L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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There were boxes full of caterpillars in different stages of chrysalis
form. There was also a glass box which contained an enormous spider.
This was Sylvia's special property. She called the spider Dickie, and
adored it. She would not give it flies, which she considered cruel, but
used to keep it alive on morsels of raw meat. Every day, for a quarter
of an hour, Dickie was allowed to take exercise on a flat stone on the
edge of the moor. It was quite against even Jean Macfarlane's advice
that Dickie was brought to the neighborhood of London. But he was here.
He had borne his journey apparently well, and Sylvia looked at him now
with worshiping eyes.

In addition to the live stock, which was extensive and varied, there
were also all kinds of strange fossils, and long, trailing pieces of
heather - mementos of the life which the girls lived on the moor, and
which they had left with such pain and sorrow. They were all busy
worshiping Dickie, and envying Sylvia's bravery in bringing the huge
spider to Haddo Court, when there came a gentle tap at the door.

Betty said crossly, "Who's there?"

A very refined voice answered, "It's I;" and the next minute Fanny
Crawford entered the room. "How are you all?" she said. Her eyes were
red, for she had just said good-bye to her father, and she thoroughly
hated the idea of the girls coming to the school.

"How are you, Fan?" replied Betty, speaking in a careless tone, just
nodding her head, and looking again into the glass box. "He is very
hungry," she continued. "By the way, Fan, will you run down to the
kitchen and get a little bit of raw meat?"

"Will I do what?" asked Fanny.

"Well, I suppose there is a kitchen in the house, and you can get a bit
of raw meat. It's for Dickie."

"Oh," said Fanny, coming forward on tiptoe and peeping into the box,
"you can't keep that terror here - you simply won't be allowed to have
it! Have you _no_ idea what school-life is like?"

"No," said Betty; "and what is more, I don't want you to tell me. Dickie
darling, I'd let you pinch my finger if it would do you any good.
Sylvia, what use are you if you can't feed your own spider? If Fan won't
oblige her cousins when she knows the ways of the house, I presume you
have a pair of legs and can use them? Go to the kitchen at once and get
a piece of raw meat."

"I don't know where it is," said Sylvia, looking slightly frightened.

"Well, you can ask. Go on; ask until you find. Now, be off with you!"

"You had better not," said Fanny. "Why, you will meet all the girls
coming out of the different classrooms!"

"What do girls matter," said Betty in a withering voice, "when Dickie is
hungry?"

Sylvia gathered up her courage and departed. Betty laid the glass box
which contained the spider on the dressing-table.

If Fanny had not been slightly afraid of these bold northern cousins of
hers, she would have dashed the box out on the balcony and released poor
Dickie, giving him back to his natural mode of life. "What queer dresses
you are wearing!" she said. "Do, please, change them before lunch. You
were not dressed like this when I saw you last. You were never
fashionable, but this stuff - - "

"You'd best not begin, Fan, or I'll howl," said Betty.

"Hush! do hush, Fanny!" exclaimed Hester. "Don't forget that we are in
mourning for darling auntie."

"But have you really no other dresses?"

"There's nothing wrong with these," said Hester; "they're quite
comfortable."

Just at that moment there came peals of laughter proceeding from several
girls' throats. The room-door was burst open, and Sylvia entered first,
her face very red, her eyes bright and defiant, and a tiny piece of raw
meat on a plate in her hand. The girls who followed her did not belong
to the Specialities, but they were all girls of the upper school. Fanny
thanked her stars that they were not particular friends of hers. They
were choking with laughter, and evidently thought they had never seen so
good a sight in their lives.

"Oh, this is too delicious!" said Sibyl Ray, a girl who had just been
admitted into the upper school. "We met this - this young lady, and she
said she wanted to go to the kitchen to get some raw meat; and when I
told her I didn't know the way she just took my hand and drew me along
with her, and said, 'If you possessed a Dickie, and he was dying of
hunger, you wouldn't hesitate to find the kitchen.'"

"Well, I'm not going to interfere," said Fanny; "but I think you know
the rules of the house, Sibyl, and that no girl is allowed in the
kitchen."

"I didn't go in," said Sibyl; "catch me! But I went to the beginning of
the corridor which leads to the kitchen. _She_ went in, though, boldly
enough, and she got it. Now, we do want to see who Dickie is. Is he a
dog, or a monkey, or what?"

"He's a spider - _goose_!" said Sylvia. "And now, please, get out of the
way. He won't eat if you watch him. I've got a good bit of meat, Betty,"
she continued. "It'll keep Dickie going for several days, and he likes
it all the better when it begins to turn. Don't you Dickie?"

"If you don't all leave the room, girls," said Fanny, "I shall have to
report to Miss Symes."

The girls who had entered were rather afraid of Fanny Crawford, and
thought it best to obey her instructions. But the news with regard to
the newcomers spread wildly all over the house; so much so that when, in
course of time, neat-looking Fanny came down to dinner accompanied by
her three cousins, the whole school remained breathless, watching the
Vivians as they entered. But what magical force is there about certain
girls which raises them above the mere accessories of dress? Could there
be anything uglier than the attire of these so-called Scotch lassies?
And was there ever a prouder carriage than that of Betty Vivian, or a
more scornful expression in the eye, or a firmer set of the little lips?

Mrs. Haddo, who always presided at this meal, called the strangers to
come and sit near her; and though the school had great difficulty in not
bursting into a giggle, there was not a sound of any sort whatever as
the three obeyed. Fanny sat down near her friend, Susie Rushworth. Her
eyes spoke volumes. But Susie was gazing at Betty's face.

At dinner, the girls were expected to talk French on certain days of the
week, and German on others. This was French day, and Susie murmured
something to Fanny in that tongue with regard to Betty's remarkable
little face. But Fanny was in no mood to be courteous or kind about her
relatives. Susie was quick to perceive this, and therefore left her
alone.

When dinner came to an end, Mrs. Haddo called the three Vivians into her
private sitting-room. This room was even more elegant than the beautiful
bedroom which they had just vacated. "Now, my dears," she said, "I want
to have a talk with you all."

Sylvia and Hester looked impatient, and shuffled from one ungainly clad
foot to the other; but Mrs. Haddo fixed her eyes on Betty's face, and
again there thrilled through Betty's heart the marvelous sensation that
she had come across a kindred soul. She was incapable, poor child, of
putting the thought into such words; but she felt it, and it thawed her
rebellious spirit.

Mrs. Haddo sat down. "Now," she said, "you call this school, and, having
never been at school before, you doubtless think you are going to be
very miserable?"

"If there's much discipline we shall be," said Hester, "and Betty will
howl."

"_Don't_ talk like that!" said Betty; and there was a tone in her voice
which silenced Hetty, to the little girl's own amazement.

"There will certainly be discipline at school," said Mrs. Haddo, "just
as there is discipline in life. What miserable people we should be
without discipline! Why, we couldn't get on at all. I am not going to
lecture you to-day. As a matter of fact, I never lecture; and I never
expect any young girl to do in my school what I would not endeavor to do
myself. Above all things, I wish to impress one thing upon you. If you
have any sort of trouble - and, of course, dears, you will have
plenty - you must come straight to me and tell me about it. This is a
privilege I permit to very few girls, but I grant it to you. I give you
that full privilege for the first month of your stay at Haddo Court. You
are to come to me as you would to a mother, had you, my poor children, a
mother living."

"Don't! It makes the lump so bad!" said Betty, clasping her rough little
hand against her white throat.

"I think I have said enough on that subject for the present. I am very
curious to hear all about your life on the moors - how you spent your
time, and how you managed your horses and dogs and your numerous pets."

"Do you really want to hear?" said Betty.

"Certainly; I have said so."

"Do you know," said Hetty, "that Sylvia _would_ bring Dickie here.
Betty and I were somewhat against it, although he is a darling. He is
the most precious pet in the world, and Sylvia would not part with him.
We sent her to the kitchen before dinner to get a bit of raw meat for
him. Would you like to see him?"

Mrs. Haddo was silent for a minute. Then she said gently, "Yes, very
much. He is a sort of pet, I suppose?"

"He is a spider," said Betty - "a great, enormous spider. We captured him
when he was small, and we fed him - oh, not on little flies - that would
be cruel - but on morsels of raw meat. Now he is very big, and he has
wicked eyes. I would rather call him Demon than Dickie; but Sylvia named
him Dickie when he was but a baby thing, so the name has stuck to him.
We love him dearly."

"I will come up to your room presently, and you shall show him to me.
Have you brought other pets from the country?"

"Oh, stones and shells and bits of the moor."

"Bits of the moor, my dear children!"

"Yes; we dug pieces up the day before yesterday and wrapped them in
paper, and we want to plant them somewhere here. We thought they would
comfort us. We'd like it awfully if you would let one of the dogs come,
too. He is a great sheep-dog, and such a darling! His name is Andrew. I
think Donald Macfarlane would part with him if you said we might have
him."

"I am afraid I can't just at present, dear; but if you are really good
girls, and try your very best to please me, you shall go back to Donald
Macfarlane in the holidays, and perhaps I will go with you, and you will
show me all your favorite haunts."

"Oh, will you?" said Betty. Her eyes grew softer than ever.

"You are quite a dear for a head mistress," said Sylvia. "We've always
read in books that they are such horrors. It is nice for you to say you
will come."

"Well, now, I want to say something else, and then we'll go up to your
room and see Dickie. I am going to take you three girls up to town
to-morrow to buy you the sort of dresses we wear in this part of the
world. You can put away these most sensible frocks for your next visit
to Craigie Muir. Not a word, dears. You have said I am a very nice head
mistress, and I hope you will continue to think so. Now, let us come up
to your room."




CHAPTER V

THE VIVIANS' ATTIC


Mrs. Haddo was genuinely interested in Dickie. She never once spoke of
him as a horror. She immediately named the genus to which he belonged in
the spider tribe, and told the girls that they could look up full
particulars with regard to him and his ways in a large book she had
downstairs called "Chambers's Encyclopedia." She suggested, however,
that they should have a little room in one of the attics where they
could keep Dickie and his morsels of meat, and the different boxes which
contained the caterpillars. She volunteered to show this minute room to
the young Vivians at once.

They looked at her, as she spoke, with more and more interest and less
and less dislike. Even Sylvia's little heart was melted, and Hetty at
once put out her hand and touched Mrs. Haddo's. In a moment the little
brown hand was held in the firm clasp of the white one, which was
ornamented with sparkling rings.

As the children and Mrs. Haddo were leaving the blue room, Mrs. Haddo's
eyes fell upon the deal trunks. "What very sensible trunks!" she said.
"And so you brought your clothes in these?"

"Yes," replied Betty. "Donald Macfarlane made them for us. He can do
all sorts of carpentering. He meant to paint them green; but we thought
we'd like them best just as they are unpainted."

"They are strong, useful boxes," replied Mrs. Haddo. "And now come with
me and I will show you the room which shall be your private property and
where you can keep your pets. By the way," she added, "I am exceedingly
particular with regard to the neatness of the various rooms where my
pupils sleep; and these bits of heather and these curious stones - oh, I
can tell you plenty about their history by and by - might also be put
into what we will call 'the Vivians' attic.'"

"Thank you so much!" said Betty. She had forgotten all about
howling - she had even forgotten for the minute that she was really at
school; for great Mrs. Haddo, the wonderful head mistress, about whom
Fanny had told so many stories, was really a most agreeable
person - nearly, very nearly, as nice as dear Aunt Frances.

The little attic was presently reached; the pets were deposited there;
and then - wonderful to relate! - Mrs. Haddo went out herself with the
girls and chose the very best position in the grounds for them to plant
the pieces of heather, with their roots and surrounding earth. She gave
to each girl a small plot which was to be her very own, and which no
other girl was to have anything whatever to do with. When presently she
introduced them into the private sitting-room of the upper school,
Betty's eyes were shining quite happily; and Sylvia and Hetty, who
always followed her example, were looking as merry as possible.

Fanny Crawford, being requested to do so by Susie Rushworth, now
introduced the Vivians to the Specialities. Mary and Julia Bertram shook
hands with them quite warmly. Margaret Grant smiled for a minute as her
dark, handsome eyes met those of Betty; while Olive Repton said in her
most genial tone, "Oh, do sit down, and tell us all about your life!"

"Yes, please - _please_, tell us all about your life!" exclaimed another
voice; and Sibyl Ray came boldly forward and seated herself in the midst
of the group, which was known in the school as the Specialities.

But here Margaret interfered. "You shall hear everything presently,
Sibyl," she said; "but just now we are having a little confab with dear
Fanny's friends, so do you mind leaving us alone together?"

Sibyl colored angrily. "I am sure I don't care," she said; "and if you
are going to be stuck-up and snappish and disagreeable just because you
happen to call yourselves the Specialities, you needn't expect _me_ to
take an interest in you. I am just off for a game of tennis, and shall
have a far better time than you all, hobnobbing in this close room."

"Yes, the room is very close," exclaimed Betty. Then she added, "I do
not think I shall like the South of England at all; it seems to be
without air."

"Oh, you'll soon get over that!" laughed Susie. "Besides," she
continued, "winter is coming; and I can tell you we find winter very
cold, even here."

"I am glad of that," said Betty. "I hate hot weather; unless, indeed,"
she added, "when you can lie flat on your back, in the center of one of
the moors, and watch the sky with the sun blazing down on you."

"But you must never lie anywhere near a flat stone," exclaimed Sylvia,
"or an adder may come out, and that isn't a bit jolly!"

Sibyl had not yet moved off, but was standing with her mouth slightly
gaping and her round eyes full of horror.

"Do go! do go, Sibyl!" said Mary Bertram; and Sibyl went, to tell
wonderful stories to her own special friends all about these oddest of
girls who kept monstrous spiders - spiders that had to be fed on raw
meat - and who themselves lay on the moors where adders were to be found.

"Now tell us about Dickie," said Susie, who was always the first to make
friends.

But Betty Vivian, for some unaccountable reason, no longer felt either
amiable or sociable. "There's nothing to tell," she replied, "and you
can't see him."

"Oh, please, Betty, don't be disagreeable!" exclaimed Fanny. "We can see
him any minute if we go to your bedroom."

"No, you can't," said Betty, "for he isn't there."

Fanny burst out laughing. "Ah," she said, "I thought as much! I thought
Mrs. Haddo would soon put an end to poor Dickie's life!"

"Then you thought wrong!" exclaimed Sylvia with flashing eyes, "for Mrs.
Haddo loves him. She was down on her knees looking - - Oh, what is the
matter, Betty?"

"If you keep repeating our secrets with Mrs. Haddo I shall pinch you
black and blue to-night," was Betty's response.

Sylvia instantly became silent.

"Well, tell us about the moor, anyhow," said Margaret.

"And let's go out!" cried Olive. "The day is perfectly glorious; and, of
course," she continued, "we are all bound to make ourselves agreeable to
you three, for we owe our delightful half-holiday to you. But for you
Vivians we'd be toiling away at our lessons now instead of allowing our
minds to cool down."

"Do minds get as hot as all that?" asked Hester.

"Very often, indeed, at this school," said Olive with a chuckle.

"Well, I, for one, shall be delighted to go out," said Betty.

"Then you must run upstairs and get your hats and your gloves," said
Fanny, who seemed, for some extraordinary reason, to wish to make her
cousins uncomfortable.

Betty looked at her very fiercely for a minute; then she beckoned to her
sisters, and the three left the room in their usual fashion - each girl
holding the hand of another.

"Fan," said Olive the moment the door had closed behind them, "you don't
like the Vivians! I see it in your face."

"I never said so," replied Fanny.

"Oh, Fan, dear - not with the lips, of course; but the eyes have spoken
volumes. Now, I think they are great fun; they're so uncommon."

"I have never said I didn't like them," repeated Fanny, "and you will
never get me to say it. They are my cousins, and of course I'll have to
look after them a bit; but I think before they are a month at the school
you will agree with me in my opinion with regard to them."

"How can we agree in an opinion we know nothing about?" said Margaret
Grant.

Fanny looked at her, and Fanny's eyes could flash in a very significant
manner at times.

"Let's come out!" exclaimed Susie Rushworth. "The girls will follow us."

This, however, turned out not to be the case. Susie, the Bertrams,
Margaret Grant, Olive Repton, waited for the Vivians in every imaginable
spot where they it likely the newcomers would be.

As a matter of fact, the very instant the young Vivians had left the
sitting-room, Betty whispered in an eager tone, first to one sister and
then to the other, "We surely needn't stay any longer with Fanny and
those other horrid girls. Never mind your hats and gloves. Did we ever
wear hats and gloves when we were out on the moors at Craigie Muir?
There's an open door. Let's get away quite by ourselves."

The Vivians managed this quite easily. They raced down a side-walk until
they came to an overhanging oak tree of enormous dimensions. Into this
tree they climbed, getting up higher and higher until they were lost to
view in the topmost branches. Here they contrived to make a cozy nest
for themselves, where they sat very close together, not talking much,
although Betty now and then said calmly, "I like Mrs. Haddo; she is the
only one in the whole school I can tolerate."

"Fan's worse than ever!" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Oh, don't let's talk of her!" said Betty.

"It will be rather fun going to London to-morrow," said Hester.

"Fun!" exclaimed Betty. "I suppose we shall be put into odious
fashionable dresses, like those stuck-up dolls the other girls. But I
don't think, try as they will, they'll ever turn _me_ into a fashionable
lady. How I do hate that sort!"

"Yes, and so do I," said Sylvia; while Hetty, who always echoed her
sisters' sentiments, said ditto.

"Mrs. Haddo was kind about Dickie," said Betty after a thoughtful pause.

"And it is nice," added Sylvia, "to have the Vivian attic."

"Oh, dear!" said Hester; "I wish all those girls would keep out of
sight, for then I'd dash back to the house and bring out the pieces of
heather and plant them right away. They ought not to be long out of the
ground."

"You had best go at once," said Betty, giving Hester a somewhat vigorous
push, which very nearly upset the little girl's balance. "Go boldly back
to the house; don't be afraid of any one; don't speak to any one unless
it happens to be Mrs. Haddo. Be sure you are polite to her, for she is a
lady. Go up to the Vivian attic and bring down the clumps of heather,
and the little spade we brought with us in the very bottom of the fifth
trunk."

"Oh, and there's the watering-can; don't forget that!" cried Sylvia.

"Yes, bring the watering-can, too. You had best find a pump, or a well,
or something, so that you can fill it up to the brim. Bring them all
along; and then just whistle 'Robin Adair' at the foot of this tree, and
we two will come swarming down. Now, off with you; there's no time to
lose!"

Hester descended without a word. She was certainly born without a scrap
of fear of any kind, and adventure appealed to her plucky little spirit.
Betty settled herself back comfortably against one of the forked
branches of the tree where she had made her nest.

"If we are careful, Sylvia, we can come up here to hide as often as we
like. I rather fancy from the shape of those other girls that they're
not specially good at climbing trees."

"What do you mean by their shape?" asked Sylvia.

"Oh, they're so squeezed in and pushed out; I don't know how to explain
it. Now, _we_ have the use of all our limbs; and I say, you silly little
Sylvia, won't we use them just!"

"I always love you, Betty, when you call me 'silly little Sylvia,' for I
know you are in a good humor and not inclined to howl. But, before Hetty
comes back, I want to say something."

"How mysterious you look, Sylvia! What can you have to say that poor
Hetty's not to hear? I am not going to have secrets that are not shared
among us three, I can tell you. We share and share alike - we three. We
are just desolate orphans, alone in the world; but at least we share and
share alike."

"Of course, of course," said Sylvia; "but I saw - and I don't think Hetty
did - - "

"And what did you see?"

"I saw Fan looking at us; and then she came rather close. It was that
time when we were all stifling in that odious sitting-room; Fan came and
sat very close to you, and I saw her put her hand down to feel your
dress. I know she felt that flat pocket where the little sealed packet
is."

Betty's face grew red and then white.

"And don't you remember," continued Sylvia, "that Fan was with us on the
very, very day when darling auntie told us about the packet - the day
when you came out of her room with your eyes as red as a ferret's; and
don't you remember how you couldn't help howling that day, and how far
off we had to go for fear darlingest auntie would hear you? And can't
you recall that Fan crept after us, just like the horrid sneak that she
is? And I know she heard you say, 'That packet is mine; it belongs to
all of us, and I - I _will_ keep it, whatever happens.'"

"She may do sneaky things of that sort every hour of every day that she
likes," was Betty's cool rejoinder. "Now, don't get into a fright, silly
little Sylvia. Oh, I say, hark! that's Hester's note. She is whistling
'Robin Adair'!"

Quick as thought, the girls climbed down from the great tree and stood
under it. Hester was panting a little, for she had run fast and her arms
were very full.

"I saw a lot of _them_ scattered everywhere!" she exclaimed; "but I
don't _think_ they saw me, but of course I couldn't be sure. Here's the
heather; its darling little bells are beginning to droop, poor sweet
pets! And here's the spade; and here's the watering-can, brimful of
water, too, for I saw a gardener as I was coming along, and I asked him
to fill it for me, and he did so at once. Now let's go to our gardens
and let's plant. We've just got a nice sod of heather each - one for each
garden. Oh, do let's be quick, or those dreadful girls will see us!"

"There's no need to hurry," said Betty. "I rather think I can take care
of myself. Give me the watering-can. Sylvia, take the heather; and,
Hetty - your face is perfectly scarlet, you have run so fast - you follow
after with the spade."

The little plots of ground which had been given over to the Vivian girls


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 4 of 22)