L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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you looking at it, and then you dropped it in again. It looked like a
square piece of wood, as far as I could tell from the distance. What
were you doing with it? It was wood, was it not?"

"If you like to think it was wood, it was wood," replied Betty. Here was
another lie! Betty's heart sank very low. "I wish you would go away,
Sibyl," she said, "and not worry me."

"Oh, but mayn't I walk with you? What harm can I do? And I do admire you
so immensely! And won't you take the thing out of the tree again and let
me see it? I want to see it ever so badly."

"No, I am sure I won't. You can poke for it yourself whenever you
please," said Betty. "Now, come on, if you are coming."

"Oh, may I come with you really?"

"I can't prevent you, Sibyl. As a matter of fact, I was going out for a
walk all alone; but as you are determined to bear me company, you must."

Betty felt seriously alarmed. She must take the first possible
opportunity to get the precious packet out of its present hiding-place
and dispose of it elsewhere. But where? That was the puzzle. And how
soon could she manage this? How quickly could she get rid of Sibyl Ray?

Sibyl's small, pale-blue eyes were glittering with curiosity. Betty felt
she must manage her. Then suddenly, by one of those quick transitions of
thought, Rule VI. occurred to her. It was her duty to be kind to Sibyl,
even though she did not like her. She would, therefore, now put forth
her charm for the benefit of this small, unattractive girl. She
accordingly began to chatter in her wildest and most fascinating way.
Sibyl was instantly convulsed with laughter, and forgot all about the
old stump of tree and the bit of wood that Betty had fished out, looked
at, and put back again. The whole matter would, of course, recur to
Sibyl by-and by; but at present she was absorbed in the great delight of
Betty's conversation.

"Oh, Betty, I do admire you!" she said.

"Well, now, listen to one thing," said Betty. "I hate flattery."

"But it isn't flattery if I mean what I say. If I do admire a person I
say so. Now, I admire our darling Martha West. She has always been kind
to me. Martha is a dear, a duck; but, of course, she doesn't fascinate
in the way you do. Several of the other girls in my form - I'm in the
upper fifth, you know - have been talking about you and wondering where
your charm lay. For you couldn't be called exactly pretty; although, of
course, that very black hair of yours, and those curious eyes which are
no color in particular, and yet seem to be every color, and your pale
face, make you quite out of the common. We love your sisters too; they
are darlings, but neither of them is like you. Still, you're not exactly
pretty. You haven't nearly such straight and regular features as Olive
Repton; you're not as pretty, even, as Fanny Crawford. Of course Fan's a
dear old thing - one of the very best girls in the school; and she is
your cousin, isn't she, Betty?"

"Yes."

"Betty, it is delightful to walk with you! And isn't it just wonderful
to think that you've not been more than a few weeks in the school before
you are made a Speciality, and with all the advantages of one? Oh, it
does seem quite too wonderful!"

"I am glad you think so," said Betty.

"But it is very extraordinary. I don't think it has ever been done
before. You see, your arrival at the school and everything else was
completely out of the common. You didn't come at the beginning of term,
as most new girls do; you came when term was quite a fortnight old; and
you were put straight away into the upper school without going through
the drudgery, or whatever you may like to call it, of the lower school.
Oh, I do - yes, I do - call it perfectly wonderful! I suppose you are
eaten up with conceit?"

"No, I am not," said Betty. "I am not conceited at all. Now listen,
Sibyl. You are to be a guest, are you not, at our Speciality party
to-night?"

"Of course I am; and I am so fearfully excited, more particularly as you
are going to tell stories with the lights down. I'm going to wear a
green dress; it's a gauzy sort of stuff that my aunt has just sent me,
and I think it will suit me very well indeed. Oh, it is fun to think of
this evening!"

"Yes, of course it's fun," said Betty. "Now, I tell you what. Why don't
you go into the front garden and ask the gardener for permission to get
a few small marguerite daisies, and then make them into a very simple
wreath to twine round your hair? The daisies would suit you so well; you
don't know how nice they'll make you look."

"Will they?" said Sibyl, her eyes sparkling. "Do you really think so?"

"Of course I think so. I have pictures of all the girls in my mind; and
I often shut my eyes and think how such a girl would look if she were
dressed in such a way, and how such another girl would look if she wore
something else."

"And when you think of me?" said Sibyl.

But Betty had never thought of Sibyl. She was silent.

"And when you think of me?" repeated Sibyl, her face beaming all over
with delight. "You think of me, do you, darling Betty, as wearing green,
with a wreath of marguerites in my hair?"

"Yes, that is how I think of you," said Betty.

"Very well, I'll go and find the gardener. Mrs. Haddo always allows us
to have cut flowers that the gardener gives us."

"Don't have the wreath too big," said Betty; "and be sure you get the
gardener to choose small marguerites. Now, be off - won't you? - for I
want to continue my walk."

Sibyl, in wild delight, rushed into one of the flower-gardens. Betty
watched her till she was quite out of sight. Then, quick as thought, she
retraced her steps. She must find another hiding-place for the packet.
With Sibyl's knowledge, her present position was one of absolute danger.
Sibyl would tell every girl she knew all about Betty's action when she
stood by the broken stump of the old tree. She would describe how Betty
thrust in her hand and took something out, looked at it, and put it back
again. The girls would go in a body, and poke, and examine, and try to
discover for themselves what Betty had taken out of the trunk of the old
oak-tree. Betty must remove the sealed packet at once, or it would be
discovered.

"What a horrible danger!" thought the girl. "But I am equal to it."

She ran with all her might and main, and presently, reaching the tree,
thrust her hand in, found the brown packet carefully tied up and sealed,
and slipped it into her pocket. Quite close by was a little broken
square of wood. Betty, hating herself for doing so, dropped it into the
hollow of the tree. The bit of wood would satisfy the girls, for Sibyl
had said that Betty had doubtless found some wood. Having done this, she
set off to retrace her steps again, going now in the direction of the
deserted gardens and the patch of common. She had no spade with her,
but that did not matter. She went to the corner where the heather was
growing. Very carefully working round a piece with her fingers, she
loosened the roots; they had gone deep down, as is the fashion with
heather. She slipped the packet underneath, replaced the heather, kissed
it, said, "I am sorry to disturb you, darling, but you are doing a great
work now;" and then, wiping the mud from her fingers, she walked slowly
home.

The packet would certainly be safe for a day or two under the Scotch
heather, which, as a matter of fact, no one thought of interfering with
from one end of the year to another. Before Betty left this corner of
the common she took great care to remove all trace of having disturbed
the heather. Then she walked back to the Court, her heart beating high.
The tension within her was so great as to be almost unendurable. But she
would not swerve from the path she had chosen.

On the occasion of the Specialities' first entertainment, Betty Vivian,
by request, wore white. Her sisters, who of course would be amongst the
guests, also wore white. The little beds had been removed to a distant
part of the room, where a screen was placed round them. All the toilet
apparatus was put out of sight. Easy-chairs and elegant bits of
furniture were brought from the other rooms. Margaret Grant lent her own
lovely vases, which were filled with flowers from the gardens. The
beautiful big room looked fresh and fragrant when the Specialities
assembled to welcome their guests. Betty stood behind Margaret. Martha
West - a little ungainly as usual, but with her strong, firm, reliable
face looking even stronger and more reliable since she had joined the
great club of the school - was also in evidence. Fanny Crawford stood
close to Betty. Just once she looked at her, and then smiled. Betty
turned when she did so, and greeted that smile with a distinct frown of
displeasure. Yet every one knew that Betty was to be the heroine of the
evening.

Punctual to the minute the guests arrived - Sibyl Ray in her vivid-green
dress, with the marguerites in her hair.

No one made any comment as the little girl came forward; only, a minute
later, Fanny whispered to Betty, "What a ridiculous and conceited idea!
I wonder who put it into her head?"

"I did," said Betty very calmly; "But she hasn't arranged them quite
right." She left her place, and going up to Sibyl, said a few words to
her. Sibyl flushed and looked lovingly into Betty's face. Betty then
took Sibyl behind the screen, and, lo and behold! her deft fingers put
the tiny wreath into a graceful position; arranged the soft, light hair
so as to produce the best possible effect; twisted a white sash round
the gaudy green dress, to carry out the idea of the marguerites; and
brought Sibyl back, charmed with her appearance, and looking for once
almost pretty.

"What a wonder you are, Betty!" said Martha West in a pleased tone.
"Poor little Sib, she doesn't understand how to manage the flowers!"

"She looks very nice now," said Betty.

"It was sweet of you to do it for her," said Martha. "And, you know, she
quite worships you; she does, really."

"There was nothing in my doing it," replied Betty. She felt inclined to
add, "For she was particularly obliging to me to-day;" but she changed
these words into, "I suggested the idea, so of course I had to see it
carried out properly."

"The white sash makes all the difference," said Martha. "You are quite a
genius, Betty!"

"Oh no," said Betty. She looked for a minute into Martha's small, gray,
very honest eyes, and wished with all her heart and soul that she could
change with her.

The usual high-jinks and merriment went on while the eatables were
being discussed. But when every one had had as much as she could consume
with comfort, and the oranges, walnuts, and crackers were put aside for
the final entertainment, Margaret (being at present head-girl of the
Specialities) proposed round games for an hour. "After that," she said,
"we will ask Betty Vivian to tell us stories."

"Oh, but we all want the stories now!" exclaimed several voices.

Margaret laughed. "Do you know," she said, "it is only a little past
seven o'clock, and we cannot expect poor Betty to tell stories for close
on two hours? We'll play all sorts of pleasant and exciting games until
eight o'clock, and then perhaps Betty will keep her word."

Betty had purposely asked to be excused from joining in these games, and
every one said she understood the reason. Betty was too precious and
valuable and altogether fascinating to be expected to rush about playing
Blind-Man's Buff, and Puss-in-the-Corner, and Charades, and Telegrams,
and all those games which schoolgirls love.

The sound from the Vivians' bedroom was very hilarious for the next
three-quarters of an hour; but presently Margaret came forward and asked
all the girls if they would seat themselves, as Betty was going to tell
stories.

"With the lights down! Oh, please, please, don't forget that! All the
lights down except one," said Susie Rushworth.

"Yes, with all the lights down except one," said Margaret. "Betty, will
you come and sit here? We will cluster round in a semi-circle. We shall
be in shadow, but there must be sufficient light for us to see your
face."

The lights were arranged to produce this effect. There was now only one
light in the room, and that streamed over Betty as she sat cross-legged
on the floor, her customary attitude when she was thoroughly at home and
excited. There was not a scrap of self-consciousness about Betty at
these moments. She had been working herself up all day for the time when
she might pour out her heart. At home she used to do so for the benefit
of Donald and Jean Macfarlane and of her little sisters. But, up to the
present, no one at school had heard of Betty's wild stories. At last,
however, an opportunity had come. She forgot all her pain in the
exercise of her strong faculty for narrative.

"I see something," she began. She had rather a thrilling voice - not
high, but very clear, and with a sweet ring in it. "I see," she
continued, looking straight before her as she spoke, "a great, great, a
very great plain. And it is night, or nearly so - I mean it is dusk; for
there is never actual night in my Scotland in the middle of summer. I
see the great plain, and a girl sitting in the middle of it, and the
heather is beginning to come out. It has been asleep all the winter; but
it is coming out now, and the air is full of music. For, of course, you
all understand," she continued - bending forward so that her eyes shone,
growing very large, and at the same moment black and bright - "you all
know that the great heather-plants are the last homes left in England
for the fairies. The fairies live in the heather-bells; and during the
winter, when the heather is dead, the poor fairies are cold, being
turned out of their homes."

"Where do they go, then, I wonder?" asked a muffled voice in the
darkened circle of listeners.

"Back to the fairies' palace, of course, underground," said Betty. "But
they like the world best, they're such sociable little darlings; and
when the heather-bells are coming out they all return, and each fairy
takes possession of a bell and lives there. She makes it her home. And
the brownies - they live under the leaves of the heather, and attend to
the fairies, and dance with them at night just over the vast heather
commons. Then, by a magical kind of movement, each little fairy sets her
own heather-bell ringing, and you can't by any possibility imagine what
the music is like. It is so sweet - oh, it is so sweet that no music one
has ever heard, made by man, can compare to it! You can imagine for
yourselves what it is like - millions upon millions of bells of heather,
and millions upon millions of fairies, and each little bell ringing its
own sweet chime, but all in the most perfect harmony. Well, that is what
the fairies do."

"Have you ever seen them?" asked the much-excited voice of Susie
Rushworth.

"I see them now," said Betty. She shut her eyes as she spoke.

"Oh, do tell us what they are like?" asked a girl in the background.

Betty opened her eyes wide. "I couldn't," she answered. "No one can
describe a fairy. You've got to see it to know what it is like."

"Tell us more, please, Betty?" asked an eager voice.

"Give me a minute," said Betty. She shut her eyes. Her face was deadly
white. Presently she opened her eyes again. "I see the same great, vast
moor, and it is winter-time, and the moor from one end to the other is
covered - yes, covered - with snow. And there's a gray house built of
great blocks of stone - a very strong house, but small; and there's a
kitchen in that house, and an old man with grizzled hair sits by the
fire, and a dear old woman sits near him, and there are two dogs lying
by the hearth. I won't tell you their names, for their names are - well,
sacred. The old man and woman talk together, and presently girls come in
and join them and talk to them for a little bit. Then one of the girls
goes out all alone, for she wants air and freedom, and she is never
afraid on the vast white moor. She walks and walks and walks. Presently
she loses sight of the gray house; but she is not afraid, for fear never
enters her breast. She walks so fast that her blood gets very warm and
tingles within her, and she feels her spirits rising higher and higher;
and she thinks that the moor covered with snow is even more lovely and
glorious than the moor was in summer, when the fairy bells were ringing
and the fairies were dancing all over the place.

"I see her," continued Betty; "she is tired, and yet not tired. She has
walked a very long way, and has not met one soul. She is very glad of
that; she loves great solitudes, and she passionately loves nature and
cold cannot hurt her when her heart is so warm and so happy. But
by-and-by she thinks of the old couple by the fireside and of the girls
she has left behind. She turns to go back. I see her when she turns."
Betty paused a minute. "The sky is very still," she continued. "The sky
has millions of stars blazing in its blue, and there isn't a cloud
anywhere; and she clasps her hands with ecstasy, and thanks God for
having made such a beautiful world. Then she starts to go home; but - - "

Up to this point Betty's voice was glad and triumphant. Now its tone
altered. "I see her. She is warm still, and her heart glows with
happiness; and she does not want anything else in all the world except
the gray house and the girls she left behind, and the dogs by the
fireside, and the old couple in the kitchen. But presently she discovers
that, try as she will, and walk as hard as she may, she cannot find the
gray stone house. She is not frightened - that isn't a bit her way; but
she knows at once what has happened, for she has heard of such things
happening to others.

"It is midnight - a bitterly cold midnight - and she is lost in the snow!
She knows it. She does not hesitate for a single minute what to do, for
the old man in the gray house has told her so many stories about other
people who have been lost in the snow. He has told her how they fell
asleep and died, and she knows quite well that she must not fall asleep.
When the morning dawns she will find her way back right enough; but
there are long, long hours between now and the morning. She finds a
place where the snow is soft, and she digs and digs in it, and then lies
down in it and covers herself up. The snow is so dry that even with the
heat of her body it hardly melts at all, and the great weight of snow
over her keeps her warm. So now she knows she is all right, provided
always she does not go to sleep.

"She is the sort of girls who will never, by any possibility, give in
while there is the most remote chance of her saving the situation. She
has covered every scrap of herself except her face, and she is - oh,
quite warm and comfortable! And she knows that if she keeps her thoughts
very busy she may not sleep. There is no clock anywhere near, there is
no sound whatever to break the deep stillness. The only way she can keep
herself awake is by thinking. So she thinks very hard. That girl has
often had a hard think - a very hard think - in the course of her life;
but never, never one like this before, when she buries herself in the
snow and forces her brain to keep her body awake.

"She tries first of all to count the minutes as they pass; but that is
sleepy work, more particularly as she is tired, and really sometimes
almost forgets herself for a minute. So she works away at some stiff,
long sums in arithmetic, doing mental arithmetic as rapidly as ever she
can. And so one hour passes, perhaps two. At the end of the second hour
something very strange happens. All of a sudden she feels that
arithmetic is pure nonsense - that it never leads anywhere nor does any
one any good; and she feels also that never in the whole course of her
life has she lain in a snugger bed than her snow-bed. And she remembers
the fairies and their music in the middle of the summer night;
and - hark! hark! - she hears them again! Why have they left their palace
underground to come and see her? It is sweet of them, it is beautiful!
They sit on her chest, they press close to her face, they kiss her with
their wee lips, they bring comforting thoughts into her heart, they
whisper lovely things into her ears. She has not felt alone from the
very first; but now that the fairies have come she never, never could be
happier than she is now. And then, away from the fairies (who stay close
to her all the time), she lifts her eyes and looks at the stars; and oh,
the stars are so bright! And, somehow, she remembers that God is up
there; and she thinks about white-clad angels who came down once,
straight from the stars, by means of a ladder, to help a good man in a
Bible story; and she really sees the ladder again, and the angels going
up and coming down - going up and coming down - and she gives a cry and
says, 'Oh, take me too! Oh, take me too!' One angel more beautiful than
she could possibly describe comes towards her, and the fairies give a
little cry - for, sweet as they are, they have nothing to do with
angels - and disappear. The angel has his strong arms round her, and he
says, 'Your bed of snow is not so beautiful as where you shall lie in
the land where no trouble can come.' Then she remembers no more."

At this point in her narrative Betty made a dramatic pause. Then she
continued abruptly and in an ordinary tone, "It is the dogs who find
her, and they dig her out of the snow, and the dear old shepherd and his
wife and some other people come with them; and so she is brought back to
the gray house, and never reaches the open doors where the angels ladder
would have led her through. She is sorry - for days she is terribly
sorry; for she is ill, and suffers a good bit of pain. But she is all
right again now; only, somehow, she can never forget that experience. I
think I have told you all I can tell you to-night."

Instantly, at a touch, the lights were turned on again, and the room was
full of brilliancy. Betty jumped up from her posture on the floor. The
girls flocked round her.

"But, oh Betty! Betty! say, please say, was it you?"

"I am going to reveal no secrets," said Betty. "I said I saw the girl.
Well, I did see her."

"Then she must have been you! She must have been you!" echoed voice
after voice. "And were you really nearly killed in the snow? And did you
fall asleep in your snow-bed? And did - oh, did the fairies come, and
afterwards the angels? Oh Betty, do tell!"

But Betty's lips were mute.




CHAPTER XIII

A SPOKE IN HER WHEEL


If Betty Vivian really wished to keep her miserable secret, she had done
wisely in removing the little packet from its shelter in the trunk of
the old oak-tree; for of course Sibyl remembered it in the night,
although Betty's wonderful story had carried her thoughts far away from
such trivial matters for the time being. Nevertheless, when she awoke in
the night, and thought of the fairies in the heather, and of the girl
lying in the snow-bed, she thought also of Betty standing by the stump
of a tree and removing something from within, looking at it, and putting
it back again.

Sibyl, therefore, took the earliest opportunity of telling her special
friends that there was a treasure hidden in the stump of the old tree.
In short, she repeated Betty's exact action, doing so in the presence of
Martha West.

Martha was a girl who invariably kept in touch with the younger girls.
There are girls who in being removed from a lower to an upper school
cannot stand their elevation, and are apt to be a little queer and
giddy; they have not quite got their balance. Such girls could not fall
into more excellent hands than those of Martha. She heard Sibyl now
chatting to a host of these younger girls, and, catching Betty's name,
asked immediately what it was all about. Sibyl repeated the story with
much gusto.

"And Betty did look queer!" she added. "I asked her if it was a piece of
wood, and she said 'Yes;' but, all the same, she didn't like me to see
her. Of course she's a darling - there's no one like her; and she
recovered herself in a minute, and walked with me a long way, and then
suggested that I should wear the marguerites. Of course I had to go into
the flower-garden to find Birchall and coax him to cut enough for me.
Then I had to get Sarah Butt to help me to make the wreath, for I never
made a wreath before in my life. But Sarah would do anything in the
world that Betty suggested, she is so frightfully fond of her."

"We are all fond of her, I think," said Martha.

"Well, then she went off for a walk by herself, and I don't think she
came in until quite late."

"You don't know anything about it," said Martha. "Now, look here, girls,


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 11 of 22)