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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Pair of Schoolgirls - A Story of School Days" ***

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A Pair of Schoolgirls



    By ANGELA BRAZIL

    "Angela Brazil has proved her undoubted talent for writing a
    story of schoolgirls for other schoolgirls to read."--=Bookman.=

        My Own Schooldays.

        Captain Peggie.
        Schoolgirl Kitty.
        The School in the South.
        Monitress Merle.
        Loyal to the School.
        A Fortunate Term.
        A Popular Schoolgirl.
        The Princess of the School.
        A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl.
        The Head Girl at the Gables.
        A Patriotic Schoolgirl.
        For the School Colours.
        The Madcap of the School.
        The Luckiest Girl in the School.
        The Jolliest Term on Record.
        The Girls of St. Cyprian's.
        The Youngest Girl in the Fifth.
        The New Girl at St. Chad's.
        For the Sake of the School.
        The School by the Sea.
        The Leader of the Lower School.
        A Pair of Schoolgirls.
        A Fourth Form Friendship.
        The Manor House School.
        The Nicest Girl in the School.
        The Third Class at Miss Kaye's.
        The Fortunes of Philippa.

    LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LTD., 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.



[Illustration: "'YOU'RE THE ABSOLUTE IMAGE!' DECLARED ALISON"]



    A Pair of Schoolgirls

    A Story of School Days

    BY

    ANGELA BRAZIL

    Author of "The New Girl at St. Chad's" "A Fourth Form Friendship"
    "The Manor House School" &c.

    _ILLUSTRATED BY JOHN CAMPBELL_

    BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED

    LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY


    _Printed in Great Britain by
    Blackie & Son, Limited, Glasgow_



Contents


    CHAP.                                               Page

       I. A SCHOOL ELECTION                                9

      II. WHAT DOROTHY OVERHEARD                          24

     III. A RETROSPECT                                    39

      IV. DOROTHY MAKES A FRIEND                          55

       V. A LITERATURE EXERCISE                           68

      VI. A PROMISE                                       84

     VII. ALISON'S HOME                                  101

    VIII. A SHORT CUT                                    120

      IX. DOROTHY SCORES                                 132

       X. MARTHA REMEMBERS                               151

      XI. ALISON'S UNCLE                                 169

     XII. THE SUBTERRANEAN CAVERN                        181

    XIII. A SCHOOL ANNIVERSARY                           199

     XIV. WATER PLANTAIN                                 216

      XV. A CONFESSION                                   229

     XVI. THE WILLIAM SCOTT PRIZE                        244



Illustrations


                                                        PAGE

    "'YOU'RE THE ABSOLUTE IMAGE!' DECLARED ALISON"       110
                                      _Frontispiece_

    THE NEW GIRL                                          56

    IN DISCREET HIDING                                   124

    A LESSON IN GOLF                                     178

    A NURSING EXPERIENCE                                 212



A PAIR OF SCHOOLGIRLS

CHAPTER I

A School Election


It was precisely five minutes past eleven on the first day of the autumn
term, and Avondale College, which for seven whole weeks had been lonely
and deserted, and given over to the tender mercies of paperhangers,
painters, and charwomen, once more presented its wonted aspect of life
and bustle. The reopening was a very important event in the opinion of
everybody concerned, partly because it marked the beginning of a fresh
school year, and partly because the building had been altered and
enlarged, many changes made in the curriculum, and many new names added
to the already long list in the register. Three hundred and eighty-seven
pupils had assembled that morning in the great lecture hall, the largest
number on record at the College; five additional classes had been
formed, and there were six extra mistresses. At the eleven o'clock
interval the place seemed swarming with girls; they thronged the
staircase and passages, filled the pantry, blocked the dressing-rooms,
and overflowed into the playground and the gymnasium--girls of all sorts
and descriptions, from the ten-year-olds who had just come up (rather
solemn and overawed) from the Preparatory to those elect and superior
damsels of seventeen who were studying for their Matriculation.

By the empty stove in the Juniors' Common Room stood half a dozen
"betwixt-and-betweens", whose average age probably worked out at
fourteen and a quarter, though Mavie Morris was a giantess compared with
little Ruth Harmon. The six heads were bent together in closest
proximity, and the six tongues were particularly active, for after the
long summer holidays there was such a vast amount to talk about that it
seemed almost impossible to discuss all the interesting items of news
with sufficient rapidity.

"The old Coll. looks no end," said Grace Russell. "It's so smart and
spanky now--one hardly knows it! Pictures in the classrooms, flowers on
the chimneypieces, a stained glass window in the lecture hall, busts on
brackets all along the corridor wall, and the studio floor polished!
Every single place has been done up from top to bottom."

"I'd like it better if it didn't smell so abominably of new paint,"
objected Noëlle Kennedy. "When I opened the studio door, the varnish
stuck to my fingers. However, the school certainly looks much nicer.
Why, even the book cupboard has been repapered."

"That's because you splashed ink on the wall last term. Don't you
remember how fearfully cross Miss Hardy was about it?"

"Rather! She insisted that I'd done it on purpose, and couldn't and
wouldn't believe it was an accident. Well, thank goodness we've done
with her! I'm glad teachers don't move up with their forms. I'm of the
opposite opinion to Hamlet, and I'd rather face the evils that I don't
know than those I do. Miss Pitman can't possibly be any worse, and she
may chance to be better."

"I say, it's rather a joke our being in the Upper Fourth now, isn't it?"
remarked Ruth Harmon.

"I'm glad we've all gone up together," said Dorothy Greenfield. "There's
only Marjory Poulton left behind, and she won't be missed. We're exactly
the same old set, with the addition of a few new girls."

"Do you realize," said Mavie Morris, "that we're the top class in the
Lower School now, and that one of us will be chosen Warden? There'll be
an election this afternoon."

"Why, so there will! What a frantic excitement! We shall all have to
canvass in the dinner-hour. I wonder if Miss Tempest has put up the
list of candidates yet? I vote we go to the notice board and see;
there's just time before the bell rings."

Off scrambled the girls at once, pushing and jostling one another in
their eagerness to get to the lecture hall. There was a crowd collected
round the notice board, but they elbowed their way to the front
notwithstanding. Yes, the list was there, in the head mistress's own
handwriting, and they scanned it with varying comments of joy or
disappointment, according as their names were present or absent.

"Hurrah!"

"Disgusting!"

"No luck for me!"

"I don't call it fair!"

"You're on, Dorothy Greenfield, and so am I."

"I say, girls, which of you'll promise to vote for me?"

Avondale College was a large day school. Its pupils were drawn from all
parts of Coleminster and the surrounding district, many coming in by
train or tramcar, and some on bicycles. Under the headmistress-ship of
Miss Tempest its numbers had increased so rapidly that extra
accommodation had become necessary; and not only had the lecture hall
and dressing-rooms been enlarged, but an entire new wing had been added
to the building. Avondale prided itself greatly upon its institutions.
It is not always easy for a day school to have the same corporate life
as a boarding school; but Miss Tempest, in spite of this difficulty, had
managed to inaugurate a spirit of union among her pupils, and to make
them work together for the general good of the community. She wished the
College to be, not merely a place where textbooks were studied, but a
central point of light on every possible subject. She encouraged the
girls to have many interests outside the ordinary round of lessons, and
by the help of various self-governing societies to learn to be good
citizens, and to play an intelligent and active part in the progress of
the world. A Nature Study Union, a Guild of Arts and Crafts, a Debating
Club, a Dramatic Circle, and a School Magazine all flourished at
Avondale. The direction of these societies was in the hands of a select
committee chosen from the Fifth and Sixth Forms, but in order that the
younger girls might be represented, a member of the Upper Fourth was
elected each year as "Warden of the Lower School", and was privileged to
attend some of the meetings, and to speak on behalf of the interests of
the juniors.

Naturally this post was an exceedingly coveted honour: the girl who held
it became the delegate and mouthpiece of the lower forms, an
acknowledged authority, and the general leader of the rest. It was the
custom to elect the warden by ballot on the afternoon of the reopening
day. Six candidates were selected by Miss Tempest, and these were voted
for by the members of the several divisions of the Third and Fourth
Forms.

Among the six chosen for this election, none was more excited about her
possible chances than Dorothy Greenfield, and as our story centres round
her and her doings she merits a few words of description. She was a
tall, slim, rather out-of-the-common-looking girl, and though at present
she was passing through the ugly duckling stage, she had several good
points, which might develop into beauty later on. Her large dark grey
eyes, with their straight, well-marked brows, made you forgive her
nondescript nose. She lacked colour, certainly, but her complexion was
clear, and, despite her rather thin cheeks, the outline of her face was
decidedly pleasing. Her mouth was neat and firm, and her chin square;
and she had a quantity of wavy, fluffy brown hair that had an
obstreperous way of escaping from its ribbon and hanging over her ears.
During the past six months Dorothy had shot up like Jack's beanstalk,
and she was still growing fast--an awkward process, which involved a
certain angularity of both body and mind. She was apt to do things by
fits and starts; she formed hot attachments or took violent prejudices;
she was amiable or irritable according to her mood, and though capable
of making herself most attractive, could flash out with a sharp retort
if anybody offended her. She had a favourable report in the school: she
was generally among those marked "excellent" in her form, and she was
above the average at hockey and tennis, had played a piano solo at the
annual concert, won "highly commended" at the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition, and contributed an article to the School Magazine.

Possessing such a good all-round record, therefore, Dorothy might have
as reasonable a possibility of success as anybody else at the coming
election, and she could not help letting her hopes run high. The ballot
was to be taken at half-past three, which left little time for
canvassing; but she meant to do the best for herself that circumstances
would allow. She was a day boarder, so, when morning classes were over,
she strolled into the Juniors' Common Room to discuss her chances.
Already some papers were pinned up claiming attention for the various
candidates:

"Vote for Val Barnett, the hockey champion."

"Hope Lawson begs all her friends to support her in the coming
election."

"Grace Russell solicits the favour of your votes."

"Noëlle Kennedy relies upon the kindness of the Lower School."

"Hallo, Dorothy!" said Mavie Morris. "Aren't you going to add your quota
to the general lot? All the others are getting up their appeals. I wish
Miss Tempest had put me on the list of likelies!"

"I can't think why she didn't," replied Dorothy. "I should say you're
far more suitable than Noëlle Kennedy."

"Why, so do I, naturally. But there! it can't be helped. I'm not among
the elect, so I must just grin and bear it. Is this your appeal? Let me
look."

She seized the piece of paper from Dorothy's hand, and, scanning it
eagerly, read the following lines:

    Ye voters at the school election,
    I beg you'll look in my direction;
    I hate to boast and brag, but yet
    For once I'm blowing my own trumpet.
    Now don't you think in me you'd find
    A candidate suited to your mind?
    No bookworm I, but fond of sports,
    Hockey or games of other sorts;
    At acting I can run the show,
    And play my part, as well you know.
    At meetings all your wants I'd state,
    And make a speech at the debate.
    I'd back in all scholastic storms
    The interests of the Lower Forms.
    A zealous leader I should be,
    So when you vote, please remember me!
    I hope these verses you will pardon,
    And choose me for the Lower School Warden.

"What do you think of it?" asked Dorothy. "I made it up during the
history lesson, and wrote it on my knee under the desk. One wants
something rather different from other people's, and I thought perhaps no
one else would have a rhyming address."

"It's not bad," commented Mavie, "but you do brag."

"I've apologized for it. One must state one's qualifications, or what's
the use of being a candidate? Look at Val's notice--she calls herself
the hockey champion."

"No one takes Val too seriously. I don't believe she's the ghost of a
chance, though she did win the cup last season. One needs more than that
for a warden; brains count as well as muscles."

"I know; that's why I tried poetry."

"Please don't call that stuff poetry. Half of the lines won't scan."

There was a pucker between Dorothy's dark eyebrows as she snatched back
her literary bantling.

"I don't suppose that matters. Everybody isn't so viper-critical," she
retorted. "Shall I pin it up here or in the gym.?"

"It will be more seen here; but I warn you, Dorothy, I don't think the
girls will like it."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's clever enough, but it's cheeky. I'm afraid somehow it won't
catch on. If you take my advice, you'll tear it up and just write 'Vote
for Dorothy Greenfield' instead."

But taking other people's advice was not at present included in
Dorothy's scheme of existence; she much preferred her own ideas, however
crude.

"I'll leave it as it is," she answered loftily. "It can't fail to
attract attention anyhow."

"As you like. By the by, if you're going round canvassing, there's been
a new----"

But Dorothy did not wait to listen. She was annoyed at Mavie's scant
appreciation of her poetic effort; and having manifested her
independence by pinning the offending verses on the notice board, she
stalked away, trying to look nonchalant. She was determined to use every
means at hand to ensure success, and her best plan seemed to be to go
round personally soliciting votes.

"I'll tackle the dinner girls now," she thought, "and I expect there'll
be just time to catch the others when they come back in the afternoon.
Thank goodness the election is only among the Third and Fourth! It would
be terrible if one had to go all round the school. Why, I never asked
Mavie! How stupid! But she's certain to be on my side; she detests Val,
and she's not particularly fond of Hope either, though of course there's
Grace. Had I better go back and make sure of her?"

On the whole she decided that as she had left Mavie in rather a high and
mighty manner, it would seem a little beneath her dignity to return at
once and beg a favour, so she went into the playground instead to beat
up possible electors. She was not the first in the field, by any means.
Already Valentine Barnett and her satellites were hard at work coaxing
and wheedling, while the emissaries of Doris Earnshaw and Noëlle Kennedy
were urging the qualifications of their particular favourites. Hope
Lawson was seated on the see-saw in company with a number of small girls
from the Lower Second.

"What's she doing that for?" thought Dorothy. "Those kids haven't got
votes. It's sheer waste of time to bother with them. She's actually put
her arm round that odious little Maggie Muir, and taken Nell Boughton on
her knee! I shouldn't care to make myself so cheap. I suppose she's
letting Blanche Hall and Irene Jackson do her canvassing for her."

Dorothy was, however, too much occupied with her own affairs to concern
herself greatly about her neighbours' movements. To put her claims
adequately before each separate elector was no mean task, and time fled
all too quickly. She used what powers of persuasion she possessed, and
flattered herself that she had made an impression in some quarters; but
very few of the girls would give any definite promises. Many of them,
especially those of the Middle and Lower Thirds, seemed to enjoy the
importance of owning something which it was in their power to withhold.

"I'm waiting till I've heard what you all six have to say for
yourselves," said Kitty Palgrave condescendingly. "I shan't make up my
mind until the very last minute."

"It's so difficult to choose between you," added Ellie Simpson, a pert
little person of twelve.

Their tone verged on the offensive, and in any other circumstances
Dorothy would have administered a snub. As it was, she pocketed her
pride, and merely said she hoped they would remember her. She heard them
snigger as she turned away, and longed to go back and shake them; but
discretion prevailed.

"One has to put up with this sort of thing if one wants to get returned
Warden," she reflected. "All the same, it's sickening to be obliged to
truckle to young idiots like that."

She had not by any means found all the possible voters, so she decided
to return to the Juniors' Common Room. Mavie had gone, but a number of
other girls stood near the notice board talking, and reading the appeals
of the various candidates. Dorothy strolled up to see how her verses
were being received. They made a different impression on different
minds, to judge from the comments that met her ears.

"It's ripping!" exclaimed Bertha Warren.

"Says she can run the show, does she?" sneered Joyce Hickson.

"I call it just lovely!" gushed Addie Parker.

"Her trumpeter's dead, certainly!" giggled Phyllis Fowler. "Hallo,
Dorothy! I didn't see you were there."

"I'm going to vote for you, Dorothy," said Bertha, "and so is Addie.
Phyllis has promised Hope, and Joyce is on Val's side. If you like, I'll
canvass for you here, while you do the gym. You'd better not waste any
time, because the others are hard at it, and it's best to get first
innings if you can."

Dorothy hastily agreed, and hurried off to the gymnasium, where she was
fortunate enough to catch some of her own classmates. They were all
sucking enormous peppermint "humbugs", and were almost speechless in
consequence; but they had the politeness to listen to her, which was
more than she had experienced from some of the girls.

"Very sorry!" replied Annie Gray, talking with difficulty. "You should
have asked us sooner. Val's been round, and simply coerced us."

"She made it a hockey versus lacrosse contest, and of course we plumped
for hockey," murmured Elsie Bellamy.

"Val's simply ripping at hockey!"

"Is that all you care for?" exclaimed Dorothy scornfully. "Val has
nothing else to recommend her."

"Hasn't she? What about peppermint 'humbugs'? I call them a very
substantial recommendation."

"Did Val give you those?"

"Rather! She put on her hat and bolted out into High Street and bought a
whole pound. Lucky Miss James didn't catch her as she dodged back!"

"She's handing them round to everybody," added Helen Walker. "I wish I
had taken two."

For once Dorothy's pale cheeks put on a colour. She could not restrain
her indignation.

"How atrociously and abominably mean!" she burst out. "Why, it's just
bribery, pure and simple. I didn't think Val was capable of such a
sneaking trick. She knows quite well how unfair it is to the rest of
us."

"Why, you could have done the same if you'd liked," laughed Elsie. "It's
not too late now. I've a preference for caramels, if you ask me."

"I'd be ashamed!" declared Dorothy. "Surely you ought to give your votes
on better grounds than 'humbugs' or caramels? Such a thing has never
been done before at the Coll."

"All the more loss for us," giggled Helen flippantly.

"Do you mean to tell me you don't care whether a candidate behaves
dishonourably or not?"

"Not I, if she's jolly."

"I'm disgusted with you, absolutely disgusted! If you haven't a higher
ideal of what's required in a warden, you don't deserve to have votes at
all."

"Draw it mild, Dorothy!" chirped Elsie.

"I won't. I'll tell you what I think of you: you're a set of greedy
things! There isn't one of you with a spark of public spirit, and if the
election is going to be run on these lines, I----"

But Dorothy's tirade was interrupted by the dinner bell; and the objects
of her scorn, hastily swallowing the offending peppermints, decamped at
a run, leaving her to address a group of empty chairs. She followed more
leisurely, fuming as she went. She knew she had been foolish and most
undiplomatic to lose her temper so utterly, but the words had rushed out
before she could stop them.

"They wouldn't have voted for me in any case," she said to herself, "so
it really doesn't matter, after all, they're only a minority. I expect
it will prove a very even affair, perhaps a draw, and that no one will
have a complete walk-over."



CHAPTER II

What Dorothy Overheard


At half-past three, exactly in the middle of the French reading-lesson,
Miss James, the school secretary, entered the Upper Fourth room with a
sheaf of voting papers in her hand. These were dealt round to all the
girls, with the exception of the candidates, and Miss James gave a brief
explanation of what was required.

"On each paper you will find six names. You must put a cross to the one
you wish to choose for your warden. Do not write anything at all, but
fold the paper and hand it in to Miss Pitman, who will place it in this
box, which I shall call for in five minutes."

So saying, she bustled away in a great hurry to perform a similar errand
in the next classroom. The six candidates tried to sit looking
disinterested and unconscious while their fates were being decided. Hope
Lawson hunted out words in the dictionary, Valentine Barnett made a
parade of arranging the contents of her pencil box, and the others
opened books and began preparation. Not a word was allowed to be
spoken. In dead silence the girls recorded their crosses and handed in
their papers, and the last was hardly dropped into the ballot box before
Miss James reappeared. The result of the election was to be announced at
four o'clock, therefore there were still twenty minutes of suspense.
Miss Pitman went on with the French reading as if nothing had happened,
and Dorothy made a gallant effort to fix her attention on _Le Jeune
Patriote_, and to forget that Miss Tempest and Miss James were hard at
work in the library counting votes. Nobody's translation was
particularly brilliant that afternoon; everyone was watching the clock
and longing for the end of the lesson. When the bell rang there was a
general scuffle; books were seized and desk lids banged, and though Miss
Pitman called the Form to order and insisted upon a decorous exit from
the room, the girls simply pelted down the stairs to the lecture hall.
In a few moments the whole school had assembled. There was not long to
wait, for exactly at the stroke of four Miss Tempest walked on to the
platform and made the brief announcement:

"Hope Lawson has been elected Warden of the Lower School by a majority
of fifty votes."

Dorothy left the lecture hall with her head in a whirl. That Hope should
have won by such an enormous majority was most astonishing. She could
not understand it. Conversation was strictly forbidden on the staircase,
but the moment she reached the gymnasium door she burst into eager
enquiries.

"Yes, it's a surprise to everybody," said Ruth Harmon. "I thought myself
that Val would get it. All the Lower Fourth and most of the Upper Third
were for her."

"Then how could Hope possibly score by fifty?"

"She did it with the kids, I suppose."

"But the First and Second weren't voting?"

"Indeed they were! Do you mean to say you never knew? Why, Miss James
gave it out this morning."

"Of all sells!" gasped Dorothy. "I heard nothing about it! It's the
first year those kids have ever taken part in the election. Why couldn't
some of you tell me?"

"I was just going to," said Mavie, "but you stalked away and wouldn't
listen. It's your own fault, Dorothy."

"You might have run after me."

"You looked so lofty, I didn't feel disposed."

"Val didn't know either," interposed Bertha Warren. "She never canvassed
in the First or the Second; no more did Grace or Noëlle. I'm not certain
if any of you knew except Hope. Only a few were in the room when Miss
James gave it out."

"Then she's taken a most mean advantage," said Dorothy. "I understand
now why she was sitting on the see-saw making herself so extremely
pleasant. It's not fair! Miss James ought to have announced to the whole
school that such a change had been made."

"Go and tell her so!" sneered Phyllis Fowler.

"Those who lose always call things unfair," added Joyce Hickson.

Dorothy walked away without another word. She did not wish to be
considered jealous, and her common sense told her that she had already
said more than enough. She was too proud to ask for sympathy, and felt
that her most dignified course was to accept her defeat in silence. She
thought she would rather not speak even to her friends, so, ignoring
violent signals from Bertha Warren and Addie Parker, she went at once to
put on her outdoor clothes. The dressing-room, to provide greater
accommodation, had not only hooks round the walls, but double rows of
hat-stands down the middle, with lockers for boots underneath. As
Dorothy sat changing her shoes, she could hear three girls talking on
the other side of the hat-stand, though, owing to the number of coats
which were hanging up, the speakers were hidden from her. She recognized
their voices, however, perfectly well.

"I'm rather surprised at Hope getting it," Helen Walker was saying. "I
thought Val was pretty safe. I voted for her, of course."

"A good many voted for Dorothy," replied Evie Fenwick.

"I know. I thought she might have had a chance even against Val. She'll
be dreadfully disgusted."

"I'm very glad Hope was chosen," said Agnes Lowe. "After all, she's far
the most suitable for Warden; she's ever so much cleverer than Val."

"But not more than Dorothy!"

"No; but she's a girl of better position, and that counts for something.
Her father was Mayor last year, and her mother is quite an authority on
education, and speaks at meetings."

"Well, Dorothy's aunt writes articles for magazines. One often sees the
name 'Barbara Sherbourne' in the newspapers. Dorothy's tremendously
proud of her."

"Dorothy needn't take any credit to herself on that account," returned
Agnes, "for, as it happens, Miss Sherbourne isn't her aunt at all; she's
no relation."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. I know for a fact that Dorothy is nothing but a waif, a
nobody, who is being brought up for charity. Miss Sherbourne adopted her
when she was a baby."

At this most astounding piece of information, Dorothy, who had followed
the conversation without any thought of eavesdropping, flung her
slippers into her locker and stalked round to the other side of the
hat-stand.

"Agnes Lowe, what do you mean by telling such an absolute story?" she
asked grimly.

"I'd no idea you were there!" returned Agnes.

"Listeners never hear any good of themselves," laughed Helen.

"I'm extremely glad I overheard. It gives me a chance to deny such
rubbish. I shall expect Agnes to make an instant apology."

Dorothy's tone was aggressive; she waited with a glare in her eyes and a
determined look about her mouth. Agnes did not flinch, however.

"I'm sorry you heard what I said, Dorothy," she replied. "It wasn't
meant for you; but it's true, all the same, and I can't take back my
words."

"How can it be true?"

Agnes put on her hat hastily and seized her satchel.

"You'd better ask Miss Sherbourne. Probably everyone in Hurford knows
about it except yourself. Come, Helen, I'm ready now," and she hurried
away with her two friends, evidently anxious to escape further
questioning.

Dorothy took up her pile of home-lesson books and followed them; but
they must have raced down the passage, for when she reached the door
they were already disappearing round the corner of the playground. It
was useless to think of pursuing them; she had barely time, as it was,
to catch her train, and she must walk fast if she meant to be at the
station by half-past four. She scurried along High Street, keeping a
watchful eye on the town hall clock in the intervals of dodging
passengers on the pavements and dashing recklessly over crossings. At
Station Road she quickened her footsteps to a run, and tore up the
flight of stairs that was the shortest cut to the ticket office.
Fortunately she possessed a contract, so she had no further delay, and
was able to scuttle across the platform into the Hurford train. The
guard, who knew her well by sight, smiled as he slammed the door of her
compartment.

"A near shave to-day, missy! I see you're back at school," he remarked,
then waved his green flag.

Dorothy sank down breathlessly. To miss the 4.30 would have meant
waiting three-quarters of an hour--a tiresome experience which she had
gone through before, and had no desire to repeat. She was lucky,
certainly; but now that the anxiety of catching the train was over, the
reaction came, and she felt both tired and cross. What an enormously
long time it seemed since she had started that morning, and what a
horrid day it had been! She leaned back in a corner of the compartment
and took a mental review of everything that had happened at school: her
expectation of winning the election, her canvassing among the girls,
their many ill-natured remarks, Val's method of bribery, and Hope's
unfair advantage. She was bitterly chagrined at missing the wardenship,
and the thought that she might have had a chance of success if she had
known of the voting powers of the First and Second Forms only added to
her disappointment. She was indignant and out of temper with Mavie, with
Hope, with the whole of her little world; everything had seemed to go
wrong, and, to crown all, Agnes Lowe had dared to call her a nobody and
a charity child! What could Agnes mean? It was surely a ridiculously
false accusation, made from spite or sheer love of teasing. She, Dorothy
Greenfield, a waif! The idea was impossible. Why, she had always prided
herself upon her good birth! The Sherbournes were of knightly race, and
their doings were mentioned in the county history of Devonshire as far
back as Queen Elizabeth's reign. Of course, her name was Greenfield, not
Sherbourne; but she was of the same lineage, and she had pasted the
family crest inside her school books. She would trace out her pedigree
that very evening right to Sir Thomas Sherbourne, who helped to fit out
a ship to fight the Armada; and she would take a copy to school
to-morrow and show it to Agnes, who could not fail to be convinced by
such positive evidence. Yes, the girls should see that, far from being a
nobody, she was really of a better family than Hope Lawson, whose claims
to position rested solely on her father's public services to the city of
Coleminster.

And yet under all her assurance there lurked an uneasy sensation of
doubt. She had taken it for granted that her mother was a Sherbourne;
but she remembered now that when she had spoken of her as such, Aunt
Barbara had always evaded the subject. Nobody ever mentioned her
parents. She had thought it was because they were dead; but surely that
was not a sufficient reason for the omission? Could there be another and
a stronger motive for thus withholding all knowledge about them? Several
things occurred to her--hints that had been dropped by Martha, the maid,
which, though not comprehended, had remained in her memory--looks,
glances, half-spoken sentences let fall by Aunt Barbara's friends--a
hundred nothings too small in themselves to be noticed, but, counted in
the aggregate, quite sufficient to strengthen the unwelcome suspicion
that had suddenly awakened.

"Rubbish!" thought Dorothy, with an effort to dispel the black shadow.
"I'll ask Aunt Barbara, and I've no doubt she'll easily explain it all
and set everything right."

By this time the train had passed Ash Hill, Burnlea, and Latchworth, and
had arrived at Hurford, Dorothy's station. She stepped out of the
compartment, so preoccupied with her reflections that she would have
forgotten her books, if a fellow-passenger had not handed them to her.
She scarcely noticed the Rector and his children, who were standing on
the platform, and, turning a deaf ear to the youngest boy, who called to
her to wait for them, she hurried off alone along the road.

It was a pleasant walk to her home, between green hedges, and with a
view of woods and distant hills. Hurford was quite a country place, and
could boast of thatched cottages, a market cross, and a pair of stocks,
although it lay barely twelve miles from the great manufacturing city of
Coleminster. Dorothy's destination was a little, quaint, old-fashioned
stone house that stood close by the roadside at the beginning of the
village street. A thick, well-clipped holly hedge protected from prying
eyes a garden where summer flowers were still blooming profusely, a
strip of lawn was laid out for croquet, and a small orchard, at the
back, held a moderate crop of pears and apples. Dorothy ran in through
the creeper-covered porch, slammed her books on the hall table, then,
descending two steps, entered the low-ceiled, oak-panelled dining-room,
and rushed to fling her arms round a lady who was sitting doing fancy
work near the open window.

"Here I am at last, Auntie! Oh, I feel as if I hadn't seen you for a
hundred years! I'm in the Upper Fourth, but it's been a hateful day. I
never thought school was so horrid before. I'm very disappointed and
disgusted and abominably cross."

"Poor little woman! What's the matter?" said Aunt Barbara, taking
Dorothy's face in her hands, as the girl knelt by her side, and trying
to kiss away the frown that rested there. "You certainly don't look as
if you had been enjoying yourself."

"Enjoying myself? I should think not! We had an election for the
wardenship, and my name was on the list, and I might perhaps have won if
the others hadn't been so mean; but I didn't, and Hope Lawson has got
it!"

"We can't always win, can we? Never mind! It's something that your name
was on the list of candidates. All the girls who lost will be feeling
equally disappointed. Suppose you just forget about it, go and take off
your things, and tell Martha to make some buttered toast."

Dorothy laughed. Already her face had lost its injured and woeful
expression.

"That's as good as saying: 'Don't make a fuss about nothing'. All right,
Auntie, I'm going. But I warn you that this is only a respite, and I
mean to give you a full and detailed list of all my particular
grievances after tea. So make up your mind to it, and brace your dear
nerves!"

Miss Barbara Sherbourne was a most charming personality. She was young
enough to be still very pretty and attractive, but old enough to take
broad views of life, and to have attained that independence of action
which is the prerogative of middle age. She was a clever and essentially
a cultured woman; she had lived abroad in her youth, and the glamour of
old Italian cities and soft, southern skies still seemed to cling to
her. She was a good amateur musician, could sketch a little, and had
lately obtained some success in writing. Ever since Dorothy could
remember, she and Aunt Barbara and Martha, the maid, had lived together
at Holly Cottage, a particularly harmonious trio, liking their own mode
of life, and quite independent of the outside world. The little house
seemed to fit its inmates, and, in spite of its small accommodation, to
provide just what was wanted for each. First there was the old-fashioned
dining-room, with its carved oak furniture, blue china, and rows of
shining pewter; its choice prints on the walls, its bookshelves,
overflowing with interesting volumes; and the desk where Aunt Barbara
wrote in the mornings--a room that seemed made especially for comfort,
and reached its acme of cosiness on a cold winter's day, when
arm-chairs were drawn up to the blazing fire that burnt in the quaint
dog grate. Then there was the little drawing-room, with its piano and
music rack, and its great Japanese cabinet, full of all kinds of
treasures from foreign places. When Dorothy was a tiny girl it had been
her Sunday afternoon treat to be allowed to investigate the mysteries of
this cabinet, to open its numerous drawers and sliding panels, and to
turn over the miscellaneous collection of things it contained; and she
still regarded it in the light of an old friend. The artistic
decorations, the chintz hangings, the water-colour paintings of Italian
scenes, all helped to give an æsthetic effect to the room, and to make a
very pleasant whole. The kitchen was, of course, Martha's particular
domain, but even here there were books and pictures, and a table
reserved for writing desk and work basket. I fear Martha did not often
busy herself with pens and paper, for she held head-learning in
good-natured contempt; but she appreciated her mistress's effort to make
her comfortable, and polished the brass-topped inkpot diligently, if she
seldom used it. Peterkin, the grey Persian cat, generally sat in the
arm-chair, or on Martha's knee, which he much preferred, when he got the
chance; and Draco, the green parrot, hobbled up and down his perch at
the sunny window, repeating his stock of phrases, begging for titbits,
or imitating smacking kisses.

Just at the top of the stairs was Dorothy's special sanctum. It had
formerly been her nursery, and still contained her old dolls' house, put
away in a corner, though her toys were now replaced by schoolgirl
possessions. Here she kept her tennis racket, her hockey stick, her
camera and photographic materials, her collections of stamps, crests,
and picture postcards; there was a table where she could use paste or
glue, or indulge in various sticky performances forbidden in the
dining-room, and a cupboard where oddments could be stored without the
painful necessity of continually keeping them tidily arranged. She could
try experiments in sweet making, clay modelling, bookbinding, or any of
the other arts and crafts that were represented at the annual school
exhibition; in fact, it was a dear, delightful "den", where she could
conduct operations without being obliged to move her things away, and
might make a mess in defiance of Martha's chidings.

Dorothy often took a peep into her sanctum on her return from Avondale,
but to-day she ran straight to her bedroom. She was anxious to finish
tea and have a talk with Aunt Barbara. She felt she could not rest until
she had mentioned Agnes Lowe's remarks, and either proved or disproved
their truth. It was not a question that she could raise, however, when
Martha was coming into and going out of the dining-room with hot water
and toast; and it was only after she had cajoled Miss Sherbourne to the
privacy of the summer-house, and had related her other school woes, that
the girl ventured to broach the subject.

"I know it's nonsense, Auntie, but I thought I'd like to tell you, all
the same," she concluded, and waited for a denial with a look of anxiety
in her eyes that belied her words.

Miss Sherbourne did not at once reply. Apparently she was considering
what answer to make.

"I knew you would ask me this some day, Dorothy," she said at last. "It
seemed unnecessary for you to know before, but you are growing older so
fast that it is time you learnt your own story."

Dorothy turned her face sharply away. She did not want even Aunt Barbara
to see how her mouth was quivering.

"Is it true, then?" she asked, in a strangled voice.

"Yes, dear child. In a sense it is all absolutely true."



CHAPTER III

A Retrospect


More than thirteen years before this story begins, Miss Barbara
Sherbourne happened to be travelling on the Northern Express from
Middleford to Glasebury. She had chosen a corner of the compartment with
her back to the engine, had provided herself with books and papers, had
ordered a cup of afternoon tea to be brought from the restaurant car
precisely at four o'clock, and had put a piece of knitting in her
handbag with which to occupy herself in case she grew tired of reading
or watching the landscape. After these preparations she anticipated a
comfortable journey, and she leaned back in her corner feeling at peace
with herself and all the world. Her fellow-passengers consisted of two
old ladies, evidently returning home after a holiday in the South; a
morose-looking man with a bundle of Socialist tracts, and a middle-aged
woman, who, with a baby on her knee, occupied the opposite corner.
Nobody spoke a word, except an occasional necessary one about the
opening or closing of a window, and all settled down to read books and
papers, or to enjoy the luxury of a snooze while the train sped swiftly
northwards. The baby was sleeping peacefully, its lips parted, its long
lashes resting on its flushed cheeks, and one little hand flung out from
under the white woolly shawl which was wrapped closely round it. It made
a pretty picture as it lay thus, and Miss Sherbourne's eyes returned
again and again to dwell on the soft lines of the chubby neck and
dimpled chin. She was fond of studying her fellow-creatures, and she
could not quite reconcile the appearance of the child with that of the
woman who held it in her arms. The latter was plainly though tidily
dressed, and did not look like an educated person. There was nothing of
refinement in her face: the features were heavy, the mouth even a trifle
coarse. Her gloveless hands were work-worn, and her wedding ring was of
a cheap gold. The general impression she gave was that of a superior
working woman, or the wife of a small tradesman. The baby did not
resemble her in the least: it was fair, and pretty, and daintily kept,
its bonnet and coat and the shawl in which it was wrapped were of finest
quality, and the tiny boot that lay on the carriage seat was a silk one.

Miss Barbara could not help speculating about the pair. She amused
herself first with vainly trying to trace a likeness, then with
wondering whether the woman were really the mother of the child, and if
so, how she managed to dress it so well, and whether she realized that
its clothes looked out of keeping with her own attire. Finally she gave
up guessing, in sheer despair of arriving at any possible conclusion.

The train had been ten minutes late in starting, and was making up for
lost time by an increase in speed as it dashed across a tract of
moorland. The oscillation was most marked, and walls and telegraph posts
seemed to fly past so quickly as to dazzle the sight. Miss Sherbourne
closed her eyes; the whirling landscape made her head ache, and the
swaying of the carriage had become very unpleasant. She took hold of the
strap to steady herself, and was debating whether it would be better to
close the rattling window, when, without further warning, there came a
sudden and awful crash, the impact of which hurled the baby on to her
knee, and telescoped the walls of the compartment. For a few seconds she
was stunned with the shock. When she recovered consciousness she found
herself lying on her side under a pile of wreckage, instinctively
clutching the little child in her arms. She moved her limbs cautiously,
and satisfied herself that she was unhurt; part of the roof had fallen
slantwise, and by so doing had just saved her from injury, penning her
in a corner of the overturned carriage. The smashed window was
underneath, about eighteen inches above the ground, for the train in
toppling over had struck a wall, and lay at an inclined angle.

From all around came piteous groans and cries for help, but Miss
Sherbourne could see nobody, the broken woodwork cutting her off
completely from the rest of the compartment. The baby in her arms was
screaming with fright. Fortunately for herself, she preserved presence
of mind and a resourceful brain. She did not lose her head in this
emergency, and her first idea was to find some means of escape. She
stretched out her hand and broke away the pieces of shivered glass till
the window beneath her was free; then, still clasping the child, she
managed to crawl through the opening on to the line below. So narrow was
the space between the ground and the wreckage above her that she was
forced to lie flat and writhe herself along. It was a slow and painful
progress, and the light was so dim that she could scarcely see, while at
any moment she expected to find her way blocked by fallen woodwork. Yet
that was her one chance of safety, and at any cost she must persevere.
She never knew how far she crawled; to her it seemed miles, though
probably it was no greater distance than the length of the carriage: but
at last she spied daylight, and, struggling through a hole above her
head, she climbed over the ruins of a luggage compartment, and so on to
the bank of grass edging the line.

The wind was blowing strongly over the moor, so strongly that she had
difficulty in keeping her feet as she staggered into the shelter of the
wall. The scene before her was one of horror and desolation. She saw at
once the cause of the accident--the express had dashed into an advancing
train, and the two engines lay smashed by the terrific force of the
collision. A few passengers who, like herself, had managed to make their
escape stood by the line--some half-dazed and staring helplessly, others
already attempting to rescue those who were pinned under the wreckage.
The guard, his face livid and streaming with blood, was running to the
nearest signal box to notify the disaster, and some labourers were
hurrying from a group of cottages near, bringing an axe and a piece of
rope. To the end of her life Miss Barbara will never recall without a
shudder the pathetic sights she witnessed as the injured were dragged
from the splintered carriages. But the worst was yet to come. Almost
immediately a cry of "Fire!" was raised, and the flames, starting from
one of the overturned engines and fanned by the furious wind, gained a
fierce hold on the broken woodwork, which flared up and burned like
tinder.

"Come awa'!" screamed a countrywoman, seizing Miss Sherbourne almost
roughly by the arm. "You with a bairn! Bring it to our hoose yonder out
o' the wind. The men are doing a' they can, and we canna help 'em. It's
no fit sight for women. Come, I tell ye! Th' train's naught but a
blazin' bonfire, and them as is under it's as good as gone. Don't look!
Don't look! Come, in the Lord's name!"

"Then may He have mercy on their souls!" said Miss Barbara, as with
bowed head she allowed herself to be led away.

The news of the accident was telegraphed down the line, and as speedily
as possible a special train, bearing doctors and nurses, arrived on the
spot. The sufferers were carried to the little village of Greenfield,
close by, and attended to at once, some who were well enough to travel
going on by a relief train, while others who were more seriously injured
remained until they could communicate with their friends. The fire,
meanwhile, had done its fatal work, and little was left of any of the
carriages but heaps of charred ashes. Those who had escaped
comparatively unhurt had, with the aid of the few farm labourers who
were near at the time, worked with frantic and almost superhuman
endeavour to rescue any fellow-passengers within their reach; but they
had at last been driven back by the fury of the flames and forced to
abandon their heroic task. No one could even guess the extent of the
death roll. From the extreme rapidity with which the fire had taken
hold and spread, it was feared that many must have perished under the
wreckage, but their names could not be ascertained until the news of the
disaster was spread over the country, and their friends reported them as
missing.

Twenty-four hours later Miss Barbara Sherbourne sat in the parlour of
the Red Lion Hotel at Greenfield. She had remained there partly because
she was suffering greatly from shock, and partly because she felt
responsible for the welfare of the little child whom she had been able
to save. The account of its rescue was circulated in all the morning
papers, so she expected that before long some relation would arrive to
claim it. The woman who had accompanied it was not among the list of the
rescued, and Miss Barbara shuddered afresh at the remembrance of the
burning carriages.

"It's a bonnie bairn, too, and takes wonderful notice," said Martha,
Miss Sherbourne's faithful maid, for whom she had telegraphed. "Those to
whom it belongs will be crazy with joy to find it safe. Dear, dear! To
think its poor mother has gone, and to such an awful death!"

The baby girl was indeed the heroine of the hour. The story of her
wonderful escape appealed to everybody; newspaper reporters took
snapshots of her, and many people begged to be allowed to see her out of
sheer curiosity or interest. So far, though she had been interviewed
almost continuously from early morning, not one among the numbers who
visited her recognized her in the least. Fortunately she was of a
friendly disposition, and though she had had one or two good cries, she
seemed fairly content to be nursed by strangers, and took readily to the
bottle that was procured for her. At about six o'clock Miss Barbara and
Martha sat alone with her in the inn parlour. The afternoon train had
departed, bearing with it most of yesterday's sufferers and their
friends, so it was hardly to be expected that any more visitors would
arrive that evening. The baby sat on Miss Barbara's knee, industriously
exercising the only two wee teeth it possessed upon an ivory needlecase
supplied from Martha's pocket. Outside the light was fading, and rain
was beginning to fall, so the bright fire in the grate was the more
attractive.

"I'm glad we didn't attempt to go home to-night, Martha," said Miss
Sherbourne. "I expect I shall feel better to-morrow, and I shall leave
much more comfortably when this little one has been claimed. No doubt
somebody will turn up for her in the morning. It's too late for anyone
else to come to-day."

"There's a carriage arriving now," replied Martha, rising and going to
the window. "Somebody's getting out of it. Yes, and she's coming in
here, too, I verily believe."

Martha was not mistaken. A moment afterwards the door was opened, and
the landlord obsequiously ushered in a stranger. The lady was young, and
handsomely dressed in deep mourning. Her face was fair and pretty,
though it showed signs of the strongest agitation. She was deadly pale,
her eyes had a strained expression, and her lips twitched nervously.
Without a word of introduction or explanation she walked straight to the
child, and stood gazing at it with an intensity which it was painful to
behold, catching her breath as if speech failed her.

"Do you recognize her?" asked Miss Barbara anxiously, turning her
nursling so that the light from the lamp fell full on its chubby face.

"No! No!" gasped the stranger. "I don't know it. I can't tell whose it
is in the least."

She averted her face as she spoke; her mouth was quivering, and her
hands trembled.

"You've lost a baby of this age in the accident, maybe?" enquired
Martha.

"No; I have lost nobody. I only thought--I expected----" She spoke
wildly, almost hysterically, casting swift, uneasy glances at the child,
and as quickly turning away her eyes.

"You expected?" said Miss Sherbourne interrogatively, for the stranger
had broken off in the middle of the sentence.

"Nothing--nothing at all! I'm sorry to have troubled you. I must go at
once, for my carriage is waiting."

"Then you don't know the child?"

"I don't," the stranger repeated emphatically; "not in the slightest. I
tell you I have never seen it in my life before!"

She left the room as abruptly as she had entered, without even the
civility of a good-bye; addressed a few hurried words in a low tone to
the landlord in the hall, then, entering her conveyance, drove off into
the rapidly gathering darkness.

"There's something queer about her," said Martha, watching the departure
over the top of the short window blind. "She was ready to take her oath
that she'd never set eyes on the child before, but the sight of it sent
her crazy. Deny what she may, if you ask me, it's my firm opinion she
was telling a lie."

"Surely no one would refuse to acknowledge it!" exclaimed Miss Barbara.
"She seemed so terribly agitated and upset, she must have expected to
find some other baby, and have been disappointed."

"Disappointed!" sniffed Martha scornfully. "Aye, she was disappointed at
finding what she expected. Agitated and upset, no doubt, but the trouble
was, she knew the poor bairn only too well."

In spite of the publicity given by the newspapers, no friends turned up
to claim the little girl. Nobody seemed to recognize her, or was able to
supply the least clue to her parentage. It was impossible even to
ascertain at what station the woman, presumably her mother, had joined
the train. She was already settled in the corner when Miss Sherbourne
entered the compartment, and though a description of her was circulated,
none of the porters remembered noticing her particularly. All the
carriages had been full, and there had been several other women with
young children in the accident. Any luggage containing papers or
articles which might have led to her identification had been destroyed
in the fire. The baby's clothing was unmarked. Day after day passed, and
though many visits were paid and enquiries made, the result was
invariably the same, and in a short time popular interest, always
fleeting and fickle, died completely away.

After staying nearly a fortnight at the Red Lion Hotel, in the hope that
the missing relatives might come at last to the scene of the disaster,
Miss Sherbourne returned to her own home, taking with her the child
which so strange a chance had given into her charge. For some months
she still made an endeavour to establish its identity; she put
advertisements in the newspapers and enlisted the services of the
police, but all with no avail: and when a year had passed she realized
that her efforts seemed useless. Her friends urged her strongly to send
the little foundling to an orphanage, but by that time both she and
Martha had grown so fond of it that they could not bear the thought of a
parting.

"I'll adopt her as my niece, if you're willing to take your share of the
trouble, Martha," said Miss Barbara.

"Don't call it trouble," returned Martha. "The bairn's the very sunshine
of the house, and it would break my heart if she went."

"Very well; in future, she's mine. I shall name her Dorothy Greenfield,
because Dorothy means 'a gift of God', and it was at Greenfield that the
accident occurred. I feel that Fate flung her into my arms that day, and
surely meant me to keep her. She was a direct 'gift', so I accept the
responsibility as a solemn charge."

Miss Sherbourne's decision met with considerable opposition from her
relations.

"You're quixotic and foolish, Barbara, to think of attempting such a
thing," urged her aunt. "It's absurd, at your age, to saddle yourself
with a child to bring up. Why, you may wish to get married!"

"No, no," said Miss Barbara hastily, her thoughts on an old heartache
that obstinately refused to accept decent burial; "that will never
be--now. You must not take that contingency into consideration at all."

"You may think differently in a year or two, and it would be cruelty to
the child to bring her up as a lady and then hand her over to an
institution."

"I should not do her that injustice. I take her now, and promise to keep
her always."

"But with your small means you really cannot afford it."

"I am sure I shall be able to manage, and the child herself is
sufficient compensation for anything I must sacrifice; she's a companion
already."

"Well, I don't approve of it," said Aunt Lydia, with disfavour. "If you
want companionship, you can always have one of your nieces to stay a
week or two with you."

"It's not the same; they have their own homes and their own parents, and
are never anything but visitors at my house. However fond they may be of
me, I feel I am only a very secondary consideration in their lives. I
can't be content with such crumbs of affection. Little Dorothy seems
entirely mine, because she has nobody else in the world to love her."

"Then you actually intend to assume the full responsibility of her
maintenance, and to educate her in your own station--a child sprung from
who knows where?"

"Certainly. I shall regard her absolutely as my niece, and I shall
never part with her unless someone should come and show a higher right
than mine to claim her."

Having exhausted all their arguments, Miss Sherbourne's relatives gave
her up in despair. She was old enough to assert her own will and manage
her own affairs, and if she liked to spend a large proportion of her
scanty income on bringing up a foundling,--well, she need not expect any
help from them in the matter. They ignored the child, and never asked it
to their houses, refusing to recognize that it had any claim to be
treated on an equality with their own children, and disapproving from
first to last of the whole proceeding.

It was part of Miss Barbara's plan to let little Dorothy grow up in
complete ignorance of her strange history. She did not wish her to
realize that she was different from other children, or to allow any
slight to be cast upon her, or any unkind references made to her
dependent position. For this reason she removed into Yorkshire, and
settled down at the village of Hurford, where the circumstances of the
case were not known, and Dorothy could be received as her niece without
question. She left the little girl at home with Martha when she went to
stay with her relations, whom she succeeded in influencing so far that
she persuaded them to refrain from all allusions to Dorothy's parentage
when they paid return visits to Holly Cottage. Dorothy had often
wondered why Aunt Lydia and Aunt Constance treated her so stiffly, but,
like most children, she divided the world into nice and nasty people,
and simply included them in the latter category, without an inkling of
the real reason for their coldness. That she was never asked to their
homes did not trouble her in the least; she would have regarded such a
visit as a penance. Martha kept the secret rigidly. In her blunt,
uncompromising fashion she adored the child, and was glad to have her in
the house. Though she did not spare scoldings, and enforced a rigorous
discipline concerning the kitchen regions, she looked after Dorothy's
welfare most faithfully, especially during Miss Sherbourne's absence,
and always took the credit for having a half-share in her upbringing.

And now more than thirteen years had passed away, and the chubby baby
had grown into a tall girl who must be verging upon fourteen. Time,
which had brought a line or two to Miss Barbara's face, and a chance
grey thread among her brown locks, had also brought her a modest measure
of success. She had always possessed a taste for literary work, and in
the quiet village of Hurford she had been able to write undisturbed. Her
articles, reviews, and short stories appeared in various magazines and
papers, and by this method of adding to her income she had been able to
send Dorothy to Avondale College. It was quite an easy journey by train
from Hurford to Coleminster, and the school was considered one of the
best in the north of England. The girl had been there for four years,
and had made satisfactory progress, though she had not shown a decided
bent for any special subject. What her future career might be, Fate had
yet to determine.



CHAPTER IV

Dorothy makes a Friend


Dorothy set off for school on the morning after the election in a very
sober frame of mind. Aunt Barbara had made her acquainted with most of
the facts mentioned in our last chapter, and she now thoroughly
understood her own position. To a girl of her proud temperament the news
had indeed come as a great humiliation. Instead of bringing a copy of
her pedigree to convince Agnes Lowe that she was one of the Sherbournes
of Devonshire, she would now be obliged to ignore the subject. She did
not expect it would be mentioned openly again, but there might be hints
or allusions, and the mere fact that the girls at school should know was
sufficiently mortifying.

"Agnes was perfectly right," she thought bitterly. "I am a waif, a
nobody, with no relations, and no place of my own in the world. I
suppose I am exactly what she called me--a charity child! I wonder how
she heard the story? But it really does not matter who told her; the
secret has leaked out somehow, and no doubt it will soon be bruited all
over the College. It was time I knew about it myself; but oh dear, how
different I feel since yesterday!"

Thus Dorothy mused, all unconscious that the shuttle of Fate was already
busy casting fresh threads into the web of her life, and that the next
few minutes would bring her a meeting with one whose fortunes were
closely interwoven with her own, and whose future friendship would lead
to strange and most unexpected issues. The train had reached Latchworth,
where a number of passengers were waiting on the platform. The door of
Dorothy's compartment was flung open, and a girl of about her own age
entered, wearing the well-known Avondale ribbon and badge on her straw
hat. Dorothy remembered noticing her among the new members who had been
placed yesterday in the Upper Fourth, though she had had no opportunity
of speaking to her, and had not even learnt her name. A pretty,
fair-haired lady was seeing her off, and turned to Dorothy with an air
of relief.

"You are going to the College?" she asked pleasantly. "Oh, I am so glad!
Then Alison will have somebody to travel with. Will you be good-natured,
and look after her a little at school? She knows nobody yet."

"I'll do my best," murmured Dorothy.

[Illustration: THE NEW GIRL]

"It will be a real kindness. It is rather an ordeal to be a complete
stranger among so many new schoolfellows. Birdie, you must be sure to
come back with this girl, then I shall feel quite happy about you. You
have your books and your umbrella? Well, good-bye, darling, until five
o'clock."

The girl stood waving her hand through the window until the train was
out of the station, then she came and sat down in the seat next to
Dorothy. She had a plump, rosy, smiling face, very blue eyes, and
straight, fair hair. Her expression was decidedly friendly.

Dorothy was hardly in a genial frame of mind, but she felt bound to
enter into conversation.

"You're in the Upper Fourth, aren't you?" she began, by way of breaking
the ice.

"Yes, and so are you. Aren't you Dorothy Greenfield, who was put up for
the Lower School election?"

"And lost it!" exclaimed Dorothy ruefully. "I don't believe I'll ever
canvass again, whatever office is vacant. The thing wasn't managed
fairly. You haven't told me your name yet."

"Alison Clarke, though I'm called Birdie at home."

"Do you live at Latchworth?"

"Yes, at Lindenlea."

"That pretty house on the hill? I always notice it from the train. Then
you must have just come. It has been to let for two years."

"We removed a month ago. We used to live at Leamstead."

"How do you like the Coll.?"

"I can't tell yet. I expect I shall like it better when I know the
girls. I'm glad you go in by this train, because it's much jollier to
have somebody to travel backwards and forwards with. Mother took me
yesterday and brought me home, but of course she can't do that every
day."

Dorothy marched into school that morning feeling rather self-conscious.
She could not be sure whether her story had been circulated or not, but
she did not wish it to be referred to, nor did she want to enter into
any explanations. She imagined that her classmates looked at her in
rather a pitying manner. The bare idea put her on the defensive. Her
pride could not endure pity, even for losing the Wardenship, so she kept
aloof and spoke to nobody. It was easy enough to do this, since Hope
Lawson was the heroine of the hour, and the girls, finding Dorothy
rather cross and unsociable, left her to her own devices. At the
mid-morning interval she took a solitary walk round the playground, and
at one o'clock, instead of joining the rest of the day boarders in the
gymnasium, she lingered behind in the classroom.

"What's wrong with Dorothy Greenfield?" asked Ruth Harmon. "She's so
grumpy, one can't get a word out of her."

"Sulking because she missed the election, I suppose," said Val Barnett.

"That's not like Dorothy. She flares up and gets into tantrums, but she
doesn't sulk."

"And she doesn't generally bear a grudge about things," added Grace
Russell.

"I believe I can guess," said Mavie Morris. "I heard yesterday that she
isn't really Miss Sherbourne's niece at all; she was adopted when she
was a baby, and she doesn't even know who her parents were."

"Well, she can't help that."

"Of course she can't; but you know Dorothy! She's as proud as Lucifer,
and Agnes Lowe called her a waif and a nobody."

"Agnes Lowe wants shaking."

"Well, she didn't mean Dorothy to overhear her. She's very sorry about
it."

"I'm more sorry for Dorothy. So that's the reason she's looking so glum!
Isn't she coming to the meeting?"

"I don't know. She's up in the classroom."

"Someone fetch her."

"I'll go," said Mavie. "It's a shame to let her stay out of everything.
She's as prickly as a hedgehog to-day, and will probably snap my head
off, but I don't mind. She may have a temper, but she's one of the
jolliest girls in the Form, all the same."

"So she is. It's fearfully hard on her if what Agnes Lowe says is really
true. I vote we try to be nice to her, to make up."

"Any girl who refers to it would be a cad."

"Well, look here! Let us try to get her made secretary of our
'Dramatic'."

"Right you are! I'll propose her myself."

Mavie ran quickly upstairs to the classroom.

"Aren't you coming, Dorothy? It's the committee meeting of the
'Dramatic', you know. The others are all waiting; they sent me to fetch
you."

"You'll get on just as well without me," growled Dorothy, with her head
inside her desk.

"Nonsense! Don't be such a goose. I tell you, everybody's waiting."

"Dorothy's jealous of Hope," piped Annie Gray, who, as monitress, was
performing her duty of cleaning the blackboard.

"I'm not! How can you say such a thing? I don't care in the least about
the Wardenship."

"Then come and show up at the meeting, just to let them see you're not
sulking, at any rate," whispered Mavie. "Do be quick! I can't wait any
longer."

Dorothy slammed her desk lid, but complied. Though she would rather have
preferred her own society that day, she did not wish her conduct to be
misconstrued into jealousy or sulks.

"Go on, Mavie, and I'll follow," she replied abruptly, but not
ungraciously.

As she strolled downstairs she noticed Alison Clarke standing rather
aimlessly on the landing, as if she did not quite know where to go or
what to do. Dorothy's conscience gave her a prick. She had quite
forgotten Alison, who, as a new girl, must be feeling decidedly out of
things at the College. She certainly might have employed the
eleven-o'clock interval much more profitably in befriending the
new-comer than in mooning round the playground by herself, brooding over
her own troubles. However, it was not too late to make up for the
omission.

"Hallo!" she exclaimed. "Not a very breezy occupation to stand reading
the Sixth Form timetable, is it?"

"I've nothing better to do," replied Alison, whose rosy face looked a
trifle forlorn. "I don't know a soul here yet, or the ways of the
place."

"You know me! Come along to the gym.; we're going to have a committee
meeting."

Alison brightened visibly.

"What's the meeting about?" she asked, as she stepped briskly with
Dorothy along the passage.

"It's our 'Dramatic'. You see, we who stay for dinner get up little
plays among ourselves. Each Form acts one or two every term. They're
nothing grand--not like the swell things they have at the College
Dramatic Union--and we only do them before the other girls in the gym.,
but they're great fun, all the same."

"I love acting!" declared Alison, with unction.

"Ever done any?"

"Rather! We were keen on it at the school I went to in Leamstead. I was
'Nerissa' once, and 'Miss Matty' in _Scenes from Cranford_, and 'The
March Hare' in _Alice in Wonderland_. I have the mask still, and the fur
costume, and Miss Matty's cap and curls."

"Any other properties?"

"Heaps--in a box at home. There are Miss Matty's mittens and cross-over,
and her silk dress."

"Good! I must tell the girls that. We requisition everything we can.
Where are they having the meeting, I wonder? Oh, there's Mavie beckoning
to us near the horizontal bar!"

The day boarders belonging to the Upper Fourth were collected in a
corner of the gymnasium, waiting impatiently for a few last arrivals.
They made room for Dorothy and Alison, and as Annie Gray followed in a
moment or two, the meeting began almost immediately. Hope Lawson, by
virtue of her Wardenship, took the chair. The first business of the
society was to choose a secretary.

"I beg to propose Dorothy Greenfield," said Grace Russell, putting in
her word before anyone else had an opportunity, and looking at Ruth
Harmon.

"And I beg to second the proposal," said Ruth, rising to the occasion.

Nobody offered the slightest opposition, and Dorothy was elected
unanimously. Very much surprised, but extremely pleased, she accepted
the notebook and stump of pencil that were handed her as signs of
office.

"The next thing is to choose a play," said Hope, "and I think we can't
do better than take one of these _Scenes from Thackeray_. _Miss
Pinkerton's Establishment for Young Ladies_ is lovely."

"Who'd be Miss Pinkerton?"

"It depends on the costume. She ought to have curls, and a cap and
mittens, and a silk dress."

"Can we fish them up from anywhere?"

"Didn't you say you'd had them for Miss Matty?" whispered Dorothy to
Alison; adding aloud: "This new girl, Alison Clarke, has the complete
costume at home, and she's accustomed to acting. I say she'd better take
Miss Pinkerton."

"One can't give the best part to a new girl," objected Annie Gray.

"It's not the best part; it's nothing to Becky Sharp."

"Well, it's the second best, anyhow."

"Oh, never mind that! Let her try. If you find she can't manage it, you
can put in somebody else instead. Give her a chance to show what she can
do, at any rate," pleaded Dorothy.

"We'd destined Miss Pinkerton for you," murmured Grace Russell.

"Then I'll resign in favour of Alison. Let me take Miss Swartz, or one
of the servants--I don't mind which."

It was characteristic of Dorothy that, having reproached herself for
neglecting Alison, she was at once ready to renounce anything and
everything for her benefit. She never did things by halves, and,
considering that she had made a promise in the train, she meant to keep
it; moreover, she had really taken a fancy to the new-comer's beaming
face.

"So be it!" said Hope. "Put it down provisionally--Miss Pinkerton,
Alison Clarke. Now the great business is to choose Becky. Oh, bother!
There's the dinner bell! It always rings at the wrong minute. No, we
can't meet again at two, because I have my music lesson. We must wait
till to-morrow."

Dorothy escorted her protégée to the dining-room, and, when dinner was
over, spent the remaining time before school in showing her the library,
the museum, and the other sights of the College.

"You don't feel so absolutely at sea now?" she enquired.

"No, I'm getting quite at home, thanks to you. It's such a comfort to
have somebody to talk to. Yesterday was detestable."

At three o'clock the Upper Fourth had a literature lesson with Miss
Tempest. It was held in the lecture hall instead of their own classroom,
and just as the girls were filing in at the door, Dorothy made the
horrible discovery that in place of her Longfellow she had brought an
English history book. It was impossible to go back, for Miss Pitman was
standing on the stairs.

"What am I to do?" she gasped. "How could I have been so idiotically
stupid?"

"Can't you look on with somebody?" suggested Alison, who was walking
with her.

"Miss Tempest will notice, and ask the reason. She's fearfully down on
us if we forget anything. I'm in the front row, too, worse luck!"

"Then take my Longfellow and give me your History. Perhaps I shan't be
asked to read. We'll chance it, anyhow," said Alison, changing the two
books before Dorothy had time to object.

"No, no; it's too bad!" began Dorothy; but at that moment Miss Pitman
called out: "What are you two girls waiting for? Move on at once!" and
they were obliged to pass into the lecture hall and go to their seats.

Fortune favoured them that afternoon. Miss Tempest, in the course of the
lesson, twice asked Dorothy to read passages, and completely missed out
Alison, who sat rejoicing tremulously in the back row.

"You don't know from what you've saved me," said the former, as she
returned the book when the class was over. "I should have been utterly
undone without your Longfellow."

"It's like the fable of the mouse and the lion," laughed Alison. "I must
say I felt a little nervous when Miss Tempest looked in my direction. I
thought once she was just going to fix on me. All's well that ends well,
though."

"And I won't be such a duffer again," declared Dorothy.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mother, dearest," said Alison Clarke that evening, "I didn't think the
College half so horrid to-day as I did yesterday. I like Dorothy
Greenfield, she's such a jolly girl. She took me all round the place and
showed me everything, and told me what I might do, and what I mustn't.
We went to the Dramatic meeting--at least, it wasn't the real College
Dramatic, but one in our own Form--and I got chosen for Miss Pinkerton.
Dorothy's going to be Miss Swartz, I expect. We've arranged to travel
together always. She's going to wave her handkerchief out of the window
the second the train gets to Latchworth, so that I can go into her
carriage; and we shall wait for each other in the dressing-room after
school."

"I thought she looked a nice girl," said Mrs. Clarke. "She has such a
bright, intelligent face, and she answered so readily and pleasantly
when I spoke to her. I'm glad to hear she took you under her wing, and
showed you the Avondale ways. You'll soon feel at home there now,
Birdie."

"Oh, I shall get along all right! Miss Tempest is rather tempestuous,
and Miss Pitman's only tolerable, but the acting is going to be fun. As
for Dorothy, she's ripping!"



CHAPTER V

A Literature Exercise


The fickle goddess of fortune, having elected to draw together the lives
of Dorothy Greenfield and Alison Clarke, had undoubtedly begun her task
by sending the latter to live near Coleminster. Mrs. Clarke told all her
friends that it was by the merest chance she had seen and taken
Lindenlea. She had decided that the climate of Leamstead was too
relaxing; and when, on a motor tour with a cousin in the North, she
happened to pass through the village of Latchworth, and noticed the
pretty, rambling old house to let on the top of the hill, she had at
once insisted upon stopping, obtaining the keys, and looking over it.
And she had so immediately and entirely fallen in love with its
pleasant, sunny rooms and delightful garden that she had interviewed the
agent without further delay, and arranged to take it on a lease.

"It's the very kind of place I've always longed for!" she
declared--"old-fashioned enough to be picturesque, yet with every modern
comfort: a good coach-house and stable, a meadow large enough to keep a
Jersey cow in, a splendid tennis court, and the best golf links in the
neighbourhood close by. Another advantage is that Alison can go to
Avondale College. The house is so near to the station that she can
travel by train into Coleminster every day, and return at four o'clock.
I'm never able to make up my mind to spare her to go to a boarding
school; but, on the other hand, I don't approve of girls being taught at
home by private governesses. The College exactly solves the problem. No
one can say I'm not giving her a good education, and yet I shall see her
every day, and have her all Saturday and Sunday with me. It's no use
possessing a daughter unless she can be something of a companion, and I
always think Nature meant a mother to bring up her own child,
particularly when she's a precious only chick like mine."

Alison had no memory of her father, who had died in her infancy. Her
mother had been as both parents to her, and had supplied the place of
brothers and sisters as well. Poor Mrs. Clarke could not help fussing
over her one treasure, and Alison's education, amusements, clothes, and,
above all, health, were her supreme interests in life. The girl was
inclined to be delicate; she had suffered as a child from bronchial
asthma, and though she had partly outgrown the tendency, an occasional
attack still alarmed her mother.

It was largely on Alison's account that Mrs. Clarke had taken Lindenlea.
She thought the open, breezy situation on the top of a hill likely to
suit her far better than the house at Leamstead, which had been situated
too close to the river; and she knew that the neighbourhood of
Coleminster was considered specially bracing for those troubled with
throat or chest complaints. At fourteen Alison was one of those
over-coddled, petted, worshipped only daughters who occasionally, in
defiance of all ordinary rules, seem to escape becoming pampered and
selfish. She had a very sweet and sensible disposition, and a strong
sense of justice. In her heart of hearts she hated to be spoilt or in
any way favoured. She would have liked to be one of a large family, and
she greatly envied girls with younger brothers and sisters to care for.
Dearly as she loved her mother, it was often a real trial to her to be
idolized in public. She was quick to catch the amused smile of visitors
who listened while her praises were sung, and the everlasting subject of
her health was discussed; and to detect the disapproval with which they
noticed her numerous indulgences. She felt it unfair that strangers, and
even friends, seemed to consider her selfish for receiving all the good
things showered upon her. She could not disappoint her mother by
refusing any of them, though she would gladly have handed them on to
someone less fortunate than herself. To her credit, she never once
allowed her mother to suspect that this over-fond and anxious affection
made her appear singular, and occasionally even a subject of ridicule
among other girls. She submitted quite patiently to the cosseting and
worrying about her health, only sighing a little over the superfluous
wraps and needless tonics, and wishing, though never for less love,
certainly for less close and fretting attention.

Perhaps as the direct result of this adoration at home, Alison was a
pleasant companion at school, quite ready to give up her own way on
occasion, and enjoying the sensation of sharing alike with everyone
else. She was soon on good terms with her classmates, for she was merry
and humorous as well as accommodating. Her friendship with Dorothy
increased daily. As they travelled backwards and forwards by train
together they were necessarily thrown much in each other's company, and
they earned the nicknames of "David" and "Jonathan" in the Form.

The contrast between the circumstances and the upbringing of the two
girls could not, however, have been stronger. Miss Sherbourne, in
adopting Dorothy, had undertaken a charge that was a heavy if
self-imposed burden upon her small means. Rigid economy was the rule at
Holly Cottage; no luxuries could be afforded, and pleasures were mostly
of a kind that did not involve any great expenditure. It was rarely that
Aunt Barbara indulged herself even to the extent of a concert ticket or
a piece of new music. A fresh piano was out of the question, so she
managed to coax a good deal of melody from the old one. If it had not
been for the help of her writing she could not have sent Dorothy to the
College, and, as it was, such extras as dancing lessons were impossible.

Though Dorothy clearly understood the necessity for economy, she often
secretly chafed against it. She was a girl who liked to shine before her
schoolfellows, and she felt keenly that she lacked their advantages. It
was hard, when all were talking of a play or an exhibition, to have to
confess that she had not been, and to hear the others say pityingly:
"Why, Dorothy, you never go anywhere!" Her clothes, made by Aunt Barbara
at home, though beautifully neat and quite sufficient for a schoolgirl,
could not compete with the pretty dresses worn by many of her
companions; and she did not possess even a watch, much less bangles and
chains such as Hope Lawson was fond of displaying.

The knowledge of her dependent position, which Aunt Barbara had so
carefully kept hidden, came to her as the most serious of her drawbacks.
She could not help brooding over it, and the more she dwelt upon the
subject the more disconsolate and discontented she became. Aunt Barbara,
whose loving eyes were quick to notice, saw only too clearly the phase
through which Dorothy was passing; but she knew that the girl must fight
her own battle before she learnt to set the right value on this world's
possessions, and to discover for herself what things are really of
worth. With Dorothy's character Miss Sherbourne often felt as though she
were working in the dark. She did her best to impress her own
personality upon the child, but every now and then some unexpected
trait--a legacy, perhaps, from an unknown ancestor--would crop up and
make her realize how strong is the force of heredity in our natures. She
recognized that at the present crisis "preaching" would be useless, and
could only trust that patience and forbearance would indirectly bring
about the desired effect.

"Auntie," said Dorothy, as she ate her breakfast one morning, about a
month after the term began, "I don't like Hope Lawson since she got the
Wardenship. She hasn't improved."

"How's that? I thought she was a tolerably nice girl," answered Miss
Sherbourne.

"She wasn't at all bad before, but she's changed. She and Blanche Hall
and Irene Jackson go together now, and they simply sit upon all the rest
of the class."

"Rather a large order, if they do it literally!" laughed Aunt Barbara.

"Metaphorically, of course. But really, Auntie, you've no idea how nasty
they are. Hope has taken the tone that she's much above everyone else--I
don't mean because she's Warden, but socially. You see, while her father
has been Mayor they've entertained numbers of distinguished people, and
Hope's never tired of talking about them. Then she comes to school
wearing heaps of bangles and rings and things, and she makes one feel
she doesn't consider one's clothes anything to hers. She saw my blue
skirt had been lengthened, for she nudged Irene and laughed, and said
very pointedly that braid had gone out of fashion. Then she asked me
where I bought my boots. I wasn't going to tell her, so I didn't answer;
but Blanche Hall piped out: 'The Market Stores', and they both screamed
with laughter, and Hope said she always bought hers at Forster's."

"I should simply take no notice, if I were you."

"I try not to, but all the same it's annoying. Yesterday we had a
squabble about giving out the French books, and I said I should ask Miss
Pitman; then Hope said Miss Pitman would be sure to take her part,
because she often dines at their house. And the worst of it is, it's
true. Miss Pitman isn't quite fair. Hope and Blanche and Irene make the
most tremendous fuss of her, and she always favours them--she does
really. She gives them better marks for their exercises, and easier
questions in class, and waits much longer for their answers than for
anybody else's. She doesn't like me."

"Dorothy!"

"She doesn't--honestly, Auntie. Even Alison notices how down she is on
me. If I do the least little thing I'm snapped up in a second."

"Then the obvious moral is, don't do the least little thing."

Dorothy pulled a long face.

"Auntie! You were brought up by a private governess, and you don't know
what it is to go to a huge school. One can't always be absolutely
immaculate; if one could, one would be a saint, not an ordinary girl. I
can't resist talking sometimes, or shuffling my feet, or fidgeting with
my pencil, or--no, no; if you're going to lecture, I shall fly! It's ten
past eight, and it's too wet to take the short cut across the field."

Dorothy certainly considered she had a grievance at present. She had
unfortunately not made a very good impression upon her new teacher. She
could not bear to curry favour, and, seeing that Hope and some of the
others were trying by every means in their power to pay special court to
Miss Pitman, she went to the opposite extreme, and became so abrupt as
to be almost uncivil in her manners.

"I'm not going to bring her flowers every morning, and offer her walnut
creams in the interval," she thought. "It seems like bribery, and I
should think much better of her if she wouldn't accept them. Miss Hardy
never did."

Miss Hardy, the mistress of the Lower Fourth, had been strict but
scrupulously just; she might be sometimes disliked by her pupils, but
she was always respected. Miss Pitman was a totally different type of
teacher: she was younger, better looking, dressed more prettily, and
cared very much more for the social side of life. She lacked power to
enforce good discipline, and tried to supply her deficiency by making a
bid for popularity among her girls. She dearly loved the little
attentions they paid her: she liked to pin a rose on her dress, or carry
home a bunch of hothouse flowers; she found tickets for concerts or
lectures most acceptable; and invitations--provided they were to nice
houses--were not despised. Probably she had not the least idea that she
was allowing her predilection for some of her pupils to bias her
judgment of their capacities in class, but in the few weeks that she had
taught the Upper Fourth she had already gained a reputation for
favouritism.

"She can be so particularly mean," said Dorothy, continuing the recital
of her grievances to Alison in the train. "She deliberately helped
Blanche out with one question yesterday, and she wouldn't give me even
the least hint."

"I don't like her myself," commented Alison, "though she isn't as hard
on me as she is on you. But it's perfectly easy to see what's the matter
with Miss Pitman--she's ambitious to climb. She wouldn't accept the
Parkers' invitation (they only live in a semi-detached villa), and she's
been twice to the Lawsons', who send her home in a motor. Well, she
won't be asked to our house."

"Nor to ours, though I don't suppose she'd want to come. All the same,
it's disgusting, and I've a very poor opinion of her."

That morning Miss Pitman took her classes without her ordinary adornment
in the way of a button-hole. Hope Lawson was absent, and the delicate
Maréchal Niel or dainty spray of carnations that usually lay on her desk
at nine o'clock was absent also. Perhaps she missed it, for she was both
impatient and snappy in her manner during the lessons, waxed sarcastic
when Noëlle Kennedy demanded an explanation of a rather obvious point,
and made no allowance for slips. She dictated the History notes so
quickly that it was very difficult to follow her, and woe to Dorothy,
who was rash enough to ask her to repeat a sentence!

"Are you deaf, Dorothy Greenfield? Sit up and don't poke. I can't allow
you to stoop over your desk in that way. If you're shortsighted, you
had better go to an oculist and get fitted with glasses."

Dorothy was apt to poke, and her attitude when writing was most
inelegant; but it is difficult to remember physical culture during the
agonies of following a quick dictation. She frowned and looked
thunderous as she made a jerky effort to sit straight.

"Miss Pitman's crosser than usual," she said to Alison at eleven
o'clock. "You'll see, I shall only get 'Moderate' for my literature
exercise, however well I do it."

"You mean she'll mark it low on purpose?"

"Yes; she never judges me fairly."

"But does she look at the names on the labels when she's correcting?"

"You may be sure she does, or Hope wouldn't always have 'Very Good'."

"Then, just as an experiment, let us exchange. I'll write my exercise in
your book, and you can write yours in mine. Our writing's sufficiently
alike."

"Oh, that would be a gorgeous joke! We'll do it; but don't tell a soul.
Let us go upstairs and arrange it now."

Dorothy wrote her literature exercise that morning in the book labelled
"Alison Clarke". She had prepared her subject carefully, and did her
very best not only to put down correct facts, but to attend to points
of composition. She tried to avoid tautology, unduly long sentences, and
various other mistakes to which she was prone, and flattered herself at
the end of the half-hour that she had turned out a decidedly creditable
piece of work. She blotted it with great satisfaction, and by rather
officiously collecting the books of several girls who sat near, and
placing hers in the middle of the pile, she managed to hand it to the
monitress without showing the incriminating "Alison Clarke" on the
cover. There was a singing class from 12 to 12.45, during which time
Miss Pitman always did her corrections. When the girls rushed up to the
classroom at a quarter to one, the books were finished and placed ready
upon the table. Alison and Dorothy each seized her own, and retired
together to a corner of the room.

"You've got 'Fair' in my book," whispered Dorothy. "Now let me see what
I've got in yours."

"'Excellent'!"

"Fiddlesticks!"

"Well, look for yourself."

"It actually is! Oh! Miss Pitman would never have given me 'Excellent'
if she'd known it was mine. I feel I've scored no end. Doesn't it show
her up?"

"Rather!"

"Excellent" was the very highest mark possible, and it was rarely given
at the College. To receive it was certainly a great honour, and showed
the merit of the exercise. The two conspirators thought they had been
extremely clever, and congratulated themselves upon the success of their
little plot; but it was to have a sequel which neither of them expected
in the least. Miss Tempest taught literature throughout the school, and
though she delegated the correction of exercises to assistant
mistresses, she occasionally made some enquiry about the written portion
of the work. That afternoon she entered the Upper Fourth classroom.

"I wish to know the results of your literature exercises," she
announced. "I myself set the paper this week, and I want to see what
standard you have reached individually. Will each girl in turn repeat
her mark, beginning with Noëlle Kennedy?"

Dorothy was in a quandary: she did not know what she ought to say. Must
she give the mark that was written in her book, or the one she had
really gained? Justice seemed to point to the latter, so when it came to
her turn she answered "Excellent". Alison, taking the cue from her,
answered "Fair". Evidently the exercises had not reached a very high
standard of merit that day. There were a few "Goods", a great many
"Moderates" and "Fairs", and even one or two "Weaks" and "Faulties". At
the end of the recital the head mistress was just about to give her
comment, when Miss Pitman intervened.

"May I say a word, Miss Tempest? One girl has not stated her mark
correctly. Dorothy Greenfield said 'Excellent'. Now I particularly
remember that I only gave one 'Excellent' this morning, and that was not
to Dorothy."

Miss Tempest turned to Dorothy with her sternest look.

"Repeat your mark!" she ordered.

"Excellent," quavered Dorothy, sticking to her point, though she foresaw
a storm.

"Hand me your exercise!"

Dorothy fumbled in her desk with trembling fingers. She knew she was
involved in a most awkward situation. She was very pale as she passed up
the book. Miss Tempest opened it and glared first at the "Fair", written
plainly in Miss Pitman's handwriting, and then at the embarrassed face
of her pupil.

"I should not have thought you would consider it worth while to attempt
to deceive me with so palpable a falsehood, Dorothy Greenfield!" she
said scornfully.

Dorothy turned all colours. For once her wits deserted her. She could
not imagine how to explain the matter. The whole thing had happened so
suddenly that there seemed no time to cudgel up a word in self-defence.
A groan of indignation passed round the class, which Miss Tempest
instantly suppressed.

"Well, what have you to say for yourself, Dorothy? Do you consider such
conduct worthy of a girl who was nominated for the Wardenship?"

"Please, Miss Tempest, may I speak?" said a voice at the back; and
Alison Clarke stood up, blushing scarlet, but determined to have her
say.

"Do you know anything about this, Alison?"

"Yes; it's my fault. We changed exercise books. The one in Dorothy's
book marked 'Fair' is really mine, and here is Dorothy's, marked
'Excellent', in my book. If you'll please look at it you'll see it's her
own writing--she makes Greek e's, and I never do."

Miss Tempest frowned, but she nevertheless examined the exercise, which
a row of eager hands passed up to her.

"Is this Dorothy Greenfield's writing, Miss Pitman?" she asked.

"It certainly has all the characteristics," admitted the Form mistress.

"Why were you writing in each other's book?" enquired Miss Tempest
sharply.

Alison's scarlet face took an even deeper shade of crimson.

"Oh--just silliness!" she murmured. "But it seemed more honest each to
take the mark we'd really gained. I couldn't give in 'Excellent' when
I'd only had 'Fair'."

"Take care such a thing never happens again," said Miss Tempest, eyeing
both the culprits, who at that moment would have given a great deal to
have been a little less clever. "You will each put down 'Fair' in your
reports."

"So I've lost my 'Excellent'," lamented Dorothy after school. "Miss
Pitman will be rejoicing; I believe she 'twigged'."

"I'm almost certain she did, she was looking at you so keenly. Well,
there's one good thing, it will show her that we think she favours."

"Much she'll care!"

"Oh, I don't know! No teacher likes to be accused of unfairness."

"I know one thing--I should have got into an uncommonly big scrape if
you hadn't put in a word."

"Well, it was much easier for me than for you, as you'd got the
'Excellent'."

"But I haven't got it now, worse luck! And probably I shan't have
another all this term," groaned Dorothy.



CHAPTER VI

A Promise


Dorothy had grown so accustomed to travelling to school with Alison that
she felt extremely at a loss when one morning she looked out of the
carriage window at Latchworth and did not see the familiar rosy, smiling
face on the platform.

"I wonder if Alison's late, or if she's stopping at home?" she thought.
"She had rather a cold yesterday, and Mrs. Clarke seems so fearfully
fussy. I'm glad Aunt Barbara doesn't worry over me to such an extent; it
must be a perfect nuisance to have to wear galoshes just on the chance
of its raining, and to swathe a Shetland shawl over your mouth if
there's the slightest atom of damp in the air. And Alison is so
conscientious over it! I believe I should stuff the shawl inside my
satchel, and lose the galoshes on purpose!"

The journey seemed dull without her friend and their usual chat
together. It was not interesting to stare out of the window when she
knew every yard of the line by heart, and for lack of other occupation
she was reduced to taking out her books and looking over her lessons.
Both in the mid-morning interval and the half-hour before dinner she
missed Alison exceedingly. She tried to fill up the time with various
expedients. She got a book from the library, and was so long and so
fastidious in choosing that the prefect in charge grew tired of
recommending, and waxed impatient.

"Really, Dorothy Greenfield, you might be a literary critic! One is too
childish, and another's too stiff, and you don't care for historical
tales. I should like to know what you do want! Be quick and take
something, or I shall just lock the case up again and leave you without
anything. Oh, you'd like _The Old Curiosity Shop_! Then why couldn't you
say so at first?"

Though Dorothy had settled on a Dickens for the sake of making some
choice, she had no intention of reading just at present, and she
sauntered into the gymnasium to see what the others were doing. It was
not the day for a dramatic rehearsal, and nothing particular was going
on. Some of the girls were playing rounders, but most were standing
about chatting, and waiting for the dinner bell. Hope Lawson and Blanche
Hall were talking together, and as Dorothy passed she caught a fragment
of their conversation.

"We shall have to fly, the second dinner is over," said Hope; "but I
believe we shall just be able to do it."

"If we only get a peep at the dresses as they go in, it will be worth
it," replied Blanche. "I hear there are to be twelve bridesmaids and two
pages. We'll do a bolt!"

"What are Hope and Blanche talking about?" said Dorothy to Addie Parker,
who was standing close by.

"Why, there's a grand wedding at St. Peter's at two o'clock. Miss
Russell is to be married, and I suppose it will be ever such a swell
affair. They were laying down red carpets when I passed this morning. I
peeped into the church, and some men were just bringing pots of the
loveliest flowers."

"Are Hope and Blanche going to see it, then?"

"Yes, no doubt. Bertha Warren and I mean to go, and so do Annie Gray and
Joyce Hickson. I wouldn't miss it for the world. You'd better come."

"I'll think about it," returned Dorothy.

The more she considered the idea the more she liked it, in spite of the
fact that it was a rather doubtful adventure. There was no exact rule
that the girls should not leave the College during the dinner hour, but
it was well understood, all the same, that they remained on the
premises.

"Miss Tempest has never said so," thought Dorothy, "nor have any of the
mistresses. When a thing hasn't been forbidden, I suppose it's allowed.
St. Peter's is just round the corner, so I declare I'll go. I've never
seen a smart wedding."

As soon as dinner was over she fled to the dressing-room to put on her
outdoor clothes, then, as Blanche described it, she "did a bolt". She
much preferred going by herself to joining Addie Parker and Bertha
Warren, so she scurried along, hoping they would not overtake her. At
the lich-gate of the church she came upon Hope Lawson and Blanche Hall.

"Hallo, Dorothy! So you've sneaked away too?" said Hope.

"I don't call it sneaking," returned Dorothy. "Why shouldn't we come?"

"Yes, why shouldn't we, indeed?" echoed Blanche.

"No reason at all, my dear," observed Hope, "except that Miss Tempest
might happen to make a bother about it if she heard. One never knows
quite what she'll take it into her head to say or do."

"Then she mustn't hear."

"Right you are! We certainly won't tell of each other."

"Rather not!"

"Will you promise too, Dorothy, never to breathe one single word that
you've seen Blanche and me here?"

"Of course! Do you think I'm likely to go telling tales to Miss
Tempest?"

"Well, no; but you'll promise not to tell any body, not even the girls?"

"All serene!"

"On your honour?" said Hope, catching her by the arm.

"On my anything you like," answered Dorothy, who, seeing Bertha Warren
and Addie Parker coming up, was in a hurry to get away.

She was anxious to try to obtain a place in the church, so that she
might see something of the ceremony. All the seats seemed taken as she
entered, but she marched confidently up the aisle, hoping to find room
farther on. She was stopped directly, however, by the verger.

"What name, please? Are you one of the Miss Guntons?" he enquired.

"No," stammered Dorothy, "I--only----"

"Then you must go out," he interrupted tartly. "These pews is for the
invited guests--general public's only allowed in the free seats, and
they're full up long ago."

Much abashed, Dorothy beat a hasty retreat, after having caught a brief
vision of elegantly-dressed guests and beautiful rows of palms and
chrysanthemums in pots. Evidently there was no room for schoolgirls. She
was annoyed with herself for having ventured there. Her pride hated
rebuffs, and the old verger's manner made her feel hot and
uncomfortable. Several people in the pews had turned to look at her. No
doubt they considered her an impertinent intruder. Her cheeks flamed at
the idea. The churchyard seemed almost as full as the church, though the
crowd there was of a totally different description. The possibility of
witnessing the wedding had attracted a motley assemblage--nurses with
babies and small children, errand boys, hatless women from back streets,
dressmakers' assistants who had come to see the fashions, and a number
of those idlers who are always to be found ready to run and look at
anything in the way of a show, be it a marriage, a funeral, or an
accident.

By a little judicious elbowing, Dorothy managed to secure a place where
she had a tolerable view of the path and the lich-gate. She was wedged
rather tightly between two nursemaids, and the basket of a grocer's boy
behind was pressing into her back; but these were minor discomforts,
which must be endured.

"Here they come!" said somebody.

There was a rustling and swaying movement among the crowd, a sound of
carriage wheels, a general craning forward of heads; the nurse next to
Dorothy held up her little charge in her arms. It was difficult to see,
for the awning rather hid the view from those in the churchyard above
the path. All that Dorothy caught was a glimpse of a figure in white
satin and lace, and just a peep of some bridesmaids in palest blue; then
a tall woman moved in front of her, and effectually shut out the
prospect.

"What a swindle!" she thought. "I've hardly seen anything at all. It
wasn't worth the trouble of coming. I wonder if the other girls have had
better luck?"

She noticed two school hats in the distance, though she could not
recognize the faces under them. She was half inclined to struggle
through the groups of people towards them, when she remembered to look
at the church clock.

"Nearly twenty-five past!" she ejaculated. "I must fly!"

It was not an easy matter to extricate herself from the crowd. Dorothy
knew it was useless to attempt to go out by the main entrance, so she
made a push for the side gate; then taking a short cut by a small
street, she scurried back to school. She was just changing her boots in
the dressing-room when Addie Parker, Bertha Warren, and three other
girls came hurrying in.

"Oh, Dorothy! Did you get off?" cried Addie. "You are lucky! We were all
caught!"

"Yes, caught dead--every one of us!" echoed Bertha.

"Oh, it was horrible!" exclaimed Joyce Hickson. "I never expected she'd
be there."

"And we ran almost plump against her!"

"Just our luck!"

"What do you mean? Who caught you?" asked Dorothy.

"Miss Tempest. Didn't you see her?"

"No, not I."

"Then thank your good star!"

"Where was she?"

"Close to the lich-gate. She came up quite suddenly, just when the bride
had gone in. Phyllis saw her first, and passed on a 'Cave', but it was
impossible to get away, there were so many people round."

"She must have noticed our school hats in the distance," added Annie
Gray.

"What did she do?" asked Dorothy.

"Pulled out her notebook and took all our names. Oh, I'm just shaking in
my shoes! I didn't know whether I dared come back to school, or whether
I hadn't better trek straight off home."

"You'd have got into a worse pickle still if you'd done that."

"Perhaps I should. Anyhow, I'm quaking."

"Yes, it's 'Look out for squalls'!"

"Squalls? A tempest, you mean!"

"It will be a raging Tempest, certainly."

"Oh, goody! There's the bell, and I haven't changed my boots!"

"Did you see anything, though?" asked Dorothy, as they hurried
upstairs.

"Yes, I had a lovely view. The bridesmaids were sweet; their bouquets
were all of lilies of the valley: and as for Miss Russell--it makes me
want to be married myself! It was almost worth while being caught to see
it--but oh, dear! what will happen to us, I wonder? I'd give everything
I possess to have this afternoon over."

Full of uneasy forebodings, the delinquents took their places at their
desks. Dorothy looked round for Hope and Blanche. They slipped in at the
last moment, rather red and out of breath, and seemingly anxious to
avoid the enquiring eyes of the others.

Miss Carter, the science mistress, entered, and the hygiene lesson
began. Eight guilty souls in the class found it difficult to fix their
attention upon ventilation or food values. Dorothy's mind was in a
ferment. What was about to happen? She had not thought it any great
crime to go to see the wedding, but apparently such an action was viewed
far more seriously at head-quarters. In her speculation on the issue of
events, she gave such random answers that Miss Carter stared at her in
surprise.

"Did you misunderstand the question, or are you not attending, Dorothy
Greenfield?" she asked.

Dorothy made an effort to pull herself together and recall the forgotten
facts, but they were elusive, and she could only stare stupidly at the
teacher. Just at that moment the door opened, and Miss Tempest entered.
There was a perceptible shudder amongst those girls whose consciences
told them they were to blame. Addie Parker and Bertha Warren exchanged
glances, Joyce Hickson pretended to be absorbed in her notebook, while
Hope Lawson sat with her nose in the air, as if unconscious of any need
to disturb herself.

"Excuse me for interrupting the lesson, Miss Carter," began Miss
Tempest, "but there is a very important matter upon which I must speak
at once. Adeline Parker, Bertha Warren, Joyce Hickson, Annie Gray, and
Phyllis Fowler--stand up!"

With downcast eyes the five girls responded to the command.

"I wish to know what you were doing at St. Peter's Church this
afternoon?"

No one had the courage to venture a reply.

"Who gave you permission to leave the school?"

Still there was dead silence among the culprits.

"You know perfectly well the day boarders are not allowed to go out
during the dinner hour."

Miss Tempest's voice, which had begun icily, was waxing more stern and
wrathful. Addie Parker began to sob.

"How is it that among all the girls at the College you five had the
presumption to attempt such a flagrant breach of the rules? I say you
five, for I saw you and took your names; but I certainly noticed another
Avondale hat among the crowd, and I intend to find out to whom it
belonged. Was any other girl in this class present at St. Peter's this
afternoon?"

Dorothy's conscience gave a great, uncomfortable prick. She had many
faults, but concealment was not one of them, so she stood up.

"I was there, Miss Tempest," she said, rather defiantly.

At the head mistress's gaze Dorothy dropped her eyes. Miss Tempest was
not to be trifled with.

"Indeed! By whose permission?"

"I didn't ask anybody. I didn't know the dinner girls weren't allowed to
go out. We none of us knew. We thought we had a perfect right to go."

"That cannot be true. You have been four years at the College, and no
one is better acquainted with the rules than yourself. It is an
unheard-of thing for day boarders to leave until four o'clock, and could
not be allowed for an instant. I am astonished that you should commit
such a breach of discipline and then attempt to justify yourself--yes,
astonished and disappointed in the extreme."

"But I really didn't----" began Dorothy.

"That will do," interrupted Miss Tempest sharply. "I don't wish to hear
any further excuses. You have shown me that you are not to be trusted."

"But I do speak the truth!" burst out Dorothy.

"Dorothy Greenfield, if you answer me back again, I shall have to
request you to leave the College altogether. I do not allow any girl to
set her opinion against mine."

When Miss Tempest was angry, her mouth looked grim and her eyes blazed.
Quite cowed, Dorothy did not venture to seek further to exculpate
herself. She stood twisting her hands nervously, and (I regret to say)
with a very stubborn expression on her face. Inwardly she was raging.
The head mistress glared at her for a moment, then turned to the class
again.

"Was any other girl in this room at St. Peter's this afternoon?" she
asked. "I appeal to your honour."

Nobody answered. Hope and Blanche sat still, with eyes that dared not
raise themselves to meet those of the mistress.

"Very well; I am glad to find no others have broken the rule. For the
rest of the term the six girls who so forgot themselves will not be
allowed in the gymnasium between one and half-past two. If it is too wet
to go into the playground, they must stay in the classrooms. Any of the
six who enters the gymnasium during the prohibited time must report
herself to me at once in the library. Thank you, Miss Carter. I am sorry
to have been obliged to disturb your lesson, though more sorry still for
the cause of the interruption."

Dorothy took in very little of the remainder of the hygiene lesson. She
was in a ferment of indignation. Miss Tempest had doubted her word
before all the Form, and that rankled more than the scolding. Her
contempt for Hope and Blanche was supreme, but she was angry, all the
same, at their meanness. She was far too proud to cry like Addie Parker,
whose eyes were already red and swollen, and whose cheeks were blotched
with tears. She sat, a sullen, defiant little figure, nursing her wrath
and full of a burning sense of injustice.

Fortunately, the rest of the afternoon was devoted to drawing, and she
was able to give a mechanical attention to her copy, which made her work
just pass muster.

"Not so good as usual to-day, Dorothy," said the art mistress at the
close of the class. "I can only give you 'Fair'. I don't think you have
tried your best."

Dorothy shut her pencil box with a slam. She was in a thoroughly bad
temper, and felt that she did not much care what happened. Miss Giles
gave her a warning look, as if she were disposed to tell her to lose an
order mark; but seeing perhaps that the girl was overwrought and unlike
herself, she took no further notice, and passed on to the next drawing
board.

As Dorothy left the studio, Hope Lawson managed to edge close up to her,
and whispered in her ear: "Remember your promise! You said you wouldn't
tell a soul--not even one of the girls."

"You don't deserve it," mumbled Dorothy.

"But you promised on your honour--if you have any honour. Perhaps you
haven't."

"I've more than you," retorted Dorothy. "You and Blanche are a couple of
sneaks. There! you needn't look so aghast. I'm not going to blab. I've
enough self-respect to keep a promise when I've once made it, though, as
I said before, you don't deserve it. You the Warden, too! A nice example
you are to the Lower School, if they only knew it!"

"They mustn't know it. Promise me again, Dorothy; promise me faithfully
you won't tell. I'll bring you a huge box of chocolates if you'll keep
this a secret."

"I don't want your chocolates!" said Dorothy scornfully. "I've told you
already that I don't break my promises. You're safe enough as regards
me."

"Silence!" called the mistress; and the two girls fell into line again
as they marched with their drawing boards down the corridor.

In the dressing-room the rest of the Form had plenty to say about the
occurrence.

"You've done for yourself, Dorothy," declared Ruth Harmon. "You'll be in
Miss Tempest's bad books for evermore."

"I can't see that I was any worse than the others," snapped Dorothy;
"not so bad, indeed, because I wasn't caught, and yet I owned up. Miss
Tempest might have taken that into account."

"She would have, I dare say, if you hadn't answered her back," said
Noëlle Kennedy.

"I only told her I didn't know we mightn't go."

"But you said it so cheekily, and Miss Tempest hates cheek above
everything. I shouldn't care to be in your shoes now. What a good thing
you weren't chosen Warden!"

Dorothy tugged at her boot lace till it snapped, then had to tie the two
ends together in a knot. How hard it was to keep her unwelcome secret!
She felt as if in common justice the girls ought to be made aware of the
moral cowardice of their leader.

"I'd have made a better one than some--yourself not excepted," she
growled.

"My lady's in her tantrums to-day," chirped Ruth.

"I'm not! What a hateful set you all are! I wish to goodness you'd leave
me alone!"

Dorothy seized her books and stalked away without a good-bye to anybody.
How thankful she was that Avondale was a day school, and that she could
shake the dust of it from her feet until nine o'clock to-morrow morning!

"If I weren't going home to Aunt Barbara now, I should run away," she
thought. "It would be dreadful to have to endure this all the evening.
Oh dear, I hate the place, and I hate Miss Tempest, and I hate the
girls, and everything, and everybody!"

Poor Dorothy carried a very sore heart back to Holly Cottage that
evening, but she cheered up when she entered the pretty little
sitting-room, with its bright fire and a cosy tea laid ready on the oak
table. After the storms and whirlwinds of school, home seemed such a
haven of refuge, and Aunt Barbara--who always understood--so utterly
different a personality from Miss Tempest.

"I'm cross and horrid and disagreeable and altogether fractious,
Auntie!" she said, squatting on the hearthrug after tea, with one of the
dear hands squeezed in hers, while she poured out her accumulation of
troubles. "I've got to keep that promise, but I can't do it with any
good grace, and I still feel that Miss Tempest was unjust, because
nobody had ever said we mightn't leave the Coll. in dinner-time. And I'm
barred the gym. It's too disgusting, because it puts me out of all
rehearsals, and I shall have to give up my part in the act."

"Poor old sweetheart, you've certainly been in the wars to-day! But
honestly, don't you think it is just the least little scrap your own
fault? I fancy at the bottom you knew that dinner girls aren't expected
to run out into the town whenever they like, even to look at
weddings--and it wasn't justifiable to speak rudely to Miss Tempest, was
it?"

Dorothy stared hard at the fire.

"No; I suppose I was cheeky. Auntie, when I'm at school and things are
horrid, I just flare up and explode--I can't help it. I'm quite
different at home. I wish I had lessons with you again, like I did when
I was a little girl. I'd be far nicer."

"A soldier isn't good for very much until he's tried, is he? School is
your battlefield at present, and the temper is the enemy. Won't you be a
Red Cross Knight, and ride out to do full and fair fight with it? It's
as ugly a dragon as ever attacked St. George."

"And a great deal harder to conquer, because every time I kill it, it
comes to life again, ready for another go at me. There, Auntie! yes,
I'll make a try; but I know I shall do lots more hateful things--I
always do!"



CHAPTER VII

Alison's Home


Dorothy was ready enough at making good resolutions--the difficulty
always lay in keeping them when they were made. At night in bed it would
seem fairly simple to practise patience, forbearance, charity, humility,
and many kindred virtues, yet the very next morning she would come down
to breakfast with a frown that caused Aunt Barbara to sigh. Full of high
ideals, she would dream over stories of courage and fortitude till she
could believe herself ready to accomplish the most superhuman tasks and
overcome innumerable difficulties. She always hoped that when she was
grown up she might have a chance of emulating some of her book heroines,
and doing a golden deed which the world should remember. In the meantime
many little ordinary, commonplace, everyday duties were left undone. She
was not thoughtful for others, and was content to let Aunt Barbara do
everything for her, without troubling herself to consider what she might
offer in return.

Miss Sherbourne was not blind, and saw only too clearly that the girl
was passing through a selfish phase.

"I've seen it often enough in others of her age," she thought. "They are
so sweet while they are little children, and then suddenly they lose all
their pretty, childish ways, and become brusque and pert and
uncompromising. I suppose they are struggling after their own
individualities and independence, but it makes them ruthless to others.
At present Dorothy is rather inclined to rebel against authority, and to
assert herself in many directions. She needs most careful leading and
management. She's affectionate, at any rate, and that's something to go
upon."

Aunt Barbara could not guess all the trouble that was in Dorothy's mind.
Though the latter had never referred again to the story of her adoption,
the fact that she was a foundling continually rankled. She was so
sensitive on the point that she imagined many allusions or slights which
were not intended. It was extremely silly, but when the girls at school
talked about their brothers and sisters, she often believed they did so
purposely to make her feel her lack of relations. If two friends
whispered together, she would think they were speaking of her; and any
small discourtesy, however unintentional, she put down as an indication
that the others considered her inferior to themselves. She contrived to
make herself thoroughly miserable with these ideas, and they had the
unfortunate effect of causing her to be even more abrupt and brusque
than before. Sometimes one traitor thought would even steal in, and she
would question whether Aunt Barbara really loved her as truly as if she
had been her own flesh and blood; but this was such a monstrous and
unjust suspicion that Dorothy would thrust it from her in horror at
having ever entertained it.

One pleasure that she had at Avondale was her friendship with Alison
Clarke. Owing to their daily companionship in the train, she had managed
to keep Alison pretty much to herself, and she watched over her with
jealous eyes, unwilling to share her with anybody else. Alison had been
away from school on the day that the truants went to the wedding, and it
was nearly a week before she returned. Each morning Dorothy had looked
out for her at Latchworth, and every time she had been disappointed. At
last, however, the familiar little figure appeared again on the
platform, and the round, rosy face smiled a greeting.

"No, I've not been very ill--only a bad cold. It's almost gone now. Oh,
yes, I'm delighted to go back to the Coll. It's so dull staying in the
house with nothing to do except read, and one gets sick to death of
chicken broth and jelly! I want somebody to tell me school news. It
seems more like a year than a week since I stopped at home."

Dorothy was accommodating in the matter of news, and the two chattered
hard all the way to Coleminster.

"It's a fearful nuisance you're out of rehearsals," said Alison. "Can't
we all come up to the classroom and have them there instead?"

"No; Miss Pitman won't let us. We six sinners are on penance; we mayn't
do anything but read. Oh, it's disgusting! I shall be out of the
Christmas performance altogether."

"No, you shan't," declared Alison; "not if I can compass it in any way."

She said no more just then, but when they were returning in the train
that afternoon she mentioned the subject again.

"I was talking to the girls at dinner-time," she began. "We were
planning out the programme. Really, the scene from _Vanity Fair_ is very
short. Hope says it won't take as much time as the play you had last
year, so I suggested that we should have some tableaux as well. You
could do characters in those without any rehearsing. What do you think
of my idea?"

"Ripping!" said Dorothy. "We haven't had tableaux at the Coll. for ages.
But we must manage to get hold of some decent costumes."

"I've heaps and heaps in a box at home," announced Alison complacently.
"I can lend them all. We'll get up something worth looking at. Tell me
what you'd like to be, and you shall have first choice of everything."

"It depends on what there is."

"There's a lovely mediaeval dress that would do for Berengaria of
Navarre."

"She had golden hair, and mine's brown!"

"Bother! so she had. Then that's off. Never mind, there are heaps of
others. There's a Cavalier's, if it will only fit. I wonder if it's big
enough? You'd look nice with the crimson cloak and huge hat and feather.
Or there's a Norwegian peasant's--I think the skirt would be long
enough--and a Robin Hood jerkin and tall leather boots. I believe you
could wear them. Oh dear! you ought to try all the things on. I wish I
could show them to you. They're kept in an oak chest on the landing."

"I should like to see them," said Dorothy pensively.

"Then look here! Get out with me at Latchworth and come to our house.
Mother has gone to Bardsley this afternoon and won't be home till seven,
so I shall be quite alone. You'd have heaps of time to come, and catch
the next train on to Hurford."

It was a most tempting proposal. Dorothy wanted immensely to go. She
knew she was expected to come straight home from school every day, and
not to accept any invitations without permission, but she dismissed that
remembrance as inconvenient.

"Auntie'll only think I've missed the train. It will be all right if I
catch the next," she reasoned. "One must have a little fun sometimes,
and I'm getting too old to have to ask leave about everything. All
right, I'll come," she added aloud; "I'd just love to see those
costumes."

It was delightful to get out of the train with Alison and walk to the
house on the hill which she had so often admired from the carriage
window. Dorothy was in wild spirits, and made jokes till Alison almost
choked.

"It makes me cough to laugh so much," she protested. "Do be sensible,
Dorothy! Here we are. Leave your books and your umbrella in the porch.
We'll go straight upstairs."

Dorothy could not help looking round with interest as her friend led her
up the staircase. At every step her feet sank into the soft carpet.
Through an open door she could catch a glimpse of a beautiful
drawing-room, and beyond was a conservatory full of flowers. On the
landing, which surrounded the hall like a gallery, were marble statues,
pictures, and inlaid cabinets; and the floor was spread with Turkey
rugs. From the window she could see a tennis lawn and a vinery. After
the modest proportions of Holly Cottage, it all seemed so spacious and
handsome that Dorothy sighed.

"What a lovely house to live in!" she thought. "Alison is lucky. She's
no foundling. I wish I had half her things. I wonder why some girls have
so much more than others?"

Quite unconscious of the storm of envy that she had roused, Alison
walked on. She was so accustomed to her surroundings that it never
struck her how they might appear to anyone else, and her sole thought
was of the tableaux.

"Here's the chest," she cried, lifting the lid in triumph, and
commencing to pull out some of the dresses. "This is the Norwegian
peasant's--I knew it was on the top. Let me try the skirt by yours. Oh,
it is too short after all! Then you must have the mediaeval one. Look!
Isn't it a beauty?--all trimmed with gold lace and spangles."

Dorothy examined the costume with appreciation, but shook her head
ruefully.

"You don't imagine that would meet round my waist?" she enquired. "It
looks about eighteen inches. For whom was it made?"

"Mother, before she was married. I always tell her, girls must have been
like wasps in those days. Try the Cavalier's. Oh, I don't believe you
can wear that either! You're so big! I wish I could lop a little off
you. Can't you possibly squeeze into this?"

"I would if I could, but no--I'm several sizes too large. Haven't you
anything else?"

"Not so nice. These are quite the best. You see, they're made of really
good materials, and the others are only of glazed calico and sateen.
I'll tell you how we'll manage. We must put several costumes together.
Take off your coat and hat and I'll show you. Now, if you have the
mediaeval dress on first, we can tuck the bodice inside, and drape the
Cavalier's cloak like a pannier to cover the waist. The Norwegian bodice
goes quite well with it, and that's big enough, at any rate. Now this
gauze scarf round your shoulder, and this big hat, and there you are.
Oh, it's lovely!"

"What am I intended to be?" asked Dorothy, looking down at her
miscellaneous finery.

"A Venetian lady in the time of the Doges. It is after the picture in
the drawing-room. Oh, it is like! It's simply splendid--you've no idea
how good!"

"What picture?"

"The portrait of Aunt Madeleine in fancy dress. Why, Dorothy, you're
just the living image of it! Come downstairs at once and let me show
you. It's perfect."

Quite carried away by her own enthusiasm, Alison dragged Dorothy along
the landing, the latter much encumbered by her long skirt and the
necessity for holding on most of the articles of her attire.

"Don't go so fast," she implored; "I'm losing the pannier, and the hat's
nearly bobbing off. If you'll hold the train behind, I may manage
better."

"All right; but then I can't see you--the back view isn't nearly so
nice. This way--I have to steer you like a ship. Here's the
drawing-room. Now, take a good look in the glass first, and then please
admire the picture."

The face that greeted Dorothy in the mirror was the prettiest version of
herself that she had ever seen. The quaint costume, the scarf, and the
big hat suited her admirably; the excitement and fun had brought
unwonted roses to her cheeks, and her eyes were as bright as stars. She
had had no idea that it was possible for her to look so well, and the
surprise heightened the colour which was so becoming.

"Now the picture--look straight from yourself to the picture!" commanded
Alison.

The portrait hanging on the opposite wall was that of a young lady of
perhaps seventeen. The face was pretty, with grey eyes and regular
features; the splendid Venetian dress set off to advantage the dark
curls and the graceful turn of the neck; the slender hands held a lute,
and the lips looked as if they had just closed after finishing the last
refrain of a song. Whether it was the effect of the costume or not,
there certainly was some resemblance between the face in the painting
and that of the girl who was scrutinizing it. Dorothy could see that for
herself, though the likeness did not seem so striking to her as it
appeared to her friend.

"You're the absolute image!" declared Alison. "It might have been
painted directly from you. Bruce!" (to a servant who was crossing the
hall) "Bruce, come here! I want you to look. Did you ever see anything
so exact? Isn't she Aunt Madeleine to the life?"

Bruce gazed contemplatively from the painted face to the living one.

"The young lady certainly favours the picture," she said. "I suppose
it's the dress, and the way her hair's done. Miss Alison, your tea's
ready. I've put it in the library this afternoon."

"Then bring another cup. Dorothy, you must stay and have tea with me.
Yes, you must! You don't know how I hate being alone, and Mother won't
be home till seven. Oh, do, do! You can't think how much I want you."

"But I shall miss the 5.30!"

"Never mind, you'll get the next train. Isn't there one at six? Bruce,
fetch the railway guide please. Oh, thanks! Now then, Coleminster to
Hurford--where are we? Latchworth--yes, there's one at 6.5. Dorothy,
you'll have oceans of time. I can't let you go without tea."

It seemed a pity, when she was there, not to stay, so Dorothy argued. Of
course, Aunt Barbara would be getting rather anxious, but her mind would
soon be set at rest afterwards, and Dorothy was not given to troubling
very much about other people's fears.

"It's twenty-five past now," she said, looking at the Sèvres clock that
stood on a bracket. "I should have a fearful rush to catch the 5.30."

"You couldn't do it, so that settles the matter. Take off your costume
and come to the library. Oh, never mind folding the things up; Bruce
will do that. Leave them anywhere."

A dainty little tea awaited the girls in the library, an attractive room
to Dorothy, with its bookcases, filled with beautifully-bound volumes;
its big lacquered cabinet, and the many curios and Eastern weapons that
adorned the walls.

"Where do all these things come from?" she asked, gazing round with
interest while Alison wielded the teapot.

"Most of them are from India. My father was out there. Uncle David is at
Delhi still, only perhaps he's coming home next year for good. Aunt
Madeleine died at Madras."

"The one in the picture?"

"Yes; she and Uncle David had only been married quite a short time. She
was Mother's twin sister; but they weren't the least scrap alike--Aunt
Madeleine was dark, and Mother is so very fair. Wasn't it funny for
twins? You're far more like Aunt Madeleine than Mother is. That's quite
absurd, isn't it?"

"Quite," agreed Dorothy.

"Uncle David sends me such lovely presents from India," continued
Alison, who liked to talk when she could find a listener. "I've all
sorts of little scented boxes and things carved in ivory. I simply must
show some of them to you. I'll get them in half a second," and away she
fled, returning to spread the table with her treasures.

To Dorothy the meal was a mixture of cake, filigree ornaments,
blackberry jam, and sandalwood boxes.

"I wish we had some of the roseleaf preserve left," remarked Alison. "It
was the queerest stuff--rather too sickly, but I should like you to have
tasted it; it came from Kashmir. Look here, I want to give you one of
these boxes; yes, you must take it! I've so many others, and I'd love
you to have it. I'm going to put it in your pocket, and I shall be very
offended if you take it out."

Alison crammed the box into Dorothy's pocket as she spoke. It was the
greatest pleasure to her to give a present, and she would willingly
have bestowed far more of her treasures if she had thought there was a
likelihood of their being accepted. She had enough delicacy and tact,
however, to understand that her proud little friend would not care to be
patronized, so she restrained her generosity for the present.

"It's so delightful to have you here!" she continued. "Wouldn't it be
lovely if you could come for a whole Saturday, or to stay the night some
time? I'm going to ask Mother to ask you. We'd have such a jubilee! Can
you play poker patience? Oh, I love it too! And I've the sweetest wee
packs of cards you ever saw. I want to show you my stamps and my crests.
I've got two big books full, and some are really rare ones. I'll bring
the stamps now."

"Alison, I simply can't stay!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Look at the time!
Why, I shall just have to race to the station!"

"Oh, bother! Yes, you'll have to fly. I always allow five minutes. I've
never tried running, because Mother says I mustn't--it makes me cough.
Where are your hat and coat? Why, of course, we left them on the
landing. You haven't finished your cake----"

"Never mind!" cried Dorothy, who was already out of the door and
hastening upstairs to fetch her outdoor garments. "Oh, it's been so
jolly to come and see you, Alison! I have enjoyed it. Just hold my
coat--thanks. I'm putting on my hat wrong way about! Bother! I'll alter
it in the train. Where are my satchel and umbrella? Good-bye; I shall
just have to sprint."

Alison stood looking regretfully down the drive as her friend hurried
away. She was loath to part with her, and turned indoors with a sigh.
She dearly loved young companions, and the beautiful house and its many
treasures seemed dull without a congenial soul of her own age with whom
to "go shares". She was full of Dorothy's visit when her mother returned
home, and poured out a most excited and rather jumbled account of it.

"It just suddenly occurred to me to ask her, you know, Mother, because I
did so want her to try on those costumes. She put on the mediaeval one,
and the Cavalier's cloak and hat, and the Norwegian bodice, and then she
looked exactly like the picture of Aunt Madeleine. Wasn't it queer?"

"I dare say the combination of costumes made quite a good copy of the
Venetian dress," responded Mrs. Clarke.

"But it wasn't the dress that was so like--it was Dorothy. You never saw
anything so funny, Mother! She was the absolute image of the
portrait--far more like than I am to you. Even Bruce saw it."

"You take after your father, not me."

"I don't know who Dorothy takes after, and I don't suppose she does
either. She's never seen her father or mother. She doesn't even know who
they were. Isn't it horrid for her?"

"How is that?"

"Oh, it's quite romantic! Some of the girls at school told me, but I
daren't say a word about it to Dorothy, she's so proud and reserved. I
never even hint at it. Miss Sherbourne--that's her aunt--at least, not
her real aunt--oh! I'm getting muddled--well, Miss Sherbourne found her
in the train when she was a baby--there was a dreadful railway accident
at a place called Greenfield, and that's why she's called Dorothy
Greenfield--but it isn't her proper name, because they don't know
that--they never found out who she was--and Miss Sherbourne adopted her,
and Dorothy always calls her Auntie, though she's no relation at all.
And Hope Lawson says Dorothy's a charity child, and her parents may have
been quite poor; but I'm sure she's a lady, because--well--because she
somehow seems to have it in her. I think she's just lovely, and I like
her better than anyone else at school."

"Where did you hear this amazing story, Birdie?" exclaimed Mrs. Clarke.

"I told you, Mother dear--at the Coll. All the girls know about it. They
call Dorothy 'The Foundling' behind her back. Nobody dares to say it to
her face, because she gets into such tantrums. I think it makes her so
interesting. She may be the daughter of a nobleman, for what anyone
knows. Just imagine! Suppose she found out that her father was a duke!
Then she'd be Lady Dorothy. Don't you think, Mother, she looks
aristocratic? I do."

"I think you're a very silly child," returned Mrs. Clarke, with a
distinct tone of annoyance in her voice. "You must not bring girls to
the house without asking me first."

"But, Mother darling, you weren't in this afternoon, and I'd thought of
the tableaux, and I couldn't arrange any of the parts until I knew what
dresses would fit Dorothy. I simply had to get her to come and try them
on. And it was such fun having her to tea. Mayn't I ask her to spend the
day here next Saturday? Oh, and if you would let her stay until Monday,
we'd have such a glorious time!"

"Certainly not; I couldn't think of such a thing," replied Mrs. Clark
decisively.

"But, Mother--Mother dearest--why not? You said yourself what a nice
girl she looked that first day we saw her in the train, and how glad you
were that I had her to travel to school with."

"That was quite a different matter."

"But why shouldn't I have her to the house? Oh, Mother, I told Dorothy
that I meant to ask you to invite her, and if you don't I shall feel so
silly. What could I say to her? Mother sweetest, please, please!"

"You have no right to give invitations without consulting me first,
Birdie," said Mrs. Clarke, who looked more displeased than her daughter
remembered ever having seen her before. "I cannot allow you to make
friends with girls of whom I know nothing."

"But you'd know her if she came here, Motherkins."

"I don't wish to--nor do I want you to continue the acquaintance. No,
Birdie, it is impossible. I absolutely forbid you to ask this Dorothy
Greenfield here again."

It was the first time Mrs. Clarke had ever set her will in direct
opposition to Alison's, and the spoilt child could hardly realize that
she was not to be allowed, as usual, to do as she liked. She burst out
into a final appeal.

"But, Mother, I love Dorothy! We're always together. You don't know what
chums we are at school. If you only guessed half of how much I want it,
you'd say yes."

"But I say no, Birdie," answered Mrs. Clarke, firm for once in her life.
"I strongly discourage this acquaintance, and you must not be more
friendly with Dorothy than you can help. I prefer you to travel to
school in another carriage."

"How can I? What explanation could I possibly give? It would seem so
peculiar to cut her for no reason at all."

"I suppose you will have to be civil, but you must not be intimate. You
are to see no more of her than you can help. It is very annoying that
she goes by the same train. In such a large school as Avondale there are
surely plenty of other and more suitable girls with whom you can make
friends."

"Not one so nice as Dorothy," gulped Alison, beginning to cry. "If you'd
only ask her, and see for yourself!"

"Birdie, I don't want to be cross with you, but you must understand,
once and for all, that I will not have this girl at the house. No, I
shall not explain; it is quite enough for you that I forbid it. Don't
mention the subject to me again."

Alison ran upstairs in floods of tears. She could not understand why her
mother had taken this sudden prejudice against Dorothy. The thought of
breaking off the friendship was misery to her; added to this, she was so
used to getting her own way that it seemed strange to have any
reasonable request refused--and she considered this one to be most
reasonable. In matters of health she was accustomed to obey, to submit
to be wrapped up in shawls, to put on galoshes, to be kept in bed and
dosed and dieted; but where her health was not concerned she had almost
invariably been consulted, and her wishes gratified. It was the first
time her mother had ever flatly refused to listen to her coaxings, or
had spoken to her with the least approach to severity, and such a state
of affairs was as unpleasant as it was unusual.

"She really meant it, too," sobbed Alison. "Oh, dear! What am I to do?
Dorothy'll think me such an atrocious sneak!"



CHAPTER VIII

A Short Cut


When Dorothy left Lindenlea she had exactly three minutes in which to
catch her train. Her long legs raced down the drive and along the road
to the station. Panting and out of breath, she rushed up the incline to
the little gate. The train had come in; she could see the smoke from the
engine. It generally only waited for about a minute, but there was still
time to get in, if she were extremely quick.

"Ticket, please," said the collector at the gate.

"Contract!" cried Dorothy, trying to rush past; but the man put out his
arm to bar the way.

"Show it, please; I must see all contracts," he said curtly.

Chafing at the delay, Dorothy felt in her pocket; then to her dismay she
remembered that she had left her contract at home. The officials at
Hurford and Coleminster knew her so well by sight that when once they
had seen her season ticket on the first day of the term, they never
asked to look at it again, but simply let her pass unchallenged. As she
was not required to produce it daily, she had grown careless, and often
forgot to take it with her. The collector at Latchworth had not seen her
before, and of course could not tell that she possessed a season ticket
at all.

"I've left it at home, but it's a contract between Hurford and
Coleminster. You'll find it's quite right. Please let me through. I must
catch this train," she urged.

"Can't let anyone pass without a ticket," answered the man. "If you
haven't your contract you must book an ordinary fare. Booking office is
round that corner."

Dorothy stamped with impatience.

"I haven't any money with me, and there isn't time either. Let me pass,
quick! The train's going!"

In reply, the man shut the gate and locked it.

"Can't let anybody on to the platform when the train's in motion. You'll
have to wait till the eight o'clock now," he observed, with aggravating
calm.

On the outside of the railing, Dorothy almost wept with rage. To see the
train steaming out of the station without her was too exasperating.
There would have been quite time to catch it if the collector had not
been so full of "red tape" notions. She felt angrier than she could
express, especially at the cool way in which the man had told her to
wait till eight o'clock. Eight o'clock! It was impossible. Why, Aunt
Barbara would think she was lost or stolen! She was late enough as it
was, and other two hours would be dreadful. Then, again, there was the
question of her ticket. The official evidently would not accept her word
for the contract if she could not produce the actual piece of
pasteboard, and she had no money to book with. Should she run back to
Lindenlea and ask Alison to lend her the fare? No; Mrs. Clarke might
have returned by now, and it would make such a fuss. Dorothy always
hated to ask favours, or put herself in a false position. She felt that
to turn up at the house again, wanting to borrow a few pence, would be a
most undignified proceeding, and would exhibit her in an unfavourable
light to her school-mate's mother.

"I'd rather walk home than do that," she said to herself.

The idea was a good one. Why should she not walk home? It was only about
four miles, and she would arrive at Hurford much sooner than if she
waited for the train. To be sure, it was growing very dusk, but she was
not in the least afraid. "I'm perfectly capable of taking care of
myself," she thought. "If I met a tramp and he attacked me, I'd belabour
him with my umbrella. But I've nothing on me worth stealing; my brooch
is only an eighteenpenny one, and I don't possess a watch."

Dorothy generally made up her mind quickly, so without further delay
she walked down the station incline and turned on to the high road that
led to Hurford. She had soon passed through the straggling village of
Latchworth, where lights were already beginning to appear in cottage
windows, and labourers were returning home from work. As she passed the
last little stone-roofed dwelling she looked back almost regretfully,
for it seemed like leaving civilization behind her. In front the road
stretched straight and white between high hedges, without ever a
friendly chimney to show that human beings were near.

Dorothy suddenly remembered all the tales that Martha had told her, in
her childhood, of children who were stolen by gipsies and carried away
in caravans to sell brooms or dance in a travelling circus. She knew
that Martha had rubbed in the moral so as to deter her from straying out
of the gate of Holly Cottage when she was left to play alone in the
garden, and that the stories were probably made up for the
occasion--Dorothy at fourteen did not mean to be frightened, as if she
were seven--but, all the same, the old creepy horror which she used to
feel came back and haunted her. The road was so very lonely, and it was
growing dark so fast! Suppose a gipsy caravan appeared round the next
corner, and a dark, hawk-visaged woman were to demand her hat and
jacket! What would she do? The supposition made her shiver. She walked
on steadily all the same, her footsteps sounding loud in her ears.

Then she stopped, for in front of her she heard the unmistakable creak
of a cart. Was it a band of gipsies or travelling pedlars? At school, in
daylight, she would have mocked at herself for having any fears at all,
but now she found her heart was beating and throbbing in the most absurd
and uncomfortable fashion. "I'm in a horrid scare," she thought. "I
daren't meet whatever's coming, and that's the fact. I'm going to hide
till it's passed."

There was a gate not very far away; she managed to open it, and crept
into a field, concealing herself well behind the hedge. The creaking
came nearer and nearer. Through a hole Dorothy could see down into the
roadway. By a curious coincidence, it was a caravan that was passing
slowly in the direction of Latchworth; the outside was hung with
baskets, and there was a little black chimney that poured out a cloud of
smoke. Two thin, tired horses paced wearily along, urged by an
occasional prod with a stick from a rough-looking boy. A swinging
lantern under the body of the vehicle revealed a couple of dogs, and in
the rear slouched three men and a slipshod, untidy woman, who twisted up
her straggling hair as she went. Hidden behind the hedge, Dorothy
watched them go by.

"I'm most thankful I came up here and didn't meet them," she thought.
"They look a disreputable set. I believe they'd have stolen anything
they could lay hands on if they'd realized I was alone. I expect I've
had quite an escape. I wonder if that's the whole of the tribe, or if
there are any more caravans?"

The idea of more was discomfiting, yet it was possible that this was
only the first of a travelling company. Dorothy remembered that there
were some wakes at Coleminster about this time every year, which would
no doubt attract van-dwellers from many parts of the country. To meet a
succession of these undesirables along the road would be anything but
pleasant. Yet what could she do? She certainly did not want to turn back
either to the station or to Lindenlea. Time was passing rapidly, and she
must push forward if she did not wish to be caught in the dark. Then she
remembered that Martha had once spoken of a short cut between Hurford
and Latchworth. Martha walked over occasionally on Sunday afternoons to
see a cousin who lived in Latchworth village, and she had given a minute
description of the route. Dorothy recollected quite well that, starting
from Hurford, the maid had crossed some fields, gone through a wood, and
come out by a path that led through a small, disused quarry on to the
high road. She had said it cut off a long corner, and saved almost a
mile.

"If I can only find the quarry," thought Dorothy, "I'll try that short
cut. I don't suppose I can go wrong if I follow the path through the
wood. I shall be glad to get off the road, at any rate."

The caravan had passed out of sight, so she came down from her
hiding-place and hurried on in search of the quarry. She had not walked
very far before she found it--a craggy little ravine, with heather
growing over the rocks, and heaps of stones and shale lying about. This
must surely be the place, so she turned at once off the high road into
it. There was not a soul about. Some agitated blackbirds, annoyed at her
vicinity, went fluttering out of the bushes, tweeting a warning to
other feathered friends; and something small--either a rat or a
rabbit--scuttled away into the grass and dried fern in a great panic at
the sight of her. The sun had set some time ago, and the last tinge of
red had faded from the sky. The grey, chilly dusk was changing from a
neutral tint to black. A landscape on an evening at the beginning of
November is never very cheerful, and Dorothy felt the depressing
influence of the scene. The few wind-swept trees at the head of the
ravine stretched long, bare branches, which looked like fingers prepared
to clutch her as she passed. The grass was damp and sodden, and here and
there a pool of water lay across the path. She was quite glad when she
was out of the quarry, and found herself in an open field. It was a
comfort to see the sky all round, even though the light was failing.

"I'm sure it's grown dark to-night much quicker than it did yesterday,"
she exclaimed. "How fearfully overcast it is, too! I believe there'll be
rain in a few minutes. Here's the wood. It looks quite thick and
fairy-tale-y--the sort of place to meet a giant or an ogre!"

A stile led from the field into the wood. Dorothy scrambled over, and
began to follow a path through the trees. It was very dark indeed, for
most of the oaks still kept their leaves, and shut out the little
remaining light overhead. She could just see to stumble along, and had
the greatest difficulty to trace her way. It was wet under foot; the
ground was marshy in places, and strewn with dead leaves. After a little
while she came to a place where the path seemed to branch in two
directions. Which to choose she could not tell; both seemed equally bad
and indistinguishable. Reckoning that Hurford must lie to the left side
of her, she turned to the left, almost feeling her way among the trees.

"If I don't get out of the wood soon, I shan't be able to see at all. I
hope it's not far," she thought. The path grew a trifle better; there
were a few stones put down on it. Was she at last coming to a stile?
What was that dark patch in front of her? She stopped short suddenly,
drawing back just in time to avoid stepping into water. Why, it must be
a well! It was a deep pool, edged round with stones, and with a hedge of
holly surrounding it on three sides.

Perhaps the path led by the back of it. No; the bushes were so thickly
matted with a tangle of brambles that it would be impossible to push
through. Evidently the path only led to the well, and she must have
taken the wrong turning where it had branched. Almost crying, she began
to retrace her steps, and hurried faster and faster through the
gathering darkness. She was back at last at the spot where she had made
the mistake, and this time she turned to the right. The trees seemed to
be even nearer together than before, and there was a thick undergrowth
which sent out long blackberry trails that caught and tore her coat as
she scurried by. She had slung her school satchel on her back, and as
she ran it bumped her shoulder almost like somebody hitting her from
behind.

[Illustration: IN DISCREET HIDING]

It grew so dark at last that Dorothy stopped in despair. It seemed
absolutely impossible to find her way, and the horrible truth dawned
upon her that she was lost--lost as thoroughly and effectually as any
knight of romance; while it seemed extremely unlikely that she would
find the convenient pilgrim's cell or hermit's cave that generally turns
up in story-books to shelter the adventurer. To add to her misery, the
rain that had been threatening for some time came on, and descended in a
torrent. She put up her umbrella and sheltered herself as well as she
could behind a tree, but her boots and skirt were already sopping with
wet. She felt chilly and cold, and her spirits had descended to the very
lowest ebb. Would she be obliged to stay there the whole night, until it
was light enough to find her way? The prospect was appalling.

"What a horrid pickle and hobble I've got myself into!" she thought. The
rain came down faster than ever, and suddenly there was a vivid streak
of lightning and a loud crash of thunder. Dorothy screamed aloud, for
thunder held terrors for her; yet even in the midst of her fright there
was a grain of comfort--the bright flash had lit up the wood like an
electric lamp, and had shown her, almost within a few yards, the stile
for which she was seeking. Off she went in the direction where she had
seen it, groping her way anyhow, and tearing her clothes on thorns and
brambles.

She seemed to have arrived at a hedge, and she began to feel her way
along it carefully, hoping to reach the stile. At last her hand touched
a wooden bar; it was either the stile itself or a hurdle, she did not
care which, if only she could climb over. It looked equally dark,
however, on the other side; and even if she got into the field how was
she ever to find the path to the high road? At this juncture she saw a
small, rather flickering light moving through the gloom a little
distance off. It must be a lantern, she thought; and whether the bearer
were poacher, gipsy, or thief, she would summon him to help her out of
her difficulty. She gave a lusty shriek, and went on calling at the top
of her voice. The lantern stopped still for a moment, then, to her
intense joy, began to move in her direction. At first she could see
nothing but a yellow ring of light, then she made out a dark figure
behind; and presently, as it came quite near, she recognized the ruddy
face and stubby grey beard of Dr. Longton, who lived in Hurford village,
nearly opposite the church. Dorothy's amazement at seeing the doctor was
only equalled by his astonishment at finding her in such a predicament.

"My blessed child! What are you doing here?" he exclaimed.

"Oh, Dr. Longton, I'm so thankful it's you! I was sure you were a tramp,
or a poacher, or somebody dreadful!" cried Dorothy hysterically.

"Nothing half so interesting; only a common or garden practitioner
coming back from visiting a patient," he laughed. "You haven't told me
what you're doing here. Give me your hand, and I'll help you over the
fence."

"Trying to find a short cut, and losing my way," confessed Dorothy. "I
thought I'd have to spend the night in the wood."

"A very unpleasant camping ground at this time of year! I've slept under
the stars myself once or twice, but not in November. That was a loud
peal of thunder! I think the storm's passing over--the rain has almost
stopped."

With his lantern to guide them, the doctor escorted Dorothy to the door
of Holly Cottage, and said good-bye with a twinkle in his eye.

"I won't ask inconvenient questions, but it strikes me you've been up to
something, you young puss!" he said. "Take my advice, and stick to the
4.30 train in future. If your aunt scolds you, tell her I say you
deserve it!"

Aunt Barbara did not scold--she was too relieved at her bairn's safe
return to do anything except welcome and cosset the prodigal; but the
look in her sweet eyes hurt Dorothy more than any reprimand.

"I didn't know she cared so much as that," thought the girl. "I won't
stop away another time, not for a thousand invitations. It isn't the
horrid walk, and getting lost, and the darkness, and spoiling one's
clothes I mind, it's--well--oh, Dorothy Greenfield, you're a nasty,
thoughtless, selfish wretch to make Aunt Barbara look so, and if you do
such a thing again I shan't be friends with you any more--so there!"



CHAPTER IX

Dorothy Scores


Dorothy and Alison met next morning with a shade of embarrassment on
either side. Dorothy was a little ashamed of herself for having accepted
her friend's invitation without leave from Aunt Barbara, and not
particularly proud of her experiences on the way home. She had at first
been inclined to tell Alison about her adventure; then she decided it
would be rather humiliating to have to explain that she had forgotten
her contract, that she had had no money in her pocket, and that the
official had not seemed disposed to trust her for her fare. Alison,
whose path in life was always smooth, would perhaps scarcely understand
the situation, and it might not reflect altogether to her own credit.
Therefore, she did not even mention that she had missed the 6.5 train,
and after a hurried greeting buried herself in her books, trying to
gather some idea of her lessons, which had been much neglected the night
before.

Alison, on her side, was relieved that Dorothy did not refer to her
visit to Lindenlea. She was most anxious to avoid the subject of her
invitation; she felt it would be extremely awkward to be obliged to tell
Dorothy point-blank that her mother refused to endorse it: and, mindful
of the prohibition against too great intimacy, she left her schoolfellow
to her books, and made no advances. The two walked from the station to
the College almost in silence, each occupied with her own thoughts; and
though they met frequently during the day, and travelled back together
as usual, they only talked about ordinary Avondale topics. Each felt as
warm towards the other as before, but both realized that theirs must be
a friendship entirely confined to school, and not brought into their
home lives. Dorothy, though she was far too proud to hint at the matter,
easily divined that Mrs. Clarke had disapproved of Alison's action in
taking her to the house, and that she did not mean to give her any
future invitation. That hurt her on a sore spot.

"She thinks me a nobody!" she groaned to herself. "If I had been Hope
Lawson, now, or even Val Barnett, I'm sure I should have been asked.
Alison hasn't even mentioned the tableaux again. I suppose she's not
allowed to lend me the costume. Well, I don't care; I'll wear something
else."

But she did care, not only about this, but about many things that
happened in class. It is not pleasant to be unpopular, and in several
ways Dorothy was having a hard term. Hope Lawson, who had never been
very friendly at any time, seemed to have completely turned against her,
and was both supercilious and disagreeable. Hope did not like Dorothy,
whose blunt, downright ways and frank speech were such a contrast to her
own easy flippancy. Money, position, and pretty clothes were what Hope
worshipped, and because Dorothy possessed none of these she looked down
upon her, and lost no opportunity of slighting her. In her capacity of
Warden, Hope naturally had much influence in the class, and led popular
opinion. It was very unfortunate that she had been elected, for she was
quite the wrong girl to fill a post which involved a tolerable amount of
moral responsibility. The tone of a Form is a subtle, intangible thing;
it means certain codes of schoolgirl honour, certain principles of right
and wrong, certain standards of thought and views of life, all of which
need keeping at a high level. Under Hope's rule the Upper Fourth began
to show a general slackness; rules were evaded where possible, work was
shirked, and a number of undesirable elements crept in.

Though Hope, to curry favour, made a great fuss of Miss Pitman to her
face, she was not loyal to her behind her back. She would often mimic
her and make fun of her to raise a laugh among the girls. Hope
encouraged the idea that a mistress was the natural enemy of her pupils,
and that they were justified in breaking rules if they could do so
safely. She did not even draw the line sometimes at a "white lie"; her
motto was, "Keep pleasant with your teacher on the surface, but please
yourself when she can't see you, and do anything you like, so long as
you're not caught".

One morning when Dorothy came into the classroom, she found Hope seated
on her desk, exhibiting a new ring to a group of admiring friends.
Dorothy paused a moment, then, as nobody moved, she protested:

"I'll thank you to clear off. I want to get to my desk."

Hope giggled.

"I'll thank you to wait a little, then. I mean to stay where I am for
the present," she said, in a mocking voice.

"But you're on my desk!"

"Well, what if I am? A warden has the right to sit upon anybody's desk
she likes."

"Oh, Hope!" sniggered the others.

"What's the good of being Warden if you can't? The post must have some
advantages."

"Hope Lawson, do you intend to clear off my desk?" asked Dorothy, with
rising temper.

"I don't know that I do, Dorothy--er--I suppose your name is
Greenfield?"

"For shame, Hope!" said Grace Russell. "I'm disgusted with you. Why
can't you move?"

Grace enforced her words by a vigorous tug, and drew Hope away to her
own place. With two flaming spots in her cheeks, Dorothy opened her
desk. She was too angry for speech. Grace's compassionate looks hurt her
almost as much as Hope's insult. She did not want pity any more than
scorn.

"I hardly know a word of the History," Hope was saying. "We had some
friends in last night, and we were all playing 'Billy-rag'. Do you know
it? It's a new game, and it's lovely. I scarcely looked at my lessons.
However, I begged a concert ticket from Father, and brought it for
Pittie. It's 'Faust', at the Town Hall, and it's supposed to be tiptop.
She'll let me off easy this morning, you'll see."

"Hope, you're not fair!" objected Grace.

"Why not? If Pittie chooses to overlook my lessons on the score of
concert tickets, why shouldn't she? She's keen on going to things. Likes
to show off her new dresses. I suppose I shall have to get her an
invitation to the Mayor's reception. By the by, who's going to the Young
People's Ball at the Town Hall? It's to be a particularly good one this
year."

"I am, for one," said Val Barnett, "and I think a good many of the Form
will be there. Helen Walker, and Joyce Hickson, and Annie Gray are
asked, I know."

"Are you going, Dorothy?" enquired Hope, with a taunt in her tone.

"Dorothy never goes anywhere!" laughed Blanche Hall.

Dorothy buried her head in her desk and took no notice; but her silence
was pain and grief to her.

"Hope's too mean for anything!" whispered Ruth Harmon to Noëlle Kennedy.
"I'm sorry for Dorothy."

"And Pittie's too bad. It's not worth while preparing one's work if Hope
gets all the praise for nothing. Why is Pittie always so hard on
Dorothy?"

"Oh, because Dorothy doesn't flatter her up; besides, she loves
presents. I wonder what she'd say if she could hear what her darling
Hope says about her sometimes?"

"I wish she'd find her out."

"She can't, unless someone tells, and I hate sneaks."

"Well, I'm really sorry for Dorothy Greenfield. Hope and her set seem to
have taken a spite against her. I don't mind if her dresses are shabby,
and if she's the only girl in the Form who doesn't own a watch. I vote
we make up a special clique to be on her side."

"All right; I'm your man! I admire Dorothy she's so 'game'--she never
gives way an inch, whatever Hope says she just sticks her head in the
air and looks proud."

"She flares up sometimes."

"Well, I don't blame her. I like a girl who won't be kept down."

"What could we do to boost Dorothy up a little in the Form? Most of the
girls are like sheep; if anyone leads hard enough, they'll follow."

"Well, I've an idea."

"Go ahead!"

"You know Dorothy's splendid at acting. She ought to take a principal
part in our Christmas play."

"But she can't rehearse. She's barred the gym. and tied to the classroom
for the rest of the term."

"That's my point. I think Dorothy got much too hard a punishment. Miss
Tempest was angry because she answered back, and never took into account
that she had owned up about going to that wedding, and that it was
honest of her to tell."

"Yes, 'The Storm-cloud' was savage because Dorothy was cheeky, but I
think she's got over it a little now; she's been far nicer to her
lately."

"Have you noticed that too? Well, I believe Miss Tempest knows she
treated Dorothy severely, and she's sorry, only she doesn't like to eat
her own words. My plan is that we get up a deputation, go to the study,
and beg her to let Dorothy off for rehearsals. She knows what a point we
make of the play."

"Splendiferous! I verily believe we shall succeed. Shall we go at
eleven?"

"No; we must talk to the others first, and get up as big a deputation as
we can. The more of us who ask, the better."

The weather, which beforetimes had never troubled Dorothy overmuch, was
at present a subject of the most vital importance to her. If it were
fine, she might go into the playground at one o'clock; but if it were
wet, she was obliged to remain in durance vile in the classroom, while
most of the girls were amusing themselves in the gymnasium. On this
particular day it poured. Dorothy looked hopelessly out of the window to
see the gravelled stretch, where the girls often practised hockey,
turned into a swamp, and a river racing under the swings. With a groan
she resigned herself to the inevitable. The society of her five
fellow-victims was not particularly exhilarating, so she took a library
book from her desk and began to read. As a rule, those who were free to
do so left the schoolroom only too readily, but to-day Hope Lawson and
some of her chums lingered behind. They were in a silly mood, and began
drawing caricatures on the blackboard.

"Watch me do Professor Schenk," cried Hope, taking the chalk. "Here's
his bald head, and his double chin, and his funny little peaked beard.
Do you like it? Well, I'll draw you another. Miss Lawson's celebrated
lightning sketches! Who'll you have next?"

"Do Pittie," said Blanche.

"All right; give me the duster and I'll wipe out the Professor. Now
then, how's this? Here's her snubby nose, and her eyeglasses, and her
fashionable fuzz of hair. She's smirking no end! 'Don't I look nice?'
she's saying," and Hope drew a balloon issuing from the mouth of the
portrait, with the words "Don't I look nice?" written inside; then,
encouraged by the laughter of her friends, she added "G. A. Pitman,
otherwise Pittie", over the top.

Dorothy, who wished to read her story, had retired to the extreme back
of the room, and sat in a corner, but she nevertheless heard all that
was going on.

"Yes, Pittie fancies herself," continued Hope. "You should see what
costumes she comes out in for evening wear. I'm sure she's greater on
toilet hints than literature."

"How do you make that out?"

"Observation, my dear. If you could look inside her desk, you wouldn't
find it full of classical authors; there'd be novels and beauty recipes
instead."

"She keeps it locked, at any rate."

"Wise of her, too. If we could only open it now! Hallo! She's actually
forgotten to lock it to-day! What a joke! Let us see what she's got
here!"

"Particularly honourable for a warden!" came a voice from the other end
of the room.

Hope turned round angrily.

"Indeed, Madam Sanctimonious! So you've grown a prig all of a sudden?
Who asked Saint Dorothy to interfere?"

"Go on, Hope," said Blanche; "we're not goody-goody."

"Well, I mean to have a look, at any rate. There! Didn't I tell you? The
first thing I find is a novel. What a heap of papers! I believe she must
keep her love letters here. Oh, girls, I say, here's a portrait of a
gentleman!"

Blanche, Irene, and Valentine came crowding round, all sense of honour
lost in their curiosity.

"Oh, what a supreme joke!" they exclaimed.

Now the back desks of the classroom were raised on a platform, and in
the corner where Dorothy sat there was a tiny window that served the
purpose of lighting the passage. From her place Dorothy that moment
caught a vision--no less a person than Miss Pitman herself was walking
down the corridor. Should she give a warning "Cave!" and let the others
know? She was not sure whether they deserved it.

"Look here, you wouldn't be doing this if Miss Pitman could see you!"
she remonstrated. "Why don't you stuff those things back and shut up the
desk?"

"Shut up yourself, Dorothy Greenfield, and mind your own business!"

"On your heads be it, then," muttered Dorothy. "I tried to save you, but
here comes swift vengeance!"

At that moment through the open door walked Miss Pitman. She stopped
short and surveyed the scene through her pince-nez. There was her
portrait on the blackboard--not at all a flattering one, especially with
the inscription issuing from her mouth, but quite unmistakably meant to
represent her, for her name was written above. At her open desk were her
four favourite pupils, giggling over the photograph which Hope held
aloft. It was a disillusionment for any teacher, and Miss Pitman's mouth
twitched.

"What are you doing at my desk?" she asked sharply.

No girls were ever so hopelessly caught. Hope remained with the
photograph in her hand, staring speechlessly; Blanche tried to shuffle
away, Valentine looked sulky, and Irene--always ready for tears--pulled
out her pocket-handkerchief.

"Who has drawn this picture on the blackboard?" continued Miss Pitman.

"Hope--Hope did it! It wasn't any of us!" snivelled Irene, trying to
thrust the brunt of the affair on to her friend's shoulders.

Miss Pitman gave Hope a scathing glance, under which the girl quailed.

"An extremely clever way of showing her talent for drawing, no doubt,"
remarked the mistress sarcastically. "I shall be obliged if someone will
clean the board."

Several officious hands at once clutched the duster and erased the
offending portrait. Miss Pitman walked to her desk, closed the lid,
locked it, and put the key in her pocket.

"It is superfluous to tell you what I think of you," she said. "Miss
Tempest will have to hear about this."

"Well, Hope's done for with Miss Pitman, at any rate," said Bertha
Warren to Addie Parker, when the outraged mistress had taken her
departure, and the four sinners had fled downstairs.

"Yes, there'll be no more favouring now--and a good thing, too! It was
time Miss Pitman's eyes were opened. Will she really tell Miss Tempest?"

"Serve them right if she does. I'm waiting for developments."

There was not long to wait. At two o'clock, Hope, Blanche, Irene, and
Valentine received a summons to the study, and after a ten minutes'
interview with the head mistress came away with red eyes.

"Have you heard the news?" said Noëlle Kennedy presently. "There's been
a most tremendous storm--a regular blizzard--in the study. Miss Tempest
has been ultra-tempestuous, and Hope and the others have come out just
wrecks."

"What's the matter?" enquired some of the girls who had not heard of the
occurrence in the classroom.

"Hope found Miss Pitman's desk unlocked, and she and Irene and Val and
Blanche were calmly turning over the contents when Pittie popped into
the room and caught them. Then the squalls began. They had to report
themselves in the study, and it turned out that there was something else
against Hope and Blanche. I don't know who gave them away, but somebody
had been telling Miss Tempest that they were at the wedding that day.
She charged them with it, and was simply furious because they hadn't
owned up when she asked the class."

"I can tell you who told her," volunteered Margaret Parker. "It was
Professor Schenk. He saw them there, and he happened to mention it this
morning."

"Well, Miss Tempest was fearfully stern. She said Hope wasn't fit to be
Warden, and to represent the Lower School, if she'd no more idea of
honour than that. She's taken away the Wardenship from her. She says
it's not to be decided by election again--she's going to choose a girl
for herself."

"Whom has she chosen?"

"Grace Russell," said Ruth Harmon, who at that moment joined the group.
"It's just been put up on the notice board."

"Well, I'm glad. Grace will make a good Warden."

"Yes, there's something solid about Grace. She never lets herself be
carried away."

"Hope will be crestfallen."

"Never mind--it will do Hope Lawson good to find she's not the most
important person in the Form."

"I say," interposed Noëlle, "isn't this a good opportunity to put in a
word for Dorothy? She owned up when Hope didn't, so Miss Tempest ought
to remember that. Let us strike while the iron is hot, and go to the
study now."

"Right you are! Where are Mavie and Doris? I'm sure they'll come too."

Dorothy's champions walked boldly into the study, and put their case so
successfully to Miss Tempest that she condescended to consider it.
Perhaps, as Noëlle suspected, she thought she had given too severe a
punishment, and was ready to remit it. In the end, she consented to
forgive, not only Dorothy, but her companions in misfortune also,
granting all six permission to enter the gymnasium again.

"It's a complete turning of the tables," said Ruth, as the girls
returned triumphantly from their mission. "Dorothy's free, and Hope and
Blanche will have to stay in the classroom and do their share of
penance."

"Then they'll be out of rehearsals."

"Of course they will."

"And who's to take Becky Sharp?"

"I vote for Dorothy."

"So do I. She deserves it."

"Where is she? Let's take her her order of release."

       *       *       *       *       *

The events of that day had an effect upon the Upper Fourth in more ways
than one. Perhaps Miss Pitman had learnt a lesson, for in future she
accepted no presents at all from her pupils, not even flowers, and
showed special favour to nobody. The Form liked her much better now that
she was more impartial.

"I can't stand a teacher who pets one girl and snubs another," said
Ruth. "It isn't just, and one has a right to expect justice from one's
Form mistress."

Grace Russell was a decided success as Warden. She was not the
cleverest girl in the Upper Fourth by any means, but she was one of the
oldest, and she had a strong sense of duty. She kept the rules
scrupulously herself, and discouraged all the shirkings that had come in
under Hope's regime. It was wonderful how rapidly most of the girls
responded to her influence, and how soon the Form began to take a better
tone.

Hope was very quiet and subdued after her deposition, till one day she
caught Dorothy in the dressing-room.

"You're a mean sneak, Dorothy Greenfield!" she began hotly. "You
promised on your honour you wouldn't tell Miss Tempest we'd been at the
wedding, and yet you went and did it!"

"I didn't!" declared Dorothy, with equal heat. "I kept my promise
absolutely. I never told a single soul."

"What's the quarrel?" said Margaret Parker.

"Why, Dorothy had seen Blanche and me at that wretched wedding--I wish
we'd never gone!--and she promised she wouldn't tell, and then she must
have done--I'm certain it was she!"

"It was Professor Schenk who told Miss Tempest," replied Margaret. "I
know, because Beatrice Schenk said so. Do you mean to say you let
Dorothy own up about that business, and then expected her to keep quiet
about your share of it? It's you who are the sneak. Dorothy tell,
indeed! We know her better than that. She flies into rages, but she'd
scorn to get anybody into trouble at head-quarters. I think she's been a
trump."

The feeling of the Form at present was decidedly in Dorothy's favour.
Schoolgirl opinion veers round quickly, and a companion who is unpopular
one week may be a heroine the next. Margaret Parker was so indignant at
Hope's conduct that she published abroad the story of the promise, and
the general verdict was that Dorothy had shown up very well in the
affair.

"I don't believe I'd have kept such a secret and let Hope get off
scot-free," said Ruth Harmon, "especially when she was being so rude;
but I'm not quixotic, so that makes the difference."

After this the rehearsals in the gymnasium went on briskly. It was
growing near Christmas, and there was still much to be done to perfect
the performance. Dorothy threw herself with enthusiasm into the part of
Becky Sharp; she did it to the life, and defied Miss Pinkerton with
special zeal.

"She does it almost too well. I wish Miss Tempest could see her!"
laughed Alison.

"She's going to," said Mavie. "She sent a message to say she'd like to
come, and bring some of the mistresses."

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" exclaimed the girls.

The little play had only been intended to be acted before a select
circle of day boarders, so the performers felt quite nervous at the
idea of numbering Miss Tempest and the mistresses among their audience.
It was to be given at two o'clock on the last Tuesday before breaking-up
day. It was not possible to make many preparations in the way of
scenery, but the girls did their best in respect of costumes. Alison
coaxed two silk dresses and several other properties from her mother,
not to speak of the gorgeous robes in the chest which she brought,
though it was decided after all not to have tableaux. Poor Alison, still
feeling sore about the invitation she had not been allowed to ratify,
was determined to lend Dorothy the best pieces of her theatrical
wardrobe, and pressed the handsomest things she possessed upon her. She
was amply satisfied with the result when she saw her friend attired, as
Becky, in a green silk dress and sandalled slippers.

"You're just like the illustrations to our _Vanity Fair_. That little
muslin apron's sweet!" she exclaimed.

When the afternoon arrived, not only Miss Tempest and five mistresses,
but several members of the Sixth Form took their places on the benches
set ready for them.

"Mary Galloway's come! Aren't you nervous, Dorothy?" whispered Ruth,
greatly excited, for Mary was the president of the College Dramatic
Union, and a critic of matters theatrical.

Dorothy had got to a stage beyond nervousness. She felt as if she were
going to execution.

"I expect I shall spoil the whole thing, but it can't be helped," she
replied resignedly. With the first sentences, however, her courage
returned, and she "played up" splendidly. Her representation of Becky
was so spirited that teachers and elder girls applauded loudly.

"Very good indeed," commented Miss Tempest, when the act was over. "I
had no idea you could all do so well."

"I should like a word with Becky Sharp," said Mary Galloway, slipping
behind the scenes and drawing that heroine aside. Dorothy returned from
the whispered conference with shining eyes.

"What is it? You're looking radiant!" said Alison.

"I may well be! Mary Galloway's going to propose me as a member of the
College Dramatic Union!"



CHAPTER X

Martha Remembers


For Dorothy the Christmas holidays passed quietly and most uneventfully.
She and Aunt Barbara saw little of the outside world. It had certainly
cost Dorothy several pangs to hear the girls at the College discussing
the many invitations they had received and the dances they expected to
attend, and to feel that a visit to the vicarage was all the festivity
that would be likely to come her way. There were no parties or
pantomimes included in her holiday programme. Aunt Barbara had had many
expenses lately, and her narrow income was stretched to its fullest
extent to pay school fees and the price of the contract ticket.

"It's hateful to be poor," thought Dorothy. "I want pretty dresses and
parties like other girls;" and she went home with the old wrinkle
between her brows, and a little droop at the corners of her mouth.

If Aunt Barbara noticed these and divined the cause, she made no
comment; she did not remind Dorothy of how much she had given up on her
behalf, or of what real sacrifice it entailed to send her to Avondale.
She took the opportunity, however, one day to urge her to work her
hardest at school.

"You may have to earn your own living some time, child," she said. "If
anything happens to me, my small pension goes back to the owner of the
Sherbourne estate. I shall be able to leave you nothing. A good
education is the only thing I can give you, so you must try to make the
most of it."

"Shall I have to be a teacher?" asked Dorothy blankly.

"I don't know. It will depend on what I can have you trained for,"
replied Miss Sherbourne.

She was hurt sometimes by Dorothy's manner; the girl seemed
dissatisfied, though she was evidently making an effort to hide the
fact.

"It's hard for her to mix at school with girls who have so many more
advantages," thought Aunt Barbara. "Was I wise to send her to Avondale,
I wonder? Is it having the effect of making her discontented? It's only
lately she's grown like this--she was never so before."

Discontented exactly described Dorothy's state of mind. She considered
that Fate had used her unkindly. The prospect of gaining her own living
was extremely distasteful to her. She hated the idea of becoming a
teacher, and no other work seemed any more congenial.

"I'd always looked forward to enjoying myself when I was grown up," she
thought bitterly, "and now it will be nothing but slave."

At present Dorothy was viewing life entirely from her own standpoint,
and was suffering from an attack of that peculiar complaint called
"self-itis". She was aggrieved that the world had not given her more,
and it never struck her to think of what she might give to the world. It
seemed as if she could no longer enjoy all the little simple occupations
in which she had been accustomed to take so much pleasure--she was tired
of her stamps and postcards, bookbinding and clay modelling had lost
their attraction, and she was apathetic on the subject of fancy work.

"I don't know what's come over you," declared Martha. "You just idle
about the house doing nothing at all. Why can't you take your knitting,
or a bit of crochet in your fingers?"

"Simply because I don't want to. I wish you'd leave me alone, Martha!"
replied Dorothy irritably.

She resented the old servant's interference, for Martha was less patient
and forbearing than Aunt Barbara, and hinted pretty plainly sometimes
what she thought of her nursling.

So the holidays passed by--dreary ones for Dorothy, who spent whole
listless evenings staring at the fire; and drearier still for Aunt
Barbara, who made many efforts to interest the girl, and, failing
utterly, went about with a new sadness in her eyes and a fresh grief in
her heart that she would not have confessed to anyone.

Everybody at Holly Cottage was glad when the term began again.

"I don't hold with holidays," grumbled Martha. "Give young folks plenty
of work, say I, and they're much better than mooning about with naught
to do. Dorothy's a different girl when she's got her lessons to keep her
busy."

To do Dorothy justice, she certainly worked her hardest at the College,
though the prospect of becoming a teacher did not strike her as an
inspiring goal for her efforts. She put the idea away from her as much
as possible, but every now and then it returned like a bad nightmare.

"I should hate to be Miss Pitman," she remarked one day at school. "It
must be odious to be a mistress."

"Do you think so?" replied Grace Russell. "Why, I'd love it! I mean to
go in for teaching myself some time."

"But will you have to earn your own living? I thought your father was
well off," objected Dorothy.

"That's no reason why I shouldn't be of some use in the world," returned
Grace. "Teaching is a splendid profession if one does it thoroughly. I
have a cousin who's a class mistress at a big school near London, and
she's so happy--her girls just adore her. It must be an immense
satisfaction to feel one's doing some real work, and not being a mere
drone in the hive."

This was a new notion to Dorothy, and though she could not quite digest
it at first, she turned it over in her mind. She was astonished that
Grace, who had a beautiful home, could wish to take up work.

"She'd make a far better teacher, though, than Miss Pitman," she
thought. "I wonder why? It's something about Grace that makes one
feel--well, that she's always doing things from a motive right above
herself."

Dorothy found this an interesting term at the College. As a recruit of
the Dramatic Union, she attended rehearsals and was given a minor part
in a play that the members were acting, just for practice. It was an
honour to be included in the "Dramatic", for its numbers were limited,
and it was mostly made up of girls from the Upper School. Her bright
rendering of her small part won her notice among the monitresses.

"Dorothy Greenfield is decidedly taking," said Mary Galloway. "She's as
sharp as a needle. I believe I like her."

"Um--yes--a little too cheeky for my taste," replied Alice Edwards.
"What's the matter with her at present is that she thinks the world is
limited to Dorothy Greenfield."

"You've hit the mark exactly," returned Mary.

About the end of January Miss Tempest introduced a new feature at the
College. This was a Guild of First Aid and Field Ambulance, and, though
it was not incorporated with any special organization, it was drawn up
somewhat on the same lines as the Girl Guides. The main object was
character training, as developed through work for others. Every member
of the Guild was pledged to Chivalry, Patriotism, Self-reliance, and
Helpfulness; and her aim was to acquire knowledge to make her of
service, not only to herself, but to the community. Membership was not
obligatory, but the scheme was so well received that more than half the
school joined, Dorothy and Alison being among the number.

"I had to coax Mother tremendously," said Alison. "At first she said no.
You see, she thought it was something like the Boy Scouts, and she said
she couldn't have me careering about the country on Saturday
afternoons--she didn't approve of it for girls."

"But we aren't to go out scouting."

"No; I explained that, and then she gave way. She says she's not sure
whether she'll let me go to the Field Ambulance meetings, though; she's
afraid I'll catch cold. But I didn't argue about that; I was glad enough
to persuade her to say yes on any terms."

"You'll have the ambulance work at school."

"Yes, and perhaps I may go to at least one camp, if the weather's fine."

The Avondale Guild of Help, as it was called, though it began primarily
with ambulance, took a wide scope for its work.

"I don't want you to think it is only practising bandaging and having
picnics in the country," said Miss Tempest, in her first address to the
members. "What is needed is the principle of learning to give willing
aid to others, and wishing to be of service. In Japan, when a child is
born, a paper sign of a doll or a fish is put up outside the house, to
signify whether the baby is a girl or a boy--the boy being destined to
swim against the stream and make his own way in the world, and the girl
being a doll to be played with. This idea does not meet our present-day
standards in England. We do not want our girls to grow up dolls, but
helpful comrades and worthy citizens of the Empire. It is terrible to me
to think of girls, after their schooldays are over, leading aimless,
idle, profitless lives, when there is plenty of good work waiting to be
done in the world. 'To whom much is committed, of the same shall much be
required', and the education you receive here should be a trust to hand
on to others who have not had your advantages. There is nobody who
cannot make some little corner of the world better by her presence, and
be of use to her poorer neighbours, and I hope the Guild may lead to
many other schemes. For the present, I want every member to promise to
make one garment a year as her contribution to our charity basket. The
clothes will be sent to the Ragged School Mission in the town, and
distributed to those who badly need them."

Each member of the Guild signed her name on a scroll, pledged herself to
observe the rules, and received the badge, a little shield bearing the
motto: "As one that serveth".

"I feel almost like a Crusader!" laughed Dorothy, as she pinned on her
badge.

"It's a part of the greatest of all crusades," said Grace Russell
gravely.

Everybody was delighted with the ambulance classes. They were considered
the utmost fun, and the girls looked forward to them from week to week.
They were held in the gymnasium, the members practising upon one
another. Any stranger suddenly entering the room would have been amazed
to see rows of girls lying prostrate on the floor, while amateur nurses
knelt by their sides, placing their legs in splints contrived out of
hockey sticks, binding up their jaws, or lifting them tenderly and
carrying them on improvised stretchers with a swinging "step both
together" motion. It was amusing when at a certain signal the nurses and
patients changed places; by an apparent miracle the latter kicked away
their splints, tore off their bandages, and set to work with enthusiasm
to apply treatment to the imaginary injuries of their quondam
attendants.

Of course, there were many laughable mistakes. Ruth Harmon got mixed one
day in the diagnosis, and insisted upon turning a rebellious patient
upon her face.

"What are you doing? You're rolling me over like a log!" protested
Joyce. "Do stop!"

"No, I shan't. Let me pull out your tongue. It's to get the water from
your mouth," insisted Ruth. "It's no use working your arms when your air
passages are choked."

"But I wasn't drowning! I have a broken leg!"

"Then why couldn't you tell me so at first? I thought you were one of
those who were supposed to be fished out of the river!"

"I've grown quite clever at pretending fits," said Alison. "I only
bargain that they stick my own pocket-handkerchief between my teeth."

"My speciality is a sprained ankle," said Dorothy. "I can hold my foot
quite limp and let it waggle."

"It was you who talked when you had a broken jaw, and that's a sheer
impossibility," said Annie Gray.

"Well! Who sneezed when we were trying treatment for bleeding from the
nose?"

"I couldn't help that; it was a 'physical disability'."

"It's our turn to revive fainting. Who'll do an elegant swoon? Alison,
will you?"

"No, thanks. I don't mind fits, but I hate faints. The burnt feather
makes me cough, and last time you simply soused me with water. I thought
I was being drowned."

As the term went on and the girls became more adept at first aid, Miss
Tempest decided to organize a camp drill, and to take them for an
afternoon's practice in field work. To Dorothy's delight, a meadow at
Hurford was chosen as the scene of action.

"You'll be able to come and watch, Auntie," she said to Aunt Barbara.
"We're going to do all sorts of exciting things. We're to suppose
there's been a battle, and then we'll come on and help the
wounded--carry some of them to transport wagons, and make wind screens
for others, and of course bind them all up first. We're to have a lot of
little boys from the Orphanage for soldiers--that's why Miss Tempest
chose to come to Hurford, because they've a Boy Scout Corps at the
Orphanage, and can lend us some real stretchers and a proper ambulance
wagon. I hope I shall get a nice bright boy as patient."

After considerable coaxing, Alison managed to persuade her mother to
allow her to take part, if the day proved suitable.

"It's so much warmer now, Mother dearest," she pleaded. "I haven't had a
cold for ages; and we shan't be standing still--we shall be busy running
about all the time. It's only from half-past two till four. You might
come and watch."

"It's my afternoon to help at the Sewing Meeting," said Mrs. Clarke. "I
could hardly miss that while the Deaconess is away."

"Then drive over to Hurford and fetch me home. I haven't been out in the
trap for ages--yes, ages! Do, darling Motherkins! I should so enjoy it,
and--oh yes, I'll put a Shetland shawl over my mouth, if you like, and
you could bring my thick coat. Will you promise?"

"It depends on the weather, Birdie," replied her mother discreetly.

The afternoon in question turned out mild enough to allay even Mrs.
Clarke's fears. It was one of those balmy, delicious days in early
spring when the earth seems to throb with renewed life, and there is
real warmth in the sunshine. The Guild members had dinner earlier than
usual, and caught the two o'clock train to Hurford. The field that had
been engaged as their temporary camp was close to the Orphanage, and
they found all ready for them on their arrival, from the stretchers to
the row of nice little boys in uniform upon whom they were to operate.
Everything was strictly business-like. The officers and patrol leaders
at once took command, and began to instruct each group of ambulance
workers in the particular duties they were expected to perform. One
detachment started to build a fire (there is a science in the building
of fires in the open), a second ran up the Red Cross flag and arranged a
temporary hospital with supplies from the transport wagon, while a third
went out to render first aid to the wounded.

The boys entered thoroughly into the spirit of the affair. A blank
charge was fired, at which signal they all dropped down on the grass as
"injured".

Dorothy, who was told off to No. 3 Corps, flew at the sound of the guns,
and pounced upon the first prostrate form she came across.

"Are you killed or wounded?" she enquired breathlessly.

"Wounded, m'm," replied the boy, with a grin. "But you can't have me,
because another lady's got me already. She looks at me and she says:
'Not movable', and she's run to get a spade to dig a 'ole with."

"Oh! To put your hip in, I suppose?"

"Yes, m'm. They don't bury us unless we're killed."

"I should think not!" exclaimed Dorothy, as she hurried away to find a
patient who was still unappropriated.

"Anybody attending to you?" she asked a solemn, curly-headed little
fellow, who lay under the shade of the hedge with arms stretched in a
dramatic attitude on either side of him.

"No, miss--shot through the lungs, and leg shattered," he replied
complacently.

"Then it's a case of stop bleeding, bandage, and lift on stretcher. I'll
bind you up first, and then call for someone to help to carry you. Can
you raise yourself at all on your arm, or are you helpless? Am I hurting
you?"

"No, miss--but you do tickle me awful!"

"Never mind; I've almost finished. Now your leg. Which is it--right or
left?"

"Left. But lor', if it was really shattered, I'd rather you touched
t'other!"

"No, you wouldn't. You'd be grateful to me for saving your life. I'm
going to whistle for help. Here comes a corporal. Where's my stretcher
sling? Now, Marjorie, let us lift him quickly and gently. That was
neatly done! We'll have him in hospital in record time."

Everybody enjoyed the afternoon, the patrols that performed the camp
cookery, the first-aid workers, the nursing sisters at the hospital, and
the elect few who were initiated into the elements of signalling.

Alison, who had helped to put up a tent, and given imaginary chloroform
under the directions of a supposed army surgeon, was immensely proud of
herself, and half-inclined to regard the work of the Red Cross
Sisterhood as her vocation in life.

"It's ripping!" she declared. "I'd six of the jolliest boys for
patients. One of them offered to faint as many times as I liked, and
another (he was a cunning little scamp) assured me his case required
beef tea immediately it was ready in the camp kitchen. He asked if I'd
brought any chocolate. Another was so realistic, he insisted on
shrieking every time I touched him, and he groaned till his throat must
have ached. I think ambulance is the best fun going."

"We must beseech Miss Tempest to let us have another field day," said
Grace Russell, who had been helping with the cookery and carrying round
water. "We each want to practise every part of the work so as to be
ready for emergencies. It isn't a really easy thing to give a prostrate
patient a drink without nearly choking him. One doesn't know all the
difficulties until one tries."

"One doesn't, indeed," said Ruth Harmon. "Field work isn't plain
sailing. I wish we hadn't to catch the 4.15 train; I should have liked
to stay longer. There's the signal to form and march. Aren't you coming,
Alison?"

"No; I'm not going by train. My mother promised to drive over for me. I
wonder she hasn't arrived."

"Will she come by the high road from Latchworth?" asked Dorothy. "Then
walk home with Aunt Barbara and me. We shall very likely meet her on the
way."

"Oh, I'd love to see where you live!" exclaimed Alison. "Is that your
aunt? She's sweet. I imagined somehow she'd be much older than that. I
think she's ever so pretty. I hope Mother'll be late, and that we shall
get as far as your house before we meet the trap."

Alison chattered briskly as they walked along the road; she had a very
friendly disposition, and was much taken with Miss Sherbourne's
appearance. She had not been in Hurford before, so she was interested to
notice the fine old church and the picturesque village street.

"It's ever so much prettier than Latchworth," she declared. "I wish our
house were here instead. Oh, look at that dear little place with the
porch all covered with creepers! Is that yours? How lovely! It looks as
if it had stepped out of a picture."

"Won't you come in, dear, and wait for your mother?" said Miss
Sherbourne. "We can watch for the trap from the window."

"May I? I'd love to. Oh, Dorothy, while I'm here, do show me your
stamps! You always promised to bring them to school, but you never have
done it. And I want to look at your clay models too."

"Come to my den, then," said Dorothy. "Martha will stand at the gate and
stop the trap from passing, won't you, Martha? Now, Alison, we'll go
upstairs."

The two girls had only a very short time in which to examine Dorothy's
various possessions. After a few minutes Martha came running up to say
that the trap was waiting.

"And the lady said you were please to come at once," she added,
addressing Alison.

"Oh, bother," exclaimed the latter; "I haven't seen half yet! I suppose
I shall have to go, though. Where's your aunt? I want to say good-bye to
her. Oh, there she is at the gate, speaking to Mother!"

Mrs. Clarke was not at all pleased to find her daughter awaiting her at
Holly Cottage, though she had the good manners to conceal her feelings
and speak politely to Miss Sherbourne; so she hustled Alison into the
trap as speedily as possible.

"We're late, Birdie. I couldn't help it--I was delayed at the Sewing
Meeting. But we must hurry home now. Here's your shawl, and put this
golf cape on. No, child; you must have it properly round you."

"I'm so hot!" panted poor Alison, dutifully submitting to the extra
wraps.

"You'll be cold enough driving. Have you tucked the rug thoroughly round
your knees? Then say good-bye."

"Good-bye! Good-bye! I hadn't half enough time," cried Alison, trying to
wave a hand, in spite of the encumbrance of the golf cape. "I'd like to
come again and----" But here her mother whipped up the pony so smartly
that the rest of the sentence was lost in the grating of wheels.

"So that is Mrs. Clarke," said Aunt Barbara, as she entered the cottage
again. "She looks nice, though I wish she had allowed Alison to stay for
a few minutes longer. It's a funny thing, but somehow her face seems so
familiar to me. I wonder if I can possibly have met her before?"

"Have you seen her in Coleminster?" suggested Dorothy.

"No; the remembrance seems to be much farther back than that. I should
say it was a long time ago."

"So it was--nearly fourteen years," volunteered Martha, who was laying
the tea table. "I remembered her fast enough. I knew her the moment I
set my eyes on her."

Martha had the privilege of long service, and was accustomed to speak
her mind and offer advice to her mistress on many occasions. If she was
blunt and abrupt in her manners, she was a very faithful soul, and her
north-country brains were shrewd and keen. She was an authority in the
little household on many points, and her remarks were never ignored.

"Why, Martha, I always say you've a better memory than I have," returned
Miss Sherbourne. "Where did we know her, then?"

"We didn't know her," said Martha, pausing and looking at Dorothy. "The
bairn's been told about it now, so I suppose I can speak before her?
Well, that lady in the trap to-day is the same one that came to the inn
at Greenfield Junction, and was so upset at sight of the child."

"Are you sure, Martha?" exclaimed Miss Barbara.

"Certain; I never forget a face. I'd take my oath before a judge and
jury."

"She did not remember us."

"Didn't she? I wouldn't swear to that. You've not changed so much but
that anyone would recognize you. It's my opinion she knew us both, and
that was the reason she was in such a precious hurry to get away."



CHAPTER XI

Alison's Uncle


Not very long after the events narrated in the last chapter, Alison
entered the train one morning in quite a state of excitement, and could
scarcely wait to greet Dorothy before she began to pour out her news.

"Mother had a letter yesterday by the afternoon post. It was from Uncle
David, and he's actually on his way home to England. He's not going back
to India at all; he wants to settle down near Latchworth. He'll get here
before Easter, and he's coming straight to stay with us. Isn't it
lovely?"

"Are you fond of him?" enquired Dorothy.

"Oh, he's just ripping! He's so jolly, you know, always having jokes and
fun with me. He's the only uncle I possess, so of course I make the most
of him; but he's as good as a dozen."

"And I don't possess even one," thought Dorothy. "Have you any cousins?"
she added aloud.

"Only seconds and thirds once removed. They're so distant, I can
scarcely count them as relations. My one first cousin died when she was
a baby, and Aunt Madeleine died too--out in India--so poor Uncle David
has been alone ever since. But he's always fearfully busy; he goes about
superintending railways and building bridges. He has a whole army of
coolies under him sometimes, and they have to take the lines through
jungles where there are tigers, and snakes, and things. He writes us the
most tremendously interesting letters. Oh, I'm just longing to hear all
his stories! When I can get him in the right mood and he starts, he
yarns on for hours, and it's so fascinating, I never want him to stop."

"So he is to stay at your house?"

"Rather! We'd be fearfully cross with him if he didn't. He's coming to
us first, and then he and Mother and I are all going away somewhere for
the Easter holidays. It will be such fun! I wish the time would fly
quicker."

"It's only a fortnight to the end of the term now," said Dorothy.

"I know, but a fortnight is fourteen days, my dear. Mother says Uncle
David will probably arrive at the end of next week, though; she thinks
he may come overland from Marseilles. She wants to arrange to go away on
the Wednesday before Easter at latest. I don't expect I shall come to
school for the last day--perhaps not in the last week at all. Mother
can't bear travelling when the trains are crowded, so we may start on
the Monday or Tuesday."

"What place are you going to?"

"I don't know. We're leaving that for Uncle David to decide."

It must be delightful, thought Dorothy, to have the anticipation of such
a pleasant holiday. Alison was much to be envied, not only for the
possession of so desirable an uncle, but because he seemed disposed to
spend his time in the company of his niece, and to entertain her with
tales of adventure.

"I don't suppose I shall see him," she said to herself. "They won't ask
me to Lindenlea; but I should like to hear some of the stories about
India. Well, luck never comes my way. Nobody's going to take me away
from home this Easter."

Sometimes when we are railing our hardest at Fate, and calling her by
opprobrious names, she astonishes us by twisting round her mystic wheel
and sending us an unwonted piece of good fortune. Dorothy had often
bemoaned the fact that nobody ever asked her away; yet only a week
afterwards she received an invitation, and that from a most unexpected
quarter. She had always been rather a favourite with Dr. Longton, who
had attended her in measles, bronchitis, and the few other ailments in
which she had indulged; and also with Mrs. Longton, a kind-hearted,
elderly lady, whose daughters were all married and living in
Coleminster. On the Saturday before Easter Mrs. Longton called on Miss
Sherbourne, mentioned that she and the doctor were going to the Dales
for a little holiday, and asked if Dorothy might be allowed to accompany
them.

"We had arranged to take my niece," she explained, "but her mother is
unwell, and she cannot leave home at present. We had engaged a bedroom
for her at the Hydro., so we shall be delighted if Dorothy will occupy
it instead. We are both fond of young people, and it will be a pleasure
to have her with us. Would you care to come, my dear?"

Dorothy's face was such a beaming advertisement of joy that her instant
acquiescence seemed superfluous. Aunt Barbara readily agreed, and in a
few minutes the whole plan was discussed and fixed.

"Isn't it too lovely!" cried Dorothy, exulting over her invitation when
Mrs. Longton had gone. "I've never in my life stayed at a hydro. And to
go to Clevedale, too! I suppose it's splendid. Bertha Warren was at
Ringborough last summer, and she raved over it. Auntie, don't you think
for once I'm in luck's way? I believe it's because I bought a swastika
at the bazaar, and have worn it ever since, though you told me I was
silly to spend my sixpence on it."

Aunt Barbara laughed.

"I don't believe in charms. I remember I found a horseshoe on the very
day I sprained my ankle, long ago, and the biggest cheque I ever
received came immediately after I had spilt a whole salt-cellar full of
salt. But I certainly agree that you're a lucky girl. It's extremely
kind of the Longtons to take you."

"And we're starting next Thursday! Hip, hip, hooray!" sang Dorothy,
hopping into the kitchen to tell Martha her good news.

It was really a very great event for Dorothy to go from home. Every
detail of her preparations and packing was interesting to her. It was
delightful to be able to take out the new nightdress-case, and the best
brush and comb, which had been lying for so long a time in her bottom
drawer, waiting for an occasion such as this; to put fresh notepaper in
her writing-case, and to replenish the sewing materials in her blue silk
"housewife". There were great debates over her clothing, for she was
still growing at such express speed that any garments which had been put
away were hopelessly short, particularly the white dress that was to do
duty for evening wear.

"I believe it has shrunk!" she exclaimed ruefully.

"No; it's you who have shot up so fast. I wish the clothes grew with
you! I must try if I can lengthen it."

Miss Sherbourne had clever fingers, and she contrived to make the
necessary alterations so skilfully that nobody would have detected them;
and Dorothy declared that, far from being spoilt, the dress was
improved.

"I've bought you some new hair ribbons, and you can wear your chain of
green Venetian beads," said Aunt Barbara. "Where are your Prayer Book
and hymn-book? And your stockings? Bring them here with the other
things; we'll pack in my bedroom."

The College broke up for the holidays on the Wednesday before Easter.
Alison did not appear at school all that week, so Dorothy supposed that
the uncle must have arrived, and that they had gone from home.

"Alison doesn't know I'm having a jaunt too," she thought. "We shall be
able to compare notes when we meet again."

On the longed-for Thursday Dorothy, feeling very important and grown-up,
met Dr. and Mrs. Longton at the station, and found herself "off and
away". The trains were crowded and late, but she enjoyed the journey
nevertheless. She had seen so little of the world that it was a delight
to her to watch the landscape from the carriage windows; and the bustle
of the busy station where they changed amused her, however it might
distract Dr. Longton, who was anxious about the luggage. Their
destination was Ringborough, a beautiful spot in Clevedale much
celebrated for its bracing air and its splendid mountain views. The
hydropathic establishment where they were to stay was situated on a
pine-clad hillside, and its extensive grounds sloped to a turbulent
northern river that swirled along, brown with peat from the moors.

Dr. Longton, who was an enthusiastic angler, and had come armed with a
variety of fishing tackle, looked at the condition of the water with a
critical eye as he passed.

"Well, when I can't fish I can golf," he remarked. "The links here are
among the best in the kingdom. Dorothy, do you feel inclined to act
caddy?"

"I'd rather carry your baskets of fish," laughed Dorothy.

"You little impudence! Do you mean to hint that my catches will prove
such a light weight? Just wait and see. I'll make you earn your salt,
young lady. Perhaps you'll be staggering under a creel like a Newhaven
fishwife before you return. Here we are at last. Now, I hope they've
really kept the rooms I asked for. I stipulated for a south aspect."

The hydropathic, it appeared, was very full, and the doctor, greatly to
his dissatisfaction, was not able to have the particular accommodation
for which he had written.

"We must put up with what we can get, I suppose," he grunted. "At this
season everybody swarms out of town for a breath of mountain air and a
try at the trout."

Dorothy, at any rate, was not disposed to grumble at the little bedroom
which fell to her share, though it was on the top story. She liked going
up and down in the lift, and her window looked directly out on to the
woods at the back. There was a delicious smell of pines in the air, and
when she leaned out she could catch a glimpse, round the corner, of a
piece of brown river. In the highest spirits she unpacked and changed
her dress, and Mrs. Longton came to take her downstairs.

The ways of a hydropathic were unknown to Dorothy; it seemed new and
strange to her to enter the large public drawing-room, full of people
waiting for the dinner gong to sound. She looked round with keen
interest at the other visitors. A large party of gentlemen stood near
the piano, discussing fishing prospects; some golfers, collected round
the fire, were comparing notes and relating experiences; a few of the
ladies were busy with fancy work, and some were reading. Standing by the
bookcase, turning over the volumes, was a familiar little figure with a
round, rosy face.

"By all that's marvellous, it's Alison!" gasped Dorothy.

The recognition between the two girls was a mutual astonishment. Alison
rushed to welcome her friend in great excitement.

"Dorothy, is it really you? Oh, how delightful! Mother, Dorothy's
actually staying here! Uncle David, this is my very greatest friend! Oh,
what a perfectly lovely surprise! When did you come? We've been here
since Monday."

Mrs. Clarke greeted Dorothy coldly, but the pleasant-faced,
brown-bearded gentleman addressed as Uncle David smiled as he shook
hands.

"So this is your school chum, Birdie? Well, it's a piece of luck for you
that she's turned up here. There'll be high jinks now, I expect."

"Rather!" declared Alison, with a beaming look. "It's the one thing that
will make the holiday complete."

Though Mrs. Clarke might not share her daughter's enthusiasm at the
meeting, she found it impossible to prevent the intimacy between the two
girls. She made a struggle at first to keep them apart, but Alison had
been spoilt too long not to know how to wheedle her mother and get her
own way.

"I can't be rude to Dorothy," she pleaded. "It will seem so
extraordinary if I mayn't speak to her."

"I don't forbid you to speak to her, only there is no need for you to
spend your whole time together. I don't wish you to be on such familiar
terms," replied Mrs. Clarke.

"Nonsense, Cecily!" put in Uncle David, interfering on behalf of his
niece. "You're quite absurd over Birdie. The poor child must have some
young friends; you can't expect her to be content with us middle-aged
people. I like this Dorothy What's-her-name. She has a bright, taking
little face. It can't possibly do Birdie any harm to associate with her.
You can't bring up the girl in cotton wool. You coddle her enough on the
subject of health, so at least let her enjoy herself in other ways. I'm
going fishing to-morrow with Dr. Longton--he's a bluff old Yorkshireman,
but he's capital company, and he's a member of the North Riding Anglers'
Club. He's promised to give me some hints."

With her uncle's influence on her side, Alison felt an official seal had
been placed on her friendship; and as Mrs. Longton was pleased for
Dorothy to have found a companion, the two girls were much together.
Ringborough Hydropathic was a favourite resort for Coleminster people,
and two other girls from the College happened to be staying there with
their families--Hope Lawson and Gabrielle Helm, who was in the Lower
Fifth. Hope did not look particularly pleased to meet her classmates;
she gave them each a cool little nod, and took no further notice of
them. She was much occupied with her own set of friends, and did not
seem disposed to trouble herself with her schoolfellows; nor were they
anxious to push themselves under her notice. Gabrielle Helm, on the
contrary, claimed acquaintance with Dorothy and Alison, and introduced
her brothers, Percy and Eric, who attended the Coleminster Boys'
College. The young people were keen on golf, and from them Dorothy
received her first lessons on the links, laughing very much over her
mistakes and false strokes, and enjoying every moment of the time. She
had never spent such holidays, or dreamed that they were even possible;
and the days did not seem half or a quarter long enough for all the
delightful things there were to do in them.

"It was good of you to bring me," she said sometimes to Mrs. Longton.

"It's a pleasure to see your bright face, my dear," replied her kind
chaperon. "You're so rosy, your aunt will hardly know you when you
return."

"Dorothy is growing quite pretty," said Gabrielle Helm to Alison. "I
used to think her rather a scrawny-looking girl, but she's suddenly
developed into almost a beauty. Percy said last night he thought her
ripping, and he's a fearful old 'hard-to-please'."

"Yes," said Alison contemplatively, "Dorothy has changed. Of course, her
eyes were always lovely, but her face has filled out lately, and she
does her hair more becomingly. That's made a difference. And that blue
dress suits her. I think she's prettier now than Hope Lawson."

"Hope wouldn't allow that."

"Rather not!" laughed Alison.

Dorothy was indeed having "the time of her life", and very great
happiness is often an aid to good looks. Though she found Mrs. Clarke
rather chilly and distant, she liked Alison's Uncle David immensely.
Sometimes the two girls would accompany him and the doctor on a fishing
expedition, or a walk through the pine woods, where he proved the
pleasantest and most humorous of companions; or, better still, they
would catch him in the half-hour before dinner, decoy him into one of
the small sitting-rooms generally empty at that time in the evening, and
then cajole him into telling some of his experiences in the jungle. To
Dorothy these Indian stories were thrilling; she was never tired of
hearing about tigers and elephants, ruined temples, fakirs, coolies, and
midnight adventures.

"Of course, Uncle David draws the long bow considerably," laughed
Alison. "He expects one to take ten per cent discount off all his
traveller's yarns. But they're very fascinating, even if they're not
true! He likes you, because you're a good listener. Dorothy, what shall
we do without you when the holiday's over?"

"Don't speak of it! I'm living in the present from hour to hour,"
declared Dorothy.



CHAPTER XII

The Subterranean Cavern


The Ringborough Hydropathic was not only celebrated for fishing and
golf--the neighbourhood itself held many attractions. The mountains
round, grim stony ridges, contained curiosities of nature such as are
only found in a limestone district. There were wonderful subterranean
caverns, full of stalactites and stalagmites; underground lakes and
rivers, and mysterious "potholes" leading no one knew whither.

"We ought to make an excursion to Lingham Cave," said Percy Helm one
day. "It's one of the local sights, and it seems a pity to miss it.
Couldn't we arrange to go altogether in a big party? To-morrow would be
a good opportunity."

When to-morrow came, none of the elders seemed disposed to fall in with
Percy's plans. Dr. Longton and Mr. Clarke were bent on fishing, Mrs.
Longton was tired and preferred to stay in the garden, and Mr. and Mrs.
Helm wished to play golf. Mrs. Clarke would not hear of Alison's going
on such an expedition.

"I've been before to Lingham," she said, "and I know from experience how
damp and cold it is inside the cave. You were coughing last night,
Birdie, and I don't want to risk your catching a bad cold. You must be
content to do something quiet to-day."

Dorothy easily obtained Mrs. Longton's consent, so she and the three
young Helms took packets of lunch and started to walk over the fells to
Lingham, a distance of about four miles. The weather was still cold, and
the crests of some of the highest hills were tipped with snow. The keen,
bracing air felt like a tonic. The four strode along briskly over the
short moorland grass, admiring the rugged gorge whence the river flowed
first between two sheer walls of limestone, and then through a chasm
that seemed to have been made by the rending asunder of a mountain of
rock.

"It's a primeval kind of place," said Gabrielle. "One can understand
what a terrible upheaval there must have been to split the cliffs and
twist all the strata out of shape. What enormous force it must have
needed! One wonders if any human beings were there when it happened."

"If there were, they wouldn't be there long," said Percy. "The smallest
of those rocks would be enough to crush an army."

"It's a pity Alison isn't here," remarked Dorothy. "She's rather keen on
geology, and one gets a much better general view of the gorge from here
than from the Hydro."

"Yes, I'm sorry she wasn't allowed to come," replied Gabrielle. "I think
Mrs. Clarke is fearfully nervous. I'm glad Mother doesn't fuss over me
to such an extent. Still, it has another side to it--it must be rather
nice to be a treasured only child!"

"Then you should have been born in a different family; you made a bad
choice in ours," said Eric.

"How many of you are there altogether?" asked Dorothy.

"Seven; we've left the little ones behind."

"Only Norma goes to the Coll."

"Yes; the other three are nursery children. You don't know what it is to
be eldest daughter. Be thankful you haven't three small nuisances at
home."

"I wish I had!" said Dorothy.

"All right; you may change places with me. I'll hand over the whole set
of brothers and sisters, Percy and Eric included."

"A happy exchange for us!" murmured Percy, with a look at Dorothy.

"You horrid boy!" said Gabrielle.

"I want to know why Percy has brought that coil of rope with him,"
enquired Dorothy. "I've been wondering ever since we started."

"Well, I'm quite prepared to satisfy your curiosity. Let us sit down
and eat our lunch while I expound; there are some jolly stones here for
seats."

All four were very ready for lunch, though it was only twelve o'clock.
The keen air had given them fine appetites, and the ham sandwiches and
chicken drumsticks disappeared quickly, not to speak of the bread and
cheese and cakes.

"They don't put up bad lunches at the Hydro.," said Percy, aiming his
last chicken bone at a bird that flew overhead.

"What about the rope?" asked Dorothy again. "I'm still inquisitive."

"It's an idea of mine. You know, everybody goes to Lingham Cave; it's a
regular show place. You pay your shilling, and you're taken round by a
guide who tells you where to step, and not to knock your head, and all
that kind of stuff, and prates away about geology and natural
curiosities and the rest of it, as if he'd learnt it off like a lesson.
Well, instead of going where everybody else goes, I think it would be
much better fun to explore a place of our own. There's another cave at
the other side of Lingham, on the spur of Whernscar. I saw the entrance
to it last Friday, when I walked over with Dr. Shaw. He pointed it out
to me, and said very few people had been down it, but it was quite as
fine as the other, and had splendid--what do you call those
thingumgigs?--oh yes, stalactites, and an underground waterfall."

[Illustration: A LESSON IN GOLF]

"Is there a guide there?" asked Eric.

"No; that's the best of it--no shillings to pay, and no bothering
lecture. People fight shy of it because it's so out of the way and
rather difficult to go down--the passage is narrow, and there's one bad
place. I thought if we had a rope, though, we could manage it easily;
and look! I've brought all these candles and three boxes of matches."

"It would be ripping to see an underground waterfall," said Eric. "There
isn't one in Lingham Cave."

"Yes; we might never get such an opportunity again. Who votes for
Whernscar?"

"I do," said Dorothy promptly. The idea of an adventure tempted her. She
was always attracted by the unknown.

"I suppose we should be all right? It will be quite safe, I mean?"
queried Gabrielle, a little doubtfully.

"Right as a trivet, with a rope and candles," replied Percy. "I expect
if this cave were nearer Lingham village it would be more popular than
the other. It's fearfully far from the station, though, which doesn't
suit trippers."

"We're trippers ourselves if we make a trial trip," laughed Eric.

All the four young people were excited at the prospect of exploring a
little-known cavern without the assistance of a guide. They felt like a
band of pioneers in a fresh country, or the discoverers of a new
continent. None of them in the least realized the risk of the
proceeding, and no older person was there to preach wisdom. Percy, who
had been over the fells before, knew the way, and therefore assumed the
direction of the party. Instead of going down to Lingham, they turned up
the hill instead, and struck across the spur of Whernscar. It was a
grim, desolate part of the country; the bare rocks, upheaved in strange
shapes and unclothed by any greenery, seemed like the skeleton of the
earth exposed to view. Stone walls took the place of hedges, and there
was scarcely a human habitation within sight. Scattered here and there
over the moorland were curious natural pits called "potholes", deep and
dark as wells, and with a sound of rushing water at the bottom. Into one
of these a small stream emptied itself, and was swallowed up bodily.

"They're fearful places," said Dorothy, holding Gabrielle's hand, and
gazing half-fascinated over the edge of the pit into the bubbling depths
below. "It's like a witch's cauldron; you feel there's 'double, double,
toil and trouble' going on down there."

"People must have been fearfully superstitious about these holes in
olden times," remarked Gabrielle.

"Rather! They attributed them to His Satanic Majesty--thought they were
the blowholes of the nether world, in fact. I don't suppose any of the
natives here would care to go near them at night," said Percy.

"Come along! It makes me dizzy to stare down," said Gabrielle. "I feel
as if something were drawing me in."

"The wizard who lives at the bottom!" laughed Dorothy. "We're certainly
in a very peculiar part of the country. Is it far to the cave now?"

"No, we're quite close. I have my bearings, and I'm pretty sure that
it's just round the other side of that crag."

"How exciting! Do let us be quick!"

The mouth of the cave proved to be a small, narrow opening in the side
of the hill, no taller or wider than the little postern gate of an old
castle. For a few yards inside there was a brown glimmer, but beyond lay
inky darkness. The girls, after a first peep, drew back with a shudder,
half of real fear, and half of delighted anticipation of a new
experience. Percy had taken out the candles and was busy lighting them.

"There's one for each of us," he said. "And we must each have some
matches in our pockets, in case of emergencies."

"What emergencies?" asked Gabrielle.

"Well, suppose we got separated?"

"Separated! Don't talk of it. You're not going to lose me, I can tell
you. I shall hold on to your coat the whole way. I shan't go in at all
if you mean to play hide-and-seek. Promise you won't lose me!"

"Don't be silly! Nobody wants to lose you," said Percy. "I'm only taking
proper precautions. There! Are you ready? Eric and I will go first, and
you and Dorothy can follow."

"Shades of Pluto, it's spooky!" exclaimed Eric, leading the way.

The passage ran level for about fifteen yards, then began abruptly to
descend into the hollow of the mountain. The walls were jagged and
uneven, there were frequent turnings and windings, and the floor was
rough with small stones or lumps of rock. In two or three places it was
very damp. Moisture dripped from the roof and oozed in limestone tears
down the walls, forming slimy, milky pools under foot. In the distance
they could hear the gurgling of water. The two boys, as pioneers, walked
slowly, holding their lights so as to examine well the ground in front.
The girls followed them closely.

"I should think it's like this in the Catacombs," said Gabrielle.

"It reminds me of the story of the Princess and the Goblin," said
Dorothy.

"Haven't read it."

"You benighted girl! What you've missed! It's the most gorgeous tale
that was ever written. The goblins lived in a mountain just like this;
they had a great underground hall, and dwellings in mysterious corners
and caves. They wanted to steal the little Princess Irene, to marry her
to their Prince, only Curdie outwitted them. I feel as if we're
following Irene's thread at present."

"I hope you're following me," said Eric. "We're coming to a bad place,
so you'd better go carefully."

The floor of the passage, which had been growing more and more uneven
and rugged, suddenly shelved down like a ladder.

"Yes, this is a bad bit," muttered Percy. "It will certainly need care.
What a good thing I brought the rope!"

"Are you sure it's safe to venture?" asked Gabrielle.

"Yes; it's difficult, but it's safe enough. Dr. Shaw told me about this
place. It's called 'The Chute'; it's something like a long smooth slide.
We must lower one another with the rope."

"Who is to lower the last?" said Dorothy.

"Oh, I'll manage to climb down all right without. Eric can go first,
then he can help you two girls at the bottom."

Eric, with the rope tied round his waist, and his candle held well
overhead, started cautiously down the incline in a sitting posture.

"It's as smooth as a slide," he called. "Don't pay out the rope too
fast, old chap. Let me down gently. That's better. I'm getting along
famously now. I can steady myself with one hand on the wall. Whew! That
was a scorcher! There's a nasty twist here. Steady! Let go a bit!
Right-o! Here I am!"

The tension on the rope stopped, so he had evidently reached his goal.
The others, peering into the darkness, could just see the glimmer of his
candle round a piece of projecting rock.

"Where are you?" they shouted.

"In a much wider passage. Come on! I've untied the rope, so you can wind
it up. It isn't really difficult at all going down, if you're careful of
this corner at the end. I'll climb up and give you each a hand as you
come round."

"You go next, Dorothy," said Gabrielle.

It was rather a horrible experience, Dorothy thought, after the rope was
tied round her waist, to start on that steep, dark descent, even though
Eric was waiting to help her at the bottom. The chute was moist, and as
slippery as ice; she felt dreadfully helpless, and if it had not been
for the staying power of the rope, she would have shot down as if she
had been tobogganing. She managed to aid herself a little by grasping
angles of the wall, though one hand was incommoded by holding the
candle.

"It's all right. Don't squeak--you've got over the worst now," said
Eric, extending a welcome grip at the awkward corner. "Put your foot
against that ledge; now then, swing yourself round.--Hi! More rope, up
there!--Let yourself slide now--it's only a few feet. You've done it!
Hooray!"

Dorothy felt like a heroine as she scrambled to her feet and untied the
rope. She peeped anxiously up the chute to see how Gabrielle would fare.
The latter, after protesting vigorously that she daren't and couldn't
and wouldn't, was at length persuaded to try, and accomplished the
descent with many squeals of terror.

"Pooh! What a fuss you girls make!" said Eric. "There's nothing to be
frightened about."

When his sister was safely landed at the bottom, Percy managed to
descend unaided, and the four started once more on their march of
exploration. They were now in a long gallery, much loftier and wider
than the passage above. It extended for about a hundred feet, then
narrowed and lowered abruptly, so that for a few yards they were obliged
to stoop to get along. Suddenly they all stopped with a cry of
amazement: the passage ended with a natural arch, and they found
themselves staring into a vast subterranean chamber. The cavern was
oval in shape, and had probably once been an underground reservoir for
water. From the roof, like huge icicles, hung innumerable stalactites,
many of which, meeting with stalagmites that rose from the floor, formed
pillars as beautiful as the marble columns in a Greek temple. In the
faint light of the four candles the scene was immensely impressive. The
cave seemed to stretch before the spectators like the dim aisles of some
great cathedral. They could not see to its farthest extent, but from
somewhere in the distance came the noise of rushing water. Walking
carefully between the stalagmites, they commenced a tour of
investigation, holding the lights high above their heads, so as to gain
as good a view as possible.

"If we only had a piece of magnesium ribbon to burn, wouldn't it be
magnificent?" sighed Percy.

"Or even a motor lamp," added Eric.

Guided by the sound of the water, they reached the corner of the
chamber, where a natural wonder presented itself. From a hole about
fifteen feet above them issued a cascade, which poured in a foaming fall
over a ledge of rock, ran for a distance of about eight yards over the
floor of the cavern, then plunged into a deep hole and disappeared.

"I wonder where it comes out--if it ever comes out at all?" said
Dorothy, shuddering as she watched the black water whirl into the dark
abyss.

"Lower down the mountain, probably, but I shouldn't care to try the
experiment of jumping in to find out," said Eric. "It's a weird place,
but it's worth seeing. I'm glad we came. I believe it's finer than
Lingham. And we've done it on our own, too, without any bothersome
guide."

"We've got to go back yet," said Gabrielle. "Hadn't we better make a
start? It must be getting late."

"Exactly twenty minutes to four," said Percy, consulting his watch.

"Then we must go at once. Remember, we have a long walk before us."

Quite loath to leave the marvels of the subterranean chamber, they tore
themselves away, each first breaking off a small stalactite as a
souvenir.

"I shall treasure my limestone 'icicle'," said Dorothy. "I shall score
if I take it to the geology class at school."

"I've got an extra one to give to the College museum," said Gabrielle.
"I hope they won't break in my pocket. I've wrapped them carefully in my
handkerchief."

Arrived at the chute, Percy climbed up first, with one end of the rope
in his hand, then, stationing himself firmly at the top, announced his
readiness to haul up the others. Gabrielle started next, crawling on
hands and knees, and helping herself as best she could by the
projections of rock at the side. It was much more difficult to ascend
than to descend, for the surface was so smooth and slippery, it was
impossible to get any grip. Almost her whole weight depended upon the
rope; she was a heavy girl, and the strain was great. Percy at the top
heaved with all his strength.

"Oh dear, it's dreadful!" cried Gabrielle. "It's cutting my waist in
two. Wait a moment, Percy; don't tug so hard. I want to catch this
ledge."

"Let go of the rock, and I'll give one good pull," commanded Percy. "If
you'll trust yourself absolutely to me, I'll have you up in a jiffy."

Gabrielle loosened her hold, and for one moment threw herself entirely
upon the rope. Perhaps it was not strong enough for the purpose, or
possibly it had been frayed in the descent by contact with a sharp rock;
there was a snap, a sudden, agonized cry, and Gabrielle was precipitated
to the bottom of the chasm. She fell heavily, extinguishing her candle
as she went, and rolling almost to the feet of Eric and Dorothy, who
were standing at the bottom of the chute looking upwards.

"Good gracious! What's happened? Gabrielle, are you hurt?" ejaculated
Percy, descending to the rescue with more haste than discretion, and
bending over the prostrate form of his sister. "Hold a light, Eric; I
can't see her face."

"Oh! Oh! I thought I was being killed!" gasped Gabrielle, raising
herself to a sitting position. "Give me your hand, Percy. Oh! Stop,
stop! My foot! I believe I've broken my ankle!"

The explorers stared at one another in blankest dismay. This was indeed
a predicament. What were they to do, buried in the depths of the earth,
and miles away from help of any kind?

"Are you sure it's broken, or could you manage to get up if we each took
your arm?" suggested Eric.

"No! No! Don't touch me! It's agony if I move."

"Better let me pull your boot off, quick!" said Dorothy, dropping on her
knees by the side of her friend.

It was a very different matter applying First Aid here from what it had
been at the ambulance class in the gymnasium at the College. Except
pocket-handkerchiefs, there were no materials of any kind to be had.
Splints were an impossibility. Dorothy bound up the foot as well as she
could, but her every touch was painful to her poor patient.

"You're sitting in such a wet place! Couldn't we lift you just a
little?" she suggested.

"No; please leave me alone. Never mind the wet."

Gabrielle's rosy cheeks had grown very white. She looked almost ready to
faint. The two boys turned to each other in desperation.

"We can't haul her up that chute with a broken ankle," said Percy. "I
must go back to the Hydro. for help, and you must stay with her. I'll be
as quick as I possibly can--I'll run all the way."

"Mind you don't tumble into any 'potholes', then," called Gabrielle
anxiously, as he scrambled up the chasm and departed.

Then began a long, weary vigil of many interminable hours. The candles
had burnt so low that the trio did not dare to have them all lighted
together, in case they should be left in the dark before assistance
came. They therefore used one at a time, and by its faint gleam the deep
shadows of the rocks appeared more dim and gloomy than ever.

"It's almost like being buried alive!" shivered Gabrielle.

"I'm glad Alison didn't come with us," said Dorothy.

"We've landed ourselves in an uncommonly tight fix," remarked Eric.

Would the time never pass? Hour after hour went by. Wet, cold, and
hungry, and chilled to the bone, the unfortunate trio sat and waited.
They were almost in despair when at last they heard a distant shout, and
a few moments afterwards a strong light flashed down the chasm. The band
of rescuers proved to consist of Mr. Helm, Dr. Shaw (the medical
attendant of the Hydropathic), Dr. Longton, Mr. Clarke, and two
gardeners who were well acquainted with the neighbourhood, Percy, of
course, leading the way. They had brought motor lanterns, ropes, and a
number of other appliances, the most important of all in the eyes of the
three shivering young people being a Thermos flask full of hot soup.

The first duty for the doctors was to set the broken ankle; then came
the more critical task of removing the injured girl from the cave. Her
father, who was fortunately the tallest and strongest member of the
party, took her in his arms, and, aided partly by ropes and partly by
the help of Dr. Longton and Mr. Clarke, he succeeded in carrying her up
the slippery chute on to the level above. Even there their troubles were
not over--the many twistings and windings and angles of the tortuous
passage were difficult to negotiate without giving undue pain to poor
Gabrielle, who was already suffering enough. Her rescuers were only able
to proceed very slowly, and with frequent intervals of rest, and by the
time the party reached the surface of the fell it was past eleven
o'clock.

None of them ever forgot that weird midnight walk back to Ringborough.
It was a wild, windy night, with heavy clouds chasing one another across
the sky and obscuring the light of the waning moon. Hirst and Chorley,
the two gardeners, led the way with the lanterns; then came Mr. Helm
and Dr. Shaw, carrying Gabrielle on an improvised stretcher; and the
others followed closely behind, Dr. Longton helping Dorothy. The ground
was rough and stony, and every now and then their guides had to stop to
take their bearings, for there were several "potholes" and other danger
spots to be avoided. The first grey streak of dawn was showing in the
sky when the party, thoroughly exhausted, at last arrived at the
Hydropathic.

"Gabrielle won't be at the Coll. again for ever so long," said Alison to
Dorothy next day. "Dr. Shaw thinks it may be six weeks before she's able
to walk. Uncle David says it's a miracle she wasn't killed. I'm glad I
didn't go--and yet" (rather wistfully) "I don't suppose I shall ever
have the opportunity of a real adventure again. It must have been so
exciting!"

"It's nicer to read about adventures than to have them," said Dorothy.
"It wasn't thrilling at all at the time--it was cold and wet and horrid.
I'm delighted to have seen the cave, but I wouldn't go through last
night again--not if anyone offered me a hundred pounds!"



CHAPTER XIII

A School Anniversary


Dorothy returned to Hurford with a whole world of new experiences to
relate to Aunt Barbara. The visit to Ringborough had indeed been an
immense enjoyment, and after so much excitement it was difficult to
settle down to the round of school and lessons. With some natures change
is a tonic that sets them once more in tune with their everyday
surroundings; but with others it only rouses desires for what they
cannot get. Unfortunately it had this effect in Dorothy's case. Her
pleasant time at the Hydropathic, the amusements there, and her
companionship with other young people, which she had so much
appreciated, all combined to bring out into sharp contrast the quietness
and uneventfulness of her ordinary existence, and to make her life at
Holly Cottage seem dull and monotonous. The old cloud settled down upon
her, and the old discontented look crept back into her eyes.

Aunt Barbara, who had hoped the holiday would cheer her up, was frankly
disappointed. She was uneasy and anxious about Dorothy; she felt that
some undesirable element was working in the girl's mind, yet she could
not define exactly of what it consisted. It was a negative rather than a
positive quality, and manifested itself more in acts of omission than
those of commission. Dorothy was rarely disagreeable at home, but she
had lately slidden out of many of the little pettings and fond, loving
ways that had meant so much to Aunt Barbara, and her manner had grown
somewhat hard and uncompromising. Small things count for so much in
daily life, and Dorothy, absorbed in her own troubles, never thought
what value might be set on a kiss, or what the lack of it might seem to
that tender heart which had made her happiness its own.

At present she was engrossed in Avondale concerns, for the coming term
was the fullest and busiest in the school year. Not only was there the
work of her own form to be considered, but the many side interests in
connection with the College also--the Ambulance Guild, the Botanical
Society (a special feature of the summer months), and last, but not
least, the Dramatic Union, to be a member of which she was justly proud.
Her inclusion in this, though a supreme satisfaction, brought the
penalty of added work. She was expected to learn parts and submit to
severe drilling at rehearsals, the standard required being greatly above
what had contented the Upper Fourth.

The Union was looking forward to shortly displaying its talent on the
occasion of the school festival. This was to be held on the twelfth of
May, partly because it was the anniversary of the laying of the
foundation stone of the present building, and partly because, being old
May Day, it gave an opportunity for many quaint and charming methods of
celebration.

Miss Tempest, who loved to revive bygone customs, had introduced maypole
plaiting, morris dances, and other ancient "joyous devices" at the
school, and the girls had taken them up with enthusiasm. At this
festival, instead of giving dances and May Day carols, such as had been
popular for the last year or two, the Dramatic Union was to act a floral
pageant called "The Masque of the Blossoms", a pretty performance in
which interesting old catches and madrigals were included, and many
historical and emblematical characters represented. Miss Hicks, the
singing mistress, undertook the direction of the musical part of the
piece, and coached the girls at private practices in the songs.

Dorothy, after the allotment of the parts, came home brimming over with
excitement.

"It's the most delightful, quaint thing, Auntie! 'Queen Elizabeth' is in
it, and 'Raleigh' and 'Spenser', as well as 'Venus' and two nymphs, and
the spirit of the woodlands. The songs are charming. I know you'll like
'Now is the month of maying' and 'The trees all budding'. Nora Burgess
is to be 'Leader of the Masque', and Ottilia Partington is 'Spring'. And
oh, Auntie! what do you guess is my part? I'm to be 'Queen of the
Daffodils'! It lay between me and Vera Norland; we both knew the words
equally well, so we drew lots, and I won. I've brought a book to show
you what the costume must be. Look! it gives a picture."

"It's extremely pretty, but it seems rather elaborate," said Miss
Sherbourne, scanning the dainty creation figured in the illustration
with an eye to its home-dressmaking possibilities.

"Do you think so? The green part's to be made of satin, and the skirt
underneath is all folds of soft yellow silk, to represent petals. Then
there are wreaths of artificial daffodils, and a veil of gauze covered
with gold sequins."

"Perhaps we can copy it in sateen and art muslin," said Aunt Barbara.

"Auntie! It ought to be real silk and satin! It won't look anything if
it's only made of cheap materials."

"But I can't afford to buy dearer ones for a costume that will only be
used once."

"Muriel, and Fanny, and Olga, who are taking the other flowers, are
having beautiful things made at a dressmaker's," returned Dorothy rather
sulkily.

"I dare say; but that doesn't make it any easier for us."

"I can't be the only one in a cheap dress!" burst out Dorothy. "Oh,
Auntie, you might let me have something nice, just for once! It's too
bad that I never get anything like other girls."

"You don't know what you ask, Dorothy," said Miss Sherbourne, with a
pained tone in her voice. "I do all for you that's in my power. It hurts
me to deny you even more than it hurts you to go without what you want.
No, I can't promise anything; you must learn to realize what a small
margin we have for luxuries."

Dorothy flung down the book and rushed upstairs to her bedroom. She was
thoroughly out of temper, and hot tears started to her eyes. She had set
her heart on making a good effect as "Queen of the Daffodils". It was an
important part in the Masque, and she was extremely triumphant that the
lot had fallen to her. To act at the College Anniversary was a great
honour, and Dorothy knew that Hope Lawson and Valentine Barnett, neither
of whom was included this time, would have been only too delighted to
have her chance.

"They envy me ever so much, and it will make them extra-censorious," she
thought. "They'll turn up their noses dreadfully if I only wear a
costume of sateen and art muslin."

To Dorothy, who had not yet forgotten her disappointment at losing the
election for the Wardenship, and who was always on the defensive against
real or imaginary slights, this occasion of the festival seemed a unique
opportunity of asserting her position in the school. She knew, from
former experience, how the girls discussed and criticized the dresses
worn by the players, and what elaborate and expensive costumes were
often provided: many beautiful accessories in the way of scenery were
generally lent by parents of the pupils, and the whole performance was
on a very handsome scale. To be one of the masquers in this year's
pageant would increase her social standing, and magnify her importance
in her Form as nothing else could possibly do. She pictured the triumph
of the scene, the select company of picked actors on the platform, the
music, the flowers, and the lovely effects of colour grouping. The large
lecture hall would be filled to overflowing with pupils and guests.
Alison's uncle would no doubt be there, and Percy and Eric Helm. She
would like them to see her as "Queen of the Daffodils". She might give
three "performer's invitations", so she could ask Dr. and Mrs. Longton
as well as Aunt Barbara. Oh, it would be the event of her life! But how
was all this to happen if she could not be provided with a suitable
costume?

"What it comes to is this," she said to herself. "The thing, to be done
at all, ought to be done well; the girls will laugh at me if I turn up
in sateen, with sixpence-halfpenny bunches of daffodils. I'd rather not
act if I can't have a nice dress. Aunt Barbara might manage it somehow."

Dorothy did her lessons in her den that evening, although there was no
fire and the weather was still cold. She came down to supper so moody
and unresponsive that Miss Sherbourne, after a vain attempt at
conversation, gave up the effort, and the meal passed almost in silence.
The subject of the Masque was not mentioned by either.

Dorothy cried bitterly in bed that night, hot scalding tears of
disappointment--tears that did not soften and relieve her grief, but
only made it harder to bear; and she woke next morning with a splitting
headache.

"Have you finished with this book, Auntie?" she said after breakfast,
taking up the ill-fated catalogue of costumes, which had been left the
night before on the sideboard.

"You might leave it for a day or two, if Miss Hicks can spare it,"
replied Miss Sherbourne. "There is still plenty of time before May the
twelfth."

"What's the matter with Dorothy?" said Mavie Morris that morning at
school. "She's so glum and cross, one can't get a civil word from her.
When I mentioned the pageant, she nearly snapped my head off."

"Tantrums again, I suppose," said Ruth Harmon, shrugging her shoulders.
"The best plan is to leave her alone till she comes out of them. You
ought to know Dorothy Greenfield by this time."

"You shouldn't tease her," said Grace Russell.

"I didn't. I only asked her what her dress was to be like, and she told
me to mind my own business. All those who are acting are just full of
their costumes. They talk of nothing else."

"Is Dorothy's going to be a nice one?" asked Ruth.

"I don't know; she wouldn't tell me anything. Dorothy doesn't generally
have handsome things, does she?"

"No; she's one of the plainest-dressed girls in the Form."

"But she'll surely come out in something decent for the Masque! She
must, you know."

"Perhaps that's the rub--poor Dorothy!" murmured Grace Russell.

When Dorothy returned home that afternoon she found Miss Sherbourne busy
at her writing table. Generally all papers were cleared away before
tea-time, and Aunt Barbara was ready to help with lessons, or play games
and chat afterwards; to-day, however, she instituted a new regime.

"I am going to write in the evenings now," she said, "so you must be
quiet, dear, and not disturb me. I have a piece of work that I
particularly want to finish."

Dorothy prepared her German translation and learned her Latin
vocabularies, then, taking up a volume of Scott, began to read. It was
rather dull with only the scratching of Aunt Barbara's pen to break the
silence. She missed their usual game of chess and their pleasant talk.
It seemed so extraordinary not to be allowed to say a single word. The
next evening and the next the programme was the same. Except at meal
times, Dorothy hardly had the opportunity of exchanging ideas with Aunt
Barbara. She did not like the innovation.

"Auntie does nothing but write--write--write the whole time," she
complained to Martha.

"Yes; she's overdoing it entirely, and I've told her so!" returned
Martha indignantly. "She's at it from morning till night, and then she's
not finished, for she's sitting up to the small hours. There's no sense
in fagging like that. You can't burn a candle at both ends."

"Then why does she?" questioned Dorothy.

"That's what I asked her. She's not strong enough to stand it. She's
been ill again lately, and if she doesn't mind she'll have a breakdown."

"Auntie, won't you go to bed early too?" suggested Dorothy, as she said
good night, looking rather anxiously at the pale face bent over the
papers. Miss Sherbourne put her hand to her head wearily.

"I can't. I must make a push and put in a certain number of hours' work,
or these articles will never be finished in time. If I can send them in
by the second, and they are accepted, I may possibly get a cheque for
them at once. That would just give us time before the twelfth. We can't
buy silks and satins without the wherewithal, can we?"

"Oh, Auntie! are you slaving like this for me?" exclaimed Dorothy.
"Can't we get the dress any other way?"

"No, dear; I can't afford it out of the house-keeping money, and it is
one of my rules never to run into debt for anything. Don't worry;
another day will see me through, and I think the editor of the
_Coleminster Gazette_ will like the articles--they're better than the
ones he accepted last year."

Dorothy went upstairs uneasy and dissatisfied with herself. Aunt
Barbara's good-night kiss had roused something that had been slumbering
for a long time. Thoughts that the girl had suppressed lately began to
make themselves heard, and to clamour loudly and reproachfully. She
tried to put them away, but they refused to be dismissed. With her eyes
shut tight in bed, she seemed to see a vision of Aunt Barbara's tired
face as she sat working, working so painfully hard in the sitting-room
below.

"And for me--always for me--never for herself," reflected Dorothy. "She
hasn't bought a new dress of her own this spring, though she needs one
badly."

She looked with compunction next morning at Miss Sherbourne's pale
cheeks.

"Does your head ache, Auntie?"

"Yes. I haven't been quite well lately, but I expect it will pass. You
shall buy me some phenacetin powders in town; they always do my head
good. Dr. Longton recommended them."

"She looks more fit to be in bed than at her writing table," thought
Dorothy, as she left the room, armed with the necessary prescription.
She hurried away from school at four o'clock in order to give herself
time to call at the chemist's, and ran anxiously into the house on her
return, bearing the packet of powders in triumph.

"Sh! Sh! Don't make a noise," said Martha, coming from the kitchen.
"Your aunt's lying down. I told her it would come to this, and I've
proved my words. It's an attack of her old complaint. It always comes
back with overwork."

"Is she really very ill?" faltered Dorothy.

"I don't know. I've just sent Jones's boy with a message for Dr.
Longton. No, you mustn't go disturbing her till he's been. Take your
things off, and I'll bring you your tea."

Dorothy ate her solitary meal in sad distress. She could remember two
former illnesses of Aunt Barbara's, and she was old enough now to
realize how much cause there was for alarm. She waylaid the doctor on
his arrival, and begged him to allow her to be of help.

"If Auntie is really going to be ill like she was before, let me be her
nurse," she implored. "I learnt a great deal at the ambulance classes,
and I'd carry out every single thing you told me."

"We'll see. I must examine my patient first," replied her old friend.

Dorothy sat on the stairs waiting with a beating heart while Dr. Longton
was in Miss Sherbourne's room. She sprang up eagerly as he came out, and
accompanied him to the porch. She hardly dared to ask for his verdict.

"Yes, it's a nasty return of the old trouble," said the doctor. "I'm
afraid she's in for a sharp attack, but luckily I was sent for in good
time, and may be able to stave things off a little. So you're anxious to
try your hand at nursing, young woman? Well, I don't see why you
shouldn't. You and Martha can manage quite well between you, if you'll
only carry out my directions absolutely to the letter. When I suggested
sending for a trained nurse, your aunt was very much against the
idea--begged me not to, in fact. Martha has a head on her shoulders, and
you're not a child now."

"I shall soon be fifteen," said Dorothy, drawing herself to her full
height.

"Well, here's your chance to show what you're worth. If you can manage
in this emergency, I shall have some opinion of you. I can telephone to
the Nursing Institution if I find it's too much for you."

"I hope that won't be necessary," replied Dorothy.

In that one hour she seemed to have suddenly grown years older, and to
have taken up a new burden of responsibility. Martha hardly knew her
when she entered the sick room, she seemed so unwontedly calm and
resourceful, yet withal so gentle, so tactful, and so deft and clever in
doing all that was required for the invalid.

"I'd no idea the bairn could be so helpful," murmured Martha to herself.
"If she goes on as well as she shapes, we'll do without a nurse, and
that'll ease Miss Sherbourne's mind. She can't afford two guineas a
week, let alone the woman's keep, and it would worry her to think of the
expense. As far as I'm concerned I don't want a nurse in the house,
making extra trouble and what waste goodness knows!"

The first thing Dorothy did when she could be spared from Aunt
Barbara's room was to find her blotter and write a letter to Vera
Norland. It ran thus:

    "DEAR VERA,--Can you take the part of 'Queen of the Daffodils'
    instead of me? My aunt is very ill, and I am afraid I shall not
    be able to come to school for a while, so I shall miss the
    rehearsals. I thought I had better let you know at once, so that
    you will have time to get your dress.
        "Sincerely yours,
            "DOROTHY GREENFIELD."

She ran out herself and posted the letter, then came back and quietly
sat down again by Aunt Barbara's bedside. It cost her a great pang thus
to give up her part in the festival, but once the irrevocable step was
taken, and the letter in the pillar box, she felt much better.

"You've just got to forget about that pageant, Dorothy Greenfield," she
said to herself. "You've been behaving abominably lately, and I'm
thoroughly ashamed of you. Now's your chance indeed, as the doctor says.
I only hope it hasn't come too late. Oh, you nasty, ungrateful, selfish,
thoughtless thing, how I despise you!"

As Dr. Longton had anticipated, Miss Sherbourne had a sharp attack of
her former complaint. For a week she lay very ill, and her two devoted
nurses hardly left her day or night. It was a new experience to Dorothy
to have Aunt Barbara, who had been accustomed to do everything for her,
lying helpless and dependent upon her care. It brought out the grit in
the girl's character, and made her see many things to which she had
before been blind. Hitherto Dorothy had not been at all zealous at
helping in the house, but now she cheerfully washed plates and dishes,
and did many other tasks that were distasteful to her.

"'As one that serveth'" she often said to herself as she went about the
daily duties, trying to take her fair share of the trouble and help
poor, faithful Martha, whose devotion never slackened. She wore the
little badge of the Guild constantly, that its remembrance might be
always with her. "'As one that serveth'; Miss Tempest said that the
motto ought to mean so much in one's life," she thought. "I didn't
understand before, but I do now. When Auntie gets better, I'm going to
be very different."

It was a joyful day for Martha and Dorothy when the doctor pronounced
Miss Sherbourne out of danger.

"She has made a wonderful recovery," he said, "and if she only takes
proper care of herself she ought to get on nicely now. She has had a
splendid pair of nurses. Honestly, Dorothy, I never thought you would be
able to manage without professional help. You've done very well, child,
very well indeed."

This was high praise from bluff old Dr. Longton, and Dorothy flushed
with pleasure. She was glad if she had been able, in the least degree,
to return to Aunt Barbara any of the love and tenderness that the latter
had lavished upon her for more than fourteen years. The debt was still
so great, it seemed impossible ever to pay it back.

Once the fever had left her, Miss Sherbourne made rapid progress, and by
the twelfth of May she was able to come downstairs for the first time.
Dorothy made the little dining-room so gay with flowers for her
reception that it looked like a May Day festival.

"Why, sweetheart, this is the day of your school anniversary," said Aunt
Barbara, as she and Dorothy sat at tea. "You ought to have been acting
'Queen of the Daffodils'."

"Don't talk of that, Auntie! I got Vera to take it instead."

Dorothy's eyes were full of tears.

"I'm sorry you were disappointed, darling."

"Auntie, it's not that; please don't misunderstand me. Ever since you
were ill I've wanted to tell you that I know now what a nasty,
ungrateful wretch I've been. You've been working and toiling for me all
these years, and I took it just as a matter of course, and never
thought how much you were giving up for me. I'm going to work for you
now. I'm afraid I can't do much at first--with money, I mean--but I'll
try my hardest at the Coll., and perhaps in a year or two I may be a
help instead of a burden."

"A burden you have never been, child," said Miss Sherbourne. "If I had
only got well a little sooner, we would have made you the costume. I
sent the articles off the afternoon I was taken ill, and a cheque for
them came a week ago."

"Then you must spend it on yourself, please. No, I'm glad the daffodil
dress wasn't made. I should always have hated myself for having it."

"But you've missed the whole festival," regretted Aunt Barbara.

"Never mind, it's May Day here as well as at Avondale. Look at the lilac
and the columbines, and this bowl of wallflowers! The air is so sweet
and soft now, and there's a thrush's nest in the garden. All the harsh
winds and the cold seem to be gone, and summer has come."

"Yes, summer has indeed come," said Aunt Barbara, gazing, not at the
flowers, but at Dorothy's face, where a new, softened look had replaced
the old frown of discontent.



CHAPTER XIV

Water Plantain


Dorothy returned to Avondale resolved to work doubly hard. There was
certainly plenty to be done if she did not wish to fall behind in her
Form. She had missed many of the lessons, and to recover the ground that
she had lost meant studying the textbooks by herself, and trying to
assimilate endless pages of arrears.

"Yet I must," she thought. "If I leave out the least scrap, that's sure
to be the very piece I shall get in the exam. I'm going over every
single line--though it's cruel translating Virgil and learning Racine in
such big doses. Never mind, Dorothy Greenfield, you've got to do it. I
shan't let you off, however much you hate it."

Faithful to her determination, Dorothy set the alarum in her bedroom for
a quarter to six, and had nearly an hour and a half's study each morning
before Martha called her at 7.15. It was very tempting sometimes to turn
over and go to sleep again; but she soon began to grow quite used to her
early rising, and it seemed almost a shame to stay in bed when the sun
was up, and the thrush was singing cheerily in the elder bush outside.

[Illustration: A NURSING EXPERIENCE]

The aim that Dorothy had in view was so ambitious that she hardly dared
confess it even to herself. Every year a prize was given at Avondale
called the William Scott Memorial. It was thus named after the founder
of the College, who had left a sum of money in his will for the purpose.
It was awarded annually to the girl in any form who obtained the highest
percentage of marks in the examinations. Though it was generally gained
by members of the Sixth, it did not of necessity fall to them; every
girl had an equal opportunity, for it went entirely by their relative
scores, the object being to distinguish the pupil who had worked the
best, irrespective of age.

"I believe it fell once to the Second; but the Sixth have had it for
four years now," thought Dorothy. "Time for a new departure. I don't
suppose I've the slightest ghost of a chance, but it's worth trying. I
shan't mention my hopes to anybody, though--not even to Aunt
Barbara--they're so remote."

Her increased efforts could not fail to win notice, however, at the
College.

"Dorothy Greenfield, you're just swatting!" said Mavie Morris one day.
"I don't believe you'd a fault in your last German exercise, and you
recited all that Virgil without one single slip. What's come over you?"

"Nothing," replied Dorothy, turning a little red. "You talk as if I'd
been committing a crime."

"So you have. You're raising the general average of the standard, and
that's not fair to the rest of the Form. When Pittie sees you with three
'excellents' to your name, she thinks I ought to do the same."

"Why can't you?"

"Why? You ask me why? Do you think I'm going to muddle my brains more
than I can help, just in the middle of the tennis season? You little
know Mavie Morris. No, Dorothy, I've a distinct grievance against you.
There you are now--actually surreptitiously squinting at a book while
I'm talking to you!"

"It's not a lesson book, at any rate; it's from the library," retorted
Dorothy.

"Let me look at it. You humbug, it's a Manual of Botany! I call that
lessons, in all conscience."

"Well, it has jolly coloured illustrations," said Dorothy, trying to
plead extenuating circumstances. "I want to hunt out the names of some
specimens I've found. We have heaps of wild flowers growing in the lanes
at Hurford."

"Whitewashed, but not exonerated! Your manual smacks too much of school
for my taste. Why don't you take a leaf from me and practise tennis?"

"No luck for such a bad server as I am."

"Well, I didn't say you'd win the championship. I've no chance myself
against Val and Margaret. Here's Alison; she'll reason with you. She
isn't on the rising balance of the Form any more than I am myself.
Alison, tell Dorothy to quit this everlasting studying. Don't you agree
with me that it makes it far harder for us slackers?"

Alison laughed good-naturedly. She never troubled much about her own
lessons, for her mother was generally so anxious regarding her health,
and so afraid of her overworking herself, that an hour's preparation
sufficed for her home work--and, indeed, if she took more, Mrs. Clarke
would threaten to complain to Miss Tempest.

"Yes, Dorothy's turning into quite an old bookworm," she replied. "She
even insisted on looking over her Latin in the train this morning. I
can't stand that, because I always like to talk. I don't get too much of
Dorothy's company."

It was still a grievance to Alison that her mother would not sanction
any closer intimacy with her friend. She had hoped, after the visit to
Ringborough, that matters would be on a different footing, and that she
would be allowed to introduce Dorothy at home and invite her frequently.
She could not understand why, for no apparently adequate reason, she
must be debarred from her society. The fact that she was discouraged
from being on too familiar terms had the effect of making her even more
enthusiastic in her affection. There was a strong vein of obstinacy in
her disposition, and if she once took up an idea she was apt to keep to
it.

"Uncle David likes Dorothy," she argued. "He told Mother not to be
ridiculous. I heard him say so. Perhaps in time I shall get my own way."

Mrs. Clarke, anxious not to thwart her darling more than was necessary,
had many times proposed that some other classmate from Avondale should
be asked to Lindenlea. But Alison had flatly refused.

"I can't possibly have Grace Russell or Ruth Harmon without inviting
Dorothy. She'd think it most peculiar and unkind. No, Mother dearest, if
I mayn't have her I'd rather not ask anybody at all."

"But you ought to have young companions, Birdie," protested Mrs. Clarke
fretfully. "Your uncle was speaking to me on that very subject before he
went to Scotland; and he is your guardian, so he is partly responsible
for you. I believe I shall have to send you to a boarding school after
all."

"No, no; I should be miserable, and so would you without me. I'd hate to
leave the Coll. Don't worry, Motherkins, Uncle David shan't lecture you.
Naughty fellow! I won't be friends with him if he hints at boarding
school again."

"I shall certainly talk it over with him when he returns from Lochaber,"
said Mrs. Clarke.

"When is he coming back? Is he really going to take a house near here,
Mother?"

"I don't know. He may possibly settle in the South, in which case I
should certainly decide to remove, and to go and live near him."

"Oh, please no! I don't want to leave Latchworth or the Coll.,"
protested Alison.

Alison was indeed absolutely happy at Avondale. For a day school the
arrangements were perfect, and there were many features of the course
there which suited her tastes. She liked the Ambulance Guild and the
Tennis Club, and both the gymnasium and the laboratory were large and
specially well equipped, far more so than in most boarding schools. This
term, also, Miss Carter, the science mistress, had begun a very
interesting series of Nature Study lessons, which included birds and
insects, and made a special point of botany; and Alison, who adored
flowers, threw herself into it heart and soul. It was the one subject
over which she really gave herself much trouble. She collected specimens
and pressed them, identified them from the big volumes of "Sowerby" in
the library at Lindenlea, mounted them on sheets of cardboard, and
printed their names neatly underneath.

"I shall have something to send to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition," she
said, "though I'm no good at anything else."

"No good! Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Dorothy.

"True, my dear! Have you ever seen me top at an exam., or even second?
Why, I only get 'excellent' once in a blue moon, and then I'm so
astonished, I think it must be a mistake! I'm not picked out to play at
school concerts, or recite, or act, or show off in any way. Oh, don't
think I'm complaining! I don't crave for notoriety. There's nothing I
detest worse than having to perform in public. But pressed flowers are
different. I can do them in private at home, and let them be seen
without exhibiting myself. I wish I could find a few more specimens. I
believe I've picked everything that's to be had at Latchworth."

"Miss Carter promised she'd take us a botanizing ramble some afternoon,"
said Dorothy.

"So she did. We must keep her to her word. Let us try to catch her now
in the corridor, and see if we can get her to name a definite day. Ask
Mavie and Grace to come too. They're the keenest next to us."

The little group of enthusiasts waylaid the mistress as she came out of
the library, and, reminding her of the projected expedition, nailed her
to the point.

"Very well, we will decide on next Saturday afternoon, provided, of
course, that it's a fine day," replied Miss Carter.

"And the place?" asked Alison.

"I think we can't do better than Beechfield. We could walk along the
embankment to Longacre, and take the train back from there. We ought to
find plenty of flowers on the way."

"And we might stop and have tea somewhere," suggested Alison, who was
determined to make an outing of it.

"Yes, so we might. There's an inn by the river about half-way to
Longacre, and several cottages that cater for visitors."

"We can start quite early, I suppose?"

"I'll look up the railway guide, and pin a programme on the notice board
to-morrow."

"There, you see!" said Alison, as the deputation returned in triumph,
"there's nothing like sticking to a thing. I believe in people keeping
promises when they make them."

"We shall have a ripping afternoon. Miss Carter is ever so jolly."

"And I expect she'll be jollier still when she's 'off duty'."

Notwithstanding the tempting nature of the programme, only ten put down
their names for the botanizing expedition. In summer there were many
diversions for Saturday's holiday--the tennis season was in full swing,
and the girls had attractions at their own homes that outweighed a
country ramble.

"It's far nicer without too many," declared Alison. "I've been school
excursions before, at Leamstead, and it's generally so hard to get
everybody to come along. Half the party is always lagging behind, and
then a dozen come running up and want all the explanations over again,
just when the mistress has finished describing something. You waste an
immense amount of time in collecting people. I mean to stick to Miss
Carter like glue the whole afternoon."

"Absorbing information like a piece of blotting-paper!" laughed Mavie.
"Quite a new character for you, Alison Clarke."

"Don't mock. You're as keen on going as I am myself."

The ten Nature students met Miss Carter at Coleminster station at
half-past two on the Saturday, and started off for Beechfield, which was
on a different line from Hurford and Latchworth. Neither Dorothy nor
Alison knew the place, so to them at least it had the charm of novelty.

"I've often walked over the fields to Longacre," said Grace Russell,
"but I don't mind going again. It will seem fresh if we're looking for
flowers. I like an object when I'm out."

"And I like the fun of being out, object or no object," said Mavie. "I
honestly confess I'm looking forward to tea-time."

"You shameless materialist!" said Miss Carter. "You shan't have a single
cup unless you can name a dozen flowers. I shall put you through an
examination first."

"I'll be attentive--with tea as my goal."

There was no doubt about it--Miss Carter was jolly. She talked and joked
as merrily as the girls themselves, climbed stiles with agility, and,
much to her pupils' amusement, exhibited an abject terror of cows.

"It was born in me, and I can't conquer it," she declared. "I suppose
it's partly because I'm town-bred. The very sight of their horns puts me
in a panic."

"I'll walk along first and shoo them away with my umbrella," said
Dorothy, laughing.

"What heroism! I really envy your courage. To me the pleasures of botany
are sadly spoilt by cows; there is invariably one in the meadow where I
want to pick my best specimens."

In spite of her real or pretended fears, Miss Carter ventured to take
the path which led over the fields to Longacre. It was a pretty walk,
partly through a park shaded with beautiful trees, and partly along an
embankment which formed the remains of an ancient fortification against
the Danes. The hay was still uncut, so the fields were full of flowers,
and without unduly trespassing into the long grass the girls were able
to pick many specimens. Alison kept to her intention of sticking to Miss
Carter, and scarcely left her side; she enjoyed the explanations, and
passed them on to Mavie, who was collecting her dozen plants with
ostentatious zeal. Dorothy was told off as policeman to bring up
stragglers.

"We shall never get there at all if you can't keep together and come
along," said Miss Carter. "I can see a little peep of the river, and one
chimney of the inn over there in the distance. Don't you feel inclined
for tea?"

"Rather!" agreed the girls, making a spurt.

The inn was one of those small, wayside places common in rural
districts. It catered for anglers and tourists, and had a pretty,
flowery garden, set with wooden benches and tables ready for picnic
parties. It was a suitable spot for a halt; everyone felt warm with the
walk, and disposed to welcome the sight of cups and saucers.

"How sweet it is here!" said Alison to Dorothy. "Something smells
perfectly delicious--I don't know what."

"I think it must be honeysuckle down by the river."

"Then let us go and see. It's rather early for honeysuckle; I haven't
found any out yet. It might perhaps be a sweetbrier. Tea isn't quite
ready, so we shall have plenty of time."

The two girls strolled out of the garden and down a short lane that led
to the river. It was beautiful there--the grassy banks were white with
tall, lacy, umbelliferous plants, and groups of willows drooped their
picturesque, shimmering boughs over the water.

"Look at the old weir," said Alison. "I believe there used to be a mill
here once, only it isn't working now. Dorothy, what's that growing in
the river? Isn't it water plantain?"

"It looks uncommonly like it."

"I must have a piece--I positively must! How can we get some? Do you
think we could walk along the edge of the weir and reach it? It's only a
few yards off."

"I dare say we might, if we could hold on to those willows."

"Let us try. Give me your hand."

"It's rather slippery," said Dorothy, as she essayed to follow.

Catching on to the branches of a willow, the two girls stepped
cautiously along the uncovered stones at the edge of the weir towards
the spot where the water plantain was growing so temptingly.

"There's a splendid piece almost within reach," said Alison. "Stick
tight to my hand, Dorothy, and I'll bend over. I'm within an inch of
it."

"Be careful!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Don't pull!"

But her warning came too late. Alison, in her effort to grasp the
plantain, put her weight on her friend, and to support the strain
Dorothy leaned backwards. Alison, snatching a piece of the flower,
suddenly released the tension; the pair swayed for an instant,
overbalanced, and then slipped, shrieking, down the sloping side of the
weir.



CHAPTER XV

A Confession


The two girls sank into the pool below, then, rising to the surface,
caught with frantic fingers at a rotten willow bough that overhung the
water. Neither could swim, and in desperate plight they clung to the
frail and insecure support. Almost choked with their dipping, their hair
and clothes streaming, they still managed to call vigorously for help.
But already their weight was splitting the decayed old willow: there was
an ominous crack, a sudden rending, a piteous cry, and, still clutching
the severed branch, they went whirling down the river. Mercifully their
first wild shriek had been heard, and a farmer who lived at the old
millhouse by the weir had come running instantly from his garden. He
arrived on the scene just as the branch broke, and wading into the water
he contrived to catch Dorothy, who was the nearer, and to drag her into
safety. But when he turned to look for her companion, Alison had drifted
along with the stream, and was out of his reach. He could not swim, so
he ran back towards the inn, shouting for help. At the sound of his
cries the stable boy and several others came rushing down the field.

"Fetch a rope!"

"Where's the boat?"

"Cut a long pole!"

"She'll drown while you're doing it!"

"For Heaven's sake don't let her go down again!"

"I can only swim a few strokes, but I'll try if I can reach her,"
exclaimed the stable boy, flinging off his coat and plunging into the
river, which was shallow for a yard or so at the edge.

Venturing out of his depth, he grasped Alison by her dress, then turned,
floundering hopelessly towards the bank. For a moment it seemed as if
both lives must surely be lost, but with a desperate effort the boy
managed to keep himself afloat, and to reach the hand of one of the men
who had waded out to meet him. Between them they pulled the unconscious
girl from the water and laid her on the grass.

"She's gone!"

"No, no; I've seen worse than her as came round."

"Take 'em both into the inn and send Sam on his bike for the doctor."

The first intimation of the accident which Miss Carter received was the
sight of Dorothy walking dripping wet up the garden, followed by a
group of men carrying Alison. She was a woman of sound, practical
common sense, and after the first momentary shock was over she set to
work at once to administer treatment for the drowning, with the help of
the other members of the Guild who were present. Their combined efforts
were so successful that by the time the doctor arrived they had
succeeded in restoring animation.

Dorothy, rolled up in hot blankets, was little the worse for her
immersion, and did not need attention; but the medical man looked grave
when he saw Alison.

"She is suffering from severe collapse. Have you sent for her mother?"
he asked.

Miss Sherbourne and Mrs. Clarke had both been summoned by telegram. They
drove up within five minutes of each other. Poor Mrs. Clarke's frantic,
white-lipped agony was terrible to witness.

"You must save her! She's all I have in the world!" she cried, turning
desperately, almost fiercely, upon the doctor.

"Madam, I use my utmost skill, but life and death are in greater hands
than mine," he replied.

For many hours Alison's life trembled in the balance. The district nurse
had been sent for, and with the doctor watched the case anxiously all
night through. At length, when morning dawned, a turn came for the
better.

"Let her sleep now and she'll do," said Dr. Hall to the nurse. "Can't
we get her mother out of the room somehow?"

"Miss Sherbourne is downstairs. I know her, and I dare say she will
help," suggested the nurse.

Aunt Barbara had also spent the night at the inn, partly because she
thought it wiser to let Dorothy keep warm in bed, instead of attempting
to remove her; and partly because she felt she could not leave till she
knew that Alison was out of danger. She had sat up, hoping that she
might be of assistance, though she had not liked to intrude her presence
into the sick-room until she was asked. She came now at the nurse's
request, and gently persuaded poor worn-out Mrs. Clarke to go downstairs
and have some hot tea, which the inn-keeper's wife had made ready.

"It is better to leave the room in absolute quiet for a while," she
said. "Nurse is keeping watch, and indeed the doctor says there is no
further cause for anxiety."

Mrs. Clarke's hand shook as she held her cup.

"I can hardly realize yet that she is safe. Oh, if you knew how I have
suffered! My head is on fire. I want to go out into the air," she
replied pantingly.

The light was breaking clearly in the east, and Miss Sherbourne opened
the front door. The two women stepped together into the garden.

"Everything seems quiet," said Mrs. Clarke, looking up at Alison's
window. "You are sure, if there is the slightest change, that Nurse will
call me? Then let us walk across the lawn. I want to talk to you. I must
speak now--at once, while I have the courage."

"Shall we sit here?" said Miss Sherbourne, indicating a bench that faced
the dawn.

The hour was strangely beautiful. The sky, flushing in tints of rose and
mauve, heralded the rising sun; the bushes were still masses of rich,
warm shadow, but a group of turn-cap lilies stood out fair and golden
against the dark background, shedding their heavy fragrance around. A
thrush had begun to stir in the laburnum tree, and piped his fine mellow
notes; and a blackbird answered from the elm opposite. The world was
waking to another day of wonderful, pulsing life.

"Weeping and heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the
morning," murmured Aunt Barbara softly.

Mrs. Clarke sat for a few moments gazing at the quiet scene. She was
still intensely agitated, and kept clasping and unclasping her hands
nervously upon her knee.

"I must speak," she began again hurriedly. "If I do not tell you now,
the resolution may go. When I saw my darling lie there, at the very gate
of death, I knew it was a judgment upon me for my long silence--my
criminal silence."

She paused, as if scarcely able to continue. She was weeping bitterly,
and her restless fingers pulled to pieces a rose that she had plucked
from a bush as she passed.

"I hardly know how to explain everything," she went on at last, "but
perhaps it will make it clearer if I begin at the beginning, and relate
the story of my life. Have you the patience to hear it? My sister
Madeleine and I were twins. My mother died in our infancy, and left no
other children, so we two were everything to each other. My father was a
clever but eccentric man, a student and an astronomer. He had never been
fond of company, and after my mother's death he shut himself up more
closely than ever, and became quite a recluse, devoting himself entirely
to his books and his telescope. Though he was fond of us in his way, we
did not see much of him, and he was always so reserved and silent that
we were shy and constrained in his presence. When we were old enough to
leave school, our life at home, in a remote country grange, with little
society to be had in the neighbourhood, was dull and triste in the
extreme. Just after our twenty-first birthday, we made the acquaintance
of two brothers who were staying at a house in the adjoining parish, and
the friendship soon ripened into a warmer feeling on both sides.

"David Clarke, the elder, fell in love with my sister Madeleine, and
Herbert, the younger, with myself. When we broached the subject to my
father, however, he professed great indignation, and forbade either of
the young Clarkes to come to the house. It was extremely arbitrary and
unjust of him to behave thus, for he had no reasonable objections to
raise against them. I can only imagine that he was annoyed that he had
not been taken earlier into our confidence, and hurt that we wished to
leave him. Perhaps, also, he may have had some other matrimonial
projects in his mind for us, though he never made the slightest attempt
to introduce us to any suitable friends. Can you imagine the situation?
Two impulsive, motherless girls in the lonely old house, with no one to
counsel us or help to smooth away any of our difficulties! Our lovers
had business in India, and were shortly leaving the country; and the
idea of parting from them was terrible to us. They pleaded and urged, so
what wonder that there were clandestine meetings, and that one morning
we took the law into our own hands and made a double runaway match of
it? We were both of age, and could therefore legally marry whom we
chose.

"We tried to make peace with our father after the weddings, but he
utterly refused to see us, and we were obliged to start for India
without having received his forgiveness. Within a year we had news of
his death. I think he had been in failing health for some time, and
perhaps on that account had been the more loath to part with us; but he
had shown us so little tenderness that we had never realized that he
wished for our sympathy or affection. Now that I have a child of my own,
I regret that I was not a better daughter to him. In his will he showed
that he had not pardoned either us or our husbands. He left only a small
annuity each to Madeleine and myself, and the bulk of his estate in
trust for his first grandchild. My sister Madeleine's little girl was
born a fortnight before mine, so it was she, and not Alison, who
inherited her grandfather's fortune. I was very angry at the injustice
of the proceeding. It seemed to me monstrously unfair that my little
one, because she came into the world a fortnight too late, should be
deprived of what in all equity ought to have been hers. I was the elder
of the twins, and I considered that any preference should have been in
my favour. I was anxious to bring a lawsuit, and try to upset the will
and cause the estate to be equally divided between my sister and myself,
but our solicitor assured me I had no legal case, and should only
involve myself in endless proceedings and costs. Madeleine and I were
too much attached to each other to have an open quarrel, and before her
I managed to hide my bitter disappointment. We were about to be
separated, for my husband was returning to England, while hers was still
remaining in India. I was thankful afterwards that we had parted on such
good terms, for I never saw her again. Only a few days after our steamer
started she succumbed to a sudden epidemic of cholera that swept over
the place where they were living, and the telegram announcing her death
met me at Port Said. I had loved her dearly, and the blow was cruel. But
there was a harder one still in store for me. My husband, whose ill
health had been the cause of our leaving India, became rapidly worse,
and before I even realized the extent of the danger, he too was taken
from me. In a single year I had lost father, sister, and husband, and at
twenty-three I found myself a young widow, with an only child.

"At this juncture my brother-in-law, David Clarke, returned to England,
bringing his motherless baby in charge of an ayah. He did not intend to
stay, only to settle a few necessary business matters and to make some
arrangement for his little girl, who was delicate, and could not be
reared in India. He had no near relations of his own who were willing to
be troubled with the child, so he asked me if I would undertake to bring
her up with mine, and I accepted the charge. I was drawn to little
Rosamond for her mother's sake, though I could never forgive her for
being a fortnight older than her cousin. So everything was settled. I
took a house in Scotland for the summer, which I thought would be
healthy for the children, and I sent Alison on there in advance with her
own nurse. The ayah who had brought Rosamond from India was to return in
the same ship as my brother-in-law, who was starting immediately for
Madras. He wanted to see his baby till the very last, so I accompanied
him to London, taking with me Mrs. Burke, a respectable woman who had
once been a maid at my father's house, and was now married, to act as
temporary nurse after the ayah's departure.

"When the last good-byes were said, and my brother-in-law and the ayah
had started, I found I wished to do some shopping in London before I
went north. It is awkward and inconvenient to keep a baby at a hotel, so
I determined to send Mrs. Burke with my little niece to Scotland, where
my own responsible nurse was already settled in charge of Alison. I took
them to the station and saw them safely off in the express. In a few
days I intended to follow them. That very night, as I sat at dinner in
the hotel, I heard the newsboys shouting 'Special edition', and learnt
of a terrible northern railway smash. I set off by the first available
train for the scene of the disaster. It was impossible to get beyond
Burkden, for the line was disorganized, but I hired a carriage and went
on to Greenfield. The first point to be ascertained was whether my niece
was among the victims. I wasted some time enquiring at the railway
offices, and it was not till late in the afternoon that I saw a
newspaper poster with the heading: 'Baby's Wonderful Escape from the
Accident'. It was only after further investigations and delays that I
learnt the child was being taken care of by its rescuer at the Red Lion
Hotel. Do you remember how I came into the inn parlour that evening? The
scene is stamped vividly upon my memory. You sat by the fireside with
the baby on your knee; the light falling from the hanging lamp above
made a picture of you both. It had taken a fancy to you, though it was
always shy with me, and its soft little cheek was pressed against your
face. I looked at it, and I think if it had given one sign of
recognition, or held out its arms to me, I should have claimed it. But
it took no notice at all, and my heart hardened against it. A terrible
temptation assailed me. If I disowned the baby, nobody would ever know
its identity. It would be so easy to tell its father that it had
perished in the fire; there could be no positive evidence about any of
the victims of the disaster. If it were out of the way, then my baby
would inherit the fortune which I had always considered was my due. I
was not left well off, and money meant so much to me. I had not been
brought up to study economy, and I hated to be poor. I am a good judge
of character, and I knew from your face that you would not abandon the
child you had saved. I thought Fate had interfered forcibly, and had
given it into your keeping instead of mine. At the moment it seemed to
me a direct interposition of Providence, and a sign that my father's
inheritance was not intended to be lost to me after all. Before me stood
a great choice--the good of my sister's little one, or my own--and I
chose my own. The sequel proved easy--only too easy. I said the baby I
had seen at the inn was not my niece, and nobody doubted my word. My
brother-in-law and the ayah were already on their way to India, Mrs.
Burke was dead, and no one else was likely to raise the question of
identity. The portrait circulated in the newspapers was such a poor
snapshot that neither my nurse nor any of Mr. Clarke's relations
recognized it. They had not known the child intimately; they had only
seen her once or twice in her ayah's arms. Before I left the Red Lion at
Greenfield I ascertained your name--I scarcely knew why; it seemed an
instinct at the moment. I wished to forget it, but it remained all the
same--one of those things which it is impossible to wine from one's
remembrance.

"Years went by, years of prosperity, for in trust for Alison I was a
rich woman. I tried to banish all thoughts of Rosamond, and to justify
my action to myself, yet in my inmost heart I knew I had sinned. For
some time I lived in the Midlands, but Leamstead did not suit my little
girl's health, so I removed to Latchworth. When Alison started to go to
the College and I first saw Dorothy in the train, I was immediately
struck with her appearance. I could not think of whom she reminded me;
her eyes haunted me continually. One day I came home and found that she
had been at our house in my absence, and that Alison was full of her
resemblance to the portrait of my sister Madeleine which hung in the
drawing room. Then I knew, even without the extra links that made the
connection only too plain--the story of her adoption, which Alison had
heard at school; the very name of Dorothy Greenfield, and your name,
which I had not succeeded in forgetting. Alarmed at the recognition, I
forbade Alison to invite her again, and in every way in my power
discouraged the acquaintance between the two girls. I thought of
removing from Latchworth, but I had taken my house on a lease and spent
much on improving it. Everything appeared to conspire against me: first
Alison's extreme affection for Dorothy, then our meeting at the Hydro.,
where my brother-in-law, unaware of her identity, was so charmed with
his daughter. Then came Alison's visit to your cottage on the afternoon
when I fetched her in the pony trap. I at once recognized your servant
as the one I had seen in the inn parlour at Greenfield, and I could tell
by her face that she remembered me. It seemed as if Fate, whom I thought
I had conquered so successfully, was dogging my footsteps. I felt my
position was most unsafe, and only yesterday afternoon I definitely
decided to sacrifice the improvements I had made at Lindenlea and to
remove to the south of England, where there would be no further chance
of Dorothy crossing our path.

"As if in direct consequence of my determination followed this terrible
accident. It seemed to me like Heaven's vengeance on my sin. Was my
innocent child to suffer as the scapegoat for my wrongdoing? I vowed to
God that if in His mercy He would spare her life, I would make a full
confession and reparation, no matter what it cost me. There, I have told
you the whole. Do you despise me utterly? Can you possibly ever forgive
me that I deliberately thrust the child upon you, and let you bear so
heavy a burden all this time? Her own father will be only too thankful
to take her now."

Miss Sherbourne's face was turned towards the golden streak of dawn. For
a few moments she was silent.

"We have both so much to be thankful for this morning, that it makes it
easier to forgive," she said at last. "Yes, the wrong must be righted,
and father and daughter restored to each other; but I am glad I was able
to keep my little Dorothy for my own those fourteen happy years."



CHAPTER XVI

The William Scott Prize


Dorothy, who was little the worse for her dangerous experience, went
home on the morning following the accident, but it was several days
before Alison was able to be removed from the inn. She was not a strong
girl, and the fright and immersion combined had produced a state of
complete exhaustion. The quiet and rest which the doctor prescribed had,
however, their due effect, and by the end of a week she began to seem
her old self again. The surprise of the two girls when later they learnt
the news of their relationship can be imagined. Mrs. Clarke wrote to her
brother-in-law, making a full avowal of everything; and though at first
he found it hard to grant her the forgiveness she implored, his delight
at finding his daughter alive outweighed his anger at the long and cruel
course of deception that had been practised upon him. For the sake of
Alison, to whom he was much attached, he allowed himself to be
reconciled to his sister-in-law, and agreed to forget the past and let
bygones be bygones. Both he and Miss Sherbourne decided emphatically
that Mrs. Clarke's share in the story must be kept a strict secret among
themselves; it was most undesirable that either Dorothy or Alison should
know of the dishonourable part she had played. To both the girls and the
outside public it was enough to announce, without detailed explanations,
that the mystery of Dorothy's parentage had been solved. Martha, the
only other person who had guessed at the facts of the situation, could
be safely trusted to preserve silence.

"I shall not at present claim for my daughter the fortune which is
legally hers," said Mr. Clarke. "I do not need it, for I have been very
successful financially in India, and am now in comfortable circumstances
and able to retire from business. I could not see my brother's child in
poverty, so the trust money must still be devoted to Alison's benefit.
When Rosamond is twenty-one, and of age to decide such matters for
herself, I hope that she will agree to divide the legacy equally with
her cousin, and thus set right what was originally a most unjust will."

To Dorothy the discovery was both a delight and a pain. It removed the
stigma that she considered had formerly attached to her, and placed her
in the position of other girls as regarded name and family; but it had
certain drawbacks which must be faced. Though she welcomed her
newly-found father, she clung passionately to the one friend who had
hitherto made the sum of her life.

"Aunt Barbara has brought me up and done everything for me. I can't
leave her. I've promised to work for her and take care of her when I am
old enough," she said earnestly.

"I know, child. I know what we owe her. You and I will look after Aunt
Barbara together," replied Mr. Clarke.

Dorothy's news made a great sensation at the College. The romantic story
appealed to the girls, and congratulations poured in upon her. Even Hope
Lawson and Valentine Barnett waxed cordial.

"We've never had such an excitement at school before," declared Ruth
Harmon. "It's the most interesting thing I've ever come across in my
life."

"We don't know what to call you now," laughed Mavie Morris. "You're
Dorothy Greenfield, alias Rosamond Clarke. Which is it to be?"

"Dorothy Greenfield, please, till the end of the term. Next session my
new name can be entered on the College register, and I'll start in a
fresh character."

"Then in the meantime we'll call you Rosador, as a compromise."

There was very little of the term left now, for the examinations were to
begin the next week, and after those were over would come the annual
speech day, which always concluded the school year. Dorothy's studies
had naturally been somewhat upset by the recent course of events, but
she had made an extra spurt at her work, and did not feel herself ill
prepared. She rather liked examinations. She had a clear head and a good
memory, and a neat, concise method of setting forth her information.

"I think it's quite inspiring to see a pile of fresh sheets of foolscap
and a paper of questions," she declared.

"Yes, if you can answer the questions," returned Mavie. "It's a
different matter if one's stumped. I'm utterly against the competitive
system."

Dorothy laughed.

"State your reasons, Mavie," urged Ruth Harmon. "We'll set 'The
Competitive System' as a subject for the Debating Society."

"Well, to begin with, emulation is the wrong spirit in which to promote
work."

"A grand sentiment--but nothing would promote work in you, you dear old
lazybones, so it's no use arguing the point."

"Very well. If I'm content to absorb my knowledge in homeopathic doses,
why must I be worried into swallowing more than I can digest? If I were
running a school I'd allow the clever girls who wanted to go in for
exams, to take them, and let the others alone. I call it sheer cruelty
to put the ordinary rank and file on the rack. Next week will be
purgatory to me. You'll see me pining day by day, and gradually wasting
away."

In spite of Mavie's forebodings, she survived the ordeal of the
examination, and presented her usual appearance of robust health at the
end of the dreaded period.

"I've done badly, though," she protested. "I expect I've failed in at
least half my subjects. The maths. was detestable and the geometry
simply wicked. Rosador, you're looking very smug. I believe you liked
the papers."

"They weren't bad, as papers go," returned Dorothy. She did not care to
boast, but she was conscious that she had done well, and reached a mark
far above her average standard.

"Still, one never knows," she thought. "Exams. are uncertain things, and
heaps of other girls may have done better than I have. I just won't
think about the results."

Governors' Day, as it was popularly called, was always rather a grand
occasion at Avondale. The school was a famous one in the town, and
numbered among its pupils many who came from the best families in
Coleminster. The governors liked to assure the parents that the College
was keeping up its well-earned reputation for efficiency, and to give
some opportunity for a general exhibition of the work done during the
year. With this end in view, the programme was representative of all
branches of the curriculum. A show of drawings, paintings, and
handicrafts done by the art classes was on view in the studio; the
collections of pressed flowers and natural objects made in connection
with the Nature Study Union were put up round the walls of the museum;
and the Charity Basket garments contributed by the Ambulance Guild were
spread out in the Juniors' Common Room. There were to be recitations in
French and German, songs and instrumental music, speeches by the
governors, and the head mistress's report on the examination results and
the general progress of the whole school.

"I like the dear old Coll. when it's turned upside down like this," said
Ruth Harmon, who, with Dorothy, had been told off as a steward for the
occasion. "What a fearful cram! The people are simply pouring in. I
don't know how we're to find seats for everybody."

"It is amazing how many the room will hold," said Dorothy. "They're
bringing in more chairs, and people will have to sit very close together
on the benches."

Dorothy was looking charming that afternoon, with an unwonted colour in
her cheeks, and her fluffy brown hair tied back with a blue ribbon that
matched the tasteful dress her father had provided for her. All the old
angularity had slipped away from her lately, and a new graciousness and
sweetness had taken its place.

"Dorothy Greenfield is like a hard, tight bud that has suddenly opened
into a flower," commented Miss Carter, who was quick to notice the
improvement.

The lecture hall was filling rapidly with guests, and the stewards had
to be indefatigable in their exertions.

"I want to be here, there, and everywhere at once," said Ruth. "I wish I
were a conjurer, and could contrive two chairs out of one. Someone is
smiling at you near the door, Dorothy."

It was Percy Helm, who, with his father and mother and Eric, was making
his way through the crush. Dorothy went to meet them and find them
places.

"Gabrielle is on the platform with the chorus, and Norma is among her
own Form," she whispered.

"And where are you going to sit?" asked Percy.

"Oh, I'm a wandering Jew at present. I shall slip in somewhere at the
last."

Promptly at three o'clock the proceedings began, and Dorothy, her duties
over for the present, found a corner that had been reserved for her on
the platform. From her seat she had a very good view of the hall. How
pretty it looked, she thought, with its decorations of flags and
flowers, and its throng of interested faces! In the fifth row, not very
far away, she could see her father with Mrs. Clarke, and dear Aunt
Barbara. Dr. and Mrs. Longton were also present, and the Vicar of
Hurford and his wife. The Helms were beaming at her from the back row.

"All my best friends are here to-day," said Dorothy to herself.

The first part of the programme was musical; glees were sung by picked
members of the singing classes, and a few solos, both vocal and
instrumental, were given. Alison, who had been taking violin lessons,
played in a quartette and acquitted herself very creditably, in spite of
a sudden panic of bashfulness. She came and sat beside Dorothy as soon
as her part was finished.

"I'm so thankful it's over," she whispered. "I do so hate doing anything
in public. I could see Mother looking at me all the time; I believe she
was as nervous as myself. My hand shook so dreadfully at first, I could
hardly hold my bow."

"Never mind, it sounded quite right," replied Dorothy. "Everybody
applauded, especially Father."

"Yes, I saw Uncle David clapping hard. When are the exam. lists to be
read? Have you heard?"

"Not until after the interval, so Miss Pitman says. They're to come with
the speeches."

The recitations passed off well, Grace Russell, the only member of the
Upper Fourth who took part in them, distinguishing herself particularly.

"Grace is A1 at languages," commented Alison. "She gets that tripping
French accent most beautifully."

At four o'clock there was an interval, and the audience adjourned for
tea and to see the exhibits. Alison's collection of pressed flowers was
among those on view in the museum, and she bore off her particular
circle of friends to look at it.

"It's got 'Highly Commended'," she remarked gleefully. "Uncle David,
that's the very piece of rock rose you climbed up the cliff to pick for
me--don't you remember it? Miss Sherbourne, you sent me that catchfly
from Hurford. I got most of my flowers at Latchworth, and just a few
from Beechfield. Do you recognize this? It's the water plantain. The
innkeeper at Longacre brought me a big bunch of it just before I left.
Wasn't it kind of him? I keep it as a specimen, and as a memento of my
dipping as well."

Alison spoke brightly. She had not been told how serious her collapse
had been after her rescue from the river; and she little knew what an
important share the water plantain had played in bringing about the
happy reunion between her uncle and cousin.

"Dorothy has 'Commended' for her drawing from the cast," she continued,
dragging Uncle David to the other side of the room. "Isn't it good? It's
the head of Clytie up there, so you can see how like it is. And we've
both got 'Neatly Rendered' for our Guild garments. Yes, yes, Uncle; you
must come and see them, even if you don't know anything about sewing.
Mine's the flannel jacket, and Dorothy's is the child's nightdress. We
did every stitch of them ourselves."

"Did you bake the cake that has just disagreed with me at tea?" enquired
Mr. Clarke, with a twinkle in his eye.

"No, you naughty man! We don't have cookery classes. When we do, I'll
take care to bring something home, and insist upon your eating it, every
crumb. Now, we've shown you all our exhibits, and we must go downstairs
again and take our places. The speechifying is going to begin directly."

The second part of the programme represented the real business of the
afternoon. Alderman Herbert, the chairman of the committee of the
College, gave an opening address upon the general aims and objects of
the system of education pursued at the school; and this was followed by
Miss Tempest's report on the work done during the year. Then came the
examination lists. Dorothy listened eagerly. She had done well,
certainly; but until the final scores were read, it was impossible to
compare her results with those of the top girls in other Forms. She was
the best in the Upper Fourth, but probably one of the divisions of the
Sixth might be able to produce an even higher record.

At the end of the lists Miss Tempest paused.

"Before continuing," she said, "I should like to give a word of
explanation as to the terms upon which the William Scott Memorial is
awarded. It is a prize which was bequeathed by the founder of the
College to be given annually to whichever girl has gained the highest
percentage of marks in the examinations. This year the honour falls to
the Upper Fourth Form, where Dorothy Greenfield has gained 987 out of a
possible 1000."

Dorothy listened like one in a dream. She could scarcely believe the
evidence of her own ears. But it was true, for Alison was nudging her,
and the other girls were whispering to her to "go forward". Very shyly
she rose and walked to the front of the platform, where Alderman Herbert
was beckoning her.

"I think we may all congratulate the lucky winner of the William Scott
Memorial," he said, laying a kindly hand on Dorothy's shoulder. "Such
success can only be the result of hard work and sustained effort. The
Upper Fourth may well be proud of its record. I have much pleasure, my
dear, in presenting you with this watch, which has been chosen for the
prize."

As he spoke, he handed Dorothy a morocco case, and taking the beautiful
little blue-enamelled watch from its satin bed, he pinned it on to her
dress. The audience broke into a storm of applause. Dorothy had grown
popular lately among the girls, and many of their parents had heard of
the strange circumstances of her loss and finding. She received quite an
ovation as she stood, smiling and blushing, by the side of the chairman.

"I'm so delighted," exclaimed Alison, as Dorothy returned to her place.
"Let me look. Oh, what a ducky little watch! It's the prettiest I've
ever seen. But it isn't _that_ I care about so much--it's the honour of
winning. To think that our Form has got the Memorial! You dear, clever,
industrious busy bee! I can't tell you how proud I am you're my
relation."

"I'm glad my last appearance as Dorothy Greenfield has been a favourable
one," laughed Dorothy. "Next term I shall be on the school register as
Rosamond Clarke."

       *       *       *       *       *

And here we must take leave of the cousins, for their story is all
told. Mr. Clarke has bought a charming house at Latchworth, and is very
busy furnishing it so that it may be ready for a certain occasion to
which he is looking forward greatly. He is tired of Indian life, and has
decided to settle down permanently in England. Dorothy is keenly
interested in her new home, and especially pleased that it is so near to
Lindenlea, and that she and Alison can still travel by train together to
the College. As for Aunt Barbara, before the summer is over Dorothy will
have learnt to call her by a dearer name still, and Holly Cottage will
be to let.



Transcriber's Notes:

Punctuation has been standardised. Changes have been made as follows:

    Page 166
    he had the good manners to conceal her _changed to_
    she had the good manners to conceal her

    Page 19

    emissaries of Doris Earnshaw and Noelle Kennedy _changed to_
    emissaries of Doris Earnshaw and Noëlle Kennedy





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