L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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"Whom in the world do you mean?" asked Susie.

"I suppose you will be surprised at my choice; but although seven is the
perfect number, there is no rule whatever against our having eight,
nine, ten, or even more members of the club."

"There is no rule against our having twenty members, if those members
are worthy," said Margaret Grant. "But whom have you in the back of your
head, Fanny? You look so mysterious."

"I cannot think of any one myself," said Martha West.

When Martha said this Fanny made a little gesture of despair. "Well,"
she said, "I have taken a fancy to her. I think she is very nice; and I
know she is poor, and I know she wants help, and I know that Mrs. Haddo
takes a great interest in her. I allude to that dear little thing, Sibyl
Ray. You, Martha, surely will support me?"

"Sibyl Ray!" The girls looked at each other in unbounded astonishment.
Martha was quite silent, and her cheeks turned pale.

After a long pause Margaret spoke, "May I ask, Fanny, what one single
qualification Sibyl Ray has for election to membership in the Speciality

"But what possible reason is there against her being a member?" retorted

"A great many, I should say," was Margaret's answer. "In the first
place, she is too young; in the second place, she has only just been
admitted to the upper school."

"You can't keep her out on that account," objected Fanny, "for she has
been longer in the upper school than Betty Vivian."

"Oh, please don't mention Betty and Sibyl in the same breath!" was
Margaret's answer.

"I do not," said Fanny, who was fast losing her temper. "Sibyl is a
good, straightforward, honorable girl. Betty is the reverse."

"Oh Fanny," exclaimed Martha, "I wouldn't abuse my own cousin if I were

"Nonsense!" said Fanny. "Whether she is a cousin, or even a sister, I
cannot be blind to her most flagrant faults."

"Of course you have a right to propose Sibyl Ray as a possible member of
this club," said Margaret, "for it is one of our by-laws that any member
can propose the election of another. But I don't really think you will
carry the thing through. In the first place, what do you know about
Sibyl? I have observed you talking to her once or twice lately; but
until the last week or so, I think, you hardly knew of her existence."

"That is quite true," said Fanny boldly; "but during the last few days I
have discovered that Sibyl is a sweet girl - most charming, most
unselfish, most obliging. She is very timid, however, and lacks
self-confidence; and I have observed that she is constantly snubbed by
girls who are not fit to hold a candle to her and yet look down upon
her, just because she is poor. Now, if she were made a member of the
club all that would be put a stop to, and she would have a great chance
of doing her utmost in the school. We should be holding out a helping
hand to a girl who certainly is neither beautiful nor clever, but who
can be made a fine character. Martha, you at least will stand up for
Sibyl? You have always been her close friend."

"And I am fond of her still," said Martha; "but I don't look upon her at
all in the light in which you do, Fanny. Sibyl, at present, would be
injured, not improved, by her sudden elevation to the rank of a
Speciality. The only thing I would suggest is that you propose her again
in a year's time; and if during the course of that year she has proved
in any sense of the word what you say, I for one will give her my
cordial support. At present I cannot honestly feel justified in voting
for her, and I will not."

"Well spoken, Martha!" said Margaret. "Fanny, your suggestion is really
ill-timed. We are all unhappy about Betty just now; and to see poor
little Sibyl - of course, no one wants to say a word against her - in
Betty's shoes would make our loss seem more irreparable than ever."

Fanny saw that her cause was lost. She had the grace not to say anything
more, but sat back in her chair with her eyes fixed on Margaret's face.
Fanny began to perceive for the first time that some of the girls in
this club had immensely strong characters. Margaret Grant and Martha
West had, for instance, characters so strong that Fanny discovered
herself to be a very unimportant little shadow beside them. The Bertrams
were the sort of girls to take sides at once and firmly with what was
good and noble, Susie Rushworth was devoted to Margaret, and Olive had
been the prime favorite in the club until Betty's advent. Now it seemed
to Fanny that each one of the Specialities was opposed to her, that she
stood alone. She did not like the situation. She was so exceedingly
anxious; for, strong in the belief that she herself was a person of
great importance, and in the further belief that Martha would support
her, she had been practically sure of getting Sibyl admitted to the
club. Now Sibyl had no chance whatever, and Sibyl knew things which
might make Fanny's position in the school the reverse of comfortable.

Fanny Crawford on this occasion sat lost in thought, by no means
inclined to add her quota to the entertainment of the others, and
looking eagerly for the first moment when she might escape from the
meeting. Games were proposed; but games went languidly, and once again
Betty and Betty's illness became the subject of conversation.

When this took place Fanny rose impatiently. "There are no further
questions to be discussed to-night?" she asked, turning to Margaret.

"None that I know of."

"Then, if you will excuse me, girls, I will go. I must tell poor little
Sibyl - - "

"You don't mean to say you spoke to Sibyl about it?" interrupted Martha.

"Well, yes, I did." Fanny could almost have bitten out her tongue for
having made this unwary admission. "She was so keen, poor little thing,
that I told her I would do my best for her. I must say, once and for
all, that I have never seen my sister members so hard and cold and
indifferent to the interests of a very deserving little girl before. I
am, of course, sorry I spoke to her on the matter."

"You really did very wrong, Fan," said Margaret in an annoyed voice.
"You know perfectly well that we never allude to the possibility of a
girl being proposed for membership to that girl herself until we have
first made up our minds whether she is worthy or not. Now, you have
placed us at a great disadvantage; but, of course, you forgot yourself,
Fan. You must tell Sibyl that the thing is not to be thought of. You can
put it down to her age or any other cause you like."

"Of course I must speak the truth," said Fanny, raising her voice to a
somewhat insolent tone. "The club does not permit the slightest vestige
of prevarication. Is that not so?"

"Yes, it is certainly so."

The next minute Fanny had left the room. It was one of the rules of the
club that gossip, in the ordinary sense of the world, with regard to any
member was strictly forbidden; so no one made any comment when Fanny had
taken her departure. There was a sense of relief, however, felt by the
girls who remained behind. The meeting was a sorrowful one, and broke up
rather earlier than usual.

At prayers that night in the chapel Margaret Grant and the other girls
of the Specialities were startled when Mr. Fairfax made special mention
of Betty Vivian, praying God to comfort her in sore distress and to heal
her sickness. The prayer was extempore, and roused the girls to amazed

Fanny was not present that night at chapel. She was so angry that she
felt she must give vent to her feelings to some one; therefore, why not
speak to Sibyl at once?

Sibyl was not considered very strong, and though she did belong to the
upper school, usually went to bed before prayers. She was in her small
room to-night. It was a pretty, neatly furnished room in the west
wing - one of those usually given to a lower-school girl on first
entering the upper school. Sibyl had no intention, however, of going to
bed. She sat by her fire, her heart beating high, her thoughts full of
the privileges which would so soon be hers. She was composing, in her
own mind, a wonderful letter to send to her people at home; she pictured
to herself their looks of delight when they heard that this great honor
had been bestowed upon her. For, of course, Sibyl, as a member of the
lower school at Haddo Court, had heard much of the Specialities, and
what she had heard she had repeated; so that when she wanted to amuse
her select friends in her father's parish, she frequently gave them
some information on this most interesting subject. Now she was on the
point of being a member herself! How she would enjoy her Christmas
holidays! How she would be feted and fussed over and petted! How
carefully she would guard the secrets of the club, and how very high she
would hold her own small head! She a member of the great Haddo Court
School, and also a Speciality!

While Sibyl was thus engaged, seeing pictures in the fire and smiling
quietly to herself, she suddenly heard a light tap at her room door. She
started to her feet, and the next minute she had flown across the room
and opened the door. Fanny stood without.

"Oh, you dear, darling Fan!" exclaimed Sibyl. "You are good! Come in - do
come in! Is the meeting over? And - and - oh, Fanny! what have they said?
Has my name been put to the vote? Of course you and Martha would be on
my side, and you and Martha are so strong that you would carry the rest
of the members with you. Fan, am I to have a copy of the rules?
And - and - oh, Fan! is it settled? Do - do tell me!"

"I wish you weren't quite so excited, Sibyl! Let me sit down; I have a
bad headache."

Fanny sank languidly into the chair which Sibyl herself had been
occupying. There was only one easy-chair in this tiny room. Sibyl had,
therefore, to draw forward a hard and high one for herself. But she was
far too excited to mind this at the present moment.

"And what a fearful blaze of light you have!" continued Fanny, looking
round fretfully. "Don't you know, Sibyl, that, unless we are occupied
over our studies, we are not allowed to turn on such a lot of light?
Here, let me put the room in shadow."

"Let's have firelight only," laughed Sibyl, who was not quick at
guessing things, and felt absolute confidence in Fanny's powers. The
next instant she had switched off the light and was kneeling by Fanny's
side. "Now, Fanny - now, do put me out of suspense!"

"I will," said Fanny. "I have come here for the purpose. I did what I
could for you, Sib. You must bear your disappointment as best you can. I
am truly sorry for you, but things can't be helped."

"You are truly sorry for me - and - and - things can't be helped!"
exclaimed Sibyl, amazement in her voice. "What do you mean?"

"Well, they won't have you at any price as a member of the Specialities;
and the person who spoke most strongly against you was your dear and
special friend, Martha West. I am not at liberty to quote a single word
of what she did say; but you are not to be a Speciality - at least, not
for a year. If at the end of a year you have done something
wonderful - the sort of thing which you, poor Sibyl, could never possibly
do - the matter may be brought up again for reconsideration. As things
stand, you are not to be elected; so the sooner you put the matter out
of your head the better."

Sibyl turned very white. Then her face became suffused with small
patches of vivid color.

Fanny was not looking at her; had she looked she might have perceived
that Sibyl's expression was anything but amiable at that moment. The
girl's extraordinary silence, however - the absence of all remark - the
absence, even, of any expression of sorrow - presently caused Fanny to
glance round at her. "Well," she said, "I thought I'd tell you at once.
You must put it out of your head. I think I will go to bed now.
Good-night, Sibyl. Sorry I couldn't do more for you."

"Don't go!" said Sibyl. "What do you mean?"

There was a quality in Sibyl's voice which made Fanny feel

"I am much too tired," Fanny said, "to stay up any longer chatting with
an insignificant little girl like you. I could not even stay to the
conclusion of our meeting, and I certainly don't want to be seen in your
room. I did my best for you. I have failed. I am sorry, and there's an
end of it."

"Oh no, there isn't an end of it!" said Sibyl.

"What do you mean, Sibyl?"

"I mean," said Sibyl, "that you have got to reward me for doing your
horrid - _horrid_, dirty work!"

"You odious little creature! what do you mean? My dirty work! Sibyl, I
perceive that I was mistaken in you. I also perceive that Martha West
and the others were right. You are indeed unworthy to be a Speciality."

"If all were known," said Sibyl, "I don't think I am half as unworthy as
you are, Fanny Crawford. Anyhow, if I am not to be made a Speciality,
and if every one is going to despise me and look down on me, why, I have
nothing to lose, and I may as well make an example of you."

"You odious child! what _do_ you mean?"

"Why, I can tell Mrs. Haddo as well as anybody else. Every one in the
school knows that Betty is ill to-night. Something seems to have gone
wrong with her head, and she is crying out about a packet - a lost
packet. Now, _you_ know how the packet was lost. You and I both know how
it was found - and lost again. You have it, Fanny. You are the one who
can cure Betty Vivian - Betty, who never was unkind to any one; Betty,
who did not mean me to be a figure of fun, as you suggested, on the
night of the entertainment; Betty, who has been kind to me, as she has
been kind to every one else since she came to the school. _You_ have
done nothing for me, Fanny; so I - I can take care of myself in future,
and perhaps Betty too."

To say that Fanny was utterly amazed and horrified at Sibyl's speech - to
say that Fanny was thunderstruck when she perceived that this poor
little worm, as she considered Sibyl Ray, had turned at last - would be
but very inadequately to describe the situation. Fanny lost her headache
on the spot. Here was danger, grave and imminent; here was the
possibility of her immaculate character being dragged through the mud;
here was the terrible possibility of Fanny Crawford being seen in her
true colors. She had now to collect her scattered senses - in short, to
pull herself together.

"Oh Sibyl," she said after a pause, "you frightened me for a minute - you
really did! Who would suppose that you were such a spirited girl?"

"I am not spirited, Fanny; but I love Betty, notwithstanding all you
have tried to do to put me against her. And if I am not to be a
Speciality I would ever so much rather be Betty's friend than yours.
There! Now I have spoken. Perhaps you would like to go now, Fan, as your
head is aching so badly?"

"It doesn't ache now," said Fanny; "your conduct has frightened all the
aches away. Sibyl, you really are the very queerest girl! I came here
to-night full of the kindest feelings towards you. You can ask Martha
West how I spoke of you at the club."

"But she won't tell me. Anything that you say in the club isn't allowed
to be breathed outside it."

"I know that. Anyhow, I have been doing my utmost to get the school to
see you in your true light. I have taken great notice of you, and you
have been proud to receive my notice. It is certainly true that I have
failed to get you what I hoped I could manage; but there are other
things - - "

"Other things!" said Sibyl. She stood in a defiant attitude quite
foreign to her usual manner.

"Oh yes, my dear child, lots and lots of other things! For instance, in
the Christmas holidays I can have you to stay with me at Brighton. What
do you say to that? Don't you think that would be a feather in your cap?
I have an aunt who lives there, Aunt Amelia Crawford; and she generally
allows me - that is, when father cannot have me - to bring one of my
school-friends with me to stay in her lovely house. I had a letter from
her only yesterday, asking me which girl I would like to bring with me
this year. I thought of Olive - Olive is such fun; but I'd just as soon
have you - that is, if you would like to come."

Alas for poor Sibyl! She was not proof against such a tempting bait.

"As far as you are concerned," continued Fanny, who saw that she was
making way with Sibyl, and breaking down, as she expressed it, her silly
little defences, "you would gain far more prestige in being Aunt
Amelia's guest than if you belonged to twenty Speciality Clubs. Aunt
Amelia is good to the girls who come to stay with her as my friends. And
I'd help you, Sib; I'd make the best of your dresses. We'd go to the
theatre, and the pantomime, and all kinds of jolly things. We'd have a
rattling fine time."

"Do you really mean it?" said Sibyl.

"Yes - that is, if you will give me your solemn word that you will refer
no more to that silly matter about Betty Vivian. Betty Vivian had no
right to that packet. It belonged to my father, and I have got it back
for him. Don't think of it any more, Sibyl, and you shall be my guest
this Christmas. But if you prefer to make a fuss, and drag me into an
unpleasant position, and get yourself, in all probability, expelled from
the school, then you must do as you please."

"But if I were expelled, you'd be expelled too," said Sibyl.

Fanny laughed. "I think not," she said. "I think, without any undue
pride, that my position in the school is sufficiently strong to prevent
such a catastrophe. No; you would be cutting off your nose to spite your
face - that is all you would be doing with this nice little scheme of
yours. Give it up, Sibyl, and you shall come to Brighton."

"It is dull at home at Christmas," said Sibyl. "We are so dreadfully
poor, and father has such a lot to do; and there are always those
half-starved, smelly sort of people coming to the house - the sort that
want coal-tickets, you know, and grocery-tickets; and - and - we have to
help to give great big Christmas dinners. We are all day long getting up
entertainments for those dull sort of people. I often think they are not
a bit grateful, and after being at a school like this I really feel
quite squeamish about them."

Fanny laughed. She saw, or believed she saw, that her cause was won.
"You'll have nothing to make you squeamish at Aunt Amelia's," she said.
"And now I must say good-night. Sorry about the Specialities; but, after
the little exhibition you have just made of yourself, I agree with the
other girls that you are not fit to be a member. Now, ta-ta for the



Fanny went straight to her own room. "What a nasty time I have lived
through!" she thought as she was about to enter. Then she opened the
door and started back.

The whole room had undergone a metamorphosis. There was a shaded light
in one corner, and the door between Fanny's room and Betty's was thrown
open. A grave, kind-looking nurse was seated by a table, on which was a
shaded lamp; and on seeing Fanny enter she held up her hand with a
warning gesture. The next minute she had beckoned the girl out on the

"What is the meaning of this?" asked Fanny. "What are you doing in my

"The doctor wished the door to be opened and the room to be given up to
me," replied the nurse. "My name is Sister Helen, and I am looking after
dear little Miss Vivian. We couldn't find you to tell you about the
necessary alterations, which were made in a hurry. Ah, I mustn't leave
my patient! I hear her calling out again. She is terribly troubled about
something she has lost. Do you hear her?"

"I won't give it up! I won't give it up!" called poor Betty's voice.

"I was asked to tell you," said Sister Helen, "to go straight to Miss
Symes, who has arranged another room for you to sleep in - that is, if
you _are_ Miss Crawford."

"Yes, that is my name. Have my things been removed?"

"I suppose so, but I don't know. I am going back to my patient."

The nurse re-entered the room, closing the door on Fanny, who stood by
herself in the corridor. She heard Betty's voice, and Betty's voice
sounded so high and piercing and full of pain that her first feeling was
one of intense thankfulness that she had been moved from close proximity
to the girl. The next minute she was speeding down the corridor in the
direction of Miss Symes's room. Half-way there she met St. Cecilia coming
to meet her.

"Ah, Fanny, dear," said Miss Symes, "I thought your little meeting would
have been over by now. Do you greatly mind sharing my room with me
to-night? I cannot get another ready for you in time. Dr. Ashley wishes
the nurse who is looking after Betty to have your room for the present.
There was no time to tell you, dear; but I have collected the few things
I think you will want till the morning. To-morrow we will arrange
another room for you. In the meantime I hope you will put up with me. I
have had a bed put into a corner of my room and a screen around it, so
you will be quite comfortable."

"Thank you," said Fanny. She wondered what further unpleasantness was
about to happen to her on that inauspicious night.

"You would like to go to bed, dear, wouldn't you?" said Miss Symes.

"Yes, thank you."

"Well, you shall do so. I cannot go for a couple of hours, as Mrs. Haddo
wants me to sit up with her until the specialist arrives from London."

"The specialist from London!" exclaimed Fanny, turning first red and
then white. "Do you mean that Mrs. Haddo has sent for a London doctor?"

"Indeed she has. My dear, poor little Betty is dangerously ill. Dr.
Ashley is by no means satisfied about her."

By this time the two had reached Miss Symes's beautiful room. Fanny gave
a quick sigh. Then, like a flash, a horrible thought occurred to her.
Her room had to be given up to-morrow. Her things would be removed.
Among her possessions - put safely away, it is true, but still not _too_
safely - was the little sealed packet. If that packet were found, Fanny
felt that the world would be at an end as far as she was concerned.

"You don't look well yourself, Fanny," said Miss Symes, glancing kindly
at the girl. "Of course you are sorry about Betty; we are all sorry, for
we all love her. If you had been at prayers to-night you would have been
astonished at the gloom which was felt in our beautiful little chapel
when Mr. Fairfax prayed for her."

"But she can't be as ill as all that?" said Fanny.

"She is - very, very ill, dear. The child has evidently got a bad chill,
together with a most severe mental shock. We none of us can make out
what is the matter; but it is highly probable that the specialist - Dr.
Jephson of Harley Street - will insist on the Specialities being
questioned as to the reason why Betty was expelled from the club. It is
absolutely essential that the girl's mind should be relieved, and that
as soon as possible. She is under the influence now of a composing
draught, and, we greatly trust, may be more like herself in the morning.
Don't look too sad, dear Fanny! I can quite understand that you must
feel this very deeply, for Betty is your cousin; and somehow,
dear - forgive me for saying it - but you do not act quite the cousin's
part to that poor, sweet child. Now I must leave you. Go to bed, dear.
Pray for Betty, and then sleep all you can."

"Where are the twins?" suddenly asked Fanny.

"They are sleeping to-night in the lower school. It was necessary to put
the poor darlings as far from Betty as possible, for they are in a
fearful state about her. Now I will leave you, Fanny. I am wanted
elsewhere. When I do come to bed I will be as quiet as possible, so as
not to disturb you."

Fanny made no answer, and the next minute Miss Symes had left her.

Fanny now went over to the corner of the room where a snug little white
bed had been put up, a washhand-stand was placed and where a small chest
of drawers stood - empty at present, for only a few of Fanny's things had
been taken out of her own room. The girl looked round her in a
bewildered way. The packet! - the sealed packet! To-morrow all her
possessions would be removed into a room which would be got ready for
her. There were always one or two rooms to spare at Haddo Court, and
Fanny would be given a room to herself again. She was far too important
a member of that little community not to have the best possible done for
her. Deft and skillful servants would take her things out of the various
drawers and move them to another room. They would find the packet. Fanny
knew quite well where she had placed it. She had put it under a pile of
linen which she herself took charge of, and which was always kept in the
bottom drawer of her wardrobe. Fanny had put the packet there in a

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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 18 of 22)