The Rebel of the School
MRS. L.T. MEADE
"MISS NONENTITY," "THE SCHOOL FAVORITE," "MERRY GIRLS OF ENGLAND," "LITTLE MOTHER TO THE OTHERS," ETC.
M.A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
MRS. L.T. MEADE SERIES
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CHAPTER PAGE I. Sent to Coventry! 5
II. High Life and Low Life 17
III. The Wild Irish Girl 26
IV. The Home-Sick and the Rebellious 34
V. Wit and Genius: the Plan Propounded 58
VI. The Poor Tired One 72
VII. The Queen and Her Secret Society 79
VIII. The Box from Dublin and Its Treasures 93
IX. Conscience and Difficulties 106
X. The Wild Irish Girl's Society Is Started 112
XI. The Blouse and the Robbery 126
XII. Tom Hopkins and His Way with Aunt Church 136
XIII. Aunt Church at Dinner, and the Consequences Thereof 150
XIV. Ruth Resigns the Premiership 171
XV. The Scholarship: Trouble Is Brewing 177
XVI. Kathleen Takes Ruth to Town 192
XVII. Miss Katie O'Flynn and Her Niece 204
XVIII. Susy Hopkins Persuades Aunt Church 220
XIX. Ruth's Troubles and Susy's Preparations 230
XX. The Governors of the School Examine Ruth 242
XXI. The Society Meets at Mrs. Church's Cottage 253
XXII. Ruth's Hard Choice: She Consults Her Grandfather 263
XXIII. Ruth Will Not Betray Kathleen 275
XXIV. Kathleen and Grandfather Craven 281
XXV. Kathleen Has a Good Time in London 294
XXVI. The Right Side of the Ledger 308
XXVII. After the Fun Comes the Deluge 314
XXVIII. Who Was the Ringleader? 321
XXIX. End of the Great Rebellion 334
THE REBEL OF THE SCHOOL
SENT TO COVENTRY!
The school was situated in the suburbs of the popular town of Merrifield, and was known as the Great Shirley School. It had been endowed some hundred years ago by a rich and eccentric individual who bore the name of Charles Shirley, but was now managed by a Board of Governors. By the express order of the founder, the governors were women; and very admirably did they fulfil their trust. There was no recent improvement in education, no better methods, no sanitary requirements which were not introduced into the Great Shirley School. The number of pupils was limited to four hundred, one hundred of which were foundationers and were not required to pay any fees; the remaining three hundred paid small fees in order to be allowed to secure an admirable and up-to-date education under the auspices of the great school.
There came a day in early autumn, shortly after the girls had reassembled after their summer vacation, when they streamed out of the building in groups of twenties and thirties and forties. They stood about and talked as girls will.
The Great Shirley School, well as it was managed, had perhaps a larger share than many schools of those temptations which make school a world—a world for the training either for good or evil of those who go to it. There were the girls who attended the school in the ordinary way, and there were the girls who were drafted on to the foundation from lower schools. These latter were looked down upon by the least noble and the meanest of their fellow-scholars.
There was a slight rain falling, and two or three girls standing in a group raised their umbrellas, but they still stood beside the gates.
"She's quite the very prettiest girl I ever saw," cried Alice Tennant; "but of course we can have nothing to do with her. She entered a week ago. She doesn't pay any of the fees; she has no pretence to being a lady. Oh, here she comes! Did you ever see such a face?"
A slight, shabbily dressed little girl, with her satchel of books slung on her arm, now appeared. She looked to right and left of her as though she were slightly alarmed. Her face was beautiful in the truest sense of the world; it did not at all match with the shabby, faded clothes which she wore. She had large deep-violet eyes, jet-black hair, and a sweet, fresh complexion. Her expression was bewitching, and when she smiled a dimple came in her cheek.
"Look—look!" cried Mary Denny. "Isn't she all that I have said?"
"Yes, and more. What a pity we can't know her!" said Alice Tennant.
"But can't we? I really don't see why we should make the poor child miserable," said Mary Denny.
"It is not to be thought of. We must worship the beautiful new star from afar. Perhaps she will do something to raise herself into our set; but as it is, she must go with Kate Rourke and Hannah Johnson and Clara Sawyer, and all the rest of the foundationers."
"Well, we have seen her now," said Mary, "so I suppose we needn't stand talking about her any longer. Will you come home and have tea with me, Alice? Mother said I might ask you."
"I wish I could come," said Alice; "but we are expecting Kathleen."
"Oh, the Irish girl! Is it really arranged that she is to come?"
"Yes, of course it is. She comes to-night. I have never seen her. We are all pleased, and expect that she will be a very great acquisition."
"Irish girls always are," said Mary. "They're so gay and full of life, and are so ridiculously witty. Don't you remember that time when we had Norah Mahoney at the school? What fun that was!"
"But she got into terrible scrapes, and was practically dismissed," said Alice. "I only hope Kathleen won't be in that style."
"But do you know anything about her? The Irish are always so terribly poor."
"She is not poor at all. She has got an uncle and aunt in Chicago, and they are as rich as can be; and her uncle is coming to see her at Christmas. And besides that, her father has an awfully old castle in the south-west of Ireland. He is never troubled on account of the Land League or anything else, and Kathleen will have lots and lots of money. I know she is paying mother well for giving her a home while she is being educated at the Shirley School."
"I can't imagine why she comes to our school if she is so rich," said Mary. "It seems almost unfair. The Great Shirley School is not meant for rich girls: a girl of the kind you have just described ought not to become a member of the school."
"Oh, that is all very fine; but it seems her mother was educated here, and swore a sort of vow that when Kathleen was old enough she should come to this school and to no other. Her mother's name is Mrs. O'Hara, and she wrote to Miss Ravenscroft and asked if there was a vacancy for Kathleen, and if she knew of any one who would be nice to her and with whom she could live. Miss Ravenscroft thought of mother; she knew that mother would like to have a boarder who would pay her well. So the whole thing was settled; mother has been corresponding with Mrs. O'Hara, and Kathleen comes to-day. I really can't stay another moment, Mary. I must rush home; there are no end of things to be attended to."
"All right," said Mary. "I will watch for you and the beautiful Irish heiress—"
"I don't know that she is an heiress."
"Well, whatever she is—the bewitching Irish girl—to-morrow morning. Ta-ta for the present."
Mary turned to the left, and Alice continued her walk. She walked quickly. She was a well-made, rather pretty girl of fifteen. Her hair, very light in colour, hung down her back. She had a determined walk and a good carriage. As she hurried her steps she saw Ruth Craven, the pretty foundation girl, walking in front of her. Ruth walked slowly and as if she were tired. Once she pressed her hand to her side, and Alice, passing her, hesitated and looked back. The face that met hers was so appealing and loving that she could not resist saying a word.
"Are you awfully tired, Ruth Craven?" she said.
"I shall get used to it," replied Ruth. "I have had a cold for the last few days. Thank you so much, Miss Tennant!"
"Don't thank me," said Alice, frowning; "and don't say 'Miss Tennant,' It isn't good form in our school. I hope you will be better to-morrow. I am sure, at least, that you will like the school very much."
"Thank you," said the girl again.
The girls parted at the next corner. When Ruth found herself alone she paused and looked behind her. Tears rose to her eyes; she took out her handkerchief to wipe them away. She paused as if troubled by some thought; then her face grew bright, and she stepped along more briskly.
"I am a coward, and I ought to be ashamed of myself," she thought. "Now, when I go in and grandfather sees me, he will think he has done quite wrong to let me go to the Shirley School. I must not let him think that. And granny will be still more vexed. I have had my heart's desire, and because things are not quite so pleasant as I hoped they would have been, it is no reason why I should be discontented."
The next moment she had lifted the latch at a small cottage and entered. It was a little better than a workman's house, but not much; there were two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, and that was all. To the front of the little house was the tiny parlour, at the back an equally tiny kitchen. Upstairs was a bedroom for Ruth and a bedroom for her grandparents. Mr. and Mrs. Craven did not keep any servants. The moment Ruth entered now her grandmother put her head out of the kitchen door.
"Ruthie," she said, "the butcher has disappointed us to-day. Here is a shilling; go to the shop and bring in some sausages. Be as quick as you can, child, or your grandfather won't have his supper in time."
Ruth took the money without a word. She went down a small lane, turned to her right, and found herself in a mean little street full of small shops. She entered one that she knew, and asked for a pound and a half of pork sausages. As the woman was wrapping them up in a piece of torn newspaper, she looked at Ruth and said:
"Is it true, Miss Craven, that you are a scholar at the Great Shirley School?"
"I am," replied Ruth. "I went there for the first time to-day."
"So your grandparents are going to educate you, miss, as if you were a lady."
"I am a lady, Mrs. Plowden. My grandparents cannot make me anything but what I am."
Mrs. Plowden smiled. She handed Ruth her sausages without a word, and the young girl left the shop. Her grandmother was waiting for her in the porch.
"What a time you have been, child!" she said. "I do hope this new school and the scholars and all this fuss and excitement of your new life won't turn your head. Whatever happens, you have got to be a little servant to me and a little messenger to your grandfather. You have got to make yourself useful, and not to have ideas beyond your station."
"Here are the sausages, granny," answered Ruth in a gentle tone.
The old lady took them from her and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Ruth—Ruth!" said a somewhat querulous but very deep voice which evidently issued from the parlor.
"Yes, granddad; coming in a moment or two," Ruth replied. She ran up the tiny stairs, and entered her own little bedroom, which was so wee that she could scarcely turn round in it, but was extremely neat.
Ruth removed her hat, brushed out her black hair, saw that her dress, shabby as it was, was in apple-pie order, put on a neat white apron, and ran downstairs. She first of all entered the parlor. A handsome old man, with a decided look of Ruth herself, was seated by the fire. He was holding out his thin, knuckly hands to the blaze. As Ruth came in he turned and smiled at her.
"Ah, deary!" he said, "I have been missing you all day. And how did you like your school? And how is everything?"
"I will tell you after supper, grandfather. I must go and help granny now."
"That's right; that's a good girl. Oh! far be it from me to be impatient; I wouldn't be for all the world. Your granny has missed you too to-day."
Ruth smiled at him and went into the kitchen. There were eager voices and sounds of people hurrying about, and then a fragrant smell of fried sausages. A moment later Ruth appeared, holding a brightly trimmed lamp in her hand; she laid it on a little centre-table, drew down the blinds, pulled the red curtains across the windows, poked up the fire, and then proceeded to lay the cloth for supper. Her pile of books, which she had brought in her satchel, lay on a chair.
"I can have a look at your books while I am waiting, can't I, little woman?" said the old man.
Ruth brought him over the pack of books somewhat unwillingly. He gave a sigh of contentment, drew the lamp a little nearer, and was lost for the time being.
"Now, child," said old Mrs. Craven, "you heat that plate by the fire. Have you got the pepper and salt handy? Sausages ain't worth touching unless you eat them piping hot. Your grandfather wants his beer. Dear, dear! What a worry that is! I never knew that the cask was empty. What is to be done?"
"I can go round to the shop and bring in a quart," said Ruth.
"But you—a member of the Shirley School! No, you mustn't. I'll do it."
"Nonsense, granny! I'll leave school to-morrow if you don't let me work for you just the same as ever."
Mrs. Craven sank into her chair.
"You are a good child," she said. "All day I have been so fretting that we were taking you out of your station; and that is a sad mistake—sad and terrible. But you are a good child. Yes, go for it, dear; it won't do you any harm."
Ruth wrapped an old shawl round her head, picked up a jug, and went off to the nearest public-house. They were accustomed to see her there, for old Mr. Craven more often than not had his little cask of beer empty. She went to a side entrance, where a woman she knew served her with what she required.
"There, Ruth Craven," she said—"there it is. But, all the same, I'm surprised to see you here to-night."
"But why so?" asked Ruth.
"Isn't it true that you are one of the Shirley scholars now?"
"I am; I joined the school to-day."
"And yet you come to fetch beer for your old grandfather!"
"I do," said Ruth, with spirit. "And I shall fetch it for him as long as he wants it. Thank you very much."
She took the jug and walked carefully back to the cottage.
"She's the handsomest, most spirited, best little thing I ever met," thought the landlady of the "Lion," and she began to consider in her own mind if one of her men could not call round in the morning and leave the necessary beer at the Cravens'.
Supper was served, and was eaten with considerable relish by all three.
"Now," said old granny when the meal had come to an end, "you stay and talk to your grandfather—he is all agog to hear what you have got to say—and I will wash up. Now then, child, don't you worry. It isn't everybody who has got loving grandparents like us."
"And it isn't many old bodies who have got such a dear little granddaughter," said the old man, smiling at Ruth.
Mrs. Craven carried the supper things into the kitchen, and Ruth sat close to her grandfather.
"Now, tell me, child, tell me," he said. "What did they do? What class did they put you into?"
"I am in the third remove; a very good class indeed—at least they all said so, grandfather."
"I don't understand your modern names; but tell me what you have got to learn, dear. What sort of lessons are they going to put into that smart little head of yours?"
"Oh, all the best things, grandfather—French, German, English in all its branches, music, and Latin if I like. I am determined to take up Latin; I want to get to the heart of things."
"Quite right—quite right, too. And you are ever so pleased at having got in?"
"It does seem a grand thing for me, doesn't it, grandfather?"
"Most of the girls are ladies, aren't they?"
"It is a big school—between three and four hundred girls. I don't suppose they are all ladies."
"Well, you are, anyhow, my little Ruth."
"Am I, granddad? That is the question."
"What do you think yourself?"
"I think so; but what does the world say?"
"Ruth, I never told you, but your mother was a lady. You know what your father was. I saved and stinted and toiled and got him a commission in the army. He died, poor fellow, shortly after you were born. But he was a commissioned officer in the Punjab Infantry. Your mother was a governess, but she was a lady by birth; her father was a clergyman. Your parents met in India; they fell in love, and married. Your mother died at your birth, and you came home to us. Yes, child, by birth you are a lady, as good as any of them—as good as the best."
"They are dead," said Ruth. "I don't remember them. I have a picture of my father upstairs; it is taken with his uniform on. He looks very handsome. And I have a little water-color sketch of my mother, and she looks fair and sweet and interesting. But I never knew them. Those I knew and know and love are you, grandfather, and granny."
"Well, dear, when I had the power and the brains and the strength, I kept a shop—a grocer's shop, dear; and my wife, she was the daughter of a harness-maker. Your grandparents were both in trade; there's no way out of it."
"But a gentleman and lady for all that," said the girl.
She pressed close to the old man, took one of his weather-beaten hands between both of her own, and stroked it.
"That is as people think, Ruthie; but we weren't in the position, and never expect to be, of those who are high up in the world."
"I am glad you told me about my father and mother," said the girl. "I love both their memories. I am glad to think that my father served the Queen, and that my mother was the daughter of a clergyman. But I am more glad to think that there never was such an honorable man as you, granddad, and that you made the grocery trade one of the best in the world."
"It was a bad trade, my darling. I had several severe losses. It was very unfortunate my lending that money."
"Oh, I will tell you another time; it doesn't really matter. There was a little bit of ingratitude there, but it doesn't matter. Only I made no fortune by grocery—barely enough to put my boy into the army and to educate him for it, and enough to keep us with a pittance now that we are old. But I have nothing to leave you, sweetest. You just have your pension from the Government, which don't count for nothing at all."
Ruth rose to her feet.
"I am glad I got into the school," she said. "I hope to do wonders there. I mean to take every scrap of good the place opens out to me. I mean to work as hard as ever I can. You shall be desperately proud of me; and so shall granny, although she doesn't hold with much learning."
"But I do, little girl; I love it more than anything. I have got such a lovely scheme in my head. I will work alongside of you, Ruth—you and I at the same things. You can lend me the books when you don't want them."
"What a splendid idea!" said Ruth, clapping her hands.
"You look quite happy, my dear."
"And so I am. I am about the happiest girl on earth. And now, may I begin to look through my lessons for to-morrow?"
The old man arranged the lamp where its light would be most comfortable for the keen young eyes, and Ruth sat down to the table, got out her books, and worked for an hour or two. Mrs. Craven came in, looked at her proudly, wagged her head, and returned to the kitchen. After a time she came to the door and beckoned to the old man to follow her. But the old man had taken up one of Ruth's books and was absorbed in its contents; he was muttering words over under his breath.
"Coming, wife—coming presently," he said.
Ruth's head was bent over her books. Mr. Craven rose and went on tiptoe into the kitchen.
"We mustn't disturb her, Susan," he said. "We must let her have her own way. She must work just as long as she likes. She is going to be a great power in the land, is that child, with her beauty and her talent; there's nothing she can't aspire to."
"Now don't you be a silly old man," said Mrs. Craven. "And what on earth were you whispering about to yourself when I came in?"
"I am going to work with her. It will be a wonderful stimulation, and a great interest to me. I always was keen for book-learning."
Mrs. Craven suppressed a sigh.
"If I even had fifty pounds," she said, "I wouldn't let that child spend every hour at school. I'd dress up smart, and take her out, and get her the very best husband I could. Why, old man, what does a woman want with all that learning?"
"If a woman has brains she's bound to use them," replied the old man, as he sat down by the kitchen fire.
Meanwhile Ruth went on with her lessons. After a time, however, she uttered a sigh. She flung down her books and looked across the room.
"If he only knew," she said under her breath—"if he only knew that I was practically sent to Coventry—that none of the nice girls will speak to me. But never mind; I won't tell him. Nothing would induce me to trouble him on the subject."
HIGH LIFE AND LOW LIFE.
Amongst the many girls who attended the Great Shirley School was one who was known by the name of Cassandra Weldon. She was rapidly approaching the proud position of head girl in the school. She had entered the Shirley School when quite a little child, had gone steadily up through the different classes and the various removes, until she found herself nearly at the head of the sixth form. She was about to try for a sixty-pound scholarship, renewable for three years; if she got it she would go to Holloway College, and eventually support herself and her mother. Mrs. Weldon was the widow of a man who in his time had a very successful school for boys, and she herself had been a teacher long ago in the Great Shirley School. Cassandra and her mother, therefore, were from the very first surrounded by scholarship; they belonged, so to speak, to the scholastic world.
Mrs. Weldon could scarcely talk of anything else. Evening after evening she would question her daughter eagerly with regard to this accomplishment and the other, to this change or that, to this chance which Cassandra might have and to the other. The girl was extremely clever, with a sort of all-round talent which was most remarkable; for in addition to many excellent accomplishments, she was distinctly musical. Her musical talent very nearly amounted to genius. If in the future she could not play in public, she resolved at least to earn her living as a music teacher. Mrs. Weldon hoped that Cassandra would do more than this; and, to tell the truth, the girl shared her mother's dreams. Besides music, she had worked very hard at botany, at French and German, and at English literature. She would be seventeen on her next birthday, and it was against the rules for any girl to remain at the Great Shirley School after that time. Cassandra had, however, two more terms of school-life before her, and these terms she regarded as the most valuable of her whole education.
In appearance Cassandra was a tall, well-made girl, graceful in her movements, and very self-possessed in manner. Her face was full of intelligence, but was rather plain than otherwise, for her mouth was too wide and her nose the reverse of classical. She had bright intelligent brown eyes, however, a nice voice, and a pleasant way. Cassandra was looked up to by all her fellow-students, and this not because she was rich, nor because she was beautiful, but simply because she was good and honorable and trustworthy; she possessed a large amount of sympathy for nearly every one, her tact was unfailing, and she was never self-assertive.
Now Cassandra, who had many friends in the school, had amongst them, of course, her greatest friend. This girl was called Florence Archer. Florence was pretty and clever, but she had neither Cassandra's depth nor power of intellect. She was naturally vain and frivolous, except in the presence of her dearest friend. She was easily influenced by others, and it was her habit to follow the one who gave her the last advice. Her passionate love for Cassandra was perhaps her best and strongest quality; but of late she had exhibited a sense of almost unwarrantable jealousy when any other girl showed a preference for her special friend. Florence was a very nice girl, but jealousy was her bane. She thought a good deal of herself, for her father was a rich man, and only took advantage of the Great Shirley education because it was incomparably the best in the place. There was no rule against any one attending the school, and he had long ago secured a niche in it for his favorite daughter. Florence loved it and hated it at the same time. She was fond of her own companions, but she could not bear the foundation girls. These girls made a large percentage in the school. In all respects they were supposed to be Florence's equals, but as a matter of fact they were kept in a very subordinate position by the paying girls. On every possible occasion they were avoided, and there must be something very special about any one of them if she was taken up by the aristocrats—as they termed themselves—of the school.
But Cassandra as a rule was perfectly sweet and pleasant to the foundation girls, and this trait in her friend's character annoyed Florence more than anything else.
On the morning after Ruth Craven had been admitted to the school Cassandra was one of the first arrivals. She was standing in the wide courtyard waiting for the school doors to be opened. She looked, as usual, bright and capable. A stream of girls were surrounding her, each smiling and trying to draw her attention. Cassandra was a girl of few words, and after nodding to her companions, she gave them to understand that she did not intend to enter into any special conversation. Her neat satchel of school-books was slung on her arm. She wore a very dark-blue serge dress, and her white sailor-hat looked correct and pretty on her shining brown hair. Cassandra, with her face beaming as the sun, made a sort of figure-head for the smaller girls. Presently three foundation girls entered the gates side by side and glanced up at her. This trio formed perhaps the most objectionable set in the school. One was called Kate Rourke; she was a girl of fifteen years of age, showily dressed, with flashing eyes, long earrings in her ears, false jewellery round her neck, and a smart, rather shabby hat, trimmed with a lot of flowers, placed at the back of her head. Hanging on Kate's arm might have been seen Hannah Johnson, in all respects that young lady's double. Clara Sawyer, a fair-haired little girl about fourteen, with a heavy fringe right down to her eyebrows, completed the trio.
They glanced at Cassandra, and then nodded to one another and joked and laughed.
"I have no doubt," said Kate, "that Cassie will take her up."
She said the word "Cassie" in a loud voice. Cassandra heard her, but she took not the slightest notice.
"She is safe to," continued Kate. "Now, such a girl oughtn't to be on the foundation at all. If you only knew the snubbing she gave me yesterday. I quite hate her, with all her pretty face and her mincing ways."
"Never mind, Kitty," said Hannah Johnson. "She may snub you as much as she likes, but you have got me to cling on to."
"And you've got me, too, Kitty," said Clara Sawyer. She snuggled close up to Kate and slipped her hand through her arm.
"Nasty thing!" said Hannah. "I feel every word you say, Kate. Do you know, I offered to walk home with her yesterday, and she said, 'No, I thank you; I prefer to walk home alone,'"
As Hannah made this speech she adopted the mincing tones which she supposed Ruth Craven had used. The two other girls burst out laughing.
"Oh, do say what you are laughing about!" said another girl, running up to the group at this moment. Her name was Rosy Myers. "You always have a joke among you three, and I want to share it. Do say—do say! I've got a lot of toffee in my pocket."
"Hand it out, Rosy, and perhaps we'll tell you," said Kate.
Rose produced a packet of sticky sweetmeat, and a moment later the four were sucking peppermint toffee and making themselves thoroughly objectionable to their neighbors.
"But what about the girl—the person you are laughing about?" asked Rose.
"Oh, it's that stupid, tiresome Ruth Craven," answered Hannah. "Why, she's nobody. The governors and the mistress ought not to allow such a girl in the school. It's all very well to be on the foundation, but there are limits. Why, her old grandfather kept nothing better than a huckster's shop. It doesn't seem right that a girl of that sort should belong to this school, and then take airs."
"But the question is," said Cassandra suddenly, "does she take airs?"
The girls all stopped talking, and gazed up at Cassandra with astonishment in their faces.
"I have overheard you," said Miss Weldon calmly. "I presume you are alluding to Miss Craven?"
"We are talking about Ruth Craven," said Kate Rourke; "and you will excuse me, Cassie, but I never saw a girl more chock-full of pride. She is so conceited that she is intolerable."
"I heard of her yesterday, but have not had an opportunity to form any estimate of her character," continued Cassandra. "I should prefer that you did not call me Cassie, if you please, Kate. I will watch her and find out if I agree with you. I only noticed yesterday that she is remarkably pretty. I will ask her to walk home with me to-day and have tea. I should like to introduce her to mother."
"Well, I never!" said Hannah. "And you really mean that you would introduce that girl to Mrs. Weldon?"
"I think so. Yes, I am almost certain. Here she comes. I like her face. Don't let her hear you giggling, please, Kate; it is very unkind to make a new girl feel uncomfortable."
Kate smothered a laugh and turned away. The doors of the school were now thrown open, and the girls disappeared by their special entrances.
It was just at that moment that Ruth in her shabby dress, but with her sweet and most beautiful face, joined the group of girls who were going into the school. She was without a companion. The other girls went in by twos, each clinging to her special crony. Cassandra now changed her position, and found herself within a yard or two of Ruth Craven. She was examining Ruth with great care, but not at all from the unkind point of view; hers was a sympathetic aspect. That little old serge dress made something come up in Cassandra's throat, and she longed beyond words to give her a better dress. Ruth's hat, too, left much to be desired. It was an old black sailor-hat, which had been burnt to a dull brown. But, notwithstanding the hat and the dress, there was the face. The face was most lovely, and the back of the shabby frock was covered by hair as black as jet, and curling and rippling in the sunshine.
"What wouldn't every other girl in the school give to have such a face as that, and such hair as that?" thought Cassandra. "I must speak to her."
She was just bending forward, meaning to touch Ruth on her shoulder, when there came a commotion near the entrance, and the excited face of Alice Tennant came into view. Alice was accompanied by a tall, showily dressed girl. The girl had a very vivid color in her cheeks, intensely bright and roguish dark-blue eyes, light chestnut hair touched with gold—hair which was a mass of waves and tendrils and fluffiness, and on which a little dark-blue velvet cap was placed.
"I am not going to be shy," cried the new-comer in a hearty, clear, loud voice with a considerable amount of brogue in it. "Leave off clutching me by the arm, Alice, my honey, for see my new companions I will. Ah, what a crowd of girls!—colleens we call them in Ireland. Oh, glory! how am I ever to get the names of half of them round my tongue? Ah, and isn't that one a beauty?"
"Hush, Kathleen—do hush!" said Alice. "They will hear you."
"And what do I care if they do, darling? It doesn't matter to me. I mean to talk to that girl; she's won my heart entirely."
Before Alice could prevent her, the Irish girl had sprung forward, pushed a couple of Great Shirley girls out of their places, and had taken Ruth Craven by the arm.
"It's a kiss I'm going to give you, my beauty," she said. "Oh, it's right glad I am to see you! My name is Kathleen O'Hara, and I hail from the ould country. Ah, though! it's lonely I'm likely to be, isn't it, deary? You don't deny me the pleasure of your society when I tell you that in all this vast crowd I stand solitary—solitary but for her; and, bedad! I'm not certain that I take to her at all. Let me tuck my hand inside your arm, sweetest."
A titter was heard from the surrounding girls. Ruth turned very red, then she looked into Kathleen's eyes.
"You mean kindly," she said, "but perhaps you had better not. You, too, are a stranger."
"Are you a stranger?" asked Kathleen. "Then that clinches the matter. Ah, yes; it's lonely I am. I have come from my dear mountain home to be civilised; but civilisation will never suit Kathleen O'Hara. She isn't meant to have it. She's meant to dance on the tops of the mountains, and to gather flowers in the bogs. She's made to dance and joke and laugh, and to have a gay time. Ah! my people at home made a fine mistake when they sent me to be civilised. But I like you, honey. I like the shape of your face, and the way you are made, and the wonderful look in your eyes when you glance round at me. It is you and me will be the finest of friends, sha'n't we?"
Before Ruth could reply the girls had entered the great hall, which presently became quite full.
"Don't let go of me, darling, for the life of you. It's lost I'd be in a place of this sort. Let me clutch on to you until they put me into the lowest place in the school."
"But why so?" asked Ruth, glancing at her tall companion in some astonishment. "Don't you know anything?"
"I? Never a bit, darling. I don't suppose they'll keep me here. I have no learning, and I never want to have any, and what's more—"
"Hush, girls! No talking," called the indignant voice of a form-room mistress.
Kathleen's dark-blue eyes grew round with laughter. She suddenly dropped a curtsy.
"Mum's the word, ma'am," she said, and then she glanced round at her numerous companions.
The girls had all been watching her. Their faces broke into smiles, the smiles became titters, and the titters roars. The mistress had again to come forward and ask what was wrong.
"It's only me, miss," said Kathleen, "so don't blame any of the other innocent lambs. I'm fresh from old Ireland. Oh, miss, it's a beautiful country! Were you never there? If you could only behold her purple mountains, and let yourself go on the bosom of her rushing streams! Were you ever in the old country, miss, if I might venture to ask a civil question?"
"No," said Miss Atherton in a very suppressing tone. "I don't understand impertinent questions, and I expect the schoolgirls to be orderly.—Ah, Ruth Craven! Will you take this young lady under your wing?"
"Didn't I say we were to be mates, dear?" said Kathleen O'Hara; and as they passed from the great hall, Kathleen's hand was still fondly linked on Ruth's arm.
THE WILD IRISH GIRL.
Lessons went on in their usual orderly fashion. At eleven o'clock there was a break for a quarter of an hour. The girls streamed into the playground. The playground was very large, and was asphalted, and in consequence quite dry and pleasant to walk on. There was a field just beyond, and into this field the girls now strolled by twos and twos. Kathleen O'Hara clung to Ruth Craven's arm; she kept talking to her and asking her questions.
"You needn't reply unless you like, pet," she said. "All I want is just to look into your face. I adore beauty; I worship it more than anything else on earth. I was brought up in the midst of it. I never saw anything uglier than poor old Towser when he broke his leg and cut his upper jaw; but although he was ugly, he was the darling of my heart. He died, and I cried a lot. I can't quite get over it. Yes, I suppose I am uncivilised, and I never want to be anything else. Do you think I want to copy those nimby-pimby girls over there, or that lot, or that?"
"You had better not point, please, Miss O'Hara," said Ruth. "They won't like it."
"What do I care whether they like it or not?" said Kathleen. "I wasn't brought here to curry favor with them. What would my darling father say if I told him that I was going to curry favor with the girls of the Great Shirley School? And what would mother say? No, no; I may pick up a few smatterings, or I may not, but there is one thing certain: I mean to make a friend of you, Ruth—yes, a great big bosom friend. You will be fond of me, won't you?"
"I like you now," said Ruth. "I know you are kind, and you are very pretty."
"Why, then, darling," said Kathleen, "is it the Blarney Stone you have kissed? You have a sweet little voice of your own, although it hasn't the dear touch of the brogue that I miss so in all the other girls."
"But you like Miss Tennant don't you?" said Ruth.
"Oh, yes. Poor little Alice! She's very reserved and very, very formal, but she's a good soul, and I won't worry her. But you are the one my heart has gone out to. Ah! that is the way of Irish hearts. They go straight out to their kindred spirits. You are a kindred spirit of mine, Ruth Craven, and you can't get away from me, not even if you will."
The fifteen minutes for recreation came to an end, and the girls returned to the schoolroom. Ruth was in a high class for her age, and was already absorbed in her work. Kathleen drummed with her fingers on her desk and looked round her. Kathleen was in a low class; she was with girls a great deal smaller and younger than herself.
"How old are you, Miss O'Hara?" the English teacher, Miss Dove, had said.
"I am fifteen, bless your heart, darling!" replied Kathleen.
"Don't talk exactly like that," said Miss Dove, who, in spite of herself, was attracted by the sweet voice and sweeter eyes. "Say, 'I am fifteen, Miss Dove.'"
Kathleen made a grimace. Her grimace was so comical that all the small girls in the class burst out laughing. She was silent.
"Speak, dear," said Miss Dove in a persuasive tone.
"Yes, darling, I'm trying to."
"You mustn't use affectionate words in school."
"Oh, my heart! How am I to bear it?" said Kathleen, and she clasped a white hand over that organ.
Miss Dove paused for a moment, and then decided that she would let the question in dispute go by for the present. She began to question Kathleen as to her acquirements, and found that she must leave her with the younger children for the time being. She then went on to attend to other duties.
Kathleen sat bolt-upright in the centre of the class. It seemed absurd to see this tall, well-grown girl surrounded by tiny tots. One of the tiny tots looked towards her. Presently she thrust out a moist little hand, and out of the moisture produced a half-melted peppermint drop. Just for a second Kathleen's bright eyes fell upon the sweetmeat with disgust; then she took it up gingerly and popped it into her mouth.
"It's golloptious," she said, turning to the child, and then she drummed her fingers once more on the edge of the desk. Presently she stooped down and whispered to this small girl:
"I hate school; don't you?"
"Y—es," was the timid reply.
"Let's go out."
"But I—I can't."
"I must, then. I have nothing to do; the lessons are deadly stupid. Forgive me, girls; you are all blameless;" and the next moment she had left the room.
Half a moment later she was in the fresh air outside. Her cheeks were hot, her hair in disorder, and her hand, where she had touched the peppermint, was sticky."
"What would father say if he could see me now?" she thought. "If Aunty O'Flynn was to look at her Kathleen! Oh, why did they send me across the cold sea to a place of this sort—a detestable place? Oh, the fresh air is reviving. I was born free, and Britons never, never will be slaves. I can't stay in that horrid room. Oh, how long the morning is!"
Just then a teacher came out and beckoned to Kathleen.
"What are you doing outside, Miss O'Hara? Come in immediately and return to your class."
"I can't dear," replied Kathleen in a gentle tone. "You are young, aren't you? You don't look more than twenty. Do you ever feel your heart beat wild, dear, and your spirits all in a sort of throb? And did you, when you were like that, submit to being tied up in steel chains all round every bit of you? Answer me: did you?"
"I can't answer you, Miss O'Hara. You are a very naughty, rebellious girl. You have come to school to be disciplined. Go back immediately."
For a minute Kathleen thought of rebelling, but then she said to herself, "It isn't worth the fuss," and returned to her place once again in the centre of the class.
"I have been called back," she said in a whisper to her little peppermint companion. "I was naughty to go out, and I am called back. I am in disgrace. Isn't it a lark?"
The little girl felt quite excited. Never was there such and big and fascinating inmate of the lower fifth before. It was worth coming to school now to be in the vicinity of one so handsome and so gay.
The weary morning came to an end at last. The girls seldom returned for afternoon school, generally doing their preparations at home. Alice Tennant, however, sometimes preferred the quiet school to the noisy life she lived with her brothers at home. She looked now eagerly for Kathleen, who had shunned her from the instant they had entered the school; she stood just by the gate waiting for her. Kathleen, on her part, was looking for Ruth Craven. Ruth had been monopolised by Cassandra Weldon.
"You must come home with me," she said.
"But my grandparents will be expecting me," said Ruth.
"Never mind; we will go round by your cottage and ask them. I know all about you, and I want to know you better. You will, won't you?"
"Thank you very much," said Ruth.
"We will go on at once without waiting for the others," said Cassandra, and they walked on quickly, while Kathleen searched in vain for her chosen friend.
"Come, Kathleen; I am waiting," said Alice in a slightly cross voice. "Mother said we were to be home early to-day."
"All right," said Kathleen; "but I can't find Miss Craven anywhere.
"You can't wait for her now. Indeed, she has gone. I saw her walking down the road with Cassandra Weldon."
"And who is she?"
"The head girl of the school; and such a splendid creature! I am glad she is taking up Ruth. It isn't possible for every one to notice her; although, for my part, I have no patience with that sort of false pride. Of course, a lot of the foundation girls are very common; but when one sees a perfect lady like Ruth one ought to recognize her."
"Of course," said Kathleen, fidgeting a little as she walked.
"And how did you get on?" asked Alice, noticing the dejected tone of her voice.
"I got on abominably," said Kathleen.
"What class are you in?"
"I don't know. I am with a lot of babies; I suppose I am to be a sort of caretaker to them. There wasn't anything to learn. I am going to write to father. I can't stay in that horrid school."
"Oh, yes, you can. You will get to like it very much after a time. You have never been at school before, and of course you find it irksome."
"Is it irksome?" cried Kathleen. "Is it that she calls it? Oh, glory! It's purgatory, my dear, that's what it is—purgatory—and I haven't done anything to deserve it."
"But you want to learn; you don't want to be always ignorant."
"Bedad, then, darling, I don't want to learn at all. What do I want to know your sort of things for? I could beat you, every one of you, and the teachers, too, in some accomplishments. Put me on a horse, darling, and see what I can do; and put me in a boat, pet, and find out where I can take you. And set me swimming in the cold sea; I can turn somersaults and dive and dance on the waves, and do every mortal thing as though I were a fish, not a girl. And give me a gun and see me bring down a bird on the wing. Ah! those things ought to be counted in the education of a woman. I can do all those things, and I can mix whisky punch, and I can sing songs to the dear old dad, and I can comfort my mother when her rheumatics are bad. And I can love, love, love! Oh, no, Alice, I am not ignorant in the true sense; but I hate French, and I hate arithmetic, and I hate all your horrid school work. And I never could spell properly; and what does it matter?"
"Everything," replied Alice. "You can't go about the world if you are stupid and ignorant."
"Can't I?" exclaimed Kathleen, and she flashed her eyes at Alice and made her feel, as she said afterwards, quite uncanny.
The Tennants were, after all, not a large family. They consisted of Mrs. Tennant, Alice, and two young brothers. These brothers were schoolboys of the unruly type. Alice considered them very badly trained. Kathleen, however, was much taken by their schoolboyish ways.
As the two girls now entered the house they heard a whistle proceeding from the attic; a cat-call at the same time came from the basement.
"Oh, dear!" cried Alice, "there are those dreadful boys again. Whatever you do, Kathleen, you must not encourage them in their larks."
"But why shouldn't I? I like them both. I call David a broth of a boy. I am glad you have got brothers, Alice. I haven't any; but then I have lots of boy cousins, which comes to much the same thing."
The girls by this time had reached the large bedroom which they shared on the first floor.
"You are welcome to my brothers if you don't toss all your things about in my room," cried Alice. "If we are to sleep together we must be orderly."
"Orderly, is it?" cried Kathleen. "I don't know the meaning of the word. Well, all right, I'm ready."
She pushed her fingers through her tangled golden hair, and, without glancing at herself in the glass, marched out of the room.
"I wish mother hadn't asked her to come," said Alice to herself. "The house was bad enough before, but now she will make things past bearing."
Alice went downstairs to the sound of a cracked gong. The Tennants had their meals in a sitting-room on the second floor. It was barely furnished, and had kamptulicon instead of a carpet on the floor. Mrs. Tennant, looking careworn and anxious, was seated at the head of the table; her dress was somewhat faded. Alice entered and took her seat at the foot. Kathleen was nowhere to be seen.
"I have only soup and fish for dinner to-day," said Mrs. Tennant. "I do trust Kathleen will be satisfied."
Alice frowned at her mother in some displeasure.
"We ought to have meat—" she was beginning, when there came a bang and a scuffle, a girlish laugh, and Kathleen, leaning fondly on both the boys, appeared. Mrs. Tennant pointed to a seat, and she sat down. The Irish girl had a healthy appetite, and was indifferent to what she ate. She demanded two plates of soup, and when she had finished the second she looked at Mrs. Tennant and said emphatically:
"I have fallen in love."
"My dear Kathleen!"
"I have—with a girl, so it doesn't matter. She's the prettiest, sweetest, bonniest thing I ever saw in my life. I am going to hunt round for her immediately after dinner. I thought I'd say so, for I mean to do it."
"Oh, Kathleen!" said Alice in a distressed voice, "you really mustn't. You must come back to the school with me. I promised Miss Dove that I'd see you through your tasks.—You know, mother," continued Alice, "Kathleen is not very advanced for her age, and Miss Dove wants to get her into a proper class as quickly as possible; therefore she is to be coached a little, and I have undertaken to do it.—You will come with me, Kathleen? I must get back to the school again by half-past two. You will be sure to come, dear?"
"I think not, dear," replied Kathleen in her most aggravating tone.
"But you must.—Mustn't she, mother?"
"You ought to, Kathleen," said Mrs. Tennant. "You have been sent here to learn. Alice can teach you; she can help you very much. She means to be very kind to you. You certainly ought to do what she suggests."
"But I am afraid," said Kathleen, "that I am not going to do what I ought. I don't wish to be good at all to-day. I couldn't live if I wasn't really naughty sometimes. I mean to be terribly naughty all the afternoon. If you will let me have my fling, I do assure you, Mrs. Tennant, that I will work off the steam, and will be all right to-morrow. I must do something desperate, and if Alice opposes me I'll have to do something worse."
"You are a clipper!" said David Tennant, smiling into her face.
"All right, my boy; I expect I am," said Kathleen; and then she added, springing to her feet, "I have eaten enough, and for what we have received—Good-bye, Mrs. Tennant; I'm off."
THE HOME-SICK AND THE REBELLIOUS.
Kathleen O'Hara ran up to an untidy room. She banged-to the door, and standing by it for a moment, drew the bolt. Thus she had secured herself against intrusion. She then flung herself on the bed, put her two arms under her head, and gazed out of the window. Her heart was beating wildly; she had a strange medley of feelings within. She was desperately, madly lonely. She was homesick in the most intense sense of the word.
Kathleen had never left Carrigrohane Castle before. This romantic abode was situated in the extreme south-west of Ireland. It was a mile away from the sea, and stood on a rocky eminence which overlooked a very wide expanse of moor and wood, rushing streams and purple mountains, and deep dark-blue sea. In the whole world there could scarcely be found a more lovely view than that which since her birth had presented itself before Kathleen's young eyes. Her father, Squire O'Hara, was, as landlords in Ireland go, very well off. His tenantry adored him. He got in his rents with tolerable regularity. He was a good landlord, firm but also kind and indulgent. A real case of distress was never turned away from his doors, but where rent could be paid he insisted on the cottars giving him his due. He kept a rather wild establishment, however. His wife was an Irishwoman from a neighboring county, and had some of the most careless attributes of her race. The house got along anyhow. There were always shoals of visitors, mostly relatives. There were heavy feasts in the old hall, and sittings up very late at night, and no end of hunting and fishing and shooting in their seasons. In the summer a pretty white yacht made a great "divartisement," as the Squire was fond of saying; and in all things Kathleen O'Hara was free as the air she breathed. She was educated in a sort of fashion by an Irish governess, but in reality she was allowed to pursue her lessons exactly as she liked best herself.
It was just before she was fifteen that Kathleen's aunt, a maiden lady from Dublin, who rejoiced in the truly Irish name of O'Flynn, came to see them, remarked on Kathleen's wild, unkempt appearance, declared that the girl would be a downright beauty when she was eighteen, said that no one would tolerate such a want of knowledge in the present day, and advised that she should go to school. Mrs. O'Hara took Miss O'Flynn's hint very much to heart. Kathleen was consulted, and of course tabooed the entire scheme; in the end, however, the elder ladies carried the day. Miss O'Flynn took her niece to Dublin with her, and gave her an expensive and very unnecessary wardrobe; and Mrs. O'Hara, having heard a great deal of Mrs. Tennant, who had Irish relatives, decided that Kathleen should go to the Great Shirley School, where she herself had been educated long ago. Everything was arranged in a great hurry. It seemed to Kathleen now, as she lay on her bed, kicking her feet impatiently, and ruffled her beautiful hair, that the thing had come to pass in a flash. It seemed only yesterday that she was at home in the old house, petted by the servants, adored by her father, worshipped by all her relatives—the young queen of the castle, free as the air, followed by her dogs, riding on her pony—and now she was here in this hideous, poor, fifth-class house, going to that ugly school.
"I can't stand it," she thought. "There's only one way out. I must have a real desperate burst of naughtiness. What shall I do that will most aggravate them? For do that thing I will, and as quickly as possible."
Kathleen thought rapidly. She had no brothers of her own, but their loss was made up for by the adoration of about twenty young cousins who were always loafing about the place and following Kathleen wherever she turned.
"What would most aggravate Pat if he were here," thought the girl, "or dear old Michael? Ah, well! Michael—" The girl's face slightly changed. "I was never very naughty with Michael," she said to herself. "He is different from the others. I wouldn't like to see that sort of sorry look in his dear dark-blue eyes. Oh, I mustn't think of Michael now. When I was going away he said, 'Bedad, you'll come back a princess, and I'll be proud to see you.' No, I mustn't think of Michael. Pat, the imp, would help me, and so would Rory, and so would Ted. But what shall it be?"
She thought excitedly. There came a rattle at the handle of the door.
"Let me in, please, Kathleen; let me in," called Alice's voice.
"Presently, darling," replied Kathleen in her most nonchalant tone.
"But I am in a hurry. I must be back at school by half-past two. Let me in immediately."
"What a nuisance it all is!" thought Kathleen. "But, after all, my naughtiness needn't make that stupid old Alice late for her darling lessons."
She scrambled off the bed, drew back the bolt, and returned to her old position. Alice came quickly in. She glanced at Kathleen with disgust.
"I wish you wouldn't lie on the bed in your muddy boots."
"I must ask you not to lock the door. It is my room as well as yours."
No answer. Kathleen's eyes were fixed on the window; they were brimful of mischief. After a time she said:
"I wish you wouldn't talk to me in that silly way."
"Faith! honey, then."
"I do wish—"
Kathleen suddenly sprang upright on her bed.
"Don't you like the sky when it looks as it does now? I wish you could see it from Carrigrohane. You don't know the sort of expression it has when it seems to be kissing the sea. We have a ghost at Carrigrohane. Oh, wisha, then, if you only could see it! I can tell the boys about it. Sha'n't I make them creep?"
"It is very silly to talk about ghosts. Nobody believes in them," said Alice.
"I'll ask father if I may have you at Carrigrohane in the summer, and then see if you don't believe. She wears white."
"I am going out now, Kathleen; aren't you coming with me?"
"No, thank you, my love."
"You ought to, Kathleen. I am busy preparing for my scholarship examination or I would stay and argue with you. It is an awful pity to have gone to the expense of coming here if you don't mean to do your utmost."
"Thank you, darling, but it is rather a waste of breath for you to talk so long to me. I mean to be naughty this afternoon."
"I can't help you," said Alice. "I am very sorry you ever came."
"Thank you so much, dear."
Alice ran downstairs.
"Mother," she said, rushing into her mother's presence, "we shall have no end of trouble with that terrible girl. She is lying now on the bed with her outdoor boots on, and she won't come to school, or do a single thing I want her to."
"The money her father pays will be very welcome, Alice. We must bear with some discomforts on account of that."
"I suppose so," said Alice, shrugging her shoulders. "How horrid it is to be poor, and to have such a girl as that in the house! Well, I can't stay another minute. You had better keep a sort of general eye on her, mother, for there's no saying what she will do. She has declared her intention of being naughty. She knows no fear, is not guided by any sort of principle, and would, in short, do anything."
"Well, go to school, Alice, and be quick home, for I have a great deal I want you to help me with."
Alice made no reply, and Mrs. Tennant, after thinking for a minute, went upstairs. She knocked at the door of the room which she had given up to the two girls. There was no answer. She opened it and went in. The bird had flown. There were evident signs of a stampede through the window, for it stood wide open, and there were marks of not too clean boots on the drugget, and a torn piece of ivy just without. The window was twenty feet from the ground, and Kathleen must have let herself down by the sturdy arm of the old ivy. Mrs. Tennant looked out, half expecting to see a mangled body on the ground; but there was no one in view. She returned to her darning and her anxious thoughts.
She was a widow with two sons and a daughter, and something under two hundred and fifty pounds a year on which to live. To educate the boys, to do something for Alice, and to put bread-and-butter into all their mouths was a difficult problem to solve in these expensive days. She had on purpose moved close to the Great Shirley School in order to avail herself of its cheap education for Alice. The boys went to another foundation school near by; and altogether the family managed to scrape along. But the advent of Kathleen on the scene was a great relief, for her father paid three guineas a week for Mrs. Tennant's motherly care and for Kathleen's board and lodging.
"Poor child!" thought the good woman. "What a wild, undisciplined, handsome creature she is! I must do what I can for her."
She sat on for some time darning and thinking. Her heart was full; she felt depressed. She had been working in various ways ever since six o'clock that morning, and the darning of the boys' rough socks hurt her eyes and made her fingers ache.
Meanwhile Kathleen was running along the road. She ran until she was completely out of breath. She then came to a stile, against which she leant. By-and-by she saw a girl walking leisurely up the road; she was a shabbily dressed and rather vulgar girl. Kathleen saw at once that she was one of the Great Shirley girls, so she went forward and spoke to her.
"You go to our school, don't you?" she said.
"Yes, miss," answered the girl, dropping a little curtsy when she saw Kathleen. She was a very fresh foundation girl, and recognized something in Kathleen which caused her to be more subservient than was necessary.
"Then, if you please," continued Kathleen, "can you tell me where that sweetly pretty girl, Ruth Craven, lives?"
"She isn't a lady," said the girl, whose name was Susan Hopkins. "She is no more a lady than I am."
"Indeed she is," said Kathleen. "She is a great deal more of a lady than you are."
The girl flushed.
"You are a Great Shirley girl yourself," she said. "I saw you there to-day. You are in an awfully low class. Do you like sitting with the little kids? I saw you towering up in the middle of them like a mountain."
Kathleen's eyes flashed.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Susan Hopkins. I used to be a Board School girl, but now I am on the foundation at Great Shirley. It is a big rise for me. Are you a poor girl? Are you on the foundation?"
"I don't know what it means by being on the foundation, but I don't think I am poor. I think, on the contrary, that I am very rich. Did you ever hear of a girl who lived in a castle—a great beautiful castle—on the top of a high hill? If you ever did, I am that girl."
"Oh, my!" said Susy Hopkins. "That does sound romantic."
Her momentary dislike to Kathleen had vanished. The desire to go to the town on a message for her mother had completely left her. She stood still, as though fascinated.
"I live there," said Kathleen—"that is, I do when I am at home. I come from the land of the mountain and the stream; of the shamrock; of the deep, deep blue sea."
"Ireland? Are you Irish?" said the girl.
"I am proud to say that I am."
"We don't think anything of the Irish here."
"Oh, don't you?"
"But don't be angry, please," continued Susy, "for I am sure you are very nice."
"I am nice when I like. To-day I am nasty. I am wicked to-day—quite wicked; I could hate any one who opposes me. I want some one to help me; if some one will help me, I will be nice to that person. Will you?"
"Oh, my word, yes! How handsome you look when you flash your eyes!" said Susy Hopkins.
"Then I want to find that dear little girl, who is so beautiful that I love her and can't get her out of my head. I want to find Ruth Craven. She went away with a horrid, stiff, pokery girl called Cassandra Weldon. You have such strange names in your country. That horrid, prim Cassandra chose to correct me when I came into school, and she has taken my darling away—the only one I love in the whole of England. I want to find her. I will give you—- I will give you an Irish diamond set in a brooch if you will help me."
This sounded a very grand offer indeed to Susy Hopkins, who lived in the most modest way, and had not a jewel of any sort in her possession.
"I will help you. I will, and I can. I know where Miss Weldon lives. I can take you to her house."
"But I want Ruth."
"If she has taken Ruth home, she will be at Cassandra's house," said Susy.
"And you can take me there?"
"This blessed minute."
"All right; come along."
"When will you give me the diamond set in the brooch?"
"It isn't a real diamond, you know. It is an Irish diamond set in silver—real silver. My old nurse had it made for me, and I wear it sometimes. I will bring it to you to school to-morrow."
"Oh, thank you—thank you, Miss—I forgot your name."
"O'Hara is rather a difficult name to say. May I call you Kathleen?"
"Just as you please, Susan. It is more handy for me to say Susan than Hopkins. As long as I am in England I must consort, I see, with all kinds of people; and if you will make yourself useful to me, I will be good to you."
Susy turned and led the way in the direction of Cassandra Weldon's home. They had to walk across a very wide field, then down a narrow lane, then up a steep hill, and then into a valley. At the bottom of the valley was a straight road, and at each side of the road were neat little houses—small and very proper-looking. Each house consisted of two stories, with a hall door in the middle and a sitting room on each side. There were three windows overhead, and one or two attics in the roof. The houses were very compact; they were new, and were called by ambitious names. For instance, the house where the Weldons lived went by the ambitious name of Sans Souci. All through the walk Susy chatted for the benefit of her companion. She told Kathleen so much about her life that she was interested in spite of herself! and by the time they arrived outside Sans Souci, Kathleen's hand was lying affectionately on her companion's arm.
"I had best not go in, miss," she said. "Cassandra Weldon would never take the very least notice of me; and none of us foundation girls like her at all."
"Well, it is extremely unfair," said Kathleen. "From all you have been telling me, the foundation girls must be particularly clever. I tell you what it is: I think I shall take to you."
"Oh, would you, indeed, miss?" said Susy, her eyes sparkling. "There are a hundred of us, you know, in the school."
"That is a great number. And Ruth Craven is really one?"
"She is, miss. She isn't a bit better than the rest of us."
"And I love her already."
"She is no better than the rest of us," repeated Susan Hopkins.
"I have a great mind to take to you all, to make a fuss about you, and to show the others how badly they behave."
"You'd be a queen amongst us; there's no doubt about that."
"It would be lovely, and it would be a tremendous bit of naughtiness," thought Kathleen.
"Do you think you will, miss? Because, if you do, I will tell the others. We could meet you and talk over things."
"Well, I will decide to-morrow. I will enclose a letter with your brooch. Good-bye now; I must go in and kiss my darling Ruth."
Susy Hopkins stood for a minute to watch Kathleen as she went up the little narrow path of Sans Souci. When Kathleen reached the porch she waved her hand, and Susy, putting wings to her feet, ran as fast as she could in the opposite direction. She felt very much elated and really pleased. In the whole course of her life she had never met a girl of the Kathleen O'Hara type before. Her beauty, her daring and wild manner, the flash in her bright dark eyes, the glints of gold in her lovely hair, all fascinated Susy.
"What a queen she'd make!" she thought. "We must make her our queen. We'd have quite a party of our own in the school if she took us up. And she will; I'm sure she will. This is a lark. This is worth a great deal."
Meanwhile Kathleen rang the bell at Sans Souci in a very smart, imperative manner. A little maid, neatly dressed, came to the door.
"Please," said Kathleen, "will you say that Miss O'Hara has called and would be glad to see Miss Ruth Craven for a few minutes?"
The girl withdrew. Presently she returned.
"Mrs. Weldon will be pleased if you will go in, miss. She is sitting in the drawing-room. The two young ladies are out in the garden."
"Thank you," said Kathleen.
After a brief hesitation she entered the house, and was conducted across the narrow hall into a very sweet and charmingly furnished room. The room had a bay-window with French doors; these opened on to a little flower-lawn. At one side of the house was a tiny conservatory full of bright flowers. Compared to the house where the Tennants lived, this tiny place looked like a paradise to Kathleen. She gave a quick glance round her, then came up to Mrs. Weldon.
"I am one of the new girls at the Great Shirley School," she said. "My name is Kathleen O'Hara. I am Irish. I have only just crossed the cold sea. I am lonely, too. I want Ruth Craven. May I sit down a minute while your servant fetches her? I like Ruth Craven. She is very pretty, isn't she? She is the sort of girl that you'd take a fancy to when you're lonely and far from home. May I sit here until she comes?"
"Of course, my dear," said Mrs. Weldon, speaking with kindness, and looking with eyes full of interest at the handsome, striking-looking girl. "I quite understand your being lonely. I was very lonely indeed when I came home from India and left my dear father and mother behind me."
"How old were you when you came home?"
"A great deal younger than you are: only seven years old. But that is a long time ago. I should like to be kind to you, Miss O'Hara. Cassandra has been telling me about you. You are living at the Tennants', are you not? Alice Tennant and Cassandra are great friends."
"But I don't like either of them," said Kathleen in her blunt way.
Mrs. Weldon looked a little startled.
"Do you know my daughter?" she asked.
"She is much too interfering, and she is frightfully stuck-up. Please forgive me, but I am always very plain-spoken; I always tell the truth. I don't want her. I like you, and wish that I lived with you, and that you'd have Ruth Craven instead of your own daughter in the house. Then I'd be perfectly happy. I always did say what I thought. Will you forgive me?"
"I will, dear, because at the present moment you don't know my girl at all. There never was a more splendid girl in all the world, but she requires to be known. Ah! here she comes, and your little friend, Miss Craven, with her."
Ruth, looking very pretty, with a delicate flush on each cheek, now entered the room in the company of Cassandra. Kathleen sprang up the minute she saw Ruth, rushed across the room, and flung one arm with considerable violence round her neck.
"You have come," she said. "I have been hunting the place for you. How dared you go away and hide yourself? Don't you know that you belong to me? The moment I saw you I knew that you were my affinity. Don't you know what an affinity means? Well, you are mine. We were twin souls before birth; now we have met again and we cannot part. I am ever so happy when I am with you. Don't mind those others; let them stare all they like. I am going to take you foundation girls up. I have made up my mind. We will have a rollicking good time—a splendid time. We will be as naughty as we like, and we will let the others see what we are made of. It will be war to the knife between the foundation girls and the good, proper, paying girls. Let the ladies look after themselves. We of the foundation will lead our own life, and be as happy as the day is long. Aren't you glad to see me, dear, sweet, pretty Ruth? Don't you know for yourself that you are my affinity—my chosen friend, my beloved? Through the ages we have been one, and now we have met in the flesh."
"I think," said Cassandra, at last managing to get herself heard, "that you have said enough for the present, Miss O'Hara. Ruth Craven has come to spend the day with me. I know that you are an Irish girl, and you must be lonely. I shall be very pleased if you will join Ruth and me in our walk. We are going for a walk across the common.—We shall be in to tea, dear mother. Will you have it ready for us not later than five o'clock? And I am sure you will join me, mother darling, in asking Miss O'Hara to stay, too."
"But Miss O'Hara doesn't want to join either you or your 'mother darling,'" said Kathleen in her rudest tone. "It is Ruth I want. I have come here for her. She must return with me at once."
"But I can't. I am ever so sorry, Miss O'Hara."
"You mean that you won't come when I have called for you?"
"I am with Miss Weldon at present."
"Be sensible, dear," said Mrs. Weldon at that moment. "You don't quite understand our manners in this country. However attached we may be to a person, we don't enter a strange house and snatch that person out of it. It isn't our way; and I don't think—you will forgive me for saying it—that your way is as nice as ours. Be persuaded, dear, and join Cassandra and Ruth, and have a happy time."
Kathleen's face had turned crimson. She looked from Mrs. Weldon to Cassandra, and then she looked at Ruth. Suddenly her eyes brimmed up with tears.
"I don't think I can ever change my way," she said. "I am sorry if I am rude and not understood. Perhaps, after all, I am mistaken, about Ruth; perhaps she is not my real proper affinity. I am a very unhappy girl. I wish I could go back to mother and to my dad. I shouldn't be lonely if I were in the midst of the mountains, and if I could see the streams and the blue sea. I don't know why Aunt Katie O'Flynn sent me to this horrid place. I wish I was back in the old country. They don't talk as you talk in the old country and they don't look as you look. If you put your heart at the feet of a body in old Ireland, that body doesn't kick it away. I will go. I don't want your tea. I don't want anything that you have to offer me. I don't like any of you. I am sorry if you think me rude, but I can't help myself. Good-bye."
"No, no; stay. Stay and visit with me, and tell me about the old country and the sea and the mountains," said Mrs. Weldon.
But Kathleen shook her head fiercely, and the next moment left the room.
"Poor, strange little girl," thought the good woman. "I see she is about to heap unhappiness on herself and others. What is to be done for her?"
"I like her," said Ruth. "She is very impulsive, but she is———"
"Oh, yes," said Cassandra, "she has a good heart, of course; but I foresee that she is up to all sorts of mischief. She doesn't understand our ways. Why did she leave her own country?"
Ruth was silent. She looked wistful.
"Come along, Ruthie; we will be late. I have no end of schemes in my head. I mean to help you. You will win that scholarship."
Ruth smiled. Presently she and Cassandra were crossing the common arm-in-arm. In the interest of their own conversation they forgot Kathleen.
When that young lady left the house she ran back to the Tennants'.
"I will write to dad to-night and tell him that I can't stay," she thought. "Oh, dear, my heart is in my mouth! I shall have a broken heart if this sort of thing goes on."
She entered the house. There sat Mrs. Tennant with a great basket of stockings before her. The remains of a rough-looking tea were on the table. The boys had disappeared.
"Come in, Kathleen," called Mrs. Tennant, "and have your tea. I want Maria to clear the tea-things away, as I have some cutting out to do; so be quick, dear."
Kathleen entered. The untidy table did not trouble her in the least; she was accustomed to things of that sort at home. She sat down, helped herself to a thick slice of bread-and-butter, and ate it, while burning thoughts filled her mind.
"Have some tea. You haven't touched any," said Mrs. Tennant.
"I'd rather have cold water, please," Kathleen replied.
She went to the sideboard, filled a glass, and drank it off.
"Mrs. Tennant," she said when she had finished, "what possessed you to live in England? You had all the world to choose from. Why did you come to a horrible place like this?"
"But I like it," said Mrs. Tennant.
"You don't look as if you did. I never saw such a worn-out poor body. Are you awfully old?"
"You would think me so," replied Mrs. Tennant, with a smile; "but as a matter of fact I am not forty yet."
"Not forty!" said Kathleen. "But forty's an awful age, isn't it? I mean, you want crutches when you are forty, don't you?"
"Not as a rule, my dear. I trust when I am forty I shall not want a crutch. I shall be forty in two years, and that by some people is considered young."
"Then I suppose it is mending those horrid stockings that makes you so old."
"Mending stockings doesn't help to keep you young, certainly."
"Shall I help you? I used to cobble for old nurse when I was at home."
"But I shouldn't like you to cobble these."
"Oh, I can darn, you know."
"Then do, Kathleen. I should take it very kindly if you would. Here is worsted, and here is a needle. Will you sit by me and tell me about your home?"
Kathleen certainly would not have believed her own ears had she been told an hour ago that she would end her first fit of desperate naughtiness by darning stockings for the Tennant boys. She did not darn well; but then, Mrs. Tennant was not particular. She certainly—although she said she would not—did cobble these stockings to an extraordinary extent; but her work and the chat with Mrs. Tennant did her good, and she went upstairs to dress for supper in a happier frame of mind.
"I will stay here for a little," she said finally to Mrs. Tennant, "because I think it will help you. You look so terribly tired; and I don't think you ought to have this horrible work to do. I'd like to do it for you, but I don't suppose I shall have time. I will stay for a bit and see what I can make of the foundation girls."
"The foundation girls?"
"Oh, yes; don't ask me to explain. There are a hundred of them at the Great Shirley School, and I am going—No, I can't explain. I will stop here instead of running away. I meant to run away when my affinity would have nothing to do with me."
"Really, Kathleen, you are a most extraordinary girl."
"Of course I am," said Kathleen. "Did you ever suppose that I was anything else? I am very remarkable, and I am very naughty. I always was, and I always will be. I am up to no end of mischief. I wish you could have seen me and Rory together at home. Oh, what didn't we do? Do you know that once we walked across a little bridge of metal which is put between two of the stables? It is just a narrow iron rod, six feet in length. If we had either of us fallen we'd have been dashed to pieces on the cobble-stones forty feet below. Mother saw me when I was half-way across, and she gave a shriek. It nearly finished me, but I steadied myself and got across. Oh, it was jolly! I am going to set some of the foundation girls at that sort of thing. I expect I shall have great fun with them. It is principally because my affinity won't have anything to do with me; she is attaching herself to another, and that other is little better than a monster. Your Alice won't like me; and, to be frank with you, I don't like her. I like you, because you are poor and worried and seem old for your age—although your age is a great one—and because you have to cobble those horrid socks. There! good-bye for the present. Don't hate me too much; I can't help the way I am made. Oh; I hear Alice. What a detestable voice she has! Now then, I'm off."
Kathleen ran up to her room, and again she locked the door. She heard Alice's step, and she felt a certain vindictiveness as she turned the key in the lock. Alice presently took the handle of the door and shook it.
"Let me in at once, Kathleen," she said. "I really can't put up with this sort of thing any longer. I want to get into my room; I want to tidy myself. I am going to supper to-night with Cassandra Weldon."
"Then you don't get in," whispered Kathleen to herself. Aloud she said:
"I am sorry, darling, but I am specially busy, and I really must have my share of the room to myself."
"Do open the door, Kathleen," now almost pleaded poor Alice. "If you want your share of the room, I want mine. Don't you understand?"
"I am not interfering, dearest," called back Kathleen, "and I am keeping religiously to my own half. I have the straight window, and you have the bay. I am not touching your beautiful half; I am only in mine."
"Let me in," called Alice again, "and don't be silly."
"Sorry, dear; don't think I am silly."
There was a silence. Alice went on her knees and peered through the keyhole: Kathleen was seated by her dressing-table, and there was a sound of the furious scratching of a pen quite audible. "This is intolerable," thought Alice. "She is the most awful girl I ever heard of. I shall be late. Mary Addersley and Rhoda Pierpont are to call for me shortly, and I shan't be ready. I don't want to appeal to mother or to be rude to the poor wild thing the first day. Stay, I will tempt her.—Kathleen!"
"Wouldn't you like to come with me to Cassandra Weldon's? She is so nice, and so is her mother. She plays beautifully, and they will sing."
"Irish songs?" called out Kathleen.
"I don't know. Perhaps they will if you ask them."
"Thanks," replied Kathleen; "I am not going." Again there was silence, and the scratching of the pen continued. Alice was now obliged to go downstairs to acquaint her mother.
"What is it, dear? Why, my dear Alice, how excited you look!"
"I have cause to be, mother. I have come in rather late, very much fagged out from a day of hard examination work and that imp—that horrid girl—has locked me out of my bedroom. I was so looking forward to a nice little supper with Cassandra and the other girls! Kathleen won't let me in; she really is intolerable. I can't stay in the room with her any longer; she is past bearing. Can't you give me an attic to myself at the top of the house?"
"You know I haven't a corner."
"Can't I share your bed, mummy? I shall be so miserable with that dreadful Kathleen."
"You know quite well, Alice, that that is the only really good bedroom in the house, and I can't afford to give it to one girl by herself. I think Kathleen will be all right when we really get to know her; but she is very undisciplined. Still, three guineas a week makes an immense difference to me, Alice. I can't help telling you so, my child."
"In my opinion, it is hardly earned," said Alice. "I suppose I must stay down here and give up my supper. I can't go like this, all untidy, and my hair so messy, and my collar—oh, mother, it is nearly black! It is really too trying."
"I will go up and see if I can persuade her," said Mrs. Tennant.
She went upstairs, turned the handle of the door, and spoke. The moment her voice penetrated to Kathleen's ears, she jumped to her feet, crossed the room, and bent down at the other side of the keyhole.
"Don't tire your dear voice," she said. "What is it you want?"
"I want you to open the door, Kathleen. Poor Alice wants to get in to get her clothes. It is her room as much as yours. Let her in at once, my dear."
"I am very sorry, darling Mrs. Tennant, but I am privately engaged in my own half of the room. I am not interfering with Alice's."
"But you see, Kathleen, she can't get to her half."
"The door is in my half, you know," said Kathleen very meekly, "so I don't see that she has any cause to complain. I am awfully sorry; I will be as quick as I can."
"You annoy me very much. You make me very uncomfortable by going on in this extremely silly way, Kathleen."
"I will darn some more socks for you, darling, tired pet," whispered Kathleen coaxingly. "I really am awfully sorry, but there is no help for it. I must finish my own private affairs in my own half of the room."
She retreated from the door, and the scratching of the pen continued.
Alice downstairs felt like a caged lion. Mrs. Tennant admitted that Kathleen's conduct was very bad.
"It won't happen again, Alice," she said, "for I shall remove the key from the lock. She won't shut you out another time. Make the best of it, darling. If we don't worry her too much she is sure to capitulate."
"Not she. She is a perfect horror," said Alice.
Mrs. Weldon's supper party was to begin at eight o'clock. It was now seven, and the girls were to call for Alice at half-past. If Kathleen would only be quick she might still have time.
The boys came in. They stared open-eyed at Alice when they saw her still sitting in her rough school things, a very cross expression on her face. David came up to her at once; he was the favorite, and people said he had a way with him. Whatever they meant by that, most people did what David Tennant liked. He stood in front of his sister now and said:
"What's the matter? And where's the little Irish beauty?"
"For goodness' sake don't speak about her," said Alice. "She's driving me nearly mad."
"Your sister is naturally much annoyed, David," said his mother. "Kathleen is evidently a very tiresome girl. She has locked the door of their mutual bedroom, and declines to open it; she says that as the door happens to be in her half of the room, she has perfect control over it."
David whistled. Ben burst out laughing.
"Well, now that is Irish," David said.
"If you take her part I shall hate you all the rest of my life," said Alice, speaking with great passion.
"But can't you wait just for once?" asked David. "Any one could tell she is just trying it on. She'll get tired of sitting there by herself if only you have patience."
"But I am due at Cassandra's for supper" and Mary Addersley and Rhoda Pierpont are to call for me at half-past seven."
"Oh, that's it, is it?" said David.—"Ben, leave off teasing." For Ben was whistling and jumping about, and making the most expressive faces at poor Alice,—"I will see what I can do," he said, and he ran upstairs. David was very musical; indeed, the soul of music dwelt in his eyes, in his voice, in his very step. He might in some respects have been an Irish boy himself. He bent down now and whistled very softly, and in the most flute-like manner, "Garry Owen" through the keyhole. There was a restless sound in the room, and then a cross voice said:
David stopped whistling "Garry Owen," and proceeded to execute a most exquisite performance of "St. Patrick's Day in the Morning." Kathleen trembled. Her eyes filled with tears. David was now whistling right into her room "The Wearing of the Green." Kathleen flung down her pen, making a splash on the paper.
"Go away," she called out. "What are you doing there?"
"The outside of this door doesn't belong to you," called David, "and if I like to whistle through the keyhole you can't prevent me;" and he began "Garry Owen" again.
Kathleen rushed to the door and flung it open. The tears were still wet on her cheeks.
"Can't you guess what you are doing?" she said. "You are stabbing me—stabbing me. Oh! oh! oh!" and she burst into violent sobs. David took her hand.