BY L. T. MEADE
CHAPTER I. Bessie, Alice, Gwin, and Elma
CHAPTER II. The Blarney Stone
CHAPTER III. Is that the Girl?
CHAPTER IV. Tiffs all Round
CHAPTER V. Incorrigible Kitty
CHAPTER VI. The Tug-of-War
CHAPTER VII. Elma
CHAPTER VIII. The Little House in Constantine Road
CHAPTER IX. The Head Mistress and the Cabbage-Rose
CHAPTER X. Paddy Wheel-About
CHAPTER XI. In Carrie's Bedroom
CHAPTER XII. The "Spotted Leopard"
CHAPTER XIII. Coventry
CHAPTER XIV. The Lost Packet
CHAPTER XV. Gwin Harley's Scheme
CHAPTER XVI. Paddy Wheel-About's Old Coat
CHAPTER XVII. "We Are Both in the Same Boat"
CHAPTER XVIII. "I Cannot Help You"
CHAPTER XIX. Kitty Tells the Truth
CHAPTER XX. An Eye-Opener
CHAPTER XXI. The Lady from Buckinghamshire
CHAPTER XXII. Stunned and Cold
CHAPTER XXIII. Stars and Moon, and God Behind
CHAPTER XXIV. Sunshine Again
CHAPTER XXV. Kitty "Go-Bragh" (Forever)
BESSIE, ALICE, GWIN, ELMA.
"Yes, mother," replied Bessie Challoner. "You'll be late for school, child, if you are not quick."
"Bessie!" shouted her father at the top of his voice from below stairs. "Bessie; late as usual."
"I am really going, father; I am just ready," was the eager reply. Bessie caught up her sailor hat, shoved it carelessly over her mass of thick hair, and searched frantically round her untidy bedroom for the string bag which contained her schoolbooks.
"Oh, Bessie, you'll get into a scrape," said Judy, one of her younger sisters, dancing into the room. "Why, you are late. I hear the schoolbell ringing; it will stop in a moment."
"Don't worry me, Judy," cried Bessie. "Do you know where my bag is?"
Judy ran into the middle of the room, turned round, and began to laugh ecstatically. "Do you know where it is, you little good-for-nothing? Have you put it hiding?"
"Yes, yes, yes," screamed the child, jumping up and down in her joy.
"Then, if you don't give it to me at once, I'll—"
But Judy had dodged her and was out of the room. Up to the attic flew the child, and after her dashed Bessie. The bag was found in the corner of the linen-cupboard. Bessie aimed a frenzied blow at Judy, who once again dodged her, then the schoolgirl ran downstairs and was out of the house.
"Bessie, for shame!" said her brother, who was standing smoking his cigarette in a very lazy manner in the garden. "Why, you'll never get full marks."
"Don't," said Bessie. "I feel quite hunted between you all."
She had got on the highroad now, and could walk away in peace. She was a tall girl, somewhat bony-looking at present, with a face which showed abundance of intellect, large dreamy eyes, a wide mouth, a flat nose, a long chin. Bessie was certainly not at all a pretty girl; but, notwithstanding this fact, there were few of all the pupils at Middleton School who approached her in popularity. She was clever without being a scrap conceited, and was extremely good-natured, doing her work for the pleasure of doing it and not because she wanted to outstrip a schoolfellow. She was conscientious too, and would have scorned to do a mean or shabby thing; but she was hopelessly untidy, careless to a fault, late for school half her days, getting into countless scrapes and getting out of them as best she could—the butt of her class as well as the favorite, always true to herself and indifferent to the censures or the praise of her fellow-creatures.
"Well, Bess, is that you? Do wait for me," called out a panting voice in the distance.
Late as she was, Bessie stopped. It was never her way to leave a fellow-creature in the lurch.
A girl with dancing eyes and rosy cheeks came panting and puffing round the corner.
"I just caught a sight of the red ribbon with which you tie your hair," she said. "I am so glad you are late; I am too, and I am quite ashamed of myself."
"Why in the world should you be ashamed of yourself, Alice?" asked Bessie. "I don't suppose you meant to be late."
"Of course not; but I shall lose my mark for punctuality; and you know, Bessie, I am feverishly anxious to get a move, and to—to win the scholarship at the midsummer break-up."
Bessie yawned slightly.
"Come on, Alice," she said; "I am disgracefully late as usual, and we need not make matters worse. I suppose we must wait in the hall now until prayers are over."
"It's too bad," said Alice. "I'll tell you afterward how it happened, Bessie. I am glad you waited for me. They always scold you so much for being late that they will not take so much notice of me. May I slip into my place in form behind you?"
"If you like," said, Bessie.
They entered the great schoolhouse, turned down a long corridor, deposited their hats and jackets on the pegs provided for the purpose, and went into the schoolroom just when the pupils were filing into their different classes.
Both girls had marks against their names for unpunctuality. Alice frowned and fidgeted, turned scarlet, glanced nervously at her fellow-pupils, but Bessie took the matter with her wonted calm. Soon she forgot all about it. She became absorbed in her different studies, each one of which she had prepared with extreme attention. As she answered question after question her great, full, dreamy eyes seemed to lighten with hidden fire, her face lost its plainness, the intellect in it transformed it. One or two other girls in the class watched her with a slight degree of envy.
Bessie was very high up in the school. As usual she quickly rose to the head of the form; this position she kept without the slightest difficulty during lesson after lesson.
Alice, muddled already by that mark for unpunctuality, got through her work badly; as Bessie rose in the class Alice went down. At the end of the morning's work the two girls were far as the poles asunder.
"I can't think how you do it," said Alice, coming up to Bessie during recess, and linking her hand through her arm. "You never seem to mind disgrace at all."
"Of course I mind disgrace," answered Bessie. "Come out into the playground, won't you Alice? We can't talk in here."
They went out and began pacing up and down the wide quadrangle devoted to the purpose. Other girls passed them two and two, each girl talking to her special companion.
"How very handsome Gwin Harley looks this morning," said Alice, pausing in her grumbling to gaze at a slender and lovely girl who passed them, walking with another dark-eyed, somewhat plain girl of the name of Elma Lewis.
"I wish she was not such friends with Elma," said Bessie. "I like Gwin very much indeed; I suppose every one in the school does."
"Catch Elma not making up to her," said Alice. "Why, you know Gwin is as rich as ever she can be; she has a pony-carriage of her own. I cannot make out why she comes to Middleton School."
"Because it is the best school in the neighborhood," said Bessie somewhat proudly. "It is not a question of money, nor of anything but simply of learning; we learn better at Middleton School than anywhere else; there are better teachers and—"
"But such a rum lot of girls," said Alice. "Of course we all go in sets, and our set is quite the nicest in the school; but all the same, I wonder a rich man like Mr. Harley allows Gwin to come here."
Gwin and Elma drew up at that moment in front of the other two.
"Bessie," said Gwin, "I saw you carrying everything before you this morning. But," she added hastily, "that is neither here nor there. I shall never be a great learned genius like you, but I shall admire geniuses all the same. Now, I want to say that Elma is coming to tea with me this afternoon, and will you both come as well? We have a good deal to talk over."
Bessie's face lightened.
"I should like it very much indeed," she said; "but you know I must get through my studies first."
"Oh, you won't take long over them."
"Yes, but I shall," answered Bessie; "there is a very stiff piece of German to translate this afternoon. I can manage French and mathematics of course, and—"
"Oh, don't begin to rehearse your different studies," said Gwin, holding up her hand in a warning attitude. "I don't care in the least what you learn, Bessie; I want you to come. Because," she added, "you are such an honest creature."
"Why should not I be honest?" said Bessie, opening her eyes wide. "I have never had any temptation to be anything else."
"My dear Bessie, you are too painfully matter-of-fact," said Elma. "Gwin meant that your nature is transparent—it is a beautiful trait in any character."
"Well, Bessie, will you come or will you not?" interrupted Gwin.
"Yes, I'll come. I'll manage it somehow," said Bessie. I can't resist the temptation."
"And you too, Alice?" said Gwin, turning to Alice Denvers, who was watching Bessie with envious eyes.
"I don't suppose mother will let me. I am ever so vexed," said Alice.
"But why not, dear; you have nothing special to do to-day?"
"Well, I had a bad mark for unpunctuality, and—"
"What does that signify?"
"But listen; I have gone down several places in class. Father and mother are so particular; they seem to think my whole future life depends upon my position in school. Of course I know we are not very rich, like you—" Here she flushed and hesitated.
Gwin Harley flushed also.
"When you talk like that," she said, "I feel quite ashamed of being well off. I often long to be poor like—like dear little Elma here." As she spoke she patted her somewhat squat little companion on her arm. "But never mind, girls; I am not one of those who intend to throw away all my money; that is one reason why I want to have a good talk this afternoon. You must come, Alice; you simply must."
"But there is another reason," said Alice. "Kitty Malone is coming to-day."
"Kitty Malone! Who in the name of fortune is she?"
"Oh, a wild Irish girl."
"Truly wild, I should think, with that name. 'Kitty Malone, ohone!' I seem to hear the refrain somewhere now. Isn't there a song called 'Kitty Malone'?"
"There is a song called 'The Widow Malone,'" said Bessie; "don't you know it? You read all about it in 'Harry Lorrequer.'"
"But who is Kitty Malone, Alice?"
"I say a wild Irish girl."
"And what has she got to do with you?"
"She is coming to board with us. She is going to join the school, and mother is to have the charge of her. A precious bore I shall find it."
"When did you say she was coming?" asked Gwin eagerly.
"I expect she is at home by now; she was to arrive this morning."
"Delightful!" said Gwin, clapping her hands, "she shall come too. I want beyond anything to become acquainted with a real aborigine, and of course any girl called Kitty Malone hailing from the sister-isle must belong to that species. Bring the wild Irish girl with you by all means, Alice; and now, as you have no manner of excuse, I'll say ta-ta for the present." She kissed her pretty hand lightly to the two girls, and went on her way, once more accompanied by her faithful satellite, Elma.
"Isn't she fascinating?" said Alice; "aren't you quite in love with her, Bessie?"
"Dear me, no," answered Bessie Challoner. "I never fall in love in that sort of headlong fashion; but all the same," she added, "I admire Gwin very much, only I do wish she would not take up with Elma."
"So do I," said Alice.
"It was very kind of her to ask us," continued Bessie, "and I for one shall be delighted to go. I have not the least doubt that in a big house of that sort they have 'Household Encyclopaedia,' and I want to look up the article on magnetic iron ore."
"Oh, what in the world for?" cried Alice.
"I am interested in magnets, and—but there, Alice why should I worry you with the sort of things that delight me. I am going, and that is all right. You will be sure to come too; won't you Alice?"
"Yes, I must manage it somehow; and as Gwin has asked Kitty Malone it won't make it quite so difficult. I know mother would not let me leave Kitty this afternoon, for it is, from the money point of view, a great thing for us her coming. Her people are quite well off, although they are Irish. They live in an old castle on the coast of Donegal, and Kitty has never been out of the country in which she was born. They are paying mother very well to receive her, and mother is ever so pleased. Of course it's horrid for me for she will be my companion morning, noon, and night; we are even to sleep in the same room. It was that that made me late for school this morning, and got me that horrid, horrid mark for unpunctuality."
"But why? I don't understand," said Bessie.
"Well, you see, I put it off until the last minute. I know it was all my fault; but I would not empty the cupboard in the corner of the room, although mother told me to do so at intervals for the past week. Well, mother came in this morning and found it choke full—you know the sort of thing, full to bursting, so that the door wouldn't shut—and she said that I should empty it before I went to school. I told her I should be late, and mother said it was a just punishment for me. Didn't I bless Kitty Malone! But of course I set to work, and I scrambled out the things somehow. Of course I am in hot water, and father is so terribly particular; but I will try and come. Yes, I'll try and come, and I'll bring Kitty."
"Very well; if you are going we may as well go together," said Bessie. "Gwin never mentioned the hour she had tea; but I suppose if we are at Harley Grove by five o'clock it will do."
"Yes, I should think so," said Alice in a dubious voice. "It is a pity she did not mention the hour. There she is still hobnobbing with Elma. I'll just run across the quadrangle and ask her."
Alice left her companion, obtained the necessary information from Gwin, and came back again. "She says if we are with her sharp at five it will do quite well, and we are to stay until nine o'clock, then we can all go home together."
"Delicious!" said Bessie. "I love being out late. I hope there will be a moon, and that there won't be many clouds in the sky, for I want to examine the position of some of the planets. Did I tell you, Alice, that Uncle John has a telescope through which I can see the asteroids?"
"What on earth are they?" cried Alice, yawning as she spoke.
"Oh, the very small planets."
"Then, my dear, I hope you will see them. But really, Bessie, I can't run round nature as you do—your intellect is quite overpowering; one moment you want to get up information with regard to magnetic iron ore, and the next you confound me with some awful observation about asteroids. Good-by, Bessie; good-by. I shall be late for dinner, and then no chance of going to the fair Gwin's this afternoon."
"Well, if you do go, call for me," shouted Bessie after her; "I'll wait for you until half-past four, then I'll start off by myself."
"Yes, yes, I'll come if I can, and bring Kitty also if I can."
"Be sure you don't fail. I'll look out for you."
Alice put wings to her feet and set off running down the dusty road, and Bessie more soberly returned home.
THE BLARNEY STONE.
Alice's home was nearly half a mile from the school. It was a big, commonplace suburban house standing at a corner. It had a small garden in front and a larger one at the back; but neither at front nor back were the gardens tidily kept. They were downtrodden by the constant pressure of many feet, and were further ornamented at intervals by sheds and kennels, for Fred and Philip Denvers were devoted to all sorts of pets; there was also a rabbit-run at one end, and a little railed-off place where Mrs. Denvers tried to keep fowls.
Alice at intervals had sighed for a tennis lawn; but whenever she dared to mention the idea she was hooted by her big brothers, who did not want the garden to be made in the least bit, as they expressed it, ornamental.
"But tennis isn't ornamental!" said Alice.
"Beastly game," remarked Fred. "Only meant for girls; just to give them an opportunity of hobnobbing together, and talking gossip, and making up mischief."
"You talk in the most ridiculous, unfair way," said Alice in indignation; but she did not dare to mention the subject of the tennis court again, and the boys still continued to build fresh sheds and introduce new animals.
On this occasion, as Alice walked up to the house, she was met by Fred, who ran out to meet her in some excitement.
"I say, Alice," he cried, "she's come, and she is a rum 'un!"
"Who has come?" asked Alice; "not—not Kitty Malone?"
"No one else, at your service, Kitty Malone, ohone!" cried Fred. "And oh! isn't she Irish! You come along and see her. I never saw anything like her before."
"Why, Fred, I didn't think you cared for girls."
"Nor do I as a rule, but this one—oh! I say she is a jolly sort. Why she's been down in the kitchen and up in the attics—she knows every one in the house already; and do you know what she is doing now—sitting in the drawing-room with the window wide open, grinning down at you, and she has got Pointer in her arms. You know Pointer, dirty old fellow!—well, she caught him up the moment she came in, and insisted on bringing him upstairs, and he has taken to her as if he had known her ever since he was a puppy. Mean of him, isn't it; but I declare I don't blame him. Oh! there you are, Kitty Malone." Fred raised his laughing face to encounter another as laughing, a face at that moment grinning from ear to ear.
"Are you Alice?" called a voice. "Are you the one I am to sleep with? Just say, call out loud; don't mind if you shout, because I'm accustomed to that sort of thing."
"Is this Kitty Malone?" thought Alice. She liked frank, jolly girls; but she was not quite prepared for Kitty.
She entered the house, flung down her bag of books, and ran upstairs to the drawing-room. The next moment she found herself in the firm embrace of a girl a little taller than herself, a slim, very pretty, very untidy, very overdressed girl.
"Here I am and welcome to yourself," said Kitty. "I was so vexed you were not here to greet me; but bless you, my dear, I'm quite comfortable. No, I'm not a bit tired—you haven't asked me, by the way, but I suppose you mean to. I had a spiffin' journey. Sick! not I. I'm never seasick, and I enjoyed the train. I made friends with such a dear old gentleman and with two boys. I nearly kissed the boys when I was leaving them, but I didn't quite. Is that you, Fred? Come along in now and let us be jolly together. Why, Alice, how stiff you are; you have not opened your lips yet."
"I have not had an opportunity," answered Alice. "You do talk such a lot, Kitty."
"Do I? I expect we all do in Old Ireland. Bless her! she's a dear old country, and I'm as sorry as anybody to say good-by to her. But, all the same, I am glad to see England (poky, stiff sort of place it seems). Say now, Alice, do you like my dress? It was made in Dublin; it's the height of the fashion I am told."
"It's very showy," said Alice.
"Do you think so? Well, you are plainly dressed; nothing but that brown merino. And—my dear, I thought they were always dressed up to the nines near London. This place is near London, isn't it?"
"Yes, a few miles off. Oh, of course your dress is very nice; but now I must get ready for dinner."
"Oh! and ain't I peckish?" said Kitty, clapping her hands and winking broadly at Fred.
Alice turned to leave the room.
"We may as well go together," said Kitty, following her and slipping her hand through her arm. "Do you know," she said, "when I first came to the house I could scarcely breathe. Why, it's nothing but a nutshell. I never saw such a deeny dawn of a place in the whole course of my life. How many of you live here?"
"Father and mother, and the two boys and I," answered Alice.
"And you are the only girl?"
"Now come to the window and let me have a good squint at you." As Kitty spoke she dragged Alice forward, put her facing the light, and stood herself with her back to it. She began to make a careful scrutiny, calling out her remarks aloud: "Eyes passable, forehead so-so, mouth pretty well, complexion not bad for England, hair—"
"Oh, I say, Kitty, I can't quite stand this," said Alice. "Are those your manners in Ireland? What a wild country it must be!"
"Dear, darling, jolly old place!" said Kitty, dancing up and down.
"And you really give me to understand that people make remarks on one another in that sort of fashion?" said Alice, darting away from her companion and pouring some water into a basin to wash her hands.
"Well, yes, love, they do when they like, and they don't when they don't like. We are free and easy folk, I can tell you, and we have a gay time. I'll tell you all about father and the old castle, and the dogs, and the cows, and the cats, and the rabbits, and the mice when we have a spare moment. That brother of yours, Fred, is not half a bad old chap; and I saw a nice, curly-headed little gossoon coming in just now with his books under his arm. What's his name?"
"Oh, you mean Philip. Yes, he's the youngest; he's well enough if you don't spoil him, Kitty."
"I won't spoil him, bless his heart," said Kitty; "but of course I'll make friends with him. I couldn't live without boys. There are two at home, Pat and Laurence; and, oh! I shall miss Laurie, dear old chap! I must not think of him." Kitty's face underwent a swift change, the brightness went out of it just as if a heavy cloud had swept away the sun; the big, very handsome dark-blue eyes, so dark as to be almost black, grew full of sudden tears; the exquisitely curved lips trembled; she turned her head aside and looked out of the window.
At that moment it seemed to Alice that she saw beneath Kitty's wild, eccentric manners a heart of gold. She only caught a glimpse of it, for the next moment the girl was chatting away in the most light, frivolous, extraordinary style. The dinner-bell sounded through the house, and the pair went down to dinner.
"I'd like to sit near you, please, Mr. Denvers," said Kitty.
Philip's place was always near his father; this had been a custom ever since he had been a baby. Kitty now ensconced herself in the little boy's chair.
"Am I taking anybody's seat?" she asked, looking up.
"Only mine," said Phil.
"Never mind, little gossoon; you shall have it to-morrow. I want to sit near Mr. Denvers because I expect he can tell me a good many things I don't understand."
"You must allow me to eat my dinner, Miss Malone. You see I have a good deal of carving to do, and besides I am a busy man," said Mr. Denvers in a good-humored voice, for it was difficult to resist the roguish glances of Kitty's eyes, and the sort of affectionate way in which she cuddled up to her host's side.
"Oh, I won't talk over much," she said, glancing with her flashing eyes round at the entire party. "But you see I am quite a stranger; and, oh my! the place does seem lonely. You are all so stiff, I cannot quite understand it. Is it the English fashion, please, Mr. Denvers?"
"Well, you see," answered Mrs. Denvers from the other end of the table, "we don't know you yet."
"But I am sure all the same we shall be very good friends," said Mr. Denvers. "May I give you a glass of wine?"
"Wine! Bless you, I'm a teetotaller," said Kitty. "Why, it isn't habits of intoxication you'll be putting into me. I never take anything but water, or milk when I can get it; and it isn't Miss Malone you're going to call me is it, for if it is I tell you frankly that I'll die entirely. I must be Kitty from this moment, or Kitty Malone, or anything of that sort, but Kitty something it must be. Now, is it settled fair and square, Kitty shall I be? Here's my hand on my heart; I'll die if I'm called Miss Malone!"
Fred burst into roars of laughter.
"I say," he cried, "what an extraordinary girl you are!"
"Well, and so are you an extraordinary boy," said Kitty. "Oh, dear me, I am hungry! Do you mind handing me over the potatoes? Why, you don't mean to say you peel 'em. I never heard of such a thing! Why don't you have them in their jackets?"
"Potatoes are generally mashed or peeled or something of that sort in England," said Mr. Denvers. "I see, Kitty—" he added.
"Ah! bless you now for calling me that! What is it you want to say, dear Mr. Denvers?"
"I see we shall have a good deal to teach you," he said, and then he too burst into a fit of laughter, and so the merry, somewhat rollicking meal proceeded.
Alice alone would not succumb to the fascinations of the Irish maiden. She sat holding herself somewhat stiff, feeling a good deal disgusted, wondering what Bessie Challoner would say, what Gwin Harley would think, anticipating in advance Elma's sneers.
Kitty, however, subjugated Mr. and Mrs. Denvers and the two boys completely. As to Pointer, he would not leave her side; as her long, white, taper fingers touched the top of his grizzled head, he looked at her with eyes of unutterable love.
"What have you done to the dog?" said Fred at last. He felt almost afraid, in his great admiration of the bewitching stranger.
"Only given him a taste of blarney," was the reply. "Tell me now, Fred, were you ever in Ireland?"
"No," answered Fred.
"Ah! I thought as much. If you had been, and if you had kissed the Blarney Stone, why then, it's nothing could withstand you."
"What is the Blarney Stone?" asked Fred.
"Don't you know that much? Why you are an ignoramus out and out. Well, I'll tell you. It's a stone on Blarney Castle, set low down in the wall, five or six feet from the top; and to kiss it, why that is no easy matter, for you have to be held by your heels and let hang over the wall; and if you can get some one to hold you tight—very tight, mind—you slide down and you reach the stone and you kiss it, and from that moment—oh glory! but you carry everything before you. There's not a man, a woman, nor a child, no, nor a beastie either, that can resist you. You bewitch 'em."
"I have no doubt, Kitty, you kissed the stone," said Mr. Denvers.
"Why then, it's yes, sir," she answered raising her big eyes and then dropping them again with an inimitable expression.
"What a queer little girl you are!" he said. "You are very amusing; but I think we must tame you a bit."
"You won't do that, sir. They call me the wild Irish girl at home, and the wild Irish girl I'll be to the end of the chapter. If it's schooling I want, why, I'll have it, but taming, no thank you."
Kitty jumped from her seat and began to dance a sort of improvised Irish jig about the room.
"Do you know the jig?" she said, dancing up to Fred as she spoke.
"No," he answered; "are you trying it on now?"
"Yes; jump up, my hearty, and I'll teach you in a twinkling. Here, watch me; point your toes so, turn round—pirouette as we call it. Now, then, put your hand on your hip, courtesy to me, and come back again. That's how it's done. Oh, Fred, I'll soon have you as beautiful a broth of a boy as if you were born in Old Ireland."
"Fred, my son, it is time for you to go back to college," said his father. "Kitty, we are very pleased to have you here, and you are a very amusing girl; but you know life is not all play."
Kitty pulled a long face. Fred darted a laughing glance at her, and ran off. Kitty and Alice at last found themselves alone.
"You're disapproving of me a good bit, aren't you, Alice?" said Kitty, going up to the other girl and taking both her hands in hers.
"Well, I think you are very odd," said Alice.
"And do you want me to be quite sober and tame, and to have all the spirit knocked out me, alanna?"
"No; but we don't do exactly as you do in this country."
"And you think you'll tame me into your cut-and-dry pattern?"
"I don't know about that. I don't understand you, Kitty."
"You will after a bit, Alice. It's here I am for sure, and a gray sort of land it is! Why, the sun doesn't even shine!"
"Oh, doesn't it," said Alice angrily. "It's ridiculous to talk in that strain about this country. We have much finer weather than you have in Ireland."
"Don't be cross, darling; I mean it metaphorically. You see we live a gay life over there, we have a joke about everything, and the wit that runs out of our mouths—why, it's like flashes of lightning. Oh, we have a good time in the old country, and when you come and stay with me at Castle Malone you'll say so for yourself. Now, then, what do you want to do this afternoon?"
"I must look over my lessons first."
"A good few. You see of course I want to get on."
"By the way, Alice," said Mrs. Denvers, who came into the room at that moment, "I am afraid you had a bad mark for unpunctuality this morning."
"Yes, mother, that is so."
"And what is your place in form?"
"I went down two or three places, mother."
"I am sorry to hear it; your father will be very much annoyed."
"I'll try and make up for it to-morrow, mother. And, mother, Gwin Harley has asked me to go to tea with her this afternoon—may I?"
"I don't see how you can. There is Kitty Malone."
"But she has asked Kitty too."
"What's that?" asked Kitty, bounding forward. "A tea party, bless you?"
"You have been asked to tea at Harley Grove. Mother, may we go? I think Kitty would enjoy it."
"If you are sure you are not too tired, Kitty; you have had a long journey," said Mrs. Denvers.
"I'm not a scrap tired," said Kitty. "I'm as gay as a lark and as fresh as a daisy. I hope it's rather a big swell party, for I have got some awfully pretty dresses. I want to make myself look smart. You can tell me how they manage these sort of things in England. I'm all agog to go."
"Yes, Alice, you may go," said Mrs. Denvers. "But Kitty, my dear, if I were you I would let them down lightly."
"What do you mean, dear Mrs. Denvers?"
"Don't startle them too much. They are not accustomed to such—such frankness as you are disposed to give."
"I'll bewitch 'em," said Kitty, beginning again to dance with light fantastic measure up and down the room. "I'll bewitch 'em one and all. I have made up my mind. I didn't kiss the Blarney Stone for nothing!"
IS THAT THE GIRL?
Kitty and Alice went up to their bedroom, where Kitty began to unpack her trunks and toss her dresses about—they were all new and most of them were gay. She had scarcely a quiet-looking dress in the entire collection.
"What will you do with those?" said Alice, who saw nothing to admire in the fantastic clothes, and much to condemn. Alice had not the smallest love for dress, and at this period of her life she considered any pains taken over clothes a sheer waste of time.
"But don't you like them?" said Kitty. "I thought girls loved pretty dress. Aunt Honora says so, and so did Aunt Bridget when she came to see us at Castle Malone a month ago. When she heard I was going to England she said: 'Why, then, my dear Kitty, you must titivate up. It will never do for them to see you not looking as bright as a sunbeam and as gay as a cricket. It's colors you'll want, Kitty, and rich materials, and spangles, and jewels, and beads, and all the other fal-lals.' And father said to Aunt Bridget:
"'Why then, now, Biddy,' said he, 'you just get what's right for the child, for she hasn't a notion, and no more have I, what's worn in that foreign place England.'
"So Aunt Bridget said: 'A wink's as good as a word,' and I'll dress her up in dashing style!' So she took the measure of my chest, and the round of my waist, and the length of my skirt, and she saw how many inches I wanted in the sleeve, and she said: 'You leave the rest to me, Kitty.' And of course I did, and in three weeks' time down came a trunk that would make your eyes shine even to look within it. Oh! wasn't it just the darling entirely! Here's one of the dresses. Now, what do you think of that?"
As Kitty spoke she pulled out a pink nun's-veiling, made up with innumerable ruffles and frills and laces and embroidery, a really very pretty dress for quite a gay party, but totally unsuitable for a schoolgirl of Kitty Malone's age.
"Why, it's a long dress?" said Alice. "How old are you, Kitty?"
"It's fifteen I'll be my next birthday, darling. Well, and is there anything wrong about fifteen? I always thought it was a jewel of an age."
"Yes, but this dress is long; why, there's a train to it!"
"Oh, mercy me! so there is," said Kitty. "To tell you the truth, I never even tried on the skirt, I was so bamboozled and overexcited with the others. A train to be sure! Oh, won't I bewitch 'em entirely. Let me try it on, darling. Have you got a long looking-glass anywhere?"
"Not in this room," answered Alice; "it is not necessary."
"Not necessary? Well, now, I should say it's the one thing you ought to have in every room, a long looking-glass that you can see yourself in from top to toe. Why, half your elegance is lost if you cannot see how you look your own self. Is there one in any other room?"
"In mother's dressing-room, I think."
"And where's that room situated, my jewel?" asked Kitty.
"Oh, at the other end of the passage; but really, Kitty—"
Kitty, however, was off. Alice stayed in her room, too disgusted to follow her.
"Something must be done to put a stop to this," she thought. "Of course, mother won't keep a girl of that sort. Why, she's a regular wild Indian; I shall be ashamed to take her out this afternoon."
But at that moment a high voice, accompanied by peals of laughter, was heard shouting for Alice.
"Alice, mavourneen, come along this minute! Alice, come quick! quick! Why, it's enthralling I am! You never saw anything like me before, did you? Oh, the Blarney Stone, what it has done for me. Come, Alice, come, come quick!"
"What can be the matter?" called Mrs. Denvers from downstairs. "Has anything happened?"
"Oh, it's only me, dear Mrs. Denvers. Do come up this minute, my dear ducky woman, and see me. I found a dress with a train to it in my trunk, a new dress from Dublin, and I'm in it, and beautiful I look. Come up and see me. I'm gazing at myself in your glass. I never saw anything so lovely in the whole course of my life."
Mrs. Denvers and Alice now both appeared upon the scene. Kitty in her new dress, with a train nearly a foot on the ground, was stepping backward and forward before the long glass in Mrs. Denvers' wardrobe. Her eyes were flashing with merriment and delight. Her small arched feet were dancing a pas de seul in and out of the many flounces which befrilled the end of the pink dress.
"Well, do you like it?" called Kitty. "How do you think I look? Did you ever see anybody more elegant in all your born days? Oh, if only the dear old dad could see me! I feel as if I must kiss myself." Here she commenced blowing kisses vigorously at the gay figure reflected in the glass.
"Come, Kitty," said Mrs. Denvers, "you are not going out in that dress."
"And why not, my dear Mrs. Denvers? Why shouldn't I go out and captivate the natives? That's what a pretty girl is made for."
"Not in this country," said Mrs. Denvers in a somewhat severe voice. "It cannot be done; Kitty, you are much too young to wear a dress of that sort. While you are with me you must expect to be guided by my taste and wishes."
"But, dear Mrs. Denvers, Aunt Bridget ordered it."
"Well, of course, dear, you can wear it at Castle Malone, but not here—at least, not out of doors. Yes, my child, it is a very pretty dress; but I do understand what is right for girls to appear in. You must have something quieter, Kitty."
"Then come along and choose for me," said Kitty, who was as good-natured as she was high-spirited and volatile. "Come straight and choose, for Alice, poor child, is troubled with the sulks."
"What do you mean?" said Alice indignantly.
"But isn't it true, darling; you have such a frown between your brows, and it doesn't improve you. There, cheer up, Alice, honey! Why, it's the best of friends I want to be with you; but you don't like me, not a bit. I'll win you yet, Alice, aroon! But at the present moment you're saying in your heart: 'What a nasty, forward, ill-bred girl that is, and I am ashamed, that I am, that my schoolfellows should see me with the likes of her.'"
"Come, come, Kitty, no more of this," said Mrs. Denvers. "If you are going out you have no time to lose. Yes, let me see your wardrobe. I think this dark-blue dress is the best."
"But you are not expecting me to go out in the open air without a body!" said Kitty, "and there's nothing but a skirt to this. I suppose I may wear one of my pretty blouses?"
"Yes; that skirt and a nice blouse will do. Now then, get ready, both of you, as quickly as you can. Kitty, remember I expect your things to be put away tidily."
"To be sure, ma'am. Why, then, it would be a shame to spoil all these pretty garments. I'll put them away in a jiffy, and come down looking as neat as a new pin."
Alice, who had brushed out her hair, put on a clean collar and a pair of cuffs, was now standing waiting for her friend.
"Look here," she said suddenly, "will you be long putting away your things and dressing?"
"Not very long, darling; but I must curl my fringe over again."
"I wish you wouldn't wear a fringe, Kitty; none of the nice girls do at the school."
"Is it give up my fringe I would?" answered Kitty.
"What a show I'd be! Why, look at my forehead, it's too high for the lines of pure beauty. Now, when the fringe comes down just to here, why, it's perfect. Aunt Bridget said it was, and she's a rare judge, I can tell you. She was a beauty in her youth, one of the Dublin beauties; and you can't go to any city for fairer women than are to be found in Dublin. I tell you what it is, Alice, I see you are in a flurry to be off. Can I overtake you?"
"You can," said Alice suddenly. "You can come to me at Bessie Challoner's house."
"Bessie Challoner!—what a pretty name!—Challoner! I like that!" answered Kitty, looking thoughtful. "And where's her house, aroon? What part of the neighborhood is it situated in?"
"Come here to the window and I'll show you. When you leave this house you turn to the right and walk straight on until you come to Cherry Lodge—that's the name of the house. Bessie and I will be waiting for you."
"Well, then, off you go, and I won't keep you many minutes."
Alice ran out of the room. She found her mother waiting for her downstairs.
"Oh, mother," said Alice, "she's too dreadful."
"Come now, no whispering about me behind my back," called a gay voice over the stairs. "I thought it would be something of that sort. That's not fair—out with your remarks in front of me, and nothing behind."
"Kitty, Kitty, go back and dress, you incorrigible child!" called Mrs. Denvers.
"Mother!" said Alice.
"My dear Alice," said her mother, "you will soon learn to like that poor child. She has a great deal that is good in her, and then she is so pretty."
"Pretty?" muttered Alice. "Oh, I see you're bewitched like the rest of them."
She left the house, feeling more uncomfortable, depressed, and angry than she had done for several years.
Mr. Denvers was a lawyer, and made a fairly good income; but his large family and the education of his boys had strained his resources to such an extent that he was very glad to accept the liberal sum which Kitty's father was paying for her. Alice knew all about this, and at first was more than willing to help her family in every way in her power. She did not murmur at all when she was asked to give up half of her room to the Irish girl. She was quite willing to take her under her patronage, to show her round, to try to get friends for her among her own schoolfellows—in short, to make her happy. But then Alice had never pictured any one in the least like Kitty Malone. She had imagined a somewhat plain, shy, awkward girl, who would lean upon her, who would give her unbounded affection, and follow her lead in everything. Now, this sparkling, racy, daring Kitty was by no means to her mind. There was not the least doubt that Kitty would not be guided by anybody, that she would never play second fiddle, and there was also a dreadful fear down deep in poor Alice's heart that she would fascinate her school fellows instead of disgusting them, and that Alice's own dearest friends would leave her in favor of the stranger.
She walked very slowly, therefore, a frown between her brows, discontent and jealousy in her heart.
Bessie was waiting for her at the gate.
"Why, Alice," called out Bessie, "how late you are. We shan't get to Harley Grove by five o'clock."
"I can't help being late; it is a blessing you see me now," answered Alice. "I wonder you waited for me, Bessie."
"Well, my dear," answered Bessie, "I would much rather walk with you than take a solitary ramble by myself. I thought," she added, "you were going to bring that new Irish girl with you. Has she come?"
"Has she not come?" answered Alice. "Oh, Bessie, Bessie, it is because of her I am late. Oh, Bessie, she is quite too dreadful."
"How so?" asked Bessie.
"She is the most extraordinary, wild, reckless, absolutely unladylike, vulgar person I ever came across in the whole course of my life."
"What a lot of adjectives!" laughed Bessie. "I shall be quite curious to see her; from your description she must be a monster."
"She is a monster, a human monster," answered Alice; "and the worst of it is, Bessie, that in some extraordinary way she has fascinated both father and mother, and even Fred—Fred, who hates girls as a rule; they are all so taken up with this blessed Kitty Malone that they don't mind her perfectly savage manners. I can tell you I am quite miserable about it."
"Poor Alice," answered Bessie in a sympathetic tone. "I suppose then, dear, she is not coming with us?"
"Oh, yes, she is; she is following us. She could not find anything quiet enough to put on."
"Quiet enough to put on! What do you mean?"
"Oh, my dear, her wardrobe is beyond description. She absolutely wanted to come to poor Gwin's quiet little tea party in a dress fit for a ball, flounced and frilled and laced and ribboned, and with a train to it, absolutely a train, although she is not fifteen yet."
Bessie could not help laughing. "I am sorry she is fond of dress," she answered; "I can't bear that sort of girl."
"Oh, you'll positively loathe her, Bessie. I quite pity you at the thought of having to walk with her this afternoon."
"My dear Alice, we must make the best of it," answered Bessie, "and I don't suppose she will quite kill me; she will be amusing at any rate."
"Amusing enough to those who have not got to live with her day and night," answered Alice in a very discontented voice. "Oh, and here she comes," she added; "and, look, she is running and racing down the road and waving her hands to us. Oh, Bessie, it is intolerable! Don't you pity me?"
"What! is that the girl?" cried Bessie. "How very—"
"How very what?" asked Alice.
"How very pretty she is!"
"Pretty," said Alice in a tone of such withering scorn that Bessie could not help gazing at her friend in astonishment.
TIFFS ALL AROUND.
Kitty's dark-blue skirt was all that was correct and proper; it reached just to her ankles, and her remarkably small and beautifully-shaped feet were encased in the neatest possible tan boots. But the blouse of light pink silk, all bedizened with bunches of ribbons and lappets of lace, was in Alice's eyes almost as painfully unsuitable as the trained skirt. Kitty wore a little close-fitting cap of dark-blue velvet on her head. Her hair, of the softest, cloudiest black, true Irish hair, was piled up in a thick mass behind; in front it waved and curled round her white forehead. Kitty was very tall, and, child as she still was in years, had a more formed figure than most girls of her age. She was drawing on her tan gloves now, and unfurling a parasol of tussore silk with a heavy lace fall.
"I do hope I'm smart enough," she said, panting slightly as she spoke. "Is this one of your schoolfellows?"
"Yes; my friend, Miss Challoner."
"Haven't you got a Christian name?" asked Kitty, staring frankly with her wide-open eyes at Alice's friend.
"Bessie is my name," answered Bessie Challoner.
"Do you mind my calling it to you? I like Challoner awfully, and if I were to say Challoner without the Miss it might do, but Miss is so stiff. I hope I may be Kitty to you, and then you won't object to being Bessie to me."
"Not a bit," answered Bessie heartily; "but we are a little late, and had better walk on as fast as we can."
Gwin Harley lived in a beautiful house about two miles away, and the girls turned down a path which led across some fields in the direction of Harley Grove. The time of year was toward the end of May, and the weather was perfect.
Kitty, who had been silent for a time, now stood in the middle of the field, threw both her hands to her sides, let her parasol drop on the ground, and opened her mouth wide.
"Have you gone quite mad?" asked Alice in a severe tone.
"Mad is it?" said Kitty; "not I. I am taking in some of the air." Here she began to breathe very deeply and with considerable noise. "Why, my ducky girls, the pair of you, I was fairly suffocated in that bandbox of a house; now the breeze here is fine and fresh, and I want to fill my lungs. Is there any objection?"
"Oh, none I am sure," answered Bessie; "but you really did look most extraordinary."
"I am glad no one was passing at the moment," said Alice. "What would they have thought?"
"Does it matter what they think?" asked Kitty. "We never mind what anyone thinks of us in Ireland. Ah, the dear old place; how I pine for it! There now, my lungs are full, and we can go on again."
She picked up her parasol and began to stride forward.
"Isn't she a horror?" whispered Alice to Bessie.
"Hush!" answered Bessie; "she only does it to amuse us. The thing is to take very little notice; we'll soon tame her down."
"Is it taming me you're after?" called back Kitty. "Well, then, you'll never do that, for I come of a wild lot, and I have always been called Wild Kitty from the moment I could speak. But there's no harm in me, not a bit. Now, then, I'll walk as sober as you please. What shall we talk about?"
"Is there anything you would like to ask us?" said Bessie.
"I am sure then, darling, I don't think there is. Wouldn't you like to ask me some questions? I'm as open as day. I'll lay bare all the thoughts of my secret soul to the pair of you, if you care to hear them."
"I don't know that we do," said Bessie. "You see we have got to make your acquaintance yet, Kitty."
"Ah, now it's nice of you to call me Kitty, and that's a very pretty little voice you have; soft and winning. How is it you say some of those words? I can't get my tongue round them; but I dare say I will after a bit."
"Would you like to know what kind of place we are going to?" asked Bessie.
"Oh, I'll wait until I get there," answered Kitty. "I suppose it's like all other places; there's a house and some girls; and if we are asked to tea, why we'll get tea, and they'll think me no end of an oddity, and I'll think them a lot of muffs; but that don't matter. Oh, my dears, if you only saw Old Ireland, and if you only knew the free life we have there, and the beautiful air that comes blowing in from the broad Atlantic. Why, it's smothered I'll be in this queer place. I doubt if I'll stay long. I'll write to father, and ask him to take me back again."
"I would if I were you," said Alice stoutly.
"Now, what do you mean by that, 'Alice, aroon?'"
"I mean," said Alice, who had now almost lost control over her temper, "that if you go on as you have done since you came here, we shall none of us like you, and I for one shall be delighted when you return to Ireland."
As Alice spoke Kitty's charming face suddenly lost its brilliant color; it became white, and her dark eyes flashed with an angry fire. She stood perfectly still for a moment, then began to walk on a little faster than before.
"You have hurt her, Alice," said Bessie; "you should not have said that."
"I don't care; she made me do it; she is intolerable."
"Still, you had no right to speak as you did; remember she is a stranger."
Here Bessie ran after Kitty, and tried to slip her hand through her arm; but the Irish girl made an impatient movement, and, shrugging her shoulders, walked on quicker than before.
"Oh, leave her alone," whispered Alice; "let us talk about things that interest us. Why should all lives be upset by her? There, she is going on in front; let us fall back and talk about interesting things. Have you finished your work yet?"
"Oh, yes; I had a great deal to do this afternoon. I do hope, Alice, that Gwin won't mind if I ask her to let me go into the library. I must take a peep into 'Household Encyclopaedia;' it is such a chance."
"Oh, I am sure she won't mind," replied Alice. "Gwin is the soul of good nature. I only dread what she will think."
"Oh, you need not dread anything," said Kitty, suddenly turning round and coming back to the girls. "I shan't be here long; don't be afraid."
"Please, Kitty," said Bessie; "don't mind what Alice said just now, she was vexed, because we are not quite accustomed to manners like yours. You will soon get into our ways, you know."
"Never, never!" cried Kitty.
"Well, at any rate, don't mind about it now. Do you think you will like your school life?"
"No; I shall just hate it."
"What a pity that will be; but I'm sure you don't know what you are saying. You are vexed with Alice, and I don't wonder—Alice, you were very hard on her."
"Oh, never mind," answered Kitty; "don't ask her to apologize. I can go home again. I don't want to be with people who have made up their minds to dislike me. All the folks at home love me, and—" Here tears dropped from her eyes, splashing down her cheeks in bright round pearls.
"I didn't mean to vex you," said Alice, who was disconcerted at this evident grief. "I dare say I shall get accustomed to you after a bit. I mean I do not really want you to go home."
Kitty's face underwent a change, rapid as a flash of lightning.
"If you want to make friends, Alice, it's as right as rain," she cried. "I know I was vexed, but it is over now; yes it is over. I am willing to be friends if you are willing."
"Of course," said Alice; "and I know I ought not to have spoken as I did; but you do manage to fret me dreadfully. I never saw a girl exactly like you before."
"It is all right now you really want to be friends," answered Kitty; "and I will try to be as dull as you please." Here she paused and seemed to consider. "There's no use," she continued after a moment; "I mean I must be myself whatever happens. I must be genuine. Please, Alice, let me be genuine for a week; if at the end of that time you find me intolerable, why I'll be off."
"Don't say anything about that," said Bessie; "everything is quite new to you, and Alice did speak unkindly; but please, Kitty, don't be angry if I say something."
"Oh, no, I won't be angry with you; you're a real duck," cried Kitty.
"Well, we English girls are not quite accustomed to your sort of way; we are quieter here and more reserved. Perhaps you had better—"
"Oh, I know exactly what the end of that pretty little speech is going to be," said Kitty; "but I cannot. I must be Kitty Malone or nothing. I was born that way. Why, bless you, it is in our race. Aunt Bridget was just the same when she was young, and so was Aunt Honora, and even father; oh, and—and Laurie. If you only saw Laurie and Pat! Oh, I wish you knew Laurie; if you saw him you would say, 'If there is a broth of a boy in the world he is one.'"
The girls had now reached the avenue gates at Harley Lodge, and the lodge-keeper ran out to open them. A few moments later they found themselves in sight of the pretty, modern mansion which Mr. Harley had lately purchased. The door was opened by a butler in very correct livery, and the young folk were shown into a handsome drawing-room at the other side of a broad hall. There was no one in the room when they entered, and Kitty walked straight up to a glass let into the wall, and began to survey herself with intense satisfaction. She had by this time forgotten the rebuff which Alice had given her, tears had only added to the brightness of her eyes, and her momentary fit of vexation and temper had deepened the color in her blooming cheeks. She nodded to herself with smiles of intense satisfaction, pushed her velvet cap in a slightly more coquettish way over her mass of black curls, and began once again to dance a very graceful pas de seul in front of the glass.
"I do think I have nice feet," she said; and just at that moment the door was opened, and Gwin Harley and Elma Lewis entered the room.
Gwin, statuesque, graceful, dressed in the most suitable manner, made a perfect contrast to poor, excitable Kitty. Kitty's words had been plainly audible, and Alice flushed deeply with vexation.
"Why, then, I had better introduce myself," said Kitty, who was by no means abashed. "Are you Miss Harley? You have got a very nice looking glass, let me tell you; it shows off the figure to perfection."
Gwin could not help coloring in surprise and astonishment.
"I am Kitty Malone, at your service," continued Kitty. "Shall I drop you a courtesy in the true Irish way? Some of us bob like this—so, and some of us step back like this," here Kitty performed a very elaborate and very graceful courtesy, then stood upright, and laughing heartily, showed rows of pearly teeth. Gwin held out her hand.
"May I introduce my friend, Elma Lewis? Elma, this is Miss Malone."
"Kitty Malone. I won't be called Miss Malone," said the incorrigible Kitty.
"Won't you all come upstairs now, girls?" said Gwin, who perceived that both Alice and Bessie were annoyed by Kitty's manners.
"If we take off our things we can go into the library and have a good game before tea, or would you prefer a walk?"
"Well, I for one am tired," said Kitty. "The fact is," she continued, these boots are somewhat tight. They're awfully becoming, you know, aren't they? but they do squeeze a little just across the toes; how ever, as Aunt Honora says, 'Pride feels no pain,' and I am desperate proud of my feet. Shall we all look at our feet, and see which has got the prettiest pair?"
"I don't think we will just at present," said Gwin. "If you are tired you must take your boots off. Have you not just come from Ireland?"
"Bless you, yes," answered Kitty; "I only arrived to-day. The place is as new to me as it can be. Up to the present I don't think much of it, although you have got a lovely house, Miss Harley—fine and airy with plenty of big rooms. I suppose you have got money galore; have you?"
"I believe we have," said Gwin in some astonishment, and a haughty note coming into her voice.
"Ah, now, don't begin to be proud and stiff!" exclaimed Kitty. "It is quite wonderful; every one I speak to here seems to take me the wrong way. What in the world do you all mean? I thought when I came to England that people would say, 'Well, now, that's a remarkably pretty girl. I am sure she's Irish by the twinkle in her eye and the roll of the brogue in her voice; but we'll like her all the better for that.' But, bless my heart! that's not the way you're taking me. Every time I open my lips somebody seems to think I have said something wrong. Upon my word it's a nice state of things, and I, the darling of my old father. If Aunt Honora and Aunt Bridget were here they would soon put matters straight; and Laurie, dear, darling, old Laurie, if he saw his Kitty put upon, wouldn't he give it to you all?"
"We none of us want to put upon you, Miss Malone," said Gwin Harley.
"Yes," said Gwin firmly, "it is the custom here to call girls by their surnames for a little until we get to know them; but I am sure," she added kindly, "you will soon be Kitty with us all, for I see you are very nice, although you have not quite our ways."
"Ah, there, that is all I want you to say," answered Kitty with a profound sigh, "and now I'll go upstairs and slip off my bits of boots, for they are a trifle tight. Can you lend me a pair of your shoes, Miss Harley?"
"Yes, with pleasure," replied Gwin, and turning, she led the way out of the room. The rest of the evening passed off better. Kitty became a little subdued, and satisfied herself with talking less, and casting ravishing glances of delight and roguish entreaty first at one girl and then at the other. It was extremely difficult to withstand her, for her voice was low and singularly sweet, her eyes were beautiful, she could not do an ungraceful thing, she was altogether like a bright, flashing meteor, and soon she began to exercise an extraordinary fascination both over Bessie Challoner and Gwin Harley. Having got over her first astonishment, Gwin began to take a sincere interest in the pretty stranger. The lovely expression of her coral lips made her long to kiss them, and to assure the Irish girl that she for one would be her friend; but the next instant Kitty said something so very much against the grain that Gwin felt as much repulsed as a moment before she was delighted.
Immediately after tea Bessie went off to the library to hunt up her darling "Encyclopaedia."
"Now that she has gone," exclaimed Gwin, "we are not likely to get her back for some time. What a remarkably earnest student she is!"
"The Earnest Student?" interrupted Kitty. "I thought that was the name of a religious book. I think father has got it at home."
"Perhaps so," replied Gwin, "but we always call it to Bessie. She is wonderfully clever. She gets on splendidly at school, taking everything before her. I am certain she is the kind of girl who will make her mark by and by."
"I hate studies!" said Kitty in her low, humorous voice.
"I am sorry for that," answered Gwin, "for if you come to school you won't be at all popular if you do not care for your books."
"Popular? How do you mean? Is it with the teachers or with the girls?"
"Well, with both I fancy."
"Then, I tell you what," exclaimed Kitty, "I'd like to bet with you that you are wrong—that I'll be the most popular girl in the whole of the school with the teachers—yes, with the teachers—and the scholars as well."
"You must be very conceited," exclaimed Elma, who had sat silent during the greater part of the evening, taking Kitty in, however, all the same.
"Conceited? No more than you are," cried Kitty, "but I know my powers, and I have not kissed the Blarney Stone for nothing."
"Oh, you need not tell us that ridiculous story over again," said Alice.
"But I should like to hear it," cried Gwin.
"You really would not Gwin; it is too absurd. We must show Kitty, now she has come to live among us, what is real wit and what is not. Her way of talking is only silly."
Gwin knit her brows, and looked pained.
"I would rather not correct her now," she said in a gentle voice. Then she added, her eyes sparkling with sudden eagerness, "Would it not be a good opportunity for talking over the rules of our society, girls?"
"Oh yes," cried Elma, "yes; but is it well to——"
Here she bent forward, and began to whisper vigorously in Gwin's ear.
"Yes, I think so," answered Gwin.
"I wouldn't, I really wouldn't," said Elma. "I am certain Alice agrees with me."
"I can guess what you are saying," cried Alice, "and I do agree most heartily."
"And I can guess what you are saying," exclaimed Kitty, starting to her feet with flashing eyes. "You don't want to talk about your society or whatever it is because I am present. Well, discuss it without me. I'll find my way to the library. Poor dear Bessie is the only decent one among you, and I shall go and sit with her. How do you know I won't take up with literature just to spite you all? I can do anything I have a mind to, and that you will soon find to your cost."
She ran out of the room as she spoke, slamming the door behind her.
"There, that's a comfort," cried Alice, breathing freely for the first time. "Did you ever, girls, in all your lives, see a more terrible creature? What is to be done? Why, she will disgrace us all at school. You know what a very nice set we are in at present."
"Oh, an excellent set," said Elma, in a sarcastic voice.
"You know, Elma, that we do belong to the nicest set in the school, and I am sure, Gwin, your father—"
"You need not drag father in," cried Gwin. Father likes all the people I like."
"But, surely—" began Alice.
Gwin looked at her gravely, then she nodded.
"I am not quite certain yet," she said; "but I think it highly probable that I shall take up that poor, wild, little Kitty. At least she is fresh; she speaks out her mind plainly, and there is a great deal to admire about her."
"Then, listen, Gwin," cried Alice; "if she is taken into our special society I will resign."
"Will you really, Alice? What, if I ask you to stay?"
"It is hard to refuse you, dear; but you scarcely know what all this means to me. I am rubbed the wrong way; I don't understand myself. But frankly, Gwin, you are not going to ask Kitty Malone to join our society?"
"What if it does her good?"
"But ought we not to think of the others? She is a perfect stranger to us all at present."
"But she won't be long. Bless the child, she has no reserve in her, and I do want to help her, poor little girl! Well, we need not decide that point at present."
"Do let us vote to leave her out," cried Alice.
"No, Alice, we will leave the point undecided. Now let us set to work, and begin to form our rules, for really we have no time to lose."
"But what are we to do without Bessie?" exclaimed Alice. "Whatever happens, we cannot do without Bessie Challoner; she will be the life and soul of the whole society. Shall we send for her, Gwin?"
"No, Kitty is with her, and they had better not be disturbed."
"What a difference Kitty makes," cried Alice. "I did think we should have had a delightful and heavenly evening, and it has been all ruction from first to last."
"Because you dislike her so much, Alice," said Gwin.
"Well, I do," said Alice; "I can't abide her. But do I show my dislike so plainly?" she added.
"Rather! Any one can see it in the curl of your lip and the expression in your eyes; and then you say such terribly withering things to the poor girl. You try to crush her."
"Well, if I may say what I think," cried Elma, "Kitty Malone seems to me to be a very unpleasant, vulgar girl, and I cannot imagine why she has been sent here."
"Oh, as to her vulgarity," said Alice, who suddenly felt forced to defend herself against Elma's spiteful speeches, "Kitty comes of a very old family, and her father is as rich as ever he can be. They live in a wonderful castle in County Donegal, just overhanging the sea; and from what I learn are considered county people. Father was very pleased to have her, and whatever she is, she is a lady by birth."
"So she is rich?" remarked Elma in a low voice. "Well, at any rate," she continued after a pause, "she is very pretty."
"Pretty!" cried Gwin; "I should just think she is. She has the most lovely face I ever saw. Girls, it is quite true what she says; she will fascinate any number of people. That dashing, daring way of hers will go down with numbers. Yes, she will make a revolution in Middleton School, I am certain."
Mr. Harley's library was a beautiful room. It was lined with books from floor to ceiling, and these books had been selected with the greatest care. Standard works of all sorts and in three languages were to be found on certain bookshelves, also modern works, both poetry and prose, with some of the best novels of the day.
Bessie Challoner never envied rich people. She cared nothing whatever for fine dresses, nor for carriages and horses, nor for the luxurious life of the wealthy, but she did envy Gwin Harley the use of her father's library; and when she entered the room now, with that delicious faint smell of leather which all libraries possess, she sniffed first with ecstasy, and then climbing on the ladder secured the volume of the "Encyclopaedia" which she required, and seating herself at one of the center tables, was soon lost in the fascinations of her subject. After a time a little cough, very gentle, however, caused her to raise her head, and there standing before her was Kitty Malone.
Kitty's long arms had dropped to her sides, and she had pushed back her masses of dark hair. There was a pathetic expression about her rosy lips, and tears trembled on her long eyelashes.
"Why, what is it, Kitty; what do you want?" asked Bessie.
"Ah, then it's good to hear you say that word, aroon," said Kitty. "I want to sit near you. I won't speak, no, not a syllable. Hush will be the only word with me, hush! hush! hush! You can go on with your beloved reading and I'll stay near you; that's all I require. Why, then, it's just a shelter I need, and nothing more. Read away, Bessie, my honey, and I'll do nothing to interrupt you."
"But why have you left the others?" asked Bessie.
"Never mind, dear, now. I'll just sit quietly here, and contemplate you while you are studying."
Bessie sighed impatiently. She then bent again over her book, and began to devour the pages. Kitty watched her with marked interest.
"I wonder if it will be my fate to have to take up with literature in sober earnest," she said to herself, "I, who can never abide a book. Oh, to be back again in the dear old place! I should not be a bit surprised if Laurie is out fishing now, and Pat with him. And oh, suppose they are bringing in the trout, and the creatures are leaping and struggling as they come to shore, and father is going round to feed the dogs—why, the thought is enough to madden me. Oh, then, why did I ever leave home? I don't care that for books, nor for being clever nor for—How she works to be sure! How earnest she looks. She has got a very fine forehead, although it is miles too high. She ought to wear a fringe; it would improve her wonderfully. I will cut her hair some day if she will let me. I will cut it and curl it. I have got the dearest little jewel of a pair of curling tongs that ever was seen! Aunt Honora sent it to me in a box with a spirit lamp all complete when I got the rest of my things. I'll just exercise those little tongs on dear, nice Bessie. I do wish she would not be so devoted to that book, she might talk. Oh, I am lonely. I think I'll fidget a bit."
Kitty moved her chair, creaking it ominously; but Bessie had got to a most thrilling part of her subject, and Kitty might have creaked the library down before she would have roused her companion's attention.
"Now, if I sigh, perhaps that will do it," thought Kitty. She opened her mouth and let some profound sighs come up from the depths of her heart; but they only depressed her still more, and had no effect whatever on Bessie.
"I think I hate intellectual people," muttered the Irish girl. She jumped to her feet.
"I must do something to rouse her or I shall go mad. She is the nicest of them all, much. I wish she would speak to me. Why should I break my heart, and why should she simply go on devouring that stupid book? Here, I know what I'll do. I'll just toss down one of the big volumes; it will make a clatter and she will have to look up. Perhaps I'll let it drop just the tiniest bit in the world on the corner of her toe; that will finish her." Here Kitty laughed excitedly, pushed out her arm and knocked over a huge volume which certainly fell a good deal more than a tiny bit on poor Bessie's foot.
"Oh, Kitty, what have you done?" cried Bessie. "You have quite hurt me. I wish you would not drop the books about."
"There, darling, I had to do it. Pray forgive me," said Kitty.
"You had to do it!" answered Bessie. "Do you mean that you did it on purpose?"
"Why, then, yes, love—that's what I do mean exactly. I did it because I wanted you to talk to me, and you would think of nothing but that book."
"It is such a chance," answered Bessie, "and I wanted to find out for myself all about that wonderful magnetic iron ore. You know it never loses its power, it is potent for hundreds and hundreds of years, and—"
"Oh, don't tell me any more, or I'll lose my senses. Dear Bessie, what does magnetic iron ore matter. Bessie, I'm awfully unhappy. Every one is so unkind to me. Promise you'll be my friend, won't you?"
Bessie looked up, and then she saw something so touching in Kitty's face that she closed her book with a reluctant sigh, to devote herself the next moment with all the sympathy she possessed to her companion.
"I am sure you are suffering, Kitty, and I am sorry for you," she said. "I'll fetch my hat and we'll go out for a little."
"Oh, what a darling you are!" answered Kitty.
A moment or two later the girls were walking across the beautifully-kept garden; they soon reached a shady path at the further end.
"And now, Kitty," said Bessie, "I mean to lecture you a little."
"Anything in the world you like, darling. I'm quite agreeable. Aunt Honora and Aunt Bridget lecture me, and so does the dear old dad sometimes; but I always say when they have finished that it is like water on a duck's back—it rolls off without making the least bit of impression, and then they laugh and say that I am the queerest mixture they ever came across, and that they had best leave me to nature. But perhaps I'll listen to you, Bessie."
"I wish you would," said Bessie. "I am sure," she added, speaking with great earnestness, "that you are a very nice girl, Kitty; but at the same time you are wild."
"Oh, I pride myself on that," said Kitty in her frankest of voices.
"But I wish you would not, Kitty, for it really isn't nice."
"Not nice! Now what may you be meaning by that, aroon?"
"Well, there is a sort of dignity which I think a really well brought-up girl ought to possess."
"Oh, my! dignity is it?" said Kitty. She stepped away from her companion, drew down her face to a ridiculous length, nearly closed her eyes, and folded her hands demurely across her breast.
"Is that pleasing you, mavourneen?" she said. "Is it dignified and sober enough poor Kitty Malone looks now?"
"Oh, Kitty, you will joke about everything."
Kitty immediately changed her mood.
"No, I won't," she said. "I am really awfully obliged to you. You don't know what all this has been to me. Father said I was growing too wild—yes, the darling dad did; he agrees with you down to the core of his heart, and he said I must go to England and be taught manners. But, bless you, they'll have a job. I told him so when I was going. I said, 'Dad, it's the hearts of the teachers I'll be breaking;' and dad said, 'Oh, no, you won't, Kitty, aroon. You'll be a good girl, and you'll try to please your old dad and you'll come back a beautiful, perfect lady!' He said it with tears in his eyes, he did, the darling; and I promised, and down on my knees I went and asked God to help me. But, dear, it's like the froth of the sea-foam inside me, the fun and the mischief and the nonsense and the ways that you think queer; but, all the same, those ways delight the good folk at home. Must I really give them up, Bessie—must I?"
"To a certain extent," said Bessie, "or you will have a lot of enemies here, Kitty, and you won't be at all happy."
"How I wish I lived with you, Bessie Challoner. You're a broth of a girl, that you are. You have not taken a dislike to me just because of the fun bubbling up in my heart?"
"No, dear; on the contrary, I like you extremely."
"Ah, you precious duck of a darling! It is a good squeeze you would like, if I gave it to you?"
"Well, I am not very fond of being kissed; but if you must, Kitty."
"I must, dear, I must, for the heart in me is full to the brim. Now then, stand still, and I'll catch you up close to my heart. There! isn't that better?"
Poor Bessie gave some long-drawn breaths, for the firmness, in fact the ferocity, of Kitty's embrace quite hurt her for a moment.
"There," said Kitty, "that's the way we hug in Old Ireland. Now I'm a sight better, and I'll let go. So you do like me, Bessie?"
"Yes, very much indeed, Kitty, only—please don't do it again."
"I won't to-night, I won't really, but it's wonderful that you don't like it. I wish you could see Aunt Honora and Aunt Bridget hug one another. Why, it's the noise they make when they get together, and the way they kiss! Oh, dear, I hope some day you'll come to Ireland."
"You don't tempt me by these descriptions," replied Bessie. "But now, Kitty, will you promise just to be a little quieter, to keep in all those irrepressible and—really I must say it, dear, at the risk of hurting you—those silly words."
"But then I'm silly myself," said Kitty. "Can you expect wisdom out of nonsense? I am pure and simple nonsense from first to last."
"But you do want to be something better? You do want to lead a good life?"
"A good life! I never thought there was anything bad in me."
"You want to learn for instance?"
"No; that I don't, darling."
"You don't want to learn, Kitty? Then what is the good of coming to Middleton School?"
"Listen," said Kitty. "I'll do anything for father. Father said I was to learn, and that I was to get manners. Now I think your manners are perfect. I'll model myself on you, dear; that I will. Will you teach me your manners, Bessie Challoner?"
"I'll do all I can to help you, Kitty."
"And you'll be my real faithful friend?"
"Yes, only please not—"
"I won't, dear, I won't to-night; but when I meet you to-morrow you'll allow me just once?"
"Well, if it will break you in."
"It will, it will. It will enable me to bear Alice. I am not the sort to hate people; but I'll soon get to hate her. It's an awful affliction that I have got to live with the Denvers; not that Mrs. Denvers is bad, nor Mr. Denvers, poor dear, nor Fred, but Alice! I'd like to get Alice over to Ireland, to Castle Malone. I could punish her a bit if I put her into Laurie's hands. But there!"
"Well, Kitty, time is going," said Bessie. "It is a bargain that I help you to learn some of our English ways, and that you, in order to pay me, try to be gentle yourself, and to restrain some of your wild words."
"I'll try. I'll do my very, very best. You'll see when I get to Middleton School what a proper, respectable sort of girl I'll become."
"And you'll work hard too, won't you, Kitty? For I know it will do you a great deal of good, and I am sure you are very intelligent."
"Well, I can take in most things; only it's no end of a bother."
"I am certain you will succeed if you try," said Bessie. "Then it's a bargain, isn't it? You'll try to learn a great deal, and you will do your best to get better mannered?"
"Why, of course I will. I hate learning, and I don't want to be bothered with lessons: but there's nothing under the sun I wouldn't do for those I love; and I love father and I love you too, Bessie Challoner."
"They are calling us. We must go into the house," said Bessie.
"Do yield to me on one point," cried Kitty.
"What is that?"
"Let us go back to the house with our arms round each other's waists. It will show Alice that we have come to an understanding. I don't care twopence about Miss Harley nor about that other girl—I don't remember her name; but I want Alice to see us. Why, it's mad with jealousy she'll be. Come along, aroon. Here's my arm firm round your waist; now let us dance up to the house."
"Oh Kitty, Kitty, you are incorrigible!" cried poor Bessie, and a feeling of despair certainly visited her at that moment.
A few days after the events related in the last chapter Alice Denvers, Bessie Challoner, Elma Lewis, and Gwin Harley met once more at Gwin's pretty home, to discuss the rules of a little society which they were drawing up among themselves. The nicest girls in their set were to be invited to join; but the important subject of the rules was first to be discussed. Gwin Lad drawn up a plan which she now submitted to her eager companions.
"The most important thing of all is the name," she said. "I thought of calling it 'The Early Rising, Devoted to Study Society.'"
"Oh, twice too long," said Bessie. "Who could be bothered saying all these words? You know when we are in the rush of school-life we cannot be bothered talking of the 'Early Rising, Devoted to Study;' it would never, never do. We must express what we mean in a single word if necessary."
"Then let us get one," said Gwin. "You have not the least idea what a headache I had last night searching in the dictionary and cudgelling my brains; but a sensible word which would express all our meaning I could not get."
"Let us think what our meaning clearly is," said Elma.
"Don't you know that yet?" exclaimed Bessie. "The society is to be formed as an incentive to make us work extra hard. You know," she added "I always think the motives of school-life are quite wrong."
"Oh, do listen to the words of Miss Wisdom," said Elma, in a very mocking tone.
Bessie's big gray eyes flashed for a moment with indignation; but she soon recovered her usual calm.
"I think the motives of school are wrong," she repeated; "there are prizes offered, and there is a lot of emulation—"
"And how could we live without emulation?" cried Alice. "Why, it is the very breath of life."
"But the desire of each to excel the other is not surely why we are sent to school," continued Bessie. "We are sent to school because our parents want us to learn something. They don't want us specially to get prizes, although they are glad when we do, because they suppose that we have accomplished some of the objects of our school life; but their real wish is that we should know English history, and history generally, that we should be well acquainted with geography, that we should speak French fluently, and understand German so as to be able to converse in that tongue, and to read the literature."
"Oh, do listen to the bookworm," cried Elma.
"In short," continued Bessie; "that we should become accomplished women—that is undoubtedly the real object of school."
"Well, we are not gainsaying it," said Gwin. "We all know, dear Bessie, what you feel about learning; it is the breath of life to you."
"It is, I rejoice in it," said Bessie. "A good vigorous tussle with a tough subject is the keenest pleasure which I can possibly have."
"But the rest of us are not made the same way," continued Gwin. "Now I like my studies very much—that is, in moderation. When I am learning and mastering French, and getting through my music creditably, and, in short, going through the usual curriculum of work, I feel interested; but I also have a delightful sense that if I work for so many hours I am entitled to play for so many hours."
"Oh, bother the play," interrupted Bessie.
"You see, Bessie Challoner, that is the difference between us. I like work just to form part of my life, but not the whole; you want work to form the whole of your life."
"Yes; that I do," said Bessie.
"But now to return to the society," interrupted Elma. "We all know that it won't be the slightest effort to Bessie to join; but she will be a good incentive to the rest of us. She will always be at the top of the tree, at the head of her class, and all that sort of thing. She won't require to be told to get up early, because she always does."
"I tell you what," interrupted Bessie; "let us put things into our rules which will be a tug-of-war for me too. For instance, now, I am untidy."
"Well, yes; just a little bit," said Gwin, her eyes dancing.
"It's more than a little bit," said Bessie. "Oh, Gwin, you don't know what a nuisance it is to keep my room in order, and sometimes I forget the things dear mother tells me, and I am impatient with poor little Judy, who takes, I must say, a fiendish delight in putting my things in hiding. Now, our rules might include tidiness of person and order generally. It's no trouble to me to keep my books in order, nor my mind in order; but I do hate washing my hands before every meal, and brushing my hair and doing it up in a fashionable roll at the back of my head."
"Oh, my dear child," said Elma, "do you imagine for a moment that that excrescence at the back of your head is fashionable? I never saw anything more dowdy."
"Dowdy? Is it?" said Bessie. "I spent five minutes over it this morning, and twisted it up three times in order to give it that horrid little handle of a jug look which you all aspire to. Well, well, I don't suppose we need add to our rules that the girls who belong to the society are to be fashionable."
"It would be a really good idea if we did," said Elma. "I cannot see why schoolgirls should be a lot of frumps. Our society is to effect a certain object which can never be acquired unaided in a great school like Middleton. We want to be as ladylike, as refined, as nice as if we belonged to a very small and select school. We get the best teaching at Middleton, but I don't suppose we get the best manners."
"Well, let us add all these things to the rules," said Gwin, "and let us begin to put them down at once. First, as to the name. Until we can think of a better we must call it the 'Mutual Improvement Society.'"
"A hateful word," said Bessie. "The M.I.S.!"
"Yes, it does sound priggish," said Elma.
"Well, I dare say some one will have genius enough to think of a more flashy and brilliant name," said Gwin, "but for the present we will call it the 'Mutual Improvement,' for that is exactly what it means. Now then for the rules."
As Gwin spoke she drew in front of her a sheet of foolscap paper; and, dipping her pen in ink, looked eagerly at her three young companions.
"Rule I.," she said.
"For goodness' sake," cried Bessie, "let Rule I. apply to study. Do let down lightly with regard to tidiness and fashionable hair, and all that sort of thing."
"Yes, we will begin about the most important matters first," said Gwin. Here she began to write rapidly in pencil. "I must copy this out in my best and most copperplate hand presently," she continued; "but while we are correcting matters and getting down our rules somehow pencil will do. Well, Rule I. Shall it be something like this, girls? 'The members of this society are expected to aim for the top of the class in each branch of their study at Middleton School. They are expected to gain at least one prize at the midsummer examination.'"
"That sounds rather like emulation coming in," interrupted Bessie.
"It must come in, Bessie—it must," said Elma. "We must have something to work for."
"I thought the love of the thing—" began poor Bessie.
"Oh, Bessie Challoner, do shut up. Yes, Gwin, that first rule goes very well," said Elma. "We are to aim for the top of the class, and we are to secure at least one prize each. Hurrah! for the Mutual Improvement Society! Now, then let us get to Rule II."
"That applies to deportment," said Gwin. "'The members of the Mutual Improvement Society are to aim at ladylike manners, they are to refrain from slang in conversation, and they are to refuse to make friends with girls who indulge too largely in that special form of vulgarity.' Poor Kitty Malone!"
"But she does not talk slang," said Bessie. "She talks Ireland, and Ireland and England are as far apart as the poles."
"Rule III.," continued Gwin, "relates to tidiness; and now, Bessie, comes your tug of war. 'The members of the society must engage to keep their home things in perfect order, as well as their school desks. They must be neat in their persons, exquisitely clean with regard to hands and teeth, and tidy with regard to hair.'"
"I don't think I'll join," said Bessie.
"Nonsense, Bessie; it was you who told us to put all this in. I, as a matter of course, always do these things," said Gwin, looking very sweet and the essence of young ladyhood as she spoke.
"Oh, yes, you dear old thing, you are perfect; but you don't live in the sort of ramshackle house we do," said Bessie. "However, never mind. I am quite agreeable to go in for the tug-of-war. And, now, is there anything else?"
"Oh yes, there is," said Elma, "and I think it is a most important thing. 'The members of the Society, as far as they possibly can, are to adhere to fashionable dress, to hair done in a stylish manner, and in short to that distinction of appearance which ought to characterize the lady of the present day.'"
"Well done, Elma," said Gwin, "that is a capital rule."
"It is a hateful rule," said Bessie. "I really don't think I can join. I don't know what fashionable clothes are. I never study the fashions. I have not the slightest idea whether sleeves are worn stuck out to the size of a balloon or skin-tight to the arm. All I ask for in a sleeve is that it should be comfortable; all I ask for in a dress is that I should not know I have it on. I like to be warm in winter and cool in summer. More I do not ask for."
"Then the rule will do you a wonderful lot of good," said Gwin. "And now is it decided? If so we will draw up the rules in proper form, and——"
"I tell you what," said Bessie. "I have thought of a name and a good one too. Let us call the society the 'Tug-of-war Society.'"
"Well done," said Gwin; "that will be capital. And now is there to be a subscription or is there not?"
"Oh, certainly," said Alice. "It would make it much more distinguished, and prevent too many girls asking to join. We want to have the Tug-of-War Society rather select, don't we?"
"I suppose so," said Gwin; "but I don't think that really depends upon the amount of the subscription. What do you say to half a guinea, girls?"
Alice looked thoughtful, and Elma's face turned rather pale; but she was the first to say she thought Gwin's suggestion an admirable one.
"Then that is all right," said Gwin, "and I will set to work to write out the rules as neatly as I can. After they are all set out in due form, we can see if there are any improvements to be suggested."
Gwin set to work, bending low over her foolscap paper, and Alice offered to help her. Elma and Bessie wandered out of the room, and soon their conversation turned to the much-discussed subject of Kitty.
Bessie stood up warmly for the harum-scarum Irish girl, as Elma called her.
"She has a lot of good in her," said Bessie warmly. "She would be a splendid girl if she were tamed down a little. I really don't think we want to take much of the fire out of her; but if she would only restrain some of her wild speeches it would be all the better; for if she remains as frank as she is at present to the end of the chapter she cannot help making enemies."
"I want to ask you a question, Bessie," said Elma, dropping her voice to a low tone; "is it true that Kitty Malone is rich?"
"Rich?" echoed Bessie. "I really cannot tell you."
"I thought you might happen to know, as you have made such chums with her. She is your greatest friend now at Middle ton School, is she not?"
"Certainly not," replied Bessie. "What do you mean by asking me such a strange question, Elma? Alice is far and away my greatest friend, and after Alice I like Gwin best."
"Oh, everybody likes Gwin Harley," said Elma; "who could help it? She is so beautiful to look at, and she has such a delightful, lovely home."
"I cannot see that her having a lovely, delightful home has anything to do with our liking her," said honest Bessie.
"Not to you perhaps," answered Elma, and a queer look, half-wistful, half-defiant, came into her eyes.
"I thought you would be sure to be able to tell me if Kitty were rich," she said again after a pause.
"I cannot. You must ask Alice—she lives with Alice. She has plenty of pretty dresses, and all that sort of thing; but I don't know anything about her having money."
"I will run into the house this minute and ask Alice," said Elma.
"Do, of course, if you are anxious; but I cannot imagine what difference it makes to you."
"No, it doesn't, but I am just curious on the subject. I won't keep you long."
Elma dashed into the house. She presently came back.
"I have found out all about it," she said.
"All about what?" asked Bessie.
"What I went into the house for. How forgetful you are, Bessie!"
"I was wondering if I might steal into the library," said Bessie. "I did not get all the information I wanted about magnetic iron ore, but—Well, what is it, Elma?"
"Kitty Malone is rich, very rich, and——"
"I can't see that it matters," said Bessie—"I mean to us."
"Oh, but it matters a good deal. You don't understand. I shall certainly vote that we ask her to join the Tug-of-War Society."
"You will?" cried Bessie—a look of great pleasure came into her eyes. "Then I am really glad, for to join such a society would do Kitty more good than anything else in the world. Only the nicest girls will belong, and she will get at once into the best set. She is as wild as she can be, but she has got plenty of honor; and if she once gave her word that she would do a certain thing no one would do it better."
"Let us have her by all means. Let us put it to the vote as soon as we go back to the house," said Elma. "Come Bessie, no slinking away in the direction of that fascinating library. They have nearly copied the rules, and we are to read them over and make comments."
"I think it will be a delightful society," said Bessie. "I am sure it will do me good."
"It is meant to do us all good," said Elma. "Tug-of-war! I should rather think it will be! How I shall hate that terrible effort to get to the head of my class; not that I am stupid or dislike my lessons."
"That would be the nice part as far as I am concerned," said Bessie; "but oh! the fashionable sleeves and the stylish hair. Oh dear! I often feel inclined to have my hair cut short."
"Well, Bessie, you would be a fool if you did," said Elma. "Your splendid hair; why, it's nearly down to your knees."
"Yes, and that's the bother," said Bessie, "for mother insists on my brushing it out every night for at least ten minutes, and all that time is taken from my books. I tell you, Elma, I would gladly change with you."
Elma's locks were very thin and straggly, and she could not help coloring at this left-handed compliment; but at that moment Alice appeared on the balcony to tell the other two girls that the rules were ready, and that they might return to the house. They did so, and the rules were then read carefully over (by Elma on this occasion), criticized by Gwin, Alice, and Bessie, and finally carried as far as the original members of the society were concerned. The next important thing was to put to the vote who was to be asked to join and who was to be excluded. Several girls were named, and among them Elma suddenly introduced the name of Kitty Malone.
"Now what do you mean by that?" said Alice, her eyes flashing angrily. "If Kitty joins the society, I, for one, will resign."
"But you cannot, dear," said Gwin in her placid voice. "Remember you are one of the founders; you are bound to uphold the society now for at least one term of its natural life. At the end of that time you are permitted to resign, but certainly not before."
"Then, as I presume I have a vote with regard to the election of members, I certainly do not wish for Kitty Malone," said Alice.
"I think the votes must go by the wishes of the majority," replied Gwin; "does any one else want her?"
"I do." said Elma, holding up her hand.
"And I think it would be good for her," said Bessie.
"Dear me, Bessie, how spiteful of you to say that," cried Alice.
"But I do think it, Alice; I do truly."
"Why, Bessie?" asked Gwin.
"Well, you know there are the sort of things mentioned in our rules which would just give Kitty the sort of restraint she wants," began Bessie.
"Yes, I think I begin to understand you, Bessie. I too will vote that she is asked to join," said Gwin.
Alice looked very sulky, but did not say anything further, and soon afterward the girls broke up their conference.
Kitty Malone was admitted to a low form at Middleton School, her acquirements being the reverse of distinguished. This fact did not give her the smallest sense of discomfort. On the contrary, she was pleased; and although her fellow-scholars were all younger and smaller than herself, she soon became a sort of queen among them, laughing and joking with them, and flying round the playground with half a dozen small girls at her heels, feasting them with unlimited chocolate and telling them stories. She soon got through her somewhat easy lessons, and was wilder and more incorrigible than ever. The only sober moments she seemed to enjoy were when she was with Bessie; for Bessie Challoner took a sincere interest in her, and was very anxious to get her into a higher form, where she would be with girls nearer her own age, and would thus be forced to submit to more discipline than she could enjoy with the younger girls. Bessie also hoped great things from the Tug-of-war Society, and soon told Kitty that she was to be asked to become a member.
"I will certainly join when I am asked," answered Kitty. "I have not the least idea what you are all driving at, but I'll become a member if it's to be in the same society with you, my darling duck of a girl!"
Bessie then read her a copy of the rules.
"Why, then, you can't expect me to adhere to the first of them," was Kitty's answer. "It's no, it's no to that, Bessie. I wouldn't tell a lie for any earthly thing, and I could not drive myself to the head of that class. Why, I wouldn't take the place from sweet little Agnes Moore for all the world. Why it's tears I'd bring to the pretty eyes of the creature. Oh, I couldn't get ahead of her. I'd just as lief be at the tail—just as lief."
"But, Kitty, have you no ambition?"
"Well, no, dear, I don't think I have. I never could see the fun of taking a prize from another; it's no use I'll be in the society, not the least bit."
"Well, all the same it would do you good," said Bessie, "for you know you love your father, and you said you would try to acquire knowledge to please him."
"Oh, where's the good of reminding me of that," said Kitty, looking very thoughtful and somewhat pensive. "Why did you come out with it, Bessie, aroon; it's fretting the heart out of me you are. Dear old dad! there's nothing I wouldn't do for him."
"I am glad I did remind you, Kitty, for you know you have come here to learn."
"Ah, dear, I'll shut my ears if you talk any more in that sort of way," said Kitty. "If I must learn, I must; but don't be reminding me of it, there's a good creature—it's play out of school if it's work in."
"Much work you do, Kitty! Why, I always see you laughing and winking and twinkling your eyes, and pushing your feet about."
"Pushing my feet about! And is it to keep them in a corner I would, pretty feet like mine! Why, they are meant to be seen. That's the only reason why I object to a long dress, because it does not show so much of the feet and ankles. Ah, sure it's dear little ankles I have, as neat and trim as you please."
"Kitty, you are getting wilder than ever."
"Well, darling, I'll cool down if you'll just let me give you one of my big hugs."
"I really can't; my ribs are quite sore. You must not do it to-day. I told you, you might once a week, but no oftener."
Kitty sank down on the nearest chair and looked comically miserable.
"Go on with the next rule, Bessie," she said, after a moment. "I want to belong to the Tug-of-war because it's close to you I'll be, darling. What's the next rule?"
Bessie read it out to her.
"Why, now, it's the pink of a lady I am myself," said Kitty. "I was always told I was; I don't mind that rule in the least. There won't be much of a tug-of-war there; if Kitty Malone is to be a lady, why, a lady she is. I wish you could hear Aunt Honora and Aunt Bridget talking about our ancient family and our long and royal descent. Go on, Bessie; that's not so bad as taking the prize from poor little Agnes. What's Rule III.?"
Rule III. was read aloud to Kitty, who shook her head solemnly several times.
"Now, to be frank with you," she said, "there's only one bond between Alice and me, and that is we do make a froth of the things in our drawers; and if we are both to struggle against our besetting infirmity, it will go hard with us; but there, it will be fun to see her struggling to be tidy and all to no purpose. I think I'll join on that account. I shall like to see her fighting her drawers. I know if I'm put to it I can keep mine twenty times tidier."
"I am now coming to Rule IV.," said Bessie; this she read aloud with some qualms, for she disliked it so very much herself. Kitty's eyes flashed with pleasure.
"Now, that is after my own heart," she cried, "fashionable dresses are they, and hair done up in style. Mavourneen! mavourneen! you will have to wear a fringe!"
Kitty burst into peals of laughter.
"Oh, Bessie," she said, "I have just been longing to attack that head of yours. I'll bring my little tongs along, and I'll curl up such a lovely fringe on your great intellectual forehead."
"You'll do nothing of the kind," said Bessie, clasping her hands over her head to protect her thick, long hair.
"But you must, mavourneen, you must if you join the Tug-of-war Society. Oh, it's beautiful you'll look! And I tell you what it is, Bessie, I'll lend you the patterns of my new sleeves—those that are all crinkled from above the elbow down to the wrist, and puffed ever so much at the top, with little tucks, and little insertions, and little—"
"Kitty, I won't listen to you for another moment. I shall try to dress as neatly as I can, and perhaps I must twist my hair into a more stylish coil at the back of my head, but beyond that I absolutely refuse to go."
"Well, it's a delicious rule," said Kitty Malone, "and I hope I'll work you round after a bit, Bessie. It seems but fair that if I yield to you with regard to the other rules you ought to yield to me about Rule IV. I am sure if I do take the prize from poor little Agnes Moore, and if I never speak a word of slang, and if I keep my abominable drawers as neat as a new pin, and all my clothes in perfect order, that you on your part ought to wear a good thick, heavy fringe, and have your hair pointed out ever so far at the back in the way it is worn in the present day. I'd love to do it; and you have magnificent hair, Bessie, aroon! so you have."
"I must ask you to leave me now, Kitty," was Bessie's answer. "You are a very funny girl, and there is a great deal that I like in you; but I cannot neglect my studies even for you."