THE LUCKIEST GIRL IN THE SCHOOL
Author of "A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl," "The Princess of the School," "A Popular Schoolgirl," "The Head Girl at the Gables."
Illustrated by Balliol Salmon
A. L. Burt Company Publishers New York Published by arrangement with Frederick A. Stokes Company Printed in U.S.A. Copyright, 1916, by Frederick A. Stokes Company All Rights Reserved First Published in the United States of America, 1922.
I. A GREAT CHANGE
II. AN ENTRANCE EXAMINATION
III. SEATON HIGH SCHOOL
IV. THE SYMPOSIUM
V. AUNT HARRIET
VI. A CRISIS
VII. AN AUTUMN FORAY
VIII. CONCERNS A CAMERA
IX. THE SCHOOL SERVICE BADGE
X. A SCARE
XI. THE OPEN-AIR CAMP
XII. CAPTAIN WINONA
XIII. THE HOSTEL
XIV. THE HOCKEY SEASON
XV. WINONA TURNS CHAUFFEUR
XVI. THE ATHLETIC DISPLAY
XVII. BACK TO THE LAND
XVIII. A FRIEND IN NEED
XIX. THE SWIMMING CONTEST
XX. THE RED CROSS HOSPITAL
XXI. THE END OF THE TERM
THE LUCKIEST GIRL IN THE SCHOOL
A Great Change
"There's no doubt about it, we really must economize somehow!" sighed Mrs. Woodward helplessly, with her housekeeping book in one hand, and her bank pass-book in the other, and an array of bills spread out on the table in front of her. "Children, do you hear what I say? The war will make a great difference to our income, and we can't—simply can't—go on living in exactly the old way. The sooner we all realize it the better. I wish I knew where to begin."
"Might knock off going to church, and save the money we give in collections!" suggested Percy flippantly. "It must tot up to quite a decent sum in the course of a year, not to mention pew rent!"
His mother cast a reproachful glance at him.
"Now, Percy, do be serious for once! You and Winona are quite old enough to understand business matters. I must discuss them with somebody. As I said before, we shall really have to economize somehow, and the question is where to begin."
"I saw some hints in a magazine the other day," volunteered Winona, hunting among a pile of papers, and fishing up a copy of The Housewife's Journal. "Here you are! There's a whole article on War Economies. It says you can halve your expenses if you only try. It gives ten different recipes. Number One, Dispense with Servants. Oh, goody! I don't know how the house would get along without Maggie and Mary! Isn't that rather stiff?"
"It's impossible to be thought of for a moment! I should never dream of dismissing maids who have lived with me for years. I've read that article, and it may be practicable for other people, but certainly not for us. Oh, dear! Some of my friends recommend me to remove to the town, and others say 'Stay where you are, and keep poultry!'"
"We can't leave Highfield! We were all born here!" objected Winona decisively.
"And we tried keeping hens some time ago," said Percy. "They laid on an average three-quarters of an egg a year each, as far as I remember."
"I'm afraid we didn't know how to manage them," replied Mrs. Woodward fretfully. "Percy, leave those papers alone! I didn't tell you to turn them over. You're mixing them all up, tiresome boy! Don't touch them again! It's no use trying to discuss business with you children! I shall write and consult Aunt Harriet. Go away, both of you, now! I want to have a quiet half-hour."
Aunt Harriet stood to the Woodward family somewhat in the light of a Delphic oracle. To apply to her was always the very last resource. Matters must have reached a crisis, Winona thought, if they were obliged to appeal to Aunt Harriet's judgment. She followed Percy into the garden with a sober look on her face.
"You don't think mother would really leave Highfield?" she asked her brother anxiously.
"Bunkum!" replied that light-hearted youth. "We always have more or less of a fuss when my school bills come in. It'll soon fizzle out again! Don't you fret yourself. Things will jog on as they always have jogged on. There'll be nothing done, you'll see. Come on and bowl for me, that's a chubby one!"
"But this time mother really seemed to be in earnest," said Winona meditatively, as she helped to put up the stumps.
Mrs. Woodward had been left a widow three years before this story opens. She was a fair, fragile little woman, still pretty, and pathetically helpless. She had been accustomed to lean upon her husband, and now, for lack of firmer support, she leaned upon Winona. Winona was young to act as prop, and though it flattered her sense of importance, it had put a row of wrinkles on her girlish forehead. At fifteen she seemed much older than Percy at sixteen. No one ever dreamt of taking Percy seriously; he was one of those jolly, easy-going, happy-go-lucky, unreliable people who saunter through life with no other aim than to amuse themselves at all costs. To depend upon him was like trusting to a boat without a bottom. Though nominally the eldest, he had little more sense of responsibility than Ernie, the youngest. It was Winona who shouldered the family burdens.
The Woodwards had always lived at Highfield, and in their opinion it was the most desirable residence in the whole of Rytonshire. The house was old enough to be picturesque, but modern enough for comfort. Its quaint gables, mullioned windows and Cromwellian porch were the joy of photographers, while the old-fashioned hall, when the big log fire was lighted, would be hard to beat for coziness. The schoolroom, on the ground floor, had a separate side entrance on to the lawn, leading through a small ante-room where boots and coats and cricket bats and tennis rackets could be kept; the drawing-room had a luxurious ingle nook with cushioned seats, and all the bedrooms but two had a southern aspect. As for the big rambling garden, it was full of delightful old-world flowers that came up year after year: daffodils and violets and snow-flakes, and clumps of pinks, and orange lilies and Canterbury bells, and tall Michaelmas daisies, and ribbon grass and royal Osmunda fern, the sort of flowers that people used to pick in days gone by, put a paper frill round, and call a nosegay or a posy. There was a lawn for tennis and cricket, a pond planted with irises and bulrushes, and a wild corner where crocuses and coltsfoot and golden aconite came up as they liked in the spring time.
Winona loved this garden with somewhat the same attachment that a French peasant bears for the soil upon which he has been reared. She rejoiced in every yard of it. To go away and resign it to others would be tragedy unspeakable. The fear that Aunt Harriet might recommend the family to leave Highfield was sufficient to darken her horizon indefinitely. That her mother had written to consult the oracle she was well aware, for she had been sent to post the letter. She had an instinctive apprehension that the answer would prove a turning-point in her career.
For a day or two everything went on as usual. Mrs. Woodward did not again allude to her difficulties, Percy had conveniently forgotten them, and the younger children were not aware of their existence. Winona lived with a black spot dancing before her mental eyes. It was continually rising up and blotting out the sunshine. On the fourth morning appeared a letter addressed in an old-fashioned slanting handwriting, and bearing the Seaton post mark. Mrs. Woodward read it in silence, and left her toast unfinished. Aunt Harriet's communications generally upset her for the day.
"Come here, Winona," she said agitatedly, after breakfast. "Oh, dear, I wish I knew what to do! It's so very unexpected, but of course it would be a splendid thing for you. If only I could consult somebody! I suppose girls nowadays will have to learn to support themselves, and the war will alter everything, but I'd always meant you to stop at home and look after the little ones for me, and it's very—"
"What does Aunt Harriet say, mother?" interrupted Winona, with a catch in her throat.
"She says a great deal, and I dare say she's right. Oh, this terrible war! Things were so different when I was a girl! You might as well read the letter for yourself, as it concerns you. I always think she's hard on Percy, poor lad! I was afraid the children were too noisy the last time she was here, but they wouldn't keep quiet. I'm sure I try to do my best all round, and you know, Winona, how I said Aunt Harriet—"
But Winona was already devouring the letter.
"10 Abbey Close,
"MY DEAR FLORITA,—You are quite right to consult me in your difficulties, and are welcome to any advice which I am able to offer you. I am sorry to hear of your financial embarrassments, but I am not surprised. The present increase in the cost of living, and extra taxation, will make retrenchments necessary to everybody. In the circumstances I should not advise you to leave Highfield. ("Oh, thank goodness!" ejaculated Winona.) The expense of a removal would probably cancel what you would otherwise save. Neither should I recommend you to take Percy from Longworth College and send him daily to be coached by your parish curate. From my knowledge of his character I consider the discipline of a public school to be indispensable if he is to grow into worthy manhood, and sooner than allow the wholesome restraint of his house master to be removed at this critical portion of his life, I will myself defray half the cost of his maintenance for the next two years.
"Now as regards Winona. I believe she has ability, and it is high time to begin to think seriously what you mean to do with her. In the future women will have to depend upon themselves, and I consider that all girls should be trained to gain their own living. The foundation of every career is a good education—without this it is impossible to build at all, and Winona certainly cannot obtain it if she remains at home. The new High School at Seaton is offering two open Scholarships to girls resident in the County, the examination for which is on September 8th. I propose that Winona enters for this examination, and that if she should be a successful candidate, she should come to live with me during the period of her attendance at the High School. The education is the best possible, there is a prospect of a University Scholarship to be competed for, and every help and encouragement is given to the girls in their choice of a career. With Winona off your hands, I should suggest that you should engage a competent nursery governess to teach the younger children the elements of order and discipline. I would gladly pay her salary on the understanding that I should myself select her.
"Trusting that these proposals may be of some service, and hoping to hear a better account of your health,
"Your affectionate Aunt
Winona laid down the letter with an agitated gasp. The proposition almost took her breath away.
"What an idea!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Mother, of course you won't even dream of it for an instant! I'd hate to go and live with Aunt Harriet. It's not to be thought of!"
"Well, I don't know, Winona!" wavered Mrs. Woodward. "We must look at it from all sides, and perhaps Aunt Harriet's right, and it really would be for the best. Miss Harmon's a poor teacher, and I'm sure your music, at any rate, is not a credit to her. You played that last piece shockingly out of time. You know you said yourself that you were getting beyond Miss Harmon!"
Whatever impeachments Winona may have brought against her teacher, she was certainly not prepared to admit them now. She rejected the project of the Seaton High School with the utmost energy and determination, bringing into the fray all that force of character which her mother lacked. Poor Mrs. Woodward vacillated feebly—she was generally swayed by whoever was nearest at the moment—and I verily believe Winona's arguments would have prevailed, and the whole scheme would have been abandoned, had not Mr. Joynson opportunely happened to turn up.
Mr. Joynson was a solicitor, and the trustee of Mrs. Woodward's property. He managed most of her business affairs, and some of her private ones as well. She had confidence in his judgment, and she at once thankfully submitted the question of Winona's future to his decision.
"The very thing for her!" he declared. "Do her a world of good to go to a proper school. She's frittering her time away here. Send her to Seaton by all means. What are you to do without her? Nonsense! Nobody's indispensable—especially a girl of fifteen! Pack her off as soon as you can. Doesn't want to go? Oh, she'll sing a different song when once she gets there, you'll see!"
Thus supported by masculine authority, Mrs. Woodward settled the question in the affirmative, and replied to her aunt by return of post.
Naturally such a stupendous event as the exodus of Winona made a sensation in the household.
"Well, of all the rum shows!" exclaimed Percy. "You and Aunt Harriet in double harness! It beats me altogether!"
"It's atrocious!" groaned Winona. "I'm a victim sacrificed for the good of the family. Oh! why couldn't mother have thought of some other way of economizing? I don't want to win scholarships and go in for a career!"
"Buck up! Perhaps you won't win! There'll be others in for the exam., you bet! You'll probably fail, and come whining home like a whipped puppy with its tail between its legs!"
"Indeed I shan't!" flared Winona indignantly. "I've a little more spirit than that, thank you! And why should you imagine I'm going to fail? I suppose I've as much brains as most people!"
"That's right! Upset the pepper-pot! I was only trying to comfort you!" teased Percy. "In my opinion you'll be returned like a bad halfpenny, or one of those articles 'of no use to anybody except the owner.' Aunt Harriet will be cheated of her prey after all!"
"If Win goes away, I shall be the eldest daughter at home," said Letty airily, shaking out her short skirts. "I'll sit at the end of the table, and pour out tea if mother has a headache, and unlock the apple room, and use the best inkpot if I like, and have first innings at the piano."
"You forget about the nursery governess," retorted Winona. "If I go, she comes, and you'll find you've exchanged King Log for King Stork. Oh, very well, just wait and see! It won't be as idyllic as you imagine. I shall be saved the trouble of looking after you, at any rate."
"What I'm trying to ascertain, madam," said Percy blandly, "is whether your ladyship wishes to take up your residence in Seaton or not. With the usual perversity of your sex you pursue a pig policy. When I venture to picture you seated at the board of your venerable aunt, you protest you are a sacrifice; when, on the other hand, I suggest your return to the bosom of your family, you revile me equally."
"You're the most unsympathetic beast I've ever met!" declared Winona aggrievedly.
When she analyzed her feelings, however, she was obliged to allow that they were mixed. Though the prospect of settling down at Seaton filled her with dismay, Percy's gibe at her probable failure touched her pride. Winona had always been counted as the clever member of the family. It would be too ignominious to be sent home labeled unfit. She set her teeth and clenched her fists at the bare notion.
"I'll show them all what I can do if I take a thing up!" she resolved.
In the meantime Mrs. Woodward was immersed in the subject of clothing. Every post brought her boxes of patterns, amongst which she hesitated, lost in choice.
"If I knew whether you're really going to stay at Seaton or not, it would make all the difference, Winona," she fluttered. "It's no use buying you these new things if you're only to wear them at home, but I'd make an effort to send you nice to Aunt Harriet's. I know she'll criticize everything you have on. Dear me, I think I'd better risk it! It would be such a nuisance to have to write for the patterns all over again, and how could I get your dresses fitted when you weren't here to be tried on? Miss Jones is at liberty now, and can come for a week's sewing, but she'll probably be busy if I want her later. Now tell me, which do you really think is the prettier of these two shades? I like the fawn, but I believe the material will spot. What have you done with the lace collar Aunt Harriet gave you last Christmas? She's sure to ask about it if you don't wear it!"
Having decided that on the whole she intended to win a scholarship, Winona bluffed off the matter of her departure.
"I've changed my mind, that's all," she announced to her home circle. "It will be a great comfort to me not to hear Mamie scraping away at her violin in the evenings, or Letty strumming at scales. Think what a relief not to be obliged to rout up Dorrie and Godfrey, and haul them off to school every day! I'm tired of setting an example. You needn't snigger!"
The family grinned appreciatively. They understood Winona.
"Don't you worry! I'll set the example when you're gone," Letty assured her. "I'll be as improving as a copy-book. I wish I'd your chance; I'd stand Aunt Harriet for the sake of going to a big High School. Younger sisters never have any luck! Eldests just sweep the board. I don't know where we come in!"
"Don't you fret, young 'un, you'll score later on!" cooed an indulgent voice from the sofa, where Percy sprawled with a book and a bag of walnuts. "Remember that when you're still in all the bliss and sparkle of your teens, Winona'll be a mature and passee person of twenty-two. 'That eldest Miss Woodward's getting on, you know!' people will say, and somebody'll reply: 'Yes, poor thing!'"
"They won't when I've got a career," retorted Winona, pelting Percy with his own walnut-shells.
"You assured us the other day that you despised such vanities."
"Well, it depends. Perhaps I'll be a lady tram conductor, and punch tickets, or a post-woman, or drive a Government van!"
"If those are careers for girls, bag me for a steeple jack," chirped Dorrie.
It was perhaps a good thing for Winona that such a short interval elapsed between the acceptance of Aunt Harriet's proposal and the date of the scholarship examination. The ten days were very busy ones, for there seemed much to be done in the way of preparation. Miss Jones, the dressmaker, was installed in the nursery with the sewing-machine, and demanded frequent tryings-on, a process Winona hated.
"I shall buy all my clothes ready made when I'm grown up!" she declared.
"They very seldom fit, and have to be altered," returned her mother. "Do stand still, Winona! And I hope you're learning up a few dates and facts for this examination. You ought to be studying every morning. If only Miss Harmon were home, I'd have asked her to coach you. I'm afraid she'll be disappointed at your leaving, but of course she can't expect to keep you for ever. I heard a rumor that she means to give up her school altogether, and go and live with her uncle. I hope it's true, and then I can take the little ones away with an easy conscience. I don't want to treat her badly, poor thing, but I'm sure teaching's not her vocation."
Winona really made a heroic effort to prepare herself for the coming ordeal. She retired to a secluded part of the garden and read over her latest school books. The process landed her in the depths of despondency.
"I'll never remember anything—never!" she mourned to her family. "To try and get all this into my head at once is like bolting a week's meals at a single go! I know a date here and there, and I've a hazy notion of French and Latin verbs, and a general impression of other subjects, but if they ask me for anything definite, such as the battles of the Wars of the Roses, or a list of the products of India, I'm done for!"
"Go in for Post-Impressionism, then," suggested Percy. "Write from a romantic standpoint, and don't condescend to mere facts. Stick in a quotation or two, and a drawing if possible, and make your paper sound eloquent and dramatic and poetical, and all the rest of it. They'll mark you low for accuracy, but put you on ten per cent. for style, you bet! I know a chap who tries it on at the Coll., and it always pays."
"It's worth thinking about, certainly," said Winona, shutting her books with a weary yawn.
An Entrance Examination
The Seaton High School was a large, handsome brick building exactly opposite the public park. It had only been erected two years ago, so everything about it was absolutely new and up-to-date. It supplied a great need in the rapidly growing city, and indeed offered the best and most go-ahead education to be obtained in the district.
It was the aim of the school to fit girls for various professions and careers; there was a classical and a modern side, a department for domestic economy, and a commercial class for instruction in business details. Art, music, and nature study were well catered for, and manual training was not forgotten. As the school was intended to become in time a center for the county, the Governors had offered two open free scholarships to be competed for by girls resident in other parts of Rytonshire, hoping by this means to attract pupils from the country places round about.
On the morning of September 8th, precisely at 8.35, Winona presented herself at the school for the scholarship examination. There were twenty other candidates awaiting the ordeal, in various stages of nervousness or sangfroid. Some looked dejected, some confident, and others hid their feelings under a mask of stolidity. Winona joined them shyly. They were all unknown to one another, and so far nobody had plucked up courage to venture a remark. It is horribly depressing to sit on a form staring at twenty taciturn strangers. Winona bore for awhile with the stony silence, then—rather frightened at the sound of her own voice—she announced:
"I suppose we're all going in for this same exam.!" It was a trite commonplace, but it broke the ice. Everybody looked relieved. The atmosphere seemed to clear.
"Yes, we're all going in—that's right enough," replied a ruddy-haired girl in spectacles, "but there are only two scholarships, so nineteen of us are bound to fail—that's logic and mathematics and all the rest of it."
"Whew! A nice cheering prospect. Wish they'd put us out of our misery at once!" groaned a stout girl with a long fair pigtail.
"I'm all upset!" shivered another.
"It's like a game of musical chairs," suggested a fourth. "We're all scrambling for the same thing, and some are bound to be out of it."
The ruddy-haired girl laughed nervously.
"Suppose we've got to take our sporting luck!" she murmured.
"If nineteen are sure to lose, two are sure to win at any rate," said Winona. "That's logic and mathematics and all the rest of it, too!"
"Right you are! That's a more cheering creed! It doesn't do to cry 'Miserere me' too soon!" chirped a jolly-looking dark-eyed girl with a red hair-ribbon. "'Never say die till you're dead,' is my motto!"
"I'm wearing a swastika for a mascot," said a short, pale girl, exhibiting her charm, which hung from a chain round her neck. "I never am lucky, so I thought I'd try what this would do for me for once. I know English history beautifully down to the end of Queen Anne, and no further, and if they set any questions on the Georges I'll be stumped."
"I've learnt Africa, but Asia would floor me!" observed another, looking up from a geography book, in which she was making a last desperate clutch at likely items of knowledge. "I never can remember which side of India Madras is on; I get it hopelessly mixed with Bombay."
"I wish to goodness they'd go ahead and begin," mourned the owner of the red hair-ribbon. "It's this waiting that knocks the spirit out of me. Patience isn't my pet virtue. I call it cruelty to animals to leave us on tenter-hooks."
Almost as if in answer to her pathetic appeal the door opened, and a teacher appeared. In a brisk, business-like manner she marshaled the candidates into line, and conducted them to the door of the head-mistress' study, where one by one they were admitted for a brief private interview. Winona's turn came about the middle of the row.
"Pass in: as quickly as you can, please!" commanded the teacher, motioning her onward.
As Winona entered, she gave one hasty comprehensive glance round the room, taking in a general impression of books, busts and pictures, then focussed her attention on the figure that sat at the desk. It was only at a later date that she grasped any details of Miss Bishop's personality; at that first meeting she realized nothing but the pair of compelling blue eyes that drew her forward like a magnet.
"Highfield, Ashbourne, near Great Marston."
"How long have you lived in the county of Rytonshire?"
"Ever since I was born."
Miss Bishop hastily ticked off these replies on a page of her ledger, and handed Winona a card.
"This will admit you to the examination room. Remember that instead of putting your name at the head of your papers, you are to write the number given you on your card. Any candidate writing her own name will be disqualified. Next girl!"
It was all over in two minutes. Winona seemed hardly to have entered the room before she was out again.
"Move on, please!" said the teacher, marshaling the little crowd round the door. "Will those who have seen Miss Bishop kindly go along the corridor."
Several girls who had been standing in a knot made a sudden bolt, and pushed their fellows forward. Somebody jogged Winona's elbow. Her card slid from her grasp and fell on to the ground. As she bent in the crush to pick it up, the ruddy-haired girl stooped on a like errand.
"Dropped mine too! Clumsy, isn't it?" she laughed. "Hope we've got our own! What was your number?"
"I hadn't time to look."
"Well, I'm sure mine was eleven, so that's all right. I wish you luck! Won't we just be glad when it's over, rather!"
At the further end of the corridor was a door with a notice pinned on to it. "Examination for County Scholarships." A mistress stood there, and scrutinized each girl's card as she entered, directing her to a seat in the room marked with the corresponding number. Winona walked rather solemnly to the desk labeled 10. The great ordeal was at last about to begin. She wondered what would be the end of it. Little thrills of nervousness seemed running down her back like drops from a shower-bath. Her hands were trembling. With a great effort she pulled herself together.
"It's no use funking!" she thought. "I'll make as good a shot as I can at things, and if I fail—well, I shall have plenty of companions in misfortune, at any rate!"
A pile of foolscap paper with red-ruled margins, a clean sheet of white blotting paper, and a penholder with a new nib lay ready. Each of the other twenty victims was surveying a supply of similar material. On the blackboard was chalked the word "Silence."
In a dead hush the candidates sat and waited. Exactly on the stroke of nine Miss Bishop entered and handed a sheaf of printed questions to the teacher in charge, who distributed them round the room. The subject for the first hour was arithmetic. Winona read over her paper slowly. She felt capable of managing it, all except the last two problem sums, which were outside her experience. She knew it would mainly be a question of accuracy.
"I'll work them each twice if I've only time," she thought, starting at number one.
An hour is after all only made up of sixty minutes, and these seemed to fly with incredible rapidity. The teacher on the platform had sternly reproved a girl guilty of counting aloud in an agitated whisper, threatening instant expulsion for a repetition of such an offense, but with this solitary exception nobody transgressed the rules. All sat quietly absorbed in their work, and an occasional rustle of paper or scratch of a pen were the only sounds audible. At precisely five minutes to ten the deity on the platform sounded a bell, and ordered papers to be put together. She collected them, handed them to another mistress, then without any break proceeded to deal out the questions for the next hour's examination. This was in geography, and here Winona was not on such sure ground. Granted that you are acquainted with certain rules in arithmetic, it is always possible to work out problems, but it needed more knowledge than she possessed to write answers to the riddles that confronted her. She had never heard of "The Iron Gates," could not place Alcona and Altona, was hazy as to the whereabouts of the Mourne Mountains, and utterly unable to draw an accurate map of the Balkan States. She scored a little on Canada, for she had learnt North America last term at Miss Harmon's, but with Australia and New Zealand she was imperfectly acquainted. She wrote away, getting hotter and hotter as she realized her deficiencies, winding up five minutes before the time allotted, in a flushed and decidedly inky condition.
At eleven a short interval was allowed, and the candidates thankfully adjourned. Outside in the corridor they compared notes.
"Well, of all detestable papers this geography one is the limit!" declared an aggrieved voice.
It was the girl who had said that she always mixed Madras and Bombay, and who had studied her text-book up to the last available moment. Apparently her eleventh hour industry had not sufficed to tide her over her difficulties.
"It was catchy in parts," agreed the owner of the swastika, "but I liked one or two questions. I just happened to know them, so I bowled ahead. That's what comes of wearing a mascot!"
"Don't crow too soon!" laughed the girl with the fair pigtail. "Remember, there are four other exams. to follow. Your luck may leave you at any moment."
"Don't mention more exams.! I feel inclined to turn tail and run home!" declared another.
"There's the bell! Don't give us much time, do they? Now for the torture chamber again! Brace your nerves!"
"I wonder if most of them have done better or worse than I have!" thought Winona, as she took her seat once more at No. 10 desk. "A good many were grumbling, but that sandy-haired girl in the spectacles said nothing. No more did the one with the red hair-ribbon. Of course they might be feeling too agonized for words, but on the other hand they might be secretly congratulating themselves."
It was not the moment, however, for speculation as to her neighbors' progress. The next set of questions was being distributed, and she took up her copy eagerly. Her heart fell as she read it over. Her knowledge of English history was not very accurate, and the facts demanded were for the most part exactly those which she could not remember. The dread of failure loomed up large. She could only attempt about half of the questions, and even in these she was not ready with dates. Then suddenly Percy's advice flashed into her mind. "Write from a romantic standpoint, and make your paper sound poetical." It seemed rather a forlorn hope, and she feared it would scarcely satisfy her examiners, but in such a desperate situation anything was worth trying. Winona possessed a certain facility in essay writing. Prose composition had been her favorite lesson at Miss Harmon's. She collected her wits now, and did the very utmost of which she was capable in the matter of style. Choosing question No. 4, "Write a life of Lady Jane Grey," she proceeded to treat the subject in as post-impressionist a manner as possible. The pathetic tragedy of the young Queen had always appealed to her imagination, and she could have had no more congenial a theme upon which to write, if she had been given free choice of all the characters in the history book.
"'Whom the gods love die young,'" she began, and paused. It seemed an excellent opening, if she could only continue in the same strain, but what ought to come next? Her thoughts flew to a painting of Lady Jane Grey, which she had once seen at a loan collection of Tudor portraits. Why should she not describe it? Her pen flew rapidly as she wrote a word-picture of the sweet, pale face, so round and childish in spite of its earnest expression; the smooth yellow hair, the gray eyes bent demurely over the book. Her heroine seemed beginning to live. Now for her surroundings. A year ago Winona had paid a visit to Hampton Court, and her remembrance of its associations was still keen and vivid. She described its old-world garden by the side of the Thames, where the little King Edward VI. must often have roamed with his pretty cousin Jane: the two wonderful ill-starred children, playing for a brief hour in happy unconsciousness of the fate that faced them. What did they talk about, she asked, as they stood on the paved terrace and watched the river hurrying by? Plato, perchance, and his philosophy, or the marvelous geography-book with woodcuts of foreign beasts that had been specially printed for the young king's use. Did they compare notes about their tutors? Jane would certainly hold a brief for her much-loved Mr. Elmer, who, in sharp contrast to her parents' severity, taught her so gently and patiently that she grudged the time which was not spent in his presence. Edward might bemoan the ill-luck of his whipping-boy, who had to bear the floggings which Court etiquette denied to the royal shoulders, and perhaps would declare that when he was grown up, and could make the laws himself, no children should be beaten for badly said lessons, and Jane would agree with him, and then they would pick the red damask roses that Cardinal Wolsey had planted, and walk back under the shadow of the clipped yew hedge to eat cherries and junket in the room that looked out towards the sunset.
Winona had warmed to her work. Her imagination, always her strongest faculty, completely carried her away. She pictured her heroine's life, not from the outside, as historians would chronicle it, a mere string of events and dates, but from the inner view of a girl's standpoint. Did Jane wish to leave her Plato for the bustle of a Court? Did she care for the gay young husband forced upon her by her ambitious parents? Surely for her gentle nature a crown held few allurements. The clouds were gathering thick and fast, and burst in a waterspout of utter ruin. Jane's courage was calm and hopeful as that of Socrates in the dialogues she had loved.
"... your soul was pure and true, The good stars met in your horoscope, Made you of spirit, fire and dew."
quoted Winona enthusiastically. Browning always stirred her blood, and threw her into poetical channels. She cast about in her mind for any other appropriate verses.
"Ah, broken is the golden bowl, the spirit gone for ever, Let the bell toll—a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river. Come, let the burial rite be read—the funeral song be sung, An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young, A dirge for her, the doubly dead, in that she died so young."
"So they finished their foul deed, and laid her to rest," wrote Winona, "the earthly part, that is, which perishes, for the true part of her they could not touch. Farewell, sweet innocent soul, of whom the world was not worthy. To you surely may apply Andre de Chenier's tender lines:
"'Au banquet de la vie a peine commence Un instant seulement mes levres out presse La coupe en mes mains encore pleine.'
Vale, little Queen! May it be well with thee! Ave atque vale!"
Winona glanced anxiously at the clock as with a hard breath she paused for a moment and laid down her pen. Her theme had taken her so long that she had only ten minutes left for the other questions. There was no romantic side to be expressed in these, so she scribbled away half-heartedly. Her uncertain memory, which had readily supplied quotations from Browning or Edgar Allan Poe, struck altogether when asked for such sordid details as the names of the Cabal ministry, or the history of the Long Parliament. The bell rang, and left her with her paper only half finished. At one o'clock the candidates were given an hour's rest, and a hot lunch was served to them in the dining-hall. At two they returned to their desks, and the examination continued until half-past four. Winona found the questions tolerable. She did fairly, but not at all brilliantly. Her brains were not accustomed to such long-sustained efforts, and as the afternoon wore on, a neuralgic headache began, and sent sharp throbs of pain across her forehead. It was so irksome to write pages of Latin or French verbs; she had to summon all her courage to make herself do it. The last hour seemed an interminable penance.
At half-past four, twenty-one rather dispirited candidates filed from the room.
"Well, thank goodness it's over! I never want to write another word in my life. My hand's stiff with cramp!" exclaimed the girl with the red hair-ribbon to a sympathetic audience in the passage.
"It was awful! I didn't answer half the questions. My swastika isn't worth its salt. I shall give it away!" mourned the owner of the mascot.
"They expected us to know so very much; we should be absolute encyclopaedias if we had all that pat off at our fingers' ends!" sighed the girl with the fair pigtail.
"How did you get on?" Winona asked the ruddy-haired girl, who was wiping her spectacles nervously.
"Oh, I don't know. It's so hard to tell. I answered most of the questions, but of course I can't say whether they're right or wrong. Wasn't the Latin translation just too horrible? I yearned for a dictionary. And some of the French grammar questions were absolute catches!"
"We went on too long," said Winona. "It would have been much better to spread the exam, over two days."
"Do you think so? I'd rather have 'sudden death' myself. It's such a relief to feel it's finished. It would be wretched to have to begin again to-morrow. I hardly slept a wink last night for thinking about it. I'm going to try and forget it now."
Winona nodded good-by to her fellow candidates, and took her leave. How many of them would she see again, she wondered, and which among all the number would have the luck?
"Certainly not myself," she thought ruefully. "I know my papers weren't up to standard. I believe that red-haired girl will be one. She looked clever!"
Winona had spent the preceding night with Aunt Harriet, who offered to keep her until the result of the examination should be published, but the prospect of spending a week of suspense at Abbey Close was so formidable, that she had begged to be allowed to return home, excusing herself on the plea that she would like to be with Percy during the remainder of his holidays. It was a very subdued Winona who reached Highfield next afternoon.
"Hello, Tiddleywinks! You've lost the starch out of you!" Percy greeted her. "Did they say they wouldn't have you at any price?"
"The result won't be out till the fifteenth, but I expect I've failed," answered Winona gloomily.
"Buck up, young 'un! Look at yours truly! I fail nine times out of ten, and do I take it to heart?"
Winona laughed in spite of herself. Percy's complacency over small achievements was proverbial. But she had higher ambitions, and the cloud of depression soon settled down again. Her temper, not always her strong point, displayed a degree of irritability that drove her family to the verge of mutiny.
"Really, Winona, I don't remember you so fractious since you were cutting your teeth!" complained her much-tried mother.
The days dragged slowly by. Winona had never before realized that each hour could hold so many minutes. On the morning of the 15th she came down to breakfast with dark rings round her eyes.
"I shall be glad to be put out of my misery!" she thought, as the postman's rap-tap sounded at the door.
Mamie made a rush for the letter-box, and returned bearing a foolscap envelope addressed to:
MISS WINONA WOODWARD, Highfield, Ashbourne, nr. Great Marston.
Winona opened it with trembling fingers. But as she read, her face flushed and her eyes sparkled.
"I have much pleasure in informing you" (so ran the letter) "that the Governors of the Seaton High School have decided to award you a Scholarship tenable for two years...."
In silence she passed the paper to her mother.
"Congratulations, dear child!" cried Mrs. Woodward, clapping her hands. "It's the unexpected that happens!"
"Oh, my goodness!" ejaculated Percy. "You never mean to tell me that Tiddleywinks has actually been and gone and won!"
Seaton High School
The autumn term at Seaton High School began on September 22nd. On the 21st Winona set forth with great flourish of trumpets, feeling more or less of a heroine. To have been selected for a scholarship among twenty-one candidates was a distinction that even Aunt Harriet would admit. In the brief interval pending her departure, her home circle had treated her with a respect they had never before accorded her.
"I hope you'll do well, child," said her mother, half proud and half tearful when it came to the parting. "We shall miss you here, but when you get on yourself you must help the younger ones. I shall look to you to push them on in life."
There is a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that you are considered the prop of the family. Winona's eyes glowed. In imagination she was already Principal of a large school, and providing posts as assistant mistresses for Letty, Mamie and Doris, that is to say unless she turned her attention to medicine, but in that case she could be head of a Women's Hospital, and have them as house surgeons or dispensers, or something else equally distinguished and profitable. It might even be possible to provide occupation for Godfrey or Ernie, though this was likely to prove a tougher job than placing the girls. With such a brilliant beginning, the future seemed an easy walk-over.
Mrs. Woodward was exulting over the fact that she had engaged Miss Jones when she did, and that Winona's school clothes were all made and finished. There had been a fluster at the last, when it was discovered that her mackintosh was fully six inches too short for her new skirts, and that she had outgrown her thick boots, but a hurried visit to Great Marston had remedied these deficiencies, and the box was packed to everybody's satisfaction. There was a universal feeling in the family that such an outfit could not fail to meet with Aunt Harriet's approval. The first sight of the nightdress case and the brush-and-comb bag must wring admiration from her. They had been bought at a bazaar, and were altogether superior to those in daily use. As for the handkerchief case, Letty had decided that unless one equally well embroidered were presented to her on her next birthday, she would be obliged to assert her individuality by showing temper.
Winona walked into the dressing-room of the High School on September 22nd with a mixture of shyness and importance. On the whole the latter predominated. It was a trifle embarrassing to face so many strangers, but it was something to have won a scholarship. She wondered who was the other fortunate candidate.
"I expect it will be that red-haired girl with the spectacles," she thought. "I believe she answered every question, though she was rather quiet about it."
She looked round, but could not see the ruddy locks, nor indeed any of the companions who had taken the examination with her.
"Hunting for some one you know?" asked a girl who had appropriated the next hook to hers.
"Yes, at least I'm not sure whether she'll be here or not. I believe her name's Marjorie Kaye."
"Never heard of her!"
"There are heaps of new girls," volunteered another who stood by.
"I wondered if she'd won a County Scholarship," added Winona.
"Ask me a harder! I tell you I've never heard her name before."
"I've won the other scholarship."
Winona's voice was intended to sound very casual.
Her neighbor was taking off her boots, and did not seem as much impressed as the occasion merited.
"Oh! so you're one of the 'outlanders,'" sniggered another. "It's a sort of 'go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in' business."
"I suppose we shall be having Council School Scholarships next!" drawled a third.
They were friends, and went off together without another glance at Winona. She followed soberly, wondering what she ought to do next. She had a vague idea that the winner of a scholarship should present herself at the Head Mistress' study to receive a few words of encouragement and congratulation on her success. At the top of the stairs she met the mistress who had presided over the examination. The latter greeted her unceremoniously.
"Winona Woodward, you've been placed in V.a., first room to the right, round the corner. You'll find the number on the door."
Other girls were hurrying in the same direction. Winona entered with what seemed to her quite a small crowd. Everybody appeared to know where to go, except herself. She stood in such evident hesitation that one, more good-natured than the rest, remarked:
"You'd better seize on any desk you fancy, as quick as you can. They're getting taken up fast, if you want a front one!"
Winona slid into the nearest seat at hand, and appropriated it by placing her note-book, pencil-box, ruler, atlas and dictionaries inside the desk.
The room was filling quickly. Every moment fresh arrivals hurried in and took their places. Marjorie Kaye was nowhere to be seen, but in the second row sat the dark-eyed girl with the red ribbon in her hair. She turned round and nodded pleasantly.
"So she's got the other scholarship!" thought Winona. "I shouldn't have expected it. I'd have staked my reputation on the sandy-haired one. Well, I suppose her answers weren't correct, after all. I'm rather glad on the whole it's this girl; she looks jolly."
At that moment Miss Huntley, the form mistress, entered and took the call-over, and the day's work began. Each girl was given a time-table and a list of the books she would require, and after that, class succeeded class until one o'clock, with a ten minutes' interval for lunch at eleven. The conclusion of the morning left Winona with a profound respect for High School methods. After the easy-going routine of Miss Harmon's it was like stepping into a new educational world. She supposed she would be able to keep pace with it when she got her books, but the mathematics, at any rate, were much more advanced than what she had before attempted. As she walked down the corridor, the girl with the red hair-ribbon overtook her, and claimed acquaintance.
"So you're Winona Woodward? And I'm Garnet Emerson. We had the luck, after all! I'm sure I never expected to win. It was the greatest surprise to me when the letter arrived. Yes, five of the other candidates are at school, but they've been put in IV.a., and IV.b. Marjorie Kaye? You mean that girl in spectacles? No, she's not come. I heard her say that if she didn't win she was to be sent somewhere else. Where are you staying? With an aunt? I'm with a second cousin. She's nice, but I wish they'd open a hostel; it would be topping to be with a heap of others, wouldn't it? We'd get up acting in the evenings, and all sorts of fun. Well, perhaps that may come later on. I shall see you this afternoon, shan't I?"
"Yes, I'm coming for my books. It's too late to stop and get them now."
Afternoon attendance at the High School was not nominally compulsory. All the principal subjects were taken in the morning, but there were classes for drawing, singing or physical culture from half-past two until four, and practically very few girls had more than one free afternoon in a week. Any who liked might do preparation in their own form room, and many availed themselves of the permission, especially those who came from a distance, and stayed for dinner at the school. When Winona first examined her time-table she had not considered its demands excessively formidable, but before she had been a week at Seaton she began to realize that she would have very few spare moments to call her own. Miss Bishop believed in girls being fully occupied, and in addition to the ordinary form work, expected every one to take part in the games, and in the numerous societies and guilds which had been instituted. Winona found that she was required to join the Debating Club, and the Patriotic Knitting Guild, while a Dramatic Society and a Literary Association would be prepared to open their doors to her if she proved worthy of admission. So far, however, she considered that she had enough on her hands. The demands of her new life were almost overwhelming, and she lived from day to day in a whirl of fresh experiences. It took her some time even to grasp the names of the seventeen other girls in her form. Audrey Redfern, her left-hand neighbor, was friendly, but Olave Parry, at the desk in front, ignored her very existence. She gathered that Audrey, like herself, was a new-comer, while Olave had attended the school since its foundation; but she did not realize the significance of this in the difference of their behavior to her. The fact was that the three new girls in the form were on probation. The others, who had come up from the Lower School, and were well versed in the traditions of the place, were not willing to admit them too quickly into favor. They talked them over in private.
"Audrey Redfern seems a decent enough little soul," said Estelle Harrison. "There's really nothing offensive about her, to my mind. Garnet Emerson I rather like. I fancy she could be jolly. I'm going to speak to her in a day or two, but not too soon."
"What do you think of Winona Woodward?" queried Bessie Kirk.
"Much too big an opinion of herself. Began bragging about her scholarship first thing. She needs sitting upon, to my mind."
"Yes, and she knows it, too!"
"Well, she can't help knowing it. I call her most striking looking. Her eyes are lovely, though I never can make out whether they're dark gray or hazel under those long lashes. Her hair's just the color of bronze, and such a lot of it! It beats Joyce Newton's hollow; besides, Joyce has absolutely white eyelashes."
"Like a pig's!" laughed Hilda Langley. "I agree with you that Winona's pretty, but I don't think she'll ever be a chum of mine, all the same."
The result of the stand-off attitude on the part of the rest of the form was the cementing of a close friendship between Winona and Garnet. It seemed natural for the holders of the two County Scholarships to become chums, also they found each other's society congenial. It marked a new epoch for Winona. She had had few friends of her own age. She had been the eldest pupil at Miss Harmon's small school, and her sisters were so much younger than herself that their interests were on a different plane to her own. Garnet, with her merry brown eyes, eager and enthusiastic nature, and amusing tongue, seemed a revelation.
The two girls spent every available moment together, and soon waxed confidential on the subject of their home affairs.
"We're all named after precious stones," said Garnet. "Pearl, my eldest sister, is classics mistress at a school; Jacinthe is studying for a health visitor, Ruby is at a Horticultural College, and Beryl is secretary at a Settlement. Aren't there a lot of us? All girls too, and not a single brother. I'm the baby of the family! I'd like to go to Holloway, if I can get a scholarship, but that remains to be seen. Meanwhile two years at the High's not so bad, is it? I expect I'm going to enjoy it. Aren't you?"
"Yes—perhaps. If the rest of the form were nicer, I might."
"Oh, they'll come round! We can't expect them to take us to their bosoms straight off! We're goods on approval."
"We've as much right here as they have!" grunted Winona.
"But they were here first, and of course that always counts for something. We shall have to show that we're worth our salt before we get any footing in the form. The question is how best to do it."
Winona shook her head. It was beyond her comprehension.
"I had a few tips from Jacinthe," ruminated Garnet. "She was Captain the last year she was at school, so she ought to know. You see, we've to steer between Scylla and Charybdis. We mustn't push ourselves forward too violently, or they'll call us cheeky, but on the other hand, if we're content to take a back seat, we may stay there for the rest of the term. Comprenez vous? It's a matter of seizing one's chance. I've an idea floating about in my mind. Do you happen to be anything extra special at singing, or reciting, or acting?"
"I haven't had much practice at acting, but I can play the guitar. Mummie taught me. She lived in Spain for three years when she was a girl, and learnt there."
"The very thing! How perfectly splendid! I play the mandoline myself, and the two go so well together. Did you bring your guitar with you?"
"No. I didn't think I should have any time for it."
"But you could write for it, couldn't you?"
"Oh, yes! Mummie would send it to me."
"Well, this is my idea. You know next week there's to be a big general meeting of the whole school to choose a Games Captain. So far the games department here is rather in its infancy. I've been making enquiries, and there isn't such a thing as a form trophy. There certainly ought to be, to spur on enthusiasm. I'm going to pluck up my courage, tackle one or two members of the Sixth, and suggest that after the meeting we hold a sing-song, and take a collection to provide a form trophy. I don't believe anybody's ever thought of it."
"Ripping! But what exactly is a sing-song?"
"Oh, just an informal concert. I thought if you and I played the mandoline and guitar together, it would make a good item. I see two of the prefects coming along over there, I believe I'll go and ask them."
"I admire your courage!"
Garnet returned in a few minutes, tolerably well satisfied with her mission.
"I believe the idea will catch on," she announced. "Of course I couldn't expect them to say 'yes' immediately. They were very cautious, and said they would put it to the form. I've sown the seed at any rate, and we must wait for developments."
Apparently Garnet's proposition proved acceptable to the Sixth, for the very next day a notice was pinned on the board in the hall:
"There will be a General Meeting of the School on Tuesday, October 4th, at 3 p.m., for the purpose of electing a Games Captain.
"The meeting will be followed by a Symposium, when a collection will be taken, the proceeds of which will be devoted to the purchase of a form trophy.
"Performers kindly submit their names without delay to M. HOWELL, as the program is being made up."
Garnet was one of the first to read the notice, and she started off at once to the Sixth Form room. She sought out Winona on her return.
"So my little scheme's come off!" she beamed. "You bet the Sixth will take all the credit for evolving it, but I don't care! I've put our names down for a mandoline and guitar duet, and said we'd be ready to help with any accompaniments they like. Meg Howell just jumped at that. It seems Patricia Marshall and Clarice Nixon are going to sing a Christy Minstrel song, and she thought our instruments would add to the effect no end. I tell you we shall score. Did you write for your guitar?"
"Yes, I expect it will be sent off to-day."
"Then we must begin and practice. I've got a topping duet that's quite easy. Can you come home with me after school to-morrow for half an hour or so? I know my cousins will be glad to see you. Then we might try over one or two things, and see how they go."
"It will be all right if I tell Aunt Harriet I shall be late," agreed Winona.
The instrument arrived the same evening, so she was able to keep her promise to Garnet next day. Fortunately they had only one class that afternoon, and were able to leave school at half-past three. Garnet's cousins lived within a short tramcar ride. They were musical people, and sympathized with her project. Garnet led Winona into the drawing-room, and began without waste of time.
"Let me look at your guitar! Oh, what a beauty! What's the label inside? Juan Da Costa, Seville! Then it must be Spanish. I suppose they're the best. My mandoline's Italian; it was made in Milan. We must tune them together, mustn't we? Can you read well? This is the book of duets. I thought this Barcarolle would be easy, it has such a lovely swing about it. Here's the guitar part."
By the aid of diligent practicing in private, and several rehearsals at Garnet's house, the girls at last got their duet to run smoothly. Garnet was frankly pleased.
"The two instruments go so nicely together! A mandoline's ever so much better played with a guitar accompaniment than with the piano. I say, suppose we were to get an encore!"
"I don't suppose anything of the sort."
"Don't be too modest. It's as well to be prepared."
"I'm not going to practice anything more, so I warn you."
"Well, take something you know, from your own book. This song. I could play the air very softly on the mandoline, and we'd both sing it. That won't give you any extra trouble."
"It isn't the trouble so much as the state of my fingers. They're getting sore. If I let a blister come, I shan't be able to play at all."
"Then for goodness' sake don't play any more to-day, and soak your fingers in alum when you get home."
The general meeting on Tuesday was a very important event, for it marked the opening of the winter session of games and guilds. During the first week or ten days of the autumn term the girls had enough to do in settling into the work of their new forms, but now October was come everybody began to think about hockey, and to consider the advisability of beginning rehearsals for various Christmas performances.
"I always hate the end of September," proclaimed Grace Olliver. "It's so fine, and the geraniums are still so fresh in the park, that you're deceived into thinking it's still summer, yet when you try to play tennis, you find the courts horrible, and you cut up the grass in half an hour. I'm glad when the leaves all come off, and you know it's autumn, and you look up your hockey jersey, and think what sport you had last winter over 'The Dramatic.' I'm fond enough of cricket, but I'd really rather have winter than summer. On the whole, there's more going on."
"I'm glad Margaret Howell's head of the school," replied Evelyn Richards. "She's A1 at all the guilds, though I don't think she's much chance of being elected Games Captain."
"All the better. It's quite enough for Margaret to act head. She's good enough at that, I admit. Makes an ideal president. But a girl who's literary isn't generally sporty as well. It stands to reason she can't do both properly."
"Meg doesn't want to be Games Captain; it's not in her line," volunteered Beatrice, Margaret's younger sister. "She told me to tell you all to vote for Kirsty Paterson."
"What's this Symposium we're to have after the meeting?" asked Grace.
"Why, I don't exactly know," laughed Evelyn. "I looked 'symposium' up in the dictionary, and it said: 'literally a drinking together; a merry feast; a convivial party.' I don't know what we're going to drink, unless we bring lemon kali and pass it round, like they used to do the loving cup in the Middle Ages!"
"I suppose it'll be just a kind of concert. But how about the collection? What are we supposed to give?"
"Anything you like, from a penny upwards," replied Beatrice. "Meg calculated that two hundred and six pennies would be seventeen and twopence, and some girls will probably give more, so she thinks we're sure of a sovereign, and that ought to buy a decent trophy, something to begin upon, at any rate. One must make a start."
"Right you are! A penny won't break the banks of even the First Form babes, and millionaires can give their half-crowns, if they're so disposed!"
Punctually at 3 p.m. on the following Tuesday, the whole school assembled in the gymnasium. No mistress was present, for on occasions such as this Miss Bishop believed in self-government. She could trust her head girl and prefects, and had armed them with full authority. Winona anticipated the meeting with excitement and curiosity. It was altogether outside her experience. She had never in her life attended such a function. Garnet, whose elder sisters had been at large schools, had sketched an outline of what was likely to take place, but even Garnet's information was second-hand. Though she had now been exactly a fortnight at Seaton, Winona still felt more or less of a new-comer. She had hardly spoken to any one outside her own form, and knew the names of comparatively few of her two hundred and five schoolfellows. Without Garnet she would have been quite at a loss how to steer her course in this great ocean of school life; she thankfully accepted her friend as pilot, and for the present was content to follow her lead. The two girls presented themselves in the gymnasium in good time, and took their seats among the other members of V.a. The front bench was occupied by a row of ten-year-olds who had come up this term from the Preparatory, and who sat squeezing each others' arms, highly impressed with the importance of their remove. Behind them Form II., a giggling crew rather more au fait with the ways of the school, effervesced occasionally into excited squeals, and were instantly suppressed by a prefect. The Third and Fourth, which comprised the bulk of the girls from twelve to fifteen, occupied the middle of the hall, a lively, self-confident and rather obstreperous set, all at that awkward age which is anxious to claim privileges, but not particularly ready to submit to the authorized code. Every one of them was talking at the extreme pitch of her voice, and the noise was considerable. Patricia Marshall and Clarice Nixon looked at each other and frowned ominously, but as the hands of the big clock pointed almost to three, they judged it better not to interfere, and the din continued.
At the stroke of the hour, Margaret Howell strode on to the platform. She was a tall, fine-looking girl of seventeen, with bright hazel eyes, regular features, and a thick brown plait that fell below her waist. Her ready powers of speech, clear ringing voice, brisk decisive tone, and a certain personal magnetism showed her to be that rara avis, a born leader. It was fortunate indeed for the school that its headship this year should have fallen to Margaret. The need for a firm but judicious hand on the reins was great. During the two previous years of the school's existence the self-government had been in a state of evolution. For the first year, when everybody was new together, comparatively little could be done. The school must find itself before it began to form its private code of laws. In the second year ill-luck had raised to the post of honor Ivy Chatterton, a clever but most untactful girl, whose quick temper had brought her into constant collision with her prefects. Many were the squalls which had swept over the school, of so serious a nature sometimes as almost to wreck several of the guilds. The younger girls, following the example of their elders, had quarreled hotly, and indulged in an incredible amount of petty spite, and altogether the current tone had been anything but desirable. Miss Bishop, who had seen, to her sorrow, this downward trend, had welcomed the advent of Margaret, believing her to have the ability to cope with difficult situations, and at the same time to have the grit and self-control not to allow her head to be turned by her elevation to office.
"You will have a great responsibility: I am giving you unusual power, and I trust that you will make the highest use of it," she had said to the girl, during a certain quiet ten minutes' talk in her study, and Margaret had held herself very straight, and had answered: "I'll do my level best, Miss Bishop!"
All eyes were now fixed on the head girl as she stood in the center of the platform, ringing the bell for silence. The clamor subsided as if by magic, and in the midst of a dead hush she began her speech.
"Girls! We've been back now for a whole fortnight—time for most of us to shake down into our places, isn't it? The school year's fairly started, and we've met together this afternoon to talk about a number of things that are of very great importance to us all. You all know that a school—to be worth anything—has two sides. There's the inside part, with classes and prep. and exams.—what's generally called the 'curriculum'—that's managed by the mistresses. And there's the outside part, the games and sports and concerts and guilds—that's run by the girls themselves. Now I think, if we arrange well, we ought to be able to look forward to three very jolly terms. Everything depends upon making a good start. I've been getting to know how they manage in several other big schools, and I propose that we frame our code by theirs. What we want first of all is a feeling of unity and public spirit. Each girl must make up her mind to do all she can to push on the 'Seaton High.' We want to win matches, and have a good sports record, and generally build up a reputation. Slacking at games must be out of the question. Everybody must buck up all round. Those who aren't playing themselves can show their interest by attending the matches. It makes the greatest difference to an eleven to know that their own side is watching their play, and ready to cheer them on. There's nothing so forlorn and depressing as to see whole rows of the enemy's school hats on the spectators' benches, and only half-a-dozen of one's own—yet that's what happened when we played Harbury last spring. No wonder we lost! I'm going to ask you presently to elect a Games Captain, and then I want you to support her loyally for the whole of the year. Let her feel that she can depend upon you, and that instead of getting together scratch teams, her difficulty will be how to choose among so many crack players. But as you know, games are not the whole of our business to-day. We have our guilds to consider as well. I want to put these upon a good and firm basis. Last winter we didn't quite know where we were with them, did we? At present we have 'The Dramatic Society,' 'The Debating Club,' 'The Literary Association,' and 'The Patriotic Knitting Guild.' We might very well add a 'Photographic Union' and a 'Natural History League.' They ought all to be run on the same lines. Each must have a President, a Secretary, and a Committee of eight members, who will undertake the business of the Society, and settle all its events. Any difficulty or dispute must be referred to the Prefects' meeting, the decision of which shall be final. Each guild must draw up a list of its own rules; these must be submitted first to the Prefects, then, if passed as satisfactory, they must be written in the minutes book, and strictly adhered to. I want you all to realize that this school is still in its infancy. It's a baby of only two years! But a very promising baby! It's we who are going to make its history. So far we can't say it has had any annals; in the future it must show a whole splendid list of achievements and successes. Years afterwards, when it's the most famous school in the county, we shall be proud to have had the privilege of taking our share in pushing it on, and our names may be handed down to long generations of girls as those who founded its best traditions."
Margaret paused, quite out of breath with her long speech. A storm of applause rose from the audience; the girls clapped and stamped, a few even cheered. Margaret had touched the right string. The idea of making school history appealed to them, and they were ready to respond with enthusiasm to her appeal. Even the ten-year-olds were eager to show their zeal. Winona had never taken her eyes off the speaker. It was a new gospel to her that she was one of the great community, bound to help the common weal. The realization of it stirred her spirit; her imagination danced ahead, and performed prodigies. Suppose she could do something wonderful for the school, and leave her name as a memory to others? The vision gleamed golden. It would be worth living to accomplish that.
"Not half a bad speech!" murmured Garnet approvingly by her side.
Winona started, and came back from the clouds.
"I think it's—just immense!" she answered with a long sigh of admiration.
Margaret was again ringing the bell for silence.
"I'm glad to find you all agree with me," she announced. "Now I want us to get solidly to business, and elect a Games Captain. You remember I asked each to nominate a candidate, and I find that more than two-thirds have handed in the same name—that of Kirsty Paterson. I therefore put Kirsty up for election. It's only fair that I should first go over her qualifications for the office. She was our best center forward last year at hockey, and our best bowler at cricket. She's a thoroughly steady and reliable player herself, and—this is most important—she's able to train others. You know from experience that she's fair and just, and she's tremendously keen. I feel sure that in her hands the games would prosper, and we'd soon show some improvement. Will all those in favor of electing Kirsty kindly stand up?"
There was such a general rising among the girls that most presidents would have considered the matter settled. Margaret, however, liked to do things strictly in order.
"Thanks I Will you please sit down again. Now those against the election kindly stand."
A certain section in the school had intended to vote against Kirsty, but when they saw themselves so enormously outnumbered, they changed their minds. To belong to a minority often means to be unpopular, and it is wise to go with the stream. After all, Kirsty was a thoroughly eligible and desirable candidate. So though a few neighbors elbowed each other, nobody rose.
Margaret waited a moment.
"Do I understand that you're all in favor? Then the motion is carried unanimously. I'm very glad, for I think Kirsty will make an ideal captain. Let's give three cheers for her. Are you ready? Hip-hip-hip hooray!"
The girls responded with full lung power. Some even began to sing: "For she's a jolly good fellow!" and there was a general outcry of "Speech! Speech!" The blushing Kirsty—a bonny, rosy, athletic looking lassie—was seized by her fellow prefects, and dragged, in spite of her protests, to the front of the platform. Kirsty had been born north of the Tweed, and in moments of excitement her pretty Scottish burr asserted itself.
"It's verra kind of you to elect me," she began. "I'm afraid I'm no hand at making speeches. I preferr deeds to worrds. We'll all put ourr shoulderrs to the wheel, and win forr the school, won't we? I hope we'll have a splendid yearr!"
At that she retired amidst rapturous applause. Margaret again rang the bell for silence, and proceeded with the business of the meeting, which was to elect the officers for the various societies and guilds. This being satisfactorily settled, she turned to affairs of lighter moment.
"I'm sure you'll all agree that it is very desirable for us to have a form trophy, for hockey, at any rate. Perhaps by next summer we'll get one for cricket as well. It will spur us on to have a little wholesome competition amongst ourselves. As I announced on the notice board, we are now going to give a short entertainment, at the close of which a collection will be taken for the object I have just mentioned. I hate begging, so give what you like, but of course it depends on your generosity this afternoon what kind of a trophy we are able to buy. The first item on our program is a piano solo by Hester King."
Hester was one of the best music pupils in the school. She had a good crisp touch and considerable execution, and led off the concert with a sprightly tarantella. A violin solo followed, by Sibyl Lee, a member of V.b., who was rather nervous, but acquitted herself fairly well on the whole.
"I thought I'd break down," she confided to her friends. "The sight of all those eyes staring at me quite put me off. I don't wonder blind musicians are generally successes, they can't see the audience. Well, never mind, I've done my bit, at any rate!"
The next on the list was a song from Annie Hardy. She had chosen "Keep the Home Fires Burning," and rendered it with great effect, the whole room joining with enthusiasm in the chorus. It took so well that there were shouts of "Encore!" and Annie came back smiling to give "Khaki Boys," which roused her audience to an even higher pitch of patriotic fervor. A recitation, "Our Hockey Match," by Agnes Heath, was felt to be particularly appropriate to the occasion. It was a very good "school piece," humorous as well as exciting, and Agnes had enough dramatic ability to do justice to it. Her own form in particular stamped lustily. The prefects motioned her forward again, but she shook her head. The clapping redoubled. Agnes, escorted to the front by Margaret, bowed and announced:
"Fearfully sorry not to oblige, but this is absolutely the only thing I know, and it's too long to say all over again!"
There was a general laugh, and the audience settled itself to enjoy the next item on the program. Margaret was signaling to Winona and Garnet, and the pair slipped from their places, and made their way to the platform.
"I'm all upset! I hope I shan't break down!" whispered Winona.
"Nonsense! A duet's not so bad as a solo. You'll get on all right. Do for goodness' sake brace up!" implored Garnet. "If you muddle your accompaniment you'll spoil my part. You'll surely never go and fail me!"
The instruments had been put under the piano. Patricia Marshall handed them forth, and sounded the notes for them to be tuned. Clarice Nixon was placing chairs and music-stands. Garnet was tolerably composed, but Winona was suffering from a bad attack of that most unpleasant malady "stage fright." She would have given worlds for a trapdoor in the platform to open, and allow her to subside out of sight. No such convenient arrangement, however, had been provided for the use of bashful performers, the planks were solid, and guaranteed not to give way under any circumstances. There was nothing for it but to take her seat in full view of the audience. There were slightly over two hundred girls in the room, but to Winona's fevered imagination there appeared to be thousands. She wondered how she could ever have had the folly to place herself in such a public situation. Garnet was sounding a few notes and looking at her to begin. For one dreadful moment the room whirled. Perhaps Margaret saw and understood; she laid her hand on Winona's shaking arm, and whispered encouragingly:
"Go on! Don't mind the audience. Just remember that you're playing for the form trophy!"
A sudden revulsion of feeling swept over Winona. All the school patriotism aroused within her by Margaret's speech surged up to meet the crisis. She was no longer an isolated atom, a girl fresh from home, and on trial before the critical eyes of her new form, but a unit in the great life of the school, bound to play her part for the good of the whole, and specially pledged not to fail Garnet in this emergency. Self faded in the larger vision. The color flooded back into her face. She made a desperate effort, and struck the opening chords.
As her friend had reminded her, a duet was quite a different matter from a solo. Directly the mandoline part began, her confidence returned. She tried to think that she was only playing an accompaniment for Garnet. The piece was not difficult, it was in D, quite the easiest key for the guitar, with very few accidentals or high positions. She took courage, and struck her strings crisply, so that the tone rang out well. Her instrument was a good one, very true and mellow, and her mother had taught her the liquid Spanish touch which showed it to its best advantage. Garnet also was doing her best. Her plectrum vibrated evenly and rapidly, and the metallic twang, her gravest fault, was not nearly so evident as usual. The audience, unfamiliar with these particular instruments, was not hypercritical, and so long as the players kept well together, and sounded no discords, their skill was judged to be excellent. The Barcarolle had an attractive swing about it, and a romantic suggestion of gondolas and lapping water and moonlight serenades. As the last notes of the air on the mandoline died away, Winona swept her thumb over the strings of her guitar in a tremendous final chord. It had quite a magnificent and professional effect. There was no mistake about the applause; it was simply clamorous.
"Stand up and bow!" whispered Margaret, nudging the unaccustomed performers. "That's right! Bow again! It's most clearly an encore. Have you brought anything else with you? Good biz! Don't waste any more time, then. We're rather late."
The song that Winona had chosen was a bright little Irish ditty, with a catchy tune and lively accompaniment. Garnet played the air softly on the mandoline, and the two girls sang in unison, keeping strictly together, and pronouncing very plainly, so that the point of the amusing words should not be lost. The audience shrieked with laughter, and would have demanded a further encore, had not Margaret pointed to the clock, and shaken her head firmly. There were other items on the program and time was going all too fast.
Another violin solo, a recitation and a Highland fling followed; then the concert wound up with a Christy Minstrel song from several members of the Sixth. This last was the triumph of the afternoon. Patricia prided herself on her preparations. She had placed a newspaper inside the grand piano over the strings, and when the hammers struck against it the effect of the accompaniment was exactly that of a banjo. She had borrowed two sets of castanets, a pair of cymbals, and a triangle, and with these loud-sounding instruments she and her companions emphasized the chorus. Garnet and Winona helped with mandoline and guitar, so the general result was quite orchestral. During the performance of this chef-d'oeuvre some of the prefects went round with collecting bags, which were passed along the benches.
"Come, my dark-eyed honey, And help to spend my money,"
chanted the minstrels lustily, and the audience smiled at the appropriateness of the words.
It was felt that the Symposium had been an enormous success. The girls were quite loath to leave, and dispersed slowly from the gymnasium. Many eyes were turned on Winona and Garnet as they carried their instruments down from the platform. "Who are they?" every one was asking, for so far their names were not known outside their own form. "The two County Scholarship holders," somebody replied, and the information was passed on.
Next morning, Margaret proudly posted up the result of the collection, which amounted to L2 13s. 7d.—a very substantial sum in the estimation of the school.
"It ought to be sufficient to buy a cup!" she triumphed. "Miss Bishop has promised to send for some catalogues, so that we can look up the prices. We shall start the season well, at any rate. Kirsty's almost ready to stand on her head! I never saw any one so elated!"
"Except yourself!" smiled Patricia.
"Cela va sans dire, camarade!"
Garnet and Winona, walking down the High Street together after the performance, also compared notes.
"It was fine! I do admire Margaret. Mustn't it be splendid to be head of the school?" sighed Garnet enviously.
"Do you think so? Yes, I suppose it is, but if I had my choice, I'd a dozen times over rather be Games Captain," answered Winona.
It is high time now that we paused to consider a very important person indeed in this story, namely Miss Harriet Beach, but for whose invitation Winona would never have attended Seaton High School at all. Aunt Harriet was what is generally known as "a character," that is to say, she was possessed of a strong personality, and was decidedly eccentric. Though her age verged on sixty she preserved the energy of her thirties, and prided herself upon her physical fitness. She was tall, with a high color, keen brown eyes, a large nose, a determined mouth, and iron gray hair. In her youth she must have been handsome, and even now her erect figure and dark, well-marked eyebrows gave her a certain air of distinction. She was a most thoroughly capable woman, reliable, and strongly philanthropic: not in a sentimental way, however; she disapproved of indiscriminate almsgiving, and would have considered it a crime to bestow a penny on a beggar without making a proper investigation of his case. She was a tower of strength to most of the charitable institutions in the city, a terror to the professional pauper, but a real friend to the deserving. Her time was much occupied with committees, secretarial duties, district visiting, workhouse inspection and other public interests. She was apt indeed to have more than her share of civic business; her reputation for absolute reliability caused people to get into the habit of saying "Oh, go to Miss Beach!" on every occasion, and as she invariably proved the willing horse, she justified the proverb and received the work in increased proportions.
Like most people, Aunt Harriet had her faults. She was apt to be a trifle overbearing and domineering, she lacked patience with others' weaknesses, and was too doctrinaire in her views. She tried very hard to push the world along, but she forgot sometimes that "the mills of God grind slowly," and that it is only after much waiting and many days that the bread cast upon the waters returns to us. She prided herself on her candor and lack of "humbug." Unfortunately, people who "speak their minds" generally treat their hearers to a sample of their worst instead of their best, and their excessive truthfulness scarcely meets with the gratitude they consider it deserves. Miss Beach's many estimable qualities, however, overbalanced her crudities, her friends shrugged their shoulders and told each other it was "her way," "her heart was all right." Though she might give offense, people forgot it, and came to her again next time they wanted anything done, and the universal verdict was that she was "trying at times," but on the whole one of the most useful citizens which Seaton possessed.