Authors: Angela Brazil
"Well, you'd surely never do such a silly thing as cross that tree?"
[Illustration: TWO PAIRS OF BARE FEET WENT SPLASHING JOYOUSLY INTO THE BROOK]
"Wouldn't I? I believe I'm going to do it now."
"He's got to get home somehow. Look here, Harry!"--Diana knelt on the pebbles, and put her arm round the little blue-jerseyed figure--"suppose I were to go too, would you dare to cross again? We'd both crawl on our hands and knees."
The sobs stopped, while Harry took a swift survey of her face. Apparently he found it satisfactory.
"If you'll go first," he stammered.
"Then come along--we've no time to waste," said Diana, springing up and giving him her hand.
"Diana! You surely don't mean----" began Geraldine in eager remonstrance.
"Yes, I do!" interrupted Diana. "I've done worse things before, and I'm not scared. Come on, Harry! We'll have you home in forty cracks."
The girls did not attempt to interfere. They stood and watched while Diana hauled the little boy up the bank. Perhaps each secretly wished she were capable of such a piece of pluck. Though the tree was tall enough to span the stream, its bole seemed very narrow to form a bridge, and the rounded surface made it all the more slippery; the few branches here and there were of little help. Diana hoisted up her protégé, then going in front of him began to crawl across on her hands and knees, speaking to him all the time, so as to encourage him to follow her. Beneath them the water foamed and roared over the rocks: to slip would mean to be whirled into the depths of a dark pool below. It was a slow progress, but inch by inch they crept along till the most dangerous part was passed, and they had reached comparative safety. The girls cheered when at last Diana scrambled to her feet and lifted Harry on to dry ground. A path led up the side of the gorge, and along this he set off at full speed for home. His preserver stood looking after him for a minute or two, and then she turned to re-cross her perilous bridge. Six hands were stretched out to help her as she completed the venturesome journey.
"You're a trump, Di!"
daren't have done it!"
"You've been a guardian angel to that child!"
"I can't think how you managed it!"
"I nearly screamed when you reached the middle!"
"It felt worse coming back than going," said Diana, brushing her skirt, which had suffered considerably. "Somehow I minded it more. Well, it's over now! We'd better be getting on, hadn't we?"
"Yes, indeed; the others will think we're lost," agreed Geraldine.
The t-r-r-ee-ee of the whistle was sounding from the far distance, so the girls made a spurt and hurried along to catch up the rest of the party. Geraldine, in virtue of her office as head prefect, briefly explained to Miss Todd the cause of the delay.
"I shouldn't have let you do it, Diana, if I had been there," said the Principal. "But I've no doubt the little boy's mother is blessing you. We should have had to take him to Pendlemere with us, and have sent somebody from the village to take him home. There would have been no other way. Remember, though, that I'm responsible for you to your parents, and I really can't allow these harum-scarum tricks. Suppose there had been an accident!"
"Dad knows me, and he wouldn't have blamed you," said Diana cheerily. "He says I'm like a cat with nine lives, or a bad halfpenny that always turns up again. I've done worse things than this."
"Then you won't do them while you're at this school," returned Miss Todd firmly, motioning her to walk along in front with Geraldine.
On Monday afternoon, with the aid of some ribbons, the girls made their rushes into pretty little sheaves. They plaited bands for them, and twisted them securely. Miss Todd, much interested, superintended their operations.
"You may pick some flowers from the garden to-morrow, and put garlands round them," she suggested. "We're reviving a most ancient custom that dates back to the early days of Christianity in Britain. Pope Gregory IV recommended that on the anniversaries of the dedication of churches wrested from the Pagans, the converts should build themselves huts with the boughs of trees round their churches, and celebrate the day with feasting. The rush-bearing is probably the last relic of that ancient ceremony. At one time there was always a village feast in connection with it, though it degenerated at last into a sort of rustic saturnalia, and had to be suppressed."
"Old customs are very interesting," said Diana, staring at the Principal with wide-open, steady eyes.
"I'm glad you find them so."
"It's nice to see them
kept up. If we have the rush-bearing to-morrow, oughtn't we--just to revive an old ceremony--to have the feast as well?"
A rustle passed over the school at Diana's temerity. Miss Todd returned the steady gaze, then the corners of her mouth twitched.
"You've stated the case very accurately. As a matter of fact, I have ordered seed-cake and scones, and have invited the Vicarage people to tea."
The sheaves of rushes were duly carried into the church, and stacked artistically in the deep window-sills, where they gave somewhat the effect of a harvest festival. The girls were eager to lay bundles of them in the particular pews occupied by the school, but the verger, who looked askance at the whole business, and whose wife was hovering about with a broom to sweep up bits, vetoed the suggestion so emphatically that the Vicar, wavering with a strong balance towards ancient custom, hastily and regretfully decided in the negative. Neither would Miss Todd allow them to be strewn upon the schoolroom floor, although Diana ventured to suggest the advisability of practical study of mediæval methods.
"There are some things best left to imagination," replied the Principal dryly. "For instance, there would be no need to dispense with forks, and let you hold mutton bones with your fingers at dinner, in order to demonstrate fourteenth-century manners, nor to bleed you every time you had a toothache, to test ancient practices of medicine. If you're so very anxious to skip a few hundred years, I have, in an old Herbal, a prescription to cure 'swimming in ye heade and such like phantasies'. It consists mainly of pounded snail-shells, mixed with boiled tansy and snippings from the hair of an unbaptized infant born between Easter and Michaelmas. Any one who wishes has my permission to try it."
"No, thank you!" said Diana, screwing up her mouth. "Unless," she added hopefully, "I might go out and gather the tansy. We saw some growing on the way to Fox Fell."
"There's a fine clump at the bottom of the garden, so you needn't go out of bounds to get it," replied Miss Todd, glancing at her pupil with eyes that clearly saw through all subterfuges.
The Principal was determined that Diana and Wendy, having deliberately broken a rule, should suffer the just consequences, and she did not intend to remit one jot or tittle of the punishment she had inflicted. "Bounds" at Pendlemere were sufficiently extensive to allow ample exercise, and any farther excursions must be deferred till the end of the appointed fortnight.
Diana, looking at the exeat list which hung in the hall, shook her head at sight of her own name scored through with a blue pencil.
"Just to think that removing my boots and stockings for ten short minutes should have cut me off from going to Glenbury," she philosophized. "I was only 'laving my feet', as the poets say. Nymphs always did it in classical times. Indeed, I don't suppose they ever had boots and stockings to take off, so they could paddle as they pleased."
"They had a warmer climate in Greece," sniffed Wendy, who had a bad cold in her head as the result of her paddling; "and I suppose they were accustomed to it. If there is anything you want particularly in Glenbury, Magsie's going, and I expect she'd get it for you."
"I don't know whether she could."
"What is it you want?"
Diana hesitated, then whispered in Wendy's ear:
"Three packets of Turkish cigarettes."
Wendy's eyes were wide. Diana nodded determinedly.
"But what do you want them for?"
"That's my own business."
"You surely don't
!"--in a horrified voice.
"I don't want them for myself--I'll tell you that much."
"For whom are they, then?"
"I shan't tell you!"
"Magsie would never dare to bolt into a tobacconist's and buy cigarettes."
"I was afraid she wouldn't," said Diana sadly.
"And you'd better be careful yourself if you go to Glenbury next exeat day. Toddlekins would draw the line at cigarettes. You wouldn't like to get expelled?"
"I don't know that I'd very much care," sighed Diana.
She revenged herself for her enforced seclusion by clumping noisily about the passages, till Miss Todd, hearing the racket, dropped a significant hint as to the necessity of compulsory felt slippers for girls who had not learnt to walk lightly. So, fearing that the Principal might really carry out this threat, Diana betook herself to the garden, and expended her superfluous energy on a fast and furious set of tennis. Having lost three balls, she left Vi and Peggy to look for them, and, still in a thoroughly bad temper, strolled round the corner of the house. On the front drive she saw a sight that set her running. Exactly opposite the door stood the car of her cousin, Mrs. Burritt. It was empty, but the chauffeur, at the top of the steps, was in the very act of handing two envelopes to the housemaid.
"Anything for me, Thompson?" cried Diana eagerly.
"Yes, miss. Letter for you, and one for Miss Todd," replied the man, touching his cap.
Diana seized hers from Edith, the maid, devoured its contents, and clapped her hands.
"I'll be ready in five minutes, Thompson!" she exclaimed, and fled indoors.
Half-way down the corridor she nearly ran into Miss Todd, emerging from her study with an open letter in her hand.
"Where are you going, Diana?"
"Cousin Cora's asked me for the night! She's sent the car for me. My cousin Lenox is there on leave!" panted Diana.
"So I understand from Mrs. Burritt's letter, but I certainly cannot allow you to go."
Diana's face was a study.
"I had no authority from your father and mother to allow you to accept invitations."
they'd let me! Oh, Miss Todd, I simply
"That's for me to decide, Diana, not you, and I say 'no'."
Mistress and pupil looked at each other squarely. Miss Todd's mouth was set in a firm line. Evidently she considered that she was fighting a campaign against Diana, and she meant to carry this outpost. Diana had the sense to realize her defeat. She drooped her lashes over her eyes.
"May I send a note to Cousin Cora?" she asked in a strangled voice.
"You can if you wish, and I'll write to her myself, and explain that it is against our rules."
Murmuring something that sounded dangerously like "Strafe rules!" Diana darted upstairs for blotting-pad and fountain-pen. She frowned hard while she scribbled, thumped the envelope as she closed it, then ran down to give it into the personal charge of the chauffeur. She would have added some comments for his benefit, had Miss Hampson not been standing upon the doorstep.
"You're not coming, miss?" enquired Thompson civilly, but with evident astonishment.
" grunted Diana, turning indoors and clumping down the hall past Miss Todd's study with footsteps heavy enough to justify the demand for felt slippers.
She was too angry at the moment to mind what happened, and the Principal, who was wise in her generation, allowed her to stamp by unchallenged.
At tea-time, at preparation, at evening recreation, and at supper Diana sat with a thunder-cloud on her face. When she went to bed it burst. She squatted in a limp heap on the floor and raged at fate.
"I'm sorry, but you're really making a most fearful fuss!" said Loveday, whose sympathy and sense of fitness were playing see-saw. "It's one of the rules of the school that we don't go away for odd holidays. We may have Friday to Monday at half-term, but even Mrs. Gifford never let anyone off in the middle of the week to stay a night. You're only served the same as everybody else. Why can't you take it sporting?"
"You don't understand!" wailed Diana, mopping her moist cheeks.
"Do get up from the floor, at any rate. It looks so weak to be huddled up like a bundle of rags. You haven't brushed your hair yet. Don't be a slacker, Diana!"
Thus morally prodded, Diana rose dejectedly, put on her bedroom slippers, and took the hair-brush which her room-mate handed. She did not like to be called a slacker, particularly by Loveday. The atmosphere was not altogether harmonious: she felt as if their thoughts were running round in circles, and had not yet met at a mutual angle of comprehension.
"Loveday doesn't understand me--she thinks me a spoilt cry-baby!" she kept repeating to herself, and the mere fact of realizing that attitude in her companion prevented her from trying to explain the situation. Hair-brush drill proceeded in dead silence, only broken by an occasional gasping sigh from Diana, which echoed through the room about as cheerfully as a funeral dirge. Loveday stared at her once or twice as if about to make a remark, but changed her mind; she dawdled about the room, opening drawers and rearranging her possessions. When at last she was ready to put out the light she paused, and turned to the other cubicle. Diana lay quietly with her nose buried in the pillow. Loveday bent over her and dropped a butterfly kiss on the inch of cheek visible.
"Poor old sport! Was I rather a beast?" she said; then, hearing Miss Beverley's patrol step in the passage, she dabbed the extinguisher on the candle and hopped hastily into bed.
All night long Loveday had uneasy and troubled dreams about Diana. They met and parted, and quarrelled and made it up; they did ridiculous and impossible things, such as crawling through tubes or walking on roofs; they were pursued by bulls, or they floated on rivers; yet always they were together, and Loveday, with a feeling of compunction and no sense at all of the ridiculous, was trying with a sponge to mop up Diana's overflowing rivers of tears that were running down and making pools on a clean table-cloth. She awoke with a start, feeling almost as if the sheets were damp. Stealthy sounds came from the next cubicle, and the candle was lighted there.