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Title: A World of Girls - The Story of a School
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914
Language: English
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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 World of Girls - The Story of a School" ***

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[Illustration: "'SHAKE HANDS, NOW, AND LET US MAKE FRIENDS.'" (Page 27.)]

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

A WORLD OF GIRLS:

THE STORY OF A SCHOOL.

By L. T. MEADE.

Author of "The Palace Beautiful," "A Sweet Girl Graduate,"
"Polly: A New Fashioned Girl," Etc.

ILLUSTRATED.

NEW YORK:
A. L. BURT, PUBLISHER.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.
"Good-Bye" to the Old Life.                1

CHAPTER II.
Traveling Companions.                      6

CHAPTER III.
At Lavender House.                        13

CHAPTER IV.
Little Drawing-Rooms and Little Tiffs.    19

CHAPTER V.
The Head-Mistress.                        28

CHAPTER VI.
"I am Unhappy."                           32

CHAPTER VII.
A Day at School.                          35

CHAPTER VIII.
"You have Waked me too Soon."             47

CHAPTER IX.
Work and Play.                            54

CHAPTER X.
Varieties.                                62

CHAPTER XI.
What was Found in the School-Desk.        74

CHAPTER XII.
In the Chapel.                            88

CHAPTER XIII.
Talking over the Mystery.                 95

CHAPTER XIV.
"Sent to Coventry."                      102

CHAPTER XV.
About Some People who Thought no Evil.   107

CHAPTER XVI.
"An Enemy Hath Done This."               114

CHAPTER XVII.
"The Sweets are Poisoned."               123

CHAPTER XVIII.
In the Hammock.                          129

CHAPTER XIX.
Cup and Ball.                            136

CHAPTER XX.
In the South Parlor.                     143

CHAPTER XXI.
Stealing Hearts.                         151

CHAPTER XXII.
In Burn Castle Wood.                     155

CHAPTER XXIII.
"Humpty-Dumpty had a Great Fall."        168

CHAPTER XXIV.
Annie to the Rescue.                     173

CHAPTER XXV.
A Spoiled Baby.                          180

CHAPTER XXVI.
Under the Laurel Bush.                   188

CHAPTER XXVII.
Truants.                                 193

CHAPTER XXVIII.
In the Fairies' Field.                   198

CHAPTER XXIX.
Hester's Forgotten Book.                 204

CHAPTER XXX.
"A Muddy Stream."                        212

CHAPTER XXXI.
Good and Bad Angels.                     218

CHAPTER XXXII.
Fresh Suspicions.                        221

CHAPTER XXXIII.
Untrustworthy.                           227

CHAPTER XXXIV.
Betty Falls Ill at an Awkward Time.      233

CHAPTER XXXV.
"You are Welcome to Tell."               241

CHAPTER XXXVI.
How Moses Moore Kept His Appointment.    247

CHAPTER XXXVII.
A Broken Trust.                          252

CHAPTER XXXVIII.
Is She Still Guilty?                     259

CHAPTER XXXIX.
Hester's Hour of Trial.                  265

CHAPTER XL.
A Gypsy Maid.                            272

CHAPTER XLI.
Disguised.                               278

CHAPTER XLII.
Hester.                                  284

CHAPTER XLIII.
Susan.                                   289

CHAPTER XLIV.
Under the Hedge.                         293

CHAPTER XLV.
Tiger.                                   297

CHAPTER XLVI.
For Love of Nan.                         303

CHAPTER XLVII.
Rescued.                                 310

CHAPTER XLVIII.
Dark Days.                               313

CHAPTER XLIX.
Two Confessions.                         318

CHAPTER L.
The Heart of Little Nan.                 326

CHAPTER LI.
The Prize Essay.                         334

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                           A WORLD OF GIRLS.

CHAPTER I.

"GOOD-BYE" TO THE OLD LIFE.


"Me want to see Hetty," said an imperious baby voice.

"No, no; not this morning, Miss Nan, dear."

"Me do want to see Hetty," was the quick, impatient reply. And a sturdy
indignant little face looked up at Nurse, to watch the effect of the last
decisive words.

Finding no affirmative reply on Nurse's placid face, the small lips
closed firmly--two dimples came and went on two very round cheeks--the
mischievous brown eyes grew full of laughter, and the next moment the
little questioner had squeezed her way through a slightly open door, and
was toddling down the broad stone stairs and across a landing to Hetty's
room. The room-door was open, so the truant went in. A bed with the
bed-clothes all tossed about, a half worn-out slipper on the floor, a
very untidy dressing-table met her eyes, but no Hetty.

"Me want Hetty, me do," piped the treble voice, and then the little feet
commenced a careful and watchful pilgrimage, the lips still firmly shut,
the dimples coming and going, and the eyes throwing many upward glances
in the direction of Nurse and the nursery.

No pursuit as yet, and great, great hope of finding Hetty somewhere in
the down-stair regions. Ah, now, how good! those dangerous stairs had
been descended, and the little voice calling in shrill tones for Hetty
rang out in the wide hall.

"Let her come to me," suddenly said an answering voice, and a girl of
about twelve, dressed in deep mourning, suddenly opened the door of a
small study and clasped the little one in her arms.

"So you have found me, my precious, my dearest! Brave, plucky little Nan,
you have got away from Nurse and found me out! Come into the study now,
darling, and you shall have some breakfast."

"Me want a bicky, Hetty," said the baby voice; the round arms clasped
Hester's neck, but the brown eyes were already traveling eagerly over the
breakfast table in quest of spoil for those rosy little lips.

"Here are two biscuits, Nan. Nan, look me in the face--here, sit steady
on my knee; you love me, don't you, Nan?"

"Course me do," said the child.

"And I'm going away from you, Nan, darling. For months and months I won't
see anything of you. My heart will be always with you, and I shall think
of you morning, noon and night. I love no one as I love you, Nan. You
will think of me and love me too; won't you, Nan?"

"Me will," said Nan; "me want more bicky, Hetty."

"Yes, yes," answered Hester; "put your arms tight round my neck, and you
shall have sugar, too. Tighter than that, Nan, and you shall have two
lumps of sugar--oh, yes, you shall--I don't care if it makes you
sick--you shall have just what you want the last moment we are together."

Baby Nan was only too pleased to crumple up a crape frill and to smear a
black dress with sticky little fingers for the sake of the sugar which
Hetty plied her with.

"More, Hetty," she said; "me'll skeeze 'oo vedy tight for more."

On this scene Nurse unexpectedly entered.

"Well, I never! and so you found your way all downstairs by yourself, you
little toddle. Now, Miss Hetty, I hope you haven't been giving the
precious lamb sugar; you know it never does suit the little dear. Oh,
fie! baby; and what sticky hands! Miss Hetty, she has crumpled all your
crape frills."

"What matter?" said Hester. "I wanted a good hug, and I gave her three or
four lumps. Babies won't squeeze you tight for nothing. There, my Nancy,
go back to Nurse. Nurse, take her away; I'll break down in a minute if I
see her looking at me with that little pout."

Nurse took the child into her arms.

"Good-bye, Miss Hester, dear. Try to be a good girl at school. Take my
word, missy--things won't be as dark as they seem."

"Good-bye, Nurse," said Hester, hastily. "Is that you, father? are you
calling me?"

She gathered up her muff and gloves, and ran out of the little study
where she had been making believe to eat breakfast. A tall, stern-looking
man was in the hall, buttoning on an overcoat; a brougham waited at the
door. The next moment Hester and her father were bowling away in the
direction of the nearest railway station. Nan's little chubby face had
faded from view. The old square, gray house, sacred to Hester because of
Nan, had also disappeared; the avenue even was passed, and Hester closed
her bright brown eyes. She felt that she was being pushed out into a cold
world, and was no longer in the same snug nest with Nan. An intolerable
pain was at her heart; she did not glance at her father, who during their
entire drive occupied himself over his morning paper. At last they
reached the railway station, and just as Sir John Thornton was handing
his daughter into a comfortable first-class carriage, marked "For Ladies
only," and was presenting her with her railway ticket and a copy of the
last week's illustrated newspaper, he spoke:

"The guard will take care of you, Hester. I am giving him full
directions, and he will come to you at every station, and bring you tea
or any refreshment you may require. This train takes you straight to
Sefton, and Mrs. Willis will meet you, or send for you there. Good-bye,
my love; try to be a good girl, and curb your wild spirits. I hope to see
you very much improved when you come home at midsummer. Good-bye, dear,
good-bye. Ah, you want to kiss me--well, just one kiss. There--oh, my
dear! you know I have a great dislike to emotion in public."

Sir John Thornton said this because a pair of arms had been flung
suddenly round his neck, and two kisses imprinted passionately on his
sallow cheek. A tear also rested on his cheek, but that he wiped away.



CHAPTER II.

TRAVELING COMPANIONS.


The train moved rapidly on its way, and the girl in one corner of the
railway carriage cried silently behind her crape veil. Her tears were
very subdued, but her heart felt sore, bruised, indignant; she hated the
idea of school-life before her; she hated the expected restraints and the
probable punishments; she fancied herself going from a free life into a
prison, and detested it accordingly.

Three months before, Hester Thornton had been one of the happiest,
brightest and merriest of little girls in ----shire; but the mother who
was her guardian angel, who had kept the frank and spirited child in
check without appearing to do so, who had guided her by the magical power
of love and not in the least by that of fear, had met her death suddenly
by means of a carriage accident, and Hester and baby Nan were left
motherless. Several little brothers and sisters had come between Hester
and Nan, but from various causes they had all died in their infancy, and
only the eldest and youngest of Sir John Thornton's family remained.

Hester's father was stern, uncompromising. He was a very just and upright
man, but he knew nothing of the ways of children, and when Hester in her
usual tom-boyish fashion climbed trees and tore her dresses, and rode
bare-backed on one or two of his most dangerous horses, he not only tried
a little sharp, and therefore useless, correction, but determined to take
immediate steps to have his wild and rather unmanageable little daughter
sent to a first-class school. Hester was on her way there now, and very
sore was her heart and indignant her impulses. Father's "good-bye" seemed
to her to be the crowning touch to her unhappiness, and she made up her
mind not to be good, not to learn her lessons, not to come home at
midsummer crowned with honors and reduced to an every-day and pattern
little girl. No, she would be the same wild Hetty as of yore; and when
father saw that school could do nothing for her, that it could never make
her into a good and ordinary little girl, he would allow her to remain at
home. At home there was at least Nan to love, and there was mother to
remember.

Hetty was a child of the strongest feelings. Since her mother's death she
had scarcely mentioned her name. When her father alluded to his wife,
Hester ran out of the room; when the servants spoke of their late
mistress, Hester turned pale, stamped her feet, and told them to be
quiet.

"You are not worthy to speak of my mother," she electrified them all one
day by exclaiming: "My mother is an angel now, and you--oh, you are not
fit to breathe her name!"

Only to one person would Hetty ever voluntarily say a word about the
beloved dead mother, and that was to little Nan. Nan said her prayers, as
she expressed it, to Hetty now; and Hetty taught her a little phrase to
use instead of the familiar "God bless mother." She taught the child to
say, "Thank God for making mother into a beautiful angel;" and when Nan
asked what an angel was, and how the cozy mother she remembered could be
turned into one, Hester was beguiled into a soft and tearful talk, and
she drew several lovely pictures of white-robed angels, until the little
child was satisfied and said:

"Me like that, Hetty--me'll be an angel too, Hetty, same as mamma."

These talks with Nan, however, did not come very often, and of late they
had almost ceased, for Nan was only two and a half, and the strange, sad
fact remained that in three months she had almost forgotten her mother.

Hester on her way to school this morning cried for some time, then she
sat silent, her crape veil still down, and her eyes watching furtively
her fellow-passengers. They consisted of two rather fidgety old ladies,
who wrapped themselves in rugs, were very particular on the question of
hot bottles, and watched Hester in their turn with considerable curiosity
and interest. Presently one of them offered the little girl a sandwich,
which she was too proud or too shy to accept, although by this time she
was feeling extremely hungry.

"You will, perhaps, prefer a cake, my dear?" said the good-natured little
old lady. "My sister Agnes has got some delicious queen-cakes in her
basket--will you eat one?"

Hester murmured a feeble assent, and the queen-cake did her so much good
that she ventured to raise her crape veil and to look around her.

"Ah, that is much better," said the first little old lady. "Come to this
side of the carriage, my love; we are just going to pass through a lovely
bit of country, and you will like to watch the view. See; if you place
yourself here, my sister Agnes' basket will be just at your feet, and you
can help yourself to a queen-cake whenever you are so disposed."

"Thank you," responded Hester, in a much more cheerful tone, for it was
really quite impossible to keep up reserve with such a bright-looking
little old lady; "your queen-cakes are very nice, and I liked that one,
but one is quite enough, thank you. It is Nan who is so particularly fond
of queen-cakes."

"And who is Nan, my dear?" asked the sister to whom the queen-cakes
specially belonged.

"She is my dear little baby sister," said Hester in a sorrowful tone.

"Ah, and it was about her you were crying just now," said the first lady,
laying her hand on Hester's arm. "Never mind us, dear, we have seen a
great many tears--a great many. They are the way of the world. Women are
born to them. As Kingsley says--'women must weep.' It was quite natural
that you should cry about your sweet little Nan, and I wish we could send
her some of these queen-cakes that you say she is so fond of. Are you
going to be long away from her, love?"

"Oh, yes, for months and months," said Hester. "I did not know," she
added, "that it was such a common thing to cry. I never used to."

"Ah, you have had other trouble, poor child," glancing at her deep
mourning frock.

"Yes, it is since then I have cried so often. Please, I would rather not
speak about it."

"Quite right, my love, quite right," said Miss Agnes in a much brisker
tone than her sister. "We will turn the conversation now to something
inspiriting. Jane is quite right, there are plenty of tears in the world;
but there is also a great deal of sunshine and heaps of laughter, merry
laughter--the laughter of youth, my child. Now, I dare say, though you
have begun your journey so sadly, that you are really bound on quite a
pleasant little expedition. For instance, you are going to visit a kind
aunt, or some one else who will give you a delightful welcome."

"No," said Hester, "I am not. I am going to a dreadful place, and the
thought of that, and parting from little Nan, are the reasons why I
cried. I am going to prison--I am, indeed."

"Oh, my dear love!" exclaimed both the little old ladies in a breath.
Then Miss Agnes continued: "You have really taken Jane's breath
away--quite. Yes, Jane, I see that you are in for an attack of
palpitation. Never mind her, dear, she palpitates very easily; but I
think you must be mistaken, my love, in mentioning such an appalling word
as 'prison.' Yes, now I come to think of it, it is absolutely certain
that you must be mistaken; for if you were going to such a terrible place
of punishment you would be under the charge of a policeman. You are given
to strong language, dear, like other young folk."

"Well, I call it prison," continued Hester, who was rather flattered by
all this bustle and Miss Jane's agitation; "it has a dreadful sound,
hasn't it? I call it prison, but father says I am going to school--you
can't wonder that I am crying, can you? Oh! what is the matter?"

For the two little old ladies jumped up at this juncture, and gave Hetty
a kiss apiece on her soft, young lips.

"My darling," they both exclaimed, "we are so relieved and delighted!
Your strong language startled us, and school is anything but what you
imagine, dear. Ah, Jane! can you ever forget our happy days at school?"

Miss Jane sighed and rolled up her eyes, and then the two commenced a
vigorous catechizing of the little girl. Really Hester could not help
feeling almost sunshiny before that long journey came to an end, for she
and the Misses Bruce made some delightful discoveries. The little old
ladies very quickly found out that they lived close to the school where
Hetty was to spend the next few months. They knew Mrs. Willis well--they
knew the delightful, rambling, old-fashioned house where Hester was to
live--they even knew two or three of the scholars; and they said so often
to the little girl that she was going into a life of clover--positive
clover--that she began to smile, and even partly to believe them.

"I am glad I shall be near you, at least," she said at last, with a frank
sweet smile, for she had greatly taken to her kind fellow-travelers.

"Yes, my dear," exclaimed Miss Jane. "We attend the same church, and I
shall look out for you on Sunday, and," she continued, glancing first at
her sister and then addressing Hester, "perhaps Mrs. Willis will allow
you to visit us occasionally."

"I'll come to-morrow, if you like," said Hester.

"Well, dear, well--that must be as Mrs. Willis thinks best. Ah, here we
are at Sefton at last. We shall look out for you in church on Sunday, my
love."



CHAPTER III.

AT LAVENDER HOUSE.


Hester's journey had really proved wonderfully agreeable. She had taken a
great fancy to the little old ladies who had fussed over her and made
themselves pleasant in her behalf. She felt herself something like a
heroine as she poured out a little, just a little, of her troubles into
their sympathizing ears; and their cheerful remarks with regard to school
and school-life had caused her to see clearly that there might be another
and a brighter side to the gloomy picture she had drawn with regard to
her future.

But during the drive of two and a half miles from Sefton to Lavender
House, Hester once more began to feel anxious and troubled. The Misses
Bruce had gone off with some other passengers in a little omnibus to
their small villa in the town, but Lavender House was some distance off,
and the little omnibus never went so far.

An old-fashioned carriage, which the ladies told Hester belonged to Mrs.
Willis, had been sent to meet her, and a man whom the Misses Bruce
addressed as "Thomas" helped to place her trunk and a small portmanteau
on the roof of the vehicle. The little girl had to take her drive alone,
and the rather ancient horse which drew the old carriage climbed up and
down the steep roads in a most leisurely fashion. It was a cold winter's
day, and by the time Thomas had executed some commissions in Sefton, and
had reached the gates of the avenue which led to Lavender House, it was
very nearly dark. Hester trembled at the darkness, and when the gates
were shut behind them by a rosy-faced urchin of ten, she once more began
to feel the cruel and desolate idea that she was going to prison.

They drove slowly down a long and winding avenue, and, although Hester
could not see, she knew they must be passing under trees, for several
times their branches made a noise against the roof of the carriage. At
last they came to a standstill. The old servant scrambled slowly down
from his seat on the box, and, opening the carriage-door, held out his
hand to help the little stranger to alight.

"Come now, missy," he said in cheering tones, "come out, and you'll be
warm and snug in a minute. Dear, dear! I expect you're nearly froze up,
poor little miss, and it _is_ a most bitter cold night."

He rang a bell which hung by the entrance of a deep porch, and the next
moment the wide hall-door was flung open by a neat maid-servant, and
Hester stepped within.

"She's come," exclaimed several voices in different keys, and proceeding
apparently from different quarters. Hester looked around her in a
half-startled way, but she could see no one, except the maid, who smiled
at her and said:

"Welcome to Lavender House, miss. If you'll step into the porter's room
for one moment, there is a good fire there, and I'll acquaint Miss
Danesbury that you have arrived."

The little room in question was at the right hand side of a very wide and
cheerful hall, which was decorated in pale tints of green, and had a
handsome encaustic-tiled floor. A blazing fire and two lamps made the
hall look cheerful, but Hester was very glad to take refuge from the
unknown voices in the porter's small room. She found herself quite
trembling with shyness and cold, and an indescribable longing to get back
to Nan; and as she waited for Miss Danesbury and wondered fearfully who
or what Miss Danesbury was, she scarcely derived any comfort from the
blazing fire near which she stood.

"Rather tall for her age, but I fear, I greatly fear, a little sulky,"
said a voice behind her; and when she turned round in an agony of
trepidation and terror, she suddenly found herself face to face with a
tall, kind-looking, middle-aged lady, and also with a bright,
gypsy-looking girl.

"Annie Forest, how very naughty of you to hide behind the door! You are
guilty of disobedience in coming into this room without leave. I must
report you, my dear; yes, I really must. You lose two good conduct marks
for this, and will probably have thirty lines in addition to your usual
quantity of French poetry."

"But she won't tell on me, she won't, dear old Danesbury," said the girl;
"she couldn't be so hard-hearted, the precious love, particularly as
curiosity happens to be one of her own special little virtues! Take a
kiss, Danesbury, and now, as you love me you'll be merciful!" The girl
flitted away, and Miss Danesbury turned to Hester, whose face had changed
from red to pale during this little scene.

"What a horrid, vulgar, low-bred girl!" she exclaimed with passion, for
in all the experiences of her short life Hester had never even imagined
that personal remarks could be made of any one in their very presence. "I
hope she'll get a lot of punishment--I hope you are not going to forgive
her," she continued, for her anger had for the time quite overcome her
shyness.

"Oh, my dear, my dear! we should all be forgiving," exclaimed Miss
Danesbury in her gentle voice. "Welcome to Lavender House, love; I am
sorry I was not in the hall to receive you. Had I been, this little
_rencontre_ would not have occurred. Annie Forest meant no harm,
however--she's a wild little sprite, but affectionate. You and she will
be the best friends possible by-and-by. Now, let me take you to your
room; the gong for tea will sound in exactly five minutes, and I am sure
you will be glad of something to eat."

Miss Danesbury then led Hester across the hall and up some broad, low,
thickly-carpeted stairs. When they had ascended two flights, and were
standing on a handsome landing, she paused.

"Do you see this baize door, dear?" she said. "This is the entrance to
the school part of the house. This part that we are now in belongs
exclusively to Mrs. Willis, and the girls are never allowed to come here
without leave. All the school life is lived at the other side of this
baize door, and a very happy life I assure you it is for those little
girls who make up their minds to be brave and good. Now kiss me, my dear,
and let me bid you welcome once again to Lavender House."

"Are you our principal teacher, then?" asked Hester.

"I? oh, dear, no, my love. I teach the younger children English, and I
look after the interests and comforts of all. I am a very useful sort of
person, I believe, and I have a motherly heart, dear, and it is a way
with little girls to come to me when they are in trouble. Now, my love,
we must not chatter any longer. Take my hand, and let us get to your room
as fast as possible."

Miss Danesbury pushed open the baize door, and instantly Hester found
herself in a different region. Mrs. Willis' part of the house gave the
impression of warmth, luxuriance, and even elegance of arrangement. At
the other side of the door were long, narrow corridors, with snow-white
but carpetless floors, and rather cold, distempered walls. Miss
Danesbury, holding the new pupil's hand, led her down two corridors, and
past a great number of shut doors, behind which Hester could hear
suppressed laughter and eager, chattering voices. At last, however, they
stopped at a door which had the number "32" written over it.

"This is your bedroom, dear," said the English teacher, "and to-night you
will not be sorry to have it alone. Mrs. Willis received a telegram from
Susan Drummond, your room-mate, this afternoon, and she will not arrive
until to-morrow."

However bare and even cold the corridors looked, the bedroom into which
Hester was ushered by no means corresponded with this appearance. It was
a small, but daintily-furnished little room. The floor was carpeted with
green felt, the one window was hung with pretty draperies and two little,
narrow, white beds were arranged gracefully with French canopies. All the
furniture in the room was of a minute description, but good of its kind.
Beside each bed stood a mahogany chest of drawers. At two corresponding
corners were marble wash handstands, and even two pretty toilet tables
stood side by side in the recess of the window. But the sight that
perhaps pleased Hester most was a small bright fire which burned in the
grate.

"Now, dear, this is your room. As you have arrived first you can choose
your own bed and your own chest of drawers. Ah, that is right, Ellen has
unfastened your portmanteau; she will unpack your trunk to-night, and
take it to the box-room. Now, dear, smooth your hair and wash your hands.
The gong will sound instantly. I will come for you when it does."



CHAPTER IV.

LITTLE DRAWING-ROOMS AND LITTLE TIFFS.


Miss Danesbury, true to her word, came to fetch Hester down to tea. They
went down some broad, carpetless stairs, along a wide stone hall, and
then paused for an instant at a half-open door from which a stream of
eager voices issued.

"I will introduce you to your schoolfellows, and I hope your future
friends," said Miss Danesbury. "After tea you will come with me to see
Mrs. Willis--she is never in the school-room at tea-time. Mdlle. Perier
or Miss Good usually superintends. Now, my dear, come along--why, surely
you are not frightened!"

"Oh, please, may I sit near you?" asked Hester.

"No, my love; I take care of the little ones, and they are at a table by
themselves. Now, come in at once--the moment you dread will soon be over,
and it is nothing, my love--really nothing."

Nothing! never, as long as Hester lived, did she forget the supreme agony
of terror and shyness which came over her as she entered that long, low,
brightly-lighted room. The forty pairs of curious eyes which were raised
inquisitively to her face became as torturing as forty burning suns. She
felt an almost uncontrollable desire to run away and hide--she wondered
if she could possibly keep from screaming aloud. In the end she found
herself, she scarcely knew how, seated beside a gentle, sweet-mannered
girl, and munching bread and butter which tasted drier than sawdust, and
occasionally trying to sip something very hot and scalding which she
vaguely understood went by the name of tea. The buzzing voices all
chattering eagerly in French, and the occasional sharp, high-pitched
reprimands coming in peremptory tones from the thin lips of Mdlle.
Perier, sounded far off and distant--her head was dizzy, her eyes
swam--the tired and shy child endured tortures.

In after-days, in long after-years when the memory of Lavender House was
to come back to Hetty Thornton as one of the sweetest, brightest episodes
in her existence--in the days when she was to know almost every blade of
grass in the gardens, and to be familiar with each corner of the old
house, with each face which now appeared so strange, she might wonder at
her feelings to-night, but never even then could she forget them.

She sat at the table in a dream, trying to eat the tasteless bread and
butter. Suddenly and swiftly the thick and somewhat stale piece of bread
on her plate was exchanged for a thin, fresh, and delicately-cut slice.

"Eat that," whispered a voice--"I know the other is horrid. It's a shame
of Perier to give such stuff to a stranger."

"Mdlle. Cécile, you are transgressing: you are talking English," came in
a torrent of rapid French from the head of the table. "You lose a conduct
mark, ma'amselle."

The young girl who sat next Hester inclined her head gently and
submissively, and Hester, venturing to glance at her, saw that a delicate
pink had spread itself over her pale face. She was a plain girl; but even
Hester, in this first moment of terror, could scarcely have been afraid
of her, so benign was her expression, so sweet the glance from her soft,
full brown eyes. Hester now further observed that the thin bread and
butter had been removed from Cecil's own plate. She began to wonder why
this girl was indulged with better food than the rest of her comrades.

Hester was beginning to feel a little less shy, and was taking one or two
furtive glances at her companions, when she suddenly felt herself turning
crimson, and all her agony of shyness and dislike to her school-life
returning. She encountered the full, bright, quizzical gaze of the girl
who had made personal remarks about her in the porter's room. The merry
black eyes of this gypsy maiden fairly twinkled with suppressed fun when
they met hers, and the bright head even nodded audaciously across the
table to her.

Not for worlds would Hester return this friendly greeting--she still held
to her opinion that Miss Forest was one of the most ill-bred people she
had ever met, and, in addition to feeling a considerable amount of fear
of her, she quite made up her mind that she would never be on friendly
terms with so under-bred a girl.

At this moment grace was repeated in sonorous tones by a stern-looking
person who sat at the foot of the long table, and whom Hester had not
before noticed. Instantly the girls rose from their seats, and began to
file in orderly procession out of the tea-room. Hester looked round in
terror for the friendly Miss Danesbury, but she could not catch sight of
her anywhere. At this moment, however, her companion of the tea-table
touched her arm.

"We may speak English now for half an hour," she said, "and most of us
are going to the play-room. We generally tell stories round the fire upon
these dark winter's nights. Would you like to come with me to-night?
Shall we be chums for this evening?"

"I don't know what 'chums' are," said Hester; "but," she added, with the
dawning of a faint smile on her poor, sad little face, "I shall be very
glad to go with you."

"Come then," said Cecil Temple, and she pulled Hester's hand within her
arm, and walked with her across the wide stone hall, and into the largest
room Hester had ever seen.

Never, anywhere, could there have been a more delightful play-room than
this. It was so large that two great fires which burned at either end
were not at all too much to emit even tolerable warmth. The room was
bright with three or four lamps which were suspended from the ceiling,
the floor was covered with matting, and the walls were divided into
curious partitions, which gave the room a peculiar but very cosy effect.
These partitions consisted of large panels, and were divided by slender
rails the one from the other.

"This is my cosy corner," said Cecil, "and you shall sit with me in it
to-night. You see," she added, "each of us girls has her own partition,
and we can do exactly what we like in it. We can put our own photographs,
our own drawings, our own treasures on our panels. Under each division is
our own little work-table, and, in fact, our own individual treasures lie
round us in the enclosure of this dear little rail. The center of the
room is common property, and you see what a great space there is round
each fire-place where we can chatter and talk, and be on common ground.
The fire-place at the end of the room near the door is reserved
especially for the little ones, but we elder girls sit at the top. Of
course you will belong to us. How old are you?"

"Twelve," said Hester.

"Oh, well, you are so tall that you cannot possibly be put with the
little ones, so you must come in with us."

"And shall I have a railed-in division and a panel of my own?" asked
Hester. "It sounds a very nice arrangement. I hope my department will be
close to yours, Miss ----."

"Temple is my name," said Cecil, "but you need not call me that. I am
Cecil to all my friends, and you are my friend this evening, for you are
my chum, you know. Oh, you were asking me about our departments--you
won't have any at first, for you have got to earn it, but I will invite
you to mine pretty often. Come, now, let us go inside. Is not it just
like the darlingest little drawing-room? I am so sorry that I have only
one easy chair, but you shall have it to-night, and I will sit on this
three-legged stool. I am saving up my money to buy another arm-chair, and
Annie has promised to upholster it for me."

"Is Annie one of the maids?"

"Oh, dear, no! she's dear old Annie Forest, the liveliest girl in the
school. Poor darling, she's seldom out of hot water; but we all love her,
we can't help it. Poor Annie, she hardly ever has the luxury of a
department to herself, so she is useful all round. She's the most amusing
and good-natured dear pet in Christendom."

"I don't like her at all," said Hester; "I did not know you were talking
of her--she is a most rude, uncouth girl."

Cecil Temple, who had been arranging a small dark green table-cloth with
daffodils worked artistically in each corner on her little table, stood
up as the newcomer uttered these words, and regarded her fixedly.

"It is a pity to draw hasty conclusions," she said. "There is no girl
more loved in the school than Annie Forest. Even the teachers, although
they are always punishing her, cannot help having a soft corner in their
hearts for her. What can she possibly have done to offend you? but oh!
hush--don't speak--she is coming into the room."

As Cecil finished her rather eager defense of her friend, and prevented
the indignant words which were bubbling to Hester's lips, a gay voice was
heard singing a comic song in the passage, the play-room door was flung
open with a bang, and Miss Forest entered the room with a small girl
seated on each of her shoulders.

"Hold on, Janny, love; keep your arms well round me, Mabel. Now, then,
here we go--twice up the room and down again. No more, as I'm alive. I've
got to attend to other matters than you."

She placed the little girls on the floor amid peals of laughter, and
shouts from several little ones to give them a ride too. The children
began to cling to her skirts and to drag her in all directions, and she
finally escaped from them with one dexterous bound which placed her in
that portion of the play-room where the little ones knew they were not
allowed to enter.

Until her arrival the different girls scattered about the large room had
been more or less orderly, chattering and laughing together, it is true,
but in a quiet manner. Now the whole place appeared suddenly in an
uproar.

"Annie, come here--Annie, darling, give me your opinion about
this--Annie, my precious, naughty creature, come and tell me about your
last scrape."

Annie Forest blew several kisses to her adorers, but did not attach
herself to any of them.

"The Temple requires me," she said, in her sauciest tones; "my beloved
friends, the Temple as usual is vouchsafing its sacred shelter to the
stranger."

In an instant Annie was kneeling inside the enclosure of Miss Temple's
rail and laughing immoderately.

"You dear stranger!" she exclaimed, turning round and gazing full into
Hester's shy face, "I do declare I have been punished for the intense
ardor with which I longed to embrace you. Has she told you, Cecil,
darling, what I did in her behalf? How I ventured beyond the sacred
precincts of the baize door and hid inside the porter's room? Poor dear,
she jumped when she heard my friendly voice, and as I spoke Miss
Danesbury caught me in the very act. Poor old dear, she cried when she
complained of me, but duty is Danesbury's motto; she would go to the
stake for it, and I respect her immensely. I have got my twenty lines of
that horrible French poetry to learn--the very thought almost strangles
me, and I foresee plainly that I shall do something terribly naughty
within the next few hours; I must, my love--I really must. I have just
come here to shake hands with Miss Thornton, and then I must away to my
penance. Ah, how little I shall learn, and how hard I shall think!
Welcome to Lavender House, Miss Thornton; look upon me as your devoted
ally, and if you have a spark of pity in your breast, feel for the girl
whom you got into a scrape the very moment you entered these sacred
walls."

"I don't understand you," said Hester, who would not hold out her hand,
and who was standing up in a very stiff, shy, and angular position. "I
think you were very rude to startle me, and make personal remarks the
very moment I came into the house."

"Oh, dear! I only said you were tall, and looked rather sulky, love--you
did, you know, really."

"It was very rude of you," repeated Hester, turning crimson, and trying
to keep back her tears.

"Well, my dear, I meant no harm; shake hands, now, and let us make
friends."

But Hester felt either too shy or too miserable to yield to this
request--she half turned her back, and leaned against Miss Temple's
panel.

"Never mind her," whispered gentle Cecil Temple; but Annie Forest's
bright face had darkened ominously--the school favorite was not
accustomed to having her advances flung back in her face. She left the
room singing a defiant, naughty song, and several of the girls who had
overheard this scene whispered one to the other:

"She can't be at all nice--she would not even shake hands with Annie.
Fancy her turning against our Annie in that way!"



CHAPTER V.

THE HEAD-MISTRESS.


Annie Forest had scarcely left the room before Miss Danesbury appeared
with a message for Hester, who was to come with her directly to see Mrs.
Willis. The poor shy girl felt only too glad to leave behind her the
cruel, staring, and now by no means approving eyes of her schoolmates.
She had overheard several of their whispers, and felt rather alarmed at
her own act. But Hester, shy as she was, could be very tenacious of an
idea. She had taken a dislike to Annie Forest, and she was quite
determined to be true to what she considered her convictions--namely,
that Annie was under-bred and common, and not at all the kind of girl
whom her mother would have cared for her to know. The little girl
followed Miss Danesbury in silence. They crossed the stone hall together,
and now passing through another baize door, found themselves once more in
the handsome entrance-hall. They walked across this hall to a door
carefully protected from all draughts by rich plush curtains, and Miss
Danesbury, turning the handle, and going a step or two into the room,
said in her gentle voice:

"I have brought Hester Thornton to see you, Mrs. Willis, according to
your wish."

Miss Danesbury then withdrew, and Hester ventured to raise her eyes and
to look timidly at the head-mistress.

A tall woman, with a beautiful face and silvery white hair, came
instantly to meet her, laid her two hands on the girl's shoulders, and
then, raising her shy little face, imprinted a kiss on her forehead.

"Your mother was one of my earliest pupils, Hester," she said, "and you
are--no"--after a pause, "you are not very like her. You are her child,
however, my dear, and as such you have a warm welcome from me. Now, come
and sit by the fire, and let us talk."

Hester did not feel nearly so constrained with this graceful and gracious
lady as she had done with her schoolmates. The atmosphere of the room
recalled her beloved mother's boudoir at home. The rich dove-colored satin
dress, the cap made of Mechlin lace which softened and shaded Mrs. Willis'
silvery hair, appeared homelike to the little girl, who had grown up
accustomed to all the luxuries of wealth. Above all, the head-mistress'
mention of her mother drew her heart toward the beautiful face, and
attracted her toward the rich, full tones of a voice which could be
powerful and commanding at will. Mrs. Willis, notwithstanding her white
hair, had a youthful face, and Hester made the comment which came first to
her lips:

"I did not think you were old enough to have taught my mother."

"I am sixty, dear, and I have kept this school for thirty years. Your
mother was not the only pupil who sent her children to be taught by me
when the time came. Now, you can sit on this stool by the fire and tell
me about your home. Your mother--ah, poor child, you would rather not
talk about her just yet. Helen's daughter must have strong feelings--ah,
yes; I see, I see. Another time, darling, when you know me better. Now
tell me about your little sister, and your father. You do not know,
perhaps, that I am Nan's godmother?"

After this the head-mistress and the new pupil had a long conversation.
Hester forgot her shyness; her whole heart had gone out instantly to this
beautiful woman who had known, and loved, and taught her mother.

"I will try to be good at school," she said at last; "but, oh, please,
Mrs. Willis, it does not seem to me to-night as if school-life could be
happy."

"It has its trials, Hester; but the brave and the noble girls often find
this time of discipline one of the best in their lives--good at the time,
very good to look back on by-and-by. You will find a miniature world
around you; you will be surrounded by temptations; and you will have rare
chances of proving whether your character can be strong and great and
true. I think, as a rule, my girls are happy, and as a rule they turn out
well. The great motto of life here, Hester, is earnestness. We are
earnest in our work, we are earnest in our play. A half-hearted girl has
no chance at Lavender House. In play-time, laugh with the merriest, my
child; in school-hours, study with the most studious. Do you understand
me?"

"I try to, a little," said Hester, "but it seems all very strange just
now."

"No doubt it does, and at first you will have to encounter many
perplexities and to fight many battles. Never mind, if you have the right
spirit within you, you will come out on the winning side. Now, tell me,
have you made any acquaintances as yet among the girls?"

"Yes--Cecil Temple has been kind to me."

"Cecil is one of my dearest pupils; cultivate her friendship, Hester--she
is honorable, she is sympathizing. I am not afraid to say that Cecil has
a great heart."

"There is another girl," continued Hester, "who has spoken to me. I need
not make her my friend, need I?"

"Who is she, dear?"

"Miss Forest--I don't like her."

"What! our school favorite. You will change your mind, I expect--but that
is the gong for prayers. You shall come with me to chapel, to-night, and
I will introduce you to Mr. Everard."



CHAPTER VI.

"I AM UNHAPPY."


Between forty and fifty young girls assembled night and morning for
prayers in the pretty chapel which adjoined Lavender House. This chapel
had been reconstructed from the ruins of an ancient priory, on the site
of which the house was built. The walls, and even the beautiful eastern
window, belonged to a far-off date. The roof had been carefully reared in
accordance with the style of the east window, and the whole effect was
beautiful and impressive. Mrs. Willis was particularly fond of her own
chapel. Here she hoped the girls' best lessons might be learned, and here
she had even once or twice brought a refractory pupil, and tried what a
gentle word or two spoken in these old and sacred walls might effect.
Here, on wet Sundays the girls assembled for service; and here, every
evening at nine o'clock, came the vicar of the large parish to which
Lavender House belonged, to conduct evening prayers. He was an old man,
and a great friend of Mrs. Willis', and he often told her that he
considered these young girls some of the most important members of his
flock.

Here Hester knelt to-night. It is to be doubted whether in her confusion,
and in the strange loneliness which even Mrs. Willis had scarcely
removed, she prayed much. It is certain she did not join in the evening
hymn, which, with the aid of an organ and some sweet girl-voices, was
beautifully and almost pathetically rendered. After evening prayers had
come to an end, Mrs. Willis took Hester's hand and led her up to the old,
white-headed vicar.

"This is my new pupil, Mr. Everard, or rather I should say, our new
pupil. Her education depends as much on you as on me."

The vicar held out his hands, and took Hester's within them, and then
drew her forward to the light.

"This little face does not seem quite strange to me," he said. "Have I
ever seen you before, my dear?"

"No, sir," replied Hester.

"You have seen her mother," said Mrs. Willis--"Do you remember your
favorite pupil, Helen Anstey, of long ago?"

"Ah! indeed--indeed! I shall never forget Helen. And are you her child,
little one?"

But Hester's face had grown white. The solemn service in the chapel,
joined to all the excitement and anxieties of the day, had strung up her
sensitive nerves to a pitch higher than she could endure. Suddenly, as
the vicar spoke to her, and Mrs. Willis looked kindly down at her new
pupil, the chapel seemed to reel round, the pupils one by one
disappeared, and the tired girl only saved herself from fainting by a
sudden burst of tears.

"Oh, I am unhappy," she sobbed, "without my mother! Please, please, don't
talk to me about my mother."

She could scarcely take in the gentle words which her two friends said to
her, and she hardly noticed when Mrs. Willis did such a wonderful thing
as to stoop down and kiss a second time the lips of a new pupil.

Finally she found herself consigned to Miss Danesbury's care, who hurried
her off to her room, and helped her to undress and tucked her into her
little bed.

"Now, love, you shall have some hot gruel. No, not a word. You ate little
or no tea to-night--I watched you from my distant table. Half your
loneliness is caused by want of food--I know it, my love; I am a very
practical person. Now, eat your gruel, and then shut your eyes and go to
sleep."

"You are very kind to me," said Hester, "and so is Mrs. Willis, and so is
Mr. Everard, and I like Cecil Temple--but, oh, I wish Annie Forest was
not in the school!"

"Hush, my dear, I implore of you. You pain me by these words. I am quite
confident that Annie will be your best friend yet."

Hester's lips said nothing, but her eyes answered "Never" as plainly as
eyes could speak.



CHAPTER VII.

A DAY AT SCHOOL.


If Hester Thornton went to sleep that night under a sort of dreamy, hazy
impression that school was a place without a great deal of order, with
many kind and sympathizing faces, and with some not so agreeable; if she
went to sleep under the impression that she had dropped into a sort of
medley, that she had found herself in a vast new world where certain
personages exercised undoubtedly a strong moral influence, but where on
the whole a number of other people did pretty much what they pleased--she
awoke in the morning to find her preconceived ideas scattered to the four
winds.

There was nothing of apparent liberty about the Lavender House
arrangements in the early morning hours. In the first place, it seemed
quite the middle of the night when Hester was awakened by a loud gong,
which clanged through the house and caused her to sit up in bed in a
considerable state of fright and perplexity. A moment or two later a
neatly-dressed maid-servant came into the room with a can of hot water;
she lit a pair of candles on the mantel-piece, and, with the remark that
the second gong would sound in half an hour, and that all the young
ladies would be expected to assemble in the chapel at seven o'clock
precisely, she left the room.

Hester pulled her pretty little gold watch from under her pillow, and saw
with a sigh that it was now half-past six.

"What odious hours they keep in this horrid place!" she said to herself.
"Well, well, I always did know that school would be unendurable."

She waited for five minutes before she got up, and then she dressed
herself languidly, and, if the truth must be told, in a very untidy
fashion. She managed to be dressed by the time the second gong sounded,
but she had only one moment to give to her private prayers. She
reflected, however, that this did not greatly matter as she was going
down to prayers immediately in the chapel.

The service in the chapel the night before had impressed her more deeply
than she cared to own, and she followed her companions down stairs with a
certain feeling of pleasure at the thought of again seeing Mr. Everard
and Mrs. Willis. She wondered if they would take much notice of her this
morning, and she thought it just possible that Mr. Everard, who had
looked at her so compassionately the night before, might be induced, for
the sake of his old friendship with her mother, to take her home with him
to spend the day. She thought she would rather like to spend a day with
Mr. Everard, and she fancied he was the sort of person who would
influence her and help her to be good. Hester fancied that if some very
interesting and quite out of the common person took her in hand, she
might be formed into something extremely noble--noble enough even to
forgive Annie Forest.

The girls all filed into the chapel, which was lighted as brightly and
cheerily as the night before; but Hester found herself placed on a bench
far down in the building. She was no longer in the place of honor by Mrs.
Willis' side. She was one of a number, and no one looked particularly at
her or noticed her in any way. A shy young curate read the morning
prayers; Mr. Everard was not present, and Mrs. Willis, who was, walked
out of the chapel when prayers were over without even glancing in
Hester's direction. This was bad enough for the poor little dreamer of
dreams, but worse was to follow.

Mrs. Willis did not speak to Hester, but she did stop for an instant
beside Annie Forest. Hester saw her lay her white hand on the young
girl's shoulder and whisper for an instant in her ear. Annie's lovely
gypsy face flushed a vivid crimson.

"For your sake, darling," she whispered back; but Hester caught the
words, and was consumed by a fierce jealousy.

The girls went into the school-room, where Mdlle. Perier gave a French
lesson to the upper class. Hester belonged to no class at present, and
could look around her, and have plenty of time to reflect on her own
miseries, and particularly on what she now considered the favoritism
shown by Mrs. Willis.

"Mr. Everard at least will read through that girl," she said to herself;
"he could not possibly endure any one so loud. Yes, I am sure that my
only friend at home, Cecilia Day, would call Annie very loud. I wonder
Mrs. Willis can endure her. Mrs. Willis seems so ladylike herself,
but--Oh, I beg your pardon, what's the matter?"

A very sharp voice had addressed itself to the idle Hester.

"But, mademoiselle, you are doing nothing! This cannot for a moment be
permitted. Pardonnez-moi, you know not the French? Here is a little easy
lesson. Study it, mademoiselle, and do not let your eyes wander a moment
from the page."

Hester favored Mdlle. Perier with a look of lofty contempt, but she
received the well-thumbed lesson-book in absolute silence.

At eight o'clock came breakfast, which was nicely served, and was very
good and abundant. Hester was thoroughly hungry this morning, and did not
feel so shy as the night before. She found herself seated between two
strange girls, who talked to her a little and would have made themselves
friendly had she at all encouraged them to do so. After breakfast came
half an hour's recreation, when, the weather being very bad, the girls
again assembled in the cozy play-room. Hester looked round eagerly for
Cecil Temple, who greeted her with a kind smile, but did not ask her into
her enclosure. Annie Forest was not present, and Hester breathed a sigh
of relief at her absence. The half-hour devoted to recreation proved
rather dull to the newcomer. Hester could not understand her present
world. To the girl who had been brought up practically as an only child
in the warm shelter of a home, the ways and doings of school-girl life
were an absolute enigma.

Hester had no idea of unbending or of making herself agreeable. The girls
voted her to one another stiff and tiresome, and quickly left her to her
own devices. She looked longingly at Cecil Temple; but Cecil, who could
never be knowingly unkind to any one, was seizing the precious moments to
write a letter to her father, and Hester presently wandered down the room
and tried to take an interest in the little ones. From twelve to fifteen
quite little children were in the school, and Hester wondered with a sort
of vague half-pain if she might see any child among the group the least
like Nan.

"They will like to have me with them," she said to herself. "Poor little
dots, they always like big girls to notice them, and didn't they make a
fuss about Miss Forest last night! Well, Nan is fond enough of me, and
little children find out so quickly what one is really like."

Hester walked boldly into the group. The little dots were all as busy as
bees, were not the least lonely, or the least shy, and very plainly gave
the intruder to understand that they would prefer her room to her
company. Hester was not proud with little children--she loved them
dearly. Some of the smaller ones in question were beautiful little
creatures, and her heart warmed to them for Nan's sake. She could not
stoop to conciliate the older girls, but she could make an effort with
the babies. She knelt on the floor and took up a headless doll.

"I know a little girl who had a doll like that," she said. Here she
paused and several pairs of eyes were fixed on her.

"Poor dolly's b'oke," said the owner of the headless one in a tone of
deep commiseration.

"You _are_ such a breaker, you know, Annie," said Annie's little
five-year-old sister.

"Please tell us about the little girl what had the doll wifout the head,"
she proceeded, glancing at Hester.

"Oh, it was taken to a hospital, and got back its head," said Hester
quite cheerfully; "it became quite well again, and was a more beautiful
doll than ever."

This announcement caused intense wonder and was certainly carrying the
interest of all the little ones. Hester was deciding that the child who
possessed the headless doll _had_ a look of Nan about her dark brown
eyes, when suddenly there was a diversion--the play-room door was opened
noisily, banged-to with a very loud report, and a gay voice sang out:

"The fairy queen has just paid me a visit. Who wants sweeties from the
fairy queen?"

Instantly all the little feet had scrambled to the perpendicular, each
pair of hands was clapped noisily, each little throat shouted a joyful:

"Here comes Annie!"

Annie Forest was surrounded, and Hester knelt alone on the hearth-rug.

She felt herself coloring painfully--she did not fail to observe that two
laughing eyes had fixed themselves with a momentary triumph on her face;
then, snatching up a book, which happened to lie close, she seated
herself with her back to all the girls, and her head bent over the page.
It is quite doubtful whether she saw any of the words, but she was at
least determined not to cry.

The half-hour so wearisome to poor Hester came to an end, and the girls,
conducted by Miss Danesbury, filed into the school-room and took their
places in the different classes.

Work had now begun in serious earnest. The school-room presented an
animated and busy scene. The young faces with their varying expressions
betokened on the whole the preponderance of an earnest spirit.
Discipline, not too severe, reigned triumphant.

Hester was not yet appointed to any place among these busy workers, but
while she stood wondering, a little confused, and half intending to drop
into an empty seat which happened to be close, Miss Danesbury came up to
her.

"Follow me, Miss Thornton," she said, and she conducted the young girl up
the whole length of the great school-room, and pushed aside some baize
curtains which concealed a second smaller room, where Mrs. Willis sat
before a desk.

The head-mistress was no longer dressed in soft pearl-gray and Mechlin
lace. She wore a black silk dress, and her white cap seemed to Hester to
add a severe tone to her features. She neither shook hands with the new
pupil nor kissed her, but said instantly in a bright though authoritative
tone:

"I must now find out as quickly as possible what you know, Hester, in
order to place you in the most suitable class."

Hester was a clever girl, and passed through the ordeal of a rather stiff
examination with considerable ability. Mrs. Willis pronounced her English
and general information quite up to the usual standard for girls of her
age--her French was deficient, but she showed some talent for German.

"On the whole I am pleased with your general intelligence, and I think
you have good capacities, Hester," she said in conclusion. "I shall ask
Miss Good, our very accomplished English teacher, to place you in the
third class. You will have to work very hard, however, at your French, to
maintain your place there. But Mdlle. Perier is kind and painstaking, and
it rests with yourself to quickly acquire a conversational acquaintance
with the language. You are aware that, except during recreation, you are
never allowed to speak in any other tongue. Now, go back to the
school-room, my dear."

As Mrs. Willis spoke she laid her finger on a little silver gong which
stood by her side.

"One moment, please," said Hester, coloring crimson; "I want to ask you a
question, please."

"Is it about your lessons?"

"No--oh, no; it is----"

"Then pardon me, my dear," uttered the governess; "I sit in my room every
evening from eight to half-past, and I am then at liberty to see a pupil
on any subject which is not trifling. Nothing but lessons are spoken of
in lesson hours, Hester. Ah, here comes Miss Good. Miss Good, I should
wish you to place Hester Thornton in the third class. Her English is up
to the average. I will see Mdlle. Perier about her at twelve o'clock."

Hester followed the English teacher into the great school-room, took her
place in the third class, at the desk which was pointed out to her, was
given a pile of new books, and was asked to attend to the history lesson
which was then going on.

Notwithstanding her confusion, a certain sense of soreness, and some
indignation at what she considered Mrs. Willis' altered manner, she
acquitted herself with considerable spirit, and was pleased to see that
her class companions regarded her with some respect.

An English literature lecture followed the history, and here again Hester
acquitted herself with _éclat_. The subject to-day was "Julius Cæsar,"
and Hester had read Shakespeare's play over many times with her mother.

But when the hour came for foreign languages, her brief triumph ceased.
Lower and lower did she fall in her schoolfellows' estimation as she
stumbled through her truly English-French. Mdlle. Perier, who was a very
fiery little woman, almost screamed at her--the girls colored and nearly
tittered. Hester hoped to recover her lost laurels in German, but by this
time her head ached and she did very little better in the German which
she loved than in the French which she detested. At twelve o'clock she
was relieved to find that school was over for the present, and she heard
the English teacher's voice desiring the girls to go quickly to their
rooms, and to assemble in five minutes' time in the great stone hall,
equipped for their walk.

The walk lasted for a little over an hour, and was a very dreary penance
to poor Hester, as she was neither allowed to run, race, nor talk a word
of English. She sighed heavily once or twice, and several of the girls
who looked at her curiously agreed with Annie Forest that she was
decidedly sulky. The walk was followed by dinner; then came half an hour
of recreation in the delightful play-room, and eager chattering in the
English tongue.

At three o'clock the school assembled once more; but now the studies were
of a less severe character, and Hester spent one of her first happy
half-hours over a drawing lesson. She had a great love for drawing, and
felt some pride in the really beautiful copy which she was making of the
stump of an old gnarled oak-tree. Her dismay, however, was proportionately
great when the drawing-master drew his pencil right across her copy.

"I particularly requested you not to sketch in any of the shadows, Miss
Thornton. Did you not hear me say that my lesson to-day was in outline? I
gave you a shaded piece to copy in outline--did you not understand?"

"This is my first day at school," whispered back poor Hester, speaking in
English in her distress. Whereupon the master smiled, and even forgot to
report her for her transgression of the French tongue.

Hester spent the rest of that afternoon over her music lesson. The
music-master was an irascible little German, but Hester played with some
taste, and was therefore not too severely rapped over the knuckles.

Then came tea and another half-hour of recreation, which was followed by
two silent hours in the school-room, each girl bent busily over her books
in preparation for the next day's work. Hester studied hard, for she had
made up her mind to be the intellectual prodigy of the school. Even on
this first day, miserable as it was, she had won a few plaudits for her
quickness and powers of observation. How much better could she work when
she had really fallen into the tone of the school, and understood the
lessons which she was now so carefully preparing! During her busy day she
had failed to notice one thing: namely, the absence of Annie Forest.
Annie had not been in the school-room, had not been in the play-room; but
now, as the clock struck eight, she entered the school-room with a
listless expression, and took her place in the same class with Hester.
Her eyes were heavy, as if she had been crying, and when a companion
touched her, and gave her a sympathizing glance, she shook her head with
a sorrowful gesture, but did not speak. Glasses of milk and slices of
bread and butter were now handed round to the girls, and Miss Danesbury
asked if any one would like to see Mrs. Willis before prayers. Hester
half sprang to her feet, but then sat down again. Mrs. Willis had annoyed
her by refusing to break her rules and answer her question during lesson
hours. No, the silly child resolved that she would not trouble Mrs.
Willis now.

"No one to-night, then?" said Miss Danesbury, who had noticed Hester's
movement.

Suddenly Annie Forest sprang to her feet.

"I'm going, Miss Danesbury," she said. "You need not show me the way; I
can find it alone."

With her short, curly hair falling about her face, she ran out of the
room.



CHAPTER VIII.

"YOU HAVE WAKED ME TOO SOON."


When Hester reached her bedroom after prayers on that second evening, she
was dismayed to find that she no longer could consider the pretty little
bedroom her own. It had not only an occupant, but an occupant who had
left untidy traces of her presence on the floor, for a stocking lay in
one direction and a muddy boot sprawled in another. The newcomer had
herself got into bed, where she lay with a quantity of red hair tossed
about on the pillow, and a heavy freckled face turned upward, with the
eyes shut and the mouth slightly open.

As Hester entered the room, from these parted lips came unmistakable and
loud snores. She stood still dismayed.

"How terrible!" she said to herself; "oh, what a girl! I cannot sleep in
the room with any one who snores--I really cannot!"

She stood perfectly still, with her hands clasped before her, and her
eyes fixed with almost ludicrous dismay on this unexpected trial. As she
gazed, a fresh discovery caused her to utter an exclamation of horror
aloud.

The newcomer had curled herself up comfortably in _her_ bed. Suddenly, to
her surprise, a voice said very quietly, without a flicker of expression
coming over the calm face, or the eyes even making an effort to open:

"Are you my new schoolmate?"

"Yes," said Hester, "I am sorry to say I am."

"Oh, don't be sorry, there's a good creature; there's nothing to be sorry
about. I'll stop snoring when I turn on my side--it's all right. I always
snore for half an hour to rest my back, and the time is nearly up. Don't
trouble me to open my eyes, I am not the least curious to see you. You
have a cross voice, but you'll get used to me after a bit."

"But you're in my bed," said Hester. "Will you please to get into your
own?"

"Oh, no, don't ask me; I like your bed best. I slept in it the whole of
last term. I changed the sheets myself, so it does not matter. Do you
mind putting my muddy boots outside the door, and folding up my
stockings? I forgot them, and I shall have a bad mark if Danesbury comes
in. Good-night--I'm turning on my side--I won't snore any more."

The heavy face was now only seen in profile, and Hester, knowing that
Miss Danesbury would soon appear to put out the candle, had to hurry into
the other bed as fast as she could; something impelled her, however, to
take up the muddy boots with two very gingerly fingers, and place them
outside the door.

She slept better this second night, and was not quite so startled the
next morning when the remorseless gong aroused her from slumber. The
maid-servant came in as usual to light the candles, and to place two cans
of hot water by the two wash-hand stands.

"You are awake, miss?" she said to Hester.

"Oh, yes," replied Hester almost cheerfully.

"Well, that's all right," said the servant. "Now I must try and rouse
Miss Drummond, and she always takes a deal of waking; and if you don't
mind, miss, it will be an act of kindness to call out to her in the
middle of your own dressing--that is, if I don't wake her effectual."

With these words, the housemaid approached the bed where the red-haired
girl lay again on her back, and again snoring loudly.

"Miss Drummond, wake, miss; it's half-past six. Wake up, miss--I have
brought your hot water."

"Eh?--what?" said the voice in the bed, sleepily; "don't bother me,
Hannah--I--I've determined not to ride this morning; go away"--then more
sleepily, and in a lower key, "Tell Percy he can't bring the dogs in
here."

"I ain't neither your Hannah, nor your Percy, nor one of the dogs,"
replied the rather irate Alice. "There, get up, miss, do. I never see
such a young lady for sleeping--never."

"I won't be bothered," said the occupant of the bed, and now she turned
deliberately on her side and snored more loudly than ever.

"There's no help for it," said Alice: "I have to do it nearly every
morning, so don't you be startled, miss. Poor thing, she would never have
a good conduct mark but for me. Now then, here goes. You needn't be
frightened, miss--she don't mind it the least bit in the world."

Here Alice seized a rough Turkish towel, placed it under the sleepy head
with its shock of red hair, and, dipping a sponge in a basin of icy cold
water, dashed it on the white face.

This remedy proved effectual: two large pale blue eyes opened wide, a
voice said in a tranquil and unmoved tone:

"Oh, thank you, Alice. So I'm back at this horrid, detestable school
again!"

"Get your feet well on the carpet, Miss Drummond, before you falls off
again," said the servant. "Now then, you'd better get dressed as fast as
possible, miss--you have lost five minutes already."

Hester, who had laughed immoderately during this little scene, was
already up and going through the processes of her toilet. Miss Drummond,
seated on the edge of her bed, regarded her with sleepy eyes.

"So you are my new room-mate?" she said. "What's your name?"

"Hester Thornton," replied Hetty with dignity.

"Oh--I'm Susy Drummond--you may call me Susy if you like."

Hester made no response to this gracious invitation.

Miss Drummond sat motionless, gazing down at her toes.

"Had not you better get dressed?" said Hester after a long pause, for she
really feared the young lady would fall asleep where she was sitting.

Miss Drummond started.

"Dressed! So I will, dear creature. Have the sweet goodness to hand me my
clothes."

"Where are they?" asked Hester rather crossly, for she did not care to
act as lady's-maid.

"They are over there, on a chair, in that lovely heap with a shawl flung
over them. There, toss them this way--I'll get into them somehow."

Miss Drummond did manage to get into her garments; but her whole
appearance was so heavy and untidy when she was dressed, that Hester by
the very force of contrast felt obliged to take extra pains with her own
toilet.

"Now, that's a comfort," said Susan, "I'm in my clothes. How bitter it
is! There's one comfort, the chapel will be warm. I often catch forty
winks in chapel--that is, if I'm lucky enough to get behind one of the
tall girls, where Mrs. Willis won't see me. It does seem to me,"
continued Susan in a meditative tone, "the strangest thing why girls are
not allowed sleep enough."

Hester was pinning a clean collar round her neck when Miss Drummond came
up close, leaned over the dressing-table, and regarded her with languid
curiosity.

"A penny for your thoughts, Miss Prunes and Prism."

"Why do you call me that?" said Hester angrily.

"Because you look like it, sweet. Now, don't be cross, little pet--no one
ever yet was cross with sleepy Susy Drummond. Now, tell me, love, what
had you for breakfast yesterday?"

"I'm sure I forget," said Hester.

"You _forget_?--how extraordinary! You're sure that it was not buttered
scones? We have them sometimes, and I tell you they are enough even to
keep a girl awake. Well, at least you can let me know if the eggs were
very stale, and the coffee very weak, and whether the butter was
second-rate Dorset, or good and fresh. Come now--my breakfast is of
immense importance to me, I assure you."

"I dare say," answered Hester. "You can see for yourself this morning
what is on the table--I can only inform you that it was good enough for
me, and that I don't remember what it was."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Susan Drummond, "I'm afraid she has a little temper
of her own--poor little room-mate. I wonder if chocolate-creams would
sweeten that little temper."

"Please don't talk--I'm going to say my prayers," said Hester.

She did kneel down, and made a slight effort to ask God to help her
through the day's work and the day's play. In consequence, she rose from
her knees with a feeling of strength and sweetness which even the
feeblest prayer when uttered in earnest can always give.

The prayer-gong now sounded, and all the girls assembled in the chapel.
Miss Drummond was greeted by many appreciative nods, and more than one
pair of longing eyes gazed in the direction of her pockets, which stuck
out in the most ungainly fashion.

Hester was relieved to find that her room-mate did not share her class in
school, nor sit anywhere near her at table.

When the half-hour's recreation after breakfast arrived, Hester,
determined to be beholden to none of her schoolmates for companionship,
seated herself comfortably in an easy chair with a new book. Presently
she was startled by a little stream of lollipops falling in a shower over
her head, down her neck, and into her lap. She started up with an
expression of disgust. Instantly Miss Drummond sank into the vacated
chair.

"Thank you, love," she said, in a cozy, purring voice. "Eat your
lollipops, and look at me; I'm going to sleep. Please pull my toe when
Danesbury comes in. Oh, fie! Prunes and Prisms--not so cross--eat your
lollipops; they will sweeten the expression of that--little--face."

The last words came out drowsily. As she said "face," Miss Drummond's
languid eyes were closed--she was fast asleep.



CHAPTER IX.

WORK AND PLAY.


In a few days Hester was accustomed to her new life. She fell into its
routine, and in a certain measure won the respect of her fellow-pupils.
She worked hard, and kept her place in class, and her French became a
little more like the French tongue and a little less like the English. She
showed marked ability in many of her other studies, and the mistresses and
masters spoke well of her. After a fortnight spent at Lavender House,
Hester had to acknowledge that the little Misses Bruce were right, and
that school might be a really enjoyable place for some girls. She would
not yet admit that it could be enjoyable for her. Hester was too shy, too
proud, too exacting to be popular with her schoolfellows. She knew nothing
of school-girl life--she had never learned the great secret of success in
all life's perplexities, the power to give and take. It never occurred to
Hester to look over a hasty word, to take no notice of an envious or
insolent look. As far as her lessons were concerned, she was doing well;
but the hardest lesson of all, the training of mind and character, which
the daily companionship of her schoolfellows alone could give her, in this
lesson she was making no way. Each day she was shutting herself up more
and more from all kindly advances, and the only one in the school whom she
sincerely and cordially liked was gentle Cecil Temple.

Mrs. Willis had some ideas with regard to the training of her young
people which were peculiarly her own. She had found them successful, and,
during her thirty years' experience, had never seen reason to alter them.
She was determined to give her girls a great deal more liberty than was
accorded in most of the boarding-schools of her day. She never made what
she called impossible rules; she allowed the girls full liberty to
chatter in their bedrooms; she did not watch them during play-hours; she
never read the letters they received, and only superintended the specimen
home letter which each girl was required to write once a month. Other
head-mistresses wondered at the latitude she allowed her girls, but she
invariably replied:

"I always find it works best to trust them. If a girl is found to be
utterly untrustworthy, I don't expel her, but I request her parents to
remove her to a more strict school."

Mrs. Willis also believed much in that quiet half-hour each evening, when
the girls who cared to come could talk to her alone. On these occasions
she always dropped the school-mistress and adopted the _rôle_ of the
mother. With a very refractory pupil she spoke in the tenderest tones of
remonstrance and affection at these times. If her words failed--if the
discipline of the day and the gentle sympathy of these moments at night
did not effect their purpose, she had yet another expedient--the vicar
was asked to see the girl who would not yield to this motherly influence.

Mr. Everard had very seldom taken Mrs. Willis' place. As he said to her:
"Your influence must be the mainspring. At supreme moments I will help
you with personal influence, but otherwise, except for my nightly prayers
with your girls, and my weekly class, and the teachings which they with
others hear from my lips Sunday after Sunday, they had better look to
you."

The girls knew this rule well, and the one or two rare instances in the
school history where the vicar had stepped in to interfere, were spoken
of with bated breath and with intense awe.

Mrs. Willis had a great idea of bringing as much happiness as possible
into young lives. It was with this idea that she had the quaint little
compartments railed off in the play-room.

"For the elder girls," she would say, "there is no pleasure so great as
having, however small the spot, a little liberty hall of their own. In
her compartment each girl is absolute monarch. No one can enter inside
the little curtained rail without her permission. Here she can show her
individual taste, her individual ideas. Here she can keep her most prized
possessions. In short, her compartment in the play-room is a little home
to her."

The play-room, large as it was, admitted of only twenty compartments;
these compartments were not easily won. No amount of cleverness attained
them; they were altogether dependent on conduct. No girl could be the
honorable owner of her own little drawing-room until she had
distinguished herself by some special act of kindness and self-denial.
Mrs. Willis had no fixed rule on this subject. She alone gave away the
compartments, and she often made choice of girls on whom she conferred
this honor in a way which rather puzzled and surprised their fellows.

When the compartment was won it was not a secure possession. To retain it
depended also on conduct; and here again Mrs. Willis was absolute in her
sway. More than once the girls had entered the room in the morning to
find some favorite's furniture removed and her little possessions taken
carefully down from the walls, the girl herself alone knowing the reason
for this sudden change. Annie Forest, who had been at Lavender House for
four years, had once, for a solitary month of her existence, owned her
own special drawing-room. She had obtained it as a reward for an act of
heroism. One of the little pupils had set her pinafore on fire. There was
no teacher present at the moment, the other girls had screamed and run
for help, but Annie, very pale, had caught the little one in her arms and
had crushed out the flames with her own hands. The child's life was
spared, the child was not even hurt, but Annie was in the hospital for a
week. At the end of a week she returned to the school-room and play-room
as the heroine of the hour. Mrs. Willis herself kissed her brow, and
presented her in the midst of the approving smiles of her companions with
the prettiest drawing-room of the sets. Annie retained her honorable post
for one month.

Never did the girls of Lavender House forget the delights of that month.
The fantastic arrangements of the little drawing room filled them with
ecstacies. Annie was truly Japanese in her style--she was also intensely
liberal in all her arrangements. In the tiny space of this little
enclosure wild pranks were perpetrated, ceaseless jokes made up. From
Annie's drawing-room issued peals of exquisite mirth. She gave afternoon
tea from a Japanese set of tea-things. Outside her drawing-room always
collected a crowd of girls, who tried to peep over the rail or to draw
aside the curtains. Inside the sacred spot certainly reigned chaos, and
one day Miss Danesbury had to fly to the rescue, for in a fit of mad
mirth Annie herself had knocked down the little Japanese tea-table, the
tea-pot and tea-things were in fragments on the floor, and the tea and
milk poured in streams outside the curtains. Mrs. Willis sent for Annie
that evening, and Miss Forest retired from her interview with red eyes
and a meek expression.

"Girls," she said, in confidence that night, "good-bye to Japan. I gave
her leave to do it--the care of an empire is more than I can manage."

The next day the Japanese drawing-room had been handed over to another
possessor, and Annie reigned as queen over her empire no more.

Mrs. Willis, anxious at all times that her girls should be happy, made
special arrangements for their benefit on Sunday. Sunday was by no means
dull at Lavender House--Sunday was totally unlike the six days which
followed it. Even the stupidest girl could scarcely complain of the
severity of Sunday lessons--even the merriest girl could scarcely speak
of the day as dull. Mrs. Willis made an invariable rule of spending all
Sunday with her pupils. On this day she really unbent--on this day she
was all during the long hours what she was during the short half-hour on
each evening in the week. On Sunday she neither reproved nor corrected.
If punishment or correction were necessary, she deputed Miss Good or Miss
Danesbury to take her place. On Sunday she sat with the little children
round her knee, and the older girls clustering about her. Her gracious
and motherly face was like a sun shining in the midst of these young
girls. In short, she was like the personified form of Goodness in their
midst. It was necessary, therefore, that all those who wished to do right
should be happy on Sunday, and only those few who deliberately preferred
evil should shrink from the brightness of this day.

It is astonishing how much a sympathizing and guiding spirit can effect.
The girls at Lavender House thought Sunday the shortest day in the week.
There were no unoccupied or dull moments--school toil was forgotten--school
punishment ceased, to be resumed again if necessary on Monday morning. The
girls in their best dresses could chatter freely in English--they could
read their favorite books--they could wander about the house as they
pleased; for on Sunday the two baize doors were always wide open, and Mrs.
Willis' own private suite of rooms was ready to receive them. If the day
was fine they walked to church, each choosing her own companion for the
pleasant walk; if the day was wet there was service in the chapel, Mr.
Everard always conducting either morning or evening prayers. In the
afternoon the girls were allowed to do pretty much as they pleased, but
after tea there always came a delightful hour, when the elder girls retired
with their mistress into her own special boudoir, and she either told them
stories or sang to them as only she could sing. At sixty years of age Mrs.
Willis still possessed the most sympathetic and touching voice those girls
had ever listened to. Hester Thornton broke down completely on her first
Sunday at Lavender House when she heard her school-mistress sing "The
Better Land." No one remarked on her tears, but two people saw them; for
her mistress kissed her tenderly that night, and said a few strong words of
help and encouragement, and Annie Forest, who made no comment, had also
seen them, and wondered vaguely if this new and disagreeable pupil had a
heart after all.

On Sunday night Mrs. Willis herself went round to each little bed and
gave a mother-kiss to each of her pupils--a mother-kiss and a murmured
blessing; and in many breasts resolves were then formed which were to
help the girls through the coming week. Some of these resolves, made not
in their own strength, bore fruit in long after-years. There is no doubt
that very few girls who lived long enough at Lavender House, ever in
after-days found their Sundays dull.



CHAPTER X.

VARIETIES.


Without any doubt, wild, naughty, impulsive Annie Forest was the most
popular girl in the school. She was always in scrapes--she was scarcely
ever out of hot water--her promises of amendment were truly like the
proverbial pie-crust; but she was so lovable, so kind-hearted, so saucy
and piquante and pretty, that very few could resist the nameless charm
which she possessed. The little ones adored Annie, who was kindness
itself to them; the bigger girls could not help admiring her fearlessness
and courage; the best and noblest girls in the school tried to influence
her for good. She was more or less an object of interest to every one;
her courage was of just the sort to captivate schoolgirls, and her moral
weakness was not observed by these inexperienced young eyes.

Hester alone, of all the girls who for a long time had come to Lavender
House, failed to see any charm in Annie. She began by considering her
ill-bred, and when she found she was the school favorite, she tossed her
proud little head and determined that she for one would never be
subjugated by such a naughty girl. Hester could read character with
tolerable clearness; she was an observant child--very observant, and very
thoughtful for her twelve years; and as the little witch Annie had failed
to throw any spell over her, she saw her faults far more clearly than did
her companions. There is no doubt that this brilliant, charming, and
naughty Annie had heaps of faults; she had no perseverance; she was all
passion and impulse; she could be the kindest of the kind, but from sheer
thoughtlessness and wildness she often inflicted severe pain, even on
those she loved best. Annie very nearly worshiped Mrs. Willis; she had
the most intense adoration for her, she respected her beyond any other
human being. There were moments when the impulsive and hot-headed child
felt that she could gladly lay down her life for her school-mistress.
Once the mistress was ill, and Annie curled herself up all night outside
her door, thereby breaking rules, and giving herself a severe cold; but
her passion and agony were so great that she could only be soothed by at
last stealing into the darkened room and kissing the face she loved.

"Prove your love to me, Annie, by going downstairs and keeping the school
rules as perfectly as possible," whispered the teacher.

"I will--I will never break a rule again as long as I live, if you get
better, Mrs. Willis," responded the child.

She ran downstairs with her resolves strong within her, and yet in half
an hour she was reprimanded for willful and desperate disobedience.

One day Cecil Temple had invited a select number of friends to afternoon
tea in her little drawing-room. It was the Wednesday half-holiday, and
Cecil's tea, poured into the tiniest cups and accompanied by thin wafer
biscuits, was of the most _recherché_ quality. Cecil had invited Hester
Thornton, and a tall girl who belonged to the first class and whose name
was Dora Russell, to partake of this dainty beverage. They were sitting
round the tiny tea-table, on little red stools with groups of flowers
artistically painted on them, and were all three conducting themselves in
a most ladylike and refined manner, when Annie Forest's curly head and
saucy face popped over the enclosure, and her voice said eagerly:

"Oh, may I be permitted to enter the shrine?"

"Certainly, Annie," said Cecil, in her most cordial tones. "I have got
another cup and saucer, and there is a little tea left in the tea-pot."

Annie came in, and ensconced herself cozily on the floor. It did not
matter in the least to her that Hester Thornton's brow grew dark, and
that Miss Russell suddenly froze into complete indifference to all her
surroundings. Annie was full of a subject which excited her very much:
she had suddenly discovered that she wanted to give Mrs. Willis a
present, and she wished to know if any of the girls would like to join
her.

"I will give her the present this day week," said excitable Annie. "I
have quite made up my mind. Will any one join me?"

"But there is nothing special about this day week, Annie," said Miss
Temple. "It will neither be Mrs. Willis' birthday, nor Christmas Day, nor
New Year's Day, nor Easter Day. Next Wednesday will be just like any
other Wednesday. Why should we make Mrs. Willis a present?"

"Oh, because she looks as if she wanted one, poor dear. I thought she
looked sad this morning; her eyes drooped and her mouth was down at the
corners. I am sure she's wanting something from us all by now, just to
show that we love her, you know."

"Pshaw!" here burst from Hester's lips.

"Why do you say that?" said Annie, turning round with her bright eyes
flashing. "You've no right to be so contemptuous when I speak about
our--our head-mistress. Oh, Cecil," she continued, "do let us give her a
little surprise--some spring flowers, or something just to show her that
we love her."

"But _you_ don't love her," said Hester, stoutly.

Here was throwing down the gauntlet with a vengeance! Annie sprang to her
feet and confronted Hester with a whole torrent of angry words. Hester
firmly maintained her position. She said over and over again that love
proved itself by deeds, not by words; that if Annie learned her lessons,
and obeyed the school rules, she would prove her affection for Mrs.
Willis far more than by empty protestations. Hester's words were true,
but they were uttered in an unkind spirit, and the very flavor of truth
which they possessed caused them to enter Annie's heart and to wound her
deeply. She turned, not red, but very white, and her large and lovely
eyes grew misty with unshed tears.

"You are cruel," she gasped, rather than spoke, and then she pushed aside
the curtains of Cecil's compartment and walked out of the play-room.

There was a dead silence among the three girls when she left them.
Hester's heart was still hot, and she was still inclined to maintain her
own position, and to believe she had done right in speaking in so severe
a tone to Annie. But even she had been made a little uneasy by the look
of deep suffering which had suddenly transformed Annie's charming
childish face into that of a troubled and pained woman. She sat down
meekly on her little three-legged stool and, taking up her tiny cup and
saucer, sipped some of the cold tea.

Cecil Temple was the first to speak.

"How could you?" she said, in an indignant voice for her. "Annie is not
the girl to be driven, and in any case, it is not for you to correct her.
Oh, Mrs. Willis would have been so pained had she heard you--you were not
_kind_, Miss Thornton. There, I don't wish to be rude, but I fear I must
leave you and Miss Russell--I must try and find Annie."

"I'm going back to my own drawing-room," said Miss Russell, rising to her
feet. "Perhaps," she added, turning round with a very gracious smile to
Hester, "you will come and see me there, after tea, this evening."

Miss Russell drew aside the curtains of Cecil Temple's little room, and
disappeared. Hester, with her eyes full of tears, now turned eagerly to
Cecil.

"Forgive me, Cecil," she exclaimed. "I did not mean to be unkind, but it
is really quite ridiculous the way you all spoil that girl--you know as
well as I do that she is a very naughty girl. I suppose it is because of
her pretty face," continued Hester, "that you are all so unjust, and so
blind to her faults."

"You are prejudiced the other way, Hester," said Cecil in a more gentle
tone. "You have disliked Annie from the first. There, don't keep me--I
must go to her now. There is no knowing what harm your words may have
done. Annie is not like other girls. If you knew her story, you would,
perhaps be kinder to her."

Cecil then ran out of her drawing-room, leaving Hester in sole possession
of the little tea-things and the three-legged stools. She sat and thought
for some time; she was a girl with a great deal of obstinacy in her
nature, and she was not disposed to yield her own point, even to Cecil
Temple; but Cecil's words had, nevertheless, made some impression on her.

At tea-time that night, Annie and Cecil entered the room together.
Annie's eyes were as bright as stars, and her usually pale cheeks glowed
with a deep color. She had never looked prettier--she had never looked so
defiant, so mischievous, so utterly reckless. Mdlle. Perier fired
indignant French at her across the table. Annie answered respectfully,
and became demure in a moment; but even in the short instant in which the
governess was obliged to lower her eyes to her plate, she had thrown a
look so irresistibly comic at her companions that several of them had
tittered aloud. Not once did she glance at Hester, although she
occasionally looked boldly in her direction; but when she did so, her
versatile face assumed a blank expression, as if she were seeing nothing.
When tea was over, Dora Russell surprised the members of her own class by
walking straight up to Hester, putting her hand inside her arm, and
leading her off to her own very refined-looking little drawing-room.

"I want to tell you," she said, when the two girls found themselves
inside the small enclosure, "that I quite agree with you in your opinion
of Miss Forest. I think you were very brave to speak to her as you did
to-day. As a rule, I never trouble myself with what the little girls in
the third class do, and of course Annie seldom comes under my notice; but
I think she is a decidedly spoiled child, and your rebuff will doubtless
do her a great deal of good."

These words of commendation, coming from tall and dignified Miss Russell
completely turned poor Hester's head.

"Oh, I am so glad you think so!" she stammered, coloring high with
pleasure. "You see," she added, assuming a little tone of extra
refinement, "at home I always associated with girls who were perfect
ladies."

"Yes, any one can see that," remarked Miss Russell approvingly.

"And I do think Annie under-bred," continued Hester. "I cannot
understand," she added, "why Miss Temple likes her so much."

"Oh, Cecil is so amiable; she sees good in every one," answered Miss
Russell. "Annie is evidently not a lady, and I am glad at last to find
some one of the girls who belong to the middle school capable of
discerning this fact. Of course, we of the first class have nothing
whatever to say to Miss Forest, but I really think Mrs. Willis is not
acting quite fairly by the other girls when she allows a young person of
that description into the school. I wish to assure you, Miss Thornton,
that you have at least my sympathy, and I shall be very pleased to see
you in my drawing-room now and then."

As these last words were uttered, both girls were conscious of a little
rustling sound not far away. Miss Russell drew back her curtain, and
asked very sharply, "Who is there?" but no one replied, nor was there any
one in sight, for the girls who did not possess compartments were
congregated at the other end of the long play-room, listening to stories
which Emma Marshall, a clever elder girl, was relating for their benefit.

Miss Russell talked on indifferent subjects to Hester, and at the end of
the half-hour the two entered the class-room side by side, Hester's
little head a good deal turned by this notice from one of the oldest
girls in the school.

As the two walked together into the school-room, Susan Drummond, who,
tall as she was, was only in the fourth class, rushed up to Miss Forest,
and whispered something in her ear.

"It is just as I told you," she said, and her sleepy voice was quite wide
awake and animated. Annie Forest rewarded her by a playful pinch on her
cheek; then she returned to her own class, with a severe reprimand from
the class teacher, and silence reigned in the long room, as the girls
began to prepare their lessons as usual for the next day.

Miss Russell took her place at her desk in her usual dignified manner.
She was a clever girl, and was going to leave school at the end of next
term. Hers was a particularly fastidious, but by no means great nature.
She was the child of wealthy parents; she was also well-born, and because
of her money, and a certain dignity and style which had come to her as
nature's gifts, she held an influence, though by no means a large one, in
the school. No one particularly disliked her, but no one, again, ardently
loved her. The girls in her own class thought it well to be friendly with
Dora Russell, and Dora accepted their homage with more or less
indifference. She did not greatly care for either their praise or blame.
Dora possessed in a strong degree that baneful quality, which more than
anything else precludes the love of others--she was essentially selfish.

She sat now before her desk, little guessing how she had caused Hester's
small heart to beat by her patronage, and little suspecting the mischief
she had done to the girl by her injudicious words. Had she known, it is
to be doubted whether she would have greatly cared. She looked through
the books which contained her tasks for the next day's work, and, finding
they did not require a great deal of preparation, put them aside, and
amused herself during the rest of preparation time with a storybook,
which she artfully concealed behind the leaves of some exercises. She
knew she was breaking the rules, but this fact did not trouble her, for
her moral nature was, after all, no better than poor Annie's, and she had
not a tenth of her lovable qualities.

Dora Russell was the soul of neatness and order. To look inside her
school desk was a positive pleasure; to glance at her own neat and trim
figure was more or less of a delight. Hers were the whitest hands in the
school, and hers the most perfectly kept and glossy hair. As the
preparation hour drew to a close, she replaced her exercises and books in
exquisite order in her school desk and shut down the lid.

Hester's eyes followed her as she walked out of the school-room, for the
head class never had supper with the younger girls. Hester wondered if
she would glance in her direction; but Miss Russell had gratified a very
passing whim when she condescended to notice and praise Hester, and she
had already almost forgotten her existence.

At bed-time that night Susan Drummond's behavior was at the least
extraordinary. In the first place, instead of being almost overpoweringly
friendly with Hester, she scarcely noticed her; in the next place, she
made some very peculiar preparations.

"What _are_ you doing on the floor, Susan?" inquired Hetty in an innocent
tone.

"That's nothing to you," replied Miss Drummond, turning a dusky red, and
looking annoyed at being discovered. "I do wish," she added, "that you
would go round to your side of the room and leave me alone; I sha'n't
have done what I want to do before Danesbury comes in to put out the
candle."

Hester was not going to put herself out with any of Susan Drummond's
vagaries; she looked upon sleepy Susan as a girl quite beneath her
notice, but even she could not help observing her, when she saw her sit
up in bed a quarter of an hour after the candles had been put out, and in
the flickering firelight which shone conveniently bright for her purpose,
fasten a piece of string first round one of her toes, and then to the end
of the bed-post.

"What _are_ you doing?" said Hester again, half laughing.

"Oh, what a spy you are!" said Susan. "I want to wake, that's all; and
whenever I turn in bed, that string will tug at my toe, and, of course,
I'll rouse up. If you were more good-natured, I'd give the other end of
the string to you; but, of course, that plan would never answer."

"No, indeed," replied Hester; "I am not going to trouble myself to wake
you. You must trust to your sponge of cold water in the morning, unless
your own admirable device succeeds."

"I'm going to sleep now, at any rate," answered Susan; "I'm on my back,
and I'm beginning to snore; good night."

Once or twice during the night Hester heard groans from the
self-sacrificing Susan, who, doubtless, found the string attached to her
foot very inconvenient.

Hester, however, slept on when it might have been better for the peace of
many in the school that she should have awakened. She heard no sound
when, long before day, sleepy Susan stepped softly out of bed, and
wrapping a thick shawl about her, glided out of the room. She was away
for over half an hour, but she returned to her chamber and got into bed
without in the least disturbing Hester. In the morning she was found so
soundly asleep that even the sponge of cold water could not arouse her.

"Pull the string at the foot of the bed, Alice," said Hester; "she
fastened a string to her toe, and twisted the other end round the
bed-post, last night; pull it, Alice, it may effect its purpose."

But there was no string now round Susan Drummond's foot, nor was it found
hanging to the bed-post.



CHAPTER XI.

WHAT WAS FOUND IN THE SCHOOL-DESK.


The next morning, when the whole school were assembled, and all the
classes were getting ready for the real work of the day, Miss Good, the
English teacher, stepped to the head of the room, and, holding a neatly
bound volume of "Jane Eyre" in her hand, begged to know to whom it
belonged. There was a hush of astonishment when she held up the little
book, for all the girls knew well that this special volume was not
allowed for school literature.

"The housemaid who dusts the school-room found this book on the floor,"
continued the teacher. "It lay beside a desk near the top of the room. I
see the name has been torn out, so I cannot tell who is the owner. I must
request her, however, to step forward and take possession of her
property. If there is the slightest attempt at concealment, the whole
matter will be laid before Mrs. Willis at noon to-day."

When Miss Good had finished her little speech, she held up the book in
its green binding and looked down the room.

Hester did not know why her heart beat--no one glanced at her, no one
regarded her; all eyes were fixed on Miss Good, who stood with a severe,
unsmiling, but expectant face.

"Come, young ladies," she said, "the owner has surely no difficulty in
recognizing her own property. I give you exactly thirty seconds more;
then if no one claims the book, I place the affair in Mrs. Willis'
hands."

Just then there was a stir among the girls in the head class. A tall girl
in dove-colored cashmere, with a smooth head of golden hair, and a fair
face which was a good deal flushed at this moment, stepped to the front,
and said in a clear and perfectly modulated voice:

"I had no idea of concealing the fact that 'Jane Eyre' belongs to me. I
was only puzzled for a moment to know how it got on the floor. I placed
it carefully in my desk last night. I think this circumstance ought to be
inquired into."

"Oh! Oh!" came from several suppressed voices here and there through the
room; "whoever would have supposed that Dora Russell would be obliged to
humble herself in this way?"

"Attention, young ladies!" said Miss Good; "no talking, if you please. Do
I understand, Miss Russell, that 'Jane Eyre' is yours?"

"Yes, Miss Good."

"Why did you keep it in your desk--were you reading it during
preparation?"

"Oh, yes, certainly."

"You are, of course, aware that you were breaking two very stringent
rules of the school. In the first place, no story-books are allowed to be
concealed in a school-desk, or to be read during preparation. In the
second place, this special book is not allowed to be read at any time in
Lavender House. You know these rules, Miss Russell?"

"Yes, Miss Good."

"I must retain the book--you can return now to your place in class."

Miss Russell bowed sedately, and with an apparently unmoved face, except
for the slightly deepened glow on her smooth cheek, resumed her
interrupted work.

Lessons went on as usual, but during recreation the mystery of the
discovered book was largely discussed by the girls. As is the custom of
schoolgirls, they took violent sides in the matter--some rejoicing in
Dora's downfall, some pitying her intensely. Hester was, of course, one
of Miss Russell's champions, and she looked at her with tender sympathy
when she came with her haughty and graceful manner into the school-room,
and her little heart beat with vague hope that Dora might turn to her for
sympathy.

Dora, however, did nothing of the kind. She refused to discuss the affair
with her companions, and none of them quite knew what Mrs. Willis said to
her, or what special punishment was inflicted on the proud girl. Several
of her schoolfellows expected that Dora's drawing-room would be taken
away from her, but she still retained it; and after a few days the affair
of the book was almost forgotten.

There was, however, an uncomfortable and an uneasy spirit abroad in the
school. Susan Drummond, who was certainly one of the most uninteresting
girls in Lavender House, was often seen walking with and talking to Miss
Forest. Sometimes Annie shook her pretty head over Susan's remarks;
sometimes she listened to her; sometimes she laughed and spoke eagerly
for a moment or two, and appeared to acquiesce in suggestions which her
companion urged.

Annie had always been the soul of disorder--of wild pranks, of naughty
and disobedient deeds--but, hitherto, in all her wildness she had never
intentionally hurt any one but herself. Hers was a giddy and thoughtless,
but by no means a bitter tongue--she thought well of all her
schoolfellows--and on occasions she could be self-sacrificing and
good-natured to a remarkable extent. The girls of the head class took
very little notice of Annie, but her other school companions, as a rule,
succumbed to her sunny, bright, and witty ways. She offended them a
hundred times a day, and a hundred times a day was forgiven. Hester was
the first girl in the third class who had ever persistently disliked
Annie, and Annie, after making one or two overtures of friendship, began
to return Miss Thornton's aversion; but she had never cordially hated her
until the day they met in Cecil Temple's drawing-room, and Hester had
wounded Annie in her tenderest part by doubting her affection for Mrs.
Willis.

Since that day there was a change very noticeable in Annie Forest--she was
not so gay as formerly, but she was a great deal more mischievous--she was
not nearly so daring, but she was capable now of little actions, slight in
themselves, which yet were calculated to cause mischief and real
unhappiness. Her sudden friendship with Susan Drummond did her no good,
and she persistently avoided all intercourse with Cecil Temple, who
hitherto had influenced her in the right direction.

The incident of the green book had passed with no apparent result of
grave importance, but the spirit of mischief which had caused this book
to be found was by no means asleep in the school. Pranks were played in a
most mysterious fashion with the girls' properties.

Hester herself was the very next victim. She, too, was a neat and orderly
child--she was clever and thoroughly enjoyed her school work. She was
annoyed, therefore, and dreadfully puzzled, by discovering one morning
that her neat French exercise book was disgracefully blotted, and one
page torn across. She was severely reprimanded by Mdlle. Perier for such
gross untidiness and carelessness, and when she assured the governess
that she knew nothing whatever of the circumstance, that she was never
guilty of blots, and had left the book in perfect order the night before,
the French lady only shrugged her shoulders, made an expressive gesture
with her eyebrows, and plainly showed Hester that she thought the less
she said on that subject the better.

Hester was required to write out her exercise again, and she fancied she
saw a triumphant look in Annie Forest's eyes as she left the school-room,
where poor Hester was obliged to remain to undergo her unmerited
punishment.

"Cecil," called Hester, in a passionate and eager voice, as Miss Temple
was passing her place.

Cecil paused for a moment.

"What is it, Hetty?--oh, I am so sorry you must stay in this lovely
bright day."

"I have done nothing wrong," said Hester; "I never blotted this
exercise-book; I never tore this page. It is most unjust not to believe
my word; it is most unjust to punish me for what I have not done."

Miss Temple's face looked puzzled and sad.

"I must not stay to talk to you now, Hester," she whispered; "I am
breaking the rules. You can come to my drawing-room by-and-by, and we
will discuss this matter."

But Hester and Cecil, talk as they would, could find no solution to the
mystery. Cecil absolutely refused to believe that Annie Forest had
anything to do with the matter.

"No," she said, "such deceit is not in Annie's nature. I would do
anything to help you, Hester; but I can't, and I won't, believe that
Annie tried deliberately to do you any harm."

"I am quite certain she did," retorted Hester, "and from this moment I
refuse to speak to her until she confesses what she has done and
apologizes to me. Indeed, I have a great mind to go and tell everything
to Mrs. Willis."

"Oh, I would not do that," said Cecil; "none of your schoolfellows would
forgive you if you charged such a favorite as Annie with a crime which
you cannot in the least prove against her. You must be patient, Hester,
and if you are, I will take your part, and try to get at the bottom of
the mystery."

Cecil, however, failed to do so. Annie laughed when the affair was
discussed in her presence, but her clear eyes looked as innocent as the
day, and nothing would induce Cecil to doubt Miss Forest's honor.

The mischievous sprite, however, who was sowing such seeds of unhappiness
in the hitherto peaceful school was not satisfied with two deeds of
daring; for a week afterward Cecil Temple found a book of Mrs.
Browning's, out of which she was learning a piece for recitation, with
its cover half torn off, and, still worse, a caricature of Mrs. Willis
sketched with some cleverness and a great deal of malice on the
title-page. On the very same morning, Dora Russell, on opening her desk,
was seen to throw up her hands with a gesture of dismay. The neat
composition she had finished the night before was not to be seen in its
accustomed place, but in a corner of the desk were two bulky and
mysterious parcels, one of which contained a great junk of rich
plum-cake, and the other some very sticky and messy "Turkish delight;"
while the paper which enveloped these luxuries was found to be that on
which the missing composition was written. Dora's face grew very white,
she forgot the ordinary rules of the school, and, leaving her class,
walked down the room, and interrupted Miss Good, who was beginning to
instruct the third class in English grammar.

"Will you please come and see something in my desk, Miss Good?" she said
in a voice which trembled with excitement.

It was while she was speaking that Cecil found the copy of Mrs. Browning
mutilated, and with the disgraceful caricature on its title-page.
Startled as she was by this discovery, and also by Miss Russell's
extraordinary behavior, she had presence of mind enough to hide the sight
which pained her from her companions. Unobserved, in the strong interest
of the moment, for all the girls were watching Dora Russell and Miss
Good, she managed to squeeze the little volume into her pocket. She had
indeed received a great shock, for she knew well that the only girl who
could caricature in the school was Annie Forest. For a moment her
troubled eyes sought the ground, but then she raised them and looked at
Annie; Annie, however, with a particularly cheerful face, and her bright
dark eyes full of merriment, was gazing in astonishment at the scene
which was taking place in front of Miss Russell's desk.

Dora, whose enunciation was very clear, seemed to have absolutely
forgotten herself; she disregarded Miss Good's admonitions, and declared
stoutly that at such a moment she did not care what rules she broke. She
was quite determined that the culprit who had dared to desecrate her
composition, and put plum-cake and "Turkish delight" into her desk,
should be publicly exposed and punished.

"The thing cannot go on any longer, Miss Good," she said; "there is a
girl in this school who ought to be expelled from it, and I for one
declare openly that I will not submit to associate with a girl who is
worse than unladylike. If you will permit me, Miss Good, I will carry
these things at once to Mrs. Willis, and beg of her to investigate the
whole affair, and bring the culprit to justice, and to turn her out of
the school."

"Stay, Miss Russell," exclaimed the English teacher, "you strangely and
completely forget yourself. You are provoked, I own, but you have no
right to stand up and absolutely hoist the flag of rebellion in the faces
of the other girls. I cannot excuse your conduct. I will myself take away
these parcels which were found in your desk, and will report the affair
to Mrs. Willis. She will take what steps she thinks right in bringing you
to order, and in discovering the author of this mischief. Return
instantly to your desk, Miss Russell; you strangely forget yourself."

Miss Good left the room, having removed the plum-cake and "Turkish
delight" from Dora Russell's desk, and lessons continued as best they
could under such exciting circumstances.

At twelve o'clock that day, just as the girls were preparing to go up to
their rooms to get ready for their usual walk, Mrs. Willis came into the
school-room.

"Stay one moment, young ladies," said the head-mistress in that slightly
vibrating and authoritative voice of hers. "I have a word or two to say
to you all. Miss Good has just brought me a painful story of wanton and
cruel mischief. There are fifty girls in this school, who, until lately,
lived happily together. There is now one girl among the fifty whose
object it is to sow seeds of discord and misery among her companions.
Miss Good has told me of three different occasions on which mischief has
been done to different girls in the school. Twice Miss Russell's desk has
been disturbed, once Miss Thornton's. It is possible that other girls may
also have suffered who have been noble enough not to complain. There is,
however, a grave mischief, in short a moral disease in our midst. Such a
thing is worse than bodily illness--it must be stamped out instantly and
completely at the risk of any personal suffering. I am now going to ask
you, girls, a simple question, and I demand instant truth without any
reservation. Miss Russell's desk has been tampered with--Miss Thornton's
desk has been tampered with. Has any other girl suffered injury--has any
other girl's desk been touched?"

Mrs. Willis looked down the long room--her voice had reached every
corner, and the quiet, dignified, and deeply-pained expression in her
fine eyes was plainly visible to each girl in the school. Even the little
ones were startled and subdued by the tone of Mrs. Willis' voice, and one
or two of them suddenly burst into tears. Mrs. Willis paused for a full
moment, then she repeated her question.

"I insist upon knowing the exact truth, my dear children," she said
gently, but with great decision.

"My desk has also been tampered with," said Miss Temple, in a low voice.

Every one started when Cecil spoke, and even Annie Forest glanced at her
with a half-frightened and curious expression. Cecil's voice indeed was
so low, so shaken with doubt and pain, that her companions scarcely
recognized it.

"Come here, Miss Temple," said Mrs. Willis.

Cecil instantly left her desk and walked up the room.

"Your desk has also been tampered with, you say?" repeated the
head-mistress.

"Yes, madam."

"When did you discover this?"

"To-day, Mrs. Willis."

"You kept it to yourself?"

"Yes."

"Will you now repeat in the presence of the school, and in a loud enough
voice to be heard by all here, exactly what was done?"

"Pardon me," answered Cecil, and now her voice was a little less agitated
and broken, and she looked full into the face of her teacher, "I cannot
do that."

"You deliberately disobey me, Cecil?" said Mrs. Willis.

"Yes, madam."

Mrs. Willis' face flushed--she did not, however, look angry; she laid her
hand on Cecil's shoulder and looked full into her eyes.

"You are one of my best pupils, Cecil," she said tenderly. "At such a
moment as this, honor requires you to stand by your mistress. I must
insist on your telling me here and now exactly what has occurred."

Cecil's face grew whiter and whiter.

"I cannot tell you," she murmured; "it breaks my heart, but I cannot tell
you."

"You have defied me, Cecil," said Mrs. Willis in a tone of deep pain. "I
must, my dear, insist on your obedience, but not now. Miss Good, will you
take Miss Temple to the chapel? I will come to you, Cecil, in an hour's
time."

Cecil walked down the room crying silently. Her deep distress and her
very firm refusal to disclose what she knew had made a great impression
on her schoolfellows. They all felt troubled and uneasy, and Annie
Forest's face was very pale.

"This thing, this wicked, mischievous thing has gone deeper than I
feared," said Mrs. Willis, when Cecil had left the room. "Only some very
strong motive would make Cecil Temple behave as she is now doing. She is
influenced by a mistaken idea of what is right; she wishes to shield the
guilty person. I may as well tell you all, young ladies, that, dear as
Cecil is to me, she is now under the ban of my severe displeasure. Until
she confesses the truth and humbles herself before me, I cannot be
reconciled to her. I cannot permit her to associate with you. She has
done very wrong, and her punishment must be proportionately severe. There
is one chance for her, however. Will the girl whom she is mistakenly,
though generously, trying to shield, come forward and confess her guilt,
and so release poor Cecil from the terrible position in which she has
placed herself? By doing so, the girl who has caused all this misery will
at least show me that she is trying to repent?"

Mrs. Willis paused again, and now she looked down the room with a face of
almost entreaty. Several pairs of eyes were fixed anxiously on her,
several looked away, and many girls glanced in the direction of Annie
Forest, who, feeling herself suspected, returned their glances with bold
defiance, and instantly assumed her most reckless manner.

Mrs. Willis waited for a full minute.

"The culprit is not noble enough," she said then. "Now, girls, I must ask
each of you to come up one by one and deny or confess this charge. As you
do so, you are silently to leave the school-room and go up to your rooms,
and prepare for the walk which has been so painfully delayed. Miss
Conway, you are at the head of the school, will you set the example?"

One by one the girls of the head class stepped up to their teacher, and
of each one she asked the same question:

"Are you guilty?"

Each girl replied in the negative and walked out of the school-room. The
second class followed the example of the first, and then the third class
came up to their teacher. Several ears were strained to hear Annie
Forest's answer, but her eyes were lifted fearlessly to Mrs. Willis'
face, and her "No!" was heard all over the room.



CHAPTER XII.

IN THE CHAPEL.


The bright light from a full noontide sun was shining in colored bars
through the richly-painted windows of the little chapel when Mrs. Willis
sought Cecil Temple there.

Cecil's face was in many ways a remarkable one.

Her soft brown eyes were generally filled with a steadfast and kindly
ray. Gentleness was her special prerogative, but there was nothing weak
about her--hers was the gentleness of a strong, and pure, and noble soul.
To know Cecil was to love her. She was a motherless girl, and the only
child of a most indulgent father. Colonel Temple was now in India, and
Cecil was to finish her education under Mrs. Willis' care, and then, if
necessary, to join her father.

Mrs. Willis had always taken a special interest in this girl. She admired
her for her great moral worth. Cecil was not particularly clever, but she
was so studious, so painstaking, that she always kept a high place in
class. She was without doubt a religious girl, but there was nothing of
the prig about her. She was not, however, ashamed of her religion, and,
if the fitting occasion arose, she was fearless in expressing her
opinion.

Mrs. Willis used to call Cecil her "little standard-bearer," and she
relied greatly on her influence over the third-class girls. Mrs. Willis
considered the third class, perhaps, the most important in the school.
She was often heard to say:

"The girls who fill this class have come to a turning point--they have
come to the age when resolves may be made for life, and kept. The good
third-class girl is very unlikely to degenerate as she passes through the
second and first classes. On the other hand, there is very little hope
that the idle or mischievous third-class girl will mend her ways as she
goes higher in the school."

Mrs. Willis' steps were very slow, and her thoughts extremely painful, as
she entered the chapel to-day. Had any one else offered her defiance she
would have known how to deal with the culprit, but Cecil would never have
acted as she did without the strongest motive, and Mrs. Willis felt more
sorrowful than angry as she sat down by the side of her favorite pupil.

"I have kept you waiting longer than I intended, my dear," she said. "I
was unexpectedly interrupted, and I am sorry; but you have had more time
to think, Cecil."

"Yes, I have thought," answered Cecil, in a very low tone.

"And, perhaps," continued her governess, "in this quiet and beautiful and
sacred place, my dear pupil has also prayed?"

"I have prayed," said Cecil.

"Then you have been guided, Cecil," said Mrs. Willis, in a tone of
relief. "We do not come to God in our distress without being shown the
right way. Your doubts have been removed, Cecil; you can now speak fully
to me: can you not, dear?"

"I have asked God to tell me what is right," said Cecil. "I don't pretend
to know. I am very much puzzled. It seems to me that more good would be
done if I concealed what you asked me to confess in the school-room. My
own feeling is that I ought not to tell you. I know this is great
disobedience, and I am quite willing to receive any punishment you think
right to give me. Yes, I think I am quite willing to receive _any_
punishment."

Mrs. Willis put her hand on Cecil's shoulder.

"Ordinary punishments are not likely to affect you, Cecil," she said; "on
you I have no idea of inflicting extra lessons, or depriving you of
half-holidays, or even taking away your drawing-room. But there is
something else you must lose, and that I know will touch you deeply--I
must remove from you my confidence."

Cecil's face grew very pale.

"And your love, too?" she said, looking up with imploring eyes; "oh,
surely not your love as well?"

"I ask you frankly, Cecil," replied Mrs. Willis, "can perfect love exist
without perfect confidence? I would not willingly deprive you of my love,
but of necessity the love I have hitherto felt for you must be
altered--in short, the old love, which enabled me to rest on you and
trust you, will cease."

Cecil covered her face with her hands.

"This punishment is very cruel," she said. "You are right; it reaches
down to my very heart. But," she added, looking up with a strong and
sweet light in her face, "I will try and bear it, and some day you will
understand."

"Listen, Cecil," said Mrs. Willis; "you have just told me you have prayed
to God, and have asked Him to show you the right path. Now, my dear,
suppose we kneel together, and both of us ask Him to show us the way out
of this difficult matter. I want to be guided to use the right words with
you, Cecil. You want to be guided to receive the instruction which I, as
your teacher and mother-friend, would give you."

Cecil and Mrs. Willis both knelt down, and the head-mistress said a few
words in a voice of great earnestness and entreaty; then they resumed
their seats.

"Now, Cecil," said Mrs. Willis, "you must remember in listening to me
that I am speaking to you as I believe God wishes me to. If I can
convince you that you are doing wrong in concealing what you know from
me, will you act as I wish in the matter?"

"I long to be convinced," said Cecil, in a low tone.

"That is right, my dear; I can now speak to you with perfect freedom. My
words you will remember, Cecil, are now, I firmly believe, directed by
God; they are also the result of a large experience. I have trained many
girls. I have watched the phases of thought in many young minds. Cecil,
look at me. I can read you like a book."

Cecil looked up expectantly.

"Your motive for this concealment is as clear as the daylight, Cecil. You
are keeping back what you know because you want to shield some one. Am I
not right, my dear?"

The color flooded Cecil's pale face. She bent her head in silent assent,
but her eyes were too full of tears, and her lips trembled too much to
allow her to speak.

"The girl you want to defend," continued Mrs. Willis, in that clear,
patient voice of hers, "is one whom you and I both love--is one for whom
we both have prayed--is one for whom we would both gladly sacrifice
ourselves if necessary. Her name is----"

"Oh, don't," said Cecil imploringly--"don't say her name; you have no
right to suspect her."

"I must say her name, Cecil, dear. If you suspect Annie Forest, why
should not I? You do suspect her, do you not, Cecil?"

Cecil began to cry.

"I know it," continued Mrs. Willis. "Now, Cecil, we will suppose,
terrible as this suspicion is, fearfully as it pains us both, that Annie
Forest _is_ guilty. We must suppose for the sake of my argument that this
is the case. Do you not know, my dear Cecil, that you are doing the
falsest, cruelest thing by dear Annie in trying to hide her sin from me?
Suppose, just for the sake of our argument, that this cowardly conduct on
Annie's part was never found out by me; what effect would it have on
Annie herself?"

"It would save her in the eyes of the school," said Cecil.

"Just so; but God would know the truth. Her next downfall would be
deeper. In short, Cecil, under the idea of friendship you would have done
the cruelest thing in all the world for your friend."

Cecil was quite silent.

"This is one way to look at it," continued Mrs. Willis; "but there are
many other points from which this case ought to be viewed. You owe much
to Annie, but not all--you have a duty to perform to your other
schoolfellows. You have a duty to perform to me. If you possess a clue
which will enable me to convict Annie Forest of her sin, in common
justice you have no right to withhold it. Remember, that while she goes
about free and unsuspected, some other girl is under the ban--some other
girl is watched and feared. You fail in your duty to your schoolfellows
when you keep back your knowledge, Cecil. When you refuse to trust me,
you fail in your duty to your mistress; for I cannot stamp out this evil
and wicked thing from our midst unless I know all. When you conceal your
knowledge, you ruin the character of the girl you seek to shield. When
you conceal your knowledge, you go against God's express wish. There--I
have spoken to you as He directed me to speak."

Cecil suddenly sprang to her feet.

"I never thought of all these things," she said. "You are right, but it
is very hard, and mine is only a suspicion. Oh, do be tender to her,
and--forgive me--may I go away now?"

As she spoke, she pulled out the torn copy of Mrs. Browning, laid it on
her teacher's lap, and ran swiftly out of the chapel.



CHAPTER XIII.

TALKING OVER THE MYSTERY.


Annie Forest, sitting in the midst of a group of eager admirers, was
chatting volubly. Never had she been in higher spirits, never had her
pretty face looked more bright and daring.

Cecil Temple coming into the play-room, started when she saw her. Annie,
however, instantly rose from the low hassock on which she had perched
herself and, running up to Cecil, put her hand through her arm.

"We are all discussing the mystery, darling," she said; "we have
discussed it, and literally torn it to shreds, and yet never got at the
kernel. We have guessed and guessed what your motive can be in concealing
the truth from Mrs. Willis, and we all unanimously vote that you are a
dear old martyr, and that you have some admirable reason for keeping back
the truth. You cannot think what an excitement we are in--even Susy
Drummond has stayed awake to listen to our chatter. Now, Cecil, do come
and sit here in this most inviting little arm-chair, and tell us what our
dear head-mistress said to you in the chapel. It did seem so awful to
send you to the chapel, poor dear Cecil."

Cecil stood perfectly still and quiet while Annie was pouring out her
torrent of eager words; her eyes, indeed, did not quite meet her
companion's, but she allowed Annie to retain her clasp of her arm, and
she evidently listened with attention to her words. Now, however, when
Miss Forest tried to draw her into the midst of the eager and animated
group who sat round the play-room fire, she hesitated and looked
longingly in the direction of her peaceful little drawing-room. Her
hesitation, however, was but momentary. Quite silently she walked with
Annie down the large play-room and entered the group of girls.

"Here's your throne, Queen Cecil," said Annie, trying to push her into
the little arm-chair; but Cecil would not seat herself.

"How nice that you have come, Cecil!" said Mary Pierce, a second-class
girl. "I really think--we all think--that you were very brave to stand
out against Mrs. Willis as you did. Of course we are devoured with
curiosity to know what it means; arn't we, Flo?"

"Yes, we're in agonies," answered Flo Dunstan, another second-class girl.

"You will tell exactly what Mrs. Willis said, darling heroine?" proceeded
Annie in her most dulcet tones. "You concealed your knowledge, didn't
you? you were very firm, weren't you? dear, brave love!"

"For my part, I think Cecil Temple the soul of brave firmness," here
interrupted Susan Drummond. "I fancy she's as hard and firm in herself
when she wants to conceal a thing as that rocky sweetmeat which always
hurts our teeth to get through. Yes, I do fancy that."

"Oh, Susy, what a horrid metaphor!" here interrupted several girls.

One, however, of the eager group of schoolgirls had not opened her lips
or said a word; that girl was Hester Thornton. She had been drawn into
the circle by an intense curiosity; but she had made no comment with
regard to Cecil's conduct. If she knew anything of the mystery she had
thrown no light on it. She had simply sat motionless, with watchful and
alert eyes and silent tongue. Now, for the first time, she spoke.

"I think, if you will allow her, that Cecil has got something to say,"
she remarked.

Cecil glanced down at her with a very brief look of gratitude.

"Thank you, Hester," she said. "I won't keep you a moment, girls. I
cannot offer to throw any light on the mystery which makes us all so
miserable to-day; but I think it right to undeceive you with regard to
myself. I have not concealed what I know from Mrs. Willis. She is in
possession of all the facts, and what I found in my desk this morning is
now in her keeping. She has made me see that in concealing my knowledge I
was acting wrongly, and whatever pain has come to me in the matter, she
now knows all."

When Cecil had finished her sad little speech she walked straight out of
the group of girls, and, without glancing at one of them, went across the
play-room to her own compartment. She had failed to observe a quick and
startled glance from Susan Drummond's sleepy blue eyes, nor had she heard
her mutter--half to her companions, half to herself:

"Cecil is not like the rocky sweetmeat; I was mistaken in her."

Neither had Cecil seen the flash of almost triumph in Hester's eyes, nor
the defiant glance she threw at Miss Forest. Annie stood with her hands
clasped, and a little frown of perplexity between her brows, for a
moment; then she ran fearlessly down the play-room, and said in a low
voice at the other side of Cecil's curtains:

"May I come in?"

Cecil said "Yes," and Annie, entering the pretty little drawing-room,
flung her arms round Miss Temple's neck.

"Cecil," she exclaimed impulsively, "you're in great trouble. I am a
giddy, reckless thing, I know, but I don't laugh at people when they are
in real trouble. Won't you tell me all about it, Cecil?"

"I will, Annie. Sit down there and I will tell you everything. I think
you have a right to know, and I am glad you have come to me. I thought
perhaps--but no matter. Annie, can't you guess what I am going to say?"

"No, I'm sure I can't," said Annie. "I saw for a moment or two to-day
that some of those absurd girls suspected me of being the author of all
this mischief. Now, you know, Cecil, I love a bit of fun beyond words. If
there's any going on I feel nearly mad until I am in it; but what was
done to-day was not at all in accordance with my ideas of fun. To tear up
Miss Russell's essay and fill her desk with stupid plum-cake and Turkish
delight seems to me but a sorry kind of jest. Now, if I had been guilty
of that sort of thing, I'd have managed something far cleverer than that.
If _I_ had tampered with Dora Russell's desk, I'd have done the thing in
style. The dear, sweet, dignified creature should have shrieked in real
terror. You don't know, perhaps, Cecil, that our admirable Dora is no end
of a coward. I wonder what she would have said if I had put a little nest
of field-mice in her desk! I saw that the poor thing suspected me, as she
gave way to her usual little sneer about the 'under-bred girl;' but, of
course, _you_ know me, Cecil. Why, my dear Cecil, what is the matter? How
white you are, and you are actually crying! What is it, Cecil? what is
it, Cecil, darling?"

Cecil dried her eyes quickly.

"You know my pet copy of Mrs. Browning's poems, don't you, Annie?"

"Oh, yes, of course. You lent it to me one day. Don't you remember how
you made me cry over that picture of little Alice, the over-worked
factory girl? What about the book, Cecil?"

"I found the book in my desk," said Cecil, in a steady tone, and now
fixing her eyes on Annie, who knelt by her side--"I found the book in my
desk, although I never keep it there; for it is quite against the rules
to keep our recreation books in our school-desks, and you know, Annie, I
always think it is so much easier to keep these little rules. They are
matters of duty and conscience, after all. I found my copy of Mrs.
Browning in my desk this morning with the cover torn off, and with a very
painful and ludicrous caricature of our dear Mrs. Willis sketched on the
title-page."

"What?" said Annie. "No, no; impossible!"

"You know nothing about it, do you, Annie?"

"I never put it there, if that's what you mean," said Annie. But her face
had undergone a curious change. Her light and easy and laughing manner
had altered. When Cecil mentioned the caricature she flushed a vivid
crimson. Her flush had quickly died away, leaving her olive-tinted face
paler than its wont.

"I see," she said, after a long pause, "you, too, suspected me, Cecil,
and that is why you tried to conceal the thing. You know that I am the
only girl in the school who can draw caricatures, but did you suppose
that I would show _her_ dishonor? Of course things look ugly for me, if
this is what you found in your book; but I did not think that _you_ would
suspect me, Cecil."

"I will believe you, Annie," said Cecil, eagerly. "I long beyond words to
believe you. With all your faults, no one has ever yet found you out in a
lie. If you look at me, Annie, and tell me honestly that you know nothing
whatever about that caricature, I will believe you. Yes, I will believe
you fully, and I will go with you to Mrs. Willis and tell her that,
whoever did the wrong, you are innocent in this matter. Say you know
nothing about it, dear, dear Annie, and take a load off my heart."

"I never put the caricature into your book, Cecil."

"And you know nothing about it?"

"I cannot say that; I never--never put it in your book."

"Oh, Annie," exclaimed poor Cecil, "you are trying to deceive me. Why
won't you be brave? Oh, Annie, I never thought you would stoop to a lie."

"I'm telling no lie," answered Annie with sudden passion. "I do know
something about the caricature, but I never put it into that book. There!
you doubt me, you have ceased to believe me, and I won't waste any more
words on the matter."



CHAPTER XIV.

"SENT TO COVENTRY."


There were many girls in the school who remembered that dismal
half-holiday--they remembered its forced mirth and its hidden anxiety;
and as the hours flew by the suspicion that Annie Forest was the author
of all the mischief grew and deepened. A school is like a little world,
and popular opinion is apt to change with great rapidity. Annie was
undoubtedly the favorite of the school; but favorites are certain to have
enemies, and there were several girls unworthy enough and mean enough to
be jealous of poor Annie's popularity. She was the kind of girl whom only
very small natures could really dislike. Her popularity arose from the
simple fact that hers was a peculiarly joyous and unselfish nature. She
was a girl with scarcely any self-consciousness; those she loved, she
loved devotedly; she threw herself with a certain feverish impetuosity
into their lives, and made their interest her own. To get into mischief
and trouble for the sake of a friend was an every-day occurrence with
Annie. She was not the least studious; she had no one particular talent,
unless it was an untrained and birdlike voice; she was always more or
less in hot water about her lessons, always behindhand in her tasks,
always leaving undone what she should do, and doing what she should not
do. She was a contradictory, erratic creature--jealous of no one, envious
of no one--dearly loving a joke, and many times inflicting pain from
sheer thoughtlessness, but always ready to say she was sorry, always
ready to make friends again.

It is strange that such a girl as Annie should have enemies, but she had,
and in the last few weeks the feeling of jealousy and envy which had
always been smoldering in some breasts took more active form. Two reasons
accounted for this: Hester's openly avowed and persistent dislike to
Annie, and Miss Russell's declared conviction that she was under-bred and
not a lady.

Miss Russell was the only girl in the first class who had hitherto given
wild little Annie a thought.

In the first class, to-day, Annie had to act the unpleasing part of the
wicked little heroine. Miss Russell was quite certain of Annie's guilt;
she and her companions condescended to discuss poor Annie and to pull all
her little virtues to pieces, and to magnify her sins to an alarming
extent.

After two or three hours of judicious conversation, Dora Russell and most
of the other first-class girls decided that Annie ought to be expelled,
and unanimously resolved that they, at least, would do what they could to
"send her to Coventry."

In the lower part of the school Annie also had a few enemies, and these
girls, having carefully observed Hester's attitude toward her, now came
up close to this dignified little lady, and asked her boldly to declare
her opinion with regard to Annie's guilt.

Hester, without the least hesitation, assured them that "of course Annie
had done it."

"There is not room for a single doubt on the subject," she said;
"there--look at her now."

At this instant Annie was leaving Cecil's compartment, and with red eyes,
and hair, as usual, falling about her face, was running out of the
play-room. She seemed in great distress; but, nevertheless, before she
reached the door, she stopped to pick up a little girl of five, who was
fretting about some small annoyance. Annie took the little one in her
arms, kissed her tenderly, whispered some words in her ear, which caused
the little face to light up with some smiles and the round arms to clasp
Annie with an ecstatic hug. She dropped the child, who ran back to play
merrily with her companions, and left the room.

The group of middle-class girls still sat on by the fire, but Hester
Thornton now, not Annie, was the center of attraction. It was the first
time in all her young life that Hester had found herself in the enviable
position of a favorite; and without at all knowing what mischief she was
doing, she could not resist improving the occasion, and making the most
of her dislike for Annie.

Several of those who even were fond of Miss Forest came round to the
conviction that she was really guilty, and one by one, as is the fashion
not only among school girls but in the greater world outside, they began
to pick holes in their former favorite. These girls, too, resolved that,
if Annie were really so mean as maliciously to injure other girls'
property and get them into trouble, she must be "sent to Coventry."

"What's Coventry?" asked one of the little ones, the child whom Annie had
kissed and comforted, now sidling up to the group.

"Oh, a nasty place, Phena," said Mary Bell, putting her arm round the
pretty child and drawing her to her side.

"And who is going there?"

"Why, I am afraid it is naughty Annie Forest."

"She's not naughty! Annie sha'n't go to any nasty place. I hate you, Mary
Bell." The little one looked round the group with flashing eyes of
defiance, then wrenched herself away to return to her younger companions.

"It was stupid of you to say that, Mary," remarked one of the girls.
"Well," she continued, "I suppose it is all settled, and poor Annie, to
say the least of it, is not a lady. For my own part, I always thought her
great fun, but if she is proved guilty of this offense I wash my hands of
her."

"We all wash our hands of her," echoed the girls, with the exception of
Susan Drummond, who, as usual, was nodding in her chair.

"What do you say, Susy?" asked one or two; "you have not opened your lips
all this time."

"I--eh?--what?" asked Susan, stretching herself and yawning, "oh, about
Annie Forest--I suppose you are right, girls. Is not that the tea-gong?
I'm awfully hungry."

Hester Thornton went into the tea-room that evening feeling particularly
virtuous, and with an idea that she had distinguished herself in some
way.

Poor foolish, thoughtless Hester, she little guessed what seed she had
sown, and what a harvest she was preparing for her own reaping by-and-by.



CHAPTER XV.

ABOUT SOME PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT NO EVIL.


A few days after this Hester was much delighted to receive an invitation
from her little friends, the Misses Bruce. These good ladies had not
forgotten the lonely and miserable child whom they had comforted not a
little during her journey to school six weeks ago. They invited Hester to
spend the next half-holiday with them, and as this happened to fall on a
Saturday, Mrs. Willis gave Hester permission to remain with her friends
until eight o'clock, when she would send the carriage to fetch her home.

The trouble about Annie had taken place the Wednesday before, and all the
girls' heads were full of the uncleared-up mystery when Hester started on
her little expedition.

Nothing was known; no fresh light had been thrown on the subject.
Everything went on as usual within the school, and a casual observer
would never have noticed the cloud which rested over that usually happy
dwelling. A casual observer would have noticed little or no change in
Annie Forest; her merry laugh was still heard, her light step still
danced across the play-room floor, she was in her place in class, and
was, if anything, a little more attentive and a little more successful
over her lessons. Her pretty piquant face, her arch expression, the
bright, quick and droll glance which she alone could give, were still to
be seen; but those who knew her well and those who loved her best saw a
change in Annie.

In the play-room she devoted herself exclusively to the little ones; she
never went near Cecil Temple's drawing-room; she never mingled with the
girls of the middle school as they clustered round the cheerful fire. At
meal-times she ate little, and her room-fellow was heard to declare that
she was awakened more than once in the middle of the night by the sound
of Annie's sobs. In chapel, too, when she fancied herself quite
unobserved, her face wore an expression of great pain; but if Mrs. Willis
happened to glance in her direction, instantly the little mouth became
demure and almost hard, the dark eyelashes were lowered over the bright
eyes, the whole expression of the face showed the extreme of
indifference. Hester felt more sure than ever of Annie's guilt; but one
or two of the other girls in the school wavered in this opinion, and
would have taken Annie out of "Coventry" had she herself made the
smallest advance toward them.

Annie and Hester had not spoken to each other now for several days; but
on this afternoon, which was a bright one in early spring, as Hester was
changing her school-dress for her Sunday one, and preparing for her visit
to the Misses Bruce, there came a light knock at her door. She said,
"Come in!" rather impatiently, for she was in a hurry, and dreaded being
kept.

To her surprise Annie Forest put in her curly head, and then, dancing
with her usual light movement across the room, she laid a little bunch of
dainty spring flowers on the dressing-table beside Hester.

Hester stared, first at the intruder, and then at the early primroses.
She passionately loved flowers, and would have exclaimed with ecstasy at
these had any one brought them in except Annie.

"I want you," said Annie, rather timidly for her, "to take these flowers
from me to Miss Agnes and Miss Jane Bruce. It will be very kind of you if
you will take them. I am sorry to have interrupted you--thank you very
much."

She was turning away when Hester compelled herself to remark:

"Is there any message with the flowers?"

"Oh, no--only Annie Forest's love. They'll understand----" she turned
half round as she spoke, and Hester saw that her eyes had filled with
tears. She felt touched in spite of herself. There was something in
Annie's face now which reminded her of her darling little Nan at home.
She had seen the same beseeching, sorrowful look in Nan's brown eyes when
she had wanted her friends to kiss her and take her to their hearts and
love her.

Hester would not allow herself, however, to feel any tenderness toward
Annie. Of course she was not really a bit like sweet little Nan, and it
was absurd to suppose that a great girl like Annie could want caressing
and petting and soothing; still, in spite of herself, Annie's look
haunted her, and she took great care of the little flower-offering, and
presented it with Annie's message instantly on her arrival to the little
old ladies.

Miss Jane and Miss Agnes were very much pleased with the early primroses.
They looked at one another and said:

"Poor dear little girl," in tender voices, and then they put the flowers
into one of their daintiest vases, and made much of them, and showed them
to any visitors who happened to call that afternoon.

Their little house looked something like a doll's house to Hester, who
had been accustomed all her life to large rooms and spacious passages;
but it was the sweetest, daintiest, and most charming little abode in the
world. It was not unlike a nest, and the Misses Bruce in certain ways
resembled bright little robin redbreasts, so small, so neat, so chirrupy
they were.

Hester enjoyed her afternoon immensely; the little ladies were right in
their prophesy, and she was no longer lonely at school. She enjoyed
talking about her schoolfellows, about her new life, about her studies.
The Misses Bruce were decidedly fond of a gossip, but something which she
could not at all define in their manner prevented Hester from retailing
for their benefit any unkind news. They told her frankly at last that
they were only interested in the good things which went on in the school,
and that they found no pursuit so altogether delightful as finding out
the best points in all the people they came across. They would not even
laugh at sleepy, tiresome Susan Drummond; on the contrary, they pitied
her, and Miss Jane wondered if the girl could be quite well, whereupon
Miss Agnes shook her head, and said emphatically that it was Hester's
duty to rouse poor Susy, and to make her waking life so interesting to
her that she should no longer care to spend so many hours in the world of
dreams.

There is such a thing as being so kind-hearted, so gentle, so charitable
as to make the people who have not encouraged these virtues feel quite
uncomfortable. By the mere force of contrast they begin to see themselves
something as they really are. Since Hester had come to Lavender House she
had taken very little pains to please others rather than herself, and she
was now almost startled to see how she had allowed selfishness to get the
better of her. While the Misses Bruce were speaking, old longings, which
had slept since her mother's death, came back to the young girl, and she
began to wish that she could be kinder to Susan Drummond, and that she
could overcome her dislike to Annie Forest. She longed to say something
about Annie to the little ladies, but they evidently did not wish to
allude to the subject. When she was going away, they gave her a small
parcel.

"You will kindly give this to your schoolfellow, Miss Forest, Hester,
dear," they both said, and then they kissed her, and said they hoped they
should see her again; and Hester got into the old-fashioned school
brougham, and held the brown paper parcel in her hand.

As she was going into the chapel that night, Mary Bell came up to her and
whispered:

"We have not got to the bottom of that mystery about Annie Forest yet.
Mrs. Willis can evidently make nothing of her, and I believe Mr. Everard
is going to talk to her after prayers to-night."

As she was speaking, Annie herself pushed rather rudely past the two
girls; her face was flushed, and her hair was even more untidy than was
its wont.

"Here is a parcel for you, Miss Forest," said Hester, in a much more
gentle tone than she was wont to use when she addressed this
objectionable schoolmate.

All the girls were now filing into the chapel, and Hester should
certainly not have presented the little parcel at that moment.

"Breaking the rules, Miss Thornton," said Annie; "all right, toss it
here." Then, as Hester failed to comply, she ran back, knocking her
schoolfellows out of place, and, snatching the parcel from Hester's hand,
threw it high in the air. This was a piece of not only willful audacity
and disobedience, but it even savored of the profane, for Annie's step
was on the threshold of the chapel, and the parcel fell with a noisy bang
on the floor some feet inside the little building.

"Bring me that parcel, Annie Forest," whispered the stern voice of the
head-mistress.

Annie sullenly complied; but when she came up to Mrs. Willis, her
governess took her hand, and pushed her down into a low seat a little
behind her.



CHAPTER XVI.

"AN ENEMY HATH DONE THIS."


The short evening service was over, and one by one, in orderly
procession, the girls left the chapel. Annie was about to rise to her
feet to follow her school-companions, when Mrs. Willis stooped down, and
whispered something in her ear. Her face became instantly suffused with a
dull red; she resumed her seat, and buried her face in both her hands.
One or two of the girls noticed her despondent attitude as they left the
chapel, and Cecil Temple looked back with a glance of such unutterable
sympathy that Annie's proud, suffering little heart would have been
touched could she but have seen the look.

Presently the young steps died away, and Annie, raising her head, saw
that she was alone with Mr. Everard, who seated himself in the place
which Mrs. Willis had occupied by her side.

"Your governess has asked me to speak to you, my dear," he said, in his
kind and fatherly tones; "she wants us to discuss this thing which is
making you so unhappy quite fully together." Here the clergyman paused,
and noticing a sudden wistful and soft look in the girl's brown eyes, he
continued: "Perhaps, however, you have something to say to me which will
throw light on this mystery?"

"No, sir, I have nothing to say," replied Annie, and now again the sullen
expression passed like a wave over her face.

"Poor child," said Mr. Everard. "Perhaps, Annie," he continued, "you do
not quite understand me--you do not quite read my motive in talking to
you to-night. I am not here in any sense to reprove you. You are either
guilty of this sin, or you are not guilty. In either case I pity you; it
is very hard, very bitter, to be falsely accused--I pity you much if this
is the case; but it is still harder, Annie, still more bitter, still more
absolutely crushing to be accused of a sin which we are trying to
conceal. In that terrible case God Himself hides His face. Poor child,
poor child, I pity you most of all if you are guilty."

Annie had again covered her face, and bowed her head over her hands. She
did not speak for a moment, but presently Mr. Everard heard a low sob,
and then another, and another, until at last her whole frame was shaken
with a perfect tempest of weeping.

The old clergyman, who had seen many strange phases of human nature, who
had in his day comforted and guided more than one young school-girl, was
far too wise to do anything to check this flow of grief. He knew Annie
would speak more fully and more frankly when her tears were over. He was
right. She presently raised a very tear-stained face to the clergyman.

"I felt very bitter at your coming to speak to me," she began. "Mrs.
Willis has always sent for you when everything else has failed with us
girls, and I did not think she would treat me so. I was determined not to
say anything to you. Now, however, you have spoken good words to me, and
I can't turn away from you. I will tell you all that is in my heart. I
will promise before God to conceal nothing, if only you will do one thing
for me."

"What is that, my child?"

"Will you believe me?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Ah, but you have not been tried yet. I thought Mrs. Willis would
certainly believe; but she said the circumstantial evidence was too
strong--perhaps it will be too strong for you."

"I promise to believe you, Annie Forest; if, before God, you can assure
me that you are speaking the whole truth, I will fully believe you."

Annie paused again, then she rose from her seat and stood a pace away
from the old minister.

"This is the truth before God," she said, as she locked her two hands
together and raised her eyes freely and unshrinkingly to Mr. Everard's
face.

"I have always loved Mrs. Willis. I have reasons for loving her which the
girls don't know about. The girls don't know that when my mother was
dying she gave me into Mrs. Willis' charge, and she said, 'You must keep
Annie until her father comes back.' Mother did not know where father was;
but she said he would be sure to come back some day, and look for mother
and me; and Mrs. Willis said she would keep me faithfully until father
came to claim me. That is four years ago, and my father has never come,
nor have I heard of him, and I think, I am almost sure, that the little
money which mother left must be all used up. Mrs. Willis never says
anything about money, and she did not wish me to tell my story to the
girls. None of them know except Cecil Temple. I am sure some day father
will come home, and he will give Mrs. Willis back the money she has spent
on me; but never, never, never can he repay her for her goodness to me.
You see I cannot help loving Mrs. Willis. It is quite impossible for any
girl to have such a friend and not to love her. I know I am very wild,
and that I do all sorts of mad things. It seems to me that I cannot help
myself sometimes; but I would not willingly, indeed, I would not
willingly hurt anybody. Last Wednesday, as you know, there was a great
disturbance in the school. Dora Russell's desk was tampered with, and so
was Cecil Temple's. You know, of course, what was found in both the
desks. Mrs. Willis sent for me, and asked me about the caricature which
was drawn in Cecil's book. I looked at it and I told her the truth. I did
not conceal one thing. I told her the whole truth as far as I knew it.
She did not believe me. She said so. What more could I do then?"

Here Annie paused; she began to unclasp and clasp her hands, and she
looked full at Mr. Everard with a most pleading expression.

"Do you mind repeating to me exactly what you said to your governess?" he
questioned.

"I said this, sir. I said, 'Yes, Mrs. Willis, I did draw that caricature.
You will scarcely understand how I, who love you so much, could have been
so mad and ungrateful as to do anything to turn you into ridicule. I
would cut off my right hand now not to have done it; but I did do it, and
I must tell you the truth.' 'Tell me, dear,' she said, quite gently then.
'It was one wet afternoon about a fortnight ago,' I said to her; 'a lot
of us middle-school girls were sitting together, and I had a pencil and
some bits of paper, and I was making up funny little groups of a lot of
us, and the girls were screaming with laughter, for somehow I managed to
make the likeness that I wanted in each case. It was very wrong of me, I
know. It was against the rules, but I was in one of my maddest humors,
and I really did not care what the consequences were. At last one of the
girls said: 'You won't dare to make a picture like that of Mrs. Willis,
Annie--you know you won't dare.' The minute she said that name I began to
feel ashamed. I remembered I was breaking one of the rules, and I
suddenly tore up all my bits of paper and flung them into the fire, and I
said: 'No, I would not dare to show her dishonor.' Well, afterward, as I
was washing my hands for tea up in my room, the temptation came over me
so strongly that I felt I could not resist it, to make a funny little
sketch of Mrs. Willis. I had a little scrap of thin paper, and I took out
my pencil and did it all in a minute. It seemed to me very funny, and I
could not help laughing at it; and then I thrust it into my private
writing-case, which I always keep locked, and I put the key in my pocket
and ran downstairs. I forgot all about the caricature. I had never shown
it to any one. How it got into Cecil's book is more than I can say. When
I had finished speaking Mrs. Willis looked very hard at the book. 'You
are right,' she said; 'this caricature is drawn on a very thin piece of
paper, which has been cleverly pasted on the title-page.' Then, Mr.
Everard, she asked me a lot of questions. Had I ever parted with my keys?
Had I ever left my desk unlocked? 'No,' I said, 'my desk is always
locked, and my keys are always in my pocket. Indeed,' I added, 'my keys
were absolutely safe for the last week, for they went in a white
petticoat to the wash, and came back as rusty as possible.' I could not
open my desk for a whole week, which was a great nuisance. I told all
this story to Mrs. Willis, and she said to me: 'You are positively
certain that this caricature has been taken out of your desk by somebody
else, and pasted in here? You are sure that the caricature you drew is
not to be found in your desk?' 'Yes,' I said; 'how can I be anything but
sure; these are my pencil marks, and that is the funny little turn I gave
to your neck which made me laugh when I drew it. Yes; I am certainly
sure.'

"'I have always been told, Annie,' Mrs. Willis said, 'that you are the
only girl in the school who can draw these caricatures. You have never
seen an attempt at this kind of drawing among your schoolfellows, or
among any of the teachers?'

"'I have never seen any of them try this special kind of drawing,' I
said. 'I wish I was like them. I wish I had never, never done it.'

"'You have got your keys now?' Mrs. Willis said.

"'Yes,' I answered, pulling them all covered with rust out of my pocket.

"Then she told me to leave the keys on the table, and to go upstairs and
fetch down my little private desk.

"I did so, and she made me put the rusty key in the lock and open the
desk, and together we searched through its contents. We pulled out
everything, or rather I did, and I scattered all my possessions about on
the table, and then I looked up almost triumphantly at Mrs. Willis.

"'You see the caricature is not here,' I said; 'somebody picked the lock
and took it away.'

"'This lock has not been picked,' Mrs. Willis said; 'and what is that
little piece of white paper sticking out of the private drawer?'

"'Oh, I forgot my private drawer,' I said; 'but there is nothing in
it--nothing whatever,' and then I touched the spring, and pulled it open,
and there lay the little caricature which I had drawn in the bottom of
the drawer. There it lay, not as I had left it, for I had never put it
into the private drawer. I saw Mrs. Willis' face turn very white, and I
noticed that her hands trembled. I was all red myself, and very hot, and
there was a choking lump in my throat, and I could not have got a single
word out even if I had wished to. So I began scrambling the things back
into my desk, as hard as ever I could, and then I locked it, and put the
rusty keys back in my pocket.

"'What am I to believe now, Annie?' Mrs. Willis said.

"'Believe anything you like now,' I managed to say; and then I took my
desk and walked out of the room, and would not wait even though she
called me back.

"That is the whole story, Mr. Everard," continued Annie. "I have no
explanation whatever to give. I did make the one caricature of my dear
governess. I did not make the other. The second caricature is certainly a
copy of the first, but I did not make it. I don't know who made it. I
have no light whatever to throw on the subject. You see after all," added
Annie Forest, raising her eyes to the clergyman's face, "it is impossible
for you to believe me. Mrs. Willis does not believe me, and you cannot be
expected to. I don't suppose you are to be blamed. I don't see how you
can help yourself."

"The circumstantial evidence is very strong against you, Annie," replied
the clergyman; "still, I promised to believe, and I have no intention of
going back from my word. If, in the presence of God in this little
church, you would willingly and deliberately tell me a lie I should never
trust human being again. No, Annie Forest, you have many faults, but you
are not a liar. I see the impress of truth on your brow, in your eyes, on
your lips. This is a very painful mystery, my child; but I believe you. I
am going to see Mrs. Willis now. God bless you, Annie. Be brave, be
courageous, don't foster malice in your heart to any unknown enemy. An
enemy has truly done this thing, poor child; but God Himself will bring
this mystery to light. Trust Him, my dear; and now I am going to see Mrs.
Willis."

While Mr. Everard was speaking, Annie's whole expressive face had
changed; the sullen look had left it; the eyes were bright with renewed
hope; the lips had parted in smiles. There was a struggle for speech, but
no words came: the young girl stooped down and raised the old clergyman's
withered hands to her lips.

"Let me stay here a little longer," she managed to say at last; and then
he left her.



CHAPTER XVII.

"THE SWEETS ARE POISONED."


"I think, my dear madam," said Mr. Everard to Mrs. Willis, "that you must
believe your pupil. She has not refused to confess to you from any
stubbornness, but from the simple reason that she has nothing to confess.
I am firmly convinced that things are as she stated them, Mrs. Willis.
There is a mystery here which we neither of us can explain, but which we
must unravel."

Then Mrs. Willis and the clergyman had a long and anxious talk together.
It lasted for a long time, and some of its results at least were manifest
the next morning, for, just before the morning's work began, Mrs. Willis
came to the large school-room, and, calling Annie Forest to her side,
laid her hand on the young girl's shoulder.

"I wish to tell you all, young ladies," she said, "that I completely and
absolutely exonerate Annie Forest from having any part in the disgraceful
occurrence which took place in this school-room a short time ago. I
allude, of course, as you all know, to the book which was found tampered
with in Cecil Temple's desk. Some one else in this room is guilty, and
the mystery has still to be unraveled, and the guilty girl has still to
come forward and declare herself. If she is willing at this moment to
come to me here, and fully and freely confess her sin, I will quite
forgive her."

The head mistress paused, and, still with her hand on Annie's shoulder,
looked anxiously down the long room. The love and forgiveness which she
felt shone in her eyes at this moment. No girl need have feared aught but
tenderness from her just then.

No one stirred; the moment passed, and a look of sternness returned to
the mistress' fine face.

"No," she said, in her emphatic and clear tones, "the guilty girl prefers
waiting until God discovers her sin for her. My dear, whoever you are,
that hour is coming, and you cannot escape from it. In the meantime,
girls, I wish you all to receive Annie Forest as quite innocent. I
believe in her, so does Mr. Everard, and so must you. Any one who treats
Miss Forest except as a perfectly innocent and truthful girl incurs my
severe displeasure. My dear, you may return to your seat."

Annie, whose face was partly hidden by her curly hair during the greater
part of this speech, now tossed it back, and raised her brown eyes with a
look of adoration in them to her teacher. Mrs. Willis' face, however,
still looked harassed. Her eyes met Annie's, but no corresponding glow
was kindled in them; their glance was just, calm, but cold.

The childish heart was conscious of a keen pang of agony, and Annie went
back to her lessons without any sense of exultation.

The fact was this: Mrs. Willis' judgment and reason had been brought
round by Mr. Everard's words, but in her heart of hearts, almost unknown
to herself, there still lingered a doubt of the innocence of her wayward
and pretty pupil. She said over and over to herself that she really now
quite believed in Annie Forest, but then would come those whisperings
from her pained and sore heart.

"Why did she ever make a caricature of one who has been as a mother to
her? If she made one caricature, could she not make another? Above all
things, if _she_ did not do it, who did?"

Mrs. Willis turned away from these unpleasant whispers--she would not let
them stay with her, and turned a deaf ear to their ugly words. She had
publicly declared in the school her belief in Annie's absolute innocence,
but at the moment when her pupil looked up at her with a world of love
and adoration in her gaze, she found to her own infinite distress that
she could not give her the old love.

Annie went back to her companions, and bent her head over her lessons,
and tried to believe that she was very thankful and very happy, and Cecil
Temple managed to whisper a gentle word of congratulation to her, and at
the twelve o'clock walk Annie perceived that a few of her schoolfellows
looked at her with friendly eyes again. She perceived now that when she
went into the play-room she was not absolutely tabooed, and that, if she
chose, she might speedily resume her old reign of popularity. Annie had,
to a remarkable extent, the gift of inspiring love, and her old favorites
would quickly have flocked back to their sovereign had she so willed it.
It is certainly true that the girls to whom the whole story was known in
all its bearings found it difficult to understand how Annie could be
innocent; but Mr. Everard's and Mrs. Willis' assertions were too potent
to be disregarded, and most of the girls were only too willing to let the
whole affair slide from their minds, and to take back their favorite
Annie to their hearts again.

Annie, however, herself did not so will it. In the play-room she
fraternized with the little ones who were alike her friends in adversity
and sunshine; she rejected almost coldly the overtures of her old
favorites, but played, and romped, and was merry with the children of the
sixth class. She even declined Cecil's invitation to come and sit with
her in her drawing-room.

"Oh, no," she said. "I hate being still; I am in no humor for talk.
Another time, Cecil, another time. Now then, Sybil, my beauty, get well
on my back, and I'll be the willing dog carrying you round and round the
room."

Annie's face had not a trace of care or anxiety on it, but her eyes would
not quite meet Cecil's, and Cecil sighed as she turned away, and her
heart, too, began to whisper little, mocking, ugly doubts of poor Annie.

During the half-hour before tea that evening Annie was sitting on the
floor with a small child in her lap, and two other little ones tumbling
about her, when she was startled by a shower of lollipops being poured
over her head, down her neck, and into her lap. She started up and met
the sleepy gaze of Susan Drummond.

"That's to congratulate you, miss," said Susan; "you're a very lucky girl
to have escaped as you did."

The little ones began putting Susan's lollipops vigorously into their
mouths. Annie sprang to her feet shaking the sticky sweetmeats out of her
dress on to the floor.

"What have I escaped from?" she asked, turning round and facing her
companion haughtily.

"Oh, dear me!" said Susan, stepping back a pace or two. "I--ah--"
stifling a yawn--"I only meant you were very near getting into an ugly
scrape. It's no affair of mine, I'm sure; only I thought you'd like the
lollipops."

"No, I don't like them at all," said Annie, "nor you, either. Go back to
your own companions, please."

Susan sulkily walked away, and Annie stooped down on the floor.

"Now, little darlings," she said, "you mustn't eat those. No, no, they
are not good at all; and they have come from one of Annie's enemies. Most
likely they are full of poison. Let us collect them all, every one, and
we will throw them into the fire before we go to tea."

"But I don't think there's any poison in them," said little Janie West in
a regretful tone, as she gobbled down a particularly luscious chocolate
cream; "they are all big, and fat, and bursty, and _so_ sweet, Annie,
dear."

"Never mind, Janie, they are dangerous sweeties all the same. Come, come,
throw them into my apron, and I will run over and toss them into the
fire, and we'll have time for a game of leap-frog before tea; oh, fie,
Judy," as a very small fat baby began to whimper, "you would not eat the
sweeties of one of Annie's enemies."

This last appeal was successful. The children made a valiant effort, and
dashed the tempting goodies into Annie's alapaca apron. When they were
all collected, she marched up the play-room and in the presence of Susan
Drummond, Hester Thornton, Cecil Temple, and several more of her school
companions, threw them into the fire.

"So much for _that_ overture, Miss Drummond," she said, making a mock
courtesy, and returning once more to the children.



CHAPTER XVIII.

IN THE HAMMOCK.


Just at this time the weather suddenly changed. After the cold and
dreariness of winter came soft spring days--came longer evenings and
brighter mornings.

Hester Thornton found that she could dress by daylight, then that she was
no longer cold and shivering when she reached the chapel, then that she
began intensely to enjoy her mid-day walk, then that she found her winter
things a little too hot, until at last, almost suddenly it seemed to the
expectant and anxious girls, glorious spring weather broke upon the
world, the winds were soft and westerly, the buds swelled and swelled
into leaf on the trees, and the flowers bloomed in the delightful
old-fashioned gardens of Lavender House. Instantly, it seemed to the
girls, their whole lives had altered. The play-room was deserted or only
put up with on wet days. At twelve o'clock, instead of taking a
monotonous walk on the roads, they ran races, played tennis, croquet, or
any other game they liked best in the gardens. Later on in the day, when
the sun was not so powerful, they took their walk; but even then they had
time to rush back to their beloved shady garden for a little time before
tea and preparation for their next day's work. Easter came this year
about the middle of April, and Easter found these girls almost enjoying
summer weather. How they looked forward to their few Easter holidays!
what plans they made, what tennis matches were arranged, what games and
amusements of all sorts were in anticipation! Mrs. Willis herself
generally went away for a few days at Easter; so did the French
governess, and the school was nominally placed under the charge of Miss
Good and Miss Danesbury. Mrs. Willis did not approve of long Easter
holidays; she never gave more than a week, and in consequence only the
girls who lived quite near went home. Out of the fifty girls who resided
at Lavender House about ten went away at Easter; the remaining forty
stayed behind, and were often heard to declare that holidays at Lavender
House were the most delightful things in the world.

At this particular Easter time the girls were rather surprised to hear
that Mrs. Willis had made up her mind not to go away as usual; Miss Good
was to have a holiday, and Mrs. Willis and Miss Danesbury were to look
after the school. This was felt to be an unusual, indeed unheard of,
proceeding, and the girls commented about it a good deal, and somehow,
without absolutely intending to do so, they began to settle in their own
minds that Mrs. Willis was staying in the school on account of Annie
Forest, and that in her heart of hearts she did not absolutely believe in
her innocence. Mrs. Willis certainly gave the girls no reason to come to
this conclusion; she was consistently kind to Annie, and had apparently
quite restored her to her old place in her favor. Annie was more gentle
than of old, and less inclined to get into scrapes; but the girls loved
her far less in her present unnatural condition of reserve and good
behavior than they did in her old daring and hoydenish days. Cecil Temple
always spent Easter with an old aunt who lived in a neighboring town; she
openly said this year that she did not wish to go away, but her governess
would not allow her to change her usual plans, and she left Lavender
House with a curious feeling of depression and coming trouble. As she was
getting into the cab which was to take her to the station Annie flew to
her side, threw a great bouquet of flowers which she had gathered into
her lap, and, flinging her arms tightly round her neck, whispered
suddenly and passionately:

"Oh, Cecil, believe in me."

"I--I--I don't know that I don't," said Cecil, rather lamely.

"No, Cecil, you don't--not in your heart of hearts. Neither you nor Mrs.
Willis--you neither of you believe in me from the very bottom of your
hearts; oh, it is hard!"

Annie gave vent to a little sob, sprang away from Cecil's arms, and
disappeared into a shrubbery close by.

She stayed there until the sound of the retreating cab died away in the
avenue, then, tossing back her hair, rearranging her rather tattered
garden hat, and hastily wiping some tears from her eyes, she came out
from her retreat, and began to look around her for some amusement. What
should she do? Where should she go? How should she occupy herself? Sounds
of laughter and merriment filled the air; the garden was all alive with
gay young figures running here and there. Girls stood in groups under the
horse-chestnut tree--girls walked two and two up the shady walk at the
end of the garden--little ones gamboled and rolled on the grass--a tennis
match was going on vigorously, and the croquet ground was occupied by
eight girls of the middle school. Annie was one of the most successful
tennis players in the school; she had indeed a gift for all games of
skill, and seldom missed her mark. Now she looked with a certain wistful
longing toward the tennis-court; but, after a brief hesitation, she
turned away from it and entered the shady walk at the farther end of the
garden. As she walked along, slowly, meditatively, and sadly, her eyes
suddenly lighted up. Glancing to one of the tall trees she saw a hammock
suspended there which had evidently been forgotten during the winter. The
tree was not yet quite in leaf, and it was very easy for Annie to climb
up its branches to re-adjust the hammock, and to get into it. After its
winter residence in the tree this soft couch was found full of withered
leaves, and otherwise rather damp and uncomfortable. Annie tossed the
leaves on to the ground, and laughed as she swung herself gently backward
and forward. Early as the season still was the sun was so bright and the
air so soft that she could not but enjoy herself, and she laughed with
pleasure, and only wished that she had a fairy tale by her side to help
to soothe her off to sleep.

In the distance she heard some children calling "Annie," "Annie Forest;"
but she was far too comfortable and too lazy to answer them, and
presently she closed her eyes and really did fall asleep.

She was awakened by a very slight sound--by nothing more nor less than
the gentle and very refined conversation of two girls, who sat under the
oak tree in which Annie's hammock swung. Hearing the voices, she bent a
little forward, and saw that the speakers were Dora Russell and Hester
Thornton. Her first inclination was to laugh, toss down some leaves, and
instantly reveal herself; the next she drew back hastily, and began to
listen with all her ears.

"I never liked her," said Hester--"I never even from the very first
pretended to like her. I think she is under-bred, and not fit to
associate with the other girls in the school-room."

"She is treated with most unfair partiality," retorted Miss Russell in
her thin and rather bitter voice. "I have not the smallest doubt, not the
smallest, that she was guilty of putting those messes into my desk, of
destroying my composition, and of caricaturing Mrs. Willis in Cecil
Temple's book. I wonder after that Mrs. Willis did not see through her,
but it is astonishing to what lengths favoritism will carry one. Mrs.
Willis and Mr. Everard are behaving in a very unfair way to the rest of
us in upholding this commonplace, disagreeable girl; but it will be to
Mrs. Willis' own disadvantage. Hester, I am, as you know, leaving school
at midsummer, and I shall certainly use all my influence to induce my
father and mother not to send the younger girls here; they could not
associate with a person like Miss Forest."

"I never take much notice of her," said Hester; "but of course what you
say is quite right, Dora. You have great discrimination, and your sisters
might possibly be taken in by her."

"Oh, not at all, I assure you; they know a true lady when they see her.
However, they must not be imperilled. I will ask my parents to send them
to Mdlle. Lablanché. I hear that her establishment is most _recherché_."

"Mrs. Willis is very nice herself, and so are most of the girls," said
Hester, after a pause. Then they were both silent, for Hester had stooped
down to examine some little fronds and moss which grew at the foot of the
tree. After a pause, Hester said:

"I don't think Annie is the favorite she was with the girls."

"Oh, of course not; they all, in their heart of hearts, know she is
guilty. Will you come indoors, and have tea with me in my drawing-room,
Hester?"

The two girls walked slowly away, and presently Annie let herself gently
out of her hammock and dropped to the ground.

She had heard every word; she had not revealed herself, and a new and
terrible--and, truth to say, absolutely foreign--sensation from her true
nature now filled her mind. She felt that she almost hated these two who
had spoken so cruelly, so unjustly of her. She began to trace her
misfortunes and her unhappiness to the date of Hester's entrance into the
school. Even more than Dora Russell did she dislike Hester; she made up
her mind to revenge herself on both these girls. Her heart was very, very
sore; she missed the old words, the old love, the old brightness, the old
popularity; she missed the mother-tones in Mrs. Willis' voice--her heart
cried out for them, at night she often wept for them. She became more and
more sure that she owed all her misfortunes to Hester, and in a smaller
degree to Dora. Dora believed that she had deliberately insulted her, and
injured her composition, when she knew herself that she was quite
innocent of even harboring such a thought, far less carrying it into
effect. Well, now, she would really do something to injure both these
girls, and perhaps the carrying out of her revenge would satisfy her sore
heart.



CHAPTER XIX.

CUP AND BALL.


Just toward the end of the Easter holidays, Hester Thornton was thrown
into a great tumult of excitement, of wonder, of half regret and half
joy, by a letter which she received from her father. In this letter he
informed her that he had made up his mind to break up his establishment
for several years, to go abroad, and to leave Hester altogether under
Mrs. Willis' care.

When Hester had read so far, she flung her letter on the table, put her
head into her hands, and burst into tears.

"Oh, how cruel of father!" she exclaimed; "how am I to live without ever
going home--how am I to endure life without seeing my little Nan?"

Hester cried bitterly; the strongest love of her nature was now given to
this pretty and sweet little sister, and dismal pictures rose rapidly
before her of Nan growing up without in the least remembering
her--perhaps, still worse, of Nan being unkindly treated and neglected by
strangers. After a long pause, she raised her head, wiped her eyes, and
resumed her letter. Now, indeed, she started with astonishment, and gave
an exclamation of delight--Sir John Thornton had arranged that Mrs.
Willis was also to receive little Nan, although she was younger than any
other child present in the school. Hester scarcely waited to finish her
letter. She crammed it into her pocket, rushed up to Susan Drummond, and
astonished that placid young lady by suddenly kissing her.

"Nan is coming, Susy!" she exclaimed; "dear, darling, lovely little Nan
is coming--oh, I am so happy!"

She was far too impatient to explain matters to stolid Susan, and danced
down stairs, her eyes sparkling and smiles on her lips. It was nothing to
her now how long she stayed at school--her heart's treasure would be with
her there, and she could not but feel happy.

After breakfast Mrs. Willis sent for her, and told her what arrangements
were being made; she said that she was going to remove Susan Drummond out
of Hester's bedroom, in order that Hester might enjoy her little sister's
company at night. She spoke very gently, and entered with full sympathy
into the girl's delight over the little motherless sister, and Hester
felt more drawn to her governess than she had ever been.

Nan was to arrive at Lavender House on the following evening, and for the
first week her nurse was to remain with her until she got accustomed to
her new life.

The morning of the day of Nan's arrival was also the last of the Easter
holidays, and Hester, awakening earlier than her wont, lay in bed, and
planned what she would do to welcome the little one.

The idea of having Nan with her continually had softened Hester. She was
not unhappy in her school-life--indeed, there was much in its monotonous,
busy, and healthy occupation to stimulate and rouse the good in her. Her
intellect was being vigorously exercised, and, by contact with her
schoolfellows, her character was being molded; but the perfect harmony
and brightness of the school had been much interrupted since Hester's
arrival; her dislike to Annie Forest had been unfortunate in more ways
than one, and that dislike, which was increasing each day, was hardening
Hester's heart.

But it was not hard this morning--all that was sweetest, and softest, and
best in her had come to the surface--the little sister, whom her mother
had left in her charge, was now to be her daily and hourly companion. For
Nan's sake, then, she must be very good; her deeds must be gentle and
kind, and her thoughts charitable. Hester had an instinctive feeling that
baby eyes saw deep below the surface; Hester felt if Nan were to lose
even a shadow of her faith in her she could almost die of shame.

Hester had been very proud of Dora Russell's friendship. Never before had
it been known in the school that a first-class girl took a third into
such close companionship, and Hester's little head had been slightly
turned by the fact. Her better judgment and her better nature had been
rather blinded by the fascinations of this tall, graceful, satirical
Dora. She had been weak enough to agree with Dora with her lips when in
her heart of hearts she knew she was all wrong. By nature Hester was an
honorable girl, with many fine traits in her character--by nature Dora
was small and mean and poor of soul.

This morning Hester ran up to her favorite.

"Little Nan is coming to-night," she said.

Dora was talking at the moment to Miss Maitland, another first-class
girl, and the two stared rather superciliously at Hester, and, after a
pause, Dora said in her finest drawl:

"Who _is_ little Nan?"

It was Hester's turn to stare, for she had often spoken of Nan to this
beloved friend, who had listened to her narrative and had appeared to
sympathize.

"My little sister, of course," she exclaimed. "I have often talked to you
about her, Dora. Are you not glad she is coming?"

"No, my dear child, I can't say that I am. If you wish to retain my
friendship, Hester, you must be careful to keep the little mite away from
me; I can't bear small children."

Hester walked away with her heart swelling, and she fancied she heard the
two elder girls laughing as she left the play-room.

Many other girls, however, in the school thoroughly sympathized with
Hester, and among them no one was more delighted than Susan Drummond.

"I am awfully good-natured not to be as cross as two sticks, Hetty," she
exclaimed, "for I am being turned out of my comfortable room; and whose
room do you suppose I am now to share? why, that little imp Annie
Forest's." But Hester felt charitable, even toward Annie, on this happy
day.

In the evening little Nan arrived. She was a very pretty, dimpled,
brown-eyed creature, of just three years of age. She had all the
imperious ways of a spoilt baby, and, evidently, fear was a word not to
be found in her vocabulary. She clung to Hester, but smiled and nodded to
the other girls, who made advances to her, and petted her, and thought
her a very charming baby. Beside Nan, all the other little girls in the
school looked old. She was quite two years the youngest, and it was soon
very evident that she would establish that most imperious of all
reigns--a baby reign--in the school.

Hester fondled her and talked to her, and the little thing sat on her
knee and stroked her face.

"Me like 'oo, Hetty," she said several times, and she added many other
endearing and pretty words which caused Hester's heart to swell with
delight.

In the midst of their happy little talk together Annie Forest, in her
usual careless fashion, entered the play-room. She alone, of all the
girls, had taken no notice of the new plaything. She walked to her usual
corner, sat down on the floor, and began to play cup and ball for the
benefit of two or three of the smallest children. Hester did not regard
her in the least; she sat with Nan on her knee, stroking back her sunny
curls, and remarking on her various charms to several of the girls who
sat round her.

"See, how pretty that dimple in her chin is," she said, "and oh, my pet,
your eyes look wiser, and bigger, and saucier than ever. Look at me, Nan;
look at your own Hetty."

Nan's attention, however, was diverted by the gaily-painted cup and ball
which Annie was using with her wonted dexterity.

"Dat a pitty toy," she said, giving one quick and rather solemn glance at
her sister, and again fixing her admiring gaze on the cup and ball.

Annie Forest had heard the words, and she darted a sudden, laughing look
at the little one. Annie's power over children was well known. Nan began
to wriggle on Hester's knee.

"Dat a pitty lady," she said again, "and that a pitty, tibby [little]
toy; Nan go see."

In an instant, before Hester could prevent her, she had trotted across
the room, and was kneeling with the other children and shouting with
delight over Annie's play.

"She'll get her, you'll see, Hester," said one of the girls maliciously;
"she'll soon be much fonder of Annie Forest than of you. Annie wins the
heart of every little child in the school."

"She won't win my Nan's from me," said Hester in a confident tone; but in
spite of her words a great pang of jealousy had gone through her. She
rose to her seat and followed her little sister.

"Nan, you are sleepy, you must go to bed."

"No, no, Hetty; me not s'eepy, me kite awake; go 'way, Hetty, Nan want to
see the pitty tibby toy."

Annie raised her eyes to Hester's. She did not really want to be unkind,
and at that moment it had certainty never entered into her head to steal
Hester's treasure from her, but she could not help a look of suppressed
delight and triumph filling her eyes.

Hester could scarcely bear the look; she stooped down, and taking one of
Nan's little dimpled hands tried to drag her away.

Instantly Annie threw the cup and ball on the floor.

"The play is all over to-night, little darling," she said; "give Annie
Forest one kiss, and run to bed with sister Hester."

Nan, who had been puckering up her face to cry, smiled instantly; then
she scrambled to her feet, and flung her little fat arms round Annie's
neck.

"Dat a vedy pitty p'ay," she said in a patronizing tone, "and me like
'oo, me do."

Then she gave her hand willingly to Hester, and trotted out of the
play-room by her side.



CHAPTER XX.

IN THE SOUTH PARLOR.


Immediately after Easter the real excitement of the school-year began.
All the girls who had ambition, who had industry, and who had a desire to
please distant fathers, mothers, or guardians, worked hard for that great
day at midsummer when Mrs. Willis distributed her valuable prizes.

From the moment of Hester's entrance into the school she had heard this
day spoken of. It was, without doubt, the greatest day of the year at
Lavender House. Smaller prizes were given at Christmas, but the great
honors were always reserved for this long sunshiny June day, when Mrs.
Willis herself presented her marks of approbation to her successful
pupils.

The girls who had lived in the school for two or three years gave Hester
vivid descriptions of the excitements, the pleasures, the delights of
this day of days. In the first place it was the first of the holidays, in
the second it was spent almost from morning to night in the open air--for
a great tent was erected on the lawn; and visitors thronged to Lavender
House, and fathers and mothers, and aunts and uncles, arrived from a
distance to witness the triumphs of the favored children who had won the
prizes. The giving away of the prizes was, of course, _the_ event of the
day; but there were many other minor joys. Always in the evenings there
was some special entertainment. These entertainments differed from year
to year, Mrs. Willis allowing the girls to choose them for themselves,
and only making one proviso, that they must take all the trouble, and all
the pains--in short, that they themselves must be the entertainers. One
year they had tableaux vivants; another a fancy ball, every pretty dress
of which had been designed by themselves, and many even made by their own
industrious little fingers. Mrs. Willis delighted in the interest and
occupation that this yearly entertainment gave to her pupils, and she not
only encouraged them in their efforts to produce something very unique
and charming, but took care that they should have sufficient time to work
up their ideas properly. Always after Easter she gave the girls of the
three first classes two evenings absolutely to themselves; and these they
spent in a pretty room called the south parlor, which belonged to Mrs.
Willis' part of the house, and was rarely used, except for these great
preparations.

Hester, therefore, after Easter found her days very full indeed. Every
spare moment she devoted to little Nan, but she was quite determined to
win a substantial prize, and she was also deeply interested in various
schemes proposed in the south parlor.

With regard to prizes, Mrs. Willis also went on a plan of her own. Each
girl was expected to come up to a certain standard of excellence in all
her studies, and if she fell very much below this standard she was not
allowed to try for any prize; if she came up to it, she could select one
subject, but only one, for competition.

On the Monday after the Easter holidays the special subjects for the
midsummer prizes were given out, and the girls were expected to send in
their answers as to the special prize they meant to compete for by the
following Friday.

When this day arrived Hester Thornton and Dora Russell both discovered
that they had made the same choice--they were going to try for the
English composition prize. This subject always obtained one of the most
costly prizes, and several of the girls shook their heads over Hester's
choice.

"You are very silly to try for that, Hetty," they exclaimed, "for Mrs.
Willis has such queer ideas with regard to English composition. Of
course, we go in for it in a general way, and learn the rules of grammar
and punctuation, and so forth, but Mrs. Willis says that schoolgirls'
themes are so bad and affected, as a rule, and she says she does not
think any one will go in for her pet prize who has not natural ability.
In consequence, she gives only one prize for composition between the
three first classes. You had better change your mind, Hetty, before it is
too late, for much older girls will compete with you, and there are
several who are going to try."

Hester, however, only smiled, and assured her eager friend that she would
stick to her pet subject, and try to do the best she could.

On the morning when the girls signified their choice of subject, Mrs.
Willis came into the school-room and made one of her little yearly
speeches with regard to the right spirit in which her girls should try
for these honors. The few and well-chosen words of the head mistress
generally roused those girls who loved her best to a fever of enthusiasm,
and even Hester, who was comparatively a newcomer, felt a great wish, as
she listened to that clear and vibrating voice and watched the many
expressions which passed over the noble face, that she might find
something beyond the mere earthly honor and glory of success in this
coming trial. Having finished her little speech, Mrs. Willis made several
remarks with regard to the choice of subjects. She spoke of the English
composition prize last, and here she heightened the interest and
excitement which always hung around this special prize. Contrary to her
usual rule, she would this year give no subject for an English theme.
Each girl might choose what pleased her best.

On hearing these words Annie Forest, who had been sitting by her desk
looking rather dull and dejected, suddenly sprang to her feet, her face
aglow, her eyes sparkling, and began whispering vigorously to Miss Good.

Miss Good nodded, and, going up to Mrs. Willis, said aloud that Annie had
changed her mind, and that from not wishing to try for any of the prizes,
she now intended to compete for the English composition.

Mrs. Willis looked a little surprised, but without any comment she
immediately entered Annie's name in the list of competitors, and Annie
sat down again, not even glancing at her astonished schoolfellows, who
could not conceal their amazement, for she had never hitherto shown the
slightest desire to excel in this department.

On the evening of this Friday the girls of the three first classes
assembled for the first time in the south parlor. Hitherto these meetings
had been carried on in a systematic and business-like fashion. It was
impossible for all the girls who belonged to these three large classes to
assemble on each occasion. Careful selections, therefore, were, as a
rule, made from their numbers. These girls formed a committee to
superintend and carry on the real preparations for the coming treat, and
the others only met when specially summoned by the committee to appear.

As usual now the three classes found themselves in the south parlor--as
usual they chattered volubly, and started schemes, to reject them again
with peals of laughter. Many ideas were put forward, to be cast aside as
utterly worthless. No one seemed to have any very brilliant thought, and
as the first step on these occasions was to select what the entertainment
should be, proceedings seemed to come to a standstill.

The fact was the most daring originator, the one whose ideas were always
flavored with a spice of novelty, was absolutely silent.

Cecil Temple, who had taken a seat near Annie, suddenly bent forward and
spoke to her aloud.

"We have all said what we would like, and we none of us appear to have
thought of anything at all worth having," she said; "but you have not
spoken at all, Annie. Give us an idea, dear--you know you originated the
fancy ball last year."

Thus publicly appealed to, Annie raised her full brown eyes, glanced at
her companions, not one of whom, with the exception of Cecil, returned
her gaze fully; then, rising to her feet, she spoke in a slightly
contemptuous tone.

"These preparations seem to me to be much ado about nothing; they take up
a lot of our time, and the results aren't worth the trouble--I have
nothing particular to say. Oh, well, yes, if you like--let's have blind
man's buff and a magic lantern;" and then, dropping a mock curtsey to her
companions, she dropped out of the south parlor.

"Insufferable girl!" said Dora Russell; "I wonder you try to draw her
out, Cecil. You know perfectly that we none of us care to have anything
to do with her."

"I know perfectly that you are all doing your best to make her life
miserable," said Cecil, suddenly and boldly. "No one in this school has
obeyed Mrs. Willis' command to treat Annie as innocent--you are
practically sending her to Coventry, and I think it is unjust and unfair.
You don't know, girls, that you are ruining poor Annie's happiness."

"Oh, dear! she doesn't seem at all dull," said Miss West, a second-class
girl. "I do think she's a hardened little wretch."

"Little you know about her," said Cecil, the color fading out of her pale
face. Then after a pause, she added; "The injustice of the whole thing is
that in this treatment of Annie you break the spirit of Mrs. Willis'
command--you, none of you, certainly tell her that she is guilty, but you
treat her as such."

Here Hester Thornton said a daring thing.

"I don't believe Mrs. Willis in her heart of hearts considers Annie
guiltless."

These words of Hester's were laughed at by most of the girls, but Dora
Russell gave her an approving nod, and Cecil, looking paler than ever,
dropped suddenly into her seat, and no longer tried to defend her absent
friend.

"At any rate," said Miss Conway, who as the head girl of the whole school
was always listened to with great respect, "it is unfortunate for the
success of our entertainment that there should be all this discussion and
bad feeling with regard to Miss Forest. For my own part, I cannot make
out why the poor little creature should be hunted down, or what affair it
is of ours whether she is innocent or not. If Mr. Everard and Mrs. Willis
say she is innocent, is not that enough? The fact of her guilt or
innocence can't hurt us one way or another. It is a great pity, however,
for our own sakes, that we should be out with her now, for, whatever her
faults, she is the only one of us who is ever gifted with an original
thought. But, as we can't have her, let us set to work without her--we
really can't waste the whole evening over this sort of talk."

Discussions as to the coming pleasure were now again resumed with vigor,
and after a great deal of animated arguing it was resolved that two short
plays should be acted; that a committee should be immediately formed, who
should select the plays, and apportion their various parts to the
different actors.

The committee selected included Miss Russell, Miss Conway, Hester
Thornton, Cecil Temple, and two other girls of the second class. The
conference then broke up, but there was a certain sense of flatness over
everything, and Cecil was not the only girl who sighed for the merry
meetings of last year--when Annie had been the life and soul of all the
proceedings, and when one brilliant idea after another with regard to the
costumes for the fancy ball had dropped from her merry tongue.



CHAPTER XXI.

STEALING HEARTS.


When Annie ran out of the south parlor she found herself suddenly face to
face with Mrs. Willis.

"Well, my dear child," said the head mistress in her kindest voice,
"where are you running to? But I suppose I must not ask; you are, of
course, one of the busy and secret conclave in the south parlor?"

"No. I have left them," said Annie, bending her head, and after her usual
habit when agitated, shaking her hair about her face.

"Left them?" repeated Mrs. Willis, "you mean, dear, that they have sent
you for some message."

"No. I am not one of them. May I go into the garden, Mrs. Willis?"

"Certainly, my dear."

Annie did not even glance at her governess. She pushed aside the baize
door, and found herself in the great stone hall which led to the
play-room and school-room. Her garden hat hung on a peg in the hall, and
she tossed it off its place, and holding it in her hand ran toward the
side door which opened directly into the garden. She had a wild wish to
get to the shelter of the forsaken hammock and there cry out her whole
heart. The moment she got into the open air, however, she was met by a
whole troop of the little children, who were coming in after their usual
short exercise before going to bed. Miss Danesbury was with them, and
when Annie ran out by the open door, she entered holding two little ones
by the hands. Last in this group toddled Hester's little sister Nan. The
moment she saw Annie, her little face broke into smiles, she held out two
hands eagerly, and fled to the young girl's side.

"Where dat pitty toy?" she said, raising her round face to Annie's; "some
one did buy dat toy, and it's vedy pitty, and me wants it--where's dat
toy?"

Annie stooped down, and spoke suddenly and impulsively to the little
child.

"You shall have the toy for your very own, Nan if you will do something
for me?"

Nan's baby eyes looked straight into Annie's.

"Me will," she said emphatically; "me want dat toy."

"Put your arms, round me, little darling, and give me a great tight hug."

This request was great fun to Nan, who squeezed her little arms round
Annie's neck, and pressed her dimpled cheek to her lips.

"Dere," she said triumphantly, "will dat do?"

"Yes, you little treasure, and you'll try to love me, won't you?"

"Me do," said Nan, in a solemn voice; but then Miss Danesbury called her,
and she ran into the house.

As Nan trotted into the house she put up her dimpled hand to wipe
something from her round cheek--it was a tear which Annie Forest had left
there.

Annie herself, when all the little ones had disappeared, walked slowly
and sadly down toward the shady walk. The sun had just set, and though it
was now nearly May, and the evenings long, the wind was sufficiently cold
to cause Annie to shiver in her thin house frock. At all times utterly
fearless with regard to her health, she gave it no thought now, but
entering the walk where she knew she should not be disturbed, she looked
up at the hammock, and wondered whether she should climb into it. She
decided, however, not to do so--the great and terrible weight of tears
which had pressed close to her heart were relieved by Nan's embrace; she
no longer cared to cry until she could cry no longer--the worst of her
pain had been soothed by the sweet baby graciousness of the little one.

Then there darted into poor Annie's sore heart and perplexed brain that
dangerous thought and temptation which was to work so much future pain
and trouble. She already loved little Nan, and Nan, as most children did,
had taken a fancy to her. Annie stood still, and clasped her hands as the
dark idea came to her to steal the heart of little Nan from Hester, and
so revenge herself on her. By doing this she would touch Hester in her
most vulnerable point--she would take from her what she valued most. The
temptation came swiftly, and Annie listened to it, and thought how easy
it would be to carry it into effect. She knew well that no little child
could resist her when she chose to exercise her charms--it would be easy,
easy work to make that part of Nan which was most precious all her own.
Annie became fascinated by the idea; how completely then she would have
revenged all her wrongs on Hester! Some day Hester would bitterly repent
of her unjust prejudice toward her; some day Hester would come to her,
and beg of her in agony to give her back her darling's love; ah! when
that day came it would be her turn to triumph.

She felt more than satisfied as the temptation grew upon her; she shut
out persistently from her view all the other side of the picture; she
would not let herself think that the work she was about to undertake was
cruel and mean. Hester had been more than unjust, and she was going to
punish her.

Annie paced faster and faster up and down the shady walk, and whenever
her resolution wavered, the memory of Hester's face as she had seen it
the same night in the south parlor came visibly back and strengthened it.
Yes, her turn had come at last Hester had contrived since her entrance
into the school to make Annie's life thoroughly miserable. Well, never
mind, it was Annie's turn now to make her wretched.



CHAPTER XXII.

IN BURN CASTLE WOOD.


In concentrating her thoughts of revenge on Hester, Annie ceased to
trouble her head about Dora Russell. She considered Hester a crueler
enemy than Dora. Hester belonged to her own set, worked in her own class,
and would naturally, had things not turned out so unjustly, so unfairly,
have been her friend, and not her enemy. Dora had nothing to say to
Annie, and before Hester's advent into the school had scarcely noticed
her existence. Annie therefore concentrated all her powers on punishing
Hester. This gave her an aim and an occupation, and at first she felt
that her revenge might give her real pleasure.

Susan Drummond now shared Annie's bedroom, and Annie was rather startled
one evening to hear this phlegmatic young person burst out into a strong
tirade against Hester and Dora. Dora had managed, for some inexplicable
reason, to offend Susan, and Susan now looked to Annie for sympathy, and
boldly suggested that they should get up what she was pleased to called
"a lark" between them for the punishment of this very dignified young
lady.

Annie had never liked Susan, and she now stared at her, and said, in her
quick way:

"You won't catch me helping you in any of your larks. I've had trouble
enough on that score as it is."

Susan gazed at her stupidly, and a dull red spread over her face.

"But I thought you hated Dora and Hester," she said--"I'm sure they hate
you."

Annie was silent.

"You do hate them, don't you?" persisted Miss Drummond.

"It's nothing to you what I feel toward them, Susy," said Annie. "Please
don't disturb me with any more of your chatter; I am very sleepy, and you
are keeping me awake."

Thus silenced, Susan had to content herself by turning on her back, and
going into the land of dreams; but she was evidently a good deal
surprised and disappointed, and began to entertain a certain respect, and
even fear, of Annie which had been hitherto unknown to her.

Meanwhile Hester was very busy, very happy, and more satisfied--brighter
and better employed than she had ever been in her life before. Nan's love
satisfied the affectionate side of her nature, and all her intellect was
strained to the utmost to win honors in the coming struggle.

She had stuck firmly to her resolve to work for the English composition
prize, and she firmly made up her own mind to leave no stone unturned to
win it. What affection she possessed for Miss Russell was not at all of a
character to prevent her from thoroughly enjoying taking the prize out of
her hands. Her love for Dora had been fed by vanity, and was not at all
of a deep or noble character. She was some time carefully choosing the
subject of her theme, and at last she resolved to write a brief
historical description of the last days of Marie Antoinette. To write
properly on this subject she had to read up a great deal, and had to find
references in books which were not usually allowed as school-room
property. Mrs. Willis, however, always allowed the girls who were working
for the English composition prize to have access to her rather extensive
library, and here Hester was often to be found during play-hours. Two
evenings in the week were also taken up in preparation for the coming
plays, and as Hester was to take rather an important part in one, and a
small character in another, she was obliged to devote herself to getting
up her parts during the weekly half-holidays. Thus every moment was busy,
and, except at night, she had little time to devote herself to Nan.

Nan slept in a pretty crib in Hester's room, and each evening the young
girl knelt down by her sister's side, and gazed at her with love, which
was almost motherly, swelling in her breast.

All that was best of Hester was drawn out at these moments; something
greater than ambition--something far and away above school triumphs and
school jealousies spoke then in her heart of hearts. These moments found
her capable of being both sympathizing and forgiving; these moments
followed out in her daily life might have made Hester almost great. Now
was the time, with her eyes full of tears and her lips trembling with
emotion, for Annie Forest to have caught a glimpse of the divine in
Hester; the hardness, the pride, the haughty spirit were all laid aside,
and hers was the true child-heart as she knelt by the sleeping baby.
Hester prayed earnestly at these moments, and, in in truth, Nan did
better for her than any sermon; better for her than even Mrs. Willis'
best influences. Nan was as the voice of God to her sister.

Hester, in her very busy life, had no time to notice, however, a very
slight and almost imperceptible change in bright little Nan. In the
mornings she was in too great a hurry to pay much heed to the little
one's chatter; in the afternoons she had scarcely an instant to devote to
her, and when she saw her playing happily with the other children she was
quite content, and always supposed that when a spare half-hour did come
in her busy life, Nan would rush to her with the old ecstasy, and give
her the old devotion.

One day, toward the end of a very fine May, the girls were all to go for
a picnic to some woods about four miles away. They had looked forward for
several days to this relaxation, and were in the highest state of delight
and the wildest spirits. After an early dinner they were to drive in
several large wagonettes to the place of rendezvous, where they were to
be regaled with gypsy-tea, and were to have a few hours in the lovely
woods of Burn Castle, one of the show places of the neighborhood. Mrs.
Willis had invited the Misses Bruce to accompany them, and they were all
to leave the house punctually at two o'clock. The weather was wonderfully
fine and warm, and it was decided that all the children, even Nan, should
go.

Perhaps none of the girls looked forward to this day's pleasure with
greater joy than did Hester; she determined to make it a real holiday,
and a real time of relaxation. She would forget her English theme; she
would cease to worry herself about Marie Antoinette; she would cease to
repeat her part in the coming play; and she would devote herself
exclusively and determinately to Nan's pleasure. She pictured the little
one's raptures; she heard her gay shouts of joy, her ceaseless little
rippling chatter, her baby glee, and, above all things, her intense
happiness at being with her own Hetty for the greater part of a whole
day. Hester would ride her on her shoulder, would race with her; all her
usual companions would be as nothing to her on this occasion, she would
give herself up solely to Nan.

As she was dressing that morning she said a word or two to the child
about the coming treat.

"We'll light a fire in the wood, Nan, and hang a kettle over it, and make
tea--such good tea; won't it be nice?"

Nan clapped her hands. "And may I take out my little ummabella
(umbrella), case it might wain?" she asked anxiously.

Hester flew to her and kissed her.

"You funny darling!" she said. "Oh, we shall have such a day! You'll be
with your own Hetty all day long--your own Hetty; won't you be glad?"

"Me am," said Nan; "own Hetty, and own Annie; me am glad."

Hester scarcely heard the last words, for the prayer-gong sounded, and
she had to fly down stairs.

At dinner time the girls were discussing who would go with each, and all
were very merry and full of fun.

"Miss Danesbury will take the little children," said Miss Good. "Mrs.
Willis says that all the little ones are to be in Miss Danesbury's
charge."

"Oh, please," said Hester, suddenly, "may Nan come with me, Miss Good?
She'll be so disappointed if she doesn't, and I'll take such care of
her."

Miss Good nodded a careless acquiescence, and Hester proceeded with her
dinner, feeling thoroughly satisfied.

Immediately after dinner the girls flew to their rooms to prepare for
their expedition. Hastily opening a drawer, Hester pulled out a white
frock, white piqué pelisse, and washing hat for Nan--she meant her
darling to look as charming as possible.

"Oh, dear, Miss Danesbury should have brought her here by now," she said
to herself impatiently, and then, hearing the crunching of carriage
wheels on the drive, she flew to the bell and rang it.

In a few moments one of the maids appeared.

"Do you know where Miss Nan is, Alice? She is to go to Burn Castle with
me, and I want to dress her, for it is nearly time to go."

Alice looked a little surprised.

"If you please, miss," she said, "I think Miss Nan has just gone."

"What do you mean, Alice? Miss Good said especially she was to go with
me."

"I know nothing about that, miss; I only know that I saw Miss Forest
carrying her down stairs in her arms about three minutes ago, and they
went off in the wagonette with all the other little children and Miss
Danesbury."

Hester stood perfectly still, her color changed from red to white; for
full half a minute she was silent. Then, hearing voices from below
calling to her, she said in a cold, quiet tone:

"That will do, Alice; thank you for letting me know."

She turned to her drawer and put back Nan's white and pretty things, and
also replaced a new and very becoming shady hat which she had meant to
wear herself. In her old winter hat, and looking almost untidy for her,
she walked slowly down stairs and took her place in the wagonette which
was drawn up at the door.

Cecil Temple and one or two other girls whom Hester liked very much were
in the same wagonette, but she scarcely cared to talk to them, and only
joined in their laughter by a strong effort. She was deeply wounded, but
her keenest present desire was to hide any feelings of jealousy she had
toward Annie from the quick eyes of her schoolfellows.

"Why," suddenly exclaimed Julia Morris, a particularly unobservant girl,
"I thought you were going to bring that dear baby sister with you,
Hester. Oh, I do hope there is nothing the matter with her."

"Nan has gone on in the first wagonette with the little children," said
Hester as cheerfully as she could speak, but she colored slightly, and
saw that Cecil was regarding her attentively.

Susan Drummond exclaimed suddenly:

"I saw Annie Forest rushing down the stairs with little Nan, and Nan had
her arms round her neck, and was laughing merrily. You need not be
anxious about Nan, Hester; she was quite content to go with Annie."

"I did not say I was anxious," replied Hester in a cold voice. "How very
beautiful that avenue of beech trees is, Cecil!"

"But Annie heard Miss Good say that you were to take Nan," persisted
Julia Morris. "She could not but have noticed it, for you did flush up
so, Hester, and looked so eager. I never saw any one more in earnest
about a trifle in my life; it was impossible for Annie not to have
heard."

"The great thing is that Nan is happy," said Hester in a fretted voice.
"Do let us change the subject, girls."

Cecil instantly began talking about the coming plays, and soon the
conversation became of an absorbing character, and Hester's voice was
heard oftener than the others, and she laughed more frequently than her
companions.

For all this forced merriment, however, Cecil did not fail to observe
that when Hester got to the place of meeting at Burn Castle she looked
around her with a quick and eager glance. Then the color faded from her
face, and her eyes grew dim.

That look of pain on Hester's face was quite enough for kind-hearted
Cecil. She had thrown herself on the grass with an exclamation of
delight, but in an instant she was on her feet.

"Now, of course, the first thing is to find little Nan," she said;
"she'll be missing you dreadfully, Hetty."

Cecil held out her hand to Hester to run with her through the wood, but,
to her surprise, Hester drew back.

"I'm tired," she said; "I daresay we shall find Nan presently. She is
sure to be safe, as she is under Miss Danesbury's care."

Cecil made no remark, but set off by herself to find the little children.
Presently, standing on a little knoll, and putting her two hands round
her lips, so as to form a speaking trumpet, she shouted to Hester. Hester
came slowly and apparently unwillingly toward her, but when she got to
the foot of the knoll, Cecil flew down, and, taking her by the hand, ran
with her to the top.

"Oh, do come quick!" she exclaimed; "it is such a pretty sight."

Down in the valley about fifty yards away were the ten or twelve little
children who formed the infant portion of the school. Miss Danesbury was
sitting at some distance off quietly reading, and the children, decked
with flowers, and carrying tall grasses and reeds in their hands, were
flying round and round in a merry circle, while in their midst, and the
center attraction, stood Annie, whose hat was tossed aside, and whose
bright, curling hair was literally crowned with wild flowers. On Annie's
shoulder stood little Nan, carefully and beautifully poised, and round
Nan's wavy curls was a starry wreath of wood-anemones. Nan was shouting
gleefully and clapping her hands, while Annie balanced her slightest
movement with the greatest agility, and kept her little feet steady on
her shoulders with scarcely an effort. As the children ran round and
round Annie she waltzed gracefully backward and forward to meet them, and
they all sang snatches of nursery rhymes. When Cecil and Hester appeared
they had reached in their varied collection:

                    "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
                    Humpty Dumpty had a great fall."

Here Nan exclaimed, in her clear, high-pitched voice:

"Me no fall, Annie," and the small children on the ground clapped their
hands and blew kisses to her.

"Isn't it pretty? Isn't Annie sweet with children?" said Cecil, looking
round to Hester with all the admiration she felt for her friend shining
in her face. The expression, however, which Hester wore at that moment
really startled Cecil; she was absolutely colorless, and presently she
called aloud in a harsh, strained voice:

"Be careful of her! How wicked of you to put her like that on your
shoulder! She will fall--yes, I know she will fall; oh, do be careful!"

Hester's voice startled the children, who ceased singing and dancing;
Annie made a hasty step forward, and one little voice alone kept singing
out the words:

                  "Humpty-Dumpty got a great fall!"--

when there was a crash and a cry, and Nan, in some inexplicable way, had
fallen backward from Annie's shoulders.

In one instant Hester was in the midst of the group.

"Don't touch her," she said, as Annie flew to pick up the child, who,
falling with some force on her head, had been stunned; "don't touch
her--don't dare! It was your doing; you did it on purpose--you wished to
do it!"

"You are unjust," said Annie, in a low tone. "Nan was perfectly safe
until you startled her. Like all the rest you are unjust. Nan would have
come to no harm if you had not spoken."

Hester did not vouchsafe another word. She sat on the ground with the
unconscious and pretty little flower-crowned figure laid across her lap;
she was terrified, and thought in her inexperience that Nan must be dead.

At the first mention of the accident Cecil had flown to fetch some water,
and when she and Miss Danesbury applied it to little Nan's temples, she
presently sighed, and opened her brown eyes wide.

"I hope--I trust she is not much hurt," said Miss Danesbury; "but I think
it safest to take her home at once. Cecil, dear, can you do anything
about fetching a wagonette round to the stile at the entrance of the
wood? Now the puzzle is, who is to take care of the rest of the little
children? If only they were under Miss Good's care, I should breathe more
easily."

"I am going home with Nan," said Hester in a hard voice.

"Of course, my love; no one would think of parting you from your little
sister," said the governess, soothingly.

"If you please, Miss Danesbury," said Annie, whose face was quite as pale
as Hester's, and her eyes heavy as though she longed to cry, "will you
trust me with the little ones? If you do, I will promise to take them
straight to Miss Good, and to be most careful of them."

Miss Danesbury's gentle and kind face looked relieved.

"Thank you, Annie--of course I trust you, dear. Take the children at once
to the meeting-place under the great oak, and wait there until Miss Good
appears." Annie suddenly sprang forward, and threw her arms round Miss
Danesbury's neck.

"Miss Danesbury, you comfort me," she said, in a kind of stifled voice,
and then she ran off with the children.



CHAPTER XXIII.

"HUMPTY-DUMPTY HAD A GREAT FALL."


All the stupor and languor which immediately followed Nan's fall passed
off during her drive home; she chatted and laughed, her cheeks were
flushed, her eyes bright. Hester turned with a relieved face to Miss
Danesbury.

"My little darling is all right, is she not?" she said. "Oh, I was so
terrified--oh, how thankful I am no harm has been done!"

Miss Danesbury did not return Hester's full gaze; she attempted to take
little Nan on her knee, but Nan clung to Hetty. Then she said:

"You must be careful to keep the sun off her, dear--hold your parasol
well down--just so. That is better. When we get home, I will put her to
bed at once. Please God, there _is_ nothing wrong; but one cannot be too
careful."

Something in Miss Danesbury's manner affected Hester strangely; she
clasped Nan's slight baby form closer and closer to her heart, and no
longer joined in the little one's mirth. As the drive drew to a close,
Nan again ceased talking, and fell into a heavy sleep.

Miss Danesbury's face grew graver and graver, and, when the wagonette
drew up at Lavender House, she insisted on lifting the sleeping child out
of Hester's arms, and carrying her up to her little crib. When Nan's
little head was laid on the cool pillow, she again opened her eyes, and
instantly asked for a drink. Miss Danesbury gave her some milk and water,
but the moment she drank it she was sick.

"Just as I feared," said the governess; "there is some little
mischief--not much, I hope--but we must instantly send for the doctor."

As Miss Danesbury walked across the room to ring the bell, Hester
followed her.

"She's not in danger?" she whispered in a hoarse voice. "If she is, Annie
is guilty of murder."

"Don't, my dear," said the governess; "you must keep quiet for Nan's
sake. Please God, she will soon be better. All I really apprehend is a
little excitement and feverishness, which will pass off in a few days
with care. Hester, my dear, I suddenly remember that the house is nearly
empty, for all the servants are also enjoying a holiday. I think I must
send you for Dr. Mayflower. The wagonette is still at the door. Drive at
once to town, my dear, and ask the coachman to take you to No. 10, The
Parade. If you are very quick, you will catch Dr. Mayflower before he
goes out on his afternoon rounds."

Hester glanced for half an instant at Nan, but her eyes were again
closed.

"I will take the best care of her," said the governess in a kind voice;
"don't lose an instant, dear."

Hester snatched up her hat and flew down stairs. In a moment she was in
the wagonette, and the driver was speedily urging his horses in the
direction of the small town of Sefton, two miles and a half away. Hester
was terrified now--so terrified, in such an agony, that she even forgot
Annie; her hatred toward Annie became of secondary importance to her. All
her ideas, all her thoughts, were swallowed up in the one great
hope--Should she be in time to reach Dr. Mayflower's house before he set
off on his afternoon rounds? As the wagonette approached Sefton she
buried her face in her hands and uttered a sharp inward cry of agony.

"Please God, let me find the doctor!" It was a real prayer from her heart
of hearts. The wagonette drew up at the doctor's residence, to discover
him stepping into his brougham. Hester was a shy child, and had never
seen him before; but she instantly raised her voice, and almost shouted
to him:

"You are to come with me; please, you are to come at once. Little Nan is
ill--she is hurt. Please, you are to come at once."

"Eh! young lady?" said the round-faced doctor "Oh! I see; you are one of
the little girls from Lavender House. Is anything wrong there, dear?"

Hester managed to relate what had occurred; whereupon the doctor
instantly opened the door of the wagonette.

"Jump out, young lady," he said; "I will drive you back in my brougham.
Masters," addressing his coachman, "to Lavender House."

Hester sat back in the soft-cushioned carriage, which bowled smoothly
along the road. It seemed to her impatience that the pace at which they
went was not half quick enough--she longed to put her head out of the
window to shout to the coachman to go faster. She felt intensely provoked
with the doctor, who sat placidly by her side reading a newspaper.

Presently she saw that his eyes were fixed on her. He spoke in his
quietest tones.

"We always take precisely twenty minutes to drive from the Parade to
Lavender House--twenty minutes, neither more or less. We shall be there
now in exactly ten minutes."

Hester tried to smile, but failed; her agony of apprehension grew and
grew. She breathed more freely when they turned into the avenue. When
they stopped at the wide stone porch, and the doctor got out, she uttered
a sigh of relief. She took Dr. Mayflower herself up to Nan's room. Miss
Danesbury opened the door, the doctor went inside, and Hester crouched
down on the landing and waited. It seemed to her that the good physician
would never come out. When he did she raised a perfectly blanched face to
his, she opened her lips, tried to speak, but no words would come. Her
agitation was so intense that the kind-hearted doctor took instant pity
on her.

"Come into this room, my child," he said. "My dear, you will be ill
yourself if you give way like this. Pooh! pooh! this agitation is
extreme--is uncalled for. You have got a shock. I shall prescribe a glass
of sherry at once. Come down stairs with me, and I will see that you get
one."

"But how is she, sir--how is she?" poor Hester managed to articulate.

"Oh! the little one--sweet, pretty, little darling. I did not know she
was your sister--a dear little child. She got an ugly fall, though--came
on a nasty place."

"But, please, sir, how is she? She--she--she is not in danger?"

"Danger? by no means, unless you put her into it. She must be kept very
quiet, and, above all things, not excited. I will come to see her again
to-morrow morning. With proper care she ought to be quite herself in a
few days. Ah! now you've got a little color in your cheek, come down with
me and have that glass of sherry, and you will feel all right."



CHAPTER XXIV.

ANNIE TO THE RESCUE.


The picnic-party arrived home late. The accident to little Nan had not
shortened the day's pleasure, although Mrs. Willis, the moment she heard
of it, had come back; for she entered the hall just as the doctor was
stepping into his carriage. He gave her his opinion, and said that he
trusted no further mischief, beyond a little temporary excitement, had
been caused. He again, however, spoke of the great necessity of keeping
Nan quiet, and said that her schoolfellows must not come to her, and that
she must not be excited in any way. Mrs. Willis came into the great hall
where Hester was standing. Instantly she went up to the young girl, and
put her arm around and drew her to her side.

"Darling," she said, "this is a grievous anxiety for you; no words can
express my sorrow and my sympathy; but the doctor is quite hopeful,
Hester, and, please God, we shall soon have the little one as well as
ever."

"You are really sorry for me?" said Hester, raising her eyes to the
head-mistress' face.

"Of course, dear; need you ask?"

"Then you will have that wicked Annie Forest punished--well punished--well
punished."

"Sometimes, Hester," said Mrs. Willis, very gravely, "God takes the
punishment of our wrongdoings into His own hands. Annie came home with
me. Had you seen her face as we drove together you would not have asked
_me_ to punish her."

"Unjust, always unjust," muttered Hester, but in so low a voice that Mrs.
Willis did not hear the words. "Please may I go to little Nan?" she said.

"Certainly, Hester--some tea shall be sent up to you presently."

Miss Danesbury arranged to spend that night in Nan's room. A sofa bed was
brought in for her to lie on, for Mrs. Willis had yielded to Hester's
almost feverish entreaties that she might not be banished from her little
sister. Not a sound reached the room where Nan was lying--even the girls
took off their shoes as they passed the door--not a whisper came to
disturb the sick child. Little Nan slept most of the evening, only
sometimes opening her eyes and looking up drowsily when Miss Danesbury
changed the cold application to her head. At nine o'clock there came a
low tap at the room door. Hester went to open it; one of her
schoolfellows stood without.

"The prayer-gong is not to be sounded to-night. Will you come to the
chapel now? Mrs. Willis sent me to ask."

Hester shook her head.

"I cannot," she whispered; "tell her I cannot come."

"Oh, I am so sorry!" replied the girl; "is Nan very bad?"

"I don't know; I hope not. Good-night."

Hester closed the room door, took off her dress, and began very softly to
prepare to get into bed. She put on her dressing-gown, and knelt down as
usual to her private prayers. When she got on her knees, however, she
found it impossible to pray: her brain felt in a whirl, her feelings were
unprayer-like; and with the temporary relief of believing Nan in no
immediate danger came such a flood of hatred toward Annie as almost
frightened her. She tried to ask God to make Nan better--quite well; but
even this petition seemed to go no way--to reach no one--to fall flat on
the empty air. She rose from her knees, and got quietly into bed.

Nan lay in that half-drowsy and languid state until midnight. Hester,
with all her very slight experience of illness, thought that as long as
Nan was quiet she must be getting better; but Miss Danesbury was by no
means so sure, and, notwithstanding the doctor's verdict, she felt
anxious about the child. Hester had said that she could not sleep; but at
Miss Danesbury's special request she got into bed, and before she knew
anything about it was in a sound slumber. At midnight, when all the house
was quiet, and Miss Danesbury kept a lonely watch by the sick child's
pillow, there came a marked change for the worse in the little one. She
opened her feverish eyes wide and began to call out piteously; but her
cry now was, not for Hester, but for Annie.

"Me want my Annie," she said over and over, "me do, me do. No, no; go
'way, naughty Day-bury, me want my Annie; me do want her."

Miss Danesbury felt puzzled and distressed. Hester, however, was awakened
by the piteous cry, and sat up in bed.

"What is it, Miss Danesbury?" she asked.

"She is very much excited, Hester; she is calling for Annie Forest."

"Oh, that is quite impossible," said Hester, a shudder passing through
her. "Annie can't come here. The doctor specially said that none of the
girls were to come near Nan."

"Me want Annie; me want my own Annie," wailed the sick child.

"Give me my dressing-gown, please, Miss Danesbury, and I will go to her,"
said Hester.

She sprang out of bed, and approached the little crib. The brightness of
Nan's feverish eyes was distinctly seen. She looked up at Hester, who
bent over her; then she uttered a sharp cry and covered her little face.

"Go 'way, go 'way, naughty Hetty--Nan want Annie; Annie sing, Annie p'ay
with Nan--go 'way, go 'way, Hetty."

Hester's heart was too full to allow her to speak; but she knelt by the
crib and tried to take one of the little hot hands in hers. Nan, however,
pushed her hands away, and now began to cry loudly.

"Annie!--Annie!--Annie! me want 'oo; Nan want 'oo--poor tibby Nan want
'oo, Annie!"

Miss Danesbury touched Hester on her shoulder.

"My dear," she said, "the child's wish must be gratified. Annie has an
extraordinary power over children, and under the circumstances I shall
take it upon me to disobey the doctor's directions. The child must be
quieted at all hazards. Run for Annie, dear--you know her room. I had
better stay with little Nan, for, though she loves you best, you don't
sooth her at present--that is often so with a fever case."

"One moment," said Hester. She turned again to the little crib.

"Hetty is going to fetch Annie for Nan. Will Nan give her own Hetty one
kiss?"

Instantly the little arms were flung round Hester's neck.

"Me like 'oo now, dood Hetty. Go for Annie, dood Hetty."

Instantly Hester ran out of the room. She flew quickly down the long
passage, and did not know what a strange little figure she made as the
moon from a large window at one end fell full upon her. So eerie, so
ghost-like was her appearance as she flew noiselessly with her bare feet
along the passage that some one--Hester did not know whom--gave a stifled
cry. The cry seemed to come from a good way off, and Hester was too
preoccupied to notice it. She darted into the room where Susan Drummond
and Annie Forest slept.

"Annie, you are to come to Nan," she said in a sharp high-pitched voice
which she scarcely recognized as her own.

"Coming," said Annie, and she walked instantly to the door with her dress
on and stood in the moonlight.

"You are dressed!" said Hester in astonishment.

"I could not undress--I lay down as I was. I fancied I heard Nan's voice
calling me. I guessed I should be sent for."

"Well, come now," said Hester in her hardest tones. "You were only sent
for because Nan must be quieted at any risk. Come and see if you can
quiet her. I don't suppose," with a bitter laugh "that you will succeed."

"I think so," replied Annie, in a very soft and gentle tone.

She walked back by Hester's side and entered the sick-room. She walked
straight up to the little cot and knelt down by Nan, and said, in that
strangely melodious voice of hers:

"Little darling, Annie has come."

"Me like 'oo," said Nan with a satisfied coo in her voice, and she turned
round on her side with her back to Miss Danesbury and Hester and her eyes
fixed on Annie.

"Sing 'Four-and-twenty,' Annie; sing 'Four-and-twenty,'" she said
presently.

"Four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie," sang Annie in a low clear
voice, without a moment's hesitation. She went through the old nursery
rhyme once--twice. Then Nan interrupted her fretfully:

"Me don't want dat 'dain; sing 'Boy Blue,' Annie."

Annie sang.

"'Tree Little Kittens,' Annie," interrupted the little voice presently.

For more than two hours Annie knelt by the child, singing nursery rhyme
after nursery rhyme, while the bright beautiful eyes were fixed on her
face, and the little voice said incessantly:

"Sing, Annie--sing."

"Baby Bun, now," said Nan, when Annie had come almost to the end of her
selection.

                   "Bye baby bunting,
                   Daddy's gone a hunting--
                   He's gone to fetch a rabbit-skin,
                   To place the baby bunting in."

Over and over and over did Annie sing the words. Whenever, even for a
brief moment she paused, Nan said:

"Sing, Annie--sing 'Baby Bun.'"

And all the time the eyes remained wide open, and the little hands were
burning hot; but, gradually, after more than two hours of constant
singing, Annie began to fancy that the burning skin was cooler.
Then--could she believe it?--she saw the lids droop over the wide-open
eyes. Five minutes later, to the tune of "Baby Bunting," Nan had fallen
into a deep and sound sleep.



CHAPTER XXV.

A SPOILED BABY.


In the morning Nan was better, and although for days she was in a very
precarious state, and had to be kept as quiet as possible, yet Miss
Danesbury's great dread that fever would set in had passed away. The
doctor said, however, that Nan had barely escaped real injury to her
brain, and that it would be many a day before she would romp again, and
play freely and noisily with the other children. Nan had chosen her own
nurse, and, with the imperiousness of all babies--to say nothing of sick
babies--she had her way. From morning till night Annie remained with her,
and when the doctor saw how Annie alone could soothe and satisfy the
child he would not allow it to be otherwise. At first Nan would lie with
her hand in Annie's, and her little cry of "sing, Annie," going on from
time to time; but as she grew better Annie would sit with her by the open
window, with her head pillowed on her breast, and her arm round the
little slender form, and Nan would smile and look adoringly at Annie, who
would often return her gaze with intense sadness, and an indescribable
something in her face which caused the little one to stroke her cheek
tenderly, and say in her sweet baby voice:

"Poor Annie; poor tibby Annie!"

They made a pretty picture as they sat there. Annie, with her charming
gypsy face, her wild luxuriant, curly hair, all the sauciness and unrest
in her soothed by the magic of the little child's presence; and the
little child herself, with her faint, wild-rose color, her dark, deep
eyes, clear as summer pools, and her sunshiny golden hair. But pretty as
the picture was Hester loathed it, for Hester thought during these
wretched days that her heart would break.

Not that Nan turned away from Hetty; she petted her and kissed her, and
sometimes put an arm round Hetty and and an arm round Annie, as though,
if she could, she would draw them together; but any one could see that
her heart of hearts was given to Annie, and that Hester ranked second in
her love. Hester would not for worlds express any of her bitter feelings
before Annie; nay, as the doctor and Miss Danesbury both declared that,
however culpable Annie might have been in causing the accident, she had
saved little Nan's life by her wonderful skill in soothing her to sleep
on the first night of her illness, Hester had felt obliged to grumble
something which might have been taken for "thanks."

Annie, in reply to this grumble, had bestowed upon Hester one of her
quickest, brightest glances, for she fathomed the true state of Hester's
heart toward her well enough.

These were very bad days for poor Hester, and but for the avidity with
which she threw herself into her studies she could scarcely have borne
them.

By slow degrees Nan got better; she was allowed to come down stairs and
to sit in Annie's arms in the garden, and then Mrs. Willis interfered,
and said that Annie must go back to her studies, and only devote her
usual play hours and half-holidays to Nan's service.

This mandate, however, produced woe and tribulation. The spoiled child
screamed and beat her little hands, and worked herself up into such a
pitch of excitement that that night she found her way in her sleep to
Annie's room, and Annie had to quiet her by taking her into her bed. In
the morning the doctor had to be sent for, and he instantly prescribed a
day or two more of Annie's company for the child.

Mrs. Willis felt dreadfully puzzled. She had undertaken the charge of the
little one; her father was already far away, so it was impossible now to
make any change of plans; the child was ill--had been injured by an
accident caused by Annie's carelessness and by Hester's want of
self-control. But weak and ill as Nan still was, Mrs. Willis felt that an
undue amount of spoiling was good for no one. She thought it highly
unjust to Annie to keep her from her school employments at this most
important period of the year. If Annie did not reach a certain degree of
excellence in her school marks she could not be promoted in her class.
Mrs. Willis did not expect the wild and heedless girl to carry off any
special prizes; but her abilities were quite up to the average, and she
always hoped to rouse sufficient ambition in her to enable her to acquire
a good and sound education. Mrs. Willis knew how necessary this was for
poor Annie's future, and, after giving the doctor an assurance that Nan's
whims and pleasures should be attended to for the next two or three days,
she determined at the end of that time to assert her own authority with
the child, and to insist on Annie working hard at her lessons, and
returning to her usual school-room life.

On the morning of the third day Mrs. Willis made inquiries, heard that
Nan had spent an excellent night, eaten a hearty breakfast, and was
altogether looking blooming. When the girls assembled in the school-room
for their lessons, Annie brought her little charge down to the large
play-room, where they established themselves cozily, and Annie began to
instruct little Nan in the mysteries of

                  "Tic, tac, too,
                  The little horse has lost his shoe."

Nan was entering into the spirit of the game, was imagining herself a
little horse, and was holding out her small foot to be shod, when Mrs.
Willis entered the room.

"Come with me, Nan," she said; "I have got something to show you."

Nan got up instantly, held out one hand to Mrs. Willis and the other to
Annie, and said, in her confident baby tones:

"Me tum; Annie tumming too."

Mrs. Willis said nothing, but holding the little hand, and accompanied by
Annie, she went out of the play-room, across the stone hall, and through
the baize doors until she reached her own delightful private
sitting-room.

There were heaps of pretty things about, and Nan gazed round her with the
appreciative glance of a pleased connoisseur.

"Pitty 'oom," she said approvingly. "Nan likes this 'oom. Me'll stay
here, and so will Annie."

Here she uttered a sudden cry of rapture--on the floor, with its leaves
temptingly open, lay a gaily-painted picture-book, and curled up in a
soft fluffy ball by its side was a white Persian kitten asleep.

Mrs. Willis whispered something to Annie, who ran out of the room, and
Nan knelt down in a perfect rapture of worship by the kitten's side.

"Pitty tibby pussy!" she exclaimed several times, and she rubbed it so
persistently the wrong way that the kitten shivered and stood up, arched
its back very high, yawned, turned round three times, and lay down again,
Alas! "tibby pussy" was not allowed to have any continuous slumber. Nan
dragged the Persian by its tail into her lap, and when it resisted this
indignity, and with two or three light bounds disappeared out of the
room, she stretched out her little hands and began to cry for it.

"Tum back, puss, puss--tum back, poor tibby puss--Nan loves 'oo. Annie,
go fetch puss for Nan." Then for the first time she discovered that Annie
was absent, and that she was alone, with the exception of Mrs. Willis,
who sat busily writing at a distant table.

Mrs. Willis counted for nothing at all with Nan--she did not consider her
of the smallest importance and after giving her a quick glance of some
disdain she began to trot round the room on a voyage of discovery. Any
moment Annie would come back--Annie had, indeed, probably gone to fetch
the kitten, and would quickly return with it. She walked slowly round and
round, keeping well away from that part of the room where Mrs. Willis
sat. Presently she found a very choice little china jug, which she
carefully abstracted with her small fingers from a cabinet, which
contained many valuable treasures. She sat down on the floor exactly
beneath the cabinet, and began to play with her jug. She went through in
eager pantomime a little game which Annie had invented for her, and
imagined that she was a little milkmaid, and that the jug was full of
sweet new milk; she called out to an imaginary set of purchasers, "Want
any milk?" and then she poured some by way of drops of milk into the palm
of her little hand, which she drank up in the name of her customers with
considerable gusto. Presently knocking the little jug with some vehemence
on the floor she deprived it with one neat blow of its handle and spout.
Mrs. Willis was busily writing, and did not look up. Nan was not in the
least disconcerted; she said aloud:

"Poor tibby zug b'oke," and then she left the fragments on the floor, and
started off on a fresh voyage of discovery. This time she dragged down a
large photographic album on to a cushion, and, kneeling by it, began to
look through the pictures, flapping the pages together with a loud noise,
and laughing merrily as she did so. She was now much nearer to Mrs.
Willis, who was attracted by the sound, and looking up hastened to the
rescue of one of her most precious collections of photographs.

"Nan, dear," she said, "shut up that book at once. Nan mustn't touch.
Shut the book, darling, and go and sit on the floor, and look at your
nice-colored pictures."

Nan, still holding a chubby hand between the leaves of the album, gave
Mrs. Willis a full defiant glance, and said:

"Me won't."

"Come, Nan," said the head-mistress.

"Me want Annie," said Nan, still kneeling by the album, and, bending her
head over the photographs, she turned the page and burst into a peal of
laughter.

"Pitty bow vow," she said, pointing to a photograph of a retriever; "oh,
pitty bow woo, Nan loves 'oo."

Mrs. Willis stooped down and lifted the little girl into her arms.

"Nan, dear," she said, "it is naughty to disobey. Sit down by your
picture-book, and be a good girl."

"Me won't," said Nan again, and here she raised her small dimpled hand
and gave Mrs. Willis a smart slap on her cheek.

"Naughty lady, me don't like 'oo; go 'way. Nan want Annie--Nan do want
Annie. Me don't love 'oo, naughty lady; go 'way."

Mrs. Willis took Nan on her knee. She felt that the little will must be
bent to hers, but the task was no easy one. The child scarcely knew her,
she was still weak and excitable, and she presently burst into storms of
tears, and sobbed and sobbed as though her little heart would break, her
one cry being for "Annie, Annie, Annie." When Annie did join her in the
play hour, the little cheeks were flushed, the white brow ached, and the
child's small hands were hot and feverish. Mrs. Willis felt terribly
puzzled.



CHAPTER XXVI.

UNDER THE LAUREL BUSH.


Mrs. Willis owned to herself that she was non-plussed; it was quite
impossible to allow Annie to neglect her studies, and yet little Nan's
health was still too precarious to allow her to run the risk of having
the child constantly fretted.

Suddenly a welcome idea occurred to her; she would write at once to Nan's
old nurse, and see if she could come to Lavender House for the remainder
of the present term. Mrs. Willis dispatched her letter that very day, and
by the following evening the nurse was once more in possession of her
much-loved little charge. The habits of her babyhood were too strong for
Nan; she returned to them gladly enough, and though in her heart of
hearts she was still intensely loyal to Annie, she no longer fretted when
she was not with her.

Annie resumed her ordinary work, and though Hester was very cold to her,
several of the other girls in the school frankly confided to their
favorite how much they had missed her, and how glad they were to have her
back with them once more.

Annie found herself at this time in an ever-shifting mood--one moment she
longed intensely for a kiss, and a fervent pardon from Mrs. Willis' lips;
another, she said to herself defiantly she could and would live without
it; one moment the hungry and sorrowful look in Hester's eyes went
straight to Annie's heart, and she wished she might restore her little
treasure whom she had stolen; the next she rejoiced in her strange power
over Nan, and resolved to keep all the love she could get.

In short, Annie was in that condition when she could be easily influenced
for good or evil--she was in that state of weakness when temptation is
least easily resisted.

A few days after the arrival of Nan's nurse Mrs. Willis was obliged
unexpectedly to leave home; a near relative was dangerously ill in
London, and the school-mistress went away in much trouble and anxiety.
Some of her favorite pupils flocked to the front entrance to see their
beloved mistress off. Among the group Cecil stood, and several girls of
the first class; many of the little girls were also present, but Annie
was not among them. Just at the last moment she rushed up breathlessly;
she was tying some starry jasmine and some blue forget-me-nots together,
and as the carriage was moving off she flung the charming bouquet into
her mistress' lap.

Mrs. Willis rewarded her with one of her old looks of confidence and
love; she raised the flowers to her lips and kissed them, and her eyes
smiled on Annie.

"Good-by, dear," she called out; "good-by, all my dear girls; I will try
and be back to-morrow night. Remember, my children, during my absence I
trust you."

The carriage disappeared down the avenue, and the group of girls melted
away. Cecil looked round for Annie, but Annie had been the first to
disappear.

When her mistress had kissed the flowers and smiled at her, Annie darted
into the shrubbery and stood there wiping the fast-falling tears from her
eyes. She was interrupted in this occupation by the sudden cries of two
glad and eager voices, and instantly her hands were taken, and some girls
rather younger than herself began to drag her in the opposite direction
through the shrubbery.

"Come; Annie--come at once, Annie, darling," exclaimed Phyllis and Nora
Raymond. "The basket has come; it's under the thick laurel-tree in the
back avenue. We are all waiting for you; we none of us will open it till
you arrive."

Annie's face, a truly April one, changed as if by magic. The tears dried
on her cheeks; her eyes filled with sunlight; she was all eager for the
coming fun.

"Then we won't lose a moment, Phyllis," she said: "we'll see what that
duck of a Betty has done for us."

The three girls scampered down the back avenue, where they found five of
their companions, among them Susan Drummond, standing in different
attitudes of expectation near a very large and low-growing laurel-tree.
Every one raised a shout when Annie appeared; she was undoubtedly
recognized as queen and leader of the proceedings. She took her post
without an instant's hesitation, and began ordering her willing subjects
about.

"Now, is the coast clear? yes, I think so. Come, Susie, greedy as you
are, you must take your part. You alone of all of us can cackle with the
exact imitation of an old hen: get behind that tree at once and watch the
yard. Don't forget to cackle for your life if you even see the shadow of
a footfall. Nora, my pretty birdie, you must be the thrush for the nonce;
here, take your post, watch the lawn and the front avenue. Now then,
girls, the rest of us can see what spoils Betty has provided for us."

The basket was dragged from its hiding-place, and longing faces peered
eagerly and greedily into its contents.

"Oh, oh! I say, cherries! and what a lot! Good Betty! dear, darling Betty!
you gathered those from your own trees, and they are as ripe as your
apple-blossom cheeks! Now then, what next? I do declare, meringues! Betty
knew my weakness. Twelve meringues--that is one and a half apiece; Susan
Drummond sha'n't have more than her share. Meringues and cheesecakes
and--tartlets--oh! oh! what a duck Betty is! A plum-cake--good, excellent
Betty, she deserves to be canonized! What have we here? Roast
chickens--better and better! What is in this parcel? Slices of ham; Betty
knew she dare not show her face again if she forgot the ham. Knives and
forks, spoons--fresh rolls--salt and pepper, and a dozen bottles of
ginger-beer, and a little corkscrew in case we want it."

These various exclamations came from many lips. The contents of the
basket were carefully and tenderly replaced, the lid was fastened down,
and it was once more consigned to its hiding place under the thick boughs
of the laurel.

Not a moment too soon, for just at this instant Susan cackled fiercely,
and the little group withdrew, Annie first whispering:

"At twelve to-night, then, girls--oh, yes, I have managed the key."



CHAPTER XXVII.

TRUANTS.


It was a proverbial saying in the school that Annie Forest was always in
hot water; she was exceedingly daring, and loved what she called a spice
of danger. This was not the first stolen picnic at which Annie reigned as
queen, but this was the largest she had yet organized, and this was the
first time she had dared to go out of doors with her satellites.

Hitherto these naughty sprites had been content to carry their baskets
full of artfully-concealed provisions to a disused attic which was
exactly over the box-room, and consequently out of reach of the inhabited
part of the house. Here, making a table of a great chest which stood in
the attic, they feasted gloriously, undisturbed by the musty smell or by
the innumerable spiders and beetles which disappeared rapidly in all
directions at their approach; but when Annie one day incautiously
suggested that on summer nights the outside world was all at their
disposal, they began to discover flaws in their banqueting hall. Mary
Price said the musty smell made her half sick; Phyllis declared that at
the sight of a spider she invariably turned faint; and Susan Drummond was
heard to murmur that in a dusty, fusty attic even meringues scarcely kept
her awake. The girls were all wild to try a midnight picnic out of doors,
and Annie in her present mood, was only too eager for the fun.

With her usual skill she organized the whole undertaking, and eight
agitated, slightly frightened, but much excited girls retired to their
rooms that night. Annie, in her heart of hearts, felt rather sorry that
Mrs. Willis should happen to be away; dim ideas of honor and
trustworthiness were still stirring in her breast, but she dared not
think now.

The night was in every respect propitious; the moon would not rise until
after twelve, so the little party could get away under the friendly
shelter of the darkness, and soon afterward have plenty of light to enjoy
their stolen feast. They had arranged to make no movement until close on
midnight, and then they were all to meet in a passage which belonged to
the kitchen regions, and where there was a side door which opened
directly into the shrubbery. This door was not very often unlocked, and
Annie had taken the key from its place in the lock some days before. She
went to bed with her companions at nine o'clock as usual, and presently
fell into an uneasy doze. She awoke to hear the great clock in the hall
strike eleven, and a few minutes afterward she heard Miss Danesbury's
footsteps retiring to her room at the other end of the passage.

"Danesbury is always the last to go to bed," whispered Annie to herself;
"I can get up presently."

She lay for another twenty minutes, then, softly rising, began to put on
her clothes in the dark. Over her dress she fastened her waterproof, and
placed a close-fitting brown velvet cap on her curly head. Having dressed
herself, she approached Susan's bed, with the intention of rousing her.

"I shall have fine work now," she said, "and shall probably have to
resort to cold water. Really, if Susy proves too hard to wake, I shall
let her sleep on--her drowsiness is past bearing."

Annie, however, was considerably startled when she discovered that Miss
Drummond's bed was without an occupant.

At this moment the room door was very softly opened, and Susan, fully
dressed and in her waterproof, came in.

"Why, Susy, where have you been?" exclaimed Annie. "Fancy you being awake
a moment before it is necessary!"

"For once in a way I was restless," replied Miss Drummond, "so I thought
I would get up, and take a turn in the passage outside. The house is
perfectly quiet, and we can come now; most of the girls are already
waiting at the side door."

Holding their shoes in their hands, Annie and Susan went noiselessly down
the carpetless stairs, and found the remaining six girls waiting for them
by the side door.

"Rover is our one last danger now," said Annie, as she fitted the
well-oiled key into the lock. "Put on your shoes, girls, and let me out
first; I think I can manage him."

She was alluding to a great mastiff which was usually kept chained up by
day. Phyllis and Nora laid their hands on her arm.

"Oh, Annie, oh love, suppose he seizes on you, and knocks you down--oh,
dare you venture?"

"Let me go," said Annie a little contemptuously; "you don't suppose I am
afraid?"

Her fingers trembled, for her nerves were highly strung; but she managed
to unlock the door and draw back the bolts, and, opening it softly, she
went out into the silent night.

Very slight as the noise she made was, it had aroused the watchful Rover,
who trotted around swiftly to know what was the matter. But Annie had
made friends with Rover long ago, by stealing to his kennel door and
feeding him, and she had now but to say "Rover" in her melodious voice,
and throw her arms around his neck, to completely subvert his morals.

"He is one of us, girls," she called in a whisper to her companions;
"come out. Rover will be as naughty as the rest of us, and go with us as
our body-guard to the fairies' field. Now, I will lock the door on the
outside, and we can be off. Ah, the moon is getting up splendidly, and
when we have secured Betty's basket, we shall be quite out of reach of
danger."

At Annie's words of encouragement the seven girls ventured out. She
locked the door, put the key into her pocket, and, holding Rover by his
collar, led the way in the direction of the laurel-bush. The basket was
secured, and Susan, to her disgust, and Mary Morris were elected for the
first part of the way to carry it. The young truants then walked quickly
down the avenue until they came to a turnstile which led into a wood.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

IN THE FAIRIES' FIELD.


The moon had now come up brilliantly, and the little party were in the
highest possible spirits. They had got safely away from the house, and
there was now, comparatively speaking, little fear of discovery. The more
timid ones, who ventured to confess that their hearts were in their
mouths while Annie was unlocking the side door, now became the most
excited, and perhaps the boldest, under the reaction which set in. Even
the wood, which was comparatively dark, with only patches of moonlight
here and there, and queer weird shadows where the trees were thinnest,
could not affect their spirits.

The poor sleepy rabbits must have been astonished that night at the
shouts of the revelers, as they hurried past them, and the birds must
have taken their sleepy heads from under their downy wings, and wondered
if the morning had come some hours before its usual time.

More than one solemn old owl blinked at them, and hooted as they passed,
and told them in owl language what silly, naughty young things they were,
and how they would repent of this dissipation by-and-by. But if the girls
were to have an hour of remorse, it did not visit them then; their hearts
were like feathers, and by the time they reached the fields where the
fairies were supposed to play, their spirits had become almost
uncontrollable.

Luckily for them this small green field lay in a secluded hollow, and
more luckily for them no tramps were about to hear their merriment.
Rover, who constituted himself Annie's protector, now lay down by her
side, and as she was the real ringleader and queen of the occasion, she
ordered her subjects about pretty sharply.

"Now, girls, quick; open the basket. Yes, I'm going to rest. I have
organized the whole thing, and I'm fairly tired; so I'll just sit quietly
here, and Rover will take care of me while you set things straight. Ah!
good Betty; she did not even forget the white table-cloth."

Here one of the girls remarked casually that the grass was wet with dew,
and that it was well they had all put on their waterproofs.

Annie interrupted again in a petulant voice:

"Don't croak, Mary Morris. Out with the chickens, lay the ham in this
corner, and the cherries will make a picturesque pile in the middle.
Twelve meringues in all; that means a meringue and a half each. We shall
have some difficulty in dividing. Oh, dear! oh, dear! how hungry I am! I
was far too excited to eat anything at supper-time."

"So was I," said Phyllis, coming up and pressing close to Annie. "I do
think Miss Danesbury cuts the bread and butter too thick--don't you,
Annie? I could not eat mine at all to-night, and Cecil Temple asked me if
I was not well."

"Those who don't want chicken hold up their hands," here interrupted
Annie, who had tossed her brown cap on the grass, and between whose brows
a faint frown had passed for an instant at the mention of Cecil's name.

The feast now began in earnest and silence reigned for a short time,
broken only by the clatter of plates and such an occasional remark as
"Pass the salt, please," "Pepper this way, if you've no objection," "How
good chicken tastes in fairy-land," etc. At last the ginger-beer bottles
began to pop--the girls' first hunger was appeased. Rover gladly crunched
up all the bones, and conversation flowed once more, accompanied by the
delicate diversion of taking alternate bites at meringues and
cheesecakes.

"I wish the fairies would come out," said Annie.

"Oh, don't!" shivered Phyllis, looking round her nervously.

"Annie darling, do tell us a ghost story," cried several voices.

Annie laughed and commenced a series of nonsense tales, all of a slightly
eerie character, which she made up on the spot.

The moon riding high in the heavens looked down on the young giddy heads,
and their laughter, naughty as they were, sounded sweet in the night air.

Time flew quickly and the girls suddenly discovered that they must pack
up their table-cloth and remove all traces of the feast unless they
wished the bright light of morning to discover them. They rose hastily,
sighing and slightly depressed now that their fun was over. The white
table-cloth, no longer very white, was packed into the basket, the
ginger-beer bottles placed on top of it and the lid fastened down. Not a
crumb of the feast remained; Rover had demolished the bones and the eight
girls had made short work of everything else, with the exception of the
cherry-stones, which Phyllis carefully collected and popped into a little
hole in the ground.

The party then progressed slowly homeward and once more entered the dark
wood. They were much more silent now; the wood was darker, and the chill
which foretells the dawn was making itself felt in the air. Either the
sense of cold or a certain effect produced by Annie's ridiculous stories,
made many of the little party unduly nervous.

They had only taken a few steps through the wood when Phyllis suddenly
uttered a piercing shriek. This shriek was echoed by Nora and by Mary
Morris, and all their hearts seemed to leap into their mouths when they
saw something move among the trees. Rover uttered a growl, and, but for
Annie's detaining hand, would have sprung forward. The high-spirited girl
was not to be easily daunted.

"Behold, girls, the goblin of the woods," she exclaimed. "Quiet, Rover;
stand still."

The next instant the fears of the little party reached their culmination
when a tall, dark figure stood directly in their paths.

"If you don't let us pass at once," said Annie's voice, "I'll set Rover
at you."

The dog began to bark loudly and quivered from head to foot.

The figure moved a little to one side, and a rather deep and slightly
dramatic voice said:

"I mean you no harm, young ladies; I'm only a gypsy-mother from the tents
yonder. You are welcome to get back to Lavender House. I have then one
course plain before me."

"Come on, girls," said Annie, now considerably frightened, while Phyllis,
and Nora, and one or two more began to sob.

"Look here, young ladies," said the gypsy in a whining voice, "I don't
mean you no harm, my pretties, and it's no affair of mine telling the
good ladies at Lavender House what I've seen. You cross my hand, dears,
each of you, with a bit of silver, and all I'll do is to tell your pretty
fortunes, and mum is the word with the gypsy-mother as far as this
night's prank is concerned."

"We had better do it, Annie--we had better do it," here sobbed Phyllis.
"If this was found out by Mrs. Willis we might be expelled--we might,
indeed; and that horrid woman is sure to tell of us--I know she is."

"Quite sure to tell, dear," said the tall gypsy, dropping a courtesy in a
manner which looked frightfully sarcastic in the long shadows made by the
trees. "Quite sure to tell, and to be expelled is the very least that
could happen to such naughty little ladies. Here's a nice little bit of
clearing in the wood, and we'll all come over, and Mother Rachel will
tell your fortunes in a twinkling, and no one will be the wiser. Sixpence
apiece, my dears--only sixpence apiece."

"Oh, come; do, do come," said Nora, and the next moment they were all
standing in a circle round Mother Rachel, who pocketed her blackmail
eagerly, and repeated some gibberish over each little hand. Over Annie's
palm she lingered for a brief moment, and looked with her penetrating
eyes into the girl's face.

"You'll have suffering before you, miss; some suspicion, and danger even
to life itself. But you'll triumph, my dear, you'll triumph. You're a
plucky one, and you'll do a brave deed. There--good-night, young ladies;
you have nothing more to fear from Mother Rachel."

The tall dark figure disappeared into the blackest shadows of the wood,
and the girls, now like so many frightened hares, flew home. They
deposited their basket where Betty would find it, under the shadow of the
great laurel in the back avenue. They all bade Rover an affectionate
"good-night." Annie softly unlocked the side-door, and one by one, with
their shoes in their hands, they regained their bedrooms. They were all
very tired, and very cold, and a dull fear and sense of insecurity rested
over each little heart. Suppose Mother Rachel proved unfaithful,
notwithstanding the sixpences?



CHAPTER XXIX.

HESTER'S FORGOTTEN BOOK.


It wanted scarcely three weeks to the holidays, and therefore scarcely
three weeks to that auspicious day when Lavender House was to be the
scene of one long triumph, and was to be the happy spot selected for a
midsummer holiday, accompanied by all that could make a holiday
perfect--for youth and health would be there, and even the unsuccessful
competitors for the great prizes would not have too sore hearts, for they
would know that on the next day they were going home. Each girl who had
done her best would have a word of commendation, and only those who were
very naughty, or very stubborn, could resist the all-potent elixir of
happiness which would be poured out so abundantly for Mrs. Willis' pupils
on this day.

Now that the time was drawing so near, those girls who were working for
prizes found themselves fully occupied from morning to night. In
play-hours even, girls would be seen with their heads bent over their
books, and, between the prizes and the acting, no little bees in any hive
could be more constantly employed than were these young girls just now.

No happiness is, after all, to be compared to the happiness of healthful
occupation. Busy people have no time to fret and no time to grumble.
According to our old friend, Dr. Watts, people who are healthily busy
have also no time to be naughty, for the old doctor says that it is for
idle hands that mischief is prepared.

Be that as it may, and there is great truth in it, some naughty sprites,
some bad fairies, were flitting around and about that apparently peaceful
atmosphere. That sunny home, governed by all that was sweet and good, was
not without its serpent.

Of all the prizes which attracted interest and aroused competition, the
prize for English composition was this year the most popular. In the
first place, this was known to be Mrs. Willis' own favorite subject. She
had a great wish that her girls should write intelligibly--she had a
greater wish that, if possible, they should think.

"Never was there so much written and printed," she was often heard to
say; "but can any one show me a book with thoughts in it? Can any one
show me, unless as a rare exception, a book which will live? Oh, yes,
these books which issue from the press in thousands are, many of them,
very smart, a great many of them clever, but they are thrown off too
quickly. All great things, great books among them, must be evolved
slowly."

Then she would tell her pupils what she considered the reason of this.

"In these days," she would say, "all girls are what is called highly
educated. Girls and boys alike must go in for competitive examinations,
must take out diplomas, and must pass certain standards of excellence.
The system is cramming from beginning to end. There is no time for
reflection. In short, my dear girls, you swallow a great deal, but you do
not digest your intellectual food."

Mrs. Willis hailed with pleasure any little dawnings of real thought in
her girls' prize essays. More than once she bestowed the prize upon the
essay which seemed to the girls the most crude and unfinished.

"Never mind," she would say, "here is an idea--or at least half an idea.
This little bit of composition is original, and not, at best, a poor
imitation of Sir. Walter Scott or Lord Macaulay."

Thus the girls found a strong stimulus to be their real selves in these
little essays, and the best of them chose their subject and let it
ferment in their brains without the aid of books, except for the more
technical parts.

More than one girl in the school was surprised at Dora Russell exerting
herself to try for the prize essay. She was just about to close her
school career, and they could not make out why she roused herself to work
for the most difficult prize, for which she would have to compete with
any girl in the school who chose to make a similar attempt.

Dora, however, had her own, not very high motive for making the attempt.
She was a thoroughly accomplished girl, graceful in her appearance and
manner; in short, just the sort of girl who would be supposed to do
credit to a school. She played with finish, and even delicacy of touch.
There was certainly no soul in her music, but neither were there any
wrong notes. Her drawings were equally correct, her perspective good, her
trees were real trees, and the coloring of her water-color sketches was
pure. She spoke French extremely well, and with a correct accent, and her
German also was above the average. Nevertheless, Dora was commonplace,
and those girls who knew her best spoke sarcastically, and smiled at one
another when she alluded to her prize essay, and seemed confident of
being the successful competitor.

"You won't like to be beaten, Dora, say, by Annie Forest," they would
laughingly remark; whereupon Dora's calm face, would slightly flush and
her lips would assume a very proud curve. If there was one thing she
could not bear it was to be beaten.

"Why do you try for it, Dora?" her class-fellows would ask; but here Dora
made no reply: she kept her reason to herself.

The fact was, Dora, who must be a copyist to the end of the chapter, and
who could never to her latest day do anything original, had determined to
try for the composition prize because she happened accidentally to hear a
conversation between Mrs. Willis and Miss Danesbury, in which something
was said about a gold locket with Mrs. Willis' portrait inside.

Dora instantly jumped at the conclusion that this was to be the great
prize bestowed upon the successful essayist. Delightful idea; how well
the trinket would look round her smooth white throat! Instantly she
determined to try for this prize, and of course as instantly the bare
idea of defeat became intolerable to her. She went steadily and
methodically to work. With extreme care she chose her subject. Knowing
something of Mrs. Willis' peculiarities, she determined that her theme
should not be historical; she believed that she could express herself
freely and with power if only she could secure an unhackneyed subject.
Suddenly an idea which she considered brilliant occurred to her. She
would call her composition "The River." This should not bear reference to
Father Thames, or any other special river of England, but it should trace
the windings of some fabled stream of Dora's imagination, which, as it
flowed along, should tell something of the story of the many places by
which it passed. Dora was charmed with her own thought, and worked hard,
evening after evening, at her subject, covering sheets of manuscript
paper with penciled jottings, and arranging and rearranging her somewhat
confused thoughts. She greatly admired a perfectly rounded period, and
she was most particular as to the style in which she wrote. For the
purpose of improving her style she even studied old volumes of Addison's
_Spectator_; but after a time she gave up this course of study, for she
found it so difficult to mold her English to Addison's that she came to
the comfortable conclusion that Addison was decidedly obsolete, and that
if she wished to do full justice to "The River" she must trust to her own
unaided genius.

At last the first ten pages were written. The subject was entered upon
with considerable flourishes, and some rather apt poetical quotations
from a book containing a collection of poems; the river itself had
already left its home in the mountain, and was careering merrily past
sunny meadows and little rural, impossible cottages, where the
golden-haired children played.

Dora made a very neat copy of her essay so far. She now began to see her
way clearly--there would be a very powerful passage as the river
approached the murky town. Here, indeed, would be room for powerful and
pathetic writing. She wondered if she might venture so far as to hide a
suicide in her rushing waters; and then at last the brawling river would
lose itself in the sea; and, of course, there would not be the smallest
connection between her river, and Kingsley's well-known song,

                           "Clear and cool."

She finished writing her ten pages, and being now positively certain of
her gold locket, went to bed in a happy state of mind.

This was the very night when Annie was to lead her revelers through the
dark wood, but Dora, who never troubled herself about the younger
classes, would have been certainly the last to notice the fact that a few
of the girls in Lavender House seemed little disposed to eat their
suppers of thick bread and butter and milk. She went to bed and dreamed
happy dreams about her golden locket, and had little idea that any
mischief was about to be performed.

Hester Thornton also, but in a very different spirit, was working hard at
her essay. Hester worked conscientiously; she had chosen "Marie
Antoinette" as her theme, and she read the sorrowful story of the
beautiful queen with intense interest, and tried hard to get herself into
the spirit of the times about which she must write. She had scarcely
begun her essay yet, but she had already collected most of the historical
facts.

Hester was a very careful little student, and as she prepared herself for
the great work, she thought little or nothing about the prize--she only
wanted to do justice to the unfortunate queen of France. She was in bed
that night, and just dropping off to sleep, when she suddenly remembered
that she had left a volume of French poetry on her school desk. This was
against the rules, and she knew that Miss Danesbury would confiscate the
book in the morning, and would not let her have it back for a week.
Hester particularly wanted this special book just now, as some of the
verses bore reference to her subject, and she could scarcely get on with
her essay without having it to refer to. She must lose no time in
instantly beginning to write her essay, and to do without her book of
poetry for a week would be a serious injury to her.

She resolved, therefore, to break through one of the rules, and, after
lying awake until the whole house was quiet, to slip down stairs, enter
the school-room and secure her poems. She heard the clock strike eleven,
and she knew that in a very few moments Miss Danesbury and Miss Good
would have retired to their rooms. Ah, yes, that was Miss Danesbury's
step passing her door. Ten minutes later she glided out of bed, slipped
on her dressing-gown, and opening her door ran swiftly down the
carpetless stairs, and found herself in the great stone hall which led to
the school-room.

She was surprised to find the school-room door a little ajar, but she
entered the room without hesitation, and, dark as it was, soon found her
desk, and the book of poems lying on the top. Hester was about to return
when she was startled by a little noise in that portion of the room where
the first class girls sat. The next moment somebody came heavily and
rather clumsily down the room, and the moon, which was just beginning to
rise, fell for an instant on a girl's face. Hester recognized the face of
Susan Drummond. What could she be doing here? She did not dare to speak,
for she herself had broken a rule in visiting the school-room. She
remained, therefore, perfectly still until Susan's steps died away, and
then, thankful to have secured her own property, returned to her bedroom,
and a moment or two later was sound asleep.



CHAPTER XXX.

"A MUDDY STREAM."


In the morning Dora Russell sat down as usual before her orderly and
neatly-kept desk. She raised the lid to find everything in its place--her
books and exercises all as they should be, and her pet essay in a neat
brown paper cover, lying just as she had left it the night before. She
was really getting quite excited about her river, and as this was a
half-holiday, she determined to have a good work at it in the afternoon.
She was beginning also to experience that longing for an auditor which
occasionally is known to trouble the breasts of genius. She felt that
those graceful ideas, that elegant language, those measured periods,
might strike happily on some other ears before they were read aloud as
the great work of the midsummer holidays.

She knew that Hester Thornton was making what she was pleased to term a
poor little attempt at trying for the same prize. Hester would scarcely
venture to copy anything from Dora's essay; she would probably be
discouraged, poor girl, in working any longer at her own composition; but
Dora felt that the temptation to read "The River," as far as it had gone,
to Hester was really too great to be resisted. Accordingly, after dinner
she graciously invited Hester to accompany her to a bower in the garden,
where the two friends might revel over the results of Dora's
extraordinary talents.

Hester was still, to a certain extent, under Dora's influence, and had
not the courage to tell her that she intended to be very busy over her
own essay this afternoon.

"Now, Hester, dear," said Dora, when they found themselves both seated in
the bower, "you are the only girl in the school to whom I could confide
the subject of my great essay. I really believe that I have hit on
something absolutely original. My dear child, I hope you won't allow
yourself to be discouraged. I fear that you won't have much heart to go
on with your theme after you have read my words; but, never mind, dear,
it will be good practice for you, and you know it _was_ rather silly to
go in for a prize which I intended to compete for."

"May I read your essay, please, Dora?" asked Hester. "I am very much
interested in my own study, and, whether I win the prize or not, I shall
always remember the pleasure I took in writing it."

"What subject did you select, dear?" inquired Miss Russell.

"Well, I am attempting a little sketch of Marie Antoinette."

"Ah, hackneyed, my dear girl--terribly hackneyed; but, of course, I don't
mean to discourage you. _Now I_--I draw a life-picture, and I call it
'The River.' See how it begins--why, I declare I know the words by heart,
'_As our eyes rest on this clear and limpid stream, as we see the sun
sparkle_----' My dear Hester, you shall read me my essay aloud. I shall
like to hear my own words from your lips, and you have really a pretty
accent, dear."

Hester folded back the brown paper cover, and wanting to have her task
over began to read hastily. But, as her eyes rested on the first lines,
she turned to her companion, and said:

"Did you not tell me that your essay was called 'The River'?"

"Yes, dear; the full title is 'The Windings of a Noble River.'"

"That's very odd," replied Hester. "What I see here is 'The Meanderings
of a Muddy Stream.' '_As our dull orbs rest on this turbid water on which
the sun cannot possibly shine._' Why, Dora, this cannot be your essay,
and yet, surely, it is your handwriting."

Dora, with her face suddenly flushing a vivid crimson, snatched the
manuscript from Hester's hand, and looked over it eagerly. Alas! there
was no doubt. The title of this essay was "The Meanderings of a Muddy
Stream," and the words which immediately followed were a smart and
ridiculous parody on her own high flown sentences. The resemblance to her
handwriting was perfect. The brown paper cover, neatly sewn on to protect
the white manuscript, was undoubtedly her cover; the very paper on which
the words were written seemed in all particulars the same. Dora turned
the sheets eagerly, and here for the first time she saw a difference.
Only four or five pages of the nonsense essay had been attempted, and the
night before, when finishing her toil, she had proudly numbered her tenth
page. She looked through the whole thing, turning leaf after leaf, while
her cheeks were crimson, and her hands trembled. In the first moment of
horrible humiliation and dismay she literally could not speak.

At last, springing to her feet, and confronting the astonished and almost
frightened Hester, she found her voice.

"Hester, you must help me in this. The most dreadful, the most atrocious
fraud has been committed. Some one has been base enough, audacious
enough, wicked enough, to go to my desk privately, and take away my real
essay--my work over which I have labored and toiled. The expressions of
my--my--yes, I will say it--my genius, have been ruthlessly burned, or
otherwise made away with, and _this_ thing has been put in their place.
Hester, why don't you speak--why do you stare at me like this?"

"I am puzzled by the writing," said Hester; "the writing is yours."

"The writing is mine!--oh, you wicked girl! The writing is an imitation
of mine--a feeble and poor imitation. I thought, Hester, that by this
time you knew your friend's handwriting. I thought that one in whom I
have confided--one whom I have stooped to notice because, I fancied we
had a community of soul, would not be so ridiculous and so silly as to
mistake this writing for mine. Look again, please, Hester Thornton, and
tell me if I am ever so vulgar as to cross my _t's_. You know I _always_
loop them; and do I make a capital B in this fashion? And do I indulge in
flourishes? I grant you that the general effect to a casual observer
would be something the same, but you, Hester--I thought you knew me
better."

Here Hester, examining the false essay, had to confess that the crossed
_t's_ and the flourishes were unlike Miss Russell's calligraphy.

"It is a forgery, most cleverly done," said Dora. "There is such a thing,
Hester, as being wickedly clever. This spiteful, cruel attempt to injure
another can have but proceeded from one very low order of mind. Hester,
there has been plenty of favoritism in this school, but do you suppose I
shall allow such a thing as this to pass over unsearched into? If
necessary, I shall ask my father to interfere. This is a slight--an
outrage; but the whole mystery shall at last be cleared up. Miss Good and
Miss Danesbury shall be informed at once, and the very instant Mrs.
Willis returns she shall be told what a serpent she has been nursing in
this false, wicked girl, Annie Forest."

"Stop, Dora," said Hester suddenly. She sprang to her feet, clasping her
hands, and her color varied rapidly from white to red. A sudden light
poured in upon her, and she was about to speak when something--quite a
small, trivial thing--occurred. She only saw little Nan in the distance
flying swiftly, with outstretched arms, to meet a girl, whose knees she
clasped in baby ecstasy. The girl stooped down and kissed the little
face, and the round arms were flung around her neck. The next instant
Annie Forest continued her walk alone, and Nan, looking wistfully back
after her, went in another direction with her nurse. The whole scene took
but a moment to enact, but as she watched, Hester's face grew hard and
white. She sat down again, with her lips firmly pressed together.

"What is it, Hester?" exclaimed Dora. "What were you going to say? You
surely know nothing about this?"

"Well, Dora, I am not the guilty person. I was only going to remark that
you cannot be _sure_ it is Annie Forest."

"Oh, so you are going to take that horrid girl's part now? I wonder at
you! She all but killed your little sister, and then stole her love away
from you. Did you see the little thing now, how she flew to her? Why, she
never kisses you like that."

"I know--I know," said Hester, and she turned away her face with a groan,
and leaned forward against the rustic bench, pressing her hot forehead
down on her hands.

"You'll have your triumph, Hester, when Miss Forest is publicly
expelled," said Dora, tapping her lightly on the shoulder, and then,
taking up the forged essay, she went slowly out of the garden.



CHAPTER XXXI.

GOOD AND BAD ANGELS.


Hester stayed behind in the shady little arbor, and then, on that soft
spring day, while the birds sang overhead, and the warm light breezes
came in and fanned her hot cheeks, good angels and bad drew near to fight
for a victory. Which would conquer? Hester had many faults, but hitherto
she had been honorable and truthful; her sins had been those of pride and
jealousy, but she had never told a falsehood in her life. She knew
perfectly--she trembled as the full knowledge overpowered her--that she
had it in her power to exonerate Annie. She could not in the least
imagine how stupid Susan Drummond could contrive and carry out such a
clever and deep-laid plot; but she knew also that if she related what she
had seen with her own eyes the night before, she would probably give such
a clue to the apparent mystery that the truth would come to light.

If Annie was cleared from this accusation, doubtless the old story of her
supposed guilt with regard to Mrs. Willis' caricature would also be read
with its right key. Hester was a clever and sharp girl; and the fact of
seeing Susan Drummond in the school-room in the dead of night opened her
eyes also to one or two other apparent little mysteries. While Susan was
her own room-mate she had often given a passing wonder to the fact of her
extraordinary desire to overcome her sleepiness, and had laughed over the
expedients Susan had used to wake at all moments.

These things, at the time, had scarcely given her a moment's serious
reflection; but now she pondered them carefully, and became more and more
certain, that, for some inexplicable and unfathomable reason sleepy, and
apparently innocent, Susan Drummond wished to sow the seeds of mischief
and discord in the school. Hester was sure that if she chose to speak now
she could clear poor Annie, and restore her to her lost place in Mrs.
Willis' favor.

Should she do so? ah! should she? Her lips trembled, her color came and
went as the angels, good and bad, fought hard for victory within her. How
she had longed to revenge herself on Annie! How cordially she had hated
her! Now was the moment of her revenge. She had but to remain silent now,
and to let matters take their course; she had but to hold her tongue
about the little incident of last night, and, without any doubt,
circumstantial evidence would point at Annie Forest, and she would be
expelled from the school. Mrs. Willis must condemn her now. Mr. Everard
must pronounce her guilty now. She would go, and when the coast was again
clear the love which she had taken from Hester--the precious love of
Hester's only little sister--would return.

"You will be miserable; you will be miserable," whispered the good angels
sorrowfully in her ear; but she did not listen to them.

"I said I would revenge myself, and this is my opportunity," she
murmured. "Silence--just simply silence--will be my revenge."

Then the good angels went sorrowfully back to their Father in heaven, and
the wicked angels rejoiced. Hester had fallen very low.



CHAPTER XXXII.

FRESH SUSPICIONS.


Mrs. Willis was not at home many hours before Dora Russell begged for an
interview with her. Annie had not as yet heard anything of the changed
essay; for Dora had resolved to keep the thing a secret until Mrs. Willis
herself took the matter in hand.

Annie was feeling not a little anxious and depressed. She was sorry now
that she had led the girls that wild escapade through the wood. Phyllis
and Nora were both suffering from heavy colds in consequence, and Susan
Drummond was looking more pasty about her complexion, and was more
dismally sleepy than usual. Annie was going through her usual season of
intense remorse after one of her wild pranks. No one repented with more
apparent fervor than she did, and yet no one so easily succumbed to the
next temptation. Had Annie been alone in the matter she would have gone
straight to Mrs. Willis and confessed all; but she could not do this
without implicating her companions, who would have screamed with horror
at the very suggestion.

All the girls were more or less depressed by the knowledge that the gypsy
woman, Mother Rachel, shared their secret; and they often whispered
together as to the chances of her betraying them. Old Betty they could
trust; for Betty, the cake-woman, had been an arch-conspirator with the
naughty girls of Lavender House from time immemorial. Betty had always
managed to provide their stolen suppers for them, and had been most
accommodating in the matter of pay. Yes, with Betty they felt they were
safe; but Mother Rachel was a different person. She might like to be paid
a few more sixpences for her silence; she might hover about the grounds;
she might be noticed. At any moment she might boldly demand an interview
with Mrs. Willis.

"I'm awfully afraid of Mother Rachel," Phyllis moaned, as she shivered
under the influence of her bad cold.

Nora said "I should faint if I saw her again, I know I should;" while the
other girls always went out provided with stray sixpences, in case the
gypsy mother should start up from some unexpected quarter and demand
blackmail.

On the day of Mrs. Willis' return, Annie was pacing up and down the shady
walk, and indulging in some rather melancholy and regretful thoughts,
when Susan Drummond and Mary Morris rushed up to her, white with terror.

"She's down there by the copse, and she's beckoning to us! Oh, do come
with us--do, darling, dear Annie."

"There's no use in it," replied Annie; "Mother Rachel wants money, and I
am not going to give her any. Don't be afraid of her, girls, and don't
give her money. After all, why should she tell on us? she would gain
nothing by doing so."

"Oh, yes, she would, Annie--she would, Annie," said Mary Morris,
beginning to sob; "oh, do come with us, do! We must pacify her, we really
must."

"I can't come now," said Annie; "hark! some one is calling me. Yes, Miss
Danesbury--what is it?"

"Mrs. Willis wishes to see you at once, Annie, in her private
sitting-room," replied Miss Danesbury; and Annie, wondering not a little,
but quite unsuspicious, ran off.

The fact, however, of her having deliberately disobeyed Mrs. Willis, and
done something which she knew would greatly pain her, brought a shade of
embarrassment to her usually candid face. She had also to confess to
herself that she did not feel quite so comfortable about Mother Rachel as
she had given Mary Morris and Susan Drummond to understand. Her steps
lagged more and more as she approached the house, and she wished, oh, how
longingly! oh, how regretfully! that she had not been naughty and wild
and disobedient in her beloved teacher's absence.

"But where is the use of regretting what is done?" she said, half aloud.
"I know I can never be good--never, never!"

She pushed aside the heavy velvet curtains which shaded the door of the
private sitting-room, and went in, to find Mrs. Willis seated by her
desk, very pale and tired and unhappy looking, while Dora Russell, with
crimson spots on her cheeks and a very angry glitter in her eyes, stood
by the mantel-piece.

"Come here, Annie dear," said Mrs. Willis in her usual gentle and
affectionate tone.

Annie's first wild impulse was to rush to her governess' side, to fling
her arms round her neck, and, as a child would confess to her mother, to
tell her all that story of the walk through the wood, and the stolen
picnic in the fairies' field. Three things, however, restrained her--she
must not relieve her own troubles at the expense of betraying others; she
could not, even if she were willing, say a word in the presence of this
cold and angry-looking Dora; in the third place, Mrs. Willis looked very
tired and very sad. Not for worlds would she add to her troubles at this
instant. She came into the room, however, with a slight hesitation of
manner and a clouded brow, which caused Mrs. Willis to watch her with
anxiety and Dora with triumph.

"Come here, Annie," repeated the governess. "I want to speak to you.
Something very dishonorable and disgraceful has been done in my absence."

Annie's face suddenly became as white as a sheet. Could the gypsy mother
have already betrayed them all?

Mrs. Willis, noticing her too evident confusion, continued in a voice
which, in spite of herself, became stern and severe.

"I shall expect the truth at any cost, my dear. Look at this
manuscript-book. Do you know anything of the handwriting?"

"Why, it is yours, of course, Dora," said Annie, who was now absolutely
bewildered.

"It is _not_ mine," began Dora, but Mrs. Willis held up her hand.

"Allow me to speak, Miss Russell. I can best explain matters. Annie,
during my absence some one has been guilty of a very base and wicked act.
One of the girls in this school has gone secretly to Dora Russell's desk
and taken away ten pages of an essay which she had called 'The River,'
and which she was preparing for the prize competition next month. Instead
of Dora's essay this that you now see was put in its place. Examine it,
my dear. Can you tell me anything about it?"

Annie took the manuscript-book and turned the leaves.

"Is it meant for a parody?" she asked, after a pause; "it sounds
ridiculous. No, Mrs. Willis, I know nothing whatever about it; some one
has imitated Dora's handwriting. I cannot imagine who is the culprit."

She threw the manuscript-book with a certain easy carelessness on the
table by her side, and glanced up with a twinkle of mirth in her eyes at
Dora.

"I suppose it is meant for a clever parody," she repeated; "at least it
is amusing."

Her manner displeased Mrs. Willis, and very nearly maddened poor Dora.

"We have not sent for you, Annie," said her teacher, "to ask you your
opinion of the parody, but to try and get you to throw light on the
subject. We must find out, and at once, who has been so wicked as to
deliberately injure another girl."

"But why have you sent for _me_?" asked Annie, drawing herself up, and
speaking with a little shade of haughtiness.

"Because," said Dora Russell, who could no longer contain her outraged
feelings, "because you alone can throw light on it--because you alone in
the school are base enough to do anything so mean--because you alone can
caricature."

"Oh, that is it," said Annie; "you suspect me, then. Do _you_ suspect me,
Mrs. Willis?"

"My dear--what can I say?"

"Nothing, if you do. In this school my word has long gone for nothing. I
am a naughty, headstrong, willful girl, but in this matter I am perfectly
innocent. I never saw that essay before: I never in all my life went to
Dora Russell's desk. I am headstrong and wild, but I don't do spiteful
things. I have no object in injuring Dora; she is nothing to me--nothing.
She is trying for the essay prize, but she has no chance of winning it.
Why should I trouble myself to injure her? Why should I even take the
pains to parody her words and copy her handwriting? Mrs. Willis, you need
not believe me--I see you do not believe me--but I am quite innocent."

Here Annie burst into sudden tears, and ran out of the room.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

UNTRUSTWORTHY.


Dora Russell had declared, in Hester's presence, and with intense energy
in her manner, that the author of the insult to which she had been
exposed should be publicly punished and, if possible, expelled. On the
evening of her interview with the head teacher, she had so far forgotten
herself as to reiterate this desire with extreme vehemence. She had
boldly declared her firm conviction of Annie's guilt, and had broadly
hinted at Mrs. Willis' favoritism toward her. The great dignity, however,
of her teacher's manner, and the half-sorrowful, half-indignant look she
bestowed on the excited girl, calmed her down after a time. Mrs. Willis
felt full sympathy for Dora, and could well understand how trying and
aggravating this practical joke must be to so proud a girl; but although
her faith was undoubtedly shaken in Annie, she would not allow this
sentiment to appear.

"I will do all I can for you, Dora," she said, when the weeping Annie had
left the room; "I will do everything in my power to find out who has
injured you. Annie has absolutely denied the accusation you bring against
her, and unless her guilt can be proved it is but right to believe her
innocent. There are many other girls in Lavender House, and to-morrow
morning I will sift this unpleasant affair to the very bottom. Go, now,
my dear, and if you have sufficient self-command and self-control, try to
have courage to write your essay over again. I have no doubt that your
second rendering of your subject will be more attractive than the first.
Beginners cannot too often re-write their themes."

Dora gave her head a proud little toss, but she was sufficiently in awe
of Mrs. Willis to keep back any retort, and she went out of the room
feeling unsatisfied and wretched, and inclined for a sympathizing chat
with her little friend Hester Thornton.

Hester, however when she reached her, seemed not at all disposed to talk
to any one.

"I've had it all out with Mrs. Willis, and there is no doubt she will be
exposed to-morrow morning," said Dora half aloud.

Hester, whose head was bent over her French history, looked up with an
annoyed expression.

"Who will be exposed?" she asked, in a petulant voice.

"Oh, how stupid you are growing, Hester Thornton!" exclaimed Dora; "why,
that horrid Annie Forest, of course--but really I have no patience to
talk to you; you have lost all your spirit. I was very foolish to demean
myself by taking so much notice of one of the little girls."

Dora sailed down the play-room to her own drawing-room, fully expecting
Hester to rise and rush after her; but to her surprise Hester did not
stir, but sat with her head bent over her book, and her cheeks slightly
flushed.

The next morning Mrs. Willis kept her word to Dora, and made the very
strictest inquiries with regard to the practical joke to which Dora had
been subjected. She first of all fully explained what had taken place in
the presence of the whole school, and then each girl was called up in
rotation, and asked two questions: first, had she done this mischievous
thing herself? second, could she throw any light on the subject.

One by one each girl appeared before her teacher, replied in the negative
to both queries, and returned to her seat.

"Now, girls," said Mrs. Willis, "you have each of you denied this charge.
Such a thing as has happened to Dora could not have been done without
hands. The teachers in the school are above suspicion; the servants are
none of them clever enough to perform this base trick. I suspect one of
you, and I am quite determined to get at the truth. During the whole of
this half-year there has been a spirit of unhappiness, of mischief, and
of suspicion in our midst. Under these circumstances love cannot thrive;
under these circumstances the true and ennobling sense of brotherly
kindness, and all those feelings which real religion prompt must
languish. I tell you all now plainly that I will not have this thing in
Lavender House. It is simply disgraceful for one girl to play such tricks
on her fellows. This is not the first time nor the second time that the
school desks have been tampered with. I will find out--I am determined to
find out, who this dishonest person is; and as she has not chosen to
confess to me, as she has preferred falsehood to truth, I will visit her,
when I do discover her, with my very gravest displeasure. In this school
I have always endeavored to inculcate the true principles of honor and of
trust. I have laid down certain broad rules, and expect them to be
obeyed; but I have never hampered you with petty and humiliating
restraints. I have given you a certain freedom, which I believed to be
for your best good, and I have never suspected one of you until you have
given me due cause.

"Now, however, I tell you plainly that I alter all my tactics. One girl
sitting in this room is guilty. For her sake I shall treat you all as
guilty, and punish you accordingly. For the remainder of this term, or
until the hour when the guilty girl chooses to release her companions,
you are all, with the exception of the little children and Miss Russell,
who can scarcely have played this trick on herself, under punishment. I
withdraw your half-holidays, I take from you the use of the south parlor
for your acting, and every drawing-room in the play-room is confiscated.
But this is not all that I do. In taking from you my trust, I must treat
you as untrustworthy--you will no longer enjoy the liberty you used to
delight in--everywhere you will be watched. A teacher will sit in your
play-room with you, a teacher will accompany you into the grounds, and I
tell you plainly, girls, that chance words and phrases which drop from
your lips shall be taken up, and used, if necessary, to the elucidation
of this disgraceful mystery."

Here Mrs. Willis left the room, and the teachers desired the several
girls in their classes to attend to their morning studies.

Nothing could exceed the dismay which her words had produced. The
innocent girls were fairly stunned, and from that hour for many a day all
sunshine and happiness seemed really to have left Lavender House.

The two, however, who felt the change most acutely, and on whose altered
faces their companions began to fix suspicious eyes, were Annie Forest
and Hester Thornton. Hester was burdened with an intolerable sense of the
shameful falsehood she had told; Annie, guilty in another matter,
succumbed at last utterly to a sense of misery and injustice. Her
orphaned and lonely position for the first time began to tell on her; she
ate little and slept little, her face grew very pale and thin, and her
health really suffered.

All the routine of happy life at Lavender House was changed. In the large
play-room the drawing-rooms were unused; there were no pleasant little
knots of girls whispering happily and confidentially together, for
whenever two or three girls sat down to have a chat they found that one
or another of the teachers was within hearing. The acting for the coming
play progressed so languidly that no one expected it would really take
place, and the one relief and relaxation to the unhappy girls lay in the
fact that the holidays were not far off, and that in the meantime they
might work hard for the prizes.

The days passed in a truly melancholy fashion, and, perhaps, for the
first time the girls fully appreciated the old privileges of freedom and
trust which were now forfeited. There was a feeble little attempt at a
joke and a laugh in the school at Dora's expense. The most frivolous of
the girls whispered of her as she passed as "the muddy stream;" but no
one took up the fun with avidity--the shadow of somebody's sin had fallen
too heavily upon all the bright young lives.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

BETTY FALLS ILL AT AN AWKWARD TIME.


The eight girls who had gone out on their midnight picnic were much
startled one day by an unpleasant discovery. Betty had never come for her
basket. Susan Drummond, who had a good deal of curiosity, and always
poked her nose into unexpected corners, had been walking with a Miss
Allison in that part of the grounds where the laurel-bush stood. She had
caught a peep of the white handle of the basket, and had instantly turned
her companion's attention to something else. Miss Allison had not
observed Susan's start of dismay; but Susan had taken the first
opportunity of getting rid of her, and had run off in search of one of
the girls who had shared in the picnic. She came across Annie Forest, who
was walking, as usual, by herself, with her head slightly bent, and her
curling hair in sad confusion. Susan whispered the direful intelligence
that old Betty had forsaken them, and that the basket, with its
ginger-beer bottles and its stained table-cloth, might be discovered at
any moment.

Annie's pale face flushed slightly at Susan's words.

"Why should we try to conceal the thing?" she said, speaking with sudden
energy, and a look of hope and animation coming back to her face. "Susy,
let's go, all of us, and tell the miserable truth to Mrs. Willis; it will
be much the best way. We did not do the other thing, and when we have
confessed about this, our hearts will be at rest."

"No, we did not do the other thing," said Susan, a queer, gray color
coming over her face; "but confess about this, Annie Forest!--I think you
are mad. You dare not tell."

"All right," said Annie, "I won't, unless you all agree to it," and then
she continued her walk, leaving Susan standing on the graveled path with
her hands clasped together, and a look of most genuine alarm and dismay
on her usually phlegmatic face.

Susan quickly found Phyllis and Nora, and it was only too easy to arouse
the fears of these timid little people. Their poor little faces became
almost pallid, and they were not a little startled at the fact of Annie
Forest, their own arch-conspirator, wishing to betray their secret.

"Oh," said Susan Drummond, "she's not out and out shabby; she says she
won't tell unless we all wish it. But what is to become of the basket?"

"Come, come, young ladies; no whispering, if you please," said Miss Good,
who came up at this moment. "Susan, you are looking pale and cold, walk
up and down that path half-a-dozen times, and then go into the house.
Phyllis and Nora, you can come with me as far as the lodge. I want to
take a message from Mrs. Willis to Mary Martin about the fowl for
to-morrow's dinner."

Phyllis and Nora, with dismayed faces, walked solemnly away with the
English teacher, and Susan was left to her solitary meditations.

Things had come to such a pass that her slow wits were brought into play,
and she neither felt sleepy, nor did she indulge in her usual habit of
eating lollipops.

That basket might be discovered any day, and then--then disgrace was
imminent. Susan could not make out what had become of old Betty; never
before had she so utterly failed them.

Betty lived in a little cottage about half a mile from Lavender House.
She was a sturdy, apple-cheeked, little old woman, and had for many a day
added to her income--indeed, almost supported herself--by means of the
girls at Lavender House. The large cherry-trees in her little garden bore
their rich crop of fruit year after year for Mrs. Willis' girls, and
every day at an early hour Betty would tramp into Sefton and return with
a temptingly-laden basket of the most approved cakes and tarts. There was
a certain paling at one end of the grounds to which Betty used to come.
Here on the grass she would sit contentedly, with the contents of her
baskets arranged in the most tempting order before her, and to this
seductive spot she knew well that those little misses who loved goodies,
cakes and tartlets would be sure to find their way. Betty charged high
for her wares; but, as she was always obliging in the matter of credit,
the thoughtless girls cared very little that they paid double the shop
prices for Betty's cakes. The best girls in the school, certainly, never
went to Betty; but Annie Forest, Susan Drummond, and several others had
regular accounts with her, and few days passed that their young faces
would not peep over the paling and their voices ask:

"What have you got to tempt me with to-day, Betty?"

It was, however, in the matter of stolen picnics, of grand feasts in the
old attic, etc., etc., that Betty was truly great. No one so clever as
she in concealing a basket of delicious eatables, no one knew better what
schoolgirls liked. She undoubtedly charged her own prices, but what she
gave was of the best, and Betty was truly in her element when she had an
order from the young ladies of Lavender House for a grand secret feast.

"You shall have it, my pretties--you shall have it," she would say,
wrinkling up her bright blue eyes, and smiling broadly. "You leave it to
Betty, my little loves; you leave it to Betty."

On the occasion of the picnic to the fairies' field Betty had, indeed,
surpassed herself in the delicious eatables she had provided; all had
gone smoothly, the basket had been placed in a secure hiding-place under
the thick laurel. It was to be fetched away by Betty herself at an early
hour on the following morning.

No wonder Susan was perplexed as she paced about and pretended to warm
herself. It was a June evening, but the weather was still a little cold.
Susan remembered now that Betty had not come to her favorite station at
the stile for several days. Was it possible that the old woman was ill?
As this idea occurred to her, Susan became more alarmed. She knew that
there was very little chance of the basket remaining long in concealment.
Rover might any day remember his pleasant picnic with affection, and drag
the white basket from under the laurel-bush. Michael the gardener would
be certain to see it when next he cleaned up the back avenue. Oh, it was
more than dangerous to leave it there, and yet Susan knew of no better
hiding-place. A sudden idea came to her; she pulled out her pretty little
watch, and saw that she need not return to the house for another
half-hour. "Suppose she ran as fast as possible to Betty's little cottage
and begged of the old woman to come by the first light in the morning and
fetch away the basket?"

The moment Susan conceived this idea she resolved to put it into
execution. She looked around her hastily: no teacher was in sight, Miss
Good was away at the lodge, Miss Danesbury was playing with the little
children. Mademoiselle, she knew, had gone indoors with a bad headache.
She left the broad walk where she had been desired to stay, and plunging
into the shrubbery, soon reached Betty's paling. In a moment she had
climbed the bars, had jumped lightly into the field, and was running as
fast as possible in the direction of Betty's cottage. She reached the
high road, and started and trembled violently as a carriage with some
ladies and gentlemen passed her. She thought she recognized the faces of
the two little Misses Bruce, but did not dare to look at them, and
hurried panting along the road, and hoping she might be mistaken.

In less than a quarter of an hour she had reached Betty's little cottage,
and was standing trying to recover her breath by the shut door. The place
had a deserted look, and several overripe cherries had fallen from the
trees and were lying neglected on the ground. Susan knocked impatiently.
There was no discernible answer. She had no time to wait, she lifted the
latch, which yielded to her pressure, and went in.

Poor old Betty, crippled, and in severe pain with rheumatism, was lying
on her little bed.

"Eh, dear--and is that you, my pretty missy?" she asked, as Susan, hot
and tired, came up to her side.

"Oh, Betty, are you ill?" asked Miss Drummond "I came to tell you you
have forgotten the basket."

"No, my dear, no--not forgot. By no means that, lovey; but I has been
took with the rheumatism this past week, and can't move hand or foot. I
was wondering how you'd do without your cakes and tartlets, dear, and to
think of them cherries lying there good for nothing on the ground is
enough to break one's 'eart."

"So it is," said Susan, giving an appreciative glance toward the open
door. "They are beautiful cherries, and full of juice, I am sure. I'll
take a few, Betty, as I am going out, and pay you for them another day.
But what I have come about now is the basket. You must get the basket
away, however ill you are. If the basket is discovered we are all lost,
and then good-by to your gains."

"Well, missy, dear, if I could crawl on my hands and knees I'd go and
fetch it, rather than you should be worried; but I can't set foot to the
ground at all. The doctor says as 'tis somethink like rheumatic fever as
I has."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear," said Susan, not wasting any of her precious moments
in pitying the poor suffering old woman. "What _is_ to be done? I tell
you, Betty, if that basket is found we are all lost."

"But the laurel is very thick, lovey: it ain't likely to be found--it
ain't, indeed."

"I tell you it _is_ likely to be found, you tiresome old woman, and you
really must go for it or send for it. You really must."

Old Betty began to ponder.

"There's Moses," she said, after a pause of anxious thought; "he's a
'cute little chap, and he might go. He lives in the fourth cottage along
the lane. Moses is his name--Moses Moore. I'd give him a pint of cherries
for the job. If you wouldn't mind sending Moses to me, Miss Susan, why,
I'll do my best; only it seems a pity to let anybody into your secrets,
young ladies, but old Betty herself."

"It is a pity," said Susan, "but, under the circumstances, it can't be
helped. What cottage did you say this Moses lived in?"

"The fourth from here, down the lane, lovey--Moses is the lad's name;
he's a freckled boy, with a cast in one eye. You send him up to me,
dearie; but don't mention the cherries, or he'll be after stealing them.
He's a sad rogue, is Moses; but I think I can tempt him with the
cherries."

Susan did not wait to bid poor old Betty "good-bye," but ran out of the
cottage, shutting the door after her, and snatching up two or three ripe
cherries to eat on her way. She was so far fortunate as to find the
redoubtable Moses at home, and to convey him bodily to old Betty's
presence. The queer boy grinned horribly, and looked as wicked as boy
could look; but on the subject of cherries he was undoubtedly
susceptible, and after a good deal of haggling and insisting that the
pint should be a quart, he expressed his willingness to start off at four
o'clock on the following morning, and bring away the basket from under
the laurel-tree.



CHAPTER XXXV.

"YOU ARE WELCOME TO TELL."


Annie continued her walk. The circumstances of the last two months had
combined to do for her what nothing had hitherto effected. When a little
child she had known hardship and privation, she had passed through that
experience which is metaphorically spoken of as "going down hill." As a
baby little Annie had been surrounded by comforts and luxuries, and her
father and mother had lived in a large house, and kept a carriage, and
Annie had two nurses to wait on herself alone. These were in the days
before she could remember anything. With her first early memories came
the recollection of a much smaller house, of much fewer servants, of her
mother often in tears, and her father often away. Then there was no house
at all that the Forests could call their own, only rooms of a tolerably
cheerful character--and Annie's nurse went away, and she took her daily
walks by her mother's side and slept in a little cot in her mother's
room. Then came a very, very sad day, when her mother lay cold and still
and fainting on her bed, and her tall and handsome father caught Annie in
his arms and pressed her to his heart, and told her to be a good child
and to keep up her spirits, and, above all things, to take care of
mother. Then her father had gone away; and though Annie expected him
back, he did not come, and she and her mother went into poorer and
shabbier lodgings, and her mother began to try her tear-dimmed eyes by
working at church embroidery, and Annie used to notice that she coughed a
good deal as she worked. Then there was another move, and this time Mrs.
Forest and her little daughter found themselves in one bedroom, and
things began to grow very gloomy, and food even was scarce. At last there
was a change. One day a lady came into the dingy little room, and all on
a sudden it seemed as if the sun had come out again. This lady brought
comforts with her--toys and books for the child, good, brave words of
cheer for the mother. At last Annie's mother died, and she went away to
Lavender House to live with this good friend who had made her mother's
dying hours easy.

"Annie, Annie," said the dying mother, "I owe everything to Mrs. Willis;
we knew each other long ago when we were girls, and she has come to me
now and made everything easy. When I am gone she will take care of you.
Oh, my child, I cannot repay her; but will you try?"

"Yes, mother," said little Annie, gazing full into her mother's face with
her sweet bright eyes, "I'll--I'll love her, mother; I'll give her lots
and lots of love."

Annie had gone to Lavender House, and kept her word, for she had almost
worshiped the good mistress who was so true and kind to her, and who had
so befriended her mother. Through all the vicissitudes of her short
existence Annie had, however, never lost one precious gift. Hers was an
affectionate, but also a wonderfully bright, nature. It was as impossible
for Annie to turn away from laughter and merriment as it would be for a
flower to keep its head determinately turned from the sun. In their
darkest days Annie had managed to make her mother laugh; her little face
was a sunbeam, her very naughtinesses were of a laughable character.

Her mother died--her father was still away, but Annie retained her brave
and cheerful spirit, for she gave and received love. Mrs. Willis loved
her--she bestowed upon her among all her girls the tenderest glances, the
most motherly caresses. The teachers undoubtedly corrected and even
scolded her, but they could not help liking her, and even her worst
scrapes made them smile. Annie's companions adored her; the little
children would do anything for their own Annie, and even the servants in
the school said that there was no young lady in Lavender House fit to
hold a candle to Miss Forest.

During the last half-year, however, things had been different. Suspicion
and mistrust began to dog the footsteps of the bright young girl; she was
no longer a universal favorite--some of the girls even openly expressed
their dislike of her.

All this Annie could have borne, but for the fact that Mrs. Willis joined
in the universal suspicion. The old glance now never came to her eyes,
nor the old tone to her voice. For the first time Annie's spirits utterly
flagged; she could not bear this universal coldness, this universal
chill. She began to droop physically as well as mentally.

She was pacing up and down the walk, thinking very sadly, wondering
vaguely, if her father would ever return, and conscious of a feeling of
more or less indifference to everything and every one, when she was
suddenly roused from her meditation by the patter of small feet and by a
very eager little exclamation:

"Me tumming--me tumming, Annie!" and then Nan raised her charming face
and placed her cool baby hand in Annie's.

There was delicious comfort in the clasp of the little hand, and in the
look of love and pleasure which lit up the small face.

"Me yiding from naughty nurse--me 'tay with you, Annie--me love 'oo,
Annie."

Annie stooped down, kissed the little one, and lifted her into her arms.

"Why ky?" said Nan, who saw with consternation two big tears in Annie's
eyes; "dere, poor ickle Annie--me love 'oo--me buy 'oo a new doll."

"Dearest little darling," said Annie in a voice of almost passionate
pain; then, with that wonderful instinct which made her in touch with all
little children, she cheered up, wiped away her tears, and allowed
laughter once more to wreathe her lips and fill her eyes. "Come, Nan,"
she said, "you and I will have such a race."

She placed the child on her shoulder, clasped the little hands securely
round her neck, and ran to the sound of Nan's shouts down the shady walk.

At the farther end Nan suddenly tightened her clasp, drew herself up,
ceased to laugh, and said with some fright in her voice:

"Who dat?"

Annie, too, stood still with a sudden start, for the gypsy woman, Mother
Rachel, was standing directly in their path.

"Go 'way, naughty woman," said Nan, shaking her small hand imperiously.

The gypsy dropped a low courtesy, and spoke in a slightly mocking tone.

"A pretty little dear," she said. "Yes, truly now, a pretty little
winsome dear; and oh, what shoes! and little open-work socks! and I don't
doubt real lace trimming on all her little garments--I don't doubt it a
bit."

"Go 'way--me don't like 'oo," said Nan. "Let's wun back--gee, gee," she
said, addressing Annie, whom she had constituted into a horse for the
time being.

"Yes, Nan; in one minute," said Annie. "Please, Mother Rachel, what are
you doing here?"

"Only waiting to see you, pretty missie," replied the tall gypsy. "You
are the dear little lady who crossed my hand with silver that night in
the wood. Eh, but it was a bonny night, with a bonny bright moon, and
none of the dear little ladies meant any harm--no, no, Mother Rachel
knows that."

"Look here," said Annie, "I'm not going to be afraid of you. I have no
more silver to give you. If you like, you may go up to the house and tell
what you have seen. I am very unhappy, and whether you tell or not can
make very little difference to me now. Good-night; I am not the least
afraid of you--you can do just as you please about telling Mrs. Willis."

"Eh, my dear?" said the gypsy; "do you think I'd work you any harm--you,
and the seven other dear little ladies? No, not for the world, my
dear--not for the world. You don't know Mother Rachel when you think
she'd be that mean."

"Well, don't come here again," said Annie. "Good-night."

She turned on her heel, and Nan shouted back:

"Go way, naughty woman--Nan don't love 'oo, 'tall, 'tall."

The gypsy stood still for a moment with a frown knitting her brows; then
she slowly turned, and, creeping on all-fours through the underwood,
climbed the hedge into the field beyond.

"Oh, no," she laughed, after a moment; "the little missy thinks she ain't
afraid of me; but she be. Trust Mother Rachel for knowing that much. I
make no doubt," she added after a pause, "that the little one's clothes
are trimmed with real lace. Well, little Missie Annie Forest, I can see
with half an eye that you set store by that baby-girl. You had better not
cross Mother Rachel's whims, or she can punish you in a way you don't
think of."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

HOW MOSES MOORE KEPT HIS APPOINTMENT.


Susan Drummond got back to Lavender House without apparent discovery. She
was certainly late when she took her place in the class-room for her next
day's preparation; but, beyond a very sharp reprimand from mademoiselle,
no notice was taken of this fact. She managed to whisper to Nora and
Phyllis that the basket would be moved by the first dawn the next
morning, and the little girls went to bed happier in consequence. Nothing
ever could disturb Susan's slumbers, and that night she certainly slept
without rocking. As she was getting into bed she ventured to tell Annie
how successfully she had manoeuvered; but Annie received her news with
the most absolute indifference, looking at her for a moment with a queer
smile, and then saying:

"My own wish is that this should be found out. As a matter of course, I
sha'n't betray you, girls; but as things now stand I am anxious that Mrs.
Willis should know the very worst of me."

After a remark which Susan considered so simply idiotic, there was, of
course, no further conversation between the two girls.

Moses Moore had certainly promised Betty to rise soon after dawn on the
following morning, and go to Lavender House to carry off the basket from
under the laurel-tree. Moses, a remarkably indolent lad, had been
stimulated by the thought of the delicious cherries which would be his as
soon as he brought the basket to Betty. He had cleverly stipulated that a
quart--not a pint--of cherries was to be his reward, and he looked
forward with considerable pleasure to picking them himself, and putting a
few extra ones into his mouth on the sly.

Moses was not at all the kind of a boy who would have scrupled to steal a
few cherries; but in this particular old Betty, ill as she was, was too
sharp for him or for any of the other village lads. Her bed was drawn up
close to her little window, and her window looked directly on to the two
cherry trees. Never, to all appearance, did Betty close her eyes. However
early the hour might be in which a village boy peeped over the wall of
her garden, he always saw her white night-cap moving, and he knew that
her bright blue eyes would be on him, and he would be proclaimed a thief
all over the place before many minutes were over.

Moses, therefore, was very glad to secure his cherries by fair means, as
he could not obtain them by foul; and he went to bed and to sleep,
determined to be off on his errand with the dawn.

A very natural thing, however, happened. Moses, unaccustomed to getting
up at half-past three in the morning, never opened his eyes until the
church clock struck five. Then he started upright, rubbed and rubbed at
his sleepy orbs, tumbled into his clothes, and, softly opening the
cottage door, set off on his errand.

The fact of his being nearly an hour and a half late did not trouble him
in the least. In any case, he would get to Lavender House before six
o'clock, and would have consumed his cherries in less than an hour from
that date.

Moses sauntered gaily along the roads, whistling as he went, and
occasionally tossing his battered cap in the air. He often lingered on
his way, now to cut down a particularly tempting switch from the hedge,
now to hunt for a possible bird's nest. It was very nearly six o'clock
when he reached the back avenue, swung himself over the gate, which was
locked, and ran softly on the dewy grass in the direction of the laurel
bush. Old Betty had given him most careful instructions, and he was far
too sharp a lad to forget what was necessary for the obtaining of a quart
of cherries. He found his tree, and lay flat down on the ground in order
to pull out the basket. His fingers had just clasped the handle when
there came a sudden interruption--a rush, a growl, and some very sharp
teeth had inserted themselves into the back of his ragged jacket. Poor
Moses found himself, to his horror, in the clutches of a great mastiff.
The creature held him tight, and laid one heavy paw on him to prevent him
rising.

Under these circumstances, Moses thought it quite unnecessary to retain
any self-control. He shrieked, he screamed, he wriggled; his piercing
yells filled the air, and, fortunately for him, his being two hours too
late brought assistance to his aid. Michael, the gardener, and a strong
boy who helped him, rushed to the spot, and liberated the terrified lad,
who, after all, was only frightened, for Rover had satisfied himself with
tearing his jacket to pieces, not himself.

"Give me the b-basket," sobbed Moses, "and let me g-g-go."

"You may certainly go, you little tramp," said Michael, "but Jim and me
will keep the basket. I much misdoubt me if there isn't mischief here.
What's the basket put hiding here for, and who does it belong to?"

"Old B-B-Betty," gasped forth the agitated Moses.

"Well, let old Betty fetch it herself. Mrs. Willis will keep it for her,"
said Michael. "Come along, Jim, get to your weeding, do. There, little
scamp, you had better make yourself scarce."

Moses certainly took his advice, for he scuttled off like a hare. Whether
he ever got his cherries or not, history does not disclose.

Michael, looking gravely at Jim, opened the basket, examined its
contents, and, shaking his head solemnly, carried it into the house.

"There's been deep work going on, Jim, and my missis ought to know," said
Michael, who was an exceedingly strict disciplinarian. Jim, however, had
a soft corner in his heart for the young ladies, and he commenced his
weeding with a profound sigh.



CHAPTER XXXVII

A BROKEN TRUST.


The next morning Annie Forest opened her eyes with that strange feeling
of indifference and want of vivacity which come so seldom to youth. She
saw the sun shining through the closed blinds; she heard the birds
twittering and singing in the large elm-tree which nearly touched the
windows; she knew well how the world looked at this moment, for often and
often in her old light-hearted days she had risen before the maid came to
call her, and, kneeling by the deep window-ledge, had looked out at the
bright, fresh, sparkling day. A new day, with all its hours before it,
its light vivid but not too glaring, its dress all manner of tender
shades and harmonious colorings! Annie had a poetical nature, and she
gloried in these glimpses which she got all by herself of the fresh, glad
world.

To-day, however, she lay still, sorry to know that the brief night was at
an end, and that the day, with its coldness and suspicion, its terrible
absence of love and harmony, was about to begin.

Annie's nature was very emotional; she was intensely sensitive to her
surroundings; the grayness of her present life was absolute destruction
to such a nature as hers.

The dressing-bell rang; the maid came in to draw up the blinds, and call
the girls. Annie rose languidly and began to dress herself.

She first finished her toilet, and then approached her little bed, and
stood by its side for a moment hesitating. She did not want to pray, and
yet she felt impelled to go down on her knees. As she knelt with her
curls falling about her face, and her hands pressed to her eyes, one line
of one of her favorite poems came flashing with swiftness and power
across her memory:

            "A soul which has sinned and is pardoned again."

The words filled her whole heart with a sudden sense of peace and of
great longing.

The prayer-bell rang: she rose, and, turning to Susan Drummond, said
earnestly:

"Oh, Susy, I do wish Mrs. Willis could know about our going to the
fairy-field; I do so want God to forgive me."

Susan stared in her usual dull, uncomprehending way; then she flushed a
little, and said brusquely:

"I think you have quite taken leave of your senses, Annie Forest."

Annie said no more, but at prayers in the chapel she was glad to find
herself near gentle Cecil Temple, and the words kept repeating themselves
to her all during the morning lessons:

            "A soul which has sinned and is pardoned again."

Just before morning school several of the girls started and looked
distressed when they found that Mrs. Willis lingered in the room. She
stood for a moment by the English teacher's desk, said something to her
in a low voice, and then, walking slowly to her own post at the head of
the great school-room, she said suddenly:

"I want to ask you a question, Miss Drummond. Will you please just stand
up in your place in class and answer me without a moment's hesitation."

Phyllis and Nora found themselves turning very pale; Mary Price and one
or two more of the rebels also began to tremble, but Susan looked dogged
and indifferent enough as she turned her eyes toward her teacher.

"Yes, madam," she said, rising and dropping a courtesy.

"My friends, the Misses Bruce, came to call on me yesterday evening,
Susan, and told me that they saw you running very quickly on the high
road in the direction of the village. You, of course, know that you broke
a very distinct rule when you left the grounds without leave. Tell me at
once where you were going."

Susan hesitated, colored to her dullest red, and looked down. Then,
because she had no ready excuse to offer, she blurted out the truth:

"I was going to see old Betty."

"The cake-woman?"

"Yes."

"What for?"

"I--I heard she was ill."

"Indeed--you may sit down, Miss Drummond. Miss Good, will you ask Michael
to step for a moment into the school-room?"

Several of the girls now indeed held their breath, and more than one
heart beat with heavy, frightened bumps as a moment later Michael
followed Miss Good into the room, carrying the redoubtable picnic-basket
on his arm.

"Michael," said Mrs. Willis, "I wish you to tell the young ladies exactly
how you found the basket this morning. Stand by my side, please, and
speak loud enough for them to hear."

After a moment's pause Michael related somewhat diffusely and with an
occasional break in his narrative the scene which had occurred between
him and Moses that morning.

"That will do, Michael; you can now go," said the head mistress.

She waited until the old servant had closed the door, and then she turned
to her girls:

"It is not quite a fortnight since I stood where I now stand, and asked
one girl to be honorable and to save her companions. One girl was guilty
of sin and would not confess, and for her sake all her companions are now
suffering. I am tired of this sort of thing--I am tired of standing in
this place and appealing to your honor, which is dead, to your truth
which is nowhere. Girls, you puzzle me--you half break my heart. In this
case more than one is guilty. How many of the girls in Lavender House are
going to tell me a lie this morning?"

There was a brief pause; then a slight cry, and a girl rose from her seat
and walked up the long school-room.

"I am the most guilty of all," said Annie Forest.

"Annie!" said Mrs. Willis, in a tone half of pain, half of relief, "have
you come to your senses at last?"

"Oh, I'm so glad to be able to speak the truth," said Annie. "Please
punish me very, very hard; I am the most guilty of all."

"What did you do with this basket?"

"We took it for a picnic--it was my plan, I led the others."

"Where was your picnic?"

"In the fairies' field."

"Ah! At what time?"

"At night--in the middle of the night--the night you went to London."

Mrs. Willis put her hand to her brow; her face was very white and the
girls could see that she trembled.

"I trusted my girls----" she said; then she broke off abruptly.

"You had companions in this wickedness--name them."

"Yes, I had companions; I led them on."

"Name them, Miss Forest."

For the first time Annie raised her eyes to Mrs. Willis' face; then she
turned and looked down the long school-room.

"Oh, won't they tell themselves?" she said.

Nothing could be more appealing than her glance. It melted the hearts of
Phyllis and Nora, who began to sob, and to declare brokenly that they had
gone too, and that they were very, very sorry.

Spurred by their example Mary Price also confessed, and one by one all
the little conspirators revealed the truth, with the exception of Susan,
who kept her eyes steadily fixed on the floor.

"Susan Drummond," said Mrs. Willis, "come here."

There was something in her tone which startled every girl in the school.
Never had they heard this ring in their teacher's voice before.

"Susan," said Mrs. Willis, "I don't ask you if you are guilty; I fear,
poor miserable girl, that if I did you would load your conscience with a
fresh lie. I don't ask you if you are guilty because I know you are. The
fact of your running without leave to see old Betty is circumstantial
evidence. I judge you by that and pronounce you guilty. Now, young
ladies, you who have treated me so badly, who have betrayed my trust, who
have been wanting in honor, I must think, I must ask God to teach me how
to deal with you. In the meantime, you cannot associate with your
companions. Miss Good, will you take each of these eight girls to their
bedrooms."

As Annie was leaving the room she looked full into Mrs. Willis' face.
Strange to say, at this moment of her great disgrace the cloud which had
so long brooded over her was lifted. The sweet eyes never looked sweeter.
The old Annie, and yet a better and a braver Annie than had ever existed
before, followed her companions out of the school-room.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

IS SHE STILL GUILTY?


On the evening of that day Cecil Temple knocked at the door of Mrs.
Willis' private sitting-room.

"Ah, Cecil! is that you?" said her governess. "I am always glad to see
you, dear; but I happen to be particularly busy to-night. Have you
anything in particular to say to me?"

"I only wanted to talk about Annie, Mrs. Willis. You believe in her at
last, don't you?"

"Believe in her at last!" said the head-mistress in a tone of
astonishment and deep pain. "No, Cecil, my dear; you ask too much of my
faith. I do not believe in Annie."

Cecil paused; she hesitated, and seemed half afraid to proceed.

"Perhaps," she said at last in a slightly timid tone, "you have not seen
her since this morning?"

"No; I have been particularly busy. Besides, the eight culprits are under
punishment; part of their punishment is that I will not see them."

"Don't you think, Mrs. Willis," said Cecil, "that Annie made rather a
brave confession this morning?"

"I admit, my dear, that Annie spoke in somewhat of her old impulsive way;
she blamed herself, and did not try to screen her misdemeanors behind her
companions. In this one particular she reminded me of the old Annie who,
notwithstanding all her faults, I used to trust and love. But as to her
confession being very brave, my dear Cecil, you must remember that she
did not _confess_ until she was obliged; she knew, and so did all the
other girls, that I could have got the truth out of old Betty had they
chosen to keep their lips sealed. Then, my dear, consider what she did.
On the very night that I was away she violated the trust I had in
her--she bade me 'good-bye' with smiles and sweet glances, and then she
did this in my absence. No, Cecil, I fear poor Annie is not what we
thought her. She has done untold mischief during the half-year, and has
willfully lied and deceived me. I find, on comparing dates, that it was
on the very night of the girls' picnic that Dora's theme was changed.
There is no doubt whatever that Annie was the guilty person. I did my
best to believe in her, and to depend on Mr. Everard's judgment of her
character, but I confess I can do so no longer. Cecil, dear. I am not
surprised that you look pale and sad. No, we will not give up this poor
Annie: we will try to love her even through her sin. Ah! poor child, poor
child! how much I have prayed for her! She was to me as a child of my
own. Now, dear Cecil, I must ask you to leave me."

Cecil went slowly out of her governess' presence, and, wandering across
the wide stone hall, she entered the play-room. It happened to be a wet
night, and the room was full of girls, who hung together in groups and
whispered softly. There were no loud voices, and, except from the little
ones, there was no laughter. A great depression hung over the place, and
few could have recognized the happy girls of Lavender House in these sad
young faces. Cecil walked slowly into the room, and presently finding
Hester Thornton, she sat down by her side.

"I can't get Mrs. Willis to see it," she said very sadly.

"What?" asked Hester.

"Why, that we have got our old Annie back again; that she did take the
girls out to that picnic, and was as wild, and reckless, and naughty as
possible about it; and then, just like the old Annie I have always known,
the moment the fun was over she began to repent, and that she has gone on
repenting ever since, which has accounted for her poor sad little face
and white cheeks. Of course she longed to tell--Nora and Phyllis have
told me so--but she would not betray them. Now at last there is a load
off her heart, and, though she is in great disgrace and punishment, she
is not very unhappy. I went to see her an hour ago, and I saw in her face
that my own darling Annie has returned. But what do you think Mrs. Willis
does, Hester? She is so hurt and disappointed, that she believes Annie is
guilty of the other thing--she believes that Annie stole Dora's theme,
and that she caricatured her in my book some time ago. She believes
it--she is sure of it. Now, do you think, Hester, that Annie's face would
look quite peaceful and happy to-night if she had only confessed half her
faults--if she had this meanness, this sin, these lies still resting on
her soul? Oh! I wish Mrs. Willis would see her! I wish--I wish! but I can
do nothing. You agree with me, don't you, Hester? Just put yourself in
Annie's place, and tell me if _you_ would feel happy, and if your heart
would be at rest, if you had only confessed half your sin, and if through
you all your schoolfellows were under disgrace and suspicion? You could
not, could you, Hester? Why, Hester, how white you are!"

"You are so metaphysical," said Hester, rising; "you quite puzzle me. How
can I put myself in your friend Annie's place? I never understood her--I
never wanted to. Put myself in her place?--no, certainly that I'm never
likely to. I hope that I shall never be in such a predicament."

Hester walked away, and Cecil sat still in great perplexity.

Cecil was a girl with a true sense of religion. The love of God guided
every action of her simple and straightforward life. She was neither
beautiful nor clever; but no one in the school was more respected and
honored, no one more sincerely loved. Cecil knew what the peace of God
meant, and when she saw even a shadowy reflection of that peace on
Annie's little face, she was right in believing that she must be innocent
of the guilt which was attributed to her.

The whole school assembled for prayers that night in the little chapel,
and Mr. Everard, who had heard the story of that day's confession from
Mrs. Willis, said a few words appropriate to the occasion to the unhappy
young girls.

Whatever effect his words had on the others, and they were very simple
and straightforward, Annie's face grew quiet and peaceful as she listened
to them. The old clergyman assured the girls that God was waiting to
forgive those who truly repented, and that the way to repent was to rise
up and sin no more.

"The present fun is not worth the after-pain," he said, in conclusion.
"It is an old saying that stolen waters are sweet, but only at the time;
afterward only those who drink of them know the full extent of their
bitterness."

This little address from Mr. Everard strengthened poor Annie for an
ordeal which was immediately before her, for Mrs. Willis asked all the
school to follow her to the play-room, and there she told them that she
was about to restore to them their lost privileges; that circumstances,
in her opinion, now so strongly pointed the guilt of the stolen essay in
the direction of one girl, that she could no longer ask the school to
suffer for her sake.

"She still refuses to confess her sin," said Mrs. Willis, "but, unless
another girl proclaims herself guilty, and proves to me beyond doubt that
she drew the caricature which was found in Cecil Temple's book, and that
she changed Dora Russell's essay, and, imitating her hand, put another in
its place, I proclaim the guilty person to be Annie Forest, and on her
alone I visit my displeasure. You can retire to your rooms, young ladies.
Tomorrow morning Lavender House resumes its old cheerfulness."



CHAPTER XXXIX.

HESTER'S HOUR OF TRIAL.


However calmly or however peacefully Annie slept that night, poor Hester
did not close her eyes. The white face of the girl she had wronged and
injured kept rising before her. Why had she so deceived Annie? Why from
the very first had she turned from her, and misjudged her, and
misrepresented her? Was Annie, indeed, all bad? Hester had to own to
herself that to-night Annie was better than she--was greater than she.
Could she now have undone the past, she would not have acted as she had
done; she would not for the sake of a little paltry revenge have defiled
her conscience with a lie, have told her governess that she could throw
no light on the circumstance of the stolen essay. This was the first lie
Hester had ever told; she was naturally both straightforward and
honorable, but her sin of sins, that which made her hard and almost
unlovable, was an intensely proud and haughty spirit. She was very sorry
she had told that lie; she was very sorry she had yielded to that
temptation; but not for worlds would she now humble herself to
confess--not for worlds would she let the school know of her cowardice
and shame. No, if there was no other means of clearing Annie except
through her confession, she must remain with the shadow of this sin over
her to her dying day.

Hester, however, was now really unhappy, and also truly sorry for poor
Annie. Could she have got off without disgrace or punishment, she would
have been truly glad to see Annie exonerated. She was quite certain that
Susan Drummond was at the bottom of all the mischief which had been done
lately at Lavender House. She could not make out how stupid Susan was
clever enough to caricature and to imitate peoples' hands. Still she was
convinced that she was the guilty person, and she wondered and wondered
if she could induce Susan to come forward and confess the truth, and so
save Annie without bringing her, Hester, into any trouble.

She resolved to speak to Susan, and without confessing that she had been
in the school-room on the night the essay was changed, to let her know
plainly that she suspected her.

She became much calmer when she determined to carry out this resolve, and
toward morning she fell asleep.

She was awakened at a very early hour by little Nan clambering over the
side of her crib, and cuddling down cozily in a way she loved by Hester's
side.

"Me so 'nug, 'nug," said little Nan. "Oh, Hetty, Hetty, there's a wy on
the teiling!"

Hester had then to rouse herself, and enter into an animated conversation
on the subject of flies generally, and in especial she had to talk of
that particular fly which would perambulate on the ceiling over Nan's
head.

"Me like wies," said Nan, "and me like 'oo, Hetty, and me love--me love
Annie."

Hester kissed her little sister passionately; but this last observation,
accompanied by the expression of almost angelic devotion which filled
little Nan's brown eyes, as she repeated that she liked flies and Hetty,
but that she loved Annie, had the effect of again hardening her heart.

Hester's hour of trial, however, was at hand, and before that day was
over she was to experience that awful emptiness and desolation which
those know whom God is punishing.

Lessons went on as usual at Lavender House that morning, and, to the
surprise of several, Annie was seen in her old place in class. She worked
with a steadiness quite new to her; no longer interlarding her hours of
study with those indescribable glances of fun and mischief, first at one
school-companion and then at another, which used to worry her teachers so
much.

There were no merry glances from Annie that morning; but she worked
steadily and rapidly, and went through that trying ordeal, her French
verbs, with such satisfaction that mademoiselle was on the point of
praising her, until she remembered that Annie was in disgrace.

After school, however, Annie did not join her companions in the grounds,
but went up to her bedroom, where, by Mrs. Willis' orders, she was to
remain until the girls went in. She was to take her own exercise later in
the day.

It was now the tenth of June--an intensely sultry day; a misty heat
brooded over everything, and not a breath of air stirred the leaves in
the trees. The girls wandered about languidly, too enervated by the heat
to care to join in any noisy games. They were now restored to their full
freedom, and there is no doubt they enjoyed the privileges of having
little confabs, and whispering secrets to each other without having Miss
Good and Miss Danesbury forever at their elbows. They talked of many
things--of the near approach of the holidays, of the prize day which was
now so close at hand, of Annie's disgrace, and so on.

They wondered, many of them, if Annie would ever be brought to confess
her sin, and, if not, how Mrs. Willis would act toward her. Dora Russell
said in her most contemptuous tones:

"She is nothing, after all, but a charity child, and Mrs. Willis has
supported her for years for nothing."

"Yes, and she's too clever by half; eh, poor old Muddy Stream?" remarked
a saucy little girl. "By the way, Dora, dear, how goes the river now? Has
it lost itself in the arms of mother ocean yet?"

Dora turned red and walked away, and her young tormentor exclaimed with
considerable gusto:

"There, I have silenced her for a bit; I do hate the way she talks about
charity children. Whatever her faults, Annie is the sweetest and
prettiest girl in the school, in my opinion."

In the meantime Hester was looking in all directions for Susan Drummond.
She thought the present a very fitting opportunity to open her attack on
her, and she was the more anxious to bring her to reason as a certain
look in Annie's face--a pallid and very weary look--had gone to her
heart, and touched her in spite of herself. Now, even though little Nan
loved her, Hester would save Annie could she do so not at her own
expense.

Look, however, as she would, nowhere could she find Miss Drummond. She
called and called, but no sleepy voice replied. Susan, indeed, knew
better; she had curled herself up in a hammock which hung between the
boughs of a shady tree, and though Hester passed under her very head, she
was sucking lollipops and going off comfortably into the land of dreams,
and had no intention of replying. Hester wandered down the shady walk,
and at its farther end she was gratified by the sight of little Nan, who,
under her nurse's charge, was trying to string daisies on the grass.
Hester sat down by her side, and Nan climbed over and made fine havoc of
her neat print dress, and laughed, and was at her merriest and best.

"I hear say that that naughty Miss Forest has done something out-and-out
disgraceful," whispered the nurse.

"Oh, don't!" said Hester impatiently. "Why should every one throw mud at
a girl when she is down? If poor Annie is naughty and guilty, she is
suffering now."

"Annie _not_ naughty," said little Nan. "Me love my own Annie; me do, me
do."

"And you love your own poor old nurse, too?" responded the somewhat
jealous nurse.

Hester left the two playing happily together, the little one caressing
her nurse, and blowing one or two kisses after her sister's retreating
form. Hester returned to the house, and went up to her room to prepare
for dinner. She had washed her hands, and was standing before the
looking-glass re-plaiting her long hair, when Susan Drummond, looking
extremely wild and excited, and with her eyes almost starting out of her
head, rushed into the room.

"Oh, Hester, Hester!" she gasped, and she flung herself on Hester's bed,
with her face downward; she seemed absolutely deprived for the moment of
the power of any further speech.

"What is the matter, Susan?" inquired Hester half impatiently. "What have
you come into my room for? Are you going into a fit of hysterics? You had
better control yourself, for the dinner gong will sound directly."

Susan gasped two or three times, made a rush to Hester's wash-hand stand,
and, taking up a glass, poured some cold water into it, and gulped it
down.

"Now I can speak," she said. "I ran so fast that my breath quite left me.
Hester, put on your walking things or go without them, just as you
please--only go at once if you would save her."

"Save whom?" asked Hester.

"Your little sister--little Nan. I--I saw it all. I was in the hammock,
and nobody knew I was there, and somehow I wasn't so sleepy as usual, and
I heard Nan's voice, and I looked over the side of the hammock, and she
was sitting on the grass picking daisies, and her nurse was with her, and
presently you came up. I heard you calling me, but I wasn't going to
answer. I felt too comfortable. You stayed with Nan and her nurse for a
little, and then went away; and I heard Nan's nurse say to her: 'Sit
here, missy, till I come back to you; I am going to fetch another reel of
sewing cotton from the house. Sit still, missy; I'll be back directly.'
She went away, and Nan went on picking her daisies. All on a sudden I
heard Nan give a sharp little cry, and I looked over the hammock, and
there was a tall, dark woman, with such a wicked face, and she snatched
up Nan in her arms, and put a thick shawl over her face, and ran off with
her. It was all done in an instant. I shouted and I scrambled out of the
hammock, and I rushed down the path; but there wasn't a sign of anybody
there. I don't know where the woman went--it seemed as if the earth
swallowed up both her and little Nan. Why, Hester, are you going to
faint?"

"Water!" gasped Hester--"one sip--now let me go."



CHAPTER XL.

A GYPSY MAID.


In a few moments every one in Lavender House was made acquainted with
Susan's story. At such a time ceremony was laid aside, dinner forgotten,
teachers, pupils, servants all congregated in the grounds, all rushed to
the spot where Nan's withered daisies still lay, all peered through the
underwood, and all, alas! looked in vain for the tall dark woman and the
little child. Little Nan, the baby of the school, had been stolen--there
were loud and terrified lamentations. Nan's nurse was almost tearing her
hair, was rushing frantically here, there, and everywhere. No one blamed
the nurse for leaving her little charge in apparent safety for a few
moments, but the poor woman's own distress was pitiable to see. Mrs.
Willis took Hester's hand, and told the poor stunned girl that she was
sending to Sefton immediately for two or three policemen, and that in the
meantime every man on the place should commence the search for the woman
and child.

"Without any doubt," Mrs. Willis added, "we shall soon have our little
Nan back again; it is quite impossible that the woman, whoever she is,
can have taken her so far away in so short a time."

In the meantime, Annie in her bedroom heard the fuss and the noise. She
leaned out of her window and saw Phyllis in the distance; she called to
her. Phyllis ran up, the tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Oh, something so dreadful!" she gasped; "a wicked, wicked woman has
stolen little Nan Thornton. She ran off with her just where the
undergrowth is so thick at the end of the shady walk. It happened to her
half an hour ago, and they are all looking, but they cannot find the
woman or little Nan anywhere. Oh, it is so dreadful! Is that you, Mary?"

Phyllis ran off to join her sister, and Annie put her head in again, and
looked round her pretty room.

"The gypsy," she murmured, "the tall, dark gypsy has taken little Nan!"

Her face was very white, her eyes shone, her lips expressed a firm and
almost obstinate determination. With all her usual impulsiveness, she
decided on a course of action--she snatched up a piece of paper and
scribbled a hasty line:

  "DEAR MOTHER-FRIEND:--However badly you think of Annie, Annie loves
  you with all her heart. Forgive me, I must go myself to look for
  little Nan. That tall, dark woman is a gypsy--I have seen her
  before; her name is Mother Rachel. Tell Hetty I won't return until
  I bring her little sister back.--Your repentant and sorrowful

                                                             ANNIE."

Annie twisted up the note, directed it to Mrs. Willis, and left it on her
dressing-table.

Then, with a wonderful amount of forethought for her, she emptied the
contents of a little purse into a tiny gingham bag, which she fastened
inside the front of her dress. She put on her shady hat, and threw a
shawl across her arm, and then, slipping softly downstairs, she went out
through the deserted kitchens, down the back avenue, and past the laurel
bush, until she came to the stile which led into the wood--she was going
straight to the gypsies' encampment.

Annie, with some of the gypsy's characteristics in her own blood, had
always taken an extraordinary interest in these queer wandering people.
Gypsies had a fascination for her, she loved stories about them; if a
gypsy encampment was near, she always begged the teachers to walk in that
direction. Annie had a very vivid imagination, and in the days when she
reigned as favorite in the school she used to make up stories for the
express benefit of her companions. These stories, as a rule, always
turned upon the gypsies. Many and many a time had the girls of Lavender
House almost gasped with horror as Annie described the queer ways of
these people. For her, personally, their wildness and their freedom had a
certain fascination, and she was heard in her gayest moments to remark
that she would rather like to be stolen and adopted by a gypsy tribe.

Whenever Annie had an opportunity, she chatted with the gypsy wives, and
allowed them to tell her fortune, and listened eagerly to their
narratives. When a little child she had once for several months been
under the care of a nurse who was a reclaimed gypsy, and this girl had
given her all kinds of information about them. Annie often felt that she
quite loved these wild people, and Mother Rachel was the first gypsy she
cordially shrank from and disliked.

When the little girl started now on her wild-goose chase after Nan, she
was by no means devoid of a plan of action. The knowledge she had taken
so many years to acquire came to her aid, and she determined to use it
for Nan's benefit. She knew that the gypsies, with all their wandering
and erratic habits, had a certain attachment, if not for homes, at least
for sites; she knew that as a rule they encamped over and over again in
the same place; she knew that their wanderings were conducted with
method, and their apparently lawless lives governed by strict self-made
rules.

Annie made straight now for the encampment, which stood in a little dell
at the other side of the fairies' field. Here for weeks past the gypsies'
tents had been seen; here the gypsy children had played, and the men and
women smoked and lain about in the sun.

Annie entered the small field now, but uttered no exclamation of surprise
when she found that all the tents, with the exception of one, had been
removed, and that this tent also was being rapidly taken down by a man
and a girl, while a tall boy stood by, holding a donkey by the bridle.

Annie wasted no time in looking for Nan here. Before the girl and the man
could see her, she darted behind a bush, and removing her little bag of
money, hid it carefully under some long grass; then she pulled a very
bright yellow sash out of her pocket, tied it round her blue cotton
dress, and leaving her little shawl also on the ground, tripped gaily up
to the tent.

She saw with pleasure that the girl who was helping the man was about her
own size. She went up and touched her on the shoulder.

"Look here," she said, "I want to make such a pretty play by-and-by--I
want to play that I'm a gypsy girl. Will you give me your clothes, if I
give you mine? See, mine are neat, and this sash is very handsome. Will
you have them? Do. I am so anxious to play at being a gypsy."

The girl turned and stared. Annie's pretty blue print and gay sash were
certainly tempting bait. She glanced at her father.

"The little lady wants to change," she said in an eager voice.

The man nodded acquiescence, and the girl taking Annie's hand, ran
quickly with her to the bottom of the field.

"You don't mean it, surely?" she said. "Eh, but I'm uncommon willing."

"Yes, I certainly mean it," said Annie. "You are a dear, good, obliging
girl, and how nice you will look in my pretty blue cotton! I like that
striped petticoat of yours, too, and that gay handkerchief you wear round
your shoulders. Thank you so very much. Now, do I look like a real, real
gypsy?"

"Your hair ain't ragged enough, miss."

"Oh, clip it, then; clip it away. I want to be quite the real thing. Have
you got a pair of scissors?"

The girl ran back to the tent, and presently returned to shear poor
Annie's beautiful hair in truly rough fashion.

"Now, miss, you look much more like, only your arms are a bit too white.
Stay, we has got some walnut-juice; we was just a-using of it. I'll touch
you up fine, miss."

So she did, darkening Annie's brown skin to a real gypsy tone.

"You're a dear, good girl," said Annie, in conclusion; and as the girl's
father called her roughly at this moment, she was obliged to go away,
looking ungainly enough in the English child's neat clothes.



CHAPTER XLI.

DISGUISED.


Annie ran out of the field, mounted the stile which led into the wood,
and stood there until the gypsy man and girl, and the boy with the
donkey, had finally disappeared. Then she left her hiding-place, and
taking her little gingham bag out of the long grass, secured it once more
in the front of her dress. She felt queer and uncomfortable in her new
dress, and the gypsy girl's heavy shoes tired her feet; but she was not
to be turned from her purpose by any manner of discomforts, and she
started bravely on her long trudge over the dusty roads, for her object
was to follow the gypsies to their next encampment, about ten miles away.
She had managed, with some tact, to obtain a certain amount of
information from the delighted gypsy girl. The girl told Annie that she
was very glad they were going from here; that this was a very dull place,
and that they would not have stayed so long but for Mother Rachel, who,
for some reasons of her own, had refused to stir.

Here the girl drew herself up short, and colored under her dark skin. But
Annie's tact never failed. She even yawned a little, and seemed scarcely
to hear the girl's words.

Now, in the distance, she followed these people.

In her disguise, uncomfortable as it was, she felt tolerably safe. Should
any of the people in Lavender House happen to pass her on the way, they
would never recognize Annie Forest in this small gypsy maiden. When she
did approach the gypsies' dwelling she might have some hope of passing as
one of themselves. The only one whom she had really to fear was the girl
with whom she had changed clothes, and she trusted to her wits to keep
out of this young person's way.

When Zillah, her old gypsy nurse, had charmed her long ago with gypsy
legends and stories, Annie had always begged to hear about the fair
English children whom the gypsies stole, and Zillah had let her into some
secrets which partly accounted for the fact that so few of these children
are ever recovered.

She walked very fast now; her depression was gone, a great excitement, a
great longing, a great hope, keeping her up. She forgot that she had
eaten nothing since breakfast; she forgot everything in all the world now
but her great love for little Nan, and her desire to lay down her very
life, if necessary, to rescue Nan from the terrible fate which awaited
her if she was brought up as a gypsy's child.

Annie, however, was unaccustomed to such long walks, and besides, recent
events had weakened her, and by the time she reached Sefton--for her road
lay straight through this little town--she was so hot and thirsty that
she looked around her anxiously to find some place of refreshment.

In an unconscious manner she paused before a restaurant, where she and
several other girls of Lavender House had more than once been regaled
with buns and milk.

The remembrance of the fresh milk and the nice buns came gratefully
before the memory of the tired child now. Forgetting her queer attire,
she went into the shop, and walked boldly up to the counter.

Annie's disguise, however, was good, and the young woman who was serving,
instead of bending forward with the usual gracious "What can I get for
you, miss?" said very sharply:

"Go away at once, little girl; we don't allow beggars here; leave the
shop instantly. No, I have nothing for you."

Annie was about to reply rather hotly, for she had an idea that even a
gypsy's money might purchase buns and milk, when she was suddenly
startled, and almost terrified into betraying herself, by encountering
the gentle and fixed stare of Miss Jane Bruce, who had been leaning over
the counter and talking to one of the shop-women when Annie entered.

"Here is a penny for you, little girl," she said. "You can get a nice
hunch of stale bread for a penny in the shop at the corner of the High
street."

Annie's eyes flashed back at the little lady, her lips quivered, and,
clasping the penny, she rushed out of the shop.

"My dear," said Miss Jane, turning to her sister, "did you notice the
extraordinary likeness that little gypsy girl bore to Annie Forest?"

Miss Agnes sighed. "Not particularly, love," she answered; "but I
scarcely looked at her. I wonder if our dear little Annie is any happier
than she was. Ah, I think we have done here. Good-afternoon, Mrs.
Tremlett."

The little old ladies trotted off, giving no more thoughts to the gypsy
child.

Poor Annie almost ran down the street, and never paused till she reached
a shop of much humbler appearance, where she was served with some cold
slices of German sausage, some indifferent bread and butter, and milk by
no means over-good. The coarse fare, and the rough people who surrounded
her, made the poor child feel both sick and frightened. She found she
could only keep up her character by remaining almost silent, for the
moment she opened her lips people turned round and stared at her.

She paid for her meal, however, and presently found herself at the other
side of Sefton, and in a part of the country which was comparatively
strange to her. The gypsies' present encampment was about a mile away
from the town of Oakley, a much larger place than Sefton. Sefton and
Oakley lay about six miles apart. Annie trudged bravely on, her head
aching; for, of course, as a gypsy girl, she could use no parasol to
shade her from the sun. At last the comparative cool of the evening
arrived, and the little girl gave a sigh of relief, and looked forward to
her bed and supper at Oakley. She had made up her mind to sleep there,
and to go to the gypsies' encampment very early in the morning. It was
quite dark by the time she reached Oakley, and she was now so tired, and
her feet so blistered from walking in the gypsy girl's rough shoes, that
she could scarcely proceed another step. The noise and the size of
Oakley, too, bewildered and frightened her. She had learned a lesson in
Sefton, and dared not venture into the more respectable streets. How
could she sleep in those hot, common, close houses? Surely it would be
better for her to lie down under a cool hedgerow--there could be no real
cold on this lovely summer's night, and the hours would quickly pass, and
the time soon arrive when she must go boldly in search of Nan. She
resolved to sleep in a hayfield which took her fancy just outside the
town, and she only went into Oakley for the purpose of buying some bread
and milk.

Annie was so far fortunate as to get a refreshing draught of really good
milk from a woman who stood by a cottage door, and who gave her a piece
of girdle-cake to eat with it.

"You're one of the gypsies, my dear?" said the woman. "I saw them passing
in their caravans an hour back. No doubt you are for taking up your old
quarters in the copse, just alongside of Squire Thompson's long acre
field. How is it you are not with the rest of them, child?"

"I was late in starting," said Annie. "Can you tell me the best way to
get from here to the long acre field?"

"Oh, you take that turnstile, child, and keep in the narrow path by the
cornfields; it's two miles and a half from here as the crow flies. No,
no, my dear, I don't want your pennies; but you might humor my little
girl here by telling her fortune--she's wonderful taken by the gypsy
folk."

Annie colored painfully. The child came forward, and she crossed her hand
with a piece of silver. She looked at the little palm and muttered
something about being rich and fortunate, and marrying a prince in
disguise, and having no trouble whatever.

"Eh! but that's a fine lot, is yours, Peggy," said the gratified mother.

Peggy, however, aged nine, had a wiser head on her young shoulders.

"She didn't tell no proper fortune," she said disparagingly, when Annie
left the cottage. "She didn't speak about no crosses, and no biting
disappointments, and no bleeding wounds. I don't believe in her, I don't.
I like fortunes mixed, not all one way; them fortunes ain't natural, and
I don't believe she's no proper gypsy girl."



CHAPTER XLII.

HESTER.


At Lavender House the confusion, the terror, and the dismay were great.
For several hours the girls seemed quite to lose their heads, and just
when, under Mrs. Willis' and the other teachers' calmness and
determination, they were being restored to discipline and order, the
excitement and alarm broke out afresh when some one brought Annie's
little note to Mrs. Willis, and the school discovered that she also was
missing.

On this occasion no one did doubt her motive; disobedient as her act was
no one wasted words of blame on her. All, from the head-mistress to the
smallest child in the school, knew that it was love for little Nan that
had taken Annie off; and the tears started to Mrs. Willis' eyes when she
first read the tiny note, and then placed it tenderly in her desk.
Hester's face became almost ashen in its hue when she heard what Annie
had done.

"Annie has gone herself to bring back Nan to you, Hester," said Phyllis.
"It was I told her, and I know now by her face that she must have made up
her mind at once."

"Very disobedient of her to go," said Dora Russell; but no one took up
Dora's tone, and Mary Price said, after a pause:

"Disobedient or not, it was brave--it was really very plucky."

"It is my opinion," said Nora, "that if any one in the world can find
little Nan it will be Annie. You remember, Phyllis, how often she has
talked to us about gypsies, and what a lot she knows about them?"

"Oh, yes; she'll be better than fifty policemen," echoed several girls;
and then two or three young faces were turned toward Hester, and some
voice said almost scornfully:

"You'll have to love Annie now; you'll have to admit that there is
something good in our Annie when she brings your little Nan home again."

Hester's lip quivered; she tried to speak, but a sudden burst of tears
came from her instead. She walked slowly out of the astonished little
group, who none of them believed that proud Hester Thornton could weep.

The wretched girl rushed up to her room, where she threw herself on her
bed and gave way to some of the bitterest tears she had ever shed. All her
indifference to Annie, all her real unkindness, all her ever-increasing
dislike came back now to torture and harass her. She began to believe with
the girls that Annie would be successful; she began dimly to acknowledge
in her heart the strange power which this child possessed; she guessed
that Annie would heap coals of fire on her head by bringing back her
little sister. She hoped, she longed, she could almost have found it in
her heart to pray that some one else, not Annie, might save little Nan.

For not yet had Hester made up her mind to confess the truth about Annie
Forest. To confess the truth now meant humiliation in the eyes of the
whole school. Even for Nan's sake she could not, she would not be great
enough for this.

Sobbing on her bed, trembling from head to foot, in an agony of almost
uncontrollable grief, she could not bring her proud and stubborn little
heart to accept God's only way of peace. No, she hoped she might be able
to influence Susan Drummond and induce her to confess, and if Annie was
not cleared in that way, if she really saved little Nan, she would
doubtless be restored to much of her lost favor in the school.

Hester had never been a favorite at Lavender House; but now her great
trouble caused all the girls to speak to her kindly and considerately,
and as she lay on her bed she presently heard a gentle step on the floor
of her room--a cool little hand was laid tenderly on her forehead, and
opening her swollen eyes, she met Cecil's loving gaze.

"There is no news yet, Hester," said Cecil; "but Mrs. Willis has just
gone herself into Sefton, and will not lose an hour in getting further
help. Mrs. Willis looks quite haggard. Of course she is very anxious both
about Annie and Nan."

"Oh, Annie is safe enough," murmured Hester, burying her head in the
bed-clothes.

"I don't know; Annie is very impulsive and very pretty; the gypsies may
like to steal her too--of course she has gone straight to one of their
encampments. Naturally Mrs. Willis is most anxious."

Hester pressed her hand to her throbbing head.

"We are all so sorry for you, dear," said Cecil gently.

"Thank you--being sorry for one does not do a great deal of good, does
it?"

"I thought sympathy always did good," replied Cecil, looking puzzled.

"Thank you," said Hester again. She lay quite still for several minutes
with her eyes closed. Her face looked intensely unhappy. Cecil was not
easily repelled and she guessed only too surely that Hester's proud heart
was suffering much. She was puzzled, however, how to approach her, and
had almost made up her mind to go away and beg of kind-hearted Miss
Danesbury to see if she could come and do something, when through the
open window there came the shrill sweet laughter and the eager,
high-pitched tones of some of the youngest children in the school. A
strange quiver passed over Hester's face at the sound; she sat up in bed,
and gasped out in a half-strangled voice:

"Oh! I can't bear it--little Nan, little Nan! Cecil, I am very, very
unhappy."

"I know it, darling," said Cecil, and she put her arms round the excited
girl. "Oh, Hester! don't turn away from me; do let us be unhappy
together."

"But you did not care for Nan."

"I did--we all loved the pretty darling."

"Suppose I never see her again?" said Hester half wildly. "Oh, Cecil! and
mother left her to me! mother gave her to me to take care of, and to
bring to her some day in heaven. Oh, little Nan, my pretty, my love, my
sweet! I think I could better bear her being dead than this."

"You could, Hester," said Cecil, "if she was never to be found; but I
don't think God will give you such a terrible punishment. I think little
Nan will be restored to you. Let us ask God to do it, Hetty--let us kneel
down now, we two little girls, and pray to Him with all our might."

"I can't pray; don't ask me," said Hester, turning her face away.

"Then I will."

"But not here, Cecil. Cecil, I am not good--I am not good enough to
pray."

"We don't want to be good to pray," said Cecil. "We want perhaps to be
unhappy--perhaps sorry; but if God waited just for goodness, I don't
think He would get many prayers."

"Well, I am unhappy, but not sorry. No, no; don't ask me, I cannot pray."



CHAPTER XLIII.

SUSAN.


Mrs. Willis came back at a very late hour from Sefton. The police were
confident that they must soon discover both children, but no tidings had
yet been heard of either of them. Mrs. Willis ordered her girls to bed,
and went herself to kiss Hester and give her a special "good-night." She
was struck by the peculiarly unhappy, and even hardened, expression on
the poor child's face, and felt that she did not half understand her.

In the middle of the night Hester awoke from a troubled dream. She awoke
with a sharp cry, so sharp and intense in its sound that had any girl
been awake in the next room she must have heard it. She felt that she
could no longer remain close to that little empty cot. She suddenly
remembered that Susan Drummond would be alone to-night: what time so good
as the present for having a long talk with Susan and getting her to clear
Annie? She slipped out of bed, put on her dressing-gown, and softly
opening the door, ran down the passage to Susan's room.

Susan was in bed, and fast asleep. Hester could see her face quite
plainly in the moonlight, for Susan slept facing the window, and the
blind was not drawn down.

Hester had some difficulty in awakening Miss Drummond, who, however, at
last sat up in bed yawning prodigiously.

"What is the matter? Is that you, Hester Thornton? Have you got any news
of little Nan? Has Annie come back?"

"No, they are both still away. Susy, I want to speak to you."

"Dear me! what for? must you speak in the middle of the night?"

"Yes, for I don't want any one else to know. Oh, Susan, please don't go
to sleep."

"My dear, I won't, if I can help it. Do you mind throwing a little cold
water over my face and head? There is a can by the bedside. I always keep
one handy. Ah, thanks--now I am wide awake. I shall probably remain so
for about two minutes. Can you get your say over in that time?"

"I wonder, Susan," said Hester, "if you have got any heart--but heart or
not, I have just come here to-night to tell you that I have found you
out. You are at the bottom of all this mischief about Annie Forest."

Susan had a most phlegmatic face, an utterly unemotional voice, and she
now stared calmly at Hester and demanded to know what in the world she
meant.

Hester felt her temper going, her self-control deserting her. Susan's
apparent innocence and indifference drove her half frantic.

"Oh, you are mean," she said. "You pretend to be innocent, but you are
the deepest and wickedest girl in the school. I tell you, Susan, I have
found you out--you put that caricature of Mrs. Willis into Cecil's book;
you changed Dora's theme. I don't know why you did it, nor how you did
it, but you are the guilty person, and you have allowed the sin of it to
remain on Annie's shoulders all this time. Oh, you are the very meanest
girl I ever heard of!"

"Dear, dear!" said Susan, "I wish I had not asked you to throw cold water
over my head and face, and allow myself to be made very wet and
uncomfortable, just to be told I am the meanest girl you ever met. And
pray what affair is this of yours? You certainly don't love Annie
Forest."

"I don't, but I want justice to be done to her. Annie is very, very
unhappy. Oh, Susy, won't you go and tell Mrs. Willis the truth?"

"Really, my dear Hester, I think you are a little mad. How long have you
known all this about me, pray?"

"Oh, for some time; since--since the night the essay was changed."

"Ah, then, if what you state is true, you told Mrs. Willis a lie, for she
distinctly asked you if you knew anything about the 'Muddy Stream,' and
you said you didn't. I saw you--I remarked how very red you got when you
plumped out that great lie! My dear, if I am the meanest and wickedest
girl in the school, prove it--go, tell Mrs. Willis what you know. Now, if
you will allow me, I will get back into the land of dreams."

Susan curled herself up once more in her bed, wrapped the bed-clothes
tightly round her and was, to all appearance, oblivious of Hester's
presence.



CHAPTER XLIV.

UNDER THE HEDGE.


It is one thing to talk of the delights of sleeping under a hedgerow, and
another to realize them. A hayfield is a very charming place, but in the
middle of the night, with the dew clinging to everything, it is apt to
prove but a chilly bed; the most familiar objects put on strange and
unreal forms, the most familiar sounds become loud and alarming. Annie
slept for about an hour soundly; then she awoke, trembling with cold in
every limb, startled, and almost terrified by the oppressive loneliness
of the night, sure that the insect life which surrounded her, and which
would keep up successions of chirps, and croaks, and buzzes, was
something mysterious and terrifying. Annie was a brave child, but even
brave little girls may be allowed to possess nerves under her present
conditions, and when a spider ran across her face she started up with a
scream of terror. At this moment she almost regretted the close and dirty
lodgings which she might have obtained for a few pence at Oakley. The hay
in the field which she had selected was partly cut and partly standing.
The cut portion had been piled up into little cocks and hillocks, and
these, with the night shadows round them, appeared to the frightened
child to assume large and half-human proportions. She found she could not
sleep any longer. She wrapped her shawl tightly round her, and, crouching
into the hedgerow, waited for the dawn.

That watched-for dawn seemed to the tired child as if it would never
come; but at last her solitary vigil came to an end, the cold grew
greater, a little gentle breeze stirred the uncut grass, and up in the
sky overhead the stars became fainter and the atmosphere clearer. Then
came a little faint flush of pink, then a brighter light, and then all in
a moment the birds burst into a perfect jubilee of song, the insects
talked and chirped and buzzed in new tones, the hay-cocks became simply
hay-cocks, the dew sparkled on the wet grass, the sun had risen, and the
new day had begun.

Annie sat up and rubbed her tired eyes. With the sunshine and brightness
her versatile spirits revived; she buckled on her courage like an armor,
and almost laughed at the miseries of the past few hours. Once more she
believed that success and victory would be hers, once more in her small
way she was ready to do or die. She believed absolutely in the holiness
of her mission. Love--love alone, simple and pure, was guiding her. She
gave no thought to after-consequences, she gave no memory to past events:
her object now was to rescue Nan, and she herself was nothing.

Annie had a fellow-feeling, a rare sympathy with every little child; but
no child had ever come to take Nan's place with her. The child she had
first begun to notice simply out of a naughty spirit of revenge, had
twined herself round her heart, and Annie loved Nan all the more dearly
because she had long ago repented of stealing her affections from Hester,
and would gladly have restored her to her old place next to Hetty's
heart. Her love for Nan, therefore, had the purity and greatness which
all love that calls forth self-sacrifice must possess. Annie had denied
herself, and kept away from Nan of late. Now, indeed, she was going to
rescue her; but if she thought of herself at all, it was with the
certainty that for this present act of disobedience Mrs. Willis would
dismiss her from the school, and she would not see little Nan again.

Never mind that, if Nan herself was saved. Annie was disobedient, but on
this occasion she was not unhappy; she had none of that remorse which
troubled her so much after her wild picnic in the fairies' field. On the
contrary, she had a strange sense of peace and even guidance; she had
confessed this sin to Mrs. Willis, and, though she was suspected of far
worse, her own innocence kept her heart untroubled. The verse which had
occurred to her two mornings before still rang in her ears:

            "A soul which has sinned and is pardoned again."

The impulsive, eager child was possessed just now of something which men
call True Courage; it was founded on the knowledge that God would help
her, and was accordingly calm and strengthening.

Annie rose from her damp bed, and looked around her for a little stream
where she might wash her face and hands; suddenly she remembered that
face and hands were dyed, and that she would do best to leave them alone.
She smoothed out as best she could the ragged elf-locks which the gypsy
maid had left on her curly head, and then covering her face with her
hands, said simply and earnestly:

"Please, my Father in heaven, help me to find little Nan;" then she set
off through the cornfields in the direction of the gypsies' encampment.



CHAPTER XLV.

TIGER.


It was still very, very early in the morning, and the gypsy folk, tired
from their march on the preceding day, slept. There stood the conical,
queer-shaped tents, four in number; at a little distance off grazed the
donkeys and a couple of rough mules; at the door of the tents lay
stretched out in profound repose two or three dogs.

Annie dreaded the barking of the dogs, although she guessed that if they
set up a noise, and a gypsy wife or man put out their heads in
consequence, they would only desire the gypsy child to lie down and keep
quiet.

She stood still for a moment--she was very anxious to prowl around the
place and examine the ground while the gypsies still slept, but the
watchful dogs deterred her. She stood perfectly quiet behind the
hedgerow, thinking hard. Should she trust to a charm she knew she
possessed, and venture into the encampment? Annie had almost as great a
fascination over dogs and cats as she had over children. As a little
child going to visit with her mother at strange houses, the watch-dogs
never barked at her; on the contrary, they yielded to the charm which
seemed to come from her little fingers as she patted their great heads.
Slowly their tails would move backward and forward as she patted them,
and even the most ferocious would look at her with affection.

Annie wondered if the gypsy dogs would now allow her to approach without
barking. She felt that the chances were in her favor; she was dressed in
gypsy garments, there would be nothing strange in her appearance, and if
she could get near one of the dogs she knew that she could exercise the
magic of her touch.

Her object, then, was to approach one of the tents very, very quietly--so
softly that even the dog's ears should not detect the light footfall. If
she could approach close enough to put her hand on the dog's neck all
would be well. She pulled off the gypsy maid's rough shoes, hid them in
the grass where she could find them again, and came gingerly step by
step, nearer and nearer the principal tent. At its entrance lay a
ferocious-looking half-bred bull-dog. Annie possessed that necessary
accompaniment to courage--great outward calm; the greater the danger, the
more cool and self-possessed did she become. She was within a step or two
of the tent when she trod accidentally on a small twig; it cracked,
giving her foot a sharp pain, and very slight as the sound was, causing
the bull-dog to awake. He raised his wicked face, saw the figure like his
own people, and yet unlike, but a step or two away, and, uttering a low
growl, sprang forward.

In the ordinary course of things this growl would have risen in volume
and would have terminated in a volley of barking; but Annie was prepared:
she went down on her knees, held out her arms, said, "Poor fellow!" in
her own seductive voice, and the bull-dog fawned at her feet. He licked
one of her hands while she patted him gently with the other.

"Come, poor fellow," she said then in a gentle tone, and Annie and the
dog began to perambulate round the tents.

The other dogs raised sleepy eyes, but seeing Tiger and the girl
together, took no notice whatever, except by a thwack or two of their
stumpy tails. Annie was now looking not only at the tents, but for
something else which Zillah, her nurse, had told her might be found near
to many gypsy encampments. This was a small subterranean passage, which
generally led into a long-disused underground Danish fort. Zillah had
told her what uses the gypsies liked to make of these underground
passages, and how they often chose those which had two entrances. She
told her that in this way they eluded the police, and were enabled
successfully to hide the goods which they stole. She had also described
to her their great ingenuity in hiding the entrances to these underground
retreats.

Annie's idea now was that little Nan was hidden in one of these vaults,
and she determined first to make sure of its existence, and then to
venture herself into this underground region in search of the lost child.

She had made a decided conquest in the person of Tiger, who followed her
round and round the tents, and when the gypsies at last began to stir,
and Annie crept into the hedgerow, the dog crouched by her side. Tiger
was the favorite dog of the camp, and presently one of the men called to
him; he rose unwillingly, looked back with longing eyes at Annie, and
trotted off, to return in the space of about five minutes with a great
hunch of broken bread in his mouth. This was his breakfast, and he meant
to share it with his new friend. Annie was too hungry to be fastidious,
and she also knew the necessity of keeping up her strength. She crept
still farther under the hedge, and the dog and girl shared the broken
bread between them.

Presently the tents were all astir; the gypsy children began to swarm
about, the women lit fires in the open air, and the smell of very
appetizing breakfasts filled the atmosphere. The men also lounged into
view, standing lazily at the doors of their tents, and smoking great
pipes of tobacco. Annie lay quiet. She could see from her hiding-place
without being seen. Suddenly--and her eyes began to dilate, and she found
her heart beating strangely--she laid her hand on Tiger, who was
quivering all over.

"Stay with me, dear dog," she said.

There was a great commotion and excitement in the gypsy camp; the
children screamed and ran into the tents, the women paused in their
preparation for breakfast, the men took their short pipes out of their
mouths; every dog, with the exception of Tiger, barked ferociously. Tiger
and Annie alone were motionless.

The cause of all this uproar was a body of police, about six in number,
who came boldly into the field, and demanded instantly to search the
tents.

"We want a woman who calls herself Mother Rachel," they said. "She
belongs to this encampment. We know her; let her come forward at once; we
wish to question her."

The men stood about; the women came near; the children crept out of their
tents, placing their fingers to their frightened lips, and staring at the
men who represented those horrors to their unsophisticated minds called
Law and Order.

"We must search the tents. We won't stir from the spot until we have had
an interview with Mother Rachel," said the principal member of the police
force.

The men answered respectfully that the gypsy mother was not yet up; but
if the gentlemen would wait a moment she would soon come and speak to
them.

The officers expressed their willingness to wait, and collected round the
tents.

Just at this instant, under the hedgerow, Tiger raised his head. Annie's
watchful eyes accompanied the dog's. He was gazing after a tiny gypsy
maid who was skulking along the hedge, and who presently disappeared
through a very small opening into the neighboring field.

Quick as thought Annie, holding Tiger's collar, darted after her. The
little maid heard the footsteps; but seeing another gypsy girl, and their
own dog, Tiger, she took no further notice, but ran openly and very
swiftly across the field until she came to a broken wall. Here she tugged
and tugged at some loose stones, managed to push one away, and then
called down into the ground:

"Mother Rachel!"

"Come, Tiger," said Annie. She flew to a hedge not far off, and once more
the dog and she hid themselves. The small girl was too excited to notice
either their coming or going; she went on calling anxiously into the
ground:

"Mother Rachel! Mother Rachel!"

Presently a black head and a pair of brawny shoulders appeared, and the
tall woman whose face and figure Annie knew so well stepped up out of the
ground, pushed back the stones into their place, and, taking the gypsy
child into her arms, ran swiftly across the field in the direction of the
tents.



CHAPTER XLVI.

FOR LOVE OF NAN.


Now was Annie's time. "Tiger," she said, for she had heard the men
calling the dog's name, "I want to go right down into that hole in the
ground, and you are to come with me. Don't let us lose a moment, good
dog."

The dog wagged his tail, capered about in front of Annie, and then with a
wonderful shrewdness ran before her to the broken wall, where he stood
with his head bent downward and his eyes fixed on the ground.

Annie pulled and tugged at the loose stones; they were so heavy and
cunningly arranged that she wondered how the little maid, who was smaller
than herself, had managed to remove them. She saw quickly, however, that
they were arranged with a certain leverage, and that the largest stone,
that which formed the real entrance to the underground passage, was
balanced in its place in such a fashion that when she leaned on a certain
portion of it, it moved aside, and allowed plenty of room for her to go
down into the earth.

Very dark and dismal and uninviting did the rude steps, which led nobody
knew where, appear. For one moment Annie hesitated; but the thought of
Nan hidden somewhere in this awful wretchedness nerved her courage.

"Go first, Tiger, please," she said, and the dog scampered down, sniffing
the earth as he went. Annie followed him, but she had scarcely got her
head below the level of the ground before she found herself in total and
absolute darkness; she had unwittingly touched the heavy stone, which had
swung back into its place. She heard Tiger sniffing below, and, calling
him to keep by her side, she went very carefully down and down and down,
until at last she knew by the increase of air that she must have come to
the end of the narrow entrance passage.

She was now able to stand upright, and raising her hand, she tried in
vain to find a roof. The room where she stood, then, must be lofty. She
went forward in the utter darkness very, very slowly; suddenly her head
again came in contact with the roof; she made a few steps farther on, and
then found that to proceed at all she must go on her hands and knees. She
bent down and peered through the darkness.

"We'll go on, Tiger," she said, and, holding the dog's collar and
clinging to him for protection, she crept along the narrow passage.

Suddenly she gave an exclamation of joy--at the other end of this gloomy
passage was light--faint twilight surely, but still undoubted light,
which came down from some chink in the outer world. Annie came to the end
of the passage, and, standing upright, found herself suddenly in a room;
a very small and miserable room certainly, but with the twilight shining
through it, which revealed not only that it was a room, but a room which
contained a heap of straw, a three-legged stool, and two or three cracked
cups and saucers. Here, then, was Mother Rachel's lair, and here she must
look for Nan.

The darkness had been so intense that even the faint twilight of this
little chamber had dazzled Annie's eyes for a moment; the next, however,
her vision became clear. She saw that the straw bed contained a bundle;
she went near--out of the wrapped-up bundle of shawls appeared the head
of a child. The child slept, and moaned in its slumbers.

Annie bent over it and said, "Thank God!" in a tone of rapture, and then,
stooping down, she passionately kissed the lips of little Nan.

Nan's skin had been dyed with the walnut-juice, her pretty, soft hair had
been cut short, her dainty clothes had been changed for the most ragged
gipsy garments, but still she was undoubtedly Nan, the child whom Annie
had come to save.

From her uneasy slumbers the poor little one awoke with a cry of terror.
She could not recognize Annie's changed face, and clasped her hands
before her eyes, and said piteously:

"Me want to go home--go 'way, naughty woman, me want my Annie."

"Little darling!" said Annie, in her sweetest tones. The changed face had
not appealed to Nan, but the old voice went straight to her baby heart;
she stopped crying and looked anxiously toward the entrance of the room.

"Tum in, Annie--me here, Annie--little Nan want 'oo."

Annie glanced around her in despair. Suddenly her quick eyes lighted on a
jug of water; she flew to it, and washed and laved her face.

"Coming, darling," she said, as she tried to remove the hateful dye. She
succeeded partly, and when she came back, to her great joy, the child
recognized her.

"Now, little precious, we will get out of this as fast as we can," said
Annie, and, clasping Nan tightly in her arms, she prepared to return by
the way she had come. Then and there, for the first time, there flashed
across her memory the horrible fact that the stone door had swung back
into its place, and that by no possible means could she open it. She and
Nan and Tiger were buried in a living tomb, and must either stay there
and perish, or await the tender mercies of the cruel Mother Rachel.

Nan, with her arms tightly clasped round Annie's neck, began to cry
fretfully. She was impatient to get out of this dismal place; she was no
longer oppressed by fears, for with the Annie whom she loved she felt
absolutely safe; but she was hungry and cold and uncomfortable, and it
seemed but a step, to little inexperienced Nan, from Annie's arms to her
snug, cheerful nursery at Lavender House.

"Tum, Annie--tum home, Annie," she begged and, when Annie did not stir,
she began to weep.

In truth, the poor, brave little girl was sadly puzzled, and her first
gleam of returning hope lay in the remembrance of Zillah's words, that
there were generally two entrances to these old underground forts. Tiger,
who seemed thoroughly at home in this little room, and had curled himself
up comfortably on the heap of straw, had probably often been here before.
Perhaps Tiger knew the way to the second entrance. Annie called him to
her side.

"Tiger," she said, going down on her knees, and looking full into his
ugly but intelligent face, "Nan and I want to go out of this."

Tiger wagged his stumpy tail.

"We are hungry, Tiger, and we want something to eat, and you'd like a
bone, wouldn't you?"

Tiger's tail went with ferocious speed, and he licked Annie's hand.

"There's no use going back that way, dear dog," continued the girl,
pointing with her arm in the direction they had come. "The door is
fastened, Tiger, and we can't get out. We can't get out because the door
is shut."

The dog's tail had ceased to wag; he took in the situation, for his whole
expression showed dejection, and he drooped his head.

It was now quite evident to Annie that Tiger had been here before, and
that on some other occasion in his life he had wanted to get out and
could not because the door was shut.

"Now, Tiger," said Annie, speaking cheerfully, and rising to her feet,
"we must get out. Nan and I are hungry, and you want your bone. Take us
out the other way, good Tiger--the other way, dear dog."

She moved instantly toward the little passage; the dog followed her.

"The other way," she said, and she turned her back on the long narrow
passage, and took a step or two into complete darkness. The dog began to
whine, caught hold of her dress, and tried to pull her back.

"Quite right, Tiger, we won't go that way," said Annie, instantly. She
returned into the dimly-lighted room.

"Find a way--find a way out, Tiger," she said.

The dog evidently understood her; he moved restlessly about the room.
Finally he got up on the bed, pulled and scratched and tore away the
straw at the upper end, then, wagging his tail, flew to Annie's side. She
came back with him. Beneath the straw was a tiny, tiny trap-door.

"Oh, Tiger!" said the girl; she went down on her knees, and, finding she
could not stir it, wondered if this also was kept in its place by a
system of balancing. She was right; after a very little pressing the door
moved aside, and Annie saw four or five rudely carved steps.

"Come, Nan," she said joyfully, "Tiger has saved us; these steps must
lead us out."

The dog, with a joyful whine, went down first, and Annie, clasping Nan
tightly in her arms, followed him. Four, five, six steps they went down;
then, to Annie's great joy, she found that the next step began to ascend.
Up and up she went, cheered by a welcome shaft of light. Finally she,
Nan, and the dog found themselves emerging into the open air, through a
hole which might have been taken for a large rabbit burrow.



CHAPTER XLVII.

RESCUED.


The girl, the child, and the dog found themselves in a comparatively
strange country--Annie had completely lost her bearings. She looked
around her for some sign of the gypsies' encampment; but whether she had
really gone a greater distance than she imagined in those underground
vaults, or whether the tents were hidden in some hollow of the ground,
she did not know; she was only conscious that she was in a strange
country, that Nan was clinging to her and crying for her breakfast, and
that Tiger was sniffing the air anxiously. Annie guessed that Tiger could
take them back to the camp, but this was by no means her wish. When she
emerged out of the underground passage she was conscious for the first
time of a strange and unknown experience. Absolute terror seized the
brave child; she trembled from head to foot, her head ached violently,
and the ground on which she stood seemed to reel, and the sky to turn
round. She sat down for a moment on the green grass. What ailed her?
where was she? how could she get home? Nan's little piteous wail, "Me
want my bekfas', me want my nursie, me want Hetty," almost irritated her.

"Oh, Nan," she said at last piteously, "have you not got your own Annie?
Oh, Nan, dear little Nan, Annie feels so ill!"

Nan had the biggest and softest of baby hearts--breakfast, nurse, Hetty,
were all forgotten in the crowning desire to comfort Annie. She climbed
on her knee and stroked her face and kissed her lips.

"'Oo better now?" she said in a tone of baby inquiry.

Annie roused herself with a great effort.

"Yes, darling," she said; "we will try and get home. Come, Tiger. Tiger,
dear, I don't want to go back to the gypsies; take me the other way--take
me to Oakley."

Tiger again sniffed the air, looked anxiously at Annie, and trotted on in
front. Little Nan in her ragged gypsy clothes walked sedately by Annie's
side.

"Where 'oo s'oes?" she said, pointing to the girl's bare feet.

"Gone, Nan--gone. Never mind, I've got you. My little treasure, my little
love, you're safe at last."

As Annie tottered, rather than walked, down a narrow path which led
directly through a field of standing corn, she was startled by the sudden
apparition of a bright-eyed girl, who appeared so suddenly in her path
that she might have been supposed to have risen out of the very ground.

The girl stared hard at Annie, fixed her eyes inquiringly on Nan and
Tiger, and then turning on her heel, dashed up the path, went through a
turnstile, across the road, and into a cottage.

"Mother," she exclaimed, "I said she warn't a real gypsy; she's a-coming
back, and her face is all streaked like, and she has a little'un along
with her, and a dawg, and the only one as is gypsy is the dawg. Come and
look at her, mother; oh, she is a fine take-in!"

The round-faced, good-humored looking mother, whose name was Mrs.
Williams, had been washing and putting away the breakfast things when her
daughter entered. She now wiped her hands hastily and came to the cottage
door.

"Cross the road, and come to the stile, mother," said the energetic
Peggy--"oh, there she be a-creeping along--oh, ain't she a take-in?"

"'Sakes alive!" ejaculated Mrs. Williams, "the girl is ill! why, she
can't keep herself steady! There! I knew she'd fall; ah! poor little
thing--poor little thing."

It did not take Mrs. Williams an instant to reach Annie's side; and in
another moment she had lifted her in her strong arms and carried her into
the cottage, Peggy lifting Nan and following in the rear, while Tiger
walked by their sides.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

DARK DAYS.


A whole week had passed, and there were no tidings whatever of little Nan
or of Annie Forest. No one at Lavender House had heard a word about them;
the police came and went, detectives even arrived from London, but there
were no traces whatever of the missing children.

The midsummer holiday was now close at hand, but no one spoke of it or
thought of it. Mrs. Willis told the teachers that the prizes should be
distributed, but she said she could invite no guests and could allow of
no special festivities. Miss Danesbury and Miss Good repeated her words
to the schoolgirls, who answered without hesitation that they did not
wish for feasting and merriment; they would rather the day passed
unnoticed. In truth, the fact that their baby was gone, that their
favorite and prettiest and brightest schoolmate had also disappeared,
caused such gloom, such distress, such apprehension that even the most
thoughtless of those girls could scarcely have laughed or been merry.
School-hours were still kept after a fashion, but there was no life in
the lessons. In truth, it seemed as if the sun would never shine again at
Lavender House.

Hester was ill; not very ill--she had no fever, she had no cold; she had,
as the good doctor explained it, nothing at all wrong, except that her
nervous system had got a shock.

"When the little one is found, Miss Hetty will be quite well again," said
the good doctor; but the little one had not been found yet, and Hester
had completely broken down. She lay on her bed, saying little or nothing,
eating scarcely anything, sleeping not at all. All the girls were kind to
her and each one in the school took turns in trying to comfort her; but
no one could win a smile from Hester, and even Mrs. Willis failed utterly
to reach or touch her heart.

Mr. Everard came once to see her, but he had scarcely spoken many words
when Hester broke into an agony of weeping and begged him to go away. He
shook his head when he left her and said sadly to himself:

"That girl has got something on her mind; she is grieving for more than
the loss of her little sister."

The twentieth of June came at last, and the girls sat about in groups in
the pleasant shady garden, and talked of the very sad breaking-up day
they were to have on the morrow, and wondered if, when they returned to
school again, Annie and little Nan would have been found. Cecil Temple,
Dora Russell, and one or two others were sitting together and whispering
in low voices. Mary Price joined them, and said anxiously:

"I don't think the doctor is satisfied about Hester, Perhaps I ought not
to have listened, but I heard him talking to Miss Danesbury just now; he
said she must be got to sleep somehow, and she is to have a composing
draught to-night."

"I wish poor Hetty would not turn away from us all," said Cecil; "I wish
she would not quite give up hope; I do feel sure that Nan and Annie will
be found yet."

"Have you been praying about it, Cecil?" asked Mary, kneeling on the
grass, laying her elbows on Cecil's knees and looking into her face. "Do
you say this because you have faith?"

"I have prayed and I have faith," replied Cecil in her simple, earnest
way. "Why, Dora, what is the matter?"

"Only that it's horrid to leave like this," said Dora; "I--I thought my
last day at school would have been so different and somehow I am sorry I
spoke so much against that poor little Annie."

Here Cecil suddenly rose from her seat, and going up to Dora, clasped her
arms round her neck.

"Thank you, Dora," she said with fervor; "I love you for those words."

"Here comes Susy," remarked Mary Price. "I really don't think _anything_
would move Susy; she's just as stolid and indifferent as ever. Ah, Susy,
here's a place for you--oh, what _is_ the matter with Phyllis? see how
she's rushing toward us! Phyllis, my dear, don't break your neck."

Susan, with her usual nonchalance, seated herself by Dora Russell's side.
Phyllis burst excitedly into the group.

"I think," she exclaimed, "I really, really do think that news has come
of Annie's father. Nora said that Janet told her that a foreign letter
came this morning to Mrs. Willis, and somebody saw Mrs. Willis talking to
Miss Danesbury--oh, I forgot, only I know that the girls of the school
are whispering the news that Mrs. Willis cried, and Miss Danesbury said,
'After waiting for him four years, and now, when he comes back, he won't
find her!' Oh dear, oh dear! there is Danesbury. Cecil, darling love, go
to her, and find out the truth."

Cecil rose at once, went across the lawn, said a few words to Miss
Danesbury, and came back to the other girls.

"It is true," she said sadly, "there came a letter this morning from
Captain Forest; he will be at Lavender House in a week. Miss Danesbury
says it is a wonderful letter, and he has been shipwrecked, and on an
island by himself for ever so long; but he is safe now, and will soon be
in England. Miss Danesbury says Mrs. Willis can scarcely speak about that
letter; she is in great, great trouble, and Miss Danesbury confesses that
they are all more anxious than they dare to admit about Annie and little
Nan."

At this moment the sound of carriage wheels was heard on the drive, and
Susan, peering forward to see who was arriving, remarked in her usual
nonchalant manner:

"Only the little Misses Bruce in their basket-carriage--what dull-looking
women they are?"

Nobody commented, however, on her observation, and gradually the little
group of girls sank into absolute silence.

From where they sat they could see the basket-carriage waiting at the
front entrance--the little ladies had gone inside, all was perfect
silence and stillness.

Suddenly on the stillness a sound broke--the sound of a girl running
quickly; nearer and nearer came the steps, and the four or five who sat
together under the oak-tree noticed the quick panting breath, and felt
even before a word was uttered that evil tidings were coming to them.
They all started to their feet, however; they all uttered a cry of horror
and distress when Hester herself broke into their midst. She was supposed
to be lying down in a darkened room, she was supposed to be very
ill--what was she doing here?

"Hetty!" exclaimed Cecil.

Hester pushed past her; she rushed up to Susan Drummond, and seized her
arm.

"News has come!" she panted; "news--news at last! Nan is found!--and
Annie--they are both found--but Annie is dying. Come, Susan, come this
moment; we must both tell what we know now."

By her impetuosity, by the intense fire of her passion and agony, even
Susan was electrified into leaving her seat and going with her.



CHAPTER XLIX.

TWO CONFESSIONS.


Hester dragged her startled and rather unwilling companion in through the
front entrance, past some agitated-looking servants who stood about in
the hall, and through the velvet curtains into Mrs. Willis' boudoir.

The Misses Bruce were there, and Mrs. Willis in her bonnet and cloak was
hastily packing some things into a basket.

"I--I must speak to you," said Hester, going up to her governess. "Susan
and I have got something to say, and we must say it here, now at once."

"No, not now, Hester," replied Mrs. Willis, looking for a moment into her
pupil's agitated face. "Whatever you and Susan Drummond have to tell
cannot be listened to by me at this moment. I have not an instant to
lose."

"You are going to Annie?" asked Hester.

"Yes; don't keep me. Good-bye, my dears; good-bye."

Mrs. Willis moved toward the door. Hester, who felt almost beside
herself, rushed after her, and caught her arm.

"Take us with you, take Susy and me with you--we must, we must see Annie
before she dies."

"Hush, my child," said Mrs. Willis very quietly; "try to calm yourself.
Whatever you have got to say shall be listened to later on--now moments
are precious, and I cannot attend to you. Calm yourself, Hester, and
thank God for your dear little sister's safety. Prepare yourself to
receive her, for the carriage which takes me to Annie will bring little
Nan home."

Mrs. Willis left the room, and Hester threw herself on her knees and
covered her face with her trembling hands. Presently she was aroused by a
light touch on her arm; it was Susan Drummond.

"I may go now I suppose, Hester? You are not quite determined to make a
fool of me, are you?"

"I have determined to expose you, you coward; you mean, mean girl!"
answered Hester, springing to her feet. "Come, I have no idea of letting
you go. Mrs. Willis won't listen--we will find Mr. Everard."

Whether Susan would really have gone with Heater remains to be proved,
but just at that moment all possibility of retreat was cut away from her
by Miss Agnes Bruce, who quietly entered Mrs. Willis' private
sitting-room, followed by the very man Hester was about to seek.

"I thought it best, my dear," she said, turning apologetically to Hester,
"to go at once for our good clergyman; you can tell him all that is in
your heart, and I will leave you. Before I go, however, I should like to
tell you how I found Annie and little Nan."

Hester made no answer; just for a brief moment she raised her eyes to
Miss Agnes' kind face, then they sought the floor.

"The story can be told in a few words, dear," said the little lady. "A
workwoman of the name of Williams, whom my sister and I have employed for
years, and who lives near Oakley, called on us this morning to apologize
for not being able to finish some needlework. She told us that she had a
sick child, and also a little girl of three, in her house. She said she
had found the child, in ragged gypsy garments, fainting in a field. She
took her into her house, and on undressing her, found that she was no
true gypsy, but that her face and hands and arms had been dyed; she said
the little one had been treated in a similar manner. Jane's suspicions
and mine were instantly roused, and we went back with the woman to
Oakley, and found, as we had anticipated, that the children were little
Nan and Annie. The sad thing is that Annie is in high fever, and knows no
one. We waited there until the doctor arrived, who spoke very, very
seriously of her case. Little Nan is well, and asked for you."

With these last words Miss Agnes Bruce softly left the room closing the
door after her.

"Now, Susan," said Hester, without an instant's pause; "come, let us tell
Mr. Everard of our wickedness. Oh, sir," she added, raising her eyes to
the clergyman's face, "if Annie dies I shall go mad. Oh, I cannot, cannot
bear life if Annie dies!"

"Tell me what is wrong, my poor child," said Mr. Everard. He laid his
hand on her shoulder, and gradually and skillfully drew from the agitated
and miserable girl the story of her sin, of her cowardice, and of her
deep, though until now unavailing repentance. How from the first she had
hated and disliked Annie; how unjustly she had felt toward her; how she
had longed and hoped Annie was guilty; and how, when at last the clue was
put into her hands to prove Annie's absolute innocence, she had
determined not to use it.

"From the day Nan was lost," continued Hester, "it has been all agony and
all repentance; but, oh, I was too proud to tell! I was too proud to
humble myself to the very dust!"

"But not now," said the clergyman, very gently.

"No, no; not now. I care for nothing now in all the world except that
Annie may live."

"You don't mind the fact that Mrs. Willis and all your schoolfellows must
know of this, and must--must judge you accordingly?"

"They can't think worse of me than I think of myself. I only want Annie
to live."

"No, Hester," answered Mr. Everard, "you want more than that--you want
far more than that. It may be that God will take Annie Forest away. We
cannot tell. With Him alone are the issues of life or death. What you
really want, my child, is the forgiveness of the little girl you have
wronged, and the forgiveness of your Father in heaven."

Hester began to sob wildly.

"If--if she dies--may I see her first?" she gasped.

"Yes; I will try and promise you that. Now, will you go to your room? I
must speak to Miss Drummond alone; she is a far worse culprit than you."

Mr. Everard opened the door for Hester, who went silently out.

"Meet me in the chapel to-night," he whispered low in her ear, "I will
talk with you and pray with you there."

He closed the door, and came back to Susan.

All throughout this interview his manner had been very gentle to Hester:
but the clergyman could be stern, and there was a gleam of very righteous
anger in his eyes as he turned to the sullen girl who leaned heavily
against the table.

"This narrative of Hester Thornton's is, of course, quite true, Miss
Drummond?"

"Oh, yes; there seems to be no use in denying that," said Susan.

"I must insist on your telling me the exact story of your sin. There is
no use in your attempting to deny anything; only the utmost candor on
your part can now save you from being publicly expelled."

"I am willing to tell," answered Susan. "I meant no harm; it was done as
a bit of fun. I had a cousin at home who was very clever at drawing
caricatures, and I happened to have nothing to do one day, and I was
alone in Annie's bedroom, and I thought I'd like to see what she kept in
her desk. I always had a fancy for collecting odd keys, and I found one
on my bunch which fitted her desk exactly. I opened it, and I found such
a smart little caricature of Mrs. Willis. I sent the caricature to my
cousin, and begged of her to make an exact copy of it. She did so, and I
put Annie's back in her desk, and pasted the other into Cecil's book. I
didn't like Dora Russell, and I wrapped up the sweeties in her theme; but
I did the other for pure fun, for I knew Cecil would be so shocked; but I
never guessed the blame would fall on Annie. When I found it did, I felt
inclined to tell once or twice, but it seemed too much trouble and,
besides, I knew Mrs. Willis would punish me, and, of course, I didn't
wish that.

"Dora Russell was always very nasty to me, and when I found she was
putting on such airs, and pretending she could write such a grand essay
for the prize, I thought I'd take down her pride a bit. I went to her
desk, and I got some of the rough copy of the thing she was calling 'The
River,' and I sent it off to my cousin, and my cousin made up such a
ridiculous paper, and she hit off Dora's writing to the life, and, of
course, I had to put it into Dora's desk and tear up her real copy. It
was very unlucky Hester being in the room. Of course I never guessed
that, or I wouldn't have gone. That was the night we all went with Annie
to the fairies' field. I never meant to get Hester into a scrape, nor
Annie either, for that matter; but, of course, I couldn't be expected to
tell on myself."

Susan related her story in her usual monotonous and sing-song voice.
There was no trace of apparent emotion on her face, or of regret in her
tones. When she had finished speaking Mr. Everard was absolutely silent.

"I took a great deal of trouble," continued Susan, after a pause, in a
slightly fretful key. "It was really nothing but a joke, and I don't see
why such a fuss should have been made. I know I lost a great deal of
sleep trying to manage that twine business round my foot. I don't think I
shall trouble myself playing any more tricks upon schoolgirls--they are
not worth it."

"You'll never play any more tricks on these girls," said Mr. Everard,
rising to his feet, and suddenly filling the room and reducing Susan to
an abject silence by the ring of his stern, deep voice. "I take it upon
me, in the absence of your mistress, to pronounce your punishment. You
leave Lavender House in disgrace this evening. Miss Good will take you
home, and explain to your parents the cause of your dismissal. You are
not to see _any_ of your schoolfellows again. Your meanness, your
cowardice, your sin require no words on my part to deepen their vileness.
Through pure wantonness you have cast a cruel shadow on an innocent young
life. If that girl dies, you indeed are not blameless in the cause of her
early removal, for through you her heart and spirit were broken. Miss
Drummond, I pray God you may at least repent and be sorry. There are some
people mentioned in the Bible who are spoken of as past feeling. Wretched
girl, while there is yet time, pray that you may not belong to them. Now
I must leave you, but I shall lock you in. Miss Good will come for you in
about an hour to take you away."

Susan Drummond sank down on the nearest seat, and began to cry softly;
one or two pin-pricks from Mr. Everard's stern words may possibly have
reached her shallow heart--no one can tell. She left Lavender House that
evening, and none of the girls who had lived with her as their schoolmate
heard of her again.



CHAPTER L.

THE HEART OF LITTLE NAN.


For several days now Annie had lain unconscious in Mrs. Williams' little
bedroom; the kind-hearted woman could not find it in her heart to send
the sick child away. Her husband and the neighbors expostulated with her,
and said that Annie was only a poor little waif.

"She has no call on you," said Jane Allen, a hard-featured woman who
lived next door. "Why should you put yourself out just for a sick lass?
and she'll be much better off in the workhouse infirmary."

But Mrs. Williams shook her head at her hard-featured and hard-hearted
neighbor, and resisted her husband's entreaties.

"Eh!" she said, "but the poor lamb needs a good bit of mothering, and I
misdoubt me she wouldn't get much of that in the infirmary."

So Annie stayed, and tossed from side to side of her little bed, and
murmured unintelligible words, and grew daily a little weaker and a
little more delirious. The parish doctor called, and shook his head over
her; he was not a particularly clever man, but he was the best the
Williamses could afford. While Annie suffered and went deeper into that
valley of humiliation and weakness which leads to the gate of the Valley
of the Shadow of Death, little Nan played with Peggy Williams, and
accustomed herself after the fashion of little children to all the ways
of her new and humble home.

It was on the eighth day of Annie's fever that the Misses Bruce
discovered her, and on the evening of that day Mrs. Willis knelt by her
little favorite's bed. A better doctor had been called in, and all that
money could procure had been got now for poor Annie; but the second
doctor considered her case even more critical, and said that the close
air of the cottage was much against her recovery.

"I didn't make that caricature; I took the girls into the fairies' field,
but I never pasted that caricature into Cecil's book. I know you don't
believe me, Cecil; but do you think I would really do anything so mean
about one whom love? No, No! I am innocent! God knows it. Yes, I am glad
of that--God knows it."

Over and over in Mrs. Willis' presence these piteous words would come
from the fever-stricken child, but always when she came to the little
sentence "God knows I am innocent," her voice would grow tranquil, and a
faint and sweet smile would play round her lips.

Late that night a carriage drew up at a little distance from the cottage,
and a moment or two afterward Mrs. Willis was called out of the room to
speak to Cecil Temple.

"I have found out the truth about Annie; I have come at once to tell
you," she said; and then she repeated the substance of Hester's and
Susan's story.

"God help me for having misjudged her," murmured the head-mistress; then
she bade Cecil "good-night" and returned to the sick-room.

The next time Annie broke out with her piteous wail, "They believe me
guilty--Mrs. Willis does--they all do," the mistress laid her hand with a
firm and gentle pressure on the child's arm.

"Not now, my dear," she said, in a slow, clear, and emphatic voice. "God
has shown your governess the truth, and she believes in you."

The very carefully-uttered words pierced through the clouded brain; for a
moment Annie lay quite still, with her bright and lovely eyes fixed on
her teacher.

"Is that really you?" she asked.

"I am here, my darling."

"And you believe in me?"

"I do, most absolutely."

"God does, too, you know," answered Annie--bringing out the words
quickly, and turning her head to the other side. The fever had once more
gained supremacy, and she rambled on unceasingly through the dreary
night.

Now, however, when the passionate words broke out, "They believe me
guilty," Mrs. Willis always managed to quiet her by saying, "I know you
are innocent."

The next day at noon those girls who had not gone home--for many had
started by the morning train--were wandering aimlessly about the grounds.

Mr. Everard had gone to see Annie, and had promised to bring back the
latest tidings about her.

Hester, holding little Nan's hand--for she could scarcely bear to have
her recovered treasure out of sight--had wandered away from the rest of
her companions, and had seated herself with Nan under a large oak-tree
which grew close to the entrance of the avenue. She had come here in
order to be the very first to see Mr. Everard on his return. Nan had
climbed into Hester's lap, and Hester had buried her aching head in
little Nan's bright curls, when she started suddenly to her feet and ran
forward. Her quick ears had detected the sound of wheels.

How soon Mr. Everard had returned; surely the news was bad! She flew to
the gate, and held it open in order to avoid the short delay which the
lodge-keeper might cause in coming to unfasten it. She flushed, however,
vividly, and felt half inclined to retreat into the shade, when she saw
that the gentleman who was approaching was not Mr. Everard, but a tall,
handsome, and foreign-looking man, who drove a light dog-cart himself.
The moment he saw Hester with little Nan clinging to her skirts he
stopped short.

"Is this Lavender House, little girl?"

"Yes, sir," replied Hester.

"And can you tell me--but of course you know--you are one of the young
ladies who live here, eh?"

Hester nodded.

"Then you can tell me if Mrs. Willis is at home--but of course she is."

"No, sir," answered Hester; "I am sorry to tell you that Mrs. Willis is
away. She has been called away on very, very sad business; she won't come
back to-night."

Something in Hester's tone caused the stranger to look at her
attentively; he jumped off the dog-cart and came to her side.

"See here, Miss----"

"Thornton," put in Hester.

"Yes, Miss--Miss Thornton, perhaps you can manage for me as well as Mrs.
Willis; after all I don't particularly want to see her. If you belong to
Lavender House, you, of course, know my--I mean you have a schoolmate
here, a little, pretty gypsy rogue called Forest--little Annie Forest. I
want to see her--can you take me to her?"

"You are her father?" gasped Hester.

"Yes, my dear child, I am her father. Now you can take me to her at
once."

Hester covered her face.

"Oh, I cannot," she said--"I cannot take you to Annie. Oh, sir, if you
knew all, you would feel inclined to kill me. Don't ask me about
Annie--don't, don't."

The stranger looked fairly non-plussed and not a little alarmed. Just at
this moment Nan's tiny fingers touched his hand.

"Me'll take 'oo to my Annie," she said--"mine poor Annie. Annie's vedy
sick, but me'll take 'oo."

The tall, foreign-looking man lifted Nan into his arms.

"Sick, is she?" he answered. "Look here young lady," he added, turning to
Hester, "whatever you have got to say, I am sure you will try and say it;
you will pity a father's anxiety and master your own feelings. Where _is_
my little girl?"

Hester hastily dried her tears.

"She is in a cottage near Oakley, sir."

"Indeed! Oakley is some miles from here?"

"And she is very ill."

"What of?"

"Fever; they--they fear she may die."

"Take me to her," said the stranger. "If she is ill and dying she wants
me. Take me to her at once. Here, jump on the dog-cart; and, little one,
you shall come too."

So furiously did Captain Forest drive that in a very little over an
hour's time his panting horse stopped at a few steps from the cottage. He
called to a boy to hold him, and, accompanied by Hester, and carrying Nan
in his arms, he stood on the threshold of Mrs. Williams' humble little
abode. Mr. Everard was coming out.

"Hester," he said, "you here? I was coming for you."

"Oh, then she is worse?"

"She is conscious, and has asked for you. Yes, she is very, very ill."

"Mr. Everard, this gentleman is Annie's father."

Mr. Everard looked pityingly at Captain Forest.

"You have come back at a sad hour, sir," he said. "But no, it cannot harm
her to see you. Come with me."

Captain Forest went first into the sick-room; Hester waited outside. She
had the little kitchen to herself, for all the Williamses, with the
exception of the good mother, had moved for the time being to other
quarters. Surely Mr. Everard would come for her in a moment? Surely
Captain Forest, who had gone into the sick-room with Nan in his arms,
would quickly return? There was no sound. All was absolute quiet. How
soon would Hester be summoned? Could she--could she bear to look at
Annie's dying face? Her agony drove her down on her knees.

"Oh, if you would only spare Annie!" she prayed to God. Then she wiped
her eyes. This terrible suspense seemed more than she could bear.
Suddenly the bedroom door was softly and silently opened, and Mr. Everard
came out.

"She sleeps," he said; "there is a shadow of hope. Little Nan has done
it. Nan asked to lie down beside her, and she said, 'Poor Annie! poor
Annie!' and stroked her cheek; and in some way, I don't know how, the two
have gone to sleep together. Annie did not even glance at her father; she
was quite taken up with Nan. You can come to the door and look at her,
Hester."

Hester did so. A time had been when she could scarcely have borne that
sight without a pang of jealousy; now she turned to Mr. Everard:

"I--I could even give her the heart of little Nan to keep her here," she
murmured.



CHAPTER LI.

THE PRIZE ESSAY.


Annie did not die. The fever passed away in that long and refreshing
sleep, while Nan's cool hand lay against her cheek. She came slowly,
slowly back to life--to a fresh, a new, and a glad life. Hester, from
being her enemy, was now her dearest and warmest friend. Her father was
at home again, and she could no longer think or speak of herself as
lonely or sad. She recovered, and in future days reigned as a greater
favorite than ever at Lavender House. It is only fair to say that Tiger
never went back to the gypsies, but devoted himself first and foremost to
Annie, and then to the captain, who pronounced him a capital dog, and
when he heard his story vowed he never would part with him.

Owing to Annie's illness, and to all the trouble and confusion which
immediately ensued, Mrs. Willis did not give away her prizes at the usual
time; but when her scholars once more assembled at Lavender House she
astonished several of them by a few words.

"My dears," she said, standing in her accustomed place at the head of the
long school-room, "I intend now before our first day of lessons begins,
to distribute those prizes which would have been yours, under ordinary
circumstances, on the twenty-first of June. The prizes will be
distributed during the afternoon recess; but here, and now, I wish to say
something about--and also to give away--the prize for English
composition. Six essays, all written with more or less care, have been
given to me to inspect. There are reasons which we need not now go into
which made it impossible to me to say anything in favor of a theme called
'The River,' written by my late pupil, Miss Russell; but I can cordially
praise a very nice historical sketch of Marie Antoinette, the work of
Hester Thornton. Mary Price has also written a study which pleases me
much, as it shows thought and even a little originality. The remainder of
the six essays simply reach an ordinary average. You will be surprised
therefore, my dears, to learn that I do not award the prize to any of
these themes, but rather to a seventh composition, which was put into my
hands yesterday by Miss Danesbury. It is crude and unfinished, and
doubtless but for her recent illness would have received many
corrections; but these few pages, which are called 'A Lonely Child,' drew
tears from my eyes; crude as they are, they have the merit of real
originality. They are too morbid to read to you, girls, and I sincerely
trust and pray the young writer may never pen anything so sad again. Such
as they are, however, they rank first in the order of merit and the prize
is hers. Annie, my dear, come forward."

Annie left her seat, and, amid the cheers of her companions, went up to
Mrs. Willis, who placed a locket, attached to a slender gold chain, round
her neck; the locket contained a miniature of the head-mistress'
much-loved face.

"After all, think of our Annie Forest turning out clever as well as being
the prettiest and dearest girl in the school!" exclaimed several of her
companions.

"Only I do wish," added one, "that Mrs. Willis had let us see the essay.
Annie, treasure, come here; tell us what the 'Lonely Child' was about."

"I don't remember," answered Annie. "I don't know what loneliness means
now, so how can I describe it?"

THE END

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

A. L. BURT'S PUBLICATIONS
For Young People
BY POPULAR WRITERS,
97-99-101 Reade Street, New York.

Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden. By G. A. HENTY.
With 12 full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.00.

The adventures of the son of a Scotch officer in French service. The boy,
brought up by a Glasgow bailie, is arrested for aiding a Jacobite agent,
escapes, is wrecked on the French coast, reaches Paris, and serves with
the French army at Dettingen. He kills his father's foe in a duel, and
escaping to the coast, shares the adventures of Prince Charlie, but
finally settles happily in Scotland.

"Ronald, the hero, is very like the hero of 'Quentin Durward.' The lad's
journey across France, and his hairbreadth escapes, make up as good a
narrative of the kind as we have ever read. For freshness of treatment
and variety of incident Mr. Henty has surpassed himself."--_Spectator._

With Clive in India; or, the Beginnings of an Empire. By G. A. HENTY.
With 12 full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.00.

The period between the landing of Clive as a young writer in India and
the close of his career was critical and eventful in the extreme. At its
commencement the English were traders existing on sufferance of the
native princes. At its close they were masters of Bengal and of the
greater part of Southern India. The author has given a full and accurate
account of the events of that stirring time, and battles and sieges
follow each other in rapid succession, while he combines with his
narrative a tale of daring and adventure, which gives a lifelike interest
to the volume.

"He has taken a period of Indian history of the most vital importance,
and he has embroidered on the historical facts a story which of itself is
deeply interesting. Young people assuredly will be delighted with the
volume."--_Scotsman._

The Lion of the North: A Tale of Gustavus Adolphus and the Wars of
Religion. By G. A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by JOHN
SCHöNBERG. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

In this story Mr. Henty gives the history of the first part of the Thirty
Years' War. The issue had its importance, which has extended to the
present day, as it established religious freedom in Germany. The army of
the chivalrous king of Sweden was largely composed of Scotchmen, and
among these was the hero of the story.

"The tale is a clever and instructive piece of history, and as boys may
be trusted to read it conscientiously, they can hardly fail to be
profited."--_Times._

The Dragon and the Raven; or, The Days of King Alfred. By G. A. HENTY.
With full-page Illustrations by C. J. STANILAND, R.I. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.00.

In this story the author gives an account of the fierce struggle between
Saxon and Dane for supremacy in England, and presents a vivid picture of
the misery and ruin to which the country was reduced by the ravages of
the sea-wolves. The hero, a young Saxon thane, takes part in all the
battles fought by King Alfred. He is driven from his home, takes to the
sea and resists the Danes on their own element, and being pursued by them
up the Seine, is present at the long and desperate siege of Paris.

"Treated in a manner most attractive to the boyish reader."--_Athenæum._

The Young Carthaginian: A Story of the Times of Hannibal. By G. A. HENTY.
With full-page Illustrations by C. J. STANILAND, R.I. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.00.

Boys reading the history of the Punic Wars have seldom a keen
appreciation of the merits of the contest. That it was at first a
struggle for empire, and afterward for existence on the part of Carthage,
that Hannibal was a great and skillful general, that he defeated the
Romans at Trebia, Lake Trasimenus, and Cannæ, and all but took Rome,
represents pretty nearly the sum total of their knowledge. To let them
know more about this momentous struggle for the empire of the world Mr.
Henty has written this story, which not only gives in graphic style a
brilliant description of a most interesting period of history, but is a
tale of exciting adventure sure to secure the interest of the reader.

"Well constructed and vividly told. From first to last nothing stays the
interest of the narrative. It bears us along as on a stream whose current
varies in direction, but never loses its force."--_Saturday Review._

In Freedom's Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce. By G. A. HENTY. With
full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

In this story the author relates the stirring tale of the Scottish War of
Independence. The extraordinary valor and personal prowess of Wallace and
Bruce rival the deeds of the mythical heroes of chivalry, and indeed at
one time Wallace was ranked with these legendary personages. The
researches of modern historians have shown, however, that he was a
living, breathing man--and a valiant champion. The hero of the tale
fought under both Wallace and Bruce, and while the strictest historical
accuracy has been maintained with respect to public events, the work is
full of "hairbreadth 'scapes" and wild adventure.

"It is written in the author's best style. Full of the wildest and most
remarkable achievements, it is a tale of great interest, which a boy,
once he has begun it, will not willingly put on one side."--_The
Schoolmaster._

With Lee in Virginia: A Story of the American Civil War. By G. A. HENTY.
With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

The story of a young Virginian planter, who, after bravely proving his
sympathy with the slaves of brutal masters, serves with no less courage
and enthusiasm under Lee and Jackson through the most exciting events of
the struggle. He has many hairbreadth escapes, is several times wounded
and twice taken prisoner; but his courage and readiness and, in two
cases, the devotion of a black servant and of a runaway slave whom he had
assisted, bring him safely through all difficulties.

"One of the best stories for lads which Mr. Henty has yet written. The
picture is full of life and color, and the stirring and romantic
incidents are skillfully blended with the personal interest and charm of
the story."--_Standard._

By England's Aid; or, The Freeing of the Netherlands (1585-1604). By G.
A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by ALFRED PEARSE, and Maps. 12mo,
cloth, price $1.00.

The story of two English lads who go to Holland as pages in the service
of one of "the fighting Veres." After many adventures by sea and land,
one of the lads finds himself on board a Spanish ship at the time of the
defeat of the Armada, and escapes only to fall into the hands of the
Corsairs. He is successful in getting back to Spain under the protection
of a wealthy merchant, and regains his native country after the capture
of Cadiz.

"It is an admirable book for youngsters. It overflows with stirring
incident and exciting adventure, and the color of the era and of the
scene are finely reproduced. The illustrations add to its
attractiveness."--_Boston Gazette._

By Right of Conquest; or, With Cortez in Mexico. By G. A. HENTY. With
full-page Illustrations by W. S. STACEY, and Two Maps. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.50.

The conquest of Mexico by a small band of resolute men under the
magnificent leadership of Cortez is always rightly ranked among the most
romantic and daring exploits in history. With this as the groundwork of
his story Mr. Henty has interwoven the adventures of an English youth,
Roger Hawkshaw, the sole survivor of the good ship Swan, which had sailed
from a Devon port to challenge the mercantile supremacy of the Spaniards
in the New World. He is beset by many perils among the natives, but is
saved by his own judgment and strength, and by the devotion of an Aztec
princess. At last by a ruse he obtains the protection of the Spaniards,
and after the fall of Mexico he succeeds in regaining his native shore,
with a fortune and a charming Aztec bride.

"'By Right of Conquest' is the nearest approach to a perfectly successful
Historical tale that Mr. Henty has yet published."--_Academy._

In the Reign of Terror: The Adventures of a Westminster Boy. By G. A.
HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by J. SCHöNBERG. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.00.

Harry Sandwith, a Westminster boy, becomes a resident at the chateau of a
French marquis, and after various adventures accompanies the family to
Paris at the crisis of the Revolution. Imprisonment and death reduce
their number, and the hero finds himself beset by perils with the three
young daughters of the house in his charge. After hairbreadth escapes
they reach Nantes. There the girls are condemned to death in the
coffin-ships, but are saved by the unfailing courage of their boy
protector.

"Harry Sandwith, the Westminster boy, may fairly be said to beat Mr.
Henty's record. His adventures will delight boys by the audacity and
peril they depict.... The story is one of Mr. Henty's best."--_Saturday
Review._

With Wolfe in Canada; or, The Winning of a Continent. By G. A. HENTY.
With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

In the present volume Mr. Henty gives an account of the struggle between
Britain and France for supremacy in the North American continent. On the
issue of this war depended not only the destinies of North America, but
to a large extent those of the mother countries themselves. The fall of
Quebec decided that the Anglo-Saxon race should predominate in the New
World; that Britain, and not France, should take the lead among the
nations of Europe; and that English and American commerce, the English
language, and English literature, should spread right round the globe.

"It is not only a lesson in history as instructively as it is graphically
told, but also a deeply interesting and often thrilling tale of adventure
and peril by flood and field."--_Illustrated London News._

True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence. By G.
A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth,
price $1.00.

In this story the author has gone to the accounts of officers who took
part in the conflict, and lads will find that in no war in which American
and British soldiers have been engaged did they behave with greater
courage and good conduct. The historical portion of the book being
accompanied with numerous thrilling adventures with the redskins on the
shores of Lake Huron, a story of exciting interest is interwoven with the
general narrative and carried through the book.

"Does justice to the pluck and determination of the British soldiers
during the unfortunate struggle against American emancipation. The son of
an American loyalist, who remains true to our flag, falls among the
hostile redskins in that very Huron country which has been endeared to us
by the exploits of Hawkeye and Chingachgook."--_The Times._

The Lion of St. Mark: A Tale of Venice in the Fourteenth Century. By G.
A. HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth,
price $1.00.

A story of Venice at a period when her strength and splendor were put to
the severest tests. The hero displays a fine sense and manliness which
carry him safely through an atmosphere of intrigue, crime, and bloodshed.
He contributes largely to the victories of the Venetians at Porto d'Anzo
and Chioggia, and finally wins the hand of the daughter of one of the
chief men of Venice.

"Every boy should read 'The Lion of St. Mark.' Mr. Henty has never produced
a story more delightful, more wholesome, or more vivacious."--_Saturday
Review._

A Final Reckoning: A Tale of Bush Life in Australia. By G. A. HENTY. With
full-page Illustrations by W. B. WOLLEN. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

The hero, a young English lad, after rather a stormy boyhood, emigrates
to Australia, and gets employment as an officer in the mounted police. A
few years of active work on the frontier, where he has many a brush with
both natives and bushrangers, gain him promotion to a captaincy, and he
eventually settles down to the peaceful life of a squatter.

"Mr. Henty has never published a more readable, a more carefully
constructed, or a better written story than this."--_Spectator._

Under Drake's Flag: A Tale of the Spanish Main. By G. A. HENTY. With
full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

A story of the days when England and Spain struggled for the supremacy of
the sea. The heroes sail as lads with Drake in the Pacific expedition,
and in his great voyage of circumnavigation. The historical portion of
the story is absolutely to be relied upon, but this will perhaps be less
attractive than the great variety of exciting adventure through which the
young heroes pass in the course of their voyages.

"A book of adventure, where the hero meets with experience enough, one
would think, to turn his hair gray."--_Harper's Monthly Magazine._

By Sheer Pluck: A Tale of the Ashanti War. By G. A. HENTY. With full-page
Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

The author has woven, in a tale of thrilling interest, all the details of
the Ashanti campaign, of which he was himself a witness. His hero, after
many exciting adventures in the interior, is detained a prisoner by the
king just before the outbreak of the war, but escapes, and accompanies
the English expedition on their march to Coomassie.

"Mr. Henty keeps up his reputation as a writer of boys' stories. 'By
Sheer Pluck' will be eagerly read."--_Athenæum._

By Pike and Dyke: A Tale of the Rise of the Dutch Republic. By G. A.
HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by MAYNARD BROWN, and 4 Maps. 12mo,
cloth, price $1.00.

In this story Mr. Henty traces the adventures and brave deeds of an
English boy in the household of the ablest man of his age--William the
Silent. Edward Martin, the son of an English sea captain, enters the
service of the Prince as a volunteer, and is employed by him in many
dangerous and responsible missions, in the discharge of which he passes
through the great sieges of the time. He ultimately settles down as Sir
Edward Martin.

"Boys with a turn for historical research will be enchanted with the
book, while the rest who only care for adventure will be students in
spite of themselves."--_St. James' Gazette._

St. George for England: A Tale of Cressy and Poitiers. By G. A. HENTY.
With full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

No portion of English history is more crowded with great events than that
of the reign of Edward III. Cressy and Poitiers; the destruction of the
Spanish fleet; the plague of the Black Death; the Jacquerie rising; these
are treated by the author in "St. George for England." The hero of the
story, although of good family, begins life as a London apprentice, but
after countless adventures and perils becomes by valor and good conduct
the squire, and at last the trusted friend of the Black Prince.

"Mr. Henty has developed for himself a type of historical novel for boys
which bids fair to supplement, on their behalf, the historical labors of
Sir Walter Scott in the land of fiction."--_The Standard._

Captain's Kidd's Gold: The True Story of an Adventurous Sailor Boy. By
JAMES FRANKLIN FITTS. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

There is something fascinating to the average youth in the very idea of
buried treasure. A vision arises before his eyes of swarthy Portuguese and
Spanish rascals, with black beards and gleaming eyes--sinister-looking
fellows who once on a time haunted the Spanish Main, sneaking out from
some hidden creek in their long, low schooner, of picaroonish rake and
sheer, to attack an unsuspecting trading craft. There were many famous sea
rovers in their day, but none more celebrated than Capt. Kidd. Perhaps the
most fascinating tale of all is Mr. Fitts' true story of an adventurous
American boy, who receives from his dying father an ancient bit of vellum,
which the latter obtained in a curious way. The document bears obscure
directions purporting to locate a certain island in the Bahama group, and
a considerable treasure buried there by two of Kidd's crew. The hero of
this book, Paul Jones Garry, is an ambitious, persevering lad, of
salt-water New England ancestry, and his efforts to reach the island and
secure the money form one of the most absorbing tales for our youth that
has come from the press.

Captain Bayley's Heir: A Tale of the Gold Fields of California. By G. A.
HENTY. With full-page Illustrations by H. M. PAGET. 12mo, cloth, price
$1.00.

A frank, manly lad and his cousin are rivals in the heirship of a
considerable property. The former falls into a trap laid by the latter,
and while under a false accusation of theft foolishly leaves England for
America. He works his passage before the mast, joins a small band of
hunters, crosses a tract of country infested with Indians to the
Californian gold diggings, and is successful both as digger and trader.

"Mr. Henty is careful to mingle instruction with entertainment; and the
humorous touches, especially in the sketch of John Holl, the Westminster
dustman, Dickens himself could hardly have excelled."--_Christian
Leader._

For Name and Fame; or, Through Afghan Passes. By G. A. HENTY. With
full-page Illustrations by GORDON BROWNE. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

An interesting story of the last war in Afghanistan. The hero, after
being wrecked and going through many stirring adventures among the
Malays, finds his way to Calcutta and enlists in a regiment proceeding to
join the army at the Afghan passes. He accompanies the force under
General Roberts to the Peiwar Kotal, is wounded, taken prisoner, carried
to Cabul, whence he is transferred to Candahar, and takes part in the
final defeat of the army of Ayoub Khan.

"The best feature of the book--apart from the interest of its scenes of
adventure--is its honest effort to do justice to the patriotism of the
Afghan people."--_Daily News._

Captured by Apes: The Wonderful Adventures of a Young Animal Trainer. By
HARRY PRENTICE. 12mo, cloth, $1.00.

The scene of this tale is laid on an island in the Malay Archipelago.
Philip Garland, a young animal collector and trainer, of New York, sets
sail for Eastern seas in quest of a new stock of living curiosities. The
vessel is wrecked off the coast of Borneo and young Garland, the sole
survivor of the disaster, is cast ashore on a small island, and captured
by the apes that overrun the place. The lad discovers that the ruling
spirit of the monkey tribe is a gigantic and vicious baboon, whom he
identifies as Goliah, an animal at one time in his possession and with
whose instruction he had been especially diligent. The brute recognizes
him, and with a kind of malignant satisfaction puts his former master
through the same course of training he had himself experienced with a
faithfulness of detail which shows how astonishing is monkey
recollection. Very novel indeed is the way by which the young man escapes
death. Mr. Prentice has certainly worked a new vein on juvenile fiction,
and the ability with which he handles a difficult subject stamps him as a
writer of undoubted skill.

The Bravest of the Brave; or, With Peterborough in Spain. By G. A. HENTY.
With full-page Illustrations by H. M. PAGET. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

There are few great leaders whose lives and actions have so completely
fallen into oblivion as those of the Earl of Peterborough. This is
largely due to the fact that they were overshadowed by the glory and
successes of Marlborough. His career as general extended over little more
than a year, and yet, in that time, he showed a genius for warfare which
has never been surpassed.

"Mr. Henty never loses sight of the moral purpose of his work--to enforce
the doctrine of courage and truth. Lads will read 'The Bravest of the
Brave' with pleasure and profit; of that we are quite sure."--_Daily
Telegraph._

The Cat of Bubastes: A Story of Ancient Egypt. By G. A. HENTY. With
full-page Illustrations. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

A story which will give young readers an unsurpassed insight into the
customs of the Egyptian people. Amuba, a prince of the Rebu nation, is
carried with his charioteer Jethro into slavery. They become inmates of
the house of Ameres, the Egyptian high-priest, and are happy in his
service until the priest's son accidentally kills the sacred cat of
Bubastes. In an outburst of popular fury Ameres is killed, and it rests
with Jethro and Amuba to secure the escape of the high-priest's son and
daughter.

"The story, from the critical moment of the killing of the sacred cat to
the perilous exodus into Asia with which it closes, is very skillfully
constructed and full of exciting adventures. It is admirably
illustrated."--_Saturday Review._

With Washington at Monmouth: A Story of Three Philadelphia Boys. By JAMES
OTIS. 12mo, cloth, price $1.00.

Three Philadelphia boys, Seth Graydon "whose mother conducted a
boarding-house which was patronized by the British officers;" Enoch Ball,
"son of that Mrs. Ball whose dancing school was situated on Letitia
Street," and little Jacob, son of "Chris, the Baker," serve as the
principal characters. The story is laid during the winter when Lord Howe
held possession of the city, and the lads aid the cause by assisting the
American spies who make regular and frequent visits from Valley Forge.
One reads here of home-life in the captive city when bread was scarce
among the people of the lower classes, and a reckless prodigality shown
by the British officers, who passed the winter in feasting and
merry-making while the members of the patriot army but a few miles away
were suffering from both cold and hunger. The story abounds with pictures
of Colonial life skillfully drawn, and the glimpses of Washington's
soldiers which are given show that the work has not been hastily done, or
without considerable study.





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