L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

. (page 21 of 22)
Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 21 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was quite kind, and we had nothing to say against him. His name is Sir
John Crawford."

"Miss Fanny's father, bless her!" said Mrs. Miles; "and a pretty young
lady she do be."

"Fanny Crawford is our cousin," said Sylvia, "and we hate her most
awfully."

"Oh, my dear young missies! but hate is a weed - a noxious weed that
ought to be pulled up out o' the ground o' your hearts."

"It is taking deep root in mine," said Sylvia.

"And in mine," said Hester.

"But please let us tell you the rest, Mrs. Miles. Sir John Crawford had
a letter from our dear aunt, who left the packet for Betty; and we
cannot understand it, but she seemed to wish Sir John Crawford to take
care of the packet for the present. He looked for it everywhere, and
could not find it. Was he likely to when Betty had taken it? Then he
asked Betty quite suddenly if she knew anything about it, and Betty
stood up and said 'No.' She told a huge, monstrous lie, and she didn't
even change color, and he believed her. So we came here. Well, Betty was
terribly anxious for fear the packet should be found, and one night we
helped her to climb down from the balcony out of our bedroom. No one saw
her go, and no one saw her return, and she put the packet away
somewhere - we don't know where. Well, after that, wonderful things
happened, and Betty was made a tremendous fuss of in the school. There
was no one like her, and she was loved like anything, and we were as
proud as Punch of her. But all of a sudden everything changed, and our
Betty was disgraced. There were horrid things written on a blackboard
about her. She was quite innocent, poor darling! But the things
were written, and Betty is the sort of girl to feel such disgrace
frightfully. We were quite preparing to run away with her, for
we thought she wouldn't care to stay much longer in the
school - notwithstanding your opinion of it, Mrs. Miles. But all of a
sudden Betty seemed to go right down, as though some one had felled her
with an awful blow. She kept crying out, and crying out, that the packet
was lost. Anyhow, she thinks it is lost; she hasn't an idea where it can
be. And the doctors say that Betty's brain is in such a curious state
that unless the packet is found she - she may die.

"So we went to her, both of us, and we told her we would go and find
it," continued Sylvia. "We have got to find it. That is what we have
come about. We don't suppose for a minute that it was right of Betty to
tell the lie; but that was the only thing she did wrong. Anyhow, we
don't care whether she did right or wrong; she is our Betty, the most
splendid, the very dearest girl in all the world, and she sha'n't die.
We thought perhaps you would help us to find the packet."

"Well," said Mrs. Miles, "that's a wonderful story, and it's a queer
sort o' job to put upon a very busy farmer's wife. _Me_ to find the
packet?"

"Yes; you or your husband, whichever of you can or will do it. It is
Betty's life that depends upon it. Couldn't your dogs help us? In
Scotland we have dogs that scent anything. Are yours that sort?"

"They haven't been trained," said Mrs. Miles, "and that's the simple
truth. Poor darlings! you must bear up as best you can. It's a very
queer story, but of course the packet must be found. You stay here for
the present, and I'll go out and meet my husband as he comes along to
his dinner. I reckon, when all's said and done, I'm a right good wife
and a right good mother, and that there ain't a farm kept better than
ours anywhere in the neighborhood, nor finer fowls for the table, nor
better ducks, nor more tender geese and turkeys. Then as to our
pigs - why, the pigs themselves be a sight. And we rears horses, too, and
very good many o' them turn out. And in the spring-time we have young
lambs and young heifers; in fact, there ain't a young thing that can be
born that don't seem to have a right to take up its abode at Stoke Farm.
And I does for 'em all, the small twinses being too young and the old
twinses too rough and big for the sort o' work. Well, my dears, I'm good
at all that sort o' thing; but when it comes to dertective business I am
nowhere, and I may as well confess it. I am sorry for you, my loves; but
this is a job for the farmer and not for me, for he's always down on the
poachers, and very bitter he feels towards 'em. He has to be sharp and
sudden and swift and knowing, whereas I have to be tender and loving and
petting and true. That's the differ between us. He's more the person for
this 'ere job, and I'll go and speak to him while you sit by the kitchen
fire."

"Do, please, please, Mrs. Miles!" said both the twins.

Then she left them, and they sat very still in the warm, silent kitchen;
and by and by Sylvia, worn out with grief, and not having slept at all
during the previous night, dropped into an uneasy slumber, while Hetty
stroked her sister's hand and Dan's head until she also fell asleep.

The dogs, seeing that the girls were asleep, thought that they might do
the same. When, therefore, Farmer Miles and his wife entered the
kitchen, it was to find the two girls and the dogs sound asleep.

"Poor little lambs! Do look at 'em!" said Mrs. Miles. "They be wore out,
and no mistake."

"Let's lay 'em on the sofa along here," said Miles. "While they're
having their sleep out you get the dinner up, wife, and I'll go out and
put on my considering-cap."

The farmer had no sooner said this than - whispering to the dogs, who
very unwillingly accompanied him - he left the kitchen. He went into the
farmyard and began to pace up and down. Mrs. Miles had told her story
with some skill, the farmer having kept his attention fixed on the
salient points.

Miss Betty - even he had succumbed utterly to the charms of Miss
Betty - had lost a packet of great value. She had hidden it, doubtless in
the grounds of Haddo Court. She had gone had gone to look for it, and it
was no longer there. Some one had stolen it. Who that person could be
was what the farmer wanted to "get at," as he expressed it. "Until you
can get at the thief," he muttered under his breath, "you are nowhere at
all."

But at present he was without any clue, and, true man of business that
he was, he felt altogether at a loose end. Meanwhile, as he was pacing
up and down towards the farther edge of the prosperous-looking farmyard,
Dan uttered a growl and sprang into the road. The next minute there was
a piercing cry, and Farmer Miles, brandishing his long whip, followed
the dog. Dan was holding the skirts of a very young girl and shaking
them ferociously in his mouth. His eyes glared into the face of the
girl, and his whole aspect was that of anger personified. Luckily,
Beersheba was not present, or the girl might have had a sorry time of
it. With a couple of strides the farmer advanced towards her; dealt some
swift lashes with his heavy whip on the dog's head, which drove him
back; then, taking the girl's small hand, he said to her kindly, "Don't
you be frightened, miss; his bark's a sight worse nor his bite."

"Oh, he did terrify me so!" was the answer; "and I've been running for
such a long time, and I'm very, very tired."

"Well, miss, I don't know your name nor anything about you; but this
land happens to be private property - belonging to me, and to me alone.
Of course, if it weren't for that I'd have no right to have fierce dogs
about ready to molest human beings. It was a lucky thing for you, miss,
that I was so close by. And whatever be your name, if I may be so bold
as to ask, and where be you going now?"

"My name is Sibyl Ray, and I belong to Haddo Court."

"Dear, dear, dear! seems to me, somehow, that Haddo Court and Stoke Farm
are going to have a right good connection. I don't complain o' the
butter, and the bread, and the cheese, and the eggs, and the fowls as we
sarve to the school; but I never counted on the young ladies taking
their abode in my quarters."

"What do you mean, and who are you?" said Sibyl in great amazement.

"My name, miss, is Farmer Miles; and this house" - he pointed to his
dwelling - "is my homestead; and there are two young ladies belonging to
your school lying fast asleep at the present moment in my wife's
kitchen, and they has given me a problem to think out. It's a mighty
stiff one, but it means life or death; so of course I have, so to speak,
my knife in it, and I'll get the kernel out afore I'm many hours older."

Sibyl, who had been very miserable before she started, who had endured
her drive with what patience she could, and whose heart was burning
with hatred to Fanny and passionate, despairing love for Betty Vivian,
was so exhausted now that she very nearly fainted.

The farmer looked at her out of his shrewd eyes. "Being a member o' the
school, Miss Ray," he said, "you doubtless are acquainted with them
particularly charming young ladies, the Misses Vivian?"

"Indeed I know them all, and love them all," said Sibyl.

"Now, that's good hearing; for they be a pretty lot, that they be. And
as to the elder, I never see'd a face like hers - so wonderful, and with
such a light about it; and her courage - bless you, miss! the dogs
wouldn't harm _her_. It was fawning on her, and licking her hand, and
petting her they were. Is it true, miss, that Miss Betty is so mighty
bad?"

"It is true," said Sibyl; "and I wonder - - Oh; please don't leave me
standing here alone on the road. I am so miserable and frightened! I
wonder if it's Sylvia and Hester who are in your house?"

"Yes, they be the missies, and dear little things they be."

"And have they told you anything?" asked Sibyl.

"Well, yes; they have set me a conundrum - a mighty stiff one. It seems
that Miss Betty Vivian has lost a parcel, and she be that fretted about
it that she's nigh to death, and the little uns have promised to get it
back for her; and, poor children! they've set me on the job, and how
ever I'm to do it I don't know."

"I think perhaps I can help you," said Sibyl suddenly. "I'll tell you
this much, Farmer Miles. I can get that packet back, and I'd much rather
get it back with your help than without it."

"Shake hands on that, missie. I wouldn't like to be, so to speak, in a
thing, and then cast out o' it again afore the right moment. But
whatever do you mean?"

"You shall know all at the right time," said Sibyl. "Mrs. Haddo is so
unhappy about Betty that she wouldn't allow any of the upper-school
girls to have lessons to-day, so she sent them off to spend the day in
London. I happened to be one of them, and was perfectly wretched at
having to go; so while I was driving to the railway station in one of
the wagonettes I made up my mind. I settled that whatever happened I'd
never, never, never endure another night like the last; and I couldn't
go to London and see pictures or museums or whatever places we were to
be taken to while Betty was lying at death's door, and when I knew that
it was possible for me to save her. So when we got to the station there
was rather a confusion - that is, while the tickets were being
bought - and I suddenly slipped away by myself and got outside the
station, and ran, and ran, and ran - oh, so fast! - until at last I got
quite beyond the town, and then I found myself in the country; and all
the time I kept saying, and saying, 'I will tell. She sha'n't die;
nothing else matters; Betty shall not die.'"

"Then what do you want me to help you for, missie?"

"Because," said Sibyl, holding out her little hand, "I am very weak and
you are very strong, and you will keep me up to it. Please do come with
me straight back to the school!"

"Well, there's a time for all things," said the farmer; "and I'm willing
to give up my arternoon's work, but I'm by no means willing to give up
my midday meal, for we farmers don't work for nothing - as doubtless you
know, missie. So, if you'll come along o' me and eat a morsel, we'll set
off afterwards, sure and direct, to Haddo Court; and I'll keep you up to
the mark if you're likely to fail."




CHAPTER XXII

FARMER MILES TO THE RESCUE


Sylvia and Hetty had awakened when the farmer brought Sibyl Ray into the
pleasant farmhouse kitchen. The twin-boys were absent at school, and
only the little twins came down to dinner. The beef, potatoes,
dumplings, apple-tart and cream were all A1, and Sibyl was just as glad
of the meal as were the two Vivian girls.

The Vivians did not know Sibyl very well, and had not the least idea
that she guessed their secret. She rather avoided glancing at them, and
was very shy and retiring, and stole up close to the farmer when the
dogs were admitted. But Dan and Beersheba knew what was expected of
them. Any one in the Stoke Farm kitchen had a right to be there; and
were they going to waste their precious time and affection on the sort
of girl they would love to bite, when Sylvia and Hetty were present? So
they fawned on the twin-girls, taking up a good deal of their attention;
and by and by the dinner came to an end.

When it was quite over the farmer got up, wiped his mouth with a big,
red-silk handkerchief, and, going up to the Vivian twins, said quietly,
"You can go home, whenever you like; and I think the job you have put
upon me will be managed. Meanwhile, me and this young party will make
off to Haddo Court as fast as we can."

As this "young party" happened to be Sibyl Ray, the girls looked up in
astonishment; but the farmer gave no information of any kind, not even
bestowing a wink on his wife, who told the little twins when he had left
the kitchen accompanied by Sibyl that she would be ready to walk back
with them to the school in about half an hour.

"You need have no frets now, my loves," she said. "The farmer would
never have said words like he've spoken to you if he hadn't got his
knife right down deep into the kernel. He's fond o' using that
expression, dears, when he's nailed a poacher, and he wouldn't say no
less nor no more for a job like you've set him to."

During their walk the farmer and Sibyl hardly exchanged a word. As they
went up the avenue they saw that the place was nearly empty. The day was
a fine one; but the girls of the lower school had one special
playground some distance away, and the girls of the upper school were
supposed to be in London. Certainly no one expected Sibyl Ray to put in
an appearance here at this hour.

As they approached quite close to the mansion, Sibyl turned her very
pale face and stole her small hand into that of the farmer. "I am so
frightened!" she said; "and I know quite well this is going to ruin me,
and I shall have to go back home to be a burden to father, who is very
poor, and who thinks so much of my being educated here. But I - I will do
it all the same."

"Of course you will, missie; and poverty don't matter a mite."

"Perhaps it doesn't," said Sibyl.

"Compared to a light heart, it don't matter a gossoon, as they say in
Ireland," remarked the farmer.

Sibyl felt suddenly uplifted.

"I'll see you through, missie," he added as they came up to the wide
front entrance.

A doctor's carriage was standing there, and it was quite evident that
one or two doctors were in the house.

"Oh," said Sibyl with a gasp, "suppose we are betrayed!"

"No, we won't be that," said the farmer.

Sibyl pushed open the door, and then, standing in the hall, she rang a
bell. A servant presently appeared.

Before Sibyl could find her voice Farmer Miles said, "Will you have the
goodness to find Mrs. Haddo and tell her that I, Farmer Miles of the
Stoke Farm, have come here accompanied by one o' her young ladies, who
has something o' great importance to tell her at once?"

"Perhaps you will both come into Mrs. Haddo's private sitting-room?"
said the girl.

The farmer nodded assent, and he and Sibyl entered. When they were
inside the room Sibyl uttered a faint sigh. The farmer took out his
handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

"What a lot o' fal-lals, to be sure!" he said, looking round in a by no
means appreciative manner.

Sibyl and the farmer had to wait for some little time before Mrs. Haddo
made her appearance. When she did so a great change was noticeable in
her face; it was exceedingly pale. Her lips had lost their firm, their
even noble, expression of self-restraint; they were tremulous, as though
she had been suffering terribly. Her eyes were slightly red, as though
some of those rare tears which she so seldom shed had visited them. She
looked first at Farmer Miles and then in great amazement at Sibyl.

"Why are you here, Sibyl Ray?" she said. "I sent you to London with the
other girls of the upper school this morning. What are you doing here?"

"Perhaps I can tell you best, ma'am, if you will permit me to speak,"
said the farmer.

"I hope you will be very brief, Farmer Miles. I could not refuse your
request, but we are all in great trouble to-day at the school. One of
our young ladies - one greatly beloved by us all - is exceedingly, indeed
I must add most dangerously, ill."

"It's about her we've come," said the farmer.

Here Mrs. Haddo sank into a seat. "Why, what do you know about Miss
Betty Vivian?"

"Ah, I met her myself, not once, but twice," said Miles; "and I love
her, too, just as the wife loves her, and the big twins, and the little
twins, and the dogs - bless 'em! We all love Miss Betty Vivian. And now,
ma'am, I must tell you that Miss Betty's little sisters came to see the
good wife this morning."

Mrs. Haddo was silent.

"They told their whole story to the good wife. A packet has been lost,
and Miss Betty lies at death's door because o' the grief o' that loss.
The little uns - bless 'em! - thought that the wife could find the packet.
That ain't in her line; it's mothering and coddling and loving as is in
her line. So she put the job on me; and, to be plain, ma'am, I never
were more flabbergasted in the whole o' my life. For to catch a poacher
is one thing, and to catch a lost packet - nobody knowing where it be nor
how it were lost - is another."

"Well, why have you come to me?" said Mrs. Haddo.

"Because, ma'am, I've got a clue, and a big one; and this young lady's
the clue."

"You, Sibyl Ray - you?"

"Yes," said Sibyl.

"Speak out now, missie; don't be frightened. There are miles worse
things than poverty; there's disgrace and heart-burnings. Speak you out
bold, missie, and don't lose your courage."

"I was miserable," said Sibyl. "I didn't want to go to town, and when I
got to the station I slipped away; and I got into the lane outside Stoke
Farm and a dog came out and frightened me, and - and - then this man
came - this kind man - - "

"Well, go on, Sibyl," said Mrs. Haddo; "moments are precious just now."

"I - took the packet," said Sibyl.

"_You_ - took - the packet?"

"Yes. I don't want to speak against another. It was my fault - or mostly
my fault. I did love Betty, and it didn't matter at all to me that she
was expelled from the Specialities; I should love her just as much if
she were expelled from fifty Specialities. But Fanny - she - she - put me
against her."

"Fanny! What Fanny do you mean?"

"Fanny Crawford."

Mrs. Haddo rose at once and rang her bell. When the servant appeared she
said, "Send Miss Crawford here immediately, and don't mention that any
one is in my study. Now, Sibyl, keep the rest of your story until Fanny
Crawford is present."

In about five minutes' time Fanny appeared. She was very white, and
looked rather worn and miserable. "Oh, dear!" she said as she entered,
"I am so glad you have sent for me, Mrs. Haddo; and I do trust I shall
have a room to myself to-night, for I didn't sleep at all last night,
and - - Why, whatever is the matter? Sibyl, what are you doing here? And
who - who is that man?"

"Sit down, Fanny - or stand, just as you please," said Mrs. Haddo; "only
have the goodness not to speak until Sibyl has finished her story. Now,
Sibyl, go on. You had come to that part where you explained that Fanny
put you against Betty Vivian. No, Fanny, you do not go towards the door.
Stay quietly where you are."

Fanny, seeing that all chance of exit was cut off, stood perfectly
still, her eyes fixed on the ground.

"Now, Sibyl, go on."

"Fanny was very anxious about the packet, and she wanted me to watch,"
continued Sibyl, "so that I might discover where Betty had hidden it. I
did watch, and I found that Betty had put it under one of the plants of
wild-heather in the 'forest primeval.' I saw her take it out and look at
it and put it back again, and when she was gone I went to the place and
took the packet out myself and brought it to Fanny. I don't know where
the packet is now."

"Fanny, where is the packet?" said Mrs. Haddo.

"Sibyl is talking the wildest nonsense," said Fanny. "How can you
possibly believe her? I know nothing about Betty Vivian or her
concerns."

"Perhaps, miss," said the farmer, coming forward at that moment, "that
pointed thing sticking out o' your pocket might have something to do
with it. You will permit me, miss, seeing that the young lady's life is
trembling in the balance."

Before either Mrs. Haddo or Fanny could utter a word Farmer Miles had
strode across the room, thrust his big, rough hand into Fanny's neat
little pocket, and taken out the brown paper-packet.

"There, now," he said, "that's the kernel of the nut. I thought I'd do
it somehow. Thank you kindly, ma'am, for listening to me. Miss Sibyl
Ray, you may be poor in the future, but at least you'll have a light
heart; and as to the dirty trick you did, I guess you won't do a second,
for you have learned your lesson. I'll be wishing you good-morning now,
ma'am," he added, turning to Mrs. Haddo, "for I must get back to my
work. It's twelve pounds o' butter the cook wants sent up without fail
to-night, ma'am; and I'm much obliged for the order."

The farmer left the room. Fanny had flung herself on a chair and covered
her face with her hands. Sibyl stood motionless, awaiting Mrs. Haddo's
verdict.

Once again Mrs. Haddo rang the bell. "Send Miss Symes to me," she said.

Miss Symes appeared.

"The doctor's last opinion, please, Miss Symes?"

"Dr. Ashley says that Betty is much the same. The question now is how to
keep up her strength. He thinks it better to have two specialists from
London, as, if she continues in such intense excitement, further
complications may arise."

"Do you know where Betty's sisters are?" was Mrs. Haddo's next inquiry.

"I haven't seen them for some time, but I will find out where they are."

"As soon as ever you find them, send them straight to me. I shall be
here for the present."

Miss Symes glanced in some wonder from Sibyl to Fanny; then she went out
of the room without further comment.

When she was quite alone with the girls Mrs. Haddo said, "Fanny, a fresh
bedroom has been prepared for you, and I shall be glad if you will go
and spend the rest of this day there. I do not feel capable of speaking
to you at present. As to you, Sibyl, your conduct has been bad enough;
but at the eleventh hour - and, we may hope, in time - you have made
restitution. You may, therefore, rejoin the girls of the lower school."

"Of the lower school?" said Sibyl.

"Yes. Your punishment is that you return to the lower school for at
least a year, until you are more capable of guiding your own conduct,
and less likely to be influenced by the wicked passions of girls who
have had more experience than yourself. You can go to your room also for
the present, and to-morrow morning you will resume your duties in the
lower school."

Fanny and Sibyl both turned away, neither of them saying a word to the
other. They had scarcely done so before Miss Symes came in, her face
flushed with excitement, and accompanied by the twins.

"My dear girls, where have you been?" said Mrs. Haddo.

"With Mrs. Miles," said Sylvia.

"I cannot blame you, under the circumstances, although you have broken a
rule. My dears, thank God for His mercies. Here is the lost packet."

Sylvia grasped it.

Hester rushed towards Sylvia and laid her hand over her sister's. "Oh!
oh!" she said.

"Now, girls, can I trust you? I was told what took place this
morning - how you went to Betty without leave, and promised to return
with the packet. Is Betty awake at present, Miss Symes?"

"Yes," said Miss Symes, "she has been awake for a long time."

"Will you take the girls up to Betty's room? Do not go in yourself. Now,
girls, I trust to your wisdom, and to your love of Betty, to do this
thing very quietly."

"You may trust us," said Hetty.

They left the room. They followed Miss Symes upstairs. They entered the
beautiful room where Betty was lying, her eyes shining brightly, fever
high on her cheeks.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 21 of 22)