L. T. Meade.

Betty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School online

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same time of being annoyed. What did Fanny's conduct mean? But one girl,
however much she may wish to do so, cannot quite spoil the fun of six
others. Margaret, therefore, was prepared to be as amiable and merry and
gay as possible.

Was there ever a more delicious supper? Did ever cake taste quite so
nice? Were chocolate creams and Turkish delight ever quite so good? And
was not Margaret's lemonade even more admirable than her delicate cups
of cocoa? And were not the dried fruits which were presently handed
round quite wonderful in flavor? And, above all things, were not the
sandwiches which Margaret had provided as a sort of surprise (for as a
rule they had no sandwiches at these gatherings) the greatest success of
all?

The merry supper came to an end, and the girls now clustered in a wide
circle round the fire; and Margaret, as president, took the book of
rules and began to read aloud.

"There are," she said, opening the book, which was bound beautifully in
white vellum, "certain rules which each member receives a copy of, and
which she takes to heart and obeys. If she deliberately breaks any
single one of these rules, and such a lapse of principle is discovered,
she is expected to withdraw from the Specialities. This club was first
set on foot by a girl who has long left the school, and who was very
much loved when she was here. Up to the present it has been a success,
although its numbers have varied according to the tone of the girls who
belong to the upper school. No girl belonging to the lower school has
ever yet been asked to join. We have had at one time in the Speciality
Club as many as one dozen members. At present we are six; although we
hope that if you, Betty, decide to join us, we shall have seven members.
That will be very nice," continued Margaret, smiling and looking across
the room at Betty, whose eyes were fixed on her face, "for seven is the
mystic, the perfect number. Now, I will begin to read the rules aloud to
you. If you decide to think matters over, we will ask you to come to our
next gathering this day week, when you will receive the badge of
membership, and a copy of the rules would be made by me and sent to you
to your room.

"Now I will begin by telling you that the great object of our club is to
encourage the higher thought. Its object is to discourage and, if
possible, put a stop to low, small, mean, foolish, uncharitable
thoughts. Its object is to set kindness before each member as the best
thing in life. You can judge for yourself, Betty, that we aim high.
Yes, what were you going to say?"

"I was thinking," said Betty, whose eyes were now very wide open indeed,
while her cheeks grew paler than ever with some concealed emotion, "that
the girl who first thought of this club must have sat on a Scotch moor
one day, with the purple heather all round her, and that to her it was
vouchsafed to hear the fairies speak when they rang the little purple
bells of the heather."

"That may have been the case, dear," said Margaret in her kindest tone.
"Now, I will read you the rules. They are quite short and to the point:

"'RULE I. - Each girl who is a member of the Specialities gives
perfect confidence to her fellow-members, keeps no secret to
herself which those members ought to know, is ready to consider
each member as though she were her own sister, to help her in time
of trouble, and to rejoice with her in periods of joy.'

"That is Rule I., and I need not say, Betty, that it is a very important
rule."

Betty's eyes were now lowered, so that only her very black lashes were
seen as they rested against her pale cheeks.

"Rule II. is this:

"'RULE II. - That the Specialities read each day, for one quarter of
an hour, a book of great thoughts.'

"The books are generally selected at the beginning of term, and each
member is expected to read the same amount and from the same book. This
term, for instance, we occupy one quarter of an hour daily in reading
Jeremy Taylor's 'Holy Living.' It is not very long, but there's a vast
amount of thought in it. If we feel puzzled about anything in this
wonderful book we discuss it with each other at the next meeting of the
Specialities, and if, after such a discussion, the whole matter does not
seem quite clear, we ask Mr. Fairfax to help us. He is most kind,
although of course he is not in the secret of our club.

"Rule III. is quite different. It is this:

"'RULE III. - Each day we give ourselves up, every one of us, to
real, genuine fun - to having what may be called a jolly time.'

"We never miss this part of the Speciality life. We get our fun either
by chatting gaily to each other, or by enjoying the society of a
favorite schoolfellow.

"Rule IV. does not come into every day life; nevertheless it is
important:

"'RULE IV. - We meet once a week in one of our bedrooms; but four
times during the term we all subscribe together, and get up as big
a party as ever we can of girls who are not Specialities. These
girls have supper with us, and afterwards we have round games or
music or anything that gives us pleasure.'

"Rule V. is this:

"'RULE V. - That whoever else we are cross with, we are always very
careful to show respect to our teachers, and, if possible, to love
them. We also try to shut our eyes to their faults, even if we see
them.'

"Rule VI. is perhaps the most difficult of all to follow completely. It
is the old, old rule, Betty Vivian, of forgetting ourselves and living
for others. It is a rule that makes the secret of happiness. It is
impossible to keep it in its fullness in this world; but our aim is to
have a good try for it, and I think, on the whole, we succeed.

"Now, these are the six rules. When you read them over, you will see
that they are comprehensive, that they mean a vast lot. They are, every
one of them, rules which tend to discipline - the sort of discipline that
will help us when we leave the school and enter into the big school of
the world. Betty, do you feel inclined to join the club or not?"

"I don't know," replied Betty. "It is impossible to answer your
question on the spur of the moment. But I should greatly like to see a
copy of the rules."

"I will have them copied and sent to your bedroom, Betty. Then if you
decide to join, you will be admitted formally this day week, and will
receive the badge of the Specialities - a little true-lovers' knot made
of silver - which you will wear when the Specialities give their
entertainments, and which will remind you that we are bound together in
one sisterhood of love for our fellow-creatures."

Betty got up somewhat nervously. "I must think a great deal; and if I
may come to whichever room the Specialities are to meet in this day
week, I will let you know what I have decided."

"Very well, dear," said Margaret, shutting the book and completely
altering her tone. "That is all, I think to-night. Now, you must sit
down and enjoy yourself. Which girl would you like to sit close to? We
are going to have some round games, and they are quite amusing."

"I should like to sit close to you, Margaret, if I may."

"You certainly may, Betty; and there is a seat near mine, just by that
large bowl of white chrysanthemums."

Betty took the seat; and now all the girls began to chat, each of them
talking lovingly and kindly to the other. There was a tone about their
conversation which was as different from the way they spoke in their
ordinary life as though they were girls in a nunnery who had made solemn
vows to forsake the world. Even Fanny's face looked wonderfully kind and
softened. She did not even glance at Betty; but Betty looked at her once
or twice, and was astonished at the expression that Fanny wore.

"Just one minute, girls, before we begin our fun," said Margaret.
"Martha West is most anxious to join the Specialities. Betty, of course,
has no vote, as she is not yet a member. But the rest of us know Martha
well, and I think we would all like her to join. Those who are opposed
to her, will they keep down their hands? Those who wish for her as a
member, will they hold them up?"

All hands were held up on this occasion, and Fanny held hers the
straightest and highest of all.

"Three cheers for Martha West!" said Susie Rushworth.

"It will be splendid to have Martha!" said both the Bertrams; while
Olive, always gay, spirited, and full of fun, laughed from sheer
delight.

The usual formula was then gone through, and Fanny Crawford was deputed
to take a note to Martha inviting her to be present at the next meeting.

"Now, we shall have about half an hour for different sorts of fun," said
Margaret. "By the way, Betty," she continued, "sometimes our meetings
are rather solemn affairs; we want to discuss the book we are reading,
or something has happened that we wish to talk over. On the other hand,
there are times when we have nothing but fun and frolic. We're not a bit
solemn on these occasions; we loosen all the tension, so to speak, and
enjoy ourselves to the utmost."

"And there are times, also," said Olive, "when we are just as busy as
bees planning out our next entertainment. Oh Margaret, we can't have one
this day week because of Betty and Martha. But don't you think we might
have one this day three weeks? And don't you think it might be a very
grand affair? And supposing Betty becomes a member - which, of course,
you will, Betty, for you couldn't disappoint us now - supposing we have
it in Betty's palatial mansion of a bedroom! We can ask no end of girls
to that. Oh, won't it be fun?"

"If you ask my sisters, I don't mind at all - that is, _if_ I am a
member," said Betty.

"Of course we'll ask the dear twins," said Margaret. She took Betty's
hand as she spoke and squeezed it with sudden affection.

Betty pressed a little nearer to her. It was worth even giving up the
Scotch moors, and the society of Donald and Jean, and the dogs and the
horse, to have such a friend as Margaret Grant.

But now the fun began in earnest, and very good fun it was; for every
girl had a considerable sense of humor, so much so that their games were
carried on with great spirit. Their laughter was so merry as to be quite
infectious; and no one was more amazed than Betty herself when the
ordeal of this first visit to the Specialities was over and she was
walking quickly downstairs, with Olive by her side, on her way to the
chapel.

How beautifully Mr. Fairfax read the evening prayers that night! How
lovely it was to listen to his melodious voice and to look at his
earnest, intelligent face! How sweet, how wonderful, was the soft, soft
music which Mrs. Haddo herself played on the organ!

"Oh yes," thought Betty, "one could be good here, and with the sort of
help that Margaret talks about; and high thoughts are nice thoughts,
they seem to be what I might call close to the angels. Nevertheless - - "

A cloud seemed to fall on the little girl's spirit. She thought of
Fanny, and, raising her eyes at the moment, observed that Fanny's eyes
were fixed on her. Fanny's eyes were full of queer warning, even of
menace; and Betty suddenly experienced a revulsion of all those noble
feelings which had animated her a short time ago. Were there two Fanny
Crawfords? Or could she possibly look as she looked now, and also as she
had done when Margaret Grant read the rules of the Speciality Club
aloud?




CHAPTER IX

STRIVING FOR A DECISION


The week passed without anything very special occurring. The weather was
still warm and perfect. September had no idea of giving up her mantle of
late summer. But September was drawing to a close, and October, with
gusty winds and whirling, withered leaves, and much rain, would soon
take her place. October was certainly not nearly such a pleasant month
as September. Nevertheless, the young and healthy girls who lived their
regular life at Haddo Court were indifferent to the weather. They were
always busy. Each minute was planned out and fully occupied. There was
time for work, and time for play, and time for happy, confidential talks
in that bright and pleasant school. There were all kinds of surprises,
too; now an unexpected tea-party with Mrs. Haddo, given to a few select
girls; then, again, to another few who unexpectedly found themselves
select. There were also delightful cocoa-parties in the big private
sitting-room of the upper school, as well as games of every description,
outdoor and indoor. Night came all too soon in this happy family, and
each girl retired to bed wondering what could have made the day so very
short.

But during this week Betty was not quite happy. She had received a copy
of the rules, and had studied them very carefully. She was, in her heart
of hearts, most anxious to become a Speciality. The higher life appealed
to her. It appealed to her strong sense of imagination; to her
passionate and really unworldly nature; to that deep love which dwelt in
her heart, and which, just at present, she felt inclined to bestow on
Margaret Grant. But there was Rule I. The rules had been sent, as
Margaret had promised, neatly copied and in a sealed envelope, to
Betty's room. She had read them upstairs all alone in the Vivians'
attic. She had read them while the queer, uncanny eyes of Dickie looked
at her. She certainly was not afraid of Dickie; on the contrary, she
admired him. She and her sisters were very proud of his increasing size,
and each day it was the turn of one girl or the other to take Dickie out
of his cage and give him exercise. He was rather alarming in his
movements, going at a tremendous rate, and giving more than one uncanny
glance at the Vivian girl who was his jailer for the time.

On this special occasion, when Betty brought the rules to the Vivian
attic, she forgot all about Dickie. He was out, running round and round
the attic, rushing up the walls, peering at Betty from over the top of
the door, creeping as far as the ceiling and then coming down again. He
was, as a rule, easily caught, for Sylvia and Hetty always kept his meal
of raw meat till after he had had his exercise. But Betty had now
forgotten that it was necessary to have a bait to bring Dickie once more
into the shelter of his cage. She had consequently fed him first, then
let him free, and then stood by the small window of the attic reading
the rules of the Specialities. It was Rule I. which troubled her. Rule
I. ran as follows: "Each girl gives perfect confidence to her fellow
members, keeps no secret to herself which those members ought to know,
is ready to consider each member as though she were her own sister, to
help her in time of trouble and to rejoice with her in periods of joy."

To be quite frank, Betty did not like this rule. She was willing to give
a certain amount of affection to most of the girls who belonged to the
Specialities; but as to considering even nice girls like the Bertrams as
her own sisters, and Susie Rushworth (who was quite agreeable and gay
and kind) in that relationship, and Olive Repton also, as she would
Sylvia and Hetty, she did not think she could do it. She could be kind
to them - she would love to be kind to them; she would love to help each
and all in times of trouble, and to rejoice with them in periods of joy;
but to feel that they were her sisters - that certainly _was_ difficult.
She believed it possible that she could admit Margaret Grant into a
special and close relationship; into a deep friendship which partook
neither of sisterhood nor of anything else, but stood apart and
alone - the sort of friendship that a young, enthusiastic girl will give
to a friend of strong character a little older than herself. But as to
Fanny - she could never love Fanny. From the very first moment she had
set eyes on her - away, far away, in Scotland - she had disliked her, she
had pronounced her at once in her own mind as "niminy-priminy." She had
told her sisters frankly what she felt about Fanny. She had said in her
bold, independent way, "Fanny is too good for the likes of me. She is
the sort of girl who would turn me into a bad un. I don't want to have
anything to do with her."

Fanny, however, had taken no notice of Betty's all too evident
antagonism. Fanny was, in her heart of hearts, essentially good-natured;
but Betty was as impossible for her to understand as it was impossible
for the moon to comprehend the brightness of the sun. Fanny had been
shocked at what she had witnessed when she saw Betty take the sealed
packet from the drawer. She remembered the whole thing with great
distress of mind, and had felt a sense of shock when she heard that the
Vivian girls were coming to the school. But her feelings were very much
worse when her father had informed her that the packet could nowhere be
found - that he had specially mentioned it to Betty, who declared that
she knew nothing about it. Oh yes, Fanny and Betty were as the poles
apart; and Betty knew now that were she to take the vows of the
Specialities fifty times over she could never keep them, as far as Fanny
Crawford was concerned. Then there was another unpleasant part of the
same rule: "Each girl gives perfect confidence to her fellow-members,
keeps no secret to herself which those members ought to know." Betty
undoubtedly had a secret - a very precious one. She had even told a lie
in order to hug that secret to her breast. She had brought it away with
her to the school, and now it was safe - only Betty knew where.

What puzzled her was this: was it necessary for the members to know her
secret? It had nothing to do with any of them. Nevertheless, she was an
honest sort of girl and could not dismiss the feeling from her own mind
that Rule I. was practically impossible to her. The Specialities had met
on Thursday in Margaret Grant's room. The next meeting was to be held in
Susie Rushworth's. Susie's room was in another wing of the building, and
was not so large or luxurious as that of Margaret. The next meeting
would, however, be quite formal - except for the admission of Betty to
the full privileges of the club, and the reading aloud of the rules to
Martha West. During the course of the week the Specialities seldom or
never spoke of their meeting-day. Nevertheless, Betty from time to time
caught Fanny's watchful eyes fixed on her.

On the next Thursday morning she awoke with a slight headache. Miss
Symes noticed when she came downstairs that Betty was not quite herself,
and at once insisted on her going back to her room to lie down and be
coddled. Betty hated being coddled. She was never coddled in the gray
stone house; she was never coddled on the Scotch moors. She had
occasional headaches, like every one else, and occasional colds; but
they had to take care of themselves, and get well as best they could.
Betty used to shake herself with anger when she thought of any one
making a fuss about her when she was ill, and was consequently rather
cross when Miss Symes took her upstairs, made her lie down, and put a
wrap over her.

"You must lie down and try to sleep, Betty. I hope you will be quite
well by dinner-time. Don't stir till I come for you, dear."

"Oh, but I will!" said Betty, raising her head and fixing her bright,
almost feverish eyes on Miss Symes's face.

"What do you mean, dear? I have desired you to stay quiet."

"And I cannot obey," replied Betty. "Please, Miss Symes, don't be angry.
If I were a low-down sort of girl, I'd sneak out without telling you;
but as I happen to be Betty Vivian, I can't do that. I want to get into
the fresh air. Nothing will take away my headache like a walk. I want to
get as far as that dreadful piece of common land you have here, and
which you imagine is like a moor. I want to walk about there for a
time."

"Very well, Betty; you are a good girl to have confided in me. You have
exactly two hours. Stay quiet for one hour. If at the end of that time
your head is no better, out for an hour; then return to your usual
duties."

Betty lay very still for the whole of that hour. Her thoughts were busy.
She was haunted by Rule I., and by the passionate temptation to ignore
it and yet pretend that she would keep it - in short, to be a member of
the Specialities under false colors. One minute she was struggling hard
with the trouble which raged within her, the next minute she was making
up her mind to decline to be associated with the Specialities.

When the hour had quite expired she sprang to her feet. Oh yes, her head
still ached! But what did that matter? She could not be bothered with a
trifling thing like a mere headache. She ran upstairs to the Vivian
attic. Dickie was in his cage. Betty remembered what terrible trouble
she had had to catch him on the day when she received a copy of the
rules. She shook her head at him now, and said, "Ah Dickie, you're a bad
boy! I am not going to let you out of your cage again in a hurry." Then
she went out.

The wind had changed during the night, and heavy clouds were coming up
from the north. Betty felt herself much colder than she had ever done in
Scotland. She shivered, and walked very fast. She passed the celebrated
oak-tree where she and her sisters had hidden during their first day at
school. She went on to the place where the three little gardens were
marked for their benefit. But up to the present no Vivian had touched
the gardens, and there were the black remains of the bonfire where the
poor Scotch heather had been burnt almost in the center of Betty's
patch of ground.

Oh, the school was horrible - the life was horrible! Oh why had she ever
come here? She wanted to be a Speciality; but she could not, it was not
in her. She hated - yes, she hated - Fanny Crawford more each minute, and
she could never love those other uninteresting girls as though they were
her sisters. In analyzing her feelings very carefully, she came to the
conclusion that she only wanted to join the Specialities in order to be
Margaret's friend. She knew quite well what privileges would be accorded
to her were she a member; and she also knew - for she had been told - that
it was a rare thing to allow a girl so lately come to the school to take
such an important position.

Betty had a natural love of power. With a slight shudder she walked past
the little patches of ground and across what she contemptuously called
the miserable common. This common marked the boundaries of Mrs. Haddo's
school. There were iron railings at least six feet high guarding it from
the adjacent land. The sight of these railings was absolute torture to
Betty. She said aloud, "Didn't I know the whole place was a prison? But
prison-bars sha'n't keep me long in restraint!"

She took out her handkerchief, and, pulling up some weedy grass, put the
handkerchief on one spiked bar and the grass on the other, and thus
protecting herself, made a light bound over the fence. The exercise and
the sense of freedom did her good. She laughed aloud, and continued her
walk through unexplored regions. She could not go very fast, however;
for she was hindered here by and there by a gateway, and here again by a
farmstead, and yet again by a cottage, with little children running
about amongst the autumn flowers.

"How can people live in a place like this?" thought Betty.

Then, all of a sudden, two ferocious dogs rushed out upon the girl,
clamored round her, and tried to stop her way. Betty laughed softly.
There was a delightful sound in her laugh. Probably those dogs had never
heard its like before. It was also possible, notwithstanding the fact
that Betty was wearing a new dress, that something of that peculiar
instinct which is imparted to dogs told these desperate champions that
Betty had loved a dog before.

"Down, silly creature!" said Betty, and she patted one on the head and
put her arm on the neck of the other. Soon they were fawning about her
and jumping on her and licking her hands. She felt thoroughly happy now.
Her headache had quite vanished. The dogs, the darlings, were her true
friends! There was a little piece of grass quite close to where they had
attacked her, and she squatted deliberately down on it and invited the
dogs to stretch themselves by her side. They did so without a minute's
delay. They were in raptures with her, and one dog only growled when she
paid too much attention to the other.

She began to whisper alternately in the shaggy ears of each. "Ah, you
must have come from Scotland! You must, anyhow, have met Andrew! Do you
think you are as brave as Andrew, for I doubt it?"

Then she continued to the other dog, "And you must have been born in the
same litter with Fritz. Did you ever look into the eyes of Fritz and see


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Online LibraryL. T. MeadeBetty Vivian : a story of Haddo Court School → online text (page 8 of 22)