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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 26. In Rosamund's Bower
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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 26. In Rosamund's Bower Post by :Greg_Aldrich Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2287

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A Modern Tomboy: A Story For Girls - Chapter 26. In Rosamund's Bower

CHAPTER XXVI. IN ROSAMUND'S BOWER

The days flew by, and apparently all was harmonious in the little school. Agnes clung more closely than ever to Irene. Irene had considerably altered. She was no longer specially wild. She was so much absorbed in watching Agnes, in seeing that no one else put in any claim with regard to this small girl, that she had no time to think of being mischievous. Besides, she had her lessons to attend to; and lessons under Miss Archer, and Mademoiselle Omont, and, still more, under the different masters who attended to the school, were of the most stimulating character. The child seemed to imbibe knowledge with a rapidity which astonished all those who watched her. She understood the meaning of a thing at a glance, and it was soon perceived that, in addition to her extraordinary and very remarkable beauty, she was also a genius, or almost that, for she had a natural talent for all sorts of things: for music, which she could already play impromptu, bringing out wild melodies on the piano to which her hearers felt they could go on listening for ever. Of course, the mistresses were supposed not to approve of this sort of playing, and tried to tie Irene down to the usual exercises and the different methods for bringing strength to the fingers. Irene did attend to these lessons, but only in a sort of half-hearted way; soon she broke again into those wild melodies which seemed to pierce the heart and get more or less to the soul of the little performer.

The Singleton girls were often now spending a day or half a day at the Merrimans' school, and Irene and all her companions would also frequently spend an afternoon at the Rectory. People had ceased to be afraid of Irene. She was now like an ordinary child. It was quite true that those who watched her narrowly still saw that wild glance in her eyes, which could be easily excited; but then, Rosamund was near to subdue if the moment came, and little Agnes's affectionate touch on her arm had always the power to comfort and soothe her.

"Aggie," she said to the little girl one day, "I don't know how I lived without you. I used to make pets of my poor leeches."

"Leeches!" said Agnes, with a shudder.

"Yes, darling. You know that dreadful story that was told you. Well, of course it was true--quite true. But then I had no friends, and so I had Fuzz and Buzz, and Thunder and Lightning, and the little Stars. Oh! it used to be great fun to watch them, and to think how I could terrify people by them."

"But," said little Agnes, "it was very cruel, wasn't it?"

"I suppose it was, Agnes. Only I wanted the magical influence of love like yours to take the cruelty out of my heart, to smooth down all the rough edges, and to make me feel like an ordinary girl. I feel like an ordinary girl now in many ways, except that I could never give you up, Agnes."

"And I couldn't give you up, Irene. I told dear Emily so the other day."

"She didn't want you to, did she?" said Irene, with sudden fierceness.

"Oh no; but she did ask me what I found in you to make you more precious than any other girl in the school, and I said"----

"What did you say? Look me in the face, Agnes."

Agnes looked up with her melting, loving eyes.

"I said that somehow or other I loved you, and I did not love the others."

"Ah! there you struck the nail on the head," said Irene. "Look here, Agnes; if anything happened to divide us I'd get worse than ever; because, you see, I am cleverer than I used to be."

"Nothing can come to divide us," said little Agnes. "What could?"

"I am only saving that if anything did I'd be worse than ever."

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that."

"I can't help it sometimes, for I am--yes, I am--much cleverer now."

This little conversation took place in a small arbor at the Rectory; and just at this moment some one called Agnes, and Agnes, looking for permission at Irene, who nodded in reply, ran off. A moment later Miss Carter herself entered the bower, where Irene was still sitting.

"So you are not afraid of me now, Cartery dear," said Irene, speaking in the sort of tone which she supposed Maud Singleton adopted.

"No, I am not afraid of you. You are much altered. I came to say how much I admire you. In short, you are not the same girl you used to be."

"Well, it is owing to two influences," said Irene: "to Rosamund, who is so strong and brave, and took me in hand, and showed me myself, and did not express a scrap of fright, however much terror I tried to inspire her with; and it is owing also to even a stronger influence."

"And what is that?" said Miss Carter.

"Well, you see, there is that little thing--that darling--I can scarcely speak her name without trembling. I love her so much. She is like my own little child."

"Do you mean little Agnes Frost?"

"Oh yes. She is nothing to the rest of you. I do not wish her to be. She is all--all mine; and if anything happened to her, if she were taken from me, if I had to do without her, I should become worse than ever."

"But what do you mean?" said Miss Carter. "Why should little Agnes be taken from you?"

"I don't suppose anybody would dare to take her from me. Frosty wouldn't, and mother wouldn't; the school wouldn't; but there is a wicked girl who tried her very best to frighten little Agnes, only Rosamund brought her back to her senses. The darling knows that whoever else I might hurt at one time, I never could and never would hurt one hair of her head. And she loves me in return."

"Then that's all right," said Miss Carter.

Just at that moment a slight rustling was heard at the back of the little bower. Irene did not notice it, but Miss Carter did.

"I wonder if anybody is listening?" she said.

"Who cares? I don't mind if the whole world hears. There's that spy, Lucy Merriman; she is as likely as not to do mean things. But I don't mind even her."

"Oh, don't you?" thought Lucy, who had that moment come a little nearer the back of the bower.

"No, I don't mind even her," repeated Irene. "I only say that as long as Rosamund is with me I shall be a good girl, just because I can't help myself; and if any one were to take my Rosamund from me I should be worse than ever."

"You were pretty bad. I don't know how you could be worse than you used to be."

"Well, you see, I know more. I have more knowledge. I could be more refined in my acts of terrorism, or whatever you like to call them. Anyhow, people had better not try."

"People had better not try!" thought Lucy. "But, my fine Irene, somebody is going to try."

The evening passed, and the children came back again to have supper at Sunnyside. Lucy was biding her time. She disliked Irene even more than she disliked Rosamund. As to little Agnes, she was not of the smallest interest to her. She simply wished to divide her effectually from Irene, in order to punish both Irene and Rosamund; and nothing could give her greater pleasure than that Irene should burst into one of her worst frenzies. She thought she saw a way.

The family were all sitting contentedly at their supper when a telegram was brought in which was handed to Rosamund. It was from her mother, telling her that her father was seriously ill, and wanted her to come to London on the following day. Rosamund, who was intensely devoted to both her parents, was much distressed. She handed the telegram to Mrs. Merriman, who immediately gave her the necessary permission.

"You must start by the very first train to-morrow morning," said Mrs. Merriman, "and one of the governesses must go with you. Miss Frost might be the best."

"Of course, Miss Frost would be the right person," said Lucy, suddenly raising her voice, for it seemed to her that she saw the very opportunity she wished for in this unexpected absence of Rosamund.

"I shall probably only be away for a day. I cannot think there can be anything seriously wrong with dear father," said Rosamund. "But, of course, after mother's telegram I must go."

Accordingly, a reply stating the hour of Rosamund's arrival at Paddington was wired back to London, and shortly afterwards the girl went up to her own room to pack a few things. She was not depressed, for her father was subject to sudden attacks, which, although distressful, were not of a painful nature.

Presently Irene came and sat in the room with her. She sat down on the edge of the bed.

"I should almost die here," she said, "if it were not for Agnes. As it is, I feel dreadful. I feel quite frightened at the thought of your going."

"But for my sake you will do your utmost to try to be good while I am away, won't you, Irene? I shall probably only be in London one night, or two at the very most; and Frosty is coming too. You won't mind that? Miss Frost is coming back at once; she will return in time for to-morrow evening."

"Oh! I suppose it will be all right," said Irene restlessly.

Rosamund went on putting a few things into her little trunk. Then she went up to Irene, put her arm round her waist, and kissed her.

"I am proud of you, Irene," she said. "I shall always feel that I have not lived in vain when I think how different you are from the child I first saw only a few months ago."

"I feel different," said Irene. "I begin to have a sort of pleasure in being--I mean in trying to be--good. It is you, of course--you and dear little Agnes."

"Well, Agnes will be more than ever in your care now."

"Oh! I shall look after her, there's no fear of that. I shall be terribly lonely without you, darling; but she and I will be all in all to each other while you are away. If it wasn't for--for Lucy Merriman I should be quite happy, for I think the other girls are inclined to be nice; but I hate Lucy."

"Well, I must say, Irene, speaking honestly, I hate her too. But we must both make up our minds not to mind her. She cannot really hurt us."

"Hurt us?" said Irene. "I'm sure I'm not afraid of her, if that is what you mean."

"Well, that's all right. Now, let us go to bed."

"I believe I am very tired too. I will promise to be quite good while you are away, so you need not have any anxiety on my account, darling," said Irene; and she kissed Rosamund several times.

The night passed, and early the next morning Rosamund, accompanied by Miss Frost, took her departure. There was a certain loneliness felt in the school, for Rosamund was exceedingly popular with every girl in the place, with the sole exception of Lucy Merriman. Busy school-life, however, gives little time for regrets or even for loneliness. Each moment of time is carefully marked out, each hour has its appointed task, and the girls were, to all appearance, as happy as usual. Little Agnes did not in the very least miss Rosamund or her own sister Emily. Her whole soul was set upon Irene, who helped her with her lessons, walked with her, and hardly ever let her out of her sight.

In the course of the evening Lucy was seen to go up to Phyllis Flower.

"Now, Phyllis," she said, "here is your chance. I've got the very thing that will do the business. We must get Agnes to bed, and a little later, when she is asleep, you shall creep into the room and just slip this thing under the bedclothes. She won't know who has done it. She will wake out of her first sleep, and naturally think that it is Irene's doing."

As Lucy spoke she drew Phyllis towards a corner of the playground, where a large, rather ferocious-looking hedgehog was curled up in a ball.

"But that--that would almost kill the child," said Phyllis, starting back.

"We must give her a good fright; it is the only way to effect our purpose. Then one or other of us must be near, and intercept her, and tell her that we will be her friends. Then you will have your week with me in London; but you must do it."

"I almost think," said Phyllis, turning very white, "that I'd rather not have my week. You can do it yourself if you like. It seems so cruel, and they are very happy together, and she is a very timid little thing. And just when her sister is not at home!"

"That is the very time. I am going to have a chat with little Agnes this evening. I am going in a certain way to prepare her--not much. Now, don't be a goose, Phyllis. Think what a jolly time you will have in London. It will be quite impossible for us to be found out."

Lucy talked to Phyllis for some time, and finally persuaded her to act as her accomplice in the matter.

It was a rule at Sunnyside that the smaller girls, consisting of Phyllis Flower, Agnes Sparkes, and little Agnes Frost, should go to bed quite an hour before the other girls. They usually had supper of milk and a few biscuits, and went to their room not later than eight o'clock. The other girls did not go to bed until half-past nine, and had a more substantial meal at eight o'clock. Phyllis Flower, therefore, for every reason, was best able to perform the mean trick by which Lucy meant to sever the friendship between Irene and little Agnes; but the child must be slightly alarmed, otherwise the hedgehog might be put into the bed and she know nothing about it.

Consequently, just before the younger children's simple supper was brought in on a tray, Lucy came and sat down near Agnes Frost.

"You must miss your Emily," she said.

Her tone was quite caressing and gentle. Little Agnes--who did not like Lucy, but could not in her heart of hearts cherish ill-will towards any one--raised her eyes now and said gently, "Of course I miss her; but then, I have my dear Irene."

Lucy put on a smile which meant wonderful things.

"You are a very courageous little girl," she said after a pause.

Little Agnes was silent for a minute; then she said gravely, "I know exactly what you mean by that, and I think you are mistaken. You said things about my Irene which are not true."

"Oh, indeed! you accuse me of falsehood, do you?" said Lucy.

"Well, perhaps not exactly of falsehood; but I don't think it was kind of you to tell me, for Irene is changed now. She could never do cruel things now."

"She will never be changed. Don't you understand that she is not like ordinary people? She is a sort of fairy, hardly like a human being at all. I may as well tell you, now that Rosamund and Miss Frost are away, that while Rosamund slept in the next room you were practically safe. I will admit, although I have no love for Rosamund Cunliffe, that she is a very brave and plucky girl. To-night, however----But I trust it will be all right. I don't want to make you nervous. I trust it will be all right."

Lucy moved off and sat down before her books and pretended to read. By-and-by Irene, looking lovely in one of her prettiest pale-blue dresses, entered the room. Little Agnes was sipping her milk very slowly. Irene ran straight up to her. She had the power of almost divining a person's thoughts, and she was conscious that the child was troubled.

"What is it, pet?" she said. "Has anybody vexed you?"

"Oh, nobody--nobody, indeed, dear Irene."

"Well, that is all right. I wish I could go to bed with you to-night."

"I wish you could," said the child nervously.

"But I can't. I have an awfully stiff piece of work to get through before the morning, and I am determined to be first in my form, otherwise Lucy Merriman will get ahead of me, and that she shall not."

"But I sha'n't be nervous really."

"No, of course not, dear. What is there to be nervous about?"

Irene was really absorbed in an intricate calculation which she had to make with regard to a very advanced sum, and sat down at a distant table, and forgot for the time being even little Agnes. Agnes, therefore, went up to bed alone. There was no Miss Frost to help her to undress, there was no one to take any notice of her, and there were the fearful stories that Lucy kept hinting at ringing in her ears. Yes, Irene had done dreadful things. Yes, she had. But Irene to her was perfect. She had no fear with her; she was happy with her. But then, Lucy Merriman had said that that was because little Agnes was so well protected. She had Rosamund sleeping practically in the same room, and Miss Frost, her own sister, not far away. Irene did not dare to do anything dreadful. But she had done dreadful things. She had nearly killed poor Miss Carter. She had made her own beloved sister swallow insects instead of pills. In short, she was just what Lucy had described her to be. And Lucy had said another dreadful thing to-night. She had hinted that Irene was not exactly to blame, for she was not like an ordinary girl; she was a sort of fairy girl. Now, Agnes had read several fairy-tales, and knew, supposing such a wonderful thing as a fairy really lived in the world, that she might be influenced by some other fairies, who would guide her, and help her, and force her to do things whether she liked them or not. But still she never would be unkind to little Agnes.

"It is a perfect shame of me even to think of it," said the little girl to herself. "I am ever so sleepy, but still I'll just look under the pillow. Oh, suppose Fuzz or Buzz were there, wouldn't I just scream with terror?"

But the pillow was quite innocent and harbored no obnoxious thing; the bed was smooth and white as usual; and little Agnes undressed, not quite as carefully as when Miss Frost was looking after her, and getting into bed, laid her head on the pillow, and presently fell fast asleep.

She had not been asleep more than a quarter of an hour before the room door was opened most carefully (the lock had been oiled in advance by Lucy), and Phyllis Flower, carrying the hedgehog, came in. She drew down the bedclothes and laid the hedgehog so that its prickles would just touch the child in case she moved, and then as carefully withdrew. She hated herself for having done it. All was quiet in that part of the house, which was far away from the schoolrooms, and no one heard a child give a terrible scream a few minutes later; and no one saw that same child spring out of bed, hastily put on her clothes, and rush downstairs in wild distress and despair.

Lucy had meant to be close at hand to comfort little Agnes when fright overtook her. But she had been called away to do some writing for her father. Laura Everett was busy attending to her own work. Phyllis Flower was in bed and asleep. She had earned her trip to London, and was dreaming about the delights of that time. No one heard that scream, which was at once faint and piteous. No one heard the little feet speed through the hall, and no one saw the little figure stealthily leave the house. Little Agnes was going to run away. Yes, there was no doubt whatever now in her mind: her darling Irene was a fairy, a changeling. She had done the most cruel and awful thing.

When little Agnes had seen the hedgehog in her bed she was far too terrified even to recognize the nature of the creature that had been made her bedfellow. But she felt sure that Lucy's words were right: that Irene was a wicked changeling, and that the sooner she got away from her the better. The child was too young to reason, too simple by nature to give any thought to double-dealing. All she wanted now was to get away. She could not stay another minute in the house. Her love for Irene was swallowed up altogether by her wild terror. She trembled; she shook from head to foot.

It was a bitterly cold winter's night, and the child was only half-clothed. She had forgotten to put on anything but her house-shoes, and had not even a hat on her head. But that did not matter. She was out, and there was no terrible Irene to come near her, no wicked fairy to do her damage. She would stay out all night if necessary. She would hide from Irene. She could never be her friend again.

The terror in her little heart rendered her quite unreasonable for the time being. She was, in short, past reason. By-and-by she crept into the old bower where Rosamund and Irene had spent a midsummer night--a night altogether very different from the present one, for the bower was not waterproof, and the cold sleet came in and fell upon the half-dressed child. She sank down on the seat, which was already drenched; but little she cared. She crouched there, wondering what was to be the end, and giving little cries of absolute anguish now and then.

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