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Title: Just Gerry
Author: Chaundler, Christine, 1887-1972
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 "Just Gerry" ***

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[Illustration: Front end paper]



[Frontispiece: "MURIEL!  I CAN'T GET RIGHT WAY UP"]



JUST GERRY


BY

CHRISTINE CHAUNDLER



LONDON

NISBET & CO. LTD.

22 BERNERS STREET, W.1

1920



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY MORRISON AND GIBB LIMITED, EDINBURGH



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

  The Fourth Form Detectives
  A Fourth Form Rebel
  The Reputation of the Upper Fourth
  The Reformation of Dormitory Five
  Jan of the Fourth
  The Thirteenth Orphan
  Snuffles for Short



CONTENTS


CHAP.

     I.  CUBICLE THIRTEEN
    II.  AN INTRODUCTION
   III.  THE WAYS OF WAKEHURST PRIORY
    IV.  AN INCIDENT IN THE DARK
     V.  A CARICATURE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
    VI.  THE GERMAN LESSON
   VII.  GERALDINE MAKES A FRIEND
  VIII.  MAINLY CONCERNING A MOUSE
    IX.  AN INTERVIEW WITH THE HEAD GIRL
     X.  THE DORMITORY MATCH
    XI.  A LESSON IN HOCKEY
   XII.  THE NEW FORM-MISTRESS
  XIII.  A BREAK IN THE CLOUDS
   XIV.  CHESTNUTS
    XV.  THE LOWER FIFTH IS MUTE
   XVI.  A GREAT DECISION
  XVII.  INTO THE LION'S MOUTH
 XVIII.  THE END OF THE STRIKE
   XIX.  THE LITTLE BLACK DOG
    XX.  AN AFTERNOON AT GYM
   XXI.  HECTOR OR PARIS?
  XXII.  THE DORMITORY FINAL
 XXIII.  THE PLUCK OF GERMAN GERRY
  XXIV.  THE LOWER FIFTH MAKES AMENDS
   XXV.  CLOUDS ARE ROLLED AWAY



JUST GERRY


CHAPTER I

CUBICLE THIRTEEN

The new girl sat on the edge of her bed, and gazed round at the small
domain which for the next three months would be the one spot in this
strange new world of school that she could call her own.

It was really quite a nice cubicle, some eight feet wide by ten feet
long--just large enough to contain a small white-counterpaned bed, a
dressing-table and chest of drawers combined, a small washhand stand, a
big wooden locker, and one chintz-covered arm-chair drawn up below the
broad sill of the opened window.  The cubicle walls were white, the
furniture white-enamelled; while the curtain which cut the small
compartment off from the rest of the dormitory, the toilet-cover on the
dressing-table, and the covering of the arm-chair were all of a dainty
cream-coloured chintz with a pretty pink rosebud pattern stencilled
upon it.  Everything was certainly very nice--much nicer than the new
girl had expected--and she looked around with a certain amount of
satisfaction.  Perhaps after all school would not be the dreadful place
she had imagined it would be.  Here, at least, would be a place of
refuge if the world outside should prove too hard and unfriendly.

Number Thirteen--the numbers were painted outside on the doorposts--was
the only cubicle in the Pink Dormitory across which the shielding
curtain was drawn.  In all the other cubicles unpacking was taking
place in full publicity.  Rules were in abeyance on this the first day
of term, and the dormitory hummed with the shrill chatter that was
going on all around.  The school was reassembling for the autumn term,
and there were many accounts of holiday doings to be retailed, and much
conjecturing going on respecting new girls, new mistresses, new
prefects, and new rules.  The school year at Wakehurst Priory began
with the autumn term, and any changes in the staff or the school
routine were usually made then.

Cubicle Number Twelve was as yet unoccupied, but when the bustle of
unpacking was at its height, a newcomer burst into the dormitory and
rushed helter-skelter down the long corridor, calling out cheerful
greetings to various occupants of the cubicles as she passed.  Reaching
Number Twelve, she tumbled her coat and hat and handbag unceremoniously
on to the bed, and flung back the curtain of the next-door cubicle with
a gay call of greeting.

"What on earth do you want to go pulling your curtains for, you old
curmudgeon?" she cried impetuously, then stopped short in sudden
surprise at the sight of the strange girl who was sitting on the bed.

"Who the dickens are you?" she ejaculated.  "And what in the world are
you doing in Dorothy Pemberton's cubicle?"

The new girl gave a startled jump and rose to her feet.  She was a
tall, slight girl, some fifteen years old, taller by a couple of inches
than her inquisitor, and apparently older.  But in spite of her
seniority she looked at the intruder in a frightened sort of way, and
replied nervously to her questioning.

"I--I--don't know.  They told me it was my cubicle," she answered,
shrinking away from this alarming intruder.

"_Who_ told you?" demanded Phyllis Tressider, in such a truculent tone
that the new girl retreated yet farther into her cubicle.

"The--the person who showed me here.  She looked like a hospital nurse.
I--I suppose it was one of the mistresses."

"You suppose just wrong, then," replied Phyllis, more briefly than
politely.  "That was Sister.  I suppose if she showed you here she
meant you to stay.  But it's a beastly nuisance, all the same!  Dorothy
Pemberton always has slept in this cubicle, and it's a sickening shame
if she's got to be turned out by a rotten new kid."

The "new kid's" face flushed scarlet.  She was beginning some murmured
apology when the situation was relieved by the entrance of a girl of
about seventeen or eighteen years of age, who was hailed rapturously by
all the other occupants of the Pink Dormitory.  This was Muriel Paget,
head girl of Wakehurst Priory, prefect and monitress as well, and
Phyllis left for the moment her inquisition of the occupant of Cubicle
Thirteen, to join in the chorus of welcome.

"_Muriel_!  How perfectly ripping!  You _don't_ mean to say you are
going to be our monitress this term?  Oh, how quite too splendidly
glorious!  I say, _do_ let me fetch you your hot water in the mornings.
Do--do--there's a dear!"

"No--me--me!" interposed half a dozen voices.  But Muriel held up her
hand in laughing dismay.

"For goodness' sake, chuck it, you kids!  _Nobody_ is going to fetch my
hot water for me.  The maids can do it as they do everybody else's.
I'm not going to have any of that silly rot going on in the Pink Dorm,
if _I'm_ to be monitress here.  So I give you fair warning!"

"You _are_ going to be monitress, then?  Oh, how perfectly
scrumptious!"  And Phyllis Tressider executed a dance of delight.
Muriel laughed again, pleased at her reception.  She enjoyed popularity
as well as most people, although she would allow no unhealthy sentiment
to be lavished upon her.  If people "adored" Muriel Paget, they had to
do it from a distance, and not let the object of their worship know too
much about it, either.  Otherwise they ran a grave risk of "ructions"
with the head girl.  And to be "told off" by Muriel was no joke, as
many of the girls at Wakehurst Priory could testify.

The head girl walked along the corridor towards the monitress's
cubicle, which was at the far end of the dormitory--a bigger and
somewhat more elaborately furnished affair than any of the other
cubicles.  As she passed by Number Thirteen, the curtains of which were
still thrown back, the sight of the new girl and her rather frightened
attitude caught Muriel's eye, and she stopped good-naturedly to speak
to her.

"Hullo!  Somebody new in here?  What's your name, kiddie?" she asked,
ignoring the fact that she was only a couple of years or so older than
the individual she was addressing.

"Geraldine Wilmott," replied the new girl shyly.  Phyllis's unprovoked
attack had unnerved her considerably, and she shrank away from the head
girl's well-meant advances.

"She's got Dorothy Pemberton's cubicle--isn't it a shame?" said
Phyllis, scowling darkly at Geraldine.  "Dorothy's had that cubicle
next to mine for years and years.  It's too bad that we should be
separated now, all because of a new kid."

"Jolly good thing you are to be separated, I think, if I'm to be your
dormitory monitress," replied the head girl, with a smile that took the
sting out of her words.  "One of you alone is bad enough--but you two
together are the limit!  If Sister has really put you into different
dormitories at last, she has my heartfelt gratitude!"

"They're not so far removed after all, worse luck," remarked the
occupant of Number Fourteen, who was just finishing putting away her
belongings in a neatly arranged drawer.  "Dorothy's got Number
Twenty-Nine, the next cubicle to yours, Muriel.  She's in the same
dormitory still."

"Why, Monica, old thing--how are you?  I never saw you hidden away in
there.  Finished your unpacking?  Then come along and talk to me while
I do mine."  And the head girl slipped her arm round Monica Deane and
led her away.  These two were great friends, out-of-school companions
as well as form-mates, although pretty, vivacious Muriel Paget,
brilliant at games and gymnastics as well as at lessons, was a great
contrast to Monica, who, although studious enough, was painstaking and
plodding rather than brilliant; and although keen and reliable at all
sorts of games, would never make much of a mark at them.

Phyllis Tressider remained staring rather sulkily at the new owner of
Number Thirteen, who, deprived of the comforting protection of the head
girl, was growing momentarily more and more nervous under the hostile
scrutiny.  However, there came another interruption almost immediately,
this time in the person of an astonishingly pretty person who flung
herself effusively into Phyllis's arms, to be greeted with a delighted:

"Hullo, Dorothy, old dear!  I am glad to see you again!"

For a few moments Phyllis's attention was diverted from the new girl.
But she was soon recalled to a remembrance of her grievance by
Dorothy's exclamation of surprise at seeing the occupant of her
one-time domain.

"Hullo!  What's up?  Aren't I to be in Number Thirteen this term?"

"No.  Isn't it a shame?" responded Phyllis, her disgust returning.
"You're ever so far away--in Number Twenty-Nine, Monica says.  This
wretched new kid has got your cubicle.  I _do_ think it's mean of
Sister to go turning you out!"

Dorothy's face fell considerably.

"Oh, I say, that's too bad!  Why, I've been in Number Thirteen for ages
and ages.  Can't we get the new kid to change?  Sister would never
remember.  Here, I say, you, what's your name?" addressing the shy and
miserable occupant of Number Thirteen.

The new girl flushed hotly with embarrassment at this brusque mode of
address.  But she answered the question politely enough.  Indeed, she
was far too scared to do anything else--to her, discretion, in this
case at least, appeared to be decidedly the better part of valour.

"Geraldine Wilmott," she said, under her breath.

"Well, look here, Geraldine Wilmott, this is my cubie.  You won't mind
changing into Number Twenty-Nine instead, will you?  Phyllis Tressider
and I have always slept in next-door cubicles ever since we first came
to school."

"And that's the very reason you are to be separated now," said a voice
behind them, and turning round in dismay the two friends saw the
redoubtable Sister herself regarding them with a grimly humorous smile.
"It's just because you and Phyllis always have been together that
you're being moved.  There were complaints enough of you last term, and
if I'd had my way you'd have been in different dormitories altogether.
But Miss Oakley said to give you one more chance, so I'm trying what
the effect of putting you at opposite ends of the dormitory may be.
You just leave Geraldine Wilmott alone, and get to work and unpack your
boxes.  And mind you put the things away tidily--I shall be coming
round to inspect the drawers after tea."  And Sister moved on down the
dormitory, leaving two very disconsolate damsels behind her.

"Bother!" said Dorothy crossly.  "I suppose there's no help for it,
now.  I shall have to go to Number Twenty-Nine."  And with a scowl at
the innocently offending new girl, she marched off to inspect her new
cubicle with an aggrieved air.

Left to herself, Geraldine pulled her curtain again, and curled herself
up rather forlornly upon the bed.  In spite of the brave resolutions
she had made when she left home that morning not to cry or show her
home-sickness, no matter how lonely or miserable she might be, the
tears were very near her eyes at that moment.  And a devastating
feeling of shyness and fearfulness, which was the bugbear of her
existence, descended upon her mind.

For of all the shy, nervous, frightened girls of fifteen that ever
were, Geraldine Wilmott was surely the most shy and nervous and
frightened!  It was not her own fault.  She had always been a delicate,
highly-strung child, while a severe illness when she was seven years
old had not improved matters.  And then, three years ago, during the
War, she had been in an air-raid, and the sights and sounds she had
seen and heard that night had left an indelible impression upon her
nervous system.  She was fully aware of her own failings--almost
morbidly so--and she did her best to struggle against the fears that so
constantly beset her.  But it was uphill work, and even the three years
of peace and quiet in the country house her parents had taken, after
the doctor had said that a country life was imperative for the little
girl, if her nerves were to be saved, had not altogether accomplished a
cure.

And now at last the doctor had prescribed boarding-school as a remedy
for the nervousness.

"I really think it is worth giving it a trial, Mrs. Wilmott," he had
said.  "There is nothing wrong with the child's health.  It is purely
mental, and I believe that the society of other girls will do more for
her now than all the care and anxiety you lavish upon her at home.
Send her to a first-class school, a really big one.  Don't make
arrangements for any special privileges--just let her mingle with the
other girls as though she were a perfectly normal child.  She will
never get the better of this nervousness while you spoil and pamper her
at home."

"Really, I don't think I've spoilt her," began Mrs. Wilmott in some
distress, but the specialist interrupted her.

"No, I dare say you haven't, in the accepted sense of the word," he
said, with a smile.  "And, of course, cosseting and pampering were what
she needed when you first brought her to me.  Her nerves were all to
pieces, and school was the last thing I should have recommended then.
But now it is different.  She is--how old did you say?  Nearly fifteen?
More than old enough to go to school!  And really there is no earthly
reason why you should keep her at home any longer.  She is perfectly
healthy and well so far as her physical health is concerned, and I have
no fear of a nervous breakdown now, so long as she isn't overworked.
After a term or two at school I think you will find that she quite
overcomes this shyness and nervous fear of things.  Try it, at any
rate, Mrs. Wilmott.  It can do no harm, and it may do all the good in
the world."

And so Geraldine's lessons with her resident governess came to an end,
together with her quiet country life; and she found herself in Cubicle
Thirteen in the Pink Dormitory at Wakehurst Priory, with all the
unknown horrors of a first term at school waiting her.

But in spite of her nerves and her shyness, and her lack of physical
courage, Geraldine had a queer kind of moral pluck that was really
rather splendid in such a frightened individual.  She knew nothing of
the nerve-specialist's advice, or that she was being sent to school as
a sort of last resource.  She did not even consciously know that she
possessed nerves at all, or that her shyness and fearfulness were
largely due to that terrible October night three years ago.  But she
did know that for some reason or other her mother was always terribly
anxious and worried about her.  And she had made up her mind that,
however bad school might be, she would never breathe one word of her
unhappiness at home.

"I won't even tell her about my having been put into that other girl's
cubicle," she thought to herself, as she sat huddled up upon her bed.
"But, oh, I do so wish I hadn't been!  I know--I'll begin my letter to
Mother now.  I can tell her about my cubicle, how nice and pretty it
is, at any rate.  And it will be something to do while I am waiting."

She fetched her writing materials and began a letter home, but she was
not to be left long in peace.  About ten minutes after Dorothy's
reproachful exit, a bell rang violently through the school buildings,
and hearing a general rush of footsteps down the dormitory, the new
girl peeped shyly out into the corridor to see what was happening.
There was nobody near except Phyllis Tressider, who was hurriedly
scrambling the last of her clothes into an already overfull drawer.

"Could you--would you tell me what that bell is for?" asked Geraldine
very timidly.  If there had been anyone else to ask, she would not have
approached her late antagonist.  But there was nobody in sight at the
moment, and the new girl at last plucked up sufficient courage to make
her request.

Phyllis eyed her grumpily.

"Tea, of course, duffer," she snapped rudely.  "Whatever else do you
expect at this hour of the day?"

Then she caught sight of Dorothy Pemberton emerging from her cubicle,
and went flying down the corridor to meet her.

"Come along, old thing," she cried.  "Let's buck up and bag places at
Muriel's table."  And the two chums vanished, arm in arm, leaving
Geraldine Wilmott to find her way as best she might.

The new girl was the only person left in the dormitory, and her face
grew wistful, and a choking sensation came into her throat as she
realised the fact.

"They might have just shown me the way," she murmured to herself,
looking forlornly around her.  "I don't think I'm going to like Phyllis
whatever-her-name-is, and that Dorothy Pemberton.  They needn't have
been so beastly to me just because I'm in one of their cubicles.  It
wasn't my fault.  Oh, well, I suppose I'd better go and try and find
out where tea is."  And the new girl made her way towards the door
through which Dorothy and Phyllis had disappeared.



CHAPTER II

AN INTRODUCTION

Tea was in full swing when Geraldine at last found her way to the
dining-hall.  She stood for a few moments in embarrassed hesitation
just inside the doorway, until a girl who was sitting at the head of
the nearest table spoke to her.

"You haven't got a place yet, have you?  Won't you come and sit by me?"

It was Monica Deane, the girl who slept in Number Fourteen Cubicle in
the Pink Dormitory.  Geraldine recognised her with a feeling of relief,
and moved across to her table with alacrity.  Monica spoke to a small
girl sitting on her left hand.

"Shove up one, Vera, will you?  And ask the others to move up, too.
This is a new girl in my dorm, and I want to talk to her," she said,
with a friendly smile at Geraldine as the girl slipped thankfully into
the seat thus provided for her.  "Pass the bread and butter down,
Mamie," she added to somebody farther up the table.  "And, Gwennie, run
and get another cup of tea."  Then, having thus attended to the new
girl's immediate wants, she turned round to her with the obvious
intention of commencing a conversation.

"Do you mind if I ask you some questions?" she began.

"Not at all," said Geraldine, looking up with a shy little smile.  "I
expect you want to know what my name is, don't you?"

"Well, yes--that was one of them," laughed Monica.  "You've been asked
that question before, evidently, from the tone in which you said it."

Geraldine laughed too.  Already Monica's friendliness was dispelling
that feeling of nervous resentment and shyness occasioned by the
encounter with Dorothy and Phyllis.  Neither of these two girls were at
Monica's table, Geraldine was glad to see.  The occupants of Table
Number Three were mostly smaller children, none of whom the new girl
had come across before.  She turned to her new friend with a look of
gratitude.

"I should just think I have!  But so far, you're the only person who's
asked me if I minded."

"Well, won't you reward me for my politeness by giving me the
information?" asked Monica.  And Geraldine responded to the kindly
interest by confiding, not merely her name and age, but also many
details of her home life.  By the time the meal was over, Monica was
conversant with much of the new girl's past history (always excepting
the events of that October night; Geraldine never willingly referred to
that terrible time)--not an altogether unusual experience for Monica,
who had been the recipient of many a new girl's confidences.  The
senior had vivid recollections of her own first days at school, and she
always made a point of being especially friendly to newcomers during
their first few weeks at Wakehurst Priory.  It had, in fact, become
quite a recognised thing in the school for Monica Deane to take any
exceptionally forlorn-looking new girl under her wing.

"What do we have to do now?" asked Geraldine, as, tea being finished,
she rose reluctantly from her chair.  She recognised the fact that she
would not be able to stay with the elder girl all the evening, and she
dreaded being left once more to her own devices.

"Well, that just depends.  Nobody does anything regular the first day
of term.  Usually, of course, it's prep after tea.  You've finished
your unpacking, haven't you?  Then I should think you'd better go to
your sitting-room and find a book to read.  I wonder which sitting-room
you'll be in?  Have you any idea which form you're going to belong to?"

"Oh yes.  Miss Oakley sent me some examination questions to answer; and
when I'd sent them in, she wrote back saying I should be put in the
Lower Fifth," replied Geraldine.

"The Lower Fifth?  Oh, well, come along then, and I'll show you your
sitting-room," said Monica briskly.  "You've got an awfully nice room.
The Lower Fifth is one of the biggest forms at Wakehurst, and in
consequence it's been given the biggest sitting-room.  You'll find
plenty of people to be friends with you there.  Dorothy Pemberton's in
it, and Phyllis Tressider--you know, the girl who has the cubicle next
to yours."

"Oh, _is_ she?" said Geraldine blankly, a feeling of dismay creeping
over her.  Then a sudden impulse moved her to confide in Monica.

"I don't think I like either of them, much," she volunteered.
"Especially not Phyllis Tressider."

"Oh, nonsense!" said Monica, stopping before a door and pausing with
her hand on the knob to give some good advice to the new girl.  "Look
here, now, don't you go imagining things!  Phyllis and Dorothy are both
quite nice girls on the whole, and you'll get on all right with them,
if you don't take too much notice of what they say just at first.
They've always slept side by side in those two cubicles, ever since
they came to the school, so naturally they're feeling a bit upset at
being separated.  Though, I must say, they've rather asked for it--the
pranks those two used to get up to in the dormitory last term!  But, of
course, they know that it has nothing to do with you, really; and
they'll soon come round and be nice to you--so long as you're nice to
them.  You'll find they'll make much better friends than they will
enemies--and, if you take my advice, you'll try your best to keep them
friends."

And with this, for Monica, unusually lengthy homily, the elder girl
opened the door of the Lower Fifth sitting-room, and pushed Geraldine
inside.

Judging from the number of people congregated in the sitting-room, the
Lower Fifth was certainly a very big form.  Geraldine shrank back a
little as Monica ushered her in, bewildered and shy of the crowd of
girls confronting her.  But Monica laid her hand on her shoulder and
led her across the room to a group of girls clustered round a vivacious
individual with a crop of short curly hair, who was perched up on the
edge of a table, swinging her legs to and fro and talking vigorously.

"Sorry to interrupt," began Monica, still with her hand on Geraldine's
shoulder.  "But this is a new girl, who tells me that she is going to
be in your form.  Her name's Geraldine Wilmott, and she's fifteen years
old, and you needn't all start catechising her directly I'm out of the
room.  I fancy she's had about enough of that already.  Jack,"
addressing the girl on the table, "will you have an eye to her for this
evening?  Put her up to things a bit, will you? and tell her what to do
and where to go, there's a dear."

"Righto!  Delighted, I'm sure!" replied Jack, stretching out a friendly
hand to Geraldine.  "How do you do?  What dorm are you in?  Have you
unpacked your things yet?  Is this the first time you've been to
school, or did you go to a day-school before?  What part of the country
do you hail from, and how many brothers and sisters have you got?"

A shout of laughter from the group of girls around her greeted this
string of questions, and Monica made a laughing protest.

"Oh, Jack--and I told you not to go asking her questions!"

"Well--but you said 'after you had gone out of the room,' so I thought
I had better start straight away while there was still time," replied
Jack, with an injured air, which was belied, however, by the twinkle in
her laughing eyes.  Then she turned to Geraldine in an impulsive
friendly way that it was impossible to resist.

"You needn't answer them, though, if you don't want to.  Come along and
I'll get you a locker.  We've bagged all the nicest ones already, I'm
afraid.  But I'll get you the decentest that is left, and next term
maybe you'll get a better one."  And Monica left the Lower Fifth
sitting-room feeling that she had done her best for the new girl.

"I'm afraid she's in for a rough time of it, though," the senior
thought to herself, as she made her way along the corridors to the
small study which, as a member of the Sixth Form, she was entitled to
have to herself.  "She's just the type of sensitive girl who gets on
worse at school than any other sort, although at heart they're usually
quite nice kids.  Still, if anybody can make her feel at home in the
Lower Fifth, it's Jack.  I wish she'd come across her before Phyllis
and Dorothy appeared on the scene.  Oh, well, it's none of my business,
I suppose!  I like the kid, but she'll have to fight her own battles.
I dare say she'll shake down all right in the end--they mostly do."

And with this comforting reflection the Sixth Form girl entered her
study, and banished the thought of Geraldine Wilmott from her mind.



CHAPTER III

THE WAYS OF WAKEHURST PRIORY

Meanwhile in the Lower Fifth sitting-room, Jack--Joanna Pym, Geraldine
afterwards discovered her full name to be--was instructing the new girl
in the ways of Wakehurst Priory.

"Ever been to school before?" she asked, regarding Geraldine with some
interest, when Monica had left the room and most of the other girls had
moved away, thus leaving the two alone together.

"No, never," said Geraldine, feeling that the admission implied some
grave neglect upon somebody's part.

Jack appeared to take this view of the matter also.

"You're awfully old to come to school for the first time.  Fifteen on
your last birthday, didn't you say?  You must be pretty good at
lessons, though, to be in the Lower Fifth right away.  Miss Oakley
usually puts people into a form lower than they could go into, for
their first term, because she says that entrance examinations are so
deceptive, and if the girls are really good they can always be moved
up.  We don't often get new girls in the Lower Fifth--most of the new
kids begin in the Lower School.  I guess you'll be the only new girl in
our form this term."

"Shall I?" said Geraldine.  "I'm rather sorry for that.  It would have
been nicer if there had been somebody else new, too."

"Oh, I don't know.  New girls are a rotten lot as a rule," replied Jack
airily.  "You seem rather decenter than most.  But you will have an
awful lot to learn if you've never been to school before."

"Why?  Are the lessons so very difficult?" questioned Geraldine.

"Oh, it isn't the _lessons_," replied her informant.  "Lessons don't
really count very much at school, except with the mistresses.  It's
games and rules and--and--well, school etiquette in general, you know.
I expect it will take you quite a term to learn all our school ways."

"Will it?" said Geraldine, looking rather alarmed.  Jack hastened to
reassure her.

"You needn't look so scared about it!  Of course there are heaps of
unwritten rules and things which you'll have to pick up, besides all
the rules which the mistresses make.  But people make allowances for
you your first term, and I'll help you a lot, if you'd like me to.
I've been here for years and years and years, and there isn't much
about the old Priory I couldn't put you up to--though I'm not specially
good at lessons," Jack added, with becoming modesty.

"Oh, I wish you would!  Tell me about things, I mean.  What happens
next this evening?  And what time do we start lessons, and when do we
play games, and all that?"

"I'd better begin at the beginning," said Jack, nothing loath at the
opportunity of exercising her tongue.  Jack was an inveterate
chatterbox.  "Getting-up bell goes at seven, breakfast is at quarter to
eight.  Eight-fifteen to eight-thirty we tidy cubicles and make our
beds.  Then there's half an hour free, which we're supposed on fine
days to spend in the quad or somewhere out in the grounds, before the
bell goes at nine o'clock for prayers.  We all assemble then in the
Great Hall and march into Chapel for prayers, in the order of forms.
You'd better stick to me to-morrow morning, and I'll show you where to
stand and sit.  After prayers, we go to our form rooms and work until
eleven.  At eleven there's half an hour's recess, when you can get
cocoa and biscuits, if you want them, in the dining-hall.  Then lessons
again until one o'clock, tidy yourself, and dinner at quarter-past.
Then there's a free time until half-past two, when either you have to
go for a walk or play games."

"May you choose which you do?" asked Geraldine.

"Rather not!" answered Jack emphatically.  "You're marked down which
you're to be.  Usually you get about four games' afternoons a week, and
the rest walks.  In the summer we do prep in the afternoon, and have
games after tea.  But this term we do prep in the evening, and have our
hockey in the afternoon.  Do you play hockey?"

"No," confessed Geraldine, rather uneasily.

"That's a pity," said her new friend.  "How was that?  Wasn't there any
sort of a club in the village where you lived?"

"Y--yes--there was," said Geraldine.  "But my people wouldn't let me
join.  Mother and Dad didn't approve much of hockey for girls."

"What a shame!" sympathised Jack.  "Weren't you jolly sick about it?"

Geraldine flushed suddenly hotly red.  She wished that she could have
honestly said "Yes."  But she was a very truthful person, and even to
make a favourable impression upon Jack--to whom she had taken an
immense liking--she could not prevaricate.

"Well, no, not exactly," she said in a low tone.  "You--you see, I
didn't much think I should care about it, myself."

"Not care about it!"  Jack opened wide surprised eyes.  Hockey was the
joy and delight of her harum-scarum existence, and it had never before
occurred to her that there could be an individual of hockey age in the
world misguided enough not to care.  "Why, it's a perfectly scrumptious
game!  It's an awful pity you've never played before.  I'm afraid
Muriel will put you into a dreadfully low team.  Never mind, though,
you must work as hard at it as ever you can, and you'll soon get moved
up."

"But--but shall I _have_ to play?" asked Geraldine in some dismay.

"Of course you will.  Unless you've got a doctor's certificate to say
you're not allowed.  Everybody has to play here, unless the doctor says
you mayn't.  Never mind, you'll soon get to like it.  Nobody could help
liking hockey when once they've begun--it's such a ripping game!"

"Doesn't the ball hurt frightfully when it hits you?" said Geraldine
nervously.  She had watched hockey matches, although she had never
played in one, and she did not feel at all inclined to participate in
the game.

"Of course it does!" Jack laughed merrily.  "But that's part of the
fun.  You feel my leg--all those little bumps and lumpy things down the
front.  That's from the balls I stopped last year"--with a proud
inflection in her tone.  "I'm third eleven now, B.1--they call the
teams after the letters of the alphabet here--and with any luck I'll
get into the second eleven this term.  There are two vacancies--left
outside and right half.  I've no chance as outer, I'm not fast enough.
Besides, Vera Maynce from the Fifth Remove is almost sure to get chosen
for that.  But I've got quite a sporting chance for right half.  Gertie
Page from the Upper Fifth might get it, but if I only do well in the
trial next Saturday, I believe Muriel will give it to me.  She told me
at the end of last season that it would lie between Gertie and me, and
I'd better not let myself get stale.  And I haven't.  My brother's been
practising sending hard shots at me all through the hols.  I'm getting
no end of a dab at stopping them.  You have to be good at stopping
balls, if you play half-back," she added, for the information of the
new girl.

"What happens after hockey?" asked Geraldine.  She had been listening
rather uneasily to Jack's account of the glories of the hockey field.
To Geraldine's mind these would be more in the nature of tortures.
Even before the air-raid she had always been rather a delicate child,
and had never played any of the rough and tomboyish games in which most
girls join as readily as their brothers.  Consequently, she had never
learnt to take hard knocks with the average schoolgirl's ready
equanimity.  And the idea of stopping balls on her shins amidst the mud
and scrimmage of the hockey field rather appalled her.  But she saw
that it would never do to let this new-found friend of hers guess just
how she felt about it.  Geraldine could imagine the contempt that would
come into Jack's eyes if she were to betray the fact that she was
really afraid of the unknown game.  And she made haste to change the
topic before her companion should perceive the horror with which she
was regarding her coming ordeal on the hockey field.

"Oh, after hockey," said Jack, readily taking the bait.  "Tea, of
course, after you've washed and changed.  There's usually about half an
hour's interval after we come down from the field.  The tea-bell goes
at half-past four, and the prep bell at five, so there's not much time
between them.  We do prep until seven.  Then change for supper, which
is at half-past seven.  From eight to nine's free.  The juniors go to
bed then, while the seniors--all the forms above the Lower Fourth--go
to Chapel once more for prayers.  Then bedtime comes for everybody at
nine-thirty.  So wags the weary round from day to day," she concluded,
with a fine poetical flourish.  "If it wasn't for hockey and
half-holidays, and Sundays and hampers and dormitory feasts, and other
occasional rags, school would be an awfully dead-and-alive affair.  But
as it is, it has its redeeming features.  I say, what dorm are you in?"

"The Pink Dormitory," answered Geraldine.

"You lucky kid!  That's Muriel Paget's dorm this term.  Half the girls
in the school would give their eyes to be in your shoes."

"Why?" asked Geraldine in astonishment.

"Why?  Because Muriel's head girl, and everybody in this school is
cracked on her.  At least, as cracked as Muriel will let them be!  She
won't let girls make themselves idiots over her--she squashes them
horribly if they overdo the flowers and sweets and fagging business.
Still, it would be jolly nice to be in her dorm; I wouldn't mind being
there myself, though I'm not one of the most love-sick of her
satellites, by a long way.  I bet there'll be a rare old scrum to-night
to fetch her hot water, and do those sorts of things."

"One of the girls did ask if she might fetch her hot water, this
afternoon," volunteered Geraldine.  "But she squashed her then.  She
said she wasn't going to have any of that silly rot going on in her
dorm so long as she was monitress there."

"Did she?  How awfully like Muriel!" chuckled Jack, with keen
appreciation.  "Who was the girl, do you know?  Oh, of course, though,
you won't!  You're new.  I quite forgot."

"I do happen to know that girl's name, though," responded Geraldine,
pleased to be able to satisfy her companion's curiosity.  "It was
Phyllis--Phyllis Tressider, or some such name as that."

"Who's that talking about me?" said a sharp voice behind her; and
Geraldine, turning round with a start, found herself looking into a
pair of angry blue eyes as the owner of the name came up to the table
on which the two girls had been sitting.  The new girl gave an
uncontrollable recoil and looked apprehensively towards her new friend,
who, however, appeared wholly unconcerned at Phyllis's truculent
attitude.

"All right, Phil.  Keep your hair on, old girl," she said affably.  "I
was only asking Geraldine Wilmott a question which she answered."

"What was she saying, though?  I won't have her going telling sneaky
tales about me all over the place," said Phyllis, still regarding
Geraldine fiercely.

"Oh, rot, Phil!  Don't make such a how-d'ye-do about a silly little
matter," said Jack, sliding down from the table on which she had
hitherto been perched.  "I say, Geraldine, has anybody shown you round
the school yet?  No?  Then come along and let me do the honours.  It
will fill up time nicely until the supper bell goes.  There's only an
hour to get through before then."

And Geraldine, only too glad to escape from the vicinity of Phyllis
Tressider, made haste to follow her out of the Lower Fifth sitting-room.



CHAPTER IV

AN INCIDENT IN THE DARK

"That's the dining-hall, as you know," said Jack, as she guided
Geraldine past the big room in which tea had taken place.  "This
passage leads out to the Chapel.  Like to see it?  Come along, then,
and I'll take you to have a look."

The Chapel at Wakehurst was part of the original Priory buildings, and
such restoration as was necessary had been done with due regard to the
beauty of the old architecture.  Geraldine gazed round with admiration
as Jack held the door open for her to look in.

"We always have prayers in here," said Jack, closing the door quietly.
Then as the two girls walked away, she added: "We have prayers twice a
day, you know--to say nothing of Sundays!  On Sundays one of the
curates from St. Peter's comes up to the school to take the Early
Service and Matins, and those who want to, go down to St. Peter's on
Sunday evenings.  Sunday evenings aren't compulsory though, so long as
you've attended both morning services, and there's not a huge rush for
them as a rule.  Goodness knows we get enough church all through the
week, without having it three times on Sundays as well!" wound up the
graceless Jack.

"Once we always used to have to put our hats on every time we went into
Chapel," she went on.  "But Miss Oakley isn't so frightfully keen on
old St. Paul's ideas about women as the last Head used to be, and she's
abolished it for weekdays.  Sundays, of course, you have to wear your
hat, but not for everyday.  It used to waste no end of time, putting
them on and taking them off twice a day; and Miss Oakley said she
thought it would be much more reverent really if we didn't always have
to scramble and rush about with them just before and after service."

"Is Miss Oakley nice?" asked Geraldine.

"Nice?  Rather!  She's absolutely tiptop!  The best Head we've ever had
or are likely to have.  You can't take liberties with her, though, and
she doesn't half know how to jaw you if you're sent up to her.  We are
all frightfully keen on her here, but we're all half-scared of her too.
At least, I know I am!  This is the Great Hall, where we have
mark-readings and assemblies and special meetings and things.  Come
on--you don't want to go in there now.  You'll see quite enough of it
later on.  I want to show you the gym."

The gymnasium was a recent addition to the school, and quite a modern
building.  It was fitted up with all kinds of marvellous and intricate
apparatus, and Jack proceeded to expand upon these with great gusto.
But, much to her disappointment, she found that Geraldine was not
nearly so interested as she might have been.

"Aren't you keen on gym, either?" she asked in surprise; and Geraldine
shook her head.

"I've never done any at all," she answered.  "I--I don't much think I
shall like it.  Swinging and climbing always make me feel so giddy."

"Well, you are a rum bird!" commented Jack.  "No hockey, no gym--is
there _anything_ you can do, I wonder?"  And she looked so concerned at
the new girl's lack of accomplishments that Geraldine felt very humbled
and apologetic.

"I'll have to try and learn," she said meekly, and Jack's face cleared.

"Oh yes, I expect you'll soon pick it up.  Well, I think I've shown you
pretty nearly everything.  Let's go back to the sitting-room, shall we?
It must be nearly supper-time now.  I'm jolly hungry, aren't you?
We'll cut across the mistresses' quarters to get there.  We're not
supposed to go that way as a rule, but it's ever so much shorter, and
as to-day's the first day of term, I don't expect anyone will say very
much, even if we are caught."

She opened a green baize door which led into a short passage, closed at
the other end by another door--"to keep out the row," Jack explained,
as she held it open to let Geraldine through.  The second door opened
into a square hall, carpeted with rich Oriental rugs, and lighted dimly
by a shaded lamp at the far end.  A number of other doors opened into
the hall.

"The mistresses' sitting-rooms," said Jack, with a wave of her hand
towards them.

As she spoke she stumbled over a big black curly-haired retriever dog,
who lay stretched out on a rug, almost hidden in the dim light.  She
pitched forward on her hands and knees over his slumbering form, and
Geraldine stopped short with a startled exclamation, as the dog rose
lazily to his feet.

Jack laughed merrily as she picked herself up from the floor.

"Bruno!  You old wretch, tripping me up like that!" she said, stooping
to caress the big fellow.  "Why, Geraldine, what on earth's the matter?
He won't hurt you," as, looking up, she caught sight of her companion's
frightened face.

"Are you--are you sure he won't?" Geraldine asked fearfully.

"Of course he won't!  Why, Bruno's the best-tempered dog that ever was;
aren't you, Bruno, boy?  Look, he wants to make friends with you--he's
putting up his paw to shake hands.  Don't you like dogs?"

"N--not very much," said the new girl.  "Not dogs I don't know.  I like
some dogs, though.  I've got a darling little fox-terrier of my very
own at home."

"Bruno belongs to Miss Oakley, but he's often about in the school, and
he's a perfect pet," said Jack.  "Do shake hands with him!  He wants
you to so much."

With an effort Geraldine conquered her nervousness sufficiently to take
the friendly paw the dog was still holding out to her.  And when once
the introduction had been effected she lost her fear of him.  Bruno,
certainly, appeared good-tempered enough, and he seemed to take a fancy
to the new girl.  He followed the two girls back to the Lower Fifth
sitting-room, and once there he sat down as close to Geraldine as he
could get.  It was quite difficult to persuade him to go back to his
proper quarters when at length the supper bell rang.

"Very forgiving of him, considering how rude you were to him to begin
with," laughed Jack, when at last they had succeeded in making the big
fellow go back to the mistresses' part of the buildings.

Jack stuck to the new girl for the rest of that evening, much to
Geraldine's gratitude.  She even went so far as to accompany her to the
door of the Pink Dormitory when the time came to go to bed, although
her own dormitory, the Green Dormitory, was in quite a different part
of the house.

"I couldn't do it another night because Alice Metcalfe, my dormitory
monitress, is frightfully strict.  But she isn't back yet--not coming
till to-morrow, so I may as well make hay while the sun shines.
Besides, it's first night, and nobody takes very much account of rules
the first night," Jack remarked, still chattering gaily in the new
girl's ear.  In all her school career, Jack Pym had never before come
across such a splendid listener as Geraldine Wilmott, and she was
forming all sorts of plans in her own mind as to her future
relationship with the new girl.

Just before the Pink Dormitory was reached, the lights in the corridor
went out with a suddenness that was rather alarming because it was so
very unexpected.  As a matter of fact, two mischievous juniors had
stayed behind and switched them off at the bottom of the stairs for a
joke; but the majority of the girls did not guess this, and much
laughing and confusion and screaming took place.  Geraldine did not
actually scream, but she was very near to losing her self-control, and
her hand shot out and grasped the arm of the girl next to her with a
tense grip which showed how very nearly her command of herself was gone.

The darkness only lasted for a moment.  An irate senior hurried back to
the switch-board and turned the lights on again, and the culprits
decamped with all possible speed.  Geraldine came to her senses again,
and found to her horror that the girl whose arm she was clasping was
not, as she had imagined, Jack Pym, but Phyllis Tressider, who was
staring at her with undisguised amazement in her blue eyes.  With a
hasty apology the new girl loosened her grip of the other's arm, but
that one moment of revelation had been enough for Phyllis.

"I say, did you see?" she said in a low voice to Dorothy Pemberton.
"That new girl's face--it was as white as white!  If she'd seen a ghost
she couldn't have looked more scared.  What on earth was the matter
with her, do you think?"

Dorothy nodded in a satisfied way.

"I saw," she said.  "And she was scared too!  Downright funky at
finding herself in the dark for just those few minutes.  Oh, well, if
_that's_ the sort of girl she is, we shall soon know how to get even
with her if she interferes with us.  I say, old girl, we shall have to
say good-night to each other here.  Now we're so far away from one
another it won't be safe for me to go to your cubicle or for you to
come to mine--at any rate, not until we see what sort of a monitress
Muriel is going to be.  Oh, dear!  It is sickening to think that we're
separated, and that that wretched new kid is going to sleep in my cubie
to-night!"

Meanwhile, the wretched new kid was saying good-night to her new-found
friend, feeling far happier than she had dared to hope to feel on her
first night at school, and quite unconscious of the fact that she had
made such a revelation of her inner self to the two girls who were well
on the way towards becoming her greatest enemies.  With all her new
thoughts and experiences filling her head, that little incident in the
dark had almost vanished from her mind.

"See you in the morning, then," said Jack gaily, as she disappeared in
the direction of her own dormitory.  And Geraldine hastened to make her
way to Cubicle Thirteen.



CHAPTER V

A CARICATURE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

Geraldine was awakened next morning by the loud ringing of the
getting-up bell, and she tumbled out of bed in a hurry, having been
informed by Jack the previous evening that a bad mark was the result of
a late appearance at breakfast.  However, on this first morning, she
was dressed in plenty of time, and even had to wait a few minutes
before the second bell, which was the signal for the girls to leave
their dormitories, rang through the school.

When she reached the dining-hall she found that the place she had
occupied for her first two meals in the school was no longer vacant, it
having been claimed by Vera Davies, the small girl who had been
displaced by Monica the day before to make room for Geraldine.  Vera
was an ardent admirer of Monica Deane, Geraldine discovered later.

"I _always_ sit here," the little girl said in a vigorous whisper as
Geraldine came up.  "You must find a place somewhere else--there's
loads of room."

Geraldine looked about her in rather a helpless way.  Then she caught
sight of Jack Pym making grimaces at her from the other side of the
room, indicating by various gestures and contortions that Geraldine was
to come to her table.  Not sorry to escape from the small Vera's
hostile glances, Geraldine quickly made her way thither and was
deposited at an empty place next to Jack at the end of the long table.
Jack's immediate neighbour on her other side was Nita Fleming, another
member of the Lower Fifth, who leant forward to smile amiably at
Geraldine and was introduced at once by Jack.

"Nita's been longing to see you ever since I told her we'd got a new
girl in the Lower Fifth," she remarked.  "She's hoping that perhaps she
won't be bottom of the form any longer, now you're here--aren't you,
old thing?" with an affectionate tug at Nita's long, fair pigtail, a
proceeding which led to instant retaliation by Nita upon Jack's short
locks, and brought down upon the two the wrath of the prefect in charge
of the table.

"Jack Pym and Nita Fleming--what are you doing?  You're not to sit
together, you two, if you're going to behave like this.  Change places
with that new girl next to you, Jack.  Here, you," addressing
Geraldine, "sit next to Nita Fleming, will you, and try and keep her
and Jack in order if you can."

A mistress came in at this moment to say grace, and then the girls sat
down to the meal.  Geraldine took her place between Jack and Nita with
the rueful reflection that she seemed fated to be the separator of
friends at Wakehurst Priory.  However, Jack and Nita appeared to bear
her no malice, and bandied words with each other across her in the
liveliest way, taking her into the conversation with the utmost
affability.  There was no such friendship between Jack and Nita as
there was between Phyllis and Dorothy, Jack being very cosmopolitan in
her friendships, and possessing as many different "partners" as there
were walks in the week.

After breakfast the girls retired to their dormitories to make their
beds and tidy their cubicles.  Then came some half-hour or so of free
time before the bell went for prayers.  After prayers, the girls were
marched to the Great Hall, where Miss Oakley, the headmistress, read
out the form lists for the term, and made a few remarks appropriate for
the occasion.  And then the various forms departed to their respective
classrooms, where the real business of the day began in earnest.

Although she had never been to school before, Geraldine found that she
was not at all behind the rest of the class.  She had been very
well-grounded by her governesses, and although, of course, she was
handicapped a little by not knowing the class methods, her general
knowledge compared very favourably with the attainments of the rest of
the form.  Indeed, she won a word of approval from the Sixth Form's
form-mistress, Miss Latham, at the conclusion of the lesson on English
history.

"You have evidently had a very good grounding, Geraldine," the mistress
said.  "You appear to possess intelligence, too.  If all your work is
as good as your history, you ought to get on well in your form.
Margaret, since you are her neighbour, will you show Geraldine some of
those historical analyses you did for me last term, so that she may see
how I want your preparation done?"

"Yes, Miss Latham," replied Margaret, a rather nondescript individual
who occupied the desk next to the one that had been allotted to
Geraldine; and the mistress, gathering together her papers, prepared to
leave the room.

"It is a little early yet for your next class," she observed, as she
rose from her seat.  "But I have to see Miss Oakley before going on to
the Middle Fifth, so I cannot give you quite your full time this
morning.  Who is head of this form?  You, Hilda?  Very well, then, see
that nobody talks until Miss Parrot comes to you.  You can be looking
up some of those dates I want you to learn while you are waiting."  And
the mistress departed from the Lower Fifth classroom, leaving an
apparently studious and orderly form behind her.

For a few minutes strict silence prevailed in the classroom.  But after
a while the silence was broken by subdued titterings from the back row,
and Hilda Burns, the head of the form, turned sharply round to discover
that Phyllis Tressider and Dorothy Pemberton were leaning over Jack
Pym's desk.  Jack was drawing busily.

"I say, do be quiet.  Didn't you hear what Miss Latham said?"
remonstrated Hilda, rather half-heartedly it must be confessed.  The
three girls in question did not take much notice of her appeal, and
after a moment or two she made it again.

Dorothy turned to her with a delighted grin.

"We're not talking--we're only laughing.  Hilda, do come and look!
Jack's doing caricatures of the mistresses.  Aren't they ripping?"

Several of the girls gathered round Jack's desk, Hilda herself amongst
them.

"Oh, I say, how topping!  Do do one of Pretty Polly and give it to me!"

"All right, I will presently.  Wait till she comes in and then I'll try
and do her.  I have to see the person I'm caricaturing or else I can't
get them properly.  I did that one of Miss Latham during the history
lesson just now.  She never twigged."

"I don't wonder," declared Phyllis admiringly.  "I didn't either.  I
thought you were just making notes.  But when did you learn to do it,
Jack?  Of course I know you always were good at drawing, but I hadn't
the slightest idea that you could do such ripping caricatures."

"I didn't know it myself," replied Jack, still busily working with her
pencil.  "But when we were at the seaside this year we came across a
man who did them for the papers.  At least I came across him.  He saved
my shoes and stockings from being washed away by the tide while I was
paddling one morning.  And then we all chummed up with him and he
showed us some of his sketches, and we all started trying to do the
people we saw on the beach, and he said mine were quite decent for a
kid.  There you are, Dorothy, there's your beloved Miss Latham.  Who is
it you want, Hilda?  Pretty Polly?  All right, I'll do her if I get the
chance."

"Do one for me, Jack, there's a darling," cried a girl sitting close to
Geraldine, and then the whole form began clamouring for drawings of
their most beloved, or most hated, mistresses.  Hilda felt it incumbent
upon her to raise her voice again in protest at last.

"I say, _do_ be quiet!  Miss Parrot will be along directly.  There'll
be an awful bust-up if she catches us talking like this."

But her remonstrance did not have much effect, except that it rather
served to increase the confusion.  For Phyllis Tressider, crumpling up
a sheet of paper into a ball, flung it at her with an injunction to
"Shut up, dear old thing!" and the rest of the form promptly followed
her example.  In a few seconds the head of the Lower Fifth was almost
snowed under with missiles of various sorts.

"I say--stop it!" she gasped, dodging an exercise book, only to receive
a piece of india-rubber full in the eye.  Then, as a quick step sounded
in the passage outside, she sat up straight in her desk in an attitude
of sudden attention.

"Cave--Miss Parrot!" she whispered hoarsely.  In a moment the Lower
Fifth was sitting rigidly at attention again, every sign of the late
battle cleared out of sight as though by a miracle.  Only Geraldine,
new to scenes like this, not realising what this sudden transformation
might mean, was still sitting twisted round in her desk in the position
from which she had been watching the uproar in interested amusement.

She soon realised what the sudden change meant though, when Miss
Parrot, the form-mistress of the Lower Fifth, known throughout the
school as "Pretty Polly" from her name and her supposed resemblance to
the bird in question, came briskly into the room.  The mistress's quick
ears had caught the sound of the conflict from afar, and she at once
pounced upon Geraldine's unconventional attitude as being the only sign
of disorder her sharp eyes could perceive.

"Geraldine Wilmott, what are you doing, sitting like that in class?
Turn round properly at once.  I heard a great deal of noise as I came
along--has anything been happening?"

There was no answer to her question; and after surveying the virtuously
innocent faces before her the mistress was about to let the matter
drop--reflecting that after all it was the first day of term, when a
little leniency might be advisable--when her attention was attracted by
the sight of a screwed-up paper ball lying on the floor just in front
of Geraldine's desk.  All the other missiles had been dexterously
cleared away; but Geraldine, not realising any necessity for doing so,
had failed to remove the one sign of the battle that had fallen near
her desk.  Indeed, she had hardly noticed that any had fallen there.
Miss Parrot was of a very orderly nature.  In her classroom nothing was
ever permitted to be out of place, and the sight of the ball of paper
was too much for her to pass over.

"What is that untidy piece of paper doing there?" she demanded sharply.
"Is it yours, Geraldine?  Bring it here to me."

Thus directed, Geraldine rose from her desk, and picking up the ball of
paper took it to the mistress.  Having delivered it, she was about to
return to her seat, but the mistress stayed her with uplifted hand.

"Wait," she said authoritatively.  "I want to see what this is.  Some
of you have been up to mischief in my absence."  And she slowly
unrolled the ball of paper, finally disclosing a rough copy of the
caricature of Miss Latham, which Jack had discarded for some reason,
and which Phyllis, all unaware of what it was, had used as a missile.

Although it was unfinished, the sketch bore a sufficient likeness to
the mistress for Miss Parrot to recognise the original.  Her face grew
stern as she held the paper out to the girl who was standing beside her
desk.

"Is this your work?" she asked in a cold tone.

Geraldine glanced at the paper.  Then she flushed suddenly crimson with
nervous shyness, and stammered out in confusion:

"N--n--no, Miss Parrot."

The mistress looked at her suspiciously.

"Are you _sure_?" she said.

Geraldine's confusion grew still greater, and the mistress felt that
her suspicions were justified.  The girl's stammered denial did nothing
to allay them, and her voice when she spoke again was very stern indeed.

"Geraldine, you are not telling me the truth.  You do know something
about this paper.  I command you to tell me at once what it is you
know."

"I--I can't tell you anything about it," said poor Geraldine, not
knowing what to do or say.  But this answer only served to anger Miss
Parrot yet more.

"You will please oblige me by thinking about it until you _can_ tell me
something," she remarked icily.  "Go and stand over there," pointing to
a place facing the rest of the class, "until you can remember whether
or not this paper belongs to you.  If that does not assist your memory
I shall be obliged to take you to Miss Oakley after class."

Geraldine made a movement towards the appointed spot, but before she
could reach it, Jack Pym rose abruptly in her desk.

"Please, Miss Parrot, I can't see that paper but I don't think it's got
anything to do with Geraldine.  If it's a drawing, I expect it belongs
to me."

Miss Parrot's eyebrows went up.

"Indeed!  Wait a moment, Geraldine.  Suppose you come here, Jack, and
see if you can identify it."

Jack made her way rather sulkily to Miss Parrot's desk.

"Yes, it's mine," she said.  "I did it for a joke."

"A joke in very questionable taste, _I_ think," said the mistress
severely.  "I am afraid I shall have to discourage your sense of
humour, Jack, since it hardly accords with my own.  You will take a
conduct mark, please, and forfeit next Saturday's half-holiday.  And I
hope this may be a lesson to you to refrain for the future from using
your undoubted talent for drawing in making vulgar representations of
those who are put in authority over you.  You may go back to your seat.
And, Geraldine, you may return to yours.  I am very sorry that I
misjudged you; but really, you looked so guilty that I could not help
thinking that you had something to do with the matter.  Now, please, we
will begin the lesson.  We have wasted far too much time already."

The Lower Fifth dutifully turned to its books and plunged at the
mistress's bidding into the intricacies of decimal fractions.  But
although Geraldine acquitted herself fairly well over the lesson that
followed, she was not happy.  She was miserable at the part she had
played in getting Jack into trouble, and she had been, also, acutely
conscious of hostile glances from her companions as she made her way
back to her seat.  Although it was not altogether her fault, she was
uncomfortably aware that the caricature episode had not by any means
enhanced her popularity with the rest of her form.

School life promised to be rather a difficult affair altogether,
Geraldine reflected with a sigh.



CHAPTER VI

THE GERMAN LESSON

Geraldine was not long in discovering that her gloomy forebodings were
amply justified.  No sooner had morning school ended and the mistress
departed from the classroom, than Phyllis Tressider stalked up to her
desk and confronted her.

"You little sneak!" she said angrily.  "Going and getting Jack into a
row like that!  Don't you know that the first half-holiday in the term
is always given up to selecting the hockey team?  Now Jack won't be
able to play, and it's ten chances to one she'll get left down in the
third eleven when she might have been chosen for second with any luck!"

Geraldine remembered then Jack's confidences respecting her prospects
for the second eleven, and her heart sank still lower.

"I--I'm most awfully sorry," she faltered miserably.  Then she looked
round appealingly at Jack, who was putting her books away in stony
silence, disregarding the condolences of her form-mates on her hard lot.

"Jack, I'm awfully sorry--truly most awfully sorry," she said
pleadingly.

But Jack was feeling very sore about her lost hockey chances, and not
by any means in a mood for being sympathised with.  The tearful note in
the new girl's voice only irritated her, and she said brusquely:

"Oh, all right--there's no need to be sorry.  I suppose you couldn't
help it."  But she said it in a tone that did not make Geraldine feel
much happier.

Phyllis gave an audible sniff of contempt.

"Couldn't help it, indeed!" she said ironically.

"Well, but truly, I don't see what else I could have done," said
Geraldine unhappily.

"Then you must be an idiot," said Dorothy Pemberton, joining in the
fray.  "Nobody with any gumption would have let Miss Parrot catch them
sitting like that.  And you _might_ have cleared away that piece of
paper."

"I--I'm awfully sorry," faltered Geraldine again.

"What's the use of being sorry?" cried Dorothy testily.  "Being sorry
won't take away Jack's conduct mark or make Polly let her off detention
on Saturday.  You're just a silly, clumsy idiot--if you didn't do it on
purpose--and I wish to goodness you'd never come into the Lower Fifth."

"Or to the Pink Dorm," put in Phyllis.

Geraldine cowered visibly under this attack.

"I keep telling you I'm sorry," she protested pathetically.  "I never,
never meant to give Jack away.  I wouldn't have breathed a word about
it if only she hadn't owned up like that."

"Just as though she _could_ have done anything else!" cried Phyllis
hotly.  "We're not that sort in the Lower Fifth, Geraldine Wilmott,
whatever _you_ may be!  Of course Jack couldn't go letting Pretty Polly
think that it was you who'd done that sketch--whatever a sneak like you
might have done!"

As Geraldine had not sneaked, this remark was unjust, to say the least
of it.  But the new girl was too unhappy to protest any further.  She
returned to the task of putting away her lesson books, and Dorothy and
Phyllis left the room arm in arm.  Geraldine looked round forlornly at
Jack, after the two chums had departed, but Jack was absorbed in
conversation with Nita Fleming, and the two presently departed from the
classroom, leaving the new girl to her own devices.  Geraldine shed a
few miserable tears when she was finally left alone in the empty
classroom, but she was not allowed much time to indulge her grief.  A
bell rang loudly through the school buildings, and she had to mop up
the tears hastily and hurry out to discover what the next proceeding
might be.

Dinner was the next item on the programme, she found, and she joined in
the stream of girls who were hurrying into the dining-hall.  Jack and
Nita were already in their places, and Geraldine made her way rather
shyly to the vacant place on Jack's left side.

"May I--am I to sit here again?" she asked timidly.

"If you want to," replied Jack briefly.  And Geraldine, not knowing
where else to go, took up her position behind the vacant chair.  As she
did so, Jack murmured a few words in Nita's ear, and the next instant
the two girls had exchanged places, so that Geraldine now found herself
standing next to Nita instead of next to Jack.  The action cut the new
girl to the heart.  Jack was so offended with her that she couldn't
even bear to sit next to her at meals apparently!  If there had been
anywhere else to move to, Geraldine would certainly have moved, but
there seemed to be no vacant places anywhere near, and she was far too
shy to bring herself into prominence by going and hunting for one.  So
she stayed where she was, and when grace had been said, sat down next
to Nita.

The meal was a very uncomfortable one for her.  Jack and Nita evidently
considered that she had been very much to blame over the classroom
incident, and beyond seeing that she was supplied with table
necessaries, bread, and salt and water, they left her severely alone,
making no attempt to draw her into the conversation as they had done at
breakfast.  And poor Geraldine ate her meal in silence, wishing that
Jack's unfortunate caricature had been at the bottom of the sea before
she had had anything to do with it.

It was really rather hard upon Geraldine to be blamed like this, for
she had never intended to get Jack into trouble, and, in their heart of
hearts, the whole of the Lower Fifth knew this.  The whole episode
would probably have blown over in a day or so, if it had not been for
Dorothy and Phyllis.  These two, although almost the youngest girls in
the Lower Fifth, possessed a great deal of influence in their form, and
unfortunately they seemed to have taken a violent dislike to the new
girl upon the first day of term.  Anything that they could do to hurt
and annoy her, they did, and the rest of the form were either too weak
or too indifferent to interfere.  Not that all the girls were actively
unkind to Geraldine--but the majority of them left her severely alone,
and the new girl, instead of making friends with her companions, grew
more and more lonely and isolated as the days passed by.

Her own manner helped very largely towards this isolation.  She was so
shy and reserved herself that it was difficult for anyone to make
friends with her, and besides she was so absorbed with the longing to
make peace with Jack--who still remained coldly aloof--that she really
did not give anybody else a chance.  She simply played into Dorothy's
and Phyllis's hands by her misery and shyness.

"She's so stuck up and superior--she doesn't _want_ to make friends,"
was Phyllis's frequent assertion.  And the rest of the form, not being
possessed of any very great discernment, were quite content to accept
this version of the case and to leave Geraldine severely to herself.

But if she did not get on well in the social life of the school,
Geraldine was quite at home where lessons were concerned.  She really
possessed abilities considerably above the average, and although she
was still new to the ways of the school, she acquitted herself so
creditably during her first week as to call forth the special
commendation of the form-mistress.  It was after the German lesson one
morning that Miss Parrot gave expression to her pleasure at her new
pupil's accomplishments.  Geraldine had distinguished herself during
the class, and when Miss Parrot, anxious to see how far her pupil's
knowledge of the language really went, had addressed some question to
her in German, Geraldine had answered it so fluently, and at such
length, in the German tongue, that the class gasped in astonishment.

"Very good, indeed, Geraldine!" said the mistress, and the lesson
ended, but not--so far as Geraldine was concerned--the episode.  When
the new girl entered the Lower Fifth sitting-room after school that
morning for the few minutes' interval before the dinner-bell rang, she
was immediately accosted by several members of the form, Dorothy and
Phyllis amongst them, who demanded to know how and where she had
acquired such an intimate knowledge of German.

"I used to live in Germany when I was quite little," answered
Geraldine, becoming nervous and confused at once, as she always did
when she was questioned abruptly.  "Didn't you hear me tell Miss Parrot
so, when she asked me how I knew so much?"

"She didn't ask you--you story!" cried Phyllis indignantly.

"Yes, she did--in German," said Geraldine, goaded for once into making
a mild retaliation upon her chief foe.  "Do you mean to say you didn't
know enough German to understand that?"

"Well, perhaps we're not all quite as clever as you," retorted Phyllis
cuttingly--"riled," as she afterwards expressed it, by the "swanky air"
Geraldine put on.  "But _I_ think it's rather suspicious your knowing
so much German, added to all your other sneaky ways."

"What do you mean?"

Geraldine swung round angrily upon the speaker, aroused for once from
her usual meekness.  Phyllis was quick to see that she had succeeded in
annoying her opponent, but she was far too astute to give her any
advantage by making any definite accusation.

"Mean?  Oh, nothing!" she replied airily.  "Only, of course, if you
_did_ happen to be German, or partly German, it would account for a
good deal, you see."  And she slipped her hand inside Dorothy's arm and
drew her chum away.

Geraldine sprang forward to intercept her as she made towards the
doorway.

"If you're implying that I'm German--" she began.  But Phyllis
interrupted her.

"I'm not implying anything!" she said.  "If your guilty conscience
makes you imagine things--well, that's not _my_ fault, is it?  Come on,
Dorothy, there's the dinner bell."  And she made haste to escape from
the sitting-room before Geraldine could pin her down to anything more
than a vague aspersion.

"But, of course, she _is_ German," she argued that afternoon to a
select gathering of the Lower Fifth.  "Everything points to it.  She
said she lived in Germany when she was little.  I expect her mother was
a German, if the truth were only known.  And then her
_sneakiness_--that's German, if you like!"

"I don't see that she is so very sneaky," protested Jack, who was
still, in spite of her disappointment over the hockey team and her
general acquiescence in the form's treatment of Geraldine, somewhat
prepossessed in favour of the new girl, to whom she had taken an
immense liking on the first evening of the term.  "It really wasn't her
fault that I made that caricature.  And though, of course, she might
have hidden the paper out of the way when she heard Miss Parrot coming,
yet she was only a new girl--and perhaps she _really_ didn't know."

"Oh, of course--if you're going to take her part----" said Phyllis in
such a deprecating tone that Jack made haste to capitulate.

"I wasn't taking her part exactly.  I was only pointing out that it
seemed a little hard on her to be blamed for that caricature affair."

"And what about you?" demanded Phyllis.  "Wasn't it hard on _you_ to
have to miss the hockey trial and still be down in B.1 when you might
have been in the second eleven?  You can sympathise with the new girl
if you like.  For my part, I think she got off very lightly.  Why, most
schools would have sent her to Coventry for doing a thing like
that--especially when they found out that she was a German!"

"But even if she is a German--and I must say she doesn't look a bit
like one; Germans are usually so big and fair and fat, and Geraldine's
dark and thin--but even if she is, the war's over now, so I don't see
that there's any actual harm in that," remarked Hilda Burns.

"I don't agree with you," said Phyllis darkly.  "There _mayn't_ be any
harm in it, of course--I don't say that there is.  But all the same it
isn't nice to think that one is actually at the same school with a
German girl--even though the war is over!"

"But _why_?  They're not our enemies any longer," said Jack.

Phyllis regarded her scornfully.

"No, of course not!  They're our dearest friends now, I suppose!  I
suppose you've forgotten all about the Patriotic League we made when
the war was on, when we were Upper Third, Jack Pym?"

Jack wriggled a little uneasily.

"Well, yes, I _had_ forgotten a bit," she admitted.  "But now that the
war's over we don't need that any longer."

"Have you forgotten Rule Six?" Phyllis went on steadily.  "'That this
League vows and declares that it will for the future have no dealings
with any person or persons of German nationality, either in peace or
war.'  Do you remember that?"

"Y--yes--I remember that," agreed Jack reluctantly.

"And how we all took a solemn oath that we would keep the rules, or
else count ourselves traitors to our King and Country?" pursued Phyllis
inexorably.

"Yes, I remember," said Jack.

"Well, there you are, then!" declared Phyllis triumphantly.  "You
_can't_ go and make friends with Geraldine Wilmott, because you're a
member of the Patriotic League.  We won't send her to Coventry or do
anything of that sort, because, of course, we haven't got any real
_proof_ that she's a German.  But I vote we all steer as clear of her
as possible for the future, and take jolly good care she doesn't get to
know any of our private plans or secrets.  She's just as likely as not
to go telling them all to the mistresses if she gets to know them.  You
can't trust a person who's got German blood!"

And in this decision the Lower Fifth acquiesced, although it was really
hardly possible for them to steer more clear of the new girl than they
had done during the past week.



CHAPTER VII

GERALDINE MAKES A FRIEND

There was one individual in the school who took no part in the
ostracism of Geraldine Wilmott.  This was Bruno, the headmistress's big
black dog.  Bruno had taken a tremendous fancy to the new girl.
Perhaps in his big-hearted way he had divined how shy and miserable she
was, and wished to comfort her.  And poor Geraldine, lonely and
home-sick, found an unexpected solace in the dog's companionship.  In
the nature of things she could not see a great deal of him.  Bruno was
sternly forbidden the classrooms during school hours, and his presence
in the dining-hall during meal-times was equally tabooed.  The dog
seemed to understand these restrictions, and kept to them faithfully.
But at other times he made a special point of seeking out Geraldine and
attaching himself to her.  And the lonely girl was glad enough of his
company during some of her solitary play hours.

Bruno was the cause of her making another queer friend in the person of
Bennett, the school porter.  One wet Saturday morning--there were no
lessons at Wakehurst on Saturdays--the new girl was roaming rather
forlornly through the corridors, accompanied by her canine friend, when
Miss Oakley came upon her.

"Oh, here's that dog at last!  I've been looking everywhere for him,"
said the headmistress.  "He seems to have taken a great fancy to you,
Geraldine.  But he's got to go and be washed now.  It's his bath
morning, as he knows perfectly well.  Take him along to Bennett, dear,
will you?  He's waiting for him round by the lobby door."

Geraldine laid her hand obediently upon the dog's collar and led him
off in the direction of the lobby.  Bennett, a grim-faced, middle-aged
individual, who appeared to disapprove of schoolgirls on principle, was
awaiting him, with a towel over his arm and a cake of soap in his hand.

"Miss Oakley told me to bring Bruno to you," said Geraldine shyly, as
she handed her charge over.  It was the first time she had come across
Bennett, and she was duly impressed by the grimness of his appearance.
Bennett's manner did not relax at her shy approach.

"Thank you, miss," he said dourly.  He made a grab at Bruno, who,
however, evidently did not relish the coming ordeal at all.  In fact,
his weekly baths were the bane of his otherwise peaceful existence.  He
deftly eluded the man's grasp, and, slipping by him, bolted back along
the corridor towards the boot-lobby, the door of which happened to be
ajar.

With a muttered imprecation Bennett stumbled after him, to find
himself, when he was through the door, in the midst of a group of Lower
School children changing into their gym shoes for an impromptu drill in
the gymnasium.  The boot-lobby consisted of three large rooms opening
into each other and lined with boot-lockers.  It afforded Bruno plenty
of space for dodging his pursuer, and an exciting hunt ensued, in which
Bruno's part was taken openly by the little girls, most of whom had
excellent reasons for disliking the surly porter.  Bennett looked upon
the Wakehurst girls in general, more especially the smaller ones, as
the plague of his life, and was not by any means averse to reporting
their misdoings to authority.  Many an order mark and conduct mark had
been gained through his instrumentality, and his victims were only too
glad to assist Bruno in eluding him.  Some dozen or so of the little
girls joined in the chase with great zest, getting in Bennett's way at
crucial moments, and shrieking with laughter at his abortive efforts to
lay hands upon Bruno, who barked and dodged and frolicked about,
thoroughly enjoying the fun.

The climax was reached at last when Bennett tripped over an
outstretched hockey stick and measured his length on the ground.  This
rather alarmed the Lower School, the members of which hastened to make
themselves scarce.  By the time the porter had recovered himself,
everybody had vanished, except Geraldine, who hurried to his
assistance, and Bruno, who stood watching him from a safe corner.

"I say, I do hope you haven't hurt yourself?" said Geraldine
solicitously.

Bennett shook his fist angrily in the direction of the departing
children as he rose painfully to his feet.

"Young varmints!" he said.  "I'll be even with 'em one day.  I mayn't
know their names but I knows their faces, and one day I'll make 'em
sorry for this outrage.  Come you here, you brute, you!" he added,
addressing himself to Bruno, as he made another dive at the dog.

But Bruno was not disposed to yield himself up as yet, and another hunt
followed.  This time, however, Geraldine joined in the chase, and
finally managed to catch and hold the dog until Bennett could reach him.

"Thank you, missie," said Bennett, more graciously this time.  "I'm
much obliged to you, I'm sure.  Would you care to come and watch him
bathed, now--seeing as you've helped to capture him?"

"Oh, I should love to!" said Geraldine, delighted at the idea of
something to do this dull, wet morning.  And she followed Bennett out
to the washhouse on the farther side of the quadrangle, feeling happier
than she had felt for some time.  Talking to Bennett, surly as he
seemed, would be better than talking to nobody at all.

Bennett, however, was not so surly as his outward manner had led her to
believe.  Geraldine's opportune aid in capturing Bruno, and her anxious
inquiries as to whether he had hurt himself in his fall, had quite won
his heart.  He opened up to her on the subject of his experiences in
war,--Bennett was an ex-soldier and had fought both in South Africa and
in France,--and Geraldine was immensely interested in his reminiscences.

"I used to live in Germany a long time ago," she told him shyly.  "I
have been in France, too, but I don't remember much about it, for I was
quite a tiny little thing then.  Did you learn to talk French when you
were fighting there?"

"I can't say as I did, exactly," said the man, scrubbing Bruno
vigorously.  "I learnt a word or two, here and there, such as 'Bong
Jour' and 'Narpoo' and 'Beaucoup de Vin.'  But not so as to be able to
converse, so to speak.  There was one chap in our company who was a
regular nailer at speaking the lingo, but it got him into trouble in
the end."

"How?" asked Geraldine interestedly.

"Well, miss, he was a rare one for the girls, you see.  And being as he
could talk to 'em, he used to have 'em all round him like flies round a
pot of honey in every billet he were in.  I dunno what he told 'em.
But whatever it was, he told 'em all the same thing, and they all
thought he was in love with 'em and meant ter marry 'em, and after a
bit things got too warm for him altogether.  And he had to go to the
C.O. about it and own up, and get himself transferred to another
company.  It ain't no joke to have half a dozen sweethearts all after
you at once.  Not that I've ever had that experience myself.  I'm just
a-judging by what happened to Bill Sims.  I ain't never had but one
sweetheart in my life, and she gave me the chuck while I was fighting
in South Africa, and I've had no truck with women in that way ever
since."

"Oh, how mean of her!" said Geraldine sympathetically.  "When you were
away fighting for your country, too!  She must have been a horrid sort
of girl."

"Oh, well, I don't say as she were altogether to blame for it," said
Bennett generously.  "You see, I hadn't written to her regular like.
For two years she never got no letter at all, and she reckoned I was
dead or else gone off with some other young woman.  So she got herself
spliced up to Albert Brown, who lived next door.  She was real sorry
about it when I come back, and so was he.  But it were too late to be
altered then, so we all agreed to make the best of it.  It ain't no
manner of use crying over spilt milk.  That's been my motto all my
life, and will be to the end of it.  After all, being a single man has
its advantages, as you'll find, missie, when you gets to my age.
There's only one thing I regrets I ain't married for, and that's when
it comes to mending of my clothes.  Socks I can manage, but patches
beats me altogether.  This coat I'm wearing now wants a patch terrible
badly at the elbow.  But though I've got a bit of the stuff it were
made of in my pocket at this moment, I can't bring myself to start upon
it, like."

"Don't you know any woman who could do it for you?" suggested Geraldine.

Bennett shook his head.

"Not that I could ask, so to speak," he answered.  "Cook did say once
as how she'd do it for me.  But she ain't never noticed it again,
though I always make a point of wearing my old coat whenever I'm in the
kitchen.  And I don't exactly like to remind her.  Cook's that
particular, you see."

"I'll tell you what!  I'll do it for you," said Geraldine, struck by
the brilliant idea.  "I'm quite good at patching, truly I am.  And I'd
love to do it.  You've been so awfully decent in letting me help you
with Bruno.  It won't be dinner-time for nearly an hour yet.  I'll go
and get my mending things and do it for you now."  And she jumped to
her feet and made her way towards the door.

"It's very good of you, miss, to offer," said Bennett dubiously.  "But
I ain't sure as I ought to take advantage of it."  But Geraldine was
already out of hearing and half-way across the quadrangle to fetch her
workbag from the dormitory.  Fortunately for her project, she met no
one on the way, for in her excitement and interest at the thought of
being able to do something for somebody at last, she had quite
forgotten that it was necessary to ask permission if she wanted to go
to the dormitory out of hours.  In a few minutes she was safely back in
the washhouse again, where, seated upon an upturned packing-case, she
proceeded to patch the torn elbow in Bennett's coat with a speed and
dexterity which aroused that individual's undisguised admiration.

"Well, now, missie, I'm sure I do thank you," he said heartily, when at
last the coat was neatly patched and back on his shoulders again.  "You
are a real little lady, that's what you are.  Which is more than I can
say for some of them young varmints up yonder!  And if ever there's
anything I can do for you in return, you've only got to say the word
and I'll do it."

"Thank you," said Geraldine, somewhat embarrassed by his excessive
gratitude.  "Is Bruno dry now?  Shall I take him to Miss Oakley?"

"Yes, if you like, miss.  I'll carry him up to the house for you, or
he'll get himself all muddy again.  My word, ain't he a weight just?"
the man added, as he lifted the big retriever in his arms.

The dinner bell rang just as they reached the schoolhouse door,
however, so Geraldine was not able to take the dog to the
headmistress's room.  She took him as far as the mistresses' corridor,
and left him there, while she hurried off to brush her hair and wash
her hands for dinner.

Nobody had missed her or noticed her absence apparently, which,
Geraldine decided, was perhaps just as well.  So far as she knew there
was no rule at Wakehurst Priory to forbid girls from assisting to bath
the headmistress's dog, but possibly somebody might have found some
objection to her morning's occupation if they came to know about it.
Since they did not, no harm had been done, and Geraldine reflected,
with some satisfaction, that in Bennett at least she had found a friend.

And indeed she had!  The school porter was at that moment exhibiting
his newly-acquired patch to a circle of interested maids in the
kitchen, all of whom were unanimous in praising the excellence of the
handiwork.

"A grown woman couldn't have done it better," declared Kate, the
linen-room maid.

"Little Miss Wilmott, did you say it was?" asked Cook.  "She's a real
nice little lady, to my way of thinking."

"That she is," said one of the dining-hall maids.  "Always 'Please' and
'Thank you' whatever you do for her, and never any grumbling or
ordering of you about.  Pity there aren't more young ladies like her, I
say, quiet though she is."

"And none the worse for that, I dare say," commented Cook.

So Geraldine, whatever her school companions might think of her, had at
any rate succeeded in winning golden opinions in the servants' hall.



CHAPTER VIII

MAINLY CONCERNING A MOUSE

The Lower Fifth was a long way removed from the Sixth Form at Wakehurst
Priory.  Between it lay the Middle Fifth, the Upper Fifth, and the
Sixth Remove.  But things had a way of getting round in the school, as
they have in other places; and in due course it came to the ears of the
Sixth Form that the new girl, Geraldine Wilmott, was not exactly
popular with her companions.  She had done something rather "sneaky,"
the Sixth understood, and was vaguely suspected of being a German--or
at any rate of having a good deal of German blood in her.

"Too bad of Miss Oakley to have admitted her into the school if it's
true," commented Kathleen Milne, one of the prefects and a prominent
member of the Sixth.  "Of course, I know the war's over now, and all
that; but all the same, one can't quite forget some of the things they
did.  I, for one, must say that I'd prefer not to be educated at a
school where they take German girls."

"Who's that that's German?" inquired Monica Deane, looking up quickly
from the book she was poring over.  It was during the evening
preparation, and Monica, with one or two other members of the Sixth,
had repaired to the large room, half classroom, half library, where the
Sixth Form classes were held.  Being a somewhat privileged form, the
Sixth were at liberty to prepare their work where they liked, either in
their common room, or in the small studies of which each member of the
form possessed one.

It was Kathleen Milne who answered the question.

"That new girl in the Lower Fifth--Geraldine Wilmott."

Monica banged her book indignantly upon the table.

"Rot!  She isn't!  She's as English as I am.  She sleeps next door to
me in my dorm, and the first day of term she was telling me all about
her home and her relations."

"Well, Phyllis Tressider told me that she _was_," persisted Kathleen.
"Her mother was German and married an Englishman, and they lived in
Germany before the war.  The kid jabbers German like a native.  Fact,
Monica.  Phyllis says the kid told them so one day, bold as brass about
it.  She's got all their sneaky ways, too.  She's always getting them
into rows, and is an awful little funk into the bargain.  If that isn't
German, I don't know what is!"

Monica said nothing further then, but that evening after supper, she
encountered Phyllis Tressider in one of the corridors and immediately
cornered her on the subject of Geraldine's nationality.

"What makes you think she's German?" she asked.  "Did she tell you she
was?"

"Well--all but," said Phyllis.  "You wouldn't have any doubts about it
if you heard her talk their beastly lingo!  She's got Pretty Polly beat
to a frazzle."

"Well, I don't believe it," said Monica firmly.  "And I think it's
jolly rotten of you Lower Fifth kids to go spreading a rumour like that
about the school.  Even if it were true, the least you could do would
be to keep it to yourselves.  I didn't know that Wakehurst girls could
be such rotten little sneaks!"

"We're _not_ sneaks!" said Phyllis indignantly.  "It's _she_ who's a
sneak!  Why, she got Jack Pym kept in so's she couldn't be tested for
the second eleven, on her very first day at school!"  And she poured
out a somewhat highly-coloured version of the episode of the caricature.

But Monica was not at all sympathetic with Jack's wrongs.

"She was new and didn't know," she said.  "You are little brutes to go
giving the kid a rough time just because Jack chooses to get herself
into trouble.  As for her being German--well, even if she is, she
needn't necessarily be any the worse for that.  I dare say there are
some decent Germans--just as there are _some_ rotten English people!"
With which, for Monica, rather bitter little speech, the Sixth Form
girl stalked away.

Phyllis chose to consider herself very much aggrieved by the wigging
Monica had administered, and seeking out her chum, Dorothy, she
confided her woes to her.  Dorothy was properly sympathetic.

"Well, anyway, if she isn't German, she's a beastly little sneak--and a
rotten little coward into the bargain!  Let's do something to show
Monica what she is really like, shall we?  If we could scare her up in
the dorm when Monica was there, so that she could see what a funk she
is, perhaps she'd believe us."

"But what could we do?" asked Phyllis doubtfully.  "Ghosts aren't
allowed ever since the Green Dorm scared that little kid, Molly Forest,
into fits last winter.  Besides, Muriel would be down on us like a ton
of coal if we tried on anything of that sort.  And I don't want to get
into Muriel Paget's bad books if I can help it."

The conversation was taking place in the boot-lobby, a favourite haunt
of the two chums since they had discovered that after supper they
usually had it entirely to themselves.  Dorothy was perched up on the
top of one of the lockers, and Phyllis was just climbing up beside her,
when a sudden click near by made them both jump down with a little
scream.

"What was that?  Did you hear it, Phil?"

"It came from underneath this shelf, I think," said Phyllis, stooping
down to reconnoitre.  Then she thrust her hand under the row of
boot-lockers with a little laugh.

"It's a mouse, caught in Bennett's mousetrap.  I was in here when he
was clearing the boots away yesterday, and he told me he was going to
set one, because he was sure there was a mouse in the lockers
somewhere.  Look, here it is!  Isn't it a darling?"  And she held up a
wooden and wire cage, in which a small mouse was held captive.

Dorothy clasped her hands with a sudden inspiration.

"The very thing!" she exclaimed delightedly.

"What is?" inquired Phyllis, mystified.

"Why, that mouse!  It will do to frighten Geraldine with, _splendidly_.
We'll put it in her bed to-night, and she'll scream like anything when
she finds it there.  That'll show Monica that you weren't much out when
you said she was a funk."

"I say!  It _would_ be rather a lark," said Phyllis, her eyes dancing
with mischief.  "It won't make Muriel ratty, though, will it?"

"Not with us," declared Dorothy confidently.  "She'll never find out
who's done it, even if she _does_ think it didn't happen to be there by
accident.  She'll probably be awfully ratty with Geraldine, though.
She despises people who are afraid of mice.  Don't you remember how
down she was on Dora Wainscott last term because she screamed when one
ran across the dining-hall one day?"

"But won't it get out before Geraldine gets into bed?" said Phyllis,
longing to carry out the trick, yet half afraid of incurring the wrath
of her beloved Muriel.  Phyllis was as "gone" on the head girl as
Muriel would ever permit any of the girls at Wakehurst to be.

"It won't if we tuck the bedclothes in tightly," replied Dorothy.
"Come along, Phil, and let's put it in now.  We shall just have time
before prayers if we buck up.  You scoot ahead and see if the coast's
clear while I come behind with the mouse.  Remember, you left your
handkerchief up in the dorm, and felt you were going to sneeze in
Chapel, but couldn't find Sister to ask permission to fetch it, if we
meet anyone."

The coast proved to be quite clear, however, and the handkerchief
excuse was not needed, which was, perhaps, just as well.  The two had
used it some half-dozen times already this term, although barely a
fortnight had gone by.  Arrived in the Pink Dormitory, Dorothy produced
a candle and a box of matches,--both were strictly forbidden in the
dormitories on account of the risk of fire, but that was quite a minor
detail with these two girls,--and having cautiously struck a light, the
two proceeded to deposit the mouse in Geraldine Wilmott's bed.

It was not a very difficult proceeding.  The mouse was quite a baby
one, and far too scared to make any effort to escape when Dorothy shook
it out of the trap and covered it up securely with the bedclothes.
Phyllis had already tucked the sheets in tightly so as to cut off any
possible avenue of escape.  And then the two conspirators made haste to
restore the trap to its place under the boot-lockers and take their
places in Chapel, the bell for prayers having already sounded.

The plot succeeded beyond their wildest anticipations.  The occupants
of the Pink Dormitory were just about to get into bed that night, and
Muriel, as dormitory monitress, was waiting to turn the lights out,
when there came a piercing scream from Cubicle Thirteen.  The next
moment a slender night-gowned figure burst into the corridor, shaking
in every limb.  A dozen heads were thrust out from behind curtains to
see what was the matter, and the head girl came hurrying down the
dormitory to investigate the cause of the disturbance.

"Why, Geraldine!  What is the matter?  Who has been frightening
Geraldine Wilmott like this?" demanded Muriel sternly, as she joined
the group of girls clustering round Geraldine.

"Nobody's been frightening her.  She just screamed, and we came out to
see what was the matter," said Phyllis Tressider, with an air of
innocence and anxious solicitude.  Had Muriel been watching her closely
she might have suspected that extreme innocence, but as it was she was
too much taken up with Geraldine to heed it.

"What is the matter, Geraldine?" she asked again, putting her hand
kindly on the trembling girl's shoulder.  "What happened?  What was it
frightened you so?"

"It was a m--m--mouse!  It was in my bed.  It jumped out at me when I
was getting in.  It's in my cubicle now.  Oh, catch it for me!  Do
catch it!" the girl wailed.  "I do _hate_ mice so!"

"A _mouse_?"  Muriel's hand dropped from the girl's shoulder, and her
voice was expressive of the utmost scorn.  "Fancy making all that fuss
about a _mouse_!  Really, Geraldine, I should have thought you were too
old for such nonsense.  Get into bed at once and don't let me hear any
more of this rubbish."

"Oh, I daren't?  It may be there still," cried Geraldine, struggling to
control her terror but not succeeding very well.  Mice were a real
bugbear to her, and had been ever since a foolish nursemaid had scared
her with them as a tiny mite, and the fear had grown worse instead of
better during the last three years.  But, of course, the girls of
Wakehurst Priory could not be expected to know this, or to have
understood the terror even if they had--least of all Muriel Paget,
whose own nerves were of that sane and healthy order for which mice and
other fearsome creatures had no terrors at all.  She stalked into
Geraldine's cubicle and turned down the bedclothes of the small bed.
But though she made a thorough search both in the bed and under all the
furniture, no trace of the mouse could be discovered.  It had utterly
disappeared, and the head girl was inclined to believe that the
occupant of Number Thirteen had imagined the whole incident.

"There's nothing there.  Get back into bed at once," she commanded,
having looked in every possible and impossible place for the cause of
Geraldine's alarm.  "Even if it was a mouse, it couldn't hurt you.  It
would probably be much more frightened of you than you are of it."

"There really is nothing there, Geraldine," said Monica kindly.  "Come
along and get back into bed and let me tuck you up.  I'm next door to
you, you know, and I'll come along in a minute if you're frightened in
the night."

Geraldine allowed herself to be taken back to bed and tucked in by the
elder girl.  Now that her first fright was over, and the unreasoning
terror that always possessed her at the sight of a mouse had passed
away somewhat, she was very much ashamed of her panic, and dreaded the
teasing it would probably bring upon her from the rest of the school.
A remark which Dorothy Pemberton made, as she scurried back to her own
distant cubicle at Muriel's bidding, did not tend to ease poor
Geraldine's mind.

"I think her name rather suits her, don't you?" she asked of the
dormitory in general.  "She's nothing but a German Gerry after all!"

And although Muriel Paget commanded her sharply to shut up and get into
bed, yet the titter of appreciation that went round the dormitory
warned Geraldine only too surely that Dorothy had found a nickname for
her that would stick.



CHAPTER IX

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE HEAD GIRL

And it stuck!  From that day forward Geraldine was invariably known
throughout the school as "German Gerry."  "Gerry" alone the girl would
not have minded so much.  As a shortening for Geraldine, it compared
quite favourably with most nicknames.  But with the prefix of "German"
the title became abhorrent to the unfortunate new girl, a fact which
was very soon discovered by the Lower Fifth.  And although Geraldine,
or Gerry, as she now became, except to the mistresses and one or two of
the older girls, did her best to disguise how much she minded, yet she
could not help wincing sometimes when the objectionable name was
uttered.

Once she tried the effect of a mild remonstrance.

"I wish you wouldn't call me that," she said one evening during
preparation, when Phyllis Tressider addressed her by the title with a
request for the loan of a book.  "I'm _not_ German--and I _do_ so hate
being called it!"

There was dead silence in the classroom.  The Lower Fifth had been
expecting Gerry to remonstrate for some time past, and her failure to
do so had been put down as another sign of her weak spirit.  The Lower
Fifth was quite unable to comprehend the mentality of a girl who, from
a sheer nervous dread of "rows," would submit to almost any treatment
rather than protest.  The form waited now with some interest to see how
the situation would develop, leaving Phyllis to deal with it as she
thought fit.

Phyllis thought fit to say nothing for the moment.  And after a brief
pause, Gerry spoke again.

"I'm _not_ German, you know," she said pleadingly.  "Not the very least
little bit."

"Aren't you?" said Phyllis politely, but with the utmost indifference
in her tone.  "I say, has anybody done this beastly number eleven sum
yet?  Is 33¼ the right answer?"

"I'm not German, Phyllis!  Truly I'm not!" repeated poor Gerry, her
eyes filling with tears.

"Oh, aren't you?" said Phyllis again.  "Of course if you _tell_ us
so----" with an ironic emphasis on the "tell."  Then she broke off with
an air of having done with the subject for ever.  "But I'm really not
interested, one way or the other," she concluded.  "I say, Dorothy, you
might tell me what your answer is to number eleven?"

"Then, _please_, don't call me that any longer," pleaded Gerry; but
Phyllis ignored her altogether and turned to Jack Pym, who sat on one
side of her.

"Extraordinary the number of Germans who're getting naturalised these
days," she remarked conversationally.  "Shows what a fat lot of
patriotism they've got, doesn't it?  As soon as their country's down
and out they all desert her and refuse to acknowledge her any longer.
Oh, well--I suppose it's all one can expect from a lot of German
Gerries!"

"Oh, shut up, for goodness' sake, and let me get on with my prep!"
growled Jack, planting her elbows firmly on her desk and bending over
her papers.  Jack had caught sight of tears in Gerry's eyes, and the
sight had disconcerted her strangely.  After all, Gerry was almost a
new girl.  It had really been quite an accident that she had got her
into trouble on that first day of term; and even though she did speak
German so well it need not necessarily mean that she had German
tendencies.  Did not Miss Parrot speak it equally fluently?  Nobody
would ever dream of accusing Miss Parrot of having German sympathies.
Gerry really was having rather a rotten time of it, and it was a shame
that Dorothy and Phyllis should be always at her like that.  But
unfortunately Jack was not strong enough in character to stand up on
behalf of the new girl.  She was always far too easily swayed by
popular opinion, and since popular opinion appeared to be dead against
Gerry, Jack dared not show her any sympathy.  So she stifled her
feelings of compunction and returned to work, endeavouring to banish
all thought of Gerry Wilmott from her mind.

After this one attempt, Gerry abandoned all efforts to rid herself of
the objectionable nickname.  It never occurred to her to take the form
into her confidence respecting the reason for her nerves.  Indeed, she
did not connect them herself with the air-raid night.  Also, in the
present state of affairs, there was really no one in whom she could
confide, and in any case she would have found it difficult to speak of
that terrible evening.  She became more and more solitary, hardly
attempting to speak to her companions, and a more miserable and
lonelier girl than the one who inhabited Cubicle Thirteen, in the Pink
Dormitory at Wakehurst Priory, it would have been hard to find.  It
really seemed as though some of the ill-luck proverbially attaching to
the mystic number was hanging over her head.  Lessons were almost her
only solace.  Having no other interest in life, Gerry set to work to
excel in class, and did so well that she very soon rose to the top of
the form, a place which had been divided pretty evenly hitherto between
Hilda Burns and Dorothy Pemberton.  The new girl's success in form work
aroused more jealousy on Dorothy's part, and on Phyllis's, too.
Phyllis's championship of her chum did not need much spurring, more
especially when it concerned Gerry Wilmott.

But success in lessons cannot make up for unpopularity away from them.
To a girl at boarding-school the social life is by far the most
important part as a rule, much more important than the hours passed in
the classroom.  And Gerry, who was no exception to the general run of
girls in this respect, found her position in form a very poor
consolation indeed for all the other troubles that she had to bear.

Unfortunately, too, she was a hopeless duffer at games, never having
played any before coming to school.  Hockey was the principal pastime
during the two winter terms at Wakehurst, and practice two or three
times a week was compulsory for all except for a few girls who were
exempt on account of some physical defect.  Gerry, who, although
delicate, had nothing really organically wrong with her, was obliged to
take her turn with the rest; but she disliked the muddy pastime
immensely, and took no interest in trying to improve her play.  She was
put down in the very lowest team of all, along with quite small
children and a few other beginners like herself; and although the
prefect who took charge of the hockey practice tried occasionally to
"buck up" the slack girl from the Lower Fifth, she, herself, was not
very interested in the game and met with no success.

Just before half-term, a series of dormitory matches was arranged by
the head girl, who was captain of the first team and immensely keen on
the game.  Muriel was naturally anxious that her own dormitory should
distinguish itself, and she selected her team with great care and much
anxious thought.  Several of the matches had been played, and so far
the Pink Dormitory had been victorious against all the opponents they
had met.  Now they were down to play against the Green Dormitory, a
very powerful rival, which also possessed, so far, an unbroken record.
It was pretty certain that the Dormitory Hockey Cup, which was the
prize of these inter-school matches, would go to one or the other of
these two teams, and excitement in the school ran high as the day
approached on which the final match was to be played.

There were thirty inhabitants of the Pink Dormitory, so it ought to
have been possible to have chosen eleven players from amongst them
without having to fall back upon one who had only begun to play that
term, and who hated hockey into the bargain.  Nevertheless, by a series
of unlucky accidents, the number of possible players was gradually
reduced, until on the very morning of the day fixed for the match
against the Green Dormitory, Muriel found herself confronted with the
problem of choosing between Geraldine Wilmott and a small girl from the
Middle Third for her eleventh player.  In her perplexity she consulted
Monica, who, although she was not in the first school eleven, was quite
a useful player and Muriel's principal reliance in the Pink team.

"There's literally no one else," the head girl said in despair.
"Gladys and Bee are away for the week-end.  Dora Wainscott's got a
gathered hand, so she's out of the question; Ena Philpotts mayn't play
at all this term; Sister's taking Pam to the dentist's this afternoon;
and Ursula Hanson is going out with her aunt.  All the others are
either down with 'flu or just recovering from it, and Sister won't let
any of them play until they've been up a week.  That only leaves us
Marjorie Brown or this new girl--Geraldine what's-her-name.  'German
Gerry' the girls call her, don't they?  Have you seen her play--have
you any idea what she's like?"

"No, I've never seen her play, but I shouldn't think she's much good.
Who superintends her team practice?  Do you know?"

"Yes, Kathleen Milne.  She's right down in the bottom team, you see.
But so's Marjorie, too, for the matter of that.  I've asked Kathleen
which is the best, but she doesn't seem to know much about either of
them.  Says they are both so rotten that she really doesn't know which
is the worse."

"Kathleen's rather a slacker at hockey herself," commented Monica.
"You can't really wonder her team doesn't do better when they've got
such a slack coach.  Can't you get that changed, Muriel?  I don't see
why it must always be a prefect who takes charge of the hockey
practices for the lower teams.  It would be much better to have
somebody who knew something about hockey--even if it wasn't a prefect.
Don't you think so?"

"Yes, it is rather a bad practice, and I mean to get it altered in
time," agreed Muriel.  "Only there's so much to be done, and I've only
been head two terms, you know.  Still, I really will see about it as
soon as I can.  But that doesn't help me out of my fix over the
dormitory match.  Which of those two shall I play?  Gerry or Marjorie?"

"I think I should give Gerry the chance," replied Monica thoughtfully.
"Marjorie is such a mite of a thing, and from what Kathleen told you
she doesn't appear to be any better in her play.  After all, one player
won't make such a huge lot of difference since you've got ten of the
original team left.  You're really rather lucky, Muriel, only to have
one of the eleven down with 'flu."

"Yes, I suppose I am," said the head girl.  "Very well, then, it shall
be Gerry.  Where do the Lower Fifth hang out this time of the morning?"

"In their sitting-room, I expect, since it's Saturday and there isn't
any prep," said Monica.

Muriel opened the door of her study and hailed a small girl who
happened to be passing.

"Here, Babs, run round to the Lower Fifth sitting-room and tell Gerry
Wilmott I want her in my study.  If she isn't there, just hunt about
until you find her.  There's a good kid."

"All right, Muriel," said the small girl, and darted off on her
errand--fagging for Muriel Paget was esteemed a great honour amongst
the smaller fry at Wakehurst Priory.  And so Gerry, sitting half-hidden
in a corner of the sitting-room, buried in a book, was presently
aroused by a violent jog at her elbow, and looked up to find Babs
Hethwaite standing beside her.

"Muriel Paget wants you in her study.  She says you're to go to her _at
once_," burst out the messenger.

Several of the members of the form looked up interestedly at this
announcement, and many curious eyes followed Gerry as she made her way
across the room.

"Hullo, what's up?  I wonder what German Gerry's been doing for Muriel
to want her in such a hurry?" commented Nita Fleming as the door closed
behind the new girl.

"Oh, nothing!  Perhaps Sister's been complaining about her drawers or
something," said Jack, rather resenting the tone in which Nita spoke.
It was noticeable--or rather would have been noticeable if anybody had
been interested enough to notice it--that Jack never spoke of Gerry by
the objectionable nickname herself, although she made no comment when
others used it.  Always, whenever Gerry was unkindly spoken of by
anybody, Jack felt an unaccountable desire to stick up for her and take
her part.  If Jack had only been a little braver, she probably would
have done so.  It was curious how drawn she had been to Gerry during
that first evening of the term when Monica had handed the new girl over
to her care.  If only things had been different, she might have made a
real chum OF Gerry Wilmott--Jack reflected rather wistfully.  But
though Jack was plucky enough where mice and hockey and material things
of that sort were concerned, when it came to braving the good opinion
of her fellows, her courage failed her altogether.

Gerry found Muriel sitting at her writing-desk, making out a revised
list for the afternoon's match.

"Oh, there you are!" the head girl said, as Gerry entered the room in
response to her "Come in."  "Look here, you've got to play in the match
this afternoon for the Pink Dorm.  Gladys Williams is down with 'flu
and you've got to take her place--right back.  Do you think you can
manage it?"

Gerry gave a gasp of dismay.

"Me!  Oh, but, Muriel, I'm rotten at hockey!"

"I know you are," said Muriel candidly.  "But there literally isn't
anybody else--all the other girls in the Pink Dorm are away or down
with 'flu, or something.  I never came across such a lot in my life!  I
wouldn't put you in if there was anybody else--but there isn't.  So
you'll just have to play."

"But, Muriel----" protested Gerry desperately.  But Muriel waved her
protest aside.

"Not another word!  You've got to play.  It's for the honour of the
dorm, you know.  I shan't expect anything very great of you--just do
your best and I shall be satisfied.  It's 2.30 sharp up on the hockey
ground, and mind you're ready in time."

Then, as Gerry still lingered, a look of distress on her face, the head
girl rose from her seat and laid her hand kindly on her junior's
shoulder.

"Look here, kiddie--you must try and get a better opinion of yourself.
Having confidence in oneself is half the battle in everything, you
know.  Just make up your mind that you're going to play A1 in the match
this afternoon, and you'll come through all right!  You're such a
quiet, shy person that you make the girls shy of you too, and you'll
never make friends with them while you're like that.  You just try and
come out of the background a little and do things, and you'll find
you'll get on much better all round."

Muriel smiled down very kindly at the younger girl as she said these
words, and Gerry felt her heart go out to the head girl of the school.
Almost it was on the tip of her tongue to confide some of her troubles
to Muriel about that horrible nickname and the caricature that first
day in class, and how the rest of the Lower Fifth suspected her of
having German sympathies, if nothing worse!  It was evident that Muriel
knew that things were not quite right with her, or she would not have
said as much as she had done.

But just as she was going to speak, the words died away on her lips.
No!  She wouldn't say!  She wasn't a sneak, whatever the Lower Fifth
might think, and since she had kept her own counsel so far, she would
keep it to the end.  After all, she didn't want to be friends with such
a mean set of pigs as the Lower Fifth had proved themselves to be!
Even Jack, whom she had liked so much that first day of term--but, no!
Jack would not bear thinking about just then!  And Gerry turned to
leave the head girl's study with a murmur of thanks for Muriel's
encouragement.

"I'll do my very best," she said earnestly.  And Muriel gave her
another friendly smile as she dismissed her, so that Gerry retraced her
steps to the Lower Fifth classroom with a new feeling of happiness in
her heart.  Muriel was nice--whatever the girls in the Lower Fifth
might be.  And so was Monica, and possibly some of the girls in the
Middle and Upper Fifth were not quite so beastly--yes, that was the
only word for it--as her present companions.  Gerry decided that she
would work harder than ever at her lessons and try and get moved up
next term, and then possibly, amongst new companions, she could make a
new start, and find school life a much happier affair than it had been
hitherto.

With which resolve she turned the handle of the sitting-room door and
walked inside.



CHAPTER X

THE DORMITORY MATCH

As a rule when Gerry walked into a room, she might have been invisible
so far as the Lower Fifth was concerned.  But on this particular
morning the form's collective curiosity was too great to allow it to
keep up its dignified attitude of obliviousness any longer.

"What did Muriel want you for?" demanded Phyllis jealously, as Gerry
came into the sitting-room.

"N--nothing much," answered Gerry nervously.  She nearly always was
nervous when questioned abruptly, more especially when Phyllis
Tressider happened to be the questioner.  "It was only--only that I've
got to play in the dormitory match this afternoon."

"_You_!  What on earth is Muriel thinking of?  Why, you can't play
hockey for nuts!" exclaimed Dorothy Pemberton in undisguised
astonishment.

That was, to tell the truth, exactly Gerry's own opinion, but all the
same it was not pleasant to have it confirmed so emphatically by
somebody else.  All her determination to play her very best that
afternoon, and so justify Muriel's choice, slipped away from the new
girl as she saw the incredulous amazement in her companions' faces.  Of
course she couldn't play!  She was quite hopeless where games were
concerned, and always would be.  All the old lack of confidence and
distrust of self flooded Gerry's mind again, quite undoing all the good
Muriel's kindly encouragement had worked in her.

It was with a premonition of failure that she took up the place Muriel
had assigned to her on the hockey field that afternoon.  She felt
physically ill with suspense and nervousness as she waited for the
whistle to sound and the game to start--a nervousness which grew
greater and greater as the game went on and no balls came her way.
Perhaps if the thick of the fighting had been down her end, some of
Gerry's nervousness might have worn off.  But, as it happened, the Pink
Dormitory forwards proved themselves immeasurably superior to the
forwards of the Green Dormitory.  And nearly all the play took place
down near the Green Dormitory's goal.  On the few occasions when the
Green forwards did get away with the ball, they were turned back easily
by the Pink half-backs.  Monica Deane, Gerry's companion at full back,
stopped a stray ball or two, but nothing at all serious in the nature
of a struggle took place at the Pink Dormitory's end of the field.

But although the Green attack was poor, its defence was strong enough,
and in spite of the fact that all the play was down in the Green's goal
circle, it was not until well after half-time that Muriel succeeded at
last in scoring a goal for her dormitory.  Gerry drew a breath of
relief as the forwards returned to the centre-line.  Incredible as it
may sound, Gerry had not as yet touched a ball.  There couldn't be much
longer to play now--not more than another ten minutes at the outside.
If she had not distinguished herself so far, at least she had not
disgraced herself.  Oh, if only Muriel would keep the ball at the other
end until these next ten minutes were over, then she would be safely
through her ordeal!  Monica and the Pink goal-keeper were lamenting
loudly at the dullness of their afternoon, but Gerry was almost praying
that the inaction might continue to the end.

But, alas! her prayers were destined to be unfulfilled!  Five minutes
before time, the Green Dormitory made a desperate effort to break down
the Pink team's defence.  Jack Pym, from her place at half-back, got
hold of the ball, and obeying the orders of her captain, Alice
Metcalfe, not to pass it but to break etiquette for once and take it up
herself, succeeded in getting it by the Pink half-backs.  Elsie
Lipscombe, centre forward for the Greens, joined her then, and together
the two took the ball down until they were almost inside the Pink
Dormitory's goal circle.  Monica flew out to tackle them, and succeeded
in stopping Elsie Lipscombe, who, however, tipped the ball back to Jack
with an injunction to "get it into the goal circle and shoot for all
you're worth."

"Into her, Gerry!" shouted Monica, flying after Jack, but unable to
catch up with her.  It should have been an easy matter for Gerry to
have disposed of the ball, for at that moment Jack slipped suddenly and
sent it accidentally a yard or so farther in front of her than she had
intended.  All that Gerry had to do was to stop the ball--it was not a
hard one--and hit it out of the goal circle.  But the panic which had
been raging in Gerry's soul all the afternoon took complete possession
of her at this critical moment.  To her distorted imagination the ball
seemed to have grown to three times its normal size, while Jack,
bearing rapidly down upon her, appeared a veritable juggernaut.  The
ball was coming straight towards her, but she did not even attempt to
stop it.  Worse even than that: with a little shrill cry of terror she
dropped her stick and fled!

Of course the goal was scored.  The Pink goal-keeper was too utterly
flabbergasted at her full back's desertion to do anything but stare
after Gerry's fleeing figure.  Jack, however, although she too was
astounded at Gerry's behaviour, kept her wits about her sufficiently to
pounce upon the ball and send it flying between the goalposts, thus
making things even between the two teams again.

The whistle blew for a goal, and Gerry, recovering from her momentary
lapse, returned to her place.  She was trembling in every limb,
overcome with shame at her exhibition of fear, and the coldness with
which Monica and the goalkeeper regarded her as she crept forlornly
back to her position did not help her to regain very much of her
equanimity.

Muriel made a desperate effort to recover her lost advantage.  But she
could not succeed in breaking down the Green Dormitory's defence again,
and the whistle blew for time at last without either side gaining the
victory.

"Bother!" said Muriel, as she and Monica and one or two other members
of the Pink team walked off the field together.  "That means we'll have
to play it again.  We ought to have won easily, too.  I messed up an
easy shot for goal in the first half--if I'd only got that we should
have been all right."

"_Or_ if that little ass, Gerry Wilmott, hadn't funked," remarked
Monica, rather bitterly.  It was she who had given the casting vote in
favour of Gerry's inclusion in the team, and she was feeling more or
less responsible for the fiasco.

"Oh, well, I don't know," said Muriel leniently.  "The kid didn't want
to play, I will say that for her.  I practically forced her to.  It was
my fault, I suppose, really, for making her do it against her will."

"_You_ weren't to know that she was such a little coward, though," said
Monica.  Curiously enough it was Monica who was the more down upon
Gerry for her exhibition of fright--Monica, who might have been
expected to have had some sympathy with the shy new girl whom, up to
now, she had rather taken under her wing.  As it was, it was Muriel,
brilliant, splendid Muriel, who had never known what it was to have an
attack of funk in her life, who was the more inclined to make excuses
for her.  Ever since the mouse episode in the dormitory, which Muriel
had since recognised to have been real terror and not merely
affectation, as she had at first suspected, upon Gerry's part, the head
girl had been observing Gerry with some interest, and the girl's
genuine self-depreciation in her study that morning had touched her
more than she quite knew.

"Poor kiddie, I expect she's feeling pretty cut up about it," she said
sympathetically.  And she actually waited until Gerry, forlornly
lagging in the rear of the other players, came up, in order to speak a
kind word to the disgraced member of her team.

Gerry, absorbed in her own miserable thoughts, did not see the head
girl until she was nearly upon her.  Then she drew up short with a
nervous gesture, expecting a reprimand.  But Muriel made haste to
remove the apprehension she saw in Gerry's eyes.

"Come on, kid; you seem to have got left behind," she said gently.
"Come and walk with me."  And she slipped her hand through the younger
girl's arm.

"Oh, Muriel--I am so sorry----" began poor Gerry, the tears coming into
her eyes.  But Muriel cut short the impending apology.

"Oh, rubbish!" she said.  "Don't be sorry.  Just do better another
time.  That's all I want.  After all, we haven't _lost_ the Cup, you
know.  We shall have another shot for it next week or the week after,
and you must try and do better then."

"Oh no, no!  Not in a match again!  Please, please not, Muriel!" cried
Gerry, with such a note of anguish in her tone that Muriel realised
that this was not a case for the maxim, "You can do it if you only
try," with which she was used to encourage people who in her opinion
needed encouragement.  In a vague sort of way it came home to her that
Gerry's mentality was rather outside her experience of schoolgirl
psychology, and for the moment she forbore to press the already
overtaxed girl further.

"Very well," she said gently.  "Don't get into such a stew over it.
You shan't play in a match again until you feel more confident.  But
you've got to learn to play hockey, you know.  I must take you in hand
myself and see what I can do with you.  Meanwhile you must cheer up,
and not go fretting yourself to death over that one ball.  It really
doesn't matter an atom!"

And as they had now reached the school buildings, she let go of Gerry's
arm, and with a kindly smile and an encouraging pat on her shoulder,
she sent the Lower Fifth girl off to the dormitory to change, not a
little comforted.



CHAPTER XI

A LESSON IN HOCKEY

But the comforted feeling did not last very long.  There was no
monitress on duty in the Pink Dormitory when Gerry reached it, both
Muriel and Monica, who sometimes acted as the head girl's understudy,
having been detained downstairs, and Dorothy Pemberton was taking
advantage of that fact to change from her hockey things to her ordinary
school attire in Phyllis Tressider's cubicle.  Through the half-drawn
curtains the two saw Gerry go by, and immediately brought their
conversation round to the new girl's display of cowardice upon the
playing-field.

"Wasn't it a shame we didn't win the match?" lamented Phyllis.  "If it
hadn't been for German Gerry's funking that ball we must have won."

"Sickening, isn't it?" agreed Dorothy, raising her voice so that there
could be no possible doubt about the occupant of the next cubicle
hearing the remark.  "I can't _think_ what made Muriel play her!  I
shouldn't think she ever would again!"

"Fancy being afraid of a hockey ball!" said Phyllis scornfully.

"Perhaps it was the sight of Jack that frightened her," suggested
Dorothy.  "Jack owes her something for the way German Gerry stopped her
playing in that hockey trial.  Perhaps she thought Jack was going to
take it out of her then with a hockey stick!"

A little choked sound from next door assured the two that their shots
were going home, and encouraged them to further efforts.

"I bet Muriel felt pretty ratty when the German turned tail," Phyllis
went on maliciously.  "Even Monica looked fed up--I guess she won't
take German Gerry's part any more!  And as for Muriel--I shouldn't
think she'd ever speak to Gerry again!  Muriel simply _hates_ cowards."

Dorothy racked her brains for another hurting remark.  But before she
could think of one, rapid steps came down the corridor, and the next
minute the cubicle curtain was thrust aside, and the head girl, flushed
with indignation, appeared before the two conspirators' horrified eyes.

"There's one thing I hate even worse than cowards," said Muriel, with
mingled contempt and anger, "and that is _sneaks_!  It's one of the
meanest, sneakiest things I ever heard of to go saying things like that
about a person when you _know_ they can overhear you!  I'm not the
least bit ratty with Gerry.  She didn't do it on purpose, and she's
sorry enough about it, anyway, without you two little worms rubbing it
in like that.  You just shut up and leave Gerry alone.  If I hear you
talking like that again I shall deal with you pretty severely."

For a moment the two girls were too thunderstruck at the Nemesis that
had descended upon them to make any excuse for themselves.  Then
Dorothy rallied her failing powers.

"We're _awfully_ sorry, Muriel," she murmured in a deprecating tone.
"We didn't know Gerry was in her cubicle and could hear us."

Muriel gave a contemptuous sniff.

"Don't tell such lies!  If you had said that you didn't know _I_ could
hear, I might have believed you.  Go back to your cubicle at once,
Dorothy, and finish changing there.  You know quite well that you are
not allowed to change in another girl's cubicle or talk in the
dormitory unless you've got permission.  You can both of you take a
conduct mark for this little affair."

Then, having seen the abashed Dorothy depart to her own cubicle, the
head girl turned to Cubicle Thirteen.

"Ready yet, Gerry?" she asked kindly.

"N--not quite," came in muffled accents from behind the drawn curtain.

"Buck up, then--I'm waiting to walk down to tea with you," said Muriel
cheerily.  And when, a few moments later, a subdued and rather red-eyed
person emerged from Number Thirteen, she slipped her hand through the
new girl's arm again, and marched her through the dormitory and down
the stairs and into the dining-hall, chatting gaily to her all the way,
as though she had been some important fellow-prefect instead of merely
a humble, insignificant member of the Lower Fifth who had just made a
disastrous exhibition of herself on the hockey field.

Arrived in the dining-hall where the girls were assembling for tea,
Muriel gave Gerry's arm a parting squeeze, and with a cheerful "Buck
up, kid, and never mind what those little beasts say," she sent her off
to her place at the bottom of Table Five, while she herself went to her
station at the head of Table Two.

But not even the head girl's championship could save Gerry from the bad
times that awaited her now.  Indeed, in some ways, it rather made
matters worse.  Phyllis was furiously jealous of the favour Muriel had
shown to the new girl, and Dorothy--although she was not so "gone" on
the monitress of the Pink Dormitory as her friend was--was yet very
indignant that their victim should have any favour shown to her at all.
Both girls bitterly resented the way Muriel had spoken to them after
the fateful hockey match; and the rowing they had received, and the
ensuing conduct marks bestowed upon them, they had, quite unjustly, put
down to Gerry's account.  They took care that Muriel should not hear
any more of their persecution of the new girl; but that did not deter
them from carrying it on with an added zeal whenever they were quite
sure that the prefect was not within hearing.  They tormented Gerry by
every means in their power; and though Gerry did her best to conceal
from her torturers how much their jeers and gibes had power to hurt,
yet she was so unskilled at hiding her feelings and felt their
unkindness so keenly that the two were perfectly well aware of how
surely their thrusts went home.

The persecution was not by any means confined to her own form, either.
Nearly the whole school had been witnesses of her failure up on the
hockey field, and those who had not been actually present had heard
highly-coloured versions of the episode from those who had.  The
obnoxious nickname became more used than ever.  Even the small girls
from the First and Second Forms would shout "German Gerry!" after the
new girl; and not even the little marks of favour Muriel sometimes
showed her had power to turn the tide of popular opinion in Gerry's
favour.

Even Monica, who had at first showed Gerry so much kindness, appeared
to have given her up.  She no longer smiled at her when they met in the
corridors, as they frequently did.  And as for Jack,--for whose
friendship Gerry yearned more than for anyone else's,--she might not
have existed so far as Jack was concerned.  That episode up on the
hockey field had put the finishing touch to Jack's wavering attraction
for the new girl.  She could not be friends with a girl who
funked--that settled the matter.  And Jack returned to her old
companionship with Nita Fleming and three or four other members of the
Lower Fifth, and tried not to see the wistful expression in Gerry's
eyes when they sometimes happened to meet her own.

Gerry's next hockey practice promised to be rather a terrible ordeal
for the girl.  She began to dread it directly after the dormitory
match, and was thankful for the brief respite afforded by the
intervening Sunday.  Monday, the day on which she should have played
again, turned out so wet that hockey or anything else of an out-of-door
nature was quite impossible.  Tuesday was a walk-day for Gerry's team.
But on the following Wednesday the practice could be avoided no longer,
and after dinner Gerry went up to her dormitory to change into her
hockey things, feeling very much as though she was on her way to be
martyred at the stake.

Gerry was far and away the biggest girl in the very low team in which
she had been placed.  K.1. and K.2. were mostly filled with quite
little girls from the First and Second Forms, with one or two backward
individuals from the Third, and one spectacled person, Sally Jones,
from the Middle Fourth.  Sally was rather an aggressive young lady
altogether.  Although she was not good at hockey she was certainly
improving, and was usually put to play centre forward in the practice
games.  She was inclined to presume upon this position and her superior
age to order the other children about.  When Gerry slowly approached
the ground on which the two K teams were supposed to practise, Sally
regarded her with keenly-inquiring eyes, and noticing her obvious
dejection prepared to improve the occasion.

"Here comes German Gerry," she observed.  And with a quick turn of her
wrist she flicked the ball she was idly knocking about full at the
approaching girl, hitting her smartly on the shin.

Gerry, who had not seen the ball coming, gave an involuntary cry of
pain, which occasioned a shriek of laughter from the small girls around.

"German Gerry!  German Gerry!  German Gerry's hurt again!" chanted one
small damsel.  The catchword was taken up by the others, and the air
was filled with the clamour from some twenty lusty voices as the
taunting cry rose on the wind.  But it died down somewhat abruptly, as
Sally, who, for all her spectacles, was by no means shortsighted,
caught sight of Muriel Paget in the distance.

"Shut up!  Here's Muriel!" she said in an awestruck voice.  And the
chanting stopped suddenly as the head girl came up.

Muriel looked rather sharply from Gerry's flushed face to the abashed
countenances of the other children.  But if she guessed something of
what had been happening she did not betray her surmise.

"Places, please," she said briskly.  "I'm going to take your practice
to-day instead of Kathleen.  So mind you all play up jolly well."

The team scurried to their places with alacrity.  It was something very
new and unusual for the head girl to come and take their hockey
afternoon.  When not playing herself, Muriel generally superintended
the practices of the B or C teams.  It was an unheard-of event that she
should condescend to coach the K teams, who were usually taken in hand
by some senior who knew very little more about the game than they did
themselves.  When Kathleen Milne took the practice, she generally
contented herself by taking the time and leaving Sally Jones, or some
other obtrusive person, to do all the rest.  A practice under Muriel
Paget would be something very different from the ordinary round of
things; and although highly flattered by the honour, the teams looked
forward with some apprehension to the next hour.

Muriel allowed the game to go on for about ten minutes.  Then she blew
her whistle sharply.

"I'm going to try you in different places," she said, as the play
stopped.  "You're none of you much good where you are.  Now let's have
a complete shift round."  And she proceeded to change the players about
until the whole field almost was transposed.

Up to now, Gerry had always played full back--or rather, she had stood
in that position.  It would be incorrect to say that she had "played"
anywhere.  But now Muriel signalled to her to come forward.

"You're no good at all as back, Gerry.  Come and try centre forward for
a bit.  And, Sally, you take Gerry's place at full back.  Now are you
all arranged?  Come along, Gerry, and take your place."

"But, _Muriel_--I can't play centre forward.  Why, I don't even know
how to bully!" expostulated Gerry, aghast at the greatness thus
suddenly thrust upon her.

"Don't you?  Well, that can soon be remedied.  Here, where's the ball?
Lend me your stick a moment, Betty.  Now, Gerry, stand square.  No, not
like that--feet apart.  So.  That's better.  Now--one, two, three--now
hit the ball.  See?  Do it again until you've quite got it."  And she
made the younger girl repeat the performance again and again until
Gerry really seemed to know the correct movements.

"Now, then, come along and begin.  Here's your stick, Betty--thanks
very much."

But Gerry still hung back.

"Oh, Muriel--I can't!" she breathed unhappily.  But Muriel only smiled
down into her face, kindly but very firmly.

"Now, Gerry, don't be silly.  This isn't a match, and it doesn't matter
a hang if you do make a mess of it.  You can't live at Wakehurst Priory
and not play hockey.  We're all hockey mad here, you know, and I've
made up my mind that you're going to learn to play.  It was mostly for
your sake that I came down to coach the K teams to-day.  Buck up, now,
and try.  You can do it, you know, if you'll only think you can."

Thus adjured, Gerry made an effort.  She took her place reluctantly on
the centre-line and began to bully.  Much to her own surprise she got
the ball away from her opponent, and on following up her advantage
succeeded in getting it by the centre half also.  She lost it then, but
much encouraged by Muriel's approving "Well done, Gerry!" she made
another great effort and retrieved it again.  And thenceforward,
although she did not distinguish herself very specially, she took quite
an active part in the game, finding it a good deal easier and much less
painful--even when she did inadvertently stop a ball on her ankle--than
she had expected.

In making her play centre forward, Muriel had hit upon the one plan
which could help her to overcome her nerves.  Right in the thick of the
battle there was no time for overmuch thinking, and the sick feeling of
nervousness which had always crept over her hitherto when she stood at
full back, waiting, waiting, waiting for the ball to come, was banished
altogether.  Towards the end of the afternoon, Gerry even succeeded in
hitting a goal, much to her own surprise and the surprise of her
fellow-players.  It was more by good luck than judgment, but all the
same it served to hearten her spirits immensely, and Muriel's smile of
approval more than compensated for the pain her bruised ankle was
causing her.

"You see you can play all right when you like," said the head girl when
the practice was over.  "Are you walking down with anybody?  No?  Good;
then come and walk down with me.  Let's see, now, when's your next
practice?  Friday, isn't it?"

"Yes, Friday," answered Gerry, rather hot and breathless from her
exertions, but so pleased at her late performance that she did not mind
that.

"Well, I shall come and coach you again then, and if you do as well as
you did to-day, I shall move you up into J.2.  It will be much better
for you than playing amongst all those little kids.  But you'll have to
play forward always, never back.  I always think you need to be rather
a stolid individual altogether to make a successful back.  I can't
think why Kathleen ever put you to play there.  Besides, you're cut out
for a forward with those great long legs of yours.  And you can run,
too--I watched you particularly to-day."

Gerry's heart glowed within her, but Muriel's next words filled her
with alarm.

"Now, do you know what I want you to do?  We're playing the return
match against the Green Dorm on Saturday week, and if you keep on
improving, as I think you will, I'm going to put you down to play again
for the Pink.  No--wait a minute," as Gerry gave a little exclamation
of protest.  "It won't be back this time.  I shall put you on the wing
somewhere, or else half-back--I'm not quite sure myself yet.  But I
specially want you to play, and to play well.  I want to give you an
opportunity of wiping out last Saturday in the eyes of the school.  And
if you've got the grit I think you have, you're going to take it."

There was silence for a moment or two.  Then Gerry spoke uncertainly:

"But--but suppose I funk again?"

"You won't funk," said Muriel, with a quiet conviction that did more to
reassure the nervous girl at her side than any amount of arguing would
have done.  To some natures the greatest incentive to do well is the
knowledge that somebody believes in them implicitly.  Gerry, whose
first impulse had been to refuse the offer in a panic and beg Muriel at
all costs to leave her name out of the team, seemed to catch some of
the elder girl's confidence.  If _only_ she could--if only she could
overcome her nerves sufficiently to do well!  If she could distinguish
herself in the coming match and show the girls that though she was
funky at some things she wasn't a coward all through, how splendid it
would be!  Oh, she would, she would!  She would play and justify
Muriel's confidence in her.  She wouldn't funk again.

"Are you quite sure you're not _afraid_ to play a coward?" she said, in
such a low tone that Muriel could only just catch the obnoxious word.
But she did catch it, and stopping suddenly, she laid her hands firmly
on the younger girl's shoulders.

"Now, look here, Gerry, don't be absurd!" she said.  "Even if some of
the girls _have_ called you that, there's no earthly reason why you
should imagine that it's true.  Just buck up and make up your mind that
you won't be a coward.  You _needn't_ be, you know.  Being brave isn't
just a matter of not fearing things.  The very bravest people of all
are often those who are the most afraid and yet who conquer their
fears.  You conquered your fear quite a lot this afternoon.  You got
one quite nasty bang on your ankle--I was watching you and I saw--and
you didn't make the least little bit of fuss about it.  Well, if you've
done that once you can do it again.  Now, if I ask you to play in my
team for the next dormitory match, will you do it?"

"Yes," said Gerry simply, raising her eyes to the head girl's face.
And after a deep look into them, Muriel dropped her hands from her
junior's shoulders with a satisfied smile.

"That's all right, then," she said.  "And now we'd better both buck up,
or we'll be frantically late for tea."



CHAPTER XII

THE NEW FORM-MISTRESS

"I say!  Have you heard the news?" cried Hilda Burns, bursting the next
morning into the Lower Fifth sitting-room, where the form was gathered
awaiting the summons to prayers.

All the girls looked up at Hilda's excited entrance.  Even Gerry, who
as usual was finding in a book solace from her loneliness, stopped
reading to hear what the news might be.

"No!  What is it?" asked various voices; and Hilda, conscious of the
importance of the tidings she carried, said impressively:

"Pretty Polly's ill.  Really ill.  Not just influenza and bed for a day
or two.  She was taken suddenly bad in the night, and they had to send
for the doctor.  And it's appendicitis, and she's got to have an
operation at once, and she's going off in an ambulance to a nursing
home this morning."

"I say!  Poor Polly!  I am sorry," said Jack.  And the whole form
proceeded to express its dismay more or less appropriately.  In spite
of her strictness and extreme prejudices in favour of tidiness, Miss
Parrot was popular with her form; and real regret at losing her so
unexpectedly was mingled with sorrow for her illness.  It was not for a
few minutes, however, that it dawned upon the Lower Fifth that this
sudden calamity would leave it without a form-mistress.

"But I say!  What about _us_?" exclaimed Dorothy at length.  "Who's
going to take our form?  We shall have to have somebody."

"Miss Oakley's wired to an agency asking them to send someone," said
Hilda, who had an uncanny knack of finding out these sorts of things.
Her information proved to be correct, for when prayers were over and
the Lower Fifth marched as usual into its classroom, Miss Oakley was
waiting there for them; and after telling them of their mistress's
illness, she came at once to the point which was exercising the minds
of the form.

"I am glad to say that I have succeeded in getting somebody to fill
Miss Parrot's place for the rest of this term.  Miss Burton is coming
from town to-day, and will take over your form from to-morrow morning.
Miss Parrot's unexpected illness has rather upset the usual school
routine to-day, and instead of your classes I am going to set you some
exercises and questions to work out by yourselves.  Miss Latham will
come in to you for the last hour this morning and correct your answers
and award your marks.  I trust you all to behave well during the time
you are unavoidably left alone; and to show your sympathy with Miss
Parrot by doing all in your power to help her successor.  Now, Hilda,
bring me your books, and I will set you some work to do."

The Lower Fifth behaved themselves with exemplary virtue in the
classroom that morning, and in due course the new mistress arrived.
She was not introduced to her form until the next day.  The girls were
not very favourably impressed by her appearance.  Miss Burton was thin
and rather angular, sandy-haired and spectacled, and she gave the
impression of being both irritable and exacting--an impression which
the Lower Fifth found amply justified when they came into close contact
with their new mistress.  Miss Burton was really one of those people
who ought never to have gone in for teaching at all, having no real
liking for her profession, nor any sympathy with or understanding of
girls.  She very soon succeeded in ruffling the feelings of the Lower
Fifth, and before the first morning was ended the whole form was in
open rebellion.

It was over Gerry Wilmott that the rupture took place.  Margaret
Taylor, who occupied the desk next to Gerry's, was unable to find her
place during the literature lesson, having, through inattention, missed
the announcement Miss Burton made in the beginning of the class.  The
girls were reading aloud in turn a play of Shakespeare's, and as her
turn drew nearer and nearer Margaret fumbled desperately with the
pages, finally turning an imploring glance upon Gerry, who was watching
her futile struggles with nervous apprehension.  Gerry was only too
glad to do anything for anybody,--the ostracism in which she was kept
by the rest of the form precluded her as a rule from even offering aid
on such an occasion as this,--and she leant over to her neighbour's
desk and pointed it out, just at the very moment when Miss Burton
happened to be looking that way.  The new mistress banged on her desk
with such emphasis that the girl who was reading at the moment stopped
suddenly, and the class looked up in amazement, while Gerry gave a
frightened little jump.

"You, girl!  What is your name?" said Miss Burton, pointing her pencil
at Gerry.

"Gerry--I mean Geraldine Wilmott," stammered Gerry.

"What do you mean by whispering to another girl during class?" demanded
the mistress, blinking furiously at the culprit through her glasses.

"I--I wasn't whispering," said Gerry.  "I--I was only showing Margaret
the place."

"Don't prevaricate!" thundered Miss Burton.  "You were whispering.  I
saw you."

Up shot Margaret's hand.

"Please, Miss Burton," said that young lady indignantly, moved for once
to take the unpopular new girl's part, "she wasn't whispering.  I'd
lost my place, and I made signs to her to show me, and she was only
pointing it out with her pencil."

"I don't believe either of you," said the new mistress.  Then with a
fiery glance at Gerry, she said ferociously:

"Go on with the reading from the place where the last girl left off."

This command was shot out with such venom as to render poor Gerry a
thousand times more nervous even than usual.  She had lost her own
place hopelessly by this time, and as she fumbled with the pages in the
vain endeavour to find it and comply with the order, Miss Burton spoke
again in a triumphant voice:

"I thought so.  You do not know the place yourself, therefore you could
not have been showing it to your companion!  You are both of you
extremely naughty, untruthful girls, and you will each take a conduct
mark for your deceitfulness."

"Please, Miss Burton, I wasn't deceiving you!" cried Gerry, goaded into
one of her rare attempts at self-assertion.  "I _was_ showing Margaret
Taylor her place, and I _did_ know it quite well until you confused me
and made me lose it."

Miss Burton grew scarlet with anger.

"How dare you argue with me!" she said.  "I see that you mean to give
me as much trouble as you possibly can, but I mean to take a firm hand
with you.  Go and stand in that corner with your face to the wall until
the lesson is over!"

A gasp of incredulous amazement went up from the Lower Fifth.

"_Miss Burton_!  We're not babies!" cried Hilda Burns indignantly.
"We're Fifth Form and not used to punishments like that.  You can't
make Gerry stand in a corner!"

"Don't interfere!" said the mistress.  "Geraldine Wilmott, do as I
direct you, at once."

Gerry's momentary display of spirit had quite spent itself by now.
With a white face she walked across the schoolroom and took up the
position Miss Burton indicated.  And there she stood in silent
humiliation with her face to the wall, while the rest of the form,
sulky and rebellious, dragged through the remainder of the lesson.

Miss Burton did not try any more drastic measures.  Perhaps she
realised that she had already gone too far.  Or perhaps, having vented
some of her anger upon Gerry, she felt more amiably disposed towards
the rest of her girls.  At all events, the lesson ended without another
contretemps; and Gerry was permitted to come out of her ignominious
corner and was seated again in her desk before Miss Latham entered to
take her usual class in history.

The Lower Fifth managed to conceal their indignation during the history
lesson, but when at last the morning's work had ended and the new
mistress had finally departed from the classroom, the storm of anger
burst.  For the first time since she had come to Wakehurst Priory,
Gerry found herself the centre of popular sympathy.

"What a beastly shame, Gerry!" said Jack Pym, coming over to Gerry's
desk.  "She's a beastly, mean pig--and she hadn't any right to treat
you like that."  And she put her hand caressingly on Gerry's arm, a
proceeding which filled Gerry's heart with a sudden thrill of
happiness.  It was almost the first time Jack had spoken to her since
that first unlucky day at school.  Even her late humiliation seemed
worth while if it was going to bring her Jack's friendship again.

The other members of the form, too, gave vent to many expressions of
sympathy, and schemes of vengeance upon the new mistress were discussed.

"Tell you what--we'll strike!" said Dorothy Pemberton, always ready to
take the side of lawlessness and disorder.

"How?" said Phyllis, eager to support her chum, yet not quite seeing
how a successful strike could be engineered.

"Why, we won't do a stroke of prep for her!" said Dorothy.  "We'll work
for all the other mistresses doubly hard to make up, but when it comes
to Miss Burton's work we won't do a thing.  We'll all promise not to,
and then if the whole lot of us are in it she can't do anything."

"She can give us conduct marks," said Hilda Burns.

"Yes, but she'll have to give them to the whole lot, so they won't mean
very much.  And although we shan't get any marks for her lessons, yet
it won't really count, because we shall all be in the same boat."

"She can complain to Miss Oakley," said Hilda.

"Well, if she does, that will be just what we want.  Miss Oakley will
jaw us, of course, but she'll make inquiries too, and when she finds
out what a rotter Miss Burton is, she'll dismiss her right away.  Let
her go to Miss Oakley if she likes, it will be all the better.  Who'll
sign on to down books for Miss Burton?"

"I will, for one," cried Jack impetuously.

"And I," cried Phyllis Tressider.

"And I."

"And I."

"And I," echoed round the room.

There were one or two doubtful people, but Dorothy's arguments, aided
by Jack's and Phyllis's persuasions, overcame the most conscientious
individuals.  One by one the members of the form gave in and took a
solemn vow that they would not do a stroke of preparation for the new
form-mistress.

At length it came to Gerry's turn to be questioned.

"You'll come in, Gerry, of course," remarked Dorothy, in a nicer tone
of voice than she had ever before used towards the new girl.

For a moment Gerry hesitated.  It seemed to her that they had not given
the new form-mistress much of a chance.  She might be nicer in a day or
two--it would surely be kinder to wait a little while before declaring
such open war upon her.  But, on the other hand, it seemed as though a
door had been suddenly opened which would lead to all the things Gerry
most longed for--popularity, the sympathy of her form, Jack's coveted
friendship.  All the while Dorothy and Jack had been arguing with and
persuading the other waverers to join the strike, Gerry had been
battling strenuously within her own heart.  She wanted, oh, so badly!
to throw in her lot with the rest of the form.  Marks and favour with
the mistresses meant so little in comparison with all the other
important aspects of school life.  Jack's hand was on her shoulder,
Jack's friendship lay open to her--Gerry instinctively felt--if she
would only throw in her lot with the rest of the Lower Fifth.  And
after all, why shouldn't she?  She had really had more provocation than
any of the others, for it was she who had suffered the unjust and
humiliating punishment.  She looked at Jack, and at the eager
expression on Jack's face she threw her conscientious scruples to the
winds.

"Yes, I'll come in," she said, and Dorothy turned to the rest of the
form with an air of triumph.

"That's all right, then.  We're all in it.  What prep has that old
beast set us for to-night?  Learn by heart that speech of Henry the
Fifth's, work right through the algebra exercise, and write five
hundred words in German on 'Spring.'  Thank the Lord, she teaches us
German!  It will be some consolation for the rows we're bound to get
into, to think we shall be able to cut out that beastly German for a
bit.  What does that leave us for to-night?  French, history analysis
for Miss Latham, and that science paper for Miss White.  Good!  We
shall have a jolly slack time in prep to-night, shan't we?"

"There'll be an awful bust up on Monday morning, though," said Hilda
Burns.

Hilda was still rather doubtful about the strike.  As head of the form,
she could not help feeling that she was slightly responsible for its
good behaviour, and might be called to account for its lawlessness by
the powers that were.  But she was not strong enough to stand up
against Dorothy and Phyllis and their powerful following, so she cast
in her lot with the rebels and said no more against the graceless plan.



CHAPTER XIII

A BREAK IN THE CLOUDS

Gerry passed quite a cheerful dinner hour at Table Five that day.  Jack
had pushed Nita Fleming aside just before lunch and had herself taken
the place next to Gerry.

"You don't mind, old girl, do you?" she said to Nita.  "But I want to
sit next to Gerry Wilmott, just for a change."

"I don't mind," said Nita good-naturedly, used to Jack's vagaries.  And
when Gerry arrived at the table, she found to her delight and surprise
that Jack was to be her next-door neighbour.

"Thought I'd change with Nita to-day," observed Jack laconically, as,
grace having been said, the girls sat down in their chairs.  "I get fed
up with sitting in one place all the time."  And then, as though afraid
to pursue the subject any further, she made haste to change the
conversation.

"What's for dinner to-day?" she asked, as the maids began to hand round
plates with a speed and dexterity born of much practice.  "Oh, hang it
all--it's boiled mutton again!  And I bet you anything you like it will
be boiled suet roll afterwards!  Matron always likes to arrange things
like that.  Boiled mutton, boiled potatoes, boiled turnips--what did I
tell you?  I put my money on boiled suet roll for sweets."

"You're too optimistic," said Nita gloomily.  "I feel in my bones it's
going to be rice pudding.  Or if it isn't rice it'll be sago.  If
there's one pudding I loathe worse than rice it's sago!"

"It won't be sago to-day," said Jack cheerfully.  "We had sago on
Wednesday.  No--it'll be boiled suet roll, you just see if it isn't.
Louie darling,"--to the maid who was handing her vegetables at the
moment,--"what's for pudding to-day?  Do tell us, there's an angel!  Is
it sago or rice or boiled suet roll?  Tell us the worst at once and
let's get it over."

"None of them, miss; it's treacle tart to-day," replied the maid, with
a grin.  Jack was as thoroughly popular with the maids as she was with
everybody else at Wakehurst, and the little shriek of joy which the
girl emitted at her announcement made Louie determined to see that the
school favourite received a good-sized share of the popular sweet.

"Hurrah!  Now I can even manage to eat a little boiled mutton," said
Jack.  And setting to work she tackled her viands with an appetite
which drew forth a sardonic remark from Nita.

"For a person who doesn't like boiled mutton, I must say you're
managing to get it down pretty well," she said.

"Ah, but you see, the thought of treacle tart to follow sustains me,"
replied Jack, quite unabashed.  "What's your favourite pudding, Gerry?
Treacle tart or the apple pie we get on Sundays?  I wonder why on
Sundays it is always apple pie?"

"It's one of the rules of the Medes and Persians," said Nita, "that's
why."

"Which do you like best, Gerry?" persisted Jack.

"Apple pie, I think," said Gerry, laughing, as much with pleasure at
being included in the conversation again after all these weeks of exile
as with amusement at Jack's nonsense--which was put on, as she very
well knew, to hide the awkwardness of this reconciliation.  Gerry, like
Jack, felt shy at the thought of any sort of "scene" taking place, and
was only too glad to fall back into friendly ways in this commonplace
manner.  It was rather a case of making conversation all through that
meal, but Gerry responded bravely to Jack's efforts.  And both girls
felt that they were well on the way towards renewing the friendship
which had been so nearly formed between them on the first evening of
the term.

"I say, are you walking with anyone this afternoon?" asked Jack
abruptly, when, dinner being over, the girls were leaving the
dining-hall.

"I'm playing hockey," replied Gerry regretfully.  "Worse luck!"

"_Worse luck_?" said Jack in astonishment.  Then remembering some of
Gerry's reasons for disliking the game, she coloured violently.  "Oh,
well, never mind," she said quickly.  "I was going to ask you to be my
walk-partner, but of course if you're playing hockey you can't."

"I'm awfully sorry," said Gerry.  "I should have liked to have walked
with you very much."

"We'll fix up another day," said Jack.  "Let's see; to-morrow's
Saturday, so there'll be no walk, as there's a first eleven hockey
match to watch.  Sunday, I'm engaged to Nita.  Monday, I've got hockey.
Tuesday--is Tuesday one of your hockey days?"

"No, not next week," replied Gerry.

"Well, then, will you be my walk-partner on Tuesday?"

"I'd love to," said Gerry, in a tone that left no doubt of her
sincerity.  And so the two parted--Jack to get ready for her walk, and
Gerry to array herself in her hockey dress with a glow of happiness in
her heart which even the memory of her hour of humiliation in the
class-room could not subdue.

Things really seemed to have taken a turn for the better for Gerry at
last.  Once again Muriel appeared to take the K teams' hockey practice,
and once again Gerry managed to win the approval of the head girl.  At
the conclusion of the game, Muriel again elected to walk down to the
school with her protégée, and signified her pleasure at Gerry's
improvement in her play.

"I don't know that you'll ever be very first class, but there's no
reason at all why you shouldn't turn out a very useful player.  I'm
going to move you up into H.  Alice Metcalfe will be your coach there.
I'll tell her to put you on the forward line somewhere and train you
for forward altogether.  Your next practice will be Monday.  How are
things going for you in your form now--better?  I saw you laughing
quite a lot at dinner to-day, so I rather imagine that they are."

"Oh yes, thank you--they're much better," declared Gerry, rather
confused at the sudden interest evinced in her affairs by the head
girl.  Muriel was quick to perceive her confusion, and attributing it
to the right cause made haste to turn the conversation, and talked
hockey exclusively during the remainder of the walk to the school.

True to their compact, the whole of the Lower Fifth refrained from
doing a stroke of work for their new form-mistress in preparation that
evening, although one or two of the girls felt rather doubtful as to
what the consequences of this "direct action" might be.  Gerry
especially was troubled with qualms of conscience.  Not that she was
especially afraid of consequences--she was too happy at being taken at
last into favour by her form to trouble very much about them.  But
Gerry had a capacity for putting herself into other people's places
which was rather unusual in a girl so young; and do what she would, she
could not quite banish the mistress's side of the case from her mind.
Miss Burton was new and strange.  She would probably grow more human in
time if the girls did not too openly set themselves against her.  And
it was horrible to be unpopular.  Gerry had had full opportunity of
finding out how horrible unpopularity was.  She was trying so hard to
be brave--to live up to Muriel Paget's estimate of her--wasn't it
rather cowardly to go against her conscience like this just for the
sake of gaining the good opinion of her form-mates?  Gerry had a long
wrestle with her conscience as she sat at her desk that evening, when,
all the rest of her preparation done, she was debating within herself
whether or not she should start upon the work Miss Burton had set.  But
in the end, her longing for Jack's friendship overcame her sense of
right and wrong.  And she stifled back the small protesting voice
within her.

"I promised the others I wouldn't, and I can't break my promise now,"
she argued to herself.

And when the bell rang for the end of preparation, the struggle was
over.  Friendship had won, and Gerry, in company with the rest of the
Lower Fifth, had left undone the whole of the work that Miss Burton had
set.



CHAPTER XIV

CHESTNUTS

The week-end went by much more happily than Gerry would have believed
possible a few days ago.  The members of the Lower Fifth were rather
shy of her as a whole, it is true.  But although, with the exception of
Jack and Nita, they made no positive advances towards the new girl, yet
they did not behave nearly as coldly as they had been doing of late.

And Jack was friendly enough to make up for all the others.  She was
rather fixed up with partners for the various week-end events; but she
chattered away gaily to Gerry at meal-times, invited her to stand with
Nita and herself to watch the hockey match on the Saturday afternoon,
and generally did her utmost to make Gerry feel happy and at home.

On Sunday evening after tea, Gerry, who had put in an attendance at
both the morning services and had so secured exemption from the evening
service at St. Peter's, went to the library to find a book.  Having
procured one which promised to be interesting, she returned to the
Lower Fifth sitting-room, and finding it empty, curled herself up on
the hearthrug in front of the fire, and prepared for a happy if
somewhat solitary evening.  She had not been established there very
long, however, before the door opened and Jack came into the room.

She dropped down beside Gerry on the hearth-rug and peered over her
shoulder at the book.

"What are you reading?" she asked.  "Anything interesting?  Do you want
to read very badly, or will you mind if we put out the light?  Nita's
coming in directly, and we'd arranged to have a cosy confab in the
firelight.  All the others are going to the organ recital, and we
thought it would be a splendid opportunity to have a nice quiet evening
all to ourselves."

"Is there an organ recital?" said Gerry.  "I didn't know."

"Yes, there's been a notice up about it on the notice-board all the
week.  You are a blind old bat, Gerry, always up in the clouds.  I
don't believe you know half that goes on in the school.  Miss Martyn's
giving one in the Chapel this evening, but you needn't go to it unless
you want--it's optional.  Stay here and have a jolly evening with Nita
and me.  Here comes Nita."

The door opened at that moment, and Nita came quickly into the room.

"Hullo, here you are!  I've got them all right----" she began, then
stopped short at the sight of Gerry.  In the dim light--Jack had
switched off the overhead lamps, and the room was only lighted now by
the glow from the fire--she had not seen her quite at first.  "Oh, it's
you, is it?" she said, somewhat abruptly.  "I thought you'd gone to the
organ recital."

Jack grinned at Nita's look of dismay and turned to Gerry with a
chuckle of amusement.

"It's all right--don't take any notice of Nita.  She doesn't really
mean to be rude--it's just her way.  Don't stand there looking like a
stuffed owl, Nita.  Gerry won't split.  Will you, Gerry?"

"Split?  Split on what?" asked Gerry, looking from one girl to the
other in bewilderment.

"Why, we're going to have a chestnut-roasting, Nita and I.  We were out
for a walk with the three Fourth Forms this afternoon.  Miss Burton
took it.  And we went by the chestnut plantation on Sir John Boyne's
place--you know it, don't you, up by Southdown Woods?  Nita and I gave
the rest of them the slip and lay low in the plantation until they'd
all gone past.  Then we just set to and stuffed our pockets with
chestnuts.  There were loads of them, all eating ones, you know, and
when the walk came back we tagged ourselves on to it without anyone
getting wise.  And we've planned to roast them in here while the others
are at the organ recital.  We didn't mean to let anyone else know, but
we don't mind you--do we, Nita?"

"Oh no, of course not," said Nita hastily.  But there was not quite so
much conviction in her voice as Gerry would have liked to have heard in
it.  However, Jack's evident anxiety for her company made up for Nita's
lack of cordiality; and soon the three of them were amicably engaged in
scorching their faces and burning their fingers over the chestnuts.

It was very cosy in the sitting-room, curled up on the hearthrug in
front of the glowing fire, which Jack had taken care to build up well
before tea and which was now a flaming mass of red-hot coals.  Jack was
in one of her merriest, maddest moods, and her mirth infected the other
two as well.  Nita forgot her slight annoyance at finding that Gerry
was to be a participator in the chestnut-roasting, and Gerry herself
was too happy for words as she sat beside Jack in the flickering
firelight.  For Jack was leaning against her in the friendliest way,
and it seemed to the new girl that all her school troubles were over at
last, and that nothing but friendship and happiness lay before her.

But suddenly, while the merriment was at its height, the sitting-room
door opened abruptly, and a stream of light from the passage outside
poured into the room.  Nita sprang to her feet, and Jack and Gerry
looked round in startled surprise.  A thin, angular figure stood in the
doorway, and a rasping voice exclaimed in disgusted tones:

"What is this smell of burning?"

"Jemima!  It's Miss Burton!" muttered Jack, as she scrambled to her
feet.  "Quick, Gerry, stuff the chestnuts into your pocket!
Anywhere--while I brush the shucks under the hearthrug.  She can't have
seen anything yet."

Gerry hastily gathered up what chestnuts she could lay her hands upon
and stuffed them into the one pocket her dress possessed.  Nita did the
same, while Jack disposed of the empty shells as best she could.  By
the time Miss Burton had succeeded in finding the switch and turning on
the light, nothing remained except the tell-tale smell of burning to
betray the fact that any unlawful feasting had recently taken place.

Jack sniffed innocently into the air.

"Burning, Miss Burton?  Is there a smell of burning?"

Miss Burton advanced into the room, looking suspiciously about her.
Her days of chestnut-roasting were so long over, that she was unable to
detect exactly the nature of the strange odour that assailed her
nostrils, although she was well aware that it was something that should
not have been in evidence in any well-conducted school.  However, there
appeared to be nothing that she could pounce upon, and she was obliged
to confine her energies to strictures upon the unconventional attitudes
in which she had surprised the three girls.

"Really, the way you girls behave in this school is atrocious!  Fancy
three big girls of fifteen sitting on the floor in that ugly attitude.
And why are you sitting in the dark?  Why are you here at all for that
matter?  Is there not an organ recital you ought to be attending?"

"The organ recital was optional, Miss Burton," said Jack respectfully.
Respect seemed to her the easiest way of getting rid of this very
unwelcome visitor.  "And Nita and Gerry and I thought we would rather
stay in here in the warm, and have a cosy talk over the fire."

"But why turn the lights out?" demanded the mistress, suspicious of the
extreme innocence of the three faces before her.  The innocence of two
of them, rather!  Gerry was not good at disguising her expression at
any time, and at the moment she was looking distinctly uncomfortable.

"We like sitting in the firelight best," said Jack glibly.  "It makes
it seem so much more cosy and mysterious.  Don't you think so yourself,
Miss Burton?"  From the keen interest of her tone an uninitiated
observer might have thought that it was really a matter of importance
to her to discover the mistress's private opinion on this engrossing
topic.

Miss Burton, however, was not to be thus beguiled.

"No, I cannot say that I do," she said stiffly.  She gave another
suspicious look around, but although she was not by any means convinced
of the innocency of her three pupils' proceedings, there seemed to be
nothing that she could lay hold of, and she turned reluctantly towards
the door.

And then at that inauspicious moment, Gerry's pocket--stuffed far
beyond its ordinary capacity with chestnuts--must suddenly give way!

There was a sound of ripping material, and the next moment a cascade of
chestnuts poured out upon the floor.  In a moment Miss Burton was upon
them, and the mystery of the strange smell became apparent to her.

"I _thought_ so!" she exclaimed triumphantly.  "I knew you were up to
some sort of mischief!  Attendance at Chapel may be optional, as you
say, but I am quite sure that you are not allowed to stay away in order
to roast chestnuts!"

"There's no rule that says we mayn't, that I know of," said Jack,
rather impudently.

The mistress glared at her.

"Don't be impertinent!" she said.  "If you are allowed to do it, why
did you attempt to conceal the chestnuts?  Come with me to Miss
Oakley--we will see what she has to say about it."

Any other mistress would have dealt with the affair herself, and not
have taken it up to the Head in such a drastic manner.  Jack gave a
gasp of dismay.  But she realised the futility of arguing with Miss
Burton, and with a shrug of her shoulders she walked towards the door.
Nita and Gerry followed in her wake, and the three culprits were
marched along the corridors to the headmistress's study, Miss Burton
keeping a strict eye upon them and bearing the chestnuts in her hands.

Miss Oakley was enjoying a quiet hour in her study, but she aroused
herself at once to attend to the mistress's complaint.  Miss Burton was
a newcomer, and although the headmistress had realised already that her
methods were not altogether the methods in vogue at Wakehurst Priory,
yet courtesy as well as school discipline demanded that her complaints
should be attended to.  So she listened gravely enough to the recital
of the reprehensible conduct of the three Lower Fifth girls, and their
attempted concealment of the chestnuts.

"Geraldine Wilmott had hidden them in her pocket," said the mistress,
having made out the worst possible case against the three culprits.
"That shows that she had a guilty conscience, I am inclined to think
that this girl is the worst of the three.  She was very rude and
insolent to me the other morning in class."

Miss Oakley glanced at Gerry's crimson face in surprise.  The new girl
always seemed so shy and quiet that rudeness and insolence were about
the last things she expected from her.  However, whatever the facts
might be of the incident in class, they had nothing to do with the
matter in hand, and she turned again to her contemplation of the
chestnuts.

"May I ask where you obtained these chestnuts?" she inquired mildly.

Jack answered for the other two.

"Nita and I got them while we were out walking this afternoon, if you
please, Miss Oakley."

"I don't think it does please me," said the mistress quietly.  "The
only chestnut trees that I know of near here belong to Sir John Boyne,
and I know he is very particular about trespassers on his estate.  Did
you go into his plantation to get them?"

"Yes," said Jack.

"Then you acted very wrongly, Jack," the headmistress said gravely.  "I
do not suppose that you quite realised it, but what you were doing was
nothing less than stealing.  If you had been poor children and had been
caught by the keepers, you would probably have been severely punished.
As it is, I cannot allow you to escape all punishment for your
wrong-doing.  You will all three write out, 'I must not steal,' three
hundred times, and hand your lines to Miss Burton not later than
to-morrow evening."

"But, please, Miss Oakley, Gerry didn't steal them.  She wasn't with us
out walking, and she didn't know anything about it until after tea,"
said Jack.

"But she helped you to eat them, I suppose?" said the headmistress.

"Y--yes, but she didn't have anything to do with thinking of the plan.
She just happened to be in the sitting-room, so we asked her to join
in," said Jack.

"Well, perhaps her crime wasn't quite so great as yours," said Miss
Oakley, with a little smile.  "All the same, since she took part in the
feasting, I think she also must pay for her pleasure.  Geraldine,
suppose you write out, 'Chestnuts are bad for the digestion,' one
hundred times--I think that will be enough for your share.  Now you may
go."

The three made their way back to the sitting-room, rather crestfallen
at the ignominious ending to their cosy evening, and full of wrath
against Miss Burton for what Jack termed her "beastly sneakiness."  At
least, Jack and Nita were full of wrath.  Gerry was too unhappy at
having got her friends into trouble to be angry with anybody.

"I'm most awfully sorry, Jack," she said miserably.  "If only my
beastly pocket hadn't burst it would have been all right!  I always
seem to be getting you into trouble!  I am such a stupid ass over
things!"

"Oh, that's all right," said Jack, trying to be magnanimous, although
she could not help agreeing with Gerry about her stupidity.  Gerry
certainly seemed an expert at doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
"You couldn't help your pocket bursting, of course."

But in spite of her words, Gerry could not help feeling that both her
companions blamed her a little for the unfortunate accident--Nita more
so, perhaps, than Jack.  It would have been some consolation if she had
been allowed to share fully in the punishment, but Jack, with that
scrupulous honesty of hers, had effectually prevented her from doing
that.  Gerry would gladly have done the lines for all three of them,
but that, of course, was impossible, and she could only bear her own
share of the burden laid upon them.

The organ recital was over by the time the three reached the Lower
Fifth sitting-room again, and the members of the form had returned to
their usual Sunday evening occupations.  Grumbling greatly at their
affliction, Jack and Nita got out their pens and paper and made a
beginning at their punishment task, for they knew that it would be all
that they could do to get the lines finished by the required time.  The
rest of the Lower Fifth listened sympathetically to their tale of woe,
and many were the censures upon the new mistress for her
unsportsman-like manner of dealing with the affair.

"Of course she ought to have lectured you herself, and let you off with
a conduct mark at most," exclaimed Dorothy Pemberton.  "Fancy taking
you up to the Head for a little thing like that!"

"But what a silly ass you must have been, Gerry Wilmott, to go letting
them drop just when she was going away," said Phyllis Tressider.
Phyllis still bore a grudge against Gerry because of the rowing the
head girl had given her on Gerry's behalf, and she had acquiesced very
unwillingly into taking the new girl into favour.

"I couldn't help it, my pocket burst," said Gerry.  And Jack, although
she herself blamed Gerry a little for the accident, hastened to take
her part.

"Shut up, Phyllis, and leave Gerry alone.  It wasn't her fault.  It was
that beast of a Miss Burton!  Never mind, though, we'll be revenged
upon her to-morrow.  Won't she be wild when she finds that we've none
of us done a single stroke of the work she set!"

"She'll report us to Miss Oakley, right away--you see if she doesn't,"
prophesied Hilda Burns gloomily.  "If she'll report a little thing like
roasting chestnuts, she's sure to take a big matter like refusing to do
our work up to the Head, too.  We're in for an awful time, in my
opinion.  I think we were asses to have done it.  It would have been
better to have got even with her in some safer way."

"Well, it's too late now to begin repenting about it," said Jack
cheerfully.  "And, anyway, we're all in it together, whatever happens."
And then she and Nita and Gerry settled down to their punishment lines.



CHAPTER XV

THE LOWER FIFTH IS MUTE

The first lesson on Monday morning was with Miss Latham.  The Lower
Fifth, by way of marking the contrast, or perhaps in order to soothe
their guilty consciences, had given extra attention to their
preparation for the English mistress, and matters progressed swimmingly
in consequence.  Miss Latham dealt out good marks lavishly.  Then, with
a word of praise for the careful manner in which the form had prepared
its work, she made way for Miss Burton.

It was the German lesson first.

"Let me see--I set an essay for your preparation, didn't I?" began the
new mistress briskly.  "Hilda Burns, you are head of this form, kindly
collect the papers and bring them to me."

Hilda rose from her desk, then hesitated, while her eye swept round the
classroom.  Every member of the form sat rigidly at attention, while
every desk was bare of essay papers.  With a little gasp of
nervousness, Hilda endeavoured to break the news of the Lower Fifth's
unpreparedness for the lesson.

"If you please, Miss Burton, I don't think there are any essays to be
given in."

Miss Burton stared at her in undisguised amazement.

"No essays?  What do you mean, child?  Do you mean to tell me that
nobody in the whole form has had time to do their preparation?"

"I--I don't think there are any essays done," evaded Hilda.

Miss Burton continued to stare at the head of her form for a moment or
two.  Then a grim expression came over her face and she turned to the
other girls.

"Hands up, please, those of you who have done the essay that I set,"
she commanded.

Not a hand was raised.  The whole form sat in rigid stillness; and the
mistress put her question in a slightly different form.

"Hands up those of you who have not done it," she said.

With a promptness that would have done the form credit in a drill
display, a hand shot up from every girl, while a stifled giggle ran
round the room at the look of blank astonishment that spread over the
mistress's face.

"I shall be obliged if someone will enlighten me as to why this work
has not been done," Miss Burton said at length in her stiffest manner.
But although she waited for an answer, none came.  Once more she turned
to Hilda.

"Hilda Burns, will you please explain why the form has not done the
preparation that I set?" she demanded.  But there was no satisfactory
explanation to be got out of Hilda.  The head of the form blushed and
stammered and fidgeted, but no coherent answer was forthcoming from
her, and at last the mistress gave up the attempt to elicit one.

"Since you refuse to give me any explanation, I can only put down your
omission to prepare the essay to rank laziness," she remarked icily.
"Possibly you thought that as I was a newcomer, you could do what you
liked in my classes.  You will find that you have made a mistake, for I
assure you that I am going to stand no nonsense.  Of course, there will
be no marks for this lesson, and you will write the essay for the next
German class in addition to the fresh work which I shall set you.  I
had intended to read your essays aloud and criticise them in class, but
since they are not written I cannot, of course, do that."

"Thank the Lord they aren't written, then," muttered Jack in an aside
to Phyllis Tressider.  Unfortunately for Jack, Miss Burton's quick ears
caught the remark and she pounced upon the offender in a trice.

"Joanna Pym, take a bad mark," she snapped.  Then she resumed her
address to the rest of the form.

"Since I cannot carry out my original intention of criticising your
essays, I am going to ask you questions in German which I shall expect
you to answer in that language.  Dorothy Pemberton, you are sitting at
the end of a row, I shall begin with you.  Everybody pay attention,
please.  Dorothy, 'Was hast du während deinen Sommerferien getan?'"

It was a question to which Dorothy could have found any amount of
suitable answers, but, mindful of the compact with the form, she sat in
silence and the question passed to her next-door neighbour, Phyllis.
Phyllis also passed it, and thereafter Miss Burton went from one girl
to another without receiving any attempt at a reply.  When the whole
form had passed the question in dead silence, the mistress, quivering
with anger, propounded another.

"'Warum halten die Dichter der Frühling für die schönsten der
Jahreszeiten?'" she inquired, with a ferocity which was rather at
variance with the peaceful tenor of the question.

Once again it was Dorothy's turn to answer.  Once again she passed the
question, and once again it travelled right round the form without
eliciting a response in German or in any other language.

"Does anybody know the meaning of this sentence?" asked Miss Burton
sarcastically, still struggling to preserve her self-control.
Everybody knew it, of course, but nobody would condescend to say so,
and the class retained its stubborn demeanour.

Then the mistress could contain her wrath no longer.  The storm broke,
and for a quarter of an hour the Lower Fifth sat and listened to a
raging denunciation of its stupidity, its crass ignorance and
unbelievable insolence, poured out upon them in no measured terms.  By
rights, the Lower Fifth should have writhed in its seats as it listened
to the fiery condemnation of its new form-mistress.  But in reality it
did no such thing.  It was delighted at having aroused the enemy to
such indignant anger, and the members of the form drank in with unholy
joy the richness of the abuse poured out upon them.

Towards the end of the lesson, however, Miss Burton suddenly calmed
down.

"It is evidently no use _my_ saying anything to you," she said.  "We
will see what Miss Oakley has to say when she hears about it."

It was a threat for which the Lower Fifth were prepared, certainly, but
one which filled them with considerable uneasiness, nevertheless.  The
German lesson was over at last, but it was followed immediately by an
algebra class which Miss Burton was also supposed to take.  Absolutely
no attempt had been made to touch the preparation set for it, and as
soon as she had ascertained this fact, the mistress adopted a line of
action for which the Lower Fifth was totally unprepared.

"Kindly put all your books and papers away in your desks.  Pencils and
indiarubbers, too, and rulers.  Has everybody put everything away?
Then you will all of you kindly sit in silence during this next hour.
I do not intend to waste my time in trying to teach a class which
refuses to allow itself to be taught.  Since you have all elected to do
nothing this morning, you can sit and _do_ it, while I correct
exercises for the Upper Fourth."

And to the form's dismay, the new mistress immediately set to work upon
a pile of exercise books, leaving the Lower Fifth to sit idle and
silent until the lesson should be over.

It is one thing to do nothing while an angry mistress is trying to make
you work!  Quite another to sit doing it in deadly boredom for a whole
hour!  The Lower Fifth had not known before how long an hour could be.
There were not even pencils to fidget about with, and the form felt
that it would almost rather have been marched at once to Miss Oakley
than have to endure this dreadful inaction any longer.  But Miss
Burton, having made up her mind to the penance her form should do, was
adamant.  She sat industriously correcting exercises, and addressed no
remark at all to the rebels, except to deal out order marks when people
fidgeted more than usual.  By the time the hour was over quite a lot of
these distinctions had been gained.

"Well, we shall have some marks to give in, anyway," said Jack, when
the Lower Fifth was released at eleven o'clock recess to refresh itself
with cocoa and biscuits in the dining-hall.  "Better have bad marks to
give in, I suppose, than none at all!"

"I wonder what she'll do when it comes to literature and she finds we
haven't prepared for that, either," said Hilda, with rather a tragic
expression on her face.  Hilda's conscience was troubling her a good
deal.  She had very lively visions of what the headmistress would
probably say about her responsibility as head of the form, when the
matter should get to her ears.

"Treat us the same way as she did in algebra class, I expect," said
Jack, with a grimace.  "Wasn't it a rotten thing to go and do?  I'd
much rather she had raved at us like she did over the German--that
really was rather fun!"

"It was rather cute of her, all the same," said Dorothy, with a sort of
grudging admiration.  "It made me feel rather mean when she settled
down to correcting those papers like that.  If she hadn't been quite so
lavish with her bad marks all the time, I almost believe I might have
repented a bit then."

"Oh, you'll repent all right, later on.  Don't you worry about that,"
said Jack philosophically.  "You just wait until Miss Oakley has given
us a jawing.  She'll make you feel an utter worm; you just see if she
doesn't!"

"I know she will!" said Hilda, with a groan.  "I say, don't you think
we'd better give in and tell Miss Burton that we're sorry?  There's a
perfectly awful time waiting for us if we go on with the strike."

"We've gone too far to draw back now," said Dorothy.  "So we may as
well go on a little longer and see if we can't accomplish something.
We've set out to show Miss Burton that she's come to an up-to-date
public school, and that her old-fashioned kindergarten methods won't go
down here.  Don't let's give in before the campaign's properly begun!"

"Courage, _mes amis_," cried Jack gaily, waving a biscuit over her
head.  "The worst is still to come, I admit, but we are martyrs in a
good cause.  We'll teach Miss Burton a lesson before we've done!  And
if we burn our own fingers in the doing of it--well, we knew we
shouldn't get off scot-free before we began, didn't we?"

"Anyway, we shall have a bit of a run for our money," observed Nita
Fleming, who had only just joined the group.  "Miss Oakley's gone away
till Wednesday--I was in the hall just now and saw her drive off.  That
means Thursday before the row can come off, at the very earliest."

"Hurrah!" shouted Jack.  "If we all hold together till then we shall
have broken Miss Burton's spirit, and shown her that she can't treat us
as though we were just a parcel of kids.  Thursday--why, who knows, we
may have brought her to terms by then!"

"There's the bell!" said Hilda.  "Buck up! it's Mademoiselle first, and
we don't want to be late for her."

The French lesson passed off most successfully, full marks being gained
by the whole form.  Then came a breathless moment while the form waited
for the reappearance of Miss Burton.  But to everybody's astonishment
it was the head girl, Muriel Paget, who walked into the classroom at
the conclusion of the French lesson.

"Miss Burton isn't coming to this class," announced the head girl in
cold tones.  "Miss Latham has asked me to come and sit here during the
lesson.  Get out your _Henry the Fifths_, please.  You are to copy out
Act I.  Scene ii. from the beginning, putting in all the
stage-directions and footnotes.  Those are Miss Latham's orders, and
what you don't have time to do now, you are to finish in prep to-night."

"My hat!  The whole of the second scene!" groaned Phyllis in a whisper.
"Why, there's pages and pages of it!"

"Silence, please!  There is to be no talking in class," rapped out
Muriel, frowning.  Phyllis, catching the frown, relapsed into instant
silence, and meekly found the place in her copy of _Henry V_.  Defying
the new mistress was one thing, but to defy the head girl was quite
another.  And soon the whole of the Lower Fifth was struggling with
ink-stained fingers and much inward groaning of spirit to accomplish
the irksome and monotonous task allotted to it.

Miss Burton did not return to the classroom at all that morning, and at
the end of school, Muriel set the preparation for the evening and
prepared to take the marks.  Miss Latham's awards for English came
first and were duly noted down.  Then came the marks for the German
class.

"German, now," said Muriel.  "Hilda Burns, how many?"

"None," came from Hilda.

"Dorothy Pemberton?"

"None."

"Phyllis Tressider?"

"None."

And so on throughout the whole form, right down to Gerry Wilmott, whose
name as the last comer was placed last upon the list.  Muriel made no
comment upon the scandalous result, but called for the marks for
algebra.  Once again the same comedy was enacted.  Then came the good
marks obtained from Mademoiselle, and then the last class for
literature.  Muriel did not ask any questions respecting these.

"You have none of you any marks for literature," she said.  "Any bad
marks to give in?"

There were several, and the head girl's eyebrows went up as she put
them down.

"Is that _all_?" she asked sarcastically, when at last she had disposed
of all the upraised hands.  Then she closed the mark-book and prepared
to descend from the high desk.

"I hope you are pleased with your morning's work," she said, and went
out of the room, leaving a somewhat discomfited Lower Fifth behind her.

"I say!  The fat _is_ in the fire if all the Sixth know about it!" said
Dorothy uncomfortably.

"What a perfectly, beastly mean sneak that Miss Burton is!" exclaimed
Phyllis.

"Well, all I can say is, we shall have to make things so beastly
uncomfortable for her that she'll just _have_ to go!" said Jack
vindictively.  Then she relapsed into a rather sheepish grin.  "At any
rate, it is to be hoped that we shall," she said.  "For we've certainly
succeeded in making things beastly uncomfortable for ourselves."

A remark with which the whole form mournfully agreed.



CHAPTER XVI

A GREAT DECISION

"Done your lines yet?" inquired Jack, catching Gerry up just as the
latter was going into the Lower Fifth classroom for preparation that
evening.

"Very nearly," said Gerry.  "I've only got about another ten to do, I
think.  I've come in early so as to finish them and take them up to
Miss Burton before the prep bell goes.  How are you getting on with
yours?"

"Oh, about half-way through, I think," said Jack carelessly.  "But it
doesn't matter.  I shall do them in prep to-night instead of any of
Miss Burton's work.  I shouldn't bother about them at all if it wasn't
Miss Oakley who had set them.  As it is, I shall have to do them, I
suppose.  It doesn't pay to disobey the Head, I can tell you," she
added, with emphasis.

Jack and Gerry were not the only two members of the Lower Fifth who had
come in early for preparation that night.  When they entered the
classroom, they found several of the girls there already.  Most of them
were gathered around Hilda Burns's desk, apparently endeavouring to
persuade her to some course of action.

"Here's Jack!" exclaimed Dorothy Pemberton in a tone of relief as the
two newcomers came into the room.  "I say, Jack, _do_ come here and
talk to Hilda!  She wants to cave in and do Miss Burton's prep.  I tell
her that she'll be a traitor to the form if she does."

"Of course, she will be!" cried Jack.  "And, besides, it won't be the
slightest use caving in now.  Miss Burton's got her knife into us like
blazes.  She's sure to take the matter up to the Head, anyway, so we
may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb!"

"That's what I say," said Dorothy.  "But Hilda's got an attack of
nerves or conscience or something.  Pull yourself together, old girl,
and stick to it.  As Jack says, we're bound to get into a beastly row
anyhow, so we might as well try and accomplish our purpose before we
cave in."

"But what is our purpose?" argued Hilda, still unconvinced, but
manifestly wavering.

"To teach Miss Burton a lesson, of course.  To show her that she can't
go sticking the Lower Fifth in corners as though we were a parcel of
babies from the First Form!  To make her see how jolly unpopular she's
made herself, and to induce her to treat us better for the future if
she stays on--which I jolly well hope Miss Oakley won't let her do!"
said Jack, with a fine flourish of eloquence.

"Good old Jack!" said Dorothy approvingly.  "That's put it in a
nutshell.  Now, Hilda, say you'll stick to it and refuse to work for
Miss Burton, or--or we'll send you to Coventry or something!"

The threat was made laughingly.  Dorothy knew well enough that Hilda's
strength of purpose was not sufficient for her to stand out against the
whole of her form when it actually came to the point.  This was not the
first time she had had to deal with the conscience of the head of the
form.  Hilda was apt to get these belated attacks of panic when
nefarious schemes were afoot in the Lower Fifth, but never yet had she
been known to make a stand for her convictions.  And this occasion
proved no exception to the general rule.  Seeing that public opinion
was all in favour of continuing the strike, she yielded, with one last
feeble protest.

"Well, don't blame me when Miss Oakley comes down upon us like a ton of
bricks!" she said, as she got out the books and papers for the
preparation set by Miss Latham and Mademoiselle.

"We won't, old thing," promised Jack.  "And if there's anything left of
us after the Head's done with us, we'll let you say, 'I told you so,'
as many times as you like!  I'm sure it will be no end of a consolation
to you!"

While this argument was in progress, Gerry had been quietly finishing
her lines.  She had now completed writing out "Chestnuts are bad for
the digestion" one hundred times, and, fastening her papers neatly
together with a paper-fastener, she glanced up at the clock.  It still
wanted four minutes to five o'clock.  If she was quick she would just
about have time to hand over her lines to Miss Burton before the prep
bell sounded, and, getting up from her desk, she left the classroom and
hurried along to the mistress's private study.

The bell rang just as she reached it, but, having come so far, Gerry
did not mean to turn back now.  She tapped at the door.  Then, as no
answer came, she tapped again, a little louder this time.

"Bother!  She isn't there," she said to herself.  "Never mind, though,"
she added.  "I'll put them on the table where she'll be sure to see
them."  And turning the handle of the door, she pushed it open to go
inside.

Then she stopped suddenly with her hand upon the door knob.  Miss
Burton was there, sitting in an easy-chair drawn up beside the cheerful
little fire which was blazing away on the hearth.  She was sitting in a
very dejected attitude, leaning forward with her head bowed upon her
hands--Gerry caught a momentary glimpse of her as the door opened.  But
before the girl could make any apology, the mistress was sitting bolt
upright in her usual rigid position and glaring at the intruder with
all her accustomed sternness.

"What do you mean by bursting into my sitting-room in this manner?" she
inquired severely.

"I--I'm very sorry," faltered Gerry.  "I did knock, twice--but nobody
answered, so I thought you must be out."

"So you came in to spy round my room in my absence, I suppose?" said
the mistress bitterly.

Gerry flushed hotly with indignation.

"No, indeed I didn't, Miss Burton!" she exclaimed.  "I was bringing you
my lines, and as you weren't here I thought I'd just put them somewhere
on your table where you would be sure to see them when you came back."

"Lines.  What lines?" asked the mistress as she held out her hand for
the papers.  Then, as Gerry gave them to her and she caught sight of
the sentence written out so many times, the recollection of the
chestnut episode came back to her.

"Ah yes, I remember," she said.  "So you _have_ condescended to do
these for me, have you?  What about the other two girls, Joanna and
Nita?  Are they writing theirs also?"

"Yes, but they had more to do than I had.  They'll bring theirs along
as soon as they've finished them," said Gerry, feeling suddenly more
embarrassed and uncomfortable than ever.  A bright flame from the fire
had sprung up, and by its light Gerry saw something which filled her
with dismay.

Miss Burton's eyes behind the gold-rimmed spectacles were unmistakably
red and wet with tears!  She had been crying!  Gerry, who had cried so
often during this unhappy term, knew the signs too well to be deceived.

"I suppose you felt you had to do them since Miss Oakley set them,"
said the mistress, still with that bitter note in her voice.  "I have
not time to examine them now.  I'll look through them presently and let
you know if they are tidy enough for me to accept."  And she made a
gesture of dismissal.

But Gerry still lingered.  She did not quite know what she could do,
but somehow it seemed impossible to go away and leave the new mistress
in trouble behind her.  Gerry was a tender-hearted person and she could
not bear to see others in distress.  She longed to be able to say
something comforting, but no words suitable to the occasion came to
her, and at last Miss Burton, seeing her still standing near the door,
spoke to her in angry exasperation.

"What are you waiting for, child!  Didn't you hear me say that I could
not look at them until later?  Go back to your classroom at once.  The
bell for preparation rang long ago."

Thus admonished, Gerry was obliged to leave the room, but she went very
reluctantly, and her progress back to the Lower Fifth classroom was
very slow indeed.  A tumult of conflicting emotions was raging within
her.  All along she had been uneasily aware that the strike against the
new mistress was wrong, and now the unmistakable traces of tears on
Miss Burton's plain face had borne in upon her how very wrong and mean
it was.  Something must be done at once to stop it--that was
evident--but yet what could she do?  What could one girl do against
many?--and an insignificant, unpopular new girl at that!

Just as she reached the top of the Upper School corridor she
encountered the head girl, who stopped with a friendly smile as she
recognised her.

"What are you doing here, kiddie?" said Muriel.  "Oughtn't you to be in
prep?"

"I'm just going," said Gerry.  "I had some lines to take to Miss
Burton, and I'm just on my way back."

"What have you been doing to get lines?" said Muriel.  Then, without
waiting for an answer to her question, she asked another:

"How did you get on at hockey to-day?  Did Alice play you forward?"

"Oh yes, thank you.  She put me outside right.  And I think I got on
much better," said Gerry eagerly.  "I--I am beginning to think I shall
like hockey when I've got a little more used to it," she added shyly.

"That's right!" said Muriel heartily.  "I knew you would when once
you'd found your feet a bit.  Half the trouble was that you were put to
play in the wrong place.  Don't forget that you are playing for the
dormitory again on Saturday."

"It's awfully good of you to give me another chance, Muriel," Gerry
said gratefully.  "I _do_ hope I shan't funk again."

"Funk?  Of course you won't," came the brisk reply.  "Make up your mind
that there's nothing to be frightened of, and funking will be the last
thing you'll want to do.  Nobody need ever be afraid of funking if
they'll forget about themselves and just play the game."

"Muriel----" began Gerry suddenly, and then stopped abruptly.

"Well, what's the matter?" asked Muriel.

"Nothing.  I--I was going to ask you something, but I don't think--yes,
I will, though!" Gerry added, with sudden determination.  "What would
_you_ do, Muriel, if you were doing something that you knew wasn't
right, and yet you'd _promised_ to do it?"

Muriel looked at the younger girl in some perplexity.

"What would I do if I'd promised to do something which I knew wasn't
right?" she repeated slowly.  "Well, the best thing would be not to
promise, wouldn't it?"

"I know that," said Gerry.  "But if you _had_ promised, what then?
It's wrong to break a promise, isn't it?"

"Yes, but--well, I don't quite know what to say," said the head girl.
"It's rather a difficult question to answer off-hand.  So much would
depend upon the circumstances.  Couldn't you tell me the whole story?
Then perhaps I'd be able to advise you better."

"I'm sorry--I'm afraid I can't do that," said Gerry desperately,
wondering what on earth had induced her to confide in the head girl at
all.  What _would_ Muriel be thinking of her, she wondered.  "It would
be sneaking if I did.  Can't you possibly tell me what you'd do if it
was you, without my telling you everything?"

"It's rather difficult," said Muriel, frowning.  "I don't want you to
tell me things that you ought not.  But, at the same time, I really
don't see how I can answer your question until I know a little more."

"I can't tell you any more," said Gerry, a little wistfully.  "But it
doesn't matter.  I daresay I shall be able to think of the answer for
myself."

"Wait a minute," said Muriel, as Gerry was moving away.  "I can't tell
you just what I should do without knowing all the circumstances; but
I'll tell you something my father told me when I first came to school,
and perhaps that will help you a bit.  It's helped me several times.
He said, 'If ever you are in a difficulty, and don't know what is the
right thing to do under any special circumstances, just think which
would be the hardest--and it's ten to one you'll find that the
_hardest_ way is right.'"

Gerry's eyes were bent upon the ground for a moment.  Then she lifted
them to meet the head girl's gaze with a look of determination in them
which touched Muriel strangely.

"Thank you," she said soberly.  "That has helped--I guess I know now
which is the right thing to do."  And with that queer look of decision
still upon her face, she turned away in the direction of the Lower
Fifth classroom.

"Queer kid, that," thought Muriel, as she made her way towards her
study, whither she was bound.  "I like her, though, all the same.
There's something in her, which is more than one can say for the
majority of the kids here.  It's a pity she's such an awful funk.
She'd really be quite a decent sort of girl if she could only get over
her nerves a bit."

If Muriel had only known it, the "awful funk" was on her way at that
moment to perform a braver action than the head girl, with all her
prowess at hockey and gym, had ever performed in her life.



CHAPTER XVII

INTO THE LION'S MOUTH

The Lower Fifth was deep in its preparation when Gerry entered the
classroom.  One or two heads were raised at her entrance, but nobody
paid much regard to her as she walked across the room to her desk,
which was in the front row.  The Lower Fifth was trusted to do its
preparation without a mistress's supervision, and, as a rule, this plan
worked well enough.  There was a certain amount of talking at times, it
is true, but not a very great deal, and the little there was did not
take place in general until all the more serious work of preparation
had been accomplished.  To-night the class was in the throes of a stiff
bit of translation for Mademoiselle, and nobody felt inclined to break
the silence.

Gerry reached her desk, but she did not sit down in it.  She hesitated,
then opened the desk and took out some books.  Still she did not sit
down, and once or twice she glanced nervously around the room, as
though she were about to speak.  But each time her courage failed her.

Her uneasiness communicated itself at length to her next-door
neighbour, Margaret Taylor, who, finding the translation more difficult
than she had expected, was inclined to be grumpy.

"I wish to goodness you'd sit down, Gerry Wilmott, and not keep
fidgeting about like that.  You're in my light, and goodness knows this
beastly translation is hard enough without having to do it in the dark
into the bargain," she snapped.

"I'm sorry," said Gerry.  Then, having found her tongue at last, she
plunged at once into what she had to say, fearing lest she would never
find courage to say it at all if she let this opportunity slip.

"I want to say," she began, "that I'm--I'm awfully sorry, but I'm not
going on with the strike any longer."

It was out at last!  And Gerry waited in trembling expectation for the
storm to burst.  It was some while in coming, for the Lower Fifth did
not take in quite what she was saying at first.

"What on earth do you mean?" asked Dorothy Pemberton, looking up from
her exercise with knitted brows.

"I--I mean the strike about not doing Miss Burton's work," stammered
Gerry.

"Well--what about it?" asked Phyllis Tressider menacingly.

"Only that--that I can't go on with it.  I--I don't think it's quite
fair to Miss Burton," said Gerry, finding the task even harder than she
had imagined it would be.

"Do you mean to say that you're not going to stick in with the rest of
us--that you are going to back out and do her work?  Surely you're not
going to be a traitor to the form like that?" cried Dorothy.

Poor Gerry looked acutely miserable.  She felt Jack's reproachful eyes
upon her, and she knew that if she persisted in her present attitude
the friendship which was so precious to her, and which seemed at last
to be within her grasp, would be dreadfully endangered.  For a moment
she felt that she could not go on.  Why should she give up
everything--Jack's friendship, the good opinion of the girls, the
happiness of the last few days, and allow herself to be branded as a
hopeless prig--all for the sake of a mistress who had shown her nothing
but injustice?  Then the memory of the red eyes behind Miss Burton's
spectacles, the abject misery of the mistress's attitude when she had
opened the door of the room, came back to Gerry's mind.  Perhaps one
girl couldn't do very much towards making things better for the
unpopular mistress, but she could at least refrain from making things
worse.  The words Muriel had said to her in the passage about the
hardest way being nearly always the right one, rang in Gerry's ears.
There was no doubt in Gerry's mind as to which was the hardest way!
For all her timidity Gerry had a curious moral courage of her own, and
it seemed to her now that it would be the height of cowardice to give
in just to gain the good opinion of her form-mates.  A moment more she
hesitated while she met Jack's astonished, reproachful gaze.  Then
conscience triumphed over even that unutterable longing for Jack's
friendship.

"I don't want to be a traitor to the form," she said in a low voice,
yet clear and distinct enough for all to hear.  "But all the same, I
can't go on with the strike.  I was in Miss Burton's room just now and
she had been crying, and I'm sure it was all about us.  Whatever the
rest of you are going to do, I, for one, shall do Miss Burton's
preparation."

"But why, why, _why_?" cried Jack, starting up impetuously and coming
over to Gerry's side.  "Don't be a priggish little donkey, Gerry," she
added, not unkindly.  "You can't stick out when all the rest of us are
in it.  Hang on a little bit longer.  We'll come out top of this
struggle, you just see if we don't!"

"I'm sorry," repeated Gerry miserably, "but I can't, Jack.  It--it
isn't fair to Miss Burton."

"But who wants to be fair to her?" cried Jack impatiently.  "Was she
fair to you the other morning when she accused you of whispering in
class and stuck you in the corner like a baby?  Was she fair over
taking that chestnut business up to the Head?  Don't be a silly little
fool, Gerry.  Chuck your lot in with the rest of us, and let's get rid
of this rotten mistress if we can."

"I'm sorry, Jack, but--but I can't," said Gerry again.

"Oh, Gerry, you can----" began Jack remonstratingly.  But Dorothy
Pemberton broke in upon her persuasions with an impatient exclamation.

"Oh, let German Gerry alone!" she said cuttingly.  "Of _course_ she
won't stick in with us!  She's far too much of a sneak, and far too
much of a coward to risk a row with Miss Oakley.  What's the good of
arguing with a coward!"

"Look here, if we're not all going to be in it, I'm coming out too,"
exclaimed Hilda Burns suddenly.  "It was all very well striking when we
were all hanging together, but it's quite a different thing if some of
them are going to back out.  You can take me off the list of strikers
too."

"Are you going to be a coward as well?" said Dorothy sneeringly.  But
it was too late.  The defection started by Gerry spread rapidly.  Since
the morning, the strike, which had at first seemed to be merely a more
or less harmless rag, had begun to appear in its right light, and the
hearts of the Lower Fifth were no longer in the business.  Several
members of the form were glad to find an excuse for backing out of
their contract, and soon some nine or ten of the girls had retracted
their vows of defiance.

"Oh, well, of course, if you're _all_ going to funk it, it's no good
going on with it at all," said Dorothy sulkily.  "We've all got to hang
together or, of course, it's no use.  I should have thought you'd have
been ashamed to follow the example of a German Gerry, though!" she
added, with biting sarcasm, as she cast a look of malevolence at Gerry.

Then her eyes fell upon Jack, who was still lingering hesitatingly by
Gerry's desk, and the sight spurred her on to make one more spiteful
thrust at Gerry.

"There's _one_ thing, Gerry Wilmott, you may as well understand right
away.  _You're_ not going to gain anything by what you've done
to-night.  You may have broken our strike,--no strike can stand out
against a blackleg,--but all the same, you'll wish you'd stayed in with
us before you've finished.  I don't know what those _rabbits_ are going
to do," with a contemptuous glance towards Hilda and the other girls
who had seceded, "but I think I can answer for the rest of the form all
right.  No decent girl in the Lower Fifth will ever speak to you again,
if they can help it."

She turned to Jack.

"Surely _you_ won't have anything more to do with such a rotten coward,
Jack?" she said contemptuously.

Jack looked down at Gerry.  But Gerry's eyes were fixed miserably upon
her desk, and she did not see the questioning look upon the face of the
girl with whom she most longed to be friends.  And while Jack still
lingered, Phyllis Tressider clinched matters.

"She's not only a coward--she's a sneak as well!" she said, glad to see
her enemy in such disgrace again.  "I bet she let those chestnuts drop
out of her pocket yesterday on purpose to get you and Nita into a row."

"Oh, Phyllis, I didn't!  Jack, it isn't true; I didn't do it on
purpose!" cried Gerry, dismayed at such a motive being attributed to
her.

But the shaft had gone home.  Against her own better judgment, Jack had
felt all along that Gerry had been unnecessarily careless over that
chestnut affair.  In her heart of hearts she had not been able to help
blaming her a little for the row that had followed.  And now Phyllis's
unjust accusation went home to roost.  Jack's better moment, in which
she had been half-inclined to stand by Gerry, passed.  Dorothy's taunts
and jeers and Phyllis's malicious suggestions achieved their end.  No,
of course she couldn't be friends with a girl who was a coward and a
sneak!  And all unaware of the tremendous courage it had needed for
Gerry to make her stand, Jack turned away and went back to her own desk.

And so the momentary break in Gerry's sky was over.  The clouds were
back again, as thick as they were before--thicker this time, if
possible!

Truly, some ill-luck seemed to dog the steps of the unfortunate
occupant of Cubicle Thirteen!



CHAPTER XVIII

THE END OF THE STRIKE

One thing Gerry's defection certainly had done--it had quite broken the
strike.  Phyllis and Dorothy tried their best to spur up the courage of
the form again, but it was of no use.  There were waverers, but the
unity of the Lower Fifth was destroyed.  Unless the greater part of the
form would consent to down books, the strike was bound to fail.  It
would be no good for just a few of the girls to refuse to do their
preparation.

"Then I suppose we'd better set to work and try and rub up some of Miss
Burton's stuff," said Dorothy at last, with sulky resignation.  "I've
got Muriel's directions for literature down, but nothing for German or
algebra.  Anybody remember what she set us this morning?"

Nobody had actually taken down the preparation for the new
form-mistress, but one or two people had vague recollections of what it
ought to have been, and during the short time that remained that
evening, a real effort was made by the class to prepare a little for
the next day's lessons.  Contrary to general expectation, Miss Burton
turned up to take her refractory form the next morning,--the prevailing
opinion in the Lower Fifth had been that she would "funk" it,--and she
was so agreeably surprised at her pupils' change of attitude that she
made considerable allowance for deficiencies.

At the end of the morning's work, when lesson after lesson had passed
and the Lower Fifth still remained dutifully attentive and amenable to
discipline, the mistress's relief was so great that she was emboldened
to make a short speech upon the subject.

"I am very glad to see that you have repented of your rebellious
behaviour of yesterday," she said primly, blinking at her form a little
nervously, nevertheless, over her spectacles.  "Since you have made up
your minds to submit to my authority, we will let bygones be bygones,
and I will refrain from reporting your disobedience to Miss Oakley.
You have had a very narrow escape, though.  If Miss Oakley had not been
away yesterday, I should most certainly have reported your conduct to
her at once."

Then, as though repenting of her leniency, she went on in a more severe
tone.

"But because I have let you off this time, you must not imagine that I
shall do so again.  I shall expect very much better work from you for
the future.  Your preparation for this morning's lessons was very far
from perfect, and you will need to work very much harder to attain the
standard I shall expect from you.  Your algebra examples, Geraldine
Wilmott, were especially badly prepared."

That, upon the whole, was hardly surprising!  Gerry had been so
miserable the previous evening, that it was a wonder that she had been
able to do any preparation at all.  The Lower Fifth smiled in broad
amusement as the mistress made this pointed remark.  It struck them as
screamingly funny that Miss Burton should have picked out Gerry's work
for special condemnation, when it was really entirely through Gerry
that the form had done any work at all.  They had yet to learn how fond
life is of playing such practical jokes.

"It's all very well for her to talk like that," said Hilda Burns when
the subject came up for discussion in the Lower Fifth sitting-room
after tea that evening.  The form was waiting for the bell to ring to
summons it to preparation.  "But she's jolly pleased not to have to
report us to the Head!  I happen to know that Miss Burton was most
frightfully upset about us on Monday morning.  It seems that Miss
Oakley gave Burtie a pretty broad hint about not sneaking about us all
the time--after that chestnut affair of yours on Sunday evening, Jack.
Burtie was downright scared at the thought of having to go to her again
so soon."

"How on earth do you know that?" said Jack grumpily.  Jack had been
grumpy all day.  In fact, Nita declared that for some unknown reason
she had been in a perfect wax ever since preparation the night before.

"Why, I was in the library just before tea, changing a book, and Monica
was library monitress, and while I was hunting round the shelves
Kathleen Milne came in to look up something for Miss Latham.  And they
began to talk about our little affair, and Kathleen said that Muriel
had told her that Miss Latham had told _her_ that it was no end of a
relief to Miss Burton when we caved in.  For Burtie was afraid that if
there was another row Miss Oakley would have given her the sack."

"Doesn't sound much like Miss Latham to talk like _that_," said Jack
scathingly.

"Oh, well, of course you don't suppose _she_ said it like that, do you,
donkey?" said Hilda impatiently.  "That was what Kathleen said Muriel
said, at least something like.  I didn't hear any more, because Monica
saw me listening and shut Kathleen up.  Monica's always so awfully
virtuous about not discussing the mistresses."

"It's jolly sickening to think how near we were to getting rid of that
Burton beast," commented Dorothy, with a malicious look at Gerry, who
was sitting forlornly at the table, attempting to engross herself in a
book.  "If it hadn't been for German sneaks we should have got her
turned out in a week!"

"Yes--and got ourselves into a jolly fine row into the bargain," said
Jack fiercely.  "You're forgetting that part of it, Dorothy Pemberton."

Dorothy opened wide eyes at what she considered was an entirely
unprovoked attack.

"All right, Jack Pym.  Keep your hair on!" she retorted, with dignity.
"You seem to forget that you were one of the ones who was keenest on
the strike before that rotten German kid muffed the whole business for
us."

A stifled exclamation came from the table where Gerry was sitting, and
the new girl rose to her feet and hurried out of the room.

A spiteful chuckle came from Phyllis Tressider.

"You seem to have upset German Gerry, Dolly," she remarked to her chum.

Jack sprang to her feet in a sudden flare of temper.  The abruptness of
her movement upset the chair she was sitting upon, and she kicked at it
viciously.

"Oh, you two!  You are the meanest, caddiest girls in the whole school!
Why can't you leave Gerry in peace?" she stormed angrily.

"My hat!  Listen to the preacher!" jeered Dorothy, unperturbed.  "I
didn't know you'd turned into such a protector of the helpless, Jack.
You'd better go after your precious friend and console her, if you're
so jolly fond of her as all that."

"I've a jolly good mind to," said Jack, still furious.  "I think the
way we're all treating her is a beastly mean shame."

"What!  Do you mean to say you'd be friends with a kid who got you and
Nita into such a row over those chestnuts?" cried Phyllis.

Jack hesitated.  Those chestnuts rankled in her mind badly.  It was
very careless of Gerry!  Still, it _might_ have been an accident, and,
anyway, Gerry had been punished for it too, even if not quite so
heavily as she and Nita.  Dorothy saw her hesitation and quickly
interposed.  She had no wish to see Jack Pym friends again with Gerry.
Dorothy had a shrewd suspicion of what Jack's friendship meant to the
lonely new girl, and she was determined to prevent any sort of
reconciliation if she possibly could.

"Did _you_ think it could possibly have been an accident?" she asked,
addressing Nita Fleming, the other unfortunate victim of Gerry's
carelessness.

"I don't know," said Nita doubtfully.  "At the time I thought it was,
but afterwards--well, I really don't see how it _could_ have been quite
accidental," she ended up.

"Of course it wasn't an accident!" broke in Phyllis scornfully.  "It
was just what you would expect of a German sneak.  Hasn't she been
getting us into trouble all through the term?  Have you forgotten the
way she stopped your trial for the hockey eleven in the beginning of
term, so that Muriel put Gertie Page in, instead?  You can't say we
haven't given her a chance.  We were all quite decent to her after Miss
Burton dropped down upon her in class the other day--and now look how
she's paid us out!  It was principally for her sake that we decided to
strike at all, and then, when we're all deep into it, she goes and
backs out!  It's just what you'd expect of a German Gerry, though," she
wound up contemptuously.

This was a way of twisting things round with a vengeance!  Jack could
not help feeling that it was more than unjust to Gerry.  But Phyllis's
ability of proving black was white was too much for Jack, who felt
quite unable to argue with her.  And a remark made by Dorothy clinched
matters for the time being.

"If you _do_ make friends with her again, we won't have anything to do
with you either," she declared spitefully.

And this was more than Jack was brave enough to stand.

All through her school life Jack had been extraordinarily popular, and
the bare thought of being out of favour with her schoolfellows was
sufficient to deter her from taking Gerry's part any longer.  Not that
there was any real danger of her getting into their bad books.  In her
heart of hearts she knew very well that her standing in the school was
strong enough to withstand any attempts Dorothy and Phyllis might make
to stir up feeling against her.  But Jack could not bear the thought of
being unpopular with anybody.  And when Nita got up and slipped her arm
affectionately round her neck, with a caressing:

"You're surely not going to be such an ass as to try and take up with
Gerry Wilmott again, are you, old thing?" she succumbed entirely.

"Of course I'm not going to take her up again," she said, with dignity.
"She's such a little coward that I couldn't be _friends_ with her,
however much I might like her otherwise.  But I do hate to hear Dorothy
ragging her so.  She and Phyllis are perpetually nagging at her and
making beastly remarks in her hearing.  It's so jolly mean to be always
doing things like that!"

"I agree with you, there," said Nita.  "I think we all do, except
Dorothy and Phyllis.  I vote we just let her alone now.  As Jack says,
it's beastly mean to keep on saying rotten things about her being
German and a sneak, however much she may be one really."

"Who wants to keep on saying rotten things to her?" Dorothy said
testily, realising that for once popular opinion was against her.  "I'm
sure I don't.  I never want to see or speak to her again!  I wish to
goodness she'd never come to the school!  Nearly every row we've had
this term has been through her or about her in some way."

"There's the bell for prep," said Jack suddenly, glad of the
opportunity of breaking off the conversation.  "Come on, Nita, let's
buck up and go in."

And the Lower Fifth ceased its wrangling over poor Gerry and hastened
into the class-room.



CHAPTER XIX

THE LITTLE BLACK DOG

The next few days were very miserable ones for Gerry.  It is true that,
following Jack's example, the majority of the Lower Fifth did refrain
from hurting her feelings by making unkind remarks.  But the girls left
her very severely alone, and after the happier conditions of the
week-end, Gerry found her renewed solitude very hard to bear.  The news
that she was in trouble with her form for "sneaking" spread through the
school, and although they had no part in the Lower Fifth's grievances,
the rest of the girls refrained from speaking to the culprit as well.
Nobody troubled to inquire just what shape her "sneakiness" had
taken--that was the unjust part of it!  Without hearing Gerry's side of
the case, the whole school--with the exception of the Sixth Form, to
whose august ears the rumour had not as yet penetrated--joined with the
Lower Fifth in leaving poor Gerry out in the cold.

Not that anybody had ever held much converse with the hopelessly shy,
silent girl, who, it was said, was an out-and-out German on one side of
her parentage, and who had done many sneaky and cowardly things.  But
even such little formalities as passing the salt at meal-times, saying
"After you" when washing hands in the cloakroom, or "Sorry" when banged
into at hockey practice, were dispensed with now!  Until you have tried
it personally it is impossible to know how very, very lonely and
uncomfortable being unpopular at school can be!

Added to all Gerry's other troubles, Miss Burton seemed to make a "dead
set at her," as the form expressed it, during that unhappy week.
Certainly Gerry's work was far from being well done.  She was so
utterly cast-down and wretched that it seemed almost impossible to do
any work at all.  It was really rather marvellous that she managed as
well as she did.  But to Miss Burton the work seemed atrociously
performed, and she took no pains to hide her opinion of it from Gerry
or from the form at large.  Hardly a day passed without Gerry's being
publicly scolded for her poor attempts at preparation, and returned
lessons became a regular rule.  The Lower Fifth listened to Miss
Burton's tirades against the newest member of the form in unveiled
amusement--with the exception of Jack!  Jack's conscience was hurting
her very badly during that week.  If the truth had only been known, she
was not very much happier than Gerry herself.

The Thursday following Gerry's plucky stand for law and order was an
especially black day for the new girl.  Miss Burton had been very
irritable and captious in class, more so even than usual, and most of
her anger was vented upon Gerry.  At the close of the morning, Gerry
found herself with two returned lessons, three bad marks, and a total
of twelve good ones out of a possible fifty!

"Really, Geraldine," said the mistress as she closed her mark-book,
"these results are disgraceful!  One of the children from the First
Form could have done better than that.  Have you any explanation at all
to offer of the slack way you are working?"

Yes, Gerry had an explanation!  Quite an adequate one too!  But it was
not one that she could tell to Miss Burton.  So she said nothing at
all, merely clenching her hands tighter under the desk in the endeavour
to keep back the tears that were not so very far away at the moment.

Her silence appeared to exasperate the mistress.

"Answer me when I speak to you, Geraldine.  Have you any explanation to
give of the disgraceful way you have done your work this morning?"

"No, Miss Burton," muttered Geraldine, hanging her head.

"Sit up properly in your desk, then, and don't sulk," rapped out Miss
Burton.  "I cannot bear a girl to sulk when she is scolded.  It seems
to me that you have got what was known in my nursery days as the Little
Black Dog on your shoulders this morning."

A titter ran round the classroom and Gerry got fiery red.  She had not
been sulking--she had only been trying to hide how very near the tears
were.  But it was impossible to make Miss Burton understand this, and
Gerry did not attempt it.  If she had tried to speak she must assuredly
have burst into tears.  So she sat upright in her desk and tried not to
mind, while Miss Burton continued to make sarcastic remarks at her
expense, until at last, having somewhat relieved her ill-humour, the
mistress left the classroom.

Gerry felt very depressed as she put her books listlessly away.  Most
of the form had departed soon after Miss Burton had left the room, only
Gerry, and Phyllis and Dorothy, who were comparing notes on their
morning's marks, remaining in the classroom.  Gerry's eyes were so full
of unshed tears that she did not notice that only her two special
enemies were left in the room.  If she had, she would probably have
hurried over her desk-tidying and got out of their way.  She always
tried to avoid being left alone with these two, if she could possibly
manage it.  But it was not until Phyllis spoke to her suddenly that she
awoke to the fact that none of the other members of the form were
present.

"Well, sneak," said Phyllis, in a jeering tone.  "Your precious Miss
Burton, whom you stuck up for so bravely the other night, doesn't seem
to thank you much for your championship, does she?"

Gerry said nothing.  There really did not seem to be anything to say.
With a great effort she choked back her gathering tears, and hastily
finished putting away the books in her desk.  But Phyllis was not to be
baulked of this splendid opportunity of baiting her enemy.

"She's sulky," she said to Dorothy, and the latter rose from her seat
and came over to Gerry's desk.

"Perhaps she's forgotten how to talk," she suggested, with an air of
mock anxiety.  "She's hardly spoken to anyone for three whole days now,
you know.  They say when people never speak they forget how to use
their tongues."

"Oh, do you think she's really forgotten?" giggled Phyllis, entering
into the game.

It was all very silly and very absurd, but it seemed to the
perpetrators of the unkind humour that it was deliciously funny, while
to poor Gerry it was almost unendurable.  She shut her desk and rose to
her feet.

"Why can't you let me alone?" she pleaded, with quivering lips.  "Why
must you always keep on at me like this?"

"Oh, she hasn't forgotten--she still knows how to say a few words,"
said Phyllis, with an air of mock surprise.

Gerry made towards the door, but Phyllis was blocking the nearest path,
and to escape she had to make a detour round the desks.  Before she
could reach the door, Dorothy gave a little shriek.

"Oh, look, look, Phil!" she cried, in pretended alarm.  "Just look at
that thing on her shoulders!"

"Where?  What?" asked Phyllis; and Gerry, startled for the moment,
turned half round, while her hand involuntarily went up to her
shoulders.  Dorothy broke into a scream of laughter.

"It's no good, German Gerry!  It's the Little Black Dog, I meant.
You'll not be able to shake that off by flicking at it."

Phyllis joined in her friend's laughter, and poor Gerry, with an angry
glare at her tormentors, bolted out of the classroom, her skirt
catching the door as she ran and slamming it to behind her.

"Oh, naughty, naughty!" said Phyllis reprovingly.  But her victim could
not hear.  And there being no further amusement to be got out of Gerry
for the moment, the two girls sauntered off to get ready for dinner,
still laughing over Gerry's futile anger.



CHAPTER XX

AN AFTERNOON AT GYM

It happened to be wet that Thursday afternoon, and as all hockey
practice was scratched in consequence, a gymnastic class was hastily
arranged for the Middle School, to take the place of the outdoor
exercise.

This quite met with the approval of the girls, the majority of whom
were as keen on gymnastics as they were on hockey.  An extra practice
such as this, too, was specially enjoyable, for drill would be reduced
to a minimum, and exercises upon the various apparatus would be the
order of the day.  The Middle School included the Lower Fifth, the
Fifth Remove, and the Upper, Middle, and Lower Fourth Forms; and
directly after dinner the girls concerned hurried to their cubicles to
change into their gymnastic dresses.

Gerry was not looking forward to the afternoon with quite the same
enjoyment as the rest of the Middle School.  She was not at all keen
upon gym.  In fact, she would much rather have played hockey, which,
now that she had grown used to it a little, she was really beginning to
enjoy.  Gym to her was still a very formidable affair, and the giant's
stride, rings, vaulting horse, and parallel bars filled her with
terror.  So far she had escaped very lightly.  Miss Caton, the gym
mistress, had seen how nervous and frightened the new girl was of all
the feats the other girls performed so gaily upon the different
apparatus, and she had contented herself with initiating Gerry very
slowly into their mysteries.  But this afternoon Miss Caton was not
taking gym practice.  Muriel Paget and three other athletic members of
the Sixth were officiating in her place, as Gerry found when she
wandered into the gymnasium rather earlier than most people, because
her changing had not been delayed by all the talking and excitement
prevalent amongst the other girls.  There was nobody to come into Gerry
Wilmott's cubicle in search of a mislaid hair-ribbon, or to borrow a
darning-needle to cobble up holes in a stocking which the scantiness of
the gymnastic costume might display to the eyes of authority.

The four seniors were gathered at one end of the gym, discussing what
exercises they should give the school.  Gerry made her way down to the
other end, where, curled up against one of the radiators by which the
room was warmed, lay Bruno, whom Gerry had not seen for some days past.

She stooped down to pat and caress him, pleased at seeing him again.
Much to her surprise, however, he growled and showed his teeth for a
moment, a very unusual thing for Bruno to do.  She had never known him
anything but good-tempered hitherto, and from the very beginning he had
always shown a marked affection for her.

"Why, Bruno, what's the matter?  Don't you know me?" Gerry said,
keeping, nevertheless, at a safe distance from him.  At the sound of
her voice the dog rose to his feet, wagging his tail in a deprecating
manner and thrusting his nose into her hand as though apologising for
his irritability.

"Poor old fellow," said Gerry, cautiously stroking his head.  "Wasn't
he feeling well then, and did it make him cross?"

A group of girls drew near the radiator, Phyllis Tressider and Dorothy
Pemberton amongst them.  Gerry, in her absorption in Bruno, did not
notice them at first, but Dorothy's sharp eyes soon discovered Gerry.

"Hullo!  Look at German Gerry--she's found the black dog!" she said
teasingly.

Gerry looked up with a start and flushed scarlet, but she made no
reply, and Myra Davies, a girl from the Upper Fourth, inquired
curiously:

"What on earth do you mean, Dorothy?"

"Why, German Gerry's found her black dog!" came the jeering answer.
"It was sitting on her shoulders all the morning and she couldn't get
it off.  I knew it was a pretty big one, didn't you, Phil?" she added,
seeing from Gerry's rising colour how surely her remarks were going
home, "but I'm hanged if I knew it was such a big one as that."

Gerry closed her lips firmly and braced herself to bear the teasing in
stoical silence.  She knew it would do no good to say anything.  Both
Dorothy and Phyllis were far too quick-witted and too ready with their
tongues for her to hope to compete with them in repartee.  Besides, she
knew quite well that if she were to venture to say a word, she would be
greeted with a cool and astonished stare, while somebody would murmur
something about "Germans," and so effectually silence any remonstrance
she might try to make.

Fortunately for her self-control, Muriel turned round at this moment
and called out orders for the forms to take up their places; and in the
hurry of obeying the head girl's command, Gerry and her black dog were
forgotten for the time being.  Just before beginning the drilling,
however, Muriel caught sight of Bruno, and sharply demanded to know who
had let him into the gymnasium.

"Please, Muriel, I think he belongs to Gerry Wilmott," said Phyllis
maliciously.

Muriel frowned severely at the girl.

"Don't talk rot, Phyllis," she said squashingly.  "I don't know if you
think that's funny--but if you do I'm sorry for your sense of humour.
Gerry, did you bring Bruno into the gym?"

"No.  He was here when I came in," answered Gerry, still hot and
flushed, but very grateful to Muriel for so promptly crushing Phyllis's
witticisms.  She had been very much afraid that her enemy might have
gone on to disclose Miss Burton's remarks in form that morning about
the little black dog.

Muriel accepted her explanation without comment.

"Somebody had better turn him out," was all she said.  "Phyllis
Tressider, you seem to know a good deal about him--you can do it."

Phyllis cast a resentful glance at Gerry.  Whenever Phyllis or Dorothy
got into trouble with the head girl, they appeared to put it all down
to Gerry's account, however unreasonably.  There was nothing to be done
in the present instance, however, but to obey the order, and Phyllis,
leaving her place in the ranks, laid her hand rather roughly on Bruno's
collar.

"Come along!" she said impatiently, attempting to drag the dog to his
feet.

Bruno resisted her efforts to move him, and gave an ominous growl and
snap which caused Phyllis to remove her hand from his collar with
alacrity.

"I don't know what's the matter with him, Muriel, but he looks as
though he was going to bite!" she exclaimed.

The head girl came over to her side.

"Nonsense!" she said.  "Bruno bite?  Why, he's the best-tempered dog I
ever came across!" and she held out her hand coaxingly to the big black
fellow.

But Bruno resisted all her blandishments, retreating farther into his
corner, and at last Muriel thought it wiser to let him alone.

"Oh, well, perhaps he'd better stay," she said.  "He seems very
bad-tempered and unlike himself to-day.  He won't be much in the way if
he stays where he is now.  Everybody will have to take care not to
tread on him while marching round, that's all.  Now, are you ready?
Right turn!  Lower Fifth, lead off in single file.  Go!"

After some ten minutes or so of marching and arm and body exercises,
Muriel ordered the girls to stand aside while the various apparatus
were made ready.  This was the time for which the girls were longing.
Soon they were divided into four sections and sent to different parts
of the room to practise on the apparatus under the supervision of the
four prefects.  The giant's stride was perhaps the most popular.  This
was a form of gymnastics in which the whole school delighted, and many
envious glances were cast at the Lower Fifth, to which, as the most
senior form in the Middle School, the giant's stride had fallen first
of all.

"Come on, Gerry, here's a rope for you!" called Muriel to the new girl.
Muriel had undertaken to direct the operations on the stride.  But
Gerry hung back.

"Please, Muriel, need I?  I can't do it, really I can't.  Miss Caton
always lets me off it."

"Nonsense!  Come along at once!" said Muriel impatiently.  "I'll help
you for the first round or two.  You'll soon get used to it."  And
without heeding Gerry's remonstrances, she insisted upon the girl
coming into the ring and taking her place at a rope.

"Hold on firmly with both hands to the bar," the prefect directed.
"Swing your body well forward when we begin to move and I'll give you a
good push-off."

Gerry hated this particular form of merry-go-round.  It made her feel
sick and giddy, and she was unable to work her body backwards and
forwards rhythmically enough to keep her place in the magic circle.
She gasped for breath and held on tightly while Muriel ran her two or
three times round the ring, and endeavoured to work her body as the
other girls were doing.  But the result was a hopeless failure, and
when the head girl, having given her pupil what she thought was a
super-excellent start, left go her hold, Gerry swung helplessly at the
end of her rope, getting into the way of the girl who was swinging
behind her, and finally bringing them both to an ignominious finish in
the middle of the ring.

"What a donkey you are!" said Margaret Taylor angrily.  She stooped
down to rub her ankle, which Gerry had kicked rather hard in her
efforts to keep herself going.  "I was having a perfectly lovely swing,
and now you've made me lose my turn."  And she continued to glare
angrily at the unfortunate new girl until the other striders dropped
out one by one and the ring finally stopped.

Muriel made Gerry have one more try, but with no better results than
before.  After that, the new girl was handed on to Monica Deane, who
was superintending the vaulting-horse.  Gerry fared no better at this,
and although each prefect in turn tried their hand upon her, none of
them could find anything in the nature of apparatus upon which the new
girl could perform with any measure of success.

Muriel Paget had been keeping her eye upon Gerry, and saw the hopeless
exhibition the Lower Fifth girl was making of herself.  But the prefect
was determined to conquer the nervousness which was such a handicap to
her protégée; and acting upon the plan which had succeeded so well with
Gerry at hockey, she cast about in her mind for something to set her to
do which would help her to make a start.

Finally she thought of the rope ladders.

"Nobody, not even the most hopeless duffer at gym, could make an utter
mess of them, surely," she thought to herself, and ordered the ladders
to be let down.  But even here she had reckoned without Gerry's nerves!
The girl was in a desperately overwrought state by this time.  The
troubles of the last few days culminating in her disgrace in class that
morning, added to the hopeless exhibition she had been making of
herself all through the afternoon, had rendered her unfit for even the
simplest thing.  When ordered to climb the rope ladder she obeyed
dumbly, much in the way a condemned man might obey the order to walk to
the scaffold; and, spurred on by Muriel's urging from below, she did
succeed in mounting to a fair height.  But rope ladders are not such
easy things to climb as a novice might suppose.  They have a nasty
knack of doubling up and slipping away from you when you least expect
them to, and when she was some thirty feet up this was what happened to
the one Gerry was endeavouring to mount.  And instead of trying to
regain her balance, the girl gave way to the panic that had possessed
her more or less all the afternoon.

She clutched desperately to the rope with her hands, and pushed hard
with her feet, which, of course, only had the effect of turning her
still more upside down.

"Let your body hang limp until you are in a proper position again,"
called Muriel.  But Gerry was far too terrified and unnerved to act
upon her directions, even if she had been able to take in exactly what
they meant.

"Muriel!  I--I can't get right way up," she gasped, struggling to keep
her self-control.  But Muriel did not realise quite how frightened
Gerry really was.  She spoke impatiently as she answered her, while a
gale of laughter at the unsightly figure poor Gerry made as she clung
to the rope like a drowning man, went through the gymnasium.

"Don't be such a little goat, Gerry!" cried the head girl.  "Come down
again if you can't go any farther, but for goodness' sake make an
effort of some sort!"

Making an effort of any sort was quite beyond poor Gerry's power at the
moment.  It seemed to her that she would soon be hanging quite upside
down, and when that happened she was sure that she would have to
release her hold.  Already everything was swimming around her; black
specks danced before her eyes, and at last she gave vent to her terror
in an anguished cry for help.

"Oh, Muriel!  Muriel!  I'm going to fall!" she cried, with a piteous
note in her voice.  And seeing that she really was in extremities, the
head girl was obliged to run up the ladder herself and bring her down.

"Well, you _are_ a little funk!" she said in some disgust, as she set
Gerry on her feet again, and stood surveying her white face and
trembling figure; while the Middle School, amused and interested
spectators of the scene, pressed about the two at a respectful
distance.  She might have said more, but at that moment someone in the
background exclaimed audibly:

"Why, of course!  Isn't it German Gerry?  What else do you expect her
to do but funk!"

The head girl swung round sharply, but she could not identify the
speaker.

"Who said that?" she demanded angrily.  But nobody would give the
culprit away.  However, the remark had the effect of cutting short her
reproof to Gerry, and with a dry: "Well, you'd better ask Miss Caton to
let you have extra gym practice until you get into it a bit, I should
think," she let the matter drop.

"That's enough for this afternoon.  Fall in, please, order of forms,"
she said, addressing the assembled girls.  Monica Deane went to the
piano and struck up a lively march.  And to the tune of "The Coster's
Wedding" the Middle School marched out of the gymnasium and repaired to
its various dormitories to get ready for tea.



CHAPTER XXI

HECTOR OR PARIS?

That evening the lists for the dormitory hockey finals were posted up
on the notice-board.  Muriel Paget and Monica Deane pinned them up on
their way out from supper, and after the two prefects had departed a
curious crowd quickly gathered round to see who had been selected.
Much to everybody's astonishment, Geraldine Wilmott's name figured
again in the Pink Dormitory list.

"_Surely_ Muriel isn't to let _her_ play again?" exclaimed Elsie
Lipscombe, the Green Dormitory's centre forward.  "Why, it was only
through her that the Pink Dorm didn't win last time!  It must be a
mistake!"

"Play who?" asked Dorothy Pemberton, who came up just then arm in arm
with Phyllis Tressider.

"Gerry Wilmott.  She's down for left outside!"

"Not German Gerry?" cried Phyllis.

"Muriel must be cracked!" said Dorothy in disgusted amazement, as her
eyes verified the truth of Elsie's statement.  "What on earth Muriel
can see in that little donkey I can't think!  I don't think the head
girl ought to show such favouritism.  It was all very well putting her
in last time when there was nobody else to play.  But now there's Pam
Henderson, and Dora Wainscott, and Bee Tyrell, and heaps of others.  It
isn't fair to go putting in a rotten little German coward who can't
play hockey for nuts, and who even funks climbing a rope ladder!"

"Oh, well, I suppose Muriel knows what she's about," said Gwen Carter,
an Upper Fifth girl, in rather a languid tone.  "After all, neither Pam
nor Bee are exactly geniuses at hockey, you know.  I shouldn't think
that even Gerry Wilmott was much worse.  And Dora Wainscott's hand is
still awfully bad.  She was wearing it in a sling in form to-day."

"All the same, I think it's too bad that German Gerry should be
playing," declared Phyllis loudly.  She had caught sight of Gerry
coming along the corridor, and had raised her voice purposely in order
that she might hear.  "I think it's a shame that we should be asked to
play in the same team with her again, when everybody knows that the
Pink Dorm would have won last time if she hadn't funked."

Gerry heard, as it was intended that she should.  But she took no
notice, only hurried by the group around the notice-board with flushed
cheeks and averted eyes.  The girls stopped talking for the moment and
watched her curiously.  Just as she passed somebody gave a slight hiss,
which was immediately taken up by three parts of the girls present.

"German Gerry!" called out someone, and the hissing grew louder as the
girl fled by.  Gerry's steps quickened into a run until she had turned
a corner of the corridor and was out of sight of her tormentors.  She
had been on her way to the Lower Fifth sitting-room, but her reception
in the passage made her change her mind, and she hurried on to the
classroom instead, which was empty and deserted at this hour.  It was
against the rules to be there except in lesson hours, as Gerry knew
well.  But she had no other place of refuge, and once or twice lately
this had served her in good stead.  It was less risky than going to the
dormitory, which was also out of bounds at this time, and there was no
other place in the school where she could hope to find privacy.

She slipped into her desk and buried her burning face in her hands,
grateful for the darkness and the silence.  Although she did not
realise it, Gerry was certainly getting braver.  When she first came to
school she would not have ventured alone into a dark room for anything
in the world, in spite of her fifteen years.  But now she was so
absorbed in her greater trouble that she forgot to be afraid.

"Why do they hate me so?" she asked herself, and puzzled, as she had
puzzled so many times before, over her unpopularity.  It was not really
so puzzling as she imagined.  She was too quiet and shy to have won
popularity easily in any case, even without her nerves, in such a big
school as Wakehurst Priory; and, unfortunately for her, she had made
two very bad enemies on the first day of term in Dorothy Pemberton and
Phyllis Tressider.

Without being altogether bad-hearted, these two girls were responsible
for a great deal of trouble in the school.  They both possessed what so
many of the girls lacked--personality; and they had a large following
amongst their own set of girls who admired them for their ingenuity in
mischief and the spirit of dare-deviltry which seemed at times to
possess them.  They had been "up against" Gerry from the very
beginning, owing to the fact that Gerry had innocently usurped
Dorothy's cubicle; and a series of unlucky accidents, occasioned by
Gerry's newness to school ways and her rather unfortunate disposition,
had simply played into their hands.

For some while Gerry was left in peace in the solitude of the
classroom.  But luck was against her that night, as it had seemed to be
so often during the term.  As a rule nobody ever dreamt of going near
the classrooms after supper, but to-night Miss Burton must needs
require a book from her desk and come to fetch it.  And suddenly poor
Gerry was startled by the abrupt opening of the schoolroom door and the
switching on of the light.

She rose to her feet in a panic to find Miss Burton regarding her in
surprised disapproval.

"Geraldine Wilmott!  What are you doing here?  Of course you know that
it is strictly against the rules?"

"Yes, I know," said Gerry lamely, unable to think of any excuse for her
presence in the classroom at this unauthorised hour.  Dorothy or
Phyllis or Jack would have thought of dozens in a moment!  Indeed, it
did not occur to her that there was any excuse to make.  She was too
fundamentally honest to try and wriggle out of the scrape as
ninety-nine out of a hundred schoolgirls might have done.  Miss Burton,
however, with her lack of understanding, interpreted her reply as bald
defiance, and was correspondingly severe.

"Then that means another bad mark for you.  Really, you are
incorrigible!  I shall be obliged to report you to Miss Oakley if you
don't soon make a decided improvement in your conduct.  Go back to your
sitting-room at once.  And don't forget to give in your bad mark
to-morrow morning."

Gerry wandered disconsolately back through the corridors.  There seemed
to be nobody about, and as she did not want to go to the sitting-room
sooner than she could help, she went on to look at the notice-board, to
see if Muriel really had put her name down for Saturday's match.  From
Phyllis Tressider's speech she gathered that she had done so.  Somehow,
after the incident in the gymnasium that afternoon, Gerry had quite
expected Muriel to change her mind about putting her into the team.
But, no!  There was her name down, in black and white--Gerry Wilmott,
left outside.

Gerry stood for a few moments gazing at the list, uncertain whether to
be pleased that Muriel still intended to give her another chance, or to
be frightened at the ordeal that lay before her.  And as she stood
there, doubtfully regarding the notice-board, the head girl herself
came along, and stopped to speak to her.

"Well, Gerry, I'm giving you your chance, you see," she said kindly.

"Yes--I see," said Gerry, turning round to face the prefect.  "But,
Muriel, are you--are you sure you think it's best?
Supposing--supposing I funk again?"

"Now, look here, Gerry, I shall really get cross with you if you go on
like this," said the head girl impatiently.  And indeed, there was some
reason for her impatience.  She seemed always to be having to spur
Gerry Wilmott on to the simplest acts of courage.  "I keep telling you
and telling you that you must have more confidence in yourself!  You
needn't funk if you'll only make up your mind not to.  You've put up
one or two quite good games since you've been playing forward, Alice
says, and there's no earthly reason why you should not do the same on
Saturday.  If Dora Wainscott's hand was well enough for her to play, I
should put her in.  But it isn't, and you're just as good as any of the
other girls in the dorm who are left--rather better than most of them.
Now, are you going to buck up and do yourself and the dorm credit, or
are you going to let me down?"

"I'm--I'm going to do my best," said Gerry, lifting earnest eyes to the
head girl's face.  "It's jolly good of you, Muriel, to give me the
chance after the way I went on over gym this afternoon."

"Did you think I should cut you out because of that?" said Muriel.
"You certainly did make rather an ass of yourself.  But there's no
earthly reason why you should do the same on Saturday.  I should like
to fit you up with a new backbone, Gerry Wilmott," she added
laughingly.  "You'd be quite a decent kid if you'd _only_ buck up and
be a bit more daring!  You ought to take for your own the motto that
the Red Cross Knight found written up over the door of the castle--'Be
bold, be bold, be bold!'"

"It wasn't the Red Cross Knight; it was Britomarte," said Gerry, and
Muriel smiled approvingly at her for the correction.  It was something
for Gerry even to dare to correct a quotation.

"Good for you, kiddie!  So it was.  Well, you get that thoroughly into
your head by next Saturday and act upon it, and you'll do all right."
And she hurried on her way, leaving a much inspirited Gerry behind her.

"She is a brick!" thought the girl enthusiastically, as she walked
slowly towards the Lower Fifth sitting-room.  "I don't wonder all the
girls are so keen about her.  I _will_ get that motto into my head, and
I _will_ play up and justify her choice of me for next Saturday, and I
won't let anything the other girls may say or do affect me!  I'll just
keep saying the words over and over to myself whenever I feel inclined
to funk, and see if that won't make me braver.  Be bold, be bold, be
bold!"

And then some lines of Longfellow's she had once heard came into her
head in the inconsequent way such lines do occur to lovers of poetry:

  "Write on your doors the saying wise and old,
  'Be bold! be bold!' and everywhere--'Be bold!'
  'Be not too bold'--yet better the excess
  Than the defect; better the more than less;
  Better like Hector in the field to die,
  Than like a perfumed Paris turn and fly."


Gerry's face took on an expression of rigid determination as she
repeated the lines to herself.  And, throwing up her head with a little
gesture of defiance, she said aloud:

"Well, I just _won't_ be a 'perfumed Paris' this time, whatever
happens!"

And with this bold resolve she walked into the sitting-room, and
settled herself down in her usual corner with a book, until the bell
should ring for prayers and bed.



CHAPTER XXII

THE DORMITORY FINAL

Saturday morning dawned at last.  It was a splendid day for hockey,
fine and bright, with a touch of frost in the air, not enough to make
the ground hard, but just sufficient to dry up some of the worst of the
mud and to make it exhilarating to run about.

There was great excitement over the match throughout the school.  Even
the girls who were not directly concerned in the results of the game,
either as members of the teams or occupants of the rival dormitories,
were keenly interested, while the agitation of the two dormitories
actively engaged was raised to fever-pitch.  Some of the smaller girls
in the Pink Dormitory had been occupied during the past week in
manufacturing rosettes of pink ribbon, which they sold for twopence
apiece to the members of the team and the partisans of the dormitory--a
proceeding which promised considerable profit at first to the
enterprising trio who originated it.  Unfortunately for them, however,
Muriel Paget descended upon them on the morning of the match with
searching inquiries as to the monetary part of the transaction.

"But, Muriel, the ribbon cost us an awful lot of money," protested one
of the small profiteers in distress, when the head girl ordered that
all proceeds from the sale of the favours should be deposited in the
dormitory missionary-box.  "It was very good ribbon, penny-halfpenny a
yard, and we've used yards and yards of it!"

"Well, you may keep back enough money to pay expenses," conceded the
head girl.  "Reckon out exactly how many yards of ribbon you've bought
and how many favours you've sold, and then bring the balance of the
money to me to be put into the missionary-box.  And please remember for
the future that you're English schoolgirls--not beastly little Jews."

With which parting remark she stalked off with much magisterial
dignity, leaving three very crushed small girls behind her.

However, the three had the consolation of regaining the money they had
outlaid upon their project, and also of having started a very popular
scheme.  The idea of the favours caught on.  The members of the Green
Dormitory were immediately bitten with the desire to sport green
rosettes, and drawers were ransacked, and finally permission obtained
for a messenger to be sent into the town to purchase a sufficiency of
green ribbon to manufacture favours for the rival team and its
supporters.  Before the morning was over nearly every girl in the
school sported a favour of one colour or the other.  Pink favours
predominated, partly because of the start obtained by the early
venders, and partly because the Pink Dormitory was Muriel's dormitory.
The head girl was far and away the most popular person in the school,
far out-rivalling Alice Metcalfe, the Green Dormitory's captain, in the
girls' affections.  Still, the Greens had quite a fair show of
ribbons--enough at any rate to make a good "shout" for their side when
the match should begin.

Gerry Wilmott, alone of her team, did not wear a pink rosette.  She
wanted one badly, but she had not quite liked to ask for one, and the
three little girls who were selling them carefully refrained from
coming near the girl who was known as a coward and a sneak throughout
the school.  Gerry looked at them very wistfully once or twice when
they were in her vicinity, but in spite of her desire to be decorated
with the colours of the dormitory for which she was to play, she did
not dare to risk a rebuff by going up to them.  She would have gone
favourless up to the field itself if it had not been for Monica Deane,
her next-door neighbour in the dormitory.  Monica had purchased a
favour quite early in the day, much to the distress of little Vera
Davies, her devoted admirer, who presented her with one just before the
match began, which she had made herself.

"Please, Monica, wear mine!" pleaded the little girl, coming into
Monica's cubicle where the senior was changing into the gym dress which
was the regulation hockey kit at Wakehurst Priory.  "I begged a bit of
the ribbon from Gladys and Betty and Marjorie, and made it for you all
myself, to bring you luck!  Please take your other one off and wear
mine!"

"All right, kiddie, of course I'll have to wear it since you made it
for me yourself," said Monica good-naturedly.  "I'll give the other one
away to somebody else, if there's anybody left in the school who hasn't
got one."

Then a sudden thought struck her.

"Gerry, have you got one, or would you like mine?" she called over the
cubicle wall, remembering that she had seen the Lower Fifth girl
undecorated earlier in the day.

"No; I haven't got one.  I'd like it very much," answered Gerry, in
rather a low voice.  The next moment the small pink favour came
fluttering over the partition that divided her cubicle from Monica's.

"There you are, then," said the senior girl.

Gerry caught the precious bit of ribbon and pinned it on to the tunic
of her gym dress with an odd feeling of pleasure in her heart.  It
seemed to her a happy omen that she should be able to wear her
dormitory colours after all.

"Thanks awfully, Monica," she said gratefully.  "I'll pay you the
twopence for it sometime."

"You just won't, then!" said Monica gaily.  "It's a present to bring
you luck.  Vera says it's much more lucky to have your favours given to
you than it is to buy them for yourself.  So, with two of us wearing
lucky ribbons, the Pink Dorm really ought to win!"

"I hope we shall," said Gerry fervently.  Then she added under her
breath, "I'm going to try and do my share to-day, anyway, and justify
Muriel for having chosen me."

This little episode of the pink favour quite cheered Gerry up.  Perhaps
the luck of the pink ribbon would counteract for once the unlucky
influence of Cubicle Thirteen.  Gerry was really almost beginning to
believe that the ill-omened number of her cubicle must have something
to do with the persistent misfortune which dogged her footsteps!
Fortified by her precious talisman, she took her place up on the hockey
field as left outside without nearly such quakings of heart as she had
feared.  And when once the whistle had gone and the play begun she
didn't have time to think about being frightened.  Muriel saw to it
that her nervous left outer should have plenty of work quite early in
the game; and by the time the match had been in progress for ten
minutes or so, Gerry had lost all her gloomy fears in the excitement
and interest of the struggle.

It was obvious from the beginning that it was going to be a hard-fought
fight.  Both teams were out to win.  As before, the Pink Dormitory
forwards were far superior to the forwards from the Green Dormitory,
but the splendid defence of the latter team quite balanced this.
Backwards and forwards the battle raged, neither side getting a chance
to shoot for goal until the first half was nearly over.  Then, much to
everybody's astonishment, Elsie Lipscombe succeeded in getting through
for the Greens.

"I say!  That's serious!" said Dorothy Pemberton to Phyllis Tressider
as the two girls stood arm in arm sucking lemons at half-time.  "Fancy
the Green Dorm getting a goal in like that, before we've scored one!
We shall have to buck up like anything this half if we're not going to
let the Pink Dorm down."

During the interval Muriel Paget went up to Gerry, who was standing a
little forlornly on the outskirts of the group of players, with a
reassuring word.

"Well, I don't think you need be afraid of funking now, Gerry; you're
doing quite well," she said.

"No; I don't think I shall funk now!" said Gerry.  "It's all thanks to
you, though, Muriel.  If I'd been playing back I know I should have
felt just the same as I did last time."

"Oh, well, but you're not playing back now," responded the head girl.
"So there's no need to worry over that!  We've got to buck up like
anything this half, though, for we're a goal behind.  Mind you keep up
if I do get away with the ball.  And if it comes out to you when you're
anywhere near their goal, pass it straight in, and then you'll be all
right."

Muriel succeeded in scoring for the Pink Dormitory soon after the
second half started, and the Pink team and their partisans breathed
again.  The score was now one all, and for some time it seemed likely
that it would remain so.  Nearly every girl in the school was up on the
ground, watching the struggle, and as time passed on and still the
goals stood at one all, the most intense excitement prevailed.

"Oh, they're going to tie again!  They're going to tie again!" wailed
Vera Davies, some seven minutes before time was up.  "And I made the
favour for Monica myself, on purpose to bring her luck!  And now the
Pinks aren't going to win after all!"

"It isn't over yet," said Marjorie Brown, the small girl from the Pink
Dormitory whom Muriel had so nearly to put in to play instead of Gerry
on the previous occasion.  "Oh, look, look!  Muriel's got the ball and
she's got a clear run!  No; she's lost it!  Jack Pym's got it.  No;
she's passed.  Oh, Vera, look!  Dorothy Pemberton's got it now, and
she's taking it up.  Play up, Pink Dorm!  Play up!  Play up!"

Her cry was taken up by the whole school.

"Play up, Pink!"

"Play up, Green!"

"Stick to it, Dorothy!"

"Alice!  Alice!  Into her, Alice!"

"Play up, Muriel!  Play up, Muriel!"

"Pink Dorm!  Pink Dorm!"

"Green!  Green!  Green!"

A confused medley of shouts rose on the air, and the noise grew in
volume as one by one the spectators, girls and mistresses alike, joined
in.  So great was the pandemonium that the referee's whistle could
hardly be heard when it blew a moment later.

"What's that for?  Is it a goal?  Is it?  Is it?" cried Vera, in an
agony of excitement.

"No!  It's off-side!  Dorothy passed it forward.  Oh, bother!  That
means a free hit for them.  And Alice will take it and send it miles
down the field, and time's nearly up!  There can't be more than three
minutes left now!" cried Marjorie, dancing about the ground in her
impatience.

Alice Metcalfe came forward to take the free hit.  Her forwards ranged
themselves far down the field, while the Pink forwards also were
obliged to retrace their steps to the limit imposed upon them by the
penalty.  Dorothy made a penitent apology to her captain.

"I'm most fearfully sorry, Muriel," she said.  "It was quite an
accident, but I'm afraid it's done for us, all the same.  We'll never
have time to score again now."

"Never mind.  We'll make one last desperate effort before the whistle
goes," said Muriel encouragingly.  "Look out for Alice's hit and try
and stop it if you possibly can, if it comes your way.  It's our only
chance!"

Whack!  Alice sent the ball flying out to her right wing with a mighty
"swipe," and a groan went up from the partisans of the Pink Dormitory.
That hit surely had done it!  Nobody could be expected to get in the
way of such a terrific slog--Alice had excelled herself this time.  The
ball would inevitably go flying out of bounds, and by the time it could
be recovered and thrown in again, the last three precious minutes would
have sped by.  Already the referee had her whistle to her lips.  Once
again the dormitory final would end in a draw!

But wait a moment!  The Pink Dormitory's left outside, with a ribbon
favour flaunting gaily on her breast, was standing right in the way of
the coming ball.  Gerry had watched Alice hitting it, and she knew that
her chance had come.  If she could stop the ball just right and centre
it, there was just a chance that Muriel and Dorothy might be able to do
something with it.

But could she ever stop it?  The ball was coming with all the force of
Alice Metcalfe's leather-bound hockey stick behind it.  It needed some
courage to get in the way of one of Alice's slogs!  Gerry wanted to
slip aside and let the ball go by.  How badly she wanted to do it
nobody but herself could ever know.  Surely it wouldn't be cowardice to
get out of the way of a ball like that!  But her determination not to
let Muriel down this time was strong within her, and she fought down
the panic which urged her to step aside, and remained grimly waiting
the advent of that flying ball.

The next moment a great shout went up from the spectators, friends and
foes alike.

"Stopped!  Oh, well stopped!  Stopped, indeed!"

"My hat!  That must have hurt!  Did you see?  It ran right up her stick
and caught her on the nose.  Why--_if it isn't German Gerry_!" cried
Vera Davies in amazement.

It was an amazement which was shared by the rest of the school.  The
girls were so dumbfounded that the cheer suddenly died down, and nobody
applauded at all when Gerry, recovering from the first stunning shock
of the blow, passed the ball to her inside wing, Dorothy Pemberton,
before the Green half-backs could tackle her.

Then events moved quickly.

"Centre it, Dorothy," called Muriel, and flew to intercept the ball,
which Dorothy passed to her.  Dodging, tackling, dribbling, and
passing, the head girl and her inside left carried the ball into the
enemy's goal circle.  And before the Green defence could recover from
the unexpected onslaught, the ball was safely through their goalposts,
put there by Muriel's stick.  The whistle blew for goal and time
simultaneously, and a perfect storm of cheering broke from the watching
school.  It had indeed been an exciting finish to the dormitory hockey
final!

There were certain formalities to be gone through before the teams
could leave the field.  Alice Metcalfe, as captain of the defeated
team, called for three cheers for the victors, to which Muriel had to
respond by calling for three cheers for the runners-up for the Cup.
Then the rival captains had to shake hands and thank each other for the
good game--a little ceremony which had existed at Wakehurst Priory
since hockey matches first began, and which was never omitted.

But directly these formalities were over, and the girls who had been
watching the match came flocking around the dispersing teams, cheering
and asking questions and pouring out congratulations, Muriel looked
about for Gerry Wilmott and hastened to her side.

"Well done, Gerry!  You were splendid!" the head girl exclaimed.  "It
was all through you that we scored that last goal.  If you hadn't
stopped that free hit so pluckily, we could never have done it.  I'm
jolly glad I put you in to play."

Gerry's nose was bleeding badly, and it was cut and swollen from the
blow she had received.  Her head was aching too, and she was feeling
dreadfully dazed and tired.  But in spite of her injuries, the face she
raised to Muriel's was a very happy one.

"I'm _awfully_ glad I managed to stop it," she said.

"I say!  You did get a bang, kiddie!" said Muriel concernedly, looking
down at her junior's injured nose.  "You'd better come at once and let
me take you to Sister.  She's got some ripping stuff for bringing down
bruises.  If we get it seen to directly, perhaps it will save you from
being quite black in the face to-morrow."

And putting her arm round Gerry's shoulder, the head girl led her off
the field.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE PLUCK OF GERMAN GERRY

The head girl and her companion were joined by Monica Deane and Alice
Metcalfe as they left the hockey ground.  Both the seniors said nice
things to Gerry about her great achievement and condoled with her upon
the injury to her nose.

"I say!  I am sorry," said Alice in contrition.  "I suppose I ought not
to have hit so hard, really.  Miss Caton's always telling me that
hockey isn't just a matter of hard hitting, and that I overdo the
slogging part.  But I never thought of anyone getting into the way of
that ball.  As a rule, people run for yards to get out of the way of my
free hits."

"It was jolly lucky for us that Gerry _did_ get in the way," laughed
Muriel.  "If the ball had gone out then, we should never have had time
to score that final goal."

"I ought to bear you a grudge, Gerry, for losing the Cup for my dorm,"
said Alice.  "I'm afraid you've got to pay for it, though.  Your nose
will be black and blue to-morrow."

"Oh no, it won't," said Muriel reassuringly.  "I'm going to take her
straight up to Sister when we get in, and get some of that wonderful
lotion of hers to bathe it with.  I got an awful whack on my forehead
the end of last season, but when I put Sister's stuff on it the
swelling went down almost at once, and it was hardly coloured at all."

"Gerry's nose will be awfully stiff and uncomfortable, though, for a
day or two, however wonderful Sister's stuff may be," observed Monica.

"I don't mind," said Gerry happily.  And indeed she was so relieved at
having redeemed herself in the eyes of the head girl in the matter of
hockey-playing, that she really would not have cared very much if her
nose had been broken instead of merely bruised.  She walked on down the
field amongst the seniors, feeling that she would not at the moment
have changed places with any other girl in the whole of Wakehurst
Priory.

It was some ten minutes' walk across the hockey field back to the
school.  The three prefects and Gerry were well in the van of the
returning girls.  A few Fourth Form children were some distance ahead,
but the majority of the school were descending more leisurely in the
rear.  Just at this moment, however, the half-dozen girls in front
turned, and began running back, waving their arms and shouting as they
ran.

"What on earth's the matter with those kids?" said Alice in surprise.
"Have they gone quite mad?"

"They are shouting out something," said Muriel.  "Can you hear what it
is?  Why!  There's Bennett running, too.  And some other men!  One of
them's got a stick--no, it's a gun!  They're chasing Bruno, surely.
What in the world can be the matter?"

There was an iron railing to the left of the hockey field which
enclosed the hockey ground itself from the neighbouring meadows.  The
girls in front were running hard towards this railing, still shouting
their words of warning to the approaching girls.  This time they were
near enough for Muriel to catch what they were saying.

"Mad dog!  They're shouting out 'Mad dog!'  Quick, make for the
railings!  Bruno's gone mad!" she cried to her companions.

She turned round and ran back towards the oncoming school, shouting out
her warning.  Alice and Monica followed her, and, seizing a bunch of
small girls just behind, urged them towards the railings.  The rest of
the school had taken alarm by this time, and were making a wild dash
for safety, but of the two or three hundred girls who were pouring down
from the field, it was obvious that many of them could not be got out
of the way in time.  Besides, there was nothing to prevent Bruno from
altering his course and making for the railings too.  The men chasing
the dog were too far behind to risk a shot with so many children about.
If they should miss the dog, they could not fail to hit one of the
girls when so many of them were in the direct line of fire.

All these thoughts rushed through Muriel's mind as she tried to hurry
the girls towards the railings, assisted by such of the mistresses and
prefects as were near at hand.  There had been many reports in the
papers lately of dogs that had gone mad and bitten people, and the head
girl was well aware of the terrible results that might follow a bite
from an animal suffering from rabies.  She knew that a mad dog bites
and snaps at everything that comes in his way--and how could they hope
to get all these children out of the way in time!

Very much the same thoughts had come into the mind of somebody else,
too!  Gerry had been seized with panic when the cry of "Mad dog!" had
reached her ears, and her first instinct had been to dash towards the
railings out of Bruno's way.  It was not until she was nearly half-way
to safety that it had dawned upon her that none of her three companions
were with her, and she stopped for a moment to look round and see what
they were doing.

She saw Alice and Monica hurrying some of the smaller children into
safety, she saw Muriel running to warn the girls behind.  Then she
looked at Bruno, who was near enough for her to see him plainly now.
His mouth was wide open, his tongue was hanging out, and foam was
dripping from his jaws.  He looked very terrible, not in the least like
the good-natured dog with whom Gerry had made friends on her first day
at school.

For a moment, Gerry turned away, with a sick shiver of fear and
repulsion.  Then all at once something came into her heart, making her
braver and stronger than she had ever been in her life before.  Muriel
was being brave.  Muriel had not run like a coward towards the fence.
Why, couldn't she be brave like Muriel, too?  With a sudden desperate
resolve, Gerry swung round and flew straight towards the oncoming dog.

Nearly every girl and mistress in the school saw the deed by which
Gerry Wilmott established herself for ever in the annals of Wakehurst
Priory.  The few who were absent could find plenty of eager
eye-witnesses to describe it to them.  It was a picture which stamped
itself indelibly upon the minds of a good many of the people
present--the old grey school buildings in the background, framed by the
black boughs of the November trees, the wide stretch of meadowland, and
in the forefront the big black dog, pursued by the shouting men, making
straight for the crowd of terrified children.

Then into the very centre of the picture dashed the blue-tunicked
figure of Gerry Wilmott!  German Gerry!  The girl who was afraid of
dogs and mice and hockey balls, and everything and everyone under the
sun, apparently--dashing right in the pathway of the mad dog!

Exactly how she did it, Gerry never afterwards quite knew.  In some way
she managed to get behind the dog and fling herself upon him as he
rushed past.  She seized him by his collar and the long curly hair
about his throat, throwing herself upon her knees on the ground as she
did so.  So powerful was he in his mad frenzy, that she was dragged
along the grass for a considerable distance before she could bring him
to a standstill.  Then came a few moments that seemed like a lifetime
of desperate struggling, while she gripped the snapping, growling dog
round his throat with fingers that grew numb beneath the strain, and
with stiff, taut arms held him away so that he could not spring upon
her.

The struggle only lasted a few moments in reality, but to Gerry it
seemed an eternity before she heard Bennett's breathless cry of "Hold
on, missie I keep him still an instant longer," and knew that if it was
more than an instant, she would have to let the dog go.  Then came a
sudden blinding flash over her shoulder, a deafening report in her ear.
Bruno broke from her grasp with a frenzied leap, then came another
report.  And then----

And then the next thing she knew was that she was lying on the grass
with Muriel and Miss Caton and Miss Latham bending over her, and with
what appeared to Gerry to be the whole of Wakehurst Priory peering over
their shoulders.

"For Heaven's sake, keep back, you kids!" cried Muriel in an irate
voice, thrusting back the nearest of the eager throng.  "Can't you see
that Gerry's nearly fainting, and you will keep crowding round so that
she can't get a breath of air."

"Go back, girls, at once," commanded Miss Latham, rising to her feet
and waving the school away with a peremptory gesture.  "Hurry up and
get back to school, all of you.  Whoever gets there first can tell
Sister that she's wanted."  An ingenious suggestion that almost
instantly cleared a space round Gerry.  If you can't get a front place
as a spectator when there's an accident, the next best thing is to be
the first to carry the news of it to somebody else.  And with a feeling
that they were really doing something of importance, some fifty or
sixty girls set out at once to race down to the school to summon Sister.

Having thus procured breathing-space for Gerry, Miss Latham turned to
the games' mistress, who was kneeling beside the girl.

"Is she bitten?" she asked anxiously.

"I don't know," said Miss Caton uncertainly.  But Gerry, who was fast
recovering from her momentary faintness, made an effort to sit up,
saying in a weak voice which she had some difficulty in recognising as
her own:

"No, I'm not bitten--anywhere.  It's only that I'm so giddy--and out of
breath."

"All right, dear; lie down again and don't try to talk.  You'll be
better directly," said Miss Caton gently.

"I'm better now," said Gerry, resolutely putting aside the protesting
hands that attempted to hold her down, and sitting upright.  The
movement nearly made her turn faint again, but she conquered the
feeling by a great effort and smiled into Muriel's anxious face.

"I'm all right.  Really, I'm all right!  He didn't hurt me a bit.  Look
at my hands, they're not even scratched."

Nor were they.  And after much anxious questioning and examination the
mistresses came to the conclusion that in some marvellous way the girl
had escaped all injury.

"I can't think how he didn't bite you!" Miss Latham said.  "But now, if
you feel well enough, I think we'd try and get you down to the
sickroom."

"Monica and I will make a carrying-chair of our hands for her," said
Muriel eagerly.

But Gerry disdained all such assistance.

"I'm quite all right.  I can walk by myself, thank you very much," she
said, and demonstrated the truth of her words by rising to her feet.  A
little sick tremor ran through her as she caught sight of the men
bearing away an inert black mass that had once been Bruno, and she
swayed a little uncertainly.  But Miss Caton caught her by one arm, and
Muriel slipped her hand under her other shoulder, and she soon steadied
herself; and the little procession began to make its slow way down the
field.

With the exception of Monica and Muriel, all the other girls had gone
by this time, hurried away by prefects and mistresses--all, that is,
but one, who had somehow managed to elude the vigilance of those in
authority.  That one was Jack Pym, and her face was almost as white as
Gerry's own as she came forward and joined the little party.  In her
hand she carried a couple of hockey sticks.

"I've got your stick, Gerry," she said rather awkwardly.  "I saw it on
the ground and I've brought it along for you."

Miss Caton dropped behind for a moment to speak to Miss Latham and
Monica, and Jack slipped into her vacant place.  Gerry's eyes sought
Jack's with a wistful eagerness which was not lost upon the head girl.

"Give Gerry an arm, Jack," Muriel suggested.  "She's a bit unsteady on
her pins still."

Transferring both sticks to one hand, Jack hurried to obey.  She drew
Gerry's hand through her arm, giving it a squeeze which sent a sudden
thrill of happiness through Gerry's heart.

"Thank you," said Gerry gratefully, as she returned the pressure.
"It's decent of you to have brought my stick along.  I'd forgotten all
about it."

That was in effect their reconciliation and the beginning of a
friendship which would long outlast schooldays.  But though it was such
a momentous happening to both girls, neither of them said anything in
the least appropriate to the occasion.  In fact, the only remark made
by either of them at the moment was passed by Jack, as she glanced at
Gerry's wounded nose.

"My eye, Gerry!  You won't half have a lovely countenance to-morrow
morning!" was all she said.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE LOWER FIFTH MAKES AMENDS

Gerry was escorted in safety to the sickroom, where Sister's magical
lotion eased the pain of her swollen nose and considerably improved her
appearance.  A strong dose of sal volatile brought back a little colour
to her pale cheeks and a feeling of strength to her sadly wobbling
legs.  Then she was established upon a comfortable sofa in front of the
sick-room fire and left to the enjoyment of a first-class sick-room
tea--the sort kept for special convalescents, Sister informed her.  As
it consisted of hot buttered toast, superfinely thin bread and butter,
apricot jam, shortbread biscuits, and sponge-cakes, Gerry agreed with
her that it was certainly a great improvement upon ordinary schoolroom
fare.

Downstairs in the dining-hall little else was discussed that tea-time
but the subject of Gerry's pluck.  A great change of feeling towards
the Lower Fifth girl was taking place.  Everybody realised that if it
had not been for Gerry's presence of mind and extraordinary courage,
many of the girls might have been bitten by poor Bruno.  Whether the
dog was really suffering from madness or only from some minor distemper
remained to be proved.  But those who had seen him that afternoon had
little doubt upon the subject.  He had been unaccountably moody and
irritable for some days past--his surly behaviour in the gymnasium a
couple of days previously had only been one incident out of many--and
the way he had suddenly run amok when the headmistress was about to
take him for a walk that afternoon pointed to the supposition that he
was really suffering from rabies.

"Mad?  In course he was mad!  Think I don't know a mad dog when I see
one?" said Bennett, when questioned upon the subject by Dorothy and
Phyllis, as he was taking away the muddy boots from the lobby just
before tea.  "If it hadn't been for that there young lady, there'd have
been some humans mad as well--and serve some of them right!" he added,
with a sour glance.  For although the servants did not know the full
ins and outs of Gerry's ostracism, yet they were well aware that
"little Miss Wilmott" had been having anything but a happy time during
her first term at Wakehurst Priory.

But Wakehurst Priory had thoroughly repented of its ways now!  Gerry
was the heroine of the hour, and there was considerable danger of the
school losing its head in the other direction and making a popular idol
of her.  Even Dorothy and Phyllis were penitent, and openly
acknowledged their remorse in the Lower Fifth sitting-room after tea
that evening.  As it was a Saturday evening there was, of course, no
school work to be prepared, and the form was at liberty to discuss to
its heart's content the subject which was occupying its mind so
entirely.

It was Hilda Burns who made the suggestion that appealed most strongly
to the form.

"I think we ought to make her a public apology," she announced
dramatically, "to let the whole school know what beasts we have been."
And her idea was taken up with much acclamation by the other members of
the Lower Fifth.

"Yes, let's!" said Dorothy eagerly.  "Let's go now and ask Muriel to
call a school meeting, and then we'll ask for Gerry to come down to it,
and we'll all step out in turn and tell her how frightfully sorry we
are for having been such rotters, and ask her to make it up!"

"Come on," said Phyllis.  "We'll go to Muriel now."  And the form
trooped off to the head girl's study.

Muriel was having a private tea-party in her own room with Monica and
Jack Pym.  The latter had disappeared since the hockey match, although
the other members of the Lower Fifth had been too excited to notice it
before.  Tea in their private studies was a privilege the Sixth Form
girls were entitled to on Saturdays and other holidays if they liked;
and to-day Muriel had asked Jack to join in the cosy little party.  The
head girl was not an unobservant individual, and she had noticed Jack's
unhappy face and remorseful manner during that walk down from the
hockey field.  And after they had seen Gerry safely into Sister's care
she had invited the younger girl to come and have tea with Monica and
herself.  The three had been having a very serious discussion
respecting Gerry Wilmott and her troubles as they sat round the study
fire.

"Good gracious!  How many more of you are there?" exclaimed Muriel, as
one by one the Lower Fifth squeezed themselves into the small room.
"Is that all?  Margaret Taylor, you're nearest; do you think you can
manage to shut the door?  Now, then, what have you all come about?"

Dorothy acted as spokeswoman.

"About Gerry Wilmott, please, Muriel," she began.  "We've come to tell
you what utter beasts and rotters we've been to her all the term----"

"I think I know something about that already," interrupted Muriel.
"Jack's been telling me."

This abrupt announcement rather upset Dorothy's elaborate explanation.
It is disconcerting when you have buoyed yourself up to confession to
find that someone else has done all the confessing for you.  At any
other time the Lower Fifth would have been seriously annoyed with Jack
for having thus forestalled the dramatic little scene it had planned
with the head girl.  But to-night the whole form was so genuinely upset
and penitent about its treatment of Gerry Wilmott that--although they
did not know quite what to say for a moment or two--they bore no grudge
against the informer.

"There's something Miss Oakley wants me to tell you about Gerry," went
on Muriel, surveying the discomfited faces before her.  "It's not to go
any further, though.  Only Gerry's own form are to know about it, and
Miss Oakley trusts to your honour never to mention it to Gerry herself
unless she confides in you of her own free will.  I didn't know it
until to-day, when Miss Oakley sent for me to go to her after we'd
taken Gerry to the sick-room.  If I had known it, I should have behaved
very differently towards her myself!  It seems that she was in a bad
air-raid three years ago, when she was almost a kid.  The house she was
in was wrecked and a nurse she was awfully fond of was killed in front
of her eyes, while she herself was pinned down underneath some wreckage
for hours and hours before they could get her out.  She wasn't hurt,
but it upset her nerves completely.  And it's mostly that that has made
her so shy and nervous and funky of things.  Her people sent her here
to see what school would do for her.  Nothing was said about her awful
experience, because she can't bear to talk about it, for one thing, and
for another the doctors didn't want her to be treated any differently
from the other girls.  And they thought she would have been if people
knew.  But Miss Oakley says I'm to tell you now, so that you may treat
Gerry with more consideration in the future."

There was a dead silence in the room.  If anything had been wanting to
complete the Lower Fifth's humiliation it was this!  The one excuse the
form had had for its conduct had been Gerry's cowardice, and it put the
finishing touch to its repentance to discover that even this was not
entirely her own fault.  The Lower Fifth's remorse, which had been
acute enough before, was almost unbearable now!

"Well," said Muriel at length, as the silence still continued--"well?
What are you going to do about it?"

"We thought that--that perhaps we'd better make Gerry a public
apology," faltered Dorothy, her usual sang-froid deserting her for once
under Muriel's coldly critical eye.  "We thought if you would call a
meeting of the whole school that we'd ask Gerry to come down, and then
we'd tell her how frightfully sorry we are about having been so mean,
and each of us would apologise to her in front of everybody."

"And jolly pleasant that would be for poor Gerry!" said Muriel.  "Do
you think she wants a public apology!  To be made to feel an utter ass
in front of the whole school just to ease your rotten little
consciences!  We'll give her a public ovation if you like, but not a
public apology--at least, not one anything in the least like the scheme
you've planned.  If you want to make amends, I think it would be much
more to the purpose if you went and told Miss Burton the truth about
that strike of yours, and how it was Gerry who broke it down by her
plucky action in refusing to go on with it."

The Lower Fifth gasped a little.  Jack had certainly confessed with a
vengeance!  Somehow it had never before struck the Lower Fifth that
Gerry's action on that particular occasion had been plucky.

"But of course, when you come to think about it in the right light, it
was plucky of her," Hilda Burns said afterwards, when the matter came
up for discussion in the Lower Fifth sitting-room.  "It must have
needed quite a lot of courage for Gerry to say what she did that
evening."

"Yes.  It was moral courage," said Jack.  "She wanted most awfully
badly to stick in with us and be friendly.  But she just felt she had
to stay out because she felt so sorry for Miss Burton, although she
knew how beastly we should all be to her."

But that was afterwards.  At the moment the Lower Fifth was scarcely
able to view the courage of Gerry Wilmott in any light at all; it was
so flabbergasted at having its past delinquencies cast up at it in this
manner, and so dismayed at Muriel's suggestion that it should go and
acquaint Miss Burton with the full details of the matter.

There was a moment's hesitation, then suddenly Dorothy Pemberton made a
movement of acquiescence.

"All right, we will!" she announced.  Then, turning round to the rest
of the form, she asked briefly:

"Are you all game?"

"Yes," came unanimously from the ranks of the Lower Fifth.

Muriel Paget rose to her feet and faced her visitors with a pleased
smile.

"Good kids!" she said approvingly.  "Cut along at once and get it over.
And then come back to me afterwards, and we'll see if we can't arrange
some sort of public reception to show Gerry that we're sorry for all
the things she's had to put up with this term.  I think you'll find
Miss Burton in her study if you go now."

Then the Lower Fifth, subdued, but resolute in its determination, filed
out in a body and wended its way towards Miss Burton's room.



CHAPTER XXV

CLOUDS ARE ROLLED AWAY

It took some time to make Miss Burton acquainted with the true facts of
the case.  But when at last the mistress realised how very unjust she
had been to the girl whose plucky conduct was the talk of the whole
school, mistresses and girls alike, she was filled with remorse, and
almost as penitent as the Lower Fifth.  She hurried off then and there
to the sick-room, and made ample amends to Gerry, remitting all the bad
marks she had piled upon her unfortunate pupil during that black week,
and expressing her regret over and over again.

Sister had to intervene at last and send her away.

"You'll have my patient in a fever between you all before you've done,"
the nurse said impatiently.  "There's Miss Oakley been talking to her
for a good hour, and Miss Caton and Miss Latham!  There isn't anybody
going to come in here now for the rest of the evening!  And I'm not
going to talk to you either, Gerry.  You must just read your book and
lie quiet."

Gerry was nothing loath to do that.  The strain of the past week,
indeed of the whole term, culminating in the excitement of the
afternoon, had told upon her considerably.  She looked so white and
tired that it was no wonder Sister had been moved into forbidding any
more visitors.  But in spite of her tiredness, and her natural sorrow
at poor Bruno's untimely fate, the girl was very happy.  She curled
herself up under the rug, and lay gazing into the fire with her book in
her hand and a little smile on her lips.  She had made good now in the
eyes of the school.  Nobody would ever be able to call her a coward
again.  And--best of everything, perhaps--Jack was to be her friend.
Gerry knew well enough what that impulsive squeeze of her hand had
meant without any explanations.  Her first term at Wakehurst Priory was
nearly over.  It had been rather a terrible term--Gerry gave a little
shudder as she looked back over some of its incidents.  But many more
terms lay in front of her, and though they might bring troubles and
trials, yet somehow Gerry felt quite sure that none of them would be
quite so bad as the one she had just come through.

She stayed up in the sick-room all the evening, and was served by
Sister with a dainty little supper, sent from Miss Oakley's own
table--soup and chicken and jelly and cream, with a cup of delicious
coffee to finish with.  Sister had intended that her patient should go
straight to the Pink Dormitory when bed-time came, and not descend to
the lower regions again that night.

"I'd send you there at once, but it isn't much good my letting you go
until the others are up," she said.  "They'll only go waking you up
with their noise just as you've got to sleep, and you'd be better lying
quietly here.  I've a good mind to fetch your things along and let you
sleep in the sick-ward to-night.  Only you'll probably be all right in
the morning, and it hardly seems worth while."

"Oh, no!  Please let me go back to the dormitory to-night!" pleaded
Gerry in alarm.  In spite of her newborn courage, the prospect of
spending a night alone in the sick-ward was anything but pleasant.
Gerry was not to outgrow all her old terrors just at once.  That
perhaps could hardly be expected.

"Very well," agreed Sister.  "If you'll promise to lie quiet and not
talk to the others, you shall go.  There's the Chapel bell just
ringing.  We'll wait until we hear them come out from prayers, then
we'll get you along to the dormitory and into your bed by the time
they've done saying good-night to Miss Oakley."

It was the custom at Wakehurst Priory for the headmistress to stand by
the doorway of the Great Hall, whither the girls were marshalled when
they came out from Chapel, and smile a quiet good-night to them, as
they filed by her on their way to bed.

Sister's programme, however, was slightly disarranged after all.  She
had just got Gerry to her feet, and was preparing to whisk her off to
the Pink Dormitory, when Jack Pym burst into the sick-room, a little
breathless with haste, and apparently labouring under some intense
excitement, with a request from the headmistress that Gerry might be
allowed to go down into the Great Hall and say good-night.  Sister
demurred at first, but a request from Miss Oakley was almost equivalent
to a command.  And as Gerry had really recovered, except for the
tiredness which was a natural reaction from her excitement, she at last
agreed to let her go.

"Mind you be quick up though when she's finished with you," she said.
"I shall be waiting for you, to see that you get quickly into bed, so
mind you don't dawdle once you've said good-night."

"What does Miss Oakley want me for, Jack?" Gerry inquired, as Jack
hurried her through the passages.  But Jack only mumbled something
indistinctly under her breath, and Gerry was obliged to control her
curiosity until the Great Hall was reached.

The girls were drawn up in the Hall as usual, but, rather to Gerry's
surprise, Miss Oakley was not there.  Instead, Muriel Paget occupied
the post of honour by the door.  Muriel had been making a speech, it
seemed, though it was not until some time afterwards that Gerry learned
what it was all about.  Then it was Jack who told her.

"She'd got permission, you see, from Miss Oakley to tell the girls that
you weren't the least little bit of a German, that your father had been
an ambassador or something, and that you'd lived in Germany when you
were small, and that was how you learned to speak their beastly lingo
so well, and that you hadn't done any of the sneaky things we thought
you had--that they were all accidents the whole way through," Jack
informed her friend some days later during one of their _tête-à-tête_
walks, which soon became a regular proceeding.

When the two girls entered the Great Hall, Muriel intercepted Gerry and
retained her beside her, while Jack slipped away to her own place
amongst the rest of the Lower Fifth.

"Gerry," said the head girl, raising her voice so that every word she
spoke could be heard at the farthest end of the Hall, "we've been
talking about you, and I've been explaining some things about you to
the girls.  And Miss Oakley said we might ask you to come down so that
we could tell you a little of what we think of you--not only for your
courage in stopping poor old Bruno this afternoon, and probably saving
any amount of people from being bitten--but also for all the pluck
you've shown this term under very trying circumstances."

Then, as Gerry turned suddenly crimson with embarrassment, the head
girl turned to the expectant school.

"Now, then!" she called.  "Three cheers for Geraldine Wilmott!  'German
Gerry' no longer!  Hip--hip--hip----"

"Hurrah!" shouted the school, and the cheering went on for so long that
Muriel had to intervene at last.

"That's enough," she said, holding up her hand for silence.  "There's
something else I want to say.  I want to tell Gerry--Geraldine, I
mean," she added, correcting herself, "that nobody is going to use her
horrid nickname any longer.  We're all agreed upon that, aren't we,
girls?  Geraldine is Geraldine from this time forward."

But there came an exclamation of dismay from Gerry at that.

"Oh, Muriel!" she cried, gazing at the head girl with piteous eyes, and
forgetting for the moment her confusion at finding herself the centre
of interest like this.  "But I'd _like_ to keep the nickname, if you
don't mind!  Every body calls me Gerry now, and I don't want to be
Geraldine again at all.  I'd ever so much rather go on being just
Gerry."

A ripple of laughter ran round the room at this spontaneous outburst
from the shy new girl.  Gerry coloured up in still greater
embarrassment as she heard it, but Muriel put her hand very kindly on
the younger girl's shoulder.

"Gerry it shall be, then, if you want it so," she said, with a smile.
"But we'll drop the prefix, shall we!  You don't want _that_.  Girls,
you've just given three cheers for Geraldine Wilmott.  Suppose we give
three more for--Just Gerry."

"Gerry, Gerry!  Just Gerry!" cried the girls.  And the cheers which
rang out, accompanied by musical honours this time, confused Gerry so
much that she ran out of the room to hide her emotion, and was
discovered later by an irate Sister sobbing her heart out for joy on
her bed in Cubicle Thirteen--the luck of which had surely changed at
last!

"What on earth Miss Oakley meant by letting you send for the child to
upset her like this, I don't know!" exclaimed that scandalised official
severely, when Muriel and Monica came seeking the runaway with eager
penitence.  "It's enough to make her light-headed on the top of the
shock she's had.  Oh, don't talk to me about not meaning it!  You just
go and let me get her into bed.  And for goodness' sake keep the
dormitory quiet to-night, if you don't want her in the sick-room with a
nervous breakdown in the morning!"

      *      *      *      *      *

But it isn't tears of joy that hurt people!  And after a night of
unbroken slumber, the occupant of Cubicle Thirteen awoke refreshed in
mind and body--unless you count a slightly swollen nose--to begin a new
and happier career at Wakehurst Priory as--Just Gerry.



THE END



[Illustration: Back end paper]





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