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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 14. School At The Follies
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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 14. School At The Follies Post by :Greg_Aldrich Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2073

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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 14. School At The Follies

CHAPTER XIV. SCHOOL AT THE FOLLIES

Jane Denton had a hard fight for her life. For days she hovered between this world and the next. Two or three doctors came to see her. She had two trained nurses; bulletins were put up at the door; no one was allowed to come in. The girls who were staying with Mrs. Brett were strictly forbidden to have any communication with the infected house; Rosamund and Irene were equally forbidden to go near Sunnyside.

But at last there came a day when there was a decided improvement. The diphtheria was gone, and the young patient began slowly to pass from danger to convalescence. Then a load seemed to be lifted from every one's breast; and Rosamund really turned, as she expressed it, to consider her future life. During the time of waiting she had a certain influence over Irene; not, perhaps, so much as on the first day, when that young lady, charmed, bewildered, and amazed by Rosamund's firmness, had followed her lead unflinchingly. Rosamund now had to consider herself. She wrote, therefore, a long letter to her mother.

"I could not do so," she thought, "while Jane lay between life and death, when there was a strong chance of the school at Sunnyside not existing any more. But now I must write to dear mother and tell her the truth."

Accordingly, the following letter reached Mrs. Cunliffe on a certain morning early in July:

"MY DARLING MOTHER,--You know all about Jane, of course, and that she is now better--in fact, quite out of danger. In a short time they will take her away, probably to some seaside place, the house will be disinfected, and the girls will come back to their work. Miss Archer, the English governess, will be as strict and as unsympathetic as ever, and Mademoiselle Omont will teach excellent French, no doubt.

"Now, mother darling, you may have heard, or you may not have heard, that I am in disgrace at Sunnyside. I could not give up Irene, and in consequence the Professor says that I am not to return to the school. He means by that that I am to be in a sense expelled. I felt his words very acutely when he uttered them, for I didn't wish to do anything contrary to your desires; but I felt that I could not give up Irene. I was the first person who had any influence over her, and she was running wild and becoming a torment to her neighbors. I don't know what she would have come to in the end. So I elected, mother darling, to go straight to Lady Jane's instead of to Mrs. Brett, when dear Jane was so ill. Now I am established here at The Follies, and I am not allowed to go back to Sunnyside. Doubtless you know that, and perhaps you are angry with your own Rosamund. But I asked your leave to stay, and you gave it, although you did not know all the circumstances. Will you, dear mother, write to Professor Merriman and ask him to tell you exactly why he wishes to expel me? He will probably give you a very sorry story; but you must believe it or not as you please. I think you know your Rosamund better than he does. I am not going back to Sunnyside, for they would not accept me; but, at the same time, I do not feel at all a disgraced girl; and I should like the Merrimans to be friends with me, and I should still like sometimes to see Jane and Laura Everett, and some of the other girls--not Lucy Merriman, for she is not in the least to my taste; but even she does not greatly matter now that I am no longer living in the house with her. The fact is, dear mother, I could not have been a good girl had I stayed long in the house with Lucy, for she managed in some extraordinary manner to rub me the wrong way. She was so extra good, so punctilious, and so proper; she didn't suit me one bit, and I didn't suit her one little bit either. I was becoming quite a naughty girl. I never was too good--was I, mother dear? Perhaps, darling, I'd have become an awfully naughty Rosamund had it not been for Irene--poor little wild Irene; but she was really and truly much naughtier than I ever thought of being, and her example shocked me and pulled me up, and I resolved to try to be good for her sake.

"But I do like Professor Merriman, although I know he does not like me; and I believe they are very poor. So I wish you would find another pupil in my place--some ordinary kind of girl, who would pay about the same sum; or perhaps, mother, as you are so very well off, you might pay the money for her. What do you say to that? It is just a notion of mine. There is my cousin Anice: you know how her mother frets because she is not well educated. Well, she would be well educated at the Merrimans', for the two governesses, as well as the masters who come for occasional lessons, are first-rate. Now, just think that over, only don't let my name appear in the matter.

"Well, dearest, that's all about the Merrimans for the present. I am staying with Irene; but she knows that if she plays any very serious pranks I go. Meanwhile you must not suppose that I am letting my lessons alone. I am working very hard with Miss Frost. She is a dear creature when you get to know her, and she is very fond of me. I told you about those dreadful insects that that wicked child made her swallow. Well, she is all right again now, and isn't a bit afraid of them, and she believes the doctor, and is perfectly happy. As to Irene, nothing would induce her to do anything of the kind to Miss Frost now, for she would get it hot from me if she did. I should like to stay with Irene for the next few months at any rate, and if you want me to get on very fast indeed with my music, and to take up my drawing systematically, some of the masters who attend at the Merrimans' could come on here, couldn't they? I think that could be arranged. Dear Lady Jane is so fond of me, and I really think I am doing a little bit of good in the world, so you won't be angry even if the Professor writes you a horrid letter about your own

"ROSAMUND."


When this letter was despatched Rosamund felt quite light and happy, and she went out into the garden to talk to Miss Frost. Miss Frost looked already quite six or seven years younger than she had done on the day of Rosamund's arrival. She was no longer in terror of her life. Rosamund suggested to her that she should lock her door at nights, which the poor lady did very willingly. She told her there was not the slightest danger of anything happening, as nothing would induce Irene to give her any more frights.

"But if you are nervous, do lock your door," she said; "and if you really want pills for your indigestion, I will keep them for you, and see they are not meddled with."

Miss Frost had attended to all Rosamund's directions, for this masterful young woman was really ruling the entire house. The servants, too, seemed very much brighter and better. Lady Jane was heard to laugh constantly, and was even induced to play some old-fashioned music on the old piano in the drawing-room.

As to Irene, she wore white dresses and blue dresses and pink dresses, and was not once seen in the obnoxious red.

"That dress you can put on the day I leave The Follies," Rosamund had said to her young friend. "No, I am not going to hide it or put it away. It can hang in your wardrobe; but you are not to wear it while I am here, for I dislike it. I want you to be pretty and beautiful, and an influence for good, as God meant you to be."

Now, all these things told upon Irene; but most of all was she amazed and lifted out of herself when both Miss Frost and Rosamund discovered that she had as quick and clever a mind as she had a beautiful face. It is true she hardly knew anything. She could read and write, and had read a great many books; but all the ordinary subjects of education had been set aside by the willful child.

Rosamund now suggested that they should both compete for a small prize. She chose a subject which she herself knew nothing about, therefore she said they were very nearly equal. They both did compete, and perhaps Rosamund did not exactly put forth her full powers; but, anyhow, in the end Irene won, and her delight was beyond bounds. She rushed down to her mother's boudoir and showed her the beautifully bound volume of Kingsley's _Water Babies which was the prize she had won.

"I have got it through merit," she said. "Think of my getting anything through merit!"

Lady Jane very nearly cried, but she restrained herself, for Rosamund followed; whose face, with its slightly flushed cheeks and its eyes full of light and happiness, showed Lady Jane what a splendid character her young friend possessed. How could she ever thank God enough for having sent such a girl to her house?

Yes, lessons went on well, and Irene especially made great progress in her musical studies. She had always been fond of music as a little child. In her wildest moods, when Lady Jane had played for her she had become quiet, and crept close to her mother, laid her charming little head against her mother's knee, and listened with wide-open eyes. As she grew a little older she began to practice for herself, inventing her own melodies--nonsense, of course, but still with a certain promise in them.

Now Rosamund suggested that Irene should give up music with Miss Frost, for Miss Frost's style was by no means encouraging, and should take her lessons from the first-rate master who came twice a week from Dartford. It was amazing how quickly Irene made progress under this tuition. In the first place, Mr. Fortescue would not hear of any nonsense. He did not mind Irene's airs or her little attempts to subdue him; he simply desired her to do things, and when she failed he pounded her soundly on her knuckles.

"That is not the way to bring out that note," he would say; and then he would sit down to the piano himself, and ring out great melodies in the most splendid style, until the enthusiastic child almost danced with pleasure.

"Oh, is there any chance of my playing like that?" she once exclaimed.

"Every chance, and a great deal better, if you really take to it with all your heart and soul," was his response.

Rosamund was also intensely fond of music, and the girls were happy over their musical studies; in short, Irene, from having an aimless life, in which she did nothing but torment others, was now leading a full and happy existence. She had her distinct hours for work and distinct hours for play. She had a companion who delighted her; and toads, wasps, spiders, and even leeches lost their charm.

One day, to Rosamund's great delight, Irene suggested that Fuzz and Buzz and all their children should go back to the nearest chemist. This was no sooner thought of than done. Certainly it was a very great step in Irene's reform; but it must not be supposed that such a character could become good all of a sudden. It takes a lifetime, and perhaps more than a lifetime, to make any of us really good, and Irene was not by nature a very amiable child. She had been terribly spoiled, it is true, and but for Rosamund might have been an annoyance and a torment to every one as long as she lived. But she had splendid points in her character, and these were coming slowly to the fore.

Still, there were times when she was exceedingly naughty. Rosamund, having written to her mother, and so set her mind completely at rest, thought no longer of the sort of disgrace in which she was living as regarded the Merrimans. She was now anxious that Irene should make friends.

"There is no use whatever," she said, "in shutting a girl like Irene up with me. She ought to know the Singletons. I will ask Lady Jane if we may drive over some day and see them. Why shouldn't we go to-day? Irene has been quite good this morning. I dare say I could manage it. She won't like meeting Miss Carter; but she must get over that feeling. There's nothing for it but for her to live like ordinary girls. If she refuses, I shall beg of Lady Jane to take us both from The Follies, to take a house somewhere else for at least six months, and to let us make new friends. But that does seem ridiculous, when The Follies is such a lovely place, and Irene's real home. Of course, I can't always stay with her, although I mean to stay for the present."

Rosamund ran up to Lady Jane, who was pacing up and down on the terrace. Irene, as usual, was in her boat. She was floating idly about the lake. The day was intensely hot. She wore a graceful white frock and her pretty white shady hat; her little white hand was dabbling in the water, and her graceful little figure was looking almost like a nymph of the stream.

Lady Jane turned with a beaming face to Rosamund.

"What is it now, my dear?" she said.

"Well, of course, you have heard the good news. Everything is all right at the Merrimans', neither Irene nor I have taken the infection, none of the other girls have taken it, Jane is getting well again, and I have written a full account of everything to mother."

"That doesn't mean, my darling Rosamund, that you are going to leave us? I really couldn't consent to part with you. I can never, never express all that you have been to me," said poor Lady Jane, her eyes filling with tears.

"Well, I can only part from you by going back to mother, for they won't receive me any more at the Merrimans'."

"But why not, Rosamund?"

"Because I have taken up with Irene. But we needn't go into that now. What I want to know is, may Irene and I have the governess-cart, and may Miss Frost go with us, and may we drive over to the Singletons'?"

"Of course you may, Rosamund. But I am afraid it will be you and Miss Frost alone, for nothing would induce Irene to set foot inside that place. She has always refused, notwithstanding every effort of our dear clergyman to invite her to visit them. I have asked the children here, for they are nice children; but they are too much afraid of her to come. I do not think you will find the visit a success, even if you do induce Irene to accompany you."

"But I think I shall," said Rosamund calmly. "You know," she added, "Irene is not what she was."

"Indeed she is not. She is very different. I am beginning at last to enjoy my life and to appreciate her society. How beautiful she is, and how you have brought out her beauty!"

"Her beauty was given her by God," said Rosamund. "But, of course, now that she is learning, and becoming intelligent, and thinking good thoughts instead of bad thoughts, all these things must be reflected on her face. I want her to have other friends besides me, for I cannot always be with her, and I cannot tell you what a splendid girl I think Maud Singleton is."

"But then there is poor Miss Carter. Irene nearly killed her."

"Miss Carter is quite well and happy at the Singletons', and they just adore her, and Irene ought to apologize to her. I mean to make her when I get the chance. Perhaps not to-day. Anyhow, may we go?"

"You certainly may, and I wish you all success."

Rosamund danced away, and ran down the winding path to the edge of the lake.

"Irene, I want you to come in," she said. "I want to speak to you."

Irene rowed lazily back to the shore. She still sat in her boat and looked up at Rosamund.

"Will you get in?" she said. "There is a little breeze on the water; there is none on the land. What are you looking so solemn about?"

"I am not solemn at all. I want us to have fun this afternoon. It is rather dull here, just two girls all by themselves. I don't think that I can stay with you much longer unless you allow me to have other friends."

"Good gracious!" said Irene. "Perhaps I'd better get out. You look so very solemn."

"No, I'm not solemn exactly; but I want to have other friends. Will you get out, and may I talk to you?"

Irene jumped with alacrity out of the boat, and Rosamund helped her to moor it.

"Now, what is it?" said Irene.

"Well, Irene, it is just this: I want to go and see the Singletons this afternoon, and your mother says we may have the governess-cart, and if they ask us to stay to tea we may stay."

"We? What do you mean by 'we'?"

Irene backed away, her face crimson, her eyes dancing with all their old malignancy.

"I mean," said Rosamund, "you and I and Miss Frost."

"You mean that I am to go to the house where Carter is--Carter, whom I nearly killed?"

"I want you to come with me. Won't you, darling?"

"I wish you wouldn't speak in that coaxing voice. People don't speak in such a tender way to me. But no, I can't go. I really can't. I'd be afraid. I can't meet Carter."

"But if you come with me you needn't say much. We'll go together, and you'll find it quite pleasant. I do want to talk to other girls, for you know I've given up all my friends for you, or practically given them up for your sake."

"I wish you wouldn't throw in my face all that you have done for my sake. You had better go, and let me get back to my wild ways. I had great fun with my toads and frogs and spiders and leeches, and having everybody looking at me with scared faces. On the whole, I had much more fun than I have now. I was thinking about that as I was floating in the boat, and the thought of Frost came over me, and I wondered what she would do if I took her into a current in the middle of the lake and frightened her as I frightened Carter. Perhaps even the thought of her little brother and sister wouldn't keep her here any longer. Well, I was thinking those thoughts; but then I thought of you, and somehow or other I felt it worth while to be good just for the sake of your presence; and in many ways you have made my life more interesting. But if you want me to be friends with those Leaves; if you want me to see that dreadful, that terrible Carter again; and then if you want me to go to the Merrimans', and shake hands with that Lucy, and be agreeable to all those people, I really can't."

"Very well, Irene, you can please yourself."

Rosamund turned on her heel and walked away. Irene stood and watched her. She stood perfectly still for a minute, her face changing color, her lips working, her eyes flashing. Then she took up a great sod of wet grass and flung it after Rosamund, making a deep stain on her pretty muslin dress. Rosamund did not take the slightest notice. She walked calmly back to the house, went up to her own room, and sat there quite still. Irene got back into the boat.

"I do wish Frost was somewhere near," she thought to herself. "I won't go and see those Leaves; nothing will induce me to. Horrid, affected creatures! And then to see Carter's frightened eyes looking at me! Haven't I seen them in my dreams until I am sick of the sight of them? And Rosamund wants me to go and see them again! Why, Carter, poor thing! would nearly die of fright, and every one of the Leaves would get into their native trees and disappear from view! Oh, Rosamund is all very well, but she isn't worth that! I wish I hadn't given those leeches back to the chemist. He wasn't a bit grateful, either, and I spent a whole pound on them. I can be just as obnoxious as ever. I know more than I did, and that will help me to be even more wicked than I used to be. I can clear the entire house now of every single servant, and I will, too, if Rosamund goes."

If Rosamund goes! Rosamund with the bright, resolute eyes, the cheerful, fearless face, the kind, soothing hand, and gentle manner; Rosamund, who was not in any way goody-goody, and yet had exercised such a softening influence on wild Irene!

"She will go. Of course she will go. She always keeps her word," thought the child, and tears filled her bright eyes.

She ceased to paddle, bent slightly over the boat, and looked down at her reflection in the water.

"She says I am beautiful, too. I wish I wasn't beautiful. I don't want to be anything; only I like pleasing her. If Rosamund goes there'll be nothing worth knowing or caring for in Irene. If Rosamund goes!"

The girl suddenly dashed the tears from her eyes. What did the Leaves matter? Why shouldn't she endure a bad quarter of an hour looking at Miss Carter's terrified eyes? She couldn't live without Rosamund!

Accordingly, she pulled rapidly back to the shore, moored her boat, and rushed helter-skelter up to the house. Her mother met her in the hall.

"What is the matter, Irene dear?" she said.

"Nothing," said Irene. "Don't keep me. I want to speak to Rosamund."

Like a whirlwind, the wild little girl dashed through the house, up the winding stairs, down the corridor, until she burst into Rosamund's room. There she flung herself on the ground at her friend's feet, twined her arms round her waist, laid her head on her knee, and burst into tears.

"I will do anything you wish, for I can't live without you!" sobbed Irene.

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