Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Three Girls from School, Page 2

L. T. Meade

think of--of--oh,that exalted, that exquisite time when _he_ proposes. You won't hear aword of the rasping talk then; not a word, I do assure you."

  Mabel laughed.

  "What a goose you are, Annie!" she said. "But really, I suppose it is agood plan."

  "Once I overdid it," said Annie. "Uncle Horace was talking on, oh! sogently. He was looking a little sad, too, and I knew I should have tomake my subject very absorbing not to take in his words. So I had myhero down on his knees, and his hand was clasping mine, and he wastalking, oh! most eloquently. I really forgot that Uncle Horace was by,and I burst out: `I can't marry you quite yet, Clement!' I thoughtUncle Horace would have a fit. He was convinced for the remainder ofthat day that I had been for a short time touched by lunacy. Iexplained to him as best I could that I was only reciting something Ihad learned at school; but of course he didn't believe me."

  "He never understood you; that is one comfort," laughed Mabel.

  "No, my dear, he didn't. But to this day I do believe he is looking outeverywhere for my imaginary Clement. He is convinced that I shall runaway with him some day."

  Mabel was silent for a minute. Then she said, "You are too comical,Annie. It is well to have your powers of imagination; but the worst ofit is that in my case I get the lectures by letter. Oh, it's enough tosicken one!"

  "Well, read your letter--do," said Annie.

  Mabel sank into the nearest chair, and languidly tearing open the thinenvelope of her aunt's letter, unfolded the sheets and began to read.Annie's first impulse was to rise and leave the room. She had her owninterests to see after, and Mabel would be lost to external things for abit. But a sudden exclamation from her companion caused her to changeher mind. Mabel uttered something between a groan and a laugh, andthen, tossing her aunt's voluminous sheets across to Annie, said:

  "Read that letter, and just tell me if Aunt Henrietta isn't quite enoughto drive anybody mad."

  "May I read it all?" asked Annie, who adored confidences, and whoseprincipal power in the school lay in the fact that she was more or lessin everybody's secret.

  "Yes, yes; read it aloud. I declare I have hardly taken it in, I am sobewildered at Aunt Henrietta's point of view."

  Annie accordingly picked up the sheets, put them in order, and proceededto read the following words:

  "`Grand Hotel, Paris, _July_ 10.

  "`My dear Mabel,--Your last extraordinary letter and your unladylike, and frantic desire to leave such a desirable place as Mrs Lyttelton's school have affected me a great deal. You speak with great intemperance, my dear, and annoy me much. You seem to forget that my one sole object in treating you as I do is for your good. But really, after your last letter, I do not think school can be doing you much good, and provided you will subject yourself to a test which I am about to set you, I will yield to your request. I may as well tell you first of all that I strongly disapprove of girls coming out too young. It is quite true that many girls do enter upon life and go into society at eighteen years of age; but, to begin, my dear Mabel, you are hardly that age yet; and, to go oh, I personally consider eighteen too young. At nineteen you are steadier, older, more formed. During that last precious twelve months between eighteen and nineteen you are capable of learning more than you have done in all your life previously. During those months you are becoming fitted for your future position--'"

  "Doesn't she lecture?" said Mabel. "Didn't I tell you so? Do go onquickly, please, Annie. Skip that part; I want you to come to thetest."

  "I don't mean to skip a single word," said Annie.

  "Well, be quick," groaned Mabel. Annie proceeded, her level voice,which neither rose nor fell, but kept on in a sort of even monotone,reaching Mabel's ears, who was far too interested to allow her thoughtsto wander: "`My dear' (continued Aunt Henrietta), `on receiving yourlast letter I wrote to Mrs Lyttelton; I could not reply to your letteruntil I had first heard from your excellent governess. I was pleased tofind that on the whole she gave me an admirable report of you. She saysthat she considers you a promising pupil, not especially brilliant, butplodding and conscientious.'"

  "I plodding and conscientious!" said Mabel. "Oh, the horrid epithets!"

  "Keep quiet, Mabel," said Annie. "These are the sort of remarks thatare likely to impress your aunt Henrietta."

  "Are they?" said Mabel. "Then in that case I suppose I must endurethem."

  "Well," said Annie, "let me proceed. `Mrs Lyttelton is pleased withyou, my dear. She says your music is up to the average, your drawingnot bad'--"

  "Not bad, indeed!" burst from Mabel. "I have a _genius_ for black andwhite."

  "Mrs Lyttelton evidently does not see it, Mabel. But stop talking, andlet me go on.

  "`Your English education, dear Mabel, is, however, your weak point. Mrs Lyttelton considers that you have no love for the good things of literature or history. This she much deplores. She mentions in her letter that she thinks more of the literature prize than any other prize the school offers, and wishes most heartily that you should obtain it. Now, my dear Mabel I make you a proposal. Win the first prize for literature on the coming prize day, and I will take you from school. You shall join me in Paris, and, in short, may consider yourself an emancipated young lady. If, on the other hand, you do not win the prize, you must patiently submit to another year of education, at the end of which time you shall again hear from me. Now, no more grumbles, my dear. Win the prize, and you are free; lose it, and you remain for another year at school.'"

  "There!" said Mabel; "isn't it like her? Did you ever in all your lifehear of anything more aggravating? She dangles liberty before my eyes,and shows me at the same time that I can as little hope to obtain it asto--well, to fly. _I_ obtain the literature prize! Oh Annie, Annie,isn't it enough to make one mad!"

  "I don't see," said Annie very gravely, "why you have not a chance ofthe prize. You have written your essay, haven't you?"

  "Oh yes; I have written something."

  "Of course," said Annie in a low, thoughtful tone, "you were not likelyto be keenly interested until you received this letter, but now mattersare very different. You haven't sent in your essay, have you?"

  "No; all the essay? go in after breakfast to-morrow."

  "Well," said Annie, "you have got to-night."

  "It is hopeless--quite hopeless," said Mabel; and she began to pace upand down the room.

  "I don't consider it so for a minute," said Annie.

  "If it were not for Priscilla there would be a chance. The only one ofus who is really clever at composition is Priscilla."

  "She is the one you have to fear. I believe that with a great deal ofpains, and perhaps just a little help from me, you could manage to dosomething quite excellent."

  "I can't, I can't!" said Mabel. "There is no good trying."

  Annie's eyes were very bright, and there had come vivid spots of colourinto her cheeks.

  "You have got to-night," she said suddenly, "and you must not lose thechance."

  "Oh! it is useless," said Mabel.

  "Leave it to me," remarked Annie. "I will come to your room after yougo to bed to-night; I will tap twice on the wall, and you will know itis I. I am so sorry for you, Mabel; it is really too bad of your auntHenrietta."

  "It is just like her," said the angry Mabel. "She knew I could notpossibly win the prize, and so she set me this test. Now, when I haveto write to her meekly and say, `Dear, kind Auntie,--Your Mabel came outworst of all the girls who tried for the literature prize,' she willwrite again and say, `Who was right, Mabel, you or I?' Oh, I would giveall the world to prove her wrong!"

  "I quite understand," said Annie; "I'd feel precisely the same if itwere Uncle Horace; but then, with all his faults, Uncle Horace would notset me an impossible task. How queer, how queer is the world; you pineto leave school, and Priscilla Weir would give her eyes to stay! Yetpoor Priscilla, who is almost a genius, has to go, and you, who are nota bit of a genius, and wi
ll never appreciate the learning that is givenat the school, will have to stay."

  "Yes; things are most horribly contrary," said Mabel.

  "Unless I can set them right," thought Annie to herself.

  There was an expression on her face which Mabel could not fathom whenshe suddenly ran up to her, kissed her, and said, "Leave it to me."



  Priscilla, when she left the girls' special sitting-room,