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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA World Of Girls: The Story Of A School - Chapter 10. Varieties
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A World Of Girls: The Story Of A School - Chapter 10. Varieties Post by :ow24160 Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :2093

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A World Of Girls: The Story Of A School - Chapter 10. Varieties

CHAPTER X. VARIETIES

Without any doubt, wild, naughty, impulsive Annie Forest was the most popular girl in the school. She was always in scrapes--she was scarcely ever out of hot water--her promises of amendment were truly like the proverbial pie-crust; but she was so lovable, so kind-hearted, so saucy and piquante and pretty, that very few could resist the nameless charm which she possessed. The little ones adored Annie, who was kindness itself to them; the bigger girls could not help admiring her fearlessness and courage; the best and noblest girls in the school tried to influence her for good. She was more or less an object of interest to every one; her courage was of just the sort to captivate schoolgirls, and her moral weakness was not observed by these inexperienced young eyes.

Hester alone, of all the girls who for a long time had come to Lavender House, failed to see any charm in Annie. She began by considering her ill-bred, and when she found she was the school favorite, she tossed her proud little head and determined that she for one would never be subjugated by such a naughty girl. Hester could read character with tolerable clearness; she was an observant child--very observant, and very thoughtful for her twelve years; and as the little witch Annie had failed to throw any spell over her, she saw her faults far more clearly than did her companions. There is no doubt that this brilliant, charming, and naughty Annie had heaps of faults; she had no perseverance; she was all passion and impulse; she could be the kindest of the kind, but from sheer thoughtlessness and wildness she often inflicted severe pain, even on those she loved best. Annie very nearly worshiped Mrs. Willis; she had the most intense adoration for her, she respected her beyond any other human being. There were moments when the impulsive and hot-headed child felt that she could gladly lay down her life for her school-mistress. Once the mistress was ill, and Annie curled herself up all night outside her door, thereby breaking rules, and giving herself a severe cold; but her passion and agony were so great that she could only be soothed by at last stealing into the darkened room and kissing the face she loved.

"Prove your love to me, Annie, by going downstairs and keeping the school rules as perfectly as possible," whispered the teacher.

"I will--I will never break a rule again as long as I live, if you get better, Mrs. Willis," responded the child.

She ran downstairs with her resolves strong within her, and yet in half an hour she was reprimanded for willful and desperate disobedience.

One day Cecil Temple had invited a select number of friends to afternoon tea in her little drawing-room. It was the Wednesday half-holiday, and Cecil's tea, poured into the tiniest cups and accompanied by thin wafer biscuits, was of the most _recherche quality. Cecil had invited Hester Thornton, and a tall girl who belonged to the first class and whose name was Dora Russell, to partake of this dainty beverage. They were sitting round the tiny tea-table, on little red stools with groups of flowers artistically painted on them, and were all three conducting themselves in a most ladylike and refined manner, when Annie Forest's curly head and saucy face popped over the enclosure, and her voice said eagerly:

"Oh, may I be permitted to enter the shrine?"

"Certainly, Annie," said Cecil, in her most cordial tones. "I have got another cup and saucer, and there is a little tea left in the tea-pot."

Annie came in, and ensconced herself cozily on the floor. It did not matter in the least to her that Hester Thornton's brow grew dark, and that Miss Russell suddenly froze into complete indifference to all her surroundings. Annie was full of a subject which excited her very much: she had suddenly discovered that she wanted to give Mrs. Willis a present, and she wished to know if any of the girls would like to join her.

"I will give her the present this day week," said excitable Annie. "I have quite made up my mind. Will any one join me?"

"But there is nothing special about this day week, Annie," said Miss Temple. "It will neither be Mrs. Willis' birthday, nor Christmas Day, nor New Year's Day, nor Easter Day. Next Wednesday will be just like any other Wednesday. Why should we make Mrs. Willis a present?"

"Oh, because she looks as if she wanted one, poor dear. I thought she looked sad this morning; her eyes drooped and her mouth was down at the corners. I am sure she's wanting something from us all by now, just to show that we love her, you know."

"Pshaw!" here burst from Hester's lips.

"Why do you say that?" said Annie, turning round with her bright eyes flashing. "You've no right to be so contemptuous when I speak about our--our head-mistress. Oh, Cecil," she continued, "do let us give her a little surprise--some spring flowers, or something just to show her that we love her."

"But _you don't love her," said Hester, stoutly.

Here was throwing down the gauntlet with a vengeance! Annie sprang to her feet and confronted Hester with a whole torrent of angry words. Hester firmly maintained her position. She said over and over again that love proved itself by deeds, not by words; that if Annie learned her lessons, and obeyed the school rules, she would prove her affection for Mrs. Willis far more than by empty protestations. Hester's words were true, but they were uttered in an unkind spirit, and the very flavor of truth which they possessed caused them to enter Annie's heart and to wound her deeply. She turned, not red, but very white, and her large and lovely eyes grew misty with unshed tears.

"You are cruel," she gasped, rather than spoke, and then she pushed aside the curtains of Cecil's compartment and walked out of the play-room.

There was a dead silence among the three girls when she left them. Hester's heart was still hot, and she was still inclined to maintain her own position, and to believe she had done right in speaking in so severe a tone to Annie. But even she had been made a little uneasy by the look of deep suffering which had suddenly transformed Annie's charming childish face into that of a troubled and pained woman. She sat down meekly on her little three-legged stool and, taking up her tiny cup and saucer, sipped some of the cold tea.

Cecil Temple was the first to speak.

"How could you?" she said, in an indignant voice for her. "Annie is not the girl to be driven, and in any case, it is not for you to correct her. Oh, Mrs. Willis would have been so pained had she heard you--you were not _kind_, Miss Thornton. There, I don't wish to be rude, but I fear I must leave you and Miss Russell--I must try and find Annie."

"I'm going back to my own drawing-room," said Miss Russell, rising to her feet. "Perhaps," she added, turning round with a very gracious smile to Hester, "you will come and see me there, after tea, this evening."

Miss Russell drew aside the curtains of Cecil Temple's little room, and disappeared. Hester, with her eyes full of tears, now turned eagerly to Cecil.

"Forgive me, Cecil," she exclaimed. "I did not mean to be unkind, but it is really quite ridiculous the way you all spoil that girl--you know as well as I do that she is a very naughty girl. I suppose it is because of her pretty face," continued Hester, "that you are all so unjust, and so blind to her faults."

"You are prejudiced the other way, Hester," said Cecil in a more gentle tone. "You have disliked Annie from the first. There, don't keep me--I must go to her now. There is no knowing what harm your words may have done. Annie is not like other girls. If you knew her story, you would, perhaps be kinder to her."

Cecil then ran out of her drawing-room, leaving Hester in sole possession of the little tea-things and the three-legged stools. She sat and thought for some time; she was a girl with a great deal of obstinacy in her nature, and she was not disposed to yield her own point, even to Cecil Temple; but Cecil's words had, nevertheless, made some impression on her.

At tea-time that night, Annie and Cecil entered the room together. Annie's eyes were as bright as stars, and her usually pale cheeks glowed with a deep color. She had never looked prettier--she had never looked so defiant, so mischievous, so utterly reckless. Mdlle. Perier fired indignant French at her across the table. Annie answered respectfully, and became demure in a moment; but even in the short instant in which the governess was obliged to lower her eyes to her plate, she had thrown a look so irresistibly comic at her companions that several of them had tittered aloud. Not once did she glance at Hester, although she occasionally looked boldly in her direction; but when she did so, her versatile face assumed a blank expression, as if she were seeing nothing. When tea was over, Dora Russell surprised the members of her own class by walking straight up to Hester, putting her hand inside her arm, and leading her off to her own very refined-looking little drawing-room.

"I want to tell you," she said, when the two girls found themselves inside the small enclosure, "that I quite agree with you in your opinion of Miss Forest. I think you were very brave to speak to her as you did to-day. As a rule, I never trouble myself with what the little girls in the third class do, and of course Annie seldom comes under my notice; but I think she is a decidedly spoiled child, and your rebuff will doubtless do her a great deal of good."

These words of commendation, coming from tall and dignified Miss Russell completely turned poor Hester's head.

"Oh, I am so glad you think so!" she stammered, coloring high with pleasure. "You see," she added, assuming a little tone of extra refinement, "at home I always associated with girls who were perfect ladies."

"Yes, any one can see that," remarked Miss Russell approvingly.

"And I do think Annie under-bred," continued Hester. "I cannot understand," she added, "why Miss Temple likes her so much."

"Oh, Cecil is so amiable; she sees good in every one," answered Miss Russell. "Annie is evidently not a lady, and I am glad at last to find some one of the girls who belong to the middle school capable of discerning this fact. Of course, we of the first class have nothing whatever to say to Miss Forest, but I really think Mrs. Willis is not acting quite fairly by the other girls when she allows a young person of that description into the school. I wish to assure you, Miss Thornton, that you have at least my sympathy, and I shall be very pleased to see you in my drawing-room now and then."

As these last words were uttered, both girls were conscious of a little rustling sound not far away. Miss Russell drew back her curtain, and asked very sharply, "Who is there?" but no one replied, nor was there any one in sight, for the girls who did not possess compartments were congregated at the other end of the long play-room, listening to stories which Emma Marshall, a clever elder girl, was relating for their benefit.

Miss Russell talked on indifferent subjects to Hester, and at the end of the half-hour the two entered the class-room side by side, Hester's little head a good deal turned by this notice from one of the oldest girls in the school.

As the two walked together into the school-room, Susan Drummond, who, tall as she was, was only in the fourth class, rushed up to Miss Forest, and whispered something in her ear.

"It is just as I told you," she said, and her sleepy voice was quite wide awake and animated. Annie Forest rewarded her by a playful pinch on her cheek; then she returned to her own class, with a severe reprimand from the class teacher, and silence reigned in the long room, as the girls began to prepare their lessons as usual for the next day.

Miss Russell took her place at her desk in her usual dignified manner. She was a clever girl, and was going to leave school at the end of next term. Hers was a particularly fastidious, but by no means great nature. She was the child of wealthy parents; she was also well-born, and because of her money, and a certain dignity and style which had come to her as nature's gifts, she held an influence, though by no means a large one, in the school. No one particularly disliked her, but no one, again, ardently loved her. The girls in her own class thought it well to be friendly with Dora Russell, and Dora accepted their homage with more or less indifference. She did not greatly care for either their praise or blame. Dora possessed in a strong degree that baneful quality, which more than anything else precludes the love of others--she was essentially selfish.

She sat now before her desk, little guessing how she had caused Hester's small heart to beat by her patronage, and little suspecting the mischief she had done to the girl by her injudicious words. Had she known, it is to be doubted whether she would have greatly cared. She looked through the books which contained her tasks for the next day's work, and, finding they did not require a great deal of preparation, put them aside, and amused herself during the rest of preparation time with a storybook, which she artfully concealed behind the leaves of some exercises. She knew she was breaking the rules, but this fact did not trouble her, for her moral nature was, after all, no better than poor Annie's, and she had not a tenth of her lovable qualities.

Dora Russell was the soul of neatness and order. To look inside her school desk was a positive pleasure; to glance at her own neat and trim figure was more or less of a delight. Hers were the whitest hands in the school, and hers the most perfectly kept and glossy hair. As the preparation hour drew to a close, she replaced her exercises and books in exquisite order in her school desk and shut down the lid.

Hester's eyes followed her as she walked out of the school-room, for the head class never had supper with the younger girls. Hester wondered if she would glance in her direction; but Miss Russell had gratified a very passing whim when she condescended to notice and praise Hester, and she had already almost forgotten her existence.

At bed-time that night Susan Drummond's behavior was at the least extraordinary. In the first place, instead of being almost overpoweringly friendly with Hester, she scarcely noticed her; in the next place, she made some very peculiar preparations.

"What _are you doing on the floor, Susan?" inquired Hetty in an innocent tone.

"That's nothing to you," replied Miss Drummond, turning a dusky red, and looking annoyed at being discovered. "I do wish," she added, "that you would go round to your side of the room and leave me alone; I sha'n't have done what I want to do before Danesbury comes in to put out the candle."

Hester was not going to put herself out with any of Susan Drummond's vagaries; she looked upon sleepy Susan as a girl quite beneath her notice, but even she could not help observing her, when she saw her sit up in bed a quarter of an hour after the candles had been put out, and in the flickering firelight which shone conveniently bright for her purpose, fasten a piece of string first round one of her toes, and then to the end of the bed-post.

"What _are you doing?" said Hester again, half laughing.

"Oh, what a spy you are!" said Susan. "I want to wake, that's all; and whenever I turn in bed, that string will tug at my toe, and, of course, I'll rouse up. If you were more good-natured, I'd give the other end of the string to you; but, of course, that plan would never answer."

"No, indeed," replied Hester; "I am not going to trouble myself to wake you. You must trust to your sponge of cold water in the morning, unless your own admirable device succeeds."

"I'm going to sleep now, at any rate," answered Susan; "I'm on my back, and I'm beginning to snore; good night."

Once or twice during the night Hester heard groans from the self-sacrificing Susan, who, doubtless, found the string attached to her foot very inconvenient.

Hester, however, slept on when it might have been better for the peace of many in the school that she should have awakened. She heard no sound when, long before day, sleepy Susan stepped softly out of bed, and wrapping a thick shawl about her, glided out of the room. She was away for over half an hour, but she returned to her chamber and got into bed without in the least disturbing Hester. In the morning she was found so soundly asleep that even the sponge of cold water could not arouse her.

"Pull the string at the foot of the bed, Alice," said Hester; "she fastened a string to her toe, and twisted the other end round the bed-post, last night; pull it, Alice, it may effect its purpose."

But there was no string now round Susan Drummond's foot, nor was it found hanging to the bed-post.

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