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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA World Of Girls: The Story Of A School - Chapter 4. Little Drawing-Rooms And Little Tiffs
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A World Of Girls: The Story Of A School - Chapter 4. Little Drawing-Rooms And Little Tiffs Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3240

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A World Of Girls: The Story Of A School - Chapter 4. Little Drawing-Rooms And Little Tiffs


Miss Danesbury, true to her word, came to fetch Hester down to tea. They went down some broad, carpetless stairs, along a wide stone hall, and then paused for an instant at a half-open door from which a stream of eager voices issued.

"I will introduce you to your schoolfellows, and I hope your future friends," said Miss Danesbury. "After tea you will come with me to see Mrs. Willis--she is never in the school-room at tea-time. Mdlle. Perier or Miss Good usually superintends. Now, my dear, come along--why, surely you are not frightened!"

"Oh, please, may I sit near you?" asked Hester.

"No, my love; I take care of the little ones, and they are at a table by themselves. Now, come in at once--the moment you dread will soon be over, and it is nothing, my love--really nothing."

Nothing! never, as long as Hester lived, did she forget the supreme agony of terror and shyness which came over her as she entered that long, low, brightly-lighted room. The forty pairs of curious eyes which were raised inquisitively to her face became as torturing as forty burning suns. She felt an almost uncontrollable desire to run away and hide--she wondered if she could possibly keep from screaming aloud. In the end she found herself, she scarcely knew how, seated beside a gentle, sweet-mannered girl, and munching bread and butter which tasted drier than sawdust, and occasionally trying to sip something very hot and scalding which she vaguely understood went by the name of tea. The buzzing voices all chattering eagerly in French, and the occasional sharp, high-pitched reprimands coming in peremptory tones from the thin lips of Mdlle. Perier, sounded far off and distant--her head was dizzy, her eyes swam--the tired and shy child endured tortures.

In after-days, in long after-years when the memory of Lavender House was to come back to Hetty Thornton as one of the sweetest, brightest episodes in her existence--in the days when she was to know almost every blade of grass in the gardens, and to be familiar with each corner of the old house, with each face which now appeared so strange, she might wonder at her feelings to-night, but never even then could she forget them.

She sat at the table in a dream, trying to eat the tasteless bread and butter. Suddenly and swiftly the thick and somewhat stale piece of bread on her plate was exchanged for a thin, fresh, and delicately-cut slice.

"Eat that," whispered a voice--"I know the other is horrid. It's a shame of Perier to give such stuff to a stranger."

"Mdlle. Cecile, you are transgressing: you are talking English," came in a torrent of rapid French from the head of the table. "You lose a conduct mark, ma'amselle."

The young girl who sat next Hester inclined her head gently and submissively, and Hester, venturing to glance at her, saw that a delicate pink had spread itself over her pale face. She was a plain girl; but even Hester, in this first moment of terror, could scarcely have been afraid of her, so benign was her expression, so sweet the glance from her soft, full brown eyes. Hester now further observed that the thin bread and butter had been removed from Cecil's own plate. She began to wonder why this girl was indulged with better food than the rest of her comrades.

Hester was beginning to feel a little less shy, and was taking one or two furtive glances at her companions, when she suddenly felt herself turning crimson, and all her agony of shyness and dislike to her school-life returning. She encountered the full, bright, quizzical gaze of the girl who had made personal remarks about her in the porter's room. The merry black eyes of this gypsy maiden fairly twinkled with suppressed fun when they met hers, and the bright head even nodded audaciously across the table to her.

Not for worlds would Hester return this friendly greeting--she still held to her opinion that Miss Forest was one of the most ill-bred people she had ever met, and, in addition to feeling a considerable amount of fear of her, she quite made up her mind that she would never be on friendly terms with so under-bred a girl.

At this moment grace was repeated in sonorous tones by a stern-looking person who sat at the foot of the long table, and whom Hester had not before noticed. Instantly the girls rose from their seats, and began to file in orderly procession out of the tea-room. Hester looked round in terror for the friendly Miss Danesbury, but she could not catch sight of her anywhere. At this moment, however, her companion of the tea-table touched her arm.

"We may speak English now for half an hour," she said, "and most of us are going to the play-room. We generally tell stories round the fire upon these dark winter's nights. Would you like to come with me to-night? Shall we be chums for this evening?"

"I don't know what 'chums' are," said Hester; "but," she added, with the dawning of a faint smile on her poor, sad little face, "I shall be very glad to go with you."

"Come then," said Cecil Temple, and she pulled Hester's hand within her arm, and walked with her across the wide stone hall, and into the largest room Hester had ever seen.

Never, anywhere, could there have been a more delightful play-room than this. It was so large that two great fires which burned at either end were not at all too much to emit even tolerable warmth. The room was bright with three or four lamps which were suspended from the ceiling, the floor was covered with matting, and the walls were divided into curious partitions, which gave the room a peculiar but very cosy effect. These partitions consisted of large panels, and were divided by slender rails the one from the other.

"This is my cosy corner," said Cecil, "and you shall sit with me in it to-night. You see," she added, "each of us girls has her own partition, and we can do exactly what we like in it. We can put our own photographs, our own drawings, our own treasures on our panels. Under each division is our own little work-table, and, in fact, our own individual treasures lie round us in the enclosure of this dear little rail. The center of the room is common property, and you see what a great space there is round each fire-place where we can chatter and talk, and be on common ground. The fire-place at the end of the room near the door is reserved especially for the little ones, but we elder girls sit at the top. Of course you will belong to us. How old are you?"

"Twelve," said Hester.

"Oh, well, you are so tall that you cannot possibly be put with the little ones, so you must come in with us."

"And shall I have a railed-in division and a panel of my own?" asked Hester. "It sounds a very nice arrangement. I hope my department will be close to yours, Miss ----."

"Temple is my name," said Cecil, "but you need not call me that. I am Cecil to all my friends, and you are my friend this evening, for you are my chum, you know. Oh, you were asking me about our departments--you won't have any at first, for you have got to earn it, but I will invite you to mine pretty often. Come, now, let us go inside. Is not it just like the darlingest little drawing-room? I am so sorry that I have only one easy chair, but you shall have it to-night, and I will sit on this three-legged stool. I am saving up my money to buy another arm-chair, and Annie has promised to upholster it for me."

"Is Annie one of the maids?"

"Oh, dear, no! she's dear old Annie Forest, the liveliest girl in the school. Poor darling, she's seldom out of hot water; but we all love her, we can't help it. Poor Annie, she hardly ever has the luxury of a department to herself, so she is useful all round. She's the most amusing and good-natured dear pet in Christendom."

"I don't like her at all," said Hester; "I did not know you were talking of her--she is a most rude, uncouth girl."

Cecil Temple, who had been arranging a small dark green table-cloth with daffodils worked artistically in each corner on her little table, stood up as the newcomer uttered these words, and regarded her fixedly.

"It is a pity to draw hasty conclusions," she said. "There is no girl more loved in the school than Annie Forest. Even the teachers, although they are always punishing her, cannot help having a soft corner in their hearts for her. What can she possibly have done to offend you? but oh! hush--don't speak--she is coming into the room."

As Cecil finished her rather eager defense of her friend, and prevented the indignant words which were bubbling to Hester's lips, a gay voice was heard singing a comic song in the passage, the play-room door was flung open with a bang, and Miss Forest entered the room with a small girl seated on each of her shoulders.

"Hold on, Janny, love; keep your arms well round me, Mabel. Now, then, here we go--twice up the room and down again. No more, as I'm alive. I've got to attend to other matters than you."

She placed the little girls on the floor amid peals of laughter, and shouts from several little ones to give them a ride too. The children began to cling to her skirts and to drag her in all directions, and she finally escaped from them with one dexterous bound which placed her in that portion of the play-room where the little ones knew they were not allowed to enter.

Until her arrival the different girls scattered about the large room had been more or less orderly, chattering and laughing together, it is true, but in a quiet manner. Now the whole place appeared suddenly in an uproar.

"Annie, come here--Annie, darling, give me your opinion about this--Annie, my precious, naughty creature, come and tell me about your last scrape."

Annie Forest blew several kisses to her adorers, but did not attach herself to any of them.

"The Temple requires me," she said, in her sauciest tones; "my beloved friends, the Temple as usual is vouchsafing its sacred shelter to the stranger."

In an instant Annie was kneeling inside the enclosure of Miss Temple's rail and laughing immoderately.

"You dear stranger!" she exclaimed, turning round and gazing full into Hester's shy face, "I do declare I have been punished for the intense ardor with which I longed to embrace you. Has she told you, Cecil, darling, what I did in her behalf? How I ventured beyond the sacred precincts of the baize door and hid inside the porter's room? Poor dear, she jumped when she heard my friendly voice, and as I spoke Miss Danesbury caught me in the very act. Poor old dear, she cried when she complained of me, but duty is Danesbury's motto; she would go to the stake for it, and I respect her immensely. I have got my twenty lines of that horrible French poetry to learn--the very thought almost strangles me, and I foresee plainly that I shall do something terribly naughty within the next few hours; I must, my love--I really must. I have just come here to shake hands with Miss Thornton, and then I must away to my penance. Ah, how little I shall learn, and how hard I shall think! Welcome to Lavender House, Miss Thornton; look upon me as your devoted ally, and if you have a spark of pity in your breast, feel for the girl whom you got into a scrape the very moment you entered these sacred walls."

"I don't understand you," said Hester, who would not hold out her hand, and who was standing up in a very stiff, shy, and angular position. "I think you were very rude to startle me, and make personal remarks the very moment I came into the house."

"Oh, dear! I only said you were tall, and looked rather sulky, love--you did, you know, really."

"It was very rude of you," repeated Hester, turning crimson, and trying to keep back her tears.

"Well, my dear, I meant no harm; shake hands, now, and let us make friends."

But Hester felt either too shy or too miserable to yield to this request--she half turned her back, and leaned against Miss Temple's panel.

"Never mind her," whispered gentle Cecil Temple; but Annie Forest's bright face had darkened ominously--the school favorite was not accustomed to having her advances flung back in her face. She left the room singing a defiant, naughty song, and several of the girls who had overheard this scene whispered one to the other:

"She can't be at all nice--she would not even shake hands with Annie. Fancy her turning against our Annie in that way!"

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