L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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saw, in short, that she was worth winning and loving. I liked her
sisters also; but Betty was superior to her sisters. I departed from
several established customs when I admitted the Vivians to this school,
and I will own that I had my qualms of conscience notwithstanding the
fact that my old friend Sir John Crawford was so anxious for me to have
them here. Nevertheless, when first I saw Betty I knew that he was right
and I was wrong. That such a girl might stir up deep interest, and
perhaps even bring sorrow into the school, I knew was within the bounds
of probability; but I did not think it possible that she could ever
disgrace it. I own I was a little surprised when I was told that so new
a girl was made a member of your club; but as you, Margaret, were
secretary, and as Susie Rushworth and my dear friend Fanny were members,
I naturally had not a word to say, and only admired your discernment in
reading aright that young character.

"Then there came the news - the terrible news - that Betty was expelled;
and since then there has been confusion, sorrow, and now this most
alarming illness. The girl is dying of a broken heart. She has lost
something that she treasures. Margaret, the rules of the club must give
place to the greater rules of the school; and I demand a full
explanation from you of the exact reason why Betty Vivian is no longer a
member of the Specialities."

Margaret looked round at the other members. All their faces were white.
No one spoke for a minute.

Then Fanny rose and said, "Is it fair, for Betty's sake, that we should
break our own rules? The reason of her being no longer a member is at
present known only to the rest of us. Is it right that it should be made
public property?"

"It must be made _my_ property, Fanny Crawford; and I do not ask you,
much as I esteem your father's friendship, to dictate to me in this
matter."

Fanny sat down again. She felt the little packet in her pocket. That, at
least, was secure; that, at least, would not rise up and betray her.

Margaret gave a very simple explanation of the reason why Betty could
not remain in the club. She said that Betty had taken the rules and
studied them carefully; had most faithfully promised to obey them; and
then, a fortnight later, had stood up and stated that she had broken
Rule No. I., for she had a secret which she had not divulged to the
other members.

"And that secret, Margaret?" asked Mrs. Haddo.

"She had, she said, a packet - a sealed packet of great value - that she
did not wish any one in the school to know about. It had been given to
her by one she loved. She was extremely reticent about it, and seemed to
be in great trouble. She explained why she had not spoken of it at first
by saying that she did not think that the secret concerned any one in
the school, but since she had joined the club she had felt that she
ought to tell. We asked her all the questions we could; and she
certainly gave us to understand that the packet was hers by right, but
that, rather than give it up, she had told an untruth about it to
Fanny's father, Sir John Crawford. We were very much stunned and
distressed at her revelation, and we begged of her to go with the story
to you, and also to put the packet in your charge, and tell you what she
had already told us. This she emphatically refused to do, saying that
she would never give the packet up under any conditions whatever. We had
a special meeting of the club on the following night, when we again
asked Betty what she meant to do. She said her intention was to keep
firmly to her resolve that she would never give up the packet nor tell
where she had hidden it. We then felt it to be our bounden duty to ask
her to withdraw from the club. She did so. I think that is all."

"Only," said Mrs. Haddo, speaking in a voice of great distress, "that
the poor, unhappy child seems to have lost the packet - which contained
nobody knows what, but some treasure which she prized - and that the loss
and the shock together are affecting her life to the point of danger.
Girls, do any of you know - have you any clue whatsoever to - where the
packet is now? Please remember, dear girls, that Betty's life - that
beautiful, vivid young life - depends on that packet being restored.
Don't keep it a secret if you have any clue whatsoever to give me, for I
am miserable about this whole thing."

"Indeed we wouldn't keep it a secret," said Margaret. "How could we?
We'd give all the world to find it for her. Who can have taken it?"

"Some one has, beyond doubt," said Mrs. Haddo. "Children, this is a
terrible day for me. I have tried to be kind to you all. Won't you help
me now in my sorrow?"

The girls crowded round her, some of them kneeling by her side, some of
them venturing to kiss her hand; but from every pair of lips came the
same words, "We know nothing of the packet." Even Fanny, who kept it in
her pocket, and who heartily wished that it was lying at the bottom of
the sea, repeated the same words as her companions.




CHAPTER XXI

A RAY OF HOPE


A few minutes later the Speciality girls had left Mrs. Haddo's room.
There were to be no lessons that day; therefore they could spend their
time as they liked best. But an enforced holiday of this kind was no
pleasure to any of them.

Martha said at once that she was going to seek the twins. "I have left
them in my room," she said. "They hardly slept all night. I never saw
such dear, affectionate little creatures. They are absolutely
broken-hearted. I promised to come to them as soon as I could."

"Have you asked them to trust you - to treat you as a true friend?" asked
Fanny Crawford.

"I have, Fanny; and the strange thing is, that although beyond doubt
they know pretty nearly as much about Betty's secret and about the lost
packet as she does herself, poor child, they are just as reticent with
regard to it. They will not tell. Nothing will induce them to betray
Betty. Over and over again I have implored of them, for the sake of her
life, to take me into their confidence; but I might as well have spoken
to adamant. They will not do it."

"They have exactly the same stubborn nature," said Fanny.

The other girls looked reproachfully at her.

Then Olive said, "You have never liked your cousins, Fanny; and it does
pain us all that you should speak against them at a moment like the
present."

"Then I will go away," said Fanny. "I can see quite well that my
presence is uncongenial to you all. I will find my own amusements. But I
may as well state that if I am to be tortured and looked down on in the
school, I shall write to Aunt Amelia and ask her to take me in until
father writes to Mrs. Haddo about me. You must admit, all of you, that
it has been a miserable time for me since the Vivians came to the
school."

"You have made it miserable yourself, Fanny," was Susie's retort.

Then Fanny got up and went away. A moment later she was joined by Martha
West.

"Fanny, dear Fanny," said Martha, "won't you tell me what is changing
you so completely?"

"There is nothing changing me," said Fanny in some alarm. "What do you
mean, Martha?"

"Oh, but you look so changed! You are not a bit what you used to be - so
jolly, so bright, so - so very pretty. Now you have a careworn, anxious
expression. I don't understand you in the very least."

"And I don't want you to," said Fanny. "You are all bewitched with
regard to that tiresome girl; even I, your old and tried friend, have no
chance against her influence. When I tell you I know her far better than
any of you can possibly do, you don't believe me. You suspect me of
harboring unkind and jealous thoughts against her; as if I, Fanny
Crawford, could be jealous of a nobody like Betty Vivian!"

"Fanny, you know perfectly well that Betty will never be a nobody. There
is something in her which raises her altogether above the low standard
to which you assign her. Oh, Fanny, what is the matter with you?"

"Please leave me alone, Martha. If you had spent the wretched night I
have spent you might look tired and worn out too. I was turned out of my
bedroom, to begin with, because Sister Helen required it."

"Well, surely there was no hardship in that?" said Martha. "I, for
instance, spent the night gladly with dear little Sylvia and Hester; we
all had a room together in the lower school. Do you think I grumbled?"

"Oh, of course you are a saint!" said Fanny with a sneer.

"I am not, but I think I am human; and just at present, for some
extraordinary reason, you are not."

"Well, you haven't heard the history of my woes. I had to share Miss
Symes's room with her."

"St. Cecilia's delightful room! Surely that was no great hardship?"

"Wait until you hear. St. Cecilia was quite kind, as she always is; and
I was told that I could have a room to myself to-night. I found, to
begin with, however, that most of the clothes I wanted had been left
behind in my own room. Still, I made no complaint; although, of course,
it was not comfortable, particularly as Miss Symes intended to sit up in
order to see the doctors. But as I was preparing to get into bed, those
twins - those horrid girls that you make such a fuss about,
Martha - rushed into the room and put an awful spider into the center of
my bed, and when I tried to get rid of it, it rushed towards me. Then I
screamed out, and Susie and Olive came in. But we couldn't catch the
spider nor find it anywhere. You don't suppose I was likely to go to bed
with _that_ thing in the room? The fire went nearly out. I was hungry,
sleepy, cold. I assure you I have my own share of misery. Then Miss
Symes came in and ordered me to bed. I went, but hardly slept a wink.
And now you expect me to be as cheerful and bright and busy as a bee
this morning!"

"Oh, not cheerful, poor Fanny! - we can none of us be that with Betty in
such great danger; but you can at least be busy, you can at least help
others."

"Thank you," replied Fanny; "self comes first now and then, and it does
on the present occasion;" and Fanny marched to Miss Symes's room.

Martha looked after her until she disappeared from view; then, with a
heavy sigh, she went towards her own room. Here a fire was burning. Some
breakfast had been brought up for the twins, for they were not expected
to appear downstairs that morning. The untasted breakfast, however,
remained on the little, round table beside the fire, and Sylvia and
Hetty were nowhere to be seen.

"Where have they gone?" thought Martha. "Oh, I trust they haven't been
so mad as to go to Betty's room!"

She considered for a few minutes. She must find the children, and she
must not trouble any one else in the school about them. Dr. Ashley had
paid his morning visit, and there was quietness in the corridor just
outside Betty's room. Martha went there and listened. The high-strung,
anxious voice was no longer heard crying aloud piteously for what it
could not obtain. The door of the room was slightly ajar. Martha
ventured to peep in. Betty was lying with her face towards the wall, her
long, thick black hair covering the pillow, and one small hand flung
restlessly outside the counterpane.

Sister Helen saw Martha, and with a wave of her hand, beckoned the girl
not to come in. Martha retreated to the corridor. Sister Helen followed
her.

"What do you want, dear?" said the nurse. "You cannot possibly disturb
Betty. She is asleep. Both the doctor and I most earnestly hope that she
may awake slightly better. Dr. Jephson is coming to see her again this
evening. If by that time her symptoms have not improved he is going to
bring another brain specialist down with him. Dr. Ashley is to wire him
in the middle of the day, stating exactly how Betty Vivian is. If she is
the least bit better, Dr. Jephson will come alone; if worse, he will
bring Dr. Stephen Reynolds with him. Why, what is the matter? How pale
you look!"

"You think badly of Betty, Sister Helen?"

Sister Helen did not speak for a moment except by a certain look
expressed in her eyes. "Another nurse will arrive within an hour," she
said, "and then I shall be off duty for a short time. What can I do for
you? I mustn't stay whispering here."

"I have come to find dear Betty's little sisters."

"Oh, they left the room some time ago."

"Left the room!" said Martha. "Oh, Sister Helen, have they been here?"

"Yes, both of them, poor children. I went away to fetch some hot water.
Betty was lying very quiet; she had not spoken for nearly an hour. I
hoped she was dropping asleep. When I came back I saw a sight which
would bring tears to any eyes. Her two little sisters had climbed on to
the bed and were lying close to her, one on each side. They didn't
notice me at all; but as I came in I heard one of them say, 'Don't fret,
Bettina; we are going now, at once, to find it.' And then the other
said, 'And we won't come back until we've got it.' There came the ghost
of a smile over my poor little patient's face. She tried to speak, but
was too weak. I went up to one of the little girls and took her arm, and
whispered to her gently; and then they both got up at once, as meekly as
mice, and said, 'Betty, we won't come back until we've found it.' And
poor little Betty smiled again. For some extraordinary reason their
visit seemed to comfort her; for she sighed faintly, turned on her side,
and dropped asleep, just as she is now. I must go back to her at once,
Miss - Miss - - "

"West," replied Martha. "Martha West is my name."

The nurse said nothing further, but returned to the sickroom. Martha
went very quickly back to her own. She felt she had a task cut out for
her. The twins had in all probability gone out. Their curious reticence
had been the most painful part of poor Martha's night-vigil. She had to
try to comfort the little girls who would not confide one particle of
their trouble to her. At intervals they had broken into violent fits of
sobbing, but they had never spoken; they had not even mentioned Betty's
name. By and by, towards morning, they each allowed Martha to clasp one
arm around them, and had dropped off into an uneasy slumber.

Now they were doubtless out of doors. But where? Martha was by no means
acquainted with the haunts of the twins. She knew Sibyl Ray fairly well,
and had always been kind to her; but up to the present the younger
Vivian girls had not seemed to need any special kindness. They were
hearty, merry children; they were popular in the school, and had made
friends of their own. She wanted to seek for them now, but it never
occurred to her for a single moment where they might possibly be
discovered.

The grounds round Haddo Court were very extensive, and Martha did not
leave a yard of these grounds unexplored, yet nowhere could she find the
twins. At last she came back to the house, tired out and very miserable.
She ran once more to her own room, wondering if they were now there. The
room was quite empty. The housemaid had removed the breakfast-things and
built up the fire. Martha had been told as a great secret that the
Vivians possessed an attic, where they kept their pets. She found the
attic, but it was empty. Even Dickie had forsaken it, and the different
caterpillars were all buried in their chrysalis state. Martha quickly
left the Vivians' attic. She wandered restlessly and miserably through
the lower school, and visited the room where she had slept, or tried to
sleep, the night before. Nowhere could she find them.

Meanwhile Sylvia and Hester had done a very bold deed. They were
reckless of school rules at a moment like the present. Their one and
only desire was to save Betty at any cost. They knew quite well that
Betty had hidden the packet, but where they could not tell. Betty had
said to them in her confident young voice, "The less you know the
better;" and they had trusted her, as they always would trust her as
long as they lived, for Betty, to them, meant all that was noble and
great and magnificent in the world.

It flashed now, however, through Sylvia's little brain that perhaps
Betty had taken the lost treasure to Mrs. Miles to keep. She whispered
her thought to Hester, who seized it with sudden rapture.

"We can, at least, confide in Mrs. Miles," said Hetty; "and we can tell
the dogs. Perhaps the dogs could scent it out; dogs are such wonders."

"We will go straight to Mrs. Miles," said Sylvia.

Betty had told them with great glee - ah, how merry Betty was in those
days! - how she had first reached the farm, of her delightful time with
Dan and Beersheba, of her dinner, of her drive back. Had not they
themselves also visited Stoke Farm? What a delightful, what a glorious,
time they had had there! That indeed was a time of joy. Now was a time
of fearful trouble. But they felt, poor little things! though they could
not possibly confide either in kind Martha West or in any of their
school-friends, that they might confide in Mrs. Miles.

Accordingly they managed to vault over the iron railings, get on to the
roadside, and in course of time to reach Stoke Farm. The dogs rushed out
to meet them. But Dan and Beersheba were sagacious beasts. They hated
frivolity, they hated unfeeling people, but they respected great sorrow;
and when Hetty said with a burst of tears, "Oh, Dan, Dan, darling Dan,
Betty, your Betty and ours, is so dreadfully ill!" Dan fawned upon the
little girl, licked her hands, and looked into her face with all the
pathos in the world in his brown doggy eyes. Beersheba, of course,
followed his brother's example. So the poor little twins, accompanied by
the dogs, entered Mrs. Miles's kitchen.

Mrs. Miles sprang up with a cry of rapture and surprise at the sight of
them. "Why, my dears! my dears!" she said. "And wherever is the elder of
you? Where do she be? Oh, then it's me is right glad to see you both!"

"We want to talk to you, Mrs. Miles," said Sylvia.

"And we want to kiss you, Mrs. Miles," said Hester.

Then they flung themselves upon her and burst into floods of most bitter
weeping.

Mrs. Miles had not brought up a large family of children for nothing.
She was accustomed to childish griefs. She knew how violent, how
tempestuous, such griefs might be, and yet how quickly the storms would
pass, the sunshine come, and how smiles would replace tears. She treated
the twins, therefore, now, just as though they were her own children.
She allowed them to cry on her breast, and murmured, "Dear, dear! Poor
lambs! poor lambs! Now, this is dreadful bad, to be sure! But don't you
mind how many tears you shed when you've got Mrs. Miles close to you.
Cry on, pretties, cry on, and God comfort you!"

So the children, who felt so lonely and desolate, did cry until they
could cry no longer. Then Mrs. Miles immediately did the sort of thing
she invariably found effectual in the case of her own children. She put
the exhausted girls into a comfortable chair each by the fire, and
brought them some hot milk and a slice of seed-cake, and told them they
must sip the milk and eat the cake before they said any more.

Now, as a matter of fact, Sylvia and Hetty were, without knowing it in
the least, in a starving condition. From the instant that Betty's
serious illness was announced they had absolutely refused all food,
turning from it with loathing. Supper the night before was not for them,
and breakfast had remained untasted that morning. Mrs. Miles had
therefore done the right thing when she provided them with a comforting
and nourishing meal. They would have refused to touch the cake had one
of their schoolfellows offered it, but they obeyed Mrs. Miles just as
though she were their real mother.

And while they ate, and drank their hot milk, the good woman went on
with her cooking operations. "I am having a fine joint to-day," she
said: "corned beef that couldn't be beat in any county in England, and
that's saying a good deal. It'll be on the table, with dumplings to
match and a big apple-tart, sharp at one o'clock. I might ha' guessed
that some o' them dear little missies were coming to dinner, for I
don't always have a hot joint like this in the middle o' the week."

The girls suddenly felt that of all things in the world they would like
corned beef best; that dumplings would be a delicious accompaniment; and
that apple-tart, eaten with Mrs. Miles's rich cream, would go well with
such a dinner. They became almost cheerful. Matters were not quite so
black, and they had a sort of feeling that Mrs. Miles would certainly
help them to find the lost treasure.

Having got her dinner into perfect order, and laid the table, and put
everything right for the arrival of her good man, Mrs. Miles shut the
kitchen door and drew her chair close to the children.

"Now you are warm," she said, "and fed, you don't look half so miserable
as you did when you came in. I expect the good food nourished you up a
bit. And now, whatever's the matter? And where is that darling, Miss
Betty? Bless her heart! but she twined herself round us all entirely,
that she did."

It would be wrong to say that Sylvia did not burst into fresh weeping at
the sound of Betty's name.

But Hester was of stronger mettle. "We have come to you," she said - "Oh,
Sylvia, do stop crying! it does no manner of good to cry all the
time - we have come to you, Mrs. Miles, to help us to save Betty."

"Lawk-a-mercy! and whatever's wrong with the dear lamb?"

"We are going to tell you everything," said Hester. "We have quite made
up our minds. Betty is very, very ill."

"Yes," said Sylvia, "she is so ill that Dr. Ashley came to see her twice
yesterday, and then again a third time with a great, wonderful special
doctor from London; and we were not allowed to sleep in her room last
night, and she's - oh, she's dreadfully bad!

"They whispered in the school," continued Sylvia in a low tone - "I
heard them; they _did_ whisper it in the school - that perhaps Betty
would - would _die_. Mrs. Miles, that can't be true! God doesn't take
away young, young girls like our Betty. God couldn't be so cruel."

"We won't call it cruelty," said Mrs. Miles; "but God does do it, all
the same, for His own wise purposes, no doubt. We'll not talk o' that,
my lambs; we'll let that pass by. The thing is for you to tell me what
has gone wrong with that bonny, strong-looking girl. Why, when she was
here last, although she was a bit pale, she looked downright healthy and
strong enough for anything. Eh, my dear dears! you can't mention her
name even now to Dan and Beersheba that they ain't took with fits o'
delight about her, dancing and scampering like half-mad dogs, and
whining for her to come to them. There, to be sure! they know you belong
to her, and they're lying down as contented as anything at your feet. I
don't expect, somehow, your sister will die, my loves, although gels as
young as she have passed into the Better Land. Oh, dear, I'm making you
cry again! It's good corned beef and dumplings you want. You mustn't
give way, my dears; people who give way in times o' trouble ain't worth
their salt."

"We thought perhaps you'd help us," said Sylvia.

"Help you, darlings! That I will! I'd help you to this extent - I'd help
you even to the giving up o' the custom o' Haddo Court. Now, what can I
do more than that?"

"Oh, but your help - the help you can give us - won't do you any harm,"
said Hester. "We'll tell you about Betty, for we know that you'll never
let it out - except, indeed, to your husband. We don't mind a bit his
knowing. Now, this is what has happened. You know we had great
trouble - or perhaps you don't know. Anyhow, we had great trouble - away,
away in beautiful Scotland. One we loved died. Before she died she left
something for Betty to take care of, and Betty took what she had left
her. It was only a little packet, quite small, tied up in brown paper,
and sealed with a good many seals. We don't know what the packet
contained; but we thought perhaps it might be money, and Betty said to
us that it would be a very good thing for us to have some money to fall
back upon in case we didn't like the school."

"Now, whatever for?" asked Mrs. Miles. "And who could dislike a school
like Haddo Court?"

"Of course we couldn't tell," said Sylvia, "not having been there; but
Betty, who is always very wise, said it was best be on the safe side,
and that perhaps the packet contained money, and if it did we'd have
enough to live on in case we chose to run away."

"Oh, missies, did I ever hear tell o' the like! To run away from a
beautiful school like Haddo Court! Why, there's young ladies all over
England trying to get into it! But you didn't know, poor lambs! Well, go
on; tell me the rest."

"There was a man who was made our guardian," continued Sylvia, "and he


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