Authors: Angela Brazil
"Miss Ormrod and I will stay in town and come back with Miss Todd," she said, with compressed lips. "You and Wendy can ride our bicycles. Miss Carr, will you please go as quickly as you can to the station and explain to Miss Todd what has happened. The train must be in by now. I think, Miss Hampson, you'd better take the girls on."
It was ignominious to be thus dismissed, and to be forced to mount machines and cycle back to school, instead of having the proud distinction of driving the head mistress. Diana and Wendy felt their feathers fall considerably, especially when they contemplated the fuller explanations which must inevitably follow.
It was quite dark before Miss Todd arrived in the mended cart. She and Miss Chadwick and Miss Ormrod had tea together in the drawing-room.
Later in the evening Diana and Wendy received orders to report themselves in the study. They entered with sober faces. Outside, a band of thrilled intermediates, who had listened with bated breath to the account of the adventure, hung about and discussed possible punishments. Miss Todd was not a mistress to be trifled with, and the trap was her latest toy. It was nearly half an hour before the door opened, and two very subdued and crushed specimens of girlhood issued, mopping their eyes.
"She says Miss Chadwick knew the wheel wasn't safe, and had gone to get a fresh pin for it," volunteered Wendy with a gulp. "But how could
know that? She doesn't believe in practical demonstrations of our lessons, or in self-reliance; she says we've just to do what we are told. She got quite raggy when Diana mentioned it. We mayn't go near the stable for a week, and we've each to learn ten pages of poetry by heart."
"Ten pages! What an atrocious shame!" sympathized Vi. "It'll take all your recreation time this week."
"I know it will, and I wanted to do some sewing."
"She never said
poetry," put in Diana, her moist eyes suddenly twinkling. "I'll learn something out of the
--the very maddest and craziest one I can manage to find."
Diana had a fairly retentive memory, and learned poetry without much trouble. By far the hardest part of her punishment was to be forbidden to visit the stable for a week. She was sure Baron would miss her, and that, though he might receive other offerings of bread and carrots, he would be looking out and pricking his ears in vain for the friend with whom he had grown to be on such intimate terms.
Miss Chadwick, much annoyed at the accident to the cart, treated Diana distantly. Instead of smiling at her when she came into the room, she would look round her or over her head, and flash recognition to somebody else. It was humiliating to find herself out of favour, especially as it was noticed and commented on by her form-mates, all of whom were candidates for Miss Chadwick's friendship. Wendy, toiling away at her punishment task and grumbling at its difficulty, was not at all a cheerful companion. Moreover, it rained--rained for two days and nights without stopping; rained as it only can rain in a northern and mountainous district in the month of November. The fells were covered with mist, rivers ran down the garden paths, and from the eaves came a continual and monotonous drip-drip-drip. Diana, whose letters from Paris had been delayed, and who was home-sick in consequence, vibrated between a fit of the blues and a wild outbreak of spirits. She had reached the stage when she must either laugh or cry. She wandered restlessly round the schoolroom on Saturday afternoon, while the others were amusing themselves with reading, painting, or sewing.
"What a quiet set you are!" she raged. "Anyone would take you for 'Miss Pinkerton's Academy for Young Ladies'! Why can't you wake up? This is the dullest hole I've ever been in in my life. Magsie, stop that eternal sewing, and be sporty! You look like a model for 'gentle maidenhood'. I want to stick a pin into you, to see what would happen."
"Draw it mild, Stars and Stripes," answered Magsie, biting off the end of her cotton. "And be careful about experiments with pins, or something more may happen than you quite bargain for."
"I don't care! Anything for an excitement! I want some fun, and there'll be a shindy if I don't get it. Wendy! Vi! Sadie! Do brace up and be sports! Let's go on the upper landing and let off steam. It's better than moping here."
Diana, by sheer force of will, carried the day, detached her friends from their several occupations, and bore them, three steps at a time, up the stairs to the top story. The upper landing was long, and had a polished oak floor; it looked gloomy on this wet afternoon, and the rain made a continual patter on the roof. In Diana's eyes, however, it afforded a field for enterprise.
"I've a gorgeous idea!" she purred. "We'll pretend the floor's a skating-rink. I've borrowed Loveday's roller skates, and we'll take it in turns."
That roller skates were hardly meant for indoor amusement did not occur to the girls. They agreed with enthusiasm. In order to share the pleasure Vi and Sadie each buckled one on, and began a series of glides, punctuated by pushes from the other foot. Wendy and Magsie, not to be outdone, began to slide down the polished floor, and Tattie, who had powers of invention, fetched a cake of soap and a sponge, and perfected their activities by making a slippery course along the boards.
"It's like Alpine sports," exulted Wendy, taking a turn with one of the skates, and skimming at top speed. "Can't you just imagine you're in Switzerland? I want to make snowballs. Oh! why can't we do some toboganning? I'd like to go tearing down a hill on a bob-sleigh. It would be priceless."
"You shall do next best to it, my child," said Diana cheerily. "Trust your granny to find the way for you. I've coasted indoors before now. Wait a second, and you'll see!"
She disappeared, and in a short time returned with her drawing-board.
"You just squat on this," she explained, "and you go skimming down the stairs like a water-chute. It'll be prime!"
"Great is Diana of the Americans!"
The improvised bob-sleigh worked admirably, and if it happened to catch, there was always the banister to clutch at. Its popularity eclipsed even that of the soap-slide and the roller skates. The fun waxed fast and furious, not to say noisy. Bumpings and bursts of laughter began to echo downstairs on to the lower stories. Miss Hampson, coming to unlock the jam-cupboard in preparation for tea, stood for a moment in the corridor, listening like a pointer. Then she thrust the key into her pocket and dashed to the upper regions, just in time to behold Wendy, with scarlet cheeks and flying hair, coasting down the stairs on a drawing-board. For a moment Miss Hampson was without words. She stared, gasping, at Wendy, who hurriedly picked up both herself and the drawing-board, and stood at attention. The sporting party on the upper landing would gladly have melted away had there been any possible cover, but there was not. Vi and Sadie had not even time to kick off their roller skates. Miss Hampson's keen eyes took in every detail of the trails on the polished oak floor, and the soap-slide. Then they focused on Diana.
"I can imagine who's been the instigator of all this!" she said sharply. "We've never been accustomed to such doings at Pendlemere before. Miss Todd will be appalled at the damage you've done to the floor. Go downstairs to the schoolroom at once, and remember that this landing is prohibited in future. I'm astonished that all of you don't know better!"
It was on the following Monday that tidings of the armistice were proclaimed. The girls heard the church bells ringing when they were in the middle of morning lessons, and unanimously "downed books and pencils" and trooped to the front door, where Miss Todd was verifying the good news from the butcher boy. For five minutes the school went wild; everybody joined hands and danced in a circle on the drive, shouting "Hurrah!" After all the long suspense and anxiety the relief was stupendous. There was hardly a girl who had not some relation at the front over whose safety she might now rejoice. That the shadow of more than four years had at length been removed, seemed almost too good to be true. Miss Todd and Miss Beverley had gone indoors to find all the available stock of bunting; Miss Chadwick was already climbing on a ladder up the porch to hang the Union Jack over the threshold.
"We ought each to have a flag of our own," said Geraldine, who was intensely patriotic. "I'm going to ask Miss Todd if we may go and buy some."
Wild schemes for celebrating the day floated in the air, varying from a picnic to a bonfire.
"The ground is too wet yet for either," decreed Geraldine. "How could we tramp over the fells when everything's a quagmire? And if you think you can light a bonfire with damp wood, you're jolly well mistaken. We'll collect sticks, and have one when they're dry. I plump for a flag-hunt. There must be some in the shops."
Geraldine's suggestions were generally received with favour at head-quarters. Miss Todd felt that the school was fizzing over, and must find some outlet for its excitement. An expedition to Glenbury to buy flags seemed feasible. They could have an early lunch, and start immediately afterwards. Those who possessed bicycles could ride, and the rest could walk a mile to Athelton village and catch the motor-omnibus which passed there. Everybody was satisfied with the arrangement, and the cyclists dispersed to oil their machines and pump tyres. Miss Todd and Miss Chadwick were going in the trap; even Spot, with a bow of red, white, and blue ribbon tied to his collar, was to accompany the party.
Diana did not possess a bicycle, so Wendy, out of sheer good-fellowship, decided to lend hers to Sadie and to take the omnibus, so that she herself might go in company with her chum. Nine girls and a mistress started off in good time for Athelton, slightly in advance of the cyclists, who expected to meet them in Glenbury. Even in the village of Pendlemere and the little hamlet of Athelton people were making peace rejoicings: flags hung from windows, and children ran about blowing tin trumpets, whistles, and mouth-organs. A string of small urchins had improvised a band, and paraded proudly along, banging on tin trays and old kettles, and yelling the National Anthem. Men talked eagerly together outside the post office; women stood at their doors and watched, some radiant and excited, and some quieter, with a heartache behind the smile, as they thought of those lads who would not come marching home with the others.
The wild weather of the last few days seemed to have rolled away with the war clouds. The sky was flecked with blue, and the trees by the roadside were hung all over with drops that sparkled in the sun like jewels. The brook that ran down from the fells was tumbling along in a great brown stream, thundering under the bridge; robins, hopping in the wet hedgerows, twittered their plaintive little autumn song. A woman picked a marigold from her battered, rain-sodden garden, and handed it over the wall to Wendy. Everybody seemed to want to speak, even to strangers, and to tell how many of their relations had served in the war.
At last the omnibus, ten minutes late, came rumbling along, and stopped to pick up passengers. The school scrambled in, and with difficulty found places. It was a jolting journey, much crammed up among country people with baskets, but it was fun, even though the rattling almost shook them off their seats, for all the passengers seemed so good-tempered and jolly. On their arrival at Glenbury they found the town
, with bunting hanging across the streets, and large banners decorating the public buildings. The pavements were so full that the crowd overflowed into the road. The cyclist members of the Pendlemere party had arrived first, and had already bought flags, which they pinned in their hats. The motor-omnibus contingent rushed off immediately to secure any that were left, and to try to get some sweets. Miss Todd, who had put up the cart at the Queen's Hotel, met them as they were emerging from the confectioner's, sucking pear-drops and toffee.
"You're lucky, for sweets are scarce," she commented. "Thanks very much--I won't have one just now. Where are the others? Can you find them? I'm going to take you all up the church tower to get a bird's-eye view of the town. It will look nice to-day, with the flags out, and we ought to be able to see for miles round."
Glenbury Church was almost as large as a cathedral, and possessed a steeple which was a landmark for the neighbourhood. It was possible to ascend as far as the flying buttresses, and to walk round a stone causeway that encircled the tower just where the spire tapered up. The entrance was in the nave, through a small oak door studded with nails. The verger, aged, wheezy, and inclined to conversation, admitted them.
"You'll get a fine view," he said huskily; "you ought to be able to see the prison and the cemetery, and, with luck, the lunatic asylum as well. It's over amongst the trees to the east of Chatford. You can't miss it if the sun's shining on the roof. There's been a-many folks up to-day."
The narrow corkscrew staircase was old and worn, and seemed to twist round and round in an absolutely endless ascent as the girls toiled up its hundred-and-eighty-six steps. To add to their difficulties, parties of people kept coming down, and the problem of passing was difficult; it could only be accomplished by the school flattening itself against the walls while the descending sightseers gingerly made their way round the narrow centre of the staircase. Tiny lancet windows here and there let in streams of sunshine, but most of the pilgrimage was made in a decidedly "dim religious light". Everyone's knees were aching when at last they emerged through a small door on to the causeway. They were standing on a flat terrace edged by a stone parapet just tall enough to allow them to lean their arms on it and look over. Above them rose the spire, tapering thinner and thinner till its slender point ended in a weather-cock. Below, the town lay spread out like an architect's design. They could see the roofs of all the buildings, and the streets, and the lawns, and the pond in the park; all seemed viewed at an unusual angle, for they were gazing down on the tops of things. Round the town stretched miles of misty woods and fields, melting into the grey haze of the fells. The objects of attraction mentioned by the verger--the jail, cemetery, and lunatic asylum--were not particularly conspicuous, and nobody was very anxious to localize them. The girls walked all round the causeway, so as to get the view at every point.