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The Little School-Mothers

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Little School-MothersBy L.T. MeadeIllustrations by AnonPublished 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.


  "Robina Starling will arrive at the school this evening," said MrsBurton. "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 JaneBush, I expect great tact and consideration; don't forget. And as toyou, dear Rose, and you. Cecil and Vivian Amberley, I know beforehandthat you are always sweet and considerate to those a little younger anda little more ignorant than yourselves. Robina has been sent from homebecause of her mother's illness. She is quite a little home bird, and Ihave no doubt will be sorry for herself. I have given her people tounderstand that she will be very happy at school, and I expect you girlsof the third form to help me to carry out my prognostications. Nowthen, I think that is all. We will begin our usual lessons. MissSparke, will you take the third form girls for their history? MissDevigny, the sixth form are waiting for you in the blue parlour."

  A minute later the several girls of Abbeyfield School had dispersed totheir different classrooms, and the great hall in which they hadassembled for prayers, and afterwards to hear Mrs Burton's remarks withregard to Robina Starling, was empty. A busy hum of eager voices mighthave been heard issuing from the different classrooms. It was thesubdued hum caused by young people kept in complete order and activelyengaged 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 wasmidsummer, and the holidays were not far ahead. The school was a veryselect one, and did not consist of more than twenty pupils. There wasthe third form for the girls already mentioned: Frederica and PatienceChetwold, Harriet Lane, and Jane Bush, and the three Amberleys. Therewas the first form, where the little children played and learned alittle and were happy--there were only three little children now in thefirst form--and then there was the sixth form, where the girls who wereconsidered grown-up pursued their studies. Here might be seen graveConstance Amberley, the sister of Rose and Cecil and Vivian; here, also,were Julia Price and Agnes Winter, and several more, all well-behavedgirls anxious to do their duty and to take advantage of the manyexcellent 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 somuch 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 twointo their pews to the old church on Sunday and appeared now and then ata fashionable flower show at Bournemouth, or--best time of all--playedmerrily in the fields and lanes which surrounded Abbeyfield.

  On the day when Mrs Burton had announced the arrival of RobinaStarling, there was to be a picnic, to which every member of the schoolhad been invited. It was a special picnic given by Miss Devigny, thelady who superintended the studies of the sixth form girls. She was totake 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 Devignywere considered quite a sufficient escort. They would drive to Mark Ashin two waggonettes, and every heart was pit-a-pat with excitement at thethought of their happy afternoon.

  Miss Devigny was the sort of teacher whom all girls idolise. It was notthat she was exactly beautiful, nor perhaps especially clever, but shehad that indescribable attribute which is best known by the word"charm." Without any apparent effort on her part, she charmed all thosewith whom she came in contact. Even the dullest pupil brightened anddid her best under Miss Devigny's influence; even the most sulky becamegood-tempered, and the most secretive became open and above-board. Thegreat inducement for the little girls of the third form to struggle hardand conquer the difficulties of English, French, and German was the hopethat they would be moved into Miss Devigny's class. To work with her inthe blue parlour was as good as a holiday--so the girls who were therealready affirmed, and so all, without a single exception, believed.

  Now, however, there was a new topic of interest. Something verywonderful had occurred. The third form girls were to receive a newcompanion. For a girl to arrive at the school so late in the term wasitself rather remarkable, but for a girl to come and be immediatelyplaced, as it were, in their charge; for a girl to be made over to themso that they alone were to be in a measure responsible for herwell-being and happiness, was a state of things which at once dazzledand perplexed them.

  During recess that morning the girls of the third form met in a littlegroup to discuss the situation. Even the sixth form girls looked atthem with a certain envy, and thought it somewhat strange of Mrs Burtonto put this responsibility upon the young ones. The sixth form girlswere, of course, much too grand to interfere, but they also wereinterested in Robina.

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

  "We must not laugh at her," said Patience; "we must be very carefulabout 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," saidJane 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 underthe 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 wantit; see if I am not right."

  "Don't be nasty," said Rose. "If I have to turn out, I don't mind, notone bit. Poor little thing! She has never been at school before, andshe 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 pushedherself forward in a silly, aggravating way she had. "You mark mywords. There is something queer about that Robina. Why should wereceive her in the sort of manner Mrs Burton seems to expect? Whyshould we be so precious good to her? She must be a weakling; perhapsshe is deformed, or has a squint."

  "Oh! Harriet, you don't think so!" said Vivian Amberley, the youngestof the four sisters, and in consequence the most petted. "I can't beargirls 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 beeither of these, but something. She is small, and ugly, andfrightened--that I am certain of. Oh, of course we'll have to be goodto her; but at the same time, what I say is this, girls: we'll have tolet that young 'un know at once that she is not to have her own wayabout everything."

  "There is something in what you say," remarked Patience Chetwold; "andalthough 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 ifwe spoil her."

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

  "Well, I am going to spoil her," said Rose; "and I know for certain sheis not a bit like what you say, you horrid thing," and she darted anangry glance at Harriet Lane. "She h
as a very pretty name, to beginwith, and I am certain she is just a dear."

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

  "Oh, I say, girls, there's the bell! Let's go in. Let's race to thedoor. 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 nota single flaw anywhere; there was no sort of dissension in the school;the children were well-behaved, they did not quarrel. It is true thatJane Bush could quarrel if there was anyone to quarrel with, and it