L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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comfort, or would you like me to sit with you for a little?"

"Oh, thanks so much!" replied Betty; "but I really would rather be
alone. I have a good deal to think over."

"I am afraid, my dear child, you are not very well."

"On the contrary, I never was better," was Betty's response.

"Your headache quite gone?"

"Quite," said Betty with an emphatic nod.

"Well, dear, I am sorry you have had to undergo this unpleasant time of
solitary confinement. But our dear Mrs. Haddo is not really angry; she
knows quite well that you did not consider. She takes the deepest
interest in you, Betty, my child."

"Oh, don't speak of her now, please!" said Betty with a sort of groan.
"I would rather be alone."

"Haven't you a book of any sort? I will go and fetch one for you; and
you can turn on the electric light when it gets dark."

"If you have something really interesting - that will make me forget
everything in the world except what I am reading - I should like it."

Miss Symes went away, and returned in a few minutes with "Treasure
Island." Strange as it may seem, Betty had not yet read this wonderful
book.

Without glancing at the girl, Miss Symes again left the room. In the
corridor she met Fanny Crawford. "Fanny," she said, "do you know what is
the matter with Betty Vivian?"

Fanny smiled. "I have been to see her," she said. "Is she in bad
spirits? It didn't occur to me that she was."

"Oh, you have been to see her, have you?"

"Yes, only a short time ago. She looked very cold when I entered the
room; but I took the liberty to light the fire, and sat with her until
suddenly she got cross and turned me out. She is a very queer girl is
Betty."

"A very fine girl, my dear!"

Fanny made no response of any sort. She waited respectfully in case Miss
Symes should wish to say anything further. But Miss Symes had nothing
more to say; she only guessed that the change between the Betty in whom
Mrs. Haddo had been so interested, and the Betty she had found, must be
caused in some inexplicable way by Fanny Crawford. What was the matter
with Fanny? It seemed to Miss Symes that, since the day when she had
taken the girl into her full confidence with regard to the coming of the
Vivians, she was changed, and not for the better. There was a coldness,
an impatience, a want of spontaneity about her, which the teacher's
observant eye noticed, but, being in the dark as to the cause, could not
account for.

Meanwhile Betty ate her tea ravenously, and when it was finished turned
on the electric light and read "Treasure Island." This book was so
fascinating that she forgot everything else in its perusal: the sealed
packet in its safe hiding-place, the Specialities themselves, the odious
Fanny Crawford, Rule I. - everything was forgotten. Presently she raised
her head with a start. It was half-past seven. Olive Repton was coming
to fetch her at five minutes to eight, when the Specialities were all
expected to assemble in Susie Rushworth's room.

Betty put on a black dress that evening. It was made of a soft and
clinging material, and was sufficiently open at the neck to show the
rounded purity of the young girl's throat, and short in the sleeves to
exhibit the moldings of her arms. She was a beautifully made creature,
and black suited her almost better than white. Her curiously pale
face - which never had color, and yet never showed the slightest
indication of weak health - was paler than usual to-night; but her eyes
were darker and brighter, and there was a determination about her which
slightly altered the character of her expression.

The twins came rushing in at ten minutes to eight.

"Oh, Bet, you are ready!" exclaimed Sylvia. "You are going to become a
real Speciality! What glorious fun! How honored we'll be! I suppose you
won't let us into any of the secrets?"

"Of course not, silly Sylvia!" replied Betty, smiling again at sight of
her sisters. "But I tell you what," she added; "if you both happen to be
awake when I come back, which I think very doubtful, I am going to tell
you what happened this morning - something too wonderful. Don't be too
excited about it, for it will keep until to-morrow; but think that I had
a marvelous adventure, and, oh, my dears, it had to do with dogs!"

"Dogs!" cried both twins simultaneously.

"Yes, such glorious darlings! Oh, I've no time now - I must be off!
Good-bye, both of you. Go to sleep if you like; I can tell you
everything in the morning."

"I think we'll lie awake if it has anything to do with dogs," said
Hetty. "We have been starving for them ever since we came here."

But Betty was gone. Olive took her hand. "Betty," she said as they
walked very quickly towards the other wing of the house, "I like you
better in black than in white. Black seems to bring out the
wonderful - oh, I don't know what to call it! - the wonderful difference
between you and other people."

"Don't talk about me now," said Betty. "I am only one, and we shall be
seven in a very short time. Seven in one! Isn't it curious? A sort of
body composed of seven people!"

"There'll be eight before long. The Specialities are going to be the
most important people this term, that I am quite sure of," said Olive.
"Well, here's Susie's room, and it wants two minutes to eight."

Susie greeted her guests with much cordiality. They all found seats.
Supper was laid on a round table in one corner of the room. Olive, being
an old member, was quite at home, and handed round cups of cocoa and
delicious cakes to each of the girls. They ate and chatted, and when
Martha West made her appearance there was a shout of welcome from every
one.

"Hail to the new Speciality!" exclaimed each girl in the room, Betty
Vivian alone excepted.

Martha was a heavily made girl, with a big, sallow face; quantities of
black hair, which grew low on her forehead, and which, as no effort on
her part would keep it from falling down on one side, gave her a
somewhat untidy appearance; she had heavy brows, too, which were in
keeping with the general contour of her face, and rather small gray
eyes. There was no one, however, in the whole school who was better
loved than Martha West. Big and ungainly though she was, her voice was
one of the sweetest imaginable. She had also great force of character,
and was regarded as one of the strong girls of the school. She was
always helping others, was the soul of unselfishness, and although not
exactly clever, was plodding and persevering. She was absolutely without
self-consciousness; and when her companions welcomed her in this cheery
manner she smiled broadly, showing a row of pearly white teeth, and then
sat down on the nearest chair.

When supper was over, Margaret Grant came forward and stood by the
little center-table, on which lay the vellum-bound book of the rules of
the club. Margaret opened it with great solemnity, and called to Betty
Vivian to stand up.

"Betty Vivian," she said, "we agreed a week ago to-day to admit you to
the full membership of a Speciality. According to our usual custom, we
sent you a copy of the rules in order that you might study them in their
fullness. We now ask you if you have done so?"

"I have," replied Betty. "I have read them, I should think, thirty or
forty times."

"Are you prepared, Betty Vivian, to accept our rules and become a member
of the Specialities, or do you prefer your full liberty and to return to
the ordinary routine of the school? We, none of us, wish you to adopt
the rules as part of your daily life unless you are prepared to keep
them in their entirety."

"I wish to be a Speciality," replied Betty. Then she added slowly - and
as she spoke she raised her brilliant eyes and fixed them on Fanny
Crawford's face - "I am prepared to keep the rules."

"Thank you, Betty! Then I think, members, Betty Vivian can be admitted
as a member of our little society. Betty, simple as our rules are, they
comprise much: openness of heart, sisterly love, converse with great
thoughts, pleasure in its truest sense (carrying that pleasure still
further by seeing that others enjoy it as well as ourselves), respect to
all our teachers, and, above all things, forgetting ourselves and living
for others. You see, Betty Vivian, that though the rules are quite
simple, they are very comprehensive. You have had a week to study them.
Again I ask, are you prepared to accept them?"

"Yes, I am prepared," said Betty; and again she flashed a glance at
Fanny Crawford.

"Then I, as head of this little society for the time being, admit you as
a member. Please, Betty, accept this little true-lovers' knot, and wear
it this evening in your dress. Now, girls, let us every one cheer Betty
Vivian, and take her to our hearts as our true sister in the highest
sense of the word."

The girls flocked round Betty and shook hands with her. Amongst those
who did so was Fanny Crawford. She squeezed Betty's hand significantly,
and at the same moment put her finger to her lips. This action was so
quick that only Betty observed it; but it told the girl that, now that
she had "crossed the Rubicon," Fanny would not be the one to betray her.

Betty sank down on a chair. She felt excited, elated, pleased, and
horrified. The rest of the evening passed as a sort of dream. She could
scarcely comprehend what she had done. She was a Speciality. She was
bound by great and holy rules, and yet in reality she was a far lower
girl than she had ever been in all her life before.

The rules were read aloud in their fullness to Martha West, and the
usual week's grace was accorded her. Then followed the fun, during the
whole of which time Betty was made the heroine of the occasion, as
Martha would doubtless be that day week. The girls chatted a great deal
to-night, and Betty was told of all the privileges which would now be
hers. She had never known until that moment that Mrs. Haddo, when she
found what excellent work the Speciality Club did in the school, had
fitted up a charming sitting-room for its members. Here, in winter, the
fire burned all day. Fresh flowers were always to be seen. Here were to
be found such books as those of Ruskin, Tennyson, Browning - in short, a
fine collection of the greater writers. Betty was told that she was now
free to enter this room; that, being a Speciality, she would be exempt
from certain small and irksome duties in order to give her more time to
attend to those broad rules of life which she had now adopted as her
code.

Betty listened, and all the time, as she listened, her heart sank lower
and lower. Fanny did not even pretend to watch Betty now. She had, so to
speak, done with her. Fanny felt as sure as though some angel in the
room were recording the fact that Betty was now well started on the
downward track. She felt ashamed of her as a cousin. She felt the
greatest possible contempt for her. But if she was herself to keep Rule
I., she must force these feelings out of sight, and tolerate Betty until
she saw the error of her ways.

"The less I have to do with her in the future the better," thought
Fanny. "It would be exceedingly unpleasant for me if it were known that
I had allowed her to be admitted without telling Margaret what I knew.
But, somehow, I couldn't do it. I thought Betty herself would be great
enough to withstand a paltry temptation of this sort. How different
Martha West is! She will be a famous stand-by for us all."

The evening came to an end. The girls went down to prayers.

Betty was now a Speciality. She wore the beautiful little silver badge
shining in the folds of her black evening frock. But she did not enjoy
the music in the chapel nor Mr. Fairfax's rendering of the evening
prayers as she had done when last she was there. Betty had a curious
faculty, however, which she now exercised. Hers was a somewhat complex
nature, and she could shut away unpleasant thoughts when she so desired.
She was a Speciality. She might not have become one but for Fanny. Mrs.
Haddo's influence, though unspoken, might have held her back. Margaret
Grant might have kept her from doing what she herself would have
scorned to do. But Fanny! Fanny had managed to bring out the worst in
Betty; and the worst in a character like hers was very vigorous, very
strong, very determined while it was in the ascendant. Instead of
praying to-night, she turned her thoughts to the various and delightful
things which would now be hers in the school. She would be regarded on
all hands with added respect. She would have the entrée to the
Specialities' delightful sitting-room. She would be consulted by the
other girls of the upper school, for every one consulted the
Specialities on all manner of subjects. People would cease to speak of
her as "that new girl Betty Vivian;" but they would say when they saw
her approach, "Oh, she is one of the Specialities!" Her position in the
school to-night was assured. She was safe; and Fanny, with that swift
gesture, had indicated to her that she need not fear anything from her
lips. Fanny would be silent. No one else knew what Fanny knew. And,
after all, she had done no wrong, because her secret had nothing
whatever to do with the other members of the club. The wrong - the one
wrong - which she felt she had committed was in promising to love each
member as though she were her sister, especially as she had to include
Fanny Crawford in that number. But she would be kind to all, and perhaps
love might come - she was not sure. Fanny would be kind to her, of
course. In a sort of way they must be friends in the future. Oh, yes, it
was all right.

She was startled when Olive Repton touched her. She rose from her knees
with a hot blush on her face. She had forgotten chapel, she had not
heard the words of the benediction. The girls streamed out, and went at
once to their respective bedrooms.

Betty was glad to find her sisters asleep. After the exciting events of
that evening, even Dan and Beersheba had lost their charm. So weary was
she at that moment that she dropped her head on her pillow and fell
sound asleep.




CHAPTER XI

A SPECIALITY ENTERTAINMENT


Certainly it was nice to be a Speciality. Even Fanny Crawford completely
altered her manner to Betty Vivian. There were constant and earnest
consultations amongst the members of the club in that charming
sitting-room. Betty, of course, was eagerly questioned, and Betty was
able to give daring and original advice. Whenever Betty spoke some one
laughed, or some one looked with admiration at her; and when she was
silent one or other of the girls said anxiously, "But do you approve,
Betty? If you don't approve we must think out something else."

Betty soon entered into the full spirit of the thing, and one and all of
the girls - Fanny excepted - said that she was the most delightful
Speciality who had ever come to Haddo Court. During this time she was
bravely trying to keep her vows. She had bought a little copy of Jeremy
Taylor's "Holy Living," and read the required portion every day, but she
did not like it; it had to do with a life which at one time she would
have adored, but which now did not appeal to her. She liked that part of
each day which was given up to fun and frolic, and she dearly loved the
respect and consideration and admiration shown her by the other girls of
the school.

It was soon decided that the next great entertainment of the
Specialities was to be given in Betty Vivian's bedroom. Each girl was to
subscribe three shillings, and the supper, in consequence, was to be
quite sumptuous. Fanny Crawford, as the most practical member, was to
provide the viands. She was to go into the village, accompanied by one
of the teachers, two days before the date arranged in order to secure
the most tempting cakes and pastry, and ginger-beer, and cocoa, and
potted meat for sandwiches. Betty wondered how the provisions could be
procured for so small a sum; but Fanny was by no means doubtful.

Now, Betty had of worldly wealth the exact sum of two pounds ten
shillings; and when it is said that Betty possessed two pounds ten
shillings, this money was really not Betty's at all, but had to be
divided into three portions, for it was equally her sisters'. But as
Sylvia and Hester always looked upon Betty as their chief, and as
nothing mattered to them provided Betty was pleased, she gave three
shillings from this minute fund without even telling them that she had
done so. Then the invitations were sent round, and very neatly were they
penned by Susie Rushworth and Olive Repton. It was impossible to ask all
the girls of the school; but a select list from the girls in the upper
school was carefully made, each Speciality being consulted on this
point.

Martha West, who was now a full-blown member, suggested Sibyl Ray at
once.

Fanny gave a little frown of disapproval. "Martha," she said, "I must
say that I don't care for your Sibyl."

"And I like her," replied Martha. "She is not your style, Fan; but she
just needs the sort of little help we can give her. We cannot expect
every one to be exactly like every one else, and Sibyl is not half bad.
It would hurt her frightfully if she were not invited to the first
entertainment after I have become a Speciality."

"Well, that settles it," said Fanny in a cheerful tone; "she gets an
invitation of course."

The teachers were never invited to these assemblies, but there was a
murmur of anticipation in the whole school when the invitations went
round. Who were to be the lucky ones? Who was to go? Who was not to go?
As a rule, it was so managed by the Specialities that the whole of the
upper school was invited once during the term to a delightful evening in
one of the special bedrooms. But the first invitation of the season - the
one after the admission of two new members, that extraordinary Betty
Vivian and dear, good old Martha West - oh, it was of intense interest to
know who were to go and who to stay behind!

"I've got my invitation," said a fat young girl of the name of Sarah
Butt.

"And I," "And I," "And I," said others.

"I am left out," said a fifth.

"Well, Janie, don't fret," said Sarah Butt; "your turn will come next
time."

"But I did so want to see Betty Vivian! They say she is the life of the
whole club."

"Silly!" exclaimed Sarah; "why, you see her every day."

"Yes, but not as she is in the club. They all say that she is too
wonderful! Sometimes she sits down cross-legged and tells them stories,
and they get so excited they can't move. Oh, I say, do - do look! look
what is in the corner of your card, Sarah! 'After supper, story-telling
by Betty Vivian. Most of the lights down.' There, isn't it maddening! I
do call it a shame; they might have asked me!"

"Well, I will tell you all the stories to-morrow," said Sarah.

"You!" The voice was one of scorn. "Why, you can't tell a story to save
your life; whereas Betty, she looks a story herself all the time. She
has it in her face. I can never take my eyes off her when she is in the
room."

"Well, I can't help it," answered Sarah. "I am glad I'm going, that is
all. The whole school could not be asked, for the simple reason that the
room wouldn't hold us. I shall be as green as grass when your invitation
comes, and now you must bear your present disappointment."

Fanny Crawford made successful and admirable purchases. On the nights
when the Specialities entertained, unless it was midsummer, the girls
met at six-thirty, and the entertainment continued until nine.

On that special evening Mrs. Haddo, for wise reasons all her own,
excused the Specialities and their guests from attending prayers in the
chapel. She had once made a little speech about this. "You will pray
earnestly in your rooms, dears, and thank God for your happy evening,"
she had said; and from that moment the Specialities knew that they might
continue their enjoyment until nine o'clock.

Oh, it was all fascinating! Betty was very grave. Her high spirits
deserted her that morning, and she went boldly to Mrs. Haddo - a thing
which few girls dared to do.

Mrs. Haddo was seated by her fire. She was reading a new book which had
just been sent to her by post. "Betty, what do you want?" she said when
the girl entered.

"May I take a very long walk all alone? Do you mind, Mrs. Haddo?"

"Anywhere you like, dear, provided you do not leave the grounds."

"But I want to leave the grounds, Mrs. Haddo."

"No, dear Betty - not alone."

Betty avoided the gaze of Mrs. Haddo, who looked up at her. Betty's
brilliant eyes were lowered, and the black, curling lashes lay on her
cheeks.

Mrs. Haddo wanted to catch Betty's soul by means of her eyes, and so
draw her into communion with herself. "Betty, why do you want to walk
outside the grounds, and all alone?"

"Restless, I suppose," answered Betty.

"Is this club too exciting for you, my child?"

"Oh no, I love it!" said Betty. Her manner changed at the moment. "And,
please, don't take my hand. I - oh, it isn't that I don't want to hold
your hand; but I - I am not worthy! Of course I will stay in the grounds
to please you. Good-bye."




CHAPTER XII

A VERY EVENTFUL DAY


Having got leave to take her walk, Betty started off with vigor. The
fresh, keen air soothed her depressed spirits; and soon she was racing
wildly against the gale, the late autumn leaves falling against her
dress and face as she ran. She would certainly keep her word to Mrs.
Haddo, although her desire - if she had a very keen desire at that
moment - was again to vault over those hideous prison-bars, and reach the
farm, and receive the caresses of Dan and Beersheba. But a promise is a
promise, and this could not be thought of. She determined, therefore, to
tire herself out by walking.

She had managed to avoid all her companions. The Specialities were very
much occupied making arrangements for the evening. The twins had found
friends of their own, and were happily engaged. No one noticed Betty as
she set forth. She walked as far as the deserted gardens. Then she
crossed the waste land, and stood for a minute looking at that poor
semblance of Scotch heather which grew in an exposed corner. She felt
inclined to kick it, so great was her contempt for the flower which
could not bloom out of its native soil. Then suddenly her mood changed.
She fell on her knees, found a bit of heather which still had a few
nearly withered bells on it; and, raising it tenderly to her lips,
kissed it. "Poor little exile!" she said. "Well, I am an exile too!"

She rose and skirted the waste land; at one side there was a somewhat
steep incline which led through a plantation to a more cultivated part
of the extensive grounds. Betty had never been right round the grounds
of Haddo Court before, and was pleased at their size, and, on a day like
this, at their wildness. She tried to picture herself back in Scotland.
Once she shut her eyes for a minute, and bringing her vivid imagination
to her aid, seemed to see Donald Macfarlane and Jean Macfarlane in their
cosy kitchen; while Donald said, "It'll be a braw day to-morrow;" or
perhaps it was the other way round, and Jean remarked, "There'll be a
guid sprinklin' o' snaw before mornin', or I am much mistook."

Betty sighed, and walked faster. By-and-by, however, she stood still.
She had come suddenly to the stump of an old tree. It was a broken and
very aged stump, and hollow inside. Betty stood close to it. The next
moment, prompted by an uncontrollable instinct, she thrust in her hand
and pulled out a little sealed packet. She looked at it wildly for a
minute, then put it back again. It was quite safe in this hiding-place,
for she had placed it in a corner of the old stump where it was
sheltered from the weather, and yet could never by any possibility be
seen unless the stump was cut down. She had scarcely completed this
action before a voice from behind caused her to jump and start.

"Whatever are you doing by that old stump of a tree, Betty?"

Betty turned swiftly. The color rushed to her face, leaving it the next
instant paler than ever. She was confronted by the uninteresting and
very small personality of Sibyl Ray.

"I am doing nothing," said Betty. "What affair is it of yours?"

"Oh, I am not interested," said Sibyl. "I was just taking a walk all
alone, and I saw you in the distance; and I rushed up that steep path
yonder as fast as I could, hoping you would let me join you and talk to
you. You know I am going to be present at your Speciality party
to-night. I do admire you so very much, Betty! Then, just as I was
coming near, you thrust your hand down into that old stump, and you
certainly did take something out. Was it a piece of wood, or what? I saw


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 10 of 22)