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THE LITTLE SCHOOL-MOTHERS ***




Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England




The Little School-Mothers
By L.T. Meade
Illustrations by Anon
Published by Cassell and Company Limited, London.
This edition dated 1910.

The Little School-Mothers, by L.T. Meade.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
THE LITTLE SCHOOL-MOTHERS, BY L.T. MEADE.

Book 1 - CHAPTER ONE.

THE GIRLS OF THE THIRD FORM.

"Robina Starling will arrive at the school this evening," said Mrs
Burton. "She is twelve years old, and has never been at school before.
I want you girls of the third form to take her under your charge.
Frederica and Patience Chetwold, do you hear? Harriet Lane and Jane
Bush, I expect great tact and consideration; don't forget. And as to
you, dear Rose, and you. Cecil and Vivian Amberley, I know beforehand
that you are always sweet and considerate to those a little younger and
a little more ignorant than yourselves. Robina has been sent from home
because of her mother's illness. She is quite a little home bird, and I
have no doubt will be sorry for herself. I have given her people to
understand that she will be very happy at school, and I expect you girls
of the third form to help me to carry out my prognostications. Now
then, I think that is all. We will begin our usual lessons. Miss
Sparke, will you take the third form girls for their history? Miss
Devigny, the sixth form are waiting for you in the blue parlour."

A minute later the several girls of Abbeyfield School had dispersed to
their different classrooms, and the great hall in which they had
assembled for prayers, and afterwards to hear Mrs Burton's remarks with
regard to Robina Starling, was empty. A busy hum of eager voices might
have been heard issuing from the different classrooms. It was the
subdued hum caused by young people kept in complete order and actively
engaged in following the pursuit of knowledge.

Abbeyfield School was situated in the neighbourhood of the New Forest,
and was within half an hour by train of Bournemouth. The time was
midsummer, and the holidays were not far ahead. The school was a very
select one, and did not consist of more than twenty pupils. There was
the third form for the girls already mentioned: Frederica and Patience
Chetwold, Harriet Lane, and Jane Bush, and the three Amberleys. There
was the first form, where the little children played and learned a
little and were happy - there were only three little children now in the
first form - and then there was the sixth form, where the girls who were
considered grown-up pursued their studies. Here might be seen grave
Constance Amberley, the sister of Rose and Cecil and Vivian; here, also,
were Julia Price and Agnes Winter, and several more, all well-behaved
girls anxious to do their duty and to take advantage of the many
excellent opportunities offered to them at Abbeyfield.

There were, to all appearance, no really naughty girls in the school,
although it is true that Harriet Lane and Jane Bush were not quite so
much liked as their fellows. Still, harmony was the order of the hour,
and no young people looked happier than these as they went two by two
into their pews to the old church on Sunday and appeared now and then at
a fashionable flower show at Bournemouth, or - best time of all - played
merrily in the fields and lanes which surrounded Abbeyfield.

On the day when Mrs Burton had announced the arrival of Robina
Starling, there was to be a picnic, to which every member of the school
had been invited. It was a special picnic given by Miss Devigny, the
lady who superintended the studies of the sixth form girls. She was to
take them to a well-known place called Mark Ash, about six miles away.
They were to have a picnic tea, and were not to return home until late.
Mrs Burton would not accompany them, but Miss Sparke and Miss Devigny
were considered quite a sufficient escort. They would drive to Mark Ash
in two waggonettes, and every heart was pit-a-pat with excitement at the
thought of their happy afternoon.

Miss Devigny was the sort of teacher whom all girls idolise. It was not
that she was exactly beautiful, nor perhaps especially clever, but she
had that indescribable attribute which is best known by the word
"charm." Without any apparent effort on her part, she charmed all those
with whom she came in contact. Even the dullest pupil brightened and
did her best under Miss Devigny's influence; even the most sulky became
good-tempered, and the most secretive became open and above-board. The
great inducement for the little girls of the third form to struggle hard
and conquer the difficulties of English, French, and German was the hope
that they would be moved into Miss Devigny's class. To work with her in
the blue parlour was as good as a holiday - so the girls who were there
already affirmed, and so all, without a single exception, believed.

Now, however, there was a new topic of interest. Something very
wonderful had occurred. The third form girls were to receive a new
companion. For a girl to arrive at the school so late in the term was
itself rather remarkable, but for a girl to come and be immediately
placed, as it were, in their charge; for a girl to be made over to them
so that they alone were to be in a measure responsible for her
well-being and happiness, was a state of things which at once dazzled
and perplexed them.

During recess that morning the girls of the third form met in a little
group to discuss the situation. Even the sixth form girls looked at
them with a certain envy, and thought it somewhat strange of Mrs Burton
to put this responsibility upon the young ones. The sixth form girls
were, of course, much too grand to interfere, but they also were
interested in Robina.

"She must be a sort of bird," said Frederica. "Think of her funny
name - Robina Starling."

"We must not laugh at her," said Patience; "we must be very careful
about her. I wonder at what end of the dormitory she will sleep?"

"There is an empty bed at the far end near me," said Harriet Lane.

"Oh, she won't be put there, Harry; don't you make any mistake," said
Jane Bush. "She is going to be petted and fussed over - I can see that.
I know quite well what will happen. She will have the centre bed under
the window - that's the nicest bed of all. You're in it now, Rose."
Here Jane laughed. "Well, you'll have to turn out; the bird will want
it; see if I am not right."

"Don't be nasty," said Rose. "If I have to turn out, I don't mind, not
one bit. Poor little thing! She has never been at school before, and
she is twelve years old. It's rather nice to have the charge of her;
don't you think so, girls?"

"Yes," said they all, except Harriet and Jane.

"I do wonder what she will be like?" said Cecil Amberley.

"I know," cried Harriet. "You mark my words, girls." Here she pushed
herself forward in a silly, aggravating way she had. "You mark my
words. There is something queer about that Robina. Why should we
receive her in the sort of manner Mrs Burton seems to expect? Why
should we be so precious good to her? She must be a weakling; perhaps
she is deformed, or has a squint."

"Oh! Harriet, you don't think so!" said Vivian Amberley, the youngest
of the four sisters, and in consequence the most petted. "I can't bear
girls with squints," she added.

"But that would be better than having a hunchback," said Jane.

"She is sure to have something," continued Harriet. "It may not be
either of these, but something. She is small, and ugly, and
frightened - that I am certain of. Oh, of course we'll have to be good
to her; but at the same time, what I say is this, girls: we'll have to
let that young 'un know at once that she is not to have her own way
about everything."

"There is something in what you say," remarked Patience Chetwold; "and
although I never quite care for your sort of tone, Harriet, yet I think,
too, we must not let the girl rule us all. She won't love us a bit if
we spoil her."

"Of course she won't," said Frederica.

"Well, I am going to spoil her," said Rose; "and I know for certain she
is not a bit like what you say, you horrid thing," and she darted an
angry glance at Harriet Lane. "She has a very pretty name, to begin
with, and I am certain she is just a dear."

"Don't let's quarrel about her," said Jane. "So far we are not a
quarrelling lot. It would be too bad if that Robina started quarrelling
in the school."

"Oh, I say, girls, there's the bell! Let's go in. Let's race to the
door. Who'll be first?"

"I say!" cried Harriet. "Who'll follow? Come along, Jane Bush!"

The picnic was great fun. The girls said so afterwards. There was not
a single flaw anywhere; there was no sort of dissension in the school;
the children were well-behaved, they did not quarrel. It is true that
Jane Bush could quarrel if there was anyone to quarrel with, and it is
true that Harriet could be nasty, and even spiteful, were the occasion
to offer. But then it did not offer. When there happen to be in a form
two girls like the Chetwolds, and three girls like the Amberleys, two
somewhat disagreeable girls have very little chance of making their
presence felt. Accordingly, no one disputed for the favourite place
near Miss Devigny, and no one rebelled or made nasty remarks when Jane
Bush secured the last morsel of cream blancmange for herself; no one
even whispered "Greedy pig!" but everyone was as ladylike and charming
as possible.

Miss Devigny turned to Miss Sparke, and said, under her breath:

"I really never saw such well-behaved little girls; they do you great
credit, Miss Sparke."

"They are naturally amiable," replied Miss Sparke; "and I only trust
things will continue in as great harmony as at present after Robina
Starling arrives."

"Do you know anything about the child?" asked Miss Devigny, dropping her
voice and coming closer to the other teacher.

"Not much, except that she is too troublesome at home to remain there
any longer. Her mother is very far from well, and little Robina has
never learned obedience. Dear Mrs Burton is not afraid of her on that
account, however, and she believes that there will be no finer
discipline for her than making her over, as it were, to the third form."

"Perhaps so," said Miss Devigny, a little doubtfully; "but I am not so
sure on that point," she added.

The girls were now playing hide-and-seek in the wood, and while the two
governesses were talking, quite unperceived by them a little head peeped
out from amongst a great mass of underwood, and two bright, mischievous
black eyes looked keenly for a minute at Miss Devigny, and then the head
popped back again before anyone could see. The governesses were quite
unaware that one of the most troublesome children in the third form had
overheard them. This child was no less a person than Jane Bush.

Jane was a little girl who had never known a mother's care. She had
been sent to this nice school when she was ten years of age. She had
been at Abbeyfield now for nearly two years. She was a small girl for
her age, somewhat stoutly built. She had very black eyes, and short
black hair, which she always wore like a mop sticking up all over her
funny round head. She was a perfect contrast to her own special friend
and ally, Harriet Lane. Harriet was a tall, lanky, pale child. She had
exceedingly light blue eyes, a large mouth, somewhat prominent teeth,
and thin, hay-coloured hair. She was not at all pretty. Harriet had
made up her mind on the subject of her own looks long ago.

"I must be something," she thought. "If I am not pretty, I must at
least be out of the common. I will make people see that I am awfully
clever. It's just as nice to be clever as to be pretty."

Perhaps Harriet was more clever than her companions. She certainly did
manage to impress the others with her power of learning French and
German, with the excellent way in which she studied her "pieces" for the
pianoforte, and with her really pretty little drawings, which, in her
opinion, were almost works of art.

Harriet, in her heart of hearts, voted the Chetwolds dull and the three
Amberleys molly-coddles.

"They are always fussing about their throats or having damp feet or
getting a little bit of a chill," she remarked on one occasion in a very
superior tone to Jane. "I have no patience with girls who are always
thinking of themselves; they just do it to be petted. As to that
Vivian, she knows quite well that if she manages to cry a little and put
her hand to her throat, she won't have any more lessons for the rest of
the day."

"I call Vivian a horrid little cheat, although she is thought such a
model," said Jane.

"Oh, I hate models," said Harriet. "Give me a naughty girl, by
preference."

"There are no naughty girls in this school," said Jane; "they are every
one of them as good as good. It's awfully dull," she added. "Even you
and I can't be naughty, Harriet; for there's no one to be naughty with."

These were the sentiments of these two really troublesome young people
when they started on their picnic. In the course of that same evening,
when the sun was about to set, and the slight summer breeze had dropped
away, and there was a perfect calm all over nature and a serene pale
blue sky overhead, then Jane Bush met Harriet Lane and, clutching her by
the arm, said:

"Oh, Harry, Harry! What do you think?"

"I am sure I don't know," said Harriet, who looked taller and more lanky
than ever. "I wish you wouldn't get so frightfully excited, Jane. You
quite take my breath away."

"I have got news for you," said Jane, making her mouth into a round "O,"
and forming a trumpet for it with her hand. "News!" she repeated.
"Wonderful grand news!" and now she managed to shout the words into
Harriet's ear.

"Don't deafen me," said Harriet. "I can't help it if you have news. I
don't suppose there is anything in your new's," she continued.

"You are as cross as two sticks, Harry," said Jane; "but you won't be
when you hear what I have got to say. Come along; I must tell you
before we start for home, and they are putting the horses to the
waggonettes already. Let's run down this glade. Let's be very quick,
or they'll stop us. I see old Sparke coming back as fast as she can,
and she'll begin to call us all to the top of that little mound. It is
there we are to wait for the waggonettes. Come - quick!"

Harriet, although she liked Jane, had a secret sort of contempt for her.
She could be naughty, of course, but she was not clever. Harriet
admired nothing but talent. She believed herself to be a sort of
genius.

"I don't suppose you have anything to tell me," she repeated; "but I'll
come if you want me to. See, I'll race you - one, two, three! I'll get
first to that tall tree at the end of the glade."

In a race with Harriet, Jane was nowhere, for Harriet's legs were so
long and she was so light that she flew almost like the wind over the
ground. She easily reached the meeting-place first, and Jane followed
her, panting, red in the face, and a little cross.

"You did take the wind out of me," she said. "Oh, oh, oh!"

She pressed her hand to her side.

"I cannot speak at all for a minute - I - I - can't - tell you my news. Oh,
you have winded me - you have!"

"Don't talk, then," said Harriet, who was leaning comfortably with her
back against a tree; while Jane, round as a ball and crimson in the
face, panted a little way off. By-and-by, however, Jane got back her
voice.

"I've found out something about the new 'un," she said, "that bird
thing, who will be here to-night. I was hiding down in the brushwood,
just by the big oak, and you were all looking for me; but I buried
myself under a holly tree, and no one could see even a squint of me,
however hard one looked. _They_ - didn't know I was there."

"Who do you mean by `they'?" interrupted Harriet.

"Sparke and Devigny," said Jane. "Oh, of course I am fond of Miss
Devigny, but I can't be bothered to `Miss' her when I'm in no end of a
hurry. Well, they talked, and it was all about the new 'un. _She_ is
not a model; that's one comfort. She is so desperately naughty she has
been sent from home - sort of expelled, you know - sort of disgraced for
life; a nice sort of creature to come here! And we're to mould her.
What is to `mould' a body, Harriet?"

"To make them like ourselves, I suppose," said Harriet, whose eyes
sparkled over this intelligence.

"That is what Sparke said; she hopes everything for the bird from our
influence. Isn't it fun? Isn't it great? I am quite excited! See
here now: think what larks we'll have with a squint-eyed, hunchbacked,
very naughty girl. Oh, won't it be larks!"

"She may be a nuisance, there is no saying," remarked Harriet.

"Why, aren't you delighted, Harriet? I am."

"Can't say," answered Harriet. "I only hope," she added, "that whatever
else she is, she is stupid. I don't want any clever girls in the same
form with me. Now, let's go back, Jane."

"You don't seem at all obliged to me for telling you such a wonderful
piece of news," said Jane.

"I am not. We'd have found it all out for ourselves in no time, and you
should _never_ listen - you know you shouldn't."

"Oh, Harriet, you won't tell on me - you promise you won't?"

"I? Of course not, silly. Now let's be quick. I hear Sparkie
shouting. Let's run back. Oh, I _am_ glad I have got long legs!"

Book 1 - CHAPTER TWO.

ROBINA.

Robina Starling was waiting all by herself in the school parlour. Mrs
Burton had received her, and had been very nice to the small girl. She
had talked to her affectionately, and even kissed her, and had herself
taken her to the dormitory where the girls of the third form slept. She
had shown her the little cubicle which was to be all her own, and said
that she felt quite certain Robina would be happy at school.

"There is no unhappy girl in my school," she said, "and if you are not
as gay as a lark and as bright as the sunshine, you will be the first
discontented girl who ever came to Abbeyfield. Now, dear, your things
will be unpacked for you by Preston; but, in the meantime, you might
brush your hair and wash your hands; then you can come down to me. We
shall have tea together this first night. Afterwards, I will take you
to the parlour, where you can wait for your companions."

Mrs Burton left the dormitory as she spoke, and Robina stood there all
alone. When she found herself quite alone, she blinked her eyes hard
two or three times, then, tossing back her great mane of thick brown
hair, said under her breath, "Now I am better." Then she proceeded to
investigate the room.

There were eight beds in the room, and it was, of course, very large.
This dormitory, occupied by the third form girls, was perhaps the most
beautiful bedroom it was possible to see. Each girl's little division,
or cubicle, was quite as large as an ordinary small bedroom. It was
curtained off, and was completely furnished within with every
requirement that a small girl could desire. There was, to begin with, a
very pretty wash-hand stand with rows of wide, deep drawers beneath, and
over the stand was a looking-glass. The wash-hand stand, with its
drawers and glass, was so placed that a girl could see her face nicely.
There was a little toilet table without a glass, and there was a deep
cupboard in the wall full of shelves at one side and a hanging press at
the other. The floor of the little cubicle was carpeted with pretty
felt, and there were curtains to match at the windows.

Robina found herself in one of the most charming of the eight cubicles.
Each cubicle was arranged with a different colour, and Robina's was of a
very delicate shade of mauve; the paint was white and the decorations
mauve; the felt carpet was mauve, the curtains were mauve, and the
little bed had a French canopy over it of mauve and white curtains tied
back with broad mauve ribbons. There was also a mauve silk _couvrepied_
on the bed, so that altogether the effect was most charming.

Robina was not, perhaps, a shy girl; and, having quickly taken in what
her own cubicle contained, she marched into the others. Each cubicle
was exactly like its fellow, except that its colouring was different:
some were all in pink, some all in blue, some again in red and white,
some again in palest primrose.

"I have the prettiest," thought Robina; "not that I care."

She now looked out of her window. The cubicle next to hers had no
window, so she was highly privileged; but she was not in a mood to
notice this at present. She stood quite still, gazing steadily out at
the view. Her face was peculiar for so young a child, and had a look of
power about it which would distinguish it all through life, and make
people inclined to look twice at her. It was not exactly a beautiful
face, but it arrested attention. The little nose was short, and
perfectly straight; the brows thick; the forehead broad and very white.
The eyes were good, but of a nondescript colour; so that one moment you
spoke of them as brown, at another as blue, at another as grey. At
night, they looked very black, and in times of emotion they would
sparkle in quite a dangerous way. Robina's mouth was well cut, but a
little large. She had a clear skin that was somewhat pale, and was a
square-built child, neither especially tall nor especially short for her
age.

Having completed her toilet - not with any particular view to being tidy
or making herself charming - she went downstairs. A maid directed her to
Mrs Burton's sitting-room, where she and her mistress had tea.

During tea-time, Mrs Burton did what she could to draw Robina out. But
this was not at all an easy task. Robina did not want to be drawn; and
she was the sort of child whom it was absolutely difficult to force out
of the way in which she washed to go. Mrs Burton tried her on the
subject of her sick mother; but although Robina did blink her eyes twice
in a rather suspicious manner, she replied quite calmly, saying that her
mother was always an invalid and could not stand noise.

"I am noisy," said Robina, "so that is why I have been sent to you. Did
you know that?"

"Yes," replied Mrs Burton.

"Do you expect me to be very quiet here?" continued Robina.

"In play-time," answered Mrs Burton, "you can be as noisy as you like."

"But when I am in the mood I am always noisy," said Robina.

"We don't have moods here," replied Mrs Burton, whereupon Robina
stretched out her hand and helped herself without asking to a large
piece of cake. She ate it almost greedily, stuffing great pieces into
her mouth.

Mrs Burton was determined that no discipline should begin that evening,
so she turned now to the subject of lessons. What did Robina know?
Nothing, it seemed, and yet in a way everything.

"I have read lots," answered that young lady calmly; "but they couldn't
manage me about my lessons; that was another reason why they sent me
here. Did you know that?"

"Yes; I have heard it," replied Mrs Burton.

"Do you mean to manage me here?" asked Robina.

"I hope so," replied the headmistress.

"Nobody else has been able to do it," said Robina in a very calm voice.

Then she got up, allowing a lot of crumbs to fall upon the floor, and
walked to the window. She stood - perhaps with intention - her broad back
to her governess. Mrs Burton looked at the back, the well-squared
shoulders, the sturdy little figure, the thick hair which fell in
luxuriant masses far below the child's waist.

Mrs Burton was not one either to sigh or despair; but she knew quite
well that she had undertaken no mean task in introducing Robina Starling
into her orderly school. After a minute's pause she got up, and, going
to her little pupil, took her hand.

"I want you to help me, Robina," she said. The wild eyes darted a quick
glance into her face.

"How?" asked Robina. "I am not much good at that sort of thing."

"I won't tell you how to-night, my dear; but perhaps to-morrow we will
have a talk. There is one rule in the school which has never been
broken yet; and that is, that a new pupil - quite a new pupil - has tea
with me all by herself on the day after her arrival. So you, Robina,
will have the privilege of having tea alone with me to-morrow evening.
You must come to me here at five o'clock - sharp at five o'clock,
remember - and then you and I will have a little talk and I hope a nice
time together. It is considered an honour, my love."


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