L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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don't waste your time talking rubbish. You are very low down in the
school compared to Betty Vivian, and, compared to Betty Vivian, you are
of no account whatever, for she is a Speciality, and therefore holds a
position all her own. Love her as much as you like, and admire her, for
she is worthy of admiration. But if I were you, Sibyl, I wouldn't tell
tales out of school. Let me tell you frankly that you had no right to
rush up to Betty when she was alone and ask her what she was doing. She
was quite at liberty to thrust her hand into an old tree as often as
ever she liked, and take some rubbish out, and look at it, and drop it
in again. You are talking sheer folly. Do attend to your work, or you'll
be late for Miss Skeene when she comes to give her lecture on English
literature."

No girl could ever be offended by Martha, and the work continued
happily. But during recess that day Sibyl beckoned her companions away
with her; and she, followed by five or six girls of the lower fifth,
visited the spot where Betty had stood on the previous evening. Betty
was much taller than any of these girls, and they found when they
reached the old stump that it was impossible for them to thrust their
hands in. But this difficulty was overcome by Sibyl volunteering to sit
on Mabel Lee's shoulders - and, if necessary, even to stand on her
shoulders while the other girls held her firm - in order that she might
thrust her hand into the hollow of the oak-tree. This feat was
accomplished with some difficulty, but nothing whatever was brought up
except withered leaves and débris and a broken piece of wood much
saturated with rain.

"This must have been what she saw," said Sibyl. "I asked her if it was
wood, and I think she said it was. Only, why did she look so very
queer?"

The girls continued their walk, but Martha West stayed at home.
She had hushed the remarks made by the younger girls that morning,
nevertheless she could not get them out of her mind. Sibyl's story was
circumstantial. She had described Betty's annoyance and distress when
they met, Betty's almost confusion. She had then said that it was Betty
who suggested that she was to wear the marguerites.

Now Martha, in her heart of hearts, thought this suggestion of Betty's
very far-fetched; and being a very shrewd, practical sort of girl, there
came an awful moment when she almost made up her mind that Betty had
done this in order to get rid of Sibyl. Why did she want to get rid of
her? Martha began to believe that she was growing quite uncharitable.

At that moment, who should appear in sight, who should utter a cry of
satisfaction and seat herself cosily by Martha's side, but Fanny
Crawford!

"This is nice," said Fanny with a sigh. "I did so want to chat with you,
Martha. I so seldom see you quite all by yourself."

"I am always to be seen if you really wish to find me, Fanny," replied
Martha. "I am never too busy not to be delighted to see my friends."

"Well, of course we are friends, being Specialities," was Fanny's
remark.

"Yes," answered Martha, "and I think we were friends before. I always
liked you just awfully, Fan."

"Ditto, ditto," replied Fanny. "It is curious," she continued, speaking
in a somewhat sententious voice, "how one is drawn irresistibly to one
girl and repelled by another. Now, I was always drawn to you, Matty; I
always liked you from the very, very first. I was more than delighted
when I heard that you were to become one of us."

Martha was silent. It was not her habit to praise herself, nor did she
care to hear herself praised. She was essentially downright and honest.
She did not think highly of herself, for she knew quite well that she
had very few outward charms.

Fanny, however, who was the essence of daintiness, looked at her now
with blue-gray eyes full of affection. "Martha," she said, "I have such
a lot to talk over! What did you think of last night?"

"I thought it splendid," replied Martha.

"And Betty - what did you think of Betty?"

"Your cousin? She is very dramatic," said Martha.

"Yes, that is it," replied Fanny; "she is dramatic in everything. I
doubt if she is ever natural or her true self."

"Fanny!"

"Oh, dear old Martha, don't be so frightfully prim! I don't intend to
break Rule No. I. Of course I love Betty. As a matter of fact, I have
loved her before any of you set eyes on her. She is my very own cousin,
and but for father's strong influence would never have been at this
school at all. Still, I repeat that she is dramatic and hardly ever
herself."

"She puzzles me, I confess," said Martha, a little dubiously; "but
then," she added, "I can't help yielding to her charm."

"That is it," said Fanny - "her charm. But look down deep into your
heart, Martha, and tell me if you think her charm healthy."

"Well, I see nothing wrong about it." Then Martha became abruptly
silent.

"For instance," said Fanny, pressing a little closer to her companion,
"why ever did she make your special protégé Sibyl Ray such a figure of
fun last night?"

"I thought Sibyl looked rather pretty."

"When she entered the room, Martha?"

"Oh no; she was quite hideous then, poor little thing! But Betty soon
put that all right; she had very deft fingers."

"I know," said Fanny. "But what I want to have explained is this: why
Betty, a girl who is more or less worshiped by half the girls in the
school, should trouble herself with such a very unimportant person as
Sibyl Ray, I want to know. Can you tell me?"

"Even if I could tell you, remembering Rule No. I., I don't think I
would," said Martha.

Fanny sat very still for a minute or two. Then she got up. "I don't
see," she remarked, "why Rule No. I. should make us unsociable each with
the other. The very object of our club is that we should have no
secrets, but should be quite open and above-board. Now, Martha West,
look me straight in the face!"

"I will, Fanny Crawford. What in the world are you accusing me of?"

"Of keeping something back from me which, as a member of the
Specialities, you have no right whatever to do."

A slow, heavy blush crept over Martha's face. She got up. "I am going to
look over my German lesson," she said. "Fräulein will want me almost
immediately." Then she left Fanny, who stared after her retreating
figure.

"I will find out," thought Fanny, "what Martha is keeping to herself.
That little horror Betty will sow all kinds of evil seed in the school
if I don't watch her. I did wrong to promise her, by putting my finger
to my lips, that I would be silent with regard to her conduct. I see it
now. But if Betty supposes that she can keep her secret to herself she
is vastly mistaken. Hurrah, there's Sibyl Ray! Sib, come here, child; I
want to have a chat with you."

It was a bitterly cold and windy day outside; there were even
sleet-showers falling at intervals. Winter was coming on early, and with
a vengeance.

"Why have you come in?" asked Fanny.

"It's so bitterly cold out, Fanny."

"Well, sit down now you are in. You are a nice little thing, you know,
Sib, although at present you are very unimportant. You know that, of
course?"

"Yes," said Sibyl; "I am told it nearly every hour of the day." She
spoke in a wistful tone. "Sometimes," she added, "I could almost wish I
were back in the lower school, where I was looked up to by the smaller
girls and had a right good time."

"We can never go back, Sib; that is the law of life."

"Of course not."

"Well, sit down and talk to me. Now, I have something to say to you. Do
you know that I am devoured with curiosity, and all about a small girl
like yourself?"

"Oh Fanny," said Sibyl, immensely flattered, "I am glad you take an
interest in me!"

"I must be frank," said Fanny. "Up to the present I have taken no
special interest in you, except in so far as you are Martha's protégé;
but when I saw you in that extraordinary dress last night I singled you
out at once as a girl with original ideas. Do look me in the face, Sib!"

Sibyl turned. Fanny's face was exquisitely chiselled. Each neat little
feature was perfect. Her eyes were large and well-shaped, her brows
delicately marked, her complexion pure lilies and roses; her hair was
thick and smooth, and yet there were little ripples about it which gave
it, even in its schoolgirl form, a look of distinction. Sibyl, on the
contrary, was an undersized girl, with the fair, colorless face,
pale-blue eyes, the lack of eyebrows and eyelashes, the hair thin and
small in quantity, which make the most hopeless type of all as regards
good looks.

"I wonder, Sib," said Fanny, "if you, you little mite, are really eaten
up with vanity?"

"I - vain! Why should you say so?"

"I only thought it from your peculiar dress last night."

Sibyl colored and spoke eagerly. "Oh, but that wasn't me at all; it was
that quite too darling Betty!"

"Do you mean my cousin, Betty Vivian?"

"Of course, who else?"

"Well, what had she to do with it?"

"I will tell you if you like, Fanny. She didn't expect me to keep it a
secret. I met her when I was out - - "

"You - met Betty - when you were out?"

"Yes." There was a kind of reserve in Sibyl's tone which made Fanny
scent a possible mystery.

"Where did you meet her?" was the next inquiry.

"Well, she was standing by the stump of an old tree which is hollow
inside. It is just at the top of the hill by the bend, exactly where the
hill goes down towards the 'forest primeval.'"

"Can't say I remember it," said Fanny. "Go on, Sib. So Betty was
standing there?"

"Yes, oh yes. I saw her in the distance. I was expecting to meet Clarice
and Mary Moss; but they failed me, although they had faithfully promised
to come. So when I saw Betty I could not resist running up to her; but
when I got quite close I stood still."

"Well, you stood still. Why?"

"Oh Fan, she was doing such a funny thing! She was bending down and
looking over into the hollow of the tree. Then, all of a sudden, she
thrust her hand in - far down - and took something out of the tree and
looked at it. I could just catch sight of what it was - - "

"Yes, go on. What was it? Don't be afraid of me, Sib. I have a lot of
chocolates in my pocket that I will give you presently."

"Oh thank you, Fanny! It is nice to talk to you. I couldn't see very
distinctly what she had in her hand, only she was staring at it, and
staring at it; and then she dropped it in again, right down into the
depths of the tree; and I saw her bending more than ever, as though she
were covering it up."

"But you surely saw what it was like?"

"It might have been anything - I wasn't very near then. I ran up to her,
and asked her what it was."

"And what did she say?"

"Oh, she said it was a piece of wood, and that she had dropped it into
the tree."

Fanny sat very still. A coldness came over her. She was nearly stunned
with what she considered the horror of Betty's conduct.

"What is the matter?" asked Sibyl.

"Nothing at all, Sib; nothing at all. And then, what happened?"

"Betty was very cross at being disturbed."

"That is quite probable," said Fanny with a laugh.

"She certainly was, and I - I - I am afraid I annoyed her; but after a
minute or two she got up and allowed me to walk with her. We walked
towards the house, and she told me all kinds of funny stories; she
really made me scream with laughter. She is the jolliest girl! Then, all
of a sudden, we came in sight of the flower-gardens; and she asked me
what I was going to wear last night, and I told her about the green
chiffon dress which auntie had sent me; and then she suggested a wreath
of small marguerites, and told me to get Birchall to cut some for me.
She said they would be very becoming, and of course I believed her.
There's nothing in my story, is there, Fanny?"

"That depends on the point of view," answered Fanny.

"I don't understand you."

"Nor do I mean you to, kiddy."

"Well, there's one thing more," continued Sibyl, who felt much elated at
being allowed to talk to one of the most supercilious of all the
Specialities. "I couldn't get out of my head about Betty and the
oak-tree; so just now - a few minutes ago - I got some of my friends to
come with me, and we went to the oak-tree, and I stood on Mabel Lee's
shoulder, and I poked and poked amongst the débris and rubbish in the
hollow of the trunk, and there was nothing there at all - nothing except
just a piece of wood. So, of course, Betty spoke the truth - it was
wood."

"How many chocolates would you like?" was Fanny's rejoinder.

"Oh Fanny, are you going to give me some?"

"Yes, if you are a good girl, and don't tell any one that you repeated
this very harmless and uninteresting little story to me about my Cousin
Betty. Of course she is my cousin, and I don't like anything said
against her."

"But I wasn't speaking against darling Betty!" Sibyl's eyes filled with
tears.

"Of course not, monkey; but you were telling me a little tale which
might be construed in different ways."

"Yes, yes; only I don't understand. Betty had a perfect right to poke
her hand into the hollow of the tree, and to bring up a piece of wood,
and look at it, and put it back again; and I don't understand your
expression, Fanny, that it all depends on the point of view."

"Keep this to yourself, and I will give you some more chocolates
sometime," was Fanny's answer. "I can be your friend as well as
Martha - that is, if you are nice, and don't repeat every single thing
you hear. The worst sin in a schoolgirl - at least, the worst minor
sin - is to be breaking confidences. No schoolgirl with a shade of honor
in her composition would ever do that, and certainly no girl trained at
Haddo Court ought to be noted for such a characteristic. Now, Sibyl, you
are no fool; and, when I talk to you, you are not to repeat things. I
may possibly want to talk to you again, and then there'll be more
chocolates and - and - other things; and as you are in the upper school,
and are really quite a nice girl, I shouldn't be at all surprised if I
invited you to have tea with me in my bedroom some night - oh, not quite
yet, but some evening not far off. Now, off with you, and let me see how
well you can keep an innocent little confidence between you and me!"

Sibyl ran off, munching her chocolates, wondering a good deal at Fanny's
manner, but in the excitement of her school-life, soon forgetting both
her and Betty Vivian. For, after all, there was no story worth thinking
about. There was nothing in the hollow of the old tree but the piece of
wood, and nothing - nothing in the wide world - could be made interesting
out of that.

Meanwhile, Fanny thought for a time. The first great entertainment of
the Specialities was over. Betty was now a full-blown member, and as
such must be treated in a manner which Fanny could not possibly have
assumed towards her before this event took place. Fanny blamed herself
for her weakness in consenting to keep Betty's secret. She had done so
on the spur of the moment, influenced by the curious look in the girl's
eyes, and wondering if she would turn to her with affection if she,
Fanny, were so magnanimous. But Betty had not turned to her with either
love or affection. Betty was precisely the Betty she had been before she
joined the club. It is true she was very much sought after and consulted
on all sorts of matters, and her name was whispered in varying notes of
admiration among the girls, and she was likely (unless a spoke were put
in her wheel) to rise to one of the highest positions in the great
school. Betty had committed one act of flagrant wickedness. Fanny was
not going to mince matters; she could not call it by any other name.
There were no extenuating circumstances, in her opinion, to excuse this
act of Betty's. The fact that she had first stolen the packet, and then
told Sir John Crawford a direct lie with regard to it, was the sort of
thing that Fanny could never get over.

"One act of wickedness leads to another," thought Fanny. "Contrary to my
advice, my beseechings, she has joined our club. She has taken a vow
which she cannot by any possibility keep, which she breaks every hour of
every day; for she holds a secret which, according to Rule No. I., the
other Specialities ought to know. What was she doing by the old stump?
What did she take out and look at so earnestly? It was not a piece of
wood. That idea is sheer nonsense."

Fanny thought and thought, and the more she thought the more
uncomfortable did she grow. "It is perfectly horrible!" she kept saying
to herself. "I loathe myself for even thinking about it, but I am afraid
I must put a spoke in her wheel. The whole school may be contaminated at
this rate. If Betty could do what she did she may do worse, and there
isn't a girl in the place who isn't prepared to worship her. Oh, of
course I'm not jealous; why should I be? I should be a very unworthy
member of the Specialities if I were. Nevertheless - - "

Just then Sylvia and Hetty Vivian walked through the great
recreation-hall arm in arm.

Fanny called them to her. "Where's Betty?" she asked.

"She told us she'd be very busy for half an hour in our room, and that
then she was going downstairs to have a sort of conference - with you, I
suppose, Fanny, and the rest of the Specialities."

Sylvia gave a very impatient shrug of her shoulders.

"Why do you look like that, Sylvia?" asked Fanny.

"Well, the fact is, Hetty and I do hate our own Betty belonging to your
club. Whenever we want her now she is engaged; and she has such funny
talk all about committee meetings and private conferences in your odious
sitting-room. We don't like it a bit. We much, much preferred our Betty
before she joined the Specialities."

"All the same," said Fanny, "you must have felt very proud of your Betty
last night."

Hester laughed. "She wasn't half her true self," said the girl. "Oh, of
course she was wonderful, and much greater than others; but I wish you
could have heard her tell stories in Scotland. We used to have just one
blink of light from the fire, and we sat and held each other's hands,
and I tell you Betty made us thrill."

"Well, now that you have reminded me," said Fanny, rising as she spoke,
"I must go and attend that committee meeting. I really forgot it, so I
am greatly obliged to you girls for reminding me. And you mustn't be
jealous of your sister; that is a very wrong feeling."

The girls laughed and ran off, while Fanny slowly walked down the
recreation-hall and then ascended some stairs, until she found herself
in that particularly cosy and bright sitting-room which was set apart
for the Specialities.

Martha West was there, also Susie Rushworth, the two Bertrams, and
Olive Repton. But Margaret Grant had not yet appeared, nor had Betty
Vivian. Fanny took her seat near Olive. The girls began to chat, and the
subject of last night's entertainment was discussed pretty fully. Most
of the girls present agreed that it was remarkably silly of Sibyl Ray to
wear marguerites in her hair, that they were very sorry for her, and
hoped she would not be so childish again. It was just at that moment
that Margaret Grant appeared, and immediately afterwards Betty Vivian.
The minutes of the last committee meeting were read aloud, and then
Margaret turned and asked the girls if they were thoroughly satisfied
with the entertainment of the previous night. They all answered in the
affirmative except Fanny, who was silent. Neither did Betty speak, for
she had been the chief contributor to the entertainment.

"Well," continued Margaret, "I may as well say at once that I was
delighted. Betty, I didn't know that you possessed so great a gift. I
wish you would improvise as you did last night one evening for Mrs.
Haddo."

Betty turned a little whiter than usual. Then she said slowly, "Alone
with her - and with you - I could."

"I think she would love it," said Margaret. "It would surprise her just
to picture the scene as you threw yourself into it last night."

"I could do it," said Betty, "alone with her and with you."

There was not a scrap of vanity in Betty's manner. She spoke seriously,
just as one who, knowing she possesses a gift, accepts it and is
thankful.

"I couldn't get it out of my head all night," continued Margaret, "more
particularly that part where the angels came. It was a very beautiful
idea, Betty dear, and I congratulate you on being able to conjure up
such fine images in your mind."

It was with great difficulty that Fanny could suppress her feelings,
but the next instant an opportunity occurred for her to give vent to
them.

"Now," said Margaret, "as the great object of our society is in all
things to be in harmony, I want to put it to the vote: How did the
entertainment go off last night?"

"I liked every single thing about it," said Susie Rushworth; "the
supper, the games, and, above all things, the story-telling."

The same feeling was expressed in more or less different words by each
girl in succession, until Fanny's turn came.

"And you, Fanny - what did you think?"

"I liked the supper and the games, of course," said Fanny.

"And the story-telling, Fanny? You ought to be proud of having such a
gifted cousin."

"I didn't like the story-telling, and Betty knows why I didn't like it."

The unmistakable look of hatred on Fanny's face, the queer flash in her
eyes as she glanced at Betty, and Betty's momentary quiver as she looked
back at her, could not fail to be observed by each girl present.

"Fanny, I am astonished at you!" said Margaret Grant in a voice of
marked displeasure.

"You asked a plain question, Margaret. I should have said nothing if
nothing had been asked; but you surely don't wish me to commit myself to
a lie?"

"Oh no, no!" said Margaret. "But sisterly love, and - and your own cousin
too!"

"I want to say something in private to Betty Vivian; and I would
earnestly beg of you, Margaret, not to propose to Mrs. Haddo that Betty
should tell her any story until after I have spoken. I have my reasons
for doing this; and I do not think, all things considered, that I am
really breaking Rule No. I. in adopting this course of action."

"This is most strange!" said Margaret.

Betty rose and came straight up to Fanny. "Where and when do you want to
speak to me, Fanny?" she asked.

"I will go with you now," said Fanny.

"Then I think," said Margaret, "our meeting has broken up. The next
meeting of the Specialities will be held in Olive Repton's room on
Thursday next. There are several days between now and then; but
to-morrow at four o'clock I mean to give a tea to all the club here. I
invite you, one and all, to be present; and afterwards we can talk folly
to our hearts' content. Listen, please, girls: the next item on my
programme is that we invite dear Mr. Fairfax to tea with us, and ask him
a few questions with regard to the difficulties we find in the reading
of Jeremy Taylor's 'Holy Living.'"

"I don't suppose, Margaret, it is absolutely necessary for me to attend
that meeting?" said Betty.

"Certainly not, Betty. No one is expected to attend who does not wish
to."

"You see, I have no difficulties to speak about," said Betty with a
light laugh.

Margaret glanced at her with surprise.

"Come, Betty," said Fanny; and the two left the room.

"Where am I to go to?" asked Betty when they found themselves outside.

"Out, if you like," said Fanny.

"No, thank you. The day is very cold."

"Then come to my room with me, will you, Betty?"

"No," said Betty, "I don't want to go to your room."

"I must see you somewhere by yourself," said Fanny. "I have something
important to say to you."

"Oh, all right then," said Betty, shrugging her shoulders. "Your room
will do as well as any other place. Let's get it over."

The girls ran upstairs. They presently entered Fanny's bedroom, which
was a small apartment, but very neat and cheerful. It was next door to
the Vivians' own spacious one.

The moment they were inside Betty turned and faced Fanny. "Do you always
intend to remain my enemy, Fanny?" she asked.

"Far from that, Betty; I want to be your truest friend."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, don't talk humbug! If you are my truest friend
you will act as such. Now, what is the matter - what is up?"

"I will tell you."

"I am all attention," said Betty. "Pray begin."

"I hurt your feelings downstairs just now by saying that I did not care
for your story-telling."

"You didn't hurt them in the least, for I never expected you to care.
The story-telling wasn't meant for you."

"But I must mention now why I didn't care," continued Fanny, speaking as
quickly as she could. "Had you been the Betty the rest of the school


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 12 of 22)