L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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had been chosen by Mrs. Haddo on the edge of a wild, uncultivated piece
of ground. The girls of Haddo Court were proud of this piece of land,
which some of them - Margaret Grant, in particular - were fond of calling
the "forest primeval." But the Vivians, fresh from the wild Scotch
moors, thought but poorly of the few acres of sparse grass and tangled
weed and low under-growth. It was, however, on the very edge of this
piece of land that the three little gardens were situated. Mrs. Haddo
did nothing by halves; and already - wonderful to relate - the gardens had
been marked out with stakes and pieces of stout string, and there was a
small post planted at the edge of the center garden containing the words
in white paint: THE VIVIANS' PRIVATE GARDENS.

Even Betty laughed. "This is good!" she said. "Girls, that is quite a
nice woman."

The twins naturally acknowledged as very nice indeed any one whom Betty
admired.

Betty here gave a profound sigh. "Come along; let's be quick," she said.
"We'll plant our heather in the very center of each plot. I'll have the
middle plot, of course, being the eldest. You, silly Sylvia, shall have
the one on the left-hand side; and you, Het, the one on the right-hand
side. I will plant my heather first."

The others watched while Betty dug vigorously, and had soon made a hole
large enough and soft enough to inclose the roots of the wild Scotch
heather. She then gave her spade to Sylvia, who did likewise; then
Hetty, in her turn, also planted a clump of heather. The contents of the
watering-can was presently dispersed among the three clumps, and the
girls turned back in the direction of the house.

"She _is_ nice!" said Betty. "I will bring her here the first day she
has a minute to spare and show her the heather. She said she knew all
about Scotch heather, and loved it very much. I shouldn't greatly mind,
for my part, letting her know about the packet."

"Oh, better not!" said Hester in a frightened tone. "Remember, she is
not the only one in that huge prison of a house." Here she pointed to
the great mansion which constituted the vast edifice, Haddo Court. "She
is by no means the only one," continued Hester. "If she were, I could be
happy here."

"You are right, Het; you are quite a wise, small girl," said Betty. "Oh,
dear," she added, "how I hate those monstrous houses! What would not I
give to be back in the little, white stone house at Craigie Muir!"

"And with darling Jean and dearest old Donald!" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Yes, and the dogs," said Hester. "Oh, Andrew! oh, Fritz! are you
missing us as much as we miss you? And, David, you darling! are you
pricking up your ears, expecting us to come round to you with some
carrots?"

"We'd best not begin too much of this sort of talk," said Betty. "We've
got to make up our minds to be cheerful - that is, if we wish to please
Mrs. Haddo."

The thought of Mrs. Haddo was certainly having a remarkable effect on
Betty; and there is no saying how soon she might, in consequence, have
been reconciled to her school-life but for an incident which took place
that very evening. For Fanny Crawford, who would not tell a tale against
another for the world, had been much troubled since she heard of her
cousins' arrival. Her conscientious little mind had told her that they
were the last sort of girls suitable to be in such a school as Haddo
Court. She had found out something about them. She had not meant to spy
on them during her brief visit to Craigie Muir, but she had certainly
overheard some of Betty's passionate words about the little packet; and
that very evening, curled up on the sofa in the tiny sitting-room at
Craigie Muir Cottage, she had seen Betty - although Betty had not seen
her - creep into the room in the semi-darkness and remove a little sealed
packet from one of Miss Vivian's drawers. As Fanny expressed it
afterwards, she felt at the moment as though her tongue would cleave to
the roof of her mouth. She had tried to utter some sound, but none
would come. She had never mentioned the incident to any one; and as she
scarcely expected to see anything more of her cousins in the future, she
tried to dismiss it from her thoughts. But as soon as ever she was told
in confidence by Miss Symes that the Vivian girls were coming to Haddo
Court, she recalled the incident of what she was pleased to regard as
the stolen packet. It had haunted her while she was at Craigie Muir; it
had even horrified her. Her whole nature recoiled against what she
considered clandestine and underhand dealings. Nevertheless she could
not, she would not, tell. But she had very nearly made up her mind to
say something to the girls themselves - to ask Betty why she had taken
the packet, and what she had done with it. But even on this course she
was not fully decided.

On the morning of that very day, however, just before Fanny bade her
father good-bye, he had said to her, "Fan, my dear, there's a trifle
worrying me, although I don't suppose for a single moment you can help
me in the matter."

"What is it, father?" asked the girl.

"Well, the fact is this. I am going, as you know, to India for the next
few years, and it is quite possible that as the cottage at Craigie Muir
will belong to the Vivian girls - for poor Frances bought it and allowed
those Scotch folk the Macfarlanes to live there - it is, I say, quite
possible that you may go to Craigie Muir for a summer holiday with your
cousins. The air is superb, and would do you much good, and of course
the girls would be wild with delight. Well, my dear, if you go, I want
you to look round everywhere - you have good, sharp eyes in your head,
Fan, my girl - and try if you can find a little sealed packet which poor
Frances left to be taken care of by me for your three cousins."

"A sealed packet?" said Fanny. She felt herself turning very pale.

"Yes. Do you know anything about it?"

"Oh, father!" said poor Fanny; and her eyes filled with tears.

"What is the matter, my child?"

"I - I'd so much rather not talk about it, please."

"Then you do know something?"

"Please, please, father, don't question me!"

"I won't if you don't wish it; but your manner puzzles me a good deal.
Well, dear, if you can get it by any chance, you had better put it into
Mrs. Haddo's charge until I return. I asked those poor children if they
had seen it, and they denied having done so."

Fanny felt herself shiver, and had to clasp her hands very tightly
together.

"I also asked that good shepherd Donald Macfarlane and his wife, and
they certainly knew nothing about it. I can't stay with you any longer
now, my little girl; but if you do happen to go to Craigie Muir you
might remember that I am a little anxious on the subject, for it is my
wish to carry out the directions of my dear cousin Frances in all
particulars. Now, try to be very, very good to your cousins, Fan; and
remember how lonely they are, and how differently they have been brought
up from you."

Fanny could not speak, for she was crying too hard. Sir John presently
went away, and forgot all about the little packet. But Fanny remembered
it; in fact, she could not get it out of her head during the entire day;
and in the course of the afternoon, when she found that the Vivian girls
joined the group of the Specialities, she forced a chair between Betty
and Olive Repton, and seated herself on it, and purposely, hating
herself all the time for doing so, felt Betty's pocket. Beyond doubt
there was something hard in it. It was not a pocket-handkerchief, nor
did it feel like a pencil or a knife or anything of that sort.

"I shall know no peace," thought Fanny to herself, "until I get that
unhappy girl to tell the truth and return the packet to me. I shall be
very firm and very kind, and I will never let out a single thing about
it in the school. But the packet must be given up; and then I will
manage to convey it to Mrs. Haddo, who will keep it until dear father
returns."

But although Fan intended to act the part of the very virtuous and
proper girl, she did not like her cousins the more because of this
unpleasant incident. Fanny Crawford had a certain strength of character;
but it is sad to relate that she was somewhat overladen with
self-righteousness, and was very proud of the fact that nothing would
induce _her_ to do a dishonorable thing. She sadly lacked Mrs. Haddo's
rare and large sympathy and deep knowledge of life, and Fanny certainly
had not the slightest power of reading character.

That very evening, therefore, when the Vivian girls had gone to their
room, feeling very tired and sleepy, and by no means so unhappy as they
expected, Fanny first knocked at their door and then boldly entered.
Each girl had removed her frock and was wearing a little, rough, gray
dressing-gown, and each girl was in the act of brushing out her own very
thick hair.

"Brushing-hair time!" exclaimed Fanny in a cheerful tone. "I trust I am
not in the way."

"We were going to bed," remarked Betty.

"Oh, Betty, what a reproachful tone!" Fanny tried to carry matters off
with a light hand. "Surely I, your own cousin, am welcome? Do say I am
welcome, dear Betty! and let me bring my brush and comb, and brush my
hair in your room."

"No," said Betty; "you are not welcome, and we'd all much rather that
you brushed your hair in your own room."

"You certainly are sweetly polite," said Fanny, with a smile on her face
which was not remarkable for sweetness. She looked quite calmly at the
girls for a moment. Then she said, "This day, on account of your
arrival, rules are off, so to speak, but they begin again to-morrow
morning. To-morrow evening, therefore, I cannot come to your bedroom,
for it would be breaking rules."

"Oh, how just awfully jolly!" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Thanks," said Fanny. She paused again for a minute. Then she added,
"But as rules are off, I may as well say that I have come here to-night
on purpose. Just before father left, he told me that there was a little
sealed packet" - Betty sat plump down on the side of her bed; Sylvia and
Hetty caught each others hands - "a little sealed packet," continued
Fanny, "which belonged to poor Miss Vivian - your aunt Frances - and which
father was to take charge of for you."

"No, he wasn't," said Betty; "you make a mistake."

"Nonsense, Betty! Father never makes a mistake. Anyhow, he has Miss
Vivian's letter, which proves the whole thing. Now, the packet cannot be
found. Father is quite troubled about it. He says he has not an idea
what it contains, but it was left to be placed under his care. He asked
you three about it, and you said you knew nothing. He also asked the
servants in that ugly little house - - "

"How dare you call it ugly?" said Betty.

"Well, well, pray don't get into a passion! Anyhow, you all denied any
knowledge of the packet. Now, I may as well confess that, although I
have not breathed the subject to any one, I saw you, Betty, with my own
eyes, take it out of Miss Vivian's drawer. I was lying on the sofa in
the dark, or almost in the dark, and you never noticed me; but I saw you
open the drawer and take the packet out. That being the case, you _do_
know all about it, and you have told a lie. Please, Betty, give me the
packet, and I will take it to-morrow to Mrs. Haddo, and she will look
after it for you until father returns; and I promise you faithfully that
I will never tell a soul what you did, nor the lie you told father about
it. Now, Betty, do be sensible. Give it to me, without any delay. I
felt it in the pocket under your dress to-day, so you can't deny that
you have it."

Fanny's face was very red when she had finished speaking, and there were
two other faces in that room which were even redder; but another face
was very pale, with shining eyes and a defiant, strange expression about
the lips.

The three Vivians now came up to Fanny, who, although older than the two
younger girls, was built much more slightly, and, compared with them,
had no muscle at all. Betty was a very strong girl for her age.

"Come," said Betty, "we are not going to waste words on you. Just march
out of this!"

"I - what do you mean?"

"March! This is our room, our private room, and therefore our castle. If
you like to play the spy, you can; but you don't come in here. Go
along - be quick - out you go!"

A strong hand took Fanny forcibly by her right arm, and a strong hand
took her with equal force by her left, then two very powerful hands
pushed from behind; so that Fanny Crawford, who considered herself one
of the most dignified and lady-like girls in the school, was summarily
ejected. She went into her room, looked at the cruel marks on her arms
caused by the angry girls, and burst into tears.

Miss Symes came in and found Fanny crying, and did her best to comfort
the girl. "What is wrong, dear?" she said.

"Oh, don't - don't ask me!" said poor Fanny.

"You are fretting about your father, darling."

"It's not that," said Fanny; "and I can't ever tell you, dear St.
Cecilia. Oh, please, leave me! Oh, oh, I am unhappy!"

Miss Symes, finding she could do no good, and believing that Fanny must
be a little hysterical on account of her father, went away. When she
had gone Fanny dried her eyes, and stayed for a long time lost in
thought. She had meant to be good, after her fashion, to the Vivian
girls; but, after their treatment of her, she felt that she understood
for the first time what hate really meant. If she could not force the
girls to deliver up the packet, she might even consider it her duty to
tell the whole story to Mrs. Haddo. Never before in the annals of that
great school had a Speciality been known to tell a story of another
girl. But Fanny reflected that there were great moments in life which
required that a rule should be broken.




CHAPTER VI

A CRISIS


The Specialities had made firm rules for themselves. Their numbers were
few, for only those who could really rise to a high ideal were permitted
to join.

The head of the Specialities was Margaret Grant. It was she who first
thought of this little scheme for bringing the girls she loved best into
closer communion each with the other. She had consulted Susie Rushworth,
Fanny Crawford, Mary and Julia Bertram, and Olive Repton. Up to the
present there were no other members of the Speciality Club. These girls
managed it their own way. They had their private meetings, their earnest
conversations, and their confessions each to make to the other. They
swore eternal friendship. They had all things in common - that is,
concealments were not permitted amongst the Specialities; and the
influence of this small and apparently unimportant club did much towards
the formation of the characters of its members.

Now, as poor Fanny sat alone in her pretty room she thought, and
thought again, over what had occurred. According to the rules of the
club to which she belonged, she ought to consult the other girls with
regard to what the Vivians had done. _The_ great rule of the
Specialities was "No secrets." Each must know all that the others knew.
Never before in the annals of the school had there been a secret of such
importance - in short, such a horrible secret - to divulge. Fanny made up
her mind that she could not do it.

There was to be a great meeting of the Specialities on the following
evening. They usually met in each other's bedrooms, taking the task of
offering hospitality turn and turn about. At these little social
gatherings they had cocoa, tempting cakes, and chocolate creams; here
they laughed and chatted, sometimes having merely a merry evening, at
others discussing gravely the larger issues of life. Fanny was the one
who was to entertain the Specialities on the following evening, and she
made preparations accordingly. Sir John had brought her a particularly
tempting cake from Buzzard's, a couple of pounds of the best chocolate
creams, a tin of delicious cocoa, and, last but not least, a beautiful
little set of charming cups and saucers and tiny plates, and real silver
spoons, also little silver knives. Notwithstanding her grief at parting
from her father, Fanny was delighted with her present. Hitherto there
had been no attempt at style in these brief meetings of the friends. But
Fanny's next entertainment was to be done properly.

There was no secret about these gatherings. Miss Symes had been told
that these special girls wanted to meet once a week between nine and ten
o'clock in their respective bedrooms. She had carried the information to
Mrs. Haddo, who had immediately given the desired permission, telling
the girls that they might hold their meeting until the great bell rang
for chapel. Prayers were always read at a quarter to ten in the
beautiful chapel belonging to Haddo Court, but only the girls of the
upper school attended in the evening. Fanny would have been in the
highest spirits to-night were it not for the Vivians, were it not for
the consciousness that she was in possession of a secret - a really
terrible secret - which she must not tell to her companions. Yes, she
must break her rule; she must not tell.

She lay down on her bed at last and fell asleep, feeling tired and very
miserable. She was horrified at Betty's conduct with regard to the
little packet, and could not feel a particle of sympathy for the other
girls in the matter.

It was soon after midnight on that same eventful night. The great clock
over the stables had struck twelve, and sweet chimes had come from the
other clock in the little tower of the chapel. The whole house was
wrapped in profound slumber. Even Mrs. Haddo had put away all cares, and
had laid her head on her pillow; even the Rev. Edmund Fairfax and his
wife had put out the lights in their special wing of the Court, and had
gone to sleep.

It was shortly after the clocks had done their midnight work that Betty
Vivian raised herself very slowly and cautiously on her elbow, and
touched Sylvia on her low, white forehead. The little girl started,
opened her eyes, and was about to utter an exclamation when Betty
whispered, "Don't make a sound, silly Sylvia! It's only me - Betty. I
want you to get very wide awake. And now you are wide awake, aren't
you?"

"Yes, oh yes," said Sylvia; "but I don't know where I am. Oh yes, of
course I remember; I am in - - "

"You are in prison!" whispered Betty back to her. "Now, lie as still as
a statue while I waken Hester."

Soon the two little sisters were wide awake.

"Now, both of you creep very softly into my bed. We can all squeeze up
together if we try hard."

"Lovely, darlingest Betty!" whispered Sylvia.

"You are nice, Bet!" exclaimed Hester.

"Now I want to speak," said Betty. "You know the packet?"

The two younger girls squeezed Betty's hands by way of answer.

"You know how _she_ spoke to-night?"

Another squeeze of Betty's hands, a squeeze which was almost ferocious
this time.

"Do you think," continued Betty, "that she is going to have her way, and
we are going to give it up to her?"

"Of course not," said Sylvia.

"I might," said Betty - "I _might_ have asked Mrs. Haddo to look after it
for me; but never now - never! Girls, we've got to bury it!"

"Oh Bet!" whispered Sylvia.

"We can't!" said Hester with a sort of little pant.

"We can, and we will," said Betty. "I've thought it all out. I am going
to bury it my own self this very minute."

"Betty, how - where? Betty, what do you mean?"

"You must help me," said Betty. "First of all, I am going to get up and
put on my thick skirt of black serge. I won't make a sound, for that
creature Fan sleeps next door. Lie perfectly still where you are while I
am getting ready."

The girls obeyed. It was fearfully exciting, lying like this almost in
the dark; for there was scarcely any moon, and the dim light in the
garden could hardly be called light at all. Betty moved mysteriously
about the room, and presently came up to her two sisters.

"Now, you do exactly what you are told."

"Yes, Betty, we will."

"I am going, first of all," said Betty, "to fetch the little spade."

"Oh Bet, you'll wake the house!"

"No," said Betty. She moved towards the door. She was a very observant
girl, and had noticed that no door creaked in that well-conducted
mansion, that no lock was out of order. She managed to open the door of
her bedroom without making the slightest sound. She managed to creep
upstairs and reach the Vivian attic. She found the little spade and
brought it down again. She re-entered the beautiful big bedroom and
closed the door softly.

"Here's the spade!" she whispered to her sisters. "Did you hear me
move?"

"No, Bet. Oh, you are wonderful!"

"Now," said Betty, "we must take the sheets off our three beds. The
three top sheets will do. Sylvia, begin to knot the sheets together.
Make the knots very strong, and be quick about it."

Sylvia obeyed without a word.

"Hester, come and help me," said Betty now. She took the other twin's
hand and led her to one of the French windows. The window happened to be
a little open, for the night was a very warm and balmy one. Betty pushed
it wider open, and the next minute she was standing on the balcony.

"Go back," she whispered, speaking to Hester, "and bring Sylvia out with
the sheets!"

In a very short time Sylvia appeared, dragging what looked like a
tangled white rope along with her.

"Now, then," said Betty, "you've got to let me down to the ground by
means of these sheets. I am a pretty good weight, you know, and you
mustn't drop me; for if you did I might break my leg or something, and
that would be horrid. You two have got to hold one end of these knotted
sheets as firmly as ever you can, and not let go on any account. Now,
then - here goes!"

The next instant Betty had clutched hold of one of the sheets herself,
and had climbed over the somewhat high parapet of the balcony. A minute
later, still firmly holding the white rope, she was gradually letting
herself down to the ground, hand over hand. By-and-by she reached the
bottom. When she did this she held up both hands, which the girls, as
they watched her from above, could just see. She was demanding the
little spade. Sylvia flung it on the soft grass which lay beneath. Betty
put her hand, making a sort of trumpet of it, round her lips, and
whispered up, "Stay where you are till I return."

She then marched off into the shrubbery. She was absent for about twenty
minutes, during which time both Sylvia and Hetty felt exceedingly cold.
She then came back, fastened the little spade securely into the broad
belt of her dress, and, aided by her sisters, pulled herself up and up,
and so on to the balcony once more.

The three girls re-entered the bedroom. Not a soul in that great house
had heard them, or seen them, or knew anything about their adventure.

"It is quite safe now - poor, beautiful darling!" whispered Betty.
"Girls, we must smooth out these sheets; they _do_ look rather dragged.
And now we'll get straight into bed."

"I am very cold," said Sylvia.

"You'll be warm again in a minute," replied Betty; "and what does a
little cold matter when I have saved _It_? No, I am not going to tell
you where it is; just because it's safer, dear, dearest, for you not to
know."

"Yes, it's safer," said Sylvia.

The three sisters lay down again. By slow degrees warmth returned to the
half-frozen limbs of the poor little twins, and they dropped asleep. But
Betty lay awake - warm, excited, triumphant.

"I've managed things now," she thought; "and if every girl in the school
asks me if I have a little packet, and if every teacher does likewise,
I'll be able truthfully to say 'No.'"

Early the next morning Mrs. Haddo announced her intention to take the
Vivians to London. School-work was in full swing that day; and Susie,
Margaret, Olive, and the other members of the Specialities rather envied
the Vivians when they saw them driving away in Mrs. Haddo's most elegant
landau to the railway station.

Sibyl Ray openly expressed her sentiments on the occasion. She turned to
her companion, who was standing near. "I must say, and I may as well say
it first as last, that I do not understand your adorable Mrs. Haddo. Why
should she make such a fuss over common-looking girls like those?"

"Do you call the Vivians common-looking girls?" was Martha West's
response.

"Of course I do, and even worse. Why, judging from their dress, they
might have come out of a laborer's cottage."

"Granted," replied Martha; "but then," she added, "they have something
else, each of them, better than dress."

"Oh, if you begin to talk in enigmas I for one shall cease to be your
friend," answered Sibyl. "What have they got that is so wonderful?"


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 5 of 22)