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Authors: Angela Brazil

A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl (19 page)

BOOK: A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl
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"I knew you were all too strong-minded," twinkled Diana. "Of course, nobody believed in Brother Lawrence, any more than they believed in the fairies or the gods of Greece. I guess it's rather nice sometimes to make a sort of practical demonstration of one's reading. It shows one appreciates the books and takes an intelligent interest. There are heaps of good books in the library. I'm going to borrow
Customs and Superstitions of the Celts
."

"You may borrow what you like," said Geraldine grimly; "but if we've any more of this business Miss Todd will settle it herself; so I tell you."

"People who provide entertainment are rarely thanked," sighed Diana, as she folded the sheets. "I ought to receive a stipend for keeping the school amused."

"You'll receive something you don't bargain for, if you don't take care," warned Geraldine. "Go downstairs, all of you!"

That Brother Lawrence was identical with Diana did not very much surprise the school, but everybody went crazy over the discovery of the secret hiding-place under the stairs. Even Miss Todd had not known of its existence. Diana confessed that she had found it out quite by accident, had rushed downstairs to communicate the thrilling news, but had changed her mind as its obvious advantages flashed across her. She had not been able to resist making use of it to play a ghost trick. The little chamber which she had so unexpectedly brought to light was only just big enough to crouch in, and had probably been made in the troublous times of the Stuarts as a place of temporary concealment when the Abbey was searched by soldiers. Unfortunately it was quite empty.

"When I first opened it I expected to find a hoard of spade-guineas or silver punch-bowls," said Diana ruefully to Loveday--the two girls were discussing the great discovery as they went to bed. "I nearly howled when I found nothing but dust."

"I wonder," answered Loveday, "if this is what that gentleman found--the one, I mean, who came to see Father when I had measles. You know I've always been hunting about for hiding-places."

"Yes, I know."

"I thought somehow it would be rather better than this, though. It hardly seemed worth while his troubling to come and call; though, of course, it's interesting. Mr. Fleming will be very thrilled."

"I'd have been a great deal more thrilled if there'd been anything worth having inside. As I told you before, I expected spade-guineas. It's one of the disappointments of my life!" declared Diana, getting into bed.

CHAPTER XV

Joy-riding

The post at Pendlemere Abbey was distributed after breakfast, and the girls devoured their correspondence in the short interval before lessons began. One morning in April the usual weekly letter with the Paris postmark arrived addressed to "Miss Hewlitt", and, five minutes after receiving it, Diana came tearing down the corridor in search of Loveday. She looked the very incarnation of joy--her face was aglow, and her eyes shining.

"Such news!" she gasped. "What d'you think? I'll give you three guesses. Father and Mother are coming over to England for Easter. I haven't seen them since last September, and I'm simply off my head. Isn't it ripping? And that's not all, by any means. Come up to the ivy room, Loveday mine. I want to tell you all about it without those kids hanging about listening to every word one says. Come now!"

Linking her arm in Loveday's, Diana dragged her friend upstairs, away from the eyes and ears of inquisitive juniors, who were veritable little pitchers where their elders' affairs were concerned. It was only when they were in the safety of their own sanctum that she fully unbosomed herself.

"Somebody else is coming to England. It's my brother Giles. He's been made London correspondent of the
Louisville Herald
. He wanted most frightfully to join the army, but they wouldn't accept him because of his eyes. He'll be just standing on his head with joy at getting to Europe after all. Did I tell you he was in a newspaper office? He's crossing next week, and he's to go and see Father and Mother in Paris first, then come back with them to England, and have a holiday before he begins his new work. Dad's going to hire a car and take us a joy-ride, and Lenox is to get leave and join us. You know Lenox isn't demobilized yet. He's in a camp in Wales. But he expects they'll give him about five days. Think of seeing Britain in a car, with Father and Mother and Giles and Lenox! I want to shout!"

"You little lucker!" sympathized Loveday.

"But that isn't all yet. I haven't finished telling you," triumphed Diana, laying a fluffy head on her room-mate's shoulder, and poking a caressing finger into Loveday's dimples. "Mother said in her letter that she guessed I'd enjoy the tour so much more if I had a girl companion with me, and would I like to ask one of my school friends? You bet I would! Ra--ther! Do you know whom I'm going to ask?"

"Wendy?"

"Wendy! No! I'm very fond of her, but she's not
the
one for a tour like this. Besides, I know she's going to the seaside with her own home folks. There's only one person from Pendlemere I want, and that's Loveday. Will you come? I'd just adore to have you!"

"O-o-o-oh! If your mother really asks me."

"Of course she does! She says she's writing about it to Miss Todd."

Such a dazzling prospect as a joy-ride through England was hardly to be refused. In due course Loveday's aunt gave her permission, and the invitation was accepted. It was arranged for the motor tour to begin on Easter Tuesday, so as to allow Diana and her family to have a few quiet days together first. They were to spend them at Windermere, then call with the car at Liverpool for Loveday, and also to pick up Lenox, who would join them there from the American camp in Wales.

Loveday went about the school feeling as if her reason were rocking. She had never imagined that anything so nice could happen to her. Since the loss of her parents life had not been too bright. Sometimes she almost dreaded the holidays at her aunt's. She was shy and sensitive, and the impression that she was not altogether welcome there was a bitter one. It is very hard for a girl when she has no home of her own, and no one whose special prerogative it is to love and encourage her. Though her uncle and aunt saw that she had everything needful in the way of education and clothing, they never petted her, and she had grown up with the starved feeling of the child who lacks kisses. She had too much self-respect to parade her woes at school, and perhaps her fellow seniors mistook her shyness for pride; they were nice to her, but she had not a real confidante among any of them. It was Diana--Diana whom she had at first resented as an intruder in the ivy room--who had broken down the wall of her reserve and found the road to her heart.

The remainder of the term passed quickly; the spring days were so full with lessons and land-work that time at the Abbey literally raced along. Nevertheless, with characteristic impatience, Diana crossed off the calendar each evening, and counted the lessening dates in huge satisfaction. Then came the joyful afternoon when trunks were brought down from the box-room, and the school began its congenial task of packing. The accustomed term-end routine was gone through, and next morning three tired mistresses saw twenty excited pupils safely into their respective railway carriages.

"Only a week and we meet again," said Loveday to Diana, whose train started first.

"Just seven days," returned that damsel, leaning dangerously out of the compartment window. "Guess I'm about living for that tour. If we don't have the time of our lives, I'm much mistaken. Ta-ta till next Tuesday."

Diana enjoyed the quiet week at Windermere with father, mother, and brother, and though the little circle was not quite complete--for there was a brother of seventeen at school in America--it was delightful to be among her own family again. Mr. Hewlitt was very tired after his long spell of arduous work in Paris, and was glad to rest his brains, so they spent most of the time boating on the lake, or strolling in the woods, getting new-made-over in the fresh, bracing country air. The car they had hired was to meet them at Lancaster. They went thus far south by train, then motored to Liverpool. Loveday, ready with suit-case packed, was eagerly expecting them. From the window of her aunt's drawing-room she watched the big six-seater car arrive at the door. Giles--a masculine edition of Diana, in spectacles--was driving. Lenox--a beaming khaki-clad figure with twinkle-some brown eyes--sat by his side. Mr. and Mrs. Hewlitt and Diana were in the rear seat. A goodly pile of boxes and baskets was strapped on to the luggage-carrier behind. A change of places was effected, resulting in the two girls sitting with Giles in the front. Loveday's suit-case was stowed away, her aunt waved good-bye, the electric-starter was applied, and the car moved off on its eventful journey south.

It was a delightful way of travelling, to whiz along by road instead of by rail. The country was just in the blush of spring, the woods were bursting into tender leaf, plum blossom made fairy lace-work in wayside orchards, and wallflowers and cowslips bloomed in cottage gardens. Giles, who drove the car, had planned out their tour carefully. He was determined to see rural England to best advantage, and, instead of keeping always to the main roads, he intended to take by-ways, so as to pass through typical country villages. Once free from the suburbs of Liverpool, they avoided large towns as far as possible, as they made their way through Cheshire to the Midlands. Their first object was that Mecca of all American pilgrims--the Shakespeare country.

"In five days we haven't time to look at everything as we go along, so I guess we'd better just sprint till we get to Kenilworth, and start our sight-seeing there," decreed Giles.

He made an excellent chauffeur, and fortunately encountered no police traps, though he certainly exceeded the speed limit when he saw a clear road ahead. A lunch-basket with thermos flasks was packed in the car, and the party picnicked for their mid-day meal in a wood where primroses were opening their little pale-yellow flowers, and king-cups blazed in a marshy ditch. The air was fresh with spring, and cuckoos were calling from the fields by a river.

"When I was a small girl," said Loveday, "I thought there was only one cuckoo in the world. People used to say: 'Oh, have you heard the cuckoo yet?' so, of course, I thought there was only one. Nobody said: 'Have you seen the swallow yet?' when swallows returned. I was fearfully puzzled one day when I heard
two
cuckoos both cuckooing at once."

They reached Kenilworth just at sunset, when a crimson sky was flaming behind the old castle, and glowing on the windows of the picturesque cottages that faced the ancient ruin from the other side of the village green. Its grey walls, magnificent even in their decay, seemed teeming with historic memories, and, in the glamour of the sunset, they could almost, in imagination, restore the half-legendary splendour of its later days, and picture Queen Elizabeth arriving there on her famous visit to the Earl of Leicester. It was too late to do any exploring that evening, so, after a halt to admire the beauty of the scene, they went on to their hotel, promising themselves to make it the first object of their sight-seeing to-morrow.

"It seems so extraordinary," said Mr. Hewlitt at dinner, "that every little bit of ground we're passing over now has a history that dates right back to the Middle Ages. It's a wonderful corner of England, and so unspoilt. Half of the houses look as if they'd stepped straight out of an artist's canvas."

For the next few days the party lived with guidebooks in their hands. They thoroughly explored Kenilworth Castle, tried to call up a vision of the pageant that was presented before Queen Elizabeth there, and deplored the tragic fate of poor Amy Robsart. Then the car splashed through the ford at the foot of the wood, and carried them along the Warwick Road, past Blacklow Hill, where Piers Gaveston was executed, and where, it is said, his restless spirit still rides at drear midnight, to Guy's Cliff, with its old Saxon mill and romantic view of the Avon. Then on to Warwick, to look at the treasures of a castle fortunately untouched by the ravages of war, and the beautiful Beauchamp Chapel, with its tomb of the "King Maker". They could have stayed a long time in ancient, picturesque Warwick, admiring the quaint, old houses and the smooth stretches of the river, but the attractions of Stratford lay only eight miles away, and they had booked their rooms in advance at the hotel there. None of them ever forgot their first entry into Shakespeare's town. It was the season of his anniversary, and in his honour flags decorated the black-and-white houses, and dainty little maidens, with May garlands of flowers, came tripping down the sixteenth-century streets. Our pilgrims did their devoirs in orthodox fashion, beginning with Shakespeare's birthplace and its museum of relics, going on to the Grammar School where he learned his "little Latin and less Greek", to the remains of his house "New Place", and his tomb and monument in the glorious old church. They could hardly tear themselves away from Anne Hathaway's thatched, half-timber cottage at Shottery, with its carved, four-post Elizabethan bedstead, its garden full of rustic flowers, and its ingle-nook where perhaps Shakespeare sat to woo.

"If we could only take it just as it is, and carry it out to America," sighed Diana.

"But it would be nothing without its surroundings," said Loveday. "It's because Shakespeare seems associated with every corner of Stratford that the whole place is so fascinating. Wherever you go you feel as if you were following him round. I'd like to spend a month here, and do each separate spot leisurely and quietly."

If the whole of the projected tour was to be carried out, and the Shakespeare villages inspected, not to speak of Edgehill, Evesham, Broadway, and Gloucester, which they had also set their hearts on seeing, it was impossible to do more than rush through the various sights, so their boxes were once more strapped on to the luggage-carrier, and the car set off on its further travels.

They did not escape the usual accidents that delay motorists: a tyre exploded one afternoon with a terrific bang, and the ladies of the party had to sit for an hour by the roadside, while the men-folk fixed on the Stepney wheel. Giles's love for by-roads landed him sometimes in difficulties. He whisked them once down a charming primrose-starred lane, only to find that it ended in a ford. As you cannot run a car through even the shallowest river without stopping the engine, it was evidently a case of "thus far and no farther", and there was nothing for it but a return to the highway. There was no room to turn in the narrow lane, so the car had to back the whole distance to the road--a most difficult performance between high banks and round sharp corners, and one which required all Giles's skill as a chauffeur. Another time, trying a short cut across some fields, the car ran into soft earth and refused to stir. Her occupants got down and tried with their united efforts to push her out of her "slough of despond", but with no effect. Giles kept starting the engine, but the wheels, instead of gripping, simply turned round and round, and sank deeper into the soil. They were obliged to go to a farm for help, and have planks fixed under the wheels before the heavy car could move on to terra firma and proceed with its journey. These little accidents, however, all added a spice of adventure and fun to the tour; the young folks, at any rate, did not wish everything to be too plain sailing; they thoroughly enjoyed the romantic side of the trip, and liked to get off the beaten track into the wilds of the country. They had brought all sorts of wonderful contrivances for cooking the mid-day lunch, which they always ate out-of-doors. There was an apparatus with a spirit-lamp for making coffee, which whistled like a canary when the beverage was brewed; there was a marvellous double frying-pan, heated merely by strips of newspaper being lighted underneath it, which cooked eggs and sausages with surprising speed; and there was a neat canteen-basket with cups, plates, spoons, forks, and knives all ready to hand. In their enthusiasm the boys would have liked to sleep in the car had that been possible, and Lenox often regretted wistfully that they had not brought tents with them to pitch for the night.

BOOK: A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl
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