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Authors: Angela Brazil

A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl (9 page)

BOOK: A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl
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Miss Chadwick, with her assistants Miss Carr and Miss Ormrod, brought a new and decidedly breezy element into the school. They spent Saturday in reviewing the premises, and on Monday they set to work. The girls, who as yet were only in the position of onlookers, watched the operations, much thrilled. All sorts of interesting things began to arrive: portable hen-houses packed in sections, chicken-coops, rolls of galvanized wire netting, iron stakes, the framework of a greenhouse, and a whole cargo of tools. The three enterprising ladies seemed to have some knowledge of carpentry, and at once began to fit parts together and erect sheds. Their sensible land costumes excited admiration and envy.

"It's what I mean to do when I grow up," resolved Magsie. "Did you see the way Miss Carr ran up that ladder? And she's begun to thatch the roof so neatly. She does it far better than that old man from the village who potters about. I'm just yearning to try my hand at thatching. I wish Miss Carr would let me!"

While they were busy getting the place in order, Miss Chadwick and her assistants declined all offers of inexperienced help, assuring the girls that they would have their "jobs" given them later on, when there was time to teach them. This did not at all content the enthusiastic spirits who were burning to throw lessons to the winds and spend their days in mixing putty, lime-washing hen-houses, and fixing up wire netting. They hung about disconsolately, snatching at such opportunities of assistance as holding ladders or handing nails.

"You
might
let me tar the roof of the chicken-coop," begged Wendy. "I'd just love to let it all squelch on, and I adore the smell!"

But Miss Carr, who the day before had rashly allowed Diana the use of the lime-wash pail, was firm in her refusal.

"I haven't time to show you how, and I don't want things spoilt. Put down that tar-brush, Wendy! If you get smears on your skirt, you'll never get them off again."

"I don't see where
we
come in!" groused Wendy. "I thought we were to learn agriculture."

"You won't learn it by dabbing tar on the end of your nose," laughed Miss Carr.

In the course of a few weeks, however, the preliminary stages were over. Some fowl-houses and runs were finished, and their feathered occupants arrived and took possession. A consignment of spades, rakes, and hoes was delivered by the carrier, and arranged by the students in the new tool-shed. Miss Carr announced herself ready to begin her course of instruction. To the girls the crowning-point of the preparations was the opening of several large boxes posted from a London shop. They contained twenty land costumes in assorted sizes. The excitement of trying them on was immense. Twenty little figures in smocks and gaiters went capering about the school, wild with the fun of the new experiment, and feeling themselves enthusiastic "daughters of the soil".

"It was A1 of Toddlekins to let us have a 'land uniform'."

"Couldn't do any decent work without, I should say."

"I believe Miss Carr insisted on it."

"Sensible woman!"

"It feels so delightfully business-like."

"Shall we win green armlets?"

"I'm just dying to start and dig!"

"And I want to climb a tree!"

Miss Chadwick and her students set to work methodically. They gave classroom lectures on the principles of agriculture, and practical demonstrations in the garden. The girls learnt the constituents of soils, and also how to trench; the theory of scientific poultry-raising, and the actual mixing of the food. They prepared plots that would be sown in the spring, cleared and rolled paths, planted bulbs, and divided roots of perennials; they sawed wood, lifted rhubarb, and helped to prepare a mushroom bed. It was all new and exciting, and there was a spice of patriotism mixed up with it. They felt that they were training to be of some service to the community.

"It's fearfully weird," said Wendy, writing her essay on
Insect Pests
, "to have to find out whether your insect has a biting or a sucking mouth, so as to know whether you must spray the beastie direct, or apply poison to the plant. I'd feel rather like a dentist examining their jaws."

"I heard of an editor in America," laughed Magsie, "who got his 'answers to correspondents' mixed up, and in reply to 'how to kill a plague of crickets' put 'rub their gums gently with a thimble, and if feverish, administer Perry's Teething Powders'; while to 'Anxious Mother of Twins', he gave the advice: 'Burn tobacco on a hot shovel, and the little pests will hop about and die as dead as door-nails'."

"You always fix these yarns on America," pouted Diana. "It sounds a great deal more like one of your British editors."

To some of the girls the greatest event of all was the arrival of the horse and trap which Miss Todd had decided to add to her establishment. Pendlemere was some distance from the station and from Glenbury, the nearest town, and she thought it would be a great convenience to be independent of carriers and able to fetch supplies for themselves. Diana, keenly interested, was allowed by Miss Ormrod to make the acquaintance of "Baron", the pretty chestnut cob, and even to help in his toilet. Diana loved horses, and used the curry-comb with enthusiasm, talking to Baron in what she called "horse language"--a string of endearing terms that on the whole he seemed to appreciate.

"I'd just adore to drive him!" she sometimes hinted; but Miss Ormrod always ignored the hint, and, instead of offering her the reins, never even invited her into the cart. Diana would stand watching wistfully when Baron was harnessed, and the governess car would start out on a pilgrimage to the town. She considered that a practical part of her education was being obviously neglected.

"If we could each keep a pony and go for rides on the hills, it would be ripping!" she sighed.

"Goody! What a circus we'd look!" said Vi, who did not take so kindly to horsemanship, and preferred a car.

Early in November, Miss Todd, having some urgent business to transact, went up to London for a few days, leaving Pendlemere in the hands of Miss Beverley. The school jogged along without any mishaps during her absence. She was expected home upon the Thursday. On Wednesday afternoon, which was a holiday, Miss Chadwick, Miss Carr, Miss Ormrod, and Miss Hampson mounted bicycles, and rode away with a party of seniors to Glenbury. The juniors, by special invitation from Mrs. Fleming, went to tea at the Vicarage. Two intermediates were in bed with a mild form of "flu", and the remainder amused themselves as they liked best. Peggy sat indoors, doing pen-painting; Vi brought stones for a rockery; Sadie and Magsie played a set of tennis on the cinder court; Diana and Wendy, who had asked to join the cycle party, and had in consequence received a severe snub from Geraldine, wandered about the garden like unquiet spirits.

"It's the limit to be an intermediate!" groused Wendy gloomily. "Seniors and juniors get all the fun! Did you ever hear of
our
form being taken to do anything special while the others stopped at school? Of course you didn't, because we never are! The seniors get first innings, and we only have the crumbs that are left, and those juniors are treated like babies though they're nearly as tall as we are. I'm fed up with it!"

"We'd better have a demonstration--parade the corridor with a placard: 'Fair play for Intermediates! Equal treats for all!'" suggested Diana, who was always ready with ideas.

"Much good it would do us! We should only get sat upon by everybody. Hullo! Here's Peggy wandering down. What's the matter with you, chucky? You look disturbed."

"I hate coming out in a wind," said Peggy, holding her hands over her rumpled hair. "I say, did you, or did you not see Miss Chadwick, Miss Ormrod,
and
Miss Carr bike off to Glenbury? Are they all three gone?"

"Of course they're gone!"

"You saw them with your own eyes?"

"Helped to blow up their tyres, which we thought was really saintly, when we weren't asked to go with them," said the still injured Wendy.

"Well, it's a pretty go they're all off! Bunty's just had a telegram from Toddlekins. She's coming back this afternoon, and wants the trap to meet the four-thirty train."

"She should! She's in a precious hurry to leave her beloved London. Whence this thusness?"

"I don't know. She's coming, at any rate," said Peggy, rather crossly. "Bunty sent me to find out if everybody had really gone. Toddlekins will have to get a taxi, that's all. Whew! I'm being blown to bits! I want to get back to my pen-painting. I'm making a birthday present for my cousin. Ta-ta!"

Diana stood watching Peggy's retreating figure as the latter raced up the garden and into the house.

"Toddlekins will be rather savage not to be met," she commented.

"Yes; she's so keen on the trap, and the amount it saves in taxis and carriers."

"It does seem rough on her, especially when she's sent a telegram. Look here, old thing, let's take it to meet her ourselves!"

"What? You and me?"

"Why not? I can drive, and I know how to harness Baron. I have helped to put him in the trap heaps of times. Bunty? Best not tell her anything about it; she's always such a scared rabbit, and she'd only have fits!"

Wendy's eyes shone like stars.

"It
would
be a stunt! Fancy driving in state to the station and fetching Toddlekins! She'd be pleased to save a taxi."

"Bless her, she shall! We'll show her that her girls have some spirit and self-reliance at a crisis. It's only making a practical demonstration of our new agricultural course! What's the use of learning if you can't apply it at the right moment? Run and fetch our coats and hats and gloves, that's a cherub, while I go and tell Baron all about it."

Wendy, much thrilled, and fired with the excellence of Diana's notion, went indoors, and, taking elaborate precautions not to meet anybody, secured outdoor garments worthy of the occasion. She rolled them in a Union Jack for camouflage, and bore them off to the stable.

"I've brought 'bests'," she said. "Toddlekins wouldn't thank to be met by two Cinderellas!"

Diana was standing with her arms thrown round Baron's neck, whispering sweet nothings into his twitching ear. If he did not understand the substance of her remarks, he realized the force of her affection, and kept rubbing his nose against her shoulder in a sort of caress, very gently catching her jersey with his lips and pulling it.

"I've told him, and he's delighted to go," declared Diana. "He's just pining for a run. It's so dull for him standing here with no one to talk to. It takes away his appetite. He'll enjoy his supper twice as much when he comes back. Won't you, dear old man?"

"We mustn't be all day about starting. If you've finished making love to him, let's get out the trap."

"Right you are!"

Diana was perfectly capable of accomplishing what she had undertaken. She took down the harness, led Baron out into the yard, and proceeded to put him into the shafts in quite a professional fashion. She looked over all the straps, fetched the whip, donned the garments which Wendy had brought, and proclaimed herself ready.

"We'll go out quietly by the back way," she chuckled. "Open the gate; that's a mascot!"

There was nobody to say them nay, so in a few minutes they were trotting briskly along the Glenbury Road. Diana was a capital little Jehu, and held the reins with a practised hand. Baron, perfectly conscious of who was driving him, behaved admirably. The girls felt their spirits at high-water mark. They had certainly scored over the rest of the school, and secured a superior jaunt to anybody. Moreover, it was a pleasant afternoon to be out. The weather, which for some days had been damp, had changed to windy. Long, dappled mare's-tail clouds stretched across the pale November sky, and every now and then the sun shone out between them. The glory of the autumn tints had been blown away, but the infinitely intertwined, almost leafless boughs of the woodlands had a beauty apart from foliage. Bushes covered with crimson masses of hips or haws foretold a hard winter; birds twittered restlessly in the hedgerows; and the withered leaves came whirling along the road with a scurrying, rustling sound as of the little footsteps of innumerable fairies. A seed-vessel of the sycamore, flying like a miniature aeroplane, struck Diana full in the face. She picked it up as it fell on her coat, and put it in her pocket.

"I shall keep it as my mascot," she said. "It was evidently meant for me, so it will bring me luck. Do you believe in luck?"

"Very much, sometimes, but I don't often have any."

"We've got it to-day, though. Baron's going splendidly. I think the wind excites him. You wouldn't believe he'd been out every day this week. He's as fresh as a daisy. What's the time? I can't get to my watch."

"Quarter past four."

"Gee whiz! We must hurry ourselves. We've to be waiting at the station by half-past. Baron, can you put on a spurt?"

They were bowling along a good macadam road and down hill, so that Baron did not object to the extra strain put upon his legs. The spire of Glenbury Church loomed ahead; in a few more minutes they began to see the roofs of the houses. They crossed the bridge over the river, turned the corner by the King's Arms Inn, and were trotting at a good pace along Castle Street, when suddenly Wendy's side of the trap dipped down. There was a horrible jarring and grinding, and horse and governess car seemed to be trying to practise sliding. With great presence of mind, and also strength of arm, Diana pulled Baron up.

"We've lost our wheel!" she gasped.

A crowd immediately collected round the little carriage, which stood lop-sided in the gutter. One passer-by held the horse, another helped Diana and Wendy out; a boy came running up with the wheel that had danced across the street. People stood at shop doors and stared. Sympathetic voices asked if the girls were hurt. Several connoisseurs were feeling Baron's legs. In that most critical and agitating situation, who should be seen riding up from the town but a group of ten cyclists, led by Miss Chadwick, and displaying the familiar hatbands of Pendlemere School. Diana and Wendy turned the colour of boiled beetroot. The cyclists dismounted in a body, and Miss Chadwick, staggered at the amazing spectacle of the wreck before her, took over instant possession. She tilted her bicycle against a lamp-post, sent a boy for a blacksmith, and began to unharness Baron. When he was clear of the shafts, and being led away by a friendly ostler, she demanded explanations. Diana supplied them briefly. Miss Chadwick looked at her keenly, but forbore to comment before the crowd.

BOOK: A Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl
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