THE NICEST GIRL IN THE SCHOOL
A Story of School Life
Author of "The Third Class at Miss Kaye's" "The Fortunes of Philippa"
Illustrated by Arthur A. Dixon
Blackie and Son Limited London Glasgow and Bombay
I. PACKING 9
II. THE PRIORY 20
III. FIRST IMPRESSIONS 36
IV. A MAIDEN ALL FORLORN 50
V. THE ARITHMETIC EXAMINATION 69
VI. ALBUMS 88
VII. PATTY'S PLEDGE 106
VIII. A GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT 125
IX. AN AFTERNOON WITH JEAN 145
X. THE CAESAR TRANSLATION 159
XI. THE SUMMER TERM 176
XII. PLAYING WITH FIRE 198
XIII. THE SCHOOL PICNIC 212
XIV. ON THE ROCKS 225
XV. SPEECH DAY 243
"SHE STARTED GUILTILY AT HER COUSIN'S ENTRANCE" Frontis. 166
"EVERYBODY SEEMED TO BE FRIENDS AND TO BE OCCUPIED WITH SOME GAME OR AMUSEMENT EXCEPT HERSELF" 56
"YOU'LL ALL THREE HAVE TO PROMISE NEVER TO LIGHT THE GAS AGAIN AFTER MISS ROWE'S TURNED IT OUT" 122
"GIRLS," SHE CRIED, "SURELY YOU CAN'T SUSPECT ME OF OWNING THAT WRETCHED 'CRIB'?" 173
"THEY WERE CUT OFF ON EVERY SIDE" 232
"Only one day more," cried Patty Hirst, surveying with deep interest the large new box which stood by the side of the chest of drawers in her bedroom; "just one day! How dreadfully quickly the time has come! I feel quite queer when I think about it. I can scarcely believe that before the end of the week both I and my luggage will be a whole hundred miles away, and settled at Morton Priory. I do wonder how I shall like it?"
"Very much, I hope," replied her mother, pausing for a moment in her task of packing the neat piles of linen and underclothing into as small a compass as possible. "I'm sure it seems a delightful school, and you are an extremely lucky girl to be going there."
"Yes," said Patty, with a rather doubtful tone in her voice, sitting down on the edge of the bed, and beginning to turn over the pocket handkerchiefs, the new blouses, the ties, hair ribbons, and other articles which made up her schoolgirl outfit; "I suppose I am lucky. Perhaps it may be nicer than I think. I wanted to go dreadfully when Uncle Sidney first wrote about it, but somehow now that it's got almost to starting off, do you know I feel as if I'd changed my mind, and I'm not at all sure that I wouldn't rather stay at home. It seems too horrible to have to go amongst so many new girls."
Mrs. Hirst laughed.
"Don't be a silly child," she said. "Of course you will feel strange just at first, but you will soon get over your shyness. It will be quite a fresh world for you, and a very interesting one. I expect to have the most enthusiastic letters from you when you have been there for a few weeks."
"It will be different from Miss Dawson's, at any rate," said Patty.
"I hope it will. Miss Dawson's is the best school we have in Kirkstone, but it is only moderately good. I can't be too glad for you to have this opportunity of going to a better one. Give me your stockings, dear, and the workbasket; I've a corner I want to fill up here."
Patty sat watching her mother's deft fingers in silence for a moment or two, only handing her from time to time the things which she required. She gave a little sigh of satisfaction as she saw all her belongings stowed away in the big box; she had never had so many new possessions in her life before, and in the pleasure of owning them felt some slight compensation for the wrench of parting from home. The two useful navy-blue serge skirts, with their accompanying blouses, the pretty brown velvet dress for Sundays, the flowered delaine for evenings, and the white muslin for school parties, not to mention the hats, coats, and the numberless small articles needed for a girl going away by herself, all represented much thought and some self-denial on the part of her mother, who had made a great effort to send her nicely equipped, and had toiled hard to finish everything in time.
"I don't believe anybody could have a prettier nightdress case or brush-and-comb bag than this," said Patty, proudly smoothing the lace edging which she had helped to stitch on herself; "and the clothes bag is a perfect beauty. Here's the little cash-box, Mother. It seems such a funny thing to have to take to school. I haven't any 'valuables' to put into it, except my pocket money, and you said Miss Lincoln would take care of that. Why must it have two keys?"
"In case you lose one, I suppose. No doubt Miss Lincoln is well accustomed to schoolgirls' careless ways. You can keep your brooches inside it, and your locket and chain. Now give me your serviette ring and your collars, and don't forget that I've put the boot laces in your workbasket."
"I wonder if I shall unpack by myself, or if anyone will come to help me," said Patty.
"You'll soon find out what is expected, and of course Muriel will be able to tell you everything. It's so very nice for you to have your cousin at the school. You'll have a friend there already."
Patty's face fell.
"I'm not sure, Mother," she said, rather hesitatingly. "The truth is, I'm afraid Muriel doesn't want me to go. She was so queer and offhand about it when I was staying at Thorncroft; she wouldn't talk of it at all, though Aunt Lucy did. Somehow I think she won't like me to be at the same school as herself."
"You must be mistaken, dear! Why, Uncle Sidney was so pleased with his project, and said you were to take care of Muriel as if she were your sister."
"I know he did; but all the same, I don't believe Muriel herself will like it. She's never been very fond of me; Horace is always much jollier when I go there. When Aunt Lucy said she hoped we should both be in the same class, Muriel looked quite cross, and said of course I should be lower down, as she had gone to school first, and girls who were in different forms scarcely saw anything of each other; and then, when we were out in the garden together, she said she didn't see why I must be sent to The Priory, and surely there were other schools I could have gone to."
"Never mind, dear! Perhaps she was a little out of temper that day, and may prove nicer when you really arrive. You must try to keep friends with her, even if she's not always quite pleasant. We mustn't forget Uncle Sidney's kindness. I feel very grateful to him, for we couldn't possibly have sent you to such an expensive school on our own account."
"I'll try," said Patty, "as far as she'll let me. If she were more like Milly it would be much easier. Oh! how dreadfully I shall miss you and Father, and Basil, and the little ones! I wish I could go to school and take my family with me. I don't know how I'm to manage for thirteen whole weeks without once seeing any of you. The time will never go by."
"Poor little woman!" said her mother. "It does seem hard, I know, but you must look forward to meeting us all again, and the days will pass much faster than you imagine."
"But, Mother darling, you'll have so much to do while I'm away. Who'll help you with the children? Baby will almost have forgotten me by the time I come back."
"No, he won't; he'll know you in a moment, and give you his biggest hug. It's no use crying, Patty; young birds must leave the nest some time, and learn to fly for themselves. We shall miss you as much as you miss us, but we must brace our minds to bear it, because it's one of those partings that have to come, and are for the best after all. Think what a splendid thing it is for you to be going to such a school as Morton Priory! I only wish I had had such advantages when I was a girl. You must work hard, and make the very most of your time there."
"I'll do my best, but I'm not clever," said Patty, "and I'm afraid I never shall be. Mother, dearest, you're actually crying too! What a horrid, selfish, nasty wretch I am! I believe it's just as bad for you as it is for me. There! I'm not going to say another word, and if I do, please give me a smack. I'm ever so ashamed to have made my darling little Mother cry!"
She got off the bed, and giving a hard scrub to her eyes, stuffed her handkerchief back into her pocket with a determined air, as if the tears went with it. All the same, her voice sounded choky, and there were such bright drops glistening on Mrs. Hirst's eyelashes, that I think they both felt it a welcome interruption when a loud tramping was suddenly heard on the stairs, and four children burst tumultuously into the room: a girl of eleven, two boys of nine and seven, and a younger girl of about five years old.
"We ran all the way home from school," they cried. "We didn't wait a single minute to talk to anybody. Oh! have you packed Patty's box already? We did so want to watch you do it!"
"Go to the nursery, children," said Mrs. Hirst, "I cannot have your meddlesome little fingers here. Robin, put down that hat immediately! Wilfred, you're not to open that bag! No, Kitty, my pet, you mustn't peep inside parcels. Milly, take them away, and make them wash their hands. I didn't expect you all home so soon."
"I'll go with them, Mother," said Patty, taking the noisy four under her elder sisterly wing, and escorting them to their own domain, where Mary, the nurse, was endeavouring to attend to the baby, while at the same time she restrained three-year-old Rowley from making acquaintance with the interior of the coal box. "Did you give Miss Dawson my message, Milly? You forgot? Oh, what a careless girl you are! I shall have to write her a letter. No, it's no use your running back now. There wouldn't be time before tea, it's almost ready."
Patty helped the children to put on pinafores and tidy their hair, washed Rowley's hands, and seated him in his high chair at the table, then made herself so useful in passing bread and butter, spreading jam, and handing round mugs of milk, that Mary gave a heartfelt sigh of regret.
"I simply don't know what we'll do without you when you've gone, Miss Patty," she said dolefully.
"Oh! I wish I were going too!" cried Milly. "What lovely fun it would be! Imagine having a gymnasium, and climbing poles, and walking on planks. Muriel told me all about it when she was over here. She said she learnt to swarm up a rope like sailors do. And there's a swimming bath, and hockey, and cricket, and tennis. You can't think how I envy you, Patty. You're the luckiest girl in the world. It will seem so slow to stay on at Miss Dawson's. I shan't like it one scrap now."
"Will they toss you in a blanket, Patty," enquired Robin eagerly, "like they did Cousin Horace when first he went to school, or twist your arm round and punch it?"
"Of course not," replied Patty, laughing; "those things are only done in boys' schools. Girls don't play such silly tricks; they don't 'punch' people at all."
"They do sometimes," declared Robin; "Milly gave me a horrid——"
"Be quiet!" said Milly quickly, administering what appeared to be a kick under the table. "You deserved anything you got, and if you say a word more I'll tell about—you know what!"
"If you dare!"
"Be quiet, then."
"I will now, but wait till I catch you afterwards!" and Robin, throwing her an indignant glance, applied himself so diligently to his bread and butter, that he had no opportunity for further remarks; while Patty, wisely ignoring the quarrel, turned the conversation back to the safer channel of her future experiences, which at present seemed the most absorbing topic they could have to discuss.
"There'll be a great many more girls there than at Miss Dawson's," she began.
"How many?" asked Milly.
"I believe there are about seventy, and at least half of them will be older than I am. Muriel says some of the top class have turned eighteen, and wear their hair up. I shall only be one of the younger ones."
"How funny!" giggled the children. "Will they give you easy lessons, then?"
"Compound addition and the first declension?" suggested Robin.
"Or spelling and tables?" said Wilfred.
"Will Patty do pot-hooks and learning to read, like me?" said Kitty.
"You will find it easier, though, if you're one of the youngest, won't you?" said Milly.
"No, indeed. I expect all the work will be much harder than anything I've ever done yet. It won't be all hockey and gymnasium, I can tell you. I'm afraid I shall find I'm behind most of the other girls."
"Oh, Patty, and you were always top at Miss Dawson's!"
"That's quite different. It's easy enough to be top when there are only four girls in a class, and two of them as stupid as the Simpsons. I may very likely turn out bottom at The Priory."
"You won't! You won't!" cried Milly. "I heard Miss Dawson tell Mother you were one of her best workers, and she knew you'd do well wherever you went. There, you needn't blush! It wasn't anything very particular, after all. If she'd been talking about me, I'd far rather she'd said I was a good runner, and could catch a ball without missing it every time it was thrown to me."
"She did say something about you, though: I heard her," volunteered Robin.
"Then you shouldn't have listened, and you've no need to tell. I hate tell-tales!" said Milly, forestalling his offered confidence. "If you've finished tea, you'd better go and feed the guinea-pigs. Patty, do come and help me to trace my map, it's the last evening but one that you'll be here; and I want you to show me how to do G.C.M., because I was looking out of the window this morning when Miss Dawson told us, and I can't work any of my sums until I know. Come into the summer-house, where we can get a little peace and quiet;" and hastily swallowing her last fragment of bread and butter, she caught up her school satchel, and beckoning persuasively to her sister, led the way downstairs, and out into the garden.
As this story mostly concerns Patty, I should like to describe her exactly as she looked when she made her first start into that new, strange world where everything was going to be so different from the quiet home where she had spent the thirteen years of her life. She was not very tall nor very short, just an ordinary, healthy, well-grown girl, with a round, rather childish face, plump rosy cheeks, a nose that had not yet decided what shape it meant to be, a mouth that for beauty might certainly have been smaller, a frank pair of blue eyes, and hair that had been flaxen when she was younger, but now, to her mother's regret, was fast turning as brown as it could. No one could really call Patty pretty, but she had such a merry, pleasant, sunny, smiling look about her, that she always somehow made people feel like smiling too, and put them into a good temper in spite of themselves. She was neither dull nor particularly clever, only possessed of average abilities, able to remember lessons when she tried hard, and gifted with a certain capacity for plodding, but not in the least brilliant over anything she undertook. She was never likely to win fame, or set the Thames on fire, but she was one of those cosy, thoughtful, cheery, lovable home girls, who are often a great deal more pleasant to live with than some who have greater talents; and she had a magic way of making things go smoothly in the household, and dropping oil on all the little creaking hinges of life, without anybody quite discovering how it was done. Patty's father was a busy doctor in the small country town of Kirkstone. He was out nearly the whole day long, driving about in his high gig to visit people in distant farms and villages, and had very little time to give to his own family, so they were obliged to make the most of the few delightful half-hours he could manage to spare for them now and then. Patty, as his eldest daughter, held a special place in his heart. She was already quite a nice companion for him, and I think there was no greater treat for both than on those occasions when she was able to tuck herself into the gig by his side, ready to open gates, and hold the reins while he paid his visits. Patty loved those long drives along the quiet roads. She did not care whether the weather were wet or fine, hot or cold. It did not matter in the least if it snowed or hailed, provided her father was there to talk to, and they could indulge in those confidential chats that seemed to bring them so near together, and made her feel quite a little woman instead of only a girl of thirteen. It was not often, however, that Patty could be absent for the many hours of a doctor's country round. School and lessons claimed most of her time, and even on Saturdays she was so useful at home that they found it difficult to manage without her. Seven younger brothers and sisters all looked to Patty to settle their quarrels, hem their boat sails, dress their dolls, kiss their bumps and bruises better, sympathize with their small woes and troubles, tell them stories, invent new games, and generally take the lead in all the important matters of the nursery. She was her mother's right hand, and from the time she was old enough to feel herself a little older than the rest, she had helped to stitch on buttons, wash chubby faces, fasten tiny shoes, comb curly heads, keep small fingers out of mischief and small limbs from danger, and support the cause of law and order by an emphatic "don't" or "mustn't" when necessary. Patty often congratulated herself on the fact that she had taught five babies to walk. She was very proud of the family, beginning with Basil, who was only a year younger than herself, though not nearly so capable and reliable, and ending with the fat baby who had not yet found his feet, while in between came harum-scarum Milly, boisterous Robin and Wilfred, coaxing, bewitching little Kitty, and round-faced, stolid, three-year-old Rowland, whose name was generally corrupted to Roly-Poly, because it seemed so exactly to suit him.
It had never occurred to Patty that life could ever be very much different from what she was accustomed to. She had seldom been away from Kirkstone, only for short visits to relations or a seaside holiday, and all her horizon was bounded by her home. She went to a day school, where she was one of the elder girls, and felt obliged, even in the midst of her lessons, to keep an eye on Milly's behaviour, and to consider herself responsible for the good conduct of Robin, Wilfred, and Kitty, who were also Miss Dawson's pupils. It was quite anxious work for her to get them off in time in the mornings; to ensure that they did not leave their books at home, or forget their macintoshes on showery days, or lose their slates and pencils; to help to lace their boots, and put on their hats neatly; to make Milly and Kitty wear their gloves, and prevent Robin and Wilfred from filling their pockets with nut shells, stones, frogs, or other unsuitable articles which were apt to stray out in class and call down the vials of the mistress's wrath upon their heads. She saw that they learnt their home lessons, did their sums, practised their due portions upon the piano: and it took up so much of her own time, that she had to work hard to get in even the moderate amount of preparation that was deemed necessary at Miss Dawson's. It had meant a very great change, therefore, when her uncle had written offering to send Patty to Morton Priory with her cousin Muriel. It would have been quite impossible for Dr. Hirst, burdened as he was with a large family and a not too ample income, to place any of his children at expensive boarding schools. Basil, indeed, went by train daily to Winborough, ten miles off, where there was an excellent boys' college; but no better teaching than Miss Dawson could give seemed in store for Patty, until this sudden good fortune had been thrust upon her. Mr. Pearson, her uncle, was a wealthy man, who had only one daughter. It had occurred to him that it would be nice for the two girls to spend their schooldays together, and he had generously undertaken the full charges of his niece's education, declaring she should have exactly the same advantages as her cousin. He had been fond of his sister in their childhood, and thought how suitable it seemed for Muriel, who was three months younger than Patty, to have the latter for a companion during the years he wished her to remain at The Priory.
"Patty is such a good, conscientious child," he wrote to Mrs. Hirst, "I know she will look after her cousin, and stand by her in any trouble. I can trust her to be a true and loyal friend, and it will be a comfort to me to think that Muriel has anyone so stanch and steady on whom to depend. If Patty will consider my girl her special charge while she is at The Priory, she will amply repay me for anything I may expend on her behalf. It is a bargain to which I am sure she will agree, and which I feel certain she will be ready to keep."
Such a tremendous occasion as being sent away to school naturally marked an epoch in Patty's life, though she looked upon the event with mixed feelings. Sometimes it seemed terrible to her to have to leave her dear ones at home, and she shrank from the parting with an almost morbid fear lest she should never see them all again; then a more sensible mood would prevail, and she would be so glad to think she was going, and so excited about it, that she could scarcely wait until the summer holidays were over, and the autumn term should begin. The one thing which troubled her most was the charge which had been laid upon her to look after her cousin. The latter was such a totally different girl from herself, that unfortunately she felt they had little in common; and though she was anxious to do her utmost to prove the stanch friend in need that her uncle required, she was sure that Muriel would greatly resent all interference, and she did not anticipate an easy task. She did not like to discuss the question much with her father and mother. They seemed so pained at the thought that the two girls should not agree, and so wishful that their schooldays should bring them nearer together, that she determined not to mention the subject again, and could only hope that her fears might not be fulfilled. What the future held in store for her, and what experiences she was to encounter in her new life at Morton Priory, it is the object of this story to relate.
A neatly printed notice had been forwarded to Dr. Hirst, reminding him that the autumn term reopened on September 20th, and that it was requested that all pupils should return on that day, arriving not later than five o'clock in the afternoon. Patty wondered how anybody could be in danger of forgetting such an important date, and from counting the days had come to counting the hours and even the minutes up to that particular moment when she must set out on her travels. To her great delight, her father and mother had decided to take a little holiday and escort her safely to school. They were anxious to see The Priory for themselves, and to make the acquaintance of Miss Lincoln, the headmistress, with whom they had already held some correspondence; and they both felt they would be much better satisfied if they could picture Patty in her new surroundings, and leave her looking tolerably cheerful and happy there. After a terrible parting from the children, Patty tore herself away at last from their hugs and kisses, and sat blinking back tears until the cab reached the station, in spite of Dr. Hirst's efforts to distract her attention. She brightened up, however, in the train. It seemed so important to be sitting there with a new brown leather bag in the rack over her head, and a new box in the luggage van, both marked with her own initials, and to feel she was bound for such a particularly interesting destination. It was a rather tedious cross-country journey. After they had changed twice, and found themselves on the main line at a busy junction, the long corridor carriage was suddenly filled up with so many girls of various ages, that Patty began to think she must be face to face with some of her school-fellows, who no doubt were arriving by the same train as herself. Two mistresses, who were waiting on the platform, marshalled the excited, chattering young people to their places, and saw to the safe bestowal of their luggage—evidently no light task, for there were many outcries after bags and parcels of wraps and umbrellas, forgotten in the bustle of changing, and porters were sent hurrying hither and thither to recover the lost property. Everybody was at length on board the train, including three girls who made a great sensation at the last moment by racing down the platform to get chocolates from the automatic machine, and were nearly left behind, to the equal indignation of the guard and the two teachers. The Hirsts' compartment was crammed as tightly as it could be: five girls managed to screw themselves into the space of four, and one, who could find no seat at all, sat in turns on the others' knees. Two amongst them at once attracted Patty's notice. One, a fair-haired girl of about the same age as herself, cried persistently and unrestrainedly, burying her face in the window curtain, and refusing all comfort, though her companions pressed chocolates, caramels, mint rock, jujubes, and walnut toffee upon her with well-meant sympathy.
"Oh, do stop, Avis! You make the place quite damp. No one would think it was your fourth term. I hope you've brought a macintosh pillow, if you're going to turn on the waterworks like this. Wipe your eyes, and have a peppermint cream. I always take them when I feel homesick. There's nothing does one so much good."
The speaker was a merry, bonny-looking girl of perhaps fifteen, with bright brown eyes, a clear complexion, a freckled nose, very white teeth, and curly brown hair tied with a red ribbon. Patty thought she must surely have spent all her pocket money at the confectioner's before she came away—such endless packets of sweets came out of the Gladstone bag which she held on her knee, and disappeared with such startling rapidity that Dr. Hirst looked on in horror.
"I got hold of my eldest brother," she explained to a companion. "I told him I shouldn't be allowed a solitary chocolate drop at The Priory, and how I should be simply yearning even for treacle toffee. He laughed, and said I should have a good time before I got there, at any rate, so we went into town, and he bought me absolutely anything I wanted. Have another caramel, Winnie? It's no use keeping them. Miss Rowe'll confiscate them all if she finds them in my bag. You won't have the chance of any more sweets for thirteen weeks, remember!"
"Not unless she can manage to get up a cough," said a girl whom the others addressed as Ida, "and it depends whether you like Miss Lincoln's cough drops or not. I think they're hateful myself, and taste like medicine, but Dorothy Dawson loves them. She made her throat quite sore one day last term with trying to cough all through the history class, and Miss Lincoln didn't give her any after all. She only told her to go and take a glass of water. Dolly was so disgusted! No, thanks, Enid! I really can't manage another. There are limits, you know, even for me."
"But we simply must finish them up."
"Then finish them yourself."
"She'll be ill if she does," said the short, rosy-faced girl called Winnie. "I don't believe you've stopped eating sweets, Enid, since you got into the train. You'll have a horrible headache to-morrow, see if you don't!"
"I'll call it homesickness if I do," laughed Enid, "and then everybody will sympathize with me. Look here, Avis, if you insist on crying over the window curtains you'll take the colour out of them, and the company will bring an action for damages. They're so dusty, too. Your face is all in streaks of black. Let me rub it off for you. Winnie, lend me your bottle of eau de Cologne, that's a dear. I have a clean handkerchief here. That's better. Now do cheer up, and put your hat straight; we shall be there in about five minutes."
Patty sat surveying these new girl comrades with deep interest. Avis and Enid particularly claimed her attention. She had a kindred feeling for the grief of the one, and the lively manner and bright chat of the other were attractive, while a look in the merry brown eyes, when they happened to glance her way, made her think their owner would be willing to make friends. There was no opportunity, however, to speak, and the train having reached Morton, everyone turned out in a hurry. In the bustle of collecting handbags and umbrellas and identifying her own box from the huge pile of similar luggage on the platform, she lost sight of her fellow-travellers, and only thought she noticed Enid's blue dress disappearing inside a station omnibus, and Winnie's black hat whisk past her in a closely packed landau.
"Muriel was to arrive by the earlier train," said Dr. Hirst, as he put Patty's belongings into a cab. "No doubt we shall find her waiting for us at The Priory. What a number of girls! And everyone seems to have brought a hockey stick. We shall have to ask Miss Lincoln to get one for you, Patty. If the pretty, dark girl who was in our compartment isn't ill to-morrow, I shall be much surprised. I'm sure she deserves to be. If I were her medical man, I should order her a dose of rhubarb and sal volatile. She's going to call it homesickness, the young rascal, is she? She looks as if she could be ready to play pranks. If they would consult me, I'd soon find a cure!" And the doctor chuckled with amusement at the idea.
The Priory was about a mile away from the railway station, and it was with a beating heart and a queer lump in her throat that Patty found herself stepping from the cab and alighting at a great doorway ornamented with ecclesiastical carvings, and, giving a hasty glance round a courtyard where girls of various ages seemed already to be collected, realized that she had at length reached school. In the fourteenth century Morton Priory had been a monastery of the Franciscan order, and it now seemed a strange irony of fate that feminine petticoats should reign supreme within the very walls where the grey brothers had lived in such seclusion. The old refectory where they had dined, and the cloister where they had been wont to meditate, were now given up to a lively, laughing crew of girls, whose serge skirts and white blouses among the quaint surroundings made a curious blending of ancient and modern. What remained of the monastic building occupied one side of a large quadrangle, while the other three sides were taken up with modern additions, erected, however, in such excellent taste, and so closely in accordance with the architecture of the older portion, that the whole had a strictly mediaeval appearance. In the centre of the courtyard was a pretty Italian garden, with neat box edgings, where stood the sundial which had marked the hours for the monks who once paced there, and still remained an old-world protest against the big clock in the tower over the gymnasium that set the time for the clanging school bell. Situated in the midst of beautiful scenery, the large grounds formed a little self-contained kingdom, shut off from the rest of the world: the numerous tennis courts and the playing fields provided ample space for outdoor sports; the home farm supplied milk, butter, and eggs; the kitchen garden grew the fruit and vegetables; while a small sanatorium in a breezy corner ensured a safe retreat for anyone who happened to be placed upon the sick list.
Parents were received in the library by Miss Lincoln, who spoke a few pleasant words to Dr. and Mrs. Hirst about Patty's education and attainments, and then, as other visitors arrived, passed them on to an under-mistress, who took them to have tea in the drawing-room, and afterwards showed them round the school. To Patty, fresh from Miss Dawson's modest arrangements, it seemed indeed a new world, and she looked with eager eyes at the classrooms with their Girton desks, their maps and their blackboards, the studio with its array of casts, models, and easels, the row of little practising rooms, each with piano, music stool, and a chair for the teacher; and she gazed almost with awe at the laboratory with its mysterious bottles and retorts, and the gymnasium fitted with ropes, bars, and other appliances as yet unknown to her. Her bag was already placed on the chair in her neat cubicle, though her box had not been carried upstairs, and her mother was able to note with approval the excellent arrangements of the bedroom, curtained off as it was into four parts.
"I'm sorry you will not be with your cousin," said Mrs. Hirst, "but no doubt you'll soon get to know your room mates. I should like to see Muriel before we go. I wonder where she is! We must be quick, as we have only ten minutes left before we must start again to the station."
Miss Graveson, the mistress, volunteered to send in search of her, and a girl started on an urgent hunt through the school; but evidently it was a difficult task, for it was only when the Hirsts' cab was at the door that she returned with the object of her quest.
Muriel was a remarkably pretty girl, slight and graceful, with eyes as blue as forget-me-nots, and long, silky, golden hair; she was generally very artistically dressed, and always looked like a picture, a fact of which she was extremely well aware. She greeted her uncle and aunt without much enthusiasm, gave Patty her cheek to kiss, and did not seem particularly delighted at having been called to speak to them.
"I expected we should have seen you before, dear," said Mrs. Hirst. "I felt quite unhappy at the idea of leaving Patty alone, but now you are here to show her the ways of The Priory, I'm sure she'll be all right. Muriel will be able to tell you everything, Patty, so I give you into her hands. Now good-bye, my darling child! Don't fret, and write to us as soon as you can. We shall be looking forward to your first letter, and please let it be a cheerful one."
Patty certainly felt anything but cheerful as she stood at the top of the steps to watch her father and mother drive away, though she put on a brave face, and waved a vigorous farewell.
"They've only just time to catch their train," she said, turning to Muriel. "I hope the man will go fast. It would be so tiresome for them to miss it."
"Why aren't they staying all night at the Queen's Hotel?" asked Muriel. "Father and Mother always do when they come to see me and so do most of the girls' friends."
"Father wouldn't be able to spare the time," said Patty, thinking privately that the expense would also be a consideration, though she did not say that aloud. "He must get home to look after his patients, you know. Mr. Barnes, our new assistant, isn't very clever, and several people are seriously ill, and can't be left long."
Muriel shrugged her shoulders.
"I wouldn't mention they'd brought you, then," she replied. "It's considered the correct thing for one's parents to stay at the Queen's, and the girls will think it so queer if yours haven't. What bedroom are you in?"
"No. 7. I hope it's a nice one?"
"Oh, tolerable! Not so nice as mine. I'm in No. 16, on the other landing, with three of my best friends."
"Do you know who's in my room?"
"Nobody at all particular; only May Firth, Ella Johnson, and Doris Kennedy. Do you see that new girl crossing the quad? I believe she comes from our part of the world. She was starting too when I was setting off; they nearly put her in my carriage, only luckily the guard had locked the door."
"What's her name? I don't remember seeing her at Waverton."
"I daresay not. Her name's Jean Bannerman, and she lives in one of those houses at the end of the park. I met her once at a party, but we don't know them at all."
"Does she seem nice?"
"I'm sure I can't tell. I wasn't much impressed with her. Have you unpacked?"
"No, not yet. My box hasn't been brought upstairs."
"It's there now. I saw John carrying it to your room. I should think you'd better go and take your things out."
"Won't you come with me, Muriel?" asked Patty, rather shyly. "I don't know where I'm expected to put my clothes."
"Haven't time," said Muriel, shaking her head. "I've got all my own to do. It's easy enough; you've only to pop them into your drawers and your wardrobe. Supper's at seven in the refectory. Why, there's Gwendolen Farmer. I simply must go and speak to her. Ta-ta!"
And Muriel ran away to the other side of the quadrangle, leaving Patty standing alone upon the steps.
Thus suddenly deserted, the latter watched for a moment to see if her cousin meant to come back, but Muriel, after greeting the newcomer with much affection, linked her arm in hers, and without even turning her head to look round, walked through a doorway opposite, and was lost to sight. Patty went upstairs to her cubicle with a rather sore feeling in her heart, against which she made a violent effort to struggle. After all, she argued to herself, it was only natural that Muriel, who must have so many friends in the school, should be so anxious to see them all again after the long summer holidays. She would no doubt be waiting in the refectory to show her to her seat, and would then, perhaps, introduce her to a few special companions. She could not mean absolutely to ignore her, and it was absurd to take offence needlessly.
"I'm her own relation, and she surely can't forget that," thought Patty. "She's busy now, but she'll be nicer to me later on."
Each bedroom at The Priory was divided into four cubicles by means of curtains hung on brass rods, and each cubicle contained its own little bed, chest of drawers, washstand, and small wardrobe. Patty was lucky enough to have a window that looked out over the playing fields, otherwise her division was exactly the same as the rest. The three other occupants appeared to have already unpacked: their nightdress cases were laid on their beds, their sponges on their washstands, various photo frames, books, and ornaments adorned their dressing-tables, and their curtains were drawn back, as was the rule when the cubicles were not occupied, to allow a free current of air through the room. Patty unlocked her box, and set to work to arrange her various possessions, placing the photo of the family group, which had been a parting present from home, in a prominent position, and trying to stifle the longing to see all the dear, familiar faces again. The nightdress case, which she had thought so beautiful when she was packing, looked quite plain and ordinary by the side of the three elaborately worked ones on the other beds. She had certainly nothing so dainty as the pale-pink, quilted silk dressing-gown that she could see hanging on a peg behind the door, nor did she possess cut-glass scent bottles, such as stood on the dressing-table in the cubicle opposite; nevertheless Patty put her things away with a certain pride of ownership, and when all was neatly finished, glanced round her new quarters with much satisfaction. It was scarcely six o'clock, and supper was not until seven, so she decided to go downstairs again on the chance of finding Muriel, who by this time must surely have finished her own unpacking. She waited in the hall for a few minutes, not quite knowing what to do, until a mistress, hurrying by, noticed her standing there, and directed her to the recreation room. Here a number of girls appeared to be collected: a pair of bosom friends occupied one window, and five pigtails in close proximity took up another; by the empty fire grate a group of four stood talking photography with a short fat girl in spectacles, seated on the edge of the table; while others were continually passing in and out to announce their own arrival, or to search for absent companions. Several glanced at Patty, but nobody spoke to her, or paid any particular attention, so she walked over to the sofa, and taking a book which she found there, sat idly turning the pages without reading them, and feeling very uncomfortable and extremely homesick. Everybody in the room, she thought, seemed talking, laughing, and joking with everyone else, and she was the only stranger amongst them. No, she was mistaken. There was one girl as solitary as herself, sitting on the music stool, and turning over a pile of old pieces and songs that lay on the top of the piano. She was an interesting-looking girl, with good features, grey eyes with very long dark lashes, a clear pale complexion, as creamy as if it had been bathed in milk, and light-brown hair that curled charmingly round her forehead. She did not appear to find her occupation very absorbing, for she glanced every now and then in Patty's direction, and finally, putting the music back on the piano, came quietly across the room and sat down beside her on the sofa.
"I suppose you're new, aren't you?" she said. "So am I. We seem rather out of it at present, don't we? Do you know any of these girls?"
"No," replied Patty, "not one of them. I've only just come a little while ago."
"Yes, I saw your cab drive up. I arrived by the earlier train, so I've had more time to get used to it. I can't say I like it at all yet, though. To tell you the truth, I don't mind confessing I'd give everything in the world to find myself at home again."
This was so exactly Patty's present state of mind, that she felt it established a bond of sympathy at once with her companion, and encouraged her sufficiently to enquire her name.
"Jean Bannerman," said the girl, "and I'm almost fifteen. What's yours?"
"Patty Hirst, and I shall be fourteen in October."
"Then I'm nearly a year older than you, for my birthday's in November. Which bedroom are you in?"
"I'm in No. 10. I don't know what my room mates are like yet. I hope they're nice. I wish you had been one of them. It seems so horrid when everything and everybody are strange. Isn't it dreadfully noisy here? Suppose we go into the courtyard for a little while. It's quite light yet, and I see ever so many girls out there. Do you know your way about the school?"
"Yes—no—yes," replied Patty, hesitatingly.
"Which do you mean?" asked Jean, smiling.
"I mean 'yes'," said Patty. "A teacher showed us round, but I'm afraid I didn't take very much notice, because, you see, Father and Mother were just leaving, and I——"
Jean gave a nod of comprehension.
"Then we'll go and explore," she said. "There don't seem to be any particular rules nor any preparation the first evening. Everybody is unpacking, and I think we may do as we like until supper. Come along!"
Nothing loth, Patty rose and joined her companion. She was anxious to see something of the new life into which she had been launched, and she looked with curiosity round the large quadrangle, which appeared at present to be the central heart of the school. Here girls of ages varying from thirteen to eighteen were assembled, comparing holiday experiences, examining each other's tennis rackets or hockey sticks, passing jokes, or eagerly enquiring for news on various class topics. To Patty it seemed almost bewildering to see so many school-fellows, and she wondered whether it would ever become possible to learn to distinguish their various faces, and to call each one by her right name.
"I suppose we shall get to know them in time," she said, "but it will be confusing at first. Do you notice that some of the big girls wear badges? I wonder what that means?"
"Let us ask somebody," said Jean, glancing round to see if there were anyone near to whom she might venture to address her enquiry. "That fair girl sitting on the bench over there looks nice; I'm sure she would tell us. I don't think she's new, because she was talking to some of the others a minute ago."
Patty turned in the direction indicated, and recognized the fellow-traveller who had wept so copiously in the train, and whom her companions had called Avis. Her tears were dried, but she still appeared pensive. She held a blotter on her knee, and with a fountain pen was evidently already beginning a letter home. She put it aside when Jean spoke to her, and answered pleasantly:
"Of course I can tell you. The badges are worn by the prefects. They're the six top girls, and they're supposed to keep order. It's a tremendous honour to be a prefect. Phyllis Chambers is head of the school this year. We're all glad, because she's so jolly, and she was our tennis champion last summer. There she is!—that girl in the grey dress. She won us four matches against other schools. We were so proud of her."
"Isn't she champion now?"
"We don't play tennis this term; it's all hockey. I think Mabel Morgan is better at that. You'll both be in the lower school team, of course. Do you know what classes you're in?"
"Not yet," said Patty. "There's to be an exam. to-morrow morning. I'm afraid I shan't be very high up."
"Oh, you may do better than you expect. Exams. are such a chance. It's just whether you happen to get a nice set of questions or not. I wonder if you'll be in my class. I'm in the upper fourth, Miss Harper's."
"Is she nice?"
"Well, some adore her, and some don't care for her at all. It depends a good deal on yourself. She likes the ones who work, but she can be dreadfully sarcastic if she thinks you're stupid or lazy. She's fearfully clever, and says such witty things sometimes. Half-a-dozen of the girls absolutely worship her, but she's very fair, and won't have favourites. I like her better than Miss Rowe."
"Who is she?"
"The second mistress in our class. You see, the fourth is in two divisions, an upper and a lower; we do a few lessons together and some separately. Miss Harper takes history and literature, and what I call the more interesting things, and Miss Rowe takes arithmetic and analysis, and looks after our preparation. There are twenty girls altogether, counting both divisions. It's the largest class in the school. There are only ten in the fifth."
"Which is the nicest teacher of all?" asked Jean.
"I think most of us like Miss Latimer best, the games mistress. She's very popular with everybody. You see, we always have such fun at gymnastics, and of course we love hockey and cricket. She teaches us swimming too, but that's only during the summer term. There's the bell! We must go in to supper. Do you know your way to the refectory? We all settle places on the first evening, so it's rather exciting. Perhaps you'd like to come with me?"
Patty would have replied in the affirmative, but at that moment she happened to notice Muriel crossing the quadrangle, as she thought, in search of her, and saying she had better wait, she allowed Jean and Avis to go indoors without her. She was perfectly certain that Muriel must have seen her, but, greatly to her surprise, her cousin turned aside and claimed acquaintance with a chestnut-haired girl, with whom she hastened into the house without bestowing a look in Patty's direction. The great clanging bell was still ringing in the tower over the gymnasium, and groups of girls came hurrying towards the refectory from all parts of the building.
"Be quick, my dear," said a teacher, passing Patty, and noticing her hesitation. "Everyone is going to supper. Come with me, and I will find a place for you."
Patty followed, rather nervous, but thankful that somebody would show her where she must sit. The refectory was almost full when they entered. It was a large room, with a groined roof like a church, and stained-glass windows at either side. A long table occupied the entire length, and at one end was a raised dais, with another table for the mistresses. It resembled in this respect the hall of a college, and was a subject of great pride to Miss Lincoln, who liked to think that the school had its meals in the same place where the old monks had dined six hundred years ago. Muriel was seated towards the centre of the table, chatting to several friends in whose company she seemed entirely absorbed. There was evidently no room in her vicinity, and the teacher moved farther along and found a place for Patty nearer the end. She was between two girls rather older than herself, neither of whom spoke to her. One appeared to be in an uncommunicative frame of mind, and answered abruptly when a neighbour asked her a question, and the other was occupied with a conversation with two schoolmates at the opposite side of the table. Patty ate her supper, therefore, in silence, feeling exceedingly shy, and very much hurt that her cousin should have treated her so unkindly. On her first evening common politeness would have suggested that Muriel might have sought her out and introduced her to a few other girls, instead of leaving her thus friendless and forlorn. Even Jean and Avis were too far away to speak to, and she was yet an absolute outsider to everyone else. There is nothing more solitary than to feel oneself alone in a crowd, and the tears rose to poor Patty's eyes at the remembrance of the nursery at home, where the little ones would just have gone to bed, and Milly and Robin would be learning their lessons for the next day.
When the meal was over, the whole school adjourned to the lecture-room to listen to an opening speech from Miss Lincoln, who usually began the term with an address to her pupils. The singing class sang a few glees, and there was a recitation by one of the prefects; after that came prayers, and then it was bedtime. Patty was escorted to No. 7 by the same teacher who had taken her to the refectory, and who, she learnt, was Miss Rowe, the second mistress of the fourth class. The curtains of the other cubicles were closely drawn, so she did not catch a glimpse of her companions, and as all conversation was strictly forbidden, the room was in silence. Patty went to bed in the very lowest of spirits. It had not seemed a favourable beginning to her school life, and unless things improved a little she was sure she could never be happy.
"I suppose I must try and make the best of it," she thought; "and one thing I'm determined about, however wretched I feel, I'm not going to write miserable letters home and upset Mother. She wanted me so much to like The Priory, so I won't let her know, even if nobody ever does talk to me or be nice. There are eighty-nine days before I can go back, and this is one off, at any rate. I expect they'll go by somehow, though I wish I could skip them all, and this were the last day of the term instead of only the first."
A Maiden all Forlorn
Patty awoke next morning with a vague, drowsy, comfortable impression that she was in her own room at home, with Milly in the other bed, and she was just going to turn over and fall happily asleep again, when she suddenly remembered where she was, and felt as if her heart, instead of being light and cheerful as usual, had changed into lead or some substance of an equally weighty description. She realized that it was the sound of voices that had disturbed her. Two girls in the opposite cubicles were talking together, in low tones, certainly, but loud enough to be most distinctly audible.
"It is a shame, Doris," said the first, "when you and I and Beatrice and May had all put our names down for a bedroom together, and Miss Graveson had almost promised we should have this one! And she won't say why not, either, only that Miss Lincoln had arranged it this way."
"It's perfectly disgusting," replied the other. "Miss Lincoln's absolutely mean. And Beatrice is as disappointed about it as we are. She's in No. 12, with Ada and Carrie Hardman. Think of having to share your room with the Hardmans! Beatrice says she doesn't intend even to speak to them."
"It's just as bad for us. We don't want this new girl. Why couldn't Miss Lincoln put her with the Hardmans, and let Beatrice come to No. 7?"
"Oh, I don't know, except that she knew we were so anxious about it. We shan't have any fun now. I expect she'll be dreadfully priggish and proper."
"Have you seen her?"
"Only for a moment. Ida Haslam pointed her out to me in the recreation room. I thought she seemed rather prim. At any rate, she doesn't look nearly as nice as Beatrice."
"She certainly couldn't be that."
"I wish she hadn't come, and I vote we don't make any fuss over her."
"I'm not going to, I assure you!"
"Well, I shan't either. She can take care of herself, and make friends with anybody she likes. Only it's a horrible nuisance to be obliged to have her in our room. Look here, Ella, suppose we——"
But here it suddenly dawned upon Patty that she was listening to what was not intended for her ears, so she gave such a very wide-awake cough that the speaker stopped, and after a suppressed giggle, apparently drew aside the curtain of her cubicle, leaned out of bed, and continued her remarks in a subdued whisper. It certainly was not particularly encouraging for Patty to find she was so unwelcome in No. 7. It seemed too bad that her room mates should be prejudiced against her before they had really made her acquaintance. It was not her fault that she had been put in the place of the companion they preferred, and it was unfair and unkind to have a grudge against her on that account. She wondered if Jean Bannerman would be accorded as cold a reception in No. 10. Jean, at any rate, had seemed friendly, and their little walk round the quadrangle had been so far the only bright spot since her arrival. She had not much time, however, for further reflections; a loud bell in the passage gave the signal for rising, and, afraid of being late, she got up at once. Judging from the sounds in the other cubicles, Doris and Ella appeared to have some difficulty in waking May, who was evidently a heavy sleeper, and all three indulged in many yawns and groans before they finally tore themselves out of bed, and hurried rapidly through their toilets, chatting meanwhile about various affairs which were quite unintelligible to anyone who had not yet learnt to take part in the life at The Priory.
Patty was able to say good morning to Jean, and to sit next to her at prayers, but they were obliged to separate in the refectory, and breakfast was as silent a meal as supper of the night before. Lessons began at nine o'clock, and Patty found herself escorted by Miss Rowe to a small empty classroom, where she was to undergo an entrance examination. All the other new girls, including Jean, had already taken this examination at home, the papers having been sent to them by post; but owing to a mistake, this preliminary had been omitted in Patty's case, and she must now give some proof of her attainments before she could be placed in any form. It was an anxious morning for her. She wrote on steadily, but it was difficult to do herself justice, as the history paper was on a period she had not studied specially, and the geography also covered new ground. She was allowed an hour for each, and gave a sigh of relief when the clock at last struck eleven, and Miss Rowe took her to the pantry for lunch. This was a very informal affair; the girls ran in as they liked, and helped themselves to glasses of milk and slices of thick bread and butter, which were placed in readiness for them. Patty looked eagerly among the chattering throng for any face that she knew, but though girls were hurrying in and out the whole time she was there, she saw neither Jean, Avis, nor Muriel. All seemed occupied in discussing school topics, and far too busy to notice her, and when the great bell rang, everyone fled hastily to lecture or classroom, and left her still standing with her empty glass in her hand. She put it down leisurely, and was just wondering what to do next, when Miss Rowe came bustling up.
"Come along at once, Patty!" she said, in a rather peremptory tone. "Didn't you hear the bell?"
"Yes," replied Patty, wondering what she had done amiss.
"Then why are you not back at your desk in the classroom?"
"I didn't know——" began Patty, but Miss Rowe broke in as if she had not the patience to listen to explanations.
"You will have to learn punctuality here," she said. "Any girl who is late for a class loses an order mark. Now be quick and get on with this arithmetic paper. I can only allow you till twelve o'clock for it, and then you must begin the grammar."
Patty obeyed in silence, feeling much subdued. It was rather hard, she thought, that when she was still so new and strange she must be scolded for not keeping the rules of the school. She had not really known that she was expected to hasten back to her examination at the sound of the bell, and had, in fact, been waiting for Miss Rowe to come and fetch her. The latter seemed annoyed. She hurried Patty to her place, and handed her a fresh supply of manuscript paper with very scant ceremony, then, taking up a book, appeared to be preparing some lesson. Patty remembered how Avis had hinted that Miss Rowe was not popular, and she thought she began to understand why. In spite of the urgent necessity of getting on quickly with her sums, she could not help stealing occasional glances at the mistress, whose clear-cut profile, firm mouth, calm grey eyes, and abundant braids of fair hair half attracted and half repelled her. Miss Rowe was barely out of her teens; indeed, it was only a year since she had left school herself to come as assistant governess at The Priory, and she tried to make up for her lack of years by exacting the utmost in the way of discipline, and asserting her dignity upon all occasions. Miss Lincoln, who saw that there was sometimes friction between Miss Rowe and her pupils, interfered as little as she could, thinking the young teacher would soon learn by experience, and it was better to leave her to fight her own battles, and hoping that time and prudence would conquer many difficulties. Patty, of course, did not know all this, but she realized that Miss Rowe was inclined to be impatient and dictatorial, and in consequence began to think that she should not like her. Morning school at The Priory was from nine till one, and the hours from two to four were devoted to outdoor exercise. To-day, however, owing to her examination, Patty was obliged to return after dinner to the classroom, and she was not free until three o'clock, when she handed in her last paper, and was told by Miss Rowe that she might go and join the other girls in the grounds. Very much relieved that her ordeal was over at last, she put on her hat and strolled across the quadrangle under an archway into the garden beyond. She felt tired out and languid. It was a warm September day, and the unwonted exertion of answering so many questions had made her head ache. She wandered aimlessly along the paths, pausing for a few moments at the tennis courts, where a little crowd of spectators stood watching an exciting set, then on towards the playing fields, where more girls appeared to be practising hockey. Everybody seemed to be friends and to be occupied with some game or amusement except herself, and the loneliness of her position struck poor Patty again with full force. Muriel had entirely deserted her, and evidently did not intend to take the slightest notice of her. There had not yet been any opportunity of renewing the acquaintance with either Jean Bannerman or Avis, and nobody else had proffered even a remark.
"Do they always boycott new girls like this?" thought Patty. "It was very different at Miss Dawson's. If a fresh girl came we used to be so nice to her, and show her everything. If this is a big school, I'd much rather have a little one. Oh! what can I say to Mother when I write? I can't possibly pretend I'm happy, and I'm sure she'll expect me to mention Muriel. I shall just have to tell her about the exams., and what class I'm in—and I don't even know that myself yet. I must send a letter to-morrow, I promised they should hear by Friday; but I wish I could have told them some better news."
Patty's circumstances were certainly a little exceptional. Miss Lincoln, as a rule, took care that every newcomer was given in charge of some classmate, who was instructed to show her the ways of the school, and make her feel at home there; but knowing that Patty was Muriel's cousin, the headmistress had naturally thought it unnecessary to specially introduce her, expecting she would at once find herself in the midst of a pleasant set of companions. If she had had the slightest suspicion of the true state of the case, she would have been much distressed, as she took great pains to cultivate nice feeling among her girls, and especially to allow no one to be neglected or unkindly treated. Miss Rowe, the only teacher who so far had had anything to do with Patty, had been too busy and occupied to notice whether she appeared to be mixing with the rest of the school, and having dismissed her to the garden, did not give her another thought. Several girls, so Patty learnt afterwards, watched her strolling down the paths, and had half thought of speaking to her: but thinking she was perhaps only looking for some friend, they had not carried out their good intentions, and for the present she was left alone. Tea was at four o'clock, and was followed by preparation until a quarter to seven.
"Miss Lincoln has not yet been able to correct your papers, Patty," said Miss Graveson, "so I cannot set you any definite work; but you can come with me to the Fifth Form room, and I will find something for you to do."
Patty followed obediently to the classroom in question. The ten girls who occupied the desks were all strangers to her, and as strict silence was the rule, there would certainly have been no opportunity for conversation. Everybody seemed working as hard as possible. Some sat with elbows on desks, and their fingers in their ears, evidently committing rules to memory; some were biting their pens in the agonies of composition, and others counting on their fingers as they added up sums. I think Patty will not be blamed very much if she did not pay great attention to the passage which Miss Graveson told her to analyse and parse. She was growing so terribly homesick and dispirited, that she longed to put her head down on the desk and indulge in a good fit of crying, and only her habit of self-control saved her from showing her feelings before her companions. After supper all the members of the lower school were expected to bring their work-bags to the recreation room, and to sit sewing while one of the mistresses read aloud. Patty retired quietly to the sofa, and opening the piece of linen embroidery which she had brought with her, began to stitch in a rather unenthusiastic manner. She felt too shy and dejected to offer any advances to the other girls, and nobody came and sat by her, or made any attempt at friendship. She noticed Muriel enter, and for one second their eyes met, but Muriel deliberately looked the other way, and with heightened colour crossed to the opposite side of the room, cutting her so coolly and decidedly that Patty could not possibly mistake her intention. Jean Bannerman was seated not very far off, talking to Avis, but as their backs were turned to Patty they did not see her, though Jean looked round the room once or twice as if in quest of somebody. I think Patty might perhaps have summoned up sufficient courage to go and speak to them had not Miss Rowe entered, and after an enquiry as to whether all the girls were provided with work, took the armchair which had been reserved for her, and commenced to read aloud. The book was Dickens's Great Expectations, and ever afterwards Patty associated the first chapters with an indescribable feeling of misery and wretchedness. Pip's distresses seemed quite in harmony with her state of mind, and she thought she would almost have preferred his adventure with the escaped convict to her own present unhappiness. Troubles always seem at their worst at bedtime, and the memory of home rose up so strongly, that she began to come to the conclusion it would be an absolute impossibility ever to like The Priory in the least. A new difficulty which Patty mastered that evening was the art of crying in bed without making the slightest sound so as to betray her grief to the occupants of the other cubicles—a hard and rather choky achievement, for tears are far more bitter when they must needs be suppressed, and the sorrow that causes them be hidden away.
She rose next day and went to breakfast, feeling still an alien and an outsider. The three girls who shared her bedroom appeared determined to show by their manner how much they resented her presence. They did not even say good morning, though they were passing through the door at exactly the same moment as herself, and they hurried on as fast as they could to avoid walking downstairs with her. In all the large school there seemed nobody to whom she could turn for sympathy or advice. When the first bell rang for lessons, she lingered in the hall wondering where she was expected to go, and was much relieved after a minute or two to see Miss Rowe coming evidently in search of her.
"I've been looking for you, Patty," she said. "You've been placed in the Upper Fourth Form. Come with me at once to the classroom, and I'll show you your desk. Have you brought your pencil box? No; there isn't time to go and fetch it now; you must manage without for this morning. I can lend you this pencil, but be sure you don't forget to return it to me at one o'clock."
The classroom proved large and airy, with four big windows, the lower sashes of which were painted white to prevent wandering eyes straying from lesson books to the view outside. It was fitted with desks arranged to face a low platform on which stood the blackboard, a chair, and a large desk for the teacher. The walls were hung with maps and views of foreign places, and there was a cupboard in the corner, where chalk, new books, ink bottles, and stationery were kept. The vacant desk reserved for Patty proved to be in the middle of the back row, and as she took her seat she looked anxiously to see who were her classmates. All the girls of both the upper and lower divisions were already in their places, and the view of twenty-one dark or fair heads, and twenty-one various coloured hair ribbons was rather bewildering. Muriel was two rows in front, and Jean a little to her left, and in the hasty glance she was able to bestow she noticed Avis and two of the other companions with whom she had travelled to Morton on the day of her arrival. Miss Rowe took the call-over, and entered Patty's name on the register in a neat, firm handwriting; then, mustering the seven members of the lower division, she marched them out of the room for a separate lesson, leaving the platform to Miss Harper, who arrived punctually at the stroke of nine. The mistress of the Fourth Form had a striking personality which could not fail to influence those with whom she came into contact—tall, dark, and handsome, she gave the impression of much strength of will, keen wits, and great abilities. She was a very clever teacher, who liked to push on quick pupils, but was a little ruthless towards stupid girls. She knew how to make the dullest subject entertaining, and expected a high average of work, having no toleration for laziness, and a contempt for incompetence. No girl ever dreamt of whispering or idling during Miss Harper's classes. As a rule, a word or even a look was sufficient to maintain order. She rarely if ever inflicted a punishment for a breach of discipline; to do so, she considered, would be an acknowledgment of her lack of authority, and indeed the girls dreaded one of her scathing reproofs far more than an imposition or the loss of a mark. Her bright, vivacious, interesting style, her fund of appropriate stories for every occasion, and her many amusing remarks and comments, made her extremely popular with her class in spite of her strictness, and the moment she took her place on the platform all eyes were fixed on her clever, intellectual face. The subject of her lecture this morning was the reign of James I, and to Patty, accustomed to Miss Dawson's mild explanations, it was a revelation in the way of teaching. As she had not prepared the chapter, she could, of course, not answer any of the questions asked; but in spite of that she felt she had never grasped any lesson so thoroughly before: every little detail seemed impressed upon her memory, and she was quite sorry when the class came to an end, and Mademoiselle arrived to take French translation. Eleven o'clock was the signal for ten minutes' interval for lunch, and most of the girls began at once to leave the room. Patty was on the point of following, when a hand was laid on her arm, and turning round she saw Enid, the pretty dark-eyed girl who had eaten so many sweets in the train.
"I've been looking out for you ever since we got to school," said the latter. "What became of you yesterday? I didn't see even the end of your hair ribbon."
"I was having exams. nearly all day," answered Patty, "but I was in the recreation room in the evening. Didn't you see me?"
"No, of course I didn't, or I'd have come and spoken to you."
"I wish you had, then, for nobody spoke to me at all, and no one's said a word to me at meals, or in my bedroom either."
In spite of herself, Patty could not help her voice sounding rather aggrieved.
"What a shame! Then you don't know anybody at The Priory yet?"
"Only my cousin Muriel."
"Muriel Pearson? Is she your cousin?"
"Well!" exclaimed Enid, throwing such a depth of expression into the brief monosyllable, that it seemed to convey a whole volume of indignant comment.
"Do you actually mean to say," put in Avis, who had joined them, "that Muriel Pearson's your cousin, and yet she's never taken any notice of you, nor introduced you to anybody?"
Patty nodded. She did not want to accuse Muriel, but she certainly could not deny the fact.
"Then she's the meanest, nastiest girl in the whole school, and I shall just tell her so," said Enid, flushing quite scarlet with righteous wrath. "I never thought much of her, but I didn't believe she'd have done such a horrid thing as this. She deserves to be sent to Coventry for it."
"Didn't Miss Lincoln ask anybody to be friends with you?" enquired Avis.
"No; I only saw Miss Lincoln for a few minutes in the library when I came."
"That's queer, because she always sees that new girls are made to feel at home. But I expect she'd think your cousin would be sure to look after you. Oh, it's too bad! I can't forgive Muriel."
"Come with us to lunch, and we'll try and make up for it, at any rate," said Enid, seizing Patty by the arm, and dragging her down the passage to the pantry. "My name's Enid Walker, and this is Avis Wentworth. That's Winnie Robinson over there. Come here, Winnie, I want to tell you something. Do you know, this new girl is Muriel Pearson's cousin, and Muriel never introduced her to anybody, and she's not had a soul to talk to since she came. Isn't Muriel mean?"
"Disgusting!" cried Winnie; "but it's just like her. She and Maud Greening and Vera Clifford and Kitty Harrison have made a little set all to themselves, and they won't let anyone else come into it. Not that one wants to, I'm sure. I don't care to be friends with them in the least. You'd better drink your milk, Avis, if you want it. Be quick! The bell will ring in a moment. The bread and butter's all gone, I'm afraid."
"Never mind, I don't care for any. Why, talk of people and they're sure to turn up! Here she is!" replied Avis, as Muriel entered the pantry to replace her empty glass on the table.
"Muriel Pearson, there's something we want to say," began Enid. "The way you've treated your cousin is simply horrid. You ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself, and I hope you are."
Muriel raised her eyebrows and looked at Enid with an expression of supercilious surprise.
"Really, Enid Walker," she replied, "who asked you to interfere in my affairs?"
"Nobody, but I mean to, all the same. You deserve to be cut by the whole class, and I shan't be friends with you again."
"That's no great loss," said Muriel; "I wasn't aware that we ever were friends."
Her tone was disdainful, and the coolness of her manner contrasted strongly with Enid's excited indignation.
"But you were mean, Muriel," said Avis. "Why couldn't you introduce Patty to some of us?"
"It doesn't seem to have been necessary," replied Muriel; "you've evidently taken her up on your own account. I suppose Patty can make her friends, and I can have mine?"
"But you left her quite alone at first, with nobody to speak to," said Winnie; "it was most unkind. You weren't treated like that when you were a new girl. I remember taking you round the school myself."
"You've a better memory than I have, then," said Muriel. "I wish you'd all mind your own business. When I want to know your opinions, I'll ask for them." And she stalked out of the pantry with a very haughty look on her face, and without bestowing a glance on Patty.
"She needn't ask me to paint anything in her album, for I shan't do her even a pencil sketch!" declared Winnie.
"I wish I hadn't given her the rest of my chocolates! I wouldn't have done so if I'd known," said Avis.
"I'm glad she's not my cousin," said Enid; then, suddenly realizing that her remark was scarcely tactful, and that Patty was looking uncomfortable, she continued: "Never mind, Patty, we like you, you know. You shan't be able to say now that you haven't a friend in the school. I'm going to ask Miss Lincoln to let us each move up a little, so that you can sit next to me at dinner. I know Cissie Gardiner won't mind giving you her seat when I tell her the reason. There's the bell! I wish we could have our desks near each other, but Miss Harper won't let us change when once we've chosen places for the term. Be quick! We must fly, or we shall all lose order marks."
The Arithmetic Examination
Patty's first letter home was, after all, a far more genuinely cheerful one than she had expected. She thought it better not to say anything about Muriel's behaviour, knowing it would greatly distress her father and mother, so only mentioned that she had made friends with her fellow-travellers in the train, and how much she liked them. To be included in such a pleasant set certainly made all the difference between happiness and unhappiness at The Priory. Enid seemed determined to make up to Patty for the neglect she had experienced at first, and took great pains not only to show her the ways of the school, but to see that she took her due part in the tennis sets and other games. Miss Lincoln had arranged the afternoon exercise as systematically as the morning lessons, with the object of obtaining as much variety as possible. Twice weekly the girls played hockey under the direction of Miss Latimer, the gymnastic mistress; twice also they were taken for walks in the neighbourhood; and on the remaining Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, which were regarded as half-holidays, they were allowed to amuse themselves as they liked, though they were required to be out-of-doors if the weather permitted. The judicious combination of work and play made the daily round both pleasant and healthy. The girls had enough lessons to keep them occupied, yet their brains were not over-taxed, and the hours spent in the open air ensured rosy cheeks and good appetites. When once she had settled down in her fresh surroundings, and the longing for home had become less keen, Patty found life at The Priory very congenial—whether in class, where Miss Harper made every subject so interesting; in the refectory, where she now sat in great content between Enid and Avis; or in the playing fields, where she was beginning to understand the mysteries of hockey, and to grow quite clever at putting, which was a favourite substitute for golf. She enjoyed the atmosphere of a large school, the little excitements, and the hundred-and-one topics of conversation which seemed continually to be discussed by those around her. After having been the eldest at home, and the head pupil at Miss Dawson's, with so much to overlook and to arrange for others, it was quite a relief to find herself among the younger ones, and she would listen with enthusiasm to the speeches of the prefects in the debating society, and watch their prowess at hockey with never-failing admiration. She had not yet dared to speak to any of the big girls; but they seemed so clever and important in her eyes, that she felt pleased if she might only stand near while they were talking, and proud indeed if she happened to be included in the same team with some of them.
Naturally, her new life was not without its troubles. After Miss Dawson's easy methods, she found it needed all her energies to keep up to the high standard required by Miss Harper. She worked her hardest both in school hours and preparation, but even with her best efforts it was not always possible to win approbation from her teacher, and her most careful exercises were often returned with ruthlessly severe comments. Her companions in No. 7 were also uncongenial. They were themselves members of the Upper Fourth, and though they now spoke to her, and were to a certain degree more civil, they were not really nice and friendly, and often made her feel she was not wanted in the bedroom. They were willing enough to accept any of the kind little services which she was generally ready to perform, allowed her to tidy the room, to throw open the windows, to go to the bathroom to fetch the large can of hot water which was to be divided among the four basins; indeed, they began to depend so much upon her, that if a button needed stitching on hastily, a blouse fastening at the back, or a lost article must be searched for, they all said "Ask Patty", without the least hesitation, knowing that she would not refuse, and never seemed too busy to help other people. Of her cousin Patty saw little, and that little was unfortunately far from pleasant. Muriel seemed determined to show that although they might both be in the same school, and even in the same class, she did not intend to be compromised by their relationship. She was a very vain girl, who thought much of her parents' wealth and position. She considered Patty's advent would not bring her any great credit among the set of companions whom she had chosen, whose standard consisted mainly of pretty clothes and worldly possessions, and she was annoyed that her father should have wished to give her cousin the same advantages as herself. She lost no opportunity of slighting Patty, never by any chance sat next to her, always chose the opposite side in a game, and on many small occasions made herself actively disagreeable. Patty bore it as patiently as she could. She ventured once to remonstrate in private, but the result was so unfortunate, that she determined she would not try the experiment again. Evidently the only thing to be done was to acknowledge the estrangement, and to keep out of Muriel's way as much as possible. Her uncle's letter, however, weighed on her mind. How was she to prove her cousin's friend so entirely against her will? Poor Patty's conscience, always a tender one, even accused her of accepting Uncle Sidney's kindness without fulfilling his conditions, and she sometimes wondered whether she was justified in remaining at The Priory, when she was not able to play the part he had designed for her.
"And yet," she thought, "it's not my fault in the least. I'm ready any time to help her if she'll let me. Perhaps an opportunity may come some day, and in the meantime, however horrid she is to me, I won't say anything disagreeable back. That's one resolve I mean to stick to, at any rate, though it's hard sometimes, when she says such nasty things."
The Fourth Form seemed split up into a good many small sections. The lower division kept mostly to itself, and in the upper division there were several sets. Muriel and her three friends, for no good reason at all, considered themselves slightly superior to the rest of the class, and put on many airs in consequence, a state of affairs which was much resented by Enid Walker and Winnie Robinson, who, with Avis Wentworth, had a clique of their own, in which they now included Jean Bannerman and Patty. Doris Kennedy, May Firth, and Ella Johnson, the three girls who shared Patty's bedroom, made a separate little circle with Beatrice Wynne, while Cissie Gardiner and Maggie Woodhall were such bosom friends that they did not want anybody else's society. Patty found the liking she had taken to Jean Bannerman increased on further acquaintance. Jean was a most pleasant companion; she was interesting and sympathetic, and while ready enough for fun, was more staid and thoughtful than Enid, though the latter's amusing nonsense and bright, warm-hearted ways made her very attractive. Poor Enid was often in trouble; her lively tongue could not resist talking in class or whispering during preparation hours. She was ready enough to respect Miss Harper, but she was apt to defy Miss Rowe's authority, a form of insubordination which generally ended in disastrous consequences. Patty, in common with most of the class, found it rather difficult to get on with Miss Rowe. It felt hard to be corrected sharply for some slight slip, and to be expected to obey every trivial order as promptly as soldiers on parade duty. The girls resented the young teacher's imperious manner, and were sometimes on the verge of rebellion.
"She's only about five years older than we are," declared Enid, "if so much. I believe she's younger than my sister Adeline at home, so it's absurd to be expected to behave as if she were Miss Lincoln. She's really not much more than a monitress, although she's called a mistress."
"She makes so many tiresome, silly rules," said Winnie. "Miss Harper never thinks of telling us to sit with our arms folded, or all to open our books at exactly the same moment, and to place our pencils on the right-hand side of our desks. One feels like a kindergarten baby with Miss Rowe. She ought to teach children of six."
"I wish she didn't take arithmetic, at any rate," groaned Avis. "I never can get my sums right, especially those horrid problem ones she's so fond of. The more she explains, the more muddled I feel, and then she says I'm the stupidest girl in the class, and tells Miss Lincoln it's no use sending me in for the 'Cambridge', because she's sure I shouldn't pass."
"She's good at mathematics herself," said Winnie, "and she thinks that anyone who isn't hasn't got brains. All my problem sums were wrong yesterday, and I got a bad mark. I hope she won't put too many of them in the exam. to-day."
"If she does we'll go on strike, and say we can't do the paper. I can't possibly calculate where two people will meet each other on the road, if they start from different points at different times. I should think it depends how often they sit down to rest, or stop to talk to friends on the way, or how fast they want to get to the end of their journey," said Avis.
"There was that dreadful problem about dividing oranges among schoolboys," continued Winnie. "If I know anything of boys, they'd have thrown them down and scrambled for them; it would have been a far easier way of settling it. I always feel my head ache after trying to reckon those absurd things."
Every fortnight the class had a small examination in arithmetic, which was almost as solemn an affair as those held at the end of the term. Among other rules, Miss Rowe had decided that the girls, instead of remaining at their own desks, should all change places and sit according to her directions, her object being to separate those kindred spirits who, she considered, might be tempted to whisper or otherwise communicate with each other if left in too close proximity. By this new arrangement Patty found herself seated next to Muriel. Enid was at the desk behind, and it was therefore impossible to exchange even a smile with her without deliberately turning round. For some time the class worked away steadily and in silence. Occasionally a girl would so far forget herself as to count aloud, but a glare from Miss Rowe would instantly recall her to a sense of the enormity of such a misdeed. Naughty Enid managed to draw a cat on the margin of her blotting paper, and held it up for an admiring comrade to see; and Beatrice Wynne gave a terrific yawn, for which she was told to lose an order mark. Patty had been struggling for a long time with a difficult sum in compound proportion, and having just finished it, paused for a moment to take a rest. She presently became aware that Muriel, with lips pursed up as if forming the word "Hush!" was trying to attract her attention, and that Muriel's hand was secretly passing her a small note under cover of the desk. She opened it at once. It ran thus:
"How do you state Question 5? Ought the answer to be in bales of silk or days?"
Now Patty had only been a fortnight at The Priory; she knew little of the rules of a large school, and this was the first real class examination in which she had ever taken part. At Miss Dawson's school she was accustomed to help any girl who applied to her for aid, and indeed had often taught the younger ones how to work new rules, with the full sanction and approval of the mistress. She did not yet understand that an examination was a test of individual knowledge, and that no assistance must be either asked for or given. The only thing she realized was that Muriel wanted to know something which it was in her power to explain. She moved, therefore, as close to her cousin as she could, and, leaning over towards the latter's desk, took up her paper of questions.
"I've just finished it myself, and it comes out nicely in bales of silk," she whispered.
"Patty Hirst!" cried Miss Rowe, springing up in horrified indignation. "Do you know that any girl detected in the act of copying must instantly leave the examination?"
"Please, Miss Rowe, I wasn't copying," returned Patty, with some surprise.
"But I saw you deliberately look at your neighbour's paper."
"I wanted to show her something," explained Patty.
"Indeed!" said Miss Rowe incredulously. "You know perfectly well that all communication is strictly forbidden. Muriel, did you ask Patty anything?"
"I didn't speak at all, Miss Rowe," replied Muriel hastily.
"I am glad to hear it. Patty, take your papers at once and come to this table by the window. One of our first principles at The Priory is the strictest honesty in our work."
"But indeed I never intended——" began Patty.
"Do as you are told, or leave the room!" commanded Miss Rowe in her most decisive tone. "I cannot have the examination interrupted."
Patty gathered up her papers and obeyed in silence. She saw that she had been suspected of trying to cheat, and the injustice of the accusation was hard to bear. It was impossible to clear herself without involving Muriel, and she hated to tell tales. She felt it was too bad of her cousin thus to let her bear all the blame, for Muriel, even if she had not spoken, had put the question in writing, so that she had practically told an untruth to Miss Rowe when she denied any knowledge of the affair. Would the other girls in the class, Patty asked herself, also think she was trying to copy her neighbour's sums and gain an unfair advantage? To such an honourable nature the idea was terrible, and she longed to protest her innocence. Perhaps nobody would be friends with her any more if they believed her capable of such conduct, and she would be lonely again, as she had been at first. The little occurrence, though it only occupied a few minutes, completely disturbed the examination as far as she was concerned. She found it no longer possible to concentrate her mind on her sums. In the midst of adding up a column her thoughts were busy trying to imagine some explanation which might perhaps be given without betraying Muriel, and as no solution of the difficulty occurred to her, she found herself going over the same figures again and again without in the least realizing what she was doing. Matters, however, were not quite so desperate as she supposed.
Enid's sharp eyes had taken in the whole situation. From her seat behind she had seen Muriel hand the note to Patty, and had also noticed that the little piece of paper had fallen on to the floor underneath the desk. Putting out her foot, she managed to draw it nearer to her, then, dropping her pocket handkerchief, she stooped and picked up the two together, without anybody noticing that she had done so. She put the crumpled note with her handkerchief into her pocket, and went on with her examination, determined to sift the affair afterwards, and to take up the cudgels boldly on Patty's account. At eleven o'clock all papers were tied and handed in to Miss Rowe, and the girls filed out of the room. Enid saw Muriel glance cautiously at the floor under Patty's desk, as if searching for her note, and laughed to herself to think that she had already secured it.