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Title: A Patriotic Schoolgirl
Author: Brazil, Angela, 1868-1947
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Patriotic Schoolgirl" ***

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A Patriotic Schoolgirl



    BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
    50 Old Bailey, LONDON
    17 Stanhope Street, GLASGOW

    BLACKIE & SON (INDIA) LIMITED
    Warwick House, Fort Street, BOMBAY

    BLACKIE & SON (CANADA) LIMITED
    1118 Bay Street, TORONTO



    A Patriotic Schoolgirl

    BY

    ANGELA BRAZIL

    Author of "Schoolgirl Kitty"
    "The Luckiest Girl in the School"
    "Monitress Merle"
    &c. &c.

    _Illustrated by Balliol Salmon_

    BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
    LONDON AND GLASGOW



Contents


    CHAP.                                                   Page

        I. OFF TO BOARDING-SCHOOL                          9

       II. BRACKENFIELD COLLEGE                           23

      III. THE TALENTS TOURNAMENT                         32

       IV. EXEATS                                         45

        V. AUTOGRAPHS                                     58

       VI. TROUBLE                                        67

      VII. DORMITORY NO. 9                                79

     VIII. A SENSATION                                    91

       IX. ST. ETHELBERTA'S                               98

        X. THE RED CROSS HOSPITAL                        106

       XI. A STOLEN MEETING                              119

      XII. THE SCHOOL UNION                              129

     XIII. THE SPRING TERM                               140

      XIV. THE SECRET SOCIETY OF PATRIOTS                151

       XV. THE EMPRESS                                   163

      XVI. THE OBSERVATORY WINDOW                        175

     XVII. THE DANCE OF THE NATIONS                      183

    XVIII. ENCHANTED GROUND                              195

      XIX. A POTATO WALK                                 208

       XX. PATRIOTIC GARDENING                           222

      XXI. THE ROLL OF HONOUR                            231

     XXII. THE MAGIC LANTERN                             244

    XXIII. ON LEAVE                                      255

     XXIV. THE ROYAL GEORGE                              264

      XXV. CHARADES                                      276



Illustrations


                                                       Facing
                                                        Page

    "IF YOU WANT THE EUSTON EXPRESS, YOU'LL HAVE
    TO MAKE A RUN FOR IT"         _Frontispiece_

    THEY WERE HUDDLED TOGETHER, WATCHING HER WITH
    AWESTRUCK FACES                                       96

    THEN SOMEHOW MARJORIE FOUND HERSELF BLURTING
    OUT THE ENTIRE STORY                                 168

    SHE STARED AT IT IN CONSTERNATION                    280



A Patriotic Schoolgirl

CHAPTER I

Off to Boarding-school


"Dona, are you awake? Donakins! I say, old sport, do stir yourself and
blink an eye! What a dormouse you are! D'you want shaking? Rouse up, you
old bluebottle, can't you?"

"I've been awake since five o'clock, and it's no use thumping me in the
back," grunted an injured voice from the next bed. "It's too early yet
to get up, and I wish you'd leave me alone."

The huskiness and general chokiness of the tone were unmistakable.
Marjorie leaned over and took a keen survey of that portion of her
sister's face which was not buried in the pillow.

"Oh! the atmosphere's damp, is it?" she remarked. "Dona, you're
ostriching! For goodness' sake brace up, child, and turn off the
water-works! I thought you'd more pluck. If you're going to arrive at
Brackenfield with a red nose and your eyes all bunged up, I'll disown
you, or lose you on the way. Crystal clear, I will! I'll not let you
start in a new school nicknamed 'Niobe', so there! Have a caramel?"

Dona sat up in bed, and arrested her tears sufficiently to accept the
creature comfort offered her. As its consistency was decidedly of a
stick-jaw nature, the mingled sucking and sobbing which followed
produced a queer combination.

"You sound like a seal at the Zoo," Marjorie assured her airily. "Cheer
oh! I call it a stunt to be going to Brackenfield. I mean to have a
top-hole time there, and no mistake!"

"It's all very well for you!" sighed Dona dolefully. "You've been at a
boarding-school before, and I haven't; and you are not shy, and you
always get on with people. You know I'm a mum mouse, and I hate
strangers. I shall just endure till the holidays come. It's no use
telling me to brace up, for there's nothing to brace about."

In the bedroom where the two girls lay talking every preparation had
been made for a journey. Two new trunks, painted respectively with the
initials "M. D. A." and "D. E. A.", stood side by side with the lids
open, filled to the brim, except for sponge-bags and a few other items,
which must be put in at the last. Weeks of concentrated thought and
practical work on the part of Mother, two aunts, and a dressmaker had
preceded the packing of those boxes, for the requirements of
Brackenfield seemed numerous, and the list of essential garments
resembled a trousseau. There were school skirts and blouses, gymnasium
costumes, Sunday dresses, evening wear and party frocks, to say nothing
of underclothes, and such details as gloves, shoes, ties, ribbons, and
handkerchiefs, writing-cases, work-baskets, books, photos, and
knick-knacks. Two hand-bags, each containing necessaries for the first
night, stood by the trunks, and two umbrellas, with two hockey-sticks,
were already strapped up with mackintoshes and winter coats.

For both the girls this morning would make a new and very important
chapter in the story of their lives. Marjorie had, indeed, already been
at boarding-school, but it was a comparatively small establishment, not
to be named in the same breath with a place so important as
Brackenfield, and giving only a foretaste of those experiences which she
expected to encounter in a wider circle. She had been tolerably popular
at Hilton House, but she had made several mistakes which she was
determined not to repeat, and meant to be careful as to the first
impressions which she produced upon her new schoolfellows. Marjorie, at
fifteen and a half, was a somewhat problematical character. In her
childhood she had been aptly described as "a little madam", and it was
owing to the very turbulent effect of her presence in the family that
she had been packed off early to school, "to find her level among other
girls, and leave a little peace at home", as Aunt Vera expressed it.
"Finding one's level" is generally rather a stormy process; so, after
four years of give-and-take at Hilton House, Marjorie was, on the whole,
not at all sorry to leave, and transfer her energies to another sphere.
She meant well, but she was always cock-sure that she was right, and
though this line of action may serve with weaker characters, it is
liable to cause friction when practised upon equals or elders whose
views are also self-opinionated. As regards looks, Marjorie could score.
Her clear-cut features, fresh complexion, and frank, grey eyes were
decidedly prepossessing, and her pigtail had been the longest and
thickest and glossiest in the whole crocodile of Hilton House. She was
clever, if she chose to work, though apt to argue with her teachers; and
keen at games, if she could win, but showed an unsporting tendency to
lose her temper if the odds were against her. Such was Marjorie--crude,
impetuous, and full of overflowing spirits, with many good qualities and
certain disagreeable traits, eager to loose anchor and sail away from
the harbour of home and the narrow waters of Hilton House into the big,
untried sea of Brackenfield College.

Two sisters surely never presented a greater contrast than the Anderson
girls. Dona, at thirteen, was a shy, retiring, amiable little person,
with an unashamed weakness for golliwogs and Teddy bears, specimens of
which, in various sizes, decorated the mantelpiece of her bedroom. She
was accustomed to give way, under plaintive protest, to Marjorie's
masterful disposition, and, as a rule, played second fiddle with a good
grace. She was not at all clever or imaginative, but very affectionate,
and had been the pet of the family at home. She was a neat, pretty
little thing, with big blue eyes and arched eyebrows and silky curls,
exactly like a Sir Joshua Reynolds portrait, and she had a pathetic way
of saying, "Oh, Marjorie!" when snubbed by her elder sister. According
to Aunt Vera, if Marjorie needed to "find her level", Dona required to
be "well shaken up". She was dreamy and unobservant, slow in her ways,
and not much interested in any special subject. Marjorie's cherished
ambitions were unknown to Dona, who liked to plod along in an easy
fashion, without taking very much trouble. Her daily governess had found
it difficult to rouse any enthusiasm in her for her work. She frankly
hated lessons.

It was a subject of congratulation to Mrs. Anderson that the two girls
would not be in the same house at Brackenfield. She considered that
Dona's character had no chance for development under the shadow of
Marjorie's overbearing ways, and that among companions of her own age
she might perhaps find a few congenial friends who would help her to
realize that she had entered her teens, and would interest her in
girlish matters. Poor Dona by no means shared her mother's satisfaction
at the arrangements for her future. She would have preferred to be with
Marjorie, and was appalled at the idea of being obliged to face a
houseful of strangers. She met with little sympathy from her own family
in this respect.

"Do you all the good in the world, old sport!" preached Peter, an
authority of eleven, with three years of preparatory-school experience
behind him. "I felt a bit queer myself, you know, when I first went to
The Grange, but one soon gets over that. You'll shake down."

"I don't want to shake down," bleated Dona. "It's a shame I should have
to go at all! You can't any of you understand how I feel. You're all
beasts!"

"They'll allow you a bucket to weep into for the first day or two, poor
old Bunting!" said Larry consolingly. "It won't be so much kindness on
their part as a desire to save the carpets--salt water takes the colour
out of things so. But I fancy they'll limit you to a week's wailing, and
if you don't turn off the tap after that, they'll send for a doctor,
who'll prescribe Turkey rhubarb and senna mixed with quinine. It's a
stock school prescription for shirking; harmless, you know, but
particularly nasty; you'd have the taste in your mouth for days. Oh,
cheer up, for goodness' sake! Look here: if I'm really sent to the camp
at Denley, I'll come and look you up, and take you out to tea somewhere.
How would that suit your ladyship?"

"Would you really? Will you promise?"

"Honest Injun, I will!"

"Then I don't mind quite so much as I did, though I still hate the
thought of school," conceded Dona.

The Andersons generally described themselves as "a large and rambling
family, guaranteed sound, and quiet in harness, but capable of taking
fences if required". Nora, the eldest, had been married a year ago,
Bevis was in the Navy, Leonard was serving "somewhere in France"; Larry,
who had just left school, had been called up, and was going into
training, and after Marjorie and Dona followed Peter, Cyril, and Joan.
Marjorie and Dona always declared that if they could have been consulted
in the matter of precedence, they would not have chosen to arrive in the
exact centre of a big family. Nora, as eldest, and Joan, as youngest,
occupied definite and recognized positions, but middle girls rarely
receive as much attention. Dona, indeed, had claimed a certain share of
petting, but Marjorie considered herself badly treated by the Fates.

"I wish I were the only one!" she assured the others. "Think how I'd be
appreciated then!"

"We'll swop you with pleasure, madam, if you wish," returned Larry
ironically. "I should suggest an advertisement such as this: 'Wanted
situation as only daughter in eligible family, eight brothers and
sisters given in exchange. A month's approval.' No! Better not put that
in, or they'd send you packing back at the end of the first week."

"Brothers are beasts!" pouted Marjorie, throwing a cushion at Larry to
express her indignation. "What I'd like would be for Mother to take me
away for a year, or let me study Art, or Music, or something, just with
her. Mamie Page's mother went with her to Paris, and they'd a gorgeous
time. That's my ambition."

"And mine's just to be allowed to stop at home," added Dona plaintively.

Neither Marjorie's nor Dona's wishes, however, were considered at
head-quarters. The powers that be had decided that they were to be
educated at Brackenfield College, their boxes were ready packed, and
their train was to leave at nine o'clock by railway time. Mother saw
them off at the station.

"I wish I could have taken you," she said rather anxiously. "But I think
you'll manage the journey all right. You're both together, and
Marjorie's a big girl now, and used to travelling. You've only to cross
the platform at Rosebury to get the London train, and a teacher is to
meet you at Euston. You'll know her by the Brackenfield badge, and be
sure you don't speak to anyone else. Call out of the window for a porter
when you reach Rosebury. You've plenty of time to change. Well,
good-bye, chicks! Be good girls. Don't forget to send me that telegram
from Euston. Write as soon as you can. Don't lean against the door of
the carriage. You're just off now! Good-bye! Good-bye!"

As the train steamed out of the station, Dona sank into her place with
the air of a martyr starting for the stake, and mopped her eyes with her
already damp pocket-handkerchief. Marjorie, case-hardened after many
similar partings, settled herself in the next seat, and, pulling out an
illustrated paper from her bag, began to read. The train was very full,
and the girls had with difficulty found room. Soldiers on leave were
returning to the front, and filled the corridor. Dona and Marjorie were
crammed in between a stout woman, who nursed a basket containing a
mewing kitten, and a wizened little man with an irritating cough.
Opposite sat three Tommies, and an elderly lady with a long thin nose
and prominent teeth, who entered into conversation with the soldiers,
and proffered them much good advice, with an epitome of her ideas on the
conduct of the war. The distance from Silverwood to Rosebury was only
thirty miles, and the train was due to arrive at the junction with
twenty-five minutes to spare for the London express. On all ordinary
occasions it jogged along in a commonplace fashion, and turned up up to
time. To-day, however, it behaved with unusual eccentricity, and,
instead of passing the signals at Meriton, it slowed up and whistled,
and finally stood still upon the bridge.

"Must be something blocking the line," observed one of the Tommies,
looking out of the window.

"I do hope it's not an accident. The Company is so terribly understaffed
at present, and the signal-men work far too long hours, and are ready to
drop with fatigue at their posts," began the thin lady nervously. "I've
always had a horror of railway accidents. I wish I'd taken an insurance
ticket before I started. Can you see anything on the line, my good man?
Is there any danger?"

The Tommy drew in his head and smiled. It was a particularly
good-looking head, with twinkling brown eyes, and a very humorous smile.

"Not so long as the train is standing still," he replied. "I think
they'll get us back to the front this time. We'll probably have to wait
till something passes us. It's just a matter of patience."

His words were justified, for in about ten minutes an express roared
by, after which event their train once more started, and jogged along to
Rosebury.

"We're horribly late!" whispered Marjorie to Dona, consulting her watch.
"I hope to goodness there'll be no more stops. It's running the thing
very fine, I can tell you. I'm glad we've only to cross the platform.
I'll get a porter as fast as I can."

But, when they reached Rosebury, the stout woman and the basket with the
kitten got in the way, and the elderly lady jammed up the door with her
hold-all, so that, by the time Dona and Marjorie managed to get
themselves and their belongings out of the carriage, the very few
porters available had already been commandeered by other people. The
girls ran to the van at the back of the train, where the guard was
turning out the luggage. Their boxes were on the platform amid a pile of
suit-cases, bags, and portmanteaux; their extreme newness made them
easily recognizable, even without the conspicuous initials.

"What are we to do?" cried Marjorie. "We'll miss the London train! I
know we shall! Here, Dona, let's take them ourselves!"

She seized one of the boxes by the handle, and tried to drag it along
the platform, but its weight was prohibitive. After a couple of yards
she stopped exhausted.

"Better leave your luggage and let it follow you," said a voice at her
elbow. "If you want the Euston express, you'll have to make a run for
it."

Marjorie turned round quickly. The speaker was the young Tommy who had
leaned out of the carriage window when the line was blocked. His dark
eyes were still twinkling.

"The train's over there, and they're shutting the doors," he urged.
"Here, I'll take this for you, if you like. Best hurry up!"

He had his heavy kit-bag to carry, but he shouldered the girls' pile of
wraps, umbrellas, and hockey-sticks, in addition to his own burden, and
set off post-haste along the platform, while Marjorie and Dona, much
encumbered with their bags and a few odd parcels, followed in his wake.
It was a difficult progress, for everybody seemed to get into their way,
and just as they neared the express the guard waved his green flag.

"Stand back! Stand back!" shouted an official, as the girls made a last
wild spurt, the whistle sounded, the guard jumped into the van, and,
with a loud clanging of coupling-chains, the train started. They had
missed it by exactly five seconds.

"Hard luck!" said the Tommy, depositing the wraps upon the platform.
"You'll have to wait two hours for the next. You'll get your luggage, at
any rate. Oh, it's all right!" as Marjorie murmured thanks, "I'm only
sorry you've missed it," and he hailed a companion and was gone.

"It was awfully kind of him," commented Dona, still panting from her
run.

"Kind! He's a gentleman--there was no mistaking that!" replied Marjorie.

The two girls had now to face the very unpleasant fact that they had
missed the connection, and that the teacher who was to meet them at
Euston would look for them in vain. They wondered whether she would wait
for the next train, and, if she did not, how they were going to get
across London to the Great Western railway station. Marjorie felt very
doubtful as to whether her experience of travelling would be equal to
the emergency. She hid her fears, however, from Dona, whose countenance
was quite sufficiently woebegone already.

"We'll get chocolates out of the automatic machine, and buy something to
read at the bookstall," she suggested. "Two hours won't last for ever!"

Dona cheered up a little at the sight of magazines, and picked out a
periodical with a soldier upon the cover. Marjorie, whose taste in
literature inclined to the sensational, reviewed the books, and chose
one with a startling picture depicting a phantom in the act of
disturbing a dinner-party. She was too agitated to read more than a few
pages of it, but she thought it seemed interesting. The two hours were
over at last, and the girls and their luggage were safely installed in
the London train by a porter. It was a long journey to Euston. After
their early start and the excitement at Rosebury both felt tired, and
even Marjorie looked decidedly sober when they reached their
destination. Each was wearing the brown-white-and-blue Brackenfield
badge, which had been forwarded to them from the school, and by which
the mistress was to identify them. As they left the carriage, they
glanced anxiously at the coat of each lady who passed them on the
platform, to descry a similar rosette. All in vain. Everybody was in a
hurry, and nobody sported the Brackenfield colours.

"We shall have to get a taxi and manage as best we can," sighed
Marjorie. "I wish the porters weren't so stupid! I can't make them
listen to me. The taxis will all be taken up if we're not quick! Oh, I
say, there's that Tommy again! I wonder if he'd hail us one. I declare
I'll ask him."

"Hail you a taxi? With pleasure!" replied the young soldier, as Marjorie
impulsively stopped him and urged her request. "Have you got your
luggage this time?"

"Yes, yes, it's all here, and we've found a porter, only he's so slow,
and----"

"Are you Marjorie and Dona Anderson?" interrupted a sharp voice. "I've
been looking for you everywhere. Who is this you're speaking to? _You
don't know?_ Then come along with me immediately. No, certainly not!
I'll get a taxi myself. Where is your luggage?"

The speaker was tall and fair, with light-grey eyes and pince-nez. She
wore the unmistakable Brackenfield badge, so her words carried
authority. She bustled the girls off in a tremendous hurry, and their
good Samaritan of a soldier melted away amongst the crowd.

"I've been waiting hours for you. How did you miss your train?" asked
the mistress. "Why didn't you go and stand under the clock, as you were
told in the Head Mistress's letter? And don't you know that you must
_never_ address strangers?"

"She's angry with you for speaking to the Tommy," whispered Dona to
Marjorie, as the pair followed their new guardian.

"I can't help it. He would have got us a taxi, and now they're all gone,
and we must put up with a four-wheeler. I couldn't see any clock, and no
wonder we missed her in such a crowd. I think she's hateful, and I'm not
going to like her a scrap."

"No more am I," returned Dona.



CHAPTER II

Brackenfield College


Brackenfield College stood on the hills, about a mile from the
seaside town of Whitecliffe. It had been built for a school, and
was large and modern and entirely up-to-date. It had a gymnasium,
a library, a studio, a chemical laboratory, a carpentering-shop,
a kitchen for cooking-classes, a special block for music and
practising-rooms, and a large assembly hall. Outside there were
many acres of lawns and playing-fields, a large vegetable garden,
and a little wood with a stream running through it. The girls lived
in three hostels--for Seniors, Intermediates, and Juniors--known
respectively as St. Githa's, St. Elgiva's, and St. Ethelberta's.
They met in school and in the playgrounds, but, with a few exceptions,
they were not allowed to visit each other's houses.

Marjorie and Dona had been separated on their arrival, the former being
entered at St. Elgiva's and the latter at St. Ethelberta's, and it was
not until the afternoon of the day following that they had an
opportunity of meeting and comparing notes. To both life had seemed a
breathless and confusing whirl of classes, meals, and calisthenic
exercises, with a continual ringing of bells and marching from one room
to another. It was a comfort at last to have half an hour when they
might be allowed to wander about and do as they pleased.

"Let's scoot into that little wood," said Marjorie, seizing Dona by the
arm. "It looks quiet, and we can sit down and talk. Well, how are you
getting on? D'you like it so far?"

Dona flung herself down under a larch tree and shook her head
tragically.

"I hate it! But then, you know, I never expected to like it. You should
see my room-mates!"

"You should just see mine!"

"They can't be as bad as mine."

"I'll guarantee they're worse. But go on and tell about yours."

"There's Mona Kenworthy," sighed Dona. "She looked over all my clothes
as I put them away in my drawers, and said they weren't as nice as hers,
and that she'd never dream of wearing a camisole unless it was trimmed
with real lace. She twists her hair in Hinde's wavers every night, and
keeps a pot of complexion cream on her dressing-table. She always uses
stephanotis scent that she gets from one special place in London, and it
costs four and sixpence a bottle. She hates bacon for breakfast, and she
has seventeen relations at the front. She's thin and brown, and her nose
wiggles like a rabbit's when she talks."

"I shouldn't mind her if she'd keep to her own cubicle," commented
Marjorie. "Sylvia Page will overflow into mine, and I find her things
dumped down on my bed. She's nicer than Irene Andrews, though; we had a
squabble last night over the window. Betty Moore brought a whole box of
chocolates with her, and she ate them in bed and never offered a single
one to anybody else. We could hear her crunching for ages. I don't like
Irene, but I agreed with her that Betty is mean!"

"Nellie Mason sleeps in the next cubicle to me," continued Dona, bent on
retailing her own woes. "She snores dreadfully, and it kept me awake,
though she's not so bad otherwise. Beatrice Elliot is detestable. She
found that little Teddy bear I brought with me, and she sniggered and
asked if I came from a kindergarten. I've calculated there are
seventy-four days in this term. I don't know how I'm going to live
through them until the holidays."

"Hallo!" said a cheerful voice. "Sitting weeping under the willows, are
you? New girls always grouse. Miss Broadway's sent me to hunt you up and
do the honours of the premises. I'm Mollie Simpson. Come along with me
and I'll show you round."

The speaker was a jolly-looking girl of about sixteen, with particularly
merry blue eyes and a whimsical expression. Her dark curly hair was
plaited and tied with broad ribbons.

"We've been round, thanks very much," returned Marjorie to the
new-comer.

"Oh, but that doesn't count if you've only gone by yourselves! You
wouldn't notice the points. Every new girl has got to be personally
conducted by an old one and told the traditions of the place. It's a
sort of initiation, you know. We've a regular freemasons' code here of
things you may do or mustn't. Quick march! I've no time to waste. Tea is
at four prompt."

Thus urged, Marjorie and Dona got up, shook the pine needles from their
dresses, and followed their cicerone, who seemed determined to perform
her office of guide in as efficient a fashion as possible.

"This is the Quad," she informed them. "That's the Assembly Hall and the
Head's private house, and those are the three hostels. What's it like in
St. Githa's? I can't tell you, because I've never been there. It's for
Seniors, and no Intermediate or Junior may pop her impertinent nose
inside, or so much as go and peep through the windows without getting
into trouble. They've carpets on the stairs instead of linoleum, and
they may make cocoa in their bedrooms and fill their own hot-water bags,
and other privileges that aren't allowed to us luckless individuals.
They may come and see us, by special permission, but we mayn't return
the visits. By the by, you'd oblige me greatly if you'd tilt your
chapeau a little farther forward. Like this, see!"

"Why?" questioned Marjorie, greatly astonished, as she made the required
alteration to the angle of her hat.

"Because only Seniors may wear their sailors on the backs of their
heads. It's a strict point of school etiquette. You may jam on your
hockey cap as you like, but not your sailor."

"Are there any other rules?" asked Dona.

"Heaps. Intermediates mayn't wear bracelets, and Juniors mayn't wear
lockets, they're limited to brooches. I advise you to strip those
trinkets off at once and stick them in your pockets. Don't go in to tea
with them on any account."

"How silly!" objected Dona, unclasping her locket, with Father's photo
in it, most unwillingly.

"Now, look here, young 'un, let me give you a word of good advice at the
beginning. Don't you go saying anything here is silly. The rules have
been made by the Seniors, and Juniors have got to put up with them and
keep civil tongues in their heads. If you want to get on you'll have to
accommodate yourself to the ways of the place. Any girl who doesn't has
a rough time, I warn you. For goodness' sake don't begin to blub!"

"Don't be a cry-baby, Dona," said Marjorie impatiently. "She's not been
to school before," she explained to Mollie, "so she's still feeling
rather home-sick."

Mollie nodded sympathetically.

"I understand. She'll soon get over it. She's a decent kid. I'm going to
like her. That's why I'm giving her all these tips, so that she won't
make mistakes and begin wrong. She'll get on all right at St.
Ethelberta's. Miss Jones is a stunt, as jinky as you like. Wish we had
her at our house."

"Who is the Head of St. Elgiva's?"

"Miss Norton, worse luck for us!"

"Not the tall fair one who met us in London yesterday?"

"The same."

"Oh, thunder! I shall never get on with her, I know."

"The Acid Drop's a rather unsweetened morsel, certainly. You'll have to
mind your p's and q's. She can be decent to those she likes, but she
doesn't take to everybody."

"She hasn't taken to me--I could see it in her eye at Euston."

"Then I'm sorry for you. It isn't particularly pleasant to be in Norty's
bad books. If you missed your train and kept her waiting she'll never
forgive you. Look out for squalls!"

"What's the Head like?"

"Mrs. Morrison? Well, of course, she's nice, but we stand very much in
awe of her. It's a terrible thing to be sent down to her study. We
generally see her on the platform. We call her 'The Empress', because
she's so like the pictures of the Empress Eugénie, and she's so
dignified and above everybody else. Hallo, there's the first bell! We
must scoot and wash our hands. If you're late for a meal you put a penny
in the missionary box."

Marjorie walked into the large dining-hall with Mollie Simpson. She felt
she had made, if not yet a friend, at least an acquaintance, and in this
wilderness of fresh faces it was a boon to be able to speak to somebody.
She hoped Mollie would not desert her and sit among her own chums (the
girls took any places they liked for tea); but no, her new comrade led
the way to a table at the lower end of the hall, and, motioning her to
pass first, took the next chair. Each table held about twenty girls, and
a mistress sat at either end. Conversation went on, but in subdued
tones, and any unduly lifted voices met with instant reproof.

"I always try to sit in the middle, unless I can get near a mistress I
like," volunteered Mollie. "That one with the ripply hair is Miss
Duckworth. She's rather sweet, isn't she? We call her Ducky for short.
The other's Miss Carter, the botany teacher. Oh, I say, here's the Acid
Drop coming to the next table! I didn't bargain to have her so near."

Marjorie turned to look, and in so doing her sleeve most unfortunately
caught the edge of her cup, with the result that a stream of tea emptied
itself over the clean table-cloth. Miss Norton, who was just passing to
her place, noticed the accident and murmured: "How careless!" then
paused, as if remembering something, and said:

"Marjorie Anderson, you are to report yourself in my study at 4.30."

Very subdued and crestfallen Marjorie handed her cup to be refilled.
Miss Duckworth made no remark, but the girls in her vicinity glared at
the mess on the cloth. Mollie pulled an expressive face.

"Now you're in for it!" she remarked. "The Acid Drop's going to treat
you to some jaw-wag. What have you been doing?"

"Spilling my tea, I suppose," grunted Marjorie.

"That's not Norty's business, for it didn't happen at her table. You
wouldn't have to report yourself for that. It must be something else."

"Then I'm sure I don't know." Marjorie's tone was defiant.

"And you don't care? Oh, that's all very well! Wait till you've had five
minutes with the Acid Drop, and you'll sing a different song."

Although Marjorie might affect nonchalance before her schoolfellows, her
heart thumped in a very unpleasant fashion as she tapped at the door of
Miss Norton's study. The teacher sat at a bureau writing, she looked up
and readjusted her pince-nez as her pupil entered.

"Marjorie Anderson," she began, "I inspected your cubicle this afternoon
and found this book inside one of your drawers. Are you aware that you
have broken one of the strictest rules of the school? You may borrow
books from the library, but you are not allowed to have any private
books at all in your possession with the exception of a Bible and a
Prayer Book."

Miss Norton held in her hand the sensational novel which Marjorie had
bought while waiting for the train at Rosebury. The girl jumped guiltily
at the sight of it. She had only read a few pages of it and had
completely forgotten its existence. She remembered now that among the
rules sent by the Head Mistress, and read to her by her mother, the
bringing back of fiction to school had been strictly prohibited. As she
had no excuse to offer she merely looked uncomfortable and said
nothing. Miss Norton eyed her keenly.

"You will find the rules at Brackenfield are intended to be kept," she
remarked. "As this is a first offence I'll allow it to pass, but girls
have been expelled from this school for bringing in unsuitable
literature. You had better be careful, Marjorie Anderson!"



CHAPTER III

The Talents Tournament


By the time Marjorie had been a fortnight at Brackenfield she had
already caught the atmosphere of the place, and considered herself a
well-established member of the community. In the brief space of two
weeks she had learnt many things; first and foremost, that Hilton House
had been a mere kindergarten in comparison with the big busy world in
which she now moved, and that all her standards required readjusting.
Instead of being an elder pupil, with a considerable voice in the
arrangement of affairs, she was now only an Intermediate, under the
absolute authority of Seniors, a unit in a large army of girls, and,
except from her own point of view, of no very great importance. If she
wished to make any reputation for herself her claims must rest upon
whether or not she could prove herself an asset to the school, either by
obtaining a high place in her form, or winning distinction in the
playing-fields, or among the various guilds and societies. Marjorie was
decidedly ambitious. She felt that she would like to gain honours and to
have her name recorded in the school magazine. Dazzling dreams danced
before her of tennis or cricket colours, of solos in concerts, or
leading parts in dramatic recitals, of heading examination lists,
and--who knew?--of a possible prefectship some time in the far future.
Meanwhile, if she wished to attain to any of these desirable objects,
Work, with a capital W, must be her motto. She had been placed in IVa,
and, though most of the subjects were within her powers, it needed all
the concentration of which she was capable to keep even a moderate
position in the weekly lists. Miss Duckworth, her form mistress, had no
tolerance for slackers. She was a breezy, cheery, interesting
personality, an inspiring teacher, and excellent at games, taking a
prominent part in all matches or tournaments "Mistresses versus Pupils".
Miss Duckworth was immensely popular amongst her girls. It was the
fashion to admire her.

"I think the shape of her nose is just perfect!" declared Francie
Sheppard. "And I like that Rossetti mouth, although some people might
say it's too big. I wish I had auburn hair!"

"I wonder if it ripples naturally, or if she does it up in wavers?"
speculated Elsie Bartlett. "It must be ever so long when it's down.
Annie Turner saw her once in her dressing-gown, and said that her hair
reached to her knees."

"But Annie always exaggerates," put in Sylvia Page. "You may take half a
yard off Annie's statements any day."

"I think Duckie's a sport!" agreed Laura Norris.

The girls were lounging in various attitudes of comfort round the fire
in their sitting-room at St. Elgiva's, in that blissful interval between
preparation and supper, when nothing very intellectual was expected from
them, and they might amuse themselves as they wished. Irene, squatting
on the rug, was armed with the tongs, and kept poking down the miniature
volcanoes that arose in the coal; Elsie luxuriated in the rocking-chair
all to herself; while Francie and Sylvia--a tight fit--shared the big
basket-chair. In a corner three chums were coaching each other in the
speeches for a play, and a group collected round the piano were trying
the chorus of a new popular song.

"Go it, Patricia!" called Irene to the girl who was playing the
accompaniment. "You did that no end! St. Elgiva's ought to have a chance
for the sight-reading competition. Trot out that song to-morrow night by
all means. It'll take the house by storm!"

"What's going to happen to-morrow night?" enquired Marjorie, who, having
changed her dress for supper, now came into the room and joined the
circle by the fire.

"A very important event, my good child," vouchsafed Francie
Sheppard--"an event upon which you might almost say all the rest of the
school year hangs. We call it the Talents Tournament."

"The what?"

"I wish you wouldn't ask so many questions. I was just going to explain,
if you'll give me time. The whole school meets in the Assembly Hall,
and anybody who feels she can do anything may give us a specimen of her
talents, and if she passes muster she's allowed to join one of the
societies--the Dramatic, or the Part Singing, or the Orchestra, or the
French Conversational; or she may exhibit specimens if she wants to
enter the Natural History or Scientific, or show some of her drawings if
she's artistic."

"What are you going to do?"

"I? Nothing at all. I hate showing off!"

"I've no 'parlour tricks' either," yawned Laura. "I shall help to form
the audience and do the clapping; that's the rôle I'm best at."

"Old Mollie'll put you up to tips if you're yearning to go on the
platform," suggested Elsie. "She's A 1 at recitations, reels them off no
end, I can tell you. You needn't hang your head, Mollums, like a modest
violet; it's a solid fact. You're the ornament of St. Elgiva's when it
comes to saying pieces. Have you got anything fresh, by the way, for
to-morrow night?"

"Well, I did learn something new during the holidays," confessed Mollie.
"I hope you'll like it--it's rather funny. I hear there's to be a new
society this term. Meg Hutchinson was telling me about it."

"Oh, I know, the 'Charades'!" interrupted Francie; "and a jolly good
idea too. It isn't everybody who has time to swat at learning parts for
the Dramatic. Besides, some girls can do rehearsed acting well, and are
no good at impromptu things, and vice versa. They want sorting out."

"I don't understand," said Marjorie.

"Oh, bother you! You're always wanting explanations. Well, of course you
know we have a Dramatic Society that gets up quite elaborate plays; the
members spend ages practising their speeches and studying their
attitudes before the looking-glass, and they have gorgeous costumes made
for them, and scenery and all the rest of it--a really first-rate
business. Some of the prefects thought that it was rather too formal an
affair, and suggested another society for impromptu acting. Nothing is
to be prepared beforehand. Mrs. Morrison is to give a word for a
charade, and the members are allowed two minutes to talk it over, and
must act it right away with any costumes they can fling on out of the
'property box'. They'll be arranged in teams, and may each have five
minutes for a performance. I expect it will be a scream."

"Are you fond of acting, Marjorie?" asked Mollie.

"I just love it!"

"Then put down your name for the Charades Tournament. We haven't got a
great number of volunteers from St. Elgiva's yet. Most of the girls seem
to funk it. Elsie, aren't you going to try?"

Elsie shook her curls regretfully.

"I'd like to, but I know every idea I have would desert me directly I
faced an audience. I'm all right with a definite part that I've got into
my head, but I can't make up as I go along, and it's no use asking me.
I'd only bungle and stammer, and make an utter goose of myself, and
spoil the whole thing. Hallo! There's the supper bell. Come along!"

Marjorie followed the others in to supper with a feeling of
exhilaration. She was immensely attracted by the idea of the Talents
Tournament. So far, as a new girl, she had been little noticed, and had
had no opportunity of showing what she could do. She had received a hint
from Mollie, on her first day, that new girls who pushed themselves
forward would probably be met with snubs, so she had not tried the piano
in the sitting-room, or given any exhibition of her capabilities
unasked. This, however, would be a legitimate occasion, and nobody could
accuse her of trying to show off by merely entering her name in the
Charades competition.

"I wish Dona would play her violin and have a shy for the school
Orchestra," she thought. "I'll speak to her if I can catch her after
supper."

It was difficult for the sisters to find any time for private talk, but
by dodging about the passage Marjorie managed to waylay Dona before the
latter disappeared into St. Ethelberta's, and propounded her suggestion.

"Oh, I couldn't!" replied Dona in horror. "Go on the platform and play a
piece? I'd die! Please don't ask me to do anything so dreadful. I don't
want to join the Orchestra. Oh, well, yes--I'll go in for the drawing
competition if you like, but I'm not keen. I don't care about all these
societies; my lessons are quite bad enough. I've made friends with Ailsa
Donald, and we have lovely times all to ourselves. We're making scrap
albums for the hospital. Miss Jones has given us all her old Christmas
cards. She's adorable! I say, I must go, or I shall be late for our call
over. Ta-ta!"

The "Talents Tournament" was really a very important event in the school
year, for upon its results would depend the placing of the various
competitors in certain coveted offices. It was esteemed a great
privilege to be asked to join the Orchestra, and to be included in the
committee of the "Dramatic" marked a girl's name with a lucky star.

On the Saturday evening in question the whole school, in second-best
party dresses, met in the big Assembly Hall. It was a conventional
occasion, and they were received by Mrs. Morrison and the teachers, and
responded with an elaborate politeness that was the cult of the College.
For the space of three hours an extremely high-toned atmosphere
prevailed, not a word of slang offended the ear, and everybody behaved
with the dignity and courtesy demanded by such a stately ceremony. Mrs.
Morrison, in black silk and old lace, her white hair dressed high, was
an imposing figure, and set a standard of cultured deportment that was
copied by every girl in the room. The Brackenfielders prided themselves
upon their manners, and, though they might relapse in the playground or
dormitory, no Court etiquette could be stricter than their code for
public occasions. The hall was quite _en fête_; it had been charmingly
decorated by the Seniors with autumn leaves and bunches of
chrysanthemums and Michaelmas daisies. A grand piano and pots of palms
stood on the platform, and the best school banner ornamented the wall.
It all looked so festive that Marjorie, who had been rather dreading the
gathering, cheered up, and began to anticipate a pleasant evening. She
shook hands composedly with the Empress, and ran the gauntlet of
greetings with the other mistresses with equal credit, not an altogether
easy ordeal under the watching eyes of her companions. This preliminary
ceremony being finished, she thankfully slipped into a seat, and waited
for the business part of the tournament to begin.

The reception of the whole school lasted some time, and the Empress's
hand must have ached. Her mental notes as to the quality of the
handshakes she received would be publicly recorded next day from the
platform, with special condemnation for the limp, fishy, or
three-fingered variety on the one side, or the agonizing ring-squeezer
on the other. Miss Thomas, one of the music mistresses, seated herself
at the piano, and the proceedings opened with a violin-solo competition.
Ten girls, in more or less acute stages of nervousness, each in turn
played a one-page study, their points for which were carefully recorded
by the judges, marks being given for tone, bowing, time, tune, and
artistic rendering. As they retired to put away their instruments, their
places were taken by vocal candidates. In order to shorten the
programme, each was allowed to sing only one verse of a song, and their
merits or faults were similarly recorded. Several of the Intermediates
had entered for the competition. Rose Butler trilled forth a
sentimental little ditty in a rather quavering mezzo; Annie Turner,
whose compass was contralto, poured out a sea ballad--a trifle flat;
Nora Cleary raised a storm of applause by a funny Irish song, and
received marks for style, though her voice was poor in quality; and
Elsie Bartlett scored for St. Elgiva's by reaching high B with the
utmost clearness and ease. The Intermediates grinned at one another with
satisfaction. Even Gladys Woodham, the acknowledged prima donna of St.
Githa's, had never soared in public beyond A sharp. They felt that they
had beaten the Seniors by half a tone.

Piano solos were next on the list, limited to two pages, on account of
the too speedy passage of time. Here again the St. Elgiva's girls
expected a triumph, for Patricia Lennox was to play a waltz especially
composed in her honour by a musical friend. It was called "Under the
Stars", and bore a coloured picture of a dark-blue sky, water and trees,
and a stone balustrade, and it bore printed upon it the magic words
"Dedicated to Patricia", and underneath, written in a firm, manly hand,
"With kindest remembrances from E. H.".

The whole of Elgiva's had thrilled when allowed to view the copy
exhibited by its owner with many becoming blushes, but with steadfast
refusals to record tender particulars; and though Patricia's enemies
were unkind enough to say that there was no evidence that the "Patricia"
mentioned on the cover was identical with herself, or that the "E. H."
stood for Edwin Herbert, the composer, it was felt that they merely
objected out of envy, and would have been only too delighted to have
such luck themselves.

They all listened entranced as Patricia dashed off her piece. She had a
showy execution, and it really sounded very well. The whole school knew
about the dedication and the inscription; the Intermediates had taken
care of that. As their champion descended from the platform, they felt
that she had invested St. Elgiva's with an element of mystery and
romance. But alas! one story is good until another is told, and St.
Githa's had been reserving a trump card for the occasion. Winifrede
Mason had herself composed a piece. She called it "The Brackenfield
March", and had written it out in manuscript, and drawn a picture of the
school in bold black-and-white upon a brown paper cover. It was quite a
jolly, catchy tune, with plenty of swing and go about it, and the fact
that it was undoubtedly her own production caused poor Patricia's waltz
to pale before it. The clapping was tremendous. Every girl in school,
with the exception of nine who had not studied the piano, was determined
to copy the march and learn it for herself, and Winifrede was
immediately besieged with applications for the loan of the manuscript.
She bore her honours calmly.

"Oh, it wasn't difficult! I just knocked it off, you know. I've heaps of
tunes in my head; it's only a matter of getting them written down,
really. When I've time I'll try to make up another. Oh, I don't know
about publishing it--that can wait."

To live in the same school with a girl who composed pieces was
something! Everybody anticipated the publication of the march, and felt
that the reputation of Brackenfield would be thoroughly established in
the musical world.

The next item on the programme was an interval for refreshments, during
which time various exhibits of drawings and of scientific and natural
history specimens were on view, and were judged according to merit by
Miss Carter and Miss Hughlins.

The second part of the evening was to be dramatic. A good many names had
been given in for the Charades competition, and these were arranged in
groups of four. Each company was given one syllable of a charade to act,
with a strict time limit. A large assortment of clothes and some useful
articles of furniture were placed in the dressing-room behind the
platform, and the actresses were allowed only two minutes to arrange
their stage, don costumes, and discuss their piece.

Marjorie found herself drawn with Annie Turner, Belle Miller, and Violet
Nelson, two of the Juniors. The syllable to be acted was "Age", and the
four girls withdrew to the dressing-room for a hasty conference.

"What can we do? I haven't an idea in my head," sighed Annie. "Two
minutes is not enough to think."

The Juniors said nothing, but giggled nervously. Marjorie's ready wits,
however, rose to the emergency.

"We'll have a Red Cross Hospital," she decided. "You, Annie, are the
Commandant, and we three are prospective V.A.D.'s coming to be
interviewed. You've got to ask us our names and ages, and a heap of
other questions. Put on that Red Cross apron, quick, and we'll put on
hats and coats and pretend we've had a long journey. Belle, take in a
table and a chair for the Commandant. She ought to be sitting writing."

Annie, Belle, and Violet seized on the idea with enthusiasm, and robed
themselves immediately. When the bell rang the performers marched on to
the platform without any delay (which secured ten marks for
promptitude). Annie, in her Red Cross apron, rapped the table in an
authoritative fashion and demanded the business of her callers. Then the
fun began. Marjorie, posing as a wild Irish girl, put on a capital
imitation of the brogue, and urged her own merits with zeal. She evaded
the question of her right age, and offered a whole catalogue of things
she could do, from dressing a wound to mixing a pudding and scrubbing
the passages. She was so racy and humorous, and threw in such amusing
asides, that the audience shrieked with laughter, and were quite
disappointed when the five minutes' bell put a sudden and speedy end to
the interesting performance. As Marjorie walked back to her seat she
became well aware that she had scored. Her fellow Intermediates looked
at her with a new interest, for she had brought credit to St. Elgiva's.

"Isn't she a scream?" she overheard Rose Butler say to Francie Sheppard,
and Francie replied "Rather! I call her topping!" which, of course, was
slang, and not fit for such an occasion; but then the girls were
beginning to forget the elaborate ceremony of the opening of the
evening.

Next day, after morning school was over, Jean Everard, one of the
prefects, tapped Marjorie on the shoulder.

"We've put your name down for the Charades Society," she said briefly.
"I suppose you want to join?"

"Rather!" replied Marjorie, flushing to the roots of her hair with
delight at the honour offered her.



CHAPTER IV

Exeats


Marjorie and Dona possessed one immense advantage in their choice of a
school. Their aunt, Mrs. Trafford, lived within a mile of Brackenfield,
and had arranged with Mrs. Morrison that the two girls should spend
every alternate Wednesday afternoon at her house. Wednesday was the most
general day for exeats; it was the leisurely half-holiday of the week,
when the girls might carry out their own little plans, Saturday
afternoons being reserved for hockey practice and matches, at which all
were expected to attend. The rules were strict at Brackenfield, and
enacted that the girls must be escorted from school to their destination
and sent back under proper chaperonage, but during the hours spent at
their aunt's they were considered to be under her charge and might go
where she allowed.

To the sisters these fortnightly outings marked the term with white
stones. They looked forward to them immensely. Both chafed a little at
the strict discipline and confinement of Brackenfield. It was Dona's
first experience of school, and Marjorie had been accustomed to a much
easier régime at Hilton House. It was nice, also, to have a few hours
in which they could be together and talk over their own affairs. There
were home letters to be discussed, news of Bevis on board H.M.S.
_Relentless_, of Leonard in the trenches, and Larry in the
training-camp, hurried scrawls from Father, looking after commissariat
business "somewhere in France", accounts of Nora's new housekeeping,
picture post cards from Peter and Cyril, brief, laborious, round-hand
epistles from Joan, and delightful chatty notes from Mother, who sent a
kind of family chronicle round to the absent members of her flock.

One Wednesday afternoon about the middle of October found Marjorie and
Dona walking along the road in the direction of Whitecliffe. They were
policed by Miss Norton, who was taking a detachment of exeat-holders
into the town, so that at present the company walked in a crocodile,
which, however, would soon split up and distribute its various members.
It was a lovely, fresh autumn day, and the girls stepped along briskly.
They wore their school hats, and badges with the brown, white, and blue
ribbons, and the regulation "exeat" uniform, brown Harris tweed skirts
and knitted heather-mixture sports coats.

"Nobody could mistake us for any other school," said Marjorie. "I feel
I'm as much labelled 'Brackenfield' as a Dartmoor prisoner is known by
his black arrows! It makes one rather conspicuous."

"Trust the Empress for that!" laughed Mollie Simpson, who was one of the
party. "You see, there are other schools at Whitecliffe, and other
girls go into the town too. Sometimes they're rather giggly and silly,
and we certainly don't want to get the credit for their escapades.
Everybody knows a 'Brackenfielder' at a glance, so there's no risk of
false reports. The Empress prides herself on our clear record. We've the
reputation of behaving beautifully!"

"We haven't much chance of doing anything else," said Marjorie, looking
rather ruefully in the direction of Miss Norton, who brought up the
rear.

At the cross-roads the Andersons found their cousin, Elaine, waiting for
them, and were handed over into her charge by their teacher, with strict
injunctions that they were to be escorted back to their respective
hostels by 6.30.

Marjorie waved good-bye to Mollie, and the school crocodile passed along
the road in the direction of Whitecliffe. When the last hat had bobbed
round the corner, and the shadow of Miss Norton's presence was really
removed for the space of four whole hours, the two girls each seized
Elaine by one of her hands and twirled her round in a wild jig of
triumph. Elaine was nearly twenty, old enough to just pass muster as an
escort in the eyes of Miss Norton, but young enough to be still almost a
schoolgirl at heart, and to thoroughly enjoy the afternoons of her
cousins' visits. She worked as a V.A.D. at the Red Cross Hospital, but
she was generally off duty by two o'clock and able to devote herself to
their amusement. She had come now straight from the hospital and was in
uniform.

"You promised to take us to see the Tommies," said Marjorie, as Elaine
turned down the side road and led the way towards home.

"The Commandant didn't want me to bring visitors to-day. There's a
little whitewashing and papering going on, and the place is in rather a
mess. You shall come another time, when we're all decorated and in
apple-pie order. Besides, we haven't many soldiers this week. We sent
away a batch of convalescents last Thursday, and we're expecting a fresh
contingent in any day. That's why we're taking the opportunity to have a
special cleaning."

"I wish I were old enough to be a V.A.D.!" sighed Marjorie. "I'd love it
better than anything else I can think of. It's my dream at present."

"I enjoy it thoroughly," said Elaine; "though, of course, there's plenty
to do, and sometimes the Commandant gets ratty over just nothing at all.
Have you St. John's Ambulance classes at school?"

"They're going to start next month, and I mean to join. I've put my name
down."

"And Dona too?"

"They're not for Juniors. We have a First Aid Instruction class of our
own," explained Dona; "but I hate it, because they always make me be the
patient, as I'm a new girl, and I don't like being bandaged, and walked
about after poisons, and restored from drowning, and all the rest of
it. It's rather a painful process to have your tongue pulled out and
your arms jerked up and down!"

"Poor old girl! Perhaps another victim will arrive at half-term and take
your place, then you'll have the satisfaction of performing all those
operations upon her. I've been through the same mill myself once upon a
time."

The Traffords' house, "The Tamarisks", stood on Cliff Walks, a pleasant
residential quarter somewhat away from the visitors' portion of the
town, with its promenade and lodging-houses. There was a beautiful view
over the sea, where to-day little white caps were breaking, and small
vessels bobbing about in a manner calculated to test the good seamanship
of any tourists who had ventured forth in them. Aunt Ellinor was in the
town at a Food Control Committee meeting, so Elaine for the present was
sole hostess.

"What shall we do?" she asked. "You may choose anything you like. The
cinema and tea at a café afterwards? Or a last game of tennis (the lawn
will just stand it)? Or shall we go for a scramble on the cliffs? Votes,
please."

Without any hesitation Dona and Marjorie plumped for the cliffs. They
loved walking, and, as their own home was inland, the seaside held
attractions. Elaine hastily changed into tweed skirt and sports coat,
found a favourite stick, and declared herself ready, and the three, in
very cheerful spirits, set out along the hillside.

It was one of those beautiful sunny October days when autumn seems to
have borrowed from summer, and the air is as warm and balmy as June.
Great flocks of sea-gulls wheeled screaming round the cliffs, their
wings flashing in the sunshine; red admiral and tortoise-shell
butterflies still fluttered over late specimens of flowers, and the
bracken was brown and golden underfoot. The girls were wild with the
delight of a few hours' emancipation from school rules, and flew about
gathering belated harebells, and running to the top of any little
eminence to get the view. After about a mile on the hills, they dipped
down a steep sandy path that led to the shore. They found themselves in
a delightful cove, with rugged rocks on either side and a belt of hard
firm sand. The tide was fairly well out, so they followed the retreating
waves to the water's edge. A recent stormy day had flung up great masses
of seaweed and hundreds of star-fish. Dona, whose tastes had just begun
to awaken in the direction of natural history, poked about with great
enjoyment collecting specimens. There were shells to be had on the sand,
and mermaids' purses, and bunches of whelks' eggs, and lovely little
stones that looked capable of being polished on the lapidary wheel which
Miss Jones had set up in the carpentering-room. For lack of a basket
Dona filled her own handkerchief and commandeered Marjorie's for the
same purpose. For the first time since she had left home she looked
perfectly happy. Dona's tastes were always quiet. She did not like
hockey practices or any very energetic games. She did not care about
mixing with the common herd of her schoolfellows, and much preferred
the society of one, or at most two friends. To live in the depths of the
country was her ideal.

Marjorie, on the contrary, liked the bustle of life. While Dona
investigated the clumps of seaweed, she plied Elaine with questions
about the hospital. Marjorie was intensely patriotic. She followed every
event of the war keenly, and was thrilled by the experiences of her
soldier father and brothers. She was burning to do something to help--to
nurse the wounded, drive a transport wagon, act as secretary to a
staff-officer, or even be telephone operator over in France--anything
that would be of service to her country and allow her to feel that she
had played her part, however small, in the conduct of the Great War. As
she watched the sea, she thought not so much of its natural history
treasures as of submarines and floating mines, and her heart went out to
Bevis, somewhere on deep waters keeping watchful guard against the
enemy.

It was so delightful in the cove that the girls were loath to go. They
climbed with reluctance up the steep sandy little path to the cliff. As
they neared the top they could hear voices in altercation--a
high-pitched, protesting, childish wail, and a blunt, uncompromising,
scolding retort. On the road above stood an invalid carriage, piled up
with innumerable parcels, and containing also a small boy. He was a
charmingly pretty little fellow, with a very pale, delicately oval face,
beautiful pathetic brown eyes, and rich golden hair that fell in curls
over his shoulders like a girl's. He was peering out from amidst the
host of packages and trying to look back along the road, and evidently
arguing some point with the utmost persistence. The untidy servant girl
who wheeled the carriage had stopped, and gave a heated reply.

"It's no use, I tell you! Goodness knows where you may have dropped it,
and if you think I'm going to traipse back you're much mistaken. We're
late as it is, and a pretty to-do there'll be when I get in. It's your
own fault for not taking better care of it."

"Have you lost anything?" enquired Elaine, as the girls entered the road
in the midst of the quarrel.

"It's his book," answered the servant. "He's dropped it out of the pram
somewhere on the way from Whitecliffe; but I can't go back for it, it's
too far, and we've got to be getting home."

"What kind of a book was it?" asked Marjorie.

"Fairy tales. Have you found it?" said the child eagerly. "All about
Rumpelstiltzkin and 'The Goose Girl' and 'The Seven Princesses'."

"We haven't found it, but we'll look for it on our way back. Have you
any idea where you dropped it?"

The little boy shook his head.

"I was reading it in the town while Lizzie went inside the shops. Then I
forgot about it till just now. Oh, I _must_ know what happened when the
Prince went to see the old witch!"

His brown eyes were full of tears and the corners of the pretty mouth
twitched.

"He's such a child for reading! At it all day long!" explained the
servant. "He thinks as much of an old book as some of us would of golden
sovereigns. Well, we must be getting on, Eric. I can't stop."

"Look here!" said Dona. "We'll hunt for the book on our way back to
Whitecliffe. If we find it we'll meet you here to-day fortnight at the
same time and give it to you."

"And suppose you don't find it?" quavered the little boy anxiously.

"I think the fairies will bring it to us somehow. You come here to-day
fortnight and see. Cheer oh! Don't cry!"

"He wants his tea," said the servant. "Hold on to those parcels, Eric,
or we shall be dropping something else."

The little boy put his arms round several lightly-balanced packages, and
tried to wave a good-bye to the girls as his attendant wheeled him away.

"Poor wee chap! I wonder what's the matter with him?" said Elaine, when
the long perambulator had turned the corner. "And I wonder where he can
possibly be going? There are no houses that way--only a wretched little
village with a few cottages."

"I can't place him at all," replied Marjorie. "He's not a poor person's
child, and he's not exactly a gentleman's. The carriage was very shabby,
with such an old rug; and the girl wasn't tidy enough for a nurse, she
looked like a general slavey. Dona, I don't believe you'll find that
book."

"I don't suppose I shall," returned Dona; "but I have _Grimm's Fairy
Tales_ at home, and I thought I'd write to Mother and ask her to send it
to Auntie's for me, then I could take it to him next exeat."

"Oh, good! What a splendid idea!"

Though the girls kept a careful look-out along the road they came across
no fairy-tale volume. Either someone else had picked it up, or it had
perhaps been dropped in the street at Whitecliffe. Dona wrote home
accordingly, and received the reply that her mother would post the book
to "The Tamarisks" in the course of a few days. The sisters watched the
weather anxiously when their fortnightly exeat came round. They were
fascinated with little Eric, and wanted to see him again. They could not
forget his pale, wistful face among the parcels in the long
perambulator. Luckily their holiday afternoon was fine, so they were
allowed to go to their aunt's under the escort of two prefects. They
found Elaine ready to start, and much interested in the errand.

"The book came a week ago," she informed Dona. "I expect your young man
will be waiting at the tryst."

"He's not due till half-past four--if he keeps the appointment exactly,"
laughed Dona; "but I've brought a basket to-day, so let's go now to the
cove and get specimens while we're waiting."

If the girls were early at the meeting-place the little boy was earlier
still. The long perambulator was standing by the roadside when they
reached the path to the cove. Lizzie, the servant girl, greeted them
with enthusiasm.

"Why, here you are!" she cried. "I never expected you'd come, and I told
Eric so. I said it wasn't in reason you'd remember, and he'd only be
disappointed. But he's thought of nothing else all this fortnight. He's
been ill again, and he shouldn't really be out to-day, because the pram
jolts him; but I've got to go to Whitecliffe, and he worried so to come
that his ma said: 'Best put on his things and take him; he'll cry
himself sick if he's left'."

The little pale face was whiter even than before, there were large dark
rings round the brown eyes, and the golden hair curled limply to-day.
Eric did not speak, but he looked with a world of wistfulness at the
parcel in Dona's hand.

"I couldn't find your book, but I've brought you mine instead, and I
expect it's just the same," explained Dona, untying the string.

A flush of rose pink spread over Eric's cheeks, the frail little hands
trembled as he fingered his treasure.

"It's nicer than mine! It's got coloured pictures!" he gasped.

"If it jolts him to be wheeled about to-day," said Elaine to the servant
girl, "would you like to leave him here with us while you go into
Whitecliffe? We'd take the greatest care of him."

"Why, I'd be only too glad. I can tell you it's no joke wheeling that
pram up the hills. Will you stay here, Eric, with the young ladies till
I come back?"

Eric nodded gravely. He was busy examining the illustrations in his new
book. The girls wheeled him to a sheltered place out of the wind, and
set to work to entertain him. He was perfectly willing to make friends.

"I've got names for you all," he said shyly. "I made them up while I was
in bed. You," pointing to Elaine, "are Princess Goldilocks; and you,"
with a finger at Marjorie and Dona, "are two fairies, Bluebell and
Silverstar. No, I don't want to know your real names; I like make-up
ones better. We always play fairies when Titania comes to see me."

"Who's Titania?"

"She's my auntie. She's the very loveliest person in all the world.
There's no one like her. We have such fun, and I forget my leg hurts.
Shall we play fairies now?"

"If you'll show us how," said the girls.

It was a very long time before Lizzie, well laden with parcels, returned
from Whitecliffe, and the self-constituted nurses had plenty of time to
make Eric's acquaintance. They found him a charming little fellow, full
of quaint fancies and a delicate humour. His chatter amused them
immensely, yet there was an element of pathos through it all; he looked
so frail and delicate, like a fairy changeling, or some being of another
world. They wondered if he would ever be able to run about like other
children.

"Good-bye!" he said, when Lizzie, full of apologies and thanks, resumed
her charge. "Come again some time and play with me! I'm going home now
in my Cinderella coach to my Enchanted Palace. Take care of giants on
your way back. And don't talk to witches. I won't forget you."

"He's hugging his book," said Marjorie, as the girls stood waving a
farewell. "Isn't he just too precious for words?"

"Sweetest thing I've ever seen!" agreed Dona.

"Poor little chap! I wonder if he'll ever grow up," said Elaine
thoughtfully. "I wish we'd asked where he lives, and we might have sent
him some picture post cards."

"I'm afraid 'The Enchanted Palace' wouldn't find him," laughed Marjorie.
"We must try to come here another Wednesday."

But the next fortnightly half-holiday was wet, and after that the days
began to grow dark early, and Aunt Ellinor suggested other amusements
than walks on the cliffs, so for that term at any rate the girls did not
see Eric again. He seemed to have made his appearance suddenly, like a
pixy child, and to have vanished back into Fairyland. There was a link
between them, however, and some time Fate would pull the chain and bring
their lives into touch once more.



CHAPTER V

Autographs


The Brackenfielders, like most other girls, were given to fads. The
collecting mania, in a variety of forms, raged hot and strong. There
were the Natural History enthusiasts, who went in select parties,
personally conducted by a mistress, to the shore at low tide, to grub
blissfully among the rocks for corallines and zoophytes and spider crabs
and madrepores and anemones, to be placed carefully in jam jars and
brought back to the school aquarium. "The Gnats", as the members of the
Natural History Society were named, sometimes pursued their
investigations with more zeal than discretion, and they generally
returned from their rambles with skirts much the worse for green slime
and sea water, and boots coated with sand and mud, but brimming over
with the importance of their "finds", and confounding non-members by the
ease with which they rapped out long scientific names. Those who had
caught butterflies and moths during the summer spent some of their
leisure now in relaxing and setting them, and pinning them into cases.
It was considered etiquette to offer the best specimens to the school
museum, but the girls also made private collections, and vied with one
another in the possession of rare varieties.

The Photographic Society enjoyed a run of great popularity. There was an
excellent dark room, with every facility for developing and washing, and
this term the members had subscribed for an enlarging apparatus, with
which they hoped to do great things. As well as these recognized school
pursuits, the girls had all kinds of minor waves of fashion in the way
of hobbies. Sometimes they liked trifling things, such as scraps,
transfers, coloured beads, pictures taken from book catalogues or
illustrated periodicals, newspaper cuttings or attractive
advertisements, or they would soar to the more serious collecting of
stamps, crests, badges, and picture post cards. In Marjorie's dormitory
the taste was for celebrities. Sylvia Page, who was musical, adorned her
cubicle with charming photogravures of the great composers. Irene
Andrews, whose ambition was to "come out" if there was anybody left to
dance with after the war, pinned up the portraits of Society beauties;
Betty Moore, of sporting tendencies, kept the illustrations of prize
dogs and their owners, from _The Queen_ and other ladies' papers.
Marjorie, not to be outdone by the others, covered her fourth share of
the wall with "heroes". Whenever she saw that some member of His
Majesty's forces had been awarded the V.C., she would cut out his
portrait and add it to her gallery of honour. She wrote to her mother
and her sister Nora to help her in this hobby, with the consequence that
every letter which arrived for her contained enclosures. Her room-mates
were on the whole good-natured, and in return for some contributions she
had given to their collections they also wrote home for any V.C.
portraits which could be procured. As the girls were putting away their
clean clothes on "laundry return" day, Irene fumbled in her pocket and
drew out a letter, from which she produced some cuttings. She handed
them to Marjorie.

"Mother sent me five to-day," she said. "I hope you haven't got them
already. Two are rather nice and clear, because they're out of _The
Onlooker_, and are printed on better paper than most. The others are
just ordinary."

"All's fish that comes to my net," replied Marjorie. "I think they're
topping. No, I haven't got any of these. Thanks most awfully!"

"Don't mench! I'll try to beg some more. They've always heaps of papers
and magazines at home, and Mother looks through them to find my
pictures. No, you're not taking the 'heroes' away from me. I like them,
but I don't want to collect them. My cube won't hold everything."

Marjorie sat down on her bed and turned over the new additions to her
gallery. Three of them were the usual rather blurred newspaper prints,
but, as Irene had said, two were on superior paper and very clear. One
of these represented an officer with a moustache, the other was a
private and clean shaven. Marjorie looked at them at first rather
casually, then examined the latter with interest. She had seen that face
before--the shape of the forehead, the twinkling dark eyes, and the
humorous smile all seemed familiar. Instantly there rose to her memory a
vision of the crowded railway carriage from Silverwood, of the run along
the platform at Rosebury, and of the search for a taxi at Euston.

"I verily believe it's that nice Tommy who helped us!" she gasped to
herself.

She looked at the inscription underneath, which set forth that Private
H. T. Preston, West Yorks Regiment, had been awarded the V.C. for pluck
in removing a "fired" Stokes shell.

"Why, that's the same regiment that Leonard is in! How frightfully
interesting!" she thought. "So his name is Preston. I wonder what H. T.
stands for--Harry, or Herbert, or Hugh, or Horace? He was most
unmistakably a gentleman. He's going to have the best place among my
heroes. If the picture were only smaller, I'd wear it in a locket. I
wonder whether I could get it reduced if I joined the Photographic
Society? I believe I'll give in my name on the chance. I must show it to
Dona. She'll be thrilled."

The portrait of Private H. T. Preston was accordingly placed in a bijou
frame, and hung up on the wall by the side of Marjorie's bed, in select
company with Kitchener, Sir Douglas Haig, the Prince of Wales, and His
Majesty the King. She looked at it every morning when she woke up. The
whimsical brown eyes had quite a friendly expression.

"Where is he fighting now--and shall I ever meet him again?" she
wondered. "I'm glad, at least, that I have his picture."

Marjorie lived for news of the war. She devoured the sheets of
closely-written foreign paper sent home by Father, Bevis, and Leonard.
She followed all the experiences they described, and tried to imagine
them in their dug-outs, on the march, sleeping in rat-ridden barns, or
cruising the Channel to sweep mines. When she awoke in the night and
heard the rain falling, she would picture the wet trenches, and she
often looked at the calm still moon, and thought how it shone alike on
peaceful white cliffs and on stained battle-fields in Flanders. The
aeroplanes that guarded the coast were a source of immense interest at
Brackenfield. The girls would look up to see them whizzing overhead.
There was a poster at the school depicting hostile aircraft, and they
often gazed into the sky with an apprehension that one of the Hun
pattern might make its sudden appearance. Annie Turner came back after
the half-term holiday with the signatures of two Field-Marshals, a
General, a Member of Parliament, three authors, an inventor, and a
composer, and straightway set the fashion at St. Elgiva's for
autographs. Nearly every girl in the house sent to the Stores at
Whitecliffe for an album. At present, of course, specimens of caligraphy
could only be had from mistresses and prefects, except by those lucky
ones whose home people enclosed for them little slips of writing-paper
with signatures, which could be pasted into the books.

Nobody took up the hobby more hotly than Marjorie. Her album was bound
in blue morocco with gilt edges, and had coloured pages. The portion of
it reserved for Brackenfield was soon filled by the Empress, mistresses,
and prefects, who were long-suffering, though they must have grown very
weary of signing their names in such a large number of books. Outside
the school Marjorie so far had no luck. Her people did not seem to have
any very noteworthy acquaintances, or, at any rate, would not trouble
them for their autographs. She had thought it would be quite easy for
Father to secure the signatures of generals and diplomats, but in his
next letter he did not even refer to her request. Elaine secured for her
the name of the Commandant of the Red Cross Hospital, and of a lady who
sometimes wrote verses to be set to music, but these could not compete
with the treasures some other girls had to show. Marjorie began to get a
little downhearted about the new fad, and had serious thoughts of
utilizing the album as a book of quotations.

Then, one day, something happened. Sixteen girls were taken by Miss
Franklin for a parade walk into Whitecliffe, and Marjorie was chosen
among the number. Every week a small contingent, under charge of a
mistress, was allowed to go into the town to do some shopping. The
chance only fell once in a term to each individual, so it was a
cherished privilege.

They first visited the Stores, where a long halt was allowed in the
confectionery department for the purchase of sweets. The investment in
these was considerable, for each girl not only bought her own, but
executed commissions for numerous friends. There was a school limit of a
quarter of a pound per head, but Miss Franklin was not over strict, and
the rule was certainly exceeded. The book and magazine counter also
received a visit, and the stationery department, for there was at
present a fashion for fancy paper and envelopes, with sealing-wax or
picture wafers to match, and the toilet counter had its customers for
scent and cold cream and practical articles such as sponges and tooth
paste. There was a sensation when Enid Young was discovered
surreptitiously buying pink Papier Poudré, though she assured them that
it was not for herself, but for one of the Seniors, whose name she had
promised not to divulge, under pain of direst extremities. Poor Miss
Franklin had an agitating hour escorting her flock from one department
to another of the Stores and keeping them all as much as possible
together. She breathed a sigh of relief when they were once more in the
street, and walking two and two in a neat, well-conducted crocodile.
They marched down Sandy Walks to the Market Place, and turned along the
promenade to go back by the Cliff Road. In this autumn season there were
generally very few people along the sea front, but to-day quite a crowd
had collected on the sands. They were all standing gazing up into the
sky, where an aeroplane was flitting about like a big dragon-fly. Now
when a crowd exhibits agitation, bystanders naturally become curious as
to what is the cause of the excitement. Miss Franklin, though a teacher,
was human; moreover, she always suspected every aeroplane of being
German in its origin. She called a halt, therefore, and enquired from
one of the sky-gazers what was the matter.

"It's Captain Devereux, the great French airman," was the reply. "He's
just flown over from Paris, and he's been looping the loop. There! He's
going to do it again!"

Immensely thrilled, the girls stared cloudwards as the aeroplane, after
describing several circles, turned a neat somersault. They clapped as if
the performance had been specially given for their benefit.

"He's coming down!" "He's going to descend!" "He'll land on the beach!"
came in excited ejaculations from the crowd, as the aeroplane began
gently to drop in a slanting direction towards the sands. Like the wings
of some enormous bird the great planes whizzed by, and in another moment
the machine was resting on a firm piece of shingle close to the
promenade. Its near vicinity was quite too much for the girls; without
waiting for permission they broke ranks and rushed down the steps to
obtain a nearer view. Captain Devereux had alighted, and was now
standing bowing with elaborate French politeness to the various
strangers who addressed him, and answering their questions as to the
length of time it had taken him to fly from Paris. He looked so
courteous and good-tempered that a sudden idea flashed into Marjorie's
head, and, without waiting to ask leave from Miss Franklin, she rushed
up to the distinguished aviator and panted out impulsively:

"Oh, I do think it was splendid! Will you please give me your
autograph?"

The Frenchman smiled.

"With pleasure, Mademoiselle!" he replied gallantly, and, taking a
notebook and fountain pen from his pocket, he wrote in a neat foreign
hand:

    "HENRI RAOUL DEVEREUX",

and handed the slip to the delighted Marjorie.

"Oh, write one for me, please!" "And for me!" exclaimed the other girls,
anxious to have their share if autographs were being given away. The
airman was good-natured, perhaps a little flattered at receiving so much
attention from a bevy of young ladies. He rapidly scribbled his
signature, tearing out sheet after sheet from his notebook. So excited
were the girls that they would take no notice of Miss Franklin, who
called them to order. It was not until the sixteenth damsel had received
her coveted scrap of paper that discipline was restored, and the
crocodile once more formed and marched off in the direction of
Brackenfield.

Miss Franklin's eyes were flashing, and her mouth was set. She did not
speak on the way back, but at the gate her indignation found words.

"I never was so ashamed in my life!" she burst forth. "I shall at once
report your unladylike conduct to Mrs. Morrison. You're a disgrace to
the school!"



CHAPTER VI

Trouble


Marjorie and her fellow autograph collectors from St. Elgiva's entered
the sitting-room in a state of much exhilaration, to boast of their
achievement.

"You didn't!" exclaimed Betty Moore. "You mean to say you ran up and
asked him under Frankie's very nose? Marjorie, you are the limit!"

"He was as nice as anything about it. I think he's a perfect dear. He
didn't seem to mind at all, rather liked it, in fact! Here's his neat
little signature. Do you want to look?"

"Well, you have luck, though you needn't cock-a-doodle so dreadfully
over it. How did Frankie take it?"

"Oh, she was rather ratty, of course; but who cares? We've got our
autographs, and that's the main thing. One has to risk something."

"We'll get something, too, in my opinion," said Patricia Lennox, one of
the sinners. "Frankie was worse than ratty, she was absolutely savage. I
could see it in her eye."

"Well, we can't help it if we do receive a few order marks. It was well
worth it, in my opinion," chuckled Marjorie shamelessly.

She bluffed things off before the other girls, but secretly she felt
rather uneasy. Miss Franklin's threat to report the matter to Mrs.
Morrison recurred to her memory. At Brackenfield to carry any question
to the Principal was an extreme measure. The Empress liked her teachers
to be able to manage their girls on their own authority, and, knowing
this, they generally conducted their struggles without appeal to
head-quarters. Any very flagrant breach of discipline, however, was
expected to be reported, so that the case could be dealt with as it
deserved.

Marjorie went into the dining-hall for tea with a thrill akin to that
which she usually suffered when visiting the dentist. To judge from
their heightened colour and conspicuously callous manner, Rose Butler,
Patricia Lennox, Phyllis Bingham, Laura Norris, Gertrude Holmes, and
Evelyn Pickard were experiencing the same sensations. They fully
expected to receive three order marks apiece, which would mean bed
immediately after supper, instead of going to the needlework union. To
their surprise Miss Franklin took no notice of them. She was sitting
amongst the Juniors, and did not even look in their direction. They took
care not to do anything which should attract attention to themselves,
and the meal passed over in safety. Preparation followed immediately.
Marjorie found the image of the aviator and Miss Franklin's outraged
expression kept obtruding themselves through her studies, causing sad
confusion amongst French irregular verbs, and driving the principal
battles of the Civil Wars into the sidewalks of her memory. She made a
valiant effort to pull herself together, and, looking up, caught Rose
Butler's eye. Rose held up for a moment a piece of paper, upon which she
had executed a fancy sketch of Captain Devereux and his aeroplane
surrounded by schoolgirls, and Miss Franklin in the background raising
hands of horror. It was too much for Marjorie's sense of humour, and she
chuckled audibly. Miss Norton promptly glared in her direction, and gave
her an order mark, which sobered her considerably.

When preparation was over the girls changed their dresses and came down
for supper, and again Miss Franklin took no notice of the sinners of the
afternoon. They began to breathe more freely.

"Perhaps she's going to overlook it," whispered Rose.

"After all, I can't see that we did anything so very wrong," maintained
Phyllis.

"Frankie's jealous because she didn't get an autograph for herself,"
chuckled Laura.

"I don't believe we shall hear another word about it," asserted Evelyn.

The interval between supper and prayers was spent by the girls in their
own hostels. At present each house was busy with a needlework union.
They were making articles for a small bazaar, that was to be held at the
school in the spring in aid of the Red Cross Society. They sat and sewed
while a mistress read a book aloud to them. Marjorie was embroidering a
nightdress case in ribbon-work. She used a frame, and enjoyed pulling
her ribbons through into semblance of little pink roses and blue
forget-me-nots. In contrast with French verbs and the Civil Wars the
occupation was soothing. Ever afterwards it was associated in her mind
with the story of _Cranford_, which was being read aloud, and the very
sight of ribbon-work would recall Miss Matty or the other quaint
inhabitants of the old-world village.

At ten minutes to nine a bell rang, sewing-baskets were put away, and
the girls trooped into the big hall for prayers.

If by that time any remembrance of her afternoon's misdeeds entered
Marjorie's mind, it was to congratulate herself that the trouble had
blown over successfully. She was certainly not prepared for what was to
happen.

Mrs. Morrison mounted the platform as usual, and read prayers, and the
customary hymn followed. At its close, instead of dismissing the girls
to their hostels, the Principal made a signal for them to resume their
seats.

"I have something to say to you this evening," she began gravely.
"Something which I feel demands the presence of the whole school. It is
with the very greatest regret I bring this matter before you.
Brackenfield, as you are aware, will soon celebrate its tenth birthday.
During all these years of its existence it has always prided itself upon
the extremely high reputation in respect of manners and conduct which
its pupils have maintained in the neighbourhood. So far, at
Whitecliffe, the name of a Brackenfield girl has been synonymous with
perfectly and absolutely ladylike behaviour. There are other schools in
the town, and it is possible that there may be among them some spirit of
rivalry towards Brackenfield. The inhabitants or visitors at Whitecliffe
will naturally notice any party of girls who are proceeding in line
through the town, they will note their school hats, observe their
conduct, and judge accordingly the establishment from which they come.
Every girl when on parade has the reputation of Brackenfield in her
keeping. So strong has been the spirit not only of loyalty to the
school, but of innate good breeding, that up to this day our traditions
have never yet been broken. I say sorrowfully up till to-day, for this
very afternoon an event has occurred which, in the estimation of myself
and my colleagues, has trailed our Brackenfield standards in the dust.
Sixteen girls, who under privilege of a parade exeat visited
Whitecliffe, have behaved in a manner which fills me with astonishment
and disgust. That they could so far forget themselves as to break line,
rush on to the shore, crowd round and address a perfect stranger, passes
my comprehension, and this under the eyes of two other schools who were
walking along the promenade, and who must have been justly amazed and
shocked. The girls who this afternoon were on exeat parade will kindly
stand up."

Sixteen conscience-stricken miserable sinners rose to their feet, and,
feeling themselves the centre for more than two hundred pairs of eyes,
yearned for the earth to yawn and swallow them up. Mrs. Morrison
regarded them for a moment or two in silence.

"Each of you will now go to her own house and fetch the autograph she
secured," continued the mistress grimly. "I give you three minutes."

There was a hurried exit, and the school sat and waited until the
luckless sixteen returned.

"Bring them to me!" commanded Mrs. Morrison, and in turn each girl
handed over her slip of paper with the magic signature "Henri Raoul
Devereux". The Principal placed them together, then, her eyes flashing,
tore them into shreds.

"Girls who have deliberately broken rules, defied the authority of my
colleague, which is equivalent to defying me, and have lowered the
prestige of the school in the eyes of the world, deserve the contempt of
their comrades, who, I hope, will show their opinion of such conduct. I
feel that any imposition I can give them is inadequate, and that their
own sense of shame should be sufficient punishment; yet, in order to
enforce the lesson, I shall expect each to recite ten lines of poetry to
her House Mistress every morning before breakfast until the end of the
term; and Marjorie Anderson, who, I understand, was the instigator of
the whole affair, will spend Saturday afternoon indoors until she has
copied out the whole of Bacon's essay on 'Empire'. You may go now."

Marjorie slunk off to St. Elgiva's in an utterly wretched frame of mind.
It was bad enough to be reproved in company with fifteen others, but to
be singled out for special condemnation and held up to obloquy before
all the school was terrible. In spite of herself hot tears were in her
eyes. She tried to blink them back, for crying was scouted at
Brackenfield, but just at that moment she came across Rose, Phyllis,
Laura, and Gertrude weeping openly in a corner.

"I'll never hold up my head again!" gulped Phyllis. "Oh, the Empress was
cross! And I'm sure it was all because those wretched girls from 'Hope
Hall' and 'The Birches' were walking along the promenade and saw us. If
they'd had any sense they'd have rushed down and asked for autographs
for themselves."

"It was mean of the Empress to tear ours up!" moaned Gertrude. "I call
that a piece of temper on her part!"

"And after all, I don't see that we did anything so very dreadful!"
choked Rose. "Mrs. Morrison was awfully down on us!"

"I hate learning poetry before breakfast!" wailed Laura.

"I'm the worst off," sighed Marjorie. "I've got to spend Saturday
afternoon pen-driving, and it's the match with Holcombe. I'm just the
unluckiest girl in the whole school. Strafe it all! It's a grizzly
nuisance. I should like to slay myself!"

To Marjorie no punishment was greater than being forced to stay indoors.
She was essentially an open-air girl, and after a long morning in the
schoolroom her whole soul craved for the playing-fields. She had taken
up hockey with the utmost enthusiasm. She keenly enjoyed the practices,
and was deeply interested in the matches played by the school team. The
event on Saturday afternoon was considered to be of special importance,
for Brackenfield was to play the First Eleven of the Holcombe Ladies'
Club. They had rather a good reputation, and the game would probably be
a stiff tussle. Every Brackenfielder considered it her duty to be
present to watch the match and encourage the School Eleven.

Marjorie would have given worlds to evade her punishment task that
Saturday, but Mrs. Morrison's orders were as the laws of the Medes and
Persians that cannot be altered, so she was policed to the St. Elgiva's
sitting-room by Miss Norton, and provided with sheets of exercise paper
and a copy of Bacon's _Essays_.

"I shall expect it to be finished by tea-time," said the mistress
briefly. "If not, you will have to stay in again on Monday."

Marjorie frowned at the threat of further confinement, and settled
herself with rather aggressive slowness. She was in a pixy mood, and did
not mean to show any special haste in beginning her unwelcome work. Miss
Norton glared at her, but made no further remark, and with a glance at
the clock left the room. All the girls had already gone to the
hockey-field, and Marjorie had St. Elgiva's to herself. She opened the
book languidly, found Essay XIX, "Of Empire", and groaned.

"It'll take me the whole afternoon, strafe it all!" she muttered. "I
wish Francis Bacon had never existed! I wonder the Empress didn't tell
me to write an essay on Aeroplanes. If I drew them all round the edges
of the pages, I wonder what would happen? I'd love to do it, and put
Captain Devereux's picture at the end! I expect I'd get expelled if I
did. Oh dear! It's a weary world! I wish I were old enough to leave
school and drive a transport wagon. Have I got to stop here till I'm
eighteen? Another two years and a half, nearly! It gives me spasms to
think of it!"

She dipped her pen in the ink and copied:

"It is a miserable state of mind to have few things to desire, and many
things to fear."

"I agree with old Bacon," she commented. "Only I've got great heaps of
things to desire, and the one I want most at present is to go to the
hockey match. I wish his shade would come and help me! They didn't play
hockey in his days, so it would be a new experience for him. Francis
Bacon, I command you to give me a hand with your wretched essay, and
I'll take you to the match in return!"

A smart rap-tap on the window behind her made Marjorie start and turn
round in a hurry. Her invocation, however, had not called up the ghostly
countenance of the defunct Sir Francis to face her; it was Dona's
roguish-looking eyes which twinkled at her from the other side of the
pane.

"Open the window!" ordered that damsel.

Marjorie obeyed in much amazement. Dona was standing at the top of a
ladder which just reached to the window-sill.

"Old Williams has been clipping the ivy," she explained, "so I've
commandeered his ladder. I haven't broken any rules. I've never been
told that I mustn't get up a ladder."

The girls' sitting-room at St. Elgiva's was on the upper floor, and
members of other houses were strictly forbidden to mount the stairs.
Marjorie laughed at Dona's evasion of the edict.

"Give me a hand and I'll toddle in," continued the latter. "Steady oh!
Don't pull too hard. Here I am!"

"Glad to see you, but you'll get into a jinky little row if the Acid
Drop catches you!"

"Right oh, chucky! The Acid Drop is at this moment watching the team for
all she's worth. She's awfully keen on hockey."

"I know. And so am I," said Marjorie aggrievedly. "It's the limit to
miss this match."

"You're not going to miss it altogether. I've come to help you. Here,
give me a pen, and I'll copy some of the stuff out for you. Our
writing's so alike no one will guess--and you'll get out at half-time."

"You mascot! But you're missing the match yourself!"

"I don't care twopence. I'm not keen on hockey like you are. Give me a
pen, I tell you!"

"But how are we to manage?" objected Marjorie. "If we do alternate pages
we shan't each know where to begin, and we can't leave spaces, or the
Acid Drop would twig."

"Marjorie Anderson, I always thought you'd more brains than I have, but
you're not clever to-day! You must write small, so as to get each line
of print exactly into a line of exercise paper. There are twenty blue
lines on each sheet--very well then, you copy the first twenty of old
Bacon, and I'll copy the second twenty, and there we are, alternate
pages, as neat as you please!"

"Dona, you've a touch of genius about you!" purred Marjorie.

The plan answered admirably. By writing small, it was quite possible to
bring each line of print into correspondence with the manuscript. There
were a hundred and twenty lines altogether in the essay, which worked
out at six pages of exercise paper. Each counted out her own portion,
then scribbled away as fast as was consistent with keeping the size of
her caligraphy within due bounds. Thirty-five minutes' hard work brought
them to the last word. Marjorie breathed a sigh of rapture, fastened the
pages together with a clip, and took them downstairs to Miss Norton's
study.

"You're an absolute trump, old girl!" she said to Dona.

The latter, meantime, had run downstairs and removed the ladder back to
where she had found it, so that no trace of her little adventure should
be left behind. The two girls hurried off to the playing-field, but took
care not to approach together, in case of awakening suspicions.

Everybody's attention was so concentrated on the match that Marjorie
slipped into a crowd of Intermediates unnoticed by mistresses. She was
in time for part of the game, and keenly enjoyed watching a brilliant
run by Daisy Edwards, and a terrific tussle on the back line resulting
in a splendid shot by Hilda Alworthy. When the whistle blew for time the
score stood six goals to three, Brackenfield leading, and Marjorie
joined with enthusiasm in the cheers. She loitered a little in the
field, and came back among the last. Miss Norton, who was standing in
the hall, looked at her keenly as she entered St. Elgiva's, but the
teacher had just found the essay "Of Empire" laid on her desk, and,
turning it over, had marked it correct. If she had any suspicions she
did not voice them, but allowed the matter to pass.



CHAPTER VII

Dormitory No. 9


After the sad fiasco recorded in the last chapter, Marjorie's interest
in autographs languished. She took up photography instead, and bartered
a quite nice little collection of foreign stamps with one of the Seniors
in exchange for a second-hand Kodak. Of course, it was much too late in
the year for snapshots, but she managed to get a few time exposures on
bright days, and enjoyed herself afterwards in the developing-room. She
wanted to make a series of views of the school and send them to her
father and to her brothers, for she knew how much they appreciated such
things at the front. In his last letter to her, Daddy had said: "I am
glad you and Dona are happy at Brackenfield, and wish I could picture
you there. I expect it is something like a boys' school. Tell me about
your doings. I love to have your letters, even though I may not have
time to answer them."

Daddy's letters were generally of the round-robin description, and were
handed on from one member to another of the family, but this had been
specially written to Marjorie and addressed to Brackenfield, so it was a
great treasure. She determined to do her best to satisfy the demands for
photos.

"You darling!" she said, kissing his portrait. "I think you're a
thousand times nicer-looking than any of the other girls' fathers! I do
wonder when you'll get leave and come home. If it's not in the holidays
I declare I'll run away and see you!"

In her form Marjorie was making fair progress. She liked Miss Duckworth,
her teacher, and on the whole did not find the work too hard; her brains
were bright when she chose to use them, and at present the thought of
the Christmas report, which would be sent out for Daddy to look at,
spurred on her efforts. So far Marjorie had not made any very great
chums at school. She inclined to Mollie Simpson, but Mollie, like
herself, was of a rather masterful disposition, and squabbles almost
invariably ensued before the two had been long together. With the three
girls who shared her dormitory she was on quite friendly, though not
warm, terms. They had at first considered Marjorie inclined to "boss",
and had made her thoroughly understand that, as a new girl, such an
attitude could not be tolerated in her. So long as she was content to
manage her own cubicle and not theirs they were pleasant enough, but
they united in a firm triumvirate of resistance whenever symptoms of
swelled head began to arise in their room-mate.

One evening about the end of November the four girls were dressing for
supper in their dormitory.

"It's a grizzly nuisance having to change one's frock!" groused Betty
Moore. "It seems so silly to array oneself in white just to eat supper
and do a little sewing afterwards. I hate the bother."

"Do you?" exclaimed Irene Andrews. "Now I like it. I think it would be
perfectly piggy to wear the same serge dress from breakfast to bedtime.
Brackenfield scores over some schools in that. They certainly make
things nice for us in the evenings."

"Um--yes, tolerably," put in Sylvia Page. "We don't get enough music, in
my opinion."

"We have a concert every Saturday night, and charades on Wednesdays for
those who care to act."

"I'd like gym practice every evening," said Betty. "Then I needn't
change my frock. When I leave school I mean to go on a farm, and wear
corduroy knickers and leggings and thick boots all the time. It'll be
gorgeous. I love anything to do with horses, so perhaps they'll let me
plough. What shall you do, Marjorie?"

"Something to help the war, if it isn't over. I'll nurse, or drive a
wagon, or ride a motor-bike with dispatches."

"I'd rather ride a horse than a bike any day," said Betty. "I used to
hunt before the war. You needn't smile. I was twelve when the war began,
and I'd been hunting since I was seven, and got my first pony. It was a
darling little brown Shetland named Sheila. I cried oceans when it died.
My next was a grey one named Charlie, and Tom, our coachman, taught me
to take fences. He put up some little hurdles in a field, and kept
making them higher and higher till I could get Charlie over quite well.
Oh, it was sport! I wish I'd a pony here."

"There used to be riding lessons before the war," sighed Irene. "Mother
had promised me I should learn. But now, of course, there are no horses
to be had, and the riding-master, Mr. Hall, has gone to the front. I
wonder if things will ever be the same again? If I don't learn to ride
properly while I'm young I'll never have a decent seat afterwards, I
suppose."

"You certainly won't," Betty assured her. "You ought to have begun when
you were seven."

"Oh dear! And I shall be sixteen on Wednesday!"

"Is it your birthday next Wednesday?"

"Yes, but it won't be much fun. We're not allowed to do anything
particular, worse luck."

It was one of the Brackenfield rules that no notice must be taken of
birthdays. Girls might receive presents from home, but they were not to
claim any special privileges or exemptions, to ask for exeats, or to
bring cakes into the dining-hall. In a school of more than two hundred
pupils it would have been difficult continually to make allowances first
to one girl and then to another, and though in a sense all recognized
the necessity of the rule, those whose birthdays fell during term-time
bemoaned their hard fate.

It struck Marjorie as a very cheerless proceeding. She found an
opportunity, when Irene was out of the way, to talk to her room-mates on
the subject.

"Look here," she began. "It's Renie's birthday on Wednesday. I do think
it's the limit that we're not supposed to take any notice of it. I vote
we get up a little blow-out on our own for her. Let's have a beano after
we're in bed."

"What a blossomy idea! Good for you, Marjorie! I'm your man if there's
any fun on foot," agreed Betty enthusiastically.

"It'll be lovely; but how are we going to manage the catering
department?" enquired Sylvia.

"Some of the Juniors will be going on parade to Whitecliffe on
Wednesday. I'll ask Dona to ask them to get a few things for us. We must
have a cake, and some candles, and some cocoa, and some condensed milk,
and anything else they can smuggle. Are you game?"

"Rather! If you'll undertake to be general of the commissariat
department."

"All serene! Don't say a word about it to anyone else at St. Elgiva's.
I'll swear Dona to secrecy, and the St. Ethelberta kids aren't likely to
tell. They do the same themselves sometimes. And don't on any account
let Renie have wind of it. It's to be a surprise."

On Wednesday evening, before supper, Marjorie met Dona by special
appointment in the gymnasium, and the latter hastily thrust a parcel
into her arms.

"You wouldn't believe what difficulty I had to get it," she whispered.
"Mona and Peachy weren't at all willing. They said they didn't see why
they should take risks for St. Elgiva's, and you might run your own
beano. I had to bribe them with ever so many of my best crests before I
could make them promise. They say Miss Jones has got suspicious now
about bulgy coats, and actually feels them. They have to sling bags
under their skirts and it's so uncomfy walking home. However, they did
their best for you. There's a cake, and three boxes of Christmas-tree
candles, and a tin of condensed milk. They couldn't get the cocoa,
because just as they were going to buy it Miss Jones came up.
Everything's dearer, and you didn't give them enough. Mona paid, and you
owe her fivepence halfpenny extra."

"I'll give it you to-morrow at lunch-time. Thank them both most awfully.
I think they're regular trumps. I'll give them some of my crests if they
like--I'm not really collecting and don't want them. Think of us about
midnight if you happen to wake. I wish you could join us."

"So do I. But that's quite out of the question. Never mind; we have bits
of fun ourselves sometimes."

Marjorie managed to convey her parcel unnoticed to No. 9 Dormitory.
According to arrangement, Betty and Sylvia were waiting there for her.
Irene, still oblivious of the treat in store for her, had not yet come
upstairs. The three confederates undid their package, and gloated over
its contents. The cake was quite a respectable one for war-time, to
judge from appearances it had cherries in it, and there was a piece of
candied peel on the top. The little boxes of Christmas-tree candles held
half a dozen apiece, assorted colours. They took sixteen of them,
sharpened the ends, and stuck them down into the cake.

"When it's lighted it will look A 1," purred Betty.

"How are we going to open the tin of condensed milk?" asked Sylvia.

"It's one of those tins you prise up," said Marjorie jauntily. "Give it
to me. A penny's the best weapon. Here you are! Quite easy."

"Yes, but there's another lid underneath. You're not at the milk yet."

Marjorie's feathers began to fall. She was not quite as clever as she
had thought.

"Here, I'll do it," said Betty, snatching the tin. "Take down a picture
and pull the nail out of the wall, and give me a boot to hammer with.
You've to go through this arrow point and then the thing prises up.
Steady! Here we are!"

"Cave! Renie's coming. Stick the things away!"

Marjorie hastily seized the feast, and bestowed it inside her wardrobe.
Thanks to the drawn curtains of her cubicle Irene had not obtained even
a glimpse.

"What are you three doing inside there?" she asked curiously, but no one
would tell. The secret was not to be given away too soon.

The conspirators had decided that it would be wiser not to ask any other
girls to join the party, but to keep the affair entirely to their own
dormitory.

"They'll make such a noise if we have them in, and it will wake the Acid
Drop and bring her down upon us," said Sylvia.

"Besides which, it's only a small cake and wouldn't go round," stated
Betty practically.

Irene went to bed in a fit of the blues. Only half her presents had
turned up, and two of her aunts had not written to her.

"It's been a rotten birthday," she groaned. "I knew it would be hateful
having it at school. Why wasn't I born in the holidays? There ought to
be a law regulating births to certain times of the year. If I were head
of a school I'd let every girl go home for her birthday. Don't speak to
me! I feel scratchy!"

Her room-mates chuckled, and for the present left her alone. Sylvia
began to sing a song about tears turning to smiles and sorrow to joy,
until Irene begged her to stop.

"It's the limit to-night! When I'm blue the one thing I can't stand is
anybody trying to cheer me up. It gets on my nerves!"

"Sleep it off, old sport!" laughed Marjorie. "I don't mind betting that
when you wake up you'll feel in a very different frame of mind."

At which remark the others spluttered.

"You'll find illumination, in fact," hinnied Betty.

"I think you're all most unkind!" quavered Irene.

The confederates had decided to wait until the magic hour of midnight
before they began their beano. They felt it was wiser to give Miss
Norton plenty of time to go to bed and fall asleep. She often sat up
late in the study reading, and they did not care to risk a visit from
her. A bracket clock on the stairs sounded the quarters, and Marjorie,
as the lightest sleeper, undertook to keep awake and listen to its
chimes. It was rather difficult not to doze when the room was dark and
her companions were breathing quietly and regularly in the other beds.
The time between the quarters seemed interminable. At eleven o'clock she
heard Miss Norton walk along the corridor and go into her bedroom. After
that no other sound disturbed the establishment, and Marjorie repeated
poetry and even dates and French verbs to keep herself awake.

At last the clock chimed its full range and struck twelve times. She sat
up and felt for the matches.

Betty and Sylvia, who had gone to sleep prepared, woke with the light,
but it was a more difficult matter to rouse Irene. She turned over in
bed and grunted, and they were obliged to haul her into a sitting
position before she would open her eyes.

"What's the matter? Zepps?" she asked drowsily.

"No, no; it's your birthday party. Look!" beamed the others.

On a chair by her bedside stood the cake, resplendent with its sixteen
little lighted candles, and also the tin of condensed milk. Irene
blinked at them in amazement.

"Jubilate! What a frolicsome joke!" she exclaimed. "I say, this is
awfully decent of you!"

"We told you you'd wake up in better spirits, old sport!" purred
Marjorie. "I flatter myself those candles look rather pretty. You can
tell your fortune by blowing them out."

"It's a shame to touch them," objected Irene.

"But we want some cake," announced Betty and Sylvia.

"Go on, give a good puff!" prompted Marjorie. "Then we can count how
many you've blown out. Five! This year, next year, some time, never!
This year! Goody! You'll have to be quick about it. It's almost time to
be putting up the banns. Now again. Tinker, tailor, soldier! Lucky you!
My plum stones generally give me beggar-man or thief. Silk, satin,
muslin, rags; silk, satin! You've got all the luck to-night. Coach,
carriage! You're not blowing fair, Renie! You did that on purpose so
that it shouldn't come wheelbarrow! Only one candle left--let's leave it
lighted while we cut the rest."

Everybody agreed that the cake was delicious. They felt they had never
tasted a better in their lives, although it was a specimen of war-time
cookery.

"I wish we could have got some cocoa," sighed Betty. "I tried to borrow
a little and a spirit lamp from Meg Hutchinson, but she says they can't
get any methylated spirit now."

"Condensed milk is delicious by itself," suggested Sylvia.

"Sorry we haven't a spoon," apologized Marjorie.

For lack of other means of getting at their sweet delicacy the girls
dipped lead-pencils into the condensed milk and took what they could.

"It's rather like white honey," decided Betty after a critical taste.
"Yes--I certainly think it's quite topping. It makes me think of Russian
toffee."

"Don't speak of toffee. We haven't made any since sugar went short.
Jemima! I shall eat heaps when the war's over!"

"You greedy pig! You ought to leave it for the soldiers."

"But there won't be any soldiers then."

"Yes, there'll be some for years and years afterwards. They'll take some
time, you know, to get well in the hospitals."

"Then there's a chance for me to nurse," exclaimed Marjorie. "I'm always
so afraid the war will all be over before I've left school, and----"

"I say, what's that noise?" interrupted Irene anxiously. "If the Acid
Drop drops on us she'll be very acid indeed."

For reply, Marjorie popped the condensed milk tin into her wardrobe,
blew out the candle, and hopped into bed post-haste, an example which
was followed by the others with equal dispatch. They were only just in
time, for a moment later the door opened, and Miss Norton, clad in a
blue dressing-gown, flashed her torchlight into the room. Seeing the
girls all in bed, and apparently fast asleep, she did not enter, but
closed the door softly, and they heard her footsteps walking away down
the corridor.

"A near shave!" murmured Marjorie.

"Sh! sh! Don't let's talk. She may come back and listen outside,"
whispered Sylvia, with a keen distrust for Miss Norton's notions of
vigilance.

Next morning the girls in No. 8 Dormitory mentioned that they had heard
a noise during the night.

"Somebody walked down the passage," proclaimed Lennie Jackson. "Enid
thought it was a ghost."

"I thought it was somebody walking in her sleep," maintained Daisy Shaw.

"Oh, how horrid!" shivered Barbara Wright. "I'd be scared to death of
anyone sleep-walking. I'd rather meet a ghost any day."

"Did you see somebody?" enquired Betty casually.

"No, it was only what we heard--stealthy footsteps, you know, that moved
softly along, just as they're described in a horrible book I read in the
holidays--_The Somnambulist_ it was called--about a man who was always
going about in the night with fixed, stony eyes, and appearing on the
tops of roofs and all sorts of spooky places. It gives me the creeps to
think of it. Ugh!"

"When people walk in their sleep it's fearfully dangerous to awaken
them," commented Daisy.

"Is it? Why?"

"Oh, it gives them such a terrible shock, they often don't get over it
for ages! You ought to take them gently by the hand and lead them back
to bed."

"And suppose they won't go?"

"Ask me a harder! I say, there's the second bell. Scootons nous vite! Do
you want to get an order mark?"



CHAPTER VIII

A Sensation


"Look here," said Betty to her room-mates that evening, "those poor
girls in No. 8 are just yearning for a sensation. Don't you think we
ought to be philanthropic and supply it for them?"

"Yearning for a what?" asked Marjorie, pausing with a sponge in her hand
and reaching for the towel.

"Yearning for a sensation," repeated Betty. "Life at an ordinary
boarding-school is extremely dull. 'The daily round, the common task',
is apt to pall. What we all crave for is change, and especially change
of a spicy, unexpected sort that makes you jump."

"I don't want to jump, thanks."

"Perhaps you don't, but those girls in No. 8 do. They're longing for
absolute creeps--only a ghost, or a burglar, or an air raid, or
something really stirring, would content them."

"I'm afraid they'll have to go discontented then."

"Certainly not. As I remarked before, we ought to be philanthropic and
provide a little entertainment to cheer them up. I have a plan."

"Proceed, O Queen, and disclose it then."

"Barbara Wright suggested it to me--not intentionally, of course. We'll
play a rag on them. One of us must pretend to sleep-walk and go into
their room. It ought to give them spasms. Do you catch on?"

"Rather!" replied the others.

"But who's going to do the sleep-walking business?" asked Irene.

"Marjorie's the best actress. We'll leave it to her. Give us a specimen
now, old sport, and show us how you'll do it. Oh, that's ripping! It'll
take them in no end. I should like to see Barbara's face."

Marjorie was always perfectly ready for anything in the way of a
practical joke, especially if it were a new variety. The girls had grown
rather tired of apple-pie beds or sewn-up nightdress sleeves, but nobody
had yet thought of somnambulism.

"I'm not going to stop awake again, though, until twelve," she objected.
"I had enough of it last night. It's somebody else's turn."

"Whoever happens to wake must call the others," suggested Irene.

"We'll leave it at that," they agreed.

For two successive nights, however, all four girls slept soundly until
the seven-o'clock bell rang. They were generally tired, and none of them
suffered from insomnia. On the third night Betty heard the clock strike
two, and, going into Marjorie's cubicle, tickled her awake.

"Get up! You've got to act Lady Macbeth!" she urged. "Best opportunity
for a star performance you've ever had in your life. You'll take the
house."

"I'm so sleepy," yawned Marjorie. "And," putting one foot out of bed,
"it's so beastly cold!"

"Never mind, the fun will be worth it. We're going to wait about to hear
them squeal. It'll be precious. No, you musn't put on your dressing-gown
and bedroom slippers--sleep-walkers never do--you must go as you are."

"Play up, Marjorie!" decreed the others, who were also awake.

Thus encouraged, Marjorie rose to the occasion and began to act her
part. There was one difficulty to be overcome. At night a lamp was left
burning in the corridor, but the bedrooms were in darkness. How were the
occupants of No. 8 going to see her? They must be decoyed somehow from
their beds. She decided to open the door of their room so as to let in a
little light, then enter, walk round their cubicles, and go out again on
to the landing, where she hoped they would follow her. Softly she
entered the door of No. 8, and advanced in a dramatic attitude with
outstretched hands, in imitation of a picture she had once seen of Lady
Macbeth. The light from the corridor, though dim, was quite sufficient
to render objects distinct. At the first stealthy steps Daisy Shaw awoke
promptly. Her shuddering little squeal aroused the others, and they
gazed spellbound at the white-robed figure parading in ghostly fashion
round their room. Avoiding the furniture, Marjorie, with arms still
outstretched, tacked back into the corridor. Exactly as she had
anticipated, the girls rose and followed her. They were huddled together
at the door of their dormitory, watching her with awestruck faces, when
an awful thing happened. Another door opened, and Miss Norton, blue
dressing-gown and bedroom slippers and all, appeared on the scene.

"What's the matter?" she asked sharply.

"Marjorie Anderson's walking in her sleep!" whispered the girls.

Now in this horrible emergency Marjorie had to act promptly or not at
all. She decided that her best course was to go on shamming
somnambulism. She walked down the corridor, therefore, with a rapid,
stealthy step.

Miss Norton turned on the frightened girls, and, whispering: "Don't
disturb her on any account!" followed in the wake of her pupil.

Then began a most exciting promenade. Marjorie, with eyes set in a stony
glare, marched downstairs into the hall. She stood for a moment by the
front door, as if speculating whether to unlock it or not. She could
hear Miss Norton breathing just behind her, and was almost tempted to
try the experiment of shooting back at least one bolt, but decided it
was wiser not to run the risk. Instead she walked into the house
mistress's study, turned over a few papers in an abstracted fashion,
threw them back on to the table, and went towards the window. Here again
Miss Norton shadowed her closely, evidently suspecting that she had
designs of opening it and climbing out. She turned round, however, and,
with apparently unseeing eyes, stared in the teacher's face, and stole
stealthily back up the stairs. At her own bedroom door she paused, in
seeming uncertainty as to whether to enter or not. Miss Norton laid a
gentle hand on her arm, and guided her quietly into her room and towards
her bed. Marjorie decided to take the hint. Wandering about in a
nightdress, with bare feet, was a very cold performance, and it was all
she could do to prevent herself from palpably shivering. Keeping up her
part, she gave a gentle little sigh, got into bed, laid her head on her
pillow, and closed her eyes. She could feel Miss Norton pulling the
clothes over her, and, with another quivering sigh, she sank apparently
into deepest slumber. The teacher stayed a few minutes watching her,
then, as she never moved, went very quietly away and closed the door
after her.

Nothing was said at head-quarters next morning about the night's
adventures, but Miss Norton looked rather carefully at Marjorie, asked
her if she felt well, and told her she was to go to Nurse Hall every day
at eleven in the Ambulance Room for a dose of tonic. Marjorie, who had
not intended her practical joke to run to such lengths, felt rather
ashamed of herself, but dared not confess.

"There'd be a terrific scene if Norty knew," she said to Betty, and
Betty agreed with her.

In the afternoon, when Marjorie ran up to her cubicle for a
pocket-handkerchief, to her surprise she found Mrs. Morrison there
superintending a man who was measuring the window. She wondered why, for
nothing, apparently, was wrong with it; but nobody dared ask questions
of the Empress, so she took her clean handkerchief and fled. Later on
that day she learned the reason.

"We're to have brass bars across our window," Sylvia informed her. "I
heard the Empress and the Acid Drop talking about it. They're fearfully
expensive in war-time, but the Empress said: 'Well, the expense cannot
be helped; I daren't risk letting the poor child jump through the
window. Her door must certainly be locked every night.' And Norty said:
'Yes, it's a very dangerous thing.'"

"Are they putting the bars up for me?" exclaimed Marjorie.

"Of course. Don't you see, they think you walk in your sleep and might
kill yourself unless you're protected. Nice thing it'll be to have bars
across our window and our door locked at night. It will feel like
prison. I wish to goodness you'd never played such a trick!"

"Well, I'm sure you all wanted me to. It wasn't my idea to begin with,"
retorted Marjorie.

Great was the indignation in No. 9 at the prospect of this defacement of
their pretty window. The girls talked the matter over.

"Something's got to be done!" said Betty decidedly.

[Illustration: THEY WERE HUDDLED TOGETHER, WATCHING HER WITH AWESTRUCK
FACES]

"Yes," groaned Marjorie, "I shall have to own up. There's nothing else
for it. But I'm not going to tell the Acid Drop. I'm going straight to
the Empress herself. She'll be the more decent of the two."

"I believe you're right," agreed Betty. "Look here, it was my idea, so
I'm going with you."

"And I was in it too," said Irene.

"And so was I," said Sylvia.

"Then we'll all four go in a body," decided Betty. "Come along, let's
beard the lioness in her den and get it over."

Mrs. Morrison was extremely surprised at the tale the girls had to tell.
She frowned, but looked considerably relieved.

"As you have told me yourselves I will let it pass," she commented, "but
you must each give me your word of honour that there shall be no more of
these silly practical jokes. I don't consider it at all clever to try to
frighten your companions. Jokes such as these sometimes have very
serious results. Will you each promise?"

"Yes, Mrs. Morrison, on my honour," replied four meek voices in chorus.



CHAPTER IX

St. Ethelberta's


The immediate result to Marjorie of her mock somnambulistic adventure
was that she got a very bad cold in her head, due no doubt to walking
about the passages with bare feet and only her nightdress on. It was
highly aggravating, because she was considered an invalid, and her
Wednesday exeat was cancelled. She had to watch from the infirmary
window when Dona, escorted by Miss Jones, started off for The Tamarisks.
Dona waved a sympathetic good-bye as she passed. She was a kind-hearted
little soul, and genuinely sorry for Marjorie, though it was rather a
treat for her to have Elaine quite to herself for the afternoon. Mrs.
Anderson had been justified in her satisfaction that the sisters had not
been placed in the same hostel. In Marjorie's presence Dona was nothing
but an echo or a shadow, with no personality of her own. At St.
Ethelberta's, however, she had begun in her quiet way to make a place
for herself. She was already quite a favourite among her house-mates.
They teased her a little, but in quite a good-tempered fashion, and
Dona, accustomed to the continual banter of a large family, took all
chaffing with the utmost calm. She was happier at school than she had
expected to be. Miss Jones, the hostel mistress, was genial and
warm-hearted, and kept well in touch with her girls. She talked to them
about their various hobbies, and was herself interested in so many
different things that she could give valuable hints on photography,
bookbinding, raffia-plaiting, poker-work, chip-carving, stencilling,
pen-painting, or any other of the handicrafts in which the Juniors
dabbled. She was artistic, and had done quite a nice pastel portrait of
Belle Miller, whose Burne-Jones profile and auburn hair made her an
excellent model. Miss Jones had no lack of sitters when she felt
disposed to paint, for every girl in the house would have been only too
flattered to be asked.

Dona was a greater success in her hostel than in the schoolroom. After
her easy lessons with a daily governess she found the standard of her
form extremely high. She was not fond of exerting her brains, and her
exercises were generally full of "howlers". Miss Clark, her form
mistress, was apt to wax eloquent over her mistakes, but she took the
teacher's sarcasms with the same stolidity as the girls' teasings. It
was a saying in the class that nothing could knock sparks out of Dona.
Yet she possessed a certain reserve of shrewd common sense which was
sometimes apt to astonish people. If she took the trouble to evolve a
plan she generally succeeded in carrying it out.

Now on this particular afternoon when she went alone to The Tamarisks
she had a very special scheme in her head. She had struck up an
immensely hot friendship with a Scottish girl named Ailsa Donald, whose
tastes resembled her own. Dona was in No. 2 Dormitory and Ailsa in No.
5, and it was the ambition of both to be placed together in adjoining
cubicles. Miss Jones sometimes allowed changes to be made, but, as it
happened, nobody in No. 2 was willing to give up her bed to Ailsa or in
No. 5 to yield place to Dona, so the chums must perforce remain apart.
They spent every available moment of the day together, but after the
9.15 bell they separated.

Dona had asked each of her room-mates to consider whether No. 5 was not
really a more sunny, airy, and comfortable bedroom than No. 2.

"The dressing-tables are bigger," she urged to Mona Kenworthy. "You'd
have far more room to spread out your bottles of scent and hairwash and
cremolia and things."

"Thanks, I've plenty of room where I am, and my things are all nicely
settled. I'm not going to move for anybody, and that's flat," returned
Mona.

Dona next tackled Nellie Mason, and suggested warily that No. 5, being
farther away from Miss Jones's bedroom, afforded greater opportunities
for laughter and jokes without so much danger of being pounced upon. Her
fish, however, refused to swallow the tempting bait, and Beatrice
Elliot, whom she also sounded on the subject, was equally inflexible.

Most girls would have accepted the inevitable, but Dona was not to be
vanquished. She had a dark plan at the bottom of her mind, and consulted
Elaine about it that afternoon. Elaine laughed, waxed enthusiastic, and
suggested a visit to a bird-fancier's shop down in the town. It was a
queer little place, with cages full of canaries in the window, and an
aquarium, and some delightful fox-terrier puppies and Persian kittens on
sale, also a squirrel which was running round and round in a kind of
revolving wheel.

Elaine and Dona entered, and asked for white mice.

"Mice?" said the old man in charge. "I've got a pair here that will just
suit you. They're real beauties, they are. Tame? They'll eat off your
hand. Look here!"

He fumbled under the counter, and brought out a cage, from which he
produced two fine and plump specimens of the mouse tribe. They justified
his eulogy, for they allowed Dona to handle them and stroke them without
exhibiting any signs of fear or displeasure.

"Suppose I were to let them run about the room," she enquired, "could I
get them back into their cage again?"

"Easy as anything, missie. All you've got to do is to put a bit of
cheese inside. They'll smell it directly, and come running home, and
then you shut the door on them. They'll do anything for cheese. Give
them plenty of sawdust to burrow in, and some cotton-wool to make a
nest, and they're perfectly happy. Shall I wrap the cage up in brown
paper for you?"

Dona issued from the shop carrying her parcel, and with a bland smile
upon her face.

"If these don't clear Mona out of No. 2 I don't know what will," she
chuckled.

"How are you going to smuggle them in to Brackenfield?" enquired Elaine.
"I think all parcels that you take in are examined. You can't put a cage
of mice in your pocket or under your skirt."

"I've thought of that," returned Dona. "You and Auntie are going to take
me back to-night. I shall pop the parcel under a laurel bush as we go up
the drive, then before supper I'll manage to dash out and get it, and
take it upstairs to my room. See?"

"I think you're a thoroughly naughty, schemeing girl," laughed Elaine,
"and that I oughtn't to be conniving at such shameful tricks."

Shakespeare tells us that

    "Some cannot abide a gaping pig,
     Nor some the harmless necessary cat".

Many people have their pet dislikes, and as to Mona Kenworthy, the very
mention of mice sent a series of cold shivers down her back.

"Suppose one were to run up my skirt, I'd have a fit. I really should
die!" she would declare dramatically. "The thought of them makes me
absolutely creep. I shouldn't mind them so much if they didn't scuttle
so hard. Black beetles? Oh, I'd rather have cockroaches any day than
mice!"

It was with the knowledge of this aversion on the part of Mona that Dona
laid her plans. She left the cage under the laurel bush in the drive,
and by great good luck succeeded in fetching it unobserved and conveying
it to her dormitory, where she unwrapped it and stowed it away in her
wardrobe. When she had undressed that evening, and just before the
lights were turned out, she placed the cage under her bed. She waited
until Miss Clark had made her usual tour of inspection, and the door of
the room was shut for the night, then, leaning over, she opened the cage
and allowed its occupants to escape. They made full use of their
liberty, and at once began to scamper about, investigate the premises,
and enjoy themselves.

"What's that?" said Mona, sitting up in bed.

Dona did not reply. She pretended to be asleep already.

"It sounds like a mouse," volunteered Nellie Mason.

"Oh, good gracious! I hope it's not in the room."

The old saying, "as quiet as a mouse", is not always justified in solid
fact. On this occasion the two small intruders made as much noise as
tigers. They began to gnaw the skirting board, and the sound of their
sharp little teeth echoed through the room. Mona waxed quite hysterical.

"If it runs over my bed I shall shriek," she declared.

"Perhaps it's not really in the room, it's probably in the wainscot,"
suggested Beatrice Elliot.

"I tell you I heard it run across the floor. Oh, I say, there it is
again!"

The frolicsome pair continued their revels for some time, and kept the
girls wide awake. When Mona fell asleep at last it was with her head
buried under the bed-clothes. Very early in the morning Dona got up,
tempted her pets back with some cheese which she had brought from The
Tamarisks, and put the cage into her wardrobe again.

Directly after breakfast Mona went to Miss Jones, and on the plea that
her bed was so near the window that she constantly took cold and
suffered from toothache, begged leave to exchange quarters with Ailsa
Donald, who had a liking for draughts, and was willing to move out of
No. 2 into No. 5. Miss Jones was accommodating enough to grant
permission, and the two girls transferred their belongings without
delay.

"I wouldn't sleep another night in that dormitory for anything you could
offer me," confided Mona to her particular chum Kathleen Drummond. "I
simply can't tell you what I suffered. I'm very sensitive about mice. I
get it from my mother--neither of us can bear them."

"You might have set a trap," suggested Kathleen.

"But think of hearing it go off and catch the mouse! No, I never could
feel happy in No. 5 again. Miss Jones is an absolute darling to let me
change."

Dona's share in the matter was not suspected by anybody. Her plot had
succeeded admirably. Her only anxiety was what to do with the mice, for
she could not keep them as permanent tenants of her wardrobe. The risk
of discovery was great. Fortunately she managed to secure the good
offices of a friendly housemaid, who carried away the cage, and promised
to present the mice to her young brother when she went for her night out
to Whitecliffe. To nobody but Ailsa did Dona confide the trick she had
played, and Ailsa, being of Scottish birth, could keep a secret.



CHAPTER X

The Red Cross Hospital


There was just one more exeat for Marjorie and Dona before the holidays.
Christmas was near now, and they were looking forward immensely to
returning home. They had, on the whole, enjoyed the term, but the time
had seemed long, and to Dona especially the last weeks dragged
interminably.

"I'm counting every day, and crossing it off in my calendar," she said
to Marjorie, as the two stepped along towards The Tamarisks. "I'm
getting so fearfully excited. Just think of seeing Mother and Peter and
Cyril and Joan again! And there's always the hope that Daddy might get
leave and come home. Oh, it would be splendiferous if he did! I suppose
there's no chance for any of the boys?"

"They didn't seem to think it likely," returned Marjorie. "Bevis
certainly said he'd have no leave till the spring, and Leonard doesn't
expect his either. Larry may have a few days, but you know he said we
mustn't count upon it."

"Oh dear, I suppose not! I should have liked Larry to be home for
Christmas. I wish they'd send him to the camp near Whitecliffe. He
promised he'd come and take me out, and give me tea at a café. It would
be such fun. I want to go to that new café that's just been opened in
King Street, it looks so nice."

"Perhaps we can coax Elaine to take us there this afternoon," suggested
Marjorie.

But when the girls reached The Tamarisks, their cousin had quite a
different plan for their entertainment.

"We're going to the Red Cross Hospital," she announced. "I've always
promised to show you over, only it was never convenient before. To-day's
a great day. The men are to have their Christmas tree."

"Before Christmas!" exclaimed Dona.

"Why, yes, it doesn't much matter. The reason is that some very grand
people can come over to-day to be present, so of course our commandant
seized the opportunity. It's Lord and Lady Greystones, and Admiral
Webster. There'll be speeches, you know, and all that kind of thing.
It'll please the Tommies. Oh, here's Grace! she's going with me. She's
one of our V.A.D.'s. Grace, may I introduce my two cousins, Marjorie and
Dona Anderson? This is Miss Chalmers."

Both Elaine and her friend were dressed in their neat V.A.D. uniforms.
Marjorie scanned them with admiring and envious eyes as the four girls
set off together for the hospital.

"I'd just love to be a V.A.D.," she sighed. "Oh, I wish I were old
enough to leave school! It must be a ripping life."

Grace Chalmers laughed.

"One doesn't always think so early in the morning. Sometimes I'd give
everything in the world not to have to get up and turn out."

"So would I," agreed Elaine.

"What exactly has a V.A.D. to do?" asked Marjorie. "Do tell me."

"Well, it depends entirely on the hospital, and what she has undertaken.
If she has signed under Government, then she's a full-time nurse, and is
sent to one of the big hospitals. Elaine and I are only half-timers. We
go in the mornings, from eight till one, and do odd jobs. I took night
duty during the summer while some of the staff had their holidays."

"Wasn't it hard to keep awake?"

"Not in the least. Don't imagine for a moment that night duty consists
in sitting in a ward and trying not to go to sleep. I was busy all the
time. I had to get the trays ready for breakfast, and cut the bread and
butter. Have you ever cut bread and butter for fifty hungry people?"

"I've helped to get ready for a Sunday-school tea-party," said Marjorie.

"Well, this is like a tea-party every day. One night I had to clean
fifty herrings. They were sent as a present in a little barrel, and the
Commandant said the men should have them for breakfast. They hadn't been
cleaned, so Violet Linwood and I set to work upon them. It was a most
horrible job. My hands smelt of fish for days afterwards. I didn't
mind, though, as it was for the Tommies. They enjoyed their fried
herrings immensely. What else did I have to do in the night? When the
breakfast trays were ready, I used to disinfect my hands and sterilize
the scissors, and then make swabs for next day's dressings. Some of the
men don't sleep well, and I often had to look after them, and do things
for them. Then early in the morning we woke our patients and washed
them, and gave them their breakfasts, and made their beds and tidied
their lockers, and by that time the day-shift had arrived, and we went
off duty."

"Tell her how you paddled," chuckled Elaine.

"Shall I? Isn't it rather naughty?"

"Oh, please!" implored Marjorie and Dona, who were both deeply
interested.

"Well, you see, there's generally rather a slack time between four and
half-past, and one morning it was quite light and most deliciously warm,
and Sister was on duty in the ward, and Violet and I were only waiting
about downstairs, so we stole out and rushed down to the beach and
paddled. It was gorgeous; the sea looked so lovely in that early morning
light, and it was so cool and refreshing to go in the water; and of
course there wasn't a soul about--we had the beach all to ourselves. We
were back again long before Sister wanted us."

"What do you do in the day-shifts?" asked Marjorie.

"I'm in the kitchen mostly, helping to prepare dinner. I peel potatoes
and cut up carrots and stir the milk puddings. Elaine is on ward duty
now. She'll tell you what she does."

"Help to take temperatures and chart them," said Elaine. "Then there are
instruments to sterilize and lotions to mix. And somebody has to get the
day's orders from the dispensary and operating-theatre and
sterilizing-ward. If you forget anything there's a row! Dressings are
going on practically all the morning. Sometimes there are operations,
and we have to clean up afterwards. I like being on ward duty better
than kitchen. It's far more interesting."

"It's a business when there's a new convoy in," remarked Grace.

"Rather!" agreed Elaine. "The ambulances arrive, and life's unbearable
till all the men are settled. They have to be entered in the books, with
every detail, down to their diets. They're so glad when they get to
their quarters, poor fellows! The journey's an awful trial to some of
them. Here we are! Now you'll be able to see everything for yourselves."

The Red Cross Hospital was a large fine house in a breezy situation on
the cliffs. It had been lent for the purpose by its owner since the
beginning of the war, and had been adapted with very little alteration.
Dining-room, drawing-room, and billiard-rooms had been turned into
wards, the library was an office, and the best bedroom an
operating-theatre. A wooden hut had been erected in the garden as a
recreation-room for convalescents. In summer-time the grounds were full
of deck-chairs, where the men could sit and enjoy the beautiful view
over the sea.

To-day everybody was collected in Queen Mary Ward. About sixteen
patients were in bed, others had been brought in wheeled chairs, and a
large number, who were fairly convalescent, sat on benches. The room
looked very bright and cheerful. There were pots of ferns and flowers on
the tables, and the walls had been decorated for the occasion with flags
and evergreens and patriotic mottoes. In a large tub in the centre stood
the Christmas tree, ornamented with coloured glass balls and tiny flags.
Some of the parcels, tied up with scarlet ribbons, were hanging from the
branches, but the greater number were piled underneath.

Marjorie looked round with tremendous interest. She had never before
been inside a hospital of any kind, and a military one particularly
appealed to her. Each of the patients had fought at the front, and had
been wounded for his King and his Country. England owed them a debt of
gratitude, and nothing that could be done seemed too much to repay it.
Her thoughts flew to Bevis, Leonard, and Larry. Would they ever be
brought to a place like this and nursed by strangers?

"You'd like to go round and see some of the Tommies, wouldn't you?"
asked Elaine.

Marjorie agreed with enthusiasm, and Dona less cordially. The
latter--silly little goose!--was always scared at the idea of wounds and
hospitals, and she was feeling somewhat sick and faint at the sight of
so many invalids, though she did not dare to confess such foolishness
for fear of being laughed at. She allowed Marjorie to go first, and
followed with rather white cheeks. She was so accustomed to play second
fiddle that nobody noticed.

The patients were looking very cheerful, and smiled broadly on their
visitors. They were evidently accustomed to being shown off by their
nurses. Some were shy and would say nothing but "Yes", "No", or "Thank
you"; and others were conversational. Elaine introduced them like a
proud little mother.

"This is Peters; he keeps us all alive in this ward. He's lost his right
leg, but he's going on very well, and takes it sporting, don't you,
Peters?"

"Rather, Nurse," replied Peters, a freckled, sandy-haired young fellow
of about twenty-five. "Only I wish it had been the other leg. You see,"
he explained to the visitors, "my right leg was fractured at the
beginning of the war, and I was eighteen months in hospital with it at
Harpenden, and they were very proud of making me walk again. Then, soon
after I got back to the front, it was blown off, and I felt they'd
wasted their time over it at Harpenden!"

"It was too bad," sympathized Marjorie.

"Jackson has lost his right leg too," said Elaine, passing on to the
next bed. "He was wounded on sentry duty. He'd been out since the
beginning of the war, and had not had a scratch till then. And he'd
been promised his leave the very next day. Hard luck, wasn't it?"

"The only thing that troubles me," remarked Jackson, "is that I'd paid a
quid out in Egypt to have my leg tattooed by one of those black fellows.
He'd put a camel on it, and a bird and a monkey, and my initials and a
heart. It was something to look at was that leg. And I've left it over
in France. Wish I could get my money back!"

The next patient, Rawlins, was very shy and would not speak, though he
smiled a little at the visitors.

"He's going on nicely," explained Elaine, "but I'm afraid he still
suffers a good deal. He's awfully plucky about it. He doesn't care to
talk. He likes just to lie and watch what's going on in the ward. This
boy in the next bed is most amusing. He sends everyone into fits. He's
only eighteen, poor lad! Webster, here are two young ladies come to see
you. Do you know, he can imitate animals absolutely perfectly. Give us a
specimen, Webster, before Lord and Lady Greystones arrive."

"I'm a bashful sort of a chap----" began the boy humorously.

"No, no, you're not," put in Elaine. "I want my cousins to hear the pig
squeak. Please do."

"Well, to oblige you, Nurse."

He raised himself a little on his elbow, then, to the girls' surprise, a
whole farm-yard seemed to have entered the ward. They could hear a sheep
bleating, a duck quacking, a dog barking, hens clucking, a cock crowing,
and a pig uttering a series of agonized squeals. It was a most comical
imitation, and really very clever.

Even Dona laughed heartily, and the colour crept back to her cheeks. She
was beginning to get over her terror of wounded soldiers.

"They seem to be able to enjoy themselves," she remarked.

"Oh yes, they've all sorts of amusement!" replied Elaine, drawing her
cousins aside. "It's wonderful how cheery they keep, not to say noisy
sometimes. In 'Kitchener' Ward the men have mouth organs and tin
whistles and combs, and play till you're nearly deafened. We don't like
to check them if it keeps up their spirits, poor fellows! You see,
there's always such a pathetic side to it. Some of them will be cripples
to the end of their days, and they're still so young. It seems dreadful.
Think of Peters and Jackson. A man with one leg can't do very much for a
living unless he's a clerk, and neither of them is educated enough for
that. Their pensions won't be very much. I suppose they'll be taught
some kind of handicraft. I hope so, at any rate."

"Are they all ordinary Tommies here?" asked Marjorie.

"We've no officers. They, of course, are always in a separate hospital.
But some of the Tommies are gentlemen, and have been to public schools.
There are two over there. We'll go down the other side of the ward and
you'll see them. There's just time before our grand visitors arrive. We
must stop and say a word at each bed, or the men will feel left out. We
try not to show any favouritism to the gentlemen Tommies. This is
Wilkinson--he reads the newspaper through every day and tells us all
about it. It's very convenient when we haven't time to read it for
ourselves. This is Davis; he comes from Bangor, and can speak Welsh,
which is more than I can. This is Harper; he's to get up next week if he
goes on all right."

"Who is this in the next bed?" asked Marjorie suddenly.

"Seventeen? That's one of the gentlemen Tommies," whispered Elaine. "An
old Rugby boy--he knew Wilfred there. Yes, Sister, I'm coming!"

In response to a word from the ward sister, Elaine hurried away
immediately, leaving her cousins to take care of themselves.

Marjorie looked again at the patient in No. 17. The twinkling brown eyes
seemed most familiar. She glanced at the board on the bed-head and saw:
"Hilton Tamworthy Preston". The humorous mouth was smiling at her in
evident recognition. She smiled too.

"Didn't we travel together from Silverwood?" she stammered.

"Of course we did. I knew you at once when you were going down the other
side of the ward," he replied. "Did you get to Brackenfield all right
that day?"

"Yes, thanks. But how did you know that we were going to Brackenfield?"

"Why, you were wearing your badges. My sisters used to be there, so I
twigged at once that you were Brackenfielders. Your teacher wore a badge
too. I hope she found a taxi all right?"

"No, she didn't. It was a wretched four-wheeler, but we were glad to get
anything in the way of a cab."

"How do you like school?"

"Oh, pretty well! I like it better than Dona does. We're going home next
Tuesday for the holidays."

"My sisters were very happy there, and Kathleen was a prefect. I used to
hear all about it. Do you still call Mrs. Morrison 'The Empress'? I
expect there are plenty of new girls now that Joyce and Kathleen
wouldn't remember."

"Have you been wounded?" asked Dona shyly.

"Yes, but I'm getting on splendidly. I hope to be up quite soon. The
Doctor promised to have me back at the front before long."

"We have a brother at the front, and one on the _Relentless_, and
another in training," volunteered Marjorie, "besides Father, who's at
Havre."

"And I'm one of five brothers, who are all fighting."

"Didn't you get the V.C.?"

"Oh yes, but I don't think I did anything very particular! Any of our
men would have done the same."

"Have you got it here in your locker?"

"No, my mother has it at home."

"I'd have loved to see it."

"I wish I could have shown it to you. I thought it would be safer at
home. Hallo! Here come the bigwigs! The show is going to begin."

All eyes turned towards the door, where the Commandant was ushering in
the guests of the afternoon. Lord Greystones was elderly, with a white
moustache and a bald head; Lady Greystones, twenty years younger, was
pretty, and handsomely dressed in velvet and furs. Admiral Webster, like
Nelson, had lost an arm, and his empty sleeve was tucked into the coat
front of his uniform. The patients saluted as the visitors entered, and
those who were able stood up, but the majority had perforce to remain
seated. Escorted by the Commandant, the august visitors first made a
tour of inspection round the ward, nodding or saying a few words to the
patients in bed. Speeches followed from Lord Greystones and the Admiral,
and from one of the Governors of the hospital. They were stirring,
patriotic speeches, and Marjorie listened with a little thrill, and
wished more than ever that she were old enough to take some real part in
the war, and bear a share of the nation's burden. It was wonderful, as
the Admiral said, to think that we are living in history, and that the
deeds done at this present time will go down through all the years while
the British Empire lasts.

Then came the important business of stripping the tree. Lord Greystones
and the Admiral cut off the parcels, and Lady Greystones distributed
them to the men, with a pleasant word and a smile for each. The presents
consisted mostly of tobacco, or little writing-cases with notepaper and
envelopes.

"It's so fearfully hard to know what to choose for them," said Elaine,
who had found her way back to her cousins. "It's no use giving them
things they can't take away with them. A few of them like books, but
very few. Oh, here come the tea-trays! You can help me to take them
round, if you like. The convalescents are to have tea in the
dining-room. They've a simply enormous cake; you must go and look at it.
It'll disappear to the last crumb. Here's Mother! She'll take you with
her and see you back to Brackenfield. I must say ta-ta now, as I've to
be on duty."

Marjorie lingered a moment, and turned again to Bed 17.

"Good-bye!" she said hurriedly. "I hope you'll be better soon."

"Thanks very much," returned Private Preston. "I'm 'marked out' for a
convalescent home, and shall be leaving here as soon as I can get up. I
hope you'll enjoy the holidays. Don't miss your train this time.
Good-bye!"



CHAPTER XI

A Stolen Meeting


At the very first available moment Marjorie went to the library and
consulted the latest number of the _Brackenfield School Magazine_. She
turned to the directory of past girls at the end and sought the letter
P. Here she found:

    1912-1915. PRESTON, Kathleen Hilary }    The Manor,
    1913-1916. PRESTON, Joyce Benson    } Wildeswood, Yorks.

"Each here for three years," she soliloquized. "I wonder what they're
doing now? I'll look them up in the 'News of Friends'. This is
it:--'Kathleen Preston has been doing canteen work in France under the
Croix Rouge Française at a military station. This canteen is run by
English women for French soldiers, and is a specially busy one, the
hours being from 6 a.m. to 12, and again from 2 to 7 p.m. A recreation
hut is in connection with it. Owing to her health, Kathleen returned to
England on leave, but is now in the north of France driving an ambulance
wagon.'

"'Joyce Preston is at Chadley College learning gardening and
bee-keeping. She says: 'If any Brackenfield girls want to go in for
gardening, do send them here. I am sure they would love it.' Joyce was
able to get up a very excellent concert for the soldiers in the Red
Cross Hospital at Chadley, the evening being an immense success.'

"Enterprising girls," thought Marjorie. "Those are just the sort of
things I want to do when I leave school. I'd like Kathleen best, because
she drives an ambulance wagon. I wish I knew them! I'd write to them and
tell them I've seen their brother in hospital, only they'd think it
cheek. They must feel proud of him getting the V.C. I know how I should
cock-a-doodle if one of our brothers won it! Oh dear, we haven't seen
Leonard or Bevis for nine months! It's hard to have one's brothers out
at the war. I wonder what convalescent home Private Preston will be sent
to? I must ask Elaine."

Next morning, when Marjorie met Dona at the eleven o'clock "break", she
found the latter in a state of much excitement.

"I had a line from Mother, enclosing a letter from Larry," she
announced. "This is what he says:

    "'DEAR OLD BUNTING,

    "'I hope you're getting on all serene at school, and haven't
    spoilt the carpets with salt tears. I'm ordered to the Camp at
    Denley, and shall be going there to-morrow. I promised if I went
    I'd look you up and take you out to tea somewhere. If I can get
    leave I'll call on Saturday afternoon at Brackenfield for you
    and Squibs, so be on the look-out for me. The Mater will square
    your Head. Love to Squibs and your little self.

    "'Your affectionate
        "'LARRY.'"

"Oh, I say, what gorgeous fun!" exclaimed Marjorie. "So he's sent to the
Denley Camp after all. It's just on the other side of Whitecliffe. How
absolutely topping to go out to tea with Larry! I hope he'll get leave."

The girls confided their exciting news to their room-mates and their
most intimate friends, with the result that on Saturday afternoon at
least sixteen heads were peeping out of windows on the qui vive to see
the interesting visitor arrive.

When a figure in khaki strode up the drive and rang the front-door bell
the event was signalled from one hostel to another. Now Mrs. Morrison
was very faithful to her duties as Principal, and during term-time
rarely allowed herself a holiday; but it happened on this particular
Saturday that she went for the day to visit friends, and appointed Miss
Norton deputy in her absence.

Larry Anderson was shown by the parlour-maid into the drawing-room where
parents were generally received, and left there to wait while his
presence was announced. After an interval of about ten minutes, during
which he studied the photographs of the school teams that ornamented the
mantelpiece, the door opened, and a tall fair lady with light-grey eyes
and pince-nez entered.

"Mrs. Morrison, I presume?" he enquired courteously.

"I am Miss Norton," was the reply. "Mrs. Morrison is away to-day, and
has left me in charge. Can I do anything for you?"

"I've come to see my sisters, Marjorie and Dona Anderson, and to ask if
I may take them in to Whitecliffe for an hour or so."

"I'm sorry," freezingly, "but that is quite impossible. It is against
the rules of the school."

"Yes, of course I know they're not usually allowed out, but the Mater--I
mean my mother--wrote to Mrs. Morrison to ask her to let the girls go."

"Mrs. Morrison left me no instructions on the subject."

"But didn't she give you my mother's letter?"

"She did not."

"Or leave it on her desk or something? Can't you find out?"

"I certainly cannot search my Principal's correspondence," returned Miss
Norton very stiffly. "It is one of the rules of Brackenfield that no
pupil is allowed out without a special exeat, and in the circumstances I
have no power to grant this."

"But--oh, I say! The girls will be so awfully disappointed!"

"I am sorry, but it cannot be helped."

"Well, I suppose I may see them here for half an hour?"

"That also is out of the question. Our rule is: 'No visitors except
parents, unless by special permission'."

"But the permission is in my mother's letter."

"Neither letter nor permission was handed to me by Mrs. Morrison."

"Excuse me, when I've come all this way, surely I may see my sisters?"

"I have said already that it is impossible," replied Miss Norton,
rising. "I am in charge of the school to-day, and must do my duty. Your
sisters will be returning home next Tuesday, after which you can make
your own arrangements for meeting them. While they are under my care I
do not allow visitors."

Miss Norton was a martinet where school rules were concerned, and the
Brackenfield code was strict. She knew that Mrs. Morrison would at least
have allowed Marjorie and Dona to see their brother in the drawing-room,
but in the absence of instructions to that effect she chose to keep to
the letter of the law and refuse all male visitors.

Larry, with an effort, kept his temper. He was extremely annoyed and
disappointed, but he did not forget that he was a gentleman.

"Then I will not trouble you further, and must apologize for
interrupting you," he said stiffly but courteously. "I am afraid I have
trespassed upon your time."

"Please do not mention it," answered Miss Norton with equal politeness.

They parted on terms of icy civility. Larry, however, was not to be
entirely defeated. He had only left Haileybury six months before, and
there was still much of the schoolboy in him. He was determined to find
a way to see his sisters. He paused a moment on the steps after the maid
had shown him out, and, taking a notebook from his pocket, hastily
scribbled a few lines, then, noticing some girls with hockey sticks
crossing the quadrangle, he went up to them, and, handing the note to
the one whose looks he considered the most encouraging, said:

"May I ask you to be so kind as to give this to my sister, Dona
Anderson? It's very important."

Then he walked away down the drive.

Meantime Marjorie and Dona had been waiting in momentary expectation of
a call to the drawing-room. They could hardly believe the bad news when
scouts informed them that their brother had left without seeing them.

"Gone away!" echoed Dona, almost in tears.

"But why? Who sent him away?" demanded Marjorie indignantly.

At this crisis Mena Matthews hurried in with the note. Dona read it,
with Marjorie looking over her shoulder. It ran:

    "DEAR OLD BUNTING,

    "Your schoolmistress guards you like nuns, but I must see you
    and Squibs somehow. Can you manage to peep over the wall,
    right-hand side of gate? I'll walk up and down the road for half
    an hour, on the chance. Yours,

    "LARRY."

There was a hockey match that afternoon between the second and third
teams, and all the school was making its way in the direction of the
playing-fields. Within the next minute, however, Marjorie and Dona, with
a select escort of friends to act as scouts, had reached the garden
wall, and were climbing up with an agility that would have delighted
their gymnasium mistress, could she have witnessed the performance.
Larry, in the road below, grinned as the two familiar heads appeared
above the coping.

"It isn't safe to talk here," called Marjorie. "Go down that side lane
till you come to some wooden palings. We'll cut across the plantation,
and meet you there."

"All serene!" laughed Larry, hugely enjoying the joke.

The school grounds were large, covering many acres, and a private road
led down the side towards the kitchen garden. Larry found his sisters
already ensconced on the palings, looking out for him.

"I say, this is rather the limit, isn't it?" he greeted them. "The Mater
wrote and said I might take you to Whitecliffe, and that icicle in the
drawing-room wouldn't even so much as let me have a glimpse of you. Is
this place you've got to a convent? Are you both required to take the
veil, please?"

"Not just yet. But what happened?" asked Marjorie. "Mena says the
Empress is out this afternoon. Whom did you see?"

"A grim, fair-haired Gorgon in glasses, who withered me with a look."

"The Acid Drop, surely."

"Probably. She certainly wasn't sweet."

"And she wouldn't let us go?" wailed Dona.

"No, poor old Baby Bunting. It's a rotten business, isn't it? No dragon
in a fairy tale could have guarded the princess more closely. If I'd
stayed any longer she'd have thrust talons into me."

"Oh, it's too bad! And you'd promised to take me to have tea at a café."

"So I did. I meant to give you a regular blow-out, so far as the
rationing order would allow us. Look here, old sport, I'm ever so sorry.
If I'd only foreseen this I'd have brought some cakes and sweets for
you. I'm afraid I've nothing in my pockets except cigarettes and a cough
lozenge. Cheer oh! It's Christmas holidays next week, and you'll be
tucking into turkey before long."

"How do you like the camp, Larry?" asked Marjorie.

"First-rate. We have a wooden hut to sleep in. There are thirty of us;
we each have three planks on trestles for a bed, and a palliasse to put
on it at night, and a straw pillow. We get four blankets apiece. I make
my own bed every night--double one blanket underneath, and roll the
others round me, and have my greatcoat on top if I'm cold. Aunt Ellinor
has lent me an air-cushion, and it's a great boon, because the straw
pillow is as hard as a brick. We do route marches and trench-digging,
and yesterday I was on scout duty, and three of us captured a sentry. If
we'd been at the front, instead of only training, he'd have shot me
certain."

"Do you have to learn to be a soldier?" asked Dona.

"Why, of course, you little innocent. That's what the training-camp is
for--to teach us how to scout, and dig trenches, and all the rest of
it."

"Oh! I thought you just went to the front and fought."

"It would be a queer war if we did."

"Are you coming home for Christmas?"

"No, I can't get leave; I only wish I could."

"Cave!" called Ailsa Donald, the nearest in the line of girls who had
undertaken to keep guard. "Miss Robinson is coming across the field this
way."

"We must go, or we shall be caught," said Marjorie. "It's too bad to
have to see you like this."

"But it's better than nothing," added Dona. "You can send me those
sweets you talked about for Christmas, if you like."

"All right, old Bunting! I won't back out of my promise."

The girls dropped from the palings, and dived into the plantation just
before Miss Robinson, on her way to the kitchen garden, passed the spot.
If she had looked through a crack in the boards she would have seen
Larry walking away, but happily her suspicions were not aroused.
Marjorie and Dona strolled leisurely towards the hockey field. The
latter was aggrieved, the former highly indignant.

"It's absurd," groused Marjorie, "if one can't see one's own brother,
especially when Mother had written to say we might. We had to see him
somehow, and I think it's a great deal worse to be obliged to go like
this and talk over palings than to meet him in the drawing-room. It's
just like Norty's nonsense. She's full of red-tape notions, and a
Jack-in-office to-day because the Empress has left her in charge. I feel
raggy."

"So do I, especially to miss the café. I hope Larry won't forget to send
those sweets."



CHAPTER XII

The School Union


The last few days of the term were passing quickly. The examinations
were over, though the lists were not yet out. To both Marjorie and Dona
they had been somewhat of an ordeal, for the Brackenfield standard was
high. When confronted with sets of questions the girls felt previous
slackness in work become painfully evident. It was horrible to have to
sit and look at a problem without the least idea of how to solve it; or
to find that the dates and facts which ought to have been at their
finger-ends had departed to distant and un-get-at-able realms of their
memory.

"I can think of the wretched things afterwards," mourned Dona, "but at
the time I'm so flustered, everything I want to remember goes utterly
out of my head. I really knew the boundaries of Germany, only I drew
them wrong on the map; and in the Literature paper I mixed up Pope and
Dryden, and I put that Sheridan wrote _She Stoops to Conquer_, instead
of Goldsmith."

"I'm sure I failed in Chemistry," groused Marjorie. "And the Latin was
the most awful paper I've ever seen in my life. It would take a B.A. to
do that piece of unseen translation. As for the General Knowledge paper,
I got utterly stumped. How should I know what are the duties of a High
Sheriff and an Archdeacon, or how many men must be on a jury? Even
Mollie Simpson said it was stiff, and she's good at all that kind of
information. I wonder they didn't ask us how many currants there are in
a Christmas pudding!"

"There won't be many this year," laughed Dona. "Auntie was saying
currants and raisins are very scarce. Probably we shan't get any mince
pies. But I don't care. It'll be lovely to be at home again, even if the
Germans sink every food ship and only leave us porridge for Christmas."

The last day of the term was somewhat in the nature of a ceremony at
Brackenfield. Lessons proceeded as usual until twelve, when the whole
school assembled for the reading of the examination lists. Marjorie
quaked when it came to the turn of IVa. As she expected, she had failed
in Chemistry, though she had just scraped through in Latin, Mathematics,
and General Knowledge. Her record could only be considered fair, and to
an ambitious girl like Marjorie it was humiliating to find herself lower
on the lists than others who were younger than herself.

"I'll brace up next term and do better," she thought, as Mrs. Morrison
congratulated Mollie Simpson, Laura Norris, and Enid Young on their
excellent work, and deplored the low standard of at least half of the
form.

Dona, greatly to her surprise, had done less badly than she expected,
and instead of finding herself the very last, was sixth from the bottom,
and actually above Mona Kenworthy--a circumstance which made her
literally gasp with surprise.

The afternoon was devoted to packing. Each girl found her box in her own
cubicle, and started to the joyful task of turning out her drawers. It
was a jolly, merry proceeding, even though Miss Norton and several other
teachers were hovering about to keep order and ensure that the girls
were really filling their trunks, instead of racing in and out of the
dormitories and talking, as would certainly have been the case if they
had been left to their own devices. By dint of good generalship on the
part of the House Mistress and her staff, St. Elgiva's completed its
arrangements twenty minutes before the other hostels, and had therefore
the credit of being visited first by the janitor and the gardener, whose
duty it was to carry down the luggage. The large boxes were taken away
that evening in carts to the station, and duly dispatched, each girl
keeping her necessaries for the night, which she would take home with
her in a hand-bag.

"No prep. after tea to-day, thank goodness!" said Betty Moore,
collecting her books and stowing them away in her locker. "I don't want
to see this wretched old history again for a month. I'm sick of
improving my mind. I'm not going to read a single line during the
holidays, not even stories. I'll go out riding every day, even if it's
wet. Mother says my pony's quite well again, and wants exercising. He'll
get it, bless him, while I'm at home."

"What do we do this evening instead of prep.?" asked Marjorie. "Games, I
suppose, or dancing?"

"Why, no, child, it's the School Union," returned Betty, slamming the
door of her locker.

"What's that?"

"Great Minerva! don't you know? You're painfully new even yet, Marjorie
Anderson. There, don't get raggy; I'll tell you. On the last evening of
every term the whole school meets in the big hall--just the girls,
without any of the teachers. The prefects sit on the platform, and the
head girl reads a kind of report about all that's happened during the
term--the games and that sort of thing, and what she and the prefects
have noticed, and what the Societies have done, and news of old girls,
and all the rest of it. Then anybody who likes can make comments, or
suggestions for next term, or air grievances. It's a kind of School
Council meeting, and things are often put to the vote. It gets quite
exciting. We don't have supper till 8.30, so as to give us plenty of
time. We all eat an extra big tea, so as to carry us on."

"I'm glad you warned me," laughed Marjorie. "Do they bring in more
bread-and-butter?"

"Yes, loads more, and potted meat, and honey and jam. We have a good
tuck-out, and then only cocoa and buns later on. It's not formal supper.
You see, we've packed our white dresses, and can't change this evening.
We've only our serges left here. The meeting's rather a stunt. We have a
jinky time as a rule."

By five o'clock every girl in the school had assembled in the big hall.
Though no mistresses were present, the proceedings were nevertheless
perfectly orderly, and good discipline prevailed. On the platform sat
the prefects, the chair being taken by Winifrede Mason, the head girl.
Winifrede was a striking personality at Brackenfield, and filled her
post with dignity. She was eighteen and a half, tall, and finely built,
with brown eyes and smooth, dark hair. She had a firm, clever face, and
a quiet, authoritative manner that carried weight in the school, and
crushed any symptoms of incipient turbulence amongst Juniors. Many of
the girls would almost rather have got into trouble with Mrs. Morrison
than incur the displeasure of Winifrede, and a word of praise from her
lips was esteemed a high favour. She did not believe in what she termed
"making herself too cheap", and did not encourage the prefects to mix at
all freely with Intermediates or Juniors, so that to most of the girls
she seemed on a kind of pedestal--a member of the school, indeed, and
yet raised above the others. She was just, however, and on the whole a
great favourite, for, though she kept her dignity, she never lost touch
with the school, and always voiced the general sentiments. She stood up
now on the platform and began what might be termed a presidential
speech.

"Girls, we've come to the end of the first term in another school year.
Some of you, like myself, are old Brackenfielders, and others have
joined us lately, and are only just beginning to shake down into our
ways. It's for the sake of these that I want just briefly to
recapitulate some of the standards of this school. We've always held
very lofty ideals here, and we who are prefects want to make sure that
during our time they are kept, and that we hand them on unsullied to
those who come after us. What is the great object that we set ourselves
to aim at? Perhaps some of you will say, 'To do well at our lessons', or
'To win at games'. Well, that's all a part of it. The main thing that
we're really striving for is the formation of character. There's nothing
finer in all the world. And character can only be formed by overcoming
difficulties. Every hard lesson you master, or every game you win, helps
you to win it. There are plenty of difficulties at school. Nobody finds
it plain sailing. When you're cooped up with so many other girls you
soon find you can't have all your own way, and it must be a
give-and-take system if you're to live peaceably with your fellows. When
this great war broke out, people had begun to say that our young men of
Britain had grown soft and ease-loving, and thought of nothing except
pleasure. Yet at the nation's call they flung up all they had and
flocked to enlist, and proved by their magnificent courage the grit that
was in them after all. Our women, too--Society women who had been,
perhaps justly, branded as 'mere butterflies'--put their shoulders to
the wheel, and have shown how they, too, could face dangers and
difficulties and privations. As nurses, ambulance drivers, canteen
workers, telephone operators, some have played their part in the field
of war; and their sisters at home have worked with equal courage to
make munitions, and supply the places left vacant by the men. Now, I
don't suppose there is a girl in this room who does not call herself
patriotic. Let her stop for a moment to consider what she means. It
isn't only waving the Union Jack, and singing 'God Save the King', and
knitting socks for soldiers. That's the mere outside of it. There's a
far deeper part than that. We're only schoolgirls now, but in a few
years we shall become a part of the women of the nation. In the future
Britain will have to depend largely on her women. Let them see that they
fit themselves for the burden! We used to be told that the Battle of
Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of our great public schools.
Well, I believe that many future struggles are being decided by the life
in our girls' schools of to-day. Though we mayn't realize it, we're all
playing our part in history, and though our names may never go down to
posterity, our influence will. The watchwords of all patriotic women at
present are 'Service and Sacrifice'. In the few years that we are here
at school let us try to prepare ourselves to be an asset to the nation
afterwards. Aim for the highest--in work, games, and character. As the
old American said: 'Hitch your wagon to a star', because it's better to
attempt big things, even if you fail, than to be satisfied with a low
ideal.

"It is encouraging for us Brackenfielders to know what good work some of
our old girls are doing to help their country. I'm going to read you the
latest news about them.

"Mary Walker has been nursing for fifteen months at a hospital in Cairo,
and is now at the Halton Military Hospital, hoping to be sent out to
France after six months' further training. She enjoyed her work in
Egypt, and found many opportunities for interesting expeditions in her
off-duty time. She went for camel rides to visit the tombs in the
desert, had moonlight journeys to the Pyramids, and sailed up the Nile.

"Emily Roberts is assistant cook at the Brendon Hospital, which has two
hundred beds. She says they make daily about twelve gallons of milk
pudding, soup, porridge, &c., and about five gallons of sauce. The hours
are 6.30 to 1.30, then either 1.30 to 5, or 5 till 9 p.m. She has lost
her brother at the front. He obtained very urgent and important
information, and conveyed it safely back. While telephoning it he was
hit by a sniper's bullet, but before he passed away he managed to give
the most important part of the message.

"Gladys Mellor has just had a well-earned holiday after very strenuous
work at the Admiralty. She not only does difficult translation work, but
has learnt typewriting for important special work.

"Alison Heatley (née Robson) is in Oxford with her two tiny boys. She
lost her husband in the summer. At the time he was hit he was commanding
a company; they had advanced six miles, and were fighting in a German
trench, when he was shot through the lungs and in the back. He was taken
to hospital and at first improved, but then had a relapse. Alison was
with him when he died. He is buried in a lovely spot overlooking the
sea, with a pine wood at the back. He had been mentioned in dispatches
twice and had won the Military Cross.

"Evelyn Scott has been transferred from Leabury Red Cross Hospital to
King's Hospital, London. She says she spends the whole of her time in
the ward kitchen, except for bed-making and washing patients. Everything
is of white enamel, and she has to scrub an endless supply of this and
help to cook countless meals. Evelyn has just lost her fiancé. He was
killed by a German shell while on sentry duty. He warned the rest of his
comrades of the danger, and they were unhurt, but he was killed
instantly.

"Hester Strong and Doris Hartley were sent to a kindergarten summer
school in Herefordshire, each in charge of three children, to whose
physical comfort and education they had to attend. They lived in little
cottages, and Hester taught geography and botany, and Doris farm study,
and they took the children for botanical expeditions.

"Lilian Roy has finished her motoring course at a training-school for
the R.A.C. driving certificate, and is gaining her six months' general
practice by driving for a Hendy's Stores. She had her van in the City
during the last raid, and took refuge in a cellar. She hopes soon to be
ready for ambulance work.

"Annie Barclay is acting quartermaster for their Red Cross Hospital. She
is always on duty, and has charge of the kit, linen, and stores.

"You see," continued Winifrede, "what splendid work our old
Brackenfielders are doing in the world. Now I want to turn to some of
our own activities, and I will call upon our games captain and the
secretaries of the various societies to read their reports."

Stella Pearson, the games captain, at once rose.

"I think we're getting on fairly well at hockey," she announced. "All
three teams are satisfactory. The match with Silverton was played in
glorious weather. The game was hard and very fast, but there was a great
deal of fouling on both sides. We scored three goals during the first
half, and though our forwards pressed hard, our fourth and last goal was
not gained till just before the end. We should probably have scored more
had not the forwards been 'offside' so often. At the beginning of the
second half Silverton pressed our defence hard, and, getting away with
the ball, shot two goals, one after another. Both sides played hard, and
the game was well contested. It was only spoilt by the fouling. When the
whistle went for 'time', the score was 4-2 in our favour, and we found
that the unexpected had happened and that we had actually beaten
Silverton.

"The match with Penley Club, as you know, we lost, and the match with
Siddercombe was a draw, so we may consider ourselves to be just about
even this term. Next term we must brace up and show we can do better. We
mustn't be satisfied till Brackenfield has beaten her record."

Reports followed next from the various societies, showing what work had
been done in "The General Reading Competition", "The Photographic
Society", "The Natural History Association", "The Art Union" and "The
Handicrafts Club". Specimens of the work of these various activities had
been laid out on tables, and as soon as the reports had been read the
girls were asked to walk round and look at them. Marjorie, in company
with Mollie Simpson, made a tour of inspection. The show was really very
good. The enlarging apparatus, lately acquired by the Photographic
Society, had proved a great success, and several girls exhibited
beautiful views of the school. Moths, butterflies, fossils, shells, and
seaweeds formed an interesting group for the Natural History
Association, and the Handicrafts Club had turned out a wonderful
selection of toys that were to be sent to the Soldiers' and Sailors'
Orphanage. "The Golden Rule Society" had quite a respectable pile of
socks ready to be forwarded to the front.

Marjorie said very little as she went the round of the tables, but she
thought much. She had not realized until that evening all that
Brackenfield stood for. She began to feel that it was worth while to be
a member of such a community. She meant to try really hard next term,
and some day--who knew?--perhaps her name might be read out as that of
one who, in doing useful service to her country, was carrying out the
traditions of the school.



CHAPTER XIII

The Spring Term


Both Marjorie and Dona described their holidays as "absolutely topping".
To begin with, Father had nearly a week's leave. He could not arrive for
Christmas, but he was with them for New Year's Day, and by the greatest
good luck met Bevis, who was home on a thirty-six-hours leave. To have
two of their dear fighting heroes back at once was quite an unexpected
treat, and though there were still two vacant places in the circle, the
family party was a very merry one. They were joined by a new member, for
Nora and her husband came over, bringing their ten-weeks-old baby boy,
and Marjorie, Dona, and Joan felt suddenly quite grown-up in their new
capacity of "Auntie". Dona in especial was delighted with her wee
nephew.

"I've found out what I'm going to do when I leave school," she told
Marjorie rather shyly. "I shall go to help at a crèche. When Winifrede
was reading out that 'News of Old Girls' I felt utterly miserable,
because I knew I could never do any of those things; a hospital makes me
sick, and I'd be scared to death to drive a motor ambulance. I thought
Winifrede would call me an utter slacker. But I could look after babies
in a crèche while their mothers work at munitions. I should simply love
it. And it would be doing something for the war in a way, especially if
they were soldiers' children. I'm ever so much happier now I've thought
of it. I'm going to ask to take 'Hygiene' next term, because Gertie
Temple told me they learnt how to mix a baby's bottle."

"And I'm going to ask to take 'First Aid'," replied Marjorie, with equal
enthusiasm. "You have to pass your St. John's Ambulance before you can
be a V.A.D. I'll just love practising bandaging."

The girls went back to school with less reluctance than their mother had
expected. It was, of course, a wrench to leave home, and for Dona, at
any rate, the atmosphere was at first a little damp, but once installed
in their old quarters at Brackenfield they were caught in the train of
bustling young life, and cheered up. It is not easy to sit on your bed
and weep when your room-mates are telling you their holiday adventures,
singing comic songs, and passing round jokes. Also, tears were
unfashionable at Brackenfield, and any girl found shedding them was
liable to be branded as "Early Victorian", or, worse still, as a
"sentimental silly".

Marjorie happened to be the first arrival in Dormitory No. 9. She drew
the curtains of her cubicle and began to unpack, feeling rather glad to
have the place to herself for a while. When the next convoy of girls
arrived from the station, Miss Norton entered the room, escorting a
stranger.

"This is your cubicle," she explained hurriedly. "Your box will be
brought up presently, and then you can unpack, and put your clothes in
this wardrobe and these drawers. The bath-rooms are at the end of the
passage. Come downstairs when you hear the gong."

The house mistress, whose duties on the first day of term were onerous,
departed like a whirlwind, leaving the stranger standing by her bed.
Marjorie drew aside her curtains and introduced herself.

"Hallo! I suppose you're a new girl? You've got Irene's cubicle. I
wonder where she's to go. I'm Marjorie Anderson. What's your name?"

"Chrissie Lang. I don't know who Irene is, but I hope we shan't fight
for the cubicle. The bed doesn't look big enough for two, unless she's
as thin as a lath. There's a good deal of me!"

Marjorie laughed, for the new-comer sounded humorous. She was a tall,
stoutly-built girl with a fair complexion, flaxen hair, and blue eyes,
the pupils of which were unusually large. Though not absolutely pretty,
she was decidedly attractive-looking. She put her hand-bag on the bed,
and began to take out a few possessions, opened her drawers, and
inspected the capacities of her wardrobe.

"Not too much room here!" she commented. "It reminds me of a cabin on
board ship. I wonder they don't rig up berths. I hope they won't be long
bringing up my box. Oh, here it is!"

Not only did the trunk arrive, but Betty and Sylvia also put in an
appearance, both very lively and talkative, and full of news.

"Hallo, Marjorie! Do you know Renie's been moved to No. 5? She wants to
be with Mavie Chapman. They asked Norty before the holidays, and never
told us a word. Wasn't it mean?"

"And Lucy's in the same dormitory!"

"Molly's brought a younger sister--Nancy, her name is. We travelled
together from Euston. She's in St. Ethelberta's, of course--rather a
jolly kid."

"Annie Grey has twisted her ankle, and won't be able to come back for a
week. Luck for her!"

"Valerie Hall's brother has been wounded, and Magsie Picton's brother
has been mentioned in dispatches, and Miss Duckworth has lost her
nephew."

"Miss Pollard's wearing an engagement ring, but she won't tell anybody
anything about it; and Miss Gordon was married in the holidays--a war
wedding. Oh yes! she has come back to school, but we've got to call her
Mrs. Greenbank now. Won't it be funny? The Empress has two little nieces
staying with her--they're five and seven, such sweet little kiddies,
with curly hair. Their father's at the front."

The new girl listened with apparent interest as Betty and Sylvia rattled
on, but she did not interrupt, and waited until she was questioned
before she gave an account of herself.

"I live up north, in Cumberland. Yes, I've been to school before. I've
one brother. No, he's not at the front. I haven't unpacked his photo. I
can't tell whether I like Brackenfield yet; I've only been here half an
hour."

As she still seemed at the shy stage, Betty and Sylvia stopped
catechizing her and concerned themselves with their own affairs. The
new-comer went on quietly with her unpacking, taking no notice of her
room-mates, but when the gong sounded for tea she allowed Betty and
Sylvia to pass, then looked half-appealingly, half-whimsically at
Marjorie.

"May I go down with you?" she asked. "I don't know my way about yet.
Sorry to be a nuisance. You can drop me if you like when you've landed
me in the dining-room. I don't want to tag on."

At the end of a week opinions in Dormitory No. 9 were divided on the
subject of Chrissie Lang. Betty and Sylvia frankly regretted Irene, and
were not disposed to extend too hearty a welcome to her substitute. It
was really in the first instance because Betty and Sylvia were
disagreeable to Chrissie that Marjorie took her up. It was more in a
spirit of opposition to her room-mates than of philanthropy towards the
new-comer. Betty and Sylvia were inclined to have fun together and leave
Marjorie out of their calculations, a state of affairs which she hotly
resented. During the whole of last term she had not found a chum. She
was rather friendly with Mollie Simpson, but Mollie was in another
dormitory, and this term had been moved into IV Upper A, so that they
were no longer working together in form. It was perhaps only natural
that she adopted Chrissie; she certainly found her an amusing companion,
if nothing more. Chrissie was humorous, and always inclined for fun.
She kept up a constant fire of little jokes. She would draw absurd
pictures of girls or mistresses on the edge of her blotting-paper, or
write parodies on popular poems. She was evidently much attracted to
Marjorie, yet she was one of those people with whom one never grows
really intimate. One may know them for years without ever getting beyond
the outside crust, and the heart of them always remains a sealed book.
There is a certain magnetism in friendship. It is perhaps only once or
twice in a lifetime that we meet the one with whom our spirit can really
fuse, the kindred soul who seems always able to understand and
sympathize. In the hurry and bustle of school life, however, it is
something to have a congenial comrade, if it is only a girl who will sit
next you at meals, walk to church with you in crocodile, and take your
side in arguments with your room-mates.

The spring term at Brackenfield proved bitterly cold. In February the
snow fell thickly, and one morning the school woke to find a white
world. In Dormitory 9 matters were serious, for the snow had drifted in
through the open window and covered everything like a winding-sheet. It
was a new experience for the girls to see dressing-tables and
wash-stands shrouded in white, and a drift in the middle of the floor.
They set to work after breakfast with shovels and toiled away till
nearly school-time before they had made a clearance.

"I feel like an Alpine traveller," declared Chrissie. "If things go on
at this rate the school will have to provide St. Bernard dogs to rescue
us in the mornings."

"The newspapers say it's the worst frost since 1895," remarked Sylvia.

"I think it's the limit," groused Betty. "Give me good open hunting
weather. I hate snow."

"Hockey'll be off," said Marjorie. "It's a grizzly nuisance about the
match on Saturday."

Though the usual outdoor games were perforce suspended, the school
nevertheless found an outlet for its energies. There was a little hill
at the bottom of the big playing-field, and down this the girls managed
to get some tobogganing. They had no sleds, but requisitioned tea-trays
and drawing-boards, often with rather amusing results, though
fortunately the snow was soft to fall in. Another diversion was a mock
battle. The combatants threw up trenches of snow, and, arming themselves
with a supply of snowballs, kept up a brisk fire until ammunition was
exhausted. It was a splendid way of keeping up the circulation, and the
girls would run in after this exercise with crimson cheeks. At night,
however, they suffered very much from the cold. Open bedroom windows
were a cardinal rule, and, with the thermometer many degrees below zero,
the less hardy found it almost impossible to keep warm. Marjorie, who
was rather a chilly subject, lay awake night after night and shivered.
It was true that hot bricks were allowed, but with so many beds to look
after, the maids did not always bring them up at standard heat, and
Marjorie's half-frozen toes often found only lukewarm comfort. After
enduring the misery for three nights, she boldly went to Mrs. Morrison
and begged permission to be taken to Whitecliffe to buy an india-rubber
hot-water bag, which she could herself fill in the bath-room. Part of
the Empress's success as a Principal was due to the fact that she was
always ready to listen to any reasonable demands. Hers was no red-tape
rule, but a system based on sensible methods. She smiled as Marjorie
rather bashfully uttered her request.

"Fifteen other girls have asked me the same thing," she replied. "You
may all go into Whitecliffe this afternoon with Miss Duckworth, and see
what you can find at the Stores."

Rejoicing in this little expedition, the favoured sixteen set off at two
o'clock, escorted by the mistress. There had been great drifts on the
high road, and the snow was dug out and piled on either side in
glistening heaps. The white cliffs and hills and the grey sky and sea
gave an unusual aspect to the landscape. A flock of sea-gulls whirled
round on the beach, but of other birds there were very few. Even the
clumps of seaweed on the shore looked frozen. Nature was at her
dreariest, and anyone who had seen the place in the summer glory of
heather, bracken, and blue sea could hardly have believed it to be the
same. The promenade was deserted, the pier shut up, and those people
whose business took them into the streets hurried along as if they were
anxious to get home again.

The girls found it was not such an easy matter as they had imagined to
procure sixteen hot-water bags. Owing to the war, rubber was scarce, and
customers had already made many demands upon the supply. The Stores
could only produce nine bags.

"I have some on order, and expect them in any day," said the assistant.
"Shall I send some out for you when they come?"

Knowing by experience that goods thus ordered might take weeks to
arrive, the girls declined, and set out to visit the various chemists'
shops in the town, with the result that by buying a few at each, they in
the end made up their numbers. The sizes and prices of the bags varied
considerably, but the girls were so glad to get any at all, that they
would have cheerfully paid double if it had been necessary.

Feeling thoroughly satisfied with their shopping expedition, they turned
their steps again towards Brackenfield, up the steep path past the
church, over the bridge that spanned the railway, and along the cliff
walk that led from the town on to the moor. As they passed the end of
the bare beech avenue, they met a party of wounded soldiers from the Red
Cross Hospital, in the blue convalescent uniform of His Majesty's
forces. One limped on crutches, and one was in a Bath chair, wheeled by
a companion; most of the rest wore bandages either on their arms or
heads. Marjorie looked at them attentively, hoping to recognize some of
the patients she had seen at the Christmas-tree entertainment, but these
were all strangers, and she reflected that the other set must have been
passed on by now to convalescent homes. She was walking at the end of
the line, and Miss Duckworth did not happen to be looking. A sudden
spirit of mischief seized her, and hastily stooping and catching up a
handful of snow, she kneaded it quickly, and threw it at Mollie Simpson
to attract her attention. It was done on the spur of the moment, in
sheer fun. But, alas for Marjorie! her aim was not true, and instead of
hitting Mollie her missile struck one of the soldiers. He chuckled with
delight, and promptly responded. In a moment his companions were
kneading snowballs and pelting the school. Now wounded Tommies are
regarded as very privileged persons, and the girls, instantly catching
the spirit of the encounter, broke line and began to throw back
snowballs.

"Girls, girls!" cried Miss Duckworth's shocked and agitated voice; "come
along at once! Don't look at those soldiers. Attention! Form line
immediately! Quick march!"

Rather flushed and flurried, her flock controlled themselves, conscious
that they had overstepped the mark, and under the keen eye of their
mistress, who now brought up the rear instead of leading, they filed off
in their former crocodile. Every one of the sixteen knew that there was
trouble in store for her. They discussed it uneasily on the way home.
Nor were they mistaken. At tea-time Miss Rogers, after ringing the
silence bell, announced that those girls who had been to Whitecliffe
that afternoon must report themselves in Mrs. Morrison's study at 5.15.

It is one thing to indulge in a moment's fun, and quite another to pay
the price afterwards. Sixteen very rueful faces were assembled in the
passage outside the study by 5.15. Nobody would have had the courage to
knock, but the Principal herself opened the door, and bade them enter.
They filed in like a row of prisoners. Mrs. Morrison marshalled them
into a double line opposite her desk, then, standing so as to command
the eyes of all, she opened the vials of her wrath. She reproached them
for unladylike conduct, loss of dignity, and lack of discipline.

"Where are the traditions of Brackenfield," she asked, "if you can so
far forget yourselves as to descend to such behaviour? One would imagine
you were poor ignorant girls who had never been taught better; indeed,
many a Sunday-school class would have had more self-respect. Whoever
began it"--here she looked hard at Marjorie--"is directly responsible
for lowering the tone of the school. Think what disgrace it brings on
the name of Brackenfield for such an act to be remembered against her
pupils! Knit and sew for the soldiers, get up concerts for them, and
speak kindly to them in the hospitals, but never for a moment forget in
your conduct what is due both to yourself and to them. This afternoon's
occurrence has grieved me more than I can express. I had believed that I
could trust you, but I find to my sorrow that I was mistaken."



CHAPTER XIV

The Secret Society of Patriots


Marjorie's friendship for Chrissie Lang at present flamed at red heat.
Marjorie was prone to violent attachments, her temperament was
excitable, and she was easily swayed by her emotions. She would take up
new people with enthusiasm, though she was apt to drop them afterwards.
Since her babyhood "Marjorie's latest idol" had been a byword in the
family. She had worshipped by turns her kindergarten teacher, a little
curly-headed boy whom she met at dancing-class, her gymnasium mistress,
at least ten separate form-mates, the Girl Guides' captain, and a friend
of Nora's. Her affection varied according to the responsiveness of the
object, though in some cases she had even been ready to love without
return. Chrissie, however, seemed ready to meet her half-way. She was
enthusiastic and demonstrative and rather sentimental. To be sure, she
gave Marjorie very little of her confidence; but the latter, who liked
to talk herself and pour out her own ideas, did not trouble on that
score, and was quite content to have found a sympathetic listener. The
two girls were inseparable. They walked round the quadrangle arm in
arm; they sat side by side in any class where liberty to choose places
was allowed. They exchanged picture post cards, foreign stamps, and
crests; they gave each other presents, and wrote sentimental little
notes which they hid under one another's pillows.

The general opinion of the form was that Marjorie had "got it badly".

"Can't imagine what she sees in Chrissie Lang myself," sniffed Annie
Turner. "She's not particularly interesting. Her nose is too big, and
she can't say her r's properly."

"She's mean, too," added Francie Sheppard. "I'm collecting for the
Seamen's Mission, and she wouldn't even give me a penny."

"She tried to truckle to Norty, too," put in Patricia Lennox. "She
bought violets in Whitecliffe, and laid them on the desk in Norty's
study, with a piece of cardboard tied to them with white ribbon, and
'With love from your devoted pupil Chrissie' written on it. Norty gave
them back to her, though, and said she'd made it a rule to accept
nothing from any girl, not even flowers."

"Good for Norty!"

"Oh, trust the Acid Drop not to lapse into anything sentimental! She's
as hard as nails. The devoted-pupil dodge doesn't go down with her."

Marjorie had to run a considerable gauntlet of chaff from her
schoolmates, but that did not trouble her in the least. A little
opposition, indeed, added spice to the friendship. Her home letters were
full of praise of her new idol.

"Chrissie is the most adorable girl you can imagine," she wrote to her
mother. "We do everything together now. I can't tell you how glad I am
she has come to school. I tell her all about Bevis and Leonard and
Larry, and she is so interested and wants to know just where they are
and what they are doing. She says it is because they are my brothers.
Dona does not care for her very much, but that is because she is such
great friends with Ailsa Donald. I took a snapshot of Chris yesterday,
and she took one of me. I'll send them both to you as soon as we have
developed and printed them. We don't get much time to do photography,
because we're keen on acting this term, and I'm in the Charade Society.
Chrissie has made me a handkerchief in open-hem stitch, and embroidered
my name most beautifully on it. I wish I could sew as well as she does.
I lost it in the hockey field, and did not find it for three days, and I
dared not tell Chrissie all that time, for fear she might be offended.
She's dreadfully sensitive. She says she has a highly nervous organism,
and I think it's true."

It was about this time that it was rumoured in St. Elgiva's that Irene
Andrews had started a secret society. What its name or object might be
nobody knew, but its votaries posed considerably for the benefit of the
rest of the hostel. They preserved an air of aloofness and dignity, as
if concerned with weighty matters. It was evident that they had a
password and a code of signals, and that they met in Irene's dormitory,
with closed door and a scout to keep off intruders. When pressed to
give at least a hint as to the nature of their proceedings, they replied
that they would cheerfully face torture or the stake before consenting
to reveal a single word. Now Dormitory No. 9 had never quite forgiven
Irene for deserting in favour of No. 5 and Mavie Chapman. Its occupants
discussed the matter as they went to bed.

"Renie's so fearfully important," complained Betty. "I asked her
something this morning, and she said: 'Don't interrupt me, child,' as if
she were the King busy on State affairs."

"She'll hardly look at us nowadays," agreed Sylvia plaintively.

"I'll tell you what," suggested Marjorie. "Let's get up a secret society
of our own. It would take the wind out of Renie's sails tremendously to
find that we had passwords and signals and all the rest of it. She'd be
most fearfully annoyed."

"It's a good idea," assented Sylvia, "but what could we have a secret
society about?"

"Well, why not have it a sort of patriotic one, to do all we can to help
the war, knit socks for the soldiers, and that kind of thing?"

"We knit socks already," objected Betty.

"That doesn't matter, we must knit more, that's all. There must be heaps
of things we can do for the war. Besides, it's the spirit of the thing
that counts. We pledge ourselves to give our last drop of blood for our
country. We've all of us got fathers and brothers who are fighting."

"Chrissie hasn't anybody at the front," demurred Betty, rather
spitefully.

"That's not Chrissie's fault. We're not all born with brothers. Because
you're lucky enough to have an uncle who's an admiral, you needn't quite
squash other people!"

"How you fly out! I was only mentioning a fact."

"Anybody with tact wouldn't have mentioned it."

"What shall we call the society?" asked Sylvia, bringing the disputants
back to the original subject of the discussion.

"How would 'The Secret Society of Patriots' do?" suggested Chrissie.

"The very thing!" assented Marjorie warmly. "Trust Chrissie to hit on
the right name. We'll let just a few into it--Patricia, perhaps, and
Enid and Mollie, but nobody else. We must take an oath, and regard it as
absolutely binding."

"Like the Freemasons," agreed Sylvia. "I believe they kill anybody who
betrays them."

"We'll have an initiation ceremony," purred Marjorie, highly delighted
with the new venture. "And of course we'll arrange a password and
signals, and I don't see why we shouldn't have a cryptogram, and write
each other notes. It would be ever so baffling for the rest to find
letters lying about that they couldn't read. They'd be most indignant."

"Right you are! It'll be priceless! We'll do Irene this time!"

The new society at once established itself upon lines of utmost secrecy.
Its initiates found large satisfaction in playing it off against their
rivals. Though they preserved its objects in a halo of mystery, they
allowed just the initials of its name to leak out, so as to convince the
hostel of its reality. Unfortunately they had not noticed that S.S.O.P.
spells "sop", but the outside public eagerly seized at such an
opportunity, and nicknamed them "the Milksops" on the spot. As they had
expected, Irene and her satellites were highly affronted at an
opposition society being started, and flung scorn at its members.

"We mustn't mind them," urged Marjorie patiently. "It's really a
compliment to us that they're so annoyed. We'll just go on our own way
and take no notice. I've invented a beautiful cryptogram. They'll never
guess it without the key, if they try for a year."

The code of signals was easily mastered by the society, but they jibbed
at the cryptogram.

"It's too difficult, and I really haven't the brains to learn it," said
Betty decidedly.

"It's as bad as lessons," wailed Sylvia.

Even Chrissie objected to being obliged to translate notes written in
cipher.

"It takes such a long time," she demurred.

"I thought _you'd_ have done it," said Marjorie reproachfully. "I'm
afraid you don't care for me as much as you did."

The main difficulty of the society was to find sufficient outlets for
its activities. At present, knitting socks seemed the only form of aid
which it was possible to render the soldiers. The members decided that
they must work harder at this occupation and produce more pairs. Some of
them smuggled their knitting into Preparation, with the result that
their form work suffered. They bore loss of marks and Miss Duckworth's
reproaches with the heroism of martyrs to a cause.

"We couldn't tell her we were fulfilling vows," sighed Marjorie, "though
I was rather tempted to ask her which was more important--my Euclid or
the feet of some soldier at the front?"

"She wouldn't have understood."

"Well, no, I suppose not, unless we'd explained."

"Could we ask Norty to let us save our jam and send it to the soldiers?"

Marjorie shook her head.

"We couldn't get it out to the front, and they've heaps of it at the Red
Cross Hospital--at least, Elaine says so, and she helps in the pantry at
present."

"We might sell our hair for the benefit of the Belgians," remarked
Betty, gazing thoughtfully at Marjorie's long plait and Sylvia's silken
curls.

"Oh, I dare say, when your own's short!" responded Sylvia indignantly.
"I might as well suggest selling our ponies, because you've got one and
I haven't."

"If I wrote a patriotic poem, I wonder how much it would cost to get it
printed?" asked Enid. "I'd make all the girls in our form buy copies."

"We might get up a concert."

"But wouldn't that give away our secret?"

With the enthusiasm of the newly-formed society still hot upon her,
Marjorie started for her fortnightly exeat at her aunt's. She felt that
the atmosphere of The Tamarisks would be stimulating. Everybody
connected with that establishment was doing something for the war. Uncle
Andrew was on a military tribunal, Aunt Ellinor presided over numerous
committees to send parcels to prisoners, or to aid soldiers' orphans.
Elaine's life centred round the Red Cross Hospital, and Norman and
Wilfred were at the front. She found her aunt, with the table spread
over with papers, busily scribbling letters.

"I'm on a new committee," she explained, after greeting her niece. "I
have to find people who'll undertake to write to lonely soldiers. Some
of our poor fellows never have a letter, and the chaplains say it's most
pathetic to see how wistful they look when the mails come in and there's
nothing for them. I think it's just too touching for words. Suppose
Norman and Wilfred were never remembered. Did you say, Elaine, that Mrs.
Wilkins has promised to take Private Dudley? That's right! And Mrs.
Hopwood will take Private Roberts? It's very kind of her, when she's so
busy already. We haven't anybody yet for Private Hargreaves. I must find
him a correspondent somehow. What is it, Dona dear? You want me to look
at your photos? Most certainly!"

Aunt Ellinor--kind, busy, and impulsive, and always anxious to
entertain the girls when they came for their fortnightly visit--pushed
aside her papers and immediately gave her whole attention to the
snapshots which Dona showed her.

"I took them with the camera you gave me at Christmas," explained her
niece. "Miss Jones says it must be a very good lens, because they've
come out so well. Isn't this one of Marjorie topping?"

"It's nice, only it makes her look too old," commented Elaine. "You
can't see her plait, and she might be quite grown-up. Have you a book to
paste your photos in?"

"Not yet. I must put that down in my birthday list."

"I believe I have one upstairs that I can give you. It's somewhere in my
cupboard. I'll go and look for it."

"Oh, let me come with you!" chirruped Dona, running after her cousin.

Marjorie stayed in the dining-room, because Aunt Ellinor had just handed
her Norman's last letter, and she wanted to read it. She was only
half-way through the first page when a maid announced a visitor, and her
aunt rose and went to the drawing-room. Norman's news from the front was
very interesting. She devoured it eagerly. As a P.S. he added: "Write as
often as you can. You don't know what letters mean to us out here."

Marjorie folded the thin foreign sheets and put them back in their
envelope. If Norman, who was kept well supplied with home news, longed
for letters, what must be the case of those lonely soldiers who had not
a friend to use pen and paper on their behalf? Surely it would be a kind
and patriotic act to write to one of them? Marjorie's impulsive
temperament snatched eagerly at the idea.

"The very sort of thing I've been yearning to do," she decided. "Why,
that's what our S.S.O.P. membership is for. Auntie said she hadn't found
a correspondent for Private Hargreaves. I'll send him a letter myself.
It's dreadful to think of him out in the trenches without a soul to take
an interest in him, poor fellow!"

Without waiting to consult anybody, Marjorie borrowed her aunt's pen,
took a sheet of foreign paper from the rack that stood on the table, and
quite on the spur of the moment scribbled off the following epistle:--

    "BRACKENFIELD COLLEGE,
        "WHITECLIFFE.

    "DEAR PRIVATE HARGREAVES,

    "I am so sorry to think of you being lonely in the trenches and
    having no letters, and I want to write and say we English girls
    think of all the brave men who are fighting to defend our
    country, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. I know
    how terrible it is for you, because I have a brother in France,
    and one on a battleship, and one in training-camp, and five
    cousins at the front, and my father at Havre, so I hear all
    about the hard life you have to lead. I have been to the Red
    Cross Hospital and seen the wounded soldiers. I knit socks to
    send to the troops, and we want to get up a concert to raise
    some money for the Y.M.C.A. huts.

    "I hope you will not feel so lonely now you know that somebody
    is thinking about you.

    "Believe me,
        "Your sincere friend,
            "MARJORIE ANDERSON."

It exactly filled up a sheet, and Marjorie folded it, put it in an
envelope, and copied the address from the list which her aunt had left
lying on the table. Seeing Dona's photos also spread out, she took the
little snapshot of herself and enclosed it in the letter. She had a
stamp of her own in her purse, which she affixed, then slipped the
envelope in her pocket. She did not mention the matter to Aunt Ellinor
or Elaine, because to do so would almost seem like betraying the
S.S.O.P., whose patriotic principles were vowed to strictest secrecy.
She considered it was a case of "doing good by stealth", and plumed
herself on how she would score over the other girls when she reported
such a very practical application of the aims of the society.

Her cousin returned with Dona in the course of a few minutes, and
suggested taking the girls into Whitecliffe, where she wished to do some
shopping. They all three started off at once. As they passed the
pillar-box in the High Street, Marjorie managed to drop in her letter
unobserved. It was an exhilarating feeling to know that it was really
gone. They went to a café for tea, and as they sat looking at the
Allies' flags, which draped the walls, and listening to the military
marches played by a ladies' orchestra in khaki uniforms, patriotism
seemed uppermost.

"It's grand to do anything for one's country!" sighed Marjorie.

"So it is," answered Elaine, pulling her knitting from her pocket and
rapidly going on with a sock. "Those poor fellows in the trenches
deserve everything we can send out to them--socks, toffee, cakes,
cigarettes, scented soap, and other comforts."

"And letters," added Marjorie under her breath, to herself.



CHAPTER XV

The Empress


The S.S.O.P. was duly, thrilled when Marjorie reported her act of
patriotism. Its members, however, reproached her that she had not
copied down the names and addresses of other lonely soldiers on her
aunt's list, so that they also might have had an opportunity of
"doing their bit".

"There wasn't time," Marjorie apologized. "Elaine came back into the
room almost immediately, and I daren't let her and Dona know, because it
would have broken my vow."

Her friends admitted the excuse, but it was plain that they were
disappointed, and considered that with a little more promptitude she
might have succeeded.

"Did you tell him about our society?" asked Betty.

"No, of course not."

"Well, I didn't mean betraying the secret, exactly, only I think you
might have mentioned that there are several of us who want to do things
for the soldiers. And there was a beautiful snapshot that Patricia took
of us all--you might have put that in."

"But I hadn't got it with me."

"You needn't have been in such a hurry to send off the letter. You could
have waited till you'd seen us."

"How could I post it from school? It was by sheer luck I slipped it into
the pillar-box at Whitecliffe. I got my chance to write that letter, and
I had to take it at once or leave it."

"Perhaps our turns may come another time," suggested Patricia
consolingly.

Though it was Marjorie who had done the actual writing, the whole of the
S.S.O.P. felt responsible for the letter, and considered that they had
adopted the lonely soldier. In imagination they pictured Private
Hargreaves sitting disconsolately in a dug-out, gazing with wistful eyes
while his comrades read and re-read their home letters, then an orderly
entering and presenting him with Marjorie's document, his incredulity,
surprise, and delight at finding it actually addressed to himself, and
the eagerness with which he would tear open the envelope. Opinions
differed as to what would happen when he had read it. Sylvia inclined to
think that tears would steal down his rugged cheek. Betty was certain
that, however bad he might have been formerly, he would at once turn
over a new leaf and begin to reform. Patricia suggested that he would
write on the envelope that he wished it to be buried with him. Schemes
for sending him pressed violets, poems, and photographs floated on the
horizon of the society. He should not feel lonely any more if the
S.S.O.P. could help it. They decided that each would contribute
twopence a week towards buying him cigarettes. They went about the
school quite jauntily in the consciousness of their secret. The rival
secret society, noticing their elation, openly jeered, but that no doubt
was envy.

A fortnight passed by, and the girls were beginning to forget about it a
little. The snow had melted, and hockey practice was uppermost in their
minds, for the match between St. Githa's and St. Elgiva's would soon be
due, and they were anxious for the credit of their own hostel. Just at
present the playing-fields loomed larger than the trenches. St. Elgiva's
team was not yet decided, and each hoped in her innermost heart that she
might be chosen among the favoured eleven. Marjorie had lately improved
very much at hockey, and had won words of approval from Stella Pearson,
the games captain, together with helpful criticism. It was well known
that Stella did not waste trouble on unpromising subjects, so it was
highly encouraging to Marjorie to find her play noticed. Golden visions
of winning goals for her hostel swam before her dazzled eyes. She dreamt
one night that she was captain of the team. She almost quarrelled with
Chrissie because the latter, who was a slack player, did not share her
enthusiasm.

One Monday morning Marjorie woke up with a curious sense of impending
trouble. She occasionally had a fit of the blues on Mondays. Sunday was
a quiet day at Brackenfield, and in the evening the girls wrote their
home letters. The effect was often an intense longing for the holidays.
On this particular Monday she tried to shake off the wretched dismal
feeling, but did not succeed. It lasted throughout breakfast in spite of
Chrissie's humorous rallyings.

"You're as glum as an owl!" remarked her chum at last.

"I can't help it. I feel as if something horrible is going to happen."

Marjorie's premonition turned out to be justified, for, as she was
leaving the dining-hall after breakfast, Miss Norton tapped her on the
shoulder, and told her to report herself at once to Mrs. Morrison.

Wondering for what particular transgression she was to be called to
account, Marjorie obeyed, and presented herself at the study. The
Principal was seated at her desk writing. She allowed her pupil to stand
and wait while she finished making her list for the housekeeper and
blotted it. Then, taking an envelope from one of her pigeonholes, she
turned to the expectant girl.

"Marjorie Anderson," she began sternly, "this letter, addressed to you,
arrived this morning. Miss Norton very properly brought it to me, and I
have opened and read it. Will you kindly explain its contents?"

The rule at Brackenfield, as at most schools, was that pupils might only
receive letters addressed by their parents or guardians, and that any
other correspondence directed to them was opened and perused by the head
mistress. Letters from brothers, sisters, cousins, or friends were of
course allowed if forwarded under cover by a parent, but must not be
sent separately to the school by the writer.

Marjorie, in some amazement, opened the letter which Mrs. Morrison gave
her. It was written on Y.M.C.A. paper in an ill-educated hand, and ran
thus:--

    "DEAR MISS,

    "This comes hoping you are as well as it leaves me at present. I
    was very glad to get your letter, and hear you are thinking
    about me. I like your photo, and when I get back to blighty
    should like to keep company with you if you are agreeable to
    same. Before I joined up I was in the engine-room at my works,
    and getting my £2 a week. I am very glad to have some one to
    write to me. Well, no more at present from

    "Yours truly
       "JIM HARGREAVES."

Marjorie flushed scarlet. Without doubt the letter was a reply from the
lonely soldier. It came as a tremendous shock. Somehow it had never
occurred to her that he would write back. To herself and the other
members of the S.S.O.P. he had been a mere picturesque abstraction, a
romantic figure, as remote as fiction, whose loneliness had appealed to
their sentimental instincts. They had judged all soldiers by the
experience of their own brothers and cousins, and had a vague idea that
the army consisted mostly of public-school boys. To find that her
protégé was an uneducated working man, who had entirely misconstrued the
nature of her interest in him, and evidently imagined that she had
written him a love-letter, made poor Marjorie turn hot and cold. She was
essentially a thorough little lady, and was horror-stricken at the false
position in which her impulsive act had placed her.

Mrs. Morrison watched her face narrowly, and drew her own conclusion
from the tell-tale blushes.

"Do I understand that this letter is in reply to one written by you?"
she asked.

"Yes, Mrs. Morrison," gasped Marjorie, turning suddenly white.

The Principal drew a long breath, as if trying to retain her
self-command. Her grey eyes flashed ominously, and her hands trembled.

"Do you understand that you have not only broken one of our principal
rules, but have transgressed against the spirit of the school? Every
pupil here is at least supposed to be a gentlewoman, and that a
Brackenfielder could so demean herself as to enter into a vulgar
correspondence with an unknown soldier fills me with disgust and
contempt. I cannot keep such a girl in the school. You will go for the
present to the isolation room, and remain there until I can make
arrangements to send you home."

[Illustration: THEN SOMEHOW MARJORIE FOUND HERSELF BLURTING OUT THE
ENTIRE STORY _page 172_]

Mrs. Morrison spoke quietly, but very firmly. She pointed to the door,
and Marjorie, without a word, withdrew. She had been given no chance
to explain matters or defend herself. By acknowledging that she had
written to Private Hargreaves Mrs. Morrison considered that she had
pleaded guilty, and had condemned her without further hearing. As if
walking in a bad dream, Marjorie crossed the quadrangle, and went down
the path to the Isolation Hospital. This was a small bungalow in a
remote part of the grounds. It was kept always in readiness in case any
girl should develop an infectious complaint. Marjorie had been there for
a few days last term with a cold which Miss Norton suspected might be
influenza. She had enjoyed herself then. How different it was now to go
there in utter disgrace and under threat of expulsion! She sat down in
one of the cosy wicker chairs and buried her face in her hands. To be
expelled, to leave Brackenfield and all its interests, and to go home
with a stigma attached to her name! Her imagination painted all it would
mean--her father's displeasure, her mother's annoyance, the surprise of
friends at home to see her back before mid-term, the entire humiliation
of everybody knowing that she had been sent away from school.

"I shall never be able to hold up my head again," she thought. "And it
will spoil Dona's career here too. They won't be able to send Joan to
Brackenfield either; she'll have to go to some other school. Oh, why was
I such an absolute lunatic? I might have known the Empress would take it
this way!"

Sister Johnstone, one of the school nurses, now came bustling in. She
glanced at Marjorie, but made no remark, and set to work to light the
fire and dust the room. Presently, however, she came and laid her hand
on the girl's shoulder.

"I don't quite understand yet what it's all about, Marjorie," she said
kindly; "but my advice is, if you've done anything wrong, make a clean
breast of it and perhaps Mrs. Morrison may forgive you."

"She's expelled me!" groaned Marjorie.

"That's bad. Aren't there any extenuating circumstances?"

But Marjorie, utterly crushed and miserable, only shook her head.

The Principal was sincerely concerned and grieved by the occurrence. It
is always a blot on a school to be obliged to expel a pupil. She talked
the matter over carefully with some of the teachers. Marjorie's record
at Brackenfield had unfortunately been already marred by several
incidents which prejudiced her in the eyes of the mistresses. They had
been done innocently and in sheer thoughtlessness, but they gave a wrong
impression of her character. Miss Norton related that when she first met
Marjorie at Euston station she had found her speaking to a soldier, with
whom she had acknowledged that she had no acquaintance, and that she had
brought a novel to her dormitory in defiance of rules. Mrs. Morrison
remembered only too plainly that it was Marjorie who had asked the
aviator for his autograph on the beach at Whitecliffe, and had started
the ill-timed episode of snowballing the soldiers. Judging by these
signposts she considered her tendencies to be "fast".

"I can't have the atmosphere of the school spoilt," said Mrs. Morrison.
"Such an attitude is only too catching. Best to check it before it
spreads further."

"But I have always found Marjorie such a nice girl," urged Miss
Duckworth. "From my personal experience of her I could not have believed
her capable of unladylike conduct. She has always seemed to me very
unsophisticated and childish--certainly not 'fast'. Can there possibly
be any explanation of the matter?"

"I fear not--the case seems only too plain," sighed Mrs. Morrison. "I am
very loath to expel any girl, but----"

"May I speak to her before you take any active steps?" begged Miss
Duckworth. "I have a feeling that the matter may possibly admit of being
cleared up. It's worth trying."

No principal is ever anxious for the unpleasant task of writing to a
parent to request her to remove her daughter. Mrs. Morrison had nerved
herself to the unwelcome duty, but she was quite willing to defer it
until Miss Duckworth had instituted enquiries. She had an excellent
opinion of her mistress's sound common sense.

Marjorie spent a wretched day in the isolation ward. Sister Johnstone
plied her with magazines, but she had not the heart to read them, and
sat looking listlessly out of the window at the belt of laurels that
separated the field from the kitchen garden. She wondered when she was
to leave Brackenfield, if her mother would come to fetch her, or if she
would have to travel home by herself. It was after tea-time that Miss
Duckworth entered.

"I've come to relieve Sister for a little while," she announced, seating
herself by the fire.

Sister Johnstone took the hint, and, saying she would be very glad to go
out for half an hour, went away, leaving Miss Duckworth and Marjorie
alone in the bungalow.

"Come to the fire, Marjorie," said the mistress. "It's damp and chilly
this afternoon, and you look cold sitting by the window."

Marjorie obeyed almost mechanically. She knelt on the rug and spread out
her hands to the blaze. She had reached a point of misery when she
hardly cared what happened next to her. Two big tears splashed into the
fender. Miss Duckworth suddenly put an arm round her.

"I'm sorry you're in trouble, Marjorie. Can't you tell me why you did
such a thing? It's so unlike you that I don't understand."

Then somehow Marjorie found herself blurting out the entire story to her
form mistress. How she had found the soldier's address at her aunt's,
and had written to him in a spirit of sheer patriotism.

Incidentally, and in reply to questioning, the aims and objects of the
S.S.O.P. were divulged.

Miss Duckworth could hardly forbear a smile; the real circumstances were
so utterly different from what they appeared in the Principal's eyes.

"You've been a very silly child," she said; "so silly that I think you
richly deserved to get yourself into a scrape. I'll explain the matter
to Mrs. Morrison."

"I'd like her to know, even though I'm to be expelled," groaned
Marjorie.

On hearing Miss Duckworth's version of the story, however, Mrs. Morrison
reconsidered her decision, sent for the culprit, lectured her, and
solemnly forgave her. She further summoned all the members of the
S.S.O.P. to present themselves in her study. In view of the recent
occurrence they came trembling, and stood in a downcast line while she
addressed them.

"I hear from Miss Duckworth," she said, "that you have founded a secret
society among yourselves for the purpose of encouraging patriotism. I do
not in general approve of secret societies, but I sympathize with your
object. It is the duty of every citizen of our Empire to be patriotic.
There are various ways, however, in which we can show our love for our
country. Let us be sure that they are wise and discreet ways before we
adopt them. Some forms of kindness may be excellent when administered by
grown-up and experienced women, but are not suitable for schoolgirls. If
you want to help the soldiers you may sew bed-jackets. I have just
received a new consignment of flannel, and will ask Sister Johnstone to
cut some out for you to-morrow."

The S.S.O.P. retired somewhat crestfallen.

"I hate sewing!" mourned Betty.

"So do I," confessed Sylvia. "But we'll all just have to slave away at
those bed-jackets if we want to square the Empress. It must come out of
our spare time, too, worse luck!"

Marjorie entered St. Elgiva's in a half-dazed condition. A hurricane
seemed to have descended that morning, whirled her almost to
destruction, then blown itself away, and left her decidedly battered by
the storm. Up in her own cubicle she indulged in the luxury of a
thorough good cry. The S.S.O.P. in a body rose up to comfort her, but,
like Jacob of old, she refused comfort.

"I'm not to be t-t-trusted to have my own postage stamps," she sobbed.
"I've to take even my home letters to the Empress to be looked at, and
she'll stamp them. I'm to miss my next exeat, and Aunt Ellinor's to be
told the reason, and I'm not to play hockey for a month."

"Oh, Marjorie! Then there isn't the remotest chance of your getting into
the Eleven for St. Elgiva's. What a shame!"

"I know. It's spoilt everything."

"And the whole school knows now about the S.S.O.P. It's leaked out
somehow, and the secret's gone. It'll be no more fun."

"I wish to goodness I'd never thought of it," choked Marjorie. "I've got
to sit and copy out beastly poetry while somebody else gets into the
Eleven."



CHAPTER XVI

The Observatory Window


Though Mrs. Morrison might be satisfied that Marjorie's letter to
Private Hargreaves had been written in an excess of patriotism, she made
her feel the ban of her displeasure. She received her coldly when she
brought her home letters to be stamped, stopped her exeat, and did not
remit a fraction of her imposition. She considered she had gauged
Marjorie's character--that thoughtless impulsiveness was one of her
gravest faults, and that it would be well to teach her a lesson which
she would remember for some time. Marjorie's hot spirits chafed against
her punishment. It was terribly hard to be kept from hockey practice.
She missed the physical exercise as well as the excitement of the game.
On three golden afternoons she had watched the others run across the
shrubbery towards the playing-fields, and, taking her dejected way to
her classroom, had spent the time writing at her desk. The fourth hockey
afternoon was one of those lovely spring days when nature seems to
beckon one out of doors into the sunshine. Sparrows were tweeting in the
ivy, and a thrush on the top branch of the almond tree trilled in
rivalry with the blackbird that was building in the holly bush. For
half an hour Marjorie toiled away. Copying poetry is monotonous, though
perhaps not very exacting work; she hated writing, and her head ached.
After a morning spent at Latin, algebra, and chemistry, it seemed
intolerable to be obliged to remain in the schoolroom. She threw down
her pen and stretched her arms wearily, then strolled to the open window
and looked out.

A belt of trees hid the playing-fields, so it was impossible to catch
even a glimpse of the hockey. There was nothing to be seen but grass and
bushes and a few clumps of daffodils, which stood out like golden stars
against a background of green. Stop! what was that? Marjorie looked more
intently, and could distinguish a figure in hockey jersey and
tam-o'-shanter coming along behind the bushes. As it crossed a space
between two rhododendrons she recognized it in a moment.

"Why, that's Chrissie!" she said to herself. "What in the name of
thunder is she doing slinking behind the shrubs? Oh, I know! Good old
girl! She's coming to cheer me up, and, of course, doesn't want Norty or
anyone to catch her. What a sport she is!"

Chrissie had disappeared, probably into the vestibule door, but Marjorie
judged that she would be coming upstairs directly, and in a spirit of
fun crouched down in a corner and hid behind the desks. As she had
expected, the door opened a moment later, and her chum peeped inside,
took a hasty glance round the room, and went away. That she should go
without searching for and finding her friend was not at all what
Marjorie had calculated upon. She sprang up hastily and followed, but by
the time she had reached the door Chrissie had disappeared. Marjorie
walked a little way along the corridor. She was disappointed, and felt
decidedly bored with life. She longed for something--anything--to break
the monotony of copying out poetry. Her eyes fell upon a staircase at
her left.

Now on the school plan these stairs were marked "out of bounds", and to
mount them was a breach of rules. They led to a glass observatory, which
formed a kind of tower over the main building of the College. A number
of theatrical properties were stored here--screens, and drop scenes, and
boxes full of costumes. By special leave the prefects came up to fetch
anything that was needed for acting, but to the ordinary school it was
forbidden ground. Marjorie stopped and thought. She had always longed to
explore the theatrical boxes. Everybody was out at hockey, and there was
not a soul to see her and report her. The temptation was too great; she
succumbed, and next moment was running up the stairs, all agog with the
spirit of adventure. The door of the Observatory was open. It was not a
remarkably large room, and was fairly well filled with the various stage
properties. Large windows occupied the four sides, and the roof was a
glass dome. Marjorie peeped about, opened some of the boxes and examined
the dresses, and inspected a variety of odd objects, such as pasteboard
crowns, fairies' wings, sceptres, wands, and swords. She was just about
to try on a green-velvet Rumanian bodice when she turned in alarm. Steps
were heard coming up the staircase towards the Observatory. In an
instant Marjorie shut the box and slipped behind one of the screens. She
was only just in time, for the next moment Miss Norton entered the room.
Through a small rent in the oilcloth which covered the screen Marjorie
could see her plainly. She went to the window which faced the sea and
gazed out long and earnestly. Then she opened one of the theatrical
boxes, put something inside, and shut it again. One more look through
the window and she left the room. The sound of her retreating footsteps
died down the stairs.

Marjorie had remained still, and scarcely daring to breathe. She waited
a moment or two, lest the teacher should return, then descended with
extreme caution, scuttled back into the schoolroom, and started once
more to copy poetry.

"It was a near squeak!" she thought. "The Acid Drop would have made a
fearful row if she'd caught me. It makes one feel rocky even to think of
it. Oh dear! I must brace up if I'm to get all the rest of this done
before tea."

She wrote away wearily until the dressing-bell rang, then washed her
hands and went into the hall. The one topic of conversation at the
tables was hockey. The points of the various members of the teams were
criticized freely. It appeared to have been an exciting afternoon. A
sense of ill usage filled Marjorie that she had not been present.

"I think the Empress was awfully hard on me," she groused. "I believe
she'd have let me off more lightly if Norty hadn't given her such a list
of my crimes. I wish I could catch Norty tripping! But teachers never do
trip."

"Why, no, of course not. They wouldn't be teachers if they did," laughed
Betty. "The Empress would soon pack them off."

"I wonder if they ever get into trouble and the Empress reprimands them
in private," surmised Chrissie.

"Oh, that's likely enough, but of course we don't hear about it."

"Miss Gordon and Miss Hulton had a quarrel last year," said Sylvia.

"Yes, and Miss Hulton left. Everybody said she was obliged to go because
Mrs. Morrison took Miss Gordon's part."

That evening an unprecedented and extraordinary thing happened.
Brackenfield College stood in a dip of the hills not very far away from
the sea. As at most coast places, the rules in the neighbourhood of
Whitecliffe were exceedingly strict. Not the least little chink of a
light must be visible after dusk, and blinds and curtains were drawn
most carefully over the windows. Being on the west coast, they had so
far been immune from air raids, but in war-time nobody knew from what
quarter danger might come, or whether a stray Zeppelin might some night
float overhead, or a cruiser begin shelling the town. On the whole, the
College was considered as safe a place as any in England, and parents
had not scrupled to send their daughters back to school there. On this
particular evening one of the housemaids had been into Whitecliffe, and,
instead of returning by the high road and up the drive, took a short cut
by the side lane and the kitchen garden. To her amazement, she noticed
that in one of the windows of the Observatory a bright light was
shining. It was on the side away from the high road, but facing the sea,
and could probably be discerned at a great distance. She hurried indoors
and informed Mrs. Morrison, who at once visited the Observatory, and
found there a lighted bicycle lamp, which had been placed on the window
sill.

So sinister an incident was a matter for immediate enquiry. The
Principal was horror-stricken. Girls, teachers, and servants were
questioned, but nobody admitted anything. The lamp, indeed, proved to be
one which Miss Duckworth had missed from her bicycle several days
before. It was known that she had been lamenting its loss. Whether the
light had been put as a signal or as a practical joke it was impossible
to say, but if it had been noticed by a special constable it would have
placed Brackenfield in danger of an exceedingly heavy fine.

Everybody was extremely indignant. It was felt that such an unpleasant
episode cast a reflection upon the school. It was naturally the one
subject of conversation.

"Have we a spy in our midst?" asked Winifrede Mason darkly. "If it
really was a practical joke, then whoever did it needs hounding out of
the place."

"She'll meet with scant mercy when she's found!" agreed Meg Hutchinson.

Marjorie said nothing at all. Her brain was in a whirl. The events of
the afternoon rose up like a spectre and haunted her. She felt she
needed a confidante. At the earliest possible moment she sought Chrissie
alone, and told her how she had run up into the Observatory and seen
Miss Norton there.

"Do you think it's possible Norty could have lighted that lamp?" she
asked.

Chrissie whistled.

"It looks rather black against her certainly. What was she doing up in
the Observatory?"

"She put something inside a box."

"Did you see what it was?"

"No."

"It might have been a bicycle lamp?"

"It might have been anything as far as I can tell."

"Did she strike a match as if lighting a lamp?"

"No, but of course she might have put the lamp inside the box and then
come up at dusk to light it."

Chrissie shook her head and whistled again softly. She appeared to be
thinking.

"Ought I to tell the Empress?" ventured Marjorie.

"Not unless you want to get yourself into the very biggest row you've
ever had in your life!"

"Why?"

"Why? Don't you see, you silly child, that Norty would deny everything
and throw all the blame upon you? Naturally the Empress would ask: 'What
were you doing in the Observatory?' Even if she didn't suspect you of
putting the light there yourself--which it is quite possible she
might--she'd punish you for breaking bounds; and when you've only just
been in trouble already----"

"It's not to be thought of," interrupted Marjorie quickly. "You're quite
right, Chrissie. The Empress would be sure to side with Norty and blame
me. I'd thought of going and telling her, and I even walked as far as
the study door, but I was too frightened to knock. I'm glad I asked you
about it first."

"Of course the whole business may be a rag. It's the kind of wild thing
some of those silly Juniors would do."

"It may; but, on the other hand, the light may have been a signal. It
seems very mysterious."

"Don't tell anybody else what you've told me."

"Rather not. It's a secret to be kept even from the S.S.O.P. I shan't
breathe a word to a single soul."



CHAPTER XVII

The Dance of the Nations


Though Mrs. Morrison made the most rigid enquiries she could get no
information as to who had placed the lamp in the window. She locked the
door of the Observatory, and caused the old gardener to patrol the
grounds at intervals after dark to watch for further signals, but
nothing more occurred. After weeks of vigilance and suspicion she came
to the conclusion that it must have been a practical joke on the part of
one of the girls. Chrissie in her private talks with her chum upheld
that view of the matter, but Marjorie had her own opinions. She often
looked at Miss Norton and wondered what secrets were hidden under that
calm exterior. To all outward appearance the house mistress was
scholastic, cold, and entirely occupied with her duties. She was
essentially a disciplinarian, and kept St. Elgiva's under a strict
régime. Her girls often wished she were less conscientious in her
superintendence of their doings.

The possession of a mutual secret shared by themselves alone seemed to
draw Chrissie and Marjorie closer together than ever. Not that Chrissie
gave her chum any more of her real confidence, for she was the kind of
girl who never reveals her heart, but she seemed to become more and
more interested in Marjorie's affairs. She enjoyed the latter's home
news, and especially letters from the front.

"I envy you, with three brothers in the army!" she admitted one day with
a wistful sigh.

"Yes, it's something to know our family is doing its bit," returned
Marjorie proudly. "Haven't you any relations at the front?" she added.

Chrissie shook her head.

"My father is dead, and my only brother is delicate."

Marjorie forbore to press the question further. She could see it was a
tender subject.

"Probably the brother is a shirker or a conscientious objector," she
thought, "and to such a patriotic girl as Chrissie it must be a dreadful
trial. If Bevis or Leonard or Larry seemed to hang back I'd die of
shame."

Judging from the photo of Chrissie's brother which stood on her
dressing-table, he did not look an engaging or interesting youth. The
dormitory, keenly critical of each other's relatives, had privately
decided in his disfavour. That Chrissie was fond of him Marjorie was
sure, though she never talked about him and his doings, as other girls
did of their brothers. The suspicion that her chum was hiding a secret
humiliation on this score made warm-hearted Marjorie doubly kind, and
Chrissie, though no more expansive than formerly, seemed to understand.
She was evidently intensely grateful for Marjorie's friendship, and as
entirely devoted to her as her reserved disposition allowed. She would
send to Whitecliffe for violets, and place the little bunch on her
chum's dressing-table, flushing hotly when she was thanked. She
presented innumerable small gifts which she managed to make in her spare
time. She was a quick and exquisite needlewoman, and dainty collars in
broderie anglaise, embroidered pocket-handkerchiefs, pin-cushions,
dressing-table mats, and other pretty trifles seemed to grow like magic
under her nimble fingers. Any return present from Marjorie she seemed to
value exceedingly. She put the latter's photo inside a locket, and wore
it constantly. She was clever at her lessons, and would help her chum
with her work out of school hours. St. Elgiva's smiled tolerantly, and
named the pair "the Turtle Doves". Though the atmosphere of the hostel
was not sentimental, violent friendships were not unknown there.
Sometimes they were of enduring quality, and sometimes they ended in a
quarrel. Miss Norton did not encourage demonstrative affection among her
flock, but it was known that Mrs. Morrison considered schoolgirl
friendships highly important and likely to last for life. She beamed
rather than frowned on those who walked arm in arm.

Marjorie's second term at Brackenfield was fast wearing itself away. In
spite of many disagreeable happenings she felt that she had taken her
place in the life of the school, and that she was a definite figure at
St. Elgiva's. There was a little rivalry between the hostels, and each
would try to outdo the other in such matters as collecting for
charities, knitting for the soldiers, or providing items for concerts.
At the end of term each hostel put up in the hall a list of its various
achievements, and great was the triumph of that house which could record
the largest number of socks or shillings. There was an old and
well-established custom that on the last three evenings of term the
three hostels in turn might take possession of the assembly hall, and
give some form of entertainment to which they could invite the rest of
the school. St. Elgiva's held a committee meeting to discuss possible
projects.

"There doesn't seem anything new," mourned Mollie. "Of course concerts
and plays and charades are very well in their way, but they're done
every time."

"We all like them," admitted Phyllis.

"Oh yes, we like them; but it would be so nice to have a change."

"Can't anybody make a suggestion?" urged Francie.

"The things we really want to do are just the things we can't," sighed
Betty. "If I could choose, I'd vote for a bonfire and fireworks."

"Or a torchlight picnic," prompted Sylvia. "It would make a nice
excitement for the special constables to come and arrest us, as they
most certainly would. What a heading it would make for the newspaper--'A
Ladies' School in Prison. No Bail Allowed'! Would they set us to pick
oakum?"

"But seriously, do think of something practical. Have your brains all
gone rusty?"

"There are progressive games," ventured Patricia.

"St. Githa's are giving them. I know it for a fact. They sent to
Whitecliffe for marbles and boxes of pins and shoe-buttons to make
'fish-ponds'. They get first innings, so it would be too stale if our
evening were to be just a repetition of theirs."

It was Chrissie who at last made the original suggestion.

"Couldn't we have a dance? I don't mean an ordinary dance, but something
special. Suppose we were all to dress up to represent different nations.
We could have all the Allies."

"Ripping! But how could we manage enough costumes?"

"We'd make them up with coloured paper and ribbons. It shouldn't be very
difficult."

"It's a jolly good idea," said Mollie reflectively.

The more the committee considered the matter the more they felt disposed
to decide in favour of the dance. They consulted Miss Norton on the
subject, and she proved unusually genial and encouraging, and offered to
take two delegates with her to Whitecliffe to buy requisites. The girls
drew lots for the honour, and the luck fell to Mollie and Phyllis. They
had an exciting afternoon at the Stores, and came back laden with
brown-paper parcels.

"Miss Norton says the fairest plan will be to have the things on sale,"
they announced. "We're going to turn the sitting-room into a shop, and
you may each come in one by one and spend a shilling, but no more."

"All serene! When will you be at the receipt of custom?"

"This evening after supper."

That day there had been in the library a tremendous run upon any books
which gave illustrations of European costumes. The girls considered that
either allegorical or native peasant dresses would be suitable. They
took drawings and wrote down details.

"What I'd like would be to write to London to a firm of theatrical
providers, and tell them to send us down a consignment of costumes,"
announced Patricia.

"Oh, I dare say! A nice little bill we should have! I've hired costumes
before, and they charge a terrific amount for them," commented Francie.

"It's rather fun to make our own, especially when we're all limited the
same as to material," maintained Nora.

The girls usually did needlework after supper, but this evening the
sitting-room was to be devoted to the sale. Mollie and Phyllis were wise
in their generation, and, anticipating a stampede, they picked out
Gertrude Holmes and Laura Norris as being the most stalwart and
brawny-armed among the damsels of St. Elgiva's, and set them to keep the
door, admitting only two at a time. Even with this precaution a rather
wild scene ensued. Instead of keeping in an orderly queue, the girls
pushed for places, and there were several excited struggles in the
vicinity of the stairs. As each girl came out, proudly exhibiting what
she had purchased, the anxiety of those who had not yet entered the
sitting-room increased. They were afraid everything might be sold before
it came to their turns, and had it not been for the well-developed
muscles of Gertrude and Laura, the fort might have been stormed and the
stores raided.

Mollie and Phyllis had invested their capital with skill, and showed an
assortment of white and coloured crinkled papers, cheap remnants of
sateen, lengths of gay butter muslin, and yards of ribbon. For the
occasion they assumed the manners of shop assistants, and greeted their
visitors with the orthodox: "What can I show you, madam?" But their
elaborate politeness soon melted away when the customer showed signs of
demanding more than her portion, and the "Oh, certainly!" or "Here's a
sweet thing, madam!" uttered in honeyed tones, turned to a blunt "Don't
be greedy!" "Can't give you more than your shilling's worth, not if you
ask ever so." "There won't be enough to go round, so you must just make
what you've got do. Not a single inch more! If you don't go this minute
we'll take your parcels back. We're in a hurry."

By using the greatest dispatch Mollie and Phyllis just managed to
distribute their goods before the bell rang for prayers. The ribbon and
sateen were all bought up, and the crinkled paper which was left over
they put aside to make decorations for the hall.

Next day St. Elgiva's was given up to the fabrication of costumes. The
girls retired to their dormitories, strewed their beds with materials,
and worked feverishly. In No. 9 the excitement was intense. Sylvia, who
intended to represent the United States, was seccotining stars and
stripes, cut out of coloured paper, on to her best white petticoat.
Betty was stitching red stripes down the sides of her gymnasium
knickers, being determined to appear in the nearest approach to a Zouave
uniform that she could muster, though a little doubtful of Miss Norton's
approval of male attire. Chrissie, with a brown-paper hat, a red tie,
and belt strapped over her shoulder, meant to figure as Young Australia.
Marjorie alone, the most enthusiastic of all for the scheme, sat limply
on her bed with idle scissors.

"I'd meant to be Rumania," she confessed, "and I find Patricia's bagged
the exact thing I sketched."

"Can't there be several Rumanias?"

"Yes, there will be, because Rose and Enid have set their hearts on the
same. I'd rather have something original, though."

"I don't think Rumania would suit you; you're too tall and fair," said
Sylvia. "It's better for dark girls, with curly hair if possible."

"Couldn't you have a Breton peasant costume?" suggested Chrissie. "I've
a picture post card here in my album that we could copy. Look, it's just
the thing! The big cap and the white sleeves would do beautifully in
crinkled paper, and I'll lend you that velvet bodice I wore when I was
'Fadette'."

"How about the apron?"

"Stitch two handkerchiefs together, pick the lace off your best
petticoat and sew it round, and you'll have the jinkiest little Breton
apron you ever saw."

"Christina Lang, you're a genius!" exclaimed Marjorie, pulling out the
best petticoat from under a pile of blouses in her drawer, and setting
to work with Sylvia's embroidery scissors to detach the trimming.

"You'll want a necklace and some earrings," decided Chrissie. "Oh, we'll
easily make you ear-rings--break up a string of beads, thread a few of
them, and tie them on to your ears. I'll guarantee to turn you out a
first-class peasant if you'll put yourself in my hands."

"I suppose I'll be expected to talk Breton," chuckled Marjorie.

The Seniors' entertainment came first, and on the following evening
Intermediates and Juniors assembled in the big hall as the guests of St.
Githa's. Progressive games had been provided, and the company spent a
hilarious hour fishing up boot-buttons with bent pins, picking up
marbles with two pencils, or securing potatoes with egg-spoons. A number
of pretty prizes were given, and the hostesses had the satisfaction of
feeling perfectly sure that their visitors, to judge by their behaviour,
had absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. St. Githa's had
undoubtedly covered itself with glory, and St. Elgiva's must not be
outdone. The Intermediates worked feverishly to finish their costumes.
Such an amount of borrowing and lending went on that it would be quite a
problem to sort out possessions afterwards. It was a point of etiquette
that anyone who had anything that would be useful to a neighbour's
get-up was bound in honour to offer the loan of it. Only the hostesses
were to be in costume; the guests were to appear in ordinary evening
dresses.

Marjorie, before the mirror in her bedroom, gazed critically at her own
reflection. Chrissie's clever fingers had pulled and twisted the
crinkled paper into the most becoming of peasant caps, the large bead
ear-rings, tied on with silk, jangled on to her neck, her paper sleeves
stood out like lawn, the lace-edged apron was a triumph of daintiness,
she wore Patricia's scarlet-kid dancing-slippers with Betty's black silk
stockings.

"Do you think I'll do?" she queried.

The Zouave officer threw herself on one knee in an attitude of ecstatic
admiration, and laid a hand upon her heart.

"Do? You're ravishing! I'm going to make love to you all the evening,
just for the sport of seeing the Acid Drop's face. Play up and flirt,
won't you?"

"You look a regular Don Juan!" chuckled Marjorie.

"That's my rôle this evening. I'm going to break hearts by the dozen. I
don't mind telling you that I mean to dance with Norty herself."

St. Elgiva's might certainly congratulate itself upon the success of its
efforts. The fancy costumes produced a sensation. All the Allies were
represented, as well as allegorical figures, such as Britannia, Justice,
Peace, and Plenty. It was marvellous how much had been accomplished with
the very scanty materials that the girls had had to work upon. The ball
was soon in full swing; mistresses and prefects joined in the fun, and
found themselves being whirled round by Neapolitan contadini or
picturesque Japs. The room, decorated with flags and big rosettes of
coloured paper, looked delightfully festive. Even Miss Norton, usually
the climax of dignity, thawed for the occasion, and accepted Betty's
invitation to a fox-trot without expressing any disapproval of the
Zouave uniform. Marjorie, after a vigorous half-hour of exercise, paused
panting near the platform, and refused further partners.

"I want a rest," she proclaimed. "You wouldn't believe it, but this
costume's very hot, and my ear-rings keep smacking me in the face."

"If you not want to dance, Marjorie, you shall play, and I take a turn,"
suggested the French mistress, vacating the piano stool.

"By all means, mademoiselle. Do go and dance. There's Elsie wanting a
partner. I'll enjoy playing for a while. What pieces have you got here?
Oh, I know most of them."

Marjorie good-naturedly settled herself to the piano. She was an
excellent reader, so could manage even the pieces with which she was not
already acquainted. She was playing a two-step, and turning her head to
watch the dancers as they whirled by, when suddenly she heard a shout,
and Chrissie, who was passing, scrambled on to the platform, dragged her
from the piano, threw her on the floor, and sat upon her head. Dazed by
the suddenness of her chum's extraordinary conduct, Marjorie was too
much amazed even to scream. When Chrissie released her she realized what
had happened. She had put the corner of her large Breton cap into the
flame of the candle, and it had flared up. Only her friend's prompt
action could have saved her from being horribly burnt. As it was, her
hair was slightly singed, but her face was unscathed. The girls,
thoroughly alarmed, came crowding on to the platform, and Miss Norton,
after blowing out the piano candles, examined her carefully to see the
extent of the damage.

"More frightened than hurt!" was her verdict. "But another second might
have been too late. I must congratulate you, Chrissie, on your presence
of mind."

Chrissie flushed crimson. It was not often that Miss Norton
congratulated anybody. Praise from her was praise indeed.

"Please go on dancing," begged Marjorie. "I'm all right, only I think
I'll sit still and watch. It's made my legs feel shaky. I never thought
of the candle and the size of my cap."

"It's spoilt your costume," said Sylvia commiseratingly. "And yours was
the best in all the room--everybody's been saying so. I wanted to get a
snapshot of you in it to-morrow."

"Take Betty instead. She's the limit in that Zouave get-up. And if you
wouldn't mind using an extra film, I'd like one of Chrissie.
Chrissie"--Marjorie caught her breath in a little gasp--"has saved my
life to-night!"



CHAPTER XVIII

Enchanted Ground


Marjorie and Dona spent the larger part of the Easter holidays with an
aunt in the north. They had a few days at home, mostly devoted to visits
to the dentist and the dressmaker, and then boxes were once more packed,
and they started off on the now familiar journey back to Brackenfield.
Joan watched the preparations wistfully.

"Do you think the Empress would take a girl of eight?" she enquired in
all seriousness.

"Not unless you could be used as a mascot or a school monkey," returned
Marjorie. "You might come in handy at the nursing lectures, when we get
to the chapter on 'How to Wash and Dress a Baby', or you'd do to
practise bandaging on. Otherwise you'd be considerably in the way."

"Don't be horrid!" pouted Joan. "I'm to go to Brackenfield some time.
Mother said so."

"You'll have to wait five years yet, my hearty. Why, do you know, even
Dona is called a kiddie at Brackenfield?"

"Dona!" Joan's eyes were big.

"Yes, some of the girls look almost as old as Nora, and they've turned
up their hair. It's a fact. You needn't stare."

"You'll go all in good time, poor old Baba," said Dona. "You wouldn't
like to be in a form all by yourself, without any other little girls,
and there's no room for a preparatory unless they build, and that's not
possible in war-time. You must peg on for a while with Miss Hazelwood,
and then perhaps Mother'll send you to a day school. After all, you
know, it's something to be the youngest in the family. You score over
that."

Both Marjorie and Dona were looking forward to the summer term. Those of
their chums who were old Brackenfielders had dwelt strongly on its
advantages compared with the autumn or spring terms. It was the season
for cricket and tennis, for country walks, picnics, and natural history
excursions. Most of the activities were arranged for out of doors, and a
larger amount of liberty was allowed the girls than had been possible
during the period of short days.

Armed each with a cricket bat and a tennis racket, not to mention
cameras, butterfly nets, collecting-boxes, and botanical cases, they
arrived at their respective hostels and unpacked their possessions.
Marjorie was the last comer in No. 9, and found Chrissie with her
cubicle already neatly arranged, Sylvia with her head buried in her
bottom drawer, and Betty struggling with straps. The two latter were
pouring out details of their holiday adventures.

"I rode in to town every day, and did Mother's shopping for her; and we
went to a sale and bought the jolliest little governess car and
harness."

"We were going to Brighton, only Mother was so afraid of bombs on the
south coast, so Daddy said it was safer to stop at home; and I was glad,
because we'd spent last Christmas at Grannie's, so I really hadn't seen
very much of home."

"Dick got a week's leave, and we'd an absolutely gorgeous time!"

"James and Vincent brought two school friends home with them--such
ripping boys!"

"We went out boating on the lake."

"And we went to the cinema nearly every day."

"What have you been doing, Marjorie?" asked Chrissie.

"Heaps of things. We were staying at Redferne, and Uncle showed us all
over the munition works. They're so strict they won't let anybody go
through now; but Uncle's the head, so of course he could take Dona and
me. And we saw a Belgian town for the Belgian workers there. It's built
quite separately, and has barbed-wire entanglements round. There are a
thousand houses, and six hundred hostels, and ever so many huts as well,
and shops, and a post office, and a hall of justice. You can't go in
through the gate without a pass, but Uncle knew the manager, so it was
all right."

"I don't call that as much fun as boating," said Betty.

"Or the cinema," added Sylvia.

"It was nicer, because it was patriotic," retorted Marjorie. "I like to
see what the country is doing for the war. You two think of nothing but
silly jokes."

"Don't show temper, my child," observed Betty blandly. "Sylvia, I'm
going down at once to put my name on the cricket list. I'll finish my
unpacking afterwards."

"I'll come with you," said Sylvia. "We shan't get an innings to-morrow
unless we sign on straight away."

"They're a couple of rattle-pates!" laughed Chrissie as their room-mates
made their exit, executing a fox-trot _en route_. "I don't believe they
ever think seriously about anything. Never mind, old sport! I'm
interested in what you do in the holidays. Tell me some more about the
munition works and the Belgian town. I like to hear all you've seen. I
wish I could go to Redferne myself."

"You wouldn't see anything if you did, because only Uncle can take
people round the works. Oh, it was wonderful! We went into the danger
zone. And we saw girls with their faces all yellow. I haven't time to
tell you half now, but I will afterwards. I wouldn't have missed it for
the world."

"It does one good to know what's going on," commented Chrissie.

The Daylight Saving Act was now in operation, so the school had an extra
hour available for outdoor exercise. Whenever the weather was fine
enough they were encouraged to spend every available moment in the fresh
air. A certain amount of cricket practice was compulsory; but for the
rest of the time those who liked might play tennis or basket ball, or
could stroll about the grounds. Select parties, under the leadership of
a mistress, were taken botanizing, or to hunt for specimens on the
beach. There was keen competition for these rambles, and as eligibility
depended upon marks in the Science classes, it considerably raised the
standard of work.

Dona, who was rather dull at ordinary lessons, shone in Natural History.
It was her one subject. She wrote her notes neatly, and would make
beautiful little drawings to illustrate the various points. She had
sharp eyes, and when out on a ramble would spy birds' nests or other
treasures which nobody else had noticed, and knew all the likeliest
places in which to look for caterpillars. She was a great favourite with
Miss Carter, the Science mistress, and her name was almost always down
on the excursion list. One day, in company with eleven other ardent
naturalists and the mistress, she came toiling up from the beach on to
the road that led to Whitecliffe. Her basket, filled with spoils from
the rocks and pools, was rather a dripping object, her shoes were full
of sand, and she was tired, but cheery. She had hurried on and reached
the summit first, quite some way in advance of her companions. As she
stood waiting for them she heard the sound of voices and footsteps, and
round the corner came a girl, wheeling a long perambulator with a child
in it. There was no mistaking the couple, they were the nursemaid and
the little boy whom Dona and Marjorie had met on the cliffs last
autumn. Lizzie looked just the same--rosy, good-natured, and untidy as
ever--but it was a very etherealized Eric who lay in the perambulator.
The lovely little face looked white and transparent as alabaster, the
brown eyes seemed bigger and more wistful, the golden curls had grown,
and framed the pale cheeks like a saint's halo, the small hands folded
on the shabby rug were thin and colourless. The child was wasted almost
to a shadow, and the blue veins on his forehead showed prominently. He
recognized Dona at once, and for a moment a beautiful rosy flush flooded
his pathetic little face.

"Oh, Lizzie, it's my fairy lady!" he cried excitedly.

The nurse girl stopped in amazement.

"Well, now! Who'd have thought of seeing you?" she said to Dona. "Eric's
been talking about you all the winter. He's been awful bad, he has. This
is the first time I've had him out for months. He's still got that book
you gave him. I should think he knows every story in it off by heart."

Dona was bending over the carriage holding the frail little hand that
Eric offered.

"You're Silverstar!" he said, gazing up at her with keen satisfaction.
"Where are Bluebell and Princess Goldilocks?"

"They're not here to-day."

"Oh, I do so want to see them!"

"They'll be sorry to miss you."

"He'll talk of nothing else now," observed Lizzie. "You wouldn't believe
what a fancy he's taken to you three; and he's a queer child--he
doesn't like everybody."

"I want to see the others!" repeated Eric, with the suspicion of a wail
in his voice.

"Look here," said Dona hastily, "to-morrow's our exeat day. Can you
bring him to that place on the cliffs where we met before? We'll be
there at four o'clock--all of us. You can leave him with us if you want
to go shopping. Now I must fly, for my teacher's calling me."

"We'll be there," smiled Eric, waving a good-bye.

"That's if your ma says you're well enough," added Lizzie cautiously.

Before Preparation Dona sought out Marjorie, and told her of the meeting
with the little boy.

"We've just got to be on the cliff to-morrow," she said. "I wouldn't
disappoint that child for a thousand pounds!"

"Auntie would send Hodson with us, I'm sure, if Elaine can't go. I'm so
glad you happened to see him. We'd often wondered what had become of
him, poor little chap! By the by, couldn't we take him something?"

"I'd thought of that. We'll fly down to Whitecliffe to-morrow, first
thing after we get to Auntie's, and buy him a book at the Stores."

"I hope to goodness it'll be a fine day, or perhaps they won't let him
come."

"I believe he'll cry his eyes out if they don't. He's tremendously set
on it."

Very fortunately the weather on Wednesday was all that could be
desired. Marjorie and Dona rushed into The Tamarisks in quite a state of
excitement, and both together poured out their information. Elaine was
as interested as they to meet Eric again, and readily agreed to the
proposed expedition.

"We'll take some cake and milk with us, and have a little picnic," she
suggested. "Let us tear down to Whitecliffe at once and buy him a
present."

Shortly before four o'clock the three girls, carrying a tea-basket and
several parcels, were walking along the cliffs above the cove. The long
perambulator was already waiting at the trysting-place, and Eric,
propped up with pillows, smiled a welcome. Elaine was shocked to see how
ill the child looked. He had been frail enough in the autumn, but now
the poor little body seemed only a transparent garment through which the
soul shone plainly. She greeted him brightly, but with an ache in her
heart.

"My Princess!" he said. "So you've come back to me at last! And Fairy
Bluebell too! Oh, I've wanted you all! It's been a weary winter. The
gnomes kept me shut up in their hill all the time. They wouldn't let me
out."

"Perhaps they were afraid the witches might catch you," answered
Marjorie.

"Yes, I expect that was partly it, but the gnomes are jealous, and like
to guard me. I don't know what I should have done without Titania."

"Did she come to see you?"

"Sometimes. She can't come often, because she's so busy. She's got
crowds of young fairies to look after and keep in order, and sometimes
they're naughty. You wouldn't believe fairies could be naughty, could
you?"

"I suppose there are good and bad ones," laughed Dona.

"He's just silly over fairies!" broke in Lizzie. "Talks of nothing else,
and makes out we're all witches or pixies or what not. Well, Eric, I've
got to go and buy some butter. Will you be good if I leave you here till
I come back? I shan't be above half an hour or so," she added to the
girls.

"Don't hurry," replied Elaine. "We can stay until half-past five. We've
brought our tea, if Eric may have some with us. May he eat cake?"

"Oh yes! He'll tell you what he may eat, won't you, Eric?"

The little fellow nodded. His eyes were shining.

"I didn't know it was to be a fairy feast!" he murmured softly, half to
himself.

The girls were busy unpacking their parcels. They had brought several
presents which they thought would amuse the child during the long hours
he probably spent in bed, a jig-saw puzzle, a drawing-slate, a box of
coloured chalks, a painting-book, and a lovely volume of new fairy
tales. His delight was pathetic. He looked at each separately, and
touched it with a finger, as if it were a great treasure. The fairy
book, with its coloured pictures of gnomes and pixies, he clasped
tightly in his arms.

"It's as good as having a birthday!" he sighed. "I had mine a while
ago. Titania couldn't come to see me, because the young fairies had to
be looked after, but she sent me a paint box. I wish you knew Titania."

"I wish we did. What's she like?"

"She's the beautifullest person in all the world. Nobody else can play
fairies as well as she can. And she can tell a new story every time.
You'd just fall straight in love with her if you saw her. I know you
would! It's a pity fairies have to be so busy, isn't it? Some day when
I'm better, and she has time, she's going to take me away for a holiday.
Think of going away with Titania! The doctor says I must drink my
medicine if I want to get well."

"Don't you like medicine?"

Eric pulled an eloquent face.

"It's the nastiest stuff! But I promised Titania I'd take it. I
sometimes have a chocolate after it."

"Will you have one now? We're just going to unpack our basket to get
tea. Will it hurt you if we wheel you over there on to the grass?
There's such a lovely place where we could sit."

The spot that the girls had chosen for their picnic was ideal. It was a
patch of short fine grass near the edge of the cliff, with a bank for a
seat. The ground was blue with the beautiful little flowers of the
vernal squill, and clumps of sea-pinks, white bladder campion, and
golden lady's fingers bloomed in such profusion that the place was like
a wild garden. The air was soft and warm, for it was one of those
beautiful afternoons in early May when Nature seems predominant, and
one can almost spy nymphs among the trees. Below them the sea rippled
calm and shining, merging at the horizon into the tender blue of the
sky. Gulls and puffins wheeled and screamed over the rocks. Eric looked
round with a far-away expression on his quaint little face, and gravely
accepted the flowers that Dona picked for him.

"It's enchanted ground!" he said in his oldfashioned way. "Every flower
hides the heart of a tiny fairy. I know, because I've been here in my
dreams. I have funny dreams sometimes. They're more real than being
awake. One night I was floating in the air, just like that bird over the
sea. I lay on my back, and I could see the blue sky above me, and look
down at the green cliffs far below. I wasn't frightened, because I knew
I couldn't fall. I felt quite strong and well, and my leg didn't hurt me
at all. Sometimes I dream I can go through the air. It isn't exactly
either flying or floating or running--it's more like shooting. I get to
the tops of mountains, and see the wonderfullest places. And another
night I was riding on the waves. There was a great storm, and I came
sweeping in with the tide into the bay. I wish I could always dream like
that!"

"You shall have tea with the elves to-day," said Elaine, bringing the
little fellow back, if not to absolute reality, at least to a less
visionary world than the dream-country he was picturing. "Look! I've
brought a mug with a robin on it for your milk. May you eat bread and
honey? Honey is fairy food, you know. Here's a paper serviette with
violets round it, instead of a plate."

Eric's appetite was apparently that of a sparrow. He ate a very little
of the bread and honey, and a tiny piece of cake, but drank the milk
feverishly. He seemed tired, and lay back for a while on his pillows
without speaking, just gazing at the flowers and the sea and the sky. He
fondled his book now and then with a long sigh of content. Elaine
motioned to Marjorie and Dona not to disturb him. Her knowledge of
nursing told her that the child must not be over-excited or wearied. She
felt it a responsibility to have charge of him, and was rather relieved
when Lizzie's creaking boots came back along the road.

Eric brightened up to say good-bye.

"I shall tell Titania all about you," he vouchsafed. "Perhaps she'll
come and see me soon now. I love her best, of course, but I love you
next best. I shall pretend every day that I'm playing with you here."

"I hope he's not too tired," whispered Elaine to Lizzie.

"No, but I'd best get him home now, or his ma'll be anxious. He'd one of
his attacks last night. Oh, it'll have done him good coming out this
afternoon! He was set on seeing you."

The girls stood watching as Lizzie trundled the long perambulator away,
then packed their basket and set off towards Brackenfield, for it was
time for Marjorie and Dona to return to school.

"How stupid of us!" ejaculated Elaine. "We never asked his surname or
where he lives, and I particularly intended to, this time."

"So did I, but I quite forgot," echoed Marjorie.

"I'm not sure if I want to know," said Dona. "He's just Eric to me--like
someone out of a book. I've never met such a sweet, dear, precious thing
in all my life before. Of course, if I don't know his name I can't send
him things, but I've got an idea. We'll leave a little parcel for him
with the girl who looks after the refreshment kiosk on the Whitecliffe
Road, and ask her to give it to him next time he passes. She couldn't
mistake the long perambulator."

"And write 'From the fairies' on it. Good!" agreed Marjorie. "It's
exactly the sort of thing that Eric will like."



CHAPTER XIX

A Potato Walk


Dona's suggestion was adopted, and she and Marjorie began a little
system of correspondence with Eric. At their request Elaine bought a
small present and left the parcel with the attendant at the refreshment
kiosk, who promised to give it to him.

"I know the child quite well by sight," she said. "A delicate little
fellow in an invalid carriage. They used to pass here two or three times
a week last summer, and sometimes they'd stop at the kiosk and the girl
would buy him an orange or some sweets. I hadn't seen him for months
till he went by a few days ago. Yes, I'll be sure to stop him when he
passes."

That the girl kept her word was evident, for a week afterwards she
handed Elaine a letter addressed to "The Fairy Ladies". Elaine
forwarded it to Marjorie and Dona. It was written in a round,
childish hand, and ran:

    "DARLING BLUEBELL AND SILVERSTAR,

    "I like the puzzle you sent me. I often think about you. I love
    you very much. I hope I shall see you again. I played fairies
    all yesterday and pretended you were here.

    "With love from
        "ERIC."

"Dear little man!" said Marjorie. "I expect it's taken him a long time
to write this. We'll buy him a blotter and some fancy paper and
envelopes and leave them at the kiosk for him."

"I wish we could go to the cove and see him again," said Dona.

It happened that for the next two exeats Aunt Ellinor had arranged a
tennis party or some other engagement for her nieces, so that it was not
possible to take a walk on the cliffs. They left a supply of little
presents, however, at the kiosk, so that something could be given to
Eric every time he passed. The assistant was almost as interested as
Marjorie and Dona.

"He looks out for those parcels now," she assured them. "You should just
see his face when I run out and give them to him. I believe he'd be ever
so disappointed if there was nothing. The girl that wheels him left a
message for you. His mother thanks you for your kindness; and will you
please excuse his writing, because it isn't very good for him and takes
him such a long time. He's never been able to go to school."

"Poor little chap!" laughed Dona. "I expect someone has to sit by him
and tell him how to spell every word. Never mind, he can draw fairies
on the notepaper we sent him. We'll get him a red-and-blue chalk
pencil."

"I dare say he'd like a post-card album and some cards to put in it,"
suggested Marjorie.

"Oh yes! I saw some of flower fairies at the Stores. We'll ask Elaine to
get them."

"And those funny ones of cats and dogs. I've no doubt it's anything to
amuse him when he has to lie still all the day long."

As the summer wore on, and submarines sank many of our merchant vessels
on the seas, the food question began to be an important problem at
Brackenfield. Everyone was intensely patriotic and ready to do all in
her power to help on the war. Mrs. Morrison believed in keeping the
girls well abreast of the important topics of the moment. She considered
the oldfashioned schools of fifty years ago, where the pupils never saw
a newspaper, and were utterly out of touch with the world, did not
conduce to the making of good citizens. She liked her girls to think out
questions for themselves. She had several enthusiastic spirits among the
prefects, and found that by giving them a few general hints to work upon
she could trust them to lead the others. Winifrede in particular
realized the gravity of the situation. Armed with a supply of leaflets
from the local Food Control Bureau, she convened a meeting of the entire
school in the Assembly Hall.

Winifrede was a girl whose intense love of her country and ready power
of fluent speech would probably lead her some day to a public platform.
Meantime she could always sway a Brackenfield audience. She was dramatic
in her methods, and when the girls entered the hall they were greeted by
large hand-printed posters announcing:

      "THE GERMANS ARE TRYING TO STARVE US.
    GERMAN SUBMARINES ARE REDUCING SUPPLIES.
        YOU MUST ECONOMIZE AT HOME."

There were no teachers present on this occasion, and the platform was
occupied by the prefects. Winifrede, with an eager face and fully
convinced of the burning necessity of rationing, stood up and began her
speech.

"Girls! I think I needn't tell you that we're fighting in the most
terrible war the world has ever seen. We're matched against a foe whose
force and cunning will need every atom of strength of which we're
capable. They are not only shooting our soldiers at the front, and
bombing our towns, but by their submarine warfare they are deliberately
trying to reduce us by starvation. There is already a food crisis in our
country. There is a serious shortage of wheat, of potatoes, of sugar,
and of other food-stuffs. Perhaps you think that so long as you have
money you will be able to buy food. That is not so. As long as there is
plenty of food, money is a convenience to buy it with, but no more.
Money is not value. If the food is not there, money will not make it,
and money becomes useless. Food gives money its value. We can do without
money; but we cannot do without food. People see the bakers' shops full
of bread, the butchers' shops full of meat, the grocers' shops full of
provisions, and they believe there is plenty of food. This is merely
food on the surface. The stock of food from which the shops draw the
food is low, seriously low, already. Unless we ration ourselves at once,
and carefully, there will come days when there may be no bread at all at
the baker's. There is a shortage of wheat all over the world, not only
in Europe, but also in North and South America. Millions of the men who
grew the wheat we eat are fighting, hundreds of thousands of them will
never go back to the fields they ploughed. If the present waste of bread
and wheat flour continues, there will be hardly enough to go round till
next harvest time. Great Britain only produces one-fifth of the bread it
eats. Four-fifths of the wheat comes from abroad. Hundreds of the ships
that brought it are now engaged in other work. They are carrying food
and munitions to France, Italy, and Russia. The ships that brought us
food are fewer by those hundreds.

"It is the women of the country who must see to this. By careful
rationing we can make our supplies hold out until after the harvest. Our
men are out at the front, fighting a grim battle, but, unless we do our
part of the business at home, they may fight a losing battle. It is for
us to see that our noble dead have not died in vain. With martyred
Belgium for an object lesson, it is the duty of every British girl to
make every possible sacrifice to keep those unspeakable Huns out of our
islands. I appeal to you all to use the utmost economy and abstinence,
and voluntarily to give up some of the things that you like. Remember
you will be helping to win the war. There is a rationing pledge on the
table near the door, and I ask every girl to sign it and to wear the
violet ribbon that will be given her. It is the badge of the new
temperance cause. The freedom of the world depends at the present time
on the food thrift and self-restraint of our civilians, no less than on
the courage of our soldiers. Please take some of the leaflets which you
will find on the table, and read them. They have been sent here for us
by the Food Control Bureau."

After Winifrede's speech every girl felt in honour bound to comply with
her request, and turn by turn they signed their pledges and sported
their violet ribbons.

"It'll mean knocking off buns, I suppose," sighed Sylvia mournfully.

"Certainly.

    'Save a bun,
     And do the Hun!'"

improvised Marjorie.

"Look here!" said Betty, studying a pamphlet; "it says: 'If a man is
working hard he needs a great deal more food than when he is resting.
There are no exceptions to this rule. It follows that workers save
energy by resting as much as they can in their spare time.' If that's
true, the less work we do the smaller our appetites will be. I vote we
petition the Empress, in the interests of patriotism, to shorten our
time-table by half."

"She'd probably suggest knocking off cricket and tennis instead, my
Betty."

"Well, at any rate, it says: 'large people need more food than small',
and I'm taller than you, so I ought to have half of your dinner bread,
old sport!"

"Ah, but look, it also says: 'people who are well covered need much less
food than thin people', so I score there, and ought to have half of your
dinner bread instead."

"We'll each stick to our own allowances, thanks!"

Mrs. Morrison, who was on the committee of the Whitecliffe Food Control
Campaign, was glad to have secured the co-operation of her girls in the
alterations which she was now obliged to make in their dietary. On the
whole, they rather liked some of the substitutes for wheat flour, and
quite enjoyed the barley-meal bread, and the oatcakes and maize-meal
biscuits that figured on the tables at tea-time.

"They're dry, but you feel so patriotic when you eat them," declared
Marjorie.

"I believe you'd chump sawdust buns if you thought you were helping on
the war," laughed Chrissie.

"I would, with pleasure."

It was just at this time that potatoes ran short. So far Brackenfield
had not suffered in that respect, but now the supply from the large
kitchen garden had given out, and the Whitecliffe greengrocers were
quite unable to meet the demands of the school. For a fortnight the
girls ate swedes instead, and tried to like them. Then Mrs. Morrison
received a message from a farmer that he had plenty of potatoes in his
fields, but lacked the labour to cart them. He would, however, be
prepared to dispose of a certain quantity on condition that they could
be fetched. Here was news indeed! The potatoes were there, and only
needed to be carried away. The Principal at once organized parties of
girls to go with baskets to the farm. Instead of sending Seniors,
Intermediates, and Juniors separately, Mrs. Morrison ordered
representatives from the three hostels to form each detachment. She
considered that lately the elder girls had been keeping too much aloof
from the younger ones, and that the spirit of unity in the school might
suffer in consequence. The expedition would be an excellent opportunity
for meeting together, and she gave a hint to the prefects that she had
noticed and deprecated their tendency to exclusiveness.

As a direct result of her suggestions, Marjorie one afternoon found
herself walking to the farm in the select company of Winifrede Mason. It
was such an overwhelming honour to be thus favoured by the head girl
that Marjorie's powers of conversation were at first rather damped, and
she replied in monosyllables to Winifrede's remarks; but the latter, who
was determined (as she had informed her fellow prefects) to "do her duty
by those Intermediates", persevered in her attempts to be pleasant,
till Marjorie, who was naturally talkative, thawed at length and found
her tongue.

There was no doubt that Winifrede, when she stepped down from her
pedestal, was a most winning companion. She had a charming, humorous,
racy, whimsical way of commenting on things, and a whole fund of amusing
stories. Marjorie, astonished and fascinated, responded eagerly to her
advances, and by the time they reached the farm had formed quite a
different estimation of the head girl. The walk in itself was
delightful. Their way lay along a road that led over the moors. On
either side stretched an expanse of gorse and whinberry bushes,
interspersed with patches of grass, where sheep were feeding. Dykes
filled with water edged the road, and in these were growing rushes, and
sedges, and crowfoot, and a few forget-me-nots and other water-loving
flowers. Larks were singing gloriously overhead, and the plovers flitted
about with their plaintive "pee-wit, pee-wit". Sometimes a stonechat or
a wheatear would pause for a moment on a gorse stump, flirting its brown
tail before it flew out of sight, or young rabbits would peep from the
whinberry bushes and whisk away into cover. Far off in the distance lay
the hazy outline of the sea. There was a great sense of space and
openness. The fresh pure air blew down from the hills, cooler and more
invigorating even than the sea breeze. Except for the sheep, and an
occasional collie dog and shepherd, they had the world to themselves.
Winifrede took long sighing breaths of air. Her eyes were shining with
enjoyment.

"I like the quiet of it all," she told Marjorie. "I can understand the
feeling that made the mediæval hermits build their lonely little cells
in peaceful, beautiful spots. Some of the Hindoos do the same to-day,
and go and live in the forests to have time to meditate. When I'm
getting old I'd like to come and take a cottage on this moor--not
before, I think, because there's so very much I want to do in the world
first, but when I feel I'm growing past my work, then will be the time
to arrange my thoughts and slip into the spirit of the peace up here."

"What kind of work do you want to do?" asked Marjorie.

"I'm not sure yet. I'm leaving school, of course, at the end of this
term, and I can't quite decide whether to go on to College or to begin
something to help the war. Mrs. Morrison advises College. She says I
could be far more help afterwards if I were properly qualified, and I
dare say she's right, only I don't want to wait."

"I'm just yearning to leave school and be a V.A.D., or drive an
ambulance wagon," sympathized Marjorie.

"My sister is out in France at canteen work," confided Winifrede. "It
makes me fearfully envious when I have her letters and think what she's
doing for the Tommies. I've three brothers at the front, and five
cousins, and two more cousins were killed a year ago. My eldest brother
has been wounded twice, and the youngest is in hospital now. I simply
live for news of them all."

The girls had now reached the farm, a little low-built, whitewashed
house almost on the summit of a hill. Though the principal occupation of
its owner lay among sheep, he had a clearing of fields, where he grew
swedes, potatoes, and a little barley. In a sheltered place behind his
stable-yard he had a stock of last year's potatoes still left; they were
piled into a long heap, covered with straw and then with earth as a
protection. He took the girls round here, measured the potatoes in a
bushel bin, and then filled the baskets.

"They won't keep much longer," he informed Miss Norton. "I'd have carted
them down to Whitecliffe, only I've no horse now, and it's difficult to
borrow one; and I can't spare the time from the sheep either. Labour's
so scarce now. My two sons are fighting, and I've only a grandson of
fourteen and a daughter to help me."

"Everybody is feeling the same pinch," replied Miss Norton. "We're only
too glad to come and fetch the potatoes ourselves. It's a nice walk for
us."

The girls, who overheard the conversation, felt they cordially agreed.
It was fun wandering round the little farm-yard, looking at the ducks,
and chickens, and calves, or peeping inside the barns and stables.
Several of them began to register vows to work on the land when
school-days were over.

"They've got a new German camp over there," volunteered the farmer. "I
suppose their first contingent of prisoners arrived yesterday. Hadn't
you heard about it? Oh, they've been busy for weeks putting up barbed
wire! It can't be so far from your place either. You'd pass it if you
crossed the stile there and went back over the moor instead of round by
the road."

At the news of a German camp a kind of electric thrill passed round the
company. The girls were wild with curiosity to see it, and pressed Miss
Norton to allow them to return to Brackenfield by the moorland path. The
mistress herself seemed interested, and consented quite readily. It was
a much quicker way back to the school, and would save time; she was
grateful to Mr. Briggs for having pointed out so short a cut.

The camp lay on the side of a hill about half-way between the farm and
Brackenfield, near enough to distinguish the latter building quite
plainly in the distance. It was surrounded by an entanglement of barbed
wire, and there were sentries on duty. Within the circle of wire were
tents, and the girls could see washing hanging out, and a few figures
lying on the ground and apparently smoking. They would have liked to
linger and look, but Miss Norton marched them briskly past, and
discipline forbade an undue exhibition of curiosity. They had gone
perhaps only a few hundred yards when they heard the regular tramp-tramp
of footsteps, and up from the dell below came a further batch of
prisoners under an escort of soldiers. Miss Norton hastily marshalled
her flock, and made them stand aside to allow the contingent room to
pass. They were a tall, fine-looking set of men, stouter, and apparently
better fed, than their guards. They had no appearance of hard usage or
ill treatment, and were marching quite cheerily towards the camp,
probably anticipating a meal. The girls, drawn up in double line,
thrilled with excitement as they passed.

"If one tried to run away would they shoot him?" asked Betty in an awed
voice.

"Yes, the guards have their rifles all ready," replied Marjorie; "if one
tried to escape he'd have a bullet through his back in a second--and
quite right too! What's the matter, Chrissie?"

"Nothing--only it makes me feel queer."

"I feel queer when I remember how many of our own men are prisoners in
Germany," declared Winifrede.

"Quietly, girls! And don't stare!" said Miss Norton. "We ought to pity
these poor men. It is a terrible thing to be a prisoner of war."

"I don't pity them," grumbled Marjorie fiercely under her breath.
"Perhaps they're the very ones who've been fighting Leonard's regiment."

"Yes, when one thinks of one's brothers, it doesn't make one love the
Germans," whispered Winifrede.

"Love them!" flared Marjorie. "I wouldn't consciously speak to a German
for ten thousand pounds, and if I happened by mistake to shake hands
with one--well, I'd have to go and disinfect my hand afterwards!"

"Miss Norton's welcome to them if she pities them," said Betty from
behind.

"Go on, girls, now!" came the teacher's voice, as the contingent tramped
away into the camp.

"I'm disgusted with Miss Norton!" groused Marjorie. "Come along,
Chrissie! What's the matter with you, old sport? Anybody'd think you'd
seen a ghost instead of a batch of Germans. Why, you've gone quite
pale!"

"I'm only tired," snapped Chrissie rather crossly. "You're always making
remarks about something. I'm going to walk with Patricia."

"Oh, all right! Just as you please. I don't press myself on anybody.
I'll walk with Winifrede again if she'll have me."



CHAPTER XX

Patriotic Gardening


The direct result of the potato walk to Mr. Briggs's farm was that a
friendship sprang up between Winifrede and Marjorie. It was, of course,
rather an exceptional friendship, involving condescension on the part of
the head girl and frantic devotion on Marjorie's part. Six months ago it
would not have been possible, for Winifrede's creed of exclusiveness had
discouraged any familiarity with her juniors, and it was only in
accordance with Mrs. Morrison's wishes that she had broken her barrier
of reserve. She had, however, taken rather a fancy to Marjorie, and
sometimes invited her into her study. To go and sit in Winifrede's tiny
sanctum, to see her books, photographs, post cards, and other treasures,
and to be regaled with cocoa and biscuits, was a privilege that raised
Marjorie to the seventh heaven of bliss. Her impulsive, warm-hearted
disposition made her apt to take up hot friendships, and for the present
she worshipped Winifrede. To be singled out for favour by the head girl
was in itself a distinction; but, apart from that, Marjorie keenly
appreciated her society. She would wait about to do any little errand
for her, would wash her brushes after the oil-painting lesson, sharpen
her pencils, set butterflies for her, mount pressed flowers, or print
out photographs. Winifrede was fond of entomology, and Marjorie,
beforetime a lukewarm naturalist, now waxed enthusiastic in the
collection of specimens. She was running one day in pursuit of a
gorgeous dragon-fly through the little wood that skirted the
playing-fields, and, with her eyes fixed on her elusive quarry, she
almost tumbled over Chrissie, who was sitting by the side of the stream.

"Hallo!" said Marjorie, drawing herself up suddenly. "I didn't see you.
As a matter of fact I wasn't looking where I was going."

"What are you doing here?" asked Chrissie.

Marjorie pointed to her butterfly-net.

"What are you doing here?" she returned.

"Reading."

Chrissie's eyes were red, and she blinked rapidly.

"You've been crying," said Marjorie tactlessly.

Her chum flushed crimson.

"I've not! I wish you'd just let me alone."

"Cheer oh! Don't get raggy, old sport!"

Chrissie turned away, and, opening her book, began to read.

"Will you come round the field with me?" asked Marjorie.

"No, thanks; I'd rather stay where I am."

"Oh, very well! I'm off. Ta-ta!"

This was not the first little tiff that had taken place between the two
girls. Chrissie seemed to have changed lately. She was moody and
self-absorbed, and ready to fire up on very slight provocation. Her
devotion to Marjorie seemed to have somewhat waned. She scarcely ever
made her presents now or wrote her notes. She was chatty enough in the
dormitory, but saw little of her in recreation hours. Marjorie set this
down to jealousy of her friendship with Winifrede. In her absorption in
her head girl she had certainly not given Chrissie so much of her time
as formerly. She walked along the field now rather soberly. She disliked
quarrelling, but her own temper was hot as well as her chum's.

"I can't help it," she groused. "Chrissie's always taking offence.
Everything I do seems to rub her the wrong way. She needn't think I'm
going to give up Winifrede! I wish she'd be more sensible. Well, I don't
care; I shall just take no notice and leave her to herself, and then
she'll probably come round."

Marjorie's surmises proved correct, for Chrissie placed a dainty little
bottle of scent and an enthusiastic note on her dressing-table that
evening, the clouds blew over, and for a time, at any rate, matters were
quite pleasant again. Constant little quarrels, however, wear holes in a
friendship, and it was evident to St. Elgiva's that some cleavage had
taken place.

"Chrissie and Marjorie seem a little off with the David and Jonathan
business," commented Francie.

"Too hot to last, I fancy," returned Patricia. "Marjorie's got a new
idol now."

One reason for the separation between the two girls was that, while
Chrissie cared chiefly for tennis, Marjorie was a devotee of cricket,
and was spending most of her spare time under the coaching of Stella
Pearson, the games captain. She showed much promise in bowling, and was
not without hopes of being put into her house eleven. To play for St.
Elgiva's was an honour worth working for. It would be a great triumph to
be able to write the news to her brothers.

Dona had not taken violently either to cricket or tennis, and beyond the
compulsory practice never touched bat or ball, giving herself up
entirely to Natural History study and Photography. She was not so
energetic as her sister, and did not much care for running about. At
half term, however, a new interest claimed her. The head gardener was
taken ill, and Sister Johnstone assumed the responsibility for his work.
She asked for helpers, and a number of girls volunteered their services,
and occupied themselves busily about the grounds. They rolled and marked
the tennis-courts, earthed up potatoes, put sticks for the peas, planted
out cabbages, and weeded the drive.

It was the kind of work that appealed to Dona, and her satisfaction was
complete when Mrs. Morrison excused her cricket practices for the
purpose.

"I like gardening much better than games," she confided to Marjorie.
"There's more to show for it. What have you got at the end of a whole
term's cricket, I should like to know?"

"Honour, my child!" said Marjorie.

"Well, I shall have six rows of cauliflowers, and that's more to the
point, especially in these hard times," twinkled Dona. "I consider it's
I who am the patriotic one now. You're not helping the war by bowling
with Stella, and every cauliflower of mine will go to feed a soldier."

"I thought the school was to eat them."

"They won't be ready till the holidays, so Sister Johnstone says they'll
have to be sent to the Red Cross Hospital. We're going to gather the
first crop of peas, though, to-night. You'll eat them at dinner
to-morrow."

Two of the prefects, Meg Hutchinson and Gladys Butler, had joined the
band of gardeners, and carried on operations with enthusiasm.

"I mean to go on the land as soon as I leave school," declared Meg. "My
sister Molly's working at a farm in Herefordshire. She gets up at six
every morning to feed the pigs and cows, breakfast is at eight, and then
she goes round to look after the cattle in the fields. Dinner is at
twelve, and after that she cleans harness, or takes the horses to be
shod, and feeds the pigs and calves again. She loves it, and she's won
her green armlet from the Government."

"My cousin's working at a market garden," said Gladys. "She bicycles
over every morning from home. It's three miles away, so she has to start
ever so early. She's got to know all about managing the tomato houses
now. Once she'd a very funny experience. They sent her out for a day to
tidy somebody's garden. She took a little can full of coffee with her,
and some lunch in a basket. An old gentleman and lady came out to
superintend the gardening, and they seemed most staggered to find that
she was a lady, and couldn't understand it at all; but they were very
kind and sent her some tea into the greenhouse. Evidently they had
debated whether to invite her into the drawing-room or not, but had
turned tail at the thought of her thick boots on the best carpet. Nellie
was so amused. She said she felt far too dirty after digging up borders
to go indoors, and was most relieved that they didn't invite her. She
had a tray full of all sorts of things in the greenhouse--cakes and jam
and potted meat. The old lady asked her ever so many questions, and it
turned out that they knew some mutual friends. Wasn't it funny?"

Mrs. Morrison was very pleased with the results of the girls' work in
the garden. She declared that the tennis-courts had never looked better,
and that the crop of vegetables was unusually fine.

"I can't give you armlets," she said, "though you thoroughly deserve
them. I should like to have your photos taken in a group, to keep as a
remembrance. I shall call you my 'Back to the Land Girls'."

At Brackenfield any wish expressed by the Empress was carried out if
possible, so Muriel Adams, who possessed the best and biggest camera,
was requisitioned to take the gardeners. They grouped themselves
picturesquely round a wheelbarrow, some holding spades, rakes, or
watering-cans, and others displaying their best specimens of carrots or
cabbages. Sister Johnstone, in the middle, smiled benignly. The plate
was duly developed, and a good print taken and handed round for
inspection. Each girl, of course, declared that her own portrait was
atrocious, but those of the others excellent, and it was unanimously
decided to have a copy framed for presentation to Mrs. Morrison.

There was one advantage in belonging to the "Back to the Land Girls",
they might visit the kitchen garden at any time they wished. It was
forbidden ground to the rest of the school, so it was rather nice to be
able to wander at will between the long lines of gooseberry bushes or
rows of peas. Dona loved the fresh smell of it all, especially after
rain. She spent every available moment there, for it was an excellent
place for pursuing natural history study. She had many opportunities of
observing birds or of catching moths and butterflies, and generally had
a net handy. With a magnifying glass she often watched the movements of
small insects. She had come in one afternoon for this purpose, and
wandered down to a rather wild spot at the bottom of the garden. It was
a small piece of rough ground surrounded by a high hedge, on the farther
side of which the land sloped in a sharp decline. As Dona hunted about
among the docks for caterpillars or other specimens, greatly to her
surprise she saw a figure come pushing through the hedge. It wore a gym.
costume and a St. Elgiva's hat, and, as the leaves parted, they revealed
the face of Chrissie Lang. Her astonishment was evidently equal to
Dona's. For a moment she flushed crimson, then turned the matter off
airily.

"I've often thought I should like to see what was on the other side of
that hedge," she remarked. "You get a nice view across the country."

"You'll lose three conduct marks if you're caught in the kitchen
garden," remarked Dona drily. She was not remarkably fond of Chrissie,
and did not see why anyone else should enjoy the privileges accorded to
those who were working in the garden. "Meg Hutchinson's weeding cabbages
up by the cucumber frames," she added.

"Thanks for telling me. I'll go out the other way. I've no particular
wish to be pounced upon."

"What's that in your hand?" asked Dona. "A looking-glass, I declare!
Well, Chrissie Lang, of all conceited people you really are the limit!
Did you bring it out to admire your beauty?"

"I want to try a new way of doing my hair, and there's no peace in the
dormitory."

"Can't you draw the curtains of your cubicle?"

"They'd peep round and laugh at me."

"Well, anyone would laugh at you more for bringing out a looking-glass
into the garden. I think you're the silliest idiot I've ever met!"

"Thanks for the compliment!"

Chrissie strolled away, whistling jauntily to herself, and picking a
gooseberry or two from the bushes as she passed. Dona frowned as she
watched her--it was a point of honour with the Back to the Land Girls
never to touch any of the fruit. By a heroic effort she refrained from
running after Chrissie and giving a further unvarnished opinion of her.
Instead, however, she walked back up the other path. She found Meg
Hutchinson and Gladys Butler sitting on the cucumber frame. It was in a
high part of the garden, and commanded a good view over the country.
Gladys had a pair of field-glasses, and with their aid could plainly
make out the German camp on the hill opposite. She was quite excited.

"I can see the barbed wire," she declared, "and the tents, and I believe
I can make out some things that look like figures. The focus of these
glasses isn't very good. I wish we had a telescope."

"If they've field-glasses I expect they can see the school," said Meg.

"Oh, but they wouldn't let them have any, you may be sure!"

"Are they kept very strictly?" asked Dona.

"Of course. They're under military discipline," explained Meg.

"Would you like to take a peep?" said Gladys, offering the glasses. "You
must screw this part round till it focuses right for your eyes. Can you
see now?"

"Yes, beautifully. What are they doing?"

"Just lounging about I expect. I believe they have to do a certain
amount of camp work, keep their tents tidy, and clean the pans and peel
potatoes and that kind of thing, and they may play games."

"It's a pity we can't set them to work on the land," said Meg.

"They do in some places. I'm afraid it couldn't be managed here. So near
the sea it would be far too easy for them to escape."



CHAPTER XXI

The Roll of Honour


Letters arrived at Brackenfield by an early post. They were inspected
first by the house mistresses, and delivered immediately after breakfast
to the girls, who generally flew out into the quadrangle or the grounds
to devour them. Mrs. Anderson made it a rule to write to Marjorie and
Dona alternately, and they would hand over their news to each other. On
Tuesday morning Marjorie received the usual letter in her mother's
handwriting, but to her surprise noticed that the postmark was "London"
instead of "Silverwood". With a sudden misgiving she tore it open. It
contained bad tidings. Larry, who had lately been sent to the front, had
been wounded in action, and was in a military hospital in London. His
mother had hurried up to town to see him, and had found him very ill. He
was to undergo an operation on the following day.

"I shall remain here till the operation is over," wrote Mrs. Anderson.
"I feel I must be near him while he is in such a dangerous condition. I
will send you another bulletin to-morrow."

Marjorie went to find Dona, and in defiance of school etiquette walked
boldly into Ethelberta's. She knew that on such an occasion she would
not be reprimanded. Miss Jones, who happened to come into the room,
comforted the two girls as best she could.

"While there is life there is hope," she said. "Many of our soldiers go
through the most terrible operations and make wonderful recoveries.
Surgeons nowadays are marvellously clever. My own brother was
dangerously wounded last autumn, and is back in the trenches now."

"I shall think of Larry all day," sobbed Dona.

"Are they ever out of our thoughts?" said Miss Jones. "I believe we all
do the whole of our work with the trenches always in the background of
our minds. Most of us at Brackenfield simply live for news from the
front."

There was great feeling for Marjorie in Dormitory No. 9. Betty had had a
brother wounded earlier in the war, and Sylvia had lost a cousin, so
they could understand her anxiety. Chrissie also offered sympathy.

"I know how wretched you must be," she said.

"Thanks," answered Marjorie. "It certainly makes one jumpy to have one's
relations in the army."

"Isn't your brother fighting, Chrissie?" asked Betty.

"No," replied Chrissie briefly.

"But he must surely be of military age?"

"He's not very well at present."

Betty and Sylvia looked at each other. There was something mysterious
about Chrissie's brother. She seldom alluded to him, and she had lately
removed his photograph from her dressing-table. The girls always
surmised that he must be a conscientious objector. They felt that it
would be a terrible disgrace to own a relative who refused to defend his
country. They were sorry for Chrissie, but it did not make them disposed
to be any more friendly towards her.

To Marjorie the news about Larry came as a shock. It was the first
casualty in the family. She now realized the grim horror of the war in a
way that she had not done before. All that day she went about with the
sense of a dark shadow haunting her. Next morning, however, the bulletin
was better. The operation had been entirely successful, and the patient,
though weak, was likely to recover.

"The doctor gives me very good hopes," wrote Mrs. Anderson. "Larry is
having the best of skilled nursing, so we feel that everything possible
is being done for him."

With a great weight off her mind, Marjorie handed the letter to Dona,
and hurried off to look for Winifrede to tell her the good news. As she
was not in the quadrangle, Marjorie went into the library on the chance
of finding her there. The room was empty, though Miss Duckworth had just
been in to put up fresh notices. Almost automatically Marjorie strolled
up, and began to read them. A Roll of Honour was kept at Brackenfield,
where the names of relations of past and present girls were recorded. It
was rewritten every week, so as to keep it up to date. She knew that
Larry would be mentioned in this last list. Thank God that it was only
among the wounded. The "killed" came first.

    ADAMS, Captain N. H., 4th Staffordshires (fiancé of Dorothy
    Craig).

    HUNT, Captain J. C., Welsh Borderers (brother of Sophy Hunt).

    JACKSON, Lieut. P., 3rd Lancashires (husband of Mabel Irving).

    KEARY, Private P. L., Irish Brigade (brother of Eileen Keary).

    PRESTON, Private H., West Yorks (brother of Kathleen and Joyce
    Preston).

Marjorie stopped suddenly. Private Preston--the humorous dark-eyed young
soldier whose acquaintance she had made in the train, and renewed in the
Red Cross Hospital. Surely it could not be he! Alas! it was only too
plain. She knew he was the brother of Kathleen and Joyce Preston, for he
had himself mentioned that his sisters used to be at Brackenfield. Also
he was certainly in the West Yorkshire regiment. This bright, strong,
clever, capable young life sacrificed! Marjorie felt as if she had
received a personal blow. Oh, the war was cruel--cruel! Death was
picking England's fairest flowers indeed. A certain chapter in her life,
which had seemed to promise many very sweet hopes, was now for ever
closed.

"They might have put his V.C. on the list," she said to herself. "I wish
I knew where he's buried. I shall never forget him--though I only saw
him twice. He was quite different from anyone else I've ever met."

Somehow Marjorie did not feel capable of mentioning Private Preston to
anybody, even to Dona. She had kept the little newspaper photograph of
him which had been cut out of the _Onlooker_, when he won his V.C. She
enclosed it in an envelope and put it within the leaves of her Bible.
That seemed the most appropriate place for it. She could not leave it
amongst the portraits of her other war heroes, for fear her room-mates
might refer to it. To discuss him now with Betty or Sylvia would be a
desecration. His death was a wound that would not bear handling. For
some days afterwards she was unusually quiet. The girls thought she was
fretting about her brother, and tried to cheer her up, for Larry's
bulletins were excellent, and he seemed to be making a wonderful
recovery.

"He is to leave the military hospital in a fortnight," wrote Mrs.
Anderson, "and be transferred to a Red Cross hospital. We are using all
our influence to get him sent to Whitecliffe, where Aunt Ellinor and
Elaine could specially look after him."

To have Larry at Whitecliffe would indeed be a cause for rejoicing.
Marjorie could picture the spoiling he would receive at the Red Cross
Hospital. She wondered if he would have the same bed that had been
occupied by Private Preston. It was No. 17, she remembered. "One shall
be taken, and the other left," she thought. For Larry there was the glad
welcome and the nursing back to life and health, and for that other
brave boy a grave in a foreign land. Some lines from a little volume of
verses flashed to her memory. They had struck her attention only a week
before, and she had learnt them by heart.

          "For us--
    The parting and the sorrow;
          For him--
    'God speed!'
          One fight,--
    A noble deed,--
          'Good-night!'
    And no to-morrow.
          Where he is,
    In Thy Peace
          Time is not,
    Nor smallest sorrow."

Marjorie was almost glad that on her next exeat at The Tamarisks Elaine
was away from home. She was afraid her cousin might speak of Private
Preston, and she did not wish to mention his name again.

"I'm afraid you'll be dull this afternoon without Elaine," said Aunt
Ellinor; "and I'm obliged to attend a committee meeting at the Food
Control Bureau. I've arranged for Hodson to take you out. Where would
you like to go? To Whitecliffe, and have tea at the café? You must
choose exactly what you think would be nicest."

As the girls wished to do a little shopping, they decided to visit
Whitecliffe first, have an early tea at the café, and then take a walk
on the moor, ending at Brackenfield, where Hodson would leave them.

"That's all right, then," said Mrs. Trafford. "I'm sorry I can't be with
you myself to-day. Get some sweets at the café and have some ices if
you like. I must hurry away now to my committee. Hodson won't keep you
waiting long; I've told her to get ready."

Left alone, the girls grumbled a little at the necessity of taking an
escort with them.

"At fourteen and sixteen we surely don't need a nursemaid," sniffed
Marjorie. "It's a perfectly ridiculous rule that we mayn't walk ten
yards by ourselves, even when we're out for the afternoon. We might be
interned Germans or conscientious objectors if somebody always has to
mount guard over us. What does the Empress think we're going to do, I
wonder?"

"Ask airmen for autographs, or snowball soldiers!" twinkled Dona.

"Oh, surely she's forgotten those old crimes now!"

"I wouldn't be sure. The Empress has a long memory. Besides, the rule's
for everybody, not only for us."

"I know. Patricia was horribly savage last week. An officer cousin was
over in Whitecliffe, and she wasn't allowed to go and meet him, because
no one could be spared to act chaperon."

"Some friends asked Mona to tea to-day, and the Empress wouldn't let her
accept. We only go to Auntie's every fortnight because Mother specially
stipulated that we should."

"I'm jolly glad she did. It makes such a change."

"I wish Hodson would hurry up!"

Hodson, the housemaid, took a considerable time to don her outdoor
garments, but she proclaimed herself ready at last. She was a tall,
middle-aged woman in spectacles, with large teeth, and showed her gums
when she talked. She spoke in a slow, melancholy voice, and, to judge
from her depressed expression, evidently considered herself a martyr for
the afternoon. She was hardly the companion the girls would have
selected, but they had to make the best of her. It would be amusing, at
any rate, to go in to Whitecliffe. Marjorie had her camera, and wished
to take some photographs.

"I've just two films left," she said, "so I'll use those on the way
down, and then get a fresh dozen put in at the Stores. Let us go by the
high road, so that we can pass the kiosk and ask about Eric."

The attendant at the lemonade stall smiled brightly at mention of the
little fellow.

"I saw his pram go by an hour ago, and ran out and gave him your last
parcel," she informed them. "You'll very likely see him down in
Whitecliffe. He left his love for you."

"I hope we shan't miss him," said Dona.

Round the very next turn of the road, however, the girls met the invalid
carriage coming up from the town. It was loaded as usual with many
packages, over the top of which Eric's small white face peered out. He
waved a gleeful welcome at the sight of his fairy ladies.

"I've read all the stories you sent me," he began, "and I've nearly
finished chalking the painting-book. I like those post cards of fairies.
I've put them all in the post-card album."

"He thinks such a lot of the things you send him," volunteered Lizzie.
"His ma says she doesn't know how to thank you. It keeps him amused for
hours to have those chalks and puzzles. He sings away to himself over
them, as happy as a king."

"I'd like to take his photo while I've got the camera with me," said
Marjorie. "Can you turn the pram round a little--so? That's better. I
don't want the sun right in his face, it makes him screw up his eyes.
Now, Eric, look at me, and put on your best smile. I'm just going----"

"Wait a moment," interrupted Dona. "Look what's coming up the road.
You've only two films, remember!"

A contingent of German prisoners were being marched from the station to
the camp on the moors. They were tramping along under an escort of
soldiers.

"Oh, I must snap them!" exclaimed Marjorie. "But I'll have Eric in the
photo too. I can just get them all in."

She moved her position slightly, and pressed her button, then, rapidly
winding on the films to the next number, took a second snapshot.

"The light was excellent, and they ought to come out," she triumphed.
"How jolly to have got a photo of the prisoners! Eric, you were looking
just fine."

"We must be getting on home," said Lizzie. "I've a lot of cleaning to do
this afternoon when I get back. Say good-bye to the ladies, Eric."

The little fellow held up his face to be kissed, and Marjorie and Dona
hugged him, regardless of spectators on the road.

"You dear wee thing, take care of yourself," said Dona. "Call at the
kiosk next time you pass, and perhaps another parcel will have arrived
from fairyland."

"I know who the fairies are!" laughed Eric, as his perambulator moved
away.

Escorted by the melancholy Hodson, the girls passed a pleasant enough
afternoon in Whitecliffe. They visited several shops, and had as good a
tea at the café as the rationing order allowed, supplementing the rather
scanty supply with ices and sweets. It was much too early yet to return
to Brackenfield, so they suggested making a detour round the moors, and
ending up at school. Hodson acquiesced in her usual lack-lustre manner.

"I'm a good walker, miss," she volunteered. "I don't mind where you go.
It's all the same to me, as long as I see you back into school by six
o'clock. Mrs. Trafford said I wasn't to let you be late. I've brought my
watch with me."

"And we've got ours. It's all right, Hodson, we'll keep an eye on the
time."

It was a relief to know that Hodson was a good walker. They felt
justified in giving her a little exercise. They were quite fresh
themselves, and ready for a country tramp. They left the town by a short
cut, and climbed up the cliff side on to the moors. Though they knew
Eric would not be there that afternoon, they nevertheless determined to
visit their favourite cove. It was an excellent place for flowers, and
Dona hoped that she might find a few fresh specimens there.

The girls had reached their old trysting-place, and were gathering some
cranesbill geraniums, when a figure suddenly climbed the wall opposite,
and dropped down into the road. To their immense amazement it was Miss
Norton. She stopped at the sight of her pupils and looked profoundly
embarrassed, whether at being caught in the undignified act of
scrambling over a wall, or for some other reason, they could not judge.

"Oh! I was just taking a little ramble over the moors," she explained.
"The air's very pleasant this afternoon, isn't it?"

"Yes," replied Marjorie briefly. She could think of nothing else to say.

Miss Norton nodded, and passed on without further remark. The girls
stood watching her as she walked down the road.

"What's Norty doing up here?" queried Marjorie. "She's not fond of
natural history, and she doesn't much like walks."

"She's going towards the village."

"I vote we go too."

They had never yet been to the village, and though Elaine had described
it as not worth visiting, they felt curious to see it. It turned out to
be a straggling row of rather slummy-looking cottages, with a post
office, a general shop, and a public-house. Miss Norton must have
already passed through it, for she was nowhere to be seen. Dona stood
for a moment gazing into the window of the shop, where a variety of
miscellaneous articles were displayed.

"They've actually got Paradise drops!" she murmured. "I haven't bought
any for months. I'm going to get some for Ailsa."

Followed by the faithful Hodson, the girls entered the shop. While Dona
made her purchase, Marjorie stood by the counter, staring idly out into
the road. She saw the door of the post office open, and Miss Norton
appeared. The mistress looked carefully up and down the village, then
walked hurriedly across the road, and bolted into "The Royal George"
opposite. Marjorie gasped. That the august house mistress of St.
Elgiva's should visit an obscure and second-rate public-house was surely
a most unusual circumstance. She could not understand it at all. She
discussed it with Dona on the way back.

"Wanted some ginger pop, perhaps," suggested Dona.

"She could have got that at the shop. They had a whole case of bottles.
No, Dona, there's something funny about it. The fact is, I'm afraid Miss
Norton is a pro-German. She was sympathizing ever so much with those
prisoners who were being marched into camp. She may have come here to
leave some message for them. You know it was never found out who put
that lamp in the Observatory window; it was certainly a signal, and I
had seen Norty up there. I've had my eye on her ever since, in case
she's a spy."

"She can talk German jolly well," observed Dona.

"I know she can. She's spent two years in Germany, and said it was the
happiest time of her life. She can't be patriotic at heart to say that.
Do you know, Winifrede told me that a few days ago she and Jean had
noticed such a queer light dancing about on the hills near the camp. It
was just as if somebody was heliographing."

"What's heliographing?"

"Dona, you little stupid, you know that! Why, it's signalling by
flashing lights. There's a regular code. It's done with a mirror. Well,
Brackenfield is right opposite the camp, and it would be quite possible
for Norty to be helioing to the prisoners. They're always on the
look-out for somebody to communicate with them and help them to escape.
I suppose there are hundreds of spies going about in England, and no one
knows who they are. They just pass for ordinary innocent kind of people,
but they ask all kinds of questions, and pick up scraps of information
that will be useful to the enemy. How is it that most of our secrets
appear in the Berlin papers? There must be treachery going on somewhere.
It's generally in very unsuspected places. One of the teachers in a
school might just as well as not be a spy."

"How dreadful!" shuddered Dona.

"Well, you never know. Of course, they don't go about labelled 'In the
pay of the Kaiser', but there must be a great many people--English too,
all shame to them!--who are receiving money from Germany to betray their
country."



CHAPTER XXII

The Magic Lantern


When Marjorie took an idea into her head it generally for the time
filled the whole of her mental horizon. She had never liked Miss Norton,
and she now mistrusted her. The evidence that she had to go upon was
certainly very slight, but, as Marjorie argued, "Straws show how the
wind blows", and anyone capable of sympathizing with Germans might also
be capable of assisting them. She felt somewhat in the position of
Hamlet, doubting whether she had really surprised a dark secret or not,
and anxious for more circumstantial evidence before she told others of
her suspicions. She strictly charged Dona not to mention meeting Miss
Norton in the little hamlet of Sandside, which Dona readily promised.
She was not imaginative, and was at present far more interested in rows
of cauliflowers or specimens of seaweeds than in problematical German
spies.

Marjorie, with several detective stories fresh in her memory, determined
to go to work craftily. She set little traps for Miss Norton. She would
casually ask her questions about Germany, or about prisoners of war, to
judge by her answers where her sympathies lay. The mistress, however,
was evidently on her guard, and replied in terms of caution. One thing
Marjorie learned which she considered might be a suspicious
circumstance. Miss Norton received many letters from abroad. She had
given foreign stamps to Rose Butler, who had seen her tear them off
envelopes marked "Opened by the censor". The stamps were from Egypt,
Malta, Switzerland, Spain, Holland, and Buenos Ayres, a strange variety
of places in which to have correspondents, so thought Marjorie.

"Of course they're opened by the censor, but who knows if there isn't a
secret cipher under the guise of an ordinary letter? They may have all
kinds of treasonable secrets in them. Norty might get information and
send it to those friends in foreign countries, and they would telegraph
it in code through a neutral country to Berlin."

She ascertained through one of the prefects that Miss Norton intended to
spend her holidays in the Isle of Wight. This again seemed
extraordinary, for the teacher notoriously suffered greatly from the
heat in summer, and yearned for a bracing climate such as that of
Scotland; further, she was nervous about air raids, so that the south
coast would surely be a very unsuitable spot to select for one who
wished to take a restful vacation. Patricia, whose parents had been on a
visit to Whitecliffe, and had taken her out on a Saturday afternoon,
reported that at the hotel some foreigners--presumably Belgians--were
staying, and that she had noticed Miss Norton drinking coffee with them
in the lounge.

"Are you sure they were Belgians?" asked Marjorie with assumed
carelessness.

"Why, the people in the hotel said so."

"What were they like?"

"Oh, fair and rather fat! One of them was a Madame Moeller. She played
the piano beautifully; everybody came flocking into the lounge to listen
to her."

"Moeller doesn't sound like a French name."

"Well, I said they were Belgians."

"It has rather a German smack about it. What language were they speaking
to each other?"

"Something I couldn't understand. Not French, certainly."

"Was it German?"

"I don't know any German, so I can't tell. It might have been Flemish."

Marjorie several times felt tempted to confide her suspicions to
Winifrede, but her courage never rose to the required point. She had an
instinct that the head girl would pooh-pooh the whole matter, and either
call her a ridiculous child, or be rather angry with her for harbouring
such ideas about her house mistress. Winifrede liked to lead, and was
never very ready to adopt other people's opinions; it was improbable
that she would listen readily to the views of an Intermediate, even of
one whom she was patronizing. A head girl is somewhat in the position of
the lion in Æsop's fables: it is unwise to offend her. Knowing
Winifrede's disposition, Marjorie dared not risk a breach of the very
desirable intimacy which at present existed between them. She yearned,
however, for a confidante. The burden of her suspicions was heavy to
bear alone, and she felt that sometimes two heads were better than one.
Except on exeat days she saw little of Dona, and discussing matters with
that rather stolid little person was not a very exhilarating
performance. In her dilemma she turned to Chrissie. The two had shared
the secret of the Observatory window, and Chrissie, one of the most
enthusiastic members of their patriotic society, would surely understand
and sympathize where Winifrede might laugh or scold. Marjorie felt that
she had lately rather neglected her chum. Their squabbles had caused
frequent coolnesses, and each had been going her own way. She now made
an opportunity to walk with Chrissie down the dingle, and confided to
her the whole story of her doubts. Her chum listened very attentively.

"It looks queer!" she commented. "Yes, more than queer! I always set
Miss Norton down as a pro-German. Those foreign letters ought to be
investigated. I wish I could get hold of some of them. It's our duty to
look after this, Marjorie. You're patriotic? Well, so am I. We may be
able to render a great service to our country if we can track down a
spy. We'll set all our energies to work."

"What are we going to do?" asked Marjorie, much impressed.

"Leave it to me, and I'll think out a plan of campaign. These things
are a battle of brains. She's clever, and we've got to outwit her. Who
were those foreigners she was talking to in the hotel, I should like to
know?"

"That was just what I thought."

"For a beginning we must try to draw her out. Oh, don't ask her
questions about her German sympathies, that's too clumsy! She'd see
through that in a moment. Let's work the conversation round to military
matters and munitions, and get the girls to tell all they've heard of
news from the front, and watch whether Norty isn't just snapping it up."

"Wouldn't that be letting her get to know too much?"

"Well, one's obliged to risk something. If you're over-cautious you
never get anything done."

"Yes, I suppose you're right. We'll try on Sunday evening after supper.
She always comes into the sitting-room for a chat with us then."

Chrissie seemed to have taken up the matter with the greatest keenness.
She was evidently in dead earnest about it. Marjorie was agreeably
surprised, and on the strength of this mutual confidence her old
affection for her chum revived. Once more they went about the school arm
in arm, sat next to each other at tea, and wrote each other private
little notes. St. Elgiva's smiled again, but the girls by this time were
accustomed to Marjorie's very impulsive and rather erratic ways, and did
not take her infatuations too seriously.

"Quarrelled with Winifrede?" enquired Patricia humorously. "I thought
you were worshipping at her shrine at present."

"Marjorie is a pagan," laughed Rose Butler. "She bows down to many
idols."

"I should call Winifrede a more desirable goddess than Chrissie," added
Irene.

"Go on, tease me as much as you like!" declared Marjorie. "You're only
jealous."

"Jealous! Jealous of Chrissie Lang! Great Minerva!" ejaculated Irene
eloquently.

It was about two days after this that Marjorie, passing down the
corridor from Dormitory No. 9, came suddenly upon Chrissie issuing out
of Miss Norton's bedroom. Marjorie stopped in supreme amazement.
Mistresses' rooms were sacred at Brackenfield, unless by special
invitation. Miss Norton was not disposed to intimacy, and it was not in
the knowledge of St. Elgiva's that she had admitted any girl into her
private sanctum.

"Did Norty send for you there?" questioned Marjorie in a whisper.

"Sh, sh!" replied Chrissie. "Come back with me into the dormitory."

She drew her friend inside her cubicle, looked round the room to see
that they were alone, then patted her pocket and smiled.

"I've got them!" she triumphed.

"Got what?"

"Norty's foreign letters, or some of them at any rate."

"Chris! You never went into her room and took them?"

"That's exactly what I did, old sport! I'm going to look them over, and
put them back before she finds out."

Marjorie gasped.

"But look here! It doesn't seem quite--straight, somehow."

"Can't be helped in the circumstances," replied Chrissie laconically.
"We've got to outwit her somehow. It's a case of 'Greek meets Greek'.
How else are we to find out anything?"

"I don't know."

The idea of entering a teacher's bedroom and taking and reading her
private correspondence was intensely repugnant to Marjorie. Her face
betrayed her feeling.

"You'd never do on secret service," said Chrissie, shaking her head. "I
thought you were patriotic enough to dare anything for the sake of your
country. Go downstairs if you don't want to see these letters. I'll read
them by myself."

"I wish you'd put them back at once," urged Marjorie.

"Not till I know what's in them. Here comes Betty! I'm going to scoot.
Ta-ta!"

Marjorie followed Chrissie downstairs, but did not join her in the
garden. She was not happy about this latest development of affairs. It
was one thing to watch Miss Norton by legitimate methods, and quite
another to try underhand ways. She wondered whether the service of her
country really demanded such a sacrifice of honour. For a moment she
felt desperately tempted to run to Winifrede's study, explain the whole
situation, and ask her opinion, but she remembered that Winifrede would
be writing her weekly essay and would hardly welcome a visitor, or have
time to listen to the rather lengthy story which she must pour out.
After all, it was an affair that her own conscience must decide. She
purposely avoided Chrissie all the evening, while she thought it over.
Having slept upon the question, she came to a decision.

"Chris," she said, catching her chum privately after breakfast, "I vote
we don't do any more sneaking tricks."

"Sneaking?" Chrissie's eyebrows went up high.

"Yes, you know what I mean. We'll keep a look-out on Norty, but no more
taking of letters, please."

Chrissie gazed at her chum with rather an inscrutable expression.

"Right oh! Just as you like. We'll shelve that part of the information
bureau and work on other lines. I'm quite agreeable."

That particular day happened to be Miss Broadway's birthday. She lived
at St. Elgiva's, so the girls determined to give a little jollification
that evening in her honour. There would not be time for much in the way
of festivities, but there was a free half-hour after supper, when they
could have the recreation room to themselves. It was to be a private
affair for their own hostel, and only the mistresses who resided there
were invited. The entertainment was to consist of a magic lantern show.
Photography had raged lately as a hobby among the Intermediates, and
several of them had taken to making lantern slides. Patricia--an
indulged only daughter--had persuaded her father to buy her a lantern;
it had just arrived, and she was extremely anxious to test its
capabilities. She put up her screen and made her preparations during the
afternoon, so that when supper was over all was in readiness, and her
audience took their places without delay.

Miss Norton, Miss Parker, and Miss Broadway had specially reserved
chairs in the front row, and the girls filled up the rest of the room.
Some of them, to obtain a better view, squatted on the floor in front of
the chairs, Chrissie and Marjorie being among the number. The lantern
worked beautifully; Patricia made a capital little operator, and managed
to focus very clearly. She first of all showed sets of bought slides,
scenes from Italy and Switzerland and photos of various regiments, and
when these were finished she turned to the slides which she and her
chums had made themselves. There were capital pictures of the school,
the cricket eleven, the hockey team, the quadrangle in the snow, the
gardening assistants, and the tennis champions. They were received with
much applause, Miss Norton in particular congratulating the amateur
photographers on their successful efforts.

"We haven't had time to do very many," said Patricia, "but I've got just
a few more here. This is a good clear one, and interesting too."

The picture which she now threw on the screen showed the road leading to
Whitecliffe, up which a contingent of German prisoners appeared,
guarded by soldiers. In the foreground was a long perambulator holding a
little boy propped up with pillows. It was an excellent photograph, for
the contingent had been caught just at the right moment as it faced the
camera; both prisoners and guards had come out with remarkable
clearness. Something impelled Marjorie to glance at Miss Norton. The
house mistress was gazing at the picture with an expression of amazed
horror in her eyes. She turned quickly to Irene, who was squatting at
her feet, and asked: "Who took that photo?"

"Marjorie Anderson took it, but I made the lantern slide from her film,"
answered Irene proudly. "We think it's quite one of the best."

"I suppose it was just a snapshot as she stood by the roadside?"

"Yes; it was a very lucky one, wasn't it?"

Marjorie, sitting close by, nudged Chrissie, but did not speak. Miss
Norton made no further remark, and Patricia put on the next slide.
Afterwards, in the corridor, Marjorie whispered excitedly to Chrissie:

"Did you notice Norty's face? She was quite upset by my photo of the
German prisoners."

"Yes, I noticed her."

"Significant, wasn't it?"

"Rather!"

"It's like the play scene in _Hamlet_. It seems to me she gave herself
away."

"She was taken unawares."

"Just as the King and Queen were. You remember how Hamlet watched them
all the time? What's happened to-night only confirms our suspicions."

"It does indeed!"

"Perhaps some of her German friends were among the prisoners and she
recognized them."

"It's possible."

"Well, it evidently gave her a great shock, and that would account for
it."

"The plot thickens!"

"It thickens very much indeed. I'm not sure if we oughtn't to tell
somebody."

"No, no! Not on any account!"

"You think so?"

"I'm certain of it. You'll spoil everything if you go blabbing!"

"Well, I won't, if you'd rather not; but I'm just longing to ask
Winifrede what she thinks about it all," said Marjorie regretfully.



CHAPTER XXIII

On Leave


The next great event on the horizon of Marjorie and Dona was that Larry
was transferred from the London Military Hospital to the Whitecliffe Red
Cross Hospital. Mrs. Anderson came to The Tamarisks for a night as soon
as he was installed, and paid a flying visit to Brackenfield to see her
daughters, and beg an exeat, that she might take them to spend a brief
half-hour with their brother. It was neither a Wednesday nor a Saturday,
but in the circumstances Mrs. Morrison granted permission; and the
girls, rejoicing at missing a music lesson and a chemistry lecture, were
borne away by their mother for the afternoon. As they expected, they
found Larry established as prime pet of the hospital. He was an
attractive lad, already a favourite with his cousin Elaine, and his
handsome boyish face and prepossessing manners soon won him the good
graces of the other V.A.D.'s.

"I'm having the time of my life!" he assured his family. "I shan't want
to go away. They certainly know how to take care of a fellow here. After
the trenches it's just heaven!"

"It was hard luck to be wounded when you'd only been at the front three
weeks!" sympathized Dona.

"Never mind! I got on the Roll of Honour before my nineteenth birthday!"
triumphed Larry. "And I'll go back and have another shot before I'm much
older."

"I wish the military age were twenty-one!" sighed Mrs. Anderson.

"And I wished it were fifteen when the war started," laughed Larry.
"Never mind, little Muvviekins! Peter and Cyril are kids enough yet; you
can tie them to your apron-strings for a while."

"I shall go home feeling quite happy at leaving you in such good hands,"
declared his mother. "I know you'll be well nursed here."

Events seemed to crowd upon one another, for hardly was Larry settled in
the Red Cross Hospital than Leonard got leave, and, after first going
home, came for a hurried visit to The Tamarisks in order to see his
brother. Mrs. Anderson wrote to Mrs. Morrison asking special permission
for the girls to be allowed an afternoon with their brother, whom they
had not seen for a year, and again the Principal relaxed her rule in
their favour. Marjorie, nearly wild with excitement, came flying into
the sitting-room at St. Elgiva's to tell the news to her friends.

"Another exeat! You lucky thing!" exclaimed Betty enviously. "Why can't
my brother come to Whitecliffe?"

"Can't you bring him to school and introduce him to us?" suggested
Irene.

"Or take some of us out with you?" amended Sylvia.

"We're simply dying to meet him!" declared Patricia.

"He has only the one afternoon to spare," replied Marjorie, "and has
promised to take just Dona and me out to tea at a café, though I don't
mind betting Elaine goes too. I wish I could bring him to school and
introduce him. The Empress is fearfully mean about asking brothers.
Brackenfield might be a convent."

Chrissie also seemed tremendously interested in Leonard's arrival. She
walked round the quad with Marjorie.

"How glorious to have a brother home from the front!" she said
wistfully. "If he were mine, I'd nearly worship him. There'd be such
heaps of things I'd want to ask him, too. I'd like to hear all about a
tank."

"You've seen them on the cinema."

"But only the outside, of course. I want to know exactly how they work.
Don't laugh. Why shouldn't I? Surely every patriotic girl ought to be
keen on everything in connection with the war. I wish you'd ask him."

"Why, I will if you like."

"You won't forget?"

"I'll try not."

"And there's a new shell we've just been making. I wonder how it
answers. I heard we've some new guns too. Would your brother know?"

"Really, I shall never remember all this! Pity you can't come with us
and ask him for yourself."

"I believe I could get an exeat----" began Chrissie eagerly.

"I'm sure you couldn't!" snapped Marjorie. "Dona and I are going just by
ourselves."

The sisters spent a somewhat disturbed morning. It was difficult to
concentrate their minds on lessons when such a delightful outing awaited
them in the afternoon. Immediately after dinner they rushed to their
dormitories to don their best dresses in honour of Leonard. They knew he
would not care to take out two Cinderellas, so they made careful
toilets. Marjorie, in front of her looking-glass, replaited her hair,
and tied it with her broadest ribbon, chattering all the while to
Chrissie, who sat on the bed in her own cubicle.

"Leonard's an old dandy. At least, he was a year ago--the war may have
changed him. He used to be most fearfully particular, and notice what
girls had on. I remember how savage he was with Nora once for going to
church in her old hat, and it was such a wet day, too; she didn't want
to spoil her new one. He always kept his trousers in stretchers, and his
boots had to be polished ever so--Chrissie, you're not listening.
Actually opening letters! You mean to say you've not read them yet, and
you got them this morning!"

"I hadn't time," said Chrissie, rather abstractedly. She was drawing
pound notes out of the envelope.

"Sophonisba! What a lot of money!" exclaimed Marjorie. "It isn't your
birthday?"

"No. This is to take me home, of course."

"It won't cost you all that, surely! Doesn't your mother send your
railway fare to Mrs. Morrison? Mine always does."

"My mother wouldn't like me to be short of money on the journey,"
remarked Chrissie serenely, locking up the notes in her little
jewel-box.

At precisely half-past two the melancholy Hodson arrived at the school,
and escorted Marjorie and Dona to The Tamarisks. Here they found
Leonard, and it was a very happy meeting between the brother and
sisters.

"Leonard shall take you into the town," said Aunt Ellinor. "I know
you'll like to have him to yourselves for an hour. No, Elaine can't go.
She's on extra duty at the Red Cross this afternoon."

"I have to be back in the ward by half-past three," smiled Elaine. "Yes,
I'll give your love to Larry. I'm sorry you can't see him to-day, but
the Commandant's a little strict about visiting."

"We'll concentrate on Leonard," declared the girls.

It was an immense satisfaction to them to trot off one on each side of
their soldier brother. They felt very proud of him as they walked along
the Promenade, and noticed people glance approvingly at the
good-looking young officer. After going on the pier and doing the usual
sights of Whitecliffe, Leonard took them to the Cliff Hotel and ordered
tea on the terrace. Dona and Marjorie were all smiles. This was far
superior to a café. The terrace was delightful, with geraniums and
oleanders in large pots, and a beautiful view over the sea. They had a
little table to themselves at the end, underneath a tree. It was
something to have a brother home from the front.

"Tell us everything you do out in France," begged Dona.

"You wouldn't like to hear everything, Baby Bunting," returned Leonard
gravely. "It's not fit for your ears. Be glad that you in England don't
see anything of the war. There's one little incident I can tell you,
though. We'd marched many miles through the night over appalling ground
under scattered shell-fire, and were only in our place of attack half an
hour before the advance started up the ridge. That night march is a
story in itself, but that's not what I'm going to tell you now. We drew
close to one of the blockhouses, and the sound of our cheering must have
been heard by the Germans inside those concrete walls. The barrage had
just passed, and its line of fire, volcanic in its fury, went travelling
ahead. Suddenly out of the blockhouse a dozen men or so came running,
and we shortened our bayonets. From the centre of the group a voice
shouted out in English: 'I'm a Warwickshire man, don't shoot! I'm an
Englishman!' The man who called had his hands up in sign of surrender,
like the German soldiers.

"'It's a spy!' said one of our men. 'Kill the blighter!'

"The voice again rang out: 'I'm English!'

"And he was English, too. It was a man of a Warwickshire regiment, who
had been captured on patrol some days before. The Germans had taken him
into their blockhouse--and because of our gun-fire they could not get
out of it--and kept him there. He was well treated, and his captors
shared their food with him, but the awful moment came for him when the
drum-fire passed, and he knew that unless he held his hands high he
would be killed by our own troops."

"How awful!" shivered Dona.

"Tell us some more tales about the war," begged Marjorie.

"I might have been killed one evening," said Leonard, "if it hadn't been
for a friend. We were carrying dispatches, and fell into an ambush. I
owe it to Winkles that I'm here to-day. He fought like a demon. I never
saw such a fellow!"

"Who's Winkles?"

"Oh, an awfully good chap, and so humorous! I've never once seen him
down. I've got his photo somewhere, I believe. I took a snapshot of him
once."

"Oh, do show it to us!"

Leonard searched through his pockets, and after turning out an
assortment of letters and papers produced a small photograph for
inspection. The girls bumped their heads together in their eagerness to
look at it. It had been taken in camp, and represented the young soldier
in the act of raising a can of coffee to his lips. There was a pleased
smile on the whimsical face, and a twinkle in the dark eyes. Marjorie
caught her breath.

"Why, why!" she gasped. "It's surely Private Preston!"

"That's his name right enough. We call him Winkles, though. He's a
lieutenant now, by the way--got his commission just lately."

"But--I thought he was killed?"

"Not a bit of it! I heard from him yesterday."

"He was in the Roll of Honour," urged Marjorie, still unable to believe.

"No, he wasn't. That was his brother Henry, who was in the same
regiment--a nice chap, though nothing to Winkles."

Marjorie sat in a state of almost dazed incomprehension. A black cloud
seemed suddenly to have rolled away from her, and she had not yet had
time to readjust herself. As in a dream she listened to Dona's
explanation.

"He was in the Red Cross Hospital here, and we saw him when Elaine took
us to the Christmas tree."

"Was it Whitecliffe? I knew he'd been in a Red Cross Hospital, but never
heard which one," commented Leonard.

"He was going on to a convalescent home," continued Dona.

"He came back to the front before he was really fit," said Leonard.
"The poor chap had had influenza, but he was so afraid of being thought
a shirker that he made a push to go. He was laid up with a touch of
pneumonia, I remember, a week after he rejoined."

"Will he get leave again?" faltered Marjorie.

"Yes, next month, he hopes. They don't live such a very long way from
Silverwood, and he said he'd try to go over and see the Mater. She'd
give him a welcome, I know."

"Rather!" agreed the girls.

"We shall be at home in August," added Dona.

Marjorie, however, said nothing. There are some joys that it is quite
impossible to express to outsiders.

"I'm glad they've made him a lieutenant," she said to herself.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Royal George


When Leonard brought Marjorie and Dona back to The Tamarisks there was
still one more golden half-hour before they need return to school. Aunt
Ellinor proposed tennis, and suggested that her nephew should play his
sisters while she sat and acted umpire. The game went fairly evenly, for
Leonard was agile and equal to holding his own, though it was one
against two. They were at "forty all" when Dona made a rather brilliant
stroke. Leonard sprang across the court in a frantic effort to get the
ball, missed it, slipped on the grass, and fell. The girls laughed.

"You've been a little too clever for once," called Dona. "That's our
game!"

"Get up, you old slacker!" said Marjorie.

But Leonard did not get up. He stayed where he was on the lawn, looking
very white. Mrs. Trafford ran to him in alarm.

"What's the matter?" she cried.

"I believe I've broken my ankle--I felt it snap."

The accident was so totally unexpected that for a moment everyone was
staggered, then, recovering her presence of mind, Aunt Ellinor, with
Marjorie and Dona's help, applied first aid, while Hodson hurried into
Whitecliffe to fetch the doctor. He was fortunately at home, and came at
once. He helped to carry Leonard into the house, set the broken bone,
and settled him in bed.

"You'll have to stay where you are for a while," he assured him.
"There'll be no walking on that foot yet. It'll extend your leave, at
any rate."

"I can't imagine how I was such an idiot as to do it," mourned Leonard.
"I just seemed to trip, and couldn't save myself."

"We'll borrow you some crutches from the Red Cross when you're well
enough to use them," laughed the doctor. "You'll be well looked after
here. Miss Elaine is one of my best nurses at the hospital."

Marjorie and Dona arrived back at school late for Preparation, but were
graciously forgiven by Mrs. Morrison when they explained the unfortunate
reason of their delay.

"It's ripping to have both Leonard and Larry at Whitecliffe," said Dona
to Marjorie in private.

"Rather! I think I know one person who won't altogether regret the
accident."

"Leonard?"

"Yes, Leonard certainly; but somebody else too."

"I know--Elaine."

"She'll have the time of her life nursing him."

"And he'll have the time of his life being nursed by Elaine," laughed
Dona.

It was now getting very near the end of the term, and each hostel,
according to its usual custom, was beginning to devise some form of
entertainment to which it could invite the rest of the school. After
much consultation, St. Elgiva's decided on charades. A cast was chosen
consisting of eight girls who were considered to act best, Betty,
Chrissie, and Marjorie being among the number. No parts were to be
learnt, but a general outline of each charade was to be arranged
beforehand, the performers filling in impromptu dialogue as they went
along. To hit on a suitable word, and think out some telling scenes, now
occupied the wits of each of the chosen eight. They compared notes
constantly; indeed, when any happy thought occurred to one, she made
haste to communicate it to the others.

An inspiration came suddenly to Marjorie during cricket, and when the
game was over she rushed away to unburden herself of it. She had thought
several of the performers might be in the recreation room, but she found
nobody there except Chrissie, who sat writing at the table.

"I've a lovely idea, Chris!" she began. "You know that word we chose,
'cough', 'fee'--'coffee'; well, we'll have the first syllable in a Red
Cross Hospital, and the second in an employment bureau, and a girl can
ask if there's any fee to pay; and the whole word can be a scene in a
drawing-room. Chrissie, do stop writing and listen!"

Her chum shut up her geometry textbook rather reluctantly. She was
putting in extra work before the exams, and was loath to be interrupted.
She kept on drawing angles on her blotting-paper almost automatically.

"They'd be ripping if we could get the right properties," she agreed.
"Could we manage beds enough to look like a hospital? Yes, those small
forms would do, I dare say. The employment bureau will be easy enough.
The drawing-room scene would be no end, if we could make it up-to-date.
I ought to be an officer home on leave, and you're my long-lost love,
and we have a dramatic meeting over the coffee cups!"

"Gorgeous! Oh, we must do it! Shall I droop tenderly into your arms?
What shall I wear?"

"Some outdoor costume, with a picturesque hat. I must have a uniform, of
course."

"A brown waterproof with a leather belt?"

Chrissie pulled a face.

"I hate these make-ups out of girls' clothes! I'd like a real genuine
uniform to do the thing properly."

"But we couldn't get one!"

"Yes, we could. It's your exeat on Wednesday, and you might borrow your
brother's. He's in bed, and can't wear it."

"What a ripping notion!" gasped Marjorie. "But I couldn't carry a great
parcel back to school. Norty'd see it, and make one of her stupid
fusses."

"We must smuggle it, then. Look here, when you go to your aunt's make
the clothes into a parcel and leave it just inside the gate. I've a
friend at Whitecliffe, and I'll manage to write to her and ask her to
call and take it, and drop it over the wall at Brackenfield for me."

"Won't Norty ask where we got it, when she sees you wearing it?"

"She might be nasty about it beforehand, but I don't believe she'd say
anything on the evening, especially if the charade goes off well. It's
worth risking."

"You'd look ripping in Leonard's uniform! Of course it would be too
big."

"That wouldn't matter. Will you get it for me?"

"Right oh!"

"Good. Then I'll write to my friend."

"You're writing now!" chuckled Marjorie, for Chrissie had been
scribbling idly on the blotting-paper while she talked. "Look what
you've put, you goose! 'Christine Lange!' Don't you know how to spell
your own name? I didn't think it had an _e_ at the end of it!"

Chrissie flushed scarlet. For a moment she looked overwhelmed with
confusion; then, recovering herself, she forced a laugh.

"What an idiot I am! I can't imagine why I should stick on an extra _e_.
Lang is a good old Scottish name."

"Are you related to Andrew Lang, the famous author?"

"I believe there's a family connection."

The charades were to be held on the evening of the next Wednesday, after
supper, which was fixed half an hour earlier to allow sufficient time
for the festivities afterwards. That afternoon would be Marjorie's and
Dona's last exeat before the holidays, and they were determined to make
the most of it. They would, of course, visit Leonard and Larry, and they
also wished if possible to say good-bye to Eric. They had begged Elaine
to leave a note at the kiosk, asking him to be waiting at their old
trysting-place on the cliffs at five o'clock, and they meant to take him
some last little presents. If they did not see him to-day it would be
the end of September before they could meet again.

"He'll miss the fairy ladies when we've gone home," said Dona. "Sweet
darling! I wish we could take him with us!"

"I wonder if he ever goes away?" speculated Marjorie.

"I shouldn't think he'd be strong enough to travel."

When the girls arrived at The Tamarisks they found Leonard installed in
bed, a remarkably cheerful invalid, and apparently not fretting over his
enforced period of rest.

"I've got a little Red Cross Hospital here all to myself," he informed
his sisters. "A jolly nice one, too! I can thoroughly recommend it. I
shan't want to budge."

"Then they'll send an army doctor down to examine you for shirking,"
laughed Marjorie.

"I can't hop back to the front on one leg," objected Leonard.

Elaine was head nurse in the afternoons, an arrangement which seemed to
be appreciated equally by herself and the patient.

"I'd run up with you to the Red Cross Hospital to see Larry," she
assured Marjorie and Dona, "but I oughtn't to leave Leonard. Hodson
shall take you, and go on with you to the cove afterwards. Give my love
to Eric. I hope the dear little fellow is better. I bought the things
for him, as you asked me. They're on the table in the hall. We'll have
tea in Leonard's room before you start."

Under a pretence of inspecting Eric's presents, Marjorie ran downstairs.
She wanted somehow to get hold of Leonard's uniform, and she was afraid
that if she mentioned it, Elaine, in her capacity of nurse, would say
no.

"I shan't ask," decided Marjorie. "Elaine is a little 'bossy', and
inclined to appropriate Leonard all to herself at present. Surely his
own sister can borrow his uniform. I know it's in the dressing-room. I
could see it, and I got up and shut the door on purpose. I'll go round
by the other door and take it."

The deed was quickly done. Leonard's suit-case was lying open on the
floor, and she packed in it what she wanted, not without tremors lest
Elaine should come in suddenly from the bedroom and catch her. She could
hear nurse and invalid laughing together. Bag in hand, she hurried
downstairs and out into the garden. Down by the gate a woman was already
hanging about waiting. It would be the work of a moment to give it to
her. But Marjorie had not calculated upon Dona. That placid young person
usually accepted whatever her elder sister thought fit to do. On this
occasion she interfered.

"What are you doing with Leonard's suit-case?" she asked.

Marjorie hastily explained.

"Don't," begged Dona promptly. "Leonard will be fearfully savage about
it. How are you going to get his things back to him?"

"I don't know," stammered Marjorie. She had, indeed, never thought about
it.

"I've been watching that woman," urged Dona, "and I don't like her. She
asked me if this were 'The Tamarisks', and she speaks quite broken
English. You mustn't give her Leonard's uniform."

"But I promised to get it for Chrissie to act in."

"Marjorie, I tell you I don't trust Chrissie."

The woman, seeing the two girls, came inside the gate, and advanced
smilingly towards them. Marjorie, annoyed at Dona's interference, and
anxious to have her own way, greeted the stranger effusively.

"Have you come for the bag? For Miss Lang? Thanks so much. Here it is!"

Then for once in her life Dona asserted herself.

"No, it isn't!" she snapped, and, snatching the bag from her sister's
hand, she rushed with it into the house.

Marjorie followed in a towering passion, but her remonstrances were
useless. Dona, when she once took an idea into her head, was the most
obstinate person in the world.

"Leonard's things are back in the dressing-room, and I've opened the
door wide into his bedroom," she announced doggedly. "If you want to get
them you'll have to take them from under Elaine's nose."

Full of wrath, Marjorie had nevertheless to make the best of it. The
woman had vanished from the garden, and Elaine was calling to them that
tea was ready in Leonard's bedroom. The invalid had a splendid appetite,
and, as his nurse did not consider that he ought to be rationed, the
home-made war buns disappeared rapidly.

"It's top-hole picnicking here with you girls," he announced. "Wouldn't
some of our fellows at the front be green with envy if they only knew!"

Marjorie was distant with Dona all the way to the Red Cross Hospital,
but recovered her temper during the ten minutes spent with Larry. They
were not allowed to stay long, as it was out of visiting hours, though
Elaine had obtained special permission from the Commandant for them to
call and say good-bye to him. Still laughing at his absurd jokes, they
rejoined Hodson, and set off along the road over the moor. As they
neared the cove they looked out anxiously to see if Eric were at the
usual trysting-place, but there was no sign of him to-day. They sat down
and waited, thinking that the long perambulator had probably been
wheeled into Whitecliffe, and had not yet returned. In about ten minutes
Lizzie came hurrying up alone.

"I've run all the way!" she panted. "He got your letter, did Eric, and
he was that set on coming, but he's very ill to-day and must stop in
bed. He's just fretting his heart out because he can't say good-bye to
you. He'll say nothing all the time but 'I want my fairy ladies--I want
my fairy ladies!' His ma said she wondered if you'd mind coming in for a
minute just to see him. It's not far. It would soothe him down
wonderful."

"Why, of course we'll go," exclaimed the girls with enthusiasm. "Poor
little chap! What a shame he's ill!"

"I hope it's nothing infectious?" objected Hodson, mindful of her
duties.

"Oh no! It's his heart," answered Lizzie. "He's got a lot of different
things the matter with him, and has had ever so many doctors," she added
almost proudly.

She led the way briskly to the little village of Sandside. Where did
Eric live, the girls were asking themselves. They had always wondered
where his home could be. To their amazement Lizzie stopped at the "Royal
George" inn, and motioned them to enter. Hodson demurred. She was an
ardent teetotaller, and also she doubted if Mrs. Trafford would approve
of her nieces visiting at a third-rate public-house.

"Wait for us outside, Hodson," said Marjorie rather peremptorily.

"I'll go into the post office," she agreed unwillingly. "You won't be
long, will you, miss?"

The passage inside the inn was dark, and the stairs were steep, and a
smell of stale beer pervaded the air. It seemed a strange place for such
a lovely flower as Eric to be growing. Lizzie went first to show the
way. She stopped with her hand on the latch of the door.

"His ma's had to go and serve in the bar," she explained, "but his
aunt's just come and is sitting with him."

Dona and Marjorie entered a small low bedroom, clean enough, though
rather faded and shabby. In a cot bed by the window lay Eric, white as
his pillow, a frail ethereal being all dark eyes and shining golden
curls. He stretched out two feeble little arms in welcome.

"Oh, my fairy ladies! Have you really come?" he cried eagerly.

It was only when they had both flown to him and kissed him that the
girls had time to notice the figure that sat by his bedside--a figure
that, with red spots of consternation on its cheeks, rose hastily from
its seat.

"Miss Norton!" they gasped, both together.

The mistress recovered herself with an effort.

"Sit down, Dona and Marjorie," she said with apparent calm, placing two
chairs for them. "I did not know you were Eric's fairy ladies. It is
very kind of you to come and see him."

"This is Titania," said the little fellow proudly, snuggling his hand
into his aunt's. "She knows more fairy tales than there are in all the
books. You never heard such lovely tales as she can tell. Another,
please, Titania!"

"Not now, darling."

"Please, please! The one about the moon maiden and the stars."

The dark eyes were pleading, and the small mouth quivered. The child
looked too ill to be reasoned with.

"Don't mind us," blurted out Marjorie, with a catch in her voice. Dona
was blinking some tear-drops out of her eyes.

Then a wonderful thing happened, for Miss Norton, beforetime the cold,
self-contained, strict house mistress, dropped her mask of reserve, and,
throwing a tender arm round Eric, began a tale of elves and fairies. She
told it well, too, with a pretty play of fancy, and an understanding of
a child's mind. He listened with supreme satisfaction.

"Isn't it lovely?" he said, turning in triumph to the girls when the
story was finished.

"We must trot now, darling," said his aunt, laying him gently back on
the pillow. "What? More presents? You lucky boy! Suppose you open them
after we've gone. You'll be such a tired childie if you get too excited.
I'll send Lizzie up to you. Say good-bye to your fairy ladies."

"Good-bye, darling Bluebell! Good-bye, darling Silverstar! When am I
going to see you again?"

Ah, when indeed? thought Dona and Marjorie, as they walked down the
steep dark stairs of the little inn.



CHAPTER XXV

Charades


Hodson was waiting in the road when they came out. Miss Norton spoke to
her kindly.

"We need not trouble you to take the young ladies back to Brackenfield,
they can return with me across the moor," she said. "I dare say you are
anxious to get home to The Tamarisks."

"Yes, thank you, m'm, it's got rather late," answered Hodson gratefully,
setting off at once along the Whitecliffe Road.

The girls and Miss Norton took a short cut across the moor. They walked
on for a while in silence. Then the mistress said:

"I didn't know it was you two who have been so kind to Eric. I should
like to explain about him, and then you'll understand. My eldest brother
married very much beneath him. He died when Eric was a year old, and his
wife married again--a man in her own station, who is now keeping the
'Royal George'. I can't bear to think of Eric being brought up in such
surroundings, but I have no power to take him away; his mother and
step-father claim him. I had planned that when he is a little older I
would try to persuade them to let me send him to a good preparatory
school, but now"--her voice broke--"it is not a question of education,
but whether he will grow up at all. I am writing for a specialist to
come and see him next week. I won't give up hope. He's the only boy left
in our family. Both my other brothers were killed at the beginning of
the war." She paused for a moment, and then went on. "I'm sure you'll
understand that I did not want anybody at Brackenfield to know that my
relations live at a village inn. I have not spoken of it to Mrs.
Morrison. May I ask you both to keep my secret and not to mention the
matter at school?"

"We won't tell a soul, Miss Norton," the girls assured her.

"Thank you both for your kindness to Eric," continued the house
mistress. "You have made his little life very bright lately. I need
hardly tell you how dear he is to me."

"He's the most perfect darling we've ever met," said Dona.

After that they walked on again without speaking. All three were busy
with their own thoughts. Marjorie's brain was in a whirl. She was trying
to readjust her mental attitude. Miss Norton! Miss Norton, whom she had
mistrusted and suspected as a spy, was Eric's idolized aunt, and had
gone to the Royal George on no treacherous errand, but to tell fairy
tales to an invalid child! When the cold scholastic manner was dropped
she had caught a glimpse of a beautiful and tender side of the
mistress's nature. She would never forget Miss Norton's face as she
held the little fellow in her arms and kissed him good-bye.

"I'm afraid I've utterly misjudged her!" decided Marjorie. "I see now
why she was so upset about that lantern slide I took. It was because
Eric was in it. It had nothing to do with the German prisoners. After
all, anybody can receive foreign letters if they've relations abroad,
and perhaps she's going to stay with friends in the Isle of Wight. As
for those Belgians in the hotel, perhaps they were genuine ones. We had
Belgian guests ourselves at the beginning of the war, and couldn't
understand a word of the Flemish they talked."

Marjorie ran upstairs to her dormitory as soon as she reached St.
Elgiva's, and found Chrissie waiting for her there.

"Where's the uniform?" demanded her chum imperatively.

"The uniform? I didn't get it after all," replied Marjorie a little
vaguely. The unexpected episode of Eric and Miss Norton had temporarily
driven the former matter from her mind.

"You--didn't--get it?"

Chrissie said the words very slowly.

"No. I'm sorry, but it couldn't be helped. Elaine was there--and Dona
wouldn't let me--so----"

"You sneak!" blazed Chrissie passionately. "You promised! You promised
faithfully! And this is how you treat me! Oh, I hate you! I hate you!
What shall I do? Can't you go back for it? send for it? I tell you, I
must have it!"

"How can I go back for it or send for it?" retorted Marjorie, amazed at
such an outburst on the part of her chum. "I'm sorry; but, after all, it
would have been miles too big for you, and you'll really do the part
quite as well in my mackintosh, with Irene's broad leather belt. There's
a piece of brown calico we can cut into strips and make puttees for you.
You'll look very nice, I'm sure."

Chrissie hardly seemed to be listening. She was sitting on her bed
rocking herself to and fro in the greatest emotion. When Marjorie laid a
hand on her arm she flung her off passionately. She had never exhibited
such temper before, and Marjorie was frankly surprised. The occasion did
not seem to justify it. The disappointment about the costume could not
surely be so very keen. None of the girls had meant to dress up to any
great extent for the charades.

"Chrissie, don't be an idiot!"

There was no answer.

"What are you making such a hullabaloo about? You're the limit this
evening. Do, for goodness' sake, brace up!"

"Let me alone!" snapped Chrissie. "You called yourself my friend, and
you wouldn't do what I asked you. I've done with you now. Don't speak to
me again."

"Bow-wow! Pitch it a little stronger. I'll go away till you've got over
your tantrums. It's what used to be called katawampus when I was small,
and they generally spanked me for it."

"Can't you go?" thundered Chrissie.

Thoroughly angry with her chum, Marjorie went. She wondered how they
were going to act a love scene together that evening. The soft nothings
they had rehearsed would seem very hollow after the mutual reproaches
they had just exchanged.

Chrissie was not in her usual place at supper-time.

"Sulking!" thought Marjorie. "I suppose she doesn't want to sit next to
me. Well, she's punishing herself far more than me, silly girl! She must
be dreadfully hungry, unless she's shamming a headache, and getting
Nurse to give her bread and milk in the ambulance room. Perhaps she's
busy with her costume. She never liked the idea of using my mackintosh
for a uniform. I expect she's thought of something else."

Marjorie's anger, always hot while it lasted, but short-lived, was
beginning to cool down. When supper was over she ran to look for her
chum, but could not find her anywhere. There was no time for a long
search, as the charades were to begin almost at once, and the St.
Elgiva's girls were already preparing the stage for the first scene.
Marjorie was seized upon by Patricia and borne off to arrange screens
and furniture.

Punctual to a moment, the guests from the other hostels arrived and took
their seats as audience. The performers, in the little room behind the
platform, were breathlessly scuttling into their costumes, and all
talking at once.

"Where's my hat?"

[Illustration: SHE STARED AT IT IN CONSTERNATION]

"Do button this at the back for me, please!"

"I can't find my boots!"

"Oh, bother, this skirt has no hooks!"

"Who's got the safety pins?"

"Be careful, you'll tear that lace!"

"I can't get into these shoes, they're too small!"

"I've grown out of this skirt since last theatricals."

"It's miles too short!"

"Has anybody seen my belt?"

Each one was so occupied in finishing her own hasty toilet that she
could not give much thought to the others, and it was only when all were
ready that Patricia asked:

"Where's Chrissie?"

The girls looked round in consternation. She was certainly not in the
dressing-room. Betty ran on to the platform, drew aside the curtain a
little, and, beckoning Annie Turner from among the audience, sent her
and six other Intermediates in search of the missing performer. They
returned in a few minutes to say that they could not find her. Marjorie,
meantime, had explained the cause of the quarrel.

"It's sickening!" raged Betty. "For her to go and spoil the whole thing,
just out of temper! I'd like to shake her!"

"Everybody's waiting for us to begin!" fluttered Rose.

"We won't wait!" declared Patricia. "Let us take the second charade
first, Chrissie doesn't come on in that; and, Betty, you go and ask
Annie to take Chrissie's place. She doesn't act badly, and there'd be
time to tell her what to do. She must fetch a mackintosh. Here's my
broad belt and a soft felt hat. She can belong to an Australian
regiment."

Annie, summoned hastily behind the scenes, rose magnificently to the
occasion. Coached by Betty and Marjorie, she grasped the outline of the
part she must play with immediate comprehension. She donned the
mackintosh, buckled the belt over her shoulder, cocked the soft hat over
one eye, practised a military stride and an affectionate embrace, and
declared herself ready for action. She was only just in time. The
audience was already applauding the end of the first charade. The
performers came trooping back, flushed and excited, and much relieved to
find Annie so well prepared.

"You mascot! You've saved our reputation!" exulted Patricia.

"I'm never going to speak to Chrissie Lang again!" declared Betty.

"It's abominable of her to let us down like this!" agreed Rose
indignantly.

Charade No. 2 went off with flying colours. Annie really played up
magnificently. None of the girls had known before that she could act so
well. She threw such fervour into her love-making that Mrs. Morrison,
who was among the spectators, gave a warning cough, whereupon the
gallant officer released his lady from his dramatic embrace, and,
falling gracefully on one knee, bestowed a theatrical kiss upon her
hand. The clapping from the girl portion of the audience was immense.

"But where is Chrissie Lang?" asked everybody when the performance was
over.

Nobody knew. Since Marjorie had parted from her in the dormitory she had
not been seen. Neither teachers, girls, nurses, nor servants could give
any report of her. She simply seemed to have disappeared. Mrs. Morrison
questioned everyone likely to know of her movements, but obtained no
satisfaction. Her cubicle in No. 9 Dormitory was unoccupied that night.
At breakfast next morning the sole topic of conversation was: "What has
become of Chrissie Lang?"

"Mrs. Morrison thinks she must have run away, and she's telephoning to
the police," Winifrede told Marjorie in confidence, when the latter,
anxious to unburden herself, sought the head girl's study. "I can't see
that it's your fault in any way. Chrissie was absurd to show such
temper, and it certainly was no reason for going off. I'm afraid there
must be something else at the bottom of it all."

"But what?"

"Ah, that's just the question!"

Marjorie was very much upset and disturbed. She could scarcely keep her
attention on her classes that morning. "Where has Chrissie gone, and
why?" she kept asking herself. At dinner-time there was still no news of
the truant. It was rumoured that Mrs. Morrison had telegraphed to Mrs.
Lang, and had received no reply. The Principal looked anxious and
worried. She felt responsible for the safety of her missing pupil.

Early in the afternoon, Marjorie, wishing to be alone, took a stroll
down the dingle. It was a favourite haunt of Chrissie's, who had often
sat reading beside the little brook. Marjorie walked to the very stone
that had been her usual seat. The sharpenings of a lead pencil were
still there, and lying at the edge of the water was a crumpled-up piece
of paper. Marjorie picked it up and smoothed it out. It was in
Chrissie's writing, and contained a list of details in connection with
tanks and guns, also particulars of the Redferne munition works and the
Belgian colony there, and several other pieces of information in
connection with the war. She stared at it in consternation. A sudden
light began to break in upon her mind.

"Good heavens! Was it Chrissie after all who was the spy?" she choked.

The idea seemed too horrible. It was she herself who had so readily
answered all her chum's questions in regard to these things. In doing
so, had she not been betraying her own country? Once the clue was given,
all sorts of suspicious circumstances came rushing into her mind. She
wondered it had never struck her before to doubt her friend's
patriotism. Nearly distracted with the dreadful discovery, she hurried
away to find Winifrede, and, showing her the paper, poured out her
story. Winifrede listened aghast.

"I'm afraid it's only too true, Marjorie," she said. "I've been talking
to Mrs. Morrison, and all sorts of queer things have come out about
Chrissie. It seems that a prisoner has escaped last night from the
German camp, and they think it must have been her brother, and that she
helped him. Mrs. Morrison has had a long talk with a detective, and he
said they telegraphed to Millgrove, where Chrissie's mother lives, and
the police there found the house shut up, and discovered that she is a
German, and that her true name is Lange, not Lang. The detective said
they have had Brackenfield under observation lately, for they suspected
that somebody was heliographing messages with a mirror to the German
camp. And who put that bicycle lamp in the Observatory window last
spring? We have certainly had a spy in our midst. We ought to take this
paper at once to Mrs. Morrison, and you must tell her all you know."

Marjorie not only had a long talk with the Principal, but was also
forced to undergo an examination by the detective, who asked her a
string of questions, until he had extorted every possible detail that
she could remember.

"There's not a shadow of a doubt," was his verdict. "There are plenty of
these spies about the country. It's our business to look after them.
Pity she got away so neatly. I'm afraid she and her precious brother
must have had a boat in waiting for them. It's abominable the amount of
collusion there is with the enemy. They'd accomplices in Whitecliffe, no
doubt, if we could only get on the track of them."

"I wish you had mentioned all this to me sooner, Marjorie," said Mrs.
Morrison.

"I never suspected anything," returned Marjorie, bursting into tears.

The poor child was thoroughly unnerved by her interview with the
detective, and the Principal's reproach seemed to put the finishing
touch to the whole affair. In Winifrede's study afterwards she sobbed
till her eyes were red slits.

"Never mind," comforted Winifrede. "After all, things might have been
worse. Be thankful you didn't lend her your brother's uniform. It's as
clear as daylight she didn't want it for charades. It would be easy for
a German prisoner to escape disguised as a British officer. It might
have got your brother into most serious trouble."

"It was Dona who wouldn't let me take it," choked Marjorie. "She said at
the time that she didn't trust Chrissie. I've been a blind idiot all
along!"

"We were none of us clever enough to find her out."

It was just about a week after this that a letter arrived at
Brackenfield, addressed to Marjorie in Chrissie's handwriting. It bore a
Dutch stamp and postmark, and had been opened by the censor. Mrs.
Morrison perused it first in private, then, calling Marjorie to the
study, handed it to her to read. It bore no address or date, and ran
thus:--

    "MY DEAR MARJORIE,

    "This letter is to say a last good-bye to you, for you will
    never hear from me or of me again. By now you will have found
    out all. Believe me that what I did was not by my own wish. I
    hated and loathed it all the time, but I was forced by others to
    do it. I cannot tell you how wretched I was, and how I envied
    you, who had no dreadful secret to keep. We are going back to
    our own people" (here a portion of the letter was blackened by
    the censor). "It was all for his sake" (again a portion was
    erased). "I want to tell you, Marjorie, how I have loved you.
    You have been the one bright spot in my life, and I can never
    forget your kindness. I have your portrait inside my locket, and
    I shall wear it always, and have it buried with me in my coffin.
    Try to think of me as if I were already dead, and forgive me if
    you can.

    "From your still loving friend,
        "CHRISSIE."

Marjorie put down the letter with a shaking hand.

"Is it right to forgive the enemies of our country?" she asked Mrs.
Morrison.

"When they are dead," replied the Principal.

Marjorie went out slowly from the study, and stood thinking for a
moment. Then, going upstairs to her cubicle, she looked in her treasure
box, and found the little gold locket containing the portrait of her
one-time friend. It had been a birthday present from Chrissie. She
refrained from opening it, but, taking it down to the dingle, she flung
it into the deepest pool in the brook. She walked back up the field with
a feeling as though she had attended a funeral.

Dona met her in the quadrangle.

"I've just seen Miss Norton," she confided. "The specialist came to look
at Eric yesterday, and he gives quite good hopes for him. He's to go
into a children's hospital under a very clever doctor, and be properly
looked after and dieted. His own mother lets him eat anything. Norty's
simply beaming. She's to take him herself next week in a motor
ambulance."

Marjorie heaved a great sigh of relief. The world seemed suddenly to
have brightened. Bygones must remain bygones. She had been imprudent,
indeed, in supplying information, but it had been done in all innocence,
and though she might blame her own folly, she could not condemn her act
as unpatriotic.

"There's good news from the front, too," continued Dona. "Another ridge
taken, and a village. Winifrede showed me the newspaper. Lieutenant
Preston's name is mentioned for conspicuous bravery. It's really quite
an important victory on our part. We've driven the Huns back a good
piece. I feel I just want to shout 'Hurrah!' and I'm going to!--

"Hurrah!"

"Hurrah! God save the King!" echoed Marjorie.



By Angela Brazil

My Own Schooldays.

    Ruth of St. Ronan's.
    Joan's Best Chum.
    Captain Peggie.
    Schoolgirl Kitty.
    The School in the South.
    Monitress Merle.
    Loyal to the School.
    A Fortunate Term.
    A Popular Schoolgirl.
    The Princess of the School.
    A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl.
    The Head Girl at the Gables.
    A Patriotic Schoolgirl.
    For the School Colours.
    The Madcap of the School.
    The Luckiest Girl in the School.
    The Jolliest Term on Record.
    The Girls of St. Cyprian's.
    The Youngest Girl in the Fifth.
    The New Girl at St. Chad's.
    For the Sake of the School.
    The School by the Sea.
    The Leader of the Lower School.
    A Pair of Schoolgirls.
    A Fourth Form Friendship.
    The Manor House School.
    The Nicest Girl in the School.
    The Third Form at Miss Kaye's.
    The Fortunes of Philippa.

_Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd. Glasgow_


    +---------------------------------------------------------------+
    |Transcriber's Note:                                            |
    |                                                               |
    |Unusual words used in direct speech, and the following words   |
    |have been left as they appear in the original book: caligraphy,|
    |hinnied, musn't, schemeing and seccotining. The phrase "turned |
    |up up to time" has also been retained.                         |
    |                                                               |
    |The frontispiece illustration was not available for inclusion  |
    |in this ebook.                                                 |
    +---------------------------------------------------------------+





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