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A Modern Tomboy: A Story for Girls, Page 2

L. T. Meade



  Before that day had come to an end, Lucy had discovered how true werePhyllis Flower's words. For Rosamund Cunliffe, without making herself inthe least disagreeable, without saying one single rude thing, yetmanaged to take the lead, and that so effectively that even Lucy herselffound that she could not help following in her train.

  For instance, after dinner, when the girls--all of them rather tired,and perhaps some of them a little cross, and no one exactly knowing whatto do--clustered about the open drawing-room windows, it was Rosamundwho proposed that the rugs should be rolled back and that they shouldhave a dance.

  Lucy opened her eyes. Nobody before had ever dared to make such asuggestion in the house of Sunnyside. Lucy, it is true, had dancinglessons from a master who came once a week to instruct her and othergirls in the winter season, and she had occasionally gone to achildren's party. But beyond that she had never danced, looking forwardto it, however, as a possible recreation by-and-by.

  Rosamund's clear voice was now heard.

  "Let us push back the sofas. This is a splendid room. We can roll up therugs in a twinkling. Where is Mrs. Merriman? She will play the dancemusic. Oh, there are seven of us--one too many. Perhaps you will playfor us, Lucy?"

  "But I don't know any dance music," said Lucy; "and then mother wouldnot like the rugs being disturbed. The room is arranged just as fatherand mother wish it to be. I think perhaps"----

  She colored painfully.

  "We will do nothing without leave, of course," said Phyllis Flower."I'll just run and find Mrs. Merriman and ask her."

  Before Lucy could prevent her, Phyllis had darted out of the room,returning in a minute or two with the required permission.

  "It's all right, girls," she said; "we can trip it on the lightfantastic toe as long as ever we please, and the rugs may go toHong-kong for all Mrs. Merriman cares."

  Lucy colored with rage. Rosamund gave a quiet smile--a smile whichseemed to denote power. Phyllis's dancing eyes lit for a moment onLucy's face. Those eyes said in the most provoking manner, "I told youso." And then some one went to the piano, and a minute or two later allthe girls, Lucy included, were dancing round and round the room in themerry waltz.

  Even Lucy enjoyed it when once it had begun, and the little performer atthe piano played well, and kept excellent time. And by-and-by Lucyforgot herself, and could not help laughing when Rosamund seized herround the waist and whirled her round and round, and taught her toreverse, and instructed her in one or two other matters unknown to Lucyup to the present.

  The dance lasted for over an hour; and just in the midst of it, whenLucy was really laughing in quite a heart-whole manner, she raised hereyes and saw no less a person than Mr. Merriman himself standing in thedoorway. He was smiling, and his eyes were fixed on Rosamund's face.

  The moment Rosamund saw him she stopped at once, and said to Lucy, "Isthat your father, the great professor?"

  "Yes," said Lucy.

  "Please introduce him to me."

  Lucy longed to say, "It will tire him; I can't do it." She longed togive any sort of excuse, but none would come to her lips. She was forcedto take Rosamund up to Mr. Merriman.

  "This is Rosamund Cunliffe," she said, "and she wants to know you,father."

  "I am very much pleased to see you, Miss Cunliffe," said Mr. Merriman;and then Rosamund stood in the doorway and talked.

  Lucy went back and tried to dance with another girl, and the dance musicstill went on. But she could not help straining her ears and trying tocatch the subject of Rosamund's conversation. Why, she was absolutelylaughing, and the Professor, who was generally so grave and quiet, waslaughing also. What did it all mean?

  "Father, aren't you tired?--Miss Cunliffe, you are tiring father," saidLucy at last, running up to the door and trying to speak calmly.

  "No, my dear," said her father. "On the contrary, I am intenselyinterested.--You must tell me that story again, Miss Cunliffe. Would youlike to come and see my library?"

  The two went off together, and Lucy felt almost as though she must burstinto tears. Phyllis's eyes again met her face, and she had to restrainher feelings. The "I told you so" look was too maddening almost forendurance.

  Rosamund's love of power showed itself further in the arrangement of herbedroom. She took down the dividing curtain between herself and JaneDenton without asking any one's permission; and she slept in the bedintended for Jane, and rearranged the drawers, putting them into anotherpart of the room; and complained about the wardrobe, saying that shewould like it put opposite the door instead of in its present position.And whatever she wished was immediately done, and whatever she said wassaid so politely that no one took offense. And Lucy had to confess toherself that Phyllis was right, and that Rosamund would be a power--theleading power--in the school.

  Early the next day the two teachers arrived. Mademoiselle Omont was veryFrench in appearance, very dark, with sparkling black eyes and neatlyarranged soft dark hair. She had a truly Parisian accent, and a pretty,graceful way about her. Miss Archer was a stolid-looking woman of aboutfive-and-thirty years of age. She had a long talk, on her arrival, withMrs. Merriman, and then she went to her room and stayed there for somelittle time, so that it was not until tea-time that the girls and thetwo resident governesses met.

  Lucy looked with great approbation at Miss Archer when she took her seatopposite the tea-tray.

  "She will bring order into this chaos," thought the girl. "She willforce all these girls to behave properly. She will insist on order. Isee it in her face."

  But as the thought passed through Lucy's mind, Rosamund jumped suddenlyup from her own place, requested Phyllis Flower to change with her, andsat down close to Miss Archer. During tea she talked to the Englishgoverness in a low tone, asking her a great many questions, andevidently impressing her very much in her favor.

  "Oh, dear!" thought Lucy, "if this sort of thing goes on I shall lose mysenses. If there is to be any order, if the whole scheme which motherhas thought out so carefully, and father has approved of, means toestablish a girl like Rosamund Cunliffe here as our leader, so that weare forced to do every single thing she wishes, I shall beg and imploreof father and mother to let me go and live with Aunt Susan in the oldRectory at Dartford."

  Lucy's cheeks were flushed, and she could scarcely keep the tears backfrom her eyes. After tea, however, as she was walking about in front ofthe house, wondering if she should ever know a happy moment again, MissArcher made her appearance. When she saw Lucy she called her at once toher side.

  "What a nice girl Rosamund Cunliffe seems!" was her first remark.

  "Oh! don't begin by praising her," said Lucy. "I don't think I can quitestand it."

  "What is the matter, my dear? You are little Lucy Merriman, are younot--the daughter of Mrs. Merriman and the Professor?"

  "I am."

  "And this house has always been your home?"

  "I was born here," said Lucy almost tearfully.

  "Then, of course, you feel rather strange at first with all these girlsscattered about the place. But when lessons really begin, and you getinto working order, you will be different. You will have to take yourplace with the others in class, and everything is to be conducted asthough it were a real school."

  "I will do anything you wish," said Lucy, and she turned a white face,almost of despair, towards Miss Archer. "I will do anything in all theworld you wish if you will promise me one thing."

  Miss Archer felt inclined to say, "What possible reason have you toexpect that I should promise you anything?" but she knew human nature,and guessed that Lucy was troubled.

  "Tell me what you wish," she said.

  "I want you not to make a favorite of Rosamund Cunliffe. Already she hasbegun to upset everything--last night all the drawing-room arrangements,her own bedroom afterwards; then, to-day, the other girls have donenothing but obey her. If this goes on, how is order to be maintained?"

  Miss Archer looked

  "From the little I have seen of Rosamund, she seems to be a very amiableand clever girl," she said. "She evidently has a great deal of strengthof character, and cannot help coming to the front. We must be patientwith her, Lucy."

  Lucy felt a greater ache than ever at her heart. She was certain thatMiss Archer was already captivated by Rosamund's charms. What was she todo? To whom was she to appeal? It would be quite useless to speak to hermother, for her mother had already fallen in love with Rosamund; andindeed she had with all the young girls who had arrived such a shorttime ago. Mrs. Merriman was one of the most affectionate people onearth. She had the power of taking an unlimited number of girls, andboys, too, into her capacious heart. She could be spent for them, andlive for them, and never once give a thought to herself. Now, inaddition to the pleasure of having so many young people in the house,she knew she was helping her husband and relieving his mind from weightycares. The Professor could, therefore, go on with the writing of hisgreat work on Greek anthology; even if the money for this uniquetreatise came in slowly, there would be enough to keep the little familyfrom the products of the school. Yes, he should be uninterrupted, andshould proceed at his leisure, and give up the articles which weresimply wearing him into an early grave.

  Lucy knew, therefore, that no sympathy could be expected from hermother. It is true that her father might possibly understand; but then,dared she worry him? He had been looking very pale of late. His healthwas seriously undermined, and the doctors had spoken gravely of hiscase. He must be relieved. He must have less tension, otherwise theresults would be attended with danger. And Lucy loved him, as she alsoloved her mother, with all her heart and soul.

  When Miss Archer left her, having nothing particular to do herself andbeing most anxious to avoid the strange girls, she went up the avenue,and passing through a wicket-gate near the entrance, walked along by theside of a narrow stream where all sorts of wild flowers were alwaysgrowing. Here might be seen the blue forget-me-not, the meadow-sweet,great branches of wild honeysuckle, dog-roses, and many other flowerstoo numerous to mention. As a rule, Lucy loved flowers, as most countrygirls do; but she had neither eyes nor ears for them to-day. She wasthinking of her companions, and how she was to tolerate them. And as shewalked she saw in a bend in the road, coming to meet her, a stout,elderly, very plainly dressed woman.

  Lucy stood still for an instant, and then uttered a perfect shout ofwelcome, and ran into the arms of her aunt Susan.

  Mrs. Susan Brett was the wife of a hard-working clergyman in a townabout ten miles away. She had no children of her own, and devoted herwhole time to helping her husband in his huge parish. She spent littleor no money on dress, and was certainly a very plain woman. She had alarge, pale face, somewhat flat, with wide nostrils, a long upper lip,small pale-blue eyes, and a somewhat bulgy forehead. Plain sheundoubtedly was, but no one who knew her well ever gave her looks athought, so genial was her smile, so hearty her hand-clasp, sosympathetic her words. She was beloved by her husband's parishioners,and in especial she was loved by Lucy Merriman, who had a sort offascination in watching her and in wondering at her.

  From time to time Lucy had visited the Bretts in their small Rectory inthe town of Dartford. Nobody in all the world could be more welcome tothe child in her present mood than her aunt Susan, and she ran forwardwith outstretched arms.

  "Oh, Aunt Susy, I am glad to see you! But what has brought you to-day?"

  "Why, this, my dear," said Mrs. Brett. "I just had three hours to sparewhile William was busy over his sermon for next Sunday. He is writing anew sermon--he hasn't done that for quite six months--and he said hewanted the house to himself, and no excuse for any one to come in. Andhe just asked me if I'd like to have a peep into the country; thatalways means a visit to Sunnyside. So I said I'd look up the trains, andof course there was one just convenient, so I clapped on my hat--youdon't mind it being my oldest one--and here I am."

  "Oh, I am so glad!" said Lucy. "I think I wanted you, Aunt Susan, morethan any one else in all the world."

  She tucked her hand through her aunt's arm as she spoke, and they turnedand walked slowly along by the riverside.

  Mrs. Brett, if she had a plain face, had by no means a correspondinglyplain soul. On the contrary, it was attuned to the best, the richest,the highest in God's world. She could see the loveliness of trees, ofriver, of flowers. She could listen to the song of the wild birds, andthank her Maker that she was born into so good a world. Nothing restedher, as she expressed it, like a visit into the country. Nothing madethe dreadful things she had often to encounter in town seem moreendurable than the sweet-peas, the roses, the green trees, the greengrass, the fragrance and perfume of the country; and when she saw herlittle niece--for she was very fond of Lucy--looking discontented andunhappy, Mrs. Brett at once perceived a reason for her unexpected visitto Sunnyside.

  "We needn't go too fast, need we?" she said. "If we go down this path,and note the flowers--aren't the flowers lovely, Lucy?"----

  "Yes," replied Lucy.

  "We shall be in time for tea, shall we not? But tell me, how is yourfather, dear? I see you are in trouble of some sort. Is he worse?"

  "No, Aunt Susy; I think he is better. He has had better nights of late,and mother is not so anxious about him."

  "Then what is the worry, my love, for worry of some sort there doubtlessis?"

  "It is the girls, Aunt Susy."

  "What girls, my love?"

  "Those girls that mother has invited to finish their education atSunnyside. They came yesterday, and the teachers, Mademoiselle Omont andMiss Archer, arrived to-day. And the girls don't suit me--I suppose I amso accustomed to being an only child. I cannot tell you exactly why, butI haven't been a bit myself since they came."

  "A little bit jealous, perhaps," said Aunt Susan, giving a quick glanceat Lucy's pouting face, then turning away with a sigh.

  "You will be surprised, Lucy," she continued after a pause, "when I tellyou that I used to be fearfully jealous when I was young. It was mybesetting sin."

  "Oh, Aunt Susy, I simply don't believe it!"

  "You don't? Then I will show you some day, when you and I are having asnug evening at the old Rectory at Dartford, a letter I once receivedfrom my dear father. He took great pains to point out to me my specialfault, as he called it; and his words had a wonderful effect, and I wentstraight to the only source of deliverance, and by slow degrees I lostthat terrible feeling which took all the sunshine out of my life."

  "Tell me more, please, Aunt Susan," said Lucy.

  "Well, you see, dear, I was not like yourself an only child. I was oneof several, and I was quite the plain one of the family. I am very plainnow, as you perceive; but I had two beautiful little sisters. They wereyounger than I, and Florence had quite a beautiful little face, and sohad Janet. Wherever they went they were admired and talked about, and Iwas thought nothing of. Then I had three brothers, and they weregood-looking, too, and strong, and had excellent abilities, and peoplethought a great deal about them; but no one thought anything about me. Iwas the eldest, but I was never counted one way or the other as of theslightest consequence. My people were quite rich, and Florence and Janetwere beautifully dressed, and taken down to the drawing-room to seevisitors; but I was never noticed at all. I could go if I liked, but itdid not gratify anybody, so by degrees I stayed away. You do not knowwhat bitter feelings I had in my heart, for they really were undeniablysome of the most attractive children you could possibly find; andFlorence was so witty, and Janet so delicate and refined and sweet inall her ways! I could not be angry with them, but I did think itfearfully unfair that so many blessings should be poured on their headsand so few given to me, for I was not even specially clever.

  "Then I thought I would make a friend of my brother Roger. He was a veryfine fellow, and for a time I did get into his confidence, and I wasfairly happy. But he went to Rugby, and at Christmas he brought some ofhis school-fellows back with him, and they paid the most absurdattentions to
Florence and Janet, and they snubbed me; and I supposeRoger, poor dear! was weak enough to be influenced by them, for he tookno notice of me either, so you can just imagine what a bad time I had.

  "Well, my dear, one day there came a letter from an old cousin askingeither of the two girls, Florence or Janet, or myself, to go to staywith her in the country. She had a very nice house, and a pony and trap,and she could take us about and give us a good time. My mother wasexceedingly anxious that the twins--I forgot to tell you that they weretwins--should go, and she said so to me. She said they wanted change ofair, as they were looking quite cooped up in our poky town. But I said,'I am the eldest, and I don't see why I shouldn't have the pleasure ofgoing, as I also have been invited. I mean it is only fair to give methe first chance.'

  "Then she said, 'I think that is quite fair, and you shall have thefirst chance, Susan;' and so I went.

  "Florence and Janet were not a bit angry, poor dears! They kissed me andhelped me to pack my things, and Florence offered me one of herprettiest necklaces, and Janet some wonderful embroidered gloves whichhad been given to her by Roger at Christmas. But I was too jealous toaccept any of their trinkets, and I went away with a sore feeling in myheart. Ah, Lucy! that was a long time ago."

  Aunt Susan paused. A spasm of pain crossed her face. After a time shesaid slowly, "I enjoyed myself for a week or two. Then came news fromhome. The fever which had been lurking in the town for some time reachedour house, and the two beautiful little twins were smitten with it. Andbefore I could hear again they were both dead. Had I given up my ownway, and let them go to see my old cousin, they might have been alivenow."

  "But you--you might have taken the fever. Oh! I think it is fearfullysad; but how could you know? And you could not be blamed--you could notreally be blamed," said Lucy with great earnestness.

  "Perhaps not," said Aunt Susan, recovering herself on the spot. "And Ido not mean to be morbid about it; only, at the time, my consciencetroubled me, and your poor aunty had a very bad time. It was soonafterwards that my dear father wrote to me, and I shall always keep hisletter. Since then I have never been jealous of any one, and I wouldadvise you to lay my story to heart, Lucy, and to do your utmost to keepdown the seeds of jealousy, for they make a man or woman miserable, andthey do no good in the world."

  Lucy did not know why Aunt Susan's talk affected her so much. She stillkept her hand on the old lady's arm, and they walked slowly up to thehouse. As they were approaching it she said suddenly, "Now that I haveseen you, I mean to do my very best. I know it is remarkably brave ofmother to have started the school and to have the girls here, and I knowI ought to help her, and not to be cross because her ideas are not myideas. And I will try, and I will remember your story and what you havesaid, for you always suit me, and you always understand me, Aunt Susan.But may I ask you one thing, one great favor?"

  "What is that, my dear?" asked her aunt.

  "If I find matters quite intolerable, may I come to you for a week tothe Rectory at Dartford--just for one week? Will you invite me?"

  "You have a hearty welcome, child. You know what it is like:soup-kitchens, mothers' meeting, coal-tickets, reading aloud to thechildren, rushing about from this place to the other trying to helpthose who cannot help themselves. It will do you good, Lucy, and ofcourse you shall come."