Authors: Angela Brazil
Sadie, Vi, and Tattie quitted their seats so suddenly that Magsie and Wendy, still resting on the handles, came croppers on to the grass. Wendy rolled over into a comfortable position, and did not trouble to rise.
"Bunkum!" she remarked incredulously. "Don't try to rag
, Lennie Browne, for it won't come off. As it happens, I asked Toddlekins half an hour ago, and she said there were
new girls. There!"
"Well, there's one now, at any rate."
Wendy looked at her pityingly, and shook her head.
"Lennie, you're a decent kid, but you're not clever. If you'd really wanted to have us on successfully, why didn't you try something more out of the common? You've a great lack of imagination. Anybody--yes,
--could have thought of inventing a new girl!"
invented her--she's really here! She walked with me as far as the sundial, and I left her sitting on the seat while I went to look for you. I said I wouldn't be a minute. Why, there she is!--come to see what's become of me."
The quintette turned hastily, to find themselves confronted with an absolute endorsement of the truth of Lennie's statements. A stranger of about fourteen was walking towards them, or perhaps "shambling" would be a better description of her method of progress. She stooped badly, swung her arms in an awkward fashion, and shuffled her feet along the grass; her eyes were vacant, her chin was retreating, and her mouth was set in a foolish smile. For a full ghastly minute she stood and stared at the girls, and they, in utter and amazed consternation, could not think of a single intelligent remark with which to break the silence. Magsie was the first to recover herself.
"You--you've only just come, I suppose?" she gasped, as politely as she could.
The stranger gave a sickly giggle.
"Are you my new schoolfellows?" she asked in a low creaking voice. "Miss Todd said you'd be pleased to see me, and I must make friends with you. I've been wanting a bosom friend, so I'll just pick one of you out. Let me see"--running her vacant eyes over the group and singling out Wendy--"I may as well choose you as anybody. Are you ready to be my chum?"
Wendy flushed scarlet, and, jumping up from the grass, brushed some dead leaves from her dress.
"It's too soon to think about chums yet," she returned. "You haven't even told us your name, and you don't know ours. Where do you come from?"
"That means, I suppose, that you don't want me for a friend!" rasped the creaking voice. "Don't you like the look of me? What's wrong with me now? Please tell me, for I'd really like to know. I'm just crazy to make friends."
In huge embarrassment Wendy and her companions stared at the extraordinary stranger. She bore their united gaze without flinching. She even turned round slowly, so that they might have an adequate view of her foolish profile, protruding lips, and retreating chin.
"Do tell me what's wrong with me?" she repeated.
No one volunteered a criticism, and for another whole minute there was dead silence. Then a brisk voice remarked:
"Would this style suit you better now, I wonder?"
The girls caught their breath in amazement. The stooping, slouching figure had suddenly straightened itself up, the protruding lips had set into a small, neat mouth, the receding chin had come forward, and the vacant eyes were twinkling with mirth. Instead of a half-idiotic, and wholly unattractive, specimen of girlhood, a very charming little personality stood before them. The transformation was so utter that at first the audience simply gaped, then with one accord they exploded into laughter and words.
"Oh, I say!"
"I really thought you were dotty!"
you do it?"
"You looked too awful for words!"
"You haven't told us your name yet!"
"Can you do it again?"
The stranger curtsied, dropped her jaw, set her eyes in a glassy stare, and, resuming the creaking voice, bleated forth:
"Thank you! Thank you for welcoming me! I'm called Miranda Jane Judkins, and I come from Conic Section Farm, Squashville, Massachusetts. Which of you wants to chum with me? Don't all speak at once!"
"Oh, for goodness' sake drop that awful face! It absolutely gives me spasms!" hinnied Magsie. "It's the very image of a village idiot who used to terrify me when I was a kiddie. Don't look at me with those horrid eyes! I shall have a fit!"
"Look here, you mad thing!" said Vi. "Can't you tell us who you really are?"
"No, no! Your real name! Stop ragging!"
Once more the half-witted, shambling figure gave place to a sparkling, self-possessed, laughing young witch of fourteen, who with another mock curtsy introduced herself.
"Diana Hewlitt--quick-change artiste. Entertainments arranged at any moment. Reserved seats, five shillings. Proceeds to the Red Cross Fund. Oh, I believe at first I really
take you in!"
"You did," admitted Wendy; "because, of course, we weren't expecting it. We shall know you better now, and be prepared. I say, you're rather a sport! Where have you turned up from? Miss Todd said only an hour ago there weren't any new girls."
"No doubt she told the truth. There weren't then! Why, an hour since we were just half-way between Glassenrigg and Scawdale, pelting along at about double the speed limit. Miss Todd didn't even know of my existence. I've been dropped upon her like a bolt from the blue. I must say I admired the calm way she fixed up to take me, all in ten minutes. Most Britishers wouldn't have fallen in so quickly with Dad's lightning methods, but she seemed to understand right away."
"Are you American, then?"
"Rather! I was born under the Stars and Stripes. Never saw England till we crossed this summer. Dad's just been called over to Paris, and d'you know, they've let Mother go with him, but they wouldn't give
a passport. Wasn't it real mean of them? I do think the War Office is the limit! Well, of course, the question was: what could be done with me. I said: 'Leave me at Petteridge'. But Mother said: 'No; I'm not going to dump you on Cousin Coralie; she'd be down with nervous exhaustion at the end of a fortnight. School's the place for you, and we've got to rake round and find a school in double-quick time'. Dad nodded, and just rang up and ordered the car, and we started out with no more idea than the man in the moon where I was going to be landed. I'm glad fate tossed me here, though. It looks nice; kind of a real old-world flavour about the place, somehow. I'm crazy on old things--Scott's novels, you know, and castles, and all the rest of it. When I heard this was called Pendlemere Abbey, I said: 'That'll do! Take me there!' So here I am!"
"It takes one's breath away," commented Tattie. "I don't know that I'd like to be whisked off to school in such a precious hurry myself."
"It's rather as if the pixies had dropped you," laughed Vi.
"Right you are! I guess I'm a pixie sort of girl. Please don't expect 'prunes and prism' from me, for you won't get them!"
"I don't know that we want them," chuckled Wendy.
"That takes a weight off my mind, then," twinkled Diana. "I like mediæval abbeys and black beams and raftered roofs, and even ghosts; but I don't know that I exactly want mediæval schoolgirls."
"Don't alarm yourself," said Wendy, clapping her on the shoulder. "I assure you you'll find us all absolutely and entirely modern and up-to-date."
Stars and Stripes
If Diana was possessed with a passion for antiquities, she might certainly congratulate herself that a kindly fate had popped her into such an appropriate spot as Pendlemere Abbey. It offered every attraction to those in search of the romantic and picturesque. The Cistercian monks who had founded it in the thirteenth century had exhibited their proverbial good taste in the choice of a situation. It was built on rising ground above the lake, and commanded a glorious view across the fells. The garden, with its hill-side of rhododendrons, its clumps of sweet-smelling pines, and its borders of such hardy flowers as did not mind the nip of the northern air, ran steeply from a flat terrace towards the lake, where it ended in a landing-stage and a locked boat-house. Its orchard linked branches with the apple-trees of a neighbouring farm. The house itself, though preserving the name and the traditions of the Abbey, had been converted during Tudor times from religious to lay uses. Very little of the old monks' building remained intact, though evidences of it cropped up in unexpected quarters. There were the remains of a piscina in the pantry; a groined arch roofed the back kitchen; two carved stone pillars supported the fire-place in the dining-room; a Gothic doorway led into the courtyard, and the remnants of some ancient choir stalls were fitted as a window-seat on the stairs. The Tudor and Elizabethan periods had left more permanent traces, and, though later architects had played havoc with the simplicity of the style, they had not altogether destroyed its sixteenth-century appearance. The greater part was built of northern stone, with mullioned windows, twisted chimneys, peaked gables surmounted with stone balls, and a roof of flat slabs of the same yellow-brown stone that formed the walls. A section of black and white timbered Elizabethan work, a Queen Anne wing, and some early Victorian alterations made a strange conglomeration of styles of architecture; but the roses and ivy had climbed up and clothed ancient and modern alike, and Time had softened the jarring nineteenth-century additions, so that the whole now blended into a mellow, brownish mass, with large, bright windows enclosed in a frame of well-clipped greenery.
There was accommodation in the roomy old house for twenty boarders, and though no day pupils were supposed to be received a special exception had been made in the case of Meg and Elsie Fleming, the Vicar's daughters, who arrived every morning by nine o'clock, and Nell Gledhill, whose governess brought her each Friday afternoon for dancing-lessons. So far the school had jogged along very happily under Mrs. Gifford's mild regime. Fathers and mothers had sometimes shrugged their shoulders and hinted that her methods were old-fashioned, but they always added that the tone of the place was so excellent, and the health of the pupils so well looked after, that there was really no just cause for complaint. Miss Todd, sitting in her study, and writing twenty neat, well-thought-out letters to explain the sudden transfer of the school, assured parents that, while preserving all the traditions of her predecessor, she hoped to introduce a modern element of progress in keeping with the needs of the day. "I realize that we must march with the times," she wrote; and she meant it. She began her innovations on that very first day. Several disconsolate seniors congregated on the upper landing viewed change number one with dismay.
"But Mrs. Gifford promised that Geraldine and Ida and I might have the East room," urged Nesta Erskine. "It was all arranged last term, and we clubbed together to buy a bookcase. What are we to do with it if we're separated? It belongs to us all three."
"I can't help it; those are Miss Todd's orders," answered Miss Beverley briskly. "Your names are on cards pinned on to the doors of your new rooms. Pass along at once, and find your quarters and begin to unpack. Don't stand here blocking up the passage! Yes, Betty? Miss Hampson wants to speak to me? Tell her I'm coming now."
As Miss Beverley bustled away the seniors moved slowly and forlornly along the landing in quest of billets. It reminded them of finding their places in an examination-room. Their names were unquestionably on the doors in black-and-white, but their distribution called forth a storm of indignant comment.
"I'm actually put with Tattie Clegg and Jess Paget!"
"And I'm boxed up with Dorothy, and Nora Haddon, and Glynne Hamilton!"
"Why, we're all mixed up with the kids!"
"Look here, you know, we can't stand this kind of thing!"
"Somebody had better go to Miss Todd!"
"It's no use; I've just been," said Loveday Seton, joining the group of malcontents. "We had it all out in the study, and she listened quite kindly and politely, but she was firm as nails. She says it's an experiment for the sake of good tone, and she hopes it will work well. We seniors are sandwiched up with intermediates and juniors so that our influence may permeate through the school."
The five listeners groaned.
"Couldn't we permeate enough during the daytime?" sniffed Ida. "I don't see what influence I can have while I'm asleep. I call it a jolly nuisance to be saddled with three kids in one's room."
"Of course you have your curtains."
"What's the use of curtains? A cubicle's only semi-private after all. What it means is that we seniors are always on duty policing those juniors. What a life!"
"Where are you put, Loveday?" asked Geraldine.
"In the little ivy room upstairs. There are two beds, and I'm to act mentor to this new American girl who's just arrived."
"Poor you! What's she like?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen her yet, but I wish she were at Jericho."
In a decidedly ruffled frame of mind, Loveday passed along the landing, and climbed the stairs that led to the ivy room. She found her room-mate already in possession, and with her belongings half-unpacked. Photos adorned her dressing-table, a large American flag draped the mirror, and her bed was spread with odds and ends. She smiled broadly as Loveday entered.
"So here you are!" she greeted her. "Goody! What a relief! I've been worrying about what you'd be like, and just praying you wouldn't have spectacles and talk with a lisp. Miss Todd gave me to understand you were a peach, and I might think myself in luck to room with you, but you never can trust head mistresses till you see for yourself. She's told me the truth, though, after all. Yes, I like you right straight away, and I always make up my mind about people, slap bang off at once."
Loveday stared in surprise at the impetuous little figure kneeling beside the big trunk. Diana's dark-grey eyes shone like stars, her oval face, if not exactly pretty, was piquant and interesting, her light-brown hair curled at the tips. It was, of course, an unheard-of liberty for a new girl, and an intermediate to boot, thus to address a senior, but the greeting was spontaneous and decidedly flattering. The grey eyes, in fact, expressed open admiration. On the whole, Loveday decided to waive ceremony and tradition for the nonce.