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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 16. At Home With "The Leaves"
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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 16. At Home With 'The Leaves' Post by :Greg_Aldrich Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1525

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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 16. At Home With "The Leaves"

CHAPTER XVI. AT HOME WITH "THE LEAVES"

Nothing could exceed the astonishment of the school children, the Leaves themselves, and even of Rosamund, when they witnessed this sight. Rosamund's first impulse was to fly up to Irene, kiss her passionately, and assure her that she was a darling, and that nothing would induce her ever to forsake her. But on second thoughts she decided that it was best to take no notice. Accordingly, the children pursued their games, for now tea was almost a thing of the past, and Irene found herself enjoying life as she had not yet enjoyed it. Never was any one more daring seen. She was the centre of attraction. From being dreaded, she was adored. Who but she could climb to the very highest branch of the tallest tree? Who but she could swing so high that she seemed almost to turn a somersault in the air before she came down again? Who but she could invent the most daring games? And then, when all other things failed, who but she could tell such weird stories? Her eyes shone; her lips were wreathed in smiles. She looked the very essence of beauty and happiness. Was this the ogre of The Follies, the terrible girl who kept every one away from the place, whom the servants dreaded, whom the governesses fled from?

Both Miss Carter and Miss Frost, standing side by side, watched the young heroine of the hour as she won her way to popularity. What was the matter? What was wrong? Or, rather, who had put wrong right?

Rosamund, who was herself a very gay, resolute, determined girl, kept more or less in the background on this occasion. She wanted Irene, as she said afterward, to win her spurs. The two governesses stood together and talked.

"Of all the wonderful things I have ever seen, the behavior of Irene Ashleigh beats them," said Miss Carter, turning to Miss Frost. "How do you account for it?" she added.

"How do I account for it?" replied Miss Frost. "I account for it because a blessed angel came to the house in the shape of Rosamund Cunliffe, the most splendid girl I have ever met. She came, and showed not a scrap of fear, even though that child--that terrible child--took her into the middle of the stream, just where she took you, you poor thing!"

"Don't speak of it. Don't mention it," began poor Miss Carter, trembling all over.

"Well, she took Rosamund there, and Rosamund was strong and got the upper hand with her at once, and from that hour Irene has been different. It is true she has done terrible things. She behaved almost as badly to me as she did to you."

"Shall we walk down this shrubbery?" said Miss Carter. "The children are all quite happy. Every one who comes to the Rectory is happy, and you can hear by the shouts of the village children that they are in the very acme of bliss. Shall we walk down here and talk together? I have always been so amazed at your remaining on at The Follies, Miss Frost."

"I have a little sister called Agnes, and a little brother Hugh, and they are the dearest little children. They are only my step-brother and sister, of course; but they are to me just as though they were my very own. They depend on me altogether for their maintenance. I buy everything for them. I spend my holidays with them, and they love me. My darlings! They are like my own children. Were I to give up so good a situation my little ones would starve. You understand, Miss Carter, do you not, that under such circumstances one would endure a great deal?"

"But even under such circumstances," said Miss Carter, in astonishment, "I do not think people would put up with Irene Ashleigh as she used to be. Oh, never, never shall I forget how the boat dashed against the rocks! I thought my last moment had come."

"How did you escape drowning, dear?" said Miss Frost. "I never heard that part."

"It is more than I can tell you myself. I suppose I lost consciousness. When I came to myself I was on dry land, and Irene was dragging me back to the house; and then I had a terrible--most terrible--interview with Lady Jane. I told her that I would go at once, that nothing would induce me to stay. She was nearly in despair, and, metaphorically speaking, went on her knees to me. But I remembered my promise to that dreadful child, and stuck to my word. Go I would. I never saw Lady Jane in a temper before, but she was then. She refused to let me have a carriage. She said Irene's conduct was past bearing, and that I ought to stay if only to support her. But I couldn't, for my nerves were frightfully shattered. I went away as quickly as ever I could that very afternoon, intending to send a porter from the railway station for my luggage. Before I got half-way there I nearly fainted, and the dear, kind rector found me on the road. I told him my story, and he brought me home--yes, home, for this is indeed a complete and absolute home to me. I cannot tell you how kind they have been."

"I have lived through _my horrors too; but I will not speak about them to-day," said Miss Frost. "Irene is immensely improved. I believe as long as Rosamund remains with her she will be a really good girl. She is making great efforts."

"She is; that is the astonishing part of it," said Miss Carter. "She came up to my room--I will confess to you that I was hiding from her, absolutely hiding, and shaking from head to foot, scarcely knowing what to do--and she came in as bold as brass, and yet with a new sort of humility about her, and she said to me, 'Will you forgive me? And if you forgive me, will you come downstairs and let me put my hand inside your arm?' And somehow, although it was the very last thing on earth that I wanted to do, I did it; and now here I am, and I don't feel nearly so much afraid of her as I used."

"It is all owing to Rosamund," said Miss Frost again. "She is the most wonderful girl I have ever met. I know one of her objects now is that you and I, Irene, herself, and the Singletons should be friends. She means Irene to invite you all over to The Follies to-morrow or the next day, and I hope you will have the courage to come."

"Indeed I don't know how I can. It is one thing to have Irene here; it is another thing to look at that terrible lake and reflect that the boat is at hand. Oh, of course, she will excuse me."

"But I don't think she will. If you come I will look after you, and we will both firmly refuse to go in the boat. It wouldn't hold us all, so there is no fear of that."

"But she is very ingenious. There is no end to her resources."

"At present her mood is different. You and I, who are so much older, ought to try to encourage her; for, after all, she has been a most sadly mismanaged child, allowed even from her earliest days to see that people were afraid of her, and thus the spirit of cruelty gained a strong hold; but there is a great deal of good in her nature."

Miss Carter was called loudly by Maud, who requested her to help the little ones to play Puss-in-the-corner. The group broke up into different detachments, and by-and-by the time came when Rosamund whispered to Irene that it was necessary to order the governess-cart so that they might go home.

"But I am so happy," said Irene, who had been helping some of the little girls to climb up and tumble down cocks of hay, and otherwise disport themselves. "I didn't know other children could be so nice; but I find poor children are much nicer than rich ones. They have no manners, which I detest, and just say what they think. They have been telling me some home-truths, and I have been laughing like anything. I didn't know I was such an ogre; but it is great fun to hear it from the lips of the children."

"We must go home; it is time," said Rosamund. "But before we go, Irene, will you kindly ask the Singletons to come to see us on Thursday? They might come to lunch, and spend the time until after tea. Thus we should have a long afternoon."

"But if they must come, why not to-morrow?" said Irene. "I didn't know that other children could be so charming."

"They can't come to-morrow. We have our music lessons with Mr. Fortescue to-morrow."

"Can't we put him off?"

"Of course we can't. His time is all engaged. Ask them for Thursday, or, if you prefer it, for Saturday. Anyhow, will you ask them?"

"Oh yes, I'll ask them, and for Thursday."

Irene's flushed face, her speaking eyes, her lips apart in smiles, looked such a different creature from the somewhat pale, queerly dressed little inmate of the woods, that Mr. Singleton, who came out at that moment, did not know her.

"Who is this little lady?" he said, going straight up to her and holding out his hand.

"I am the ogre," was Irene's instant response.

This answer amazed Mr. Singleton, but he kept looking at her and smiling.

"I am sure, my dear, that is not your name. You look more like an angel than an ogre."

"But I am the ogre--the ogre of the whole place. I am Irene Ashleigh."

The clergyman's astonishment was seen now on his face. Rosamund hastened to interpose.

"Irene is my friend," she said, "and I think she is going to turn into a very fine sort of woman, if not into an angel. Anyhow, here she is, and I hope you bid her welcome."

"I do most heartily," said Mr. Singleton. "You must come and see us often. I am very glad you have broken the ice at last. What good news," he continued, turning to Rosamund, "this is about your young friend! It is such a relief to the Merrimans that she is getting on so well."

"And a great relief to me," said Rosamund.

Irene moved away to talk to three little red-haired girls, who made a charming group, standing under an oak-tree. She soon had them in fits of laughter; and Mr. Singleton, just glancing at her, spoke again to Rosamund.

"What a miracle you have performed!" he said. "She is a changed creature. But I suppose there is a great deal of the old Adam in her still."

"Yes; but she will change still more. The fact is, she was so terribly naughty because people used to be afraid of her."

"And you are not?"

"I certainly am not."

"My dear, there is something I want to say to you. Do you know that I have had a conversation with Professor Merriman, and he gave me a very queer account of your conduct? He seemed greatly distressed at the way you have behaved."

Rosamund shrugged her shoulders.

"The Merrimans did not suit me," she said. "Life at The Follies does suit me. At the Merrimans' I was growing to be a very naughty girl myself. I could not stand Lucy, although I liked the Professor; and I liked Laura Everett and one or two of the other girls. But at The Follies, you see for yourself, rector, I have done no harm."

"Harm! Indeed, you have done most blessed good. I never could have believed in such a change in any one. Why, that child is quite lovely."

"And by-and-by she will have a lovely mind," said Rosamund. "But, Mr. Singleton, it is only right to tell you that I am practically expelled from the Merrimans' school."

"That is a very grave matter. It ought not to be allowed," said the rector. "The Professor cannot understand. His eyes must be blinded. You have done a noble work."

"But I don't mind; and, besides, I could not go back."

"But you could if it were just and right, could you not?"

"I don't really think I could."

Just then the pony-cart came round. The rector said no more for the time being; and a few minutes later, the young Singletons and Miss Carter having promised to arrive at The Follies on Thursday, Irene, Rosamund, and Miss Frost took their leave.

"Well, now, wasn't I a darling? Didn't I behave well?" said Irene. "Aren't you pleased with me, Rose--dearest, sweetest, red, red Rose?"

"Yes, on the whole, I am quite pleased with you," said Rosamund; but she leaned back in her seat. She felt tired and sad. She had done a good work, and she knew it, and yet she had injured her reputation; and her mother would be annoyed, and her father displeased. What was to be done?

There was some one else who was very much troubled on Rosamund's behalf, and that was the Rev. John Singleton. It was not his habit to consult any of his children, not even Maud, whom he relied on almost as he had relied on his wife; but he went straight over that very evening to the Merrimans' house; and although he could not go inside for fear of infection, he had a conversation with the Professor in the garden. There he spoke with such verve and enthusiasm with regard to Rosamund, and the marvelous change she had already wrought in the naughtiest girl in the entire district, that he induced that gentleman to change his mind.

"If you think it absolutely necessary, I will give her a chance."

"You must give her a chance. It would be culpable to allow such a girl to enter on the world with such a stigma as being expelled from school would mean. You must give her a chance, sir. I hope you will not hesitate to do so."

Professor Merriman explained that his pupils would not return for at least another fortnight, that Jane would be sent away in a little over a week, that the house would be thoroughly disinfected, and the school would continue.

"Perhaps it would be best for Rosamund to remain where she is for the present," he said, "and come back to us at the beginning of next term. I acknowledge that she is a fine girl; very good-looking, too, and with a most taking way. But she must learn obedience. She would not obey when she was with us. It was for the sin of disobedience that I dismissed her. She also broke her word of honor."

"Give her a chance. Believe me, there are circumstances which overcome all ordinary conditions," said the good clergyman; and he went away feeling assured that Professor Merriman would keep his word.

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