L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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fact: I know the reason why Betty Vivian is no longer a Speciality."

"Oh! oh!" said Sibyl. She colored deeply.

"No longer a Speciality," repeated Fanny; "and I know the reason why;
only, of course, I can never say. But there's a vacancy in the
Speciality Club now for a girl who is faithful and zealous, and who can
prove herself my friend."

Sibyl's heart began to beat very fast. "A vacancy in the Specialities!"
she said in a low tone.

Fanny turned quickly round and faced her. "I could get you in if I
liked," she said. "Would it suit you to be a Speciality?"

"Would it suit me?" said Sibyl. "Oh Fanny, it sounds like heaven! I
don't know what I wouldn't do - I don't know what I wouldn't do to become
a member of that club."

"And Martha West would second any suggestions I made," continued Fanny.
"Of course I don't know that I could get you in; but I'd have a good
try, provided you help me now."

"Fanny, what is it you want me to do?"

"I want you, Sibyl, to use your intelligence; and I want you, all alone
and without consulting any one, to find out where Betty Vivian has put
the treasure which she told you was a piece of wood and which she hid in
the old oak stump. You can manage it quite well if you like."

"I don't understand!" gasped Sibyl.

"If you repeat a word of this conversation I shall use my influence to
have you boycotted in the school," said Fanny. "My power is great to
help or to mar your career in the school. If you do what I want - well,
my dear, all I can say is this, that I shall do my utmost to get you
into the club. You cannot imagine how nice it is when you are a member.
Think what poor Betty has lost, and think how you will feel when you are
a Speciality and she is not."

"I don't know that I shall feel anything," replied Sibyl. "Somehow or
other, I don't like this thing you want me to do, Fanny."

"Well, don't do it. I will get some one else."

"And, in the second place," continued Sibyl, "even if I were willing to
do it, I don't know how. If Betty chooses to hide things - parcels or
anything of that sort - I can't find out where she puts them."

"You can watch her," said Fanny. "Now, if you have any gumption about
you - and it is my strong belief that you have - you will be able to tell
me this time to-morrow something about Betty Vivian and her movements.
If by this time to-morrow you know nothing - why, I will relieve you of
the task, and you will be as you were before. But if, on the other hand,
you help me to save the honor of a great school - which is, I assure you,
at the present moment in serious peril - I shall do my utmost to get you
admitted to the Speciality Club. Now, I think that is all."

As Fanny concluded she shouted to Susie Rushworth, who was going towards
the arbor at the top of the grounds, and Sibyl found herself all alone.
Fanny had taken her a good long way. They had passed through a
plantation of young fir-trees to one of the vegetable-gardens, and
thence through an orchard, where the grass was long and dank at this
time of year. Somehow or other, Sibyl felt chilled to the bone and very
miserable. She had never liked Fanny less than she did at this moment.
But she was not strong-minded, and Fanny was one of the most important
girls in the school. She was rich, her father was a man of great
distinction; she might be head-girl of the school, and probably would
when Margaret Grant left; she was also quite an old member of the
Specialities. Besides Fanny, even Martha West seemed to fade into
insignificance. It was as though the friend of the Prime Minister - the
greatest possible friend - had held out a helping hand to a struggling
nobody, and offered that nobody a dazzling position. Sibyl was that poor
little nobody, and Fanny's words were weighted with such power that the
girl trembled and felt herself shaking all over.

Sibyl's love for Martha was innocent, pure, and good. Her admiration for
Betty was the generous and romantic affection which a little schoolgirl
gives to another girl older than herself who is both brilliant and
captivating. But, after all, Betty had lost her sceptre and laid down
her crown. Betty, for some extraordinary reason, was in disgrace, and
Fanny was in the zenith of her power. It would be magnificent to be a
Speciality! How those girls who thought little or nothing of Sibyl now
would admire her when she passed into that glorious state! She thought
of herself as joining the other Specialities in arranging programmes, in
devising entertainments; she thought of the privileges which would be
hers; she thought of that delightful private sitting-room into which she
had once dared to peep, and then shot out her little face again,
half-terrified at her own audacity. There was no one in the room at the
moment; but it did look cosy - the chairs so easy and comfortable, and
all covered with such a delicate shade of blue. Sibyl knew that blue
became her. She thought how nice she would look sitting in one of those
chairs and being hail-fellow-well-met with Margaret Grant, and Martha
her own friend, and all the others. Even Betty would envy her then. She
and Betty would change places. It would be her part to advise Betty what
to do and what to wear. Oh, it was a very dazzling prospect! And she
could gain the coveted distinction - but how?

Sibyl felt her heart beating very fast. She had not been trained in a
high school of morals. Her father was a very hard-working clergyman with
a large family of eight children. Her mother was dead; her elder sisters
were earning their own living. Mrs. Haddo had heard of Sibyl, and had
taken her into the school on special terms, feeling sure that charity
was well expended in such a case. Mr. Ray was far too busy over his
numerous duties to look after Sibyl as her mother would have done had
she lived. The little girl was brought up anyhow, and her new life at
Haddo Court was a revelation to her in more ways than one. She was not
pretty; she was not clever; she was not strong-minded; she was very
easily influenced. A good girl could have done much for her - Martha had
done her very best; but a bad girl could do even more.

While Sibyl was dallying with temptation, thinking to herself how
attractive it would be to feel such an important person as Fanny
Crawford, she looked down from the height where she was standing and saw
Betty Vivian walking slowly across the common.

Betty was alone. Her head was slightly bent, but the rest of her young
figure was bolt upright. She was going towards the spot where those
sparse clumps of heather occupied their neglected position at one side
of the "forest primeval."

When first Sibyl saw Betty her heart gave a great throb of longing to
rush to her, to fling her arms round her, to kiss her, to cling to her
side. But she suppressed that impulse. She loved Betty, but she was
afraid of her. Betty was the last sort of girl to put up with what she
considered liberties; Sibyl was a person to whom she was utterly
indifferent, and she would by no means have liked Sibyl to kiss her.
From Sibyl's vantage-ground, therefore, she watched Betty, herself
unseen. Then it suddenly occurred to her that she might continue to
watch her, but from a more favorable point of view.

There was a little knoll at one end of the orchard, and there was a very
old gnarled apple-tree at the edge of the knoll. If Sibyl ran fast she
could climb into the apple-tree and look right down on to the common. No
sooner did the thought come to her than she resolved to act on it.
Knowledge is always power, and she need not tell Fanny anything at all
unless she liked. She could be faithful to poor Betty, who was in
disgrace, and at the same time she might know something about her. It
was so very odd that Betty was expelled from the Specialities. She could
not possibly have resigned, for had she done so there would have been a
great fuss, and everything would have been explained to the satisfaction
of the school; whereas that mysterious sentence on the blackboard left
the whole thing involved in darkest night. What had Betty done? Had she
really told a lie about what she had found in the old stump of oak? Was
it not a piece of wood after all? Had she really sent Sibyl into the
flower-garden to gather marguerites and make herself a figure of fun at
the Specialities' entertainment? Had she done it to get rid of her just
because - because she wanted - she wanted to remove something from the
stump of the old oak-tree? Oh, if Betty were that sort - if it were
possible - even Sibyl Ray felt that she could not love her any longer! It
was Fanny, after all, who was a noble girl. Fanny wanted to get to the
bottom of things. Fanny herself could not do what an unimportant little
girl like Sibyl could do. After all, there was nothing shabby in it. If
it were shabby, Fanny Crawford, the last girl in the school to do wrong,
would not have asked her to attend to the matter.

Sibyl therefore climbed into the old apple-tree and perched amongst its
branches, and gazed eagerly down on the bit of common land. She was far
nearer to Betty than Betty had the least idea of. She saw her walk
towards the pieces of heather, but could not, from her point of view,
see what the plants were. She had really no idea that there was any
special heather in the grounds; she was not interested in a stupid thing
like heather. But she did see Betty go on her knees, and she did see her
pull up a root of some sort or other, and she did see her take something
out and look at it and put it back again. Then Betty returned very
slowly across the common towards the house.

Sibyl was fairly panting now with excitement. Was there ever, ever in
all the world, such an easy way of becoming a Speciality? Betty had a
secret; and she, Sibyl, had found it out without the slightest
difficulty. Betty had hidden something in the old oak, and now she had
buried it under some plants at the edge of the common. Sibyl forgot
pretence, she forgot honor, she forgot everything but the luring voice
of Fanny Crawford and her keen desire to perfect her quest. At that time
of year few girls troubled themselves to walk across the "forest
primeval." It was a sort of place that was pleasant enough in warm days
of summer, but damp and dull and dreary at this season, when the girls
of Haddo Court preferred the upper walks, or the hockey-ground, or the
different places where the various games were played. Certainly the
"forest primeval" did not occupy much of their attention.

It was getting a little dusk; but Sibyl, too excited to care, scrambled
down from her tree, and a few minutes later had dashed across the
common, and had discovered by the loosened earth the exact spot where
Betty had stooped. She was now beside herself with excitement. It was
her turn to go on her knees. She was doing good work; she was, according
to Fanny Crawford, saving the honor of the school. She poked and poked
with her fingers, and soon got up the already loosened roots of the
piece of heather. Down went her hard little hands into the cold clay
until at last they touched the tiny packet, which was sealed and tied
firmly with strong string.

"Eureka! I have found it!" was Sibyl's exclamation. She slipped the
packet into her pocket, put the heather back into its place, tried to
give the disturbed earth the appearance of not having been disturbed at
all, and went back to the house. She was so excited she could scarcely
contain herself.

The days were getting shorter. Tea was at half-past four, and a kind of
light supper at seven o'clock. The girls of the lower school had this
meal a little earlier. Sibyl was just in time for tea, which was always
served in the great refectory; and here the various members of the upper
school were all assembled - except the Specialities, who had tea in their
own private room.

"Well, Sibyl, you are late!" said Sarah Butt. "I wanted to take a long
walk with you. Where have you been?"

"I have been for a walk with Fanny Crawford," replied Sibyl with an
important air.

Betty, who was helping herself to a cup of tea, glanced up at that
moment and fixed her eyes on Sibyl. Sibyl colored furiously and looked
away. Betty took no further notice of her, but began to chat with a girl
near her. Soon a crowd of girls collected round Betty, and laughed
heartily at her remarks.

On any other occasion Sibyl would have joined this group, and been the
first to giggle over Betty's witticisms. But the little parcel in her
pocket seemed to weigh like lead. It was a weight on her spirits too.
She was most anxious to deliver it over to Fanny Crawford, and to keep
Fanny to her word, in order that she might be proposed as a Speciality
at the next meeting. She knew this would not be until Thursday. Oh, it
was all too long to wait! But she could put on airs already, for would
she not very soon cease to be drinking this weak tea in the refectory?
Would she not be having her own dainty meal in the Specialities' private
room?

"How red you are, Sibyl!" was Sarah Butt's remark. "I suppose the cold
wind has caught your cheeks."

"I wish you wouldn't remark on my appearance," said Sibyl.

"Dear, dear! Hoity-toity! How grand we are getting all of a sudden!"

"You needn't snub me in the way you do, Sarah. You'll be treating me
very differently before long."

"Indeed, your Royal Highness! And may I ask how and why?"

"You may neither ask how nor why; but events will prove," said Sibyl.
She raised her voice a little incautiously, and once again Betty looked
at her. There was something about Betty's glance, at once sorrowful and
aloof, which stung Sibyl. Just because she had done Betty a wrong she no
longer loved her half as much as she had done. After a pause, she said
in a distinct voice, "I am a very great friend of Fanny Crawford, and I
am going to see her now on special business." With these words she
marched out of the refectory.

Some of the girls laughed. Betty was quite silent. No one dared question
Betty Vivian with regard to her withdrawal from the Speciality Club,
nor did she enlighten them. But when tea was over she went up to Sylvia
and Hetty and said a few words to them both. They looked at her in
amazement, but made no kind of protest. After speaking to her sisters,
Betty left the refectory.

"What can be the matter with your Betty?" asked one of the girls,
addressing the twins.

"There's nothing the matter with her," said Sylvia in a stout voice.

"Why are your eyes so red, then?"

"My eyes are red because Dickie's lost."

"Who's Dickie?"

"He is the largest spider I ever saw, and he grows bigger and fatter
every day. But he is lost. We brought him from Scotland. He'd sting any
one who tried to hurt him; so if any of you see him in your bedrooms or
hiding under your pillows you'd best shriek out, for he is a dangerous
sort, and ought not to be interfered with."

"How perfectly appalling!" said the girl now addressed. "You really
oughtn't to keep horrid pets of that sort. And I loathe spiders."

"Oh, well, you're not Scotch," replied Sylvia with a disdainful gesture.
"Dickie is a darling to those he loves, but very fierce to those he
hates."

"And is that really why your eyes are so red?" continued the girl - Hilda
Morton by name. "Has it nothing to do with that wonderful sister of
yours, and the strange fact that she has been expelled from the
Speciality Club?"

"She hasn't been expelled!" said Sylvia in a voice of fury.

"Don't talk nonsense! The fact was mentioned on the blackboard. If you
don't believe it, you can come and see for yourself."

"She has left the club, but was not expelled," said Sylvia. "And I hate
you, Hilda! You have no right to speak of my sister like that."

Meanwhile two girls were pursuing their different ways. Betty was going
towards that wing of the building where Mr. Fairfax's suite of rooms was
to be found. She had never yet spoken to him. She wished to speak to him
now. The rooms occupied by the Fairfaxes formed a complete little
dwelling, with its own kitchen and special servants. These rooms
adjoined the chapel; but his family lived apart from the school. It was
understood, however, that any girl at Haddo Court was at liberty to ask
the chaplain a question in a moment of difficulty.

Betty now rang the bell of the little house. A neat servant opened the
door. On inquiring if Mr. Fairfax were within, Betty was told "Yes," and
was admitted at once into that gentleman's study.

The clergyman rose at her entrance. He recognized her face, spoke to her
kindly, said he was glad she had come to see him, and asked her to sit
down. "Is anything the matter, my dear? Is there any way in which I can
help you?"

"I don't know," answered the girl. "I thought perhaps you could; it
flashed through my mind to-day that perhaps you could. You have seen me
in the chapel?"

"Oh yes; yours is not the sort of face one is likely to forget."

"I am not happy," said Betty.

"I am sorry to hear that. But don't you agree with me that we poor human
creatures think too much of our own individual happiness and too little
of the happiness of others? It seems to me that the golden rule to live
by in this: Provided my brother is happy, all is well with me."

"That is true to a certain extent," said Betty; "but - " She paused a
minute. Then she said abruptly, "I am not at all the cringing sort, and
I am not the girl to grumble, and I love Mrs. Haddo; and, sir, there
have been moments when your voice in chapel has given me great
consolation. I also love one or two of my schoolfellows. But the fact
is, there is something weighing on my conscience, and I cannot tell you
what it is. I cannot do the right thing, sir; and I do not see my way
ever to do what I suppose you would say was the right thing. I will tell
you this much about myself. You have heard of our Speciality Club?"

"Of course I have."

"The girls were very good to me when I came here - for I am a comparative
stranger in the school - and they elected me to be a Speciality."

"Indeed!" said Mr. Fairfax. "That is a very great honor."

"I know it is; and I was given the rules, and I read them all carefully.
But, sir, in a sudden moment of temptation, before I came to Haddo
Court, I did something which was wrong, and I am determined not to mend
my ways with regard to that matter. Nevertheless, I became a Speciality,
knowing that by so doing I should break the first rule of the club."

Mr. Fairfax was too courteous ever to interrupt any one who came to him
to talk over a difficulty. He was silent now, his hands clasped tightly
together, his deep-set eyes fixed on Betty's vivid face.

"I was a Speciality for about a fortnight," she continued - "perhaps a
little longer. But at the last meeting I made up my mind that I could
not go on, so I told the girls what I had done. It is unnecessary to
trouble you with those particulars, sir. After I had told them they
asked me to leave the room, and I went. They had a special meeting of
the club last night to consult over my case, and I was invited to be
present. I was then told that, notwithstanding the fact that I had
broken Rule No. I., I might continue to be a member of the club if I
would give up something which I possess and to which I believe I have a
full right, and if I would relate my story in detail to Mrs. Haddo. I
absolutely refused to do either of these things. I was then _expelled_
from the club, sir - that is the only word to use; and the fact was
notified on the blackboard in the great hall to-day."

"Well," said Mr. Fairfax when Betty paused, "I understand that you
repent, and you do not repent, and that you are no longer a Speciality."

"That is the case, sir."

"Can you not take me further into your confidence?"

"There is no use," said Betty, shaking her head.

"I am not surprised, Miss Vivian, that you are unhappy."

"I am accustomed to that," said Betty.

"May I ask what you have come to see me about?"

"I wanted to know this: ought I, or ought I not, being unrepentant of my
sin, to come to the chapel with the other girls, to kneel with them, to
pray with them, and to listen to your words?"

"I must leave that to yourself. If your conscience says, 'Come,' it is
not for me to turn you out. But it is a very dangerous thing to trifle
with conscience. Of course you know that. I can see, too, that you are
peculiarly sensitive. Forgive me, but I have often noticed your face,
and with extreme interest. You have good abilities, and a great future
before you in the upward direction - that is, if you choose. Although you
won't take me into your confidence, I am well aware that the present is
a turning-point in your career. You must at least know that I, as a
clergyman, would not repeat to any one a word of what you say to me. Can
you not trust me?"

"No, no; it is too painful!" said Betty. "I see that, in your heart of
hearts, you think that I - I ought not - I ought _not_ to come to chapel.
I am indeed outcast!"

"No, child, you are not. Kneel down now, and let me pray with you."

"I cannot stand it - no, I cannot!" said Betty; and she turned away.

When she had gone Mr. Fairfax dropped on his knees. He prayed for a long
time with fervor. But that night he missed Betty Vivian at prayers in
the beautiful little chapel.

Meanwhile Betty - struggling, battling with herself, determined not to
yield, feeling fully convinced that the only wrong thing she had done
was telling the lie to Sir John Crawford and prevaricating to Sibyl - was
nothing like so much to be pitied as Sibyl Ray herself.

Sibyl had lingered about the different corridors and passages until she
found Fanny, who was talking to Martha West. Sibyl was so startled when
the two girls came out of the private sitting-room that she almost
squinted, and Fanny at once perceived that the girl had something
important to tell her. She must not, however, appear to notice Sibyl
specially in the presence of Martha.

Martha, on the contrary, went up at once to Sibyl and said in her
pleasant voice, "Why, my dear child, it is quite a long time since we
have met! And now, I wonder what I can do for you or how I can possibly
help you. Would you like to come and have a cosy chat with me in my
bedroom for a little? The fact is this," continued Martha: "we
Specialities are so terribly spoilt in the school that we hardly know
ourselves. Fancy having a fire in one's bedroom, not only at night, but
at this hour! Would you like to come with me, Sib?"

At another moment Sibyl would have hailed this invitation with rapture.
On the present occasion she was about to refuse it; but Fanny said with
a quick glance, which was not altogether lost on Martha, "Of course go
with Martha, Sibyl. You are in great luck to have such a friend."

Sibyl departed, therefore, very unwillingly, with the friend she had
once adored. Martha's bedroom was very plain and without ornaments, but
there were snug easy-chairs and the fire burned brightly. Martha invited
the little girl to sit down, and asked her how she was.

"Oh, I am all right," said Sibyl.

Martha looked at her attentively. "I don't quite understand you, Sib.
You have rather avoided me during the last day or two. Is it because I
am a Speciality? I do hope that will make no difference with my old
friends."

"Oh no," said Sibyl. "There's nothing so wonderful in being a
Speciality, is there?"

Martha stared. "Well, to me it is very wonderful," she said; "and I
cannot imagine how those other noble-minded girls think me good enough
to join them."

"Oh Martha, are they so good as all that?"

"They are," said Martha; and her tone was very gloomy. She was thinking
of Betty, whom she longed to comfort, whom she earnestly longed to help.

"It's so queer about Betty," said Sibyl after a pause. "She seemed to be
such a very popular Speciality. Then, all of a sudden, she ceased to be
one at all. I can't understand it."

"And you are never likely to, Sibyl. What happens in the club is only
known to its members."

Sibyl grew red. What was coming over her? Two or three hours ago she was
a girl - weak, it is true; insignificant, it is true - with a passion for
Martha West and a most genuine love and admiration for Betty Vivian. Now
she almost disliked Betty; and she could not make out what charm she had
ever discovered in poor, plain Martha. She got up impatiently. "You will
forgive me, Martha," she said; "but I have lots of things I want to do.
I don't think I will stay just now. Perhaps you will ask me to come and
talk to you another day."

"No, Sibyl, I sha'n't. When you want me you must try to find me
yourself. I don't understand what is the matter with you to-day."


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 16 of 22)