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A Modern Tomboy: A Story for Girls

L. T. Meade

  Produced by D Alexander, Mark C. Orton, Mary Meehan andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team at

  A Modern Tomboy

  _A Story for Girls_



  "The Girls of Castle Rocco," "Girls of the True Blue," "The SchoolQueens," "The School Favorite," Etc.





  Mrs. Merriman and Lucy were standing at the white gates of Sunnyside,waiting for the arrival of the girls. Mrs. Merriman had soft brown hair,soft brown eyes to match, and a kindly, gentle face. Lucy was somewhatprim, very neat in her person, with thick fair hair which she wore intwo long plaits far below her waist, a face full of intensity anddetermination, and a slightly set and formal way of speaking.

  "Aren't you at all excited about their arrival?" said Mrs. Merriman,turning to her daughter as she spoke. "It will make a great change inthe house, will it not?"

  "How many of them are there, mother?" was Lucy's response.

  "Oh, my dear child, how often I have explained all to you! There's LauraEverett, my dear friend Lady Everett's only daughter; then there isAnnie Millar, whom I do not know anything about--but she is a friend ofLaura's, and that alone is recommendation enough."

  "Laura Everett, Annie Millar," quoted Lucy in a low tone. "Have you seeneither of them, mother?"

  "No, dear, of course not."

  "Has father ever seen them?"

  "No. But my dear friend Lady Everett----"

  "Oh, mother darling, when have you seen your dear friend?"

  "Not since we were girls. But it is so nice to think she should trusther daughter to me."

  "Well, yes, mother, I suppose so. I suppose I must be quite satisfied.Well, that means two--Laura and Annie. How old are they, mother?"

  "They are both fourteen."

  "Then the others, mother?"

  "Rosamund Cunliffe. I did meet her mother a year ago, who told me shewas very pretty. I remember that. Then there is Phyllis Flower. Think ofany one with such a dear name--Phyllis and Flower! The whole name is toosweet! I told your father that I knew I should fall in love withPhyllis."

  "Mother dear, you really mustn't make favorites," said Lucy in areproving tone. "If these girls must come to us and form the beginningof a school, why, we must behave accordingly. You are not half as steadyas I am, mother, and I am fifteen, and you are----"

  "Forty-five," said Mrs. Merriman; "but then I only feel twenty, and I amvery happy about all this. The house is perfectly arranged, everythingin apple-pie order, and they will have such a good time, dear girls!Well, now, let us count them over. Laura Everett, fourteen; AnnieMillar, ditto; Rosamund Cunliffe, fifteen; and Phyllis Flower, thirteen.Then there is Jane Denton. Well, I know nothing whatever about herexcept that her mother says she is a good girl, and does her utmost tolearn, and she is sure will be absolutely obedient. Then comes AgnesSparkes. I quite expect she will be the witty one. Altogether that makessix girls, and you, my dear, are the seventh--the perfect number, youknow."

  "And the whole house turned topsy-turvy!" said Lucy. "Really and truly,mother, I wish we had thought it over before we did anything so queer."

  "We could not help it, love. Your father's health is very bad, and hecannot continue his work as a professor. There is no other manner inwhich to earn money. Why not take the whole thing cheerfully, Lucy?Remember, you will have your education practically free."

  "I don't suppose I'd mind the girls so very much," said Lucy, "if itwere not for the horrid governesses. To think of having a creature likeMademoiselle Omont living in the house! And then, I am not specially inlove with Miss Archer. But there, I suppose we must make the best ofit."

  "We must, and will, and can," said Mrs. Merriman in her cheery voice.

  She had scarcely said the words before a wagonette was seen driving downthe summer lane. Girls in different-colored dresses, with bright faces,eager eyes, suddenly appeared in view. The wagonette drew up at thegate, and Mrs. Merriman, to Lucy's disgust, went impulsively forward.

  "Here you all are, dears!" she said. "Oh, I am so glad to welcome you!Now, you must tell me who's who. Won't you get down? It will be nice tostretch your legs in walking up the avenue. Your luggage, of course, iscoming in the cart which was sent to meet the train.--Tell me, my love,are you Laura Everett?"

  Mrs. Merriman darted forward and took the somewhat irresponsive hand ofa tall, pale girl, who replied languidly that her name was Jane Denton.

  "I beg your pardon, dear--I do truly. Then which is Laura? For I want towelcome the dear child of a very dear friend of my youth."

  A girl with a merry face, bright blue eyes, and fair hair now extricatedherself from the group of her companions. "I am Laura," she said, "andthis is my friend Annie."

  Mrs. Merriman rapturously kissed both girls.

  "Welcome to Sunnyside!" she said. "You may be certain I will do myutmost to make you happy. This is my daughter Lucy."

  "Can I show you the house, Miss Everett?" said Lucy, speaking stiffly;"and will you come, too, Miss Millar?"

  The three girls went on in front.

  "I must get to know the rest of you," said Mrs. Merriman, who was toomuch accustomed to Lucy to mind her ways. "Which is--now let meguess--which is Phyllis Flower? I am longing to know her. And which isRosamund Cunliffe?--Jane Denton, I shall not forget you, dear. I am soglad to see you."

  Here Mrs. Merriman gave Jane's hand an affectionate squeeze.

  "And Agnes Sparkes--I have not noticed Agnes Sparkes. I am sureyou--whoever you are, but I can't quite make out yet--will be the wit ofthe school. Ah! you are Agnes Sparkes?" and Mrs. Merriman pounced upon asmall, very thin, dark girl, with no beauty whatever about her.

  A peal of laughter greeted her ears. "Indeed, I am Phyllis Flower," saidthe young lady in question; and Mrs. Merriman started back with a lookof disappointment. "You thought because I had rather a pretty name thatI'd look it," continued the girl. "But I do not--I am neither witty norbeautiful, and I know I am not clever. I have got just nothing but myname. I'd rather like to live up to it; but somehow I don't think I can.Perhaps I may at Sunnyside. It seems such a novel idea to come to a sortof home school like this, and not to be treated a bit formally. Thankyou so much, Mrs. Merriman!" and Phyllis held out a small, neatlygloved hand and clasped Mrs. Merriman's, looking at her all the timewith delight beaming in her eyes.

  The other girls followed suit. They managed to introduce themselves oneby one, and presently Mrs. Merriman was seen trotting contentedly downthe avenue, followed by her new pupils. She looked something like awell-groomed pony herself, and the girls were much amused at her way ofgreeting them, and so thoroughly pleased that peals of laughter reachedthe displeased ears of Lucy, who was waiting with Annie and Laura in theporch.

  "Really," thought Lucy, "poor mother gets worse and worse. What sort ofschool will this be? Not the slightest vestige of order, and all thesegirls being spoken to at the gate. Mother has no dignity. It is reallyterrible. I shall be glad when Miss Archer and Mademoiselle Omont come.How are we to spend the present evening?"

  The girls themselves seemed to arrange that matter. Having lost allshyness with regard to Mrs. Merriman, they were not likely to feel ittowards Lucy. They accordingly requested to be taken into the house, andwere much pleased with the arrangements made for their comfort. The oldhouse of Sunnyside was one of the prettiest in the southwest of England.It had spacious grounds, beautiful gardens, and the rooms themselves,although somewhat low, were large and numerous. One or two girls had aroom each, and the others were arranged two in a room,
with a curtainbetween.

  When Mrs. Merriman started the idea of a small school for the specialeducation of special girls, she had spared no expense to have everythingdone in as thoroughly nice a manner as possible; and the girlsthemselves were delighted, and showed their appreciation by behaving ina hoydenish and school-girl fashion. They laughed and joked with eachother, declaring that Mrs. Merriman was quite too funny for anything,but that she was also an old dear; that Lucy was rather a nuisance, andvery prim, but that she shouldn't stand much in their way. And then theypaced about in the garden arm-in-arm, and talked to one another, just,as Lucy said afterwards, as though they had lived there all their lives.

  Poor Lucy in every respect was her mother's opposite. Neither did shespecially take after her gentle, patient father, who was alwayssatisfied to make the best of things, his motto being peace on anyterms, and who was surprised now when Lucy ran up to him as he waspacing up and down in the walnut walk at some distance from the house.

  "Ah, my little girl!" he said when he saw her approaching. "Why, what isthe matter? How flushed your cheeks are!"

  "And no wonder, father," answered Lucy. "If you could flush up atanything you'd feel hot and indignant now. Oh, father dear, I wish--Iwish we weren't obliged to have those detestable girls!"

  "What, Lucy! Have they come?"

  "I should think they have. They'll waylay you in a minute or two."

  "Oh, no, my dear. I don't specially want to see them now."

  "Then let us go straight by this gate into the paddock. I don't supposethey will find the paddock before to-morrow. Father, I don't thinkmother is at all suited to keep a school."

  "Lucy, I will not have your dear mother abused. Talk on any othersubject, but I can't stand that."

  "I suppose it is very wrong of me."

  "It is more than wrong. You can scarcely realize what a good, brave, andnoble woman she is. Who but she would have acted as she has done lately?She has taken the bull by the horns and saved us from absolute ruin. Byher plucky ways and determination has she not just kept our heads abovewater? My dear Lucy, you little know what might have happened but foryour mother's pluck and bravery."

  "I know," said Lucy, softened on the spot. "But if she onlywouldn't--wouldn't make so free with them when they come, and if theremight be a little order, and if they could have been postponed till theresident governesses had arrived. But now they are there, all of them,as merry and jocular as you like, running about the place, racing hereand there, and devouring all our best fruit, tramping in and out of thegreenhouses and conservatory, and making such a noise just over yourstudy. It would be much better to give up Sunnyside--anything would bebetter than this."

  "I don't think so, and you will find after a time that you will likeyour school friends. Your education will be finished without any extracost whatever. We are being very well paid for these girls, we know theyare all ladies, and your mother will be happy and in her element. Howcould you turn your dear mother into a precise, stately woman? It isn'tin her, and you would not wish it to be."

  "I don't know," said Lucy. "I think I would. But, father, you alwaysmake me ashamed of myself. You, who suffer so much, are so good, sopatient."

  "If I am good and patient it is because of my dear wife and my deardaughter," said the man sadly. "And now, Lucy darling, go back to themall and try to help your mother. The governesses will come to-morrow,and the day after lessons will begin. In a week's time you will seeperfect order arising out of chaos, and you will be surprised at yourpresent feelings."

  Lucy raised her father's hand to her lips. She loved her mother, but sheadored him, with his slight stoop, his scholarly face, his gentle smile,his kindly eyes. There were few men more beloved than ProfessorMerriman. He had given some really great books to the world, and was ascholar in the truest and best sense of the word. When he instructedLucy, which he did now and then, she regarded those moments as thehappiest and most sacred of her life.

  "Well, whatever happens, I have got him," she thought as she turned togo back to the house. "And if it adds any years to his precious life,surely I can endure anything. But I do hope he won't get to like any ofthose girls. Perhaps he will. Perhaps he will even offer to teach someof them. I sincerely trust none of them are clever. Oh, who is thisqueer little creature coming to meet me?"

  The queer little creature in question, dressed in brown holland, with asmall brown hat and cotton gloves, was no other than Phyllis Flower. Sheran up to Lucy, and stood in front of her, and said, "Is your fatherreally the great Professor Ralph Merriman?"

  "Yes," said Lucy, coloring and smiling, for it was delightful to her tohear the appreciative tone in Phyllis's voice.

  "I thought so, but I was not quite sure. Agnes Sparkes and I werearguing about it. Agnes said it couldn't be, but I said it was. I amvery glad. I hope we shall see him sometimes."

  "He is not well," said Lucy. "He can't be disturbed."

  "We would none of us dream of disturbing him; but we would love to lookat him sometimes, and perhaps sometimes to hear him speak."

  "I dare say you will see him. When he is well enough he will dine withus," said Lucy. "But you must not expect"----

  "Oh, we expect nothing--nothing certainly from you," said PhyllisFlower, flushing angrily, for there was a tone in Lucy's voice which shecould scarcely stand. Then she, continued, "Why are you determined notto be nice to us, Miss Merriman?"

  "You had better call me Lucy," said the girl after a pause. "We are allgirls together. You are at school and I am at school."

  "How old are you, Lucy?"

  "I am fifteen."

  "And I am thirteen and a half. How old do you think I look?"

  "Oh, any age. You are so thin."

  "And wizened," laughed Phyllis. "Well, never mind. I dare say I shallgrow tall enough by-and-by. Now, my dear," she continued after a pause,"you have nothing whatever to be jealous of in me. I am not clever, I amnot good-looking; in short, I am nothing at all, just the most ordinaryperson. But I can tell you something about the characters of your otherschool-fellows if you like. Would you care? There is plenty of time.Shall we walk up and down for a little?"

  Lucy could not resist the temptation. Phyllis, who was quite as frankand free as Mrs. Merriman herself, laid her hand on Lucy's arm. Lucyshuddered, but submitted.

  "The person who has got the greatest character among us is RosamundCunliffe. She will rule us all."

  "She won't rule me," interrupted Lucy angrily.

  "You can't help it, my dear. She has always ruled every one with whomshe comes in contact; and she does it quite nicely, too, for she isn'tunamiable. She simply has a strong character."

  "I hardly know what she is like," said Lucy.

  "Oh, you must have observed her--that tall, dark, pretty-looking girl,with rosy cheeks and a pretty mouth."

  "Yes, I think I know whom you mean."

  "And she is clever, too. But I don't think it is her beauty or hertalent that makes her curious charm. It is something beyond all this. Inever saw her do a really unamiable thing, and yet I think she mustlove power very much. You will soon find out for yourself what she islike. As for Janey Denton, she is just a good sort, something like me.And Laura Everett is very proud of her family, and she is clever. AndAnnie Millar is Laura's shadow, and does nothing whatever except whatLaura wishes. Then there is Agnes Sparkes. She is supposed to be myfriend, and she is very pretty, fair, and lively and clever. But of allthe girls who have come here to-day the two who will make their mark inthe world are beyond doubt Rosamund Cunliffe and Laura Everett. Now, Ithink I will let you find out the rest for yourself."