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A Very Naughty Girl

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at


  By L. T. MEADE

  Author of "Palace Beautiful," "Sweet Girl Graduate," "Wild Kitty," "World of Girls," etc., etc.



  CHAPTER PAGE I. Sylvia and Audrey 1 II. Arrival of Evelyn 10 III. The Cradle Life of Wild Eve 25 IV. "I Draw the Line at Uncle Ned" 36 V. Frank's Eyes 43 VI. The Hungry Girl 57 VII. Staying to Dinner 68 VIII. Evening-Dress 78 IX. Breakfast in Bed 106 X. Jasper was to Go 117 XI. I Cannot Alter my Plans 126 XII. Hunger 143 XIII. Jasper to the Rescue 163 XIV. Change of Plans 169 XV. School 184 XVI. Sylvia's Drive 198 XVII. The Fall in the Snow 213 XVIII. A Red Gipsy Cloak 228 XIX. "Why Did you Do it?" 242 XX. "Not Good Nor Honourable" 253 XXI. The Torn Book 264 XXII. "Stick to your Colors, Evelyn" 276 XXIII. One Week of Grace 281 XXIV. "Who is E.W.?" 295 XXV. Uncle Edward 311 XXVI. Tangles 330 XXVII. The Strange Visitor in the Back Bedroom 343 XXVIII. The Room with the Light that Flickered 362 XXIX. What Could it Mean? 368 XXX. The Loaded Gun 377 XXXI. For Uncle Edward's Sake 391



  It was a day of great excitement, and Audrey Wynford stood by herschoolroom window and looked out. She was a tall girl of sixteen, withher hair hanging in a long, fair plait down her back. She stood with herhands folded behind her and an expectant expression on her face.

  Up the avenue a stream of people were coming. Some came in cabs, some onbicycles; some walked. They all turned in the direction of the frontentrance, and Audrey heard their voices rising and falling as theyentered the house, walked down the hall, and disappeared into someregion at the other end.

  "It is all detestable," she muttered; "and just when Evelyn is coming,too. How strange she will think it! I wish father would drop this horridcustom. I do not approve of it at all."

  Just then her governess, a bright-looking girl about six years Audrey'ssenior, came into the room.

  "Well," she cried, "and what are you doing here? I thought you weregoing to ride this afternoon."

  "How can I?" said Audrey, shrugging her shoulders. "I shall be met atevery turn."

  "And why not?" said Miss Sinclair. "You are not ashamed of being seen."

  "It is quite detestable," said Audrey.

  She crossed the room, flung herself into a deep straw armchair in frontof a blazing log fire, and took up a magazine.

  "It is all horrid," she continued as she rapidly turned the pages; "youknow it, Miss Sinclair, as well as I do."

  "If I were you," said Miss Sinclair, "I should be proud--very proud--tobelong to an old family who had kept a custom like this in vogue."

  "If you belonged to the old family you would not," said Audrey. "Everyone laughs at us. I call it perfectly horrid. What possible good can itdo that all the people of the neighborhood, and the strangers who cometo stay in the town, should make free of Wynford Castle on New Year'sDay? It makes me cross anyhow. I am sorry to be cross to you, MissSinclair; but I am, and that is a fact."

  Miss Sinclair sat down on another chair.

  "I like it," she said after a pause.

  "Why?" asked Audrey.

  "There were some quite hungry people passing through the hall as I cameto you just now."

  "Let them be hungry somewhere else, not here," said the angry girl. "Itwas all very well when some ancestor of mine first started the custom;but that father, a man of the present day, up-to-date in every sense ofthe word, should carry it on--that he should keep open house for everyindividual who chooses to come here on New Year's Day--is past endurance.Last year between two and three hundred people dined or supped or hadtea at the Castle, and I believe, from the appearance of the avenue,there will be still more to-day. The house gets so dirty, for one thing,for half of them don't think of wiping their feet; and then we run achance of being robbed, for how do we know that there are notadventurers in the throng? If I were the country-folk I would be tooproud to come; but they are not--not a bit."

  "I cannot agree with you," said Miss Sinclair. "It is a splendid oldcustom, and I hope it will not be abolished."

  "Perhaps Evelyn will abolish it when she comes in for the property,"said Audrey in a low tone. Her face looked scarcely amiable as she saidthe words.

  Miss Sinclair regarded her with a puzzled expression.

  "Audrey dear," she said after a pause, "I am very fond of you."

  "And I of you," said Audrey a little unwillingly. "You are more friendthan governess. I should like best to go to school, of course; but asfather says that that is quite impossible, I have to put up with thenext best; and you are a very good next best."

  "Then if I am, may I just as a friend, and one who loves you verydearly, make a remark?"

  "It is going to be something odious," said Audrey--"that goes withoutsaying--but I suppose I'll listen."

  "Don't you think you are just a wee bit in danger of becoming selfish,Audrey?" said her governess.

  "Am I? Perhaps so; I am afraid I don't care."

  "You would if you thought it over; and this is New Year's Day, and it isa lovely afternoon, and you might come for a ride--I wish you would."

  "I will not run the chance of meeting those folks on any considerationwhatever," said Audrey; "but I will go for a walk with you, if youlike."

  "Done," said Miss Sinclair. "I have to go on a message for Lady Wynfordto the lodge; will you come by the shrubberies and meet me there?"

  "All right," replied Audrey; "I will go and get ready."

  She left the room.

  After her pupil had left her, Miss Sinclair sat for a time gazing intothe huge log fire.

  She was a very pretty girl, with a high-bred look about her. She hadreceived all the advantages which modern education could afford, and atthe age of three-and-twenty had left Girton with the assurance from allher friends that she had a brilliant future before her. The first stepin that future seemed bright enough to the handsome, high-spirited girl.Lady Wynford met her in town, took a fancy to her on the spot, and askedher to conduct Audrey's education. Miss Sinclair received a liberalsalary and every comfort and consideration. Audrey fell quickly in lovewith her, and a more delightful pupil governess never had. The girl wasbrimming over with intelligence, was keenly alive to theresponsibilities of her own position, was absolutely original, and as arule quite unselfish.

  "Poor Audrey! she has her trials before
her, all the same," thought theyoung governess now. "Well, I am very happy here, and I hope nothingwill disturb our present arrangement for some time. As to Evelyn, wehave yet to discover what sort of girl she is. She comes this evening.But there, I am forgetting all about Audrey, and she must be waiting forme."

  It so happened that Audrey Wynford was doing nothing of the sort. Shehad hastily put on her warm jacket and fur cap and gone out into thegrounds. The objectionable avenue, with its streams of people coming andgoing, was to be religiously avoided, and Audrey went in the directionof a copse of young trees, which led again through a long shrubbery inthe direction of the lodge gates.

  It was the custom from time immemorial in the Wynford family to keepopen house on New Year's Day. Any wayfarer, gentle or simple, man orwoman, boy or girl, could come up the avenue and ring the bell at thegreat front-door, and be received and fed and refreshed, and sent againon his or her way with words of cheer. The Squire himself as a rulereceived his guests, but where that was impossible the steward of theestate was present to conduct them to the huge hall which ran across theback of the house, where unlimited refreshments were provided. No onewas sent away. No one was refused admission on this day of all days. Theperiod of the reception was from sunrise to sundown. At sundown thehospitality came to an end; the doors of the house were shut and no morevisitors were allowed admission. An extra staff of servants wasgenerally secured for the occasion, and the one and only condition madeby the Squire was, that as much food as possible might be eaten, thateach male visitor might drink good wine or sound ale to his heart'scontent, that each might warm himself thoroughly by the huge log fires,but that no one should take any food away. This, in the case of sopromiscuous an assemblage, was necessary. To Audrey, however, the wholething was more or less a subject of dislike. She regarded the first dayof each year as a penance; she shrank from the subject of the guests,and on this special New Year's Day was more aggrieved and put out thanusual. More guests had arrived than had ever come before, for the peopleof the neighborhood enjoyed the good old custom, and there was not avillager, not a trades-person, nor even a landed proprietor near who didnot make it a point of breaking bread at Wynford Castle on New Year'sDay. The fact that a man of position sat down side by side with a trampor a laborer made no difference; there was no distinction of rankamongst the Squire's guests on this day.

  Audrey heard the voices now as she disappeared into the shelter of theyoung trees. She heard also the rumble of wheels as the better class ofguests arrived or went away again.

  "It is horrid," she murmured for about the twentieth time to herself;and then she began to run in order to get away from what she called thedisagreeable noise.

  Audrey could run with the speed and grace of a young fawn, but she hadnot gone half-through the shrubbery before she stopped dead-short. Agirl of about her own age was coming hurriedly to meet her. She was avery pretty girl, with black eyes and a quantity of black hair and arichly colored dark face. The girl was dressed somewhat fantastically inmany colors. Peeping out from beneath her old-fashioned jacket was ascarf of deep yellow; the skirt of her dress was crimson, and in her hatshe wore two long crimson feathers. Audrey regarded her with not onlywonder but also disfavor. Who was she? What a vulgar, forward,insufferable young person!

  "I say," cried the girl, coming up eagerly; "I have lost my way, and itis so important! Can you tell me how I can get to the front entrance ofthe Castle?"

  "You ought not to have come by the shrubbery," said Audrey in a veryhaughty tone. "The visitors who come to the Castle to-day are expectedto use the avenue. But now that you have come," she added, "if you willtake this short cut you will find yourself in the right direction. Youhave then but to follow the stream of people and you will reach the halldoor."

  "Oh, thank you!" said the girl. "I am so awfully hungry! I do hope Ishall get in before sunset. Good-by, and thank you so much! My name isSylvia Leeson; who are you?"

  "I am Audrey Wynford," replied Audrey, speaking more icily than ever.

  "Then you are the young lady of the Castle?"

  "I am Audrey Wynford."

  "How strange! One would think to meet you here, and one would think tosee me here, that we both belonged to Shakespeare's old play _As YouLike It_. But I must not stay another minute. It is so sweet of yourfather to invite us all, and if I am not quick I shall lose the fun."

  She nodded with a flash of bright eyes and white teeth at the amazedAudrey, and the next moment was lost to view.

  "What a girl!" thought Audrey as she pursued her walk. "How dared she!She did not treat me with one scrap of respect, and she seemed tothink--a girl of that sort!--that she was my equal; she absolutely spokeof us in the same breath. It was almost insulting. Sylvia and Audrey! Wemeet in a wood, and we might be characters out of _As You Like It_.Well, she is awfully pretty, but---- Oh dear! what a creature she is whenall is said and done--that wild dress, and those dancing eyes, and thatfree manner! And yet--and yet she was scarcely vulgar; she was only--onlydifferent from anybody else. Who is she, and where does she come from?Sylvia Leeson. Rather a pretty name; and certainly a pretty girl. But tothink of her partaking of hospitality--all alone, too--with the _canaille_of Wynford!"