L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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and that was her undoubted bravery. To make up her mind to do a certain
thing was, with Betty Vivian, to do it. She had not quite made up her
mind on Saturday; but on Sunday morning she had very nearly done so, and
on Sunday evening she had quite done so. On Sunday evening, therefore,
she knelt rather longer than the others, struggling and praying in the
beautiful chapel; and when she raised her small white face, and met the
eyes of the chaplain fixed on her, a thrill went through her. He, at
least, would understand, and, if necessary, give her sympathy. But just
at present she did not need sympathy, or rather she would not ask for
it. She had great self-control, and she kept her emotions so absolutely
to herself that no one guessed what she was suffering. Every day, every
hour, she was becoming more and more the popular girl of the school; for
Betty had nothing mean in her nature, and could love frankly and
generously. She could listen to endless confidences without dreaming of
betraying them, and the girls got to know that Betty Vivian invariably
meant what she said. One person, however, she avoided, and that person
was Fanny Crawford.

Thursday passed in its accustomed way: school in the morning, with
recess; school in the afternoon, followed by play, games of all sorts,
and many another delightful pastime. Betty went for a walk with her two
sisters; and presently, almost before they knew, they found themselves
surveying their three little plots of ground in the gardens, which they
had hitherto neglected. While they were so employed, Mrs. Haddo quite
unexpectedly joined them.

"Oh, my dear girls, why, you have done nothing here - nothing at all!"

Sylvia said, "We are going to almost immediately, Mrs. Haddo."

And Hetty said, "I quite love gardening. I was only waiting until Betty
gave the word."

"So you two little girls obey Betty in all things?" said Mrs. Haddo,
glancing at the elder girl's face.

"We only do it because we love to," was the response.

"Well, my dears, I am surprised! Why, there isn't a sight of your Scotch
heather! Has it died? What has happened to it?"

"We made a burnt-offering of it," said Betty suddenly.

"You did what?" said Mrs. Haddo in some astonishment.

"You see," said Betty, "it was this way." She now looked full up at her
mistress. "The Scotch heather could not live in exile. So we burnt it,
and set all the fairies free. They are in Aberdeenshire now, and quite
happy."

"What a quaint idea!" said Mrs. Haddo. "You must tell me more about this
by-and-by, Betty."

Betty made no answer.

"Meanwhile," continued Mrs. Haddo, who felt puzzled at the girl's
manner, she scarcely knew why, "I will tell a gardener to have the
gardens well dug and laid out in little walks. I will also have the beds
prepared, and then you must consult Birchall about the sort of things
that grow best in this special plot of ground. Let me see, this is
Thursday. I have no doubt Birchall could have a consultation with you on
the subject this very minute if you like to see him."

"Oh yes, please!" said Sylvia.

But Betty drew back. "Do you greatly mind if we do nothing about our
gardens until next week?" she asked.

"If you prefer it, certainly," answered Mrs. Haddo. "The plots of ground
are your property while you stay at Haddo Court. You can neglect them,
or you can tend them. Some of the girls of this school have very
beautiful gardens, full of sweet, smiling flowers; others, again, do
nothing at all in them. I never praise those who cultivate their little
patch of garden-ground, and I never blame those who neglect it. It is
all a matter of feeling. In my opinion, the garden is meant to be a
delight; those who do not care for it miss a wonderful joy, but I don't
interfere." As Mrs. Haddo spoke she nodded to the girls, and then walked
quietly back towards the house.

"Wasn't it funny of her to say that a garden was meant to be a
delight?" said Sylvia. "Oh Betty, don't you love her very much?"

"Don't ask me," said Betty, and her voice was a little choked.

"Betty," said Sylvia, "you seem to get paler and paler. I am sure you
miss Aberdeenshire."

"Miss it!" said Betty; "miss it! Need you ask?"

This was the one peep that her sisters were permitted to get into Betty
Vivian's heart before the meeting of the Specialities that evening.

Olive Repton was quite excited preparing for her guests. School had
become much more interesting to her since Betty's arrival. Martha was
also a sort of rock of comfort to lean upon. Margaret, of course, was
always charming. Margaret Grant was Margaret Grant, and there never
could be her second; but the two additional members gave undoubted
satisfaction to the others - that is, with the exception of Fanny
Crawford, who had, however, been most careful not to say one word
against Betty since she became a Speciality.

Olive's room was not very far from the Vivians', and as Betty on this
special night was hurrying towards the appointed meeting-place she came
across Fanny. Between Fanny and herself not a word had been exchanged
for several days.

Fanny stopped her now. "Are you ill, Betty?" she said.

Betty shook her head.

"I wish to tell you," said Fanny, "that, after very carefully
considering everything, I have made up my mind that it is not my place
to interfere with you. If your conscience allows you to keep silent I
shall not speak. That is all."

"Thank you, Fanny," replied Betty. She stood aside and motioned to Fanny
to pass her. Fanny felt, for some unaccountable reason, strangely
uncomfortable. The cloud which had been hanging over Betty seemed to
visit Fanny's heart also. For the first time since her cousin's arrival
she almost pitied her.

Olive's room was very bright. She had a good deal of individual taste,
and as the gardeners were always allowed to supply the Specialities with
flowers for their weekly meetings and their special entertainments,
Olive had her room quite gaily decorated. Smilax hung in graceful
festoons from several vases and trailed in a cunning pattern round the
little supper-table; cyclamen, in pots, further added to the
decorations; and there were still some very beautiful white
chrysanthemums left in the green-house, a careful selection of which had
been made by Birchall that day for the young ladies' festivities.

And now all the girls were present, and supper began. Hitherto, during
the few meetings of the Specialities that had taken place since she
became a member, Betty's voice had sounded brisk and lively; Betty's
merry, sweet laugh had floated like music in the air; and Betty's
charming face had won all hearts, except that of her cousin. But
to-night she was quite grave. She sat a little apart from the others,
hardly eating or speaking. Suddenly she got up, took a book from a
shelf, and began to read. This action on her part caused the other girls
to gaze at her in astonishment.

Margaret said, "Is anything the matter, Betty? You neither eat nor
speak. You are not at all like our dear, lively Speciality to-night."

"I don't want to eat, and I have nothing to say just yet," answered
Betty. "Please don't let me spoil sport. I saw this book of yours,
Olive, and I wanted to find a certain verse in it. Ah, here it is!"

"What is the verse?" asked Olive. "Please read it aloud, Betty."

Betty obeyed at once.

"Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend."

There was a dead silence after Betty had read these few words of
Christina Rossetti. The girls glanced from one to another. For a minute
or so, at least, they could not be frivolous. Then Olive made a pert
remark; another girl laughed; and the cloud, small at present as a man's
hand, seemed to vanish. Betty replaced her book on Olive's book-shelf,
and sat quite still and quiet. She knew she was a wet blanket - not the
life and soul of the meeting, as was generally the case. She knew well
that Margaret Grant was watching her with anxiety, that Martha West and
also Fanny Crawford were puzzled at her conduct. As to the rest of the
Specialities, it seemed to Betty that they did not go as far down into
the root of things as did Margaret and Martha.

This evening was to be one of the ordinary entertainments of the guild
or club. There was nothing particular to discuss. The girls were,
therefore, to enjoy themselves by innocent chatter and happy
confidences, and games if necessary.

When, therefore, they all left the supper-table, Margaret, as president,
said, "We have no new member to elect to-night, therefore our six rules
need not be read aloud; and we have no entertainment to talk over, for
our next entertainment will not take place for some little time. I say,
therefore, girls, that the club is open to the amusement of all the
members. We are free agents, and can do what we like. Our object, of
course, will be to promote the happiness of each and all. Now, Susie
Rushworth, what do you propose that we shall do this evening?"

Susie said in an excited voice that she would like to spend a good hour
over that exceedingly difficult and delightful game of "telegrams" and
added further that she had brought slips of paper and pencils for the
purpose.

A similar question was asked of each girl, and each girl made a proposal
according to her state of mind.

Betty was about the fourth girl to be asked. She rose to her feet and
said gravely, "I would propose that Susie Rushworth and the other
members of the Specialities have their games and fun afterwards; but I
have a short story to tell, and I should like to tell it first, if those
present are agreeable."

Margaret felt that the little cloud as big as a man's hand had returned,
and that it had grown much bigger. A curious sense of alarm stole over
her. Martha, meanwhile, stared full at Betty, wondering what the girl
was going to do. Her whole manner was strange, aloof, and mysterious.

"We will, of course, allow you to speak, Betty dear. We are always
interested in what you say," said Margaret in her gentlest tone.

Betty came forward into the room. She stood almost in the center,
unsupported by any chair, her hands clasped in front of her, her eyes
fixed on Margaret Grant's face. Just for a minute there was a dead
silence, for the girl's face expressed tragedy; and it was impossible
for any one to think of "telegrams," or frivolous games, or of anything
in the world but Betty Vivian at the present moment.

"I have something to say," she began. "It has only come to me very
gradually that it is necessary for me to say it. I think the necessity
for speech arose when I found I could not go to chapel."

"My dear Betty!" said Margaret.

"There were one or two nights," continued Betty, "when I could not
attend."

"Betty," said the voice of Fanny Crawford, "don't you think this room is
a little hot, and that you are feeling slightly hysterical? Wouldn't
you rather - rather go away?"

"No, Fanny," said Betty as she almost turned her back on the other girl.
Her nervousness had now left her, and she began to speak with her old
animation. "May I repeat a part of Rule No. I.: 'Each girl who is a
member of the Specialities keeps no secret to herself which the other
members ought to know'?"

"That is perfectly true," said Margaret.

"I _have_ a secret," said Betty. After having uttered these words she
looked straight before her. "At one time," she continued, "I thought I'd
tell. Then I thought I wouldn't. Now I am going to tell. I could have
told Mrs. Haddo had I seen enough of her - and you, Margaret, if ever you
had drawn me out. I could have told you two quite differently from the
manner in which I am going to tell that which I ought to speak of. I
stand now before the rest of you members of the Speciality Club as
guilty, for I have deliberately broken Rule No. I."

"Go on, Betty," said Margaret. She pushed a chair towards the girl,
hoping she would put her hand upon it in order to steady herself.

But Betty seemed to have gathered firmness and strength from her
determination to speak out. She was trembling no longer, nor was her
face so deadly pale. "I will tell you all my secret," she said. "Before
I came here I had great trouble. One I loved most dearly and who was a
mother to me, died. She died in a little lonely house in Scotland. She
was poor, and could not do much either for my sisters or myself. Before
her death she sent for me one day, and told me that we should be poor,
but she hoped we would be well-educated; and then she said that she was
leaving us girls something of value which was in a small, brown, sealed
packet, and that the packet was to be found in a certain drawer in her
writing-table. She told me that it would be of great use to us three
when we most needed it.

"We were quite heartbroken when she died. I left her room feeling
stunned. Then I thought of the packet, and I went into the little
drawing-room where all my aunt's treasures were kept. It was dusk when I
went in. I found the packet, and took it away. I meant to keep it
carefully. I did keep it carefully. I still keep it carefully. I don't
know what is in it.

"I have told you as much as I can tell you with regard to the packet,
but there is something else to follow. I had made up my mind to keep the
packet, being fully persuaded in my heart that Aunt Frances meant me to
do so; but when Sir John Crawford came to Aberdeenshire, and visited
Craigie Muir, and spent a night with us in the little gray house
preparatory to bringing us to Haddo Court, he mentioned that he had
received, amongst different papers of my aunt's, a document or letter - I
forget which - alluding to this packet. He said she was anxious that the
packet should be carefully kept for me and for my sisters, and he asked
me boldly and directly if I knew anything about it. I don't excuse
myself in the least, and, as a matter of fact, I don't blame myself. I
told him I didn't know anything about it. He believed me. You see,
girls, that I told a lie, and was not at all sorry.

"We came here. I put the packet away into a safe hiding-place. Then,
somehow or other, you all took me up and were specially kind to me, and
I think my head was a bit turned; it seemed so charming to be a
Speciality and to have a great deal to do with you, Margaret, and indeed
with you all more or less. So I said to myself, I haven't broken Rule
No. I., for that rule says that 'no secret is to be kept by one
Speciality from another if the other ought really to know about it.' I
tried to persuade myself that you need not know about the packet - that
it was no concern of yours. But, somehow, I could not go on. There was
something about the life here, and - and Mrs. Haddo, and the chapel, and
you, Margaret, which made the whole thing impossible. I have not been
one scrap frightened into telling you this. But now I have told you. I
do possess the packet, and I did tell a lie about it. That is all."

Betty ceased speaking. There was profound stillness in the room.

Then Margaret said very gently, "Betty, I am sure that I am speaking in
the interests of all who love you. You will tell this story to-morrow
morning to dear Mrs. Haddo, and it will rest with her whether you remain
a member of the Specialities or not. Your frank confession to us,
although it is a little late in the day, and the peculiar circumstances
attending your gaining possession of the packet, incline us to be
lenient to you - if only, Betty, you will now do the one thing left to
you, and give the packet up - put it, in short, into Mrs. Haddo's hands,
so that she may keep it until Sir John Crawford, who is your guardian,
returns."

Betty's face had altered in expression. The sweetness and penitence had
gone. "I have told you everything," she said. "I should have told you
long ago. I blame myself bitterly for not doing so. But I may as well
add that this story is not for Mrs. Haddo; that what I tell you in
confidence you cannot by any possibility relate to her - for that,
surely, must be against the rules of the club; also, that I will not
give the packet up, nor will I tell any one in this room where I have
hidden it."

If Betty Vivian had looked interesting, and in the opinion of some of
the girls almost penitent, up to this moment, she now looked so no
longer. The expression on her face was bold and defiant. Her curious
eyes flashed fire, and a faint color came into her usually pale cheeks.
She had never looked more beautiful, but the spirit of defiance was in
her. She was daring the school. She meant to go on daring it.

The girls were absolutely silent. Never before in their sheltered and
quiet lives had they come across a character like Betty's. Such a
character was bound to interest them from the very first. It interested
them now up to a point that thrilled them. They could scarcely contain
themselves. They considered Betty extremely wicked; but in their hearts
they admired her for this, and wondered at her amazing courage.

Margaret, who saw deeper, broke the spell. "Betty," she said, "will you
go away now? You have told us, and we understand. We will talk this
matter over, and let you know our decision to-morrow. But, first, just
say once again what you have said already - that you will not give the
packet up, nor tell any one where you have hidden it."

"I have spoken," answered Betty; "further words are useless."

She walked towards the door. Susie Rushworth sprang to open it for her.
She passed out, and walked proudly down the corridor. The remaining
girls were left to themselves.

Margaret said, "Well, I am bewildered!"

The others said nothing at all. This evening was one of the most
exciting they had ever spent. What were "telegrams" or any stupid games
compared to that extraordinary girl and her extraordinary revelation?

Margaret was, of course, the first to recover her self-control. "Now,
girls," she said, "we must talk about this; and, first, I want to ask a
question: Was there any member of the Specialities who knew of this - I
am afraid I must call it by its right name - this crime of Betty
Vivian's?"

"I knew," said Fanny. Her voice was very low and subdued.

"Then, Fanny, please come forward and tell us what you knew."

"I don't think I can add to Betty's own narrative," said Fanny, "only I
happened to be a witness to the action. I was lying down on the sofa in
the little drawing-room at Craigie Muir when Betty stole in and took the
packet out of Miss Vivian's writing-table drawer. She did not see me,
and went away at once, holding the packet in her hand. I thought it
queer of her at the time, but did not feel called upon to make any
remark. You must well remember, girls, that I alone of all the
Specialities was unwilling to have Betty admitted as a member of the
club. I could see by your faces that you were surprised at my conduct.
You were amazed that I, her cousin, should have tried to stop Betty's
receiving this extreme honor. I did so because of that packet. The
knowledge that she had taken it oppressed me in a strange way at the
time, but it oppressed me much more strongly when my father said to me
that there was a little sealed packet belonging to Miss Vivian which
could not be found. I immediately remembered that Betty had taken away a
sealed packet. I asked him if he had spoken about it, and he said he
had; in especial he had spoken to Betty, who had denied all knowledge of
it."

"Well," said Margaret, "she told us that herself to-night. You have not
added to or embellished her story or strengthened it in any way, Fanny."

"I know that," said Fanny. "But I have to add now that I did not wish
her to join the club, and did my very utmost to dissuade her. When I saw
that it was useless I held my tongue; but you must all have noticed
that, although she is my cousin, we have not been special friends."

"Yes, we have noticed it," said Olive gloomily, "and - and wondered at
it," she continued.

"I am sorry for Betty, of course," continued Fanny.

"It was very fine of her to confess when she did," said Margaret.

"It would have been fine of her," replied Fanny, "if she had carried her
confession to its right conclusion - if what she told us she had told to
Mrs. Haddo and given up the packet. Now, you see, she refuses to do
either of these things; so I don't see that her confession amounts to
anything more than a mere spirit of bravado."

"Oh no, I cannot agree with you there," said Margaret. "It is my opinion
(of course, not knowing all the circumstances) that Betty's sin
consisted in telling your father a lie - not in taking the little packet,
which she believed she had a right to keep. But we need not discuss her
sins, for we all of us have many - perhaps many more than poor dear Betty
Vivian. What we must consider is what we are to do at the present time.
The Specialities have hitherto kept constantly to their rules. I greatly
fear, girls, that we cannot keep Betty as a member of the club unless
she changes her mind with regard to the packet. If she does, I think I
must put it to the vote whether we will overlook this sin of hers and
keep her as one of the members, for we love her notwithstanding her
sin."

"Yes, put it to the vote - put it to the vote!" said Susie Rushworth.

Again all hands were raised except Fanny's.

"Fan - Fanny Crawford, you surely agree with us?" said Margaret.

"No, I do not," said Fanny. "I think if the club is worth anything we
ought not to have a girl in it who told a lie."

"Ah," said Margaret, "don't you remember that very old story: 'Let him
who is without sin among you cast the first stone'?" Then she continued,
speaking in her sweet and noble voice, "I will own there is something
about Betty which most wonderfully attracts me."

"That sort of charm is fatal," said Fanny.

"But," continued Margaret, taking no notice of Fanny's remark, "that
sort of charm which she possesses, that sort of fascination - call it
what you will - may be at once her ruin or her salvation. If we
Specialities are unkind to her now, if we don't show her all due
compassion and tenderness, she may grow hard. We are certainly bound by
every honorable rule not to mention one word of this to Mrs. Haddo or to
any of the teachers. Are we, or are we not, to turn our backs on Betty
Vivian?"

"If she confesses," said Fanny, "and returns the packet, you have
already decided by a majority of votes to allow her to retain her
position in the club."

"Yes," said Margaret, "that is quite true. But suppose she does not
confess, suppose she sticks to her resolve to keep the packet and not
tell any one where she has hidden it, what then?"

"Ah, what then?" said they all.

Olive, the Bertrams, Susie, Martha, Margaret herself, looked full of
trouble. Fanny's cheeks were pink with excitement. She had never liked
Betty. In her heart of hearts she knew that she was full of uncharitable
thoughts against her own cousin. And how was it, notwithstanding Betty's
ignoble confession, the other girls still loved her?

"What do you intend to do, supposing she does not confess?" said Fanny
after a pause.

"In that case," answered Margaret, "having due regard to the rules of
the club, I fear we have no alternative - she must resign her membership,
she must cease to be a Speciality. We shall miss her, and beyond doubt
we shall still love her. But she must not continue to be a Speciality
unless she restores the packet."

Fanny simulated a slight yawn. She knew well that Betty's days as a
Speciality were numbered.

"She was so brilliant, so vivid!" exclaimed Susie.

"There was no one like her," said Olive, "for suggesting all kinds of
lovely things. And then her story-telling - wasn't she just glorious!"

"We mustn't think of any of those things," said Margaret. "But I think
we may all pray - yes, pray - for Betty herself. I, for one, love her
dearly. I love her notwithstanding what she said to-night."

"I think it was uncommonly plucky of her to stand up and tell us what
she did," remarked Martha, speaking for the first time. "She needn't
have done it, you know. It was entirely a case of conscience."

"Yes, that is it; it was fine of her," said Margaret. "Now, girls,
suppose we have a Speciality meeting to-morrow night? You know by our
rules we are allowed to have particular meetings. I will give my room
for the purpose; and suppose we ask Betty to join us there?"

"Agreed!" said they all; and after a little more conversation the
Specialities separated, having no room in their hearts for games or any
other frivolous nonsense that evening.





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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 14 of 22)