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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Rebel Of The School - Chapter 19. Ruth's Troubles And Susy's Preparations
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The Rebel Of The School - Chapter 19. Ruth's Troubles And Susy's Preparations Post by :Softwarepak Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :650

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The Rebel Of The School - Chapter 19. Ruth's Troubles And Susy's Preparations

CHAPTER XIX. RUTH'S TROUBLES AND SUSY'S PREPARATIONS

The next day the suppressed excitement in the school grew worse. It is sad to relate, nevertheless it is a fact, that Kathleen O'Hara openly neglected her lessons. She kept glancing at Susy Hopkins, and Susy Hopkins once very boldly winked at her; and when she did this one of the under teachers saw her. Now, there were certain rules in the school which all the girls were expected to keep, and winking and making faces were always prohibited. But the teacher on this occasion did not complain of Susy; there were so many other things to be considered that she thought she would let the matter pass.

Ruth Craven was in her class, and more than one girl remarked on Ruth's appearance. Her face was ghastly pale, and she looked as though she had been crying very hard. Alice Tennant was also in her class, and she looked very bold and upright and defiant. Nothing ever induced Alice to neglect her studies, for did not the scholarship depend on her doing her very utmost? She worked just as assiduously as though nothing was happening. But each foundation girl--at least each who had joined the Wild Irish Girls--pressed her hand against the front of her dress, so as really to be certain that the little locket, the dear little talisman of her order, was safe in its place; and each girl felt naughty and good at the same time, anxious to please Kathleen and anxious to adhere to the rules of the school, and each girl resolved that, if she had to choose between the school and Kathleen, she would throw the school over and give allegiance to the queen of the society.

But Ruth's unhappy face certainly attracted attention. Cassandra Weldon noticed it first of all. In recess she went up to her and took her hand.

"Ruth," she said, "you must come home with, me to dinner. Afterwards we can have a good chat; and then you shall have a room to yourself in order to work up your lessons for Miss Renshaw. But what is the matter, Ruth? You don't look well."

"I am quite well," answered Ruth; "but I don't think I'll be able to come back with you to-day, Cassie."

"Oh, what a pity, dear! Is your grandmother ill?"

"No; she's quite well."

"And your grandfather?"

"They are both quite well. It is--no, it's not nothing, for it is something; but I can't tell you. Please don't ask me."

"You look very sad."

"I feel miserable."

"I wonder--" said Cassandra thoughtfully.

Ruth looked at her. There was absolute despair in the eyes generally so clear and steadfast and bright. At this moment Kathleen O'Hara was seen passing through the playground in a sort of triumphal progress. She was accompanied by quite a tail of girls: one hung on her right arm, another on her left; a third danced in front of her; and other girls followed in a thick procession.

"I feel like a queen-bee that has just swarmed," she remarked _en passant to Cassandra Weldon.

Her rude words, the impertinent little toss of her head, and the defiant glance out of her very dark-blue eyes caused Cassandra to stamp her foot.

"Ruth," she said, "I don't like your friend Kathleen O'Hara."

"But I love her," said Ruth.

"That is just it. She makes you all love her and then she gets you into trouble."

"But getting into trouble for a friend doesn't make you hate that friend," said Ruth.

"Well, I fail to understand her. I agree with Alice Tennant about her. A girl of that sort--fascinating, handsome, dangerous--works havoc in a school."

"Listen, Cassie," said Ruth suddenly. "A good many people will be saying bad things about Kathleen before long, and perhaps you will be questioned. I know that Alice Tennant has been questioned already. Will you promise me something, Cassie?"

"You look so imploring that I'd like to promise you anything; but what is it?"

"Do take her part when the time comes. You are certain to be asked."

"But I don't know her. How can I take her part?"

"You can say--oh, the kindest things. You can explain that she has always been bright and gay and loving and kind."

"I don't know that she has."

"Cassie," said Ruth, "your goodness to me has been almost past understanding; but I could hate you if you spoke against her, for I love her."

Just then a teacher came out, touched Ruth Craven on her arm, and said:

"Will you go at once to see Miss Ravenscroft?"

"Why, have you got into a scrape, Ruth? Is that why you look so pale and excited and distressed?" said Cassandra.

She spoke in a whisper. Ruth's eyes looked full into hers.

"God help me," she said under her breath.--"Cassie, if you knew, if you could guess, you'd pity me."

Ruth turned away and followed the teacher into the school. A moment later she was standing before the head-mistress.

"Now, Ruth," said that lady, "I have given you as long a time as possible. Are you prepared to tell me what you know of the Wild Irish Girls?"

Ruth was silent.

"I can't give you any further time. There is to be a meeting of the governors at four o'clock this afternoon--a special meeting, convened in a hurry in order to look into this very matter. If you don't tell me in private what you can tell me, I shall be obliged to ask you to appear before the governors. In that case it would be a matter of insurrection on your part, and it is very doubtful if you would be allowed to remain in the school."

"It is very cruel to me," began Ruth.

"My dear, the path of right is sometimes cruel. We must put this matter down with a strong hand. Do you or do you not know where Kathleen O'Hara and her society are to meet this evening?"

"I've been thinking it out," said Ruth; "I have had no one to consult. If I were to tell I should be a traitor to Kathleen. I did not care for the society, although I love her. I joined it at first--I can't quite tell you how--but afterwards I left it. I left it entirely for my own benefit. There is a girl in this school whom you all love and respect. I don't suppose any other girl in the whole school bears such a high character. Her name is Cassandra Weldon."

"Of course I know Cassandra Weldon," said the head-mistress. "She is our head girl."

"She is; and she is not proud, and she is--oh, so kind! She offered me a very great help. She presented to me a tremendous temptation."

"What was that, Ruth?"

Miss Ravenscroft began by being cold and indifferent; she was now really interested.

"You can sit down if you like," she said.

But Ruth did not sit; she only put one pretty little hand on the back of a chair as though to steady herself.

"I will tell you everything that concerns myself," she said. "I don't mind how badly you think of me. I had joined the other foundationers as a member of Kathleen's society. Then Cassandra presented the temptation. She offered to give me the services of her coach, Miss Renshaw, to work up for the Ayldice Scholarship. That means sixty pounds a year. We are poor at home, Miss Ravenscroft. My grandfather and grandmother are very poor people; but my father was a gentleman, and my mother was a lady, and their great longing in life was to have me well educated. My grandparents can scarcely afford the expense of keeping me in this school. I know I am a foundationer and my education is free; but there are other small expenses that have to be met. Even for me to live at home is almost more than they can compass. You can therefore imagine the great and wonderful delight of being able to secure a scholarship of sixty pounds a year. I could scarcely have managed it without this help. It was noble of Cassandra to offer it, and I--I accepted it, Miss Ravenscroft. After that, of course, I couldn't remain in Kathleen's society, for Kathleen and Cassandra hate each other, and I couldn't be one moment with one girl and another with the other; so I gave up the society and joined Cassandra. But I can't now betray those who were my friends. I have made up my mind; I can't."

"You have really made up your mind?"

"Quite--quite; indeed I cannot."

"Do you know what this means?"

"I can guess."

"We shall be obliged to call a meeting of the governors. You will be had up before them. If you still persist in keeping your knowledge to yourself they will be obliged to strike your name off the school roll. You will not then be able to get the Ayldice Scholarship. You are a clever girl, Ruth. My dear child, the whole thing is a mistake. You do wrong to conceal insurrection. I can tell your special friend Kathleen, who will no longer be queen of the Wild Irish Girls, to-morrow morning, that I have forced this confession out of you. She will not hate you; she will forgive you. She will understand. My dear, why should you sacrifice everything for the sake of this naughty Irish girl?"

"Because I love her, and because it would be mean," answered Ruth, and now she burst into tears.

Miss Ravenscroft talked to her a little longer, but Ruth was firm. When she left the head-mistress's presence she felt a certain sense almost of elation.

"Now I don't feel so absolutely horrible," she said to herself. "Of course I will face the governors. I will just say that I know but that I can't tell. Yes, I believe I have done right. Anyhow, I don't feel quite so bad as before I went to see Miss Ravenscroft."

Meanwhile Susy Hopkins was having a busy time. She went to school in the morning, but as soon as ever lesson hours were over she flew back to her mother's shop. There Mrs. Hopkins awaited her with a tray full of good things.

"Now, Susy," she said, "Tom will help you, for I have got him to promise. He will borrow a wheelbarrow, and all the things can be stacked away tidily into it, and he will take them straight off to Aunt Church's house with you immediately after dinner. You had best spend the afternoon with the old lady and encourage her all you can. It is a blessed relief to have two months of that debt wiped out, and I am very much obliged to you, child, and I will help you all I can."

"You can't think how exciting it is, mother," said Susy. "And you know the best of the fun is, they are making no end of a fuss in the school. They're trying to find out all about poor Kathleen's society, in order to put a stop to it and to call the foundationers to order; but the only effect of the fuss is to make more and more of the girls want to join. I saw Kathleen for a few minutes this morning, and she said that she had twelve applications for badges already to-day, but she told the new girls that they had best not come to the meeting to-night, as there wouldn't be room for them. Kathleen is in the highest spirits; she is just laughing and dancing about and looking like a sunbeam."

"Dear, dear!" said Mrs. Hopkins. "I do hope it's nothing wicked. You girls of the present day are so queer, there's no being up to half your pranks. It would be a sorry day for me if you were banished from the school, Susy."

"Oh, I won't be. It will be all right. Anyhow, this is delicious fun, and I mean to go on with it. What have you got for the old lady's tea, mother?"

"Well, now, look here. Of course, she's only going to give tea to Miss O'Hara and Miss O'Flynn--I haven't seen that lady--and yourself and Tom. That's about all."

"And Tom will have a pretty keen appetite," said Susy. "I'll tell Miss Kathleen that she is to be at Aunt Church's house quite half-an-hour before the rest of the girls, so that aunty can have her talk with her and arrange about the almshouse, and also that Kathleen and Miss O'Hara may have their meal in comfort. What's the grub, mother? Tell me at once."

"Bread-and-butter," said Mrs. Hopkins, beginning to count on her fingers, "a pot of strawberry-jam--"

"Oh, golloptious!" burst from Susy.

"A plumcake--"

"Better and better!" cried Susy.

"A little tin of sardines--some ladies are fond of a savory--"

"Yes, mother; quite right. And so is aunty, for that matter. You haven't forgotten the water-cress, have you?"

"Here's a great bunch of it. You must turn the tap over it and wash it as clean as clean. And what with new-laid eggs, and tea with cream in it, and loaf-sugar, why, I think that's about enough."

"So it is, mother; and it's beautiful. But, mother, I do think Aunt Church would relish a pound of sausages. It isn't often she has anything of that kind to eat; she lives very penuriously, you know, mother."

"Well, I suppose I can fling in the sausages. I'll just run round to the shop and buy them. Now then, eat your own dinner, Susy, and be quick. Tom has eaten his, and has gone to fetch the wheelbarrow from Dan Smith, the cartwright."

Mrs. Hopkins's programme was carried out. Tom arrived at the door with the wheelbarrow about two o'clock. The provisions were stowed safely away in the bottom and covered over with a piece of old matting, and then Tom and Susy started off. Both boy and girl were in high spirits. The day was as fine as it had been on the previous day, and Susy chattered to her heart's content.

"My word," said Tom, "I must be in it!"

"But you can't, Tom. You are a boy. That would be the final straw. If the ladies of the school and those awful governors were to come along and to see a boy in the midst of forty girls, I do believe we'd all be put in prison. You must clear out, Thomas; make up your mind to that as soon as ever you have handed over the things to Aunt Church."

"You wait and see," said Tom. "You may suppose you are a favorite with Aunt Church, but you are nothing at all to me; I can just twist her round my fingers. It's a fine time I mean to have. I won't worry you at all when you are having your commotion in the yard. For the matter of that, I'll creep into the pig-sty with Brownie, and we can look over the doorway."

"Oh, Tom, you are certain to be discovered. And you'll just pinch that pig and make him squeal like anything."

Tom laughed.

"I mean to have my fun," he said; "and don't you suppose for a moment I'm going to funk a lot of stupid, silly girls. How much do you think I'm going to eat, miss?"

"I'm sure you are going to be horribly greedy. But perhaps when you see Miss O'Hara and Miss O'Flynn you'll take a fit of shyness. It's to be hoped you will."

"Shyness!" cried Tom. "What's that?"

"It's what you ought to have, Tom, and it's to be hoped you will have it when the time comes."

"Looks like it!" cried Tom, rubbing his hands in a meaning way. "Never frightened of anybody in the whole course of my life. Mean to have a lark with your pretty Miss Kathleen; mean to get a sov. or two out of that charming Miss O'Flynn; mean to coax Aunty Church to give me that microscope when she moves across the sea to Ireland. Tell you, Susy, I'm up to a lark, and the best of the supper goes down my throat. Now you know, and there's no use worriting, for what can't be cured must be endured. Tom Hopkins is part and parcel of this 'ere feast, and the sooner you make up your mind to endure me the better."

Susy felt slightly alarmed, but she knew from experience that Tom's bark was worse than his bite; and she trusted to Aunt Church desiring him in a peremptory manner to go when the time approached, and to Tom's being forced to obey her.

They arrived in good time at their destination, and Mrs. Church received them figuratively with open arms. And now began the real fuss and the real preparation. Tom took a brush and kicked up, as Aunt Church expressed it, no end of a shindy. The little sitting-room was a cloud of dust. The table, the chairs, and the little sideboard were pushed about; everything seemed to be at a loss until Susy peremptorily took the duster out of Tom's hand and reduced chaos to order. Then the tea was unpacked. A very white cloth from Mrs. Hopkins's most precious store was produced; real silver spoons--from the same source--made their appearance; a few cups and saucers of good old china were added. The table looked, as Tom expressed it, "very genteel." Then the provisions were placed upon the board.

"Now we are ready," said Mrs. Church; "and I must say," she added, "that I am pleased. I have known good genteel living in my lifetime, and I expect that Providence means me to know it again before I die. Susy and Tom, you are both good children. You have your spice of wickedness in you, but when all is said and done you mean well, and I may as well promise you both now that when I get to Ireland I will have you over in the holidays. You will enjoy that--won't you, Thomas?"

"See if I don't, Aunt Church. And I always was your own boy, wasn't I? And you won't mind, old lady--say you won't mind--leaving me the microscope when you cross the briny? I'm fairly taken with that microscope. I dream of it at night, and think of it every minute of the day."

"Come here and look me in the eyes, Tom," said Mrs. Church.

Tom went over. Out of his freckled face there beamed two honest light-blue eyes. His forehead was broad and slightly bulgy; his carroty hair was cut short to his head. Mrs. Church raised her wrinkled old hand and laid it for a minute on Tom's forehead.

"You resemble your great-uncle, my husband," she said. "He was the cleverest man I ever came across. He had a real turn for the microscope."

"Then, of course, you will leave it behind you; of course you will give it to me," said Tom, quite triumphant with eagerness.

"No, my boy, that I won't. If you are a good boy, and do me credit, and get on with your books, and do well in that calling which Providence means you to work in, why, I may leave it to you when I am called hence, Tom."

"There, Tom!" said Susy, coming forward. "Don't worry Aunt Church any more. She's got plenty to think about.--Won't you turn him out now, Aunt Church? It is time for you to be dressing, you know."

"So it is," said Mrs. Church, looking round her in some alarm. "Whatever is the hour, child?"

"It is going on for six o'clock; and they will be here at half-past seven at the latest."

"Very well," said Tom; "if I must go I will have a talk with Brownie."

He looked at Susy as if he meant to defy her, but Susy was too wise to anger him at that moment. As soon as ever he was out of the house she fetched hot water, soap and a clean towel. Having helped old Mrs. Church with her ablutions, she produced a clean cap and a little black shawl. The old lady said that she felt very smart and refreshed, and altogether in a state to do honor to that dear little almshouse.

"I am quite taking to you, Susy," she said. "But I do hope you will marshal those dreadful girls into the backyard without frightening my hens or Brownie."

"Pigs aren't remarkable for sensitiveness," said Susy. "But I tell you what, Aunt Church; Tom's after mischief; he means to witness all the proceedings of dear Miss Kathleen's great society, and we oughtn't to let him. It would do a lot of mischief if the school heard of it, and we would most likely be expelled. He don't mind a word I say, so will you talk to him, aunty?"

"But he can't be in the yard without being seen; you say that they are bringing lamps and will make the place as bright as day."

"Yes, but he will be in the sty with Brownie; and he as good as said he'd give her a pinch to make her squeal."

"Oh, indeed! I'm afraid that must be put a stop to," said the old lady. "Send him to me this minute."

Susy went out and called her brother. There was no answer for a minute; then Tom appeared, looking somewhat rakish and disheveled.

"Brownie and I were chumming up like anything," he said; then he pushed Susy aside and walked into the old lady's presence.

What she said to him even Susy did not hear, but when the little girl returned to Mrs. Church, Tom was nowhere to be seen.

"Has he gone home, Aunt Church," she asked.

"You leave the boy alone," was Mrs. Church's answer. "He's a good boy, and the moral of his grand-uncle; and I'll leave him that microscope. See if I don't."

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