L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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think you I could have lost myself, too, in your narrative, and I could
have seen the picture you endeavored to portray. But knowing you as you
are, Betty Vivian, I could only look down into your wicked heart - - "

"What an agreeable occupation!" said Betty with a laugh which she tried
to make light, but did not quite succeed.

Fanny was silent.

After a minute Betty spoke again. "Do you spend all your time, Fanny,
gazing into my depraved heart?"

"Whenever I think of you, Betty - and I confess I do think of you very
often - I remember the sin you have sinned, the lack of repentance you
have shown, and, above all things, your daring spirit in joining our
club. It is true that when you joined - after all my advice to you to the
contrary, my beseeching of you to withstand this temptation - I gave you
to understand that I would be silent. But my conscience torments me
because of that tacit promise I gave you. Nevertheless I will keep it.
But remember, you are in danger. You know perfectly well where the
missing packet is. It is - or was, at least - in the hollow stump of the
old oak-tree at the top of the hill, and you positively told Sibyl Ray a
lie about it when she saw you looking at it yesterday. Afterwards, in
order to divert her attention from yourself, you sent her to gather
marguerites to make a wreath for her hair - a most ridiculous thing for
the child to wear. What you did afterwards I don't know, and don't care
to inquire. But, Betty, the fact is that you, instead of being an
inspiring influence in this school, will undermine it - will ruin its
morals. You are a dangerous girl, Betty Vivian; and I tell you so to
your face. You are bound - bound to come to grief. Now, I will say no
more. I leave it to your conscience what to do and what not to do. There
are some fine points about you; and you could be magnificent, but you
are not. There, I have spoken!"

"Thank you, Fanny," replied Betty in a very gentle tone. She waited for
a full minute; then she said, "Is that all?"

"Yes, that is all."

Betty went away to her own room. As soon as ever she entered, she went
straight to the looking-glass and gazed at her reflection. She then
turned a succession of somersaults from one end of the big apartment to
the other. Having done this, she washed her face and hands in ice-cold
water, rubbed her cheeks until they glowed, brushed her black hair, and
felt better. She ran downstairs, and a few minutes later was in the
midst of a very hilarious group, who were all chatting and laughing and
hailing Betty Vivian as the best comrade in the wide world.

Betty was not only brilliant socially; at the same time she had fine
intellectual powers. She was the delight of her teachers, for she could
imbibe knowledge as a sponge absorbs water. On this particular day she
was at her best during a very difficult lesson at the piano from a
professor who came from London. Betty had always a passionate love of
music, and to-day she revelled in it. She had been learning one of
Chopin's Nocturnes, and now rendered it with exquisite pathos. The
professor was delighted, and in the midst of the performance Mrs. Haddo
came into the music-room. She listened with approval, and when the girl
rose, said, "Well done!"

Another girl took her place; and Betty, running up to Mrs. Haddo, said,
"Oh, may I speak to you?"

"Yes, dear; what is it? Come to my room for a minute, if you wish,
Betty."

"It isn't important enough for that. Dear Mrs. Haddo, it's just that I
am mad for a bit of frolic."

"Frolic, my child! You seem to have plenty."

"Not enough - not enough - not nearly enough for a wild girl of
Aberdeenshire, a girl who has lived on the moors and loved them."

"What do you want, dear child?"

"I want most awfully, with your permission, to go with my two sisters
Sylvia and Hester to have tea with the Mileses. I want to pet those dogs
again, and I want to go particularly badly between now and next
Thursday."

"And why especially between now and next Thursday?"

"Ah, I can't quite give you the reason. There is a reason.
Please - please - please say yes!"

"It is certainly against my rules."

"But, dear Mrs. Haddo, it isn't against your rules if you give leave,"
pleaded the girl.

"You are very clever at arguing, Betty. I certainly have liberty to
break rules in individual cases. Well, dear child, it shall be so. I
will send a line to Mrs. Miles to ask her to expect you and your sisters
to-morrow. A servant shall accompany you, and will call again later on.
You can only stay about one hour at the farm. To-morrow is a
half-holiday, so it will be all right."

"Oh, how kind of you!" said Betty.

But again Mrs. Haddo noticed that Betty avoided looking into her eyes.
"Betty," she said, "this is a small matter - my yielding to the whim of
an impetuous girl in whom I take an interest. But, my dear child, I have
to congratulate you. You made a marvellous success - a marvellous
success - last night. Several of the girls in the school have spoken of
it, and in particular dear Margaret Grant. I wonder if you would
improvise for me some evening?"

"Gladly!" replied Betty. And now for one minute her brilliant eyes were
raised and fixed on those of Mrs. Haddo. "Gladly," she repeated - and she
shivered slightly - "if you will hear me after next Thursday."




CHAPTER XIV

TEA AT FARMER MILES'S


"It's all right, girls!" said Betty in her most joyful tone.

"What is all right, Betty and Bess?" asked Sylvia saucily.

"Oh, kiss me, girls," said Betty, "and let's have a real frolic!
To-morrow is Saturday - a half-holiday, of course - and we're going to the
Mileses' to have tea."

"The Mileses'!"

"Yes, you silly children; those dear farmer-folk who keep the dogs."

"Dan and Beersheba?" cried Hetty.

"Yes, Dan and Beersheba; and we're going to have a real jolly time, and
we're going to forget dull care. It'll be quite the most delightful
sport we've had since we came to Haddo Court. What I should love most
would be to vault over the fence and go all by our lonesome selves. But
we must have a maid - a horrid, stupid maid; only, of course, she'll walk
behind, and she'll leave us alone when we get to the farm. She'll fetch
us again by-and-by - that'll be another nuisance. Still, somehow, I don't
know what there is about school, but I'm not game enough to go without
leave."

"You are changed a good bit," said Hetty. "I think myself it's since you
were made a Speciality."

"Perhaps so," said Betty thoughtfully.

Sylvia nestled close to her sister; while Hetty knelt down beside her,
laid her elbows on Betty's knee, and looked up into her face.

"I wonder," said Sylvia, "if you like being a Special, or whatever they
call themselves, Betty mine?"

Betty did not speak.

"Do you like it?" said Hester, giving her sister a poke in the side as
she uttered the words.

"I can't quite tell you, girls; it's all new to me at present.
Everything is new and strange. Oh girls, England is a cold, cold
country!"

"But it is declared by all the geography-books to be warmer than
Scotland," said Sylvia, speaking in a thoughtful voice.

"I don't mean physical cold," said Betty, half-laughing as she spoke.

"I begin to like school," said Hetty. "Lessons aren't really a bit
hard."

"I think school is very stimulating," said Sylvia. "The teachers are all
so kind, and we are making friends by degrees. The only thing that Hetty
and I don't like is this, Bet, that we see so very little of you."

"Although I see little of you I never forget you," was Betty's answer.

"And then," continued Sylvia, "we sleep in the same room, which is a
great blessing. That is something to be thankful for."

"And perhaps," said Betty, "we'll see more of each other in the future."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing - nothing."

"Betty, you are growing very mysterious."

"I hope not," replied Betty. "I should just hate to be mysterious."

"Well, you are growing it, all the same," said Hester. "But, oh Bet,
you're becoming the most wonderful favorite in the school! I can't tell
you what the other girls say about you, for I really think it would make
you conceited. It does us a lot of good to have a sister like you; for
whenever we are spoken to or introduced to a new girl - I mean a girl we
haven't spoken to before - the remark invariably is, 'Oh, are you related
to Betty Vivian, the Speciality?' And then - and then everything is all
right, and the girls look as if they would do anything for us. We are
the moon and stars, you are the sun; and it's very nice to have a sister
like you."

"Well, listen, girls. We're going to have a real good time to-morrow,
and we'll forget all about school and the lessons and the chapel."

"Oh, but I do like the chapel!" said Sylvia in a thoughtful voice. "I
love to hear Mr. Fairfax when he reads the lessons; and I think if I
were in trouble about anything I could tell him, somehow."

"Could you?" said Betty. She started slightly, and stared very hard at
her sister. "Perhaps one could," she said after a moment's pause. "Mr.
Fairfax is very wonderful."

"Oh yes, isn't he?" said Hester.

"But we won't think of him to-night or to-morrow," continued Betty,
rising to her feet as she spoke. "We must imagine ourselves back in
Scotland again. Oh, it will be splendid to have that time at the
Mileses' farm!"

The rest of the evening passed without anything remarkable occurring.
Betty, as usual, was surrounded by her friends. The younger Vivian girls
chatted gaily with others. Every one was quite kind and pleasant to
Betty, and Fanny Crawford left her alone. As this was quite the very
best thing Fanny could do, Betty thanked her in her heart. But that
evening, just before prayer-time, Betty crossed the hall, where she had
been sitting surrounded by a group of animated schoolfellows, and went
up to Miss Symes. "Have I your permission, Miss Symes," she said, "not
to attend prayers in chapel to-night?"

"Aren't you well, Betty dear?" asked Miss Symes a little anxiously.

Betty remained silent for a minute. Then she said, "Physically I am
quite well; mentally I am not."

"Dear Betty!"

"I can't explain it," said Betty. "I would just rather not attend
prayers to-night. Do you mind?"

"No, dear. You haven't perhaps yet been acquainted with the fact that
the Specialities are never coerced to attend prayers. They are expected
to attend; but if for any reason they prefer not, questions are not
asked."

"Oh, thank you!" said Betty. She turned and went slowly and thoughtfully
upstairs. When she got to her own room she sat quite still, evidently
thinking very hard. But when her sisters joined her (and they all went
to bed earlier than usual), Betty was the first to drop asleep.

As has already been stated, Betty's pretty little bed was placed between
Sylvia's and Hetty's; and now, as she slept, the two younger girls bent
across, clasped hands, and looked down at her small white face. They
could just get a glimmer of that face in the moonlight, which happened
to be shining brilliantly through the three big windows.

All of a sudden, Sylvia crept very softly out of bed, and, running round
to Hester's side, whispered to her, "What is the matter?"

"I don't know," replied Hester.

"But something is," remarked Sylvia.

"Yes, something is," said Hester. "Best not worry her."

Sylvia nodded and returned to her own bed.

On the following morning, however, all Betty's apparent low spirits had
vanished. She was in that wild state of hilarity when she seemed to
carry all before her. Her sisters could not help laughing every time
Betty opened her lips, and it was the same during recess. When many
girls clustered round her with their gay jokes, they became convulsed
with laughter at her comic replies.

It was arranged by Mrs. Haddo that Betty and her two sisters were to
start for the Mileses' farm at three o'clock exactly. It would not take
them more than half an hour to walk there. Mrs. Miles was requested to
give them tea not later than four o'clock, and they were to be called
for at half-past four. Thus they would be back at Haddo Court about
five.

"Only two hours!" thought Betty to herself. "But one can get a great
deal of pleasure into two hours."

Betty felt highly excited. Her sisters' delight at being able to go
failed to interest her. As a rule, with all her fun and nonsense and
hilarity, Betty possessed an abundance of self-control. But to-day she
seemed to have lost it.

The very staid-looking maid, Harris by name, who accompanied them, could
scarcely keep pace with the Vivian girls. They ran, they shouted, they
laughed. When they were about half-way to the Mileses' farm they came to
a piece of common which had not yet been inclosed. The day was dry and
comparatively warm, and the grass on the common was green, owing to the
recent rains.

"Harris," said Betty, turning to the maid, "would you like to see some
Catharine wheels?"

Harris stared in some amazement at the young lady.

"Come along, girls, do!" said Betty. "Harris must have fun as well as
the rest of us. You like fun, don't you Harris?"

"Love it, miss!" said Harris.

"Well, then, here goes!" said Betty. "Harris, please hold our hats."

The next instant the three were turning somersaults on the green grass
of the common, to the unbounded amazement of the maid, who felt quite
shocked, and shouted to the young ladies to come back and behave
themselves. Betty stopped at once when she heard the pleading note in
Harris's voice.

"You hadn't ought to have done it," said Harris; "and if my missis was
to know! Oh, what shows you all three do look! Now, let me put your hats
on tidy-like. There, that's better!"

"I feel much happier in my mind now, Harris - and that's a good thing,
isn't it?" said Betty.

"Yes, miss, it's a very good thing. But I shouldn't say, to look at you,
that you knew the meaning of the least bit of unhappiness."

"Of course I don't," said Betty; "nor does my sister Sylvia, nor does my
sister Hester."

"We did up in Scotland for a time," said Hester, who could not
understand Betty at all, and felt more and more puzzled at her queer
behavior.

"Well, now, we'll walk sober and steady," said Harris. "You may reckon
on one thing, missies - that I won't tell what you done on the common,
for if I did you'd be punished pretty sharp."

"You may tell if you like, Harris," said Betty. "I shouldn't dream of
asking you to keep a secret."

"I won't, all the same," said Harris.

The walk continued without any more exciting occurrences; and when the
girls reached the farm they were greeted by Mrs. Miles, her two big
boys, and the farmer himself. Here Harris dropped a curtsy and
disappeared.

"Oh, I must kiss you, Mrs. Miles!" said Betty. "And, please, this is my
sister Sylvia, and this is Hester. They are twins; but, having two sets
yourself, you said you did not mind seeing them and giving them tea,
even though they are twins."

"'Tain't no disgrace, missie, as I've heerd tell on," said the farmer.

"Oh Farmer Miles, I am glad to see you!" said Betty. "Fancy dear, kind
Mrs. Haddo giving us leave to come and have tea with you! - I do hope,
Mrs. Miles, you've got a very nice tea, for I can tell you I am hungry.
I've given myself an appetite on purpose; for I would hardly touch any
breakfast, and at dinner I took the very teeniest bit."

"And so did I," said Sylvia in a low tone.

"And I also," remarked Hester.

"Well, missies, I ha' got the best tea I could think of, and right glad
we are to see you. You haven't spoken to poor Ben yet, missie."

Here Mrs. Miles indicated her eldest son, an uncouth-looking lad of
about twelve years of age.

"Nor Sammy neither," said the farmer, laying his hand on Sammy's broad
shoulder, and bringing the red-haired and freckled boy forward.

"I am just delighted to see you, Ben; and to see you, Sammy. And these
are my sisters. And, please, Mrs. Miles, where are the twins?"

"The twinses are upstairs, sound asleep; but they'll be down by
tea-time," said Mrs. Miles.

"And, above all things, where are the dogs?" said Betty.

"Now, missie," said the farmer, "them dogs has been very rampageous
lately, and, try as we would, we couldn't tame 'em; so we have 'em
fastened up in their kennels, and only lets 'em out at night. You shall
come and see 'em in their kennels, missie."

"Oh, but they must be let out!" said Betty, tears brimming to her eyes.
"My sisters love dogs just as much as I do. They must see the dogs. Oh,
we must have a game with them!"

"I wouldn't take it upon me, I wouldn't really," said the farmer, "to
let them dogs free to-day. They're that remarkable rampageous."

"Well, take me to them anyhow," said Betty.

The farmer, his wife, Ben and Sammy, and the three Vivian girls tramped
across the yard, and presently arrived opposite the kennels where Dan
and Beersheba were straining at the end of their chains. When they heard
footsteps they began to bark vociferously, but the moment they saw Betty
their barking ceased; they whined and strained harder than ever in their
wild rapture. Betty instantly flung herself on her knees by Dan's side
and kissed him on the forehead. The dog licked her little hand, and was
almost beside himself with delight. As to poor Beersheba, he very nearly
went mad with jealousy over the attention paid to Dan.

"You see for yourself," said Betty, looking into the farmer's face, "the
dogs will be all right with me. You must let them loose while I am
here."

"It do seem quite wonderful," said the farmer. "Now, don't it, wife?"

"A'most uncanny, I call it," said Mrs. Miles.

"But before you let them loose I must introduce my sisters to them,"
said Betty. "Sylvia, come here. Sylvia, kneel by me."

The girl did so. The dogs were not quite so much excited over Sylvia as
they were over Betty, but they also licked their hands and wagged their
tails in great delight. Hester went through the same form of
introduction; and then, somewhat against his will, the farmer gave the
dogs their liberty. Betty said, in a commanding tone, "To heel, good
boys, at once!" and the wild and savage dogs obeyed her.

She paced up and down the yard in a state of rapture at her conquest
over these fierce animals. Then she whispered something to Sylvia, who
in her turn whispered to Mrs. Miles, who in her turn whispered to Ben;
the result of which was that three wicker chairs were brought from the
house, Betty and her sisters seated themselves, and the dogs sprawled in
ecstasy at their side.

"Oh, we are happy!" said Betty. "Mrs. Miles, was your heart ever very
starvingly empty?"

"Times, maybe," said Mrs. Miles, who had gone, like most of her sex,
through a chequered career.

"And weren't you glad when it got filled up to the brim again?"

"That I was," said Mrs. Miles.

"My heart was a bit starved this morning," said Betty; "but it feels
full to the brim now. Please, dear, good Mrs. Miles, leave us five alone
together. Go all of you away, and let us stay alone together."

"Meanin' by that you three ladies and them dogs?"

"Yes, that is what I mean."

The farmer bent and whispered something to his wife, the result of which
was that a minute later Betty and her sisters were alone with the
animals. They did not know, however, that the farmer had hidden himself
in the big barn ready to spring out should "them fierce uns," as he
termed the animals, become refractory. Then began an extraordinary
scene. Betty whispered in the dogs' ears, and they grovelled at her
feet. Then she sang a low song to them; and they stood upright,
quivering with rapture. The two girls kept behind Betty, who was
evidently the first in the hearts of these extraordinary dogs.

"I could teach them no end of tricks. They could be almost as lively
and delightful as Andrew and Fritz," said Betty, turning to her sisters.

"Oh yes," they replied. Then Sylvia burst out crying.

"Silly Sylvia! What is the matter?" said Betty.

"It's only that I didn't know my heart was hungry until - until this very
minute," said Sylvia. "Oh, it is awful to live in a house without dogs!"

"I have felt that all along," said Betty. "But I suppose, after a
fashion, we've got to endure. Oh do stop crying, Sylvia! Let's make the
most of a happy time."

The culmination of that happy time was when Mrs. Miles appeared on the
scene, accompanied by four little children - two very pretty little
girls, dressed in white, their short sleeves tied up with blue ribbons
for the occasion; and two little boys a year or two older.

"These be the twinses," said Mrs. Miles. "These two be Moses and
Ephraim, and these two be Deborah and Anna. The elder of the twinses are
Moses and Ephraim, and the younger Deborah and Anna. Now, then children,
you jest drop your curtsies to the young ladies, and say you are glad to
see them."

"But, indeed, they shall do nothing of the kind," said Betty. "Oh,
aren't they the sweetest darlings! Deborah, I must kiss you. Anna, put
your sweet little arms round my neck."

The children were in wild delight, for all children took immediately to
Betty. But, lo and behold! one of the dogs gave an ominous growl. Was
not his idol devoting herself to some one else? In one instant the brute
might have sprung upon poor little Deborah had not Betty turned and laid
her hand on his forehead. Instantly he gave a sound between a groan and
a moan, and crouched at her feet.

"There! I never!" said Mrs. Miles. "You be a reg'lar out-and-out
lion-tamer, miss."

"I'm getting more and more hungry every minute," said Betty. "Will - will
tea be ready soon, Mrs. Miles?"

"I was coming out to fetch you in, my loves."

The whole party then migrated to the kitchen, which was ornamented
especially for the occasion. The long center-table was covered with a
snowy cloth, and on it were spread all sorts of appetizing viands - great
slabs of honey in the comb, cakes of every description, hot
griddle-cakes, scones, muffins, cold chicken, cold ham, and the most
delicious jams of every variety. Added to these good things was a great
bowl full of Devonshire cream, which Mrs. Miles had made herself from a
well-known Devonshire recipe that morning.

"Oh, but doesn't this look good!" said Betty. She sat down with a twin
girl at each side of her, and with a dog resting his head on the lap of
each of the twins, and their beseeching eyes fixed on Betty's face.

"I ha' got a treat for 'em afterwards, missie," said Mrs. Miles; "two
strong beef-bones. They shall eat 'em, and they'll never forget you
arter that."

Betty became so lively now that at a whispered word from Sylvia she
began to tell stories - by no means the sort of stories she had told at
the Specialities' entertainment, but funny tales, sparkling with wit and
humor - tales quite within the comprehension of her intelligent but
unlearned audience. Even the farmer roared with laughter, and said over
and over to his wife, as he wiped the tears of enjoyment from his eyes,
"Well, that do cap all!"

Meanwhile the important ceremony of eating the many good things provided
went steadily on, until at last even Betty had to own that she was
satisfied.

All rose from their seats, and as they did so Mrs. Miles put a pretty
little basket into each girl's hand. "A few new-laid eggs, dearies," she
said, "and a comb of honey for each of you. You must ask Mrs. Haddo's
leave afore you eats 'em, but I know she won't mind. And there's some
very late roses, the last of the season, that I've put into the top of
your basket, Miss Betty."

Alack and alas, how good it all was! How pleasant was the air, how
genial the simple life! How Betty and Sylvia and Hester rejoiced in it,
and how quickly it was over!

Harris appeared, and at this signal the girls knew they must go. Betty
presented her canine darlings with a beef-bone each; and then, with a
hug to Mrs. Miles, a hearty hand-clasp to the farmer and the boys, and
further hugs to both sets of twins, the girls returned to Haddo Court.




CHAPTER XV

A GREAT DETERMINATION


The visit to the farm was long remembered by Betty Vivian. It was the
one bright oasis, the one brilliant spark of intense enjoyment, in a
dark week. For each day the shadow of what lay before her - and of what
she, Betty Vivian, had made up her mind to do - seemed to creep lower and
lower over her horizon, until, when Thursday morning dawned, it seemed
to Betty that there was neither sun, moon, nor stars in her heaven.

But if Betty lacked much and was full of grave and serious thoughts,
there was one quality, admirable in itself, which she had to perfection,


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 13 of 22)