L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

. (page 19 of 22)
Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 19 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


moment of excitement and hurry. She had not yet decided what to do with
it; she had to make a plan in her own mind, and in the meantime it was
safe enough among Fanny's various and pretty articles of toilet. For it
was one of the rules of Haddo Court that each girl, be she rich or poor,
should take care of her own underclothing. All that the servants had to
do was to see that the things were properly aired; but the girls had to
mend their own clothes and keep them tidy.

Absolute horror filled Fanny's mind now. What was she to do? She was so
bewildered that for a time she could scarcely think coherently. Then she
made up her mind that, come what would, she must get that packet out of
her own bedroom before the servants came in on the following day. She
was so absorbed with the thought of her own danger that she had no time
to think of the very grave danger which assailed poor little Betty
Vivian. If she had disliked Betty before, she hated her now. Oh, how
right she had been when, in her heart of hearts, she had opposed Betty's
entrance into the school! What trouble those three tiresome, wild,
uncontrollable girls had brought in their wake! And now Betty - Betty,
who was so adored - Betty, who, in Fanny's opinion, was both a thief and
a liar - was dangerously ill; and she (Fanny) would in all probability
have to appear in a most sorry position. For, whatever Betty's sin,
Fanny knew well that nothing could excuse her own conduct. She had spied
on Betty; she had employed Sibyl Ray as a tool; she had got Sibyl to
take the packet from under the piece of heather; and that very night she
had excited the astonishment of her companions in the Speciality Club by
proposing a ridiculously unsuitable person for membership as poor Sibyl.

"Things look as black as night," thought Fanny to herself. "I don't want
to go to bed. I wish I could get out of this. How odious things are!"

Just then she heard footsteps outside her door - footsteps that came up
close and waited. Then, all of a sudden, the door was flung violently
open, and Sylvia and Hester entered. They had been crying so hard that
their poor little faces were disfigured almost beyond recognition.
Sylvia held a small tin box in her hand.

"What are you doing, girls? You had better go to bed," said Fanny.

Neither girl took the slightest notice of this injunction. They looked
round the room, noting the position of the different articles of
furniture. Then Sylvia walked straight up to the screen behind which
Fanny's bed was placed. With a sudden movement she pulled down the
bedclothes, opened the little tin box, and put something into Fanny's
bed.

"It's Dickie!" said Sylvia. "I hope you will like his company. Come,
Hetty."

Before Fanny could find words the girls had vanished. But the look of
hatred on Sylvia's face, the look of defiance and horror on Hetty's,
Fanny was not likely to forget. They shut the door somewhat noisily
behind them. Then, all of a sudden, Hetty opened it again, pushed in her
small face, and said, "You had better be careful. His bite is
dangerous!"

The next instant quick feet were heard running away from Miss Symes's
room, in the center of which Fanny stood stunned and really frightened.
What had those awful children put into her bed? She had heard vague
rumors of a pet of theirs called Dickie, but had never been interested
enough even to inquire about him. Who was Dickie? What was Dickie? Why
was his bite dangerous? Why was he put into her bed? Fanny, for all her
careful training, for all her airs and graces, was by no means
remarkable for physical courage. She approached the bed once or twice,
and went back again. She was really afraid to pull down the bedclothes.
At last, summoning up courage, she did so. To her horror, she saw an
enormous spider, the largest she had ever beheld, in the center of the
bed! This, then, was Dickie! He was curled up as though he were asleep.
But as Fanny ventured to approach a step nearer it seemed to her that
one wicked, protruding eye fastened itself on her face. The next instant
Dickie began to run, and when Dickie ran he ran towards her. Fanny
uttered a shriek. It was the culmination of all she had lived through
during that miserable evening. One shriek followed another, and in a
minute Susie Rushworth and Olive Repton ran into the room.

"Oh, save me! Save me!" said Fanny. "Those little horrors have done it!
I don't know where it is! Oh, it is such an odious, dangerous, awful
kind of reptile! It's the biggest spider I ever saw in all my life, and
those horrible twins came and put it into my bed! Oh, girls, what I am
suffering! Do have pity on me! Do help me to find it! Do help me to kill
it!"

"To kill Dickie!" said Susie. "Why, the poor little twins were
heartbroken for two or three days because they thought he was lost. I
for one certainly won't kill Dickie."

"Nor I," said Olive.

"Oh, dear! what shall I do?" said poor Fanny. "I really never was in
such miserable confusion and wretchedness in my life."

"Do, Fanny, cease to be such a coward!" said Susie. "I must say I am
surprised at you. The poor little twins are almost beside
themselves - that is, on account of darling Betty. Betty is so ill; and
they think - the twins do - - I mean, they have got it into their heads
that you - you don't like Betty, although she is your cousin and the very
sweetest girl in all the world. But as to your being afraid of a spider!
We'll have a good hunt for him, and find him. Fanny, I never thought you
could scream out as you did. What a mercy that Miss Symes's room is a
good way off from poor darling Betty's!"

"Do try to think of some one besides Betty for a minute!" said Fanny;
"and you find that horror and put him into his box, or put him into
anything, only don't have him loose in the room."

"Well, we'll have a good search," said both the girls, "and we may find
him."

But this was a thing easier said than done; for if there was a knowing
spider anywhere in the world, that spider was Dickie of Scotland. Dickie
was not going to be easily caught. Perhaps Dickie had a secret sense of
humor and enjoyed the situation - the terror of the one girl, the efforts
of the others to put him back into captivity. In vain Susie laid baits
for Dickie all over the room - bits of raw meat, even one or two dead
flies which she found in a corner. But Dickie had secured a hiding-place
for himself, and would not come out at present.

"I can't sleep in the room - that's all!" said Fanny. "I really
can't - that's flat."

"Oh, stop talking for a minute!" said Olive suddenly. "There! didn't you
hear it? Yes, that is the sound of the carriage coming back from the
station. Dr. Jephson has come. Oh, I wonder what he will say about her!"

"Don't leave me, girls, please!" said Fanny. "I never was so utterly
knocked to bits in my whole life!"

"Well, we must go to bed or we'll be punished," said Susie.

"Susie, you are not a bit afraid of reptiles; won't you change rooms
with me?" asked Fanny.

"I would, only it's against the rules," said Susie at once.

Olive also shook her head. "It's against the rules, Fanny; and, really,
if I were you I'd pull myself together, and on a night like this, when
the whole house is in such a state of turmoil, I'd try to show a spark
of courage and not be afraid of a poor little spider."

"A _little_ spider! You haven't seen him," said Fanny. "Why, he's nearly
as big as an egg! I tell you he is most dangerous."

"That's the doctor! Oh, I wonder what he is going to say!" exclaimed
Olive. "Come, Susie," she continued, turning to her companion, "we must
go to bed. Good-night, Fanny; good-night."




CHAPTER XX

A TIME OF DANGER


Fanny was left alone with Dickie. It was really awful to be quite alone
in a room where a spider nearly the size of an egg had concealed
himself. If Dickie would only come out and show himself Fanny thought
she could fight him; but he was at once big enough to bite and terrify
her up to the point of danger, and small enough effectually to hide his
presence. Fanny was really nervous; all the events of the day had
conspired to make her so. She, who, as a rule, knew nothing whatever
about nerves, was oppressed by them now. There had been the meeting of
the Specialities; there had been the blunt refusal to make Sibyl one of
their number. Then there was the appalling fact that she (Fanny) was
turned out of her bedroom. There was also the unpleasantness of Sibyl's
insurrection; and last, but not least, a spider had been put into her
bed by those wicked girls.

Oh, what horrors all the Vivians were! What turmoil they had created in
the hitherto orderly, happy school! "No wonder I hate them!" thought
Fanny. "Well, I can't sleep here - that's plain." She stood by the fire.
The fire began to get low; the hour waxed late. There was no sound
whatever in the house. Betty's beautiful room was in a distant wing. The
doctors might consult in the adjoining room that used to be Fanny's as
much as they pleased, but not one sound of their voices or footsteps
could reach the girl. The other schoolgirls had gone to bed. They were
all anxious, all more or less unhappy; but, compared to Fanny, they were
blessed with sweet peace, and could slumber without any sense of
reproach.

Fanny found herself turning cold. She was also hungry. She looked at the
clock on the mantelpiece; the hour was past midnight. As a rule, she was
in bed and sound asleep long before this time. Her cold and hunger made
her look at the fire; it was getting low.

Mrs. Haddo was so determined to give the girls of her school every
possible comfort that she never allowed them to feel cold in the house.
The passages were therefore heated in winter-time with steam, and each
bedroom had its own cheery fire. The governesses were treated almost
better than the pupils. But then people were not expected to sit up all
night.

Fanny opened the coal-hod, intending to put fresh coals on the dying
fire; but, to her distress, found that the hod was empty. This happened
to be a mistake on the part of the housemaid who had charge of this
special room.

Fanny felt herself growing colder and colder, and yet she dared not go
to bed. She had turned on all the electric lights, and the room itself
was bright as day. Suddenly she heard the sound of wheels crunching on
the gravel outside. She rushed to the window, and was relieved to
observe that the doctor's carriage was bowling down the avenue. The
doctors had therefore gone. Miss Symes would come to bed very soon now.
Perhaps Miss Symes would know how to catch Dickie. Anyhow, Fanny would
not be alone. She crouched in her chair near the dying embers of the
fire. The minutes ticked slowly on until at last it was a quarter to one
o'clock. Then Miss Symes opened the door and came in. She hardly noticed
the fact that Fanny was up, and the further fact that her fire was
nothing but embers did not affect her in the very least. Her eyes were
very bright, and there were red spots on each cheek. The expression on
her face brought Fanny to the momentary consciousness that they were all
in a house where the great Angel of Death might enter at any moment.

Miss Symes sat down on the nearest chair, folded her hands on her lap,
and looked at Fanny. "Well," she said, "have you nothing to ask me?"

"I am a very miserable girl!" said Fanny. "To begin with, I am hungry,
for I scarcely ate any supper to-night; I did not care for the food
provided by the Specialities. Hours and hours have passed by, and I
could not go to bed."

"And why not, Fanny?" asked Miss Symes. "Why did you stay up against the
rules? And why do you think of yourself in a moment like the present?"

"I am sorry," said Fanny; "but one must always think of one's self - at
least, I am afraid _I_ must. Not that I mean to be selfish," she added,
seeing a look of consternation spread over Miss Symes's face. "The fact
is this, St. Cecilia, I have had the most horrible fright. Those ghastly
little creatures the twins - the Vivian twins - brought a most enormous
spider into your room, hid it in the center of my bed, and then ran away
again. I never saw such a monster! I was afraid to go near the creature
at first; and when I did it looked at me - yes, absolutely looked at me!
I turned cold with horror. Then, before I could find my voice, it began
to run - and towards me! Oh, St. Cecilia, I screamed! I did. Susie and
Olive heard me, and came to the rescue. Of course they knew that the
spider was Dickie, that horrid reptile those girls brought from
Scotland. He has hidden himself somewhere in the room. The twins
themselves said that his bite was dangerous, so I am quite afraid to go
to bed; I am, really."

"Come, Fanny, don't talk nonsense!" said Miss Symes. "The poor little
twins are to be excused to-night, for they are really beside themselves.
I have just left the poor little children, and Martha West is going to
spend the night with them. Martha is a splendid creature!"

"I cannot possibly go to bed, Miss Symes."

"But you really must turn in. We don't want to have more illnesses in
the house than we can help; so, my dear Fanny, get between the sheets
and go to sleep."

"And you really think that Dickie won't hurt me?"

"Of course not; and you surely can take care of yourself. If you are
nervous you can keep one of the electric lights on. Now, do go to bed. I
am going to change into a warm dressing-gown, for I want to help the
nurse in Betty's room."

"And how is Betty?" asked Fanny in a low tone. "Why is there such a
frightful fuss about her? Is she so very ill?"

"Yes, Fanny; your cousin, Betty Vivian, is dangerously ill. No one can
quite account for what is wrong; but that her brain is affected there is
not the slightest doubt, and the doctor from London says that unless she
gets relief soon he fears very much for the result. The child is
suffering from a very severe shock, and to-morrow Mrs. Haddo intends to
make most urgent inquiries as to the nature of what went wrong. But I
needn't talk to you any longer about her now. Go to bed and to sleep."

While Miss Symes was speaking she was changing her morning-dress and
putting on a very warm woolen dressing-gown. The next minute she had
left the room without taking any further notice of Fanny. Fanny,
terrified, cold, afraid to undress, but unable from sheer sleepiness to
stay up any longer, got between the sheets and soon dropped into
undisturbed slumber. If Dickie watched her in the distance he left her
alone. There were worse enemies waiting to spy on poor Fanny than even
Dickie.

In a school like Haddo Court dangerous illness must affect each member
of the large and as a rule deeply attached family. Betty Vivian had come
like a bright meteor into the midst of the school. She had delighted
her companions; she had fascinated them; she had drawn forth love. She
could do what no other girl had ever done in the school. No one supposed
Betty to be free from faults, but every one also knew that her faults
were exceeded by her virtues. She was loved because she was lovable. The
only one who really hated her was her cousin Fanny.

Now, Fanny knew well that inquiries would be made; for the favorite must
not be ill if anything could be done to save her, nor must a stone be
left unturned to effect her recovery.

Fanny awoke the next morning with a genuine headache, fearing she knew
not what. The great gong which always awoke the school was not sounded
that day; but a servant came in and brought Fanny's hot water, waking
her at the same time. Fanny rubbed her eyes, tried to recall where she
was, and then asked the woman how Miss Vivian was.

"I don't know, miss. It's a little late, but if you are quick you'll be
down in hall at the usual time."

Fanny felt that she hated the woman. As she dressed, however, she forgot
all about her, so intensely anxious was she to recover the packet from
its hiding-place in her own bedroom. She wondered much if she could
accomplish this, and presently, prompted by the motto, "Nothing venture,
nothing win," tidied her dress, smoothed back her hair, washed her face,
tried to look as she might have looked on an ordinary morning, and
finding that she had quite ten minutes to spare before she must appear
in hall, ran swiftly in the direction of her own room.

She was sufficiently early to know that there was very little chance of
her meeting another girl en route, and even if she did she could easily
explain that she was going to her room to fetch some article of wardrobe
which had been forgotten.

She reached the room. The door was shut. Very softly she turned the
handle; it yielded to her pressure, and she went in.

The nurse turned at once to confront her. "You mustn't come in here,
miss."

"I just want to fetch something from one of my drawers; I won't make the
slightest noise," said Fanny. "Please let me in."

Sister Helen said nothing further. Fanny softly opened one of the
drawers. She knew the exact spot where the packet lay hidden. A moment
later she had folded it up in some of her under-linen and conveyed it
outside the room without Sister Helen suspecting anything. As soon as
she found herself in the corridor she removed the packet from its
wrappings and slipped it into her inner pocket. It must stay on her
person for the present, for in no other place could it possibly be safe.
When she regained Miss Symes's room she found that lady already there.
She was making her toilet.

"Why, Fanny," she said, "what have you been doing? You haven't, surely,
been to your own room! Did Sister Helen let you in?"

"She didn't want to; but I required some - some handkerchiefs and things
of that sort," said Fanny.

"Well, you haven't brought any handkerchiefs," said Miss Symes. "You
have only brought a couple of night-dresses."

"Sister Helen rather frightened me, and I just took these and ran away,"
answered the girl. Then she added, lowering her voice, "How is Betty
to-day?"

"You will hear all about Betty downstairs. It is time for you to go into
the hall. Don't keep me, Fanny."

Fanny, only too delighted, left the room. Now she was safe. The worst of
all could not happen to her. When she reached the great central hall,
where the girls usually met for a few minutes before breakfast, she
immediately joined a large circle of girls of the upper school. They
were talking about Betty. Among the group was Sibyl Ray. Sibyl was
crying, and when Fanny appeared she turned abruptly aside as though she
did not wish to be seen. Fanny, who had been almost jubilant at having
secured the packet, felt a new sense of horror at Sibyl's tears. Sibyl
was the sort of girl to be very easily affected.

As Fanny came near she heard Susie Rushworth say to Sibyl, "Yes, it is
true; Betty has lost something, and if she doesn't find it she will - the
doctor, the great London doctor, says that she will - die."

Sibyl gave another great, choking sob.

Fanny took her arm. "Sibyl," she said, "don't you want to come for a
walk with me during recess this morning?"

"Oh, I don't know, Fanny!" said poor Sibyl, raising her eyes, streaming
with tears, to Fanny's face.

"Well, I want you," said Fanny. Then she added in a low tone, "Don't
forget Brighton and Aunt Amelia, and the excellent time you will have,
and the positive certainty that before a year is up you will be a
Speciality. Don't lose all these things for the sake of a little
sentiment. Understand, too, that doctors are often wrong about people.
It is ridiculous to suppose that a strong, hearty girl like Betty Vivian
should have her life in danger because you happened to find - - "

"Oh, don't!" said Sibyl. "I - I _can't_ bear it! I saw Sylvia and Hetty
last night. I can't bear it!"

"You are a little goose, Sibyl! It's my opinion you are not well. You
must cling to me, dear, and I will pull you through - see if I don't."

As Fanny took her usual place at the breakfast-table Susie Rushworth
said to her, "You really are kind to that poor little Sibyl, Fan. After
all, we must have been a little hard on her last night. She certainly
shows the greatest distress and affection for poor dear Betty."

"I said she was a nice child. I shouldn't be likely to propose her for
the club if she were not," said Fanny.

Susie said nothing more. All the girls were dull, grave, distressed. The
twins were nowhere to be seen. Betty's sweet face, Betty's sparkling
eyes, Betty's gay laugh, were conspicuous by their absence. Miss Symes
did not appear at all.

When breakfast was over, and the brief morning prayers had been gone
through by Mr. Fairfax - for these prayers were not said in the
chapel - Mrs. Haddo rose and faced the school. "Girls," she said, "I wish
to let you all know that one of your number - one exceedingly dear to us
all - is lying now at the point of death. Whether God will spare her or
not depends altogether on her mind being given a certain measure of
relief. I need not tell you her name, for you all know it, and I believe
you are all extremely grieved at what has occurred. It is impossible for
any of you to help her at this moment except by being extra quiet, and
by praying to God to be good to her and her two little sisters. I
propose, therefore, to make a complete alteration in the arrangements of
to-day. I am going to send the whole of the upper school - with the
exception of the members of the Speciality Club - to London by train. Two
of the teachers, Mademoiselle and Miss Oxley, will accompany you. You
will all be driven to the station, and win return to-night - having, I
hope, enjoyed a pleasant day. By that time there may be good news to
greet you. No lessons to-day for any of the upper school; so, girls, go
at once and get ready."

All the girls began now to leave the great hall, with the exception of
the Specialities and Sibyl Ray.

"Go, Sibyl!" said Fanny. "What are you lingering for?"

"Yes, Sibyl, be quick; don't delay!" said Mrs. Haddo, speaking rather
sharply. "You will all be back in time to-night to hear the latest
report of dear Betty, and we trust we may have good news to tell you."

Sibyl went with extreme slowness and extreme unwillingness. But for the
fact that Fanny kept her eye fixed on Sibyl she might have refused to
budge. As it was, she left the hall; and a very few minutes later
wagonettes and motors appeared in view, and the girls of the upper
school drove to the railway station.

As Fanny saw Sibyl driving off with the others she became conscious of a
new sense of relief. She had been so anxious with regard to Sibyl that
she had not had time to wonder why the Specialities were not included in
the entertainment. Now, however, her thoughts were turned into a
different channel.

Susie Rushworth came up to Fanny. "Fanny," she said, "you and I, and the
Bertrams, and Olive, and Margaret, and Martha are all to go immediately
to Mrs. Haddo's private sitting-room."

"What for?" asked Fanny.

"I expect that she will explain. We are to go, and at once."

Fanny did not dare to say any more. They all went slowly together in the
direction of that beautiful room where Mrs. Haddo, usually so bright, so
cheery, so full of enthusiasm, invited her young pupils to meet her. But
there was no smile of welcome on that lady's fine face on the present
occasion. She did not even shake hands with the girls as they
approached. All she did was to ask them to sit down.

Fanny took her place between Olive and one of the Bertrams. She could
not help noticing a great change in their manner towards her. As a rule
she was a prime favorite, and to sit next Fanny Crawford was considered
a very rare honor. On this occasion, however, the girls rather edged
away from Fanny.

Mrs. Haddo seated herself near the fire. Then she turned and spoke to
Margaret Grant. "Margaret," she said, "I ask you, in the name of the
other members of your club, to give me full and exact particulars with
regard to your expulsion of Betty Vivian. I must know, and fully, why
Betty was expelled. Pause a minute before you speak, dear. For long
years I have allowed this club to exist in the school, believing much in
its good influence - in its power to ennoble and raise the impressionable
character of a young girl. I have not interfered with it; on the
contrary, I have been proud of it. To each girl who became a Speciality
I immediately granted certain privileges, knowing well that no girl
would be lightly admitted to a club with so high an aim and so noble a
standard.

"When Betty first came I perceived at once that she was fearless, very
affectionate, and possessed a strong, pronounced, willful character; I


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22

Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 19 of 22)