pleased about it. She always liked 'The Moorings' much better than Gwen did."
"And 'The Moorings,' from all reports, is going to be an utterly different school this term!"
"So I suppose! Hope it won't be too much changed, that's all! A new teacher, hot from a High School, means a new broom that will sweep very clean. It strikes me those nice do-as-you-please lessons with Miss Fanny will be dreams of the past, and we shall have to set our brains to work and swat! Ugh! It's not a particularly delirious prospect!"
"Don't wrinkle your forehead into quite so many kinks! You look about forty!" she objected. "It mayn't turn out as hard as you expect. Anyhow, don't let us spoil the last Saturday of the holidays with thinking about it. I want to enjoy this afternoon thoroughly. I feel as if I'd been away from Chagmouth for years and years. Isn't it priceless to see it again? Have a chocolate! Or would you rather take a piece of toffee?"
The two girls had been mounting steadily as they talked, and were now walking along a narrow track which led along the top of the cliffs. Below them lay the gorgeous-hued crags of the rugged coast and a great expanse of sea, silver at the horizon, blue at mid-distance, and deep metallic green where it touched the shore. Innumerable sea-birds wheeled and screamed below, and the incoming tide lapped with little white waves over the reefs of rocks, and submerged the pools where gobies were darting about, and sea-anemones were stretching out crimson or green tentacles, and scurrying crabs were hiding among masses of brown oar-weed. Above and beyond was a network of brambles, where ripe blackberries hung in such tempting clusters that it was hardly in human nature to resist them, and Merle, with purple-stained fingers, loitered and lingered to enjoy the feast.
"If you're not quick the tide will have turned and it won't be half so nice to bathe!" urged Mavis impatiently. "Do hurry up now, and you can absolutely gorge on blackberries as we come back, if you want to. I'll promise to wait for you then."
"Right-o! I'm coming! Though I must just get that one big beauty! There! I won't eat a single one more till I've had my dip. We must be close to the cove now. I'll run if you like!"
The bathing-place for which the girls were bound was a sandy creek among the rocks. A hundred years ago it had been a favourite spot for smugglers to land contraband goods, and a series of steps cut in the cliff testified to its former use. Nowadays it was commonly deserted, and in the early part of the summer, when Mavis and Merle had been wont to visit it, they had had it all to themselves. They had gone there so often and found it untenanted that they had come to regard it as their private property, and, in consequence, they were most unreasonably annoyed, when climbing down the steps, to hear sounds of laughter rising up from below.
"Who's in our cove?" demanded Merle sharply, somewhat as Father Bruin asked the immortal question, "Who's sleeping on my bed?"
"All the world, I should say!" replied the aggrieved voice of Mavis, who was in front and had first view of the scene beneath. "The place is an absolute 'seaside resort.' Never saw so many people in my life before! Where do they all come from?"
The little cove, their cove, which in June had been so delightfully secluded and retired, was undoubtedly invaded by quite a number of visitors. Children were paddling or scampering along the sands, wet heads were bobbing in and out of the water, every rocky crevice was in use as a dressing-room, picnic parties were taking tea on the rocks, and a circle of boys and girls were playing a noisy game at the brink of the waves. Very ruefully Mavis and Merle descended to swell the throng. It was not at all the sort of bathe which they had anticipated, and, had there been another available spot within reach, they would have utterly disdained it.
"Shall we go on to Yellow Head?" ventured Merle hesitatingly.
"There isn't time. The tide would be out before we got there, and it's a perfect tangle of oar-weed unless the water's high. Never mind! There'll be elbow-room in the sea at any rate. There's a corner here where we can undress. Come along! O-o-h! There's some one else inside!"
"We're just ready! You can come in if you like!" proclaimed a voice, as two girls in navy bathing costumes and rubber caps issued from behind a rock, and running swiftly down the sand plunged into the water.
Availing themselves of the opportunity Mavis and Merle took temporary possession of the naiads' dressing-room, and in the course of a few minutes more were revelling in a swim. The red rubber caps of the girls who preceded them were plainly to be seen some distance from the shore, where their owners were apparently having a race towards a rock that jutted from the waves.
"Oh, they mustn't go out there! There's an awful current! Bevis warned us about it!" gasped Mavis, swimming securely with one foot on the ground. "Can't we stop them? Shout, Merle!"
"Hello, there! Ahoy! Come back!" yelled Merle, who possessed stronger lungs than her sister. "They don't hear me! Coo-oo-ee! That's done it, thank goodness! Come—back—you're—going—to—get—into—a—current!"
The two red caps, warned in time of their danger, turned and swam into safer waters. They did not venture so far again from the shore, but frolicked with some companions, trying to make wheels and to perform various other feats of agility, which were generally failures and ended in a splash. They were so long about it that Mavis and Merle went from the water first and had time to dress quite leisurely before the others, shaking out wet fair hair, followed to the crevice among the rocks.
The Ramsays took their picnic basket, and, climbing a short way up the steps, settled themselves upon a grassy platform which afforded a good view of the cove below. They liked this vantage-ground better than the sands, and began to spread out the cups and saucers and parcels of cakes which Jessop had packed for them, congratulating themselves upon having a spot at least fairly apart. But they were not destined to spend that afternoon in solitary state. They had scarcely opened their basket when three heads came bobbing up the steps, shamelessly invaded their platform, and also began to unpack tea-cups.
Merle, who did not like other people to trespass upon her rights, frowned and turned her back upon them, and probably each little party would have taken its meal separately had not an unforeseen and utterly untoward accident happened. Mavis knocked their thermos flask with her elbow and sent it spinning over the cliff. Here was a pretty business! Their tea was gone, and the flask, if they found it, would be utterly smashed.
"It's not worth climbing down to pick it up!" lamented Mavis contritely. "I'm so sorry, Merle! It was horribly clumsy of me!"
"Do have some of ours!" suggested one of the strangers sympathetically. "We've heaps! Two flasks; and that's more than we shall drink ourselves. You might just as well!"
"I say, it was awfully decent of you to call to us not to go on to those rocks!" put in another. "We didn't know about the current."
The third girl made no remark, but she smiled invitingly and held out one of their flasks.
So it came about that Mavis and Merle moved nearer and joined the others, so that they formed one party. For a few minutes they sat in polite silence, taking in the items of their neighbours' appearance. When the Ramsays compared notes afterwards they decided that they had never before seen three such pretty girls. The two who had worn the red bathing caps were evidently sisters, for they had the same clear-cut features, fair complexions, cupid mouths, and beautiful dark-fringed eyes. Their companion, whose brown hair was drying in the breeze, was a complete contrast, with her warm brunette colouring and quick vivacious manner, "like an orchid between two roses," as Mavis described her later. It was she who spoke first—quite a conventional inquiry but decidedly to the point.
"Are you staying in Chagmouth?" she asked.
"We've only come over for the day from Durracombe," answered Merle.
The three strangers looked immediately interested.
"Durracombe! Why, we're going to start school there next week!"
"Never at 'The Moorings'!" gasped Merle excitedly.
"That's the place! Do you go there too? Oh! I say! Do tell us all about it! We've been just crazy to know what it's like. You two look sports! What are your names? Are the rest of the school jolly, and is Miss Pollard nice?"
With such a common interest as 'The Moorings' to talk about, the ice was completely broken, and the five girls were soon chatting in friendly fashion.
Mavis and Merle, having given a few details about themselves and how they often motored over to Chagmouth with Dr. Tremayne, drew in turn some information from their new acquaintances. The two fair-haired girls, aged respectively fourteen and thirteen, were Beata and Romola Castleton, and their father, an artist, had lately removed from Porthkeverne in Cornwall, and had taken a house at Chagmouth. Their friend Fay Macleod, a year older than Beata, was an American, whose father had come to Europe in search of health, and being attracted to Chagmouth by his love of sketching, had settled there temporarily for a rest-cure, and was enjoying the quiet and beauty of the quaint place and its surrounding scenery.
"I suppose you'll all be weekly boarders?" ventured Mavis, when Fay had finished her communications.
"No, we're to be day-girls. Six of us from Chagmouth are joining in a car and motoring every morning and being fetched back at four—ourselves, Nan and Lizzie Colville, and Tattie Carew. It will be rather a squash to cram six of us into Vicary's car! We've named it 'the sardine-tin' already. I hope nobody else will want to join us!"
"Babbie Williams is to be a day-girl this term. She lives over there at The Warren."
"We haven't room for her."
"She's going in their own car."
"That's good news for the sardines! I was thinking some of us would have to ride on the footboard or the luggage-carrier. Is Babbie fair, with bobbed hair? Then I've seen her in church. Seven of us from Chagmouth! We ought to make quite a clique in the school!"
"Oh, we don't want any cliques," said Merle quickly. "We had enough of that sort of thing when Opal was there. Miss Pollard told mother that the new mistress, Miss Mitchell, is going to reorganise everything, and bring it up to date, so I expect we shall find a great many changes when we start again. Have you been at school before?"
"Romola and I went to The Gables at Porthkeverne," replied Beata. "We loved it, and we were dreadfully sorry to leave. Fay, of course, has been at school in America."
"And we used to go to a big High school in the north until we came to Durracombe. 'The Moorings' seemed a tiny place at first, and then we grew to love it. We adore Miss Pollard and Miss Fanny. I hope you'll like them too! I'm so glad we've met you, because we'll know you when you arrive at school, and we can show you round. I'm afraid we shall have to be going now, because Uncle David will be back from the sanatorium and waiting for us. Thanks most immensely for the tea. We'll look out for you on Tuesday. Good-bye!"
As Mavis and Merle walked back along the cliffs to Chagmouth their tongues wagged fast in discussion of their new acquaintances. Mavis was charmed with Beata and Romola, and Merle had utterly lost her heart to Fay.
"I feel as if I could like her!" she declared. "She's a sport, and really we want somebody to wake us up a little at 'The Moorings.' I believe this term is going to be jolly. My spirits are rising and I see fun ahead. I only wish Daddy could go and live at Chagmouth and we could go to school every day in 'the sardine-tin.' They'll have the time of their lives, the luckers! Don't I envy them, just!"
"I don't think I'd like to be packed quite so tight, thanks!" objected Mavis. "On the whole, I much prefer going backwards and forwards to Chagmouth in Uncle David's car. Merle! Do you know it's after five! We must simply scoot—oh, I daresay I did promise you might eat blackberries, but you haven't time now. You shouldn't have stayed so long at the cove if you wanted a blackberry feed! If you don't hurry up I shall run off and leave you and go home with Uncle David by myself! There! Oh, you're coming! Good! I thought you'd hardly care to spend the night upon the cliffs with the sea-gulls!"
A School Ballot
Mavis and Merle started for school on Tuesday morning confident of finding many changes. Hitherto 'The Moorings' had been a modest establishment where about twenty-four children had been educated by Miss Pollard and her sister Miss Fanny, who were the daughters of the late Vicar of the parish. They were neither of them particularly learned or up to date, but they had a happy knack with girls, and had been especially successful in the care of delicate pupils. The remarkably mild climate of Durracombe made the place peculiarly suitable for those who had been born in India or other hot countries, and so many more boarders had been entered for this term that the school was practically doubled. Recognising the fact that this sudden enlargement in numbers ought also to mean a march forward in other ways, the sisters were wise enough to seize their golden opportunity and completely reorganise their methods. They were fortunate in being able to get hold of the house next to their own, and, turning that into a hostel for boarders, they devoted the whole of 'The Moorings' to classrooms. They engaged a thoroughly competent and reliable mistress, with a university degree and High School experience, and gave her carte blanche to revise the curriculum and institute what innovations she thought fit. They allowed her to choose her own assistant mistress, and made fresh arrangements for visiting teachers, reserving for themselves only a very few of the classes, and concentrating most of their energies on the management of the hostel. These new plans gave great satisfaction to both parents and pupils.
"It will be rather nice to have somebody modern at the head of things, so long as Miss Pollard and Miss Fanny aren't entirely shelved," declared Merle.
"They're perfect dears! We couldn't do without them," agreed Mavis.
"But they're not clever!"
"Um—I don't know! It depends what you call clever! They mayn't be B.A.'s and all the rest of it, but they're well read, and they can sketch and sing and play and do a hundred things that a great many graduates can't. I call them 'cultured,' that's the right name for them. They're such absolute and perfect ladies. It's a style you really don't meet every day. And they're so pretty with their pink cheeks and their silver hair, like the sweet old-fashioned pictures of eighteenth-century beauties in powder and patches. I love to look at them, and to listen to the gentle refined way they talk—I think they're adorable!"
"So they are—but you want something more in a school. I hope the fresh teacher will be a regular sport, and that she'll use slang sometimes, and play hockey. That's my ideal of a head mistress."
Miss Mitchell, the new peg upon which so much was now to depend at 'The Moorings,' might not have been blamed for regarding Tuesday morning as somewhat of an ordeal. If she was nervous, however, she managed to conceal her feelings, and bore the introduction to her prospective pupils with cheerful calm.
Forty-six girls, taking mental stock of her, decided instantly that she was 'the right sort.' She was tall, in her middle twenties, had a fresh complexion, light brown hair, a brisk decisive manner, and a pleasant twinkle in her hazel eyes. She was evidently not in the least afraid of her audience, a fact which at once gave her the right handle. She faced their united stare smilingly.
"I'm very pleased to meet you all!" she began. "I hope we shall work together splendidly and have an extremely happy term. As Miss Pollard has just told you, there have been so many changes at 'The Moorings' that it is practically a new school. It's a tremendous opportunity to be able to make a fresh start like this. We can make our own traditions and our own rules. Some of you have been at the school before and some have been at other schools, but I want you all to forget past traditions and unite together to make 'The Moorings' the biggest success that can possibly be. We're all going to love it and to be very loyal to it. We hope to do well with our work, and well with our games. I must explain to you later about all the various societies which we mean to start, but I want to tell you that though there is plenty of work in front of you there's also plenty of fun, and that if every girl makes up her mind to do her very best all round we shall get on grandly. Now I am going to read out the lists of the various forms, and then you can march away in turn to your own classrooms."
In making her arrangements for the reorganisation of the school Miss Mitchell had decided to have no Sixth form as yet. The girls were all under seventeen, and she did not consider any of them sufficiently advanced to be placed in so high a position. The Fifth was at present to be the top form, and consisted of eleven girls, all of whom she intended should work their uttermost and fit themselves for the honour of becoming the Sixth a year later.
Mavis and Merle, both of whom were included in this elect eleven, walked demurely away to their new classroom. Five of their old companions were with them, Iva Westwood, Nesta Pitman, Aubrey Simpson, Muriel Burnitt, and Edith Carey, and the remaining four consisted of Beata Castleton, Fay Macleod, and two strangers, Sybil Vernon and Kitty Trefyre. Romola Castleton had been placed in the Fourth, together with Maude Carey, Babbie Williams, Nan Colville, Tattie Carew, and several other new girls.
The Fifth, as the top form, was to be mainly Miss Mitchell's; Miss Barnes, the fresh assistant mistress, was to take the Fourth; and the teaching of the three lower forms would be shared by Miss Hopkins, Mademoiselle, and Miss Fanny Pollard. Lessons, on a first morning, are usually more or less haphazard, but at any rate a beginning was made, the pupils were entered on their class registers, their capacities were tested, and they began in some slight degree to know their teachers. Before the school separated at 12.30 for dinner Miss Pollard had an announcement to make.
"Miss Mitchell and I have decided that for the general good of the school it will be wise to appoint four monitresses. Two of these must be boarders and will be chosen by us, but the other two may be elected by yourselves. We will have a ballot this afternoon. You may nominate any girls you like by writing their names upon slips of paper and handing them in to me before 2.30. All candidates, however, must be over the age of fifteen and must have spent at least two previous terms at 'The Moorings.' The voting will take place in the big schoolroom immediately after four o'clock."
Mavis and Merle, walking home to lunch at Bridge House, discussed the project eagerly as they went.
"Good for Miss Pollard! Or I expect it's really Miss Mitchell who suggested it! I call it a ripping idea. It's just exactly what's wanted. The monitresses will lead the games and all the various societies. Run the school, in fact. What sport!" rejoiced Merle, with shining eyes. "The old 'Moorings' will really wake up at last."
"Only four monitresses, and two of them are to be boarders and chosen by the powers that be!" mused Mavis. "That means Iva and Nesta, if I know anything of Miss Pollard and Miss Fanny! Now the question is who are to be the other two lucky ones?"
"It ought to be somebody who could lead!" flushed Merle. "Somebody really good at games and able to organise all that rabble of kids. Some one who's been accustomed to a big school and knows what ought to be done. Not girls who've spent all their lives in a tiny school like this. They've no standards. I've often told them that! They've simply no idea of how things used to swing at the Whinburn High!"
"I wish Miss Pollard and Miss Mitchell would have done all the choosing," said Mavis anxiously. "I think myself it's a mistake to put it to the vote. Probably somebody quite unsuitable will be elected. The juniors will plump for the girl they like best, without caring whether she knows anything about games or not. There's Aubrey Simpson!"
"Oh! They can't choose 'the jackdaw'!" interrupted Merle.
"They can choose her if they like. She's over fifteen and perfectly eligible. Edith Carey is rather a favourite, I believe."
"That silly goose! Good-night!"
"Well, there's Muriel Burnitt at any rate. She's been a long time at 'The Moorings.'"
"All the worse for that, though she's better than Edith or Aubrey. I shall vote for her myself, and for you."
"And I'm going to vote for you, and for Muriel, because, as you say, she's better than the others. I sincerely hope you'll win."
"I hope we both shall. I'll nominate you if you'll nominate me!"
"Rather a family affair, isn't it? I think I'll ask first and see if anybody else is going to give in our names. Perhaps Iva or Nesta may. It would be much nicer than seeming to poke ourselves forward."
"If we don't hustle a little we'll never get there! That's my opinion! You're too good for this wicked world, Mavis! I've often told you so!" declared Merle, running into the house and putting down her books with a slam. "Angel girls are all very well at home, but school is a scrimmage and it's those who fight who come up on top! Don't laugh! Oh, I enjoy fighting! I tell you I want most desperately and tremendously to be made a monitress, and if I'm not chosen, well—it will be the disappointment of my life! I'm not joking! I mean it really and truly. I've set my heart upon it."
Mavis, who had a very fine sense of the fitness of things, and who did not think sisters should nominate one another, returned early to school that afternoon and hunted up Iva Westwood. She found her very enthusiastic about the election.
"We've never had anything of the sort before at 'The Moorings,'" purred Iva. "We're beginning to wake up here, aren't we? I'm going to give in your name as a candidate, Mavis! I'm just writing it now."
"Thanks! Won't you put Merle too?"
"Oh, I will if you like." (Iva's voice was not too enthusiastic.) "I suppose it doesn't matter how many we nominate. Somehow I never thought of Merle."
"She's a splendid leader, and A1 at games. You should have seen her at Whinburn High!"
"Oh, I daresay! Well, to please you I'll put her name on my list. It can do no harm at any rate."
"Thanks ever so!"
"Old Muriel's canvassing like anything downstairs among the kids!"
"Is canvassing allowed?"
"Well, it hasn't been forbidden. Nesta and I are too proud to go and beg for votes, but Mu doesn't care in the least; rather enjoys it, in fact. She's sitting in the playroom, with Florrie Leach and Betty Marshall on her knee, 'doing the popular,' and giving away whole packets of sweets. If Merle really wants—hello! here's Merle herself!"
Mavis turned quickly, for her younger sister, looking flushed and excited, had burst suddenly into the room and was speaking eagerly.
"Mavis! Have you a shilling in your pocket? I left my purse at home! Do lend it to me! What for? I want to tear out and buy some sweets. Oh yes, I've time. I shall simply sprint. Hand it over, that's a saintly girl! Thanks immensely!"
Merle departed like a whirlwind, slamming the door after her. Iva Westwood pulled an expressive grimace and laughed.
"So she's trying the popular trick too! Well, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I think Edith Carey has a good chance myself. The kids are rather fond of her. Have you written your nominations yet, Mavis? Then come along, and we'll drop them inside the box."
As the first bell rang at 2.25 and the girls began to assemble in the big schoolroom, Muriel Burnitt walked in followed by a perfect comet's tail of juniors, some of whom were hanging on to her arms. Each was sucking a peppermint bull's-eye, and each wore a piece of pink ribbon pinned on to her dress.
"Muriel's favours!" they explained, giggling loudly. "We're all of us going to vote for her. Isn't it fun?"
Mavis glanced round for Merle, hoping her expedition to the sweet-shop would not have made her late, and to her relief saw her sitting on the opposite side of the room, in company with Beata and Romola Castleton, Fay Macleod, and a number of other new girls whose acquaintance she had evidently just made. They were passing round chocolates, and seemingly enjoying themselves. Merle waved a hand gaily at her sister, beckoning her to join the group, but at that moment Miss Mitchell entered the room, and all seated themselves on the nearest available benches while the roll-call was taken.
"We will meet here at four o'clock for the election," said the mistress, as she closed the register and dismissed the various forms to their classrooms.
The first day of a new term always seems intolerably long, and with such an interesting event as a ballot before them most of the girls felt the hour and a half to drag, and turned many surreptitious glances towards wrist watches. Merle in especial, who hated French translation, groaned as she looked up words in the dictionary, and made several stupid mistakes, because her thoughts were focussed on the election instead of on the matter in hand. Once she yawned openly, and drew down a reproof from Mademoiselle, whereupon she heaved a submissive sigh, controlled her boredom, and went on wearily transferring the flowery sentiments of Fenelon into the English tongue. At precisely five minutes to four the big bell clanged out a warning, dictionaries were shut, exercise-books handed in, pencil-boxes replaced in desks, and the class filed downstairs to the big schoolroom. Miss Pollard was not there: she was busy in the hostel; and Miss Fanny, looking rather flustered and nervous, had evidently given over the conduct of the meeting to Miss Mitchell, and was present merely as a spectator. The new mistress seemed perfectly at home and ready for the occasion. She passed round pieces of paper, inquired whether everybody had a pencil, then made her announcements.
"As Miss Pollard told you this morning, you are here to elect two monitresses. Two from among the boarders have already been chosen by us, these are Iva Westwood and Nesta Pitman, but the remaining two are to be balloted for from among the list of candidates. As perhaps some of you don't understand a ballot, I will tell you just what to do. I have written on the blackboard the names of those girls who have been nominated:
"What I want you to do is to write on your piece of paper the names of the two candidates for whom you wish to vote, then fold your paper and hand it in. You must not add your own name to it, and you have no need to tell anybody how you voted. The whole principle of a ballot is that it is done in secret. Are you ready? Then please begin."
The little ceremony was soon over, the girls scribbled rapidly, folded their papers, and passed them along the benches to Nesta and Iva, who collected them and gave them to Miss Mitchell.
"It will take a short time to count the votes," explained the mistress. "Those girls who wish to go home can do so, but any who like to wait and hear the result can stay."
Miss Mitchell and Miss Fanny retired to the study and the meeting broke up. Most of the day-girls put on their hats and coats in readiness to go home, but hung about the hall until the names should be announced. The contingent from Chagmouth, whose car was stationed outside in the road, and whose driver was waxing impatient, were obliged to depart without the exciting news. Merle went as far as the gate to watch them pack into their 'sardine-tin.' Four sat behind, and two in front with the chauffeur, all quite radiant and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
"Good-bye! I hope you'll win!" said Beata, waving a hand to Merle with difficulty, for she was tightly sandwiched between Fay and Tattie. "We did our best for you and Mavis. I didn't know any of those others. Romola, have you got the books? That's all right. I was afraid we'd left the satchel. Yes," (to the chauffeur) "we're quite ready now, thanks! Ta-ta, Merle! Good luck to you! We're off!"
Merle, looking after the retreating car, was joined by Aubrey Simpson, rather injured, and disconsolate.
"I didn't know all these new girls were to have votes," she grumbled. "How can they choose a monitress when they don't know anybody! It's rather humbug, isn't it?"
"They know me" perked Merle.
"Did you canvass them? Oh, how mean!"
"Why mean? You could have done it yourself. Muriel was canvassing among the juniors as hard as she could go."
"I might have canvassed among the new boarders! Why didn't I think of it?" wailed Aubrey.
"Well, really, it's your own stupid fault! Don't blame me!" snapped Merle.
"Iva and Nesta said they didn't mean to ask for votes."
"Well, they'd no need to. They were both jolly certain that Miss Pollard would make them monitresses. It's easy to talk loftily when you're sure of your innings."
"Did Mavis canvass?"
"No—but then, of course, Mavis wouldn't!"
"Oh—because she's Mavis! I can't see her doing it somehow. What a long time Miss Mitchell and Miss Fanny are over their counting! I wish they'd hurry up. I want to go home to tea."
The girls had not much longer, however, to wait.
In the course of a few minutes the new mistress entered the hall and read out the important result.
"The polling is as follows," she announced.
"Muriel Burnitt . . . 27 Mavis Ramsay . . . 20 Merle Ramsay . . . 19 Edith Carey . . . 14 Aubrey Simpson . . . 12
"The two monitresses elected, therefore, are Muriel Burnitt and Mavis Ramsay."
Some of the girls raised a cheer, others took no notice; Miss Mitchell, who seemed in a hurry, vanished back into the study. The boarders, hearing their tea-bell, made for the hostel.
"Congrats, Mavis!" said Iva, as she walked away arm-in-arm with Nesta. "I'm glad the lot has fallen on you. Muriel was pretty sure of a walk-over, but it was a toss-up who was to be the fourth. I don't mind telling you I voted for you myself. And so did Nesta, I'm sure."
"It was a ballot, and I'm not going to let out whom I voted for!" declared Nesta. "Some people can't keep their own secrets! All the same, I'm glad it's you, Mavis. I wouldn't have had Aubrey a monitress for worlds."
The Ramsays walked home together along the High Street to Bridge House. Muriel Burnitt, escorted by Florrie and Viola Leach and the three little Andrews, was on in front, pluming herself upon her victory. The Careys had disappeared down the short cut to the Vicarage. Mavis hardly dared to look at Merle. The latter kept her face turned away and blinked her eyes hard. She had enough self-restraint not to weep openly in the High Street. When they reached their own door however, she bolted through the surgery entrance and, running into the garden, hid herself in the summer-house, whither Mavis, after a word to Aunt Nellie, presently followed her to offer what consolation she could.
"It's not that I'm jealous of you!" sobbed Merle stormily. "I wanted us both to win! What does Muriel know about a decent game of hockey, or how to conduct a society, or run a school magazine? It's idiotic that she should be chosen. Neither she nor Iva nor Nesta has ever been at a big school. A precious bungle they'll make of their meetings. I know you'll be there—but you're so gentle you'll never stand up against them, and they'll have everything their own silly way. 'The Moorings' won't be very much changed if it's just to be run upon the same old lines. I shan't bother to try and help. I might have done so much if they'd elected me, but what's the use now? I'm frightfully and frantically disappointed. If Miss Mitchell had had any sense she'd have waited a fortnight till she got to know the girls, and then have chosen the monitresses herself. If it's Miss Fanny's fault, I'm not friends with her any more! Tea-time, did you say? I suppose I shall have to come in then, though I really don't want any. Ugh! I hate everything!"
Tea that day was a dreary affair. Uncle David was out, Aunt Nellie had a headache so was unusually quiet, and Merle, with red eyes, sat silent and brooding. Mavis tried desperately to make a little conversation, but it was impossible to maintain a monologue, and she soon dropped the futile attempt. Merle, after eating half a piece of bread and butter and declining a chocolate biscuit, begged suddenly to be excused, and with two big unruly tears splashing down her cheeks fled from the room.
"Poor child! I'm afraid she's terribly disappointed," commented Aunt Nellie sympathetically.
"It seems a pity she wasn't chosen. I suppose she would have made a splendid monitress. It's half the battle to be keen about anything."
Mavis agreed, passed the cake, finished her tea, picked up the dropped stitches in Aunt Nellie's piece of knitting, carried a message to the cook, then went out into the garden. She wanted to be alone for a little while. There was a retired corner among the bushes by the wall overlooking the river. She had placed a box here for a seat, and called it her hermitage. Even Merle had not so far discovered it. It was a retreat where she could withdraw from everybody, and be absolutely uninterrupted and by herself. There was something about which she wished to think in quiet. The idea had been pressing upon her, clamouring in her brain ever since Miss Mitchell's announcement, but she must consider it carefully before she acted upon it. Sitting in her green nook, watching the golden light sparkling upon the river below, she faced her problem:
"Merle would really make a far better monitress than I should. Oughtn't I to give the post up to her?"
It was a struggle, and a very difficult one, for Mavis, quiet though she was, had her ambitions, and it would be hard to yield place to her younger sister. It is only those who are accustomed to practise self- control who have the strength for an emergency. She longed for the opportunity of helping the school, and to stand aside voluntarily and give the work up to another seemed a big sacrifice.
"It's got to be, though!" sighed Mavis. "I'll go down and see Miss Fanny about it at once. I expect I can make her understand."
Dodging Merle, who was disconsolately doing some gardening, she walked back to 'The Moorings' and went to the hostel. Miss Fanny, busy among the new boarders, received her with astonishment.
"What is it, Mavis? I can only spare you five minutes. You want to speak to me about the monitress-ship? My dear child, Miss Mitchell will explain everything to you to-morrow, and tell you exactly what you have to do. There's no need to trouble about it now."
"It isn't that, please, Miss Fanny!" blushed Mavis. "The fact of the matter is that I think Merle ought to have been chosen instead of me. I was only one mark ahead of her. She'd make a far better monitress than I should. May I resign and let her have the post instead?"
This was coming to the point with a vengeance. Miss Fanny knitted her eyebrows and pursed up her mouth into a button.
"I rather expected Merle to be elected," she admitted cautiously.
"She'd be splendid!" urged Mavis, pursuing her advantage. "She's a born leader. She's able to organise things and to keep order, and she's good at games. She'd throw herself heart and soul into it, and work tremendously at all the new schemes. She'd start clubs among the juniors as well as the seniors, and coach them in hockey, and do her level best! I'll guarantee she would!"
"And what about yourself? Can't you do any of these things?" questioned Miss Fanny.
"Not so well as Merle! I'm shyer, and I daren't speak out, and I'm not much good at games. And oh! Miss Fanny, there's another side of the question. I know Merle so well. If she's made monitress she'll be heart and soul for the school and an enormous help, but—she's a queer girl, and if she has no special place here or anything to concentrate her energy on, she may give trouble."
"That is certainly no reason for placing her in a post of authority," frowned Miss Fanny.
"No—but she's a girl who's always for or against, and it's so very important she should be on the right side. I believe this would be the making of her. She'd try for the sake of others when she wouldn't make any effort for herself."
"I believe you're right," conceded Miss Fanny thoughtfully. "Miss Mitchell would certainly be most relieved to have a monitress who was capable of organising the juniors at games. She was wondering how she was going to manage. Do I understand, then, that you wish to resign in favour of Merle?"
"Please! I'll help her all I can in the background."
"Very well, Mavis. I'll accept your resignation and announce the matter in school to-morrow. Now I must go, for I have a hundred things to do. Tell Merle to come five minutes earlier in the morning and I'll talk to her in the study. On the whole, I think the arrangement will be all for the best."
It was a very radiant, triumphant Mavis who ran home to the old garden, found Merle among the flowerbeds, and told her the glorious news.
"Sis! You can't mean it! Is it true? Oh, I don't like to take it! It's too good of you! Don't you really mind? It's all the world to me. I've been hoping to be made monitress ever since Miss Pollard spoke about reorganising the school. Won't I have the time of my life! Monitress Merle! It sounds nice, doesn't it? I must go and tell Jessop and Aunt Nellie! How astonished everybody will be in school to-morrow. Fay and Beata will be pleased. They were tremendously keen on my winning the ballot. I'm so glad about it I want to turn a somersault or do something mad. Come and dance with me, you old darling! What a trump you are! You're sure you don't mind?"
"Not a bit," said Mavis, swallowing a little lump in her throat. "Of course I'll be ready to help you with anything whenever you want me. There'll be plenty of hard work just at first, no doubt. You'll soon be up to your eyes in starting clubs and societies. Keep a corner for me on the school magazine if you found one. That's all I bargain for. I always liked the Literary Society at Whinburn High. My hearty congratulations to you, and every good wish for the success of everything you undertake —Miss Monitress Merle!"
The New Monitress
The announcement of Mavis's resignation and the consequent promotion of Merle to the post of monitress was received at school with varying degrees of surprise. Some of the girls regretted it, others thought that in the circumstances it was a wise decision.
"On the whole, I'm glad," admitted Iva in private to Nesta. "I love Mavis, but she's too fine stuff for the job. It's like trying to cut sacking with your most delicate pair of scissors. Now Merle will slash away and won't mind anything. She's not afraid of those juniors, and really some of them need a tight hand, the young wretches. It would half kill Mavis to have to battle with them. Merle enjoys fighting."
"She'll get it, then," laughed Nesta. "There'll be plenty of scope for it in the school, and I daresay I shall have a scrimmage or two with her myself. Certainly Muriel will! Don't look shocked. We'll do our squabbles in private if we have any. To the rest of the world, of course, the four monitresses will seem absolutely at one about everything. We won't give ourselves away!"
In a school where hitherto there has been no strict standard of discipline, and which has suddenly doubled its numbers, it is rather a difficult matter to decide the absolute limits of authority. Miss Mitchell, new herself, gave the monitresses some general rules and directions but left them to make what she called 'their own by-laws.'
"Work as much as you can through committees, and have an occasional general meeting to voice popular opinion," she counselled. "Always keep your position as leaders, but don't degenerate into an oligarchy. Listen to just grievances, and try and bring everybody into harmony. The tone of the school will depend very largely upon you four. Remember it's a responsibility as well as an honour to have such a post of trust."
By the wish of both Miss Pollard and Miss Mitchell, it was arranged that Iva and Nesta, who were boarders, should busy themselves mostly with the affairs of the hostel, and that Muriel and Merle should look after those things which specially concerned the day-girls. There were, of course, various societies in which they could all unite, but the interests of both were to be equally balanced. In order that the girls should have time to inaugurate the numerous projects that loomed on the horizon, the last hour of the coming Thursday afternoon was set apart for the purpose, and a general meeting was to be held in the schoolroom.
"I shall leave you to manage it entirely yourselves," said Miss Mitchell. "Found your own clubs, make your own arrangements, and elect your own committees and officers. You can come and tell me about it afterwards."
Merle, rejoicing over the liberty thus given, found Iva, Nesta, and Muriel a trifle nervous and diffident.
"The fact of the matter is," admitted Iva ruefully, "we none of us know how to conduct a public meeting. What do you do? I've a vague idea that there ought to be a chairman and a secretary, but what else? Rather weak of us, isn't it? It seems so humiliating to go and tell Miss Mitchell we can't carry on! She'll think us queer monitresses. Merle, can you give any light?"
"We used to have heaps of public meetings at Whinburn High, and I think I know the ropes. I can coach you all up beforehand. I should say we'd better find out what girls are most likely to be of help, and arrange for them to be proposed as members of committees. There's Mavis, of course. Beata and Romola Castleton have been at school before, and so has Fay Macleod. Kitty Trefyre looks as if she might be useful."
"I shall propose that you take the chair," said Iva. "Oughtn't that to be a question of age?" interrupted Muriel quickly.
"It's a question of who is competent to do it. Merle's the only one of us who knows how," returned Nesta, looking Muriel squarely in the face.
"Oh, all right!" (rather sulkily).
"We shall want a secretary, and you're a quick writer," suggested Merle, with more tact than she generally possessed.
It was evident to Merle from the first that the greatest factor of trouble in connection with her new post would lie with Muriel Burnitt. Muriel was a little older than herself, she was clever, and she had a sharp tongue. She had been educated solely at 'The Moorings,' and she very much resented any allusions by Merle to former doings at the Whinburn High school. Iva and Nesta were more broad-minded, and were quite ready to take the benefit of Merle's past experiences, but as their work lay largely at the hostel they were not so likely to clash. Even Muriel, however, recognised the necessity of receiving instruction on the subject of a public meeting, and allowed herself to be duly coached for the duties of the occasion.
All the school felt quite excited when three o'clock on Thursday afternoon arrived, and they were left to themselves in the large classroom. Big girls, little girls, new girls, and old girls sat on the forms in giggling anticipation, chattering like swallows on the eve of migration, and determined to have a good time and enjoy themselves.
"You're the eldest! Open the ball!" said Iva, pushing Nesta forward.
But Nesta had turned shy. She had never been in such a position before, and, flushing scarlet, she urged her utter inability to cope with the matter.
"I can't! You do it—or Muriel!" she whispered in an agonized voice.
But Muriel, in spite of her ambition, was also afflicted with stage-fright and passed on the honour.
Iva, making a supreme effort, called to the girls for silence, but they were too much out of hand to listen to her and only went on talking. Merle, following some wise advice administered by Mavis, had allowed the other three to have first innings, but as none seemed capable of controlling the meeting she now stepped to the front and, making a megaphone of a roll of foolscap, yelled, "Order!" with all the force of her lungs. The effect was instantaneous. There was an immediate dead hush, and all eyes were turned in her direction.
"We're here this afternoon on business, and our first matter is to elect a chairwoman," she proclaimed. "Will somebody kindly nominate one."
"I beg to propose Merle," piped Iva.
"And I beg to second her," fluttered Nesta, taking courage.
The clapping and stamping that followed witnessed the entire approval of the meeting. Merle was unanimously elected to the chair, and having thus received the symbol of authority proceeded to wield it. She was not in the least bashful, and was quite ready to cope with anything that lay before her. She held up a hand for silence and addressed her audience.
"I've told you we're here on business, and I want to explain. As it affects everybody, perhaps you'll kindly listen without talking. Will those three girls on the back bench move out here? Thanks! Now you all know the school has started on a new era, and we hope it's going to forge ahead. In the past we haven't done very much in the way of societies. Perhaps that's all the better, because it gives us the chance to make a clean start now, without any back traditions to hamper us. What I propose is this: We'll go slow at first until we get into the swing of things, and then later on we can blossom out as much as we like. I suggest that we should get up three societies:
"A Games Club.
"A Literary Club.
"An Entertainment Club.
"The Games Club will try and work up a decent hockey team, and when our play is worth anything, we'll see if we can't arrange a match with some other school. The Literary Club will run a magazine, to which you'll all be welcome to send contributions; and the Entertainment Club will concentrate on getting up theatricals or something of that sort for the end of the term. Does this meet your views?"
"Go ahead!" shouted several voices.
"Well, our first business is to appoint a president and a secretary for each. I'm going to write a few likely names upon the blackboard, and then you can make your choice. I ought to add that the boarders have already started a Recreation Club of their own, and have made Nesta Pitman president and Aubrey Simpson secretary. This has nothing to do with the day-girls, but I just mention it, thinking you'd like to know about it. We haven't time for a ballot, so if you'll propose candidates we'll take the voting by a show of hands."
An interesting and exciting ten minutes followed, in which the merits and demerits of various nominations were discussed, and the following girls were finally elected to office:
President. Merle Ramsay. Secretary. Kitty Trefyre. Committee. Muriel Burnitt. Aubrey Simpson. Beata Castleton. Tattie Carew. Edith Carey. Peggie Morrison.
President. Muriel Burnitt. Secretary and Editress of Magazine. Mavis Ramsay. Committee. Iva Westwood. Maude Carey. Merle Ramsay. Fay Macleod. Nesta Pitman. Peggie Morrison.
President. Iva Westwood. Secretary. Nesta Pitman. Committee. Muriel Burnitt. Aubrey Simpson. Mavis Ramsay. Sybil Vernon. Merle Ramsay. Kitty Trefyre.
It was just when the successful candidates were receiving congratulations that Beata Castleton stood up.
"As this is an open meeting may I make a suggestion?" she asked.
"Certainly," replied Merle from the chair.
"Well, I should like to suggest a 'Nature Study Club.' There doesn't seem to be anything of that sort in the school, is there?"
"We have a museum somewhere about the place, I believe," admitted Merle.
"It's all put away in boxes," said Edith.
"Then why can't we bring it out and arrange it and add to it? And can't we start a record, year by year, of when we find the first specimens of certain wild flowers, hear the first notes of certain birds, and see migratory birds? It would be ever so interesting."
"What a splendid idea! I'd like to second that!" exclaimed Mavis, jumping up in great enthusiasm.
The general feeling was in favour of the proposition, and the Nature Study Club was duly inaugurated, with Beata for president and Fay Macleod for secretary, and a committee consisting mostly of the particular little set of girls who motored daily from Chagmouth.
By four o'clock the whole of the business was concluded, the societies were established, and a very hopeful start had been made. Among the many activities of that important afternoon one point seemed to stand out firmly and clearly—Merle above all the other monitresses had shown herself capable of taking the lead. Where Iva, Nesta, and Muriel had failed to control the school she had restored order, conducted the meeting admirably, and exhibited considerable powers of organisation. She had undoubtedly justified her position, and had won the respect of most of her comrades.
"Did I do all right?" she asked Mavis anxiously, as they walked home.
"Splendiferously! I was bursting with pride! I couldn't have done it myself, Merle! When I saw all that rackety crew talking and ragging, I thought it was hopeless and that we should have to fetch Miss Mitchell. Some of those juniors had just made up their minds to give trouble. You tackled them marvellously."
"I wasn't going to give in to them!" declared Merle. "I meant to stop their ragging if I had to go round and box all their ears. Well! They know now they have to behave themselves or I'll know the reason why! But oh, Mavis! I don't think Muriel will ever forgive me for being chairwoman."
"She never wanted me to be a monitress!"
"It's the truth."
"Well, she missed her own opportunity, so she can't blame you for taking it this afternoon."
"She's against me all the same. Iva and Nesta are quite nice, but there are going to be squalls with Muriel. You'll take my part?"
"Of course I shall, through thick and thin. You can always count on your own sister."
"That's something to go upon at any rate. I shall need support. I don't believe it's going to be an easy business."
"'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,'" quoted Mavis laughingly.
"Exactly. I wanted tremendously to be monitress, but I didn't realise all I was in for. I see many breezes in front."
"You'll weather them all, don't fear! After such a splendid start I've every confidence in you. It's only a question now of keeping it up and going ahead."
Merle was not mistaken in her estimation of the difficulties that lay before her. A certain section of the juniors, led by Winnie Osborne and Joyce Colman, the firebrands of the Third form, offered great resistance to the authority of the monitresses, and put every possible obstacle in their way. To keep these unruly youngsters in order meant a constant clashing of wills, and needed much courage and determination. Some of the new girls also were inclined to rebel and to air their own views. Sybil Vernon, in particular, was a thorn in the flesh. She had been at boarding-school before, and on the strength of her previous experience she offered advice upon any and every occasion. She was very aggrieved that she had not been eligible for election to office herself.
"I know so much more about it than most of you!" she would explain airily. "If Miss Pollard had only chosen me as a monitress I could have organised everything exactly like it used to be done at The Limes."
Sybil was a curious girl, fair, with a fat babyish face, and a vast idea of her own importance. She was very proud of her family, and never for a moment forgot, or allowed anybody else to forget, that she belonged to the Vernons of Renshaw Court, and that Sir Richard Vernon was her second cousin. She expected a great deal more attention than the school was willing to accord to her, and was invariably offended or aggrieved or annoyed about something. The girls did not take her very seriously, and laughed at what they called her 'jim-jams,' which had the effect of making her first very indignant and finally reducing her to floods of tears.
Though Sybil might be annoying there was really not much harm in her, and her criticisms were very easily combated. A different girl altogether, however, was Kitty Trefyre. She also had been at another school, and set forth standards of conduct which were dissimilar from those at 'The Moorings.' She was cautious in airing these, and wisely so, for most of them caused the monitresses to lift their eyebrows in amazement, whereupon she would instantly retract her remarks and declare she was only 'ragging.' How much she really meant Merle never knew, but the latter did not trust her.
"There's a sneaky look about her eyes," she commented to Mavis. "Sybil lunges out and finds open fault, but Kitty hits in the dark. I hope she's not going to spoil Iva!"
"Oh, don't say that!"
"They're chums already, and Iva is rather a chameleon! She takes the colour of her character from her friends."
As this book partly concerns the doings of the group of girls who came daily from Chagmouth to Durracombe, we will follow them as they motored back on their ten miles' journey from school. Squashed together in 'the sardine-tin,' as they irreverently nicknamed the highly respectable car driven by Mr. Vicary, who owned the garage close to the mill, they held high jinks and talked at least thirteen to the dozen. There was so much to discuss. The school was new to all of them, and naturally they wished to criticise its methods, its teachers, its girls, and its prospects of fun during the ensuing term.
"I like Miss Mitchell!"
"Yes, she's jolly, though I fancy she could be stern."
"Oh, I shouldn't like to face her in the study, of course."
"Miss Fanny is a dear!"
"And so is Miss Pollard."
"What d'you think of the monitresses?"
"Merle is A1!"
"Yes, I'm taken with Mavis and Merle! Partly because they seem to belong to Chagmouth. They come over nearly every Saturday with Dr. Tremayne."
"Good! Then we shall see something of them. Hello! What's this car trying to pass us? Babbie Williams! I'd forgotten for the moment she lives at Chagmouth too."
It was Babbie, driving in solitary state, who flew by in the big motor, which turned up the side road that led to The Warren. She gave a friendly nod as she passed, and the six 'sardines' smiled in return.
"It's a case of 'we are seven' from Chagmouth," commented Fay. "If we include Mavis and Merle that would make nine. I guess we'll get up a set of nature study rambles on Saturday afternoons and all go out together. We'd have some real frolics!"
"Rather! I'm your girl! Romola and I are ready for any fun that's going. That's to say if there's going to be time for any fun. But with all the pile of lessons Miss Mitchell has given us we shall be busy, with our noses at the grindstone. It always takes both of us hours to do our prep!"
The car meanwhile, with Mr. Vicary at the driving-wheel, had run across the moor and down the steep hill, and was jolting over the cobble-stones of the narrow main street of Chagmouth. It stopped outside the Post Office, for the principal reason that if it went any farther it would be impossible for it to turn round, and the girls, dismounting, took their satchels or piles of books, said good-bye to one another, and scattered to their respective homes. Beata and Romola crossed the bridge that spanned the brook, skirted the harbour, climbed a flight of steps cut in the solid rock, and reached a house which stood on the top of a high crag overlooking the sea. It was an ideal spot for an artist to live, and it was chiefly for its glorious view that Mr. Castleton had chosen it. He was intensely sensitive to his surroundings, and preferred a picturesque cottage, however inconvenient, to the comforts of an unaesthetic, bow- windowed, modern, red-brick, suburban residence.
"Romance before everything!" he declared. "It's impossible to paint unless you're in the right atmosphere. English scenery is getting spoilt and vulgarised to such a degree that there'll soon be none of it left to sketch. Where are the beautiful villages of thirty years ago? Gone—most of them! The thatched roofs replaced by corrugated iron, and the hedges clipped close to please the motorists. I defy anybody to make a successful picture out of a clipped hedge! Even the gnarled apple trees are being cut down and replaced by market gardeners' 'choice saplings.' Picturesque England will soon be a thing of the past! I consider Chagmouth one of the last strongholds for an artist, and I'm going to live here as long as it remains unspoilt. There's enough work to keep me busy for several years at any rate."
It is part of an artist's business to move about from place to place in quest of fresh subjects. Mr. Castleton had spent some years at Porthkeverne, and having, from a professional point of view, exhausted that neighbourhood, he had transferred himself and his family to a new horizon. He had a genius for discovering his right niche, and he had been fortunate enough to light upon exactly the place that appealed to him. It would not have suited everybody. It was a long low house, made of three fishermen's cottages thrown into one, built so close to the edge of the cliff that it seemed like a sea-bird's nest, with windows overlooking the channel and the harbour, and a strip of stony garden behind. Inside, the accommodation was somewhat cramped, but the rooms, if small, were quaint, with an old-fashioned air about the panelled parlour and raftered dining- room that suggested bygone days of smugglers and privateers. Below, in a nook of the cliff, stood an old sail-shed, which Mr. Castleton had turned into his studio. The big new skylight had only just been fitted into the roof, and the stove which was to heat it during the winter was still at Durracombe station waiting for the carrier to fetch it, but canvases were already hung round the walls, the throne was erected and the big easel placed in position, and an old fisherman, with weather-beaten countenance and picturesque stained jersey, sat every morning for his portrait.
Those of our readers who have met the Castletons before in The Head Girl at the Gables, will remember that they were a very large family. Morland, the eldest, had been at the war, had won the D.C.M., and was now learning engineering; Claudia was studying singing in London; Madox had been sent for his first term at boarding-school; and the four little ones, Constable, Lilith, Perugia, and Gabriel, were still in the nursery. There was only one gap. Landry, poor Landry, who had never been like other boys, had passed over the divide and joined the beautiful mother whom in features he had so strongly resembled. A painting of him, as a little child in her arms, hung on the studio wall. In some respects it was the most brilliant portrait which Mr. Castleton had ever achieved. He always showed it to visitors as a specimen of his best work.
At the time this story begins, Beata and Romola were fourteen and thirteen years of age. They thoroughly maintained the family reputation for good looks. There was a certain resemblance between them, and yet a difference. Beata's eyes were clear grey, with dark lines round the iris, and her hair was the exact shade of one of her father's best English gold picture frames. She was a clever, capable girl, with a great love for music, and was beginning to play the violin rather well. She got on quite tolerably with her stepmother, and was fond of the little half-brothers and sisters, though the warmest corner of her heart was reserved for Madox, who was the baby of the elder portion of the family.
Romola, blue-eyed and ethereal, with long amber hair like a Saxon princess, was her father's favourite model whenever he wished to depict scenes of olden times. She figured as 'Guinevere' in a series of illustrations to the Morte d'Arthur, as 'Elaine' her portrait had been exhibited in the Academy, as 'The Lady of Shalott' she had appeared in a coloured frontispiece of The Art Review, she inspired a most successful poster of 'Cinderella,' and was the original of a series of fairy drawings in a children's annual. She was not so clever or go-ahead as Beata, and was rather dreamy and romantic in temperament, with a gift towards painting and poetry, and a disinclination to do anything very definite. She left most of the problems of life to Beata, and seldom troubled to make decisions for herself. She was rather a pet with Violet, her young stepmother, who, while preferring her to her sister, found her the less useful of the two.
"You go, Beata, you're so quick!" Violet would say, when she wanted an errand done, and for the same reason gave the charge of the children to the one who was the more capable of assuming the responsibility.
It was not that Romola consciously shirked home duties, but she would any time rather pose for an hour on the throne in the studio than take temporary command of the nursery. Beata, on the contrary, hated sitting still, and considered there was no greater penance than to be commandeered by her father as a model. Her energetic temperament liked to find its expression in outdoor activities. She had set to work upon the neglected garden, and was busy trying to make flower-beds, and she looked forward keenly to the forthcoming hockey season at school. The daily drive to Durracombe and back was pure delight, and formed her greatest compensation for leaving Porthkeverne and The Gables.
The Haven, as the house occupied by the Castletons was called, had been changed into its present form by an old retired sea-captain, and there was much about it that suggested a nautical atmosphere. The panelled walls of the parlour might have been taken from a ship's cabin, the dining-room contained convenient lockers, there was a small observatory upstairs built to accommodate a big telescope, and the figure-head of a vessel adorned the garden. Young Mrs. Castleton, whose tastes inclined towards up-to-date comforts, often grumbled at its inconveniences, but on the whole the family liked it. They would not have exchanged it for a suburban villa for worlds. Just on the opposite side of the harbour, with the jetty and the broad strip of green water in between, was the furnished house rented at present by the Macleods. It stood in the more aristocratic portion of Chagmouth, apart from the town and the fishing, in company with one or two other newly-built residences. It was charmingly pretty and artistic, in a perfectly modern fashion, and had been designed by a famous architect. Its owner, a retired naval officer, had gone abroad for a year, and had let the place in his absence, rejoicing to have secured a careful tenant. He might certainly congratulate himself upon leaving his house in such good hands. Mr. Macleod was an American gentleman, who, owing to a nervous breakdown, was travelling in Europe, and happening in the course of the summer to wander to Chagmouth, he had fallen in love with the quaint old town and had decided to spend the winter there. The factor which largely influenced this decision was the presence of Mr. Castleton. Mr. Macleod was an enthusiastic amateur painter, and the prospect of being able to take lessons from so good an artist was sufficient to chain him to Chagmouth. His wife encouraged the idea.
"George is just miserable if he's nothing to do," she explained to her friends. "The doctor told me not to let him read too much or take up any special mental hobby, but sketching strikes the happy medium. He thoroughly enjoys pottering about in Mr. Castleton's studio, or making drawings down on the quay. It's not arduous work and yet it keeps him occupied. I like the house, and Fay can go to school near, so I expect we're fixed here until next spring at any rate. If I get too bored I shall run over to Paris and see my sister, but really I haven't been well lately myself, and it will do me good to take a thorough rest for a while."
Fay, who had formed an enthusiastic friendship with Beata and Romola, was as pleased with Chagmouth as her parents. From the windows of Bella Vista she could look across the harbour to The Haven, and had already arranged a code of signals by which she might communicate with her chums. She was a bright, amusing girl, rather grown-up for her age, and the constant companion of her father and mother.
"Fay runs the house!" Mrs. Macleod would declare sometimes; but she was immensely proud of her young daughter, and unwilling to thwart her in any of the projects which she might care to take up. These, indeed, were many. Fay dabbled in numerous hobbies, and her demands varied from photographic materials to special sandals for toe dancing. She thoroughly enjoyed life, and the freshness of her enthusiasm provided her parents with a perpetual interest. To those friends who urged boarding-school her mother was ready with the reply:
"Why must we be parted from her? She's her father's best tonic! She keeps him young and makes him laugh. She's getting her education and living her home life at the same time, and that seems to me ideal. We shall probably have to spare her later on to be married, so we may as well make the most of her now while we've got her. It's the chief tragedy of parents that the children grow up and go away. We'll enjoy our nest while we have our one chick here. When the young ones are fledged, the old birds stop singing."
Of the other girls who shared the car to Durracombe, Tattie Carew, whose parents were in India had come to live with her aunt Miss Grant, in the ivy-covered house at the top of the hill, while Nan and Lizzie Colville were the daughters of the newly-appointed vicar. All six, therefore, were fresh comers to the neighbourhood, and as yet had neither explored the whole of its beauties nor learnt to understand its traditions. In both of these respects Mavis and Merle, though non-residents, had the advantage of them. Their friendship with Bevis Talland, the boy who, once the village foundling, had turned out to be heir to the Chagmouth estate, had given them an intimate acquaintance with the life of the place. Bevis had shown them the haunts of the birds, and the best places for wild flowers, had told them the local legends and the histories of the various worthies of the parish. The little town indeed seemed strangely empty without him, but at present he was away at school, and later would be going to college, though eventually, when he came of age, he would probably take up his residence in the old family home. The Warren, where Tallands had lived for so many generations, had been let on a lease to Mr. Glyn Williams, and the lawyers who managed the property had decided that this arrangement should be continued during Bevis's minority; heavy death duties and land-taxes would cripple the estate for some years, and it was not worth while running a house for the sake of a schoolboy who could pass only his holidays there. Mr. Glyn Williams meanwhile had bought Bodoran Hall near Port Sennen, and would have leisure to make all the many structural alterations which he wished before he was obliged to leave The Warren. Through Bevis's foster-mother, Mrs. Penruddock of Grimbal's Farm, where Dr. Tremayne had his branch surgery at Chagmouth, Mavis and Merle were also kept very much in touch with the tone of the place and knew most of the little happenings that occurred. They were friendly with many of the village people, almost all of whom were their uncle's patients at one time or another, and the Saturday expedition over the moor from Durracombe was to them the central attraction of the whole week.
On the first Saturday afternoon of the new term, by special invitation, they called at The Haven, and made the acquaintance of at least a portion of the Castleton family. Beata was practising her violin, but she laid it aside at once.
"I'll finish my half-hour afterwards. It will do quite as well this evening. It's too fine a day to stay stuffing inside the house. Do you care to come into the garden? We can step out through this window. These are the babies, Constable, Lilith, Perugia, and Gabriel. I was keeping an eye on them while I practised, to see they weren't in any mischief. Violet has a headache and is lying down. She's our stepmother, you know. We don't let the little ones call her Violet though! Come here, Perugia, and shake hands! She's rather a pet, isn't she?"
The younger Castletons, from curly-headed Constable, known familiarly as 'Cooney,' to lovely three-year-old Baby Gabriel, were beautiful children, and looked particularly picturesque in holland play-overalls embroidered with saxe-blue. Mr. Castleton, who valued artistic effect before everything, found Constable one of his most useful models, and though the boy was now seven and a half, he was generally dressed in a Kate Greenaway smock and his crop of golden curls was still uncut.
"Don't touch him!" his father would protest, whenever the question of Constable's hair arose in the family; "as he is he's worth an income to me! He always gets into exhibitions and he generally sells. He's just what the average British patron wants to buy. The public can't always understand my allegorical pictures, but they know a pretty child when they see one. He'll be spoilt for the studio if he loses his curls, and I want to sketch him as a singing angel, and as a water-baby, and for some of my Hans Andersen illustrations. It's too bad to ruin his artistic value just when I've trained him to pose properly. It will be years before Gabriel learns to sit as still—if he ever does."
The little fellow had charmingly attractive manners, and came forward willingly to talk to visitors. He and Perugia were the talkative ones; Lilith, a flaxen-haired fairy of six, was very shy, and the baby was busy with his own affairs and refused to be interrupted.
"Romola is sitting for Father," explained Beata. "I expect he'd let her go now though, if you'd care to come for a walk with us. Bother! What shall I do with the little ones? I can't leave them to Violet when she's lying down."
"Bring them with you," suggested Mavis, who was making friends with Perugia.
"Should you mind? I'll tell you what! I'll borrow the donkey from the farm, then they can ride in turns and won't get tired. Mrs. Donnithorne is very good-natured about lending it. Constable, you run and ask her, while we go to fetch Romola. Do you care to come to the studio?"
Mavis and Merle were only too delighted to have the opportunity of taking a peep into Mr. Castleton's den, so followed Beata to the old sail-room down a flight of steps cut in the cliff side. They remembered the place, for Job Helyar used to plait osiers there, and they had come once to buy a basket from him. In its former days it had been nothing but a rough shed. They hardly recognised it now it was turned into a studio. Beata went boldly in, and introduced her visitors. Her father was painting a study of Romola for incorporation in a large historical picture. She was standing on the throne, in a beautiful scarlet mediaeval costume, with her long fair hair unbound and flowing like an amber waterfall down her back. Mr. Castleton did not look at all pleased at being interrupted in his work, but he glanced at his watch and nodded a reluctant permission to Romola to relieve her pose. She came down from the platform, stretching her tired arms.
"I'm supposed to be holding up a casket, and it's a horrid position to keep," she explained. "May I go now, Dad? We want Mavis and Merle to take us for a walk. I shan't be three seconds changing out of this costume. You think the study is like me, Mavis? Show them the sketch for the picture, Dad! Now you see where my place will be in it—just there. The little page-boy is Constable, and Violet sat for the queen."
While Romola slipped off her mediaeval robe and plaited her long hair, Beata escorted the visitors back to the garden. She fetched a pair of field-glasses, took a survey through them, then declared:
"I can see Fay at her window, and Tattie sitting on the bank above her aunt's tennis-court. I'll signal to them both, and they'll meet us by the bridge. We'll call at the Vicarage and pick up Nan and Lizzie, then we shall be quite a jolly party. Oh, here's Constable with Billy. I'm so glad Mrs. Donnithorne will lend him to us. Are we all ready? Then come along!"
The six picturesque Castletons were already well known in the streets of Chagmouth, and many eyes were turned to look at them as they passed along, with Perugia and Gabriel riding the donkey together, Romola holding them both on, and Lilith leading Billy by the bridle. Kindly comments came from cottage doorways.
"Stick on tight, ma dear!"
"Don't 'ee walk behind or her'll kick!"
"Mind her don't run away with ee!"
"Don't they ride pretty, bless 'em!"
At the bridge by the harbour the party was reinforced by Fay and Tattie, and farther on they were joined by the Colvilles, so that they were twelve strong as they left the town, and a particularly merry crew. At the beginning of the first hill, however, the donkey stopped dead. Several hands seized its bridle and tried to urge it forward, while Mavis and Merle pushed it in the rear, but not all their efforts could induce it to stir an inch.
"Romola! What utter idiots we are!" exclaimed Beata. "Of course we've forgotten the peppermints!"
"Bother! So we have! We must go back for some, that's all!"
"The 'donk' won't go without peppermints! He simply loves them!" explained Beata tragically.
"We always take a big packet of them with us to give him. He expects them! He's turning his head round to look for them!"
"Bless his heart, he shall have them then!" cooed Merle, patting the dusty coat of their steed. "His auntie will go and get some for him herself if he'll wait like a good boy. Is he particular what kind he gets?"
"He likes those big brown humbugs!"
"Right-o! I'll run to Denham's shop and buy some. It's not far. Wait for me, won't you?"
"Wait!" echoed Beata. "There'll be no question of going on. Nothing but humbugs will make him move his four feet. We'll camp here till you come back."
Merle performed her errand quickly, returning with two packets of sweets, one for Billy and the other for the rest of the party. The donkey, after consuming several peppermints, condescended to move on, and the procession started once more. They had not gone far, however, before a mishap occurred: in lieu of saddle a cushion had been tied on to Billy's back, the strap had loosened, the cushion suddenly slipped, and Perugia and Gabriel descended into the road. Romola managed to break their fall, but they were both terrified, and refused to mount again, so Constable took a turn instead, holding the bridle himself, while Lilith, with all the Castleton instinct for artistic effect, gathered posies of wild flowers and wove them into a wreath for the donkey's neck.
The small people could not walk fast, and the steed stopped so often to demand refreshments, that the expedition was very leisurely and they did not proceed far. They had only reached the point above the lighthouse when Mavis, with an eye on her wrist watch, declared it was time to turn back.
"We'll go with you another time, when we haven't to trail all this crew along!" sighed Beata, as she bade good-bye to her friends. "Children are a nuisance if you want to get on quickly. I'd have left them in the garden if I could! Come and see us again at The Haven, won't you? I wish Claudia and Morland were at home and we'd have some music. Well, I shall see you next week, I suppose. I'm to have my first violin lesson on Monday. I don't know whether I'm glad or not. I expect I shall be terrified of Mr. Barlow. I learnt from a lady before. How I'm going to practise and do all the home lessons Miss Mitchell sets us I can't imagine! I think I shall strike like the 'donk' and refuse to stir unless they give me peppermints!"
Miss Mitchell, B.A.
Naturally at present the most prominent person at 'The Moorings' was Miss Mitchell. Hers was a task which required a combination of a number of very high qualities. It needed force of character and tact, initiative and patience, energy and experience. To reorganise an old school is a far more difficult matter than to start an entirely new one, especially when those responsible for the former regime have not absolutely retired. To a certain extent the Misses Pollard had given their teacher a free hand, but she realised that at first it would be wise to go slowly and not make the changes too drastic. She did not yet know what stuff she had to work upon, the characters or capacities of her pupils, or their readiness to adopt her ideas. While leading the school, she wished it to be self-developing, that is to say, she thought it better to give the girls a few general directions, and allow them to run their own societies, than to arrange all such matters for them.
"Never mind if they make a few mistakes," she said to Miss Fanny, who held up her hands in horror at some of the names chosen to serve on committees. "If a secretary proves inefficient, the others will very soon call her a 'slacker,' and she will have to reform or resign. It will be a question of public opinion. A girl may shirk her lessons in school and her classmates don't much care, but if she shirks the work she has undertaken to do for a society they will be very indignant. These clubs are an elementary object-lesson in community life, and will teach that each individual must do something for the general good. The girls must 'feel their feet' before they can run; they'll probably have difficulties but they'll learn by experience, and in the meantime they'll be shaping their own traditions."
"Ye-es; I suppose you're right," dubiously agreed Miss Fanny, whose ideal of management was to trust everything in the hands of a few girls whom she knew best and discourage any signs of individuality on the part of the others.