L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

. (page 3 of 22)
Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 3 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"It is this," said Betty - "you and Donald can answer it quickly - if we
want to come back here you will take us in, won't you?"

"Take you in, my bonny dears! Need you ask? There's a shelter always for
the bit lassies under this roof," said Donald Macfarlane.

"Thanks, Donald," said Betty. "And thank you, Jean," she added. "Come,
girls, let's go to bed."

The girls went up to the small room in the roof which they occupied.
They slept in three tiny beds side by side. The beds were under the
sloping roof, and the air of the room was cold. But Betty, Sylvia, and
Hetty were accustomed to cold, and did not mind it. The three little
beds touched each other, and the three girls quickly undressed and got
between the coarse sheets. Betty, as the privileged one, was in the
middle. And now a cold little hand was stretched out from the left bed
towards her, and a cold little hand from the right bed did ditto.

"Betty," said Sylvia in a choking voice, "you will keep us up? You are
the brave one."

"Except when I cry," said Betty.

"Oh, but, Betty," said Hetty, "you will promise not to! It's awful when
you do! You will promise, won't you?"

"I will try my best," said Betty.

"How long do you think, Betty, that you and Hetty and I will be able to
endure that awful school?" said Sylvia.

"It all depends," said Betty. "But we've got the money to get away with
when we like. It was left for our use. Now, look, here, girls. I am
going to tell you a tremendous secret."

"Oh, yes! oh, yes!" exclaimed the other two. "Betty, you're a perfect
darling; you are the most heroic creature in the world!"

"Listen; and don't talk, girls. I told a lie to-night about that packet;
but no one else will know about it. There was one day - now don't
interrupt me, either of you, or I'll begin howling, and then I can't
stop - there was one day when Auntie Frances was very ill. She sent for
me, and I went to her; and she said, 'I am able to leave you so very
little, my children; but there is a nest-egg in a little packet in the
right-hand drawer of my bureau. You must always keep it - always until
you really want it.' I felt so bursting all round my heart, and so choky
in my throat, that I thought I'd scream there and then; but I kept all
my feelings in, and went away, and pretended to dearest auntie that I
didn't feel it a bit. Then, you know, she, she - died."

"She was very cold," said Sylvia. "I saw her - I seem to see her still.
Her face made me shiver."

"Don't!" said Betty in a fierce voice. "Do you want me to howl all night
long?"

"I won't! I won't!" said Sylvia. "Go on, Betty darling - heroine that you
are!"

"Well, I went to her bureau straight away, and I took the packet. As a
matter of fact, I already knew quite well that it was there; for I had
often opened auntie's bureau and looked at her treasures, so I could lay
my hands on it at once. I never mean to part with the packet. It's
heavy, so it's sure to be full of gold - plenty of gold for us to live on
if we don't like that beastly school. When Sir John - or Uncle John, as
he wants us to call him - - "

"He's no uncle of mine," said Hetty.

"I like him, for my part," said Sylvia.

"Don't interrupt me," said Betty. "When Uncle John asked me about the
packet I said 'No,' of course; and I mean to say 'No' again, and again,
and again, and again, if ever I'm questioned about it. For didn't auntie
say it was for us? And what right has he to interfere?"

"It does sound awfully interesting!" exclaimed Sylvia. "I do hope you've
put it in a very, very safe place, Betty?"

Betty laughed softly. "Do you remember the little, old-fashioned pockets
auntie always wore inside her dress - little, flat pockets made of very
strong calico? Well, it's in one of those; and I mean to secure a safer
hiding-place for it when I get to that abominable Court. Now perhaps
we'd better go to sleep."

"Yes; I am dead-sleepy," responded Sylvia.

By and by her gentle breathing showed that she was in the land of
slumber. Hetty quickly followed her twin-sister's example. But Betty lay
wide awake. She was lying flat on her back, and looking out into the
sort of twilight which still seemed to pervade the great moors. Her eyes
were wide open, and wore a startled, fixed expression, like the eyes of
a girl who was seeing far beyond what she appeared to be looking at.

"Yes, I have done right," she said to herself. "There must always be an
open door, and this is my open door; and I hope God, and auntie up in
heaven, will forgive me for having told that lie. And I hope God, and
auntie up in heaven, will forgive me if I tell it again; for I mean to
go on telling it, and telling it, and telling it, until I have spent all
that money."

While Betty lay thinking her wild thoughts, Sir John Crawford,
downstairs, made a shrewd and careful examination of the different
articles of furniture which had been left in the little stone house by
his old friend, Miss Frances Vivian. Everything was in perfect order.
She was a lady who abhorred disorder, who could not endure it for a
single moment. All her letters and her neatly receipted bills were tied
up with blue silk, and laid, according to date, one on top of the other.
Her several little trinkets, which eventually would belong to the girls,
were in their places. Her last will and testament was also in the drawer
where she had told Sir John he would find it. Everything was in
order - everything, exactly as the poor lady had left it, with the
exception of the little sealed packet. Where was it? Sir John felt
puzzled and distressed. He had not an idea what it contained; for Miss
Vivian, in her letter to him, had simply asked him to take care of it
for her nieces, and had not made any comment with regard to its
contents. Sir John certainly could not accuse the girls of purloining
it. After some pain and deliberate thought, he decided to go out and
speak to the old servants, who were still up, in the kitchen. They
received him respectfully, and yet with a sort of sour expression which
was natural to their homely Scotch faces.

Donald rose silently, and asked the gentleman if he would seat himself.

"No, Donald," replied Sir John in his hearty, pleasant voice; "I cannot
stay. I am going to bed, being somewhat tired."

"The bit chamber is no' too comfortable for your lordship," said Jean,
dropping a profound curtsey.

"The chamber will do all right. I have slept in it before," said Sir
John.

"Eh, dear, now," said Jean, "and you be easy to please."

"I want you, Jean Macfarlane, to call the young ladies and myself not
later than five o'clock to-morrow morning, and to have breakfast ready
at half-past five; and, Donald, we shall require the dogcart to drive to
the station at six o'clock. Have you given orders about the young
ladies' luggage? It ought to start not later than four to-morrow morning
to be in time to catch the train."

"Eh, to be sure," said Donald. "It's myself has seen to all that. Don't
you fash yourself, laird. Things'll be in time. All me and my wife wants
is that the bit lassies should have every comfort."

"I will see to that," said Sir John.

"We'll miss them, puir wee things!" exclaimed Jean; and there came a
glint of something like tears into her hard and yet bright blue eyes.

"I am sure you will. You have, both of you, been valued servants both to
my cousin and her nieces. I wish to make you a little present each."
Here Sir John fumbled in his pocket, and took out a couple of
sovereigns.

But the old pair drew back in some indignation. "Na, na!" they
exclaimed; "it isn't our love for them or for her as can be purchased
for gowd."

"Well, as you please, my good people. I respect you all the more for
refusing. But now, may I ask you a question?"

"And whatever may that be?" exclaimed Jean.

"I have looked through your late mistress's effects - - "

"And whatever may 'effects' be?" inquired Donald.

"What she has left behind her."

"Ay, the laird uses grand words," remarked Donald, turning to his wife.

"Maybe," said Jean; "but its the flavor of the Scotch in the speech that
softens my heart the most."

"Well," said Sir John quickly, "there's one little packet I cannot find.
Miss Vivian wrote to me about it in a letter which I received after her
death. I haven't an idea what it contained; but she seemed to set some
store by it, and it was eventually to be the property of the young
ladies."

"Puir lambs! Puir lambs!" said Jean.

"I have questioned them about it, but they know nothing."

"And how should they, babes as they be?" said Jean.

"You'll not be offended, Jean Macfarlane and Donald Macfarlane, if I ask
you the same question?"

Jean flushed an angry red for a moment; but Donald's shrewd face
puckered up in a smile.

"You may ask, and hearty welcome," he said; "but I know no more aboot
the bit packet than the lassies do, and that's naucht at all."

"Nor me no more than he," echoed Jean.

"Do you think, by any possibility, any one from outside got into the
house and stole the little packet?"

"Do I think!" exclaimed Jean. "Let me tell you, laird, that a man or
woman as got in here unbeknownst to Donald and me would go out again
pretty quick with a flea in the ear."

Sir John smiled. "I believe you," he said. He went upstairs, feeling
puzzled. But when he laid his head on his pillow he was so tired that he
fell sound asleep. The sleep seemed to last but for a minute or two when
Jean's harsh voice was heard telling him to rise, for it was five
o'clock in the morning. Then there came a time of bustle and confusion.
The girls, with their faces white as sheets, came down to breakfast in
their usual fashion - hand linked within hand. Sir John thought, as he
glanced at them, that he had never seen a more desolate-looking little
trio. They hardly ate any of the excellent food which Jean had provided.
The good baronet guessed that their hearts were full, and did not worry
them with questions.

The pile of deal boxes had disappeared from the narrow hall and was
already on its way to Dunstan Station, where they were to meet a local
train which would presently enable them to join the express for London.
There was a bewildered moment of great anguish when Jean caught the
lassies to her breast, when the dogs clustered round to be embraced and
hugged and patted. Then Donald, leading the horse (for there was no room
for him to ride in the crowded dogcart), started briskly on the road to
Dunstan, and Craigie Muir was left far behind.

By and by they all reached the railway station. The luggage was piled up
on the platform. Sir John took first-class tickets to London, and the
curious deal boxes found their place in the luggage van. Donald's
grizzly head and rugged face were seen for one minute as the train
steamed out of the station. Betty clutched at the side of her dress
where Aunt Frances' old flat pocket which contained the packet was
secured. The other two girls looked at her with a curious mingling of
awe and admiration, and then they were off.

Sir John guessed at the young people's feelings, and did not trouble
them with conversation. By and by they left the small train and got into
a compartment reserved for them in the London express. Sir John did
everything he could to enliven the journey for his young cousins. But
they were taciturn and irresponsive. Betty's wonderful gray eyes looked
out of the window at the passing landscape, which Sir John was quite
sure she did not see; Sylvia and Hester were absorbed in watching their
sister. Sir John had a queer kind of feeling that there was something
wrong with the girls' dress; that very coarse black serge, made with no
attempt at style; the coarse, home-made stockings; the rough, hobnailed
boots; the small tam-o'-shanter caps, pushed far back from the little
faces; the uncouth worsted gloves; and then the deal boxes! He had a
kind of notion that things were very wrong, and that the girls did not
look a bit at his own darling Fanny looked, nor in the least like the
other girls he had seen at Haddo Court. But Sir John Crawford had been a
widower for years, and during that time had seen little of women. He had
not the least idea how to remedy what looked a little out of place even
at Craigie Muir, but now that they were flying south looked much worse.
Could he possibly spare the time to spend a day in a London hotel, and
buy the girls proper toilets, and have their clothes put into regulation
trunks? But no, in the first place, he had not the time; in the second,
he would not have the slightest idea what to order.

They all arrived in London late in the evening. Sylvia and Hetty had
been asleep during the latter part of the journey, but Betty still sat
bolt upright and wide awake. It was dusk now, and the lamp in the
carriage was lit. It seemed to throw a shadow on the girl's miserable
face. She was very young - only the same age as Sir John's dear Fanny;
and yet how different, how pale, how full of inexpressible sadness was
that little face! Those gray eyes of hers seemed to haunt him! He was
the kindest man on earth, and would have given worlds to comfort her;
but he did not know what to do.




CHAPTER IV

RECEPTION AT HADDO COURT


Having made up her mind to receive the Vivian girls, Mrs. Haddo arranged
matters quite calmly and to her entire satisfaction. There was no fuss
or commotion of any kind; and when Sir John appeared on the following
morning, with the six deal boxes and the three girls dressed in their
coarse Highland garments, they were all received immediately in Mrs.
Haddo's private sitting-room.

"I have brought the girls, Mrs. Haddo," said Sir John. "This is Betty.
Come forward, my dear, and shake hands with your new mistress."

"How old are you?" asked Mrs. Haddo.

"I was sixteen my last birthday, and that was six months ago, and one
fortnight and three days," replied Betty in a very distinct voice,
holding herself bolt upright, and looking with those strange eyes full
into Mrs. Haddo's face. She spoke with extreme defiance. But she
suddenly met a rebuff - a kind of rebuff that she did not expect; for
Mrs. Haddo's eyes looked back at her with such a world of love,
sympathy, and understanding that the girl felt that choking in her
throat and that bursting sensation in her heart which she dreaded more
than anything else. She instantly lowered her brilliant eyes and stood
back, waiting for her sisters to speak.

Sylvia came up a little pertly. "Hetty and I are twins," she said, "and
we'll be fifteen our next birthday; but that's not for a long time yet."

"Well, my dears, I am glad to welcome you all three, and I hope you will
have a happy time in my school. I will not trouble you with rules or
anything irksome of that sort to-day. You will like to see your cousin,
Fanny Crawford. She is busy at lessons now; so I would first of all
suggest that you go to your room, and change your dress, and get tidy
after your journey. You have come here nice and early; and in honor of
your arrival I will give, what is my invariable custom, a half-holiday
to the upper school, so that you may get to know your companions."

"Ask Miss Symes to be good enough to come here," said Betty, but Betty
would not raise her eyes. She was standing very still, her hands locked
tightly together. Mrs. Haddo walked to the bell and rang it. A servant
appeared.

"Ask Miss Symes to be good enough to come here," said Mrs. Haddo.

The English governess with the charming, noble face presently appeared.

"Miss Symes," said Mrs. Haddo, "may I introduce you to Sir John
Crawford?"

Sir John bowed, and the governess bent her head gracefully.

"And these are your new pupils, the Vivians. This is Betty, and this
little girl is Sylvia. Am I not right, dear?"

"No; I am Hester," said the girl addressed as Sylvia.

"This is Hetty, then; and this is Sylvia. Will you take them to their
room and do what you can for their comfort? If they like to stay there
for a little they can do so. I will speak to you presently, if you will
come to me here."

The girls and Miss Symes left the presence of the head mistress. The
moment they had done so Mrs. Haddo gave a quick sigh. "My dear Sir
John," she said, "what remarkable, and interesting, and difficult, and
almost impossible girls you have intrusted to my care!"

"I own they are not like others," said Sir John; "but you have admitted
they are interesting."

"Yes," said Mrs. Haddo, speaking slowly. "I shall manage them yet. The
eldest girl, Betty, is wonderful. What a heart! what a soul! but, oh,
very hard to get at!"

"I thought, perhaps," said Sir John, fidgeting slightly, "that you would
object to the rough way they are clothed. I really don't like it myself;
at least, I don't think it's quite the fashion."

"Their clothes do not matter at all, Sir John."

"But the less remarkable they look the better they will get on in the
school," persisted Sir John; "so, of course, you will get what is
necessary."

"Naturally, Miss Symes and I will see to that."

"They led a very rough life in the country," continued Sir John, "and
yet it was a pure and healthy life - out all day long on those great
moors, and with no one to keep them company except a faithful old
servant of Miss Vivian's and his wife. They made pets of dogs and
horses, and were happy after their fashion. You will do what you can for
them, will you not, Mrs. Haddo?"

"Having accepted them into my school, I will do my utmost. I do not mind
simple manners, for the noblest natures are to be found among such
people; nor do I mind rough, ungainly clothing, for that, indeed, only
belongs to the outward girl and can quickly be remedied. I will keep
these girls, and do all that woman can for them, provided I see no
deceit in any of them; but that, you will clearly understand, Sir John,
is in my opinion an unpardonable sin."

"Do they look like girls who would deceive any one?" was Sir John's
rejoinder.

"I grant you they do not. Now, you must be very busy, so you must cast
the girls from your mind. You would like to see Fanny. I know she is
dying to have a talk with you."

Meanwhile Miss Symes had conducted the girls upstairs. The room they
entered was much grander than any room they had ever seen before. It was
large - one of the largest bedrooms in the great house. It had three
noble windows which reached from floor to ceiling, and were of French
style, so that they could be opened wide in summer weather to admit the
soft, warm air. There was a great balcony outside the windows, where the
girls could sit when they chose. The room itself was called the blue
room; the reason of this was that the color on the walls was pale blue,
whereas the paint was white. The three little beds stood in a row, side
by side. There was a very large wardrobe exactly facing the beds, also a
chest of large drawers for each girl, while the carpet was blue to match
the walls. A bright fire was burning in the cheerful, new-fashioned
grate. Altogether, it would have been difficult to find a more charming
apartment than the blue room at Haddo Court.

"Are we to sleep here?" asked Betty.

"Yes, my dear child. These are your little beds; and Anderson, the
schoolroom maid, will unpack your trunks presently. I see they have been
brought up."

Miss Symes slightly started, for the six wooden trunks, fastened by
their coarse ropes, were standing side by side in another part of the
room.

"Why do you look at our trunks like that?" asked Sylvia, who was not
specially shy, and was quick to express her feelings.

But Betty came to the rescue. "Never mind how she looks," remarked
Betty; "she can look as she likes. What does it matter to us?"

This speech was so very different from the ordinary speech of the
ordinary girl who came to Haddo Court that Miss Symes was nonplussed for
a moment. She quickly, however, recovered her equanimity.

"Now, my dears, you must make yourselves quite at home. You must not be
shy, or lonely, or unhappy. You must enter - which I hope you will do
very quick - into the life of this most delightful house. We are all
willing and anxious to make you happy. As to your trunks, they will be
unpacked and put away in one of the attics."

"I wish we could sleep in an attic," said Betty then in a fierce voice.
"I hate company-rooms."

"There is no attic available, my dear; and this, you must admit, is a
nice room."

"I admit nothing," said Betty.

"I think it's a nice room," said Hester; "only, of course, we are not
accustomed to it, and that great fire is so chokingly hot. May we open
all the windows?"

"Certainly, dears, provided you don't catch cold."

"Catch cold!" said Sylvia in a voice of scorn. "If you had ever lived
on a Scotch moor you wouldn't talk of catching cold in a stuffy little
hole of a place like this."

Miss Symes had an excellent temper, but she found it a trifle difficult
to keep it under control at that moment. "I must ask you for the keys of
your trunks," she said; "for while we are at dinner, which will be in
about an hour's time, Anderson will unpack them."

"Thanks," said Betty, "but we'd much rather unpack our own trunks."

Miss Symes was silent for a minute. "In this house, dear, it is not the
custom," she said then. She spoke very gently. She was puzzled at the
general appearance, speech, and get-up of the new girls.

"And we can, of course, keep our own keys," continued Betty, speaking
rapidly, her very pale face glowing with a faint tinge of color;
"because Mrs. - - What is the name of the mistress?"

"Mrs. Haddo," said Miss Symes in a tone of great respect.

"Well, whatever her name is, she said we were to be restricted by no
rules to-day. She said so, didn't she, Sylvia? Didn't she, Hetty?"

"She certainly did," replied the twins.

"Then, if it's a rule for the trunks to be unpacked by some one else, it
doesn't apply to us to-day," said Betty. "If you will be so very kind,
Miss - - "

"Symes is my name."

"So very kind, Miss Symes, as to go away and leave us, we'll begin to
unpack our own trunks and put everything away by dinner-time."

"Very well," said Miss Symes quite meekly. "Is there anything else I can
do for your comfort?"

"Yes," remarked Sylvia in a pert tone; "you can go away."

Miss Symes left the room. When she did so the two younger girls looked
at their elder sister. Betty's face was very white, and her chest was
working ominously.

Sylvia went up to her and gave her a sudden, violent slap between the
shoulders. "Now, don't begin!" she said. "If you do, they'll all come
round us. It isn't as if we could rush away to the middle of the moors,
and you could go on with it as long as you liked. Here, if you howl,
you'll catch it; for they'll stand over you, and perhaps fling water on
your head."

"Leave me alone, then, for a minute," said Betty. She flung herself flat
on the ground, face downwards, her hair falling about her shoulders. She
lay as still as though she were carved in stone. The twin girls watched
her for a minute. Then very softly and carefully Sylvia approached the
prone figure, pushed her hand into Betty's pocket (a very coarse,
ordinary pocket it was, put in at the side of her dress by Jean's own
fingers), and took out a bunch of keys.

Sylvia held up the keys with a glad smile. "Now let's begin," she said.
"It's an odious, grandified room, and Betty'll go mad here; but we can't
help it - at least, for a bit. And there's always the packet."

At these words, to the great relief of her younger sisters, Betty stood
upright. "There's always the packet," she said. "Now let's begin to
unpack."

Notwithstanding the fact that there were six deal trunks - six trunks of
the plainest make, corded with the coarsest rope - there was very little
inside them, at least as far as an ordinary girl's wardrobe is
concerned; for Miss Frances Vivian had been very poor, and during the
last year of her life had lived at Craigie Muir in the strictest
economy. She was, moreover, too ill to be greatly troubled about the
girls' clothing; and by and by, as her illness progressed, she left the
matter altogether to Jean. Jean was to supply what garments the young
ladies required, and Jean set about the work with a right good will. So
the coarsest petticoats, the most clumsy stockings, the ugliest jackets
and blouses and skirts imaginable, presently appeared out of the little
wooden trunks.

The girls sorted them eagerly, putting them pell-mell into the drawers
without the slightest attempt at any sort of order. But if there were
very few clothes in the trunks, there were all sorts of other things.


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 3 of 22)