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in all sorts of places."

"Oh, but it wouldn't be right to have them like that often," said Anna
primly. "You would have indigestion if you didn't have your meals at
regular hours." Anna was always full of ideas as to what was right and
good for her health.

"I didn't know I had an indigestion," said Betty shortly, with a toss of
her head, "and you wouldn't either, Anna, if you didn't think so much
about it." Which was truer than Betty imagined. "I think it is a pity
you talk so much about such things."

In September Dan went off to school. He was very homesick and not at
all happy when the last day came - a fact which consoled Kitty somewhat
for all the pleasure and excitement he had shown up to that point.
"If it hadn't been for Aunt Pike and Anna I believe he would have been
frightfully sorry all the time," she told herself, "instead of seeming
as though he was quite glad to go."

"You'll - you'll write to a fellow pretty often, won't you, Kit?" he
asked, coming into her room for about the fiftieth time, and wandering
about it irresolutely. He spoke in an off-hand manner, and made a show
of looking over her bookshelves whilst he was speaking. But Kitty
understood, and in her heart she vowed that nothing should prevent her
writing, neither health, nor work, nor other interests. Dan wanted her
letters, and Dan should have them.

But it was after he was gone that the blow of his departure was felt
most, and then the blank seemed almost too great to be borne. It was so
great that the girls were really almost glad when their own school
opened, that they might have an entirely new life in place of the old
one so changed.

"Though I would rather go right away, ever so far, to a boarding
school," declared Betty, "where everything and everybody would be quite,
quite different." But Kitty could not agree to this. It was quite bad
enough for her as it was; to leave Gorlay would be more than she could

"Hillside," the school to which they were being sent - the only one of
its kind in Gorlay, in fact - was about ten minutes' walk from Dr.
Trenire's house. It was quite a small school, consisting of about a
dozen pupils only, several of whom were boarders; and Miss Richards (the
head of it), Miss Melinda (her sister), and a French governess
instructed the twelve.

"It is not, in the strict sense of the word, a school," Miss Richards
always remarked to the parents of new pupils. "We want it to be
'a home from home' for our pupils, and I think I may say it is that."

"If our homes were in the least bit like it we should never want any
holidays," one girl remarked; but we know that it is almost a point of
honour with some girls never to admit - until they have left it - that
school is anything but a place of exile and unhappiness, - though when
they have left it they talk of it as all that was delightful.

Amongst the boarders, and loudest in their complaints of all they had to
endure, were Lettice and Maude Kitson, who had been placed there by
their step-mother for a year to "finish" their education before they
"came out." It was a pity, for they were too old for the school, and it
would have been better for themselves and every one had they been sent
amongst older girls and stricter teachers, where they would not have
been the leading pupils and young ladies of social importance.
They laughed and scoffed at the usual simple tastes and amusements of
schoolgirls, and, one being seventeen and the other eighteen, they
considered themselves women, who, had it not been for their unkind
stepmother, would have been out in society now instead of at school
grinding away at lessons and studies quite beneath them. Their talk and
their ideas were worldly and foolish too, and as they lacked the sense
and the good taste which might have checked them, they were anything but
improving to any girls they came in contact with.

Kitty had never liked either of the Kitson girls; they had nothing in
common, and everything Lettice and Maude did jarred on her. They seemed
to her silly and vulgar, and they did little petty, mean things, and
laughed and sneered at people in a way that hurt Kitty's feelings.
Yet now, so great was her nervous dread of the school and all the
strangers she would have to meet, she felt quite pleased that there
would be at least those two familiar faces amongst them. "And that will
show how much I dread it," she said miserably to Betty the night before.
"Think of my being glad to see the Kitsons!"

"Oh well," said Betty cheerfully, "they will be some one to speak to,
and they will tell us the ways of the school, so that we shan't look
silly standing about not knowing what to do. They won't let the others
treat us as they treat new girls sometimes either, and that will be a
good thing," which was Betty's chief dread in going to the school.

Anna expressed no opinion on the matter at all. She was more than
usually nervous and fidgety in her manner, but she said nothing; and
whether she greatly dreaded the ordeal, or was quite calmly indifferent
about it, no one could tell.

But the feelings of the three as they walked to the school that first
morning were curiously alike, yet unlike. All three were very nervous.
Kitty felt a longing, such as she could hardly resist, to rush away to
Wenmere Woods and never be heard of again. Betty was so determined that
no one should guess the state of tremor she was in, lest they should
take advantage of it and tease her, that she quite overdid her air of
calm indifference, and appeared almost rudely contemptuous. Anna,
though outwardly by far the most nervous of the three, had her plans
ready and her mind made up. She was not going to be put upon, and she
was not going to let any one get the better of her; at the same time she
was going to be popular; though how she was going to manage it all she
could not decide until she saw her fellow-pupils and had gathered
something of what they were like. In the meantime nothing escaped her
sharp eyes or ears. All that Kitty or Betty could tell her about the
school, or Miss Richards, or the girls, especially the Kitsons, she
drank in and stored up in her memory, and they would have been
astonished beyond measure could they have known how much her hasty
wandering glances told her, resting, as they did, apparently on nothing.

Before the first morning was over she knew that Helen Rawson was admired
but feared; that Joyce Pearse was the most popular girl in the school,
and had taken a dislike to herself, but liked Kitty and Betty; that
Netta Anderson was Miss Richards's favourite pupil, and that she herself
did not like Netta; and that Lettice Kitson was not very wise and not
very honourable, and that Maude was the same, but was the more clever of
the two.

To Betty the morning had been interesting, though alarming at times; to
Kitty it was all dreadful, and she went through it weighed down by a
gloomy despair at the thought that this was to go on day after day,
perhaps for years.

The most terrifying experience of all to her was the examination she had
to undergo to determine her position in the school. Anna was used to
it, so bore it better, and to Betty it was not so appalling, but to
Kitty it was the most awful ordeal she had ever experienced.
"Having teeth out is nothing to it," she said afterwards, and her relief
when it was over was so intense that she thought nothing about the
result, and was not at all concerned about the position assigned her,
until Anna came up to her brimming over with condolences, and apologies,
and scarcely concealed delight.

"O Katherine, I _am_ so sorry, but it _really_ wasn't my fault.
I didn't know I was doing so well, and - and that they would put me in
the same class as you! Of course I thought you would be ever so much
higher than me - being so much older."

Kitty had scarcely realized the fact before, certainly she had not been
shamed by it, but Anna's remarks and apologies roused her to a sudden
sense of mortification, and Anna's manner annoyed her greatly.

"Did you, really?" she said doubtingly. "Well," proudly, "don't worry
about it any more. If you don't mind, I don't," and she walked away
with her head in the air. "I can't understand Anna," she thought to
herself; "she pretends to be so fond of me, but I feel all the time that
she doesn't like me a bit really, and she will work night and day now to
get ahead of me." Which was exactly what Anna meant to do. "But," she
added, with determination, "I will show her that I can work too."
Which was what Anna had not expected; but for once she had overreached
herself, and in trying to humiliate Kitty she had given her the very
spur she needed, and so had done her one of the greatest possible

Betty, to her disgust and mortification, was placed in a lower class
altogether. She had not expected to be with Kitty, but she certainly
had not expected to be placed below Anna, and the blow was a great one.
"But I'll - I'll beat her," declared Betty hotly. "I will. I don't
believe she is so awfully, awfully clever as they say, and nobody knows
but what I may be clever too, only people haven't noticed it yet.
I am sure I feel as if I might be."

It was unfortunate, though, for the Trenire girls that Mrs. Pike had
settled all the arrangements for their going to "Hillside;" it was
unfortunate for them too that Miss Richards and Miss Melinda placed
unquestioning reliance on what was told them, and had no powers of
observation of their own, or failed to use them, for it meant to them
that they started unfairly handicapped. Miss Richards was warned that
she would find Dr. Trenire's daughters backward and badly taught, and
entirely unused to discipline or control. "Of course the poor dear
doctor had not been able to give them all the attention they needed, and
he was such a gentle, kind father, perhaps _too_ kind and gentle, which
made it rather trying for others. It was to be hoped that dear Miss
Richards would not find the children _too_ trying. She must be very
strict with them; it would, of course, be for their own good
eventually." "Dear Miss Richards" felt quite sure of that, and had no
doubt that she would be able to manage them. She had had much success
with girls. She was glad, though, to be warned that there was need of
special care - in fact, dear Lady Kitson had hinted at very much the same

So the paths of Katherine and Elizabeth were strewn with thorns and
stumbling-blocks from the outset, and, unfortunately, they were not the
girls to see and avoid them, or even guess they were there until they
fell over them.

Anna, having been brought up under her mother's eye, was, of course,
quite, quite different; Anna was really a credit to the care which had
been lavished on her. Miss Richards and Miss Melinda did not doubt it;
they declared that it was evident at the first glance, and acted
accordingly. Which was, no doubt, pleasant for Anna, but, on the
whole, turned out in the end worse for her than for her cousins.

Anna certainly had been well trained in one respect - she could learn her
home lessons and prepare her home work under any conditions, it seemed,
and she always did them well. Kitty had an idea, a very foolish one, of
course, that she could only work when alone and quiet, say in her
bedroom, or in the barn, or lying in the grass in the garden, or in the
woods. All of which was inelegant, unladylike, and nonsensical.
Kitty must get the better of such ideas at once, and must learn her
lessons as Anna did, sitting primly at the square table in the playroom.

Anna learnt her lessons by repeating them half aloud, and making a
hissing noise through her teeth all the time. The sound alone drove
Kitty nearly distracted, while the sitting up so primly to the table
seemed to destroy all her interest in the lesson and her power of
concentrating her mind on the study in hand.

"I can't learn in this way, Aunt Pike," she pleaded earnestly; "I can't
get on a bit. I dare say it is silly of me, but my own way doesn't do
any one any harm, and I can learn my lessons in half the time, and
remember them better."

"Katherine, do not argue with me, but do as I tell you. It is the right
way for a young lady to sit to her studies, and it will strengthen not
only your back-bone, but your character as well. You are sadly

So Kitty, irritated, sore, and chafing, struggled on once more with her
lessons. But to get her work done she had, after all, to take her books
to bed with her, and there, far into the night, and early in the
morning, she struggled bravely not only to learn, but to learn how to
learn, which is one of the greatest difficulties of all to those who
have grown up drinking in their knowledge not according to school

Nothing but her determination not to let Anna outstrip her could have
made her persevere as she did at this time, and she got on well until
Anna, whether consciously or unconsciously she alone knew, interfered to
stop her.

"Mother! mother!" Anna in a straight, plain dressing-gown, her hair in
two long plaits down her back, tapped softly in the dead of night at her
mother's door, and in a blood-curdling whisper called her name through
the keyhole.

Mrs. Pike roused and alarmed, flew at once at her daughter's summons.
"What is the matter? Are you ill? I thought you were drinking rather
much lemonade. Jump into my bed, and I will - "

"No, it isn't me, mother, I am all right; it's - it's the girls. I saw a
light shining under their door, and I was so frightened. Do you think
it's a fire?"

Considering the awfulness of that which she feared, Anna was curiously
deliberate and calm. It did not seem to have struck her that her wisest
course would have been to have first rushed in and roused her cousins,
and have given them at least a chance of escape from burning or
suffocation. Now, too, instead of running with her mother to their
help, she crept into the bed and lay down, apparently overcome with
terror, though with her ears very much on the alert for any sounds which
might reach them. Perhaps she shrank from the sight that might meet
her eyes when the door was opened.

Mrs. Pike, far more agitated than her daughter, without waiting to hear
any more, rushed along the corridor and up the stairs to the upper
landing where all the children's rooms were, and flinging herself on
Kitty's door, had burst it open before either Betty or Kitty could
realize what was happening. Betty, seriously frightened, sprang up in
her bed with a shriek. Kitty dropped her book hurriedly and sprang out
on the floor.

"What is the matter?" she cried, filled with an awful fear. "Who is
ill? Father? Tony?" But at the violent change in her aunt's
expression from alarm to anger her words died on her lips.

"How dare you! How dare you! You wicked, disobedient, daring girl,
setting the place on fire and risking our lives, and wasting candles,
and - and you know I do not allow reading in bed."

"I wasn't reading," stammered Kitty - "I mean, not stories. I was only
learning my lessons. I _must_ learn them somehow, and I can't - I really
can't - learn them downstairs, Aunt Pike, with Anna whistling and hissing
all the time; it is no use. I have tried and tried, and I _must_ know
them. I wasn't setting the place on fire; it is quite safe. I had
stood the candle-stick in a basin. I always do."

"Always do! Do you mean to say that you are in the habit of reading in

"Yes," said Kitty honestly, "we always have. Father does too."

"Even after you knew I did not allow it?" cried Aunt Pike, ignoring
Kitty's reference to her father.

"I didn't know you didn't allow it," said Kitty doggedly. "I had never
heard you say anything about it; and as father did it, I didn't think
there was any harm."

"No harm! no harm to frighten poor Anna so that she flew from her bed
and came rushing through the dark house to me quite white and trembling.
She was afraid your room was on fire, and was dreadfully frightened of
course. She will probably feel the ill effects of the shock for some

Betty, having got over her fright, had been sitting up in bed all this
time embracing her knees. When Anna's name was mentioned her eyes began
to sparkle. "If Anna had come in here first to see, she needn't have
trembled or been frightened," she remarked shrewdly.

"Anna naturally ran to her mother," said Mrs. Pike sharply.

"Anna naturally ran to sneak," said Betty to herself, "and I don't
believe she really thought there was a fire at all, and I'll tell her so
when I get her by herself." Aloud she said, "I wonder what made her get
out of bed and look under our door. She couldn't have smelt fire, for
of course there wasn't any to smell."

"Be quiet, Elizabeth. - Remember, Katherine," her aunt went on, turning
to her, "that if ever I hear of or see any behaviour of this kind again,
I shall have you to sleep in my room, and put Anna in here with
Elizabeth." Which was a threat so full of horror to both the girls that
they subsided speechless.

"I think," whispered Betty, as soon as their aunt's footsteps had ceased
to sound - "no, I don't think, I know that Anna is the _very meanest_
sneak I ever met."

"I hope I shall never know a meaner," groaned Kitty; "but I - I won't be
beaten by her. I won't! I won't!"

"And I'll beat her too," snapped Betty.

"I am ashamed that she is a relation," said Kitty in hot disgust.

"She isn't a real one," said Betty scornfully, "and for the future I
shan't count her one at all. We won't own such a mean thing in the

"I wonder why she is so horrid," sighed Kitty, who was more distressed
by these things than was Betty. "We never did her any harm.
Perhaps she can't help it. It must be awful to be mean, and a sneak,
and to feel you can't help it."

"Why doesn't Aunt Pike teach her better? She is always telling us what
to do, and that it is good for us to try and be different, and - and all
that sort of thing."

"But Aunt Pike wouldn't believe that Anna is mean; she thinks she is
perfection," said Kitty.

"Oh, well, I s'pose a jewel's a duck in a toad's eye," misquoted Betty
complacently; "at least, that is what Fanny said, and I think she is
right. Fanny often is."

When they met the next day Betty gave her cousin another shock, perhaps
more severe than the one she had had during the night, for frankness
always shocked Anna Pike.

"I do think, Anna," she said gravely, "it is a pity you let yourself do
such mean things. Of course you didn't really think our room was on
fire last night, and every one but Aunt Pike knows you were only
sneaking. If you go on like that, you won't be able to stop yourself
when you want to, and nobody will ever like you."

Anna's little restless eyes grew hard and unpleasant-looking. "I have
more friends than you have, or Kitty either," she retorted, "and I am
ever so much more friendly with the girls at school than you are."
A remark which stung Miss Betty sharply, for though she did not like
either Lettice or Maude Kitson, she resented the way in which they had
gone over to Anna, with whom Lettice in particular had struck up a
violent friendship - the sort of friendship which requires secret
signals, long whisperings in corners, the passing of many surreptitious
notes, and is particularly aggravating to all lookers-on.

Kitty saw it all too, of course, but instead of feeling annoyed as Betty
did by it, she felt a sense of relief that Anna had ceased to be her
shadow, and had attached herself to some one else.

"If Anna isn't sorry some day for being so chummy with Lettice," said
Betty seriously, "Lettice will be for being so chummy with Anna."
But Kitty could not see that. She did not care for Lettice, but it
never occurred to her that her behaviour was worse than foolish, or that
she should warn Anna against the friendship. Not that it would have
done any good, probably, if she had.

It might have been better for them all, though, if Kitty had been more
suspicious and alert, for she might then have seen what was happening,
and perhaps have avoided the catastrophe to which they were all
hastening. But, of course, if you have no suspicions of people, you
cannot be on your guard against something that you do not know exists;
and Kitty suspected nothing, not even when Betty came home one day with
an unpleasant tale of foolishness to tell.

"I won't walk home with Anna any more," she cried hotly. "She asks me
to go with her, and then tries to get rid of me. I know why she wanted
to, though: she had a letter to post and didn't want me to see it.
I suppose," indignantly, "she thought I would try to read the address,
or would sneak about it!"

"You must have made a mistake," said Kitty. "It is too silly to think
she should want to get rid of you while she posted a letter.
Why shouldn't she post one? I don't see anything in it."

"Well, _I_ do," said Betty solemnly. "To tell you isn't really
sneaking, is it? Anna posts letters for Lettice Kitson - letters to
people she isn't allowed to write to - and she takes letters to her.
She does really, Kitty, and I think Anna ought to be spoken to.
Lettice was nearly expelled from her last school for the same thing.
Violet told me so."

"Nonsense," cried Kitty scornfully. "I believe the girls make up
stories, and you shouldn't listen to them, Betty; it is horrid."

"I am sure Violet wouldn't make up stories," said Betty; "and if Lettice
does such things, Anna ought not to help her. You should stop her,
Kitty. Tell her we won't have it."

"O Betty, don't talk so. Don't tell me any more that I ought to do.
It seems to me I ought to do everything that is horrid! And why should
I look after Anna? She never takes any notice of what I say; and after
all it is nothing very bad - nothing to make a fuss about, I mean.
I haven't seen anything myself."

"Well, _I_ think it is a good deal more than nothing," said Betty
gravely; "and I wish you would see, Kitty, I wish you would notice
things more."

"But what good could I do? What can I say?" cried Kitty distractedly,
growing really distressed.

"Say? Oh, say that we won't stand it, and let her see that we won't,"
said Betty. "We ought to be able to do that."



Only a few days later Kitty's eyes were opened for her, and opened
violently. Autumn had come on apace. The days were short now, and the
evenings long and dark. Already the girls were counting that there were
only five or six weeks before Dan came home; and at school there was
much talk of the break-up party, and the tableaux which were to be the
chief feature of the festivity this year. Kitty was to take part in one
tableau at least. She was to be Enid in one of her dearly loved
Arthurian legends - Enid, where, clad in her faded gown, she met Queen
Guinevere for the first time, who,

"descending, met them at the gates,
Embraced her with all welcome as a friend,
And did her honour as the prince's bride."

And Kitty was to wear a wig such as she had always longed for, with
golden plaits reaching to her knees, and she was almost beside herself
with joy.

On the evening that the storm broke, she, little dreaming of what was
coming, was doing her home work and taking occasional dips into her
volume of Tennyson. Betty had finished her home lessons and was curled
up in a chair reading. Anna was not in the room; in fact, she had left
it almost as soon as they had settled down to their work after tea as
usual. It was now nearly supper-time.

Mrs. Pike was absent at a Shakespeare reading. Dr. Trenire had been out
all day, a long round over bleak country, and had not been home more
than an hour. Kitty had heard him come, and had longed - as she had
never longed in the days when she was free to do as she liked - to go and
superintend his meal, and hear all about his day. But she knew what a
to-do there would be if she did not stay where she was and do her
lessons, and she had just lost herself again in the story of "Enid,"
when, to her surprise, she heard her father's footsteps coming along the
passage and stopping at the door of the school-room. She was even more
surprised when, on opening the door, he said very quietly and gravely,
"Kitty, will you come to me in my study at once? I wish to speak to

She had looked up with a smile, but the expression on her father's face
caused her smile to die away, and left her perplexed and troubled.

"What was it? Was Dan in trouble - or ill - or - or what had happened?"

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Online LibraryMabel Quiller-CouchKitty Trenire → online text (page 8 of 18)