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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBetty Vivian: A Story Of Haddo Court School - Chapter 5. The Vivians' Attic
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Betty Vivian: A Story Of Haddo Court School - Chapter 5. The Vivians' Attic Post by :stristus Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :1050

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Betty Vivian: A Story Of Haddo Court School - Chapter 5. The Vivians' Attic

CHAPTER V. THE VIVIANS' ATTIC

Mrs. Haddo was genuinely interested in Dickie. She never once spoke of him as a horror. She immediately named the genus to which he belonged in the spider tribe, and told the girls that they could look up full particulars with regard to him and his ways in a large book she had downstairs called "Chambers's Encyclopedia." She suggested, however, that they should have a little room in one of the attics where they could keep Dickie and his morsels of meat, and the different boxes which contained the caterpillars. She volunteered to show this minute room to the young Vivians at once.

They looked at her, as she spoke, with more and more interest and less and less dislike. Even Sylvia's little heart was melted, and Hetty at once put out her hand and touched Mrs. Haddo's. In a moment the little brown hand was held in the firm clasp of the white one, which was ornamented with sparkling rings.

As the children and Mrs. Haddo were leaving the blue room, Mrs. Haddo's eyes fell upon the deal trunks. "What very sensible trunks!" she said. "And so you brought your clothes in these?"

"Yes," replied Betty. "Donald Macfarlane made them for us. He can do all sorts of carpentering. He meant to paint them green; but we thought we'd like them best just as they are unpainted."

"They are strong, useful boxes," replied Mrs. Haddo. "And now come with me and I will show you the room which shall be your private property and where you can keep your pets. By the way," she added, "I am exceedingly particular with regard to the neatness of the various rooms where my pupils sleep; and these bits of heather and these curious stones--oh, I can tell you plenty about their history by and by--might also be put into what we will call 'the Vivians' attic.'"

"Thank you so much!" said Betty. She had forgotten all about howling--she had even forgotten for the minute that she was really at school; for great Mrs. Haddo, the wonderful head mistress, about whom Fanny had told so many stories, was really a most agreeable person--nearly, very nearly, as nice as dear Aunt Frances.

The little attic was presently reached; the pets were deposited there; and then--wonderful to relate!--Mrs. Haddo went out herself with the girls and chose the very best position in the grounds for them to plant the pieces of heather, with their roots and surrounding earth. She gave to each girl a small plot which was to be her very own, and which no other girl was to have anything whatever to do with. When presently she introduced them into the private sitting-room of the upper school, Betty's eyes were shining quite happily; and Sylvia and Hetty, who always followed her example, were looking as merry as possible.

Fanny Crawford, being requested to do so by Susie Rushworth, now introduced the Vivians to the Specialities. Mary and Julia Bertram shook hands with them quite warmly. Margaret Grant smiled for a minute as her dark, handsome eyes met those of Betty; while Olive Repton said in her most genial tone, "Oh, do sit down, and tell us all about your life!"

"Yes, please--_please_, tell us all about your life!" exclaimed another voice; and Sibyl Ray came boldly forward and seated herself in the midst of the group, which was known in the school as the Specialities.

But here Margaret interfered. "You shall hear everything presently, Sibyl," she said; "but just now we are having a little confab with dear Fanny's friends, so do you mind leaving us alone together?"

Sibyl colored angrily. "I am sure I don't care," she said; "and if you are going to be stuck-up and snappish and disagreeable just because you happen to call yourselves the Specialities, you needn't expect _me to take an interest in you. I am just off for a game of tennis, and shall have a far better time than you all, hobnobbing in this close room."

"Yes, the room is very close," exclaimed Betty. Then she added, "I do not think I shall like the South of England at all; it seems to be without air."

"Oh, you'll soon get over that!" laughed Susie. "Besides," she continued, "winter is coming; and I can tell you we find winter very cold, even here."

"I am glad of that," said Betty. "I hate hot weather; unless, indeed," she added, "when you can lie flat on your back, in the center of one of the moors, and watch the sky with the sun blazing down on you."

"But you must never lie anywhere near a flat stone," exclaimed Sylvia, "or an adder may come out, and that isn't a bit jolly!"

Sibyl had not yet moved off, but was standing with her mouth slightly gaping and her round eyes full of horror.

"Do go! do go, Sibyl!" said Mary Bertram; and Sibyl went, to tell wonderful stories to her own special friends all about these oddest of girls who kept monstrous spiders--spiders that had to be fed on raw meat--and who themselves lay on the moors where adders were to be found.

"Now tell us about Dickie," said Susie, who was always the first to make friends.

But Betty Vivian, for some unaccountable reason, no longer felt either amiable or sociable. "There's nothing to tell," she replied, "and you can't see him."

"Oh, please, Betty, don't be disagreeable!" exclaimed Fanny. "We can see him any minute if we go to your bedroom."

"No, you can't," said Betty, "for he isn't there."

Fanny burst out laughing. "Ah," she said, "I thought as much! I thought Mrs. Haddo would soon put an end to poor Dickie's life!"

"Then you thought wrong!" exclaimed Sylvia with flashing eyes, "for Mrs. Haddo loves him. She was down on her knees looking----Oh, what is the matter, Betty?"

"If you keep repeating our secrets with Mrs. Haddo I shall pinch you black and blue to-night," was Betty's response.

Sylvia instantly became silent.

"Well, tell us about the moor, anyhow," said Margaret.

"And let's go out!" cried Olive. "The day is perfectly glorious; and, of course," she continued, "we are all bound to make ourselves agreeable to you three, for we owe our delightful half-holiday to you. But for you Vivians we'd be toiling away at our lessons now instead of allowing our minds to cool down."

"Do minds get as hot as all that?" asked Hester.

"Very often, indeed, at this school," said Olive with a chuckle.

"Well, I, for one, shall be delighted to go out," said Betty.

"Then you must run upstairs and get your hats and your gloves," said Fanny, who seemed, for some extraordinary reason, to wish to make her cousins uncomfortable.

Betty looked at her very fiercely for a minute; then she beckoned to her sisters, and the three left the room in their usual fashion--each girl holding the hand of another.

"Fan," said Olive the moment the door had closed behind them, "you don't like the Vivians! I see it in your face."

"I never said so," replied Fanny.

"Oh, Fan, dear--not with the lips, of course; but the eyes have spoken volumes. Now, I think they are great fun; they're so uncommon."

"I have never said I didn't like them," repeated Fanny, "and you will never get me to say it. They are my cousins, and of course I'll have to look after them a bit; but I think before they are a month at the school you will agree with me in my opinion with regard to them."

"How can we agree in an opinion we know nothing about?" said Margaret Grant.

Fanny looked at her, and Fanny's eyes could flash in a very significant manner at times.

"Let's come out!" exclaimed Susie Rushworth. "The girls will follow us."

This, however, turned out not to be the case. Susie, the Bertrams, Margaret Grant, Olive Repton, waited for the Vivians in every imaginable spot where they it likely the newcomers would be.

As a matter of fact, the very instant the young Vivians had left the sitting-room, Betty whispered in an eager tone, first to one sister and then to the other, "We surely needn't stay any longer with Fanny and those other horrid girls. Never mind your hats and gloves. Did we ever wear hats and gloves when we were out on the moors at Craigie Muir? There's an open door. Let's get away quite by ourselves."

The Vivians managed this quite easily. They raced down a side-walk until they came to an overhanging oak tree of enormous dimensions. Into this tree they climbed, getting up higher and higher until they were lost to view in the topmost branches. Here they contrived to make a cozy nest for themselves, where they sat very close together, not talking much, although Betty now and then said calmly, "I like Mrs. Haddo; she is the only one in the whole school I can tolerate."

"Fan's worse than ever!" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Oh, don't let's talk of her!" said Betty.

"It will be rather fun going to London to-morrow," said Hester.

"Fun!" exclaimed Betty. "I suppose we shall be put into odious fashionable dresses, like those stuck-up dolls the other girls. But I don't think, try as they will, they'll ever turn _me into a fashionable lady. How I do hate that sort!"

"Yes, and so do I," said Sylvia; while Hetty, who always echoed her sisters' sentiments, said ditto.

"Mrs. Haddo was kind about Dickie," said Betty after a thoughtful pause.

"And it is nice," added Sylvia, "to have the Vivian attic."

"Oh, dear!" said Hester; "I wish all those girls would keep out of sight, for then I'd dash back to the house and bring out the pieces of heather and plant them right away. They ought not to be long out of the ground."

"You had best go at once," said Betty, giving Hester a somewhat vigorous push, which very nearly upset the little girl's balance. "Go boldly back to the house; don't be afraid of any one; don't speak to any one unless it happens to be Mrs. Haddo. Be sure you are polite to her, for she is a lady. Go up to the Vivian attic and bring down the clumps of heather, and the little spade we brought with us in the very bottom of the fifth trunk."

"Oh, and there's the watering-can; don't forget that!" cried Sylvia.

"Yes, bring the watering-can, too. You had best find a pump, or a well, or something, so that you can fill it up to the brim. Bring them all along; and then just whistle 'Robin Adair' at the foot of this tree, and we two will come swarming down. Now, off with you; there's no time to lose!"

Hester descended without a word. She was certainly born without a scrap of fear of any kind, and adventure appealed to her plucky little spirit. Betty settled herself back comfortably against one of the forked branches of the tree where she had made her nest.

"If we are careful, Sylvia, we can come up here to hide as often as we like. I rather fancy from the shape of those other girls that they're not specially good at climbing trees."

"What do you mean by their shape?" asked Sylvia.

"Oh, they're so squeezed in and pushed out; I don't know how to explain it. Now, _we have the use of all our limbs; and I say, you silly little Sylvia, won't we use them just!"

"I always love you, Betty, when you call me 'silly little Sylvia,' for I know you are in a good humor and not inclined to howl. But, before Hetty comes back, I want to say something."

"How mysterious you look, Sylvia! What can you have to say that poor Hetty's not to hear? I am not going to have secrets that are not shared among us three, I can tell you. We share and share alike--we three. We are just desolate orphans, alone in the world; but at least we share and share alike."

"Of course, of course," said Sylvia; "but I saw--and I don't think Hetty did----"

"And what did you see?"

"I saw Fan looking at us; and then she came rather close. It was that time when we were all stifling in that odious sitting-room; Fan came and sat very close to you, and I saw her put her hand down to feel your dress. I know she felt that flat pocket where the little sealed packet is."

Betty's face grew red and then white.

"And don't you remember," continued Sylvia, "that Fan was with us on the very, very day when darling auntie told us about the packet--the day when you came out of her room with your eyes as red as a ferret's; and don't you remember how you couldn't help howling that day, and how far off we had to go for fear darlingest auntie would hear you? And can't you recall that Fan crept after us, just like the horrid sneak that she is? And I know she heard you say, 'That packet is mine; it belongs to all of us, and I--I _will keep it, whatever happens.'"

"She may do sneaky things of that sort every hour of every day that she likes," was Betty's cool rejoinder. "Now, don't get into a fright, silly little Sylvia. Oh, I say, hark! that's Hester's note. She is whistling 'Robin Adair'!"

Quick as thought, the girls climbed down from the great tree and stood under it. Hester was panting a little, for she had run fast and her arms were very full.

"I saw a lot of _them scattered everywhere!" she exclaimed; "but I don't _think they saw me, but of course I couldn't be sure. Here's the heather; its darling little bells are beginning to droop, poor sweet pets! And here's the spade; and here's the watering-can, brimful of water, too, for I saw a gardener as I was coming along, and I asked him to fill it for me, and he did so at once. Now let's go to our gardens and let's plant. We've just got a nice sod of heather each--one for each garden. Oh, do let's be quick, or those dreadful girls will see us!"

"There's no need to hurry," said Betty. "I rather think I can take care of myself. Give me the watering-can. Sylvia, take the heather; and, Hetty--your face is perfectly scarlet, you have run so fast--you follow after with the spade."

The little plots of ground which had been given over to the Vivian girls had been chosen by Mrs. Haddo on the edge of a wild, uncultivated piece of ground. The girls of Haddo Court were proud of this piece of land, which some of them--Margaret Grant, in particular--were fond of calling the "forest primeval." But the Vivians, fresh from the wild Scotch moors, thought but poorly of the few acres of sparse grass and tangled weed and low under-growth. It was, however, on the very edge of this piece of land that the three little gardens were situated. Mrs. Haddo did nothing by halves; and already--wonderful to relate--the gardens had been marked out with stakes and pieces of stout string, and there was a small post planted at the edge of the center garden containing the words in white paint: THE VIVIANS' PRIVATE GARDENS.

Even Betty laughed. "This is good!" she said. "Girls, that is quite a nice woman."

The twins naturally acknowledged as very nice indeed any one whom Betty admired.

Betty here gave a profound sigh. "Come along; let's be quick," she said. "We'll plant our heather in the very center of each plot. I'll have the middle plot, of course, being the eldest. You, silly Sylvia, shall have the one on the left-hand side; and you, Het, the one on the right-hand side. I will plant my heather first."

The others watched while Betty dug vigorously, and had soon made a hole large enough and soft enough to inclose the roots of the wild Scotch heather. She then gave her spade to Sylvia, who did likewise; then Hetty, in her turn, also planted a clump of heather. The contents of the watering-can was presently dispersed among the three clumps, and the girls turned back in the direction of the house.

"She _is nice!" said Betty. "I will bring her here the first day she has a minute to spare and show her the heather. She said she knew all about Scotch heather, and loved it very much. I shouldn't greatly mind, for my part, letting her know about the packet."

"Oh, better not!" said Hester in a frightened tone. "Remember, she is not the only one in that huge prison of a house." Here she pointed to the great mansion which constituted the vast edifice, Haddo Court. "She is by no means the only one," continued Hester. "If she were, I could be happy here."

"You are right, Het; you are quite a wise, small girl," said Betty. "Oh, dear," she added, "how I hate those monstrous houses! What would not I give to be back in the little, white stone house at Craigie Muir!"

"And with darling Jean and dearest old Donald!" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Yes, and the dogs," said Hester. "Oh, Andrew! oh, Fritz! are you missing us as much as we miss you? And, David, you darling! are you pricking up your ears, expecting us to come round to you with some carrots?"

"We'd best not begin too much of this sort of talk," said Betty. "We've got to make up our minds to be cheerful--that is, if we wish to please Mrs. Haddo."

The thought of Mrs. Haddo was certainly having a remarkable effect on Betty; and there is no saying how soon she might, in consequence, have been reconciled to her school-life but for an incident which took place that very evening. For Fanny Crawford, who would not tell a tale against another for the world, had been much troubled since she heard of her cousins' arrival. Her conscientious little mind had told her that they were the last sort of girls suitable to be in such a school as Haddo Court. She had found out something about them. She had not meant to spy on them during her brief visit to Craigie Muir, but she had certainly overheard some of Betty's passionate words about the little packet; and that very evening, curled up on the sofa in the tiny sitting-room at Craigie Muir Cottage, she had seen Betty--although Betty had not seen her--creep into the room in the semi-darkness and remove a little sealed packet from one of Miss Vivian's drawers. As Fanny expressed it afterwards, she felt at the moment as though her tongue would cleave to the roof of her mouth. She had tried to utter some sound, but none would come. She had never mentioned the incident to any one; and as she scarcely expected to see anything more of her cousins in the future, she tried to dismiss it from her thoughts. But as soon as ever she was told in confidence by Miss Symes that the Vivian girls were coming to Haddo Court, she recalled the incident of what she was pleased to regard as the stolen packet. It had haunted her while she was at Craigie Muir; it had even horrified her. Her whole nature recoiled against what she considered clandestine and underhand dealings. Nevertheless she could not, she would not, tell. But she had very nearly made up her mind to say something to the girls themselves--to ask Betty why she had taken the packet, and what she had done with it. But even on this course she was not fully decided.

On the morning of that very day, however, just before Fanny bade her father good-bye, he had said to her, "Fan, my dear, there's a trifle worrying me, although I don't suppose for a single moment you can help me in the matter."

"What is it, father?" asked the girl.

"Well, the fact is this. I am going, as you know, to India for the next few years, and it is quite possible that as the cottage at Craigie Muir will belong to the Vivian girls--for poor Frances bought it and allowed those Scotch folk the Macfarlanes to live there--it is, I say, quite possible that you may go to Craigie Muir for a summer holiday with your cousins. The air is superb, and would do you much good, and of course the girls would be wild with delight. Well, my dear, if you go, I want you to look round everywhere--you have good, sharp eyes in your head, Fan, my girl--and try if you can find a little sealed packet which poor Frances left to be taken care of by me for your three cousins."

"A sealed packet?" said Fanny. She felt herself turning very pale.

"Yes. Do you know anything about it?"

"Oh, father!" said poor Fanny; and her eyes filled with tears.

"What is the matter, my child?"

"I--I'd so much rather not talk about it, please."

"Then you do know something?"

"Please, please, father, don't question me!"

"I won't if you don't wish it; but your manner puzzles me a good deal. Well, dear, if you can get it by any chance, you had better put it into Mrs. Haddo's charge until I return. I asked those poor children if they had seen it, and they denied having done so."

Fanny felt herself shiver, and had to clasp her hands very tightly together.

"I also asked that good shepherd Donald Macfarlane and his wife, and they certainly knew nothing about it. I can't stay with you any longer now, my little girl; but if you do happen to go to Craigie Muir you might remember that I am a little anxious on the subject, for it is my wish to carry out the directions of my dear cousin Frances in all particulars. Now, try to be very, very good to your cousins, Fan; and remember how lonely they are, and how differently they have been brought up from you."

Fanny could not speak, for she was crying too hard. Sir John presently went away, and forgot all about the little packet. But Fanny remembered it; in fact, she could not get it out of her head during the entire day; and in the course of the afternoon, when she found that the Vivian girls joined the group of the Specialities, she forced a chair between Betty and Olive Repton, and seated herself on it, and purposely, hating herself all the time for doing so, felt Betty's pocket. Beyond doubt there was something hard in it. It was not a pocket-handkerchief, nor did it feel like a pencil or a knife or anything of that sort.

"I shall know no peace," thought Fanny to herself, "until I get that unhappy girl to tell the truth and return the packet to me. I shall be very firm and very kind, and I will never let out a single thing about it in the school. But the packet must be given up; and then I will manage to convey it to Mrs. Haddo, who will keep it until dear father returns."

But although Fan intended to act the part of the very virtuous and proper girl, she did not like her cousins the more because of this unpleasant incident. Fanny Crawford had a certain strength of character; but it is sad to relate that she was somewhat overladen with self-righteousness, and was very proud of the fact that nothing would induce _her to do a dishonorable thing. She sadly lacked Mrs. Haddo's rare and large sympathy and deep knowledge of life, and Fanny certainly had not the slightest power of reading character.

That very evening, therefore, when the Vivian girls had gone to their room, feeling very tired and sleepy, and by no means so unhappy as they expected, Fanny first knocked at their door and then boldly entered. Each girl had removed her frock and was wearing a little, rough, gray dressing-gown, and each girl was in the act of brushing out her own very thick hair.

"Brushing-hair time!" exclaimed Fanny in a cheerful tone. "I trust I am not in the way."

"We were going to bed," remarked Betty.

"Oh, Betty, what a reproachful tone!" Fanny tried to carry matters off with a light hand. "Surely I, your own cousin, am welcome? Do say I am welcome, dear Betty! and let me bring my brush and comb, and brush my hair in your room."

"No," said Betty; "you are not welcome, and we'd all much rather that you brushed your hair in your own room."

"You certainly are sweetly polite," said Fanny, with a smile on her face which was not remarkable for sweetness. She looked quite calmly at the girls for a moment. Then she said, "This day, on account of your arrival, rules are off, so to speak, but they begin again to-morrow morning. To-morrow evening, therefore, I cannot come to your bedroom, for it would be breaking rules."

"Oh, how just awfully jolly!" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Thanks," said Fanny. She paused again for a minute. Then she added, "But as rules are off, I may as well say that I have come here to-night on purpose. Just before father left, he told me that there was a little sealed packet"--Betty sat plump down on the side of her bed; Sylvia and Hetty caught each others hands--"a little sealed packet," continued Fanny, "which belonged to poor Miss Vivian--your aunt Frances--and which father was to take charge of for you."

"No, he wasn't," said Betty; "you make a mistake."

"Nonsense, Betty! Father never makes a mistake. Anyhow, he has Miss Vivian's letter, which proves the whole thing. Now, the packet cannot be found. Father is quite troubled about it. He says he has not an idea what it contains, but it was left to be placed under his care. He asked you three about it, and you said you knew nothing. He also asked the servants in that ugly little house----"

"How dare you call it ugly?" said Betty.

"Well, well, pray don't get into a passion! Anyhow, you all denied any knowledge of the packet. Now, I may as well confess that, although I have not breathed the subject to any one, I saw you, Betty, with my own eyes, take it out of Miss Vivian's drawer. I was lying on the sofa in the dark, or almost in the dark, and you never noticed me; but I saw you open the drawer and take the packet out. That being the case, you _do know all about it, and you have told a lie. Please, Betty, give me the packet, and I will take it to-morrow to Mrs. Haddo, and she will look after it for you until father returns; and I promise you faithfully that I will never tell a soul what you did, nor the lie you told father about it. Now, Betty, do be sensible. Give it to me, without any delay. I felt it in the pocket under your dress to-day, so you can't deny that you have it."

Fanny's face was very red when she had finished speaking, and there were two other faces in that room which were even redder; but another face was very pale, with shining eyes and a defiant, strange expression about the lips.

The three Vivians now came up to Fanny, who, although older than the two younger girls, was built much more slightly, and, compared with them, had no muscle at all. Betty was a very strong girl for her age.

"Come," said Betty, "we are not going to waste words on you. Just march out of this!"

"I--what do you mean?"

"March! This is our room, our private room, and therefore our castle. If you like to play the spy, you can; but you don't come in here. Go along--be quick--out you go!"

A strong hand took Fanny forcibly by her right arm, and a strong hand took her with equal force by her left, then two very powerful hands pushed from behind; so that Fanny Crawford, who considered herself one of the most dignified and lady-like girls in the school, was summarily ejected. She went into her room, looked at the cruel marks on her arms caused by the angry girls, and burst into tears.

Miss Symes came in and found Fanny crying, and did her best to comfort the girl. "What is wrong, dear?" she said.

"Oh, don't--don't ask me!" said poor Fanny.

"You are fretting about your father, darling."

"It's not that," said Fanny; "and I can't ever tell you, dear St. Cecilia. Oh, please, leave me! Oh, oh, I am unhappy!"

Miss Symes, finding she could do no good, and believing that Fanny must be a little hysterical on account of her father, went away. When she had gone Fanny dried her eyes, and stayed for a long time lost in thought. She had meant to be good, after her fashion, to the Vivian girls; but, after their treatment of her, she felt that she understood for the first time what hate really meant. If she could not force the girls to deliver up the packet, she might even consider it her duty to tell the whole story to Mrs. Haddo. Never before in the annals of that great school had a Speciality been known to tell a story of another girl. But Fanny reflected that there were great moments in life which required that a rule should be broken.

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