L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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Haddo.

"No; but young girls cannot see as far into character as older people
can."

"Well, now," said Mrs. Haddo, "I will be frank with you. What I say to
you, you can repeat to Mary Arundel. I feel proud to call you both my
flag lieutenants, who always hold the banner of high principle and
virtue aloft, and I feel certain you will do so to the end. Emma, Sir
John Crawford came to see me yesterday on a very important matter; and,
partly to oblige him, partly because of an old memory, partly also
because it seemed to me that I must trust and hope for the best in
certain emergencies, I have agreed to do what I never did
before - namely, to take three girls into the school - yes, into the upper
school, in place of the three Maitlands. These girls are called Betty,
Sylvia, and Hester Vivian. They are the nieces of that dear woman,
Beatrice Vivian, who was educated at this school years ago. I expect
them to arrive here on Monday next. In the meantime you must prepare the
other girls for their appearance on the scene. Do not blame me, Emma,
nor look on me with reproachful eyes. I quite understand what you are
thinking, that I have broken a rule which I have always declared I would
never break - namely, I am taking these girls without having first
interviewed them. Such is the case. Now, I want you, in particular, to
tell Fanny Crawford that they are coming. Fanny is their cousin. Sir
John is their guardian. Sir John knows nothing whatever about their
disposition, but I gather from some conversation which I had with him
last night that Fanny is acquainted with them. Observe, dear, how she
takes the news of their coming. If dear Fanny looks quite happy about
them, it will certainly be a rest to my mind."

"Oh, I will talk to her," said Miss Symes, rising. "And now, please,
dear Mrs. Haddo, don't be unhappy. You have done, in my opinion, the
only thing you could do; and girls with such high credentials must be
all right."

"I hope they will prove to be all that is desirable," said Mrs. Haddo.
"You had better have a talk with Miss Ludlow with regard to the rooms
they are to occupy. Poor children! they are in great trouble, having
already lost both their parents, and are now coming to me because their
aunt, Miss Vivian, has just died. It might comfort them to be in that
large room which is near Fanny's. It will hold three little beds and the
necessary furniture without any crowding."

"Yes, it would do splendidly," said Miss Symes. "I will speak to Miss
Ludlow. I suppose, now, I ought to return to my school duties?"

Miss Symes was not at all uneasy at what Mrs. Haddo had told her. Hers
was a gentle and triumphant sort of nature. She trusted most people. She
had a sublime faith in the good, not the bad, of her fellow-creatures.
Still, Mrs. Haddo had done a remarkable thing, and Miss Symes owned to
herself that she was a little curious to see how Fanny Crawford would
take the news of the unexpected advent of her relatives.

It was arranged that the Vivians were to arrive at Haddo Court on the
following Monday. To-day was Wednesday, and a half-holiday.
Half-holidays were always prized at Haddo Court; and the girls were now
in excellent spirits, full of all sorts of schemes and plans for the
term which had little more than begun, and during which they hoped to
achieve so much. Fanny Crawford, in particular, was in earnest
conversation with Susie Rushworth. They were forming a special plan for
strengthening what they called the bond of union in the upper school.
Fresh girls were to be admitted, and all kinds of schemes were in
progress. Susie had a wonderfully bright face, and her eager words fell
on Miss Symes's ears as she approached the two girls.

"It's all very fine for you, Susie," Fanny was heard to say; "but this
term seems to me quite intolerable. You will be going home for
Christmas, but I shall have to stay at the school. Oh, of course, I love
the school; but we are all proud of our holidays, and father had all but
promised to take me to Switzerland in order to get some really good
skating. Now everything is knocked on the head; but I suppose I must
submit."

"I couldn't help overhearing you, Fanny," said Miss Symes, coming up to
the girls at that moment; "but you must look on the bright side, my
love, and reflect that a year won't be long in going by. I know, of
course, to what you were alluding - your dear father's sudden departure
for India."

"Yes, St. Cecilia," replied Fanny, looking up into Miss Symes's face;
"and I am sure neither Susie nor I mind in the least your overhearing
what we were talking about. Do we Susie?"

"No," replied Susie; "how could we? St. Cecilia, if you think you have
been playing the spy, we will punish you by making you sing for us
to-night."

Here Susie linked her hand lovingly through Miss Symes's arm. Miss Symes
bent and kissed the girl's eager face.

"I will sing for you with pleasure, dear, if I have a moment of time to
spare. But now I have come to fetch Fanny. I want to have a little talk
with her all by herself. Fan, will you come with me?"

Fanny Crawford raised her pretty, dark eyebrows in some surprise. What
could this portend? There was a sort of code of honor at the school that
the girls were never to be disturbed by the teachers during the
half-holiday hours.

"Come, Fanny," said Miss Symes; and the two walked away in another
direction for some little distance.

The day was a glorious one towards the end of September. Miss Symes
chose an open bench in a part of the grounds where the forest land was
more or less cleared away. She invited Fanny to seat herself, and took a
place by her side.

"Now, my dear," she said, "I have a piece of news for you which will, I
think, please you very much."

"Oh, what can please me when father is going?" said Fanny, her eyes
filling with tears.

"Nevertheless, this may. You have, of course, heard of - indeed, I have
been given to understand that you know - your cousins, the Vivians?"

Fanny's face flushed. It became a vivid crimson, then the color faded
slowly from her cheeks; and she looked at Miss Symes, amazement in her
glance. "My cousins - the Vivians!" she exclaimed. "Do you mean
Betty - Betty and her sisters?"

"Yes, I think Betty is the name of one of the girls."

"There are three," said Fanny. "There's Betty, who is about my age; and
then there are the twins, Sylvia and Hetty."

"Then, of course, you _do_ know them, dear?"

"Yes, I know them. I went to stay with them in Scotland for a week
during last holidays. My cousin - their aunt, Miss Vivian - was very ill,
however, and we had to keep things rather quiet. They lived at a place
called Craigie Muir - quite beautiful, you know, but very, very wild."

"That doesn't matter, dear."

"Well, why are you speaking to me about them? They are my cousins, and I
spent a week with them not very long ago."

"You observed how ill Miss Vivian was?"

"I used to hear that she was ill; Sylvia used to tell me. Betty couldn't
stand anything sad or depressing, so I never spoke to her on the
subject."

"And you - you liked your cousins? You appreciated them, did you not,
Fanny?"

"I didn't know them very well," said Fanny in a slightly evasive voice.

Miss Symes felt her heart sink within her. She knew Fanny Crawford well.
She was the last girl to say a word against another; at the same time
she was exceedingly truthful.

"Well, dear," said Miss Symes, "your father came here yesterday in order
to - - "

"To see me, of course," interrupted Fanny; "to tell me that he was going
to India. Poor darling dad! It was a terrible blow!"

"Sir John came here on other business also, Fanny. He wanted to see Mrs.
Haddo. You know that poor Miss Vivian is dead?"

"Oh, yes," said Fanny. Then she added impulsively, "Betty will be in a
terrible state!"

"It may be in your power to comfort her, dear."

"To comfort Betty Vivian! What do you mean?"

"It has just been arranged between Mrs. Haddo and your father, who is
now the guardian of the girls, that they are all three to come here as
pupils in the school. They will arrive here on Monday. You are glad, are
you not, Fan?"

Fanny started to her feet. She stood very still, staring straight before
her.

"You are glad - of course, Fanny?"

Fanny then turned and faced her governess. "Do you want the truth,
or - or - a lie?"

"Fanny, my dear, how can you speak to me in that tone? Of course I want
the truth."

"Then I am not glad."

"But, my dear, consider. Those poor girls - they are orphans almost in a
double sense. They are practically alone in the world. They are your
cousins. You must have a very strong reason for saying what you have
said - that you are not glad."

"I am not glad," repeated Fanny.

Miss Symes was silent. She felt greatly disturbed. After a minute she
said, "Fanny, is there anything in connection with the Vivians which, in
your opinion, Mrs. Haddo ought to know?"

"I won't tell," said Fanny; and now her voice was full of agitation. She
turned away and suddenly burst out crying.

"My dear child! my dear child! you are upset by the thought of your
father's absence. Compose yourself, my love. Don't give way, Fanny,
dear. Try to have that courage that we all strive to attain at Haddo
Court."

Fanny hastily dashed away her tears. Then she said, after a pause, "Is
it fixed that they are to come?"

"Yes, it is quite fixed."

"Miss Symes, you took me at first by surprise, but when the Vivians
arrive you will see that I shall treat them with the affection due to
cousins of my own; also, that I will do my utmost to make them happy."

"I am sure of it, my love. You are a very plucky girl!"

"And you won't tell Mrs. Haddo that I seemed distressed at the thought
of their coming?"

"Do you really wish me not to tell her?"

"I do, most earnestly."

"Now, Fanny, I am going to trust you. Mrs. Haddo has been more or less
driven into a corner over this matter. Your dear, kind father has been
suddenly left in sole charge of those three young girls. He could not
take them to India with him, and he had no home to offer them in this
country. Mrs. Haddo, therefore, contrary to her wont, has agreed to
receive them without the personal interview which she has hitherto
thought essential."

Fanny smiled. "Oh, can I ever forget that interview when my turn came to
receive it? I was at once more frightened and more elated than I
believed it possible for any girl to be. I loved Mrs. Haddo on the spot,
and yet I shook before her."

"But you don't fear her now, dear?"

"I should fear her most frightfully if I did anything wrong."

"Fanny, look down deep into your heart, and tell me if, in keeping
something to yourself which you evidently know concerning your cousins,
you are doing right or wrong."

"I will answer your question to-morrow," replied Fanny. "Now, may I go
back to the others; they are waiting for me?"

"Yes, you may go, dear."

"The Vivians come here on Monday?" said Fanny as she rose.

"Yes, dear, on Monday. By the way, Miss Ludlow is arranging to give them
the blue room, next to yours. You don't object, do you?"

"No," said Fanny. The next minute the girl was out of sight.

Miss Symes sat very still. What was the matter? What was Fanny Crawford
trying to conceal?

That evening Mrs. Haddo said to Miss Symes, "You have told Fanny that
her cousins are coming?"

"Yes."

"And how did she take it?"

"Fanny is very much upset about her father's absence," was Miss Symes's
unexpected answer.

Mrs. Haddo looked attentively at the English teacher. Their eyes met,
but neither uttered a single word.

The next day, after school, Fanny went up to Miss Symes. "I have been
thinking over everything," she said, "and my conscience is not going to
trouble me; for I know, or believe I know, a way by which I may help
them all."

"It is a grand thing to help those who are in sorrow, Fanny."

"I will do my best," said the girl.

That evening, to Miss Symes's great relief, she heard Fanny's merry
laugh in the school. The girls who formed the Specialities, as they were
called, had met for a cheerful conference. Mary and Julia Bertram were
in the highest spirits; and Margaret Grant, with her beautiful
complexion and stately ways, had never been more agreeable. Olive
Repton, the pet and darling of nearly the whole of the upper school, was
making the others scream with laughter.

"There can be nothing very bad," thought Miss Symes to herself. "My dear
friend will soon see that the charitable feeling which prompted her to
receive those girls into the house was really but another sign of her
true nobility of character."

Meanwhile Fanny, who was told not to keep the coming of the Vivians in
any way a secret, was being eagerly questioned with regard to them.

"So you really saw them at their funny home, Craigie Muir?" exclaimed
Olive.

"Yes; I spent a week there," said Fanny.

"And had a jolly good time, I guess?" cried Julia Bertram.

"Not such a very good time," answered Fanny, "for Miss Vivian was ill,
and we had to be very quiet."

"Oh! don't let's bother about the time Fanny spent in that remote part
of Scotland," said Olive. "Do tell us about the girls themselves, Fan.
It's so unusual for any girls to come straight into the upper school,
and also to put in an appearance in the middle of term. Are they very
Scotch, to begin with?"

"No, hardly at all," replied Fanny. "Miss Vivian only took the pretty
little cottage in which they live a year ago."

"I am glad they are not too Scotch," remarked Susie; "they will get into
our ways all the sooner if they are thoroughly English."

"I don't see that for a single moment," remarked Olive. "For my part, I
love Scotch lassies; and as to Irish colleens, they're simply adorable."

"Well, well, go on with your description, Fan," exclaimed Julia.

"I can tell you they are quite remarkable-looking," replied Fanny.
"Betty is the eldest. She is a regular true sort of Betty, up to no end
of larks and fun; but sometimes she gets very depressed. I think she is
rather dark, but I am not quite sure; she is also somewhat tall; and,
oh, she is wonderfully pretty! She can whistle the note of every bird
that ever sang, and is devoted to wild creatures - the moor ponies and
great Scotch collies and sheep-dogs. You'll be sure to like Betty
Vivian."

"Your description does sound promising," remarked Susie; "but she will
certainly have to give up her wild ways at Haddo Court."

"What about the others?" asked Olive.

"Sylvia and Hetty? I think they are two years younger than Betty. They
are not a bit like her. They are rather heavy-looking girls, but still
you would call them handsome. They are twins, and wonderfully like each
other. Sylvia is very tender-hearted; but Hetty - I think Hetty has the
most force of character. Now, really," continued Fanny, rising from her
low chair, where her chosen friends were surrounding her, "I can say
nothing more about them until they come. You can't expect me, any of
you, to overpraise my own relations, and, naturally, I shouldn't abuse
them."

"Why, of course not, you dear old Fan!" exclaimed Olive.

"I must go and write a letter to father," said Fanny; and she went
across the room to where her own little desk stood in a distant corner.

After she had left them, Olive bent forward, looked with her merry,
twinkling eyes full into Susie Rushworth's face, and said, "Is the dear
Fan _altogether_ elated at the thought of her cousins' arrival? I put it
to you, Susie, as the most observant of us all. Answer me truthfully, or
for ever hold your peace."

"Then I will hold my peace," replied Susie, "for I cannot possibly say
whether Fan is elated or not."

"Now, don't get notions in your head, Olive," said Mary Bertram. "That
is one of your faults, you know. I expect those girls will be downright
jolly; and, of course, being Fan's relations, they will become members
of the Specialities. That goes without saying."

"It doesn't go without saying at all," remarked Olive. "The
Specialities, as you know quite well, girls, have to stand certain
tests."

"It is my opinion," said Susie, "that we are all getting too high and
mighty for anything. Perhaps the Vivians will teach us to know our own
places."




CHAPTER III

GOING SOUTH


It was a rough stone house, quite bare, only one story high, and without
a tree growing anywhere near it. It stood on the edge of a vast Scotch
moor, and looked over acres and acres of purple heather - acres so
extensive that the whole country seemed at that time of year to be
covered with a sort of mantle of pinky, pearly gold, something between
the violet and the saffron tones of a summer sunset.

Three girls were seated on a little stone bench outside the lonely,
neglected-looking house. They were roughly and plainly dressed. They
wore frocks of the coarsest Scotch tweed; and Scotch tweed, when it is
black, can look very coarse, indeed. They clung close together - a
desolate-looking group - Betty, the eldest, in the middle; Sylvia
pressing up to her at one side; Hetty, with her small, cold hand locked
in her sister's, on the other.

"I wonder when Uncle John will come," was Hetty's remark after a pause.
"Jean says we are on no account to travel alone; so, if he doesn't come
to-night, we mayn't ever reach that fine school after all."

"I am not going to tell him about the packet. I have quite made up my
mind on that point," said Betty, dropping her voice.

"Oh, Bet!" The other two looked up at their elder sister.

She turned and fixed her dark-gray eyes first on one face, then on the
other. "Yes," she said, nodding emphatically; "the packet is sure to
hold money, and it will be a safe-guard. If we find the school
intolerable we'll have the wherewithal to run away."

"I've read in books that school life is very jolly sometimes," remarked
Sylvia.

"Not _that_ school," was Betty's rejoinder.

"But why not that school, Betty?"

Betty shrugged her shoulders. "Haven't you heard that miserable
creature, Fanny Crawford, talk of it? I shouldn't greatly mind going
anywhere else, for if there's a human being whom I cordially detest, it
is my cousin, Fanny Crawford."

"I hear the sound of wheels!" cried Sylvia, springing to her feet.

"Ah, and there's Donald coming back," said Betty; "and there is Uncle
John! No chance of escape, girls! We have got to go through it. Poor old
David!" - here she alluded to the horse who was tugging a roughly made
dogcart up the very steep hill - "he'll miss us, perhaps; and so will
Fritz and Andrew, the sheep-dogs. Heigh-ho! there's no good being too
sorrowful. That money is a rare comfort!"

By this time the old white horse, and Donald, who was driving, and the
gentleman who sat at the opposite side of the dogcart, drew up at the
top of the great plateau. The gentleman alighted and walked swiftly
towards the three girls. They rose simultaneously to meet him.

In London, and in any other part of the south of England, the weather
was warm at this time of the year; but up on Craigie Muir it was cold,
and the children looked desolate as they turned in their coarse clothes
to meet their guardian.

Sir John came up to them with a smile. "Now, my dears, here I am - Betty,
how do you do? Kiss your uncle, child."

Betty raised her pretty lips and gave the weather-beaten cheek of Sir
John Crawford an unwilling kiss. Sylvia and Hetty clasped each other's
hands, clung a little more closely together, and remained mute.

"Come, come," said Sir John; "we mustn't be miserable, you know! I hope
that good Jean has got you something for supper, for the air up here
would make any one hungry. Shall we go into the house? We all have to
start at cockcrow in the morning. Donald knows, and has arranged, he
tells me, for a cart to hold your luggage. Let's come in, children. I
really should be glad to get out of this bitter blast."

"It is just lovely!" said Betty. "I am drinking it in all I can, for I
sha'n't have any more for many a long day."

Sir John, who had the kindest face in the world, accompanied by the
kindest heart, looked anxiously at the handsome girl. Then he thought
what a splendid chance he was giving his young cousins; for, although he
allowed them to call him uncle, the relationship between them was not
quite so close.

They all entered the sparsely furnished and bare-looking house. Six deal
boxes, firmly corded with great strands of rope, were piled one on top
of the other in the narrow hall.

"Here's our luggage," said Betty.

"My dear children - those deal boxes! What possessed you to put your
things into trunks of that sort?"

"They are the only trunks we have," replied Betty. "And I think supper
is ready," she continued; "I smell the grouse. I told Jean to have
plenty ready for supper."

"Good girl, good girl!" said Sir John. "Now I will go upstairs and wash
my hands; and I presume you will do the same, little women. Then we'll
all enjoy a good meal."

A few minutes later Sir John Crawford and the three Misses Vivian were
seated round a rough table, on which was spread a very snowy but coarse
cloth. The grouse were done to a turn. There was excellent coffee, the
best scones in the world, and piles of fresh butter. In addition, there
was a small bottle of very choice Scotch whiskey placed on the
sideboard, with lemons and other preparations for a comforting drink by
and by for Sir John.

The girls were somewhat silent during the meal. Even Betty, who could be
a chatterbox when she pleased, vouchsafed but few remarks.

But when the supper-things had been cleared away Sir John said
emphatically, turning to the three girls, "You got my telegram, with its
splendid news?"

"We got your telegram, Uncle John," said Hetty.

"With its splendid news?" repeated Sir John.

Hetty pursed up her firm lips; Sylvia looked at him and smiled; Betty
crossed the room and put a little black kettle on the peat fire to boil.

"You would like some whisky-punch?" Betty said. "I know how to make it."

"Thank you, my dear; I should very much. And do you three lassies object
to a pipe?"

"Object!" said Betty. "No; Donald smokes every night; and
since - since - - " Her voice faltered; her face grew pale. After a
minute's silence she said in an abrupt tone, "We go into the kitchen
most nights to talk to Donald while he smokes."

"Then to-night you must talk to me. I can tell you, my dears, you are
the luckiest young girls in the whole of Great Britain to have got
admitted to Haddo Court; and my child Fan will look after you. You
understand, dears, that everything you want you apply to me for. I am
your guardian, appointed to that position by your dear aunt. You can
write to me yourselves, or ask Fan to do so. By the way, I have been
looking through some papers in a desk which belonged to your dear aunt,
and cannot find a little sealed packet which she left there. Do you know
anything about it, any of you?"

"No, uncle, nothing," said Betty, raising her dark-gray eyes and fixing
them full on his face.

"Well, I suppose it doesn't matter," said Sir John; "but in a special
letter to me she mentioned the packet. I suppose, however, it will turn
up. Now, my dears, you are in luck. When you get over your very natural
grief - - "

"Oh, don't!" said Betty. "Get over it? We'll never get over it!"

"My dear, dear child, time softens all troubles. If it did not we
couldn't live. I admire you, Betty, for showing love for one so
worthy - - "

"If you don't look out, Uncle John," suddenly exclaimed Hetty, "you'll
have Betty howling; and when she begins that sort of thing we can't stop
her for hours."

Sir John raised his brows and looked in a puzzled way from one girl to
the other. "You will be very happy at Haddo Court," he said; "and you
are in luck to get there. Now, off to bed, all three of you, for we have
to make an early start in the morning." Sir John held out his hand as he
spoke. "Kiss me, Betty," he said to the eldest girl.

"Are you my uncle?" she inquired.

"No; your father and I were first cousins. But, my poor child, I stand
in the place of father and guardian to you now."

"I'd rather not kiss you, if you don't mind," said Betty.

"You must please yourself. Now go to bed, all of you."

The girls left the little sitting-room. It was their fashion to hold
each other's hands, and in a chain of three they now entered the
kitchen.

"Jean," said Betty, "_he_ says we are to go to bed. I want to ask you
and Donald a question, and I want to ask it quickly."

"And what is the question, my puir bit lassie?" asked Jean Macfarlane.



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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 2 of 22)