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Authors: Angela Brazil

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BOOK: A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl
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"It's difficult to foster just the spirit one wants in them--it depends so largely on the girl," she decided.

And there she was right--the girl made all the difference. Hilary Chapman had listened to her remarks on "the mother instinct", and had walked straight into her dormitory, tow-rowed her young room-mates for their untidiness, snapped at their excuses, and sent them downstairs with a snubbing, returning to the bosom of the seniors ruffled, but with a strong sense of having performed her obvious duty. Betty Blane, Erica Peters, and Peggy Collins, comparing injured notes, viewed the matter from a different angle.

"Calls herself a mother, does she? Jolly more like a step-mother, I should say," objected Erica.

"Pretty grizzly to be boxed up with Hilary for a whole term," lamented Betty.

"I'm
not going
to be 'mothered' by her," proclaimed Peggy with energy. "She's only two years older than I am, and yet from the airs she gives herself you'd think she was Methuselah."

"You don't
look
like her daughter," remarked Betty, who was literal-minded to a fault.

Peggy made an eloquent grimace.

"I'm an undutiful one, at any rate," she laughed. "I'm afraid Hilary will find me somewhat of a handful."

Up in the little ivy room, however, matters were going somewhat better. Diana and Loveday, after a few minor differences, dovetailed both their possessions and their dispositions so as to admit of the least possible friction. It was fortunate for Diana, for she had a side to her character that would have bristled into porcupine quills had she been placed with Hilary. Loveday's particular temperament soothed her down.

"I'm falling in love with her," she admitted to Wendy. "I was taken with her, of course, the moment I saw her, but I believe now I'm going to have it badly. I think she's beautiful! If there were a Peach Competition, she'd win at a canter."

Such a pandering to the "pomps and vanities" as a Beauty Show was certainly not an item in the list of new experiments at Pendlemere, but there was a general consensus of opinion that Loveday held the palm in the matter of looks. She was a fair, slender girl, with delicate features, a clear complexion, and a quantity of long flaxen hair. She spoke prettily, but without affectation, and always gave an impression of great refinement. The wistful look that sometimes shaded her blue eyes was, on the whole, attractive.

"She's like a picture I once saw of Eve just turned out of Paradise," commented Diana, sitting with Wendy and Tattie in the window-seat on the stairs.

"Not half a bad shot," said Wendy. "In fact, it just about hits the mark. In a way, Loveday
is
turned out of Paradise. That's to say, I suppose, if her grandfather hadn't gambled, the Abbey would have belonged to her."

"What Abbey?"

"Why, this, of course, stupid!"

"Do you mean to say Loveday's folks used to
own
this place?"

"They did. Owned it for hundreds of years. They were an old Border family, and mixed up with the rebellion of 1745, and all sorts of interesting things. Loveday's grandfather was the regular old-fashioned sporting kind of squire you read about in books. He gambled the whole property away. I suppose it used to be a fine place in his day. I've heard he kept eight hunters, and always had the house full of guests while his money lasted. Then there was a grand smash up, and everything had to be sold--house, horses, furniture, and all. He went abroad and died of a broken heart--never smiled again, and all that sort of thing, you know."

"How fearfully romantic!" gasped Diana. "Of course it was his own fault for gambling, but still one feels sorry for him. Did Loveday live here too when she was little?"

Wendy shook her head.

"I shouldn't think so. I believe it happened ever such a long time ago; before she was born, even."

"Couldn't her father get it back?"

"I suppose not. Besides, he's dead too. Loveday is an orphan. She's neither father nor mother."

"Where does she live, then, when she's at home?"

"With an uncle and aunt--her mother's relations. But she never talks very much about them, so we fancy they're not particularly nice to her. She has no brothers or sisters. I think she feels lonely, if you ask my opinion, but she's too proud to say so."

"And Pendlemere ought to be hers! How romantic!" repeated Diana. "I wanted to stay in a real old-fashioned mediæval British house, and here I'm plumped into a story as well. It's most exciting! What's going to happen next? Is Loveday going to get it back? Will she marry the man who owns it? Or will somebody leave her a fortune? Or will she find a lost will? How do stories generally end?" continued Diana, casting her mind over a range of light literature which she had skimmed and half forgotten.

Wendy disposed of each of the suggestions in turn.

"There isn't anybody to leave her a fortune; and what's the good of finding a will when the place is sold? The present owner is a fat old fellow of fifty, with a wife already, and, even if
she
died, I shouldn't think Loveday would want to marry him. He has three daughters older than she is, and he's quite bald."

Diana looked baffled. Her romantic plan of restoring the fortunes of the Seton family through matrimony certainly did not seem hopeful.

"I'm fearfully sorry for Loveday," confided Tattie. "I know something about her, because some friends of ours live near her aunt. They say she gets very much snubbed; her cousins make her feel it's not her own home. She wants to go to college, but it's doubtful if she'll be able. Nesta Erskine says Loveday is just
counting
on a career. She wants to be independent of her aunt."

"It must be horrible to be snubbed," commented Diana thoughtfully.

She had admired Loveday before, but now she looked at her room-mate with new eyes. To Diana there was something fascinating about the idea of a "penniless princess".

"Do your ancestors go right slap-bang back to the Conquest?" she asked interestedly, while she was undressing that evening.

"Well, not quite so far as that," smiled Loveday, diligently brushing a flaxen mane ripply with plaiting. "But I believe there were Setons in the fourteenth century, long before they had the Abbey from Edward the Sixth's commissioners. There are all sorts of stories and legends about them, of course."

"What kind of stories? Do tell me! I'd just admire to hear. I'm crazy on Border ballads and legends. Tell me, while I fix my hair."

"Well, there was little Sir Rowland. When he was only six years old his father was killed in one of the battles of the Wars of the Roses. They were Lancastrians, and the Yorkists seized his estate, and Rowland was only saved from the fury of the conquering party by the devotion of his nurse. She managed to hide him in a secret place in the tower till there was an opportunity to escape, and then she got him away to her father's house in the midst of a wild tract of forest. He lived there, disguised as a forester, for years and years, and helped to cut wood and to hunt, and only two or three people knew the secret of his birth. He used to go errands sometimes to the great Hall of the neighbourhood, and there he saw Lady Anne, the beautiful daughter of Lord Wharton, and fell desperately in love with her. One day when she was out riding he was able to save her from the attack of an infuriated stag, and I suppose she was very grateful, and perhaps showed her feelings too plainly, for her father shut her up in a turret-room, and ordered her to marry somebody whom she didn't like at all. I don't know what would have happened, but just then Henry VII came to the throne, and one of his first acts was to restore Sir Rowland Seton to his possessions and dignity. Lord Wharton must have thought him an eligible suitor then, for he was allowed to marry the Lady Anne, and take her away to his castle. Their tomb is in Dittington Church. He was killed at the Battle of Flodden, and one of his sons with him.

"There's a romantic story, too, about Sir Roderick Seton, who lived at the Abbey here in the days of Charles I. He had a stone seat made, and put just by the front door. The first person who sat on it was a lovely girl named Katherine, and he said to her: 'Katherine, you have sat on my seat, so you must give me three kisses as toll'. Not very long after he went away to London, leaving his brother William to look after the estate. Then civil war broke out, and he joined the Royalist forces, and followed the young King Charles into exile. After the Restoration he journeyed north, and came on foot to his old home. It was years and years since he had left there, and nobody had had any tidings about him, or knew whether he was alive or dead. He found his brother William, who was now married to Katherine, sitting with her and their two children on the stone seat by the door. He asked them for a night's lodging, and, though they did not know who he was, they took him in and treated him kindly. Next morning he asked his hostess to accompany him to the door, and, pointing to the stone seat, said:

"'It is many years since I had three kisses from the dame who first sat on it.'

"She recognized him then, and ran joyously to call the rest of the household. His brother at once wished to hand over the keys to him, but he would not accept them. 'I am old and childless,' he said. 'All I ask here is bed and board till you carry me to the churchyard.' He lived with them for some years, and devoted himself to study. The people of the neighbourhood venerated him as a sage, and after his death he was supposed on very special occasions to appear and give the family warning of future trouble. They say he was seen before the Battle of Culloden, and several times during the Napoleonic wars; but of course I can't vouch for that--it's only legend."

Diana, sitting up in bed with the curtains of her cubicle drawn aside to listen, gave a long-drawn, breathless sigh.

"O-o-o-oh! How gorgeous to belong to a highfaluting family that's got legends and ghosts. I'm just crazy to hear more. What about the house? Aren't there any dungeons or built-up skeletons or secret hiding-places? There
ought
to be, in a real first-class mediæval place like this."

Loveday was plaiting her flaxen hair into two long braids; she paused with the ribbon in her hand.

"I don't know--as you say, there ought to be. I've often wondered--especially since----" She hesitated.

"Since what?" urged Diana, scenting the beginning of a mystery.

"Since something that happened once."

"When? Oh,
do
tell me!"

"I've never told anybody."

Diana hopped out of bed, and flung two lace-frilled arms round her room-mate, clinging to her with the tenacity of a young octopus.

"Oh, Loveday! Ducky! Tell me! I shan't let you go till you promise. Please! please!" she entreated.

"If you strangle me I can't tell anything. Get back into bed, Diana! I don't know whether it was really important, but it may have been. It happened when I was quite a little girl. I had a slight attack of measles, and of course I was kept in bed. Mother was nursing me, and one afternoon she went out to do some shopping and left me to have a nap. I wasn't sleepy in the least, and it was horribly dull staying there all by myself. I remembered a book I wanted to read which was in the dining-room bookcase, so I did a most dreadfully naughty thing: I jumped up, put on my dressing-gown and bedroom slippers, and ran downstairs to fetch
At the Back of the North Wind
. I opened the dining-room door and marched in, and then I got a surprise, for seated in a chair by the fire was a stranger. He looked as much surprised as I was.

"'Hallo!' he said. 'We go to bed early in this part of the world, don't we? Or are we only getting up?'

"I walked to the fire and warmed my hands, and looked at him calmly. I was a funny child in those days.

"'It's neither,' I answered. 'I've got measles.'

"'Then please don't give them to me,' he laughed. 'I assure you I don't want them. Look here! I called to see your father, or, failing your father, your mother. They're both out, and I've been waiting half an hour for either of them to come in. I can't stay any longer. Will you give them a message from me? Say I've been over at Pendlemere Abbey, and that I've made a most interesting discovery there. If they care to communicate with me, I'll tell them about it. Here's my card with my address. Now I must bolt to keep an appointment. You'll remember the message?'

[Illustration: "O-O-O-OH! HOW GORGEOUS TO BELONG TO A HIGH-FALUTING FAMILY THAT'S GOT LEGENDS AND GHOSTS!"]

"He flung his card on the table, went out of the room, and I heard the hall door bang after him. I stood for a moment thinking. If I gave this message, Mother would know that I had been out of bed and downstairs, and I should be sure to get a tremendous scolding. I was a naughty little girl in those days; I took the card, flung it on the fire, seized
At the Back of the North Wind
from the bookcase, and tore upstairs again. Of course I caught cold, and had rather a serious relapse which puzzled everybody. No one except myself knew the reason, and I took good care not to tell. Only six months afterwards I lost both my father and mother, and went to live with my aunt at Liverpool. What became of the stranger I don't know. I didn't even remember his name."

"You weren't living at the Abbey then?"

"No, no! We never lived at the Abbey. It was sold before I was born. I believe at that time it was empty, and a caretaker used to allow tourists to look through it. I suppose that gentleman was a tourist."

"What had he found?"

"That's a question I've asked myself a hundred times. Was it a sliding panel or a secret door? Or was he simply some antiquarian crank who wanted to prove that the Abbey was of Norman origin, or built on a Roman foundation? How I wish I hadn't forgotten his name! When I heard that Pendlemere had been turned into a school I begged my aunt to send me here. For a long time she wouldn't, and I went to a day-school. Then two years ago she and uncle decided to send me to a boarding-school, so again I asked to come here, and after a great deal of urging they let me. I hoped I might find out something. I'm always hunting about, but I've never yet made the 'interesting discovery'."

BOOK: A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl
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