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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 23. At School Again
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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 23. At School Again Post by :Greg_Aldrich Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :878

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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 23. At School Again

CHAPTER XXIII. AT SCHOOL AGAIN

It is a curious fact that there are some weak but loving people who are not loved in return. If they are sincere and honest they always inspire respect. If they are at the same time unselfish, that noble quality must also tell in the long run. But to look at them is not to love them, and consequently they go through life with a terrible heart-longing unknown to their fellow-men, only known to the God above, who will doubtless reward these simple and earnest and remarkably beautiful souls in His own good time in another world.

Such a person was Emily Frost. She was very patient, very brave, very unselfish; but no one particularly cared for her. She knew this quite well; she had a passionate hunger for love, but it was not bestowed upon her. She was well educated and could teach splendidly, but she could never arouse enthusiasm in her pupils. A far less highly educated woman could do twice the amount poor Miss Frost could ever achieve, simply because she possessed the gift denied to the latter.

Now, Agnes Frost was much of the same temperament as her half-sister. She also was timid, easily frightened, very easily subdued, but sympathetic, loving, and unselfish. Agnes, however, had the great power of inspiring love in all those with whom she came in contact. Miss Frost herself worshiped that little delicate and beautiful face, those sweet lips, that tender and dainty form. She felt she could almost die for the child. But the child, although she loved her half-sister, did not love her in the passionate way that Miss Frost desired. Irene was the first person to whom Agnes had given all her strong powers of affection. For Irene she would have done anything. She did not care nearly so much for Rosamund, although she admired her, and Rosamund herself was drawn to the child and attracted by her. Agnes had been perfectly happy while at The Follies; never a fear had she of the much-dreaded Irene. It is true she had not heard the dreadful stories of the toads and wasps and leeches; but whether she heard them or not, it would be difficult now to remove her affection from the girl who adored her, and whom she in return so worshiped.

Miss Frost looked on, tried to be satisfied, tried to believe that Rosamund was right when she told her that nothing in all the world could happen more advantageously for little Agnes' future; but nevertheless she carried an unhealed sore at her heart.

This was the state of things when the three girls arrived at the Merrimans'. The house had truly been swept and garnished. The room where Jane had been ill was re-papered and painted, the place looked spick-and-span and beautiful, and Mrs. Merriman came out with a smiling face to welcome the arrival of the party from The Follies.

"Welcome back, my dear!" she said to Rosamund, kissing her affectionately, and just as though there had never been any ill-feeling between them. "How are you, you dear little thing?" she said, addressing Agnes in that petting tone which almost all women assumed toward her. "How do you do?" she said more stiffly to Miss Frost.

Then she turned and addressed Miss Archer, who happened to be not far away.

"Miss Archer," she said, "this is our new teacher, who will assist you in every possible way. Will you take her to her room now? And Rosamund, you know where to find yours. Irene and Agnes are to sleep in the same room, and it is next to yours. You can go upstairs, therefore, all of you, and get tidy for supper--at which you will meet the rest of your school-fellows, Rosamund."

Rosamund smiled; she had come back from her holidays in Switzerland feeling very brave and determined to do what was right. She felt that she was a sort of person who had begun a crusade. Her crusade was against the crudities, the cruelties, and naughty conduct of one little girl of the name of Irene Ashleigh; but she had little idea how complex was the task set her, and how difficult it would be even now to perform it. Nevertheless, she was feeling courageous and happy for the time being; and if Lucy Merriman had not belonged to the school so effectually and so thoroughly as to make it impossible to have any school at all without her, Rosamund might have been perfectly happy at Sunnyside. As it was, she knew she would have a hard fight with herself in the midst of her present surroundings.

Irene took her hand affectionately, guessing little of her thoughts.

"Do come and show us round, Rosamund," she said. "I know Aggie is tired. Aren't you, darling?"

"Oh, no," said Agnes. "I'd like to go out presently and have a walk all alone with you, Irene."

"Then of course you shall, dear."

"But there's no time to-night," said Rosamund. "We have barely time to get our things unpacked and get ready for supper. You know this is school, and I told you what school meant."

"You did," said Irene, raising her bright, wild eyes to her companion's face; "but I confess I had forgotten it. This house seems like any other house, only not so handsome. It isn't nearly as big as The Follies, and the people don't seem so rich; and I have seen fat Mrs. Merriman all my life driving about with the cob and the governess-cart; and I have seen Professor Merriman, too, with his bent back and long hair. But I never chanced to come across Lucy except that time in church, and then I thought her horrible. Why should I alter my plans because of the Merrimans? I don't intend to do it."

"You must, Irene. You promised me that you would try to be good. Come, look at Agnes."

Agnes was gazing up at her chosen companion, at the girl she loved best in the world, with wonder in her dark eyes. It was not a reproving look those eyes wore; it was a sweet, astonished, and yet slightly pained gaze. It conquered Irene on the spot. She bent down and kissed the little one.

"You never thought I should be naughty, did you?" said Irene, lowering her voice.

"You couldn't! you couldn't! You are the best girl in all the world," whispered Agnes.

"Then I will make a tremendous effort to be good for your sake."

These words were also said in a whisper, and by this time the girls had reached their own room, which they were to share together. A door opened into Rosamund's room, and thus the three who were to be so closely united during the greater part of their lives were more or less in the same apartment.

"It does seem strange not to have dear Jane Denton here," said Rosamund; "but she seems to be still so delicate that she won't come back to school this term. Now, shall I help you to unpack, Irene? And shall I help you to put on a pretty frock for supper? I want you to look as nice as possible. All the girls are just dying to see you."

At that moment there came a knock at Rosamund's door. Rosamund flew to open it. Laura Everett stood without.

"So you have come back, Rosamund! How glad I am to see you! May I come in?"

"If you don't mind, not for a few minutes," said Rosamund. "May I have a chat with you after supper, or one day after lessons?"

"Of course to-night. We can walk about in the corridors if it is too cold to go out-of-doors. But is it absolutely true--I only heard it as a whisper--that you have brought Irene Ashleigh, the terror of the neighborhood, here?"

"She will be a terror no longer if you will all be kind to her," said Rosamund. "I have a great deal to say to you; but don't keep me now. She has come, and so has dear little Agnes Frost, and--oh! do ask the other girls to be kind, and not to take any special notice. You will, won't you?"

"I'm sure I'd do anything for you," said Laura. "I think you were splendid all through. I cannot tell you how I have admired you, and how I spoke to mother about you in the holidays; and mother said that though you had not done exactly right, yet you were the finest girl she had ever heard of or come across, and she was very glad to think that you and I might be in a sort of way friends."

"Well, let us be real friends," said Rosamund affectionately. "Now, don't keep me any longer. I have as much as I can do to get my couple ready to make a respectable appearance at supper."

Laura ran off to inform her school-fellows that the noted, the terrible Irene was in very truth a pupil at Mrs. Merriman's school. The girls, of course, had heard that Irene was coming, and that Rosamund had been forgiven, and, notwithstanding her disobedience, was returning to the school. But although they believed the latter part of this intelligence, they doubted the former, thinking it quite impossible that any sane people would admit such a character as Irene into their midst. But when Laura came downstairs and told her news, the girls looked up with more or less interest in their faces.

Annie Millar, who was Laura's special friend, said that she was glad.

"She needn't suppose that I'll be afraid of her," said Annie.

"And she needn't think that I'll be afraid of her," said Phyllis Flower. "She may try her toads and her wasps if she likes on me; but she won't find they have much effect."

"Oh, do stop talking!" said Laura. "Can't you understand that if Irene is to be a good girl we must not bring things of that sort up to her? I believe she will be good, and I think Rosamund is just splendid. Yes, Lucy, what did you say?"

Now, Lucy had up to the present been one of Laura's great friends. Their mothers had been friends in the old days, and the clever, bright, intelligent Laura suited Lucy to perfection. But Lucy had imbibed all the traditions with regard to the willful Irene, and was horrified at the thought of having her now in the school. She was also angry at Rosamund's being reinstated; in short, she was by no means in a good temper. She thought herself badly treated that the news of the advent of these two young people had been kept from her, and was not specially mollified when her mother came into the room and told her that her father wished to speak to her for a minute or two in his study.

The girl ran off without a moment's delay, and entering the study, went straight up to the Professor, who, gentle, patient as of old, laid his hand on her shoulder.

"Well, Lucy," he said, "and so school begins, and the old things resume their sway."

"I don't think they do," retorted Lucy. "It seems to me that they are giving place to new. Why is it, father, that a girl whom you expelled has come back again to our dear little select, very private school? And why has she brought the very naughtiest girl in the whole neighborhood to be her companion?"

"I can only tell you this in reply, Lucy: Rosamund, although she was naughty, was also noble."

"That is impossible," said Lucy, with a toss of her head.

"It is difficult for you to understand; but it is the case. She was actuated by a brave motive, and has done a splendid work. I confess I was very angry with her at the time; but dear Mr. Singleton--such a Christ-like man as he is--opened my eyes, and told me what a marvelous effect Rosamund was having on little Irene Ashleigh, whom every one was afraid of, and who was in consequence being absolutely ruined. It was at Singleton's request that I reinstated Rosamund in the school, and it was further at his request and that of Lady Jane Ashleigh that I decided not to part the two girls, but to allow them to come here for at least a term. So Rosamund and Irene are both members of the school, and I desire you, Lucy, as my daughter, not to repeat to any of your fellow-pupils the stories you may have heard in the past with regard to Irene. I desire you to be kind to her, and if you cannot be friends with her, at least to leave her alone. You have your own friends, Laura Everett"----

"Oh, Laura has already gone over to the enemy," said Lucy. "Why, she was talking and preaching as hard as ever she could just now, when mother came in and said that you wanted me."

"Well, my dear, I did want to speak to you. I wanted to say just what I have said. You will attend to my instructions. You understand?"

"I understand, father," said Lucy; and she left the study with her fair head slightly bent.

There was a puzzled expression on her face. What was the meaning of it all? Never in her life, which would soon extend to sixteen years, had Lucy Merriman consciously done a wrong action. She had always been obedient to her parents; she had always been careful and prim, and, as she considered, thoughtful for others. She adored her father and mother. She herself had been willing to sacrifice her position as a happy only girl to become a member of the school, just to help her father out of his difficulties, and to enable his health to be restored, and now she was reprimanded because she could not see that wrong was right. What was the matter with Rosamund? Who could consider her conduct in any other but the one way? And yet here was Mr. Singleton inducing her father to overlook her fault.

"I felt dissatisfied when father expelled her," thought the girl. "But now he has taken her back again; and that awful ogre, that terror, has come here. What does it all mean? It's enough to turn a good girl naughty; that's all I've got to say."

There was a pretty sort of winter parlor where the girls always waited until the meals were served. Lucy re-entered it now, and found most of her companions waiting for her. She was scarcely there a moment before the gong sounded, and at the same instant Rosamund, followed by Irene, who was holding little Agnes's hand, entered the room.

Now, report had said a great deal in disfavor of Irene Ashleigh. She was the queer girl who wore the unkempt red dress, who did the strangest, wildest, maddest things, who terrified her governesses, who was cruel to the servants, who made her mother's life one long misery. But report had never mentioned that there was a charm in her wild face, in those speaking eyes; and that the same little figure clothed in the simplest, prettiest white could look almost angelic. No, angelic was hardly the word. Perhaps charming suited her better. Beyond doubt she was beautiful, with a willowy, wild grace which could not but arrest attention, and all the other girls immediately owned to a sense of inferiority in her presence. But Irene was so endowed with nature's grace that she could not do an awkward thing; and then the child who accompanied her, the small unimportant child, was as beautiful in her way as Irene was in hers. So charming a pair did they make, those two, each of them dressed in the purest white, that Rosamund, who was considered quite the handsomest girl in the school, seemed to sink into commonplace in comparison. But no one had time to make any remark.

Irene said lightly, "Oh, so you are the others!" and then nodded to one and all; and turning to Agnes, she said in a low tone, "These are the rest of the girls, Aggie; and I'm ever so hungry. Aren't you, Aggie?"

Mrs. Merriman came in and conducted her young group to the room where supper was laid out, and here the first cross occurred to disturb Irene's good temper; for Agnes was placed at the other side of the table, between Phyllis Flower and Agnes Sparkes. Agnes Sparkes was bending toward her and talking in her lively way. She was remarking on the similarity of their names, and little Agnes was looking up at her older companion and smiling back, not at all frightened; for, as she said to herself, people were so kind to her.

Miss Frost, anxious, pale, and miserable, was watching her treasure as she gave a little bit of her heart, at least, first to one girl and then to another, and poor Miss Frost's face looked anything but inviting. Her nose was red, her cheeks pinched and hollow, her eyes somewhat dim. She felt inclined to cry.

Rosamund, however, boldly asked Laura Everett to change places with her, and sat next to Irene.

"Why have they taken Agnes away?" said Irene. "I don't like it. I have a great mind to walk round the table and to snatch her away from those two horrid creatures at the other end, and to bring her to us. Why shouldn't she sit between us? I know she wishes it, poor little darling!"

"We had better leave her alone for the present, Irene; supper won't take long. Don't take any notice. I'll ask Mrs. Merriman to let Agnes sit next to you in future; but don't make a fuss now."

"I hate being good. I don't think I can stand it," said Irene in a most rebellious tone. And then she scowled at Miss Frost in quite her old ferocious way, so that the governess looked more anxious and unhappy than ever. But this was nothing to the scowl she presently gave Lucy Merriman. She fixed her bright eyes on Lucy's face, and not only a frown came between her brows, but the frown was succeeded by a mocking laugh, and then she said in a low tone, which yet was clear as a bell, "I saw you in church one Sunday, and you frightened me so much that I had to go out."

This remark was so strange and unexpected that most of the girls gave utterance to a nervous laugh; but Professor Merriman raised his voice.

"Irene," he said, "that is not at all a polite thing to say. I must have a little talk with you when supper is over, for you are not to say unkind things to your neighbors, or of them, as long as you are in my house."

The firmness of his voice and the dignity of his bearing had a slight effect on Irene. Rosamund began to talk rapidly to her on different subjects, and by and by the meal came to an end.

That evening nothing very extraordinary occurred; but Irene, without waiting for any one, rushed down to the room and seized little Agnes's hand.

"Come, Agnes," she said, "it is time for you to go to bed."

"I am the person who has charge of putting the little ones to bed," said Miss Frost, going up and speaking in a trembling tone.

"You may put all the other little ones to bed, as far as I am concerned," said Irene; "but you don't put my Agnes to bed."

"But she is my Agnes, too."

"No; she is mine. Agnes, say at once that you belong altogether to me; that you are my darling, my doll, my baby."

"I do love you," said little Agnes; "but of course I love Emily, too--dear old Emily!"

She laid her hand on her elder sister's arm and looked up affectionately into her face.

"I thought, Irene, I said I wished to speak to you," remarked the Professor then; and before Irene could reply he had taken her hand and led her into the study.

He made her sit down, and seated himself opposite to her.

"Now, my dear," he said, "you are going to be under my roof for a few weeks. The term as a rule lasts about twelve weeks--that is, three months."

"An eternity--impossible to live through it," said Irene.

"I hope you may not find it an eternity; but, anyhow, it is arranged that you are to stay here, and during that time you must be subjected to the rules of discipline."

"What is discipline?" said Irene.

"One of the rules of discipline is to obey those put in command of you."

"In command of me? But there is no one in command of me!"

"I am in command of you, and so is my wife, and so are your three governesses."

"And what do you mean to do now that you are in command of me?"

"I, for one, hope to help you, Irene, to be a good girl."

"I think," said Irene steadily, "that I'd rather be a naughty girl. When I was at The Follies I used to do what dear Rosamund wished; and then sweet little Agnes came, and she loved me, and I loved her and did kind things for her, and I felt ever so much better; but I am not at all better at your horrid school."

"Did any one ever happen to punish you, Irene?"

"Punish me?" said Irene, opening her eyes.

"Yes, punish you."

"Well, no. I don't think anybody would try to do it a second time."

"I don't wish to punish you, my dear child." The Professor rose and took one of Irene's little hands. "I want to help you, dear--to help you with all my might and main. I know you are different from other girls."

"Yes," said Irene, speaking in her old wild strain; "I am a changeling. That's what I am."

"Nevertheless, dear--we won't discuss that--you have a soul within you which can be touched, influenced. All I ask of you is to obey certain rules. One of them is that you do not say unkind things about your fellow-pupils. Now, you spoke very unkindly to my daughter at supper to-night."

"I don't like her," said Irene bluntly.

"But that doesn't alter the fact that she is my daughter and one of your school-fellows."

"Well, I can't like her if I can't. You don't want me to be dishonest and tell lies, do you?"

"No, but I want you to be courteous; and ill-feelings are always wrong, and can be mastered if we apply ourselves in the right spirit. I must, therefore, tell you, Irene, that the next time I hear you speak, or it is reported to me that you speak, unkindly of any of your school-fellows, and if you perform any naughty, cowardly, childish tricks, you will have to come to me, and--I don't quite know what I shall be obliged to do, but I shall have a talk with you, my dear. Now, that is enough for the present."

"Thank you," said Irene, turning very red, and immediately leaving the room.

The Professor sighed when she had gone.

"How are we ever to manage her?" he said to himself.

In truth, he had not the least idea. Irene was not the sort of girl who could be easily softened, even by a nature as gentle and kind and patient as his. She required firm measures. Nevertheless, he had made a deeper impression than he had any idea of; and when the little girl went up to her room presently, and saw that Agnes was in bed, but wide awake and waiting ready to fling her arms tightly round her companion's neck, some of the sore feeling left her heart.

"Oh, Aggie, I have you! and you will never, never love that other horrid Agnes, or that dreadful Phyllis, or that hateful Lucy, or any of the girls in the school as you love me."

"Oh, indeed, I never could, Irene--I never could!" said little Agnes. "But you don't mind Em putting me to bed, do you, for it makes her so happy? Her hands were quite trembling with joy, and she said she had not been so happy for a long time."

"Well, she is your sister, and she's a good old sort. But, Agnes, how are we to live in this school? Tell me, can you endure it?"

"I was at another school, and this one seems perfectly beautiful," said little Agnes. "I think all the girls are quite nice."

"You had better not begin to praise them overmuch, or I shall be jealous."

"What is being jealous?" said the little girl.

"Why, just furious because somebody cares for you, or even pretends to care for you. I don't want anybody to love you but myself."

"I don't think I should quite like that," said little Agnes. "Though I have promised to love you best, I should like others to be kind to me."

"There you are, with your sweet little eyes full of tears, and I have caused them! But I'm dead-tired myself. Anyhow, it will only last for twelve weeks--truly an eternity, but an eternity which has an end. Shall we sleep in one bed to-night, Agnes? I won't be a moment undressing. Will you come and cuddle close to me, and let me put my arms round you and feel that you are my own little darling?"

"Yes, indeed, I should love it!" said little Agnes.

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