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´╗┐Title: Etheldreda the Ready - A School Story
Author: Vaizey, George de Horne, Mrs., 1857-1917
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 "Etheldreda the Ready - A School Story" ***

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Etheldreda the Ready
A School Story

By Mrs George de Horne Vaizey


ETHELDREDA THE READY
A SCHOOL STORY

BY MRS GEORGE DE HORNE VAIZEY



CHAPTER ONE.

The first part of the Christmas holidays had gone with a roar.  The
Saxon family in conclave agreed that never before had they had so good a
time.  Invitations poured in; amusement after amusement filled up
afternoon and evening; parents and friends alike seemed imbued with a
wholly admirable desire to make the season one gay whirl of enjoyment,
and then, suddenly, just after the beginning of the New Year, the
atmosphere became mysteriously clouded.

What was the matter?  Nobody knew.  One day the sky was blue and
serene--the next, the shadow was in possession.  Mr Saxon looked
suddenly old and bleached, and hid himself persistently in his study;
Mrs Saxon sat at the head of the table with the air of one braced to
perform a difficult task, listened vacantly to her children's prattle,
and smiled a twisted smile in response to their merry outbursts of
laughter.  Two days later Miss Bruce, the governess, was summoned
hastily to return from her holiday-making and take charge of the
household, while Mr and Mrs Saxon set forth to pay a mysterious visit
to their country house, which as a rule was left severely to the
caretaker's mercies until spring was well advanced.

What in the world could have induced two people who were obviously
worried and depressed to leave town and go down to that dull, deserted
house in the depth of the winter?  The Saxons discussed the subject with
their wonted vivacity, and from the many divergent points of view with
which they were accustomed to regard the world in general.

They were six in all, and as true Saxons in appearance as they were in
name, being large, fair, flaxen-haired creatures, of the type which is
unfortunately growing rarer year by year.

Rowena, tall and stately, had already reached the stage when womanhood
and girlhood meet, but her undeniable beauty was somewhat marred by an
air of self-consciousness, which was in truth more than half due to a
natural shyness and diffidence in adapting herself to new conditions.
Hereward, the Sandhurst cadet, and Gurth, the Eton stripling, were as
handsome a pair as one could wish to meet.  Etheldreda, with her flowing
golden locks, widely open grey eyes and alert, vivacious features, might
have sat as a type of a bonnie English schoolgirl, while the twins,
Harold and Maud, were plump, pleasant-looking creatures, devoted to each
other, who in holiday time could be turned into convenient fags for
their elders and betters.  Good old Harold could always be depended upon
to do his duty with resignation, if not cheerfulness, but Maud was one
of those constitutionally stupid people who are nevertheless gifted with
sudden flashes of sharpness apt to prove embarrassing to their
companions.  The Saxons, to use their own expressive parlance, were
always "a trifle wary" in dealing with Maud, for what that young lady
thought she promptly _said_, and said without reserve, choosing, as it
seemed, out of pure "cussedness" the very moment of all others when they
would have had her silent.

Discussions and guesses alike failed to suggest any reasonable
explanations of Mr and Mrs Saxon's mysterious behaviour, and Miss
Bruce steadily refused to be drawn, though there was a certain something
in her manner which convinced her charges that she was in the secret.

And then on the morning of the fifth day the blow fell, in the shape of
a short, decisive note ordering the young people to pack their
belongings and repair down to "The Meads" for the remainder of the
holidays.  The mandate was so firm and decisive that there was no hope
of escape.  The girls might cry and the boys might storm, but both
realised the uselessness of protest.  Assisted by Miss Bruce and Nannie,
once nurse and now schoolroom maid, the melancholy preparations were
made in time to allow the party to catch the three o'clock train from
Victoria.

To secure a carriage in which they could travel alone and be able to
talk as they pleased was the ambition of the four elders, and while Miss
Bruce was busily looking after the luggage, they took possession of a
corridor coupe, slammed the door, and blocked the window with determined
faces, though deep in each heart lurked the conviction that Miss Bruce's
morbidly acute conscience would feel it her duty to interfere.

"Nix for the Spider!" hissed Gurth, prising a hockey-stick against the
handle of the door the while he gazed with elaborate calm at a poster on
the station wall.  It was inevitable that a person named Bruce should be
given the nickname of "Spider" by young people who disdained correct
appellations as heartily as did the Saxons, and, indeed, the busy little
black figure darting to and fro on the platform might have been much
less aptly named.  She hustled the twins and Nannie into a carriage,
turned her head to look for her elder pupils, and, upon realising the
position, reared her head with the fighting gesture which they knew so
well.  For a moment, as she stood facing the coupe window, it seemed
absolutely certain that she would insist upon joining the party, and so
spoiling sport for the whole of the journey, but even as she looked her
expression altered, a flicker of something--what was it?--affection,
sympathy, pity passed over her face, she turned without a word, entered
the carriage wherein the twins were seated, and disappeared from sight.

The plot had succeeded, but their success had left the conspirators dumb
with wonder and surprise.

"I say! what's taken her all of a sudden?" ejaculated Gurth.  Hereward
whistled loudly, while Dreda, ever the prey of her emotions, began to
flush and quiver beneath the prickings of remorse.

"Oh, poor dear!  Oh, she _saw_!  She saw we didn't want her!  What
brutes we are!  Gurth, go!--go quickly, before the train starts, and
tell her to come in here at once!"

"Not I!  What a turncoat you are, Dreda!  Of course she saw!  We _meant_
her to see.  You were the worst of the lot, scowling as if she were an
ogre.  Don't be a little sneak!"

"Not a sneak!" protested Dreda, hotly.  "S'pose I did.  I can be sorry,
can't I?  She looked so--_sick_!  It made me feel mean."

"All right!  Go in to the other carriage, then, and suck up!  We don't
want her here, but there's room for you in there, if you like to change!
Say the word!  We are off in a minute!"

Etheldreda blushed, shuffled, and tossed her pigtail, but made not the
slightest attempt to move from her place, whereat her brothers and
sister chuckled with easy amusement.

  "Oh, Dreda, in our hours of ease,
  Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
  And variable as the shade
  By the light thingummy aspen made.
  When pain and anguish wring the brow,
  She nothing does, but makes a row."

The mutilated lines were the contributions of the two schoolboys, while
Rowena looked down her nose once more, and dismissed the subject in a
few scathing remarks.

"You might realise by this time that Dreda's sentiments have not the
smallest influence on her actions!  The Spider was evidently suffering
from a spasm of repentance.  Quite time, too!  She has made herself most
objectionable the last few days, sighing and groaning about the house,
and looking as if her heart were broken.  If _we_ can stand breaking our
engagements and giving up all the fun of the holidays, I don't see why
she need grumble.  But she is always like that--unsympathetic and
absorbed in herself.  It's a mystery to me, for what has she got to be
absorbed in?  To be old, and ugly, and poor, and to have no home or any
people that count--there can't possibly be any personal interest in
life!  Her only hope would be to live for others, and of that, poor
dear, she is incapable!"

Rowena folded her hands on her lap, turned her well-cut profile to the
window, and sighed in an elderly, forbearing fashion, at which the two
boys grinned broadly, while impetuous Dreda burst once more into speech.

"Rowena, I _hate_ you when you talk like that!  Don't be so self-
righteous and horrid!  It's not for you to criticise other people.  The
Spider is not a patch on you for selfishness, and if she has a poor time
of it, that's all the more reason why you should be charitable, and try
to cheer her up.  You'll be old yourself some day, and ugly too!  Fair
people always fade soonest.  I read that in the toilette column of a
magazine, so it's true, and I shouldn't wonder if you grew nut-crackery,
too.  Your nose is rather beaky even now.  You needn't be so proud!"

Rowena turned her head to look round the carriage with a gently tolerant
smile.

"Our dear Dreda teaches us a lesson in charity, does she not?" she
demanded blandly.  That was all the response she deigned to make, but it
was enough to reduce her sister to a crimson confusion, and to rouse
Gurth to impatient anger.

"Oh, leave off nagging, you two!" he cried loudly.  "If you don't drop
it, I'll be off into a smoker at the first stop.  Fight it out to-night
when you are alone, if you can't agree; but let us off when we are caged
up in the same pen.  Here!  Let's have a game of `Roadside cribbage.'
Bags I the left side!  Now then, Dreda, I choose you first.  Hereward
can take Rowena.  Buck up!  We have got to win this time."

Etheldreda shot a glance of gratitude from the grey eyes which were such
eloquent exponents of her thoughts.  To be so championed by Gurth was
worth far more than the temporary suffering inflicted by Rowena's sharp
tongue, and she set herself valiantly to be worthy of his choice.
"Roadside cribbage" was a game patronised for years by the Saxon family
on their railway journeys, and consisted merely in dividing forces,
staring steadily out of opposite windows, and scoring for the various
objects perceived, according to a quaint but well understood method.
Thus, a bridge over a river counted as five marks; a quarry, ten; a
windmill, twenty; a fire, fifty; a motor car, minus one; while the
ubiquitous bicycle was worth only three per dozen.  These, and other
objects too numerous to repeat, mounted but slowly towards the grand
total of a hundred, but there remained one--just one rare chance of
winning success at a stroke, for the competitor who had the luck to spy
a cat looking out of a window might cry, "Game!" on the instant, even if
he had not so far scored a single point.  It can easily be understood
that the best chances of spotting this valuable spectacle came as the
train slackened steam before entering a station.  Then, as one regarded
the backs of dreary tenement houses, it really seemed inevitable that
some household cat should wish to take the air, or to regard the world
from the vantage of dusty, unwashed sills!  Inevitable, yet with the
perversity of cat nature, it was extraordinary how seldom this all-to-
be-desired vision burst upon the view.  "It's not fair!"  Rowena cried.
"You have all the poor houses on your side, and poor houses have always
more cats than rich ones.  A cat for every floor.  We ought to change
sides between every station, like cricket!"

"Fudge!  You've got the open country.  Look out for pigs and quarries...
We've had no luck with cats for the last three journeys.  On the whole,
I think yours is the best side."

"Why didn't you choose it yourself, then?"

"Charity!" answered Gurth, shortly, with a twinkling glance at his
partner, who happened to be at the same time his favourite sister,
despite her many and obvious faults.  If he had been asked to describe
Dreda's character, he would have said in his easy schoolboy language
that she was a bit of a sham, perhaps, but then all girls were shams
more or less, and if you kept her off high falutin', she was a decent
sort, and always ready to do a fellow a good turn.

It was sad to note that even when speaking of his favourite sister,
Gurth should have felt it necessary to adopt this tone of patronage, but
even the stoutest champion of girls cannot but admit that the sense of
honour is in them less developed than in boys, and that in moments of
irritation they betray a petty spite, of which the more brutal male is
incapable.  Gurth was conscious that he had faults of his own, but he
regarded them leniently as being on an altogether different level from
those of his sisters.  He was a bit of a slacker, perhaps, but most
"men" were slackers, and yet pulled through all right by means of a
spurt at the end.  His chiefs called him obstinate, but a fellow had to
know his own mind if he were to get on in the world, and he jolly well
knew that he was right as often as not Masters were awful muffs.  On the
other hand, he hated gush like poison, and was invariably a hundred
times better than his word, whereas Dreda could hold forth as eloquently
as a parson, with the tears pouring down her cheeks, and her figure
trembling with emotion, and the next day forget the very cause of her
emotion!  The girl was like a fire of shavings, quickly lighted, quickly
extinguished, and probably the greatest punishment which she could have
sustained would have been compelled to carry on one of her many
philanthropic schemes to a deliberate conclusion.

They were all stored up in the family archives--the histories of Dreda's
charitable enterprises!  The factory girl to whom she was going to write
regularly every week, and whose address was lost in a fortnight--the
collecting cards beyond number, for which, in the first ardour of
possession, subscriptions were extorted from every member of the
household, and which were rescued from stray hiding-places at the last
possible moment and despatched with odd offerings of twopences and
threepences from "A Friend" scribbled in, to fill up the empty spaces.
Everyone understood that the "friend" was Dreda herself, and that she
might be expected to be correspondingly short in tuck money for some
time to come!  Never a society did Dreda hear of but she panted to
become a member on the spot, and never a society but received her
resignation, accompanied by a goodly sum in fines, before six months had
run their course.

Closeted with parent and teachers, the girl received numberless lectures
on the dangers of a thoughtless and unstable character, and was moved to
ardent vows of repentance; but, alone with Maud, her confidante and
admirer, she was wont to cast a kindly glamour of romance over her own
delinquencies.  "It's my heart," she would sigh pathetically.  "My heart
is so sensitive.  It's like an Aeolian harp, Maud, upon which every
passing breeze plays its melody.  I'm a creature of sensibility!"  And
she rolled her fine eyes to the ceiling, the while Maud snorted, being
afflicted with adenoids, and wrinkled her brows in the effort to put her
fingers on the weak spot in the argument, the which she felt, but had
difficulty in explaining.

"Your heart is hard enough at times!" she said at last.  "I suppose the
strings get so thin with being everlastingly twanged that they break,
and then the breeze can moan as much as it likes without waking a sound.
When you let that poor little puppy lie for two days without any food,
for instance--"

"You're a beast!" retorted Dreda with fervour.  "You don't understand.
No one does.  I'm misunderstood all round.  At any rate I'd rather reach
the hilltops sometimes than everlastingly crawl along in the mire, like
_some_ people I can mention.  It's better to have soared and fallen than
never to have soared at all!"

Dreda, like most of us, was tender towards her own failings, and
resented the criticism of her peers.  This afternoon she kept her eyes
glued upon the landscape, affecting to be ignorant of Gurth's sly hit,
and presently it was balm to her wounded spirit to be able to win the
game for herself and her partner, and with a squeal of triumph to point
to an upper window in a row of tenement houses, where two erect ears and
a pair of yellow eyes could be clearly discerned over the edge of a
wooden box filled with miniature fir trees of funereal aspect.

The game was over, and with it had disappeared all disposition to
quarrel.  Henceforward, to the end of the journey, the four young people
chatted amicably together, discussing various subjects of interest, but
invariably returning to the one absorbing question of the hour--what
could have happened to account for the hasty and mysterious summons to
the solitary home in the country at a time when all their interests and
pleasures were centred in town?



CHAPTER TWO.

Mr and Mrs Saxon welcomed their children on the threshold of their
country home, but a chill seemed to settle on the young people's spirits
as they entered the great square hall, which looked so colourless and
dreary.  As a rule, The Meads was inhabited during the summer months
alone, and the children were accustomed to see it alight with sunshine,
with doors and windows thrown wide open to show vistas of flower gardens
and soft green lawns.  In such weather, a house was apt to be regarded
merely as a place to sleep in, but now that it would be necessary to
spend a great part of the day indoors, it was regarded more critically,
and found far from attractive.

The Meads was one of those square, uncompromisingly ugly white houses
which are so often to be found in rural England, and which were built at
that architecturally unhappy period when old traditions had been cast
aside and the modern craze for art was as yet undeveloped.  There were
plenty of rooms in the house, lofty and spacious enough, but as to
outline just so many boxes, with four straight walls, and never a niche
or an alcove to break the severity of line.  The hall was another
square, and the staircase ascended straightly to the first landing,
where a monstrosity of a stained-glass window lighted the long corridors
beyond.

The furniture was of the same calibre as the house, for, The Meads
having been regarded more as a convenient dumping-ground for the
children in the summer holidays than as a formal residence, everything
that was shabby, injured, or out of date had been weeded from the
beautiful town mansion and drafted down to fill up the big square rooms.
Mr Saxon had a shooting-box in Scotland in which he was wont to spend
the autumn months, Mrs Saxon had a passion for travelling, and could
not understand the joy of spending every summer in the same house.  The
Meads was large, healthy, and convenient, so that while the children
were young it had filled a real need, but there was no denying that,
regarded as a winter residence, it bore a somewhat chilling aspect.
Gurth looked round the hall with eyes very wide open and nose screwed up
in eloquent disapproval.

"I say! don't it look different, just, without the sun?  Regular old
grim hole of a place, ain't it?  Like an institution, or a hospital, or
something of the kind--not a bit like home--"

"Oh, Gurth, don't," cried his mother quickly, while her forehead
corrugated with lines as of actual physical pain.  "Dear, you are cold
and tired after your journey.  Things always look dull when one is
tired.  Come into the library, all of you!  There's a glorious fire, and
you shall have tea at once."  She slid her hand into her eldest
daughter's arm, looking with fond admiration at the fair, delicately cut
profile.  "You have had a happy time in town this last week--since we
left?"

Rowena turned her tall head, and looked down upon her mother with the
air of a young goddess, offended, yet resolutely self-restrained.  Mrs
Saxon was a medium-sized woman, but she looked small beside the tall
slenderness of the young daughter who held herself so loftily erect.
"Mother!" cried Rowena, in a deep tone of remonstrance, "it's the
Vincents' dance to-morrow!  I was looking forward to it more than
anything else.  Lots of grown-up people are going--it would have been
almost like coming out.  I never thought you would have brought me away
from town the very day before _that_.  You knew how I should feel--"

"Darling, I'm sorry, more sorry than I can say, but it was necessary.
As things are, it is better that you should not go.  I'll explain--we
will explain.  You shall hear all about it later, but first we must have
tea.  I think we shall all feel better after tea."

Mrs Saxon looked from one to another of her children with the same
strained, unnatural smile which had greeted them a few minutes before,
and Gurth and Dreda, falling behind the rest, rolled expressive eyes and
whispered low forebodings.

"Something up!  I thought as much.  What can it be?"

"Don't know.  Something horrid, evidently.  In the holidays, too.  What
a sell!"

Miss Bruce had considerately disappeared, and the parents and children
were left alone in the big bare library, with its rows of fusty, out-of-
date books in early Victorian mahogany bookcases, its three long windows
draped in crimson red curtains, its Indian carpet worn by the tramp of
many feet.  A cheerful fire blazed in the grate, however, and the tea
equipage set out on the long table was sufficiently tempting to raise
the spirits of the travellers.  It was a real old-fashioned sit-down
tea, where one was not expected to balance a cup and plate on one's knee
and yet refrain from spilling tea or scattering crumbs on the carpet.
Girls and boys arranged themselves in their usual places with sighs of
relief and satisfaction, and, disdaining bread-and-butter, helped
themselves energetically to the richest cake on the table.  It was a
family custom with the Saxons to begin on cake and work steadily back to
bread and butter.  There had been some opposition to encounter from
conservative elders before this reversal of the ordinary programme had
been sanctioned, but the arguments advanced had been too strong to
resist.

"I can 'preciate things more when I'm hungry.  Cake's the best thing;
why need I stodge on bread and butter till I can't properly 'preciate
the cake?  Why can't I stodge on cake, and eat the bread when I don't
'preciate?  It doesn't matter about bread!"

So ran the thread of Harold's arguments, and it must be confessed that
there was reason therein.  To-day, as the young people satisfied their
first pangs of hunger on iced cake, the parents watching them exchanged
a piteous glance, for the proceeding seemed so sadly typical of the
secret that was about to be divulged!  Until this day, all that was
richest and best in life had been the everyday possession of these loved
and fortunate children--after to-day, the love would continue unchanged,
but the luxuries must come to an end.

The meal was unusually silent, both Mr and Mrs Saxon and the elder
boys and girls being too much oppressed by their own feelings to be able
to indulge in ordinary light conversation; only Harold and Maud remained
unconscious of the cloud in the atmosphere, and everyone was thankful
for their artless prattle, which filled up what would otherwise have
been a painful silence.  As for the twins, they were quite elated to
find so attentive an audience, for as a rule their attempts to enter the
conversation were severely nipped in the bud.  "That's enough, thank
you!"  Rowena would say in her most lofty manner.  "Shut up, you kids.
A fellow can't hear himself speak for your row!"  Gurth would call out
fiercely.  Even when Mrs Saxon was present she would shake her head
gently across the table, to enforce the oft-repeated axiom that in so
large a family the younger members must perforce learn to be quiet at
table.  Maud beamed with pleasure at being allowed to continue her
never-ending descriptions without a word of remonstrance.  She was a
fair, pretty, somewhat stupid child, gifted with an overflow of words,
which were, however, singularly incapable of conveying any definite
impression.  Observation she possessed in abundance, but her discursive
narratives were by no means improved by being weighted by a plethora of
useless detail.  One could listen to Maud's efforts to describe her own
doings for half an hour on end, and remain almost as much in the dark as
at the beginning!  On the present occasion she was full of excitement
about a wonderful conjurer whose tricks she had witnessed at a
children's party in town three nights before, and which she was anxious
to enumerate for the benefit of the family.

"...He was the most egg-strawdinary creature you ever saw.  He did the
most egg-strawdinary things.  I'll tell you what he did...  You know the
Westons' drawing-room?  You go upstairs--crimson carpets, and such wide
brass rods.  Then there's a statue holding up a lamp, and the first
door's the drawing-room.  All the doors were taken down to make more
room, and there were rows and rows of forms...  He was like a Frenchman
with a pointed moustache, but his clothes weren't very clean...  He
rolled up his sleeves, and there was a ring on his finger, and yards and
yards of ribbon came out of his thumb.  He had a little table in front
of him with bulgy legs.  It stands in the corner with silver on it.
Then he asked a boy in the front row for a watch...  Mr Weston said he
wouldn't have lent _his_, but he got it back all right.  It was egg-
strawdinary!  Meta Rawlins sat by me.  She had a pink sash.  She says
her father can do it a little bit, only of course not as well as this
one.  Then there was an egg.  If he had broken it, it _would_ have made
a mess on the carpet!  Meta said perhaps it was stone.  He talked all
the time, so funny and quick, and one of his front teeth was out.  He
asked if any boy or girl would go up to help him, and Brian Hackett
went.  He looked so silly.  He had to hold things in his hand, and when
he asked for them, they weren't there.  It was egg-strawdinary!  We had
supper in the dining-room, jellies and cream, and presents in the
trifle.  I saw the conjurer having his in the library.  I never saw
anything so egg-strawdinary in all my life!"

Gurth and Hereward exchanged expressive glances, Rowena frowned
impatience, Mrs Saxon smiled a faint amusement, and Maud continued to
prattle on, blissfully unconscious of the fact that no one troubled to
listen.

It was after everyone had been fed and refreshed that the explanation of
the mysterious summons from town was given, in response to an outspoken
question from Dreda, whose impetuous nature was ever impatient of
suspense.

"Mother, what has happened?  There must be something, or you would never
have left town and sent for us in such a hurry.  Can't you tell us now?
It's something horrid, of course!  And it's horrid waiting for horrid
things."

Dreda put both elbows on the table, in flagrant disregard of schoolroom
rules, and leant her charming, eager face in the cup of her hands.  She
might describe her state of mind as "horrid," but an appearance more
opposed to such a description it would be impossible to imagine.  Dreda
had been hungry, and her hunger was satisfied; she had been cold and
tired, now she was warmed and refreshed; she talked vaguely of horrible
things, but nothing approaching real fear had as yet entered her heart.
Grown-ups made such a fuss about trifles.  Probably it was something
quite silly and unimportant after all.

Mrs Saxon did not answer.  She looked down at her hands and twisted the
rings on her fingers, the while her husband took upon himself the burden
of explanation.

"Yes, Dreda, we wish to speak out plainly.  As far as possible we have
always taken our children into our confidence, and now we must all try
to strengthen each other, for a great change is before us.  It must
affect us all...  I have lost money--a great deal of money.  I am no
longer a rich man.  Your mother and I came down here to face the
situation quietly, and to think out our plans.  We wished to be by
ourselves for a few days before saying anything to you."

"Oh-h.  Is that it?  Poor father!  What a shame!"

"What a beastly fag!  How did it happen, Pater?"

"Poor old father!  Yes!  I _quite_ understand."

They spoke together with impetuous warmth, Gurth, Hereward, and
Etheldreda, but, in spite of their words, none of them understood in the
least.  Maud and Harold stared open-mouthed.  Only Rowena turned white,
and pressed her lips nervously together.

"Thank you, dears.  I knew you would sympathise, but our grief is on
your account more than on our own.  If you can bear the change bravely,
our worst fears will be allayed.  It will be a big change.  To begin
with, I have let the town house.  An offer came to take it furnished on
a lease, and I dared not refuse.  The Meads will now be our settled
home."

Silence...  One definite statement has more effect than a dozen vague
forebodings, and the young people sat stunned with dismay, while the
thoughts of each wandered away on a voyage of personal reflections.

"No town house!  No season!  Shut up here all the year round, just as I
was coming out, and expecting to have such a lovely time."

"Let the house!  Whew!  Things must be precious bad ...  Suppose, after
all, the Governor can't afford to send me to the army!"

"Here's a pretty go!  The house doesn't matter.  The country knocks town
into fits any day, but it will be a beastly fag if we have to cut things
down fine.  What about the horses?"

"Poor father.  Oh, dear, how awful mother looks!  Rowena is a brute to
look so cross.  P'raps the Spider will have to go, and I shall be
finished, and done with lessons.  Topping!"

"Bateson's father lost his money and he went to sea.  I wonder if they'd
let me!"

"I've got five pounds six in the bank.  I'll draw it out, and give it to
them to help.  That would last for mumfs and mumfs."

Mrs Saxon lifted her sad eyes and glanced wistfully round the table.
When she herself had first heard the news she had been stunned into
silence; she hardly expected words, but her mother's heart yearned for a
glance of sympathy and love.  The boys, as is the habit of boys, were
rendered awkward and uncomfortable by the atmosphere of emotion, and
stared stolidly at their plates.  Rowena sat like a frozen statue of
misery, Maud gaped blankly from one face to another; only Dreda was
ready and waiting with her sunny smile and her easy flow of sympathy.

"Darling!  Of course we'll be brave!  Don't worry about us.  Everyone
says money doesn't matter a bit.  You can be perfectly happy without
it...  Perfectly sickening for you and father, down here by yourselves
with all that worry.  You must have been bored!"

Bored!  The utter inadequacy of the word brought a smile to the parents'
eyes, but the kindly warmth of voice and manner was as balm to their
sore hearts.  What though Dreda's conduct belied her words time and
again, her impetuous kindliness of heart was for the moment infinitely
soothing, and a blessed contrast to Rowena's gloom.  Both parents smiled
lovingly upon her, and Dreda glowed with satisfaction.  Really, being
ruined was quite exciting and dramatic!

"Thank you, Dreda," said her father, gratefully.  "These have been very
sad days for us, as you say, and even yet we are feeling rather stunned
by the suddenness of this trouble, and have not been able to think out
definite plans for your future.  It was necessary to tell you the bare
fact, but you must be patient and forbear from questioning for a few
days.  We shall not keep you in suspense longer than is necessary."

Suspense!  Six pairs of ears pricked uneasily at the sound of that word;
six hearers seemed to hear in it the knell of a cherished hope.  Even
Dreda was awed into silence.  The "horrid things" were evidently not yet
finished.  What was going to happen next?



CHAPTER THREE.

In the schoolroom the young people flocked together, eager to discuss
the news apart from the restraint of their parents' presence.  Round the
great fireplace stood one of those delightful fenders whose top is
formed by a wide-cushioned seat.  Hereward pulled it forcibly back, with
a fine disregard of cinders, until it was sufficiently distant from the
blaze to be comfortable, when the six young people seated themselves and
prepared to talk in comfort.  They made a pretty picture as the leaping
flame lighted up their fair blond faces, but for the moment the general
expression was far from cheerful.  The twins were all eyes and gaping
mouths, devoured with curiosity to hear what their elders might have to
say with regard to the thrilling intelligence just given; the two
schoolboys looked cross and thundery, and it was difficult to say which
was the more exasperating to beholders--Rowena's angry frown or Dreda's
artificial smiles.

Gurth stamped a smoking cinder into the hearthrug, taking a malicious
pleasure in the scorch and smell which ensued.  He was never too
patient, and this afternoon he felt that he had reached the end of his
tether.

"Oh, chuck it, Rowena!" he cried savagely.  "What's the use of sitting
there looking like a tragedy queen?  A jolly example _you_ set, for the
eldest of a family.  You look as if the whole thing was got up on
purpose to annoy you, and nobody had a right to be pitied except your
precious self.  I don't see it a bit!  I think you come off best of all.
Your education is finished, so you're bound to be all right!"

"Education!" echoed Rowena, in the tone of ineffable scorn natural to a
young woman who for months past had been basking in the prospect of a
presentation at court.  "Education, indeed!  Who cares for education?
If it _is_ finished, what has it all been intended for, pray?  To
prepare me for a life which I am not to have!  Other girls have the best
time of their lives when they come out.  They are taken about to see
everything and do everything which they have longed for all the time
they have been shut up at school.  It's no wonder I feel bad at coming
home to find I have only escaped one prison for another.  To live here
all the year long!  What a prospect!  There isn't a decent neighbour
nearer than five miles.--If this could only have happened a year or two
later, after I had had a _little_ fun!"

"Rowena, how selfish!  You think only of yourself, and not a bit of
anyone else--father or mother, or the boys, or--or Me!" cried Dreda,
smiting herself on the breast with dramatic _empressement_ as she
uttered the last all-important word.  "It won't be a bit easier for me
when the time comes, but I do _hope_ and _believe_ that I shall bear it
bravely, and try to be an example to the rest.  It's our duty, you know,
as the eldest daughters of the house!"

"Oh, Dreda, _stop_ preaching!  It's too ridiculous.  _You_ to lecture
me!  For that matter, you need not wait until you are finished to set me
an example.  You can begin this very minute, for I don't believe for a
moment that father will be able to afford to send you to Madame Clerc's.
It's a frightfully expensive school, and he used to grumble at the way
my extras ran up, even before, when he was rich.  I expect you will have
to finish at home with the Spider, and then she will go, and you will
have to set to work to teach Maud!"

"I shan't!" shrieked Dreda, and flamed a sudden violent red.

"She shan't!" shrieked Maud, at one and the same moment, her fair,
placid face flushing to the same crimson hue.

They faced each other like two infuriated turkey cocks--heads erect,
feathers ruffled, bodies swaying to and fro with indignation.

"As if I should!"

"As if I'd let you!"

"Teach her!"

"Teach me!"

"The very idea!"

"I'm 'stonished you should talk such nonsense, Rowena!"

Rowena laughed softly.  It was the first time she had unbent since the
telling of the dread news.  She put her head on one side and stared at
Dreda's furious face with an "I told you so!" expression which that
young lady found infinitely exasperating.

"Our dear Dreda, as usual, finds preaching easier than practice.  You
see, my dear, when it comes to the point, you are not a bit more
resigned than I am myself.  It's worse for me to give up all the fun of
my first season than for you to stay at home instead of going to school;
the only difference is that I have sense enough to realise what is
before me, while you are so taken up with sentiment and--"

"Oh, shut up, girls!  Stop wrangling, for pity's sake!" cried Hereward,
impatiently.  "Things are bad enough as they are, without making them
worse.  If you are going to nag, we'll go downstairs and leave you to
yourselves.  It's such bad form to kick up a fuss; but girls are all
alike.  You wouldn't find a boy going on like that--"

Rowena turned upon him with wide, challenging eyes.

"Wouldn't I?  Are you so sure?  Suppose father were to tell you to-
morrow that you couldn't be a soldier, but must go into an office and
try to earn money for yourself...  Suppose he took you away from Eton,
Gurth, and sent you to a cheap school!  How would you like that?"

Silence...  The two lads sat staring into the fire with dogged faces.
They scorned to cry aloud, but the horror of the prospect had for a
moment a so paralysing effect that they could not reply.  Leave
Sandhurst in the middle of one's course, and become--a _clerk_!  Leave
Eton and the fellows, and go to one of those miserable, second-rate
shows which all good Etonians regarded with ineffable contempt!  Was it
possible to suffer such degradation and live?

Rowena was touched to compunction by the sight of the stricken faces,
for though at the moment the worst side of her character was in the
ascendant, she was by no means hard-hearted, and, moreover, Hereward was
her especial friend and companion.  She laughed again, and gave an
impatient shrug to her shoulders.

"Oh, don't be afraid ...  He never _will_!  Whatever happens, nothing
will be allowed to interfere with `the boys' and their careers!  We
shall all pinch and screw and live on twopence-halfpenny a week, so as
to be able to pay your bills.  It's always the same story.  Everything
is sacrificed for the sons."

"Quite right, too," maintained the eldest son, stoutly.  "How are you
going to keep up the honour of a family if you don't give the boys a
chance?  It doesn't matter a fig whether a girl is educated or not, so
long as she can read and write.  She'll marry, of course, and then she
has nothing to do but add up the bills."

At this truly masculine distinction, Rowena and Dreda tossed scornful
heads and rolled indignant eyes to the ceiling.

"I shall never marry!" announced the former, thinking ruefully of the
bare countryside, with never a house of consequence within a radius of
miles ...  "I am a suffragette.  I believe in the high, lofty mission of
women!" cried the second, who had been converted to the movement the day
before by the sight of some sketches in the _Daily Graphic_.  Only nine-
year-old Maud sniffed, and opined, "I shall marry a lord!  Then he'll
have lots of money, and I'll give it to father, and we'll live happily
ever after."

Poor Maud!  Her millennium was not to begin just yet, at least; for
Nannie, her immaculate but austere attendant, rapped at the door at that
moment, and summoned her nursling to be bathed and put to bed.  Maud was
every evening enraged afresh at being called at such a ridiculously
early hour, and to-night her annoyance was increased by the fact that
she was torn ruthlessly from the rare treat of a conference with her
elders, in which she had really been and truly on the level of a "grown-
up."  She fumed with anger, but presently consolation came with the idea
of a dramatic disclosure upstairs.  She waited until she and her
attendant were alone together in the bedroom, and then sprung the bolt
in her most impressive fashion.

"Nannie, we're ruined!"

"Indeed, miss.  Sorry to hear it, I'm sure," returned Nannie,
unperturbed.  It is safe to predict that any important family news will
be known as soon in the servants' hall as in the drawing-room, and
Nannie had the air of listening to a very stale piece of information.

Maud was distinctly disappointed, but nerved herself for fresh efforts.
"Yes.  Bankrup'!  There's nothing left.  I'm going to give up all my
savings.  What will you do, Nannie--leave?"

"I shall be pleased to stay on, miss, as long as your mother can afford
to give me my wages and a nursery maid."

"Oh, Nannie, how _mean_!  The Pharisees likewise do as much as that!  In
storybooks the nurses always stay on, whether they are ruined or not,
and give their money to help.  You _are_ mean!"

"No impertinence, please," said Nannie sharply.  She was just beginning
to comb out Maud's hair, and it was astonishing how many knots there
appeared to be that evening.  "I'm sorry I spoke," reflected poor Maud.



CHAPTER FOUR.

In the next week future plans were practically settled so far as the
young people were concerned.  Rowena had been right in her surmise about
the boys, for, like most fathers, Mr Saxon was prepared to retrench in
any and every direction rather than interfere with the education of his
sons.  It was a family tradition that the eldest son should go into the
army; therefore, at all costs, Hereward must continue that tradition.
The Saxons had for generations been Eton boys, therefore it was
impossible that Gurth could attend another school.  As to the girls--
well, Mr Saxon dearly loved his three daughters, and was proud of their
grace and beauty, but in effect he held much the same ideas with regard
to their education as those which Hereward had expounded to his sisters'
indignation.  He thought it quite unnecessary to spend large sums on
schooling for girls, and for his own part frankly preferred a woman who
had no pretensions to being a blue-stocking.

The boys received the intelligence with a complacent sense that all was
as it should be, and the one great anxiety being relieved, were disposed
to make light of minor privations.  What though the manner of living at
home must necessarily be less luxurious than of yore, holidays occupied,
after all, a small portion of the year, and in a few years' time they
would be launching out for themselves.  Hereward had an ambition to join
an Indian regiment.  Gurth was destined for the Civil Service.  The
Meads would be quite a good old place in which to spend an occasional
furlough.  But the girls!  The girls were by no means reconciled to
being sacrificed on the altar of masculine ambition.  When the programme
for their own future was announced by the nervously anxious mother,
Rowena, Etheldreda, and Maud were alike consumed with indignation and
dismay.  They could hardly believe the evidence of their own ears as
they listened to her words:

"Father thought I had better have a little talk with you, dear girls,
and explain to you what we have decided about your future.  It has been
a difficult question--very difficult, and we have had to face
alterations which we would thankfully have avoided, for in the end it
simply comes down to the bare question of what we can or cannot afford.
The boys' education is unfortunately very costly, and those expenses
cannot be reduced."

"Why?" demanded Dreda.  The crisp, sharp question cut like a lash across
Mrs Saxon's soft-toned explanation, and she started, and faced her
young daughter with a shrinking almost of dismay.  Perhaps in her heart
of hearts she, too, doubted the justice of the masculine mandate that
girls should invariably be sacrificed for boys, but she was too loyal to
admit any dissension when her husband had laid down his commands.

"Why, Dreda?" she repeated, gently.  "Because the boys have their way to
make in the world ...  If we have not much money to leave them, we must
at least give them every chance of success.  Their education will be
their capital."

"An officer in the army needs a large private allowance.  Father has
always said so.  Hereward will need to be helped all his life, instead
of being able to help the family as an eldest son should do ...  He
could go into business."

"Oh, Dreda dear!  You, who are so sympathetic and kind-hearted.  Think
of the terrible disappointment!  There always has been a soldier in the
family."

"The family has always been rich.  Of course I don't want him to be
disappointed.  I don't want _anyone_ to be disappointed," declared Dreda
with an emphasis which brought the colour into her mother's thin cheeks.
"I suppose I can go to Madame Clerc's at Easter, just the same?"

"I--I am afraid ...  Madame Clerc's is a very expensive school, darling.
I am afraid it is out of the question!  We will do all we can for you.
That is one of the principal things which we have had on our minds the
last week, and I trust--I believe we have made satisfactory
arrangements.  Miss Bruce does not feel able to give you finishing
lessons, but Mrs Webster, of Swithin, tells me that she is quite
satisfied with the school to which she has sent her three daughters.
The education is all that could be desired, and the fees much more
moderate than Madame Clerc's.  We should see more of you, too, darling,
for you would be able to come home for the exeats in the middle of the
term--"

"Mother!  What are you saying?  You can't possibly be in earnest.
Please, please don't frighten me!  It's a hateful school.  I have always
looked down upon it and detested it, and thanked goodness _I_ should
never have to go to it!"

Dreda's face was aflame with colour; her eyes had widened until they
looked about twice their natural size, in her voice there sounded a
quiver of so real a distress that the mother flushed painfully in
response.

"Dear! why be so prejudiced?  It may not be so fashionable a school as
Madame Clerc's, but it is admirable in every way, and you will meet
friends there whom you already know--the Websters..."

"Know them!  We don't!  We have met now and then, but we always
determine not to know them.  We christened them `The Currant Buns,' and
hated them from the first moment.  Round, white faces and little
curranty eyes!"

"Dreda!  Dreda!  What has appearance to do with it?  You confess
yourself that you are prejudiced, so you cannot possibly judge...  They
are said to be clever and industrious, and exceptionally well brought
up, but there will be other girls, plenty of other girls from whom to
choose friends."

"It is settled, then?  Really _settled_.  You have seen the mistress?"

"Yes, dear, it is settled.  You are to begin work at the beginning of
the term.  The Websters are delighted to think of having you as a
companion."

Dreda flung out her arms with a gesture of passionate despair, stood for
a moment confronting her mother with flashing eyes and quivering lips,
then suddenly wheeled round, and rushed headlong from the room.

Her first overwhelming impulse was to get out into the air.  The house
suffocated her, and besides, she was going to do something ... something
desperate ... and there was no scope indoors.  She thought of the lake,
lying dull and grey within its reedy bank, and saw a vision of herself
floating on the surface, with her unbound hair streaming round her face.
In the Academy a year before she had been much attracted by a picture
of the dead Elaine, and her own hair was exactly the same shade...  But
it was wicked to commit suicide, and, miserable though she was, life
held too many attractions to be lightly abandoned.  She would just run
away into the darkness and the silence, with her sore, sore heart--to
commune with nature, and face the future alone with her own soul!  Dreda
sobbed aloud at the pathos of the thought, and, racing down the passage,
threw open the side door leading into the garden.

A gust of wind blew into her face, a dash of cold sleety rain.  The sky
was inky black, so black that it was impossible to distinguish even the
outline of the trees: the air was soaking with moisture.  To one longing
for darkness and loneliness, the prospect should have been all that
could be desired; yet Dreda drew back shuddering, and shut the door with
a hasty hand.  It was wet.  She hated to get wet, yet she could not take
an umbrella.  When your heart was breaking, and you were face to face
with one of the tragic moments of life, to walk abroad sheltered by an
umbrella was too calm and commonplace a proceeding to be contemplated
for a moment!  Dreda decided that on the whole it would be better to do
her wrestling in her own room; but the noise of the opening and shutting
of the door had attracted attention, and as she slowly retraced her
steps the pantry door opened, and Martin the parlourmaid thrust her head
inquiringly outward.

Martin was a pleasant middle-aged woman, an old retainer in the family,
and the pantry at The Meads was quite a good-sized room, and a
comfortable one at that, boasting a fireplace in which blazed the
cheeriest of fires, for Martin was fond of comfort, and took a pride in
keeping her domain spick and span.  Her face brightened as she saw the
girl standing in the passage, for Dreda was a favourite with all the
servants.  Miss Rowena, they agreed, was "high;" but Miss Dreda was
"feelin'."

"Very feelin' was Miss Dreda!"  She was always sorry for you, and wanted
to help.  They bore her no grudge because the "wanting" frequently went
no farther than words.  She was but young.  Young things did forget.  It
was entered to her abiding credit that she was "feelin'."

This afternoon one glimpse at the flushed, excited face was sufficient
to show that the girl herself was in trouble, and Martin threw open the
door to show the hospitable glow of the fire.

"Miss Dreda!  Was that you standing by that door in the cold?  You'll be
catching cold; that's what you'll be doing!  I'm having a snack of cocoa
and buttered toast.  Come in and have a bite by the fire."

Dreda hesitated.  Buttered toast was incongruous--painfully incongruous;
for among the other desperate resolutions which had rushed through her
brain, a slow, determined starvation had held a foremost place.  She
would turn with a sick distaste from the pleasures of the table; would
eat only the plainest of viands, and of them barely enough to keep
herself in life.  She would grow thin and hollow-eyed, and her parents,
looking on, would repent their cruelty in sackcloth and ashes.  But--the
buttered toast smelt wonderfully good!

"I'll come in and warm myself, but--I'm not hungry," said Dreda,
hesitating.  But Martin did not appear to have heard.  As her young
mistress seated herself by the fire, a stool was quietly placed by her
side, and on the stool appeared, as if by magic, a plate of toast and a
cup of cocoa.

Dreda's hand stretched out involuntarily; she ate and drank, and
reflected that, after all, as her father had lost money so unexpectedly,
it was only reasonable to suppose that he would recover it in a manner
equally rapid.  She was sorry she had been cross.  She would never be
cross any more.  In the recovered days of prosperity it would be so
pleasant to remember how nobly she had borne herself in the hour of
trial!



CHAPTER FIVE.

Meantime in the schoolroom upstairs another blow had fallen, and Rowena
was quivering beneath the shock of discovering that in Miss Bruce's
absence it was she and not Etheldreda who was expected to carry on
Maud's education.

"I am sure you will be a conscientious teacher, dear; and I hope that
the regular occupation, and the consciousness that you are being of real
use will make life brighter for you.  Maud will promise to be an
industrious pupil, won't you, darling?"

Maud eyed Rowena's tragic countenance, and felt it wise to refrain from
rash protestations.  She was longing to rush after Dreda to declaim
against this last injustice, and as her mother continued to address
herself pointedly to Rowena, taking no more notice of her own important
presence, she slipped softly from the room.

The two who were left, felt, the one a throb of relief, the other a
chill of acute discomfort, at finding themselves alone.  The tie between
this mother and her eldest daughter was a very tender one, and in the
shock of the recent losses Mrs Saxon had unconsciously built much on
Rowena's sympathy and love.  Rowena would help.  Rowena would
sympathise; Rowena--herself a woman--would understand some things which
even the good husband could not grasp.  In the happy, easy days of
prosperity, Rowena could always be relied on to be loving, dutiful, and
considerate--it was a shock to discover that these good qualities had
not enough foundation to withstand the test of adversity.  Mrs Saxon
was not angry; only distressed and troubled afresh, and overwhelmingly
anxious to find the right way to her daughter's heart.

"Mother!" cried Rowena sharply.  "_How_ did father lose his money?  It
seems so strange that it should disappear all of a sudden like this.  We
have always had plenty until now.  Has he been speculating, or doing
something rash?"

The momentary pause before Mrs Saxon replied and the dignified lifting
of her gentle head were more eloquent than a spoken reproof.

"No, Rowena; there is no blame attaching to your father.  There has been
a great failure in America, which has affected many of his investments.
We cannot reproach ourselves for any want of care, and that being so, we
must look upon this change of circumstances as coming to us from God's
hands, and try to learn the lessons which it is intended to teach.  To
each of us, perhaps, our own task appears especially hard.  You,
darling, have looked forward to a time of pleasure and gaiety, and it is
difficult to give it up cheerfully, and face living quietly in the
country and helping in the house.  I understand; I've been a girl
myself, and I remember how I felt; but, darling, I am a woman now--
getting quite an old woman--and I have learnt my lessons.  There is more
real joy and contentment to be gained by simply doing one's duty than in
all the balls and receptions of a London season, Rowena!"

Rowena sat dumb, her eyes fixed on the tablecloth, her long dark lashes
resting on her cheeks.  Those were the sentiments you read in books, and
heard in sermons, but it was always grown-up people who voiced them;
grown-up people who, like mother, had had a good time in their own
youth, and were afterwards unreasonable enough to expect their children
to be resigned and middle-aged when they had just emerged from the
schoolroom.  Rowena thought of the prospect which had stretched
dazzlingly before her but a week before; of the gaiety and variety of
amusement which had made so fair a dream, and contrasted it with the
prospect of an uneventful domestic life at the Manor--teaching Maud!
She pressed her lips together, and sat silent, feeling her mother's eyes
on her face; dreading to meet their tenderly reproaching gaze.

"That sounds strange to you, dear, and perhaps a little hard, but all
the same it is _true_.  I do not minimise your disappointment, but for
the time being it is inevitable, and nothing remains but to face the
situation bravely.  As the eldest daughter of the house more depends
upon you than upon any of the rest, and your opportunities will be
endless.  You can be a great comfort to us, darling, or a great
additional care.  It all depends upon the spirit in which you start the
new life--upon whether you look in or out--put yourself first, or think
of others."

Mrs Saxon paused again, and within Rowena's still form two contending
forces fought for victory.  While one sullen spirit held her dumb, the
real self seemed to stand apart, reviewing her own conduct, and uttering
words of exhortation and appeal: "How hateful of you never to say a word
in reply!  Poor mother! her voice trembled...  It's hard on her, too.
If you could just put your arms round her neck and kiss her, and promise
to be good, it would comfort her ever so much.  And you'd be happier
yourself.  It only makes you more miserable to sulk, and be unkind.
Look up and smile, and promise to be nice."  So urged the inner voice,
but alas, the fleshy eyelids seemed heavy as lead, and the lips remained
stiff and unmoveable.  To all outward appearance there was no sign of
softening in the fixed face.

Mrs Saxon's heart sank heavily.  Rowena's lack of response to her
appeal was a bitter disappointment; but she realised that it was useless
to prolong the interview.  A few moments longer she waited, hoping
against hope for a word in reply, then stifling a sigh, she rose from
her seat.

"Well--I must go back to father.  Look after the fire, darling, if you
are going to stay here.  It is getting low, and you must not catch
cold."

She bent as she passed to kiss the unresponsive lips, and walked from
the room carrying a heavy heart in her breast.  "If she had only spoken!
If she had even looked up and smiled!"  Such was the wounded mother
cry; and all the time Rowena's heart was speeding unspoken messages
after her as she went.

"Mother!  I'm sorry.  You are so sweet, and I am a wretch!  I _will_
try!  I'll try my best!"

Alas! the ears of sense could not catch the message, and so the
opportunity passed, and left both hearts aching and oppressed.



CHAPTER SIX.

"What's `rejuiced'?" queried Maud, squeezing herself into the central
place on the big fender, as her brothers and sisters sat roasting
chestnuts by the schoolroom fire one wet afternoon a few days later, and
the question being received by a blank stare of bewilderment she
repeated the word with intensified emphasis.  "_Re-juiced_!  _We're_
rejuiced!  I heard Mary say so in the schoolroom.  She said to nurse
that she didn't know if the missis would be wanting to keep on two
housemaids now she was re-juiced!  Does it mean _poor_?"

"You have no business to listen to servants' conversation; but if you
do, pray spare us the repetition!" said Rowena in her most grown-up
manner.  Maud reflected that ever since mother had spoken of the new
arrangement about lessons, Ro had talked exactly like a governess, and
been just as snappy as snappy.  She bounced on her seat, and wagged her
head in the obstinate manner which she adopted upon provocation.

"I don't listen, but I have ears, and if people speak I am obliged to
hear.  Mary came into the room to dust.  Nurse was darning the
tablecloth.  It's all gone into holes where Gurth spilt the chemical
acid.  It's the one with the little shamrocks for a pattern.  So Nurse
said: `Drat those boys!' and licked the cotton with her tongue, and--"

Hereward and Gurth exchanged glances of resigned boredom, but Dreda
drummed her heels on the floor, and called aloud with startling
emphasis:

"Go on!  Go on!  Who wants to hear about tablecloth patterns, and
licking threads?  Keep to your point, if you have a point to stick to!
If Rowena's is going to give you lessons, she'd better begin by teaching
you not to be such a bore.  You go prosing on and on--"

"I don't.  I'm not.  Bore yourself!  'Twas most intrusting!" insisted
Maud, stolidly.  "They were sort of talking about us all, in a sort of
way as if I couldn't understand, and I understood all the time, and they
said we were rejuiced, and I asked you a simple question what it meant.
When you're perlite to other people, other people should be perlite to
you in return."

"All right, Maud, keep calm, keep calm!  You reduce a thing by taking
something from it.  We are reduced because something--a great deal--has
been taken away from our income, and what remains is not enough to go
round.  I expect the second housemaid will be sent packing, and you will
have to make the beds."

Maud squealed with dismay, then with a gleam of shrewdness nodded her
head, and prophesied sagely:

"It would be worse for you than me if I did!  I'd make them full of
crumples.  I'd get hold of the ends of the clothes, and _Hop_ them down
all together like Mary does when it's her Sunday out, and she's in a
hurry.  _Then_ you'd be in a rage when you got in and your toes stuck
out!"

"I'll make the beds!" announced Dreda, graciously.  "I think all girls
ought to learn to be domestic, and there's a real art in making beds.
I've often thought how much better I could do it than any servant we
have had.  It's the trained intellect, I suppose.  (I do _hate_ you,
Rowena, when you sneer like that!)  F'rinstance--I like my blankets just
up to my chin, and if I tell Mary ten times a day, it's always the
same--she doubles them down till you are all hunkley round the neck.
Then that leaves less to tuck in at the bottom, and if you have a
nightmare and kick, there you are with your feet sticking out in the
cold, and have to get up and tuck them in, when you want to sleep!  And
I can't endure creases.  I like the under sheet stretched as tight as
tight.  Everyone likes a bed made in a special way, and it _ought_ to be
done.  Think of the time one spends in bed!  A third of one's life.
It's a shame not to be comfortable.  I should be an expert in bed-
making.  I'd keep a book to remind me of everyone's special fancies--"

"And lose it the second day!  Play all the experiments you like, but
leave my room alone.  I want no expert.  The ordinary common or garden
housemaid is good enough for me," said Hereward, cruelly.

Dreda reflected sadly that a prophet was not a prophet in her own
country, but she was too much fired with the new idea to relinquish it
without a trial.  Besides, hidden in her heart lay the reviving thought:
"If I could prove that I could be of use in the house, perhaps they'd
let me stay!  I know quite enough lessons as it is!"

The first two nights after hearing of the changed arrangements for her
own education Dreda had cried herself to sleep, and had even succeeded--
with a little difficulty--in squeezing out a few tears as she dressed in
the morning, or what was the use of breaking your heart if no one were
the wiser, or pitied you for your pathetic looks?  By the third morning,
however, her facile nature had adapted itself to the inevitable.  She
was tired of being in the dumps, and reflected that with a little
diplomacy she would be able to "manage" the school governesses as
cleverly as she had done the Spider before them, while the Currant Buns
looked meek, poor-spirited creatures, who would like nothing better than
to be ruled.  "_I'll_ teach them!" prophesied Dreda darkly, and the word
was used in no educational sense.

The future was thus swallowed at a gulp; but all the same Dreda thought
it worth while to interview her mother on the subject of her domestic
ambitions, and was much disappointed to have her generous offer kindly
but firmly refused.

"There is no necessity, dear.  Thank you very much, all the same," Mrs
Saxon said, smilingly.  "We are no longer able to keep up two houses,
but we can afford all the help that is needed for one.  The two
housemaids can keep the bedrooms in order very easily in this fresh
clean air."

Etheldreda put her head on one side and lengthened her upper lip, after
a fashion she affected when she wished to be impressive.

"_Still_," she insisted, obstinately, "when a family is reduced in
circumstances I think it _most_ important that the girls should learn to
be domestic.  I have always understood that in reduced circumstances it
was necessary for the mistress to overlook _everything_, and how can you
learn to do that if you never begin?  It seems to me that one can never
begin too young, and if we _could_ do with only one housemaid, it is our
duty to do so."

Mrs Saxon laughed.  She always did laugh when Dreda waxed impressive,
which was one of that young woman's trials in life.

"Darling Dreda!" she cried, affectionately.  "You shall be as domestic
as ever you please--the more domestic the better; but there is a time
for everything, and this is your time for study.  You must wait until
your education is finished, before you take up home duties.  We are not
going to sacrifice your interests for the sake of a servant's wages.
Work hard, and do your best, dear.  One thing at a time, and that done
well--"

But Dreda refused to be convinced.

"_My_ theory," she announced, firmly, "my theory is that it is stupid to
waste time learning things which you will never need!  As we are
`rejuiced' (the expression had stuck, until the very pronunciation was
unconsciously reproduced), and I can't go to Madame Clerc's and be
finished properly, I should consider that it would be wiser to stop as I
am.  I am very well grounded.  We can't afford to go into society now,
so I shall probably marry a man in a humble position, and it's foolish
to educate me above my rank!"

"Oh, Dreda, Dreda!  Oh!  I haven't laughed for weeks.  You mustn't be
vexed with me for laughing, dear--it's _so_ refreshing!"  And Mrs Saxon
wiped her eyes and chuckled irresistibly, the while her young daughter
regarded her more in pity than in anger.

"I can't see what I have said that is so amusing.  I was speaking _most_
seriously.  I'm fifteen.  It's my own future that is at stake.  Really,
mother!"

"I'm sorry, dear, and I don't mean to be unsympathetic.  I know you are
in earnest, but for the next few years you must consent to be guided by
what father and I believe to be best.  Whatever may be before you, it is
necessary that you have a good education, so put your heart into your
work, and get on as quickly as possible."

Dreda sucked her upper lip in eloquent disgust.

"Parents are so _trying_!" she told herself, mentally.  "They never seem
to think it possible that you know better yourself.  I shall be quite
different with my daughters.  What a pity it is that you can never
manage to be your own mother!"



CHAPTER SEVEN.

During the next three weeks the Saxons settled slowly into the routine
of life as it would in future be spent at the Manor.  To begin with, the
house itself was greatly improved in appearance by the addition of extra
furniture and draperies sent down from the lavishly equipped house in
town.  The cold austerity of the entrance-hall was turned into something
positively approaching cheerfulness by the presence of crimson
portieres, a huge tapestry screen shutting off the staircase, and, best
of all, by a brass brazier which, piled high with blazing coals,
diffused both light and heat, and seemed to speak a cheery welcome to
each new-comer.  The Bechstein grand piano was not only a gain from a
musical point of view, but made a decided improvement in the sparsely
furnished drawing-room, while a few good pictures and ornaments gave a
homelike air which had hitherto been conspicuous by its absence.

Rowena regarded these improvements with the numb unconcern which a
prisoner might manifest over an unimportant alteration in his cell; but
Dreda, as usual, was afire with enthusiasm, and spent a radiantly happy
day playing the part of a charwoman, in apron and rolled-up sleeves.
She washed all the ornaments, exulting in the inky colour of the water
after the operation, and insisting that each member of the household
should ascend to regain the same.

"Isn't it beautifully dirty?" she cried in triumph.  "I scrubbed them
with the nail brush.  You should have seen the dust come out of the
chinks!  I simply dote upon seeing the water turn black.  It's no fun
washing things unless they are _really_ dirty!"

When the additions were viewed as a whole, however, Dreda was not so
content.  She even frowned with displeasure at sight of the luxury in
the hall.

"It's not consistent!" she pronounced, judicially.  "We are _rejuiced_,
and it doesn't look rejuiced!  People in the neighbourhood coming to
call will think we are richer instead of poorer.  You will have to
explain, mother.  It wouldn't be honest if you didn't."

Mrs Saxon's smile was a somewhat painful effort.

"I imagine there will be little need of explanation, Dreda.  News flies
fast in a country place, and our neighbours probably know our affairs as
well as we know them ourselves."

"And are gossiping about us behind our backs, and longing to call and
see how we bear it!" continued Rowena, with that new edge of bitterness
in her voice, which sounded so sadly in her mother's ears.  It needed a
hard struggle with herself before Mrs Saxon could command herself to
reply gently:

"Curiosity is natural, perhaps, but I don't think we need fear anything
unfriendly.  If there should be any exhibition of the sort, it's a
comfort to feel that I can depend upon my grown-up daughter to set an
example of dignity and self-restraint.  My nature is like Dreda's, so
much more impulsive, that you will be a great strength to me, dear."

Oh, that soft answer that turneth away wrath, how omnipotent it is!  The
sneer was wiped off Rowena's face as by a sponge, her blue eyes
glistened, and she stooped her tall young head to press an impetuous
kiss upon her mother's cheek.  For the rest of the day she was her old,
sweet loving self, and the mother was rewarded a thousandfold for the
effort which it had cost her to repress a hasty retort, and replace it
by a word of tenderness and appreciation.

At the end of a fortnight the three boys returned to school, placidly
resigned to a change of circumstances which left their own lives
untouched; and no sooner had they departed than the Spider in her turn
began to pack her boxes, in preparation for her own exit.  For the past
ten years she had been regarded as a member of the family, spending the
greater number of her holidays with her pupils, and being included in
all the household festivities and rejoicings.  It was inevitable that
her absence would cause a blank, and the young people experienced sundry
pangs of conscience as they recalled the want of appreciation with which
they had received their efforts on their behalf.  How they had teased
and lazed, and plotted and schemed, to escape the tasks which she had so
laboriously enforced!  How they had laughed behind her back, imitating
her little mannerisms, and exhorting each other after her invariable
formulae: "Impertinence, my love, is _not_ wit!"

"A young lady should be composed and dignified in demeanour."

"Concentration, my dear, concentration!  That is what you require."
Poor, dear, good Spider; her methods were somewhat behind the times; but
she was the kindest, most faithful of souls.  Everyone was thankful to
know that owing to the recent receipt of a legacy she was able to retire
comfortably from active work, and to look forward to a peaceful
contented home in the family of a beloved niece.  Neither was it a very
serious parting, since nothing was so certain as that so true a friend
must return again and again to the scene of her labours; to see Hereward
in his first uniform; to attend Rowena's marriage; Dreda's coming out;
and inspect the progress of her youngest pupils.  A few tears were shed
when the hour of parting actually arrived, but there was no bitterness
in them on either side, nor were they of any long duration.

And now for Etheldreda's turn!  When the morning dawned on which she was
to depart for school, she felt it fitting that her toilette should
express the melancholy of her mood.  Dreda had a great idea of fitness,
and a costume composed of an old shepherd plaid skirt, a grey flannel
blouse and a black tie seemed admirably symbolic of what she herself
described as "the mourning of her soul."  When it was donned, however,
the result was found to be so extremely unbecoming that resolution
wavered, and collapsed.  After all, the most important matter was to
impress her new companions, and there was no denying that that could be
done most effectively in blue--in just such a blue as was at that moment
hanging in the wardrobe ready for use.  With light-like speed Dreda shed
her dun-coloured garments on to the floor, and in a trice was arrayed in
her prettiest, most becoming costume.

This time the reflection was so pleasing that it was quite an effort to
pull down her chin, and drop her eyelids, with the air of melancholy
resignation which she was determined at all costs to preserve during
breakfast.  Mrs Saxon's face brightened at sight of the pretty blue
dress, but neither she nor any other member of the family mentioned the
fatal word "school."  Rather did each one try to give a cheerful turn to
the conversation, and to lead it towards a discussion of those topics in
which the heroine of the day was the most interested.  "Sops!" murmured
Dreda dramatically to herself.  "Sops!"  She struggled hard to restrain
her longing for a second helping of bacon; but her courage gave out at
the thought of the motor drive across the cold open country.

"I must strengthen myself with plenty of nourishment," she decided, as
she handed over her plate, and accepted the offer of a third cup of
coffee.  Like all pleasant things, however, the meal came to an end at
last, and then the great event of the day could no longer be ignored.
Maud caught the glance exchanged between her parents, and felt herself
freed from her promise of silence.

"_Now_!" she exclaimed, with a gusty sigh of relief.  "Now for the Buns!
_Now_ you'll see which knows most, them or you.  Them, I should think,
'cause they're clever, and you forget.  Miss Bruce said your head was
like a sieve.  Do you remember the day she said it?  She had on her jet
chain, and jingled with the beads.  You'll have to remember not to
forget, or you'll be the bottom of the class.  Fancy three Currant Buns
on top!"

She stopped short, with her characteristic throaty little laugh, and
Dreda glared at her with flashing eyes.  It was really extraordinary
that anyone so stupid as Maud should so often succeed in hitting upon
just the most aggravating thing to say under the circumstances.  Three
Currant Buns on top indeed!  Life would only be endurable if she herself
could seize the leading place, and hold it relentlessly to the end.  She
would not condescend to reply, and Maud was hurriedly nudged, and poked,
and "shoved" into silence by Rowena, who was in an unusually sympathetic
mood, realising how she herself would have felt had fate cast her own
scholastic lot with that of the Misses Webster.

"Never mind her," she whispered, consolingly, as she followed Dreda
upstairs to put on hat and jacket before her departure.  "It's not worth
while troubling yourself about Maud's remarks.  It's impossible to think
that any of those girls will get the better of _you_!  It's hateful, of
course; but perhaps it may not be quite so hateful as we think--"

"Oh, I don't mind.  I'm resigned!  One can only be as miserable as one
can.  Perhaps I'll have an accident some day, riding over those rough
roads, and then it will all be finished.  I don't mind how soon my life
is over!" declared Dreda, harpooning her hat viciously with a pin of
murderous length, ornamented at the head by a life-size imitation of a
tomato.  "But while I _do_ live, I tell you one thing, Rowena, I'll--
I'll _hold my own_!"

"I'm sure of that," assented Rowena, with conviction.  "Look here,
Dreda, would you like me to drive over with you as well as mother?  I
could, you know; and it might break the ice!"

"No, no!  Father wanted to come, but I begged not.  Everything is
arranged, and I don't want people looking on.  It will be a _hidjus_
ordeal!"

"Oh, my dear, come!  Don't exaggerate.  It's not so tragic as all that."

"Isn't it, then?  Don't be so grown-up and horrid!  How would _you_ like
it yourself, if anyone made the best of your having to teach Maud?"

That one trenchant question was sufficient to reduce Rowena to the
depths of silent despair, and the two sisters descended the staircase
with aspects equally lugubrious and mournful.

It was not a cheerful send-off, despite all the efforts of the family,
who stood shivering in the porch to wave farewells, and call out
encouraging prognostications so long as the motor remained in sight.
Dreda drew a big sigh of relief as they turned out of the drive, and
spun rapidly along the highway.  The necessity for keeping up a part was
over, and involuntarily she began softly whistling beneath her breath,
for in truth she was by no means so miserable as she had striven to
appear.

Novelty was the breath of Dreda's nostrils.  Any novelty to her was
better than none, and if the chance of returning to the house had at
that moment been vouchsafed, it is doubtful if she would have accepted
it at the cost of missing the excitements of the next few hours.

The car spun along strongly, so that the twenty miles' distance was
speedily covered, and before Etheldreda was half-way through her dreams
it had turned in at a gate, and there before her eyes lay Grey House, a
square, pretentious-looking building, with a door in the middle and a
stretch of three windows on either side.  There, also--oh! thrilling and
exciting moment--pressed against the panes of an upper window were a
number of round white discs, which must obviously be the faces of pupils
watching the advent of the new girl!

Dreda sat up, and throwing back her golden mane, tossed a laughing
remark to her mother--the first she had volunteered since leaving home,
and showed her white teeth in a determined smile.  If she were fated to
arrive at all, she would arrive as a conqueror who would be regarded
with envy and admiration.  Privately, she might consider herself a
martyr, but that was not a role in which she chose to appear before
other people.  She was smiling as she entered the drawing-room after her
mother, smiling as Miss Bretherton came forward to greet them, smiling
still, a forced, fixed smile, as she listened to the conversation
between the two ladies.

"Hope we shall be very happy together--"

("I shan't.  I don't like you a bit!  Scraggy, cross-looking thing!
Your nose looks as if it would cut!")

"...Dreda is fond of society.  She will enjoy working with other girls!"

("Shan't, then!  I shall hate it.  I should have enjoyed it in Paris.")

"...Beginnings always are a little difficult; but young people _soon_
adapt themselves!"

("It's easy to talk!")

After a few minutes passed in the exchange of these and similar
commonplaces, Mrs Saxon rose to depart.  On a previous visit she had
been shown over the house, and had seen the room where her daughter was
to sleep, and now her presence would only prolong the agony.  She cast a
look at her daughter, full of yearning mother love and sympathy; but
Dreda was smiling still, her grey eyes wide open, her very gums showing
in the unnatural stretching of her lips.  She submitted to be kissed,
but offered no caress in return, and turned with a nonchalant air to
examine the photographs on the mantelshelf, while Miss Bretherton
escorted her mother to the door.

They were all photographs of girls--old girls who had left school and
could afford to be amiable and forgiving.  One wore a cap and gown and
was evidently a crack pupil who had won honours at college; another held
a baby on her knee--she was pretty, and had married young; a third
supported her head on her hand and stared dreamily into space; another
posed against a screen.  Dreda stared at them with eyes that grew misty
and unseeing, as the motor puffed down the drive.  Now she was alone--
away from home for the first time in her life!  Miss Bretherton was
coming back--Miss Bretherton with the thin face and the sharply pointed
nose.

The door opened; the photographs looked mistier than ever; Miss
Bretherton's voice sounded from an immense distance, saying in cheery
tones:

"Now I am going to take you upstairs to see your room, Etheldreda.
Susan Webster and Nancy West will share it with you.  Susan you know
already--a delightful girl; and Nancy is equally charming.  Most of the
girls returned last night, but we have not yet settled into regular
work: it takes a little time to arrange the classes.  Are your boots
quite clean?  Better rub them once more on the mat!  Pupils are not
allowed to ascend the staircase in outdoor shoes."

She led the way forward, while Dreda followed, looking about with
curious eyes.  The carpet lasted only so long as the stair could be seen
from the hall beneath, and was then replaced by oil-cloth, worn to a
colourless drab by the tramp of many feet.  On the first storey a narrow
passage ran the whole length of the house, and innumerable doors seemed
to open on each side.  The murmur of voices could be heard from within,
as one passed these closed portals; but one of the number, labelled
Number 5, was not quite shut, and Dreda had a shrewd suspicion that it
opened an inch or two wide as she passed by.  Probably it gave entrance
to the room from which faces had stared out on the drive; probably the
same curious faces were peering forth through that crack at this very
moment.

The bedroom bore a bleak look, despite the fact that the furniture was
all in threes--three narrow beds, three washstands, three chests of
drawers--topped by miniature mirrors--and three small cane-seated
chairs.  Each of the three inmates had a portion of the room to herself,
and against the wall stood two folding screens, evidently designed to
insure privacy.  Dreda noted with dismay that the two ends of the room,
the one next the window and the one next the door, already bore signs of
occupation.  Her brow clouded, and instead of the usual polite remarks
of approval, out shot an impetuous question:

"Have I to take the middle?  I'd rather have an end!"

"Susan and Nancy have occupied the same beds for the last year.  All are
equally comfortable."

"There ought to be three screens.  I want two to shut myself in.
Suppose one of the others didn't want hers up!"

"Why suppose disagreeables, my dear?  It is a great mistake.  I feel
sure your companions will consider your comfort as thoughtfully as their
own.  Hang your jacket on the pegs; then you can come to your classroom,
to be introduced to your companions.  Take off your hat."

Dreda pulled a face in the mirror.  She felt cross and ill-used.  At
home she was accustomed to a big, beautiful room all to herself; she did
not at all enjoy the prospect of owning a third of this chill grey
dormitory.  She took off her hat--conscious that Miss Bretherton's eyes
were regarding the tomato-topped pin with silent disapproval--wriggled
out of her coat, and bestowed a series of pats and pulls to hair,
necktie, and blouse.  Being one of the happy people who feel cheered
rather than depressed by the sight of her own reflection in the glass,
she followed the head mistress downstairs without any of the
trepidations of nervousness which afflict most new girls, and was by no
means surprised when that lady made straight for the doorway of Number
5.

It opened, and six girls were discovered seated before a table, wearing
expressions of preternatural solemnity.  One of the number wore
spectacles; a second had a broad band of metal over her front teeth; a
third had red hair and a thick powdering of freckles; "The Currant Buns"
wore dresses of yellowy-brown tweed, which in Dreda's eyes made them
appear "bunnier" than ever.  So much was taken in by the first lightning
glance, as at the appearance of Miss Bretherton the girls leapt
mechanically to their feet and stood stolidly at attention.

"Girls, this is your new companion, Etheldreda Saxon.  She is to share
Number 20 with Susan and Nancy, and I expect will be in the fourth form.
You had better leave your books and have a little chat beside the fire,
until Miss Drake is ready.  You may tell her that I gave you
permission."

She left the room and shut the door behind her, and Dreda was left face
to face with her new companions.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

For a moment the six girls retained their former positions, staring with
blank, expressionless faces at the new comer.  Then Mary Webster, the
eldest of the "Currant Buns," advanced with outstretched hand, followed
by her two younger sisters.

"How do you do?"

"How do you do?"

"How do you do?"

"So glad to see you."

"So glad--"

"Very glad--"

The murmurs died into silence, while Dreda smiled a radiant
encouragement.

"Quite well, thank you.  But rather cold.  May we poke the fire?  My
feet--"

She tapped expressively on the floor, whereupon Mary Webster poked
discreetly at the fire and Susan, the youngest of the sisters, pushed a
chair into the cosiest corner.  The other three girls had come forward
by this time, and introduced themselves in due form.

"How do you do?  I'm Barbara Moore.  It's hateful to be a new girl!"

"How do you do?  I'm Norah Grey.  Sorry you're cold."

"How do you do?  I'm Nancy.  Tell me truthfully--_Do you snore_?"

Dreda laughed gaily.

"Sometimes--when I lie on my back.  I do it on purpose, because you
dream such thrilling dreams.  And I yell horribly when I come to the bad
bits."

"Something will have to be done!" said Nancy, darkly.  She was the girl
with the band over her front teeth.  It was ugly, but fascinating; one
felt constrained to look at it, and looking at it could not help
noticing how curved and red were the lips, how darkly lashed the long
grey eyes.  Nancy was evidently a person to be reckoned with.  She sat
herself down by the fire, stretched out her feet to the blaze, and
appeared to be lost in thought.  Dreda longed to talk to her, to inquire
what she meant by that mysterious "something," but the "Currant Buns"
were clustering round her, regarding her with anxiously proprietary airs
as if, having the honour of a personal acquaintance, it was their due to
receive the first attention.  Dreda felt quite like a celebrity, on the
point of being interviewed by a trio of reporters; but as usual she
preferred to play the part of questioner herself.

"Were you doing prep when I came in?  What classes are you taking to-
day?  I feel as if I've forgotten everything.  One always does in the
holidays, doesn't one?  Such a bore having to grind through it all
again.  Seems such a waste of time."

"Have you a bad memory?  Miss Drake, our English governess, is
especially clever at developing the powers of memory.  And holiday tasks
are so useful, too; don't you find them so?  It is impossible to forget,
if one has to study for an elaborate thesis."

"The--what?" questioned Dreda blankly.  "But whoever _does_ study in the
holidays?  I don't!  If you did, they wouldn't be holidays.  So stupid!
Holidays are for rest and fun.  Bad enough to have lessons for two-
thirds of the year.  One's brain must have _some_ rest!"

She ended on quite an indignant note, and her companions stared at her
with a mingling of admiration and dismay.  Such a vivid bit of colouring
had not been seen for many a long day in that neutral-tinted room.
Yellow hair, pink cheeks, red lips, blue dress--she was positively
dazzling to behold.  The two younger Miss Websters appeared absorbed in
admiration, but the eldest and cleverest-looking of the three pursed up
her lips with an air of disapproval and said primly:

"It depends upon one's _idea_ of rest, doesn't it?  Leisure may mean
only a time of amusement, but it's a rather poor conception of the word.
The ancient Greeks understood by it a time of _congenial_ work, as
distinguished from work which they were obliged to do.  Their necessary
work was undertaken in order that they might obtain a time of leisure,
but when it came, instead of wasting it in foolish and passing
amusement, they used it to strengthen their intellect and to store up
ennobling thoughts."

"How did they do that, pray?"  Dreda put the question with the air of
one launching a poser, but Mary Webster showed no signs of discomfiture.

"They used to meet together in little companies, and discuss the deepest
and most important topics of the day--"

"I expect they gossiped horribly!"

"And they watched the dramas--"

"I call that amusement!  I wouldn't mind doing that myself."

"But the Greek dramas were not light and vapid like modern plays.  They
dealt with serious subjects, and the audience often used to commit the
words to memory as a mental exercise."

Dreda yawned.

"Ah, well," she conceded indulgently, "it's a long while ago!  One
mustn't be hard on them, poor dears, for they knew no better.  I don't
approve of girls bothering their heads about ancient Greeks.  Boys have
to, for examinations, but if we want to grow up nice, domesticated women
it's better to learn modern things, and leave those old fusties alone.
They do one no good."

The girls stared at her in stunned surprise.  Agnes, the second Webster,
dropped her chin to an abnormal length; the youngest, Susan, bit
nervously at her lips; Mary cleared her throat and showed signs of
returning to the attack, but Dreda was already tired of the subject, and
made a diversion by leaping from her seat and approaching the table
where piles of blue-covered exercise books were neatly arranged at
intervals of about a yard apart.

"Let me look at your books, and see what you are doing!  I didn't bring
any books till I saw what you used.  I expect they will be the same.
All school books are.  I've got the ones Rowena used."  She broke off,
staring with dismay at the underlined questions which met her eye in one
of Agnes's neatly written books:

"_Characterise the work of Praxiteles, comparing it with that of
Phidias_."

"_Describe the Caryatids of the Erectheum_."

"_More_ Greeks!  How awful!  You seem saturated in Greece."  She threw
down the book impatiently and took up another.  "Write a short essay on
Chaucer (I know Chaucer!) and his times (When did he live?  Ages ago, I
know, for he couldn't spell), dwelling on (1) the state of society as
shown by the attitude of Wycliffe to the Pope, and the higher clergy;
(2) the peasants' revolt"--Dreda looked round with horrified eyes.
"_What_ a thing!  Do you often have essays like that?  Your governess
must be a man in disguise!"

"She is exceedingly clever and well read, and a most interesting and
original teacher."

"Humph!--I prefer the old school!  Our governess gives us essays on
Spring, and Happiness, and quotations from poetry.  They are far better,
for if you don't know anything, you can make it up.  You know the sort
of thing.  `One has often felt--' `Should we not all--' `At this season
of the year our hearts overflow--' I assure you I have often sat down
not knowing what on earth I was going to say, and have written _pages_!
That's far better for you than learning dull facts about people who were
dead and buried hundreds of years ago, because it exercises your
imagination and resource, and they are so useful for a woman.  Now, just
suppose you were married, and a lot of dull people were coming to
dinner--it would help you awfully if you'd been trained to make
conversation out of nothing!  And supposing you suddenly found that
there was nothing to eat, and you had to make a dinner out of scraps--
what would be most useful to you then, Greek history or a good,
resourceful brain?"

Mary and Agnes stared aghast, but the sound of a snigger came from the
fireplace where Susan stood meekly in the background, and a moment later
a ringing laugh drew all eyes to the doorway where stood a tall, bright-
haired girl, whose white teeth gleamed pleasantly through her parted
lips.

"Bravo!" she cried gaily.  "Bravo, my new pupil!  Very adroitly argued.
But suppose now that one of your dull diners happened to be an
enthusiast about Greece, and that its glories were the only subject on
which he was prepared to talk!  Suppose he spoke of the `Caryatids,' for
example, and you had no idea what the word meant--how would you keep up
your share of the conversation?"

"Quite easily.  I'd say--`Really!  How very interesting!  _Pray_ do go
on!'  Then he'd be charmed.  People always are charmed to go on
talking," declared Dreda smiling back with the utmost frankness into the
face of this bright, friendly stranger.

So this was the English governess of whose cleverness and
accomplishments she had heard so much!  She looked quite young--
ridiculously young; not many years older than Rowena herself.  Dreda had
expected to see an elderly, spectacled dame, thin and spare, with scant
locks dragged tightly back from her face.  In the dark depression of her
spirits she had thought it possible that she might even wear knitted
mittens, and have cotton wool in her ears.  Never for a moment had it
occurred to her that an accomplished finishing governess could be young
and pretty!

To judge from Miss Drake's expression she was experiencing very much the
same pleasure in the sight of her new pupil, for her eyes brightened
visibly as she looked Dreda up and down, down and up, with a keen,
intent scrutiny.  She laughed as she heard the girl's answer, and
replied easily:

"That's quite true, Etheldreda.  I am myself!  That's one of the reasons
which induced me to work--for unless one is contented to play the part
of hearer through life, it really is worth the trouble to store up a
little general knowledge, so that one may talk as interestingly as
possible.  Lessons may seem dull and unnecessary at the time, but they
_are_ useful afterwards!  Now, girls, take your places!  Etheldreda
shall sit here on my left, and I will read over the syllabus for this
term's study, and draw out a timetable.  As we come to each fresh
subject I will show you our books, Etheldreda, and we will see if they
are the same as those which you have been using, and how far you have
progressed.  I expect we shall be able to work along together, even if
there is a little space to be gulfed on either side."

"Please!" cried the new pupil earnestly, "don't call me Etheldreda.
Nobody ever does except when I'm in disgrace, and it's so long and
proper.  I'm always Dreda at home."

"Dreda, then!  It _is_ more get-at-able.  Well, now, Dreda, take a pen
and write down our syllabus in this book.  I like my pupils to have a
clear idea of the work ahead."

Dreda settled herself complacently to the task, but as she wrote her
face grew ever longer and longer.  What subjects were there which she
was supposed to study?  Political economy--she had not the vaguest idea
of what it meant!  Physiology--that was something horrid about one's
body, which ought properly to be left to nurses and doctors!  Zoology--
animals!  She knew everything that she wanted to know about animals
already; how to feed and tend them, and make them tame and friendly.
She could not love them half so much if she were obliged to worry
herself learning stupid names half a yard long, which no ordinary human
creature understood!  Latin--Algebra--Astronomy.  She glanced round the
table and beheld Mary and Agnes and Susan scribbling away with unruffled
composure.  No sign of alarm could be traced on their calm, bun-like
countenances, the longest words flowed from their pens as if such a
thing as difficulty in spelling did not exist.  Dreda looked for a
moment over Mary's shoulder, and beheld her writing a diphthong without
so much as turning a hair.

A chilly feeling crept up her spine; her heart seemed to stop beating,
then at the next moment thudded violently against her side.  She was not
going to be at the top of the class; she was to be at the bottom!
Instead of leading the van, and victoriously trailing the Currant Buns
in her wake, the Currant Buns would have to trail her; and a heavy,
unenlightened load she would be!  A stormy prospect lay ahead; straits
of difficulty; seas of depression; oceans of humiliation.  Pride, and
pride alone, prevented Dreda from laying down her head on the dingy
brown tablecloth and bursting into tears.  Alas, alas! for the happy,
easy days of History, Geography, and Arithmetic, with the old-fashioned
Spider.  Alas for the finishing joys of Madame Clerc's select academy,
where the young ladies were taken about to see the sights of Paris, with
no other restriction on their pleasure seeking but that on one and all
occasions they should amuse themselves in French!

It grew wearisome to make ever the same reply to Miss Drake's question.
"No, she had never studied that subject."

"No, she had never seen this book."  Mary stared unblushingly with her
little dark eyes.  Agnes dropped her chin until it looked twice its
natural length, Susan flicked over the pages of her exercises and
appeared absorbed in their contents.  Nancy smiled a furtive smile.

"No," cried Dreda desperately.  "No, I know nothing about it!  I--I have
been educated on quite different lines--I think I had better go on as I
have begun.  I don't want to keep back the whole class.  Let the others
go on as usual, and leave me out.  I can join _in_ for the ordinary
subjects."

"Nonsense, Dreda.  Nothing of the sort.  We take up each subject afresh
at the beginning of the term, and if you work hard you will be able to
manage quite well.  It is better to make a little push to keep in this
form than to go into a lower one with younger girls, and less
interesting work.  I am not unreasonable.  I shall not expect miracles;
do your best, and we'll help you on.  I think you had better have a
special coach to whom you can apply if you want help or explanation in
your preparation.  Now which of you girls would like to be Dreda's
coach, and spare her a little time when it is needed?"

There was a simultaneous rustle of assent, but two voices spoke first,
breaking the silence at identically the same moment.

"I!" cried Susan.

"Me!" cried Nancy.

Miss Drake smiled.  "Oh, Nancy, Nancy!" she cried gaily; "a nice person
_you_ would be to coach another!  Better give a little more attention to
your own grammar, my dear.  Very well, Susan, that is settled.  You
shall be Dreda's coach!"

Dreda and Susan looked at each other across the table in silence.  Susan
saw flushed cheeks and eyes suspiciously bright.  Dreda stared in
amazement, asking herself how it could be that anyone so much like the
two elder sisters could at the same time be so diametrically different.
Mary and Agnes were unusually plain, heavy-looking girls, but in Susan's
face there was at this moment, a light of sympathy which made it
strangely attractive.  She possessed the family features, the family
eyes, but Nature had evidently been prejudiced on her behalf and had
given with a more generous hand.  An extra shade of darkness on the
eyebrows, an extra dip to the nose, a tiny curl to the lips, a tilt of
the chin--these were trifles in themselves, but what an amazing
improvement when taken in bulk!  Dreda gazed and gazed, and as she did
so there came to her one of those delightful experiences which most of
us encounter once or twice as we go through life.  As she met this
strange girl's glance, a thrill of recognition ran through her veins; a
voice in her heart cried, "_My Friend_!" and she knew just as surely as
if she had been told _in_ words that at the same moment Susan's heart
had sounded the same glad welcome.

She said: "Thank you, Susan," in a voice unusually subdued, and bit her
lips to keep back the tears.



CHAPTER NINE.

At twelve o'clock work was laid aside and Miss Drake accompanied the
girls for an hour's constitutional.  She claimed Dreda for her companion
for the first part of the walk, for she had noticed the girl's
humiliation, and was anxious to have a few words with her in private.

"I am sorry that you should have had such a disagreeable cross-
questioning this morning, Dreda," she began brightly, "but I am sure you
will realise that it was necessary.  I was obliged to find out what you
had been doing before I could make plans for the future.  Now that is
over, and we can move ahead.  You will enjoy working with Susan.  She is
appreciative and thoughtful--a little slow in taking things in, perhaps,
but for the present that will be a good thing, as it will make it all
the easier for a quick girl like yourself to catch up to her in class
work."  Dreda glanced up sharply.

"I!  Quick!  How do you know?"

Miss Drake smiled mischievously.

"Oh, very easily--very easily, indeed!  I am accustomed to work among
girls, and when I get a new pupil I know at once under which category
she will fall.  When I saw you I said to myself--`Quick, ambitious,
versatile!'  I have no fear that you will fail to do anything to which
you persistently give your mind."

"Ah!" groaned Dreda tragically, "but that's just what I can never do.
For a little time--yes!  I'm a _wonder_ to work when I first get a
craze.  But--it passes!  I get--_bored_!  I've never stuck persistently
to one thing in my life.  The boys call me `Etheldreda the Ready,'
because I'm always bubbling over with enthusiasm at the beginning, and
willing to promise any mortal thing you like--and then,"--she snapped
her fingers in illustration--"Snap! the balloon bursts, and I collapse
into nothing.  It will be the same thing with lessons!"

Miss Drake held up her hand imperatively.

"Stop!" she cried clearly.  "Stop!  Never say that again, never _allow_
yourself to say it.  You know your failing in your own heart, and that
is enough!  Every time that you put it into words, and talk about it to
others, gives it added strength and power and makes it more difficult to
fight.  My dear girl, you are not a child--how feeble to take for
granted that you are going to continue in your old baby failings!  Take
for granted instead that you are going to live them down, and trample
them beneath your feet.  You'll have to fight for it, and to fight hard,
but it will do you more good than any lessons I can teach.  That's the
best education, isn't it, to achieve the mastery over ourselves?"

Now, if meek Miss Bruce had delivered herself of similar sentiments,
Dreda would have tilted her chin and wriggled contemptuously in her
chair, muttering concerning "preaching," and wishing to goodness that
the tiresome old thing would stop talking and get on with her work, but
Miss Drake wore such a young and gallant air, as she strode along the
country lane with her head thrown back, and her uplifted hand waving
aloft, that the girl's ardent nature took flame; she tilted her own
head, waved her own arm, and felt a tingling of martial zeal.  Yes, she
would work!  Yes, she would fight!  She would tread her enemies under
foot and emerge from the conflict victorious, untrammelled, a paragon of
virtues.  She turned a dazzling smile upon her companion and heaved an
ardent sigh.

"How beautifully you talk!  Our old governess was so different!  She did
not understand my nature.  I have wonderful ambitions, but I am so
sensitive that I can't work against difficulties.  I need constant
encouragement and appreciation.  A sensitive plant--"

"Oh, Dreda, please spare me that worn-out simile!  Not work against
difficulties, indeed!  What nonsense you talk!  It is not work at all
when everything is easy and smooth.  Don't deceive yourself, my dear--
you are going to find plenty of difficulties, and to find them quickly,
too.  This very afternoon they will begin, when you tackle the new
subjects and realise your own ignorance.  You won't enjoy being behind
your companions."

Dreda threw out her arms with a gesture of despair, but she made no
further protest.  Difficulties arising in the dim future she felt
herself able to face resolutely enough, but the thought that they might
begin that very afternoon dispelled her ardour.  She listened to Miss
Drake's further utterances with so quelled and dispirited an air that
that quick-sighted lady felt that enough had been said for the moment,
and calling her elder pupils to her side, set the two younger girls free
to walk together.

It was the moment for which both had been longing, but a mutual shyness
held them tongue-tied for the first hundred yards.  Naturally it was
Dreda who broke the silence.

"It was ripping of you to offer to coach me.  I don't believe in
learning all those things, but if I must, I must, and it would have been
difficult all alone.  I hope you don't mind."

"I want to," said Susan simply.  "I've always wanted to do something for
you, since the first time we met.  It was at a Christmas party at the
Rectory and you wore a black frock.  I never thought then that you would
come to school with us, but I wished you could be my friend.  When I've
made castles in the air they have always been about you, and something
we could do together.  I sat beside you at supper.  Do you remember?"

No!  Dreda had no recollection of the kind.  She and her brothers and
sisters had always cherished a secret contempt for the Webster sisters
and had sedulously avoided them on every occasion.  If Susan had been
seated on one side at supper, it followed as a matter of course that
Dreda herself had devoted her attention exclusively to whoever sat at
the other side.  She felt a faint pricking of conscience, and answered
tentatively: "It is so long ago.  I have a wretched memory.  I remember
we had lovely crackers at supper--but that's all.  How did you come to
notice me?"

"Because you were so pretty," Susan said.  "Your sister is pretty too,
very pretty, but she does not look so gay.  And your brothers--they are
such big, handsome boys.  You are all handsome, and big, and strong, and
have such romantic names.  You seemed far more like a family in a book
than real, live people.  The `Story-Book Saxons'--that was always our
name for you when we spoke of you between ourselves.  Do you think it is
nice?"

"Very nice, indeed.  `Story-Book Saxons!'  I must tell Rowena that."
Dreda preened her head complacently.  This simple admiration was most
refreshing after the humiliations of the morning.  "Perhaps we _are_
rather unusual," she allowed.  "Rowena is beautiful when she is in a
good temper, and the boys are always bringing home prizes, and being
captains in their sports.  Maud is stupid, but she has lovely hair, and
I, I'm not advanced in lessons--_your_ sort of lessons--but Miss Bruce
says I have a very original mind.  When I'm grown up I don't intend to
stodge along in the dull, humdrum fashion most women do.  I mean to Do
something.  To Be something.  To live for an Aim!"

Susan regarded her with serious eyes.

"What sort of aim?"

"Oh-h"--Dreda waved her arms with a sweeping movement--"I've not
decided.  There's plenty of time.  But I mean to have a Career, and make
my name known in the world."

"Don't you think," Susan asked tentatively, "that it is best to have a
definite aim and to prepare for it beforehand?"

"You talk as if you had an ambition yourself!"

"I have!" said Susan quietly.

"You mean to be celebrated like me?"

"I am going to be an author.  I hope I shall be celebrated.  I shall try
my best, but only time can show how I shall succeed."

"An author!"  Dreda repeated disapprovingly.  "_You_!  How very odd!  I
have thought of being an author myself, and we are so different.  I
believe I could make up a very good story if I'd time.  The only
difficult part would be writing it out.  Fancy perhaps fifty chapters!
You'd get sick of them before you were half through, and have writers'
cramp, and all sorts of horriblenesses.  We might collaborate, Susan!"

Susan smiled, but showed no sign of weakening.

"I don't think that would do.  We should never agree about what we
wanted to say, but it would be delightful to read our stories aloud to
each other, and discuss them together.  The first heroine I make shall
be exactly like you!"

"That's sweet of you.  Begin at once--do! and read each chapter as it's
done."

Susan's smile was somewhat wistful.  She looked in Dreda's face with
anxious eyes, as though waiting for a promise which must surely come,
but Dreda remained blankly unresponsive.  It never occurred to her for a
moment that it could be possible to make a heroine out of Susan Webster!



CHAPTER TEN.

West End School was conducted on lines differing somewhat both from
those of the modern public school and the old polite finishing seminary
for young ladies.  It accommodated in all about fifty pupils, and
although games and examinations formed important parts of the
curriculum, they were not regarded as being of such absorbing importance
as in many modern schools.  Miss Bretherton was a woman of lofty aims,
who was continually looking beyond her pupils' schooldays to the time
when they should be the women of Britain; the wives and mothers, and
sisters and friends of the men who were to carry on the work of our
great Empire, and who, humanly speaking, would do that work well or ill
according to the manner in which their womankind influenced their lives.
Miss Bretherton realised that the chief result of school study was not
the mere storing of information, but the training of the brain to
grapple with the great problems of life.  Lessons were only means to an
end.  Half of that which was learnt with such pains would be forgotten
before a dozen years had passed by; but the deeper lessons of industry,
patience, self-restraint, would remain as habits of daily life.
Formation of character--that was the one absorbing object which the Head
held in view, and which underlay every scheme and arrangement.  Miss
Bretherton's manner was so staid, her nature so reserved, that her
pupils were apt to credit her with being dull and easily deceived,
little guessing that those quiet eyes were as searchlights turned upon
their little foibles and vanities.  During Dreda's first week at school
her mood was pretty equally divided between enjoyment and misery.  She
loved the big, full, bustling house, the constant companionship of her
kind, the chats over the study fire, the games in the playground; in a
lesser degree she enjoyed the lessons also--those, at least, in which
she was fairly proficient--and found Miss Drake a most interesting and
inspiring teacher.  She loved the interest which she excited, the
flattering remarks of other girls, the quiet devotion of Susan; but she
hated the rules of "early to bed and early to rise"; found it a penance
to be obliged to practise scales, with icy fingers, for forty minutes
before breakfast; was fretted and humiliated by her ignorance on many
important subjects, and at the end of the long day often found herself
tired, disappointed, and--hungry!

There is no doubt that a school menu is a distinct trial to the girl
fresh from home.  The girl accustomed to mix cream in a cup of freshly
roasted, freshly ground coffee takes badly to the weak, groundy liquid
so often supplied in its place.  She grows tired to death of beef,
mutton, and resurrection pie, and is inclined to declare that if the
only way to become strong is to consume everlasting suet puddings, why,
then, as a choice of evils, she prefers to be weak!

"Is it always as bad as this?"  Dreda demanded plaintively of her room-
mates as they brushed their locks in company before retiring to bed on
the evening of her fifth day at West House.  "Do you _never_ have
anything nice and light, that doesn't taste of suet and oven?  Does it
get better as summer comes on?"

"Worse!" pronounced Nancy shortly.

Dreda had devoted five whole days to the study of Nancy's character, and
to this hour could not make up her mind whether she most liked or
detested her.  She was the oddest of girls: nothing seemed to excite
her, nothing to trouble, nothing to please.  Occasionally she would show
swift, kindly impulses, as when she had offered to become Dreda's coach;
but not a flicker of disappointment did she portray if such impulses
were repulsed, not a gleam of pleasure if they were accepted.  At other
times she seemed to take a perverse pleasure in making the worst of a
situation and playing the part of Job's comforter.

"Worse!" she sighed.  "Much worse!  Because it's warm weather, and your
fancy lightly turns to nicer things.  It's a bit of a cross to see
strawberries in the shop windows, and them come home to `Brother, where
art thou?'"

"What brother?"

"Raisins!" said Nancy, and sighed again.  "They lose each other in such
steppes of suet."

Conscientious Susan exclaimed in protest.

"Nancy!  Too bad.  There is always stewed rhubarb!"

But this was poor comfort, for Dreda disliked stewed rhubarb almost as
much as suet itself.  She pouted disconsolately for several moments,
then smiled with sudden inspiration.

"I'll get a doctor's order!"

"What for?"

"Plenty of fresh ripe fruit.  Vegetarian diet.  Fruit, and cream, and
eggs during the summer heat!"

"How will you manage to get it?"

"I'll have something...  I'll ask Rowena what's the best complaint:
headaches or dizziness, or feeling tired.  I'll tell mother it's the
heavy food, and mother'll tell him, and he'll write to Miss Bretherton.
I shall eat strawberries, and watch you search for `brothers.'"

Nancy stared solemnly with her long, dark eyes.

"There was a girl here who tried that before--Netta Bryce.  That very
same dodge."

"Well?"

"She wished she hadn't."

"Why?"

"Try, and you'll find out."

"Nancy, you _are_ horrid.  What happened to her?  Where is she now?"

"Dead!" croaked Nancy, and drew the screen around her bed.  After that
Dreda might question as much as she liked, but she knew well that never
a reply would Nancy vouchsafe.  It was really most tiresome!

She lay awake for a good ten minutes pondering over what _could_ have
happened to Netta Bryce, and if she had died soon, and under what
conditions.  Nancy was really the most aggravating of creatures!

Besides Miss Drake, commonly called "The Duck," there were two other
resident teachers at West Hill.  Mademoiselle--a tiny, pathetic-looking
little creature, warranted to fly into a temper in a shorter time, and
upon less provocation, than any other woman in the United Kingdom; and
Fraulein, a lumpish but amiable creature who gave lessons in German and
music.  Miss Bretherton herself took the whole school for the morning
Bible lesson, and had a disagreeable habit of descending upon the
different forms at unexpected moments, and taking the place of the
regular teacher.  Of course, the surprise visit invariably happened just
at the moment when the girls had "slacked," whereupon fright being added
to ignorance, they would make such a poor display that they themselves
were covered with confusion and their instructor with mortification.
Almost every day at dinner time two or three girls could be observed
with crimson cheeks and watery eyes gazing miserably at their plates,
when the beholders would nudge each other significantly, and exchange
glances of commiserating understanding.  "Our turn next!"

Two masters also visited the school.  Mr Broun, the professor of music,
was a small, shaggy-looking personage, with a bumpy brow and eyes set
extraordinarily far apart.  He was a born musician, and, as a
consequence, found it infinitely irritating to the nerves to be obliged
to teach young ladies who had not one note of music in their
composition, but whose parents considered an acquaintance with the
pianoforte to be a necessity of education.  When one of these
unfortunates went up for her lesson, shouts and groans of despair could
be heard outside the door of the music-room, accompanied by the sound of
heavy footsteps pacing helplessly to and fro, and at the end of the
half-hour the victim would emerge, red and tearful, or red and defiant,
as her nature was, to recount gruesome stories of brutality to her
companions.  "He rapped my ringers with his pencil.  I won't stand it.
I'm sixteen.  I'll write home and complain."  Sandwiched in among the
poor pupils were one or two who possessed real musical ability--Nancy,
for instance, whose supple fingers seemed to draw mysterious sweetness
and depths from the keys of the well-worn piano--and in these cases the
lesson would extend far beyond its legitimate length and would take upon
itself something of the nature of a recital, as Mr Broun himself took
possession of the piano stool, to illustrate the effect which he wished
produced.  Then the girls in adjoining rooms would find their attention
wandering from their books, and little groups "changing form" would
linger outside the door listening with bated breath.  Ah! if one could
only play like _that_!

Mr Minns, the mathematical master, was built on wires, and expected one
rapid explanation of the most complex rule to make it clear as crystal.
After twenty years spent in teaching, he _still_ professed to be
prostrated with horror at each fresh exhibition of feminine obtuseness,
and would groan, and writhe, and push his fingers through his hair,
until it stood up round his head like a halo.  He was Dreda's special
_bete noire_, for, like many girls who excel in literature and
composition, she detested the sight of a sum and had never grown beyond
the stage of counting on her fingers beneath the table.  If it had not
been for Susan's laboriously patient explanations, nothing could have
saved her from the most hopeless humiliation; but Susan had a gift of
apt and fitting words, and of inventing illustrations which showed
daylight through the thickest mist.

She rose early and worked late in order to have time to spare for her
duties as coach, and Dreda was lavish in gratitude.

"You really _are_ a saint!  What should I do without you?  Expire of
pure misery and despair.  As it is, I'm dying of overwork.  I've a buzzy
muzzy feeling in my brain which must mean something bad.  Softening, I
believe.  It _does_ come on from overstrain!"

Susan would smile, her quietly humorous smile, at these exaggerated
statements, refusing to feel any anxiety about the health of such a
blooming invalid.

Apart from arithmetic, however, Dreda made wonderful progress in her
studies.  Her native quickness of wits stood her in good stead; she
learnt easily, and seized nimbly on salient points, so that, though her
knowledge was superficial, she was always ready with an answer, and
could enlarge so cleverly on what she _did_ know, that the gaps of
ignorance remained unsuspected.  Susan, the prudent, shook her head over
this juggling with fate, and foretold confusion in the coming
examinations; but Dreda was content to sun herself in the present
atmosphere of approbation and leave the future to take care of itself.
Given a free hand by her parents, she had entered her name for every
examination on the school list, and hardly a day passed that she did not
propose a new scheme or exploit to her companions.

The time for these propositions was generally the cherished half-hour
after tea, when the fourth form girls gathered round the fire in the
study to chat over the doings and happenings of the day.  Then Dreda was
in her element, and every day, as it seemed, was filled with a fresh
ambition.

"When does your school magazine come out next?"

"Never!  Haven't got one to `come out.'"

"_Haven't got one_?  A school without a magazine!  How disgraceful!  I
should be ashamed to confess it.  Why haven't you?"

"Too much fag!"

Dreda gasped with horror.

"Why, even at home, where we are only six, we have an--an--" She paused,
anxiously searching for a word which should be sufficiently vague--"an
_annual_, with stories, and illustrations, and correspondence columns
just like real.  I was `Aunt Nelly' and answered the questions.  Such
sport! ...  `Yes, my dear, at fifteen you are certainly far too young to
be secretly engaged.  Confide the whole story to your dear mother.  A
mother is ever a young girl's wisest confidante.'--(Of course, no one
really asked me that.  I made it up.  You have to make up to fill the
page.) ...  `So sorry your complexion is spotty.  Rub it over with lemon
juice and oil.  Never mind if you _are_ ugly.  Be good, and you'll get a
sweet expression, and that is better than any beauty.' ...  Ha, ha!"
She tossed her golden mane with a derisive laugh.  "_Just_ like a real
mag.!  Then I put things in for the boys, of course--got them out of
cricket reports and encyclopaedias--it looks out well to have learned
bits here and there.  And you can give lovely hints!  It would be
awfully useful in a school, because you could say whatever you wanted
without being personal ...  `No! the old adage, "Finding is keeping"
does _not_ apply to your companions' indiarubbers and pencils.  It is
not considered honourable in good society to pare off initials inscribed
thereon for purposes of identification.'"  She chuckled happily.  "Don't
I do it well?  I really _have_ the knack! ...  I can't think why you
don't have one."

"How should we find the time?" queried Susan earnestly.  "First to
compose the things--and then write them out neatly would take hours and
hours."

"I would write them out.  It looks ever so much better if it's all in
one handwriting."

The girls exchanged glances.  Dreda certainly wrote a very legible hand,
but they were already beginning to feel a trifle dubious about her ready
promises.

"My dear, it would take _years_!  You would never get through.  Only
yesterday you were preparing us for softening of the brain from
overwork.  You really must curb this overflowing energy."  Nancy
narrowed her eyes in her most fascinating smile, in which still lurked a
spice of derision.  "Your welfare is very precious to us; we can't
afford to risk it for the sake of a magazine!"

Dreda flushed, and wriggled impatiently on her seat.  She never could
tell whether Nancy was in fun or in earnest.

"I am not proposing to take on more work.  It would be a distraction!"
she declared loftily.  "I love making up stories and poetry, and reading
what other people have written.  I'd get up early, and do it in play
hours.  It would be a labour of love.  Besides, it would cultivate our
style.  `The Duck' is literary herself.  I dare say she'd let it count
as composition!"

The girls brightened visibly at this suggestion.  It would be distinctly
more amusing to write for their own magazine than to cudgel their brains
to produce a sheet full of ideas on the abstruse subjects suggested by
Miss Drake.  They edged a little nearer the fire, straightened their
backs, and fell to discussion.

"Perhaps she might."

"We'll ask her."

"She might be editor."

"She could write a lovely story herself."

"Bertha could illustrate.  She draws the killingest pictures.  There was
one of the fifth dormitory at 6 a.m.  You saw all the girls asleep, and
their heads were killing.  Amy had a top-knot that had fallen on one
side, Phyllis a pigtail about two inches long, and as thin as a string.
You know her miserable little wisp of hair.  Mary was lying on her back
with her mouth wide open.  It was the image of her.  She's nearly as
good as Hilda Cowham.  We might call her `Hilda Cowman' as a _nom de
plume_.  Wouldn't it look professional?"

Dreda was a trifle annoyed that the position of editor had not been
offered to herself as the originator of the movement, and she likewise
cherished the belief that she was entitled to take a prominent place as
illustrator; but she consoled herself with the reflection that when the
magazine was really started her previous experience could not fail to be
useful.

"We'll have stories, and essays, and poetry, and competitions, and
advertisements at the end.  You have to pay for advertisements, and that
pays for stationery."

"What sort of advertisements?"

"Every sort.  Exchanging stamps and post cards, selling snapshots--
anything you like.  I should put: `Fifth form pupil will coach junior
for ten minutes daily in exchange for fagging: hot water, sewing on
buttons, darning, etcetera.'  I'm not used to mending.  It's the limit!
What shall we call it?"

"The magazine?  _The Grey House Monthly_--_Messenger_--_Herald_--
something of that kind.  We ought to bring in the name of the school."

"I don't see why.  I think it would be nicer without.  Less amateury.
The--_Casket_.  Wouldn't _Casket_ be good?  It implies that it is full
of treasures."

"_The Torch_!  That's nicer than _Casket_, and sounds more spirited.  We
could have a picture of a woman holding up a lamp, with the word
`Progress' written across the beams--like they do in the _Punch_
cartoons.  I think _Torch_ would be lovely."

"Why not _Comet_?" asked Nancy in her brief, quiet tones, narrowing the
double line of black eyelashes as she spoke so as to hide the expression
of her eyes.

There was a moment's pause, broken by Dreda's quick, suspicious
question:

"Why _Comet_?"

"Why not?"

"Do you mean because of the _tail_?"

"Comets _do_ have tails, don't they?  So do magazines!"

That was all very well, but the silence which followed the explanation
showed that suspicion still rankled.  Dreda arched her eyebrows at
Barbara, who shrugged in reply.  Susan wrinkled her brows, and Norah
pursed her lips.  What was Nancy really thinking inside that sleek,
well-shaped little head?  Comets appeared suddenly; remained to be a ten
days' talk and wonder, and then--mysteriously disappeared!
Instinctively Dreda stiffened her back, and registered an inward vow
that she would spare neither time nor pains to make the magazine a
permanent and shining light!



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

To the delight of Dreda, and the more subdued satisfaction of the other
pupils, a magazine received the sanction of the headmistress and Miss
Drake, provided that it did not aim at more than a quarterly appearance.

"It will waken you up!" said the latter, smiling whimsically at her
pupils.  "You are all rather apt to go to sleep at times, especially
when a little originality is desired; but remember that the magazine
receives official sanction as a means of education, not as a receptacle
for any rubbish you may choose to scribble.  We'll have stories, of
course; but I have suffered under stories in other amateur magazines,
and am determined to raise ours above the usual level.  Every girl who
wishes to write a story must draw out a synopsis of the plot and submit
it to me before she embarks on the task of writing it out.  I will then
refuse or accept it, and in the latter case will talk it over with the
author, giving her some hints as to arrangement, treatment of points,
which will, I hope, be of value to the story.  In fact, I should like to
have the entire synopsis of the magazine drawn up and brought to me a
month before publication.  So what a Tartar of an editor I am going to
be!  I have quite decided that if I am to get through the work at all, I
must have an understudy, a sub-editor, so to speak, who can keep the
contributors up to time, collect their suggestions, and submit them for
my criticism.  It will involve a good deal of steady, methodical work.
I wonder--"

"I'll do it, Miss Drake.  Let me.  I offered to be editor before."

The words leaped from Etheldreda's lips before Miss Drake's eyes had
wandered halfway round the class.  Mary's face wore its usual blank
stare, Barbara sniggled with obvious contempt, Nancy veiled her eyes
with her thick, dark lashes, Susan flushed suddenly a brilliant red.

Both Miss Drake and Dreda herself were arrested by the sight of those
flaming cheeks, for Susan was, as a rule, so calm and self-restrained
that any exhibition of excitement on her part was bound to attract
attention.  What was the matter?  Why did she look so anxious and eager?
What were the words which seemed trembling on her lips?  Dreda felt
complacently convinced that as her own friend and ally Susan was longing
to champion her cause.  Miss Drake smiled and asked encouragingly:

"Well, Susan, what is it?  What were you going to say?"

The red mounted higher and higher until it reached the roots of the
tightly brushed hair.  Susan's very ears seemed aflame, and her voice
had the husky note of repressed excitement.

"I--I was going to offer--I thought I could do the work for you, Miss
Drake."

Etheldreda's gasp of dismay was heard throughout the room.  Her cheeks
rivalled Susan's in their flame of indignation.  _Susan_ to play her
false, to endeavour to wrest a coveted place from a friend!  Susan an
enemy, a rival!  Dreda felt a vehement, overwhelming disgust for the
whole universe and its inhabitants, a shattering of faith in every
cherished ideal!  Never, no never again, could she bring herself to
believe in a human creature!

The two girls sat silent, awaiting the mistress's decree, and Miss Drake
looked slowly from one flushed face to the other, her usually smooth
forehead showing two deep horizontal lines.  It was her "thinking
look"--the look which she wore when she was trying to explain an
unusually difficult point in the day's lessons.  The girls watched her
anxiously, saw the lines clear away, and the light of decision drawn in
her eyes; wondered if it were in imagination only that at the same time
they caught the sound of a faint sigh of regret.

"Thank you, girls," she said slowly.  "It is sweet of you both to be so
ready to help.  I am ever so much obliged to you, Susan--but Dreda spoke
first.  I think I will decide to give the post to her."

Nobody heard any more than this, though Miss Drake continued talking for
several moments.  Dreda was thrilling from head to foot with triumphant
joy.  Susan's flush had deepened from crimson to an absolute magenta.
The other girls were torn between sympathy and amazement!  For once in
their lives they were unanimous in condemnation of the beloved Duck's
judgment, and could not imagine what she had been dreaming about to
choose Dreda Saxon for a post of responsibility, when that most reliable
of Susans could have been had for the asking.  No one made any remark,
however, and Dreda, glancing expectantly around, failed to meet any of
the congratulatory smiles which were surely her right on so auspicious
an occasion.  The girls were sitting stiff and straight in their seats,
staring at their desks in their most prim and wooden manner.  Susan was
the only one who ventured a struggling smile, and from her Dreda
contemptuously turned aside.  Hypocrisy was a failing for which she had
no tolerance!

It was with a visible effort that Miss Drake continued the discussion in
her usual bright, cheery manner.

"The term is already a month old.  I should like to have the synopsis of
the contents of the magazine by to-day fortnight--say the tenth of next
month.  We can then allow three weeks for composition and a week for
typing, and still have the magazine ready a week before the holidays.  I
have quite decided that everything must be typed: the effect, as a
whole, will be far better.  Faults in style and composition stand out
before us in print as they never do in our own familiar handwriting.
Moreover, I have other schemes working in my head."  She paused, smiling
mysteriously.  "I won't explain now, but later on, perhaps ...  Do your
best, girls!  Some of you have real talent.  Who knows, this little
venture may be the beginning of some great career.  How proud I should
be in time to come if I could say of a celebrated author: `She was my
pupil.  She wrote her first story or essay or poem for our school
magazine!'"

She paused, looking round the class.  Once more her gaze lingered on
Susan's downcast face, but there was no response in its immovable lines.
The other girls vouchsafed strained, uneasy smiles.  Only from Dreda's
ecstatic eyes there flashed back a joyful comprehension.  How beautiful
the girl looked!  Her vivid colouring, all pink, and white, and gold,
made an almost startling contrast to the duller tints of the other
girls.

It was impossible to resist the fascination of so fair a sight, yet
there was a touch of wistfulness in the teacher's smile.

The class dismissed, it was time to go upstairs to dress for supper, and
Dreda found herself alone in the bedroom with her two companions.  Nancy
peeled off her blouse, threw it upon the bed, and brushed out her heavy
locks in determined silence.  Susan approached Dreda with a tremulous
smile.

"Oh, Dreda--I'm glad!  I hope the magazine will be a success.  If I can
help you in any way do let me try."

But Dreda glared at her with sparkling eyes.

"You are _not_ glad!  You tried your very best to be editor yourself,
though you _knew_ how disappointed I should be.  I thought you were my
friend.  You are not.  You are an enemy, and not even an honest enemy at
that!  You need not trouble yourself about me any more, for lessons or
anything else.  I can get on quite well alone!"

Susan shrank, as if from a blow.

"Dreda, you are angry.  You don't understand.  It's no trouble.  I love
to help you."

"Much obliged.  I don't care for such help.  Please don't talk to me any
more.  I _am_ angry.  I have a right to be angry!"

Dreda pulled her screen with a jerk, cutting herself off from the corner
where Susan performed her toilet.  Seated on her bed, Nancy brushed at
her long, sleek hair, keeping it spread as a veil before her face.
Dreda waited in vain for a glance of sympathy, or understanding, but it
never came, even when Susan had crept softly from the room and the
constraint of her presence was removed.  Nancy finished brushing her
hair, and rose to her feet in the lightest, most unperturbed of
fashions:

"Got any pins you can spare?"

Nancy was celebrated for the number of pins which she used in her
toilet.  Things wouldn't fasten without them, she declared.  She was
fairly bristling with pins, so that her most ardent adorers moderated
their embraces, mindful of the scratches which had been their reward in
days of inexperience.  Dreda eagerly selected half a dozen of her most
cherished fancy-headed pins, and handed them across the bed.

"Of course.  As many as you like.  I say, Nance, I'm sorry to have made
a scene.  I _could not_ help it!"

"Oh, don't apologise.  I like a good row now and then.  Not for myself--
it's too much trouble--but it's amusing to listen to other people when
they get excited.  They give themselves away so delightfully."

Dreda flushed, and knitted her brows.

"I wasn't at all excited in this case.  I was angry--_righteously_
angry!  It's one's duty to protest against mean, underhand actions."

"Such as wanting the best positions for ourselves?"

"Certainly not.  That is only natural ambition--laudable ambition.  The
mean thing is to try to oust someone else--your own best friend, when
you know she could do it better than you!"

"Yes!" mused Nancy thoughtfully.  "That does sound mean ...  This sub-
editor post is going to be so difficult that it ought certainly to go to
the right person.  A careful, methodical, machine-like sort of creature,
who will never forget or let others forget.  The girls are slack enough
about regular work, and will be a hundred times worse about an extra,
and The Duck is a tartar about punctuality.  It's going to be a problem
to please them and `keep the peace.'  But you have had a magazine at
home, so you know all about it.  Susan has had no experience."

Nancy had seated herself on her bed once more, her hands clasped round
her knees, her lips slightly apart, showing a glimpse of the golden bar
round the front teeth; her long, Eastern-looking eyes met Dreda's
without a blink, yet for some mysterious reason Dreda felt her cheeks
flush and a jarring doubt awoke in her mind.  "A machine"--"never
forgetting--never late!"  Not even her youthful complaisance could apply
that description to herself.  The ghosts of past enterprises seemed to
rear reproachful heads, reminding her of their existence.  To each of
the number had been sworn eternal fidelity, yet how short had been their
lives!  The factory girl, for instance, who had received three long,
enthusiastic letters, and after the lapse of a year was still awaiting
the receipt of the fourth.  Poor Emma Larkins had been so appreciative
and grateful.  Dreda had been able to talk of nothing else for the first
week of the correspondence.  She had planned a lifelong friendship, and
in imagination had seen herself, aged and wealthy, acting the gracious
benefactress to a second generation.  _How_ had she happened to forget?
She had been busy, her father had taken her for a trip abroad, she had
joined a society for the study of French classics.  The time had flown
by until she had been ashamed to begin writing again.  No doubt another
correspondent had taken her place ...  "_Susan has no experience_."
True!  Yet if one wished to describe Susan's character, could one do it
more aptly than by using Nancy's own words?  "Careful, methodical,
machine-like as to accuracy!"  _What_ did Nancy mean?  Was she really
and truly in earnest, or did some hidden meaning lurk behind the
seemingly innocent words?  Dreda drew a long breath, and set her teeth
in the determination to set an example of diligence and punctuality to
all sub-editors beneath the sun, and by so doing to demonstrate in the
most practical of fashions her suitability for the post.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy--and Jill a dull girl also.
Miss Bretherton was a firm believer in this old adage, and loyally tried
to provide a due proportion of amusement for her pupils.  In the winter
terms bad weather often interfered with outdoor sports, but every
alternate Saturday evening a reception was held in the drawing-room
between the hours of seven and nine thirty, on which occasions thirty
pupils dressed for the fray with gleeful anticipation, and the thirty-
first with trembling foreboding, for it was she who was chosen to play
the part of hostess and take sole management and responsibility of the
entertainment.

All pupils in the fourth and fifth term were considered old enough to be
hostesses, so that no girl was called upon to play the part more than
twice a year; but when the great occasions arrived, ambition mingled
with nervousness, and the heroine of the hour, calling to mind the
errors and failings of her companions, determined to profit by them, and
achieve a brilliant success for herself.

The duties of the hostess were sufficiently onerous.  She was
responsible for the arrangement of flowers in the drawing-room, could
distribute chairs and sofas as she thought fit, and punctually at seven
o'clock must be on duty prepared to receive her guests and direct the
passing round of tea and coffee.  The first hour was dedicated to
conversation; for the second, some form of amusement must be designed
and arranged, and lastly, a sum of ten shillings had to be so expended
as to provide some form of light refreshment which should be consumed
before the company dispersed.

To take the last duty first, ten shillings divided into thirty portions
(the younger pupils were not allowed to stay up for "supper") did not
allow a very handsome sum per head!  Most hostesses came down and down
in their ambition until they reached the ignominious level of lemonade
and buns, but there had been occasional daring flights of fancy, as when
Nancy had provided thirty large sausage rolls, and the poor sufferers
whose digestions forbade playing with such dainties last thing at night
found no choice offered to them, and were obliged to retire to bed
hungry and wrathful.  An hour's amusement was also somewhat difficult to
arrange, as nothing short of an official decree would induce a music
pupil to perform in public, a singer to sing, or an elocutionist to give
a recital.  Paper games and competitions of a somewhat feeble nature
were the general refuge of the destitute, though each hostess started
out with the determination of hitting on something more amusing and
exciting.  No difficulty as to amusement or provision, however, could
compare for one moment with the ordeal of that first hour, that hour of
reception and conversation, the horrors of which each fresh hostess
seemed to find more onerous than the last.  To sail forward and shake
hands with Miss Bretherton in her best grey silk, to welcome her to her
own drawing-room, and engage in light conversation about the weather--
could one imagine a more paralysing ordeal?  Then no sooner was the Head
disposed of in one arm-chair, than in would come a party of your best
friends, all primed with mischievous determination to make you giggle,
and so reduce you to humiliation.  While one was elegantly shaking
hands, a second was furtively pulling hideous grimaces, a third was
pinching your arm, and a fourth treading on your toe.  Crimson-faced and
quivering, you would convey these last arrivals across the room and
introduce them to Miss Bretherton, for it was one of the tiresome rules
that no one guest was supposed to know another at the moment of entering
these social gatherings.  Thick and fast they came at last, and more and
more and more, all needing to be welcomed with appropriate words,
conducted to seats, introduced, provided with tea.  The poor hostess had
no time to think of herself, and her worst moments began when all her
guests had assembled, for then she must perforce watch for the moment
when conversation became forced and fitful and promptly move the pawns
about the board, introducing them to fresh pawns, lingering until
conversation was safely afloat!  The members of the staff never deigned
to help the poor struggling novice in the art of entertainment; it was
darkly suspected that they rather added to her difficulties by adopting
haughty, reserved airs which called for greater displays of generalship.
With what a sigh of relief was the striking of eight o'clock greeted by
the harassed mistress of the ceremonies!

Dreda Saxon's first experience as hostess arrived just about the middle
of the term, and, unlike her companions, she was greatly elated at the
prospect.  No fears disturbed her night's rest; she received the half-
sovereign for refreshments as gratefully as if _it_ had been a fortune,
and graciously "allowed" a few favoured friends to join the troupe of
"dramatic impersonators" who were to provide the hour's amusement.

Everyone wanted to be a dramatic impersonator.  It sounded much more
exciting than sitting primly looking on beneath the eyes of the teaching
staff; but Dreda had made a careful selection of Susan, Nancy, Barbara,
and two lanky, overgrown third form sisters, Molly and Florry Reece, and
sturdily refused to add to their number.  Norah West in especial was
much injured at being passed over, for she cherished a schoolgirl's
adoration for the quiet Susan, and until Dreda's appearance on the scene
had invariably been included in any scheme in which either she or Nancy
were interested.

"I always did everything with everybody.  I was always _in_ everything
until you came," she cried resentfully.

"Were you?  Dear me!  Then you should be glad of a rest," responded
naughty Dreda, when, needless to say, Norah waxed more indignant than
before.

"That Etheldreda Saxon is really getting insupportable," she announced
to her companions at dinner on Saturday morning.  "A new-comer and a
fourth form girl, and she tries to boss the school.  She's not a bit
good at her work either, except at things she can make up out of her own
head at a moment's notice.  What right has she to give herself airs?"
The companion shrugged her shoulders with disappointing indifference.

"I don't know.  What does it matter?  It pleases her, and it don't hurt
us.  She's good at hitting on new ideas anyhow, and that's a comfort.
Dramatic impersonations sounds a lot better than paper games.  I'm quite
looking forward to to-night."

Now Norah had had paper games on a recent occasion when she had played
the part of hostess, so she felt herself snubbed, and sulked for the
whole afternoon, disdaining to take any notice of the whispering and
laughing, the rushings to and fro, the wholesale confiscation of
"properties," indulged in by Dreda and her troupe.

When the evening arrived she put on her second best dress, and purposely
dallied until the very last moment before entering the drawing-room.
She wished and expected to annoy Dreda by slighting her hospitality, but
Dreda was too much absorbed in the excitement of the moment to remember
past differences, so that the reluctant Norah found herself greeted with
the most radiant of smiles, and was promptly escorted across the room
and introduced to Mademoiselle in characteristic fashion.

"Mademoiselle, may I introduce my friend Miss West?  Miss West is quite
a distinguished example of our _jeune fille_ sportive!  I am sure you
will like to know her.  Miss West--Mademoiselle Saudre."

Mademoiselle chuckled with delight, and subdued splutterings of
amusement sounded round the room while the _jeune fille_ sportive took
her seat with a very red face, miserably conscious that she was
handicapped with a new nickname which would remain with her for the rest
of her school life.

It was amusing to note the expression, half-approving, half-dismayed,
with which Miss Bretherton watched the self-possessed young hostess.
These evening At Homes had been instituted with the express design of
preparing the elder pupils to be of social use to their mothers on their
return home; to be able to make an introduction in due form, and to
overcome awkward self-consciousness.  It was a trifle disconcerting,
however, to behold so very full-fledged a bantling, to find oneself
treated with benevolent patronage, and to see the old rules set at
naught in favour of startling innovations.  Dreda had requisitioned two
of the maids to take charge of the tea-table, and ordered their
movements with the air of a commander-in-chief; she strolled about the
room--taking part in the conversations of the different groups, and,
when necessary, introducing new subjects with unblushing inconsequence.

As, for instance: "Yes; it has been terribly foggy.  Quite the worst
October on record.  Have you ever been in Switzerland?"

The startled hearers were dumb for some moments, and then one of the
number announced that she was going to Saint Moritz in January to take
part in the winter sports, whereupon everyone was full of interest and
curiosity, and Dreda swept onward to another bored-looking group, and
hurled another conversational arrow.

At last--far sooner than usual, as everyone allowed--the clock struck
eight, and immediately the two maids came forward, and, still under
Dreda's superintendence, moved all the seats to the far end of the room,
shutting off the portion by the door by means of three outstretched
screens.  The dramatic impersonations were about to begin!

A scene from English history formed the first item on the programme, and
the screens being duly removed, an imposing figure was discerned
strutting slowly to and fro, clad in a white bath gown on which a
selection of shining dish-covers had been fastened with a very fair
effect of armoury.  Behind this imposing personage paced two other
figures, cloaked and draped in would-be old-world fashion, who smirked
as they went, and, bowing and scraping, pointed mysteriously to a green
baize tablecloth stretched on the floor in mysteriously lumpy outline.
The haughty person in the dish-covers waved aside these confidences with
an air of impatience, then suddenly waxing wrathful, turned upon his
companions and issued dumb but imperious commands.  A chair was
produced, and the attendants stood by in evident discomfort the while
their seated master pointed his hand rebukingly towards the green patch
on the floor.  And then began a curious phenomenon, for the lumpy mass
beneath the green tablecloth suddenly awoke to movement; a rhythmical,
regular movement which swayed to and fro, up and down, creeping ever
nearer and nearer to the seated monarch.  When at length the edge of the
cloth actually touched his august feet, horror and consternation were
depicted on the faces of the attendants, while their master arose in
leisurely dignity, and delivered in pantomime what was evidently a most
instructive and admonitory address.

Hearty clapping and cries of "Canute!  Canute!" from the stalls greeted
the end of this performance, whereupon the green tablecloth was hastily
thrown aside and the "waves" appeared in the persons of Molly and
Florry, somewhat hot and red in the face as a result of their seclusion,
but satisfied that their efforts had produced quite the most striking
effect in the performance.

A bell rang.  The screens were hastily pushed forward, and Barbara's
fingers could be heard laboriously pounding out her latest "piece" on
the piano, the while audible preparations were taking place for item
number two.  Barbara was not musical by nature, and in addition to a
woodenness of touch, possessed a habit of playing the treble notes a
distinct beat in advance of the bass, peculiarly exasperating to her
instructress.  Poor Fraulein! her expression suggested an attack of
indigestion rather than an amused spectator of a dramatic entertainment!

Te-tum, te-tum, tum-tum!  The last uncertain chords quavered to an end,
the screens were again withdrawn, and the stage was discovered full of
characters, dressed with some ingenuity to represent the principal
personages in "Young Lochinvar."  In arranging the _dramatis persona_
some difficulty had arisen from the fact that none of the girls was
willing to represent the elderly bridegroom so unflatteringly described
as "a laggard in love and a dastard in war."  It was not an ingratiating
character, and Nancy and Barbara flatly refused to personate it.  Susan
could do it, she was the smallest, and would best look the part.  For
two minutes on end Susan stoutly refused to do anything of the kind, and
then placidly consented, being of a peace-at-any-price disposition,
which found it easier to submit than to preserve a determined
opposition.  She submitted, therefore, and reaped her reward in the
shape of a costume which was beyond doubt the most striking in the
group.  A Norfolk jacket, a shawl pleated to represent a kilt, and a
plaid thrown across her shoulders, were but insignificant details
compared to the delight of sporting a pair of whiskers manufactured out
of two long heads of pampas grass, so white, so silky, so bushy that
they had really to be seen to be appreciated!  The pampas grasses had
been Dreda's inspiration, and when she had tied them securely into
place, run several long black crayon marks from nose to chin, and popped
a pair of spectacles over the eyes, behold the demure Susan transformed
into so comical an imitation of an old man that the spectators rocked on
their seats with merriment.  There he stood, "plucking his bonnet and
plume," while Dreda simpered in a corner, and Nancy as Lochinvar
interviewed Barbara in the character of indignant father.  Both actors
had donned imitations of the Scottish costume, and the former made a
picturesque figure as he led forward his lady love.

  "One touch to her hand, and one word in her ears,
  And they reached the hall door, and the charger stood near."

The charger was represented by an ancient and battered hobby horse,
astride which the eloping lovers galloped violently across the stage, to
disappear from sight through the open doorway.  Confusion followed among
the spectators, who hurriedly supplied themselves with imaginary steeds
and galloped off in wild pursuit.

Again there was no difficulty in guessing the poem represented, but long
and continued applause testified to the delight of the audience, while a
special call was given to the wearer of the pampas whiskers.

After an interval of several minutes the screens were withdrawn for the
third impersonation, when an impromptu bed was beheld placed on the
extreme left of the stage.  Lying snugly snoozled into a pillow was a
fair head, at sight of which the audience laughed uproariously, for the
head belonged to Dreda Saxon; but her fair hair, parted in the middle
and plastered straightly down on either side, gave a ridiculously staid
and old-world effect to her pink and white face.  She snored gently,
unperturbed by the mocking laughter, and presently two stout dames
hurried into the room, and with a great show of agitation, roused the
damsel from her sleep.  Her arms were thrust into a blue dressing-gown,
her bare feet into bedroom slippers, and, thus attired, she was escorted
past a second screen into the presence of two grave and reverend
segniors, who fell on their knees and humbly kissed her outstretched
hand.  The ludicrous solemnity of Dreda's face beneath the plastered
bandeaux of hair brought down the house, and no one had the least
difficulty in recognising in the representation the youthful Queen
Victoria at the moment of her accession.

There was only enough time left for two more representations: Sir Walter
Raleigh spreading his cloak on the ground so that Queen Elizabeth could
escape the mud, and a spirited rendering of Horatius keeping the bridge,
in which last representation Nancy won much applause as the "great Lord
of Luna" clanking a four-fold shield in the shape of large-sized tea
trays.  The bridge was typified by a blackboard stretched between two
tables--and the manner in which Horatius made his final dive into a nest
of cushions was blood-curdling to behold.  In truth, the hour's
amusement passed like a flash, and when Dreda in ordinary dress re-
entered the drawing-room at the head of her troupe, she was everywhere
greeted with congratulations and applause.

"Supper" was another surprise, consisting, as it did, of fruit salad and
whipped-up cream.  The fortunates who were first in the field waxed
eloquent in appreciation, but, alas! the cream soon fell short, and the
last helpings of "salad" were so small as to be almost invisible.

"But some people are never satisfied," quoth Dreda scornfully.  "What if
the salad _did_ run short!  It was a feast of reason and a flow of soul.
I've no pity for a person whose mind can't soar above stewed prunes!"



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

The energy with which Etheldreda the Ready set about her work as sub-
editor threatened to ruin the magazine before its birth, for intending
contributors grew so tired of daily and sometimes hourly reminders that
by the end of a week weariness had developed into right-down crossness
and irritation.  "For goodness' sake leave me alone.  I'm sick of the
name of the old magazine!  If you worry me once more I won't do a
thing--so there!"  Such answers were more than a little disconcerting to
one who had worked herself up to a white heat of enthusiasm, and could
neither think, dream, nor speak of any other subject under the sun.  So
engrossed was Dreda in trying to keep other writers to the mark, that it
was not until ten day's of the allotted fourteen had passed by that she
set to work to think out her own contribution.  It was to be a story, of
course--not a stupid, amateury, namby-pamby story, such as you could
read in other school magazines, but something striking and original,
that would make everyone talk and wonder, and lie awake at night.  So
far so good; but when the time for writing it arrived it was
astonishingly difficult to hit upon a suitable idea!  Dreda chewed the
end of her pen, wrote "Synopsis of Plot" at the top of her paper in an
imposing round hand with the downstrokes elaborately inked, dotted
wandering designs here and there, and cudgelled her brains for
inspiration.  There must be a girl, of course--a girl heroine, blonde
and lovely, and an adventuress (brunette), and a hero.  But she did not
intend to write a love story--that was piffle.  Something _really_
thrilling and dangerous!  She mentally ran over a list of
misadventures--fire, flood, shipwreck.  She had read of them all dozens
of times over; and, mentioned in a synopsis, they would have quite an
ordinary effect.  It was after hours of anxious deliberation, during
which ordinary lessons went completely to the wall, that the brilliant
idea of an earthquake flashed upon Dreda's mind.  An earthquake story
might be as complicated as one pleased, for all the superfluous people
could be killed off at the crucial moment, while legal papers and wills
could disappear, so that one could not even be expected to unravel the
mystery!  She hovered uncertainly between three sensational titles--"A
Hopeless Quest," "For Ever Hidden," "In the Twinkling of an Eye!"--and
plunged boldly into the first sentence of the synopsis without having
the faintest idea how it should end:

"A lovely young girl, Leila (English, yellow hair, sixteen) lives on a
beautiful isle which had been a volcano hundreds of years before.  (This
will not be mentioned till the last, but mysterious remarks made about
rumblings, to prepare the mind.)  Dolores (Spanish), aged seventeen,
pretends to be her friend, but is really jealous.  They stay together at
a country house with a veranda, and exciting things happen.  Leila is
supposed to be an orphan, and Dolores patronises her because she is
poor.  An English officer comes to call, and staggers back at sight of
Leila.  (He is really her father.)  Dolores makes mischief, and
persuades him to leave her all his money.  They go to the lawyers, and
Leila goes out for a sail in a boat to cheer her spirits.  While she is
sailing, the volcano blows up and everyone is killed.  Leila is picked
up by a passing ship, and inherits the money."

Compared with this sensational programme, Susan's story promised to be
deplorably tame and uneventful, and Dreda curled her lip in scorn as she
read the neatly written lines:

"I want to write the story of a man who was naturally very nervous and
afraid, but who hid it so well that everyone believed him to be a hero.
I want to show that he really did become brave, because his friends
believed in him, and he tried to be worthy of their trust."

"Gracious!  How dull.  It sounds like a tract.  Susan is a dear; but
she's a currant bun when all is said and done, and she can't get away
from it.  They _are_ stodgers!" quoth Miss Dreda, with a shrug, as she
placed the paper beside her own in her desk.  Her anger against Susan
had died a rapid death, for the double reason that she herself found it
impossible to harbour resentment, and that Susan steadily refused to be
a second party to a quarrel.  Scornfully though her help had been
refused, she offered it afresh every evening, and after three days'
experience of struggle and defeat, Dreda was thankful to accept.

"But you _were_ mean about the editorship, all the same.  It wasn't like
you, Susan!" she declared severely, feeling it would be too great a
condescension to capitulate without protest.  "You are generally quite
sweet about helping other people.  I don't understand what you were
thinking about!"

Susan's quiet smile seemed to express agreement with this last
statement, but she made no protest and allowed herself to be kissed and
petted with a condescending "We'll say no more about it, will we, dear?
Now for this exercise--it's a perfect brute!"

It was only by dint of ceaseless entreaties and cajoleries that the sub-
editor succeeded in collecting a respectable number of entries for the
first number of the magazine before the appointed date, and if the
absolute truth had been known she was already feeling overweighted with
the cares of office.  It was a fag to be worried out of one's life, and
as a result to be disliked rather than praised.

"I shake in my shoes at the very sight of Dreda Saxon!" said Norah West
of the spectacles and freckles.  "There's no peace in life while she is
on the rampage.  This school has never been the same since she came.
She seems to have upset everything."

Nancy offered to contribute an article on "Characteristics of School
Celebrities--Literary and Sportive," and refused to be coaxed to a more
decorous subject.  "That, or nothing!" was her mandate, so down it went
on the synopsis, followed, by way of contrast, by Mary Webster's "Essay
on Ancient Greece," and the head girl's "Great Women of History."  Beryl
Turner, who had a passion for figure drawing, unjustified by skill,
submitted half a dozen sketches of an impossible young woman apparently
entirely devoid of joints, to explain which she proposed to write a
story, thus entirely reversing the usual process of illustration; and,
fired by a desire to show her own artistic superiority, Dreda hastily
embellished her own paper with two vignette paintings of her own
heroines.  Leila, with luxuriant locks of yellow, splashed with green,
and Dolores with inky hair and eyes of a rich gamboge.  On the afternoon
of the fourteenth day of the month Dreda spent her recreation hour in
arranging the collected sheets to the best advantage, and in fastening
them within the cover of an old exercise book.  She was aglow with self-
satisfaction at having accomplished her task in time, and intended to
lay special stress on the fact in her next letter home and so win from
the home circle that admiration and praise which her schoolfellows were
so slow to bestow.

On the whole, she was well pleased with the result of her labours, and
looked forward with a lively curiosity to Miss Drake's comments and
criticisms.  When the booklet was finished and a printed label pasted in
the middle of the black cover, she laid it carefully inside her desk and
went to rejoin her companions by the study fire.  They stopped talking
as she approached, and began to "rag" in true school fashion.

"Here comes our literary friend.  Quite worn out with the strain of her
intellectual efforts!  Sit down, my love, and calm your fevered brow!"
This from Barbara, while Norah cried scornfully:

"Look at her fingers--inked to the joints!  Anyone could tell she was a
budding author!"

"Did you tie the papers together with blue ribbon?  That's an absolute
necessity.  I have a piece I could give you."

"Thank you, Nancy.  I'll accept it with pleasure--for my hair.  The book
is finished and needs no trimmings.  It looks beautifully neat and
professional.  I can't show it to anyone until my--my colleague has seen
it and made her alterations; but as soon as it comes back--"

She nodded in condescending fashion, and the girls chuckled and
exchanged twinkling glances.

"`My colleague'!  That's good!"

"Good word, Dreda!  Bring that in in your story.  It has a fine effect."

"I'm thankful it is finished at last.  We shall be able to sleep in
peace to-night without being disturbed by your plunging and snortings.
I've always heard that geniuses were trying to live with, but they are
even worse by night than by day!"

"At what time are you going to present the Opus to your colleague?
After prep, to-morrow?  Then I beg to suggest that until it has been
reviewed and the verdict passed the subject shall be forbidden.  The
strain is _too_ great!"

Norah rolled her eyes, a performance rendered weirdly effective by the
presence of her large round glasses, and the other girls taking up the
clue, flopped in their seats, leant feebly against a neighbouring
shoulder, and fanned themselves faintly with their handkerchiefs.  As a
rule, Dreda was as quick to take offence as she was to forgive, but this
afternoon she manifested no signs of irritation.  "They laugh who win,"
and no one could deny that she had won this time--won all along the
line--in gaining consent to the establishment of a magazine, in
obtaining the post of sub-editor; lastly, and most striking of all, in
being ready up to time, despite the gloomy prophecies to the contrary.

For the next twenty-four hours she was her brightest, most charming
self, so radiant with happiness that she overflowed with sympathy and
kindness to all around.  She nursed little Vida Neale, the baby of the
school, on her knee, and recounted such fascinating stories that earache
was forgotten in squeals of delighted merriment.  She went up early to
dress for the evening and carried hot water to the cubicles of her four
best friends; she talked in the most amiable of fashions to poor, dull
Fraulein at supper; listened to remarks on the superiority of Germany
with a self-control bordering on the miraculous; and finally laid her
head down on the pillow of her bed with the feeling of being at peace
with all the world.

"Prosperity suits me," she told herself, snuggling cosily beneath the
clothes.  "It brings out the best points in my disposition.  I ought
never to be crossed!"

The next morning passed slowly.  Dreda did not distinguish herself at
lessons, and it was with a somewhat strained manner that Miss Drake
crossed the room to speak to her at the end of the preparation hour.
She had been obliged to find fault with her new pupil several times in
the course of the day's classes.  There was that in her manner which
showed that she feared lest yet another reprimand might be necessary.

"Dreda, have you remembered that to-day is the fifteenth of the month?"

"Yes, Miss Drake."

"Have you the synopsis of the school magazine ready to show me?"

"Yes, Miss Drake."

"Quite ready?"

"Yes, Miss Drake."

The Duck smiled her prettiest, most approving smile.

"Good girl!  I like punctuality.  Bring it up to me now, please, in my
sitting-room."

"Yes, Miss Drake."

Up the stairs ran Dreda, light of foot, bright of eye, heart beating
high with happiness, into the bare empty schoolroom, where the windows
stood open and the fire smouldered on the grate.  She switched on the
electric light, crossed the floor to her own desk, and threw open the
lid.  Stupid!  She had imagined that she had left the manuscript book on
top ...  How came she to be mistaken in so strong an impression?

...  She lifted a pile of exercise sheets, pushed the books aside, and
scattered miscellaneous possessions to right and to left.  Her eyes
distended as if about to fall from her head.  She sank back on a chair
and gazed stupidly before her.  The synopsis had disappeared!



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

The synopsis had disappeared!  Incredible though it seemed, it was but
too true.  For the first few minutes Dreda was too much stunned to move
from her seat, but presently with a painful effort after self-
possession, she arose, and began hastily lifting the contents of the
desk, and dropping them one by one on the floor.  In this way it seemed
impossible to overlook anything, but still no sign of the shining black
cover met her sight.  She scooped everything together with impatient
fingers, pushed them back into the desk, and ran breathlessly into the
study.

The girls were amusing themselves in various fashions after the fatigues
of "prep.," but one and all looked round with expressions of
astonishment at the violent opening of the door which heralded the
unexpected appearance of the sub-editor, white-cheeked, and tragic of
demeanour.

"What in the world's the matter?"

"The list!  The synopsis!  It's gone!  It was in my desk.  Miss Drake
sent me for it.  She is waiting for me now, and it's _gone_: I can't
find it.  Has anyone moved it?  Does anyone know where it's gone?"

The girls' faces lengthened; there was a moment's tense silence, then
everyone spoke at once.

"_Dreda_!  How dreadful!  Are you _sure_?  In your desk?  No one would
take it out of your desk!"

"Dreda!  You are _always_ mislaying your things.  You have put it
somewhere else.  _Think_!  Remember your keys!  You vowed you had put
them in your glove drawer, and they were found in the box with your best
hat."

"Have you been upstairs to look in your cubicle?"

Dreda stamped with impatience.

"Of course I haven't.  My cubicle, indeed!  As if I would keep a book
there!  It was in my desk, I tell you.  I left it there last night.  I
saw it with my own eyes this morning.  Oh! don't ask silly questions--
don't waste time.  She is waiting for me.  What am I to do?"

"Come!" cried Susan quickly, and sped upstairs towards the classroom,
while Dreda followed hard in her wake, leaving the other girls to
discuss the situation round the fire.  The universal impression was that
Dreda had stowed away the book in some hiding-place, and had promptly
forgotten all about it.  She was always doing it; never a day arrived
but she went about inquiring in melancholy accents if anyone had seen
her indiarubber, her penknife, her keys, her gloves.  She was always
leaving things about, and, upon suddenly discovering their presence,
popping them into impromptu hiding-places to save running upstairs--
behind a photograph, in an empty flower-pot, beneath a mat or cushion,
anywhere and everywhere, as circumstances prompted.  Nothing was certain
but that nine times out of ten she would forget the whole incident, and
would have no better clue to help her in her search after the missing
article than that she had put it "somewhere!"

"Poor old Dreda!" said Barbara sympathetically.  "Hard lines, when she
has worked so hard!  The Duck will be down upon her like a ton of
bricks.  She loathes untidiness.  Poor old Dreda--she'll get a rowing
instead of praise.  It's tragic when you think of that fine cover, and
all the beautiful black letters!"

"She's been an awful bore.  It will do her good to be taken down a bit."

"Poor Dreda all the same.  Things that do you good are so _very_
disagreeable.  I like her enthusiasm, when it doesn't interfere with me!
And she's a real good sort.  A bore at times, but a good little
meaner."

"It's no use meaning, if you don't perform, where The Duck is concerned.
I wouldn't be in her shoes."

Meanwhile Dreda had turned out the contents of her desk for a second
time, while Susan stood anxiously looking on.  When the last paper had
fluttered to the ground, the two girls faced one another in eloquent
silence.

"It isn't there," said Susan at last.  "There must be some mistake.
Think, dear!  Are you _quite_ sure that you put it here, and nowhere
else?  What did you do after you finished binding the papers?  Where did
you go?  Think of everything you did."

"But I did nothing!" cried Dreda miserably.  "I only dressed and went
down to supper.  I never took it out of this room at all--I'm certain,
positive--as certain as I'm alive!"

"But we could look.  It is worth while looking.  We must find it!"

But at this very moment the door of Miss Drake's room opened, and a
quick voice called out a summons.

"Dreda!  I am waiting.  Kindly come at once."

The colour ebbed still further from Dreda's cheeks, her eyes grew wide
and tragic, she extended her hands towards Susan, as if mutely appealing
for help, and felt them clasped with a strong protecting pressure.

"You must go, but I'll search.  I'm a good looker, you know.  Poor
darling!  It _is_ hard, but I'll help--I _will_ help."

Then Etheldreda the Ready threw her arms round her friend's neck and
cried brokenly:

"Susan, dear Susan, you are good, and I love you!  I was horrid about
the editorship...  You would have been far better than I.  This is my
punishment--I have brought it on my own head."

Her voice was so sweet, her eyes so liquid and loving, she drew herself
up and marched to her doom with so gallant an air, that her faithful
admirer thought instinctively of the martyrs of old.  She turned and ran
hurriedly upstairs.

Meantime Miss Drake sat looking towards the door with an impatient
frown.  The frown deepened at sight of Dreda's empty hands, and she
tapped on the table with the end of her pencil.  Dreda's heart sank
still further at the sound which Miss Drake's pupils had learnt to
associate with their blackest hours.

"You have kept me waiting for ten minutes, Dreda.  Where is your
manuscript?  I have no time to waste."

"I--I--can't--I can't find it, Miss Drake."

Miss Drake leant back in her chair and became in a moment a monument of
outraged dignity.  Looking at her, it was impossible to believe that one
had even ventured on the liberty of calling her by so familiar an
epithet as "The Duck."  She turned her long neck from side to side,
elevated her eyebrows, and cleared her throat in an ominous manner.

"I am afraid I don't understand.  You told me a few minutes ago that
everything was ready."

"So it was.  In my desk.  I left it there last night--I went to find it
just now, and--it's gone!  Disappeared.  I can't _think_ what has
happened.  It was bound like a book.  It looked beautiful.  It's not my
fault!"

"Nonsense, Etheldreda!" cried Miss Drake sharply.  "If you had put it in
your desk, it would be there still.  This is just another example of
your careless, unmethodical habits.  You have put the book in some
unlikely, out-of-the-way corner, and have forgotten all about it.  I
feared some _contretemps_ of the kind, and was much relieved when you
told me that all was ready.  I am very much disappointed and annoyed!"

"Miss Drake, it _was_ there!  I'm absolutely positive.  I never was
surer of anything in my life than that I left it there last night, and
saw it again this morning."

Miss Drake shrugged her shoulders expressively.

"Extravagant assertions do not prove anything, Etheldreda.  In a case of
this sort I judge by previous experience.  I have repeatedly warned you
about your careless habits, but apparently without success.  In this
case you had a responsibility to fulfil for others as well as yourself,
which should have made you doubly careful.  You had better continue your
search in the other rooms."

"It is no good, Miss Drake.  The book _was_ in the desk."

Dreda kept her place stolidly, and there was a settled conviction upon
her face which Miss Drake was quick to note.  She watched the girl in
silence for several moments, her brow knitted in thought, then suddenly
her expression softened and her voice regained its habitual kindly tone.

"If you put it there, my dear child, it must be there still.  Perhaps it
is!  I know your sketchy fashion of looking.  See!  I will come and help
you to look again.  Perhaps we shall find the book hidden away in a
corner where you have never thought of looking!"

Dreda thought ruefully of the scattering of her treasures which had
twice over left the desk bare and empty, but it seemed easier to allow
Miss Drake to see for herself than to protest any further; so she meekly
opened the door and followed the governess down the passage.  From above
could be heard the voices of the girls ascending to dress for the
evening; doors opened and shut, and echoes of suppressed laughter
floated to the ear.  Everybody, Dreda reflected darkly--everybody was
happy but herself!  She led the way to her desk and opened the lid,
revealing the confused mass of books and papers.  She was miserably
resigned to receiving yet another lecture on untidiness, but The Duck
smiled in a forbearing fashion, and said:

"You _have_ been making hay of your possessions!  No wonder you could
not find what you wanted.  Now what was this book like?  You said that
the papers were bound."

"A shiny black cover with a paper label on the back."

Miss Drake lifted up the loose papers with her pretty white hands, laid
them daintily on one side, and proceeded to examine the exercise books
one by one, while Dreda stood by in hopeless silence.  One might search
all day and all night, but it was impossible to find what was not there.
Her eyes looked listlessly on the map book, the arithmetic book, the
French exercise book; even the big untidy note book roused no flicker of
animation, though if it chanced to fall open it would reveal caricature
drawings of school authorities which must needs draw confusion upon her
head.  She would never have the heart to draw caricatures again!  The
thick book with the mottled cover contained the compositions which had
won praise and distinction.  She had felt so proud of the "Excellent"
written in pencilled letters at the end of the final sentences.  Never
again would she know what it was to be happy and gay!  The big drawing-
book must have suffered from its fall--for the leaves appeared to be
bent and doubled back.  Dreda felt the calm indifference of despair, but
Miss Drake frowned and made a clicking sound of disapproval.

"My dear!  Your drawing-book!  You are really incorri--"

She stopped short in the middle of the word, for the moment that the
drawing-book was opened her quick eye had caught sight of a shiny black
cover behind the crumpled papers.  She lifted it rapidly, saw the
printed label on the back, and held it out towards her pupil with a
mingling of triumph and impatience.

"My dear Dreda!  What did I tell you?  All this fuss for nothing.  You
are really too trying.  Why didn't you look properly before coming to
me?"

Dreda's exclamation of bewilderment was echoed by another, as Susan
entered the room on her return from her unsuccessful search upstairs.
She added her own quiet testimony to Dreda's excited protestations that
the synopsis was not, could not conceivably have been in the desk when
she had turned it out ten minutes before, but Miss Drake refused to
listen.  Her temper was ruffled, she enforced silence with an imperative
gesture, bade Dreda follow her to the study, and seated herself at her
desk with her most severe and school-mistressy expression.

As for Dreda, she feebly dropped into a chair and sat staring blankly
before her, the image of limp dejection.  The very stars in their
courses seemed conspiring to fight against her, for no ordinary, every-
day reason could explain the extraordinary happenings of this afternoon!
She was so stunned and bewildered that she forgot to watch the effect
of the great synopsis on the Editor-in-chief, and so missed a delightful
study in expressions, as The Duck's irritation gave place to smiles and
dimpling spasms of amusement.  It was only after she had finished the
reading (after all the labour of production what a short time it took to
read), and had asked a word of explanation, that Dreda seemed suddenly
galvanised into fresh life, but as usual with her, when the awakening
came, it came with a vengeance.  She leapt to her feet, and disregarding
the question, launched her thunderbolt with dramatic vehemence.

"Miss Drake, I wish to resign being editor."

"Do you, Etheldreda?  Why?"

The voice was so calm, Miss Drake's whole manner so devoid of surprise
or chagrin, that Dreda felt as if a douche of cold water had been
suddenly poured down her back.  No kindly protests, no encouragement, no
sympathy.  Nothing but that cool, level "_Why_?"  She stood gaping and
hesitating, for in truth it was hard to answer.  To say that she was
sick of the whole thing because she had encountered a few initial
difficulties and worries seemed mean and poor-spirited, and Dreda could
not think so lightly of herself.  In the minute of hesitation she had
lightly brushed aside difficulties, and felt a swelling of righteous
renunciation.

"Because--I want Susan to take it.  She would do better than I."

"Have you only just discovered that, Dreda?"

The question was put in a tone which Dreda had never heard before from
Miss Drake's lips--a tone so tender, so gentle and conciliatory, that it
startled as much as the words themselves.  Dreda stared, the colour
paling on her cheeks, her hands clenched at the back of her chair.  What
did it mean?  Susan had volunteered her services, and Miss Drake had
deliberately rejected them in favour of herself, and now she said, she
implied-- The girl's lips quivered as she spoke again:

"You _chose_ me!"

"Why?" asked Miss Drake once more, in the same gentle voice.  "_Why_,
Dreda?  Think a moment!  Does it not occur to you, dear, that I might
have chosen you, not because the work needed _you_, but because you
needed the work?  Your duties called for patience, and perseverance, and
method, and punctuality, and neatness, and tact--all qualities which
needed development in your case; while in Susan's--"

"You would rather have had Susan!  You didn't really want me at all!"

The bitter disappointment in the girl's voice went to the hearer's
heart.  It was one of the hardest tasks which she had ever had to
perform to answer truthfully, and so give another pang to the sensitive
young heart.  The colour rose on her cheeks and her brows twitched
nervously, but she would not allow herself to prevaricate.

"Yes, Dreda, dear.  For the sake of the work I should have preferred
Susan, but I wanted to help you to get the better of your failings.  I
wanted it so much that I was prepared to undertake the extra work which
your carelessness might involve, for the magazine could not be allowed
to suffer.  I am afraid it is painful to you, dear, to hear this, but if
your vanity is wounded, you can comfort yourself with the remembrance
that I was so much interested in you, so anxious for your improvement,
that I rejected a most capable helper on your account."

"Thank you!" sighed Dreda faintly.  There was not a sign of irritation
or resentment in her manner, and her thanks were evidently genuine.  She
might have posed as an image of humility and abasement as she stood with
bowed head and downcast eyes before the desk.  The swing of the pendulum
had brought her into the valley of humiliation, and in characteristic
fashion she felt a melancholy pleasure in playing her part as thoroughly
as possible.  "Thank you.  You are very good.  I am very grateful.  We
have to learn our lessons in life, I suppose, but it's hard at the time.
It's been a great _shock_, but it's good for me, I suppose.  I can
never be careless again.  I've read in books about something happening
and finishing the girl's youth.  I feel like that now!  You meant me to
learn, and I _have_ learnt, so there's no need to go on.  You can have
Susan, and no more bother--"

Miss Drake's lips twitched in a smile which fortunately Dreda did not
see.

"I think not, Dreda.  I should prefer to keep to present arrangements.
If you have really learnt your lessons so quickly there will be no
`bother' to fear.  You may go now, dear.  We will discuss the synopsis
later on.  I dare say you will like to have a little quiet time before
dinner.  Come to me to-morrow at the same hour."

Dreda backed silently from the room a picture of tragic despair, and
slowly mounted to the dormitory where the faithful Susan awaited her
coming.  The two girls faced one another in silence for several moments
before Dreda spoke.

"Susan! on your word of honour will you answer me a question
truthfully?"

"Yes, Dreda, of course I will."

"Why did you offer to be sub-editor after I had asked?"

Poor Susan!  The freckles disappeared in a crimson blush which mounted
to her temples, and tinged her very neck beneath the stiff brown band.
She twisted her fingers together, and stammered incoherent nothings.

"Go on!  You promised.  The truth, and nothing but the truth."

"Dreda, dear--"

"Go on!  I'm prepared.  I've suffered so much humiliation already that a
little more or less doesn't matter.  Well?"

"I thought--I was afraid--I didn't want you to get into trouble, dear.
You are so clever, and original, and sparkling, it is natural that you
should get tired.  I am just a dull, plodding old machine."

Dreda bent her tall young head and kissed her friend with an air of
humble adoration.

"You are good and true, and I wronged you.  I thought you were as
despicable as myself.  All my life long I shall try to be worthy of your
forgiveness.  My heart's broken, Susan!  Everyone despises me in this
school, and I've an enemy, a secret enemy, who is hiding like a snake in
the grass.  You know perfectly well that that book was not in the desk
when we looked!"

Susan was silent.  She was as sure of the fact as it was possible to be,
but her cautious nature reminded her of the possibility of mistake, and
she would not venture on a definite assertion.

"I _thought_ it was not; I _thought_ we turned out everything."

"I _know_ we did!  It was the work of mine enemy.  Some day I'll
discover her, and then--"

Susan looked sharply upwards.

"What then?"

"I'll heap coals of fire on her head!  I'll forgive her, and try to lead
her into better ways.  That's all that's left to me now--to be a beacon
to others!"  Dreda's voice shook, her composure breaking down before the
force of her own eloquence.  She sank down on her bed, and the tears
rolled down her cheeks.  "Oh!  Oh!  My heart will break.  If it wasn't
for the exeat next week I should lie down and die.  I'm going home!
They love me there.  I never, never valued it before.  I'm going home to
mother and the girls!"



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

It was a very subdued, a very humble, a touchingly affectionate
Etheldreda who made her appearance at The Meads a few days later, and
her mother and sisters regarded her demeanour with anxious curiosity.

"Poor darling, poor darling!  She is so sweet and quiet--I'm glad, of
course; _very_ glad," repeated Mrs Saxon, with a forced emphasis, which
seemed to show that she needed to convince herself of her own sincerity,
"but it seems so short a time to have brought about such a change.  I'm
afraid she has been unhappy!"

Rowena stared thoughtfully at the fire.  Her face looked older, the
cheeks less rounded, the red lips dropping at the corner.  She was a
beautiful girl, but the old sparkle had given place to an air of weary
endurance sad to see on a young face.  At the moment when she had
expected most of life, she had been obliged to give up her dreams, and
to accept in their place a monotonous, uneventful existence, which left
too much time for the indulgence of her own thoughts.  The weather was
depressing, visitors few and far between, and, from a girl's point of
view, lacking in interest when they did arrive.  Maud was stupid and
obstinate, Dreda and the boys at school, and the parents depressed.
Lessons, walking, and practising occupied the days until four o'clock,
then the curtains were drawn, the lamps lit, and each afternoon afresh
Rowena counted up the long hours which must elapse before bedtime, and
asked herself how she could get through the time.  Poor Rowena!  She had
counted the days until Dreda's return, and now felt yet another pang of
depression at meeting this subdued edition of her lively sister.  She
sighed in melancholy, long-drawn fashion, while Maud wriggled and
grimaced.

"I expect she's _misunderstood_.  There's lots of people are, besides
the book.  I know One who is.  She's misunderstood by people who think
they know best, and are always scolding and finding fault.  `'Tis better
far to rule by love than fear.'  _I_ shall, when I'm big.  You could do
something then, but when people are always grumbling, it's no use
trying.  I expect Dreda has some one like that, and it's broken her
spirit.  If you don't let her leave, she'll pine away and die!"

"Is that what you contemplate doing yourself beneath the persecution of
the people, or person, to whom you so eloquently refer?  I must give you
a lesson in nominatives to-morrow, my dear.  They are evidently another
point which is misunderstood," retorted Rowena with cutting composure.
It was one of the little encounters which was daily, almost hourly,
taking place between the two sisters, whose widely differing
dispositions seemed to jar more than ever in the close relationship of
teacher and pupil.  Mrs Saxon was greatly troubled by the continual
friction, and she, like her daughter, had been anxiously looking forward
to Dreda's visit as a healthful enlivening influence which could not
fail to do good.  And now Dreda was so mysteriously subdued and silent!
What had happened to change the child so strangely in six short weeks?

As for Miss Dreda herself, she was not only conscious of, but felt an
acute enjoyment in observing the anxiety of her relatives on her behalf,
and, like a true actress, warmed to her part under the consciousness of
an audience.  The more intently did her mother's eyes regard her, the
more meek and downcast became her air; she figuratively turned the other
cheek to Maud's tactless sallies, and played humble handmaid to Rowena's
lightest wish.  For one whole day--and then of a sudden weariness fell
upon her.  She reflected with horror that only two more days of the
exeat remained, and determined to waste not another moment in repining.
Within five minutes' time from the forming of this decision Maud was
dumbfounded to find herself brutally snubbed, while a request from
Rowena was received with a callous exhortation to "Do it yourself!"

"I was wondering how long it would last," said Rowena, with a smile.
"It was really an admirable impersonation, but what was the idea, Dreda?
I can't quite see what you were driving at, but I suppose there was
some reason behind!"

"Yes, there was; several reasons!  I've recovered, Rowena, because I am
young and elastic, and time is a wonderful healer--but I've been through
awful difficulties!  Treachery and humiliation, and things turning to
dust and ashes when you expected to enjoy them most.  Talk of
martyrdoms!"--Dreda rolled her eyes to the ceiling--"I look back, my
dear, to the time when I lived quietly at home, and I can't believe it
was the same person!"

"Rubbish!  Bunkum!  Bosh!  What high-falutin' you talk, Dreda!  You're
not changed a bit, and I'm glad of it, for, oh, my dear, I _have_ missed
you!  I've been _so_ dull!  Come down from your stilts and talk
sensibly.  I'm aching for a good old talk."

Dreda beamed with delight.  Here was appreciation!  No sign of
superiority, no condescension from a young lady in long frocks and done-
up hair towards a schoolgirl fledgling, but an open avowal of need, an
invitation to a heart-to-heart talk on a basis of affectionate equality.
She clasped her hands together in the intensity of her delight, and
hitched her chair nearer her sister.

"Yes, yes, let's talk, let's--let's _grumble_!  We're both in the dumps,
and it's so cheering to grumble and get it off your mind.  Go on, you're
the eldest--you've the first turn.  Is it Maud?"

"Oh, Maud!  Maud is enough to drive anyone crazy; but she's only a
part."

"What's the rest?"

Rowena leant her head on her hand and stared out of the window.  The
garden was dank and deserted, the country beyond showed no sign of
habitation; the wind moaned among the tall, bare trees.

"Dreda," she asked unexpectedly, "am I pretty?"

Dreda's grey eyes widened with surprise.

"What in the world has that to do with it?" she asked curiously.
"Pretty?  Yes, of course.  Awfully, when you're in a good temper.  We
all are.  It's in the family.  Do you know what Susan calls us?--the
youngest Currant Bun, you know--`The Story-Book Saxons.'  Isn't it a
jolly name?  Because, she says, we look as if things would happen to us
like they do to people in a book."

"Well, they don't to me, anyway.  That's just it!  What's the use of
being pretty if one is buried alive?  Think of it, Dreda! nothing has
happened all these six long weeks, except old ladies coming to call, and
going to tea with mother at the vicarage.  I should think there never
was such a dull place.  We didn't notice before, because it was holiday
time, and the house was full, but it's awful for a permanency.  The
nearest interesting girl lives four miles off, the others are too boring
for words.  I asked one of them if there were ever any dances, and she
laughed and asked whom we should dance with.  There are only three young
men within a radius of miles.  There might perhaps be a Hunt Ball at C--
next autumn. ...  And I thought I should have a London season!"

Dreda meditated, hunched up in her chair, her chin resting upon her
hand.  For the moment the scarcity of dances did not affect herself, but
she loyally endeavoured to regard the situation from her sister's point
of view.

"Are the three young men _nice_?"

"Oh, my dear, what does it matter?  There aren't enough of them to
count.  Bob Ainslie is one; he used to come over to umpire for the boys'
cricket matches.  You remember him--freckles and stick-out ears.  He has
a moustache now.  I expect he's quite nice, but he is _not_ exciting.
Another is Frank Ross, at the Manor House--I believe he is generally in
town.  And that nice old Mrs Seton has a son, too.  He's handsome; I've
seen him riding along the lanes; but, of course, he doesn't pay
afternoon calls.  What are you to do in a neighbourhood where there are
no nice girls, and two and a half young men?"

"Improve your mind!" returned Dreda glibly.  "Providence evidently
doesn't mean you to move in the social round.  Perhaps if you had, you'd
have grown proud and worldly.  I think myself you _would_, for I saw
symptoms of it before we left town.  Perhaps you've got to be
chastened--" Dreda stopped short with a hasty remembrance that she had
promised to sympathise, not exhort, and added hurriedly: "Maud's enough
to chasten anyone!  It's sickening for you, dear, for you would have had
lots of fun, and been the belle wherever you went.  Let's pretend the
Hunt Ball is to-night, and you are going to make your _debut_, a radiant
vision in white satin--no, satin's too stiff!--silver tissue.  Yes, yes!
Silver tissue--how perfectly lovely!--and a parure of matchless
diamonds flashing like a river of light upon your snowy neck."

"_Debutantes_ don't wear diamonds, and it's not snowy.  These boned
collar bands leave horrid red marks.  An antique medallion of crystal
and pearl swung on a silver chain--"

Dreda pranced up and down on her chair in delighted appreciation.

"Yes!  Yes!  You're splendid, Ro; you know just what to say!  And a
feather fan, with a tiny mirror let into the sticks; dear little silver
shoes with buckles, and a single white rosebud tucked in your hair below
your ear.  That's the place they always put it in books.  It would fall
out before the first waltz was over, but no matter!  Then your opera
cloak.  That must be white, too--ermine, I think, or perhaps white fox,
worth hundreds and hundreds, that a Russian prince had sent you in token
of his devotion.  Oh, my dear, my dear; what an _angel_ you would look!"

Rowena laughed gaily.  Her cheeks had grown pink, and her blue eyes
sparkled with enjoyment.

"Dreda, Dreda!  What a mad hatter you are!  Where _did_ you get such
ridiculous ideas?"

But it was evident that the ideas, ridiculous though they might be, were
by no means unpleasing, and Dreda was about to venture forth on a fresh
flight of imagination when, to the annoyance of the sisters, the door
opened and Maud, the stolid and unimaginative, stood on the threshold.

"No admittance, Maud.  Go away!  We're having a private talk."

"I can't go away.  It's business.  Something awful's happened!"
announced Maud calmly.  "A man's called, and Mason said mother was in,
and she's out, and he's in the drawing-room, and it's rude to send him
away.  I came to tell you."

"A _man_!  What man?"

"The Seton man.  The young one with the nose."

The two elder girls exchanged quick, eloquent glances.

"Are you _sure_ mother is out?  She was in half an hour ago."

"She's out now.  She went across the fields to bandage the hand of the
baby that the kettle scalded in the white cottage in the dip.  You'll
have to see him instead."

Rowena turned a face of despairing resignation upon her sister.

"In this blouse!  A flannel blouse.  Oh, Dreda--the contrast.  Think of
the silver tissue!"

Dreda looked, and her face was eloquent.  Truth to tell, the flannel
blouse, though neat and tidy, as were all Rowena's garments, could by no
manner of means be called becoming.  It did seem tragic to appear to an
interesting stranger under such disadvantageous circumstances.

"You must change it!" she cried hastily.  "Put on your blue dress; you
look ripping in that.  I'll go in for a minute, and tell him to stay
while I run for mother; by that time you'll be ready, and can talk till
she gets back.  I'll tell Mason to get tea.  Fly!  You are so quick, you
can be ready in five minutes."

Rowena flew, and Dreda smoothed her hair with her hands and prepared to
leave the room in her wake, but Maud's square figure blocked the way,
and Maud's voice demanded instantly:

"And what shall _I_ do?"

"You?  Nothing!  It's not your affair.  Go up to the nursery and keep
quiet."

Maud gurgled with indignation.  Not her business, indeed!  She who had
been first on the scene, and had carried the message!  Dreda was
hateful!  Simply hateful!  After pretending to be so good, too.
"Nursery, indeed!  _I'll_ show her!" growled Maud eloquently.

Guy Seton was standing before the fire as the door opened in
Etheldreda's impetuous hand, and the man and the girl stared at each
other in mutual admiration and approval.  "Fair hair, clean shaven,
twinkly eyes, big shoulders, Norfolk suit, gaiters.  I do _love_ men in
country clothes," decided Dreda in a mental flash.  "Halloa! whom have
we here?  A schoolgirl daughter.  What a pretty, bright-looking girl!"
thought the young man almost as quickly.  Then they shook hands and
Dreda plunged into explanations.

"How do you do?  It's so stupid.  Mother's out!  The maid didn't know,
but she has gone across the fields to see a little boy who upset the
kettle.  Burnt, you know!  Mother dresses it.  If you will sit down and
wait a few minutes, I'll run and bring her back."

Mr Seton smiled, a delightful twinkly smile.

"Oh, please don't hurry her.  I should be so sorry.  You mustn't trouble
about me.  I can call another day."

But this was not at all what Dreda desired, and her voice took a tone of
keen personal entreaty as she replied:

"Oh, please don't go away!  Mother can finish the dressing and be back
in ten minutes from now, and I've ordered tea, and my sister will give
it to you while you wait.  We have so few callers, and it's such a dull,
wet day.  Do _please_ stay and have tea!"

At that the smile gave place to a laugh.  Mr Seton found it altogether
delightful to be welcomed in so appreciative a fashion, and told himself
that it was a treat, indeed, to meet a girl so natural and unaffected.
He made no further demur, but when Dreda left the room sat down in a
comfortable chair and stretched his long legs towards the fire, smiling
to himself with obvious enjoyment of his recollections.  It was indeed a
grey wintry afternoon, and he was by no means averse to sitting by this
cheery fire, looking forward to tea and further conversation with "Miss
Golden-locks."

And the sister who was to entertain him meantime--that must be Miss
Saxon, the grown-up daughter of whom he had heard, though he did not
know her by sight.  He did not care for grown-up girls as a rule, they
were too self-conscious and self-engrossed--schoolgirls were far more
fun.  Then the door creaked once more, and he started to his feet to
behold a square, stolid form advancing towards him, and to receive a
pompous greeting from Maud, who had waited only until Dreda was safely
out of the house, and had then hurried into the drawing-room determined
to enjoy "her turn" before Rowena arrived.

"How do you do?  My mother will soon be here.  My sister has gone to
fetch her.  I hope you are quite well."

"Perfectly so, thank you.  I hope you are the same.  To whom have I the
pleasure of speaking?" inquired Mr Seton, with a sudden change of
demeanour which said much for his powers of adaptability.  With Dreda he
had been all candour and friendliness; confronted with Maud he became at
once a solemn model of decorum.

"I am Maud--Maud Saxon.  We are all named to match, because we are
Saxons by name as well as appearance.  You are the Mr Seton who lives
in the grey house at Fenley.  I have seen you on the roads riding a grey
cob with a white nose."

"Very probably.  He is a great treasure.  Are you interested in horses?
Perhaps you ride yourself!"

"I did once, but I don't now.  We're _rejuiced_!" announced Maud,
rolling out the new word with an enjoyment at which the hearer had much
ado to retain his composure.  "We used to keep five horses, and ride in
the Row, but horses cost too much now.  Stables and grooms, and things
to eat, and, of course, they may die.  We've got nothing now except the
car, and that saves money, for you can bring home the stores from the
station, and drive Dreda to school, and save the fares."

"Just so," said Mr Seton dryly.  "Gars are most useful.  Especially in
the country."  Maud had taken possession of a chair at the opposite side
of the fireplace, and as he looked at her square, solemn face, he prayed
that it would not be long before Mrs Saxon and her elder daughter
returned.  "Do you also go to school?"

"No," Maud pursed her lips with an injured air.  "Dreda was going to a
finishing school in Paris this term, and I had a resident governess.
Then--we were `rejuiced,' and she had to go to a cheaper one at Horsham.
That was her _trial_.  There are horrid girls there, and she's
misunderstood, and when she came home she was so quenched you wouldn't
know her, but after a day she was just as bad as ever.  And our
governess went away, and Rowena teaches me, to save expenses.  She hates
it, and so do I.  She hasn't enough patience for training the young."

Guy Seton privately thought that quite a large stock of patience would
be required to train this particular specimen of the young.  He was
embarrassed by the personal note of Maud's confessions, and cast about
in his mind for a means of changing the conversation.  The elder sister!
Was she in the house?  Could she be expected to appear?

"Is Miss Saxon at home?  I should like to see her before I go."

Maud nodded solemnly.

"She's coming!  She's changing her dress.  She had on a flannel blouse,
and rushed upstairs to put on her best frock when she heard you were
here."

"You little wretch!" cried Guy Seton, mentally.  The colour mounted to
his face in mingled anger against the offender, and sympathy for the
absent sister whose efforts on his behalf had been so ruthlessly
betrayed, but before he had time to reply in words a sudden sound from
behind attracted his attention, and he turned, to behold the blue-robed
figure of Rowena standing in the doorway, her face white and set, her
wide reproachful eyes fixed on her sister's face!



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

It was an awkward moment for all three occupants of the room.  The young
man stood, flushed and silent, looking from one sister to the other,
conscious of an increasing anger towards Maud, and a kindly and
chivalrous sympathy for the confusion of her sister.  Poor girl!  She
was too young, had too little experience of the world to carry off the
situation with a laugh.  A young woman of society would have seized the
opportunity for cementing a friendship, would have swept gaily forward
holding out her skirts, and laughingly demanding his approval, but
Rowena could do none of these things, her utmost efforts could succeed
only in hiding the signs of confusion beneath a frosty coldness of
demeanour.

How unnatural was this manner was plainly demonstrated by the behaviour
of the offender herself.  At the first moment of Rowena's appearance
Maud had appeared embarrassed indeed, but with a fearful joy mingling
with her shame, the joy of one who has greatly dared, and is prepared to
endure the consequences; but when Rowena swept forward, calm and
stately, when she seated herself and began to talk polite nothings, with
never so much as a word or a glance in her own direction, then, visibly
and unmistakably, terror fell upon Maud's childish heart--she made a
bee-line for the door, and slunk hastily out of sight.

"Little wretch!" soliloquised Guy Seton once more.  "Lands me into this
pleasant position, and then sneaks away, and leaves me to fight it out
alone!  Poor little girl!"--this last epithet obviously did _not_ refer
to Maud!  "Hard lines to arrive at such an awkward moment.  Furious, of
course, with the whole three--the child for speaking, with me for
hearing, with herself for having given the opportunity!  Such a pretty
frock, too; and she is ripping in it!  Jolly good of her to have taken
the trouble, but now I suppose she'll hate the sight of me, and bear me
a lasting grudge.  Hope to goodness Golden-locks is not long in coming
back!"

"Quite a chilly wind.  We are so very exposed and open in this house!"
Rowena was saying in high, artificial tones.  She hailed the arrival of
tea with evident relief, and the conversation flowed on a trifle more
easily when there was something definite to do; nevertheless both heaved
sighs of joy as the sound of Dreda's high, cheery voice was heard from
without, and she entered the room by her mother's side.

Guy Seton privately expected Rowena to follow Maud's example and quietly
disappear, so he admired all the more the pretty little air of dignity
with which she stuck to her post and forced herself to take her natural
part in the conversation.

"Plucky little girl!  Stands to her guns, and won't allow herself to run
away," he told himself approvingly, as he proceeded to unfold the object
of his visit.

"We are arranging a small frolic for Friday in the shape of a paper-
chase.  Everybody within five miles is coming on horseback or bicycles,
as suits them best, and we ought to have a good run.  We start at eleven
prompt from our gates, and return for a scramble luncheon at about two.
I hope you will all come!"

His glance wandered from Dreda to Rowena--the first he felt sure would
accept with enthusiasm; the latter he feared would politely refuse; but
Rowena smiled again, her set meaningless little smile, and allowed a
subdued murmur of thanks to mingle with Dreda's rhapsodies.  It was
cleverly done, for without being in any way committed she had escaped
drawing attention upon herself by a refusal; nevertheless as he met her
eye, and held her limp, unresponsive hand in his at parting, Guy Seton
felt more convinced than ever that whoever else might honour his paper
chase, Miss Rowena Saxon would not be among the number!

He walked down the drive twirling his stick in a threatening manner, his
face grim and set.  It was bad luck indeed to make such a bad beginning
with one of the prettiest and most attractive-looking girls he had ever
met, and a near neighbour into the bargain.  He had a momentary vision
of Rowena spinning along on a bicycle, her fair face flushed with
exercise, her sweet eyes alight with interest and excitement; and of a
sudden it seemed a dull, senseless thing to fly over the country-side,
with ordinary everyday neighbours and friends.  _How_ ordinary and
everyday they seemed, when contrasted with Rowena's stately young grace!
And now she was prejudiced against him for ever, and at this very
moment was probably denouncing her sister's stupidity, and vowing never
willingly to meet him again!

Rowena, however, was doing nothing of the kind.  Calm and composed, she
sat on beside her mother and Dreda, and declared that the idea of a
paper-chase failed to attract her, and that she had no intention of
tiring herself out, and running needless risks by riding breathlessly
across country on so stupid and frivolous an aim!  Mrs Saxon was both
puzzled and disappointed, while Dreda expostulated in her usual violent
fashion.

"Rowena, how mad!  How idiotic!  What are you raving about!  What's the
use of grumbling and growling because there's nothing to do, and no one
to see you, and then the moment anyone appears--such a dear, too, with
such sweet, twinkly eyes!--to behave like a cold-blooded frog, mincing
your words, and looking as if you were made of ice, and then saying you
won't go, when it's a chance of no end of fun, and seeing everyone there
is to be seen!  Idiotic!"

"Dreda!  Dreda, dear, really is it necessary to be quite so violent?"
Mrs Saxon shook her head in smiling reproach, and Rowena tilted her
chin in air, but Dreda refused to be suppressed.

"Oh, mum, dear, _let_ me speak as I like!  We have to be so proper at
school.  You can't say a word of slang while the govs. are about, and
ordinary language is so _tame_.  You can't make a really good effect
with ordinary words.  Suppose I said to Rowena: `Your conduct, my dear,
is inconsistent, with your sentiments as expressed in conversation,' she
wouldn't mind a bit, but when I call her a frog she's furious.  Look how
she's wagging her head!  You can always tell by that when she's in a
bait."

"Really, Dreda!" cried Rowena in her turn.  She rose from her seat, and
sailed haughtily out of the room, disdaining to bandy words with so
outspoken a combatant.  In truth, she herself was bitterly disappointed
in being forced--as she thought--to refuse Mr Seton's invitation, the
possibilities of which appealed to her even more strongly than to her
sister.  To meet a party of young people, to wheel gaily along in the
brisk, keen air, laughing and jesting as in the old happy days; to
return tired and hungry to the hospitable scramble luncheon--to sit
around the fire rested and refreshed, feeling as if those few hours of
intimate association had been more successful in cementing friendships
than many months of ordinary association.  Oh, how tempting _it_
sounded!  What a blessed change from the level monotony of the last few
months!  And she needs must give it up, and stay quietly at home,
darning stockings, or writing orders to the "Stores," because Maud's
blundering tongue has laid her dignity so low, that everything else must
needs be sacrificed to its preservation!  _Rowena is putting on her best
dress_--_she had on a flannel blouse, and she ran to change it because
you were here_!  One would need to be nineteen once more to realise the
shame, the horror, the distress with which poor Rowena recalled those
thoughtless words!  She pressed her hands against her cheeks, and gave a
little groan of distress.  It was characteristic of her that the one
thing she now asked was that no one else should know of her humiliation;
her mother might remonstrate, and Dreda declaim to her heart's content,
but nothing on earth should induce her to disclose the real reason of
her refusal.  As for Maud, having done the mischief, she might be
trusted to keep quiet for her own sake; and even with her, Rowena would
have kept silence if she had been allowed.  Beyond an added touch of
dignity, there was no change in her manner towards her younger sister,
but, strange to say, the culprit was by no means satisfied to escape so
easily.  Maud suffered from an insatiable desire to be observed, and--so
to speak--live in the public eye.  If she could be observed with
admiration, so much the better, but given a choice between being
disgraced or ignored, she would not have hesitated for the fraction of a
moment.  Better a hundred times to be scolded and denounced than to be
passed by in silence as if one were a stick or a stone.  So it happened
that when Rowena treated her with stately indifference, Maud found it
impossible to keep silent.

"You might as well say it out!" she declared, wriggling about in her
seat, and pouting her lips with an air of offence.  "I hate people who
bottle things up when all the time you see them fizzling inside.  I
suppose you're furious with me about what I said."

Rowena drooped her eyelids, and smiled a smile of haughty detachment.

"It is a matter of perfect indifference to me _what_ you say."

"It was quite true!"

"Perfectly true.  I should be the last person in the world to accuse you
of imagination."

"You _were_ furious.  You went white with rage, and he saw it as well as
me.  Now, I suppose you'll tell mother, and stop me going to the chase."

"I should not dream of interfering with your plans.  It is a matter of
perfect indifference to me whether you go or stay."

"But,"--Maud's eyes positively bulged with excitement--"I might say
something else.  You never know."

"Possibly you might.  What then?  Do you really imagine, my dear Maud,
that anyone notices what _you_ say!"

Maud wriggled and spluttered, trying in vain to think of something
scathing to say in return.  Compared with this lofty indifference the
most violent denunciations would have been enjoyable.  "Nobody noticed
what she said!"  Rowena could not have launched an arrow which would
have rankled more bitterly.  For the remaining hours of that day Maud
crept about with a melancholy hang-dog expression, taking little or no
part in the general conversation.

The next morning Rowena held firmly to her decision, and the two younger
girls were obliged to start without her, Maud unfeignedly relieved,
Dreda irritated and perplexed.  Something must have happened to account
for so unreasonable a change of front, something that had been said or
done during that quarter of an hour during which she herself had been
absent from the drawing-room.  So much was certain, but what could it
be?  Rowena refused to be questioned, and Dreda was all unsuspicious of
the fact that Maud had ventured to interview the visitor on her own
account, and so had no suspicions in her direction.  The first doubt
arose when Guy Seton shook hands with both sisters as with old friends;
this fact, combined with Maud's blushing discomfiture, gave Dreda a
flash of insight, but for the moment she was more occupied with the
young man's very evident disappointment at Rowena's absence.

"Is Miss Saxon not coming?"

"No.  I'm so sorry.  She sent apologies."

"Is she quite well?"

"Oh, yes, thanks."  Dreda was too honest to plead the conventional
headache.  "She said two were enough.  She is going to bicycle to
Smitton this morning for some stupid messages.  I did my best to make
her come."

"I'm sure you did," said the young man kindly.  Dreda, looking at him,
saw him murmur "Smitton" below his breath, and knit his brows in
thought.  A minute later he walked away to speak a few farewell words to
the hares, who were mounted on horseback, bearing fat bags of paper
fragments on their saddles, after which he returned with a smiling face
to keep Dreda entertained until "The Meet" had begun to assemble.
Excitement and anxiety not to be late had caused the sisters to arrive
before their time, but Dreda could not regret the fact, for it was so
interesting to watch the new arrivals on horseback and bicycles; to
greet old acquaintances, be introduced to new, and finally to meet a
beam of welcome from Susan's brown eyes as the Currant Buns wheeled up
in a line.  Even the sober Mary had condescended to join the chase.

"Fresh air is a tonic.  With so much mental exercise on hand I
considered it would be a saving of time to spend a day in the open," she
said confidentially to Dreda, as she polished her glasses on a large
pocket-handkerchief, and replaced them over the red rim on her nose.
Dreda sidled carefully away from her side, and when the moment came for
the start, was delighted to find Guy Seton riding determinedly by her
side.

"I thought you would be on horseback," she said, then looking at him
with faintly curious eyes: "Why aren't you, when you have a horse all
ready?  It's so _much_ more interesting than bicycling."

"Sometimes," said Guy, smiling.  He waited a moment or two, and then
added tentatively: "If you are fond of riding, and would accept a mount
sometimes, I'd be delighted to give you one.  Our horses have not half
enough exercise.  I've a nice quiet mare--"

"Oh, thanks, but give me spirit!  None of your quiet mares for me.  But
I am at school; there's no chance for a free day for another three
months.  This is only the exeat; we go back to-morrow, worse luck!"

"To-morrow!  That's very soon.  I'm glad I arranged the chase for to-
day.  You are at Horsham, aren't you?"

Dreda turned her head quickly.

"Yes!  Who told you?"

"Your sister.  The young one--the one who is here to-day."

"Oh, Maud!  Did she come into the drawing-room with Rowena yesterday?"

"Before then.  She amused me after you left until Miss Saxon arrived."

"Oh-h!"  Dreda's face clouded uneasily.  How had Maud amused him?  What
had she said?  In what fashion had she managed to prejudice Rowena
against so amiable and kindly a neighbour, for she had now not a
moment's doubt that Maud was the cause of the trouble.  She determined
to put a few leading questions.

"What else did she tell you?  She's a dreadful child.  We never know
what she is going to say next.  I don't believe she knows herself.  What
did she say?"

"Oh, nothing particular!  G-general information--don't you know--general
information," stammered Guy Seton uncomfortably.  But Dreda was not to
be put off the scent.  She stared at him fixedly, noted his rising
colour, and nodded in quiet conviction.

"I know!  I can guess one thing at least.  She told you we were
_rejuiced_."

"I--I--" he began to stammer again, but the corners of his mouth
twitched, and the next moment they were laughing together in hearty,
youthful enjoyment.

"Too bad of you!  Why are you so abnormally sharp?  Have pity on my
embarrassment," he pleaded, while Dreda shook her yellow mane in
derision.

"You are not embarrassed a bit!  You laughed before I did!  It's easy to
guess, because that's Maud's favourite subject at present.  She
overheard the servants talking, and took a fancy to the word, and now
she drags it in on every possible occasion.  What else did she say?
Anything about me?"

"Er--er--"

"She did!  I know she did.  Don't try to deny it.  Was it--nice?"

"Er--" stammered Guy Seton once more, whereupon Dreda drew herself up
with sudden dignity.

"You shouldn't have _allowed_ it!  She is only a child; you should not
have allowed her to talk personalities--"

"But I tried to stop her--I did, indeed!  I was most uncomfortable.  I
tried to change the conversation, but it was no good.  Please don't
scold me, I've suffered enough as it is!"

"_How_ have you suffered?"  Dreda's eyes widened eagerly.  Now she was
on the track of the mystery, and determined to push her inquiries until
all was made plain.  "_Who_ made you suffer?"

"Miss Sax--," said Guy involuntarily, and then quickly drew himself up.
"I mean--it's rather awkward for a fellow, don't you know, to listen to
things that he ought not to hear--that are not his business--that would
annoy other people if they happened to overhear."

He flushed as he spoke, and Dreda beamed at him with undisguised
approval.  He was so boyish and honest, so blunderingly transparent,
that she felt quite elderly in comparison--a very Sherlock Holmes of
diplomacy!

"And what was it that Rowena _did_ overhear?  Oh, I guessed there was
something!  She would never have refused to come to-day unless something
had happened to offend her.  She has such a dull time of it, poor dear,
and she loves a change.  What did Maud say?"

"Miss Dreda, if your sister didn't tell you herself, do you think I
ought to repeat a thing that has already annoyed her?"

"Certainly you ought.  It's my business to know, so that I can make
things right.  I could easily explain--"

Guy gave a short, irritated laugh.

"There's nothing to explain!  Your young sister made an indiscreet
remark which Miss Saxon overheard as she came into the room.  It is only
human nature, I suppose, to vent her annoyance upon me, but it's hard
luck all the same, for I could not help myself, and it was horribly
embarrassing for me too!"

"But _what_ did she say?"

Then with another twitch of the lips Guy repeated Maud's betrayal, at
which Dreda was at once horrified and amused.

"The little wretch!  I shouldn't have minded a bit myself, but when you
are grown up it's different!  Poor old Ro!  It was my fault, for I made
her do it.  I wanted you to see her in that jolly blue."

"Thanks, so much!  It was worth seeing; but it's a pretty big price to
pay if your sister is prejudiced against me for life.  Perhaps you had
better not refer to the subject directly.  If I read her aright the less
that is said about it the better she will be pleased; but if you get a
chance you might speak a good word for me sometimes.  I'm not such a
conceited fool as to imagine that she took any more trouble for me than
she would have done for any other caller who happened to come along, and
I've a wretched sort of memory.  If I choose to forget a thing, it's
surprising how easily I can do it.  It would be so jolly if she could
manage to forget it too, and start afresh."

"Leave it to me!" cried Dreda, with the air of a young oracle.  She had
not the slightest idea what she was about to do, but, as ever, had not
the slightest doubt of success in tackling a difficult situation.  For
the moment, however, she felt that she had devoted enough attention to
Rowena's affairs, for the excitement of the paper-chase increased with
every mile as the track was discovered, only to be lost again and again,
forcing the cavalcade to wheel about in all directions searching for the
little snow-like flakes of paper which were again to guide them forward.

When a couple of hours had passed Dreda was quite oblivious that the
circling paths had led the chase to the little village of Smitton, and
was therefore overcome with surprise to come face to face with no less a
person than Rowena herself at the corner of the high road.  Rowena would
have passed by with a bow, but she was instantly surrounded by a little
party of friends, all eager to greet her, and to inquire why she had not
joined the chase.  Guy Seton dismounted with the rest, and stood
silently in the background until the first rush of inquiries were over,
when, meeting Rowena's eye, he made a simple straightforward request.

"As you have finished your messages, Miss Saxon, won't you join us for
the rest of the morning?  We could send a wire from the post office if
you think Mrs Saxon would be anxious.  Please say yes!"

There was nothing extravagant about the manner of his invitation,
perhaps in courtesy he could hardly have said less, but there was a
transparent sincerity about those last three words which it was
impossible to ignore.  Rowena hesitated.  Poor Rowena!  What a morning
of heartache and disappointment it had been.  Ten minutes ago, five
minutes ago, she had been wheeling along her solitary way, all
melancholy and dejection, and behold, one turn of the road and she was
in the midst of a merry cavalcade, and the chance which she had thrown
away was once more within her grasp.

She hesitated, and half a dozen voices answered in her stead.  Of
course, she must come!  Of course!  After this fortunate meeting she
could not be allowed to escape.  She could not be so cruel as to refuse,
and then once again Guy Seton's voice repeated those three quiet words:
"Please say yes!"

Well, she was only longing to accept, and having been duly entreated,
gave way with a blush and a smile which made her look as pretty as a
picture.  The cavalcade carried her off in triumph, and Guy Seton kept
discreetly in the background, waiting until time should give him his
opportunity.  His acquaintance with this charming girl had had an
unfortunate beginning; he was determined that no haste or imprudence on
his own part should give it a second check, but that afternoon Master
Leonard Merrick, the hare, went home, made happy by a tip the amount of
which was truly princely in his schoolboy estimation!



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

Six months had passed by.  The elder pupils at Horsham had gone
tremblingly through the ordeal of the Oxford senior examination in July,
and Mary, having achieved distinction in three separate subjects, was
now busy preparing for the mathematical group of the Cambridge higher
local examination in December.  She was eventually going on to college,
and intended to devote her life to teaching, to which prospect she
looked forward with an equanimity which Dreda regarded with mystified
amazement.

"And you _like_ it!  You are content to think of spending your life in a
schoolroom, going over and over the same dull old books, Mary!  How
_can_ you?"

But Mary could very easily, it appeared.

"Why not, Dreda?" she inquired.  "The books are not dull to me, and
surely it is a noble and interesting life to hand on the lamp of
learning from one generation to another.  It's the work that appeals
most to me.  Ever since I was a child I have wished to be a
schoolmistress."

"Oh, well, I shouldn't mind it myself--for a time," Dreda conceded
carelessly.  "When one has suffered under the yoke, _it_ would be a kind
of satisfaction to boss it oneself for a change.  I'd quite like to be a
headmistress--a horribly strict Head--and make all the girls c-c-ringe
before me--for a term, say; but after that--no thank you!  I want a
wider scope for my life than a stupid old school-house."

Mary smiled, in an elderly, forbearing fashion.

"We are all different, dear Dreda.  It would not do if we were made
alike.  You and I have not the same vocation."

"No; I shall marry," announced Dreda, blandly unconscious of the
inference of her words.  "I am one of the old-fashioned womanly
girls--(it says in the papers, `Would there were more of them!')--who
shine best in their own homes.  I'm not learned, and I don't pretend to
be; but I can keep house, and order servants about, as well as anybody,
and I intend to be very hospitable and give lots of dinners and parties
and make my husband proud of me by being the best-dressed woman in the
room, and so witty and charming that everything will go with a roar.
That's all I want.  I haven't an ambitious nature."

Mary's long upper lip looked longer than ever as she listened to this
egotistical tirade.  She was a plain-looking girl, and the lack of
humour in her composition made her somewhat dull and unattractive in
manner; but she possessed great strength of character, and was never
found lacking in the courage of her opinions.  Her opinion at this
moment was that Etheldreda Saxon needed a downright good snubbing, and
she set herself to administer it without a qualm.

"My dear Dreda, there is nothing in the world you understand as little
as your own character.  I never met a girl who was so blind to her own
defects.  Not ambitious!  How can you say such a thing in the same
breath as that in which you express your longing for admiration?  One
may be ambitious for unworthy aims as well as for worthy ones; and your
desires are all for poor, worldly things which pass away, leaving no one
better or wiser.  It is false modesty to say you are not clever; you
would not allow anyone else to make such a statement unchallenged.  If
you chose to exert yourself to overcome your faults of carelessness and
frivolity, you might take a very fair average position among your
companions."

To say that Dreda was taken aback by this very candid criticism of her
character is to state the matter far too calmly.  She turned white with
agitation, and the pupils of her eyes dilated until they appeared to
cover the entire iris.  It was characteristic of her that it was not
anger which so affected her, but real honest horror and distress that a
fellow-creature should live and entertain so poor an opinion of her
delightful self.  She was not, it was true, particularly devoted to
Mary, but it had never for a fraction of a second occurred to her that
Mary could be otherwise than enthusiastically loyal to herself.  And now
that the horrible truth was disclosed, her absorbing desire was to
reform so mistaken an attitude of mind as speedily as possible.

"Oh, Mary!" she cried tragically.  "How you misjudge me!  How little you
know my real inmost nature!  Ask mother--ask Rowena--ask anyone who
knows me well; they will all tell you the same thing--I am all heart.  I
live on my affections; I don't want anything but just to be happy, and
have people love me.  What have I ever said or done to you that you
should think such perfectly horrid things?  It hurts me to be
misjudged--it hurts awfully!  It's like a knife sticking into my heart."

"Because you want to be praised, and can't endure reproof, even if it is
for your good.  It isn't _pleasant_ to find fault, Dreda," declared Mary
judicially; "but if I don't speak out I may blame myself in the future.
I am afraid of what may happen if you float along as you are doing,
blind to your own failings.  Some day something may happen to put you to
the test, and then you will _fail_, and be humiliated in your own eyes
and those of the world."

Dreda regarded her with eyes full of a solemn reproach.

"May you be forgiven, Mary!  I forgive you.  I'm sorry for your want of
charity and understanding.  I'm not surprised that you don't understand
me; we are made on such different lines; but you ought not to judge.--I
don't judge _you_.  I think you are very painstaking and industrious.  I
bear you no ill-will, Mary.  I'm only sorry for you."

So far from being melted by this touching forgiveness, Mary flushed with
anger, shrugged her shoulders impatiently, and turned back to her desk,
whereon lay the first lines of an essay on one of Addison's "Spectator"
Essays.  An extract from the essay had been given as subject, with the
significant words: "Discuss this," inscribed beneath, and Mary's mood
was not improved by the fact that with regard to ethical sentiments she
seemed to have no idea to discuss.  She was fifty times more at home
with cut-and-dried figures about the correctness of which there could be
no two opinions, whereas Etheldreda the Ready was invariably in the
front rank for compositions.  The two girls were indeed made "on
different lines," and at that moment Mary was not unnaturally provoked
to be confronted by a task in which Dreda was undoubtedly her superior.

Dreda was laboriously amiable to her opponent for some days after this
"heart to heart" talk, but the endeavour to pour coals of fire was so
obvious as to be more irritating than soothing, and Mary had no wish to
reopen the discussion.  "I've warned her--she must go her own way now.
_My_ conscience is clear," she told herself stoically, and Dreda went
her own way--danced gaily along it, so to speak, and had no thought of
danger.  She had become accustomed to school routine by this time, and,
like most girls, found interest and enjoyment in the full busy life and
in the companionship of her kind.  She was a favourite with both
teachers and scholars, and Susan's quiet devotion could always be
counted upon in those moments of need which seemed to be inevitable
occurrences in her life.  Dreda forgot, and Susan reminded; Dreda
procrastinated, and Susan hastened to the rescue; Dreda grew discouraged
and Susan cheered; Dreda failed, and Susan succoured; yet with such
diffidence were these services performed that self-love felt never a
wound, and Dreda was left with the agreeable sense of having conferred,
rather than accepted, favours.

"You turn yourself into a nigger slave for Dreda Saxon," grumbled Norah
of the spectacles one day when she and Susan walked together in the
"crocodile" along a dull country lane.  "A regular black, cringing
slave--and what thanks do you get for it, I'd like to know?  None!  Not
one little scrap.  She's such a bat of self-conceit that she doesn't
even know that she _is_ helped.  If you did a hundredth part as much for
other people they'd go off their heads for joy!"

The spectacled eyes rolled wistfully Susan-wards as the last words were
spoken, for Norah cherished a schoolgirl's sentimental devotion for her
companion, and could not overcome her chagrin at being so completely
eclipsed by a new girl--a girl, moreover, who had given to her the
undignified nickname of "Gig-lamps," which had been instantly adopted by
the whole school.  She gazed at Susan as humbly as a dog begging a
favour from its master's hand, but no favour was vouchsafed.

"I don't want Dreda to be grateful.  I need no thanks.  I love her so
much that it is my greatest pleasure to be able to help her," said
little Susan proudly; but when Norah persistently demanded to know why
she had no answer to give.  In truth, she herself was sometimes puzzled
to account for her own devotion to the hasty, undisciplined creature who
fell so far short of her ideal feminine character.  Susan's quiet brown
eyes were not blinded; probably no girl in the school was more conscious
of Dreda's faults, yet her love lived on unchecked by the discovery.
She did not realise that it was Dreda's personal beauty and charm which
had captivated her imagination, and that all the starved instincts of
her beauty-loving nature were finding vicarious satisfaction in
another's life.  Susan had lived her life in a prosaic household, where
beauty was the last consideration to be taken into account.  If an
article had to be bought, Mrs Webster gave consideration to strength
and durability, and to strength and durability alone.  In buying
curtains, for instance, she sought for a nondescript colour which would
defy the sun's rays, a material that would stand repeated washings, and
a pattern which would conceal possible stains.  A discovery that the
cloth would ultimately cut up into desirable dusters was sufficient to
give the casting vote of decision, and thereafter draperies of dingy
cinnamon would be hung against walls of yellow ochre, with complacent
and lasting satisfaction.  Amid such drab surroundings Susan had spent
her life, and when she looked in the glass it was to see a replica of
her sister's faulty features and pallid skin, yet hidden away within
that insignificant exterior there burnt the true artist's passion for
beauty, for colour, for grace, of which three qualities Etheldreda Saxon
was so charming an embodiment.  When Susan mentally worked out her
novels of the future her heroines invariably wore Dreda's guise, the
romantic figures of history took upon themselves Dreda's form, and
smiled upon her with Dreda's confident eyes.

The ordinary sentimental school friendship was glorified into a selfless
devotion in which her highest joy was found in denying herself for
Dreda's good.  The two girls--one tall, golden-haired, with vivid
colouring and an air of confident strength; the other small, plain,
neutral-tinted, timid of mien--were inseparable in work and at play.

Six months' experience of school life had destroyed Dreda's early ardour
with regard to examinations.  Arithmetic was such a hopeless stumbling-
block in her path that it was doubtful whether she would be able to
secure a bare pass, and having once realised the fact she readjusted her
ambitions with facile speed, announced that she disapproved of modern
methods, had no wish to enter the public arena, and was anxious to
abandon a course of dangerous cram.  Her favourite subject was
composition, and here and here alone, she and Susan ran an even race, it
being a moot point each week which would gain the highest marks.
Susan's essays were more thoughtful, and were written with an apt and
dainty choice of words which was a delight to Miss Drake's literary
taste, but a certain primness and conventionality still remained to be
conquered, in contrast to which Dreda's dashing breeziness of style was
a real refreshment.  After reading through a dozen essays, all of which
began in almost exactly the same words, and ended abruptly after
dragging through a dozen commonplace sentences, the tired reader
rejoiced at the sight of Dreda's bold handwriting, and was disposed to
forgive many failings in gratitude for the one great gift of
originality.

Miss Drake was aware of the literary ambitions cherished by the two
friends, and in leisure moments sent many a thought into the future,
wondering what the years would bring, and if the time would ever arrive
when she should say proudly of a well-known writer: "She was my pupil.
I helped her towards the goal!"  It seemed impossible to prophesy to
which of the two girls success would come--Susan of the eloquent brain,
the tender heart, or Dreda, with her gift of charm to gild the slightest
matter.  The young teacher pondered over the question, and one day in so
doing there came to her mind a suggestion which promised interest to
herself and a useful incentive to her pupils.

The third number of the school magazine would soon be due, and Miss
Drake was fully aware of the fact that the sub-editor had grown to
regard her responsibilities as a distasteful burden; while the
contributors one and all exhibited a lamentable falling away from their
early ambitions.  Fragments of conversation had reached her ears as she
made her way along the corridors.  "You must write something--you
_must_!  I haven't a thing ready."

"You and your old magazine!  What a nuisance you are!  I've something
better to do."

"Here comes Dreda Saxon!  Let's hide!  She's on the rampage about the
mag."

Miss Drake's heart softened towards her "sub" in this difficult plight;
she waited a few days to mature her plans, and then made an interesting
announcement to the pupils at the conclusion of a history class.

"Before you go, girls, I want to speak to you for a few minutes on
another subject.  The third number of the school magazine is nearly due,
and I am afraid from what I hear that contributions are coming in
slowly.  You will remember the one condition on which you were allowed
to start the paper was that it should be continued for at least two
years.  One of the lessons you have to learn in life is that a duty once
undertaken cannot be lightly thrown aside because it weighs more heavily
after the first enthusiasm is past.  Steady, quiet perseverance is a
great force, and can overcome mountains of difficulty, but,"--she
glanced whimsically at the row of depressed young faces--"I am quite
aware that it is not a quality which makes a strong appeal at your age,
so I propose to be generous, and offer an extra stimulus.  You all know
the name of Henry Rawdon, one of the greatest--many people think the
greatest--writer of our times.  He happens to be not only a family
connection but my very good friend, and he has promised to help me to
carry out a little scheme for your benefit.  Instead of the usual
nondescript contributions, you will all be required to write an essay on
a given subject for the next number of the magazine, and after it has
been circulated in the school, the typed papers will be sent to Mr
Rawdon, marked with numbers instead of names, and he will judge them,
and select the best as the prize number.  Miss Bretherton is giving the
prize.  She is most interested in the competition, and it will be a
prize worth having--a complete edition of Mr Rawdon's works, which he
has promised to present in person at our breaking-up gathering.  Now is
that not a splendid stimulus?  I hope you feel inspired to do your best
to rise to the occasion, and do honour to yourselves and the school."
She paused, and the girls stared at her in a solid phalanx of amazement.
Henry Rawdon's name was a household word; his works adorned every
library worthy the name; it was, in the literal sense of the word,
_stunning_ to think that such a celebrity should condescend to read
their poor little efforts!  Etheldreda Saxon was naturally the first to
recover her voice.

"And the subject, Miss Drake--what is to be the subject?"

Miss Drake smiled quietly.

"The subject is a very big one, and one on which the youngest girl is as
competent to write as the oldest.  No one can plead ignorance on this
point, or if she does no outsider can give her enlightenment.  The
subject, chosen by Mr Rawdon himself, is `My Life--and how I mean to
use it.'"

A subdued murmur sounded in the room, the chief notes of which were
wonder and dismay.  The girls looked at each other with startled looks,
their lips fell apart, a blank, half-stupefied expression settled on
their faces, as though they found themselves confronted by a task with
which they had no power to grapple.  But Susan's brown eyes shone like
stars; she clasped her little hands tightly together beneath her desk.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

For the next few days conversation circled incessantly round the subject
of the forthcoming literary competition, concerning which there were
naturally many diverging opinions.  "My life, indeed!  _Well_, my first
principle has always been `One thing at a time, and that done well.'
I'm cramming for an exam., and have no time to waste on meanderings,"
declared Barbara, whose compositions invariably received the lowest
marks in her form, while Nancy smiled her enigmatical smile, and stared
mysteriously into space.

"I shall write it, of course, but I shall not put in my _real_
sentiments.  It would not be fair to my future.  If my plans are to
succeed they demand secrecy--breathless, inviolate secrecy, until the
hour arrives!"

"Gracious, Nancy!  You talk as if you were an Anarchist in disguise!"
gasped a horrified voice from the far corner of the fireside round which
the girls were assembled, whereupon the gratified Nancy endeavoured to
look more mysterious than ever.

"Why in disguise?  Is there anything in my appearance which is out of
keeping with a life of noble rebellion against tyranny and oppression?
A bomb may be often a blessing in disguise, but there is so much narrow
prejudice and ignorance in this world that people must be trained to
appreciate the true meaning.  Till that hour arrives my life's ambition
must remain locked within my own breast!"

"I haven't got one--at least, only to have a good time and be done with
work.  You couldn't put _that_ in an essay.  It sounds so mean,"
confessed blue-eyed Flora with a sigh.  Dreda looked at her quickly, and
as quickly averted her eyes.  Put in bald language was not that her own
ambition also?  In thinking over the essay, she had mentally rehearsed
many grandiose phrases; but now, with a sudden chilling of the blood,
she realised the emptiness of the high-sounding words.  What had she
ever wished from life but pleasure, approbation, and easy success?  How
much thought had she given to possible trials and difficulties?  How
much effort to train herself for the battle of life?  It was one of
those blinding moments of self-revelation which come to us all, and
before which the noblest natures shrink aghast.  Dreda leant her head
against the wall to hide herself from the dancing firelight, but her
unusual silence could not fail to attract attention, and Norah was quick
with a gibing question.

"Why so silent, Etheldreda the Ready?  Can it be that you have been so
busy arranging the lives of other people that you have not had time to
think of your own?"

The dart struck home once more, but before there was time to answer
Susan rushed to the defence.

"It's just because Dreda _is_ thinking that she does not talk.  Dreda
will win the prize.  No one has a chance against her, but it is such a
thrilling subject that it will be interesting to try.  The difficulty
will be to keep within the limit; only three thousand words--"

"Only!  My dear, do you know what three thousand words mean?  I counted
up one sheet of foolscap, and it came to two hundred and fifty.  How on
earth could one find enough to say about life to fill twelve whole
pages?"

Flora was transparently in earnest, her blue, opaque-looking eyes roving
from face to face, inviting sympathy and understanding; but Susan gave a
clear little laugh of derision.

"I could fill volumes!  It's a wonderful, wonderful theme--a voyage into
the dark--a battle to be fought, a victory to be won, a mountain to be
climbed, or perhaps no mountain at all, but just a long, long road, on a
dead level plain.  Work and effort, and failure and success, sorrow and
joy, and at the end the secret--the great secret--solved at last!"

Susan's voice trembled, her slight little form shook with emotion, she
pressed her hands against her knees to still their trembling.  The girls
stared at the floor, or exchanged furtive glances of embarrassment.
Susan was "too too for words" in her high falutin' moods; she talked
just like people in books; silly nonsense that no one could understand!
She was going to leave school when she was eighteen and help her mother
in the house, because the two elder girls wanted to be teachers.  Why
couldn't she say so straight out, instead of mooning about secrets, and
battles, and mountains to be climbed?  Flora sniggered into her
handkerchief, Barbara gaped, Nancy tilted her head, and rolled her eyes
to the ceiling, Dreda wakened out of her dream, and sat up flushed and
eager.

"Susan, _stop_!  You mustn't!  If you tell us your ideas we may copy
them without meaning to do it...  If you put thoughts into our heads
they stay there and grow, and we can't send them away, but they are
_yours_.  You ought to keep them to yourself."

"My dear, she says she has enough to fill a volume.  She needn't grudge
a few to her starving friends," cried Nancy in would-be reproach.
"Confide in me, Susan dear!  I'll sit at your feet, and gobble up all
the pearls that you drop, and perhaps in the end I may win the prize
myself.  I don't see why it should be taken for granted that only two
girls have a chance.  There's a lot of vulgar prejudice in this school,
but Mr Rawdon will judge with an unbiased mind.  I have thought more
than once when I've been reading his books that the style was rather
like my own, and I've a sort of a--kind of a--what's the
word?--_premonition_ that he'll like me best."

There was a general laugh, but Nancy was a favourite despite her teasing
ways, so the laughter was good-tempered and sympathetic, and it was easy
to see that if by chance the prize fell to her lot the award would be a
popular one.  Nancy was incurably lazy, but the conviction lingered in
the minds of her companions that "she could be clever if she chose," and
it would seem quite in character that she should suddenly wake up to the
surprise and confusion of her competitors.  Dreda looked round with an
anxious air, as if recognising a new, and formidable competitor.  She
determined to begin making notes that very evening, and asked suddenly:

"Has anyone seen my stylo?  My things seem to be bewitched nowadays.
They are always disappearing.  I searched for my French book for a solid
hour yesterday, and this morning it was my penknife, and now it's the
pen--I waste half my time hunting and searching."

"You are so untidy.  If you would be more methodical--"

"I didn't ask for moral reflections, Barbara.  I asked for my pen."

"Is it a black one?  A little stumpy black one--about so long?"

"Yes--yes!  That's it.  Have you seen it, Nancy?"

Nancy stroked her chin with a meditative air.

"I _did_ see a stylo somewhere!  I remember noticing it--a very nice
one.  Quite new."

"Yes--yes; that's it.  Where was it?  Do think, Nancy!  Cudgel your
brains."

"I am cudgelling them--I'm cudgelling _hard_."  Nancy nipped her chin
between her finger and thumb, and knitted her brows till her eyebrows
appeared to meet.  "I saw it this morning.  It was lying on a shelf,
near a window.  I can see it before me now."  She waved her hand in the
air.  "Like a picture.  Distinctly!"

"Yes--yes--yes!  But where?  _Think_!  In the big classroom?"

"No-o; I think not.  No; certainly not the big classroom?"

"Miss Drake's room, then?  The study?  Number 5?  Our bedroom?  If you
can see it distinctly, you _must_ know."

Nancy frowned on, apparently plunged in thought, then slowly a flash
seemed to irradiate her features.

"I have it!" she cried triumphantly.  "It was in the window of the
chemist's shop!  I saw it as we passed by in walk.--A beautiful black
brand-new stylo!"

The audience sniggered with enjoyment, for though not quite so heartless
as their brothers, it cannot be denied that most school-girls take a
mischievous delight in teasing their companions.  Dreda Saxon was,
moreover, from this point of view an amusing victim, for when a joke was
directed against herself her sense of humour was temporarily eclipsed,
and she took refuge in what was laughingly dubbed "heroics."  Now, as
usual, her eyes flashed, her chin tilted itself in air, and her voice
swelled in deep-toned reproof.

"That is not funny, Nancy--it is _unkind_!  To laugh at people who are
in trouble is a sign of a mean, unprincipled mind.  I am surprised that
you condescend to such depths."

A shriek of laughter followed this reproof, and as she marched
majestically from the room Dreda caught a glimpse of Nancy beaming and
unrepentant, pretending to wring tears out of a dry pocket-handkerchief.
In that moment she mentally added three "heads" to the essay on life,
and headed them with large capital letters: Misunderstanding.  Mockery.
Faithless Friends.

During the next week Dreda spent every moment that could be spared from
ordinary school-work in working at her essay, alternating between wild
elation and depths of despair as her thoughts flowed or flagged.  Her
home letter was full of the all-absorbing topic, but Rowena's reply was
a great surprise--for behold, pessimistic repinings had given place to
an outlook which was positively jaunty in tone.

"It's a nice old world, after all," Rowena wrote.  "It is stupid to
allow oneself to get humped, for sometimes at the very moment when you
believe that all is over, the very nicest things are just about to
begin.  Put that in your essay, and make moral reflections.  `Oft-times
in our ignorance we believe ... but looking back over a gap of time we
can see--A trivial word, a passing glance, the choice of a road, on such
trifles may depend ...  Discipline is good for us all, but joy cometh in
the morning.'  You know the sort of thing.  For once I really wish I
could write your essay for you.  I feel just in the mood to write pages.
I've been out riding with Mr Seton and his cousins three times this
week, and the exercise is so exhilarating.  The cousins are staying at
the Manor House--such nice girls!  We have taken quite a fancy to one
another, and they lend me a mount, so that we can go about together Mr
Seton sends you his best wishes for the competition.  We talked about it
together when we were riding to-day.  He is so clever, and has such
beautiful thoughts.  He is looking forward most awfully to his life, and
says it gets better and better all the time.  I feel quite ashamed to
remember how depressed and discontented I have been, and how irritable
with poor old Maud.  She can't help it, poor dear, if she _is_ stupid;
one ought to be patient with her, and satisfied with a peaceful home
life!  I _am_ satisfied now.  To-morrow I go to lunch at the Manor
House."

"But it was to _me_ he offered the mount," was Dreda's comment, not
without a touch of offence.  Then with a benevolent impulse: "Oh, well,
Ro can have it until the holidays, and then he'll take me."  Rowena's
suggestions as to the essay were too valuable to be ignored, and the
fact that they were in exact contradiction of the pessimistic passages
on persecution last added, was no hindrance to an author of Etheldreda's
ingenuity.  She had simply to write, "On the other hand, it may be
said," and in came Rowena's reflections as pat as possible.  During
those next few days her versatile mind seized on everything that she
heard, saw, or read, which could by any possibility be turned into
material for the essay, until page after page was filled with her big
straggling handwriting, and while her companions were still biting their
pens in search of inspiration, she was confronted by the task of
reducing her masterpiece by at least one-half of its length.  And what a
task that was!

"Really," she told Susan with a sigh, "cutting down is more difficult
than making-up!  I read over each bit by itself, and it seems as if I
love it more than all the rest put together, and I simply can't _endure_
to lose it; but the next bit is the same, and the next, and the next."
She rolled her eyes dramatically to the ceiling.  "I am like a mother,
called upon to sacrifice one of her children.  Whichever I choose, it
will break my heart!  How I wish I could send in two papers, and have
two chances!"

Such a proceeding was, of course, out of the question, so with much
groaning and lamentation Dreda cut out the quieter passages, reserving
the highly coloured flights of fancy which she considered more likely to
attract an author of Mr Rawdon's standing.  When at last the typed
copies of the twelve essays were circulated in the school it was found,
as had been expected, that Susan and Dreda had far out-distanced the
other competitors, but Susan's most devoted admirers confessed that her
production appeared tame and dull when compared with Dreda's sparkling
eloquence.

"I don't quite know what she's driving at," Barbara admitted, "but it
sounds awfully grand all the same; and dear old Sue's so painfully in
earnest!  We'd better resign ourselves to the worst, for Dreda's bound
to get the prize, and lord it over us for the rest of the term.  Our
lives won't be worth living."

"It's the unexpected that happens in this world.  I have a feeling that
there will be strange developments about this prize.  Wait and see!"
said Nancy, darkly.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

After a week's circulation in the school, the twelve typed essays upon
"My life, and what I hope to do with it," were packed up and sent to Mr
Rawdon for judgment, and Miss Drake begged her pupils to dismiss the
subject from their minds as far as possible.

"Mr Rawdon has promised to attend our prize-giving on December the
nineteenth, and will announce the result of the competition himself, so
that nothing can be gained by discussing the matter before then.  It
will be useless to question me, for I shall know he more than
yourselves, and we have the serious work of preparing for examinations
before us.  Give your whole minds to your work, and don't waste time on
useless speculation."

"Easier said than done," was Dreda's comment on this exhortation as she
walked to the hockey field with Susan after the class was dismissed.
"It's easy for The Duck to be calm and cold-blooded; she isn't in it,
and doesn't much care how it's decided; but to you and me it means life
or death.  Susan, tell me exactly how you will feel if my name is read
out.  Will you hate me with a deadly hatred?"

"Dreda, how can you?  As if I could ever hate you--as if such a thing
were possible!"  Susan was breathless with horror, her brown eyes turned
reproachfully upon her friend.  "Would you hate me?"

"Yes," returned Dreda calmly; "I should.  At that moment my love would
change into gall and bitterness.  I should hate the very sight of your
face.  Of course,"--she drew a deep sigh of complacence--"of course, in
the end my better nature would prevail, but I'm so emotional, you know--
my heart is strung by every breath--like an Aeolian harp.--I could not
answer for myself for the first few moments, so keep out of my way,
darling, if you get the prize, until I have fought my battle and
overcome."

"I hope you will win, Dreda.  I expect you will.  All the girls think
your essay the best.  I should be miserable if I won and you were
angry," said little Susan in a low, pained voice.  But Dreda was too
much occupied with a sudden suspicion to notice the pathos of her
attitude.

"Do _you_ think it the best?"  Susan hesitated painfully; her nature was
so transparently honest that she could never succeed in disguising her
real sentiments.

"I like--bits of it--awfully, Dreda!"

"Like the curate's egg.  Thanks.  But not all?"

"Not--equally well, dear."

"You think your own is better?"  Susan's usually sallow face was flooded
with a painful red.

"It sounds horribly conceited to say so, Dreda.  I wish you hadn't
asked.  It's only my own opinion, dear.  All the others like yours best.
I believe it will win.  Honestly I do."

Dreda walked on in silence, her lips compressed, her back very stiff and
erect.  She deigned no answer until the pavilion was only a few yards
distant, and even then her voice had a strained, unnatural tone.

"I think we will not discuss the subject any more.  Miss Drake said, if
you remember, that she would rather we didn't.  We ought to respect her
wishes."

"I'm sorry," said Susan meekly.  She was not the one who had introduced
the subject, but she was quite willing to take the blame upon herself,
willing to endure any amount of blame if only Dreda would be kind and
love her once more.

For the rest of the term the whole routine of the school was arranged
for the benefit of those girls who were going in for the different
examinations at Christmas; and those who, like Dreda, had not entered
their names were necessarily somewhat left out in the cold.  They took
part in the same classes, but it was not in teacher-nature to take quite
so keen an interest in them as in those whose prowess might add to the
reputation of the school.  If an ordinary scholar were inclined to
"slack," now was her chance to do so with the least chance of discovery
or punishment, and it is to be feared that Dreda, among others, did not
disdain to do so.

"I disapprove of this modern method of _cram_," she announced in a home
letter.  "Young girls need rest and amusement, not one long, continual
grind; and I don't think it's feminine to be so learned.
Accomplishments give far more pleasure, and you ought to be unselfish in
life.  I should like a new dress for the prize-giving, please.
Something very nice--blue--and extra well made, because it may be
noticed a good deal.  I'm so glad you are all coming.  It will be nice
for you to see Mr Rawdon.  I am looking forward to it fearfully much."

The new dress arrived in due course, and was all that could be desired.
Dreda beamed complacently as she fastened the last button and regarded
her reflection in the glass at two o'clock on the afternoon of the
nineteenth of December; but her satisfaction was somewhat damped by the
discovery that her favourite little pearl brooch was missing, making
still another of those mysterious disappearances by which she had been
annoyed during the whole of the term.

"I really can _not_ bear it.  It's too much!  It would try the patience
of Job!" she cried passionately.  "Someone is bent on driving me
frantic, and whoever she is she's a mean, dastardly wretch.
Sometimes,"--her eyes flashed upon Nancy, who sat upon her bed leisurely
brushing out her long brown mane--"sometimes, Nancy, I believe it is
_You_."

Susan, glancing fearfully across the room, saw Nancy's shoulders give a
slight involuntary jerk, but she made no other sign of perturbation, and
voice and manner remained as usual, calmly nonchalant.

"_Do_ you?" she queried, smiling.  "How interesting!  And what has led
you to that conclusion, may I ask?"

"Your own character.  You take a delight in teasing and worrying and
mystifying people out of their senses.  You probably think it amusing to
hide my things, and see me rushing about searching desperately in every
corner.  I'm good sport, I suppose, because I'm so easily roused.
Things affect me more than other people, because I'm so sensitive.  I'm
like--"

"An Aeolian harp--I know!  I've heard the comparison before," said
Nancy, with a quiet nod of the head which was infinitely exasperating.
Dreda stamped her foot upon the floor.

"Have you hidden my brooch or have you not?  Answer me this moment!  I
have not time to waste."

Nancy rose to her feet and selected a hair ribbon from a drawer with an
air of unruffled composure.

"I'm sorry, but I find myself unable to oblige you.  If I am the person
who has been playing tricks with your things all this time, you can
hardly expect me to prove my guilt out of my own mouth.  On the other
hand, if I am innocent--"

"Well?"

"Then I should naturally be too proud and wounded to vindicate my
honour!"

Dreda stood irresolute--swayed one moment towards penitence, the next to
anger.  From the farther end of the room Susan mutely gesticulated
appeals for peace.  What would have happened next it is impossible to
say, for at that moment a knock sounded at the door, and a voice cried:

"Miss Saxon.  Wanted, please!  In the drawing-room."

No need to inquire the meaning of that summons!  Dreda flew breathlessly
downstairs, and in the moment of opening the drawing-room door beheld
her four dear visitors standing in the alcove made by a rounded window--
father, mother, and two sisters.  Such darlings--such darlings; so
infinitely more attractive than the other relations with whom the room
was full!  Father was handsomer than ever, mother so sweet and elegant,
Maud was for the moment quite animated, while Rowena in her blue dress
and ermine furs was a beauty--so dazzling a beauty, and withal so sweet,
and bright, and womanly in expression, that the schoolgirl sister was
breathless with admiration.  When the first greetings were over and the
parents were talking to Miss Drake, Dreda slipped her hand within
Rowena's arm, and gave it a rapturous squeeze.

"Ro, you are lovely!  Everybody is staring at you, and I'm just bursting
with pride...  You dear old thing!  What have you done with yourself to
look so nice?  You are fifty times prettier than you were!"

"Oh, Dreda!  Am I--am I, really?  I'm so glad!" cried Rowena, smiling.
But Dreda noticed with amazement that she didn't seem a bit conceited;
if such a curious thing could be believed true, there was a hitherto
unknown modesty and self-forgetfulness about her manner.  "You look a
darling yourself," Rowena added affectionately.  "Are you going to get a
lot of prizes to make us proud of you too?"

"Nary a one," said Dreda with a grimace.  "The girls are so horribly
clever in this school.  I have no chance against them.  We Saxons are
different; we have the artistic temperament; it's more interesting for
daily life, but it doesn't pay in exams.  I am simply nowhere in the
lists."

"But the essay, dear--the great essay on Life!  Surely _there_--"

Dreda bridled, and held up a modest hand.

"Impossible to say.  Nobody knows.  Mr Rawdon will announce it himself.
There he is--over by the fireplace, talking to Miss Drake.  Fancy an
author looking like that!  Quite smart and shaved, like an ordinary man.
I expected yards of beard.  Oh, dear! my life is in his hands, and he
is laughing and talking as if nothing were going to happen!  At three
o'clock we have all to go down to the big classroom.  Sit where you can
see me, Ro, and smile at me encouragingly when he gets up; but if
someone else wins, look the other way--I shall want to hide my anguish."

Rowena laughed--a trill of merry, irresistible laughter, and the stare
of scornful reproach failed to move her to penitence.

"You funny girl--you funny girl!  Oh, Dreda, you _do_ exaggerate!  A
passing disappointment like that!  Such a little, little thing, when
there are such big prizes waiting in life!  Oh, Dreda, you are _young_!"

"Oh, Rowena, you are--" The retort hung fire, for at the moment it
seemed impossible to think of the right word to express what Rowena was.
"_Changed_!" came at last, as a somewhat tame conclusion, but at least
it had the effect of making Rowena blush from the tip of her dainty chin
to the very roots of her flaxen hair.  Now, why should one blush as
though one had been detected in a crime at simply being accused of
change?

At five minutes to three the pupils left the drawing-room, and took
their places ranged at the back of the big classroom.  A small platform
had been erected at the farther end, on which sat the teachers, with Mr
Rawdon in the place of honour, just behind the water-bottle on the
table.  Parents and friends sat in chairs running sideways down the
room, so that they were able to see the girls and watch the progress of
happy prize-winners towards the platform.  Rowena smiled confidently at
her sister, but Dreda had forgotten her sister's existence.  Her heart
was beating in quick, sickening thuds; her feet and hands were icy cold;
her knees jerked up and down, and in her throat was a hard, swelling
pain.  It seemed as if all the happiness of life depended upon the next
few minutes; as if she could never hold up her head again if she failed
now.  The girls were smiling and nudging each other gaily; Norah was
whispering to Susan, and Susan was listening with an air of genuine
interest.  Were they all sticks and stones, who had no capacity for
feeling?  Then Mr Rawdon rose to his feet, and there was an outburst of
clapping from the audience.  Dreda's own hands moved automatically, and
again she wondered at their cold.  The first few sentences sounded like
a meaningless buzz; then gradually her brain took in the words.  Mr
Rawdon was expressing conventional pleasure at the "privilege" accorded
him by his "kind friend;" these formal civilities were just the clearing
of the way before the real business began, and speaker and hearers alike
heaved a sigh of relief when they were over and the interesting
criticism had begun.  Mr Rawdon considered that four out of the twelve
essays submitted to him were decidedly above the average of such
productions, showing evidences of originality, thought, and literary
style.  His lips twitched humorously as he described himself as having
been quite overwhelmed by the flights of eloquence of one of these
budding authoresses, but although four essays had stood out
conspicuously from the rest, he had not had a moment's hesitation in
deciding on the prize-winner.  The essay of this young writer bore the
inevitable marks of youth and inexperience, but it bore something else
too--something which it was a joy to discover--something which had given
himself as a writer a deep pleasure and satisfaction--it bore the marks
of a strong literary gift.  The girl who had written this essay
possessed the great gifts of wit, pathos, and charm; she could not only
feel, but she could clothe her thoughts in apt, telling words.  She had
faults to overcome, and her apprenticeship to art might be long and
hard; but he had confidence in making a prophecy to-day, a prophecy
which he called upon his hearers to remember and recall in after years,
a prophecy that the writer of this schoolgirl essay would live to make
an honoured name for herself in the English-speaking world.

A wild burst of applause sounded from the benches at the back of the
room.  Mr Rawdon smiled, and lifted a slip of paper from the table
before him.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

Mr Rawdon deliberately fastened his eye glasses on his nose, and looked
down at the slip of paper.  There was a dead breathless silence in the
room.

"The name of the prize-winner is Etheldreda Saxon."

It seemed to Dreda that her very heart stopped beating in that moment of
wild, delirious joy.  It was almost as though she had received a blow on
her head, so dazed and paralysed did she appear; then dimly she was
conscious of the sound of clapping and stamping, and looking across the
room the four dear familiar faces stood out in bold relief, while all
the others remained a mist and blur.  Father quite pale, with his eyes
shining like blue flames; mother with the tears streaming down her
face--why did mothers always cry when they ought to be glad?--Rowena,
one sweet, glowing smile of delight.  Maud with her mouth wide open--one
could almost _hear_ her snore.

The clapping went on--everyone seemed to be staring in her direction,
and someone was pressing her arm, and saying gently: "Go, dear--go!
They are waiting for you.  Go for your prize!"

It was Susan's voice.  Susan's face was looking at her with the
sweetest, kindest smile...  With a start Dreda came back to herself, and
as she did so half a dozen words sounded in her brain as distinctly as
though spoken by a real human voice.  "That is love!" said the voice.
"That is the true love!"  As she walked up the bare centre of the floor
she was thinking not of her own triumph, but of Susan's unselfish joy;
it came to her mind that Susan's triumph was greater than her own.

Once on the platform, however, face to face with Mr Rawdon, with Miss
Drake by his side beaming with happy smiles, conscious of being the
cynosure of every eye, it was impossible not to feel a natural pride and
elation.

Before presenting the pile of handsomely bound volumes--ten in all--Mr
Rawdon held out his hand with a very charming gesture of friendship.

"Etheldreda Saxon, I congratulate you on what you have achieved in the
present; I congratulate you still more on what you are going to achieve
in the future!  My good friend Miss Drake, knowing of old my
unmethodical methods, told me not to trouble to return the manuscripts
of the various essays submitted for my criticism, but before leaving
home to-day I put your typed copy in my pocket, thinking that you would
naturally like to have it.  I return it to you now, together with these
books, which, to my mingled pride and embarrassment, have been chosen
for your prize.  I hope and expect that the time will come when those
present this afternoon may feel _it_ one of their happiest recollections
that they were present on the occasion when Etheldreda Saxon received
her first literary recognition."

Thunderous applause.  Dreda walked down the little stairway, carrying
her heavy load of books with the folded manuscript slipped beneath the
cover of the topmost volume.  The visitors on either side beamed
congratulations as she passed; on the faces of her school friends was an
expression which she had never seen before--proud and _yet_ awed,
affectionate yet shrinking.  It was as if they said to themselves:

"Who is this Dreda who has changed into a genius before our eyes?  We
have laughed at her, and made fun of her pretensions, and behold, they
are not pretensions at all--_they are real_!  We have been blind.  We
have never really known her as she is."

The girls in the second row made way for her as she came, pulling their
skirts aside, and tucking their feet beneath the bench to allow her to
pass along to her seat.  She saw each face quite close as she passed
along--Flora, Barbara, Nancy, Norah, Grace--all smiled shyly upon her--
all except one.  Norah's eyes remained hard and cold--Norah was not
glad.  She wanted Susan to win the prize.

The clapping was dying down, and Mr Rawdon was beginning his promised
address.

"My dear friends--It is my privilege this afternoon--" It was not
possible to listen to an address at this supreme moment of realisation--
even the words of Mr Rawdon himself were a meaningless jargon in
Dreda's ears.  Someone tried to take the books from her, but she clung
tightly to the volume containing the precious essay which had brought
this triumph into her life.  Such a wonderful essay that on the strength
of it one of the greatest of living authors had confidently prophesied a
worldwide reputation.  She, Dreda Saxon, an author whom strange people
talked about, whose name appeared familiarly in newspapers and
magazines!  She herself had dreamed of such fairy tales, had expatiated
on their probability to sceptical friends; but now that Mr Rawdon had
prophesied the same thing she was none the less surprised and tremulous.
He who has experienced what the world calls triumph knows well that at
those moments the inmost feeling of the heart has been _humility_ rather
than pride.  He alone knows his own limitations, his own weakness; he
trembles lest he may prove unworthy of the praise he has won.  As the
first delirious moments passed by, Dreda was amazed to feel a sense of
depression chilling her blood.  She questioned herself as to its cause,
and discovered that it arose from a new and disagreeable doubt of her
own capacities.  Mr Rawdon thought her very, very clever; but was
she--_was_ she really?  He believed that she could write books--long
books of hundreds of pages, like the one lying on her lap; many books--
one after another--all different, about different people, different
things.  Could she do it?  Was her brain really full enough, wise
enough, original enough for such a strain?  Face to face with herself
Dreda experienced some horrible moments of doubt.  It had been so
difficult to write that one essay--of herself she had seemed to have no
ideas.  She had merely pounced on what other people had written and said
and rearranged their words.  "I am quick, I am sharp.  I am what they
call _ready_," said Dreda to herself in that rare moment of modesty;
"but I am not really clever.  I don't think thoughts of my very own like
Susan.  It's all a mistake.  I shall fail, and everyone will know."

She began to tremble again, and the form creaked behind her.  Some one
edged nearer and pressed a supporting arm against her side.  It was
Susan.  _Dear_ Susan!  If she had been cross and jealous it would have
spoiled those first wonderful moments of triumph.  Dreda remembered her
own prediction of how she would have felt had positions been reversed,
and pressed lovingly against the thin little arm.  Her eye fell on the
sheets of manuscript folded within the book on her lap, and at the sight
she knew a returning thrill of confidence.  After all Mr Rawdon was a
better judge than herself--he would not have spoken as he did if he had
not been sure.  It was one of the signs of greatness to distrust
oneself.

Dreda smiled, and let her fingers touch the paper with caressing
touches.  She turned back a corner of the sheet and read some scattered
words; even in this short time they seemed unfamiliar, and she searched
mentally for the context.  It refused to be recalled.  She lifted
another corner, and a third; her hand trembled, she turned a fourth
corner; her fingers dropped the paper, and clenched themselves upon her
knee, lay there motionless.

At the moment of tension when Dreda had been waiting for Mr Rawdon's
announcement, she had felt a strange bursting sensation in her head; but
now something really _did_ snap--it must have done, for she heard it
with her ears--a sharp, splitting noise, so loud that it seemed
impossible that others had not heard it also; yet they still sat smiling
and complacent.  No one knew, no one suspected.  They still believed
what she herself had believed, a moment ago--long, long years ago--which
was it?--that she was the winner of the coveted prize, the clever,
fortunate girl who had a future before her, whose name was to be a
household word in the land.  She had thought so too; she had walked down
the room to the sound of applause, had felt every eye riveted on her
face, had seen her mother's tears; but this paper which lay on her knee,
the paper with "Prize Essay" scrawled across the back--this was not her
composition.  The sentences which she had read were not her own; there
had been some mistake--some horrible, incomprehensible mistake!  The
numbers must have been confused together.  It was Susan's essay which
had won the prize, and not her own.

Three minutes ago she had been sure, yet she had not been happy; she had
allowed herself to think of the future--to worry and to doubt.  Oh, the
folly of it!  And now she could never be happy any more; her triumph was
turned into humiliation and shame.

What would they think--do--say?  Mr Rawdon, Miss Drake, father and
mother, the other visitors, the girls?  What _could_ they say?  It would
be miserable for everybody--even for Susan.  Susan could not enjoy her
triumph at such a cost to her chosen friend.  Susan's arm pressed
lovingly against her side--she was distressed that Dreda seemed
unnerved, but she did not guess what had happened.  Nobody guessed!  No
one _could_ guess if she kept those sheets carefully folded, and
destroyed them as soon as she reached the dormitory.  It was not her own
mistake.  It was Mr Rawdon's.  Was one called upon to taste the very
dregs of humiliation because another person had made a mistake?

Mr Rawdon was still talking.  The hands of the clock had only
registered ten minutes since he began; it seemed a lifetime before the
big hand reached the next figure.  No; she would not tell.  The mistake
had happened, and she must abide by it.  There were other people to
think of besides herself.  Mother had cried for joy; father's eyes had
glowed with happy pride--could they bear to have their joy turned to
pain?

Mr Rawdon was talking about life, taking up the subject of the girls'
essays, enlarging upon what they had tried to express.  The words
floated to Dreda's ears; she listened in curious, detached fashion.
"Difficulties and temptations came to us all; they were hard to bear,
bitterly hard at the time, but looked upon in the right light they were
just opportunities given to us to prove our true worth, to help us
farther on our way."  Fine words, fine words!  It was easy to preach
when all was going well for oneself, and there was no terrible mountain
of difficulty blocking up the very next step.  She _could_ not tell!
All the eyes would stare at her again, but the admiration would be
changed into pity--perhaps even into suspicion.  Some people might
believe that she herself was responsible for this mistake.  She would
give Susan another copy of the books for Christmas.  Susan should not
suffer.  She would not tell.

Mr Rawdon had put down his notes, the hands of the clock had touched
yet another figure; he was looking down the room and smiling in her
direction.  She lost the drift of his sentence, but his last words were
her own name--"an Etheldreda Saxon," he said, and in the midst of the
applause which followed a girl's voice rang out: "Three cheers for Dreda
Saxon!"  And once more the room was in an uproar of delight.

The girls leapt to their feet; Dreda leapt with them.  Susan felt her
thrust her way forward, and stared in surprise.  She feared that her
friend had turned faint with emotion, but when Dreda had cleared herself
from the crowded forms she marched quietly up the room towards the
platform.  The unfolded essay was in her hand, her face was as white as
the paper itself.  The applause died away into a tense, uneasy silence.
Something had gone wrong.  What could it be?

Dreda held up the essay towards Mr Rawdon.

She opened her lips, but it was only after several ineffectual efforts
that the husky voice would come.

"It is not mine!  There has been a mistake.  Susan wrote it--Susan
Webster--the prize is hers!"



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

A blank silence followed Dreda's announcement.  Dismay, disappointment,
and distress seemed printed on every face.  Mr Rawdon and Miss Drake
gazed first at each other, then at the girl, then at the paper which she
had laid upon the table.  Their foreheads were fretted with perplexity.
For the first few moments they seemed unable to speak; but presently,
bending towards Dreda, they appeared to question her in whispered tones,
to question anxiously, to cross-question,--to draw her attention to page
after page of the typed essay, as if searching for a refutation of her
statement.  But Dreda shook her head, and could not be shaken.  Then
Miss Drake turned aside and sat down, turning her chair so that her face
was hidden from the audience, and two little patches of red showed
themselves on Mr Rawdon's cheek bones.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "a mistake has arisen--a most
regrettable mistake.  The numbers attached to two of the essays
submitted to me have apparently been misplaced.  It is impossible to say
how this confusion has arisen.  Neither Miss Drake nor I can think of
any satisfactory explanation.  If by chance it should be due to any
carelessness of my own, I can only say that I am most deeply sorry, and
that I feel myself painfully punished.  It appears that the writer of
the prize essay is not Etheldreda Saxon, as we believed.  She herself
discovered the mistake when glancing at the paper which I had returned
to her while I was giving my address just now, and has taken the first
possible opportunity of making public her discovery.  I regret more than
I can say that she should have had so painful an experience, and I am
sure that you will all share my sorrow.  Miss Saxon's essay was one of
the four chosen from the rest, and I can only hope that the prophecies
which I have already made as to her future will in all truth be
fulfilled."  (Great applause.) "I now call upon Miss Susan Webster, the
author of the selected essay, to come up to the platform and receive her
prize."  (Faint clapping of hands.)

There is no doubt that it was a painful anticlimax.  It is not often
that a literary genius looks the part so delightfully as Dreda had done
twenty minutes before--Dreda, in her new blue dress, with her flaxen
mane floating past her waist, her beautiful eyes darkened with
excitement, her complexion of clearest pink and white.  As she had
mounted the steps to the platform the watching faces had shone with pure
artistic pleasure in the sight.  So young, so strong, so lovely, and so
gifted--it was a privilege even to look upon so fortunate a creature.
And now!  Guided by Miss Drake's thoughtful hand, the fairy princess had
slipped behind the screen which hid the back of the platform, and
creeping slowly across the floor came the mouselike figure of Susan in
her dun brown dress, her plain little face fretted with embarrassment
and distress, a victor with the air of a martyr, a conqueror who shrank
from her spoils.

Despite himself, Mr Rawdon's voice took a colder tone as, for the
second time, he presented the pile of books; despite herself, Miss
Drake's smile was mechanical and forced; while the visitors made only a
show of applause.  "Hard luck for that fine, bright girl!" whispered the
fathers one to another; the mothers almost without exception had tears
in their eyes.  "And she looks so sweet and pretty!  It's a _shame_!"
cried the sisters rebelliously.  Even the girls on the benches at the
back of the room--Susan's companions who loved her and appreciated her
worth--even they looked oppressed and discomfited.  The romance of
Dreda's triumph had appealed to their young imaginations; they
understood even more keenly than their elders the suffering involved in
that humiliating confession.  "Poor Dreda!" they whispered to each
other.  "Oh! poor old Dreda!"

At tea in the drawing-room the tone of the teachers was distinctly
apologetic--the high spirits characteristic of the early hours had ebbed
away, and the visitors were glad to beat an early retreat.  Mr and Mrs
Saxon received Miss Drake's apologies in the kindest and most
sympathetic manner, and would not allow her to take any blame to
herself.

"It was an accident--no one can be blamed.  We are so sorry for you,
too!"  Mrs Saxon said sweetly.  "It is a disappointment, of course; it
was a very happy moment when we believed our dear girl had gained such a
prize.  We were so proud of her!"

"We are proud of her now," interrupted Dreda's father quickly, and at
that both his hearers smiled and nodded their heads in sympathetic
understanding.  "Yes, yes; we are proud of her _now_."

To Dreda herself her parents made no allusion to the tragic mistake.
The girl only made her appearance when the motor drove up to the door,
and her cool, somewhat haughty manner showed that sympathy was the last
thing which she desired at the moment.

"Good-bye, darling, till Thursday.  Only two days more before we have
you back among us."

"Good-bye, my girl.  I'll drive over for you on Thursday morning."

"Dreda, darling, I'm _so_ glad you are coming.  I've such lots to tell
you!"

"You've got your belt fastened on the wrong hook.  The point's crooked."

For once Maud's literal mind was a blessed relief.  Her parting words
made everyone laugh, and the car drove off with the cheery sound of that
laughter ringing in the air, and the remembrance of merry faces to cheer
Dreda's aching heart.  She turned and crept upstairs to the study.  She
had shed her own gala dress, thrusting it away in the cupboard as if she
never wished to behold it again.  The study was filled with odd pieces
of furniture which had been taken out of the big classrooms, and the
fire was dying out upon the grate.

"Here sit I, and my broken heart!" sighed Dreda dramatically, as she
subsided into a chair and drew her shoulders together in an involuntary
shiver.  It had been cold work standing at the door watching the
departure of the car, and the atmosphere of the deserted room was not
calculated to cheer her spirits.  "When you've had a great shock your
constitution is enfeebled; when you're enfeebled, you are sensitive to
chills; a chill on an enfeebled constitution is generally fatal.
Perhaps I've received my death blow this afternoon in more ways than
one."  Dreda sniffed and shivered miserably once more.  The stream of
visitors was still departing, saying good-bye to Miss Bretherton and the
teachers in the drawing-room and making their way to the door.  Dreda
would not risk leaving the study and encountering strange faces on the
staircase; besides which, it did not seem her place to seek her
companions at this moment.  It was her companions who should seek _her_.

"In the hour of my triumph they all crowded round me; now I am a pelican
on the housetop, and no one cares if I am dead or alive.  I must get
accustomed to it, I suppose.  Shame and humiliation must henceforth be
my portion.  Only fifteen and a half--in _years_.  In suffering I'm an
old, old woman!  Mr Rawdon was sorry; I saw it in his face; but he
liked Susan's best.  Susan has won the prize.  Where is Susan now?  Has
she forgotten all about me?"

As if in answer to this question the handle of the door turned, and a
head was thrust round the corner.  A voice exclaimed: "Here she is!" and
Nancy entered the room, followed closely by Susan herself.  They stood
and looked at Dreda, and Dreda looked at them, but none of the three
uttered a word.  Then suddenly Susan whispered something in Nancy's ear,
and while that young person hurried from the room with a most unusual
celerity, Susan dropped quietly on her knees beside the dying fire and
began coaxing it into a blaze.

Dreda sat back in her chair and watched the process with a dull,
detached curiosity.  Susan's back looked so narrow and small; the brown
dress fastened at the back with a row of ugly bone buttons; as she knelt
the soles of her new slippers seemed to fill up the entire foreground.
They were startlingly, shockingly white!  As she bent from side to side
blowing skilfully upon the struggling flames, one could catch a glimpse
of her profile, white and wan, with red circles round the eyes.  Such a
poor, weary little conqueror, on her knees striving to serve her fallen
rival.  Something stirred in Dreda's heart; the ice melted, she cleared
her throat, and addressed her friend by name.

"Susan!"

Susan sat back on her heels, lifting scared, pitiful eyes.

"Susan," said Dreda regally, "I don't hate you.  You needn't be
frightened.  I don't hate you a bit--I'm _sorry_ for you.  This should
have been your triumph, and I have spoiled it.  It's very hard on you
too, Susan!"

"Oh, Dreda!" gasped Susan breathlessly.  "Dreda, you're _magnificent_!"
She was wan and white no longer; her eyes blazed.  No one seeing Susan
at that moment could possibly have called her plain; the lovely soul of
her shone through the flesh, working its transformation, even as the
leaping flames were now turning the dull hearth into a thing of beauty
and life.

Still on her knees, Susan crawled across the few intervening yards of
floor, and rested her head against Dreda's knee.

"I'd have given it up a hundred times--a thousand over, Dreda, rather
than let you have this experience!" she said brokenly.  And Dreda knew
that she spoke the truth.

It was in this attitude that Nancy discovered the two girls when she
entered the room a few minutes later, bearing in her hands a temptingly
spread tea-tray.  One glance of the red-brown eyes testified to her
satisfaction at such eloquent signs of peace, but manner and speech
disdained sentiment.

"Corn in Egypt!" she cried cheerfully.  "The Duck fairly showered
dainties upon me--scones, sandwiches, cakes, _and_ a fresh pot of tea.
Let's fall to at once.  I am fainting with hunger."

She placed three chairs round the table, seated herself in front of the
tray, and, pouring out three cups of tea, handed them round with
hospitable zeal.  Dreda ate and drank and felt comforted, in spite of
herself.  It was wonderful how the mere creature comforts of warmth and
food seemed to soothe the pain at her heart.  She even began to feel a
faint enjoyment in the dramatic element of her position, to realise that
if she had failed she had failed in a noticeable, even in a tragic,
fashion.  To Susan belonged the glory, yet she, the beaten one, remained
unquestionably the heroine of the day!

By the time that second cups of tea had been handed round, and an attack
made upon the iced cake, Dreda was ready and eager to discuss her
trouble.

"How _could_ those numbers have been altered, Susan?  Mine was five and
yours was ten.  They aren't in the least alike!"

"Dreda, I don't know--I can't _think_!  If they had come loose and Mr
Rawdon had clipped them on again, he would have remembered doing it.  At
least, an ordinary person would; but he is a genius.  Perhaps geniuses
are different."

"_You_ are a genius, Susan.  You ought to know!" said Dreda, whereat the
poor little genius flushed miserably, and Nancy, rattling the tea-tray,
rushed hastily into the breach.

"Accidents _will_ happen!  It's no earthly use worrying your head about
the how and the why.  There it is, and you've got to make the best of
it, and forget it as soon as possible."

Dreda rolled tragic eyes to the ceiling.

"I shall never forget.  You can't reach the height of your ambition and
then see your treasure crumble to pieces in your hands in less than ten
minutes, and fall down into a very pit of humiliation without wearing a
mark for life."

"Don't say humiliation, Dreda," cried Susan tremulously.  "Don't, dear;
I can't bear it.  It was dreadful for you; but there was no humiliation.
There was nothing--nothing of which you could be ashamed.  Your essay
was very good, too; it has been mentioned as one of the best."

But Dreda was not in the mood to accept comfort.  She was miserable, and
she intended to be miserable in a thorough, systematic fashion, so that
for the moment alleviations seemed rather to irritate than to cheer--

"My essay was only one of the best four.  That's nothing.  Except our
three selves and Barbara Morton, there's not another girl in the school
who can write a decent essay to save her life.  The others were all as
dull and stupid as could be.  You have seen them, and know that that's
true.  If mine was only the fourth best, that's no praise at all.  Mr
Rawdon made no special mention of any but yours, except when he--_Oh-
h_!"  Dreda's voice shrilled with sudden panic; she dropped her cake on
to her plate and clasped her hands together, staring before her with
wide, startled eyes.  "Oh-h!  Do you remember?  He said that he had been
_amused_ by one of the four essays.  His lips twitched, and he tried not
to laugh.  Amused at the `high-flown eloquence.'  That was the
expression--wasn't it?  High-flown eloquence!  That means rubbish, of
course--bombastic, stupid, exaggerated rubbish!  Girls, _that was mine_!
I feel it--I know it!  Susan, you know it, too.  You wouldn't say that
it was good, even when I asked you straight out.  You were too honest to
say `Yes.'  Oh!  I am not angry.  You needn't look so miserable.  It was
true, and down at the very, very bottom of my heart I knew it myself.
When I thought I had won the prize I was only really happy for a few
minutes; after that I grew frightened, for I knew it was a mistake, and
that I was not really a genius at all, only a rather sharp-witted girl,
a ready girl,"--she gave a dreary little laugh--"who could pick up other
people's ideas, and string them together as if they were her own.  The
girls weren't clever enough to know the real from the sham, but Mr
Rawdon knew it at once.  He saw how--how--" (she paused, groping in her
extensive vocabulary for a word to express her meaning) "how
_meretricious_ it was!  He was--_amused_!"

The last word came with an involuntary quiver of pain, and there was
silence round the impromptu tea-table.  Dreda saw without surprise that
the tears were rolling down Susan's cheeks--it seemed natural that Susan
should cry.  What did give her a real shock of surprise was to hear a
sound of subdued snuffling on her right, and on turning her head to
behold the imperturbable Nancy suspiciously red about the eyes and nose.

"Nancy!" she cried involuntarily.  "You are crying!  I never believed
that it was possible that you _could_ cry!  Why are you crying, Nancy?
Is it about--_me_?"

But Nancy only jerked the tea-tray, tossing her head the while in her
most nonchalant fashion.

"Can't I cry if I like?  Can't I cry for myself?  If I don't, no one
else will.  No one thinks about Me!  _I_ tried for the prize as well as
you, and I've far more right to be disappointed.  No one ever said I
might be great!"

She tossed her head and frowned and pouted, but Dreda was not deceived
by the pretence.  At her heart lay a warm feeling of comfort and
gratitude.  In recalling the incidents of this tragic day, it would
always bring a throb of consolation to remember that Nancy, the
imperturbable, had shed tears on her behalf!



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

Home again, and home with quite a festival air about _it_ in honour of
your return.  Flowers in every corner, silver candelabra on the dining-
table, favourite dishes for every course, a fire in one's bedroom,
chocolates lying ready at every turn--it was all most grateful and
soothing!  Dreda sunned herself in the atmosphere of tenderness and
approval, and though no one referred in words to her disappointment, she
knew that it was an underlying thought in every mind, and her sore heart
was soothed afresh by each new instance of kindliness and care.  The
first evening was spent according to good old-fashioned custom, sitting
round the schoolroom fire, brothers and sisters together, talking over
the events of the term, and comparing exploits and adventures.  In the
dim firelight Dreda edged close to Gurth's side and slipped her hand
through his arm; and, wonder of wonders! instead of pushing her away,
Gurth gave it a quick little grip, and leant his broad shoulder against
hers in response.  The boys were on their best behaviour, amiable and
conciliatory, without a hint of the overbearing condescension which was
apt to mark the end of the holidays.  If there was a blot on the general
harmony it was to be found in the air of detachment with which Rowena
took part in the conversation.  She was perfectly amiable, perfectly
sweet, conscientiously interested in the different exploits, yet one and
all felt disagreeably conscious that she was no longer one of their
number, and that her thoughts were continually straying off on
excursions of their own.  Dreda remembered the parting promise of "Lots
to tell!" and looked forward to hair-brushing confidences later on, but
none were forthcoming.  Rowena remained loving, preoccupied, and
inscrutable.

Alone with Maud, Dreda discussed the change in her sister's manner; but
Maud's explanation, though verbose, was hardly enlightening.

"She's nineteen.  She'll be twenty on the twenty-first of October next.
She's got a train to her last new dress.  And then there's teaching
me...  She orders me about as if she were a hundred, but lately she's
grown moony.  If I keep quite still and ask no questions she begins
staring, and stares and stares and smiles to herself.  So silly!  But it
passes the time.  When the clock strikes she gives such a jump!  I'm not
getting on a bit; but I'm glad, because then I shall go to school.  She
takes no interest in me.  I did the same exercises four times over and
she never knew, and when I told mother she said, `Poor darling!'  I
thought she meant me, but she meant Rowena.  Well, if you grow up, you
grow up, but you needn't be silly!"

Three afternoons after Dreda's return home a sharp rat-tat sounded at
the door, and Maud, flattening her nose against the window, made one of
her characteristic announcements.

"Mr Seton's horse.  He's got on his new breeches!"

Dreda gave a glad exclamation.

"Mr Seton!  Already!  The dear thing!  How did he know I was home?"

There was a short, tense pause, while Mrs Saxon and Rowena kept their
eyes glued to the ground.  A sensitive hearer would have felt that pause
significant, but Dreda was too self-engrossed to be sensitive; she never
doubted that Guy Seton's object in calling was to welcome herself on her
return from school, and her first words informed him of the fact.

"Oh, Mr Seton, it _is_ nice of you to come so soon!  Have you got the
horse yet?  It's lovely of you to remember your promise."

"My--my--_what_ horse?  What promise?"

"The horse for me--my mount!  You said you would take me out riding--"

"Oh--er--yes!  Did I?  Delighted, I'm sure!" stammered Guy Seton
awkwardly.  He looked bigger and stronger and handsomer than ever, but
even Dreda could not delude herself that he looked "delighted" at that
moment.  There had been an expression of blankest surprise upon his face
as she had stepped forward to greet him, as if he had been unprepared
for her presence, and he had flushed uncomfortably at being reminded of
his promise.  Dreda stood looking on somewhat blankly while he greeted
the other occupants of the room--Mrs Saxon with punctilious politeness,
Maud with a smile and a jest, Rowena in silence with a short grip of the
hand.  Why did he not speak to Rowena?  Were they still at cross
purposes as on the occasion of their first meeting?  Dreda watched with
curious eyes and felt confirmed in her suspicion, for Rowena stitched
steadily at her embroidery, and Guy Seton never turned as much as a
glance in her direction.  It was true that on one occasion when she
required her scissors he had pounced upon them as they lay on the table,
and handed them to her before she had had time to reach them herself;
but instead of forming the beginning of a conversation, as such an
action should naturally have done, they both appeared overcome with
embarrassment, and ignored each other's presence more persistently than
before.

A quarter of an hour passed in a desultory and broken conversation, in
which each member of the party seemed to continue his or her own train
of thought, with little or no attention to the preceding remarks.  As,
for example:

Guy Seton: "It's such a ripping day.  I thought I could ride over and
see how you all were."

Maud: "Mr Morris dropped his spectacles in the stable when he was
feeding his new mare.  He heard something grind, so he thought she had
eaten them by mistake.  He sent off for a vet., and he gave her things
and charged a guinea, and all the while they were on the dressing-table
in his room."

Dreda: "I'm always losing things!  There's been a perfect fate against
me at school this term.  It's not my fault, for I have grown hideously
careful, and they all turn up again in time, but it's most wearing for
your nerves!"

Mrs Saxon: "I met your mother in the village on Thursday, Mr Seton.  I
was glad to see her looking so well."

Guy Seton: "This brisk weather braces people up.  There's a meet at
Newstead Market Square on Monday at eleven.  Ought to be a good run."

Maud: "Mr Morris's mare cost eighty pounds.  Their coachman told our
gardener.  He said he thought she was gone for sure when the eyeglasses
were missing.  They've got a gold rim."

Dreda: "People always lose glasses.  Flora Mason wears them at school.
She draws most beautifully.  She had caricatures of all the mistresses
inside an atlas.  She put them on the back of Balkan States because no
one ever looks at them; but there was an earthquake or something, and
The Duck turned them up.  As a punishment, she made Flora stand up
before all the class and draw a copy of her portrait on the board.
Flora kept trying to make it pretty, and she said:--

"`Look at your copy, please, Flora; the nose goes to a point, and is
_inches_ larger!'  Flora was _purple_ with embarrassment, and so were we
all."

Guy Seton: "I was wondering if you would care to follow with us on
Monday, Miss Saxon?  We'd take good care of you.  My cousin is a very
careful rider, and you need not be at all nervous of being led into
awkward places.  We could turn back as soon as you were tired."

Dreda's gasp of dismay sounded clearly through the room, but Guy Seton
was apparently deaf to the sound.  Rowena had raised her head from her
embroidery, revealing a face of almost startling beauty--cheeks as pink
as a wild rose, eyes deeply, darkly blue, lips curving into the sweetest
and shyest of smiles.

"Thank you so much.  I should love to go.  I should not be at all
afraid."

"That's settled, then!" cried Mr Seton, and breathed a sigh of relief.
The air of restraint which he had worn since entering the room gave
place to his usual genial, happy manner.  He turned to Dreda, questioned
her about her work and games, joked and teased, recalled his own
experiences, was everything that was kind and friendly, but never a word
did he say about the promised "mount"--not a hint that she also might
like to attend the meet!  Verily it was a world of grief and
disappointment.

Gurth opined that it was a "beastly fag" having no horses, but saw no
reason why the younger members of the party should not follow on
bicycles.  Dreda protested haughtily that if she could not go properly
she would not go at all; but when the day of the meet arrived and she
saw the little party complacently preparing to start, pride gave way
before the thought of a long, dull day alone; she rushed to get ready,
and pedalled down the drive looking her old complacent self.

Rowena led the cavalcade on Mr Seton's brown hunter, with her fair
locks coiled tightly at the back and her hat pressed down on her
forehead.  She was not quite so pretty, perhaps, as in ordinary attire,
but she looked delightfully trim and business-like, and her young
brothers and sisters were proud of her and made favourable comparisons
between her and the other lady riders assembled in the square.  It was a
picturesque sight to see the motley collection of vehicles drawn up by
the kerbstones, the riders pacing to and fro, greeting fresh arrivals,
who kept trotting in from every direction, the pink coats of the men
making welcome touches of colour, and finally the appearance of the
hounds themselves, preceded by the huntsmen in their velvet caps and
smart white breeches.

A long table was laid out in front of the village inn, on which were set
refreshments for those who had driven from a distance.  The Saxon
quartette strolled up and down, wheeling their bicycles as they went,
exchanging greetings with acquaintances, and quizzing the peculiarities
of strangers, after the merciless fashion of youth.  It was just as they
reached the farthest corner of the square, and were about to turn back,
that Dreda's glance came into contact with a pair of eyes fixed upon her
with a coldly antagonistic gaze with which she was painfully familiar.

Norah!  By all that was inexplicable, Norah West herself, standing
calmly in the midst of Newstead Market Square, more than a hundred miles
distant from her home, to which she had travelled a short week before!

Dreda gazed back in stupefied amazement, and even as she looked a second
figure detached itself from the crowd and advanced towards her.

"Dreda!  I didn't expect to meet you here.  I was going to write!"

"Susan!  What is Norah doing with you?  Don't tell me you have asked her
to _stay_!"

"I didn't--but she _is_ here, all the same.  Her brother came home ill
from school, and the others had all to be sent off at once in case it
was something infectious.  She telegraphed to know if she might come to
us."

"Like her cheek!"

"Oh, Dreda, it was horrid for her, too.  Just think if you missed your
holidays at home!  And she had often invited me there."

"Oh, of course, she adores you, so you enjoy having her company.  Don't
let me interfere!  It's delightful that you are so well entertained.  I
congratulate you, I'm sure."

Susan's lips quivered.  Her face was pinched by the chill wind, which
gave increased pathos to her look.

"Dreda, I always tell you the truth; it's horrid of me--but I'm _not_
glad!  I didn't want her one bit.  I thought you and I would be often
together, and now that she is here that can't be, I'm afraid.  But--poor
Norah!  None of the girls like her very much; there were so few places
she could go to, and just because she isn't--isn't _quite_ what one
would wish, there is all the more reason why one should be nice to her.
You remember what you said yourself."

"What did I say?"

"It wasn't about Norah exactly, but one day we were talking about people
we didn't like, and you said the best way was to be perfectly sweet
oneself, and to behave always as if we loved them, and expected only
good things from them, and so elevate them in spite of themselves.  I
thought it was such a beautiful idea.  I've never forgotten it, and now
I'm trying to put _it_ into practice."

"Oh-h!" exclaimed Dreda blankly.  She herself had forgotten her fine
sentiments almost as soon as they were uttered, and was not pleased to
be reminded of them at the moment.  "Oh-h!  Well, if you want to
experiment, you must; but I do think it's a little inconsiderate to
choose Norah as your subject, and in the Christmas holidays, too!  Where
do I come in, please?  Really, Susan, you are too appallingly
inconsiderate!"

Susan smiled her sweet, illuminating little smile.

"I know I am; dear; but be patient with me, please, because I'm
disappointed, too, and you'd have done the same yourself if you'd been
in my place.  You may rage and storm, but you _never_ refuse to do a
good turn!  I'll keep Norah out of your way!"

For this morning at least the promise could not be kept; for, once
having joined forces, it was difficult to separate again, and throughout
the exciting chase which followed Norah made herself so agreeable that
Harold and Gurth pronounced her "a ripping girl, worth a dozen of that
mumpy little Susan Webster."

"Now they'll want her asked over on every occasion.  We shall be
_saturated_ with Norah!  Miserable wretch that I am!  Misfortunes dog my
footsteps!" sighed Dreda to herself.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

The first three hours of the hunt passed somewhat slowly as the hounds
sought in vain for a scent, or "found," only to be rewarded by a short,
illusive chase.  The waits were so frequent that the riders had little
chance of growing fatigued, and the Saxon contingent, being refreshed
with pocketed stores of biscuits and chocolate, boldly announced its
intention of following to the bitter end.

At last the longed-for baying of excitement sounded from within a
spinney which was being drawn, while the field waited in scattered
groups to right and left.  The next moment the long-looked-for fox
dashed swiftly across the meadow, making for the nearest woodland, and,
presto! all was excitement and bustle.  Led by the huntsmen and hounds,
the horsemen went streaming across country in a long, irregular line,
leaping lightly across intervening barriers, while the less fortunate
riders on wheels were obliged to follow the _detours_ of the road.

Dreda felt an almost unbearable impatience as she watched Rowena's
graceful figure swaying lightly in her saddle beside Guy Seton in his
picturesque pink coat.  Hateful to come to a meet if you couldn't come
properly!  Hateful of Guy Seton to have forgotten his promise!  Hateful
to follow a mile behind and be out of all the fun.  She set her teeth,
and decided that she would not condescend to follow meekly in the wake
of her companions, but, by taking a short cut in the shape of a ploughed
road which led across three meadows, would cut off a corner a good half-
mile in length.  The path was rough, exceedingly rough--but, granted
that it was a trifle dangerous, what else could you expect at a hunt?
No sooner thought than done.  Dreda deliberately slackened pace until
Hereward and Gurth had passed on ahead, then turned in at the opened
gate, and after a few minutes' painful wobbling to and fro found a deep
rut along which her wheels could make a fairly easy progress.  The sound
of agitated puffings and pantings from behind made her aware that
another rider had been rash enough to follow her lead; but she dared not
turn her head to see who it might be.  The road grew worse instead of
better, and the different ruts seemed to merge together in the most
annoying fashion.  The bicycle bumped and strained, and only by the most
careful steering could be kept upright at all.  She was a good and
fearless rider, but, to judge from the gasps and groans which sounded
from behind, her follower was not equally skilful, and Dreda began to
realise a fresh danger in her nearness.  She determined to cross to the
far side of the road, chose what seemed to be the smoothest passage, and
swerved violently to the right.  What exactly happened it would be
difficult to say, as it is always difficult to account for any accident
after the event.  It was impossible to decide whether the second rider
was too close on Dreda's heels, and so volleyed into her at the first
sideways movement or whether Dreda's front wheel struck against a rut,
and in so doing blocked the way.  The only thing that was certain was
that the two machines came violently into contact, and that their
respective riders were thrown headlong to the ground.

A moment of stunned surprise, and then Dreda sat up slowly; very red,
very angry, conscious of a sore elbow, a dusty skirt, and a hat screwed
rakishly to one side.  She was convinced that she had not been to blame,
and that her downfall was absolutely and entirely the fault of that
stupid other person who had followed too quickly behind; but on the
point of declaiming reproaches, she was suddenly silenced by two
startling discoveries: first, that the other person was none other than
Norah West, and secondly, that she was lying very still, with her head
falling limply to one side.

Dreda felt a sudden chilling of the blood.  Her heart pounded against
her side, and an inner voice cried in her ear: "Norah is dead!  You were
saying horrid things about her an hour ago, and now she is dead.  You
led the way along this dangerous path, and she followed and got killed,
and it is _your_ fault!  Norah is dead, and it is you who have killed
her!"

She crawled forward on hands and knees, and peered fearfully at the
still face.  The spectacles had fallen off Norah's nose.  The freckles
looked browner than ever against the pallor of the skin.  Her face
looked pinched and wan, but she was not dead: the breath came faintly
from between the parted lips, the cheeks were warm to the touch.  Dreda
gave a great sigh of relief, and seating herself in the middle of the
road, lifted Norah's head with her strong young arms until it lay
pillowed on her knee.  She searched for her handkerchief, wiped the dust
from the unconscious face, and stroked back the heavy hair, crooning
over her the while in tones of fondest affection.

"Norah!  Norah dear!  Norah, wake up!  I'm here.  Dreda's with you,
dear!"

Hitherto Dreda had felt no affection for Norah West; there had been
little sympathy between them, and the rivalry for Susan's favour had
been a constant cause of friction; but at this moment it seemed the most
important thing in life that Norah should open her eyes and speak once
more.

In the silent tension of those waiting moments Dreda had a flash of rare
insight into the feelings of another.  Poor old Norah!  She had been
snappy at times, but what wonder!  It must have been hateful to have a
new girl come to school and become the chosen chum of the girl you
wanted for yourself; to see her take the lead, while you remained in
your insignificant corner.  Norah was neither pretty, clever, nor
amusing; she was not popular in the school; but, indeed, she had never
striven after popularity.  The one thing she had desired above all
others was Susan's friendship, and that she had failed to gain.  Dreda
had been accustomed to jeer at the limitations of others; but now, for
the first time in her life, she felt a pang of whole-hearted sympathy
towards the girl who was so much less fortunate than herself.  "It's no
credit to me that I'm pretty, but I should have hated to be plain.  It
would have warped my disposition to look in the glass every day and see
nothing but freckles and glittering gold specs.  Perhaps it warped
Norah's.  I ought to have been sorry, instead of proud and superior.
And I'm not clever, either--I thought I was--and it was dreadful finding
out.  I expect she hated it, too.  Norah!  Oh, Norah, I have behaved
like a blind, self-satisfied bat.  If you go and die now I shall be
miserable all my life--bowed down with remorse!  Oh, Norah, do, _do_
open your eyes!"

But Norah lay quiet and unresponsive.  Where and how had she been
injured?  There was no sign of blood, no cut or bruise on the still
white face.  Dreda gently moved each arm, but still without awakening
any sign of consciousness.  Then, leaning forward, she tried to
straighten out the twisted legs.  Instantly there came a flinch and a
groan, the heavy lids rolled upward, and two startled eyes searched her
face.

"What is it?  Where am I?  What has happened?  Oh--the pain! the pain!"

"You are quite safe, dear.  You fell from your bicycle.  I am afraid you
have hurt your leg; but I'm here.  I'll take care of you.  You know me,
don't you?  You know Dreda Saxon?"

Norah gave a moan of acquiescence.  The consciousness of Dreda's near
neighbourhood did not appear to be especially soothing, for she turned
her head restlessly from side to side, and tried to lift herself on her
elbow.  The effort failed, and she was obliged to lie back in the same
position, pillowed against Dreda's knee, shivering with mingled cold and
pain.

"My leg!  I can't move it.  Don't move!  Don't shake me!  The least
movement is torture.  Oh! how shall I ever get home?"

The same thought was beginning to agitate Dreda's mind.  Far off, over
the distant fences, the heads of a few riders could be seen bobbing away
out of sight, as the field swept across the sloping meadows.  As well
call to the trees themselves as seek to attract their attention!  The
cross road was too rough and muddy to be much used in winter; it was
quite possible that not a soul might pass by for the rest of the day.
Dreda shivered at the thought of the long hours of the afternoon during
which Norah might be obliged to lie--cold, cramped, suffering, waiting
for the help which never came; of the horror of darkness falling over
the land.

"I must go for help.  There are some farmhouses about half a mile away.
I could get men to carry you back.  Could you let me lift you--very,
very gently--and lay you down on the bank?"

But Norah was terrified to face the slightest movement.  So long as she
lay perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, the pain was bearable;
but the moment that she attempted to stir such a darting torture seized
her in its grip that she was ready to face any waiting, any darkness,
rather than allow herself to be moved.  She gripped Dreda's hand and the
tears welled up in her eyes.

"No, no!  You mustn't!  You mustn't!  I should go mad.  Let me lie
still.  Some one will come.  If they don't, let me just die quietly
here.  Don't move!  _Don't_ shake me!  I can't bear it.  I shall die
straight off."

There seemed nothing to be done but to soothe and sympathise, sitting as
still as possible, stroking Norah's hair, and striving to shield her
from the biting wind.  The short-sighted eyes looked quite different
bereft of their glittering glasses.  The aggressive expression had given
place to one of pitiful appeal.  Norah had never before experienced
severe physical pain; it seemed to her like some savage monster lying in
wait to grip her with its claws.  She lay with her eyes strained on
Dreda's face, feeling herself in Dreda's power, terrified lest Dreda
should fail her in her need.

"Dreda, am I heavy?  Does it tire you to hold me?  I've read that people
get cramped sitting in one position--that it hurts like a real pain.
Oh, Dreda, but it can't be like my pain!  Something terrible has
happened to my leg.  It is broken--or fractured.  You can't imagine how
it feels.  The least movement seems to stab through my whole body.  Even
if you _do_ get cramped, Dreda, will you promise me to sit still--not to
move or shake me until some one comes?"

Dreda hesitated miserably.

"I'll try, Norah.  I _will_ try!  I can't bear to say no when you ask
me, but I feel as if it were wrong to promise.  It _can't_ be good for
you to _lie_ here in the cold and the damp.  And you ought to see a
doctor at once.  You will have to be moved some time, and it is bound to
hurt.  Couldn't you make up your mind and be very, very brave, and let
me put you down and run for help _now_?  Indeed, indeed it would be
best!"

But poor Norah did not feel at all brave.  She shuddered and cried, and
clutched Dreda tight with her trembling hands, so that it seemed
impossible to deny her request.

The time seemed terribly slow, the wind grew colder and colder, and a
thin grey mist began to spread over the meadows.  Dreda turned up the
collar of her coat, but even that slight movement brought a groan of
pain from Norah's lips and a piteous plea to keep still.  She set her
teeth hard in the effort to refrain from trembling.  Her feet were
alternately numb and tingling with "pins and needles," but still no sign
of a living creature could be seen.  After an hour had passed by Dreda
was almost more miserable than Norah, who had passed into a dull stupor
from which she was aroused only by occasional darting pains.  She lay
with closed eyes, refusing to speak, but clutching with both hands at
Dreda's dress as if even in her semi-unconsciousness the terror of
movement still remained, and the cold mist crept nearer and nearer,
shutting out the landscape like a heavy screen.  Dreda looked at the
little watch strapped round her wrist, and saw that the hands pointed to
three o'clock.  In these short winter days it was often necessary to
ring for lamps before four o'clock--only another hour of daylight, and
then!  What would happen if no help came within the next hour?  Would
they have to spend the night together--Norah and she?  Out in that
lonely path?  Would they be found lying cold and stark when at last the
searchers came with the morning light?

Dreda was beginning to feel a little dazed herself.  Even before the
accident had happened she had been feeling somewhat tired and chilled,
and the mental and physical sufferings of the past two hours had been
severe.  Perhaps she had been weak in submitting to Norah's entreaties;
perhaps it would have been truer kindness to have inflicted the
momentary torture, so as to have gone in search of aid; but be that as
it might, the opportunity was past, and whether she wished it or not she
was now too cramped to move.  Her limbs felt so paralysed that she
believed that she would never walk again.  But the thought brought with
it no regret; she did not care.  Nothing mattered any more, except that
there was no support against which to lean her weary back.  She was so
tired, so sleepy; Norah's head was so heavy on her lap.  Dreda's eyelids
drooped and opened; drooped again and remained closed; her head fell
forward on her chest.  The grey mist crept nearer and covered her from
sight!



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

Rowena and Guy Seton gave themselves up to the pleasures of the hunt,
blissfully forgetful of the young brothers and sisters who were
following on wheels; and, indeed, of everything and everyone but just
their own two selves.  There seemed always to be some incontrovertible
reason why they should keep by themselves, a little apart from the rest
of the field.  Rowena's hunting experiences had been few, and her escort
was too anxious about her safety to allow her to try any but the very
simplest and smallest of jumps.  This excess of precaution necessitated
many a detour, but neither of the two seemed anxious to make up for lost
time by putting on extra speed to catch up with their friends; and the
interest in the pursuit of the fox was of so perfunctory a nature that
it often seemed more by chance than by design that they took the right
turnings at all!

It was after two o'clock when Rowena was refreshing herself with
sandwiches produced from Guy Seton's case during an interval of rest,
when the hounds were drawing a spinney, that she cast her eyes to right
and left over the scattered field, and remarked carelessly:

"I don't see Dreda!  The boys are there, and the Websters and Maud; but
I don't see Dreda anywhere--do you?"

Guy Seton cast a cursory glance in the direction indicated.

"She is probably behind a tree or a hedge, hiding from the wind.  Miss
Dreda strikes me as a young woman who can take remarkably good care of
herself.  Do take another sandwich!  To please me!  I'm so afraid you
will feel faint."

Evidently Rowena was considered less able to look after herself than her
younger sister; for on this, as at every moment of the afternoon, she
was guarded, directed, and cared for as though she had been the most
helpless and timid of children; and the extraordinary thing about it was
that Rowena, who was in reality a most capable and self-confident young
woman, made not the slightest objection, but seemed thoroughly to enjoy
the experience.

Half an hour later on Gurth took the opportunity of another halt to ride
up to Rowena's side with a repetition of her own question.

"I say, Ro--have you seen anything of Dreda?  She and Norah West seem to
have disappeared altogether.  I can't think what's happened to them."

"Perhaps they felt tired, and have gone home.  Dreda's all right if she
has someone with her," returned Rowena easily, and Gurth accepted the
explanation and immediately dismissed the subject from his mind.

Guy Seton was troubled with no fears about the missing girls; but
hearing Rowena mention the word "tired," became straightway devoured
with anxiety lest the epithet should in any way apply to herself.  In
vain did she protest with the most radiant and dimpling of smiles.  She
could no more deny that four hours in the saddle was an unusual exertion
than that the weather had taken a change for the worse, and that home
lay a good eight miles away.  The exhilaration of the moment was such
that she felt as if it were impossible ever to be tired again;
nevertheless, it was sweet to be cared for, sweet to subject her own
will to that of Guy Seton.  So the end of the discussion was that the
hunt was abandoned, and while the field went gaily chasing after a fresh
scent, these two riders turned their horses' heads and jogged slowly in
the direction of home.

Suddenly an overpowering feeling of shyness seized upon Rowena.  Every
moment took her farther away from her companions; the country ahead
looked misty and solitary; Guy Seton's eyes were fixed upon her face
with an expression at once so wistful and so ardent that it seemed
impossible to meet it with her own.  In her heart of hearts Rowena knew
perfectly well what that look meant; but with the curious inconsistency
of her sex the impulse was strong upon her to fly from what she had most
longed for and desired.  Conversation was the best refuge for the
moment, and she plunged hastily into the first subject which presented
itself.

"I wonder if we shall find Dreda waiting at home!  Poor Dreda, she was
so disgusted at having to follow on wheels.  She refused point blank to
come, as she had not a mount; but at the last moment it seemed too dull
to stay at home all by herself.  She is such a good horsewoman--far
better than I am.  Perhaps next meet you will be very, very kind and
take her with you?"

Guy Seton's face suddenly assumed an expression of acute anxiety and
discomfort.

"Why should I take her?  You are not--surely you are not _going away_?"

"Oh, no--oh, no; but it is Dreda's holiday.  She would love it so!  It
would be such a treat."

"And you?  Does that mean that you _don't_ enjoy it?  That you would
rather stay at home and let her come in your place?"

Rowena blushed.

"Of course it doesn't.  I love it, too; but I wasn't thinking of myself.
Dreda thinks--she believes that you made some sort of promise that you
would give her a mount, and she is counting upon you to keep it.  She
would be so disappointed--"

But Guy Seton had forgotten all about his lightly spoken words, and was
in no mood to be reminded.

"I think she must be mistaken, don't you know!" he protested easily.
"It's always the same thing with youngsters of that age.  If one is
foolish enough to say a word, they leap to the conclusion that it is a
definite arrangement.  I've learnt that with my own nephews and nieces.
I saw so very little of Miss Dreda before she went off to school that I
could hardly have had time to promise."

"I don't think it took very much time.  So far as I understand, it was
on the afternoon when you first met--"

"The afternoon when I came over to call?  I remember nothing whatever
about that afternoon except that I saw you, for the first time, and that
you were unkind to me, and wouldn't speak."

The blush on Rowena's cheeks flamed up again more rosily than before.

"Don't speak of it, please!  It makes me hot and so furious with Maud
even now.  You are not a girl, so you can't understand; but I was so
wretchedly embarrassed, and angry, and ashamed."

"But why?  That's what I could not understand!  You had been sweet
enough, and unselfish enough, and hospitable enough to go to the trouble
of putting on a pretty frock--I adore that blue frock--for the benefit
of a casual stranger whom you had never even seen.  Why should you be
ashamed of that?  I think it was jolly unselfish.  It's such a fag
changing one's kit.  You ought to have been very complacent and pleased.
You _would_ have been if you could have changed places with me for a
minute, and seen yourself walking into the room.  If you knew what I
thought--"

He paused, and Rowena, scenting danger, resolved that nothing on earth
would make her put the obvious question.  The resolution lasted for a
whole half-minute, at the end of which time a feeble little voice
demanded softly:

"Wh-at did you think?"

"I thought--oh, Rowena! so many, many things!  I thought that I had
dreamt of you all my life, and had found you at last.  I thought you
were the loveliest thing in the whole wide world.  I wished I had been a
better man for your sake!  I was so happy to have met you, and so
miserable because you were cross.  It was such a bad beginning that I
was afraid you would always be prejudiced--always dislike me."

Again he paused, and Rowena bent over her horse's head, stroking its
mane, keeping her eyes persistently downcast.  They traversed another
hundred yards before the low, insistent tones again struck on her ear.

"_Do_ you, Rowena?"

"Do I--what?"

"Dislike me still?"

"I?  Oh, what a question!  I never disliked you.  I was angry with Maud,
and with myself--not with you at all."

"But I want so much more.  Don't you know that, Rowena?  I tumbled
headlong in love with you that very afternoon, and I've gone on tumbling
deeper and deeper ever since.  Do you care for me a little bit, Rowena?
_Could_ you care?  I'm such a stupid, ordinary sort of fellow.  I don't
know how I dare ask such a thing of a girl like you--the loveliest,
sweetest girl that ever lived--but I just _have_ to, and that's the
truth!  I can't stand the suspense another hour.--If I waited long
enough would there be a chance for me in the end?  If I were very, very
patient!"

A dimple dipped in the lovely curve of Rowena's cheek.  She was sure
now--quite, quite sure!  It was not merely a foolish, girlish
imagination.  Guy loved her.  Guy wanted her for his wife.  She had
entered into her woman's kingdom, and, womanlike, began instantly to
adopt provocative little airs and graces.

"But I--I don't want you to be--to be--"

"To be what?  _What_ don't you want me to be, Rowena?"

"P-atient!" sighed Rowena, and turned her head with a smile and a glance
and a blush which transformed the grey winter landscape into a very
Garden of Eden for the man by her side.

Ah, well! it was a blissful half-hour which followed, filled with the
inevitable questionings and recollections which every fresh Adam and Eve
believe to be their own exclusive property.  "What did you think?"

"What did you mean?"

"Why did you say?"

"What was the first--the very first moment when you began to care?"
Hand in hand they passed along the country lanes, the reins lying slack
on the necks of their tired steeds; hand in hand they turned in at the
farther gate of the ploughed roads which lay across the fields, and
halfway along its length came suddenly upon the two still, half-
conscious figures of Dreda and Norah West.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

The alarm was given at the nearest farm, and the two girls conveyed with
all speed to The Meads, where a doctor was at once summoned to their
aid.

Norah's right knee was found to be badly fractured, from the effects of
which she had to face intense pain and discomfort for some days, and a
long, dragging convalescence.  Given rest and care, however, recovery
was only a matter of time, and the onlookers were less anxious about her
than the other patient, who was raving with delirium in an adjoining
room.  Dreda, like many robust people, had been more affected by the
deadly chill of those long waiting hours than was her more fragile
companion.  Perhaps in nursing Norah upon her knee she had screened her
friend from the biting wind, which had seemed to cut like knives through
her own back.  She had been like a figure of ice when she was carried
into the house; but before she had been an hour in bed the reaction had
set in and she was burning with a fever heat.

The old nursery expression, "hotty-cold," was a true description of that
miserable night, when she alternately shuddered and burnt, and when
morning came the dread word "pneumonia" was whispered from lip to lip.
A hospital nurse was called in to aid Mrs Saxon in the care of the two
patients.  Rowena took over the housekeeping duties, and went about her
work with a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.  Poor, poor darling
Dreda!  It was pitiful to hear her loud, painful breathing.  Rowena's
heart stood still at the thought that Dreda's life was in danger--but
Guy was coming.  Guy would take her in his arms; she would lay her tired
head on Guy's broad shoulder, and be comforted.  Was it wrong to feel
that nothing, nothing in the world could be unbearable while Guy's arms
held her close?

Susan hurried over to The Meads whitefaced and trembling, longing to
help, to be of use; but Rowena waved aside her offers half-heard.  She
could do nothing.  The house was already too full; another inmate would
only be an additional burden.  But Susan gently intimated that she was
not dreaming of offering her own presence.  "I thought perhaps you would
let me have Maud.  It must be lonely for Maud, and she may be a little
in your way.  If you would let Maud stay with us for a time I would try
to make her happy."

"Oh, you nice Susan!  Oh, Susan, how dear of you!" cried Rowena,
fervently.  "No words can express the relief which it would be to get
rid of Maud just now.  She doesn't know what to do with herself, and she
follows us about all over the house, asking questions from morning till
night--millions of questions--and she makes mother cry, and upsets the
maids, and drops things with a bang outside Dreda's door when they are
trying to make her sleep, and--and,"--the colour rose in Rowena's smooth
cheeks--"you can't get away from her.  She's always there!  It _would_
be sweet of you to take her, but I'm afraid you'd be very bored."

"No," said Susan simply, "I couldn't be bored.  It's the only way in
which I can help Dreda.  The more difficult it is the better I shall be
pleased."

Rowena looked at her in silence.  Little, plain, insignificant Susan
Webster, whom an hour ago she had pitied with all her heart.  She had no
Guy to love her.  Considering her unattractive exterior, and the
inherent love of men for beauty and charm, it was exceedingly doubtful
whether she ever _would_ have a Guy.  But she understood.  She had risen
already to a higher conception of love than the bride whose
predominating joy was still in being loved--in receiving rather than
giving!  At that moment Rowena had a flash-like glimpse into the
nobility of Susan Webster's nature, and her former disdain turned into
admiration and love.

When the first painful days had passed, it cannot be denied that Dreda
thoroughly enjoyed her position of invalid, with all the petting and
consideration which it involved.  She was inclined to pose as a heroine,
moreover; for had not her own sufferings been the result of standing by
a companion in distress!  "I could not leave her," she announced to the
doctor when he cross-questioned her concerning the events of the fateful
afternoon.  "She shrieked every time I made the least movement.  It was
the knee that was broken, but the pain seemed to stretch all the way up.
It would have been cruel to move her."

"One has sometimes to be cruel to be kind, Miss Dreda.  It would have
been better for her, as well as for yourself, if you had insisted upon
going for help at once," said the doctor in reply; but even as he spoke
he laid his hand on her shoulder with a friendly pat, and Dreda felt
complacently convinced that he considered her a marvel of bravery and
self-sacrifice.

Mrs Saxon was the most devoted of nurses, and shed tears of
thankfulness over each step of the invalid's progress towards
convalescence; but Dreda was by no means satisfied with the attitude of
her elder sister.  Rowena floated in and out of the sick-room with a
smile and a kiss; but instead of begging to be allowed to stay, she
seemed always in a hurry to be gone, and on one or two occasions when
Dreda made feeble efforts at conversation, her attention wandered so
hopelessly that she said "Yes" and "No" in the wrong places, or
blushingly requested to have the question repeated.

"How odd Rowena is!  So absent-minded and stupid.  She doesn't listen to
half one is saying, and smiles to herself in the silliest way.--I think
the housekeeping must be too much for her brain!"  Dreda declared to her
mother, and Mrs Saxon smiled in response and skilfully turned the
conversation to a safer topic.  Dreda was not strong enough to bear any
excitement yet awhile.

It was nearly a week later, when one morning, as Rowena stood by the
bedside, the invalid's quick eyes caught the flash of diamonds on the
third finger of her sister's left hand.  She pounced upon it, and
holding it fast, despite the other's struggles, demanded tersely:

"What's that?"

"Oh, Dreda, I--I have been waiting to tell you!  The doctor said you
were to be kept so quiet.  It's a--a-- Guy gave it to me."

"Guy?"  The face on the pillow was all blank surprise and bewilderment.
"What Guy?"

"Guy Seton--my Guy!  It's an engagement ring.  Oh, Dreda, I have been
longing to tell you.  I'm _so_--happy!"

"You--are--engaged--to Guy Seton?" repeated Dreda blankly.  Instead of
the radiant smile which Rowena expected, her face hardened with
displeasure, and she drew her brows together in a frown.  "When?  How?
Why?  I never dreamt of such a thing.  It seems too extraordinary to be
true."

"Oh, Dreda, why?  We think it so natural.  We were made for each other.
It seems as if we must always have been engaged.  I thought you would be
so pleased."

"Well, I'm not," declared Dreda decidedly.  "Not at all.  I don't like
it one bit.  It upsets all my plans.  I used to imagine that father
would get all his money back and I should come home from school and go
about with you--two fair young _debutantes_--always together, having
such fun, sitting up afterwards in our bedrooms brushing our hair and
talking over what had happened as they do in books.  It will be so dull
being alone with no one but Maud.  Oh, Rowena, you _are_ selfish!"

But Rowena only laughed, and dimpled complacently.

"Oh, Dreda, you _are_ funny!  You didn't expect me always to stay at
home, did you?  I am the eldest; it is only natural that I should be
married first, and if I _am_ to be married, surely you would rather have
Guy than anyone else!  There is no one like him.  All the men we have
known are like puppets compared with him.  He is so true, so strong, so
noble.  You ought to be proud, Dreda, that you are going to have him for
a brother."

"Well, I'm not," declared Dreda once more.  "It's not a bit what I
expected.  I thought that first day he seemed so taken with _me_!  I
thought--at least, I didn't think, but I _should_ have thought if I had
thought, do you understand?--that he would have wanted to be engaged to
_me_!  Not yet, of course, but he could have waited till I was grown up.
And you were so huffy and stiff, and I raced across the fields to find
mother, and took such trouble.  It doesn't seem fair!"

But Rowena only laughed again, without a trace of offence.

"Poor old Dreda, it _is_ hard lines.  Never mind, dear; think of the
wedding, and how you will enjoy being chief bridesmaid, and how lovely
it will be when you come to stay with me in my own little house.  Won't
it be fun doing just as we like, and ordering the dinners, and having
parties whenever we like, and being absolutely and entirely our own
mistresses, with no one to say: `Don't!' or `You must not,' or `I'll
leave it to you, dear--but you know my wishes!'  That's the worst of
all, for it seems to put you on your honour, and then you're powerless.
You must often come to stay with us, Dreda dear."

Dreda lay silently, considering the situation.  The prospect painted by
Rowena was sufficiently enticing to mitigate her first displeasure.
Pictures of bridal processions passed before her eyes; pictures of a
charmingly artistic little house, which would be as a second home, an
ideal home free from discipline and authority.  The frown faded, her
lips relaxed, a dimple dipped in her cheek.

"You must let me choose the bridesmaids' dresses, and help to arrange
the drawing-room.  I should have it green, with white paint; but you
must be awfully particular about the shade.  I've got a wonderful eye
for colour--Fraulein says so.  So _that_ was why you never listened when
people spoke to you, and kept on smiling in that silly way!  I asked
mother, but she put me off.  Rowena, tell me.  What did he say?"

"_Dreda_!"

Rowena, drawing herself up with a most grown-up access of hauteur, gave
it to be understood that such questions were an outrage on good taste,
and her younger sister was obliged to turn to subjects less embarrassing
and intimate.

"Well, how did you feel then, when it was all settled and you had time
to think?"

"Very happy--utterly happy and contented.  There seemed nothing I could
wish altered; except, oh, Dreda, I was sorry about the past.  I wanted
to tell you about that, so that you might be warned in time.  Father and
mother were so sweet to Guy and me; they never seemed to think of
themselves, but only of our happiness; but when I said good-night I saw
the tears in mother's eyes, and I said to myself, `You had the chance of
helping her when she was in trouble and of showing her what a comfort a
daughter could be; but you were cross and selfish, and threw _it_ aside,
and now _it_ is too late.  It can never, never come back.  You have
missed your chance.'  That thought was like a cloud over my happiness.
I had felt so disappointed to miss my season in London, so angry at
having to teach Maud, so ill-used at being shut up in the country, that
I had no time to be sorry for anyone but myself.  I made things _worse_
for mother by moping and looking cross and dull, and I was a Tartar to
Maud.  Poor old Maud!  She was far more patient with me than I was with
her; and after all, Dreda, it was here, in the place I hated, living the
life I dreaded, that I met Guy, the big, big prize of my life!  I feel
so much older since I was engaged.  One seems to _understand_ everything
so differently.  And I have thought of you so often, dear, and hoped
that you may never lose your chance as I have done mine.  Your _home_
chance, I mean--the chance of being a real good daughter to father and
mother.  Then you can never reproach yourself as I do now."

Dreda stared with big, surprised eyes.  Well might Rowena say that she
was changed!  It might have been mother herself who was speaking.  Such
gravity, such penitence, such humility, were new indeed from the lips of
the erstwhile proud and complacent young beauty!  Dreda lay awake that
night pondering over the great news of the day, with all its
consequences to Rowena and herself.

Meanwhile Norah lay helpless in her bedroom at the other side of the
house, and though the agonising pain of the first few days was
mercifully a thing of the past, the doctor did not disguise the fact
that a long and weary convalescence lay ahead before anything like
walking could be possible.  In a week or two she might be able to be
lifted from bed, with the splints still firmly in position; in a week or
two more she might get about on crutches, but for how long the crutches
would be necessary it was impossible to say.  Only one thing was
certain: there was no chance of returning to school!

Norah took the verdict very quietly.  Once relieved from pain, she was a
patient, uncomplaining invalid, and gave little trouble to her nurses.
That she was depressed in spirits seemed only natural under the
circumstances.  Her brother's illness made it impossible for her own
mother to be near her; her constrained position made it difficult to
read; and her own thoughts were not too cheerful companions for the
long, dragging hours.  Everyone rejoiced when at last Dreda was well
enough to be wrapped in a dressing-gown and escorted across the landing
to have tea in Norah's room.  A bright fire burned on the hearth; a
little table, spread with tempting fare, stood by the bed; and Dreda,
propped up in a big armchair, was left to play the part of mistress of
the ceremonies.

"They will be happier without us.  We will leave them to have their talk
alone," whispered the elders to each other, as they left the room; but
the two girls were mutually suffering from a sense of embarrassment
which made conversation difficult to begin.

"How thin she is!  Her nose is sharper than ever.  Poor dear, she _is_
plain!" reflected Dreda, candid and clear-sighted.

"How thin she is!  All her colour has gone, but she looks pretty still.
She always does look pretty," reflected Norah in her turn.  She lifted
her cup in a trembling hand, looking wistfully at her companion with
gaunt, spectacled eyes.

"I am so sorry you were ill...  It was all my fault.  I kept you there
in the cold...  Doctor Reed says I should have been plucky and made up
my mind to bear the pain ...  It's easy to talk when your bones are
whole.  When they are broken and sticking into your flesh you feel quite
different.  It seemed easier to die than to move, but it was hard lines
on you...  I'm sorry you were ill."

Dreda beamed reassurement, thoroughly enjoying the position of receiving
apologies.

"My dear, don't mention it.  I have suffered too, and I _quite_
understand.  Pneumonia's hateful!  I never could have imagined that it
was possible to feel so ill.  I couldn't have thought of anyone in the
world, but just how to draw the next breath.--It _is_ so nice to feel
well again; but I'm dreadfully sympathetic about your knee.  When you
were lying with your head on my knee that afternoon, I was sorry I'd
been so disagreeable at school.  You feel such _remorse_ when you've
snapped at people, and then see them all white and still, with their
eyes turned up.--I thought such lots of thoughts that afternoon, and I'm
going to be quite different at school.  Much nicer--you see if I'm not!"

Nora shook her head, and her eyes sank in painful discomfiture.

"No!  I shan't see.  I shan't be there.  The doctor says I shall not be
fit for school.  I shall never go back to West End.  Perhaps it's just
as well.  The girls never liked me very much, and now it would be worse
than ever--and Miss Drake--Miss Drake would be furious! ...  I never
meant to tell, but I've been miserable ever since, and now I've broken
my knee--and, when I lay awake crying with pain those first awful nights
I made up my mind to tell, whether it was found out or not.  It's awful
to have a pain in your body and in your mind as well.  Did you guess it
was me, Dreda?"

"You--_what_?" queried Dreda vacantly.  Then the colour rushed into her
face, and half a dozen questions tripped together on her tongue.  "Oh-h,
was it _you_ who hid my things?  All the things I lost?  My pencils, my
books, my gloves, the clock that I heard ticking in my hat-box, my
slippers that were on the top of the wardrobe?  Oh, Norah, _why_?  What
made you do it?  Was it for fun?"

Norah shook her head.

"Oh, no.  The most deadly earnest.  You were Susan's chum, and you
patronised me, and gave yourself airs, and I was angry and jealous, and
_wanted_ to vex you.  It was the only thing I could think of, and it
amused me to see you fume and rage.  I hid them all--every single thing.
So now you know!"

Dreda sat open-mouthed and aghast.  What she felt was not so much horror
at thought of the deliberate unkindness, as sheer bewilderment at the
discovery that a human being existed who cherished a positive dislike to
her irresistible self.  She had disliked Norah--that had seemed natural
enough--but that Norah should return that dislike was a thought which
had not even vaguely suggested itself to her mind.  It was as if an
earthquake had shaken the foundations of her complacent self-esteem.
She had a second vision of herself as a novice coming among old pupils
and companions, laying down the law, starting new enterprises, claiming
the first place, and with it came also a new insight into Norah's
suffering, seeing all that had been denied to herself bequeathed so
lavishly to a stranger.  Instead of the expected outburst of anger,
Norah saw with amazement the big tears rise in Dreda's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Norah!  I was very horrid.  You took an awful lot of
trouble.  I lost nothing, after all, so you needn't worry, and they were
all quite little things."

"Not all!  They weren't all little.  The synopsis, for instance; you
didn't think _that_ little."

"Oh, Norah, did _you_ hide it?  That _was_ cruel!  I had worked so
hard--had taken such pains.  The Duck was so cross!  You took it out of
my desk, and put it back when I was in the study, just to make me look
careless and stupid.  Is it really true?  I never for one moment
believed that anyone had done it on purpose.  I can't believe it now."

"It's true, all the same.  I did it.  I made up my mind to tell you, and
I will...  I did worse than that...  Can you guess what I did?"

They stared at one another across the neglected tea table; stared in
silence while one might have counted ten; then Dreda drew a quick,
fearful breath.

"No--no, not that!  Not the essay--the numbers--the changed numbers!
You _could_ not have done that! ...  Norah, I _couldn't_ believe it!"

"But I did, I did!  It was all my doing.  I didn't mean to, but Miss
Drake sent me to her room, and on the desk was the parcel of papers all
ready except for the string, and the girls all said yours was the best,
and I didn't want you to win.  I thought it would make you more
conceited and bossy than ever.  I wanted Susan to get the prize, so that
everyone should see she was cleverer than you; but I was afraid she
wouldn't, for all the girls said yours was the best.  The numbers were
just fastened on with clips.  It jumped into my head that it would only
take a moment to put your number on Susan's paper, and Susan's on yours.
Miss Drake said we were all to keep our own written copies, for Mr
Rawdon, like most authors, was very unmethodical and careless, and would
probably mislay the papers and never send them back.  She wanted to make
it as easy for him as possible, because it was doing her a big favour to
read them at all; so she was going to tell him just to send the winning
number and not to bother about the papers.  I changed the numbers, and
ran downstairs, and the parcel went off by the next post.  I was glad I
had done it.  You were so certain you were going to win, and so
condescending to Susan.  I was glad I had done it!"

"I see--I understand.  And--and when my name was read out, when I _did_
get the prize--how did you feel then, Norah?  Were you still glad?"

"Yes," said Norah slowly; "I was still glad.  I knew it was Susan's
essay, and I knew that _you_ knew.  I saw you look at the paper and turn
white.  I thought you were not going to tell.  Then I should have got
hold of the essay, and told Miss Drake, and you would have been
disgraced before all the school."

Norah spoke with dogged resolution; but, for all her show of bravado,
her face flushed to a deep brick red, and her eyes sank uneasily to the
floor.  Dreda, on the contrary, was very white.  Any sort of emotion
always drove the blood from her face, and the pupils of her eyes had
expanded until the whole iris appeared black.

"You were quite right!  At first, for the first few moments I thought I
_could_ not tell.  It seemed too dreadful, after all the applause and
clapping.  I had to struggle hard to be honest, and all the time you
were watching me--and waiting!  I didn't know that, but it shows how
stupid it is to think that one can do wrong and not be found out.
Well!"--she drew a long, fluttering breath--"you succeeded, Norah.  It
was a great success.  Susan got the prize, and I was humiliated before
everybody, and heartbroken with disappointment.  I thought I should
really have to commit suicide that night, I felt so bad.  It's the
biggest trial I have ever known, so you may be quite satisfied.  It was
a great success."

Norah looked up sharply; but no, there was no sneer on Dreda's lips.
The big, sad eyes stared into hers with childlike candour and
simplicity.  Norah bit her lip, and swallowed nervously.

"I--I'm _not_ satisfied!"

"Oh, but why?  You have gained all you wanted.  It seems a pity that no
one should be pleased.  Susan wasn't a bit; she was miserable because
_I_ was miserable, and all the girls were sorry for me, and were nicer
than ever before.  There's only you to _be_ glad, Norah.  It was your
plan, and you succeeded.  You needn't mind me.  I've tasted the dregs.
Nothing can ever be so bitter to me again."

Norah made no reply.  Her lips were pursed so tightly together that
there was nothing to be seen but a thin red line.  She glanced furtively
from one corner of the room to another; to the floor, to the ceiling, to
anywhere but just the spot where Dreda sat, looking at her with those
big, mournful eyes.  In her many imaginings of the scene she had never
pictured such a _denouement_ as this.  She had schooled herself to hear
furious denunciations, but the pitiful calm of Dreda's grief was ten
times more difficult to bear.

Both girls were still weak and unfitted to bear long mental strain.  The
shaking of the bed testified to the nervous tremblings of Norah's body.
Dreda lay back against her cushions, and the weak tears rolled down her
cheeks.  The scones and cakes lay neglected upon the table, and the tea
grew cold in the cups.  Each minute seemed like an hour, crowded as it
was with thoughts of such intensity as come rarely to careless, happy
youth.  Norah looked back on her finished schooldays, and acknowledged
to her own heart that her want of popularity was the result, not of the
prejudice of others but of her own jealous, ungenerous nature.  Dreda,
looking forward to the future, resolved to be less egotistical, less
confident, to consider more tenderly the feelings of her companions.
She had made many resolutions before now--too many!  And they had known
but a short lifetime.  But never before had they been born of suffering,
and never before had they been strengthened by prayer.  This last
resolution was made in a very humble and anxious spirit, strangely
different from Dreda's former airy complacence.

"Norah," she said slowly at last, "Norah, you have told me the truth,
and it must have been awfully difficult.  It's your affair and mine,
Norah; let's keep it to ourselves.  If you were going back to school, it
might be your duty to tell; but you are not, and you want all the girls
to remember you kindly.  I don't see that it would make anyone happier
to know.  They believe that it was a mistake for which no one was to
blame.  Let them go on believing it!  It will be better for you, and for
everyone else.  I promise you, Norah, I will never tell."

"Not--not Susan?"

"Oh, never Susan Susan last of all."

"Why last?"

"Because you, like her best, and because she would be so sorry.  Susan
is so good that it hurts her when people do wrong.  I couldn't bear
Susan to think badly of me, and neither would you Susan shall never
know."

Then for the first time the tears started to Norah's eyes.

"Oh, Dreda, you are generous," she sighed; "you know how to forgive."
Then, with a sudden flash of intuition, "Susan will write books.  She
will be great; but _you_, Dreda, you will live!  You will be better than
famous--you will be loved!"

When Mrs Saxon entered the room a few minutes later her quick eyes
realised at once the mental exhaustion of her two patients, and she
escorted her daughter back to her room and tucked her up in bed.

Dreda's fair head rested on the pillow; but her eyes followed her
mother's movements about the room with a wistful expression whose appeal
could not be denied.  Mrs Saxon asked no questions, but with true
mother insight she divined the need at the girl's heart, and hastened to
fill it.

"Try to sleep, my little girl," she said fondly.  "Try to rest.  Take
care of yourself for my sake.  You are more precious to me than ever,
since Rowena became engaged.  You don't know how many hundreds of times
in the last few weeks I have comforted myself by thinking, `I have
Dreda!  Thank God for Dreda!  When Rowena goes I shall not be lonely.  I
shall have my other dear big girl.'"

Dreda's face glowed.  The dull eyes shone with happiness and
expectation.

"Mother," she cried ardently, "I'll never leave you!  I'll spend my
whole life helping you and father.  I'll never, never leave you for the
sake of a horrid, strange man."

Mrs Saxon laughed softly.

"Beware of rash promises, dear.  I don't ask that.  I don't even wish
it.  When your time comes I hope you may be as fortunate as Rowena.  I
am a rich woman.  I have three daughters.  I shall still have Maud at
home."

But with all her new-found humility Etheldreda the Ready could not
submit to such a comparison.

"Maud!" she cried scornfully.  "Maud could never make up for me!"





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