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A Bevy of Girls

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  A Bevy of GirlsBy L.T. MeadePublished by Grosset and Dunlap, New York.This edition dated 1905.

  A Bevy of Girls, by L.T. Meade.


  ________________________________________________________________________A BEVY OF GIRLS, BY L.T. MEADE.



  The girls stood in a cluster round Miss Aldworth. They surrounded herto right and left, both before and behind. She was a tall, dark-eyed,grave looking girl herself; her age was about twenty. The girls wereschoolgirls; they were none of them more than fifteen years of age.They adored Marcia Aldworth; she was the favourite teacher in theschool. She was going away to England suddenly, her mother was veryill, and she might not return. The girls all spoke to her in her nativetongue. They belonged to several nationalities; some German, someFrench, some Dutch, some Hungarian; there was a sprinkling of Spanishgirls and a good many English. The school was supposed to be conductedon English principles, and the head teacher was an Englishwoman.

  There was a distant sound of music in the concert room not far away, butthe girls, the principal girls of the school, took no notice of it.

  "You will write to us, dear, dear Marcia," said Gunda Lehman. "I'llforget all my English and I'll make all sorts of mistakes. You'll writeto me, and if I send you an English letter you'll correct it, won't you,dear, dear Miss?"

  Miss Aldworth made the necessary promise, which was echoed from one toanother amongst the girls. There was an American girl with a head oftousled hair, very bright china-blue eyes, and a sort of mocking face.She had not spoken at all up to the present, but now she came forward,took Miss Aldworth's hand, and said:

  "I'll never forget you, and if ever you come to my country be sure youask for me, Marie M. Belloc. I won't forget you, and you won't forgetme, will you?"

  "No, I won't forget you, Marie. I'll ask for you if ever I come to yourcountry."

  Miss Aldworth moved off into the hall. Here the head mistress began tospeak to her.

  "Move aside, girls," she said, "move aside. You have said yourgood-byes. Oh, here are your flowers--"

  A porter appeared with a huge basket of flowers. These were tied upwith different coloured ribbons. They were presented by each girl insuccession to her favourite English teacher.

  "How am I to carry them away with me?" thought poor Miss Aldworth, asshe received them; but her eyes filled with tears all the same, and shethanked each loving young personality in the way she knew best.

  A few minutes later she found herself alone in the cab which was to bearher to the railway station. Mrs Silchester's school at Frankfort wasleft behind; the now silenced voices began to echo in her ears. Whenshe found herself virtually alone in the railway carriage, she arrangedher flowers in order, then seated herself in a corner of the carriageand burst into uncontrollable crying. She was going home! Her brightlife at the school was over. Her stepmother wanted her; her stepmotherwas ill. She knew exactly what it all meant. She had resisted severalletters which she had received from home lately. They had come from heryounger sisters, they had come from her brother; they had come from herfather. Still she had rebelled and had struggled to keep away. Shesent them half her salary, but it was no use. Her mother wanted her;she must come back.

  At last there arrived a more alarming message, a more indignantremonstrance. She could not help herself any longer. It was not asthough it were her own mother; it was only her stepmother who wantedher, and she had never been specially good to Marcia, who had alwaysbeen something of a drudge in the family. Her salary was not half asimportant as her services. She must come back.

  She consulted Mrs Silchester; she even gave her a hint of the truth.Mrs Silchester had hesitated, had longed to advise the girl to remainwith them.

  "You are the making of the school," she said. "You keep all thoseunruly girls in order. They adore you; you teach them English mostbeautifully, and you are my right hand. Why should you leave me?"

  "I suppose it is my duty," said Marcia. She paused for a minute andlooked straight before her. She and Mrs Silchester were in a privatesitting room belonging to the latter lady, who glanced firmly at thetall, fine, handsome girl.

  "Duty," she said, "it is a sorry bugbear sometimes, isn't it?"

  "To me it is," said Marcia. "I have sacrificed all my life to my senseof duty; but perhaps I am mistaken."

  "I do not think so; it seems the only thing to do."

  "Then in that case I will write and say that I will go back at once."

  "I tell you what, my dear, if your mother is better when you return, andyou can so arrange matters, I will keep this place open for you. I willget a lady in as a substitute for a short time; I won't have a permanentteacher, but I will have you back. When you return to England, write tome and tell me if there is any use my pursuing this idea."

  Marcia said firmly:

  "I know I shall never be able to return; once I am back I shall have tostay. There is no use in thinking of anything else."

  Now the whole thing was over; the girls had cried and had clung to her,had lavished their love upon her, and the other teachers were sorry, andMrs Silchester had almost shed tears--she who never cried. But it wasover; the wrench had been made, the parting was at an end. Their brightlives would go on; they would still enjoy their fun and their lessons;they could go to the opera, to the theatre; they would still have theirlittle tea parties, and their friends would take them about, and theywould have a better time than English girls of their class usually have.They would talk privately to each other just the same as ever, abouttheir future homes, and their probable _dots_, and of the sort ofhusbands that had been arranged for them to marry, and how much linentheir good mothers were putting away into great linen chests for them tocarry away with them. They would talk to each other of all thesethings, and she, who had been part and parcel of the life, would be outof it. She always would be out of it in the future.

  Nevertheless, her sense of duty carried her forward. She felt thatunder no possibility could she do otherwise. She had a long and rathertiresome journey, and arrived at her destination on the followingevening.

  Her home was in the North of England, in an outlying suburb of the greatbustling town of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Marcia arrived first at the generalstation; she then took a local train and in about a quarter of an hourshe arrived at the suburb where her family resided. There a tall gauntfigure in a long overcoat was pacing up and down the platform. Severalother people got out of the train; they were mostly business men,returning from their day's work. The tall figure did not notice them,but when the girl sprang out of the train the man in the overcoat pulledhimself together and came forward with a quickened movement and tookboth her hands.

  "Thank God you have come, Marcia," he said. "Molly and Ethel and Nestawere all in terror that you would send a wire at the last moment.Horace said he thought you had spunk enough to do your duty, but therest of us were afraid. You have come, thank God. That's all right."

  "Yes, father," she said in a lifeless sort of voice, "I have come. Am Iwanted so very badly!"

  "Wanted?" he said. "Now let's see to your luggage; I'll tell you aboutthat afterwards as we are walking home."

  Marcia produced her ticket, and after a short delay her two modesttrunks were secured from the luggage van. A porter was desired to bringthem to Number 7 Alison Road as quickly as possible, and the father anddaughter left the railway station and turned their steps homeward.

  Marcia opened her eyes and shut them again. Then she opened them wide.Was it a dream after all? Had she really been at delightful Frankfort,at the gay
school with its gay life not two days ago? And was she now--what she had been doing the greater part of her life--walking by herfather's side, down the well-known road, turning round by the well-knowncorner, seeing the row of neat, dull, semi-detached houses, the littlegardens in front, the little gates that most of them never kept shut,but which clapped and clapped with the wind; the little hall doors, madehalf of glass, to look artistic, and to let in a little more cold thanthey would otherwise have done, a picture of the little nail, the dingylinoleum on the floor; the look of the whole place?

  By-and-by they reached their own gate; of course it needed mending.

  "Oh, father," Marcia could not help saying, "you ought to see to that."

  "Yes, but Molly has put it off week after week. She said you'd do itwhen you came home."

  "I'll manage it. But how is mother? Is she very bad?"

  "She is worse than usual; she requires more care, constant attention.There was no one else who would suit," he added. "Come along now, I'lltell you all presently."

  "You don't want me to see her to-night, do you?"

  "Not unless you wish to. She is upstairs."

  "Does she know I have come?"

  "Yes, she knows; at least she hopes with the rest of us that you havecome. You had better run in and see her for a few minutes; you needn'tbegin your duties until to-morrow."

  "Thank God for that reprieve," thought Marcia.

  The next instant there was a loud clamour in the hall, and threeexceedingly pretty girls, varying in age from fourteen to eighteen,bustled out and surrounded Marcia.

  "You have come! What an old dear you are! Now you'll tell us all aboutGermany. Oh, isn't it fun!"

  Nesta's voice was the most ringing. She was the youngest of the girls,and her hair was not yet put up. She was wearing it in a long plaitdown her back. It curled gracefully round her pretty temples. She hadsweet blue eyes and a caressing manner; she was rather untidy in herdress, but there was a little attempt at finery about her. The othertwo sisters were more commonplace. Molly was very round and fat, withrosy cheeks, small, dark eyes and a good-humoured mouth, a gay laugh anda somewhat tiresome habit of giggling on the smallest provocation.

  Ethel was the exact counterpart of Molly, but not quite so good-looking.These three girls were Marcia's step-sisters.

  In the distance there appeared the towering form of a young man withvery broad shoulders, and a resolute face. He was Marcia's own brother.She gave one really glad cry when she saw him, and flung herself intohis arms.

  "Good old girl! I said you'd have the spunk to do your duty," hewhispered in her ear, and he patted her on the shoulder.

  She felt a strange sense of comfort; she had hardly thought of himduring the journey; once he had been all in all to her, butcircumstances had divided them. He had been angry with her, and she hadfelt his anger very much. He had preached duty to her until she wassick of the word and hated the subject. She had rejected his advice.Now he was here, and he approved of her, so things would not be quite sobad. His love was worth that of a hundred schoolgirls.

  "Oh, yes, yes," she whispered back, and he saw the pent-up emotion inher at once.

  "Marcia, come upstairs," said Nesta. "I want to see you. You needn'tgo to Mummy yet. She said you weren't to be worried. Mummy is toodelighted for anything. We have put a new dressing gown on her, and shelooks so smart, and we've tidied up the room."

  "Of course," said Ethel, "we've, tidied up the room."

  "We have," said Molly, "and we've put a white coverlet over the bed, andMummy looks ever so pleased. She says you'll read to her for hours andhours."

  "Of course you will, Marcia," said Nesta. "It does so tire my throatwhen I read aloud for a long time."

  "And mine!" said Molly.

  "And mine!" said Ethel.

  "You know Ethel and Molly are out now," said Nesta. "They're asked agood deal to tea parties and dances."

  "Yes, we are," said Molly; "we're going to a dance to-morrow night."

  "Yes, yes!" said Ethel, skipping about. "I want to show you ourdresses."

  "They made them themselves," said Nesta.

  "We did; we did, wasn't it clever of us?" said the other two, speakingalmost in a breath.

  "They're awfully fashionable looking," went on Nesta--"the dresses Imean."

  Molly giggled in her commonplace way. Ethel did not giggle, but shelaughed. Nesta squeezed Marcia's arm.

  "You dear darling, what a tower of strength you are," she said. "Wethought of course you wouldn't come."

  "We thought you'd be much too selfish," said Molly.

  "Yes, we did truly," said Ethel.

  "We were certain you wouldn't do it," said Nesta. "We said: `She'llhave to give up, and why should she give up?' That's what we said; butHorace said you'd do it, if it was put to you strongly."

  "Put to me strongly?" said Marcia. "Oh, girls, I have had a long,tiring journey, and my head aches. Is this my room? Would you think mefrightfully unkind if I asked you for a jug of hot water, and to let mebe alone for ten minutes?"

  "Oh dear, dear, but don't you want us three in the room with you? Wehave such a lot to tell you."

  "Darlings, you shall come in afterwards. I just want ten minutes torest and to be quiet."

  "Girls, come downstairs at once," said Horace from below.

  The girls hurried off, glancing behind them, nodding to Marcia, kissingtheir hands to her, giggling, bubbling over with irrepressible mirth.Oh, it did not matter to them; their prison doors were open wide.

  "So," thought Marcia, "they are going to put it all on me in the future,even Horace. Oh, how can I bear it?"



  The next morning Marcia commenced her duties. She had said to herselfthe night before that the prison doors were closing on her. They werefirmly closed the next morning. She saw her stepmother for a fewminutes on the night of her arrival. She was a tall, very lanky,tired-looking woman, who was the victim of nerves; her irritability waswell-known and dreaded. Marcia had lived with it for some years of herlife; the younger girls had been brought up with it, and now, when theywere pretty and young, and "coming out," as Molly expressed it, theywere tired of it. The invalid was not dangerously ill. If she wouldonly exert herself she might even get quite well; but Mrs Aldworth hadnot the least intention of exerting herself. She liked to make theworst of her ailments. As a matter of fact she lived on them; shepondered them over in the dead of night, and in the morning she toldwhoever her faithful companion might happen to be, what had occurred.She spoke of fresh symptoms during the day, and often sobbed andbemoaned herself, and she rated her companion and made her life aterrible burden. Marcia knew all about it. She thought of it as shelay in bed that first night, and firmly determined to make a strongline.

  "I have given up Frankfort," she thought, "and the pleasures of myschool life, and the chance of earning money, and some distinction--forthey own that I am the best English mistress they have ever had; I havegiven up the friendship of those dear girls, and the opera, and themusic, and all that I most delight in; but I will not--I vow it--give upall my liberty. It is right, of course, that I, who am not so young asmy sisters, should have some of the burden; but they must share it."

  She went downstairs, therefore, to breakfast, resolved to speak hermind. The girls were there, looking very pretty and merry. Nesta saideagerly:

  "Molly, you will be able to go to the Chattertons to-day."

  "I mean to," said Molly. "Ethel, you mustn't be jealous, but I amcoming with you."

  "And she's got a charming new hat," said Nesta.

  "I know," said Ethel. "She trimmed it yesterday with some of the ribbonleft over from my new ball dress."

  "She'll wear it," said Nesta, "and she'll look as pretty as you, Ethel."

  Ethel shook herself somewhat disdainfully.

  "And I'm going to play tennis with Matilda Fortescue," continued Nesta."Oh, hurrah! hu
rrah! Isn't it nice to have a day of freedom?"

  "What do you mean, girls?" said Marcia at that moment.

  Her voice had a new quality in it; the girls were arrested in their idletalk.

  "What do we mean?" said Nesta, who was far and away the most pert of thesisters. "Why, this is what we mean: Dear old Marcia, the old darling,has come back, and we're free."

  "I wish to tell you," said Marcia, "that this is a mistake."

  "What do you mean?" said Molly. "Do you mean to insinuate that you arenot our sister, our dear old sister?"

  "I mean to assure you," said Marcia, "that I am your sister, and I havecome back to _share_ your work and to help you, but not to take yourduties from you."

  "Our duties!" cried Molly, with a laugh. "Why, of course we have heapsof duties--more than we can attend to. We make our own clothes, don'twe, Nesta?"

  "And beautifully we do it," said Nesta. "And don't we trim our ownhats?"

  "Yes, I'm not talking about those things. Those are pleasures."

  "Pleasures? But we must be clothed?"

  "Yes, dears; but you will understand me when I speak quite plainly.Part of your duty is to try to make your poor