Part 2 out of 4
waiting to turn out the gas.
"Can't I just look over my Latin?" implored Merle.
"Not a word!" declared the old servant. "Put those books away, Miss
Merle, and go upstairs. We'll be having you with brain-fever at this
rate! I don't approve of all these home lessons. Why can't they teach you
what they want to in school, I should like to know? That's what teachers
are paid for, isn't it? I've no patience with this continual writing in
the evenings. A nice bit of sewing would be more to my mind. You've not
done more than an inch of that crochet pattern I taught you. Being
monitress is all very well, I daresay, but I'm not going to let you sit
up till midnight, my dearie, over your books. Not if I have to go myself
to Miss Pollard, and tell her my mind about it."
Merle had meant to wake up a little earlier and run through her
preparation, but she was sleepier than usual next morning, and had to be
roused by Mavis. She opened her eyes most unwillingly.
"I never heard Jessop bring the hot water. It can't be half-past seven!
Oh, bother! I'd give all the world to be left quiet in bed! Go away!"
"All right! Stop in bed, and let Muriel give her list to Miss Mitchell!"
Whereupon Merle groaned, sat up, and began to pull on her stockings.
"Guess I'll take the wind out of Muriel's sails!" she murmured.
The list was beautifully wrapped up in a sheet of new tissue-paper, and
Merle carried it proudly to school. Miss Mitchell was generally in the
study from about 8.45 till 9 o'clock, so there would be nice time to
present it before call-over. On this particular morning, however, as fate
would have it, the study was unoccupied. Merle peeped in many times, went
to the hostel, asked the boarders if they had seen Miss Mitchell, but was
utterly unable to find her. She seemed to have mysteriously disappeared,
and only walked in, from no one knew where, just in time to take the
register. The Fifth form marched away to its classroom, and Merle's
offering, for the present, was obliged to be consigned to the recesses of
Latin was the first lesson, and as far as she was concerned it was a
dismal failure. Miss Mitchell looked surprised at her ghastly mistakes,
and one or two of the girls glanced at each other. Merle was hot and
flustered at the close of the hour, and closed her books with relief. She
hoped to manage a little better in 'The Merchant of Venice,' which was at
least an English subject. The girls were supposed to learn the notes, and
were questioned upon them and upon the meaning of the passages, and she
trusted to native wit and successful guessing to supply her answers. The
teacher, however, very soon grasped the fact that Merle knew nothing
about the lesson, asked her to recite, and found that she broke down at
the end of three lines.
"You're absolutely unprepared!" said Miss Mitchell scathingly. "A nice
example for a monitress to set to the rest of the form! Come to the study
at eleven, and report yourself! I'm astonished at you, Merle!"
A very depressed and humiliated monitress entered the study at 'interval'
to receive her scolding.
"I can't understand you! You have been doing so well. Why have you
suddenly slacked off?" asked her inquisitor, who believed in getting to
the bottom of things if a girl shirked her work.
Merle, who was too much upset even to mention her reason, and who had
left the offering inside her desk, said nothing, and only looked
unutterably miserable. Matters, therefore, were at rather a deadlock,
when there was a tap at the door and Mavis entered bearing the precious
"Miss Mitchell, _please_! In case Merle won't tell, I've brought
this. She sat up fearfully late last night doing it for you, and that's
why she didn't do her prep. Please excuse me for coming in!" and Mavis
bolted in much confusion.
Miss Mitchell unwrapped the parcel and looked critically at its contents.
"It's very kind of you to have made this for me, Merle," she said, in a
gentler voice. "I only wish it hadn't been at the expense of your
preparation. I like the monitresses to do all they can for the school,
but they must remember their own work comes first, and that they have to
set an example to the rest. Don't let a thing like this happen again! I
thought you would have had more discretion. The list could have waited a
day or two. I was not in such a hurry for it as all that. It was kindly
meant, but a little excess of zeal, wasn't it? Thank you for it all the
same! There! I'll put it on my desk so that it will be always ready if I
want to refer to it. Now run along, or you won't have time to eat your
lunch before the bell rings."
Merle, hurrying to the dressing-room, inwardly congratulated herself.
"I got jolly well out of a bad business!" she thought. "Miss Mitchell
wasn't very cross after all, and she liked the list! I've got mine in
before Muriel's anyway, and it's going to stay on her desk, so she'll
always have something of mine right under her eyes. She fingered that
saxe-blue ribbon rather lovingly! It exactly matches her sports coat!
I'll make her a calendar for Christmas and put the same kind of ribbon to
hang it up by. But I don't mean to tell a single soul, in case Muriel
goes and does the same! Miss Mitchell is my property, not hers!"
Several Saturdays turned out wet, and it was not until the middle of
October that Mavis and Merle were again able to motor with Dr. Tremayne
They had made arrangements for a nature ramble, so, after an early lunch
at Grimbal's Farm, they went to the trysting-place by the harbour to meet
the other members of the club. Beata and Romola turned up alone to-day,
unencumbered by younger brothers and sisters or the donkey. They had
brought businesslike baskets with them, and were armed with note-books to
record specimens, some apples and nuts, and a couple of log-lines.
"We might be able to get some fishing!" they explained eagerly. "Father
went out yesterday in old Mr. Davis's boat, and he brought home the most
_lovely_ mackerel. Wouldn't it be a surprise if we could get some
for ourselves? I don't see why we shouldn't!"
The idea appealed to the others. Fish were undoubtedly a division of
zoology and ought to be included in their nature study. Specimens would
be no less scientifically interesting from the fact that they could be
eaten afterwards. Fay instantly rushed into Helyar's General Store to buy
a log-line of her own; Mavis and Merle, after cautiously ascertaining the
cost, invested in one between them, while Tattle, Nan, and Lizzie
contented themselves with purchasing a few fishhooks and a ball of fine
"I suppose we ought really to take some bait with us," remarked Romola
casually. "There isn't time, though, to go and dig for lob-worms. What's
to be done about it?"
"Oh, we'll use limpets or anything else we can get," decreed Beata.
"We'll find something along the rocks, you'll see. Mavis, where are we
going? You know all the best walks. We elect you leader this afternoon."
"It's beautiful along the cliffs towards St Morval's Head. There's a path
most of the way, and we can scramble where there isn't. I wouldn't have
dared to take the children, but I vote we venture it."
"Anywhere you like so long as we don't waste any more time; I'm just
crazy to start!" agreed Fay.
So they went by a narrow alley and up steep flights of steps to the hill
above the town, and took the track that led along the edge of the cliffs
towards St. Morval's Head. It was a glorious autumn afternoon, and,
though the bracken was brown and withered, there were specimens of wild
flowers to be picked and written down in the note-books. Summer seemed to
have lingered, and had left poppies, honeysuckle, foxgloves, and other
blossoms that were certainly out of season. Tattie, who was keen on
entomology, recorded a red admiral, a clouded yellow butterfly, and a
gamma moth, though she did not consider them worth chasing and catching
for her collection.
Flocks of goldfinches and long-tailed tits were flitting about, and they
spied some black-caps and pipits, and even a buzzard falcon poised in the
air high above the cliffs. Here quite a little excitement occurred, for
several sea-gulls attacked the buzzard and with loud cries tried to drive
it away, following it as it soared higher and higher into the heavens,
and finally routing it altogether and sending it off in the direction of
The path along which the girls had been walking was the merest track
through the bracken. So far there had been either a low wall or a hedge
as a protection at the edge of the cliff, but now these outposts of
civilisation vanished and they were at the very brink of the crags.
Tattie, whose head was not of the strongest, turned giddy and refused to
go farther; indeed, she was so overcome that she sank on the ground and
buried her face in her hands.
"I daren't look down!" she shuddered. "I know I shall fall if I do. Oh! I
wish I'd never come! How am I going to get back?"
"There's only about a hundred yards like this," urged Mavis. "After that
the path is all right again. Take my arm."
"No, no! I daren't! I can't go either backwards or forwards. I feel as if
I should faint!" sobbed Tattie, waxing quite hysterical.
Here was a dilemma! She must certainly be made to move one way or the
other. With great difficulty Fay and Beata between them got her back to
the path along which they had come, where she collapsed under the shelter
of the wall, and sat down to recover.
"I'll be all right now," she said, wiping her eyes. "I can go home alone.
Don't let me keep any of you."
"We'll come with you," said Lizzie Colville. "Nan and I don't like
walking so near the edge either. I wouldn't cross that place for worlds."
So it was arranged that the Ramsays and the Castletons and Fay should go
on to St. Morval's Head, while the rest of the company turned back.
"It's a pity, but it's no good taking people who turn giddy," commented
Mavis. "If they can't manage that piece of cliff, how would they scramble
down into the cove?"
"They haven't got tennis shoes on for one thing," remarked Merle, "and
boots are horribly slippery. You ought to have rubber soles for these
rocks. It just makes all the difference. Mavis and I always wear them at
"So do we. We learnt that at Porthkeverne. We're used to scrambling. As
for Fay she's a real fairy. I believe she could fly if you gave her a
push over the edge to start her off."
"Don't try, thanks, or I might turn into a mermaid instead of a fairy or
a bird! I often think, though, I'd like a private aeroplane of my own.
They're things that are bound to come sooner or later. I only hope I
shan't be too old to use one when they do. What a view it is here!"
The difficult piece of cliff had led them round a corner, and they were
now facing a magnificent sweep of coast-line. Below them, fixed to a buoy
that floated on the water, a bell was ringing incessantly, its clanging
sound floating over the sea like the knell of a mermaid's funeral.
"It's to warn the vessels off the rocks," explained Mavis. "They can hear
it in a fog when they can't see quite where they are." Merle and I always
call it 'The Inchcape Bell.' Oh, you know the story?
'The worthy abbot of Aberbrothock
Had fixed that bell on the Inchcape rock.
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.'
Then the pirate, Sir Ralph the Rover, goes and cuts it off, just out of
spite, and sails away. Years afterwards his ship comes back to Scotland,
and there's a thick fog, and he's wrecked on the very Inchcape rock from
which he stole the warning bell.
'Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair;
He cursed himself in his wild despair.
The waves poured in on every side,
And the vessel sank beneath the tide.'"
"Serve him right too! It was a sneaking rag to play!" commented Merle.
"The bell makes me think of an old hermitage," said Romola. "I expect to
see a monk walking along, telling his beads. Who was St. Morval? Didn't
he have a little chapel on the cliffs here?"
"Romola always thinks of the Middle Ages," laughed Beata. "That's because
she poses so much for Dad's pictures. It sounds like a church bell under
the sea to me. When we lived at Porthkeverne we were close to the lost
land of Lyonesse, and there was a lovely story about a mermaid. They said
she used to come and sit on a broad flat stone outside the church and
listen to the singing; and the priest heard of it, so one day he came out
and talked to her, and asked her if she wouldn't like to be baptized, and
she said she'd think about it. So she swam away; but she came back again
and again, and it was decided that she was to be baptized on Easter
Sunday. But on Good Friday there was a terrible storm, and the waves came
up and swallowed the whole of the village, so that when the poor mermaid
arrived she found the church sunk under the sea, and the priest and all
the people drowned. There was nobody to baptize her, and there never has
been since, and she swims about the water weeping and singing any little
bits of the service that she can remember. The fishermen said if anybody
was at sea and heard her it was bad luck, and a sign he would certainly
be drowned before long."
"I love the quaint old legends!" said Mavis. "I shall always think of
your mermaid now, when I hear the bell. This is our way down to the cove.
It's a most frightful scramble. Can you manage it?"
The girls went first over grass and gorse, then climbed down a tiny track
so narrow and slippery they were obliged to sit and slide, and finally,
with some difficulty, scrambled on to the grim rugged rocks beneath. They
were on a kind of platform, covered with seaweed and little pools, and
with deep swirling water below.
Beata decided it would be a good place to fish, so they got out their
log-lines. The first and most manifest thing to do was to find bait.
There were plenty of limpets on the rocks, and with penknives they
managed to dislodge some of them. It was only when a limpet was caught
napping that it was possible to secure him: once he sat down tight and
excluded the air from his shell, no amount of pulling could move him. The
victims thus gathered were sacrificed by Beata and Merle, who acted as
high priestesses, and chopped them up, and placed them upon the hooks,
for neither Mavis nor Romola would touch them, and even Fay was not
particularly keen upon this part of the fishing operations. They were
ready at last, and cast their lines. Merle, unfortunately, through lack
of experience, had not unreeled hers far enough, and the heavy weight
sank deeply in the water and jerked the whole thing out of her hands into
"Oh, what a shame! And we've only just paid two and sixpence for it! What
an utter idiot I was! I never thought it would pull like that. See, it's
floating about down there!"
"I'll get it for you if I can," said Beata. With some manoeuvring she
managed to fling her own line over it and drag it slowly in, losing it
several times but rescuing it in the end.
After that mishap Merle was wiser, and threw with more discretion. Fay
also tried her luck, and the girls sat waiting for bites. But alas! none
came. There were several false alarms, but the lines when hauled in held
nothing more exciting than hunks of seaweed. It was really most
"I'm afraid they don't like the bait," said Beata at last. "If we could
find a few lob-worms now, it might tempt them. They're evidently rather
"And I expect we don't know much about it!" said Mavis.
"Well, people have to learn some time, I suppose. You can't tumble to
fishing by instinct!"
It was decided to go farther along and try to find lob-worms. The
difficulty was to scramble down the rocks on to the sand. From above it
looked quite easy and possible, but at close quarters the crags were very
precipitous. At one point, however, they determined to venture. They sat
on the edge of the sloping rock, let go, and then simply slid down,
hanging on to pieces of ivy and tufts of grass. The cove, when they thus
reached it, was worth the trouble of getting there. Sand-gobies were
darting about in the pools, and came swimming up to fight for the pieces
of limpet which the girls dropped in for them. They found a few lobworms
and re-baited their hooks and cast their lines afresh, but met with no
better success than before.
"I'm fed up with fishing!" announced Romola at last. "Let's go home!"
She had voiced the general opinion of the party. All immediately began to
wind up their lines.
"The tide's coming in fast, and we're close to the blow-hole," said
Mavis. "It seems a pity not to stop and watch it."
The blow-hole was a curious natural phenomenon. The sea, pouring into a
narrow gully, forced air and water to spurt through an opening at certain
intervals. First a low groaning noise was heard, which waxed louder and
louder until--so Beata declared--it resembled the snoring of Father
Neptune. Then suddenly a shower of spray spurted from the aperture, the
sunshine lighting it with all the prismatic colours of the rainbow. For a
few seconds it played like a fountain, then died down as the wave
receded. The girls were so interested in watching it that they quite
forgot the sea behind them. While their backs were turned to it, the
great strong tide was lapping and swelling in, moving higher and higher
up the rocks, and covering the pools, and creeping into the cove, and
changing the sand and seaweed into a lake. When Mavis happened to look
round she found her basket floating. She started up with a cry. The one
accessible spot where they had climbed down now had a deep pool under it.
"We must wade!" gasped Beata, and hurriedly pulling off her shoes and
stockings she plunged as pioneer into the water.
She soon realised it was too dangerous a venture. The slimy seaweed
underneath caused her to slip, and the strong swirl of the tide nearly
swept her from her feet. With difficulty she splashed back again.
"We might swim it!" she suggested. "But what about our clothes?"
Mavis shook her head.
"We can't cross there till the tide goes down."
"Are we going to be drowned?" asked Romola, in a tremulous little voice.
"Certainly not!"--Mavis sounded quite calm and sensible--"we're safe
enough here, but we're in a jolly nasty fix. We can sit above high-water
mark, but it means staying till the tide goes down and that won't be for
hours, and then it will be dark and how can we see to scramble up the
"I suppose we've got to wait till morning!" groaned Fay. "This is
_some_ adventure at any rate!"
"Rather more than most of us bargained for!" agreed Beata.
"I wouldn't care a nickel, only Mother'll be in such a state of mind when
I don't turn up!"
"And Uncle David will be waiting to go home in the car. I wonder what
"They'll have the fright of their lives!"
"And we shall have the colds of ours!" shivered poor Romola. "October
isn't exactly the month you'd choose for camping out. I wish we'd brought
some more biscuits with us. I'm hungry!"
"Don't talk of biscuits or eating! I'm just ravenous."
Five very disconsolate girls found a sheltered corner under the cliff and
squatted down to watch the sunset. There was a glorious effect of gold
and orange and great purple clouds tipped with crimson, but they were
none of them quite in the mood to appreciate the beauties of nature, and
would much have preferred the sight of a tea-table. It was beginning to
grow very cold. They buttoned their sports coats about their throats, and
huddled close together for warmth. The sun sank into the sea like a great
fiery ball, and the darkness crept on. Presently the moon rose, shining
over the sea in a broad spreading pathway of silver, that looked like a
gleaming fairy track across the water to the far horizon, where a distant
lighthouse glinted at intervals like a fiery eye. The waiting seemed
interminable. Romola, who felt the cold most, had a little private weep.
"I've always been crazy on stories of shipwrecks and desert islands,"
said Fay, "but when you go through it yourself somehow it seems to take
the edge off the romance. I don't want any more to be a Robinson Crusoe
girl! I'd rather stay warm with pussie by the fire."
"If we'd had a box of matches with us we might have lighted a fire!"
sighed Beata. "Why _didn't_ we bring some?"
"Why didn't we look at the tide and get home in decent time? It's no good
crying over spilt milk!" grunted Merle rather crossly.
After that they all subsided into silence for a while. There was no sound
except the monotonous lap of the waves. The sea-gulls and cormorants had
flown past at sunset and gone to roost. The absolute quiet, and the dark
shadows, and the silver light of the moon gave such an eerie atmosphere
to the scene that presently Fay could stand it no longer.
"I guess I'll stir up the spooks!" she remarked, and scrambling to her
feet she made a trumpet of her hands and called out a loud "Coo-o-ee."
To the immense astonishment of everybody an answering shout came from
somewhere across the water. Instantly all sprang up and woke the echoes
with their loudest possible lung-power. Before long came a splash of
oars, and a boat, with a lantern fastened to its bow, entered the cove.
It advanced cautiously to the rocks, and a tall boyish figure sprang out
and held it steady, while some one in a fisherman's jersey stretched out
a strong hand to help the girls to enter. Only when they were safely
seated and the moonlight shone on their faces did Mavis recognise their
"Mr. Penruddock--and surely not _Bevis_!" she exclaimed.
He enjoyed her amazement.
"I've got the week-end. There's been 'flu' at school, so they've sent
some of us off while Matron fumigates the rooms. I thought I'd find you
at the farm. There was a pretty to-do when it grew dark and you didn't
turn up. The Doctor went to the Vicarage to ask if you were there, and
they said you'd gone along the rocks fishing. So we took the boat and
came to look for you. I say, you were in a jolly old mess, weren't you?
Rather cold for sleeping out?"
"If we'd known you were coming over we wouldn't have started."
"I didn't know myself till the last minute. I'll bike over to Durracombe
to-morrow afternoon if I may? I haven't seen you and Merle for ages.
You've given Chagmouth people an excitement! I should think half the
town's waiting on the quay for you! We'd rather a business to find you.
But 'all's well that ends well,' isn't it?"
Mavis and Merle had not seen Bevis since last July, so they had an
immense amount to talk about when he came over to Bridge House on the
following afternoon. They had to tell him all their adventures during the
summer holidays and about the changes at 'The Moorings,' and he also had
much to relate about his own school and his future plans. Though he was
now squire of Chagmouth, he took his new honours very quietly and made no
fuss about them.
"It's something to feel I'm back at the old Coll. and can go on to
Cambridge," he acknowledged in reply to the girls' questions. "The
lawyers are very decent to me and give me pretty well all I want. In the
spring I'm going to have a yacht of my own! They've promised me that.
I'll take you both out for a sail in it."
"Oh, do! We shall just live for Easter!" rejoiced the girls.
"I wish it was holidays all the time!" added Merle. "What fun we'd have
in your yacht!"
Such a wish, however, could certainly not be realised.
Bevis was due back at Shelton College, and 'The Moorings' claimed both
Mavis and Merle. School might not be as exciting as yachting, but it had
its interests. There was the Magazine, of which Mavis was editress, and
to which many spicy items were contributed; there was the Entertainments
Club, which was getting up a piece to act at the end of the term.
In connection with this society, alack! a tremendous squabble ensued. It
had fallen almost entirely into the hands of the boarders, and they
seemed determined to keep all its privileges to themselves. They fixed
upon a play, shared the cast among them, and held rehearsals in the
evenings. Mavis, Merle, and Muriel, the only day-girls on the Committee,
"Where do we come in?" demanded Merle.
"It's too cool to settle everything without consulting us! We're as much
on the Committee as you are! It's completely out of order!"
"Oh, what does it matter?" said Nesta, with aggravating easiness. "We
can't bother to be always holding meetings. We wanted to set to work at
once and rehearse, and there weren't enough parts to include day-girls.
Can't you act audience for once? You seem very anxious to show off!"
"It's the pot calling the kettle black then, if we do!" retorted Muriel.
"What about yourselves, I should like to know?"
The worst of it was that Miss Mitchell seemed to take the side of the
"I can't have you day-girls coming in the evenings to rehearse!" she
decided. "No, I can't allow you to stay at four o'clock either, because
the boarders must get their walk before tea. It would upset all our
arrangements. Perhaps we may put some of you in a tableau, because that
really wouldn't need much preparation."
A tableau! The day-girls felt much insulted! Miss Mitchell, who had seen
them act in the history class, ought not thus to scout their talents.
Merle took the matter particularly to heart because of her adoration for
the new mistress. She was furiously jealous of the boarders, who could
sit at meal-times at the same table as her idol, and could indulge in
private chats with her during the evenings. Miss Mitchell was perfectly
well aware of Merle's infatuation, but did not encourage it too deeply.
She meant to be quite impartial, and to have no favourites. Moreover, she
was very modern and unsentimental, and disliked what she called
'schoolgirl gush.' She had been the subject of violent admirations
before, and knew how soon they were apt to cool down. She was perfectly
nice to Merle, but a little off-hand, and never showed her any
preference. This line of treatment rather aggravated Merle's symptoms
instead of curbing the tendency.
"I'll _make_ her like me!" she said to herself stubbornly.
The siege laid to the teacher's heart progressed slowly, partly because
Merle's tactics were noticed by the others and became somewhat of a joke.
Merle had placed a daily buttonhole of flowers upon the teacher's desk,
but, led by Muriel, the Fifth form rallied, and one morning each of them
appeared with a kindred posy and deposited her offering. Miss Mitchell
turned quite pink at the sight of the eleven floral trophies. She was not
absolutely sure how far it was meant for a 'rag.'
"This looks like a nature study competition!" she remarked. "I'm sure
it's very kind of you all to bring me flowers, but unless it's my
birthday or some special occasion I'm afraid I really don't know what to
do with them. You can put them all in water at eleven, Nesta, but you
mustn't waste time now fetching vases."
Merle, of course, never presented any flowers again. She brought a book
to school one day that she had heard Miss Mitchell express a wish to look
at, and, after lingering about in the classroom, plucked up courage to
interrupt her idol, who was correcting exercises, and offer the loan of
The mistress, with her finger held to mark her place, looked up and shook
"I've really no time for reading, thanks! At present my days are full
from morning till night."
As direct means failed Merle turned to indirect. She wrote anonymous
poems and popped them in the letter-box, hoping, however, that her
writing might be recognised. Whether Miss Mitchell read them or not is
uncertain; she made no mention at any rate of their receipt, and probably
dropped them in the waste-paper basket. Merle would have been far more
grieved over these repulses had there not been a counter interest at
home. At the beginning of November Dr. and Mrs. Ramsay left the north
altogether and came to settle at Durracombe. Naturally there were great
changes at Bridge House. Jessop--the invaluable Jessop, who had been so
many years in Dr. Tremayne's service--was leaving to take charge of a
widower brother, and a young parlour-maid was coming in her place.
Several rooms were cleared to make way for Dr. Ramsay's possessions, and
a large motor van arrived bearing some of his furniture from Whinburn.
Mrs. Ramsay was to have a little upstairs drawing-room of her own, in
which to deposit her special treasures, and her husband was to turn the
gun-room into his study. The delight and excitement of welcoming her
father and mother made Merle temporarily dethrone Miss Mitchell in her
heart. It was such fun to help to arrange all the things from home, and
see how nice they looked in their new surroundings. Then Dr. Ramsay had
brought his car, and of course Merle wanted to help to clean it and to go
out with her father in it and coax him to allow her to drive. Everybody
felt that it was ideal to have Mrs. Ramsay at Bridge House. She took the
place of a daughter to Aunt Nellie, who was somewhat of an invalid, and
would nurse her and manage the housekeeping for her instead of Jessop.
She had always loved her native county of Devon, and rejoiced to return
there instead of living in the north.
"I shall grow young again here!" she declared. "I'm going to try to find
time to do some sketching. I've hardly touched my paintbox for years.
Mavis and I must go out together and find subjects."
"While I drive Daddy about in the car!" decreed Merle. "I've told him I'm
going to be his chauffeur as soon as I leave school. He didn't jump at
the offer! Wasn't it ungrateful of him? He doesn't deserve to have a
daughter! Oh, well, yes, I _did_ run the car into the hedge
yesterday, but there was no damage done, after all."
Dr. Tremayne thoroughly welcomed Dr. Ramsay as his partner. The calls of
the practice had lately been growing too much for him, and he was glad to
be able to share the numerous visits, so the arrangement of joining
households was a satisfaction to all concerned. Jessop wept when it came
to the time of her departure.
"I've been here thirty-two years come Christmas!" she said. "I know it's
the best for everybody, but I do feel it. I'm fond of my brother, and
willing to look after him and the shop, but I'll miss the patients here!
I've known many of them since they were born. At my age it's hard to make
a change and settle down afresh."
"We'll motor over very often and see you, Jessop, and tell you all the
news," consoled Mavis.
"I'll always be glad to welcome you and Miss Merle whenever you come. Let
me know beforehand if you can, and I'll make you crumpets for your tea.
You always like my crumpets!"
"Nobody else in the world knows how to make them properly," Merle assured
her. "Those heavy things with holes in them that they sell in the shops
simply aren't fit to be called by the same name!"
With Mother in the background to consult about matters of difficulty
school seemed much easier, though not altogether without thorns. Last
summer term Merle had considered herself the chosen chum of Iva Westwood,
but now Iva had completely fallen into the arms of Kitty Trefyre. As they
were both boarders and in the same dormitory, it was perhaps only natural
they should be friends, yet it is never nice to be dropped, and Merle
thought hard things of Iva. If she could have kept her feelings locked in
her own breast it would not have mattered so much, but she was a true
daughter of Jupiter, and, when provoked, could not refrain from shooting
her arrows of bitter words. They quarrelled about the silliest trifles:
the loan of an indiarubber, the loss of a pencil, or some slight
differences of opinion, over which they would argue hotly. It was a pity,
for at bottom Iva was a nice girl, and was merely passing through a phase
from which she would probably soon have recovered if Merle would only
have let her alone. On her side she might very well have contended that
it is hard to be pinned to a single chum, and that she was perfectly at
liberty to make fresh friends if she wished without of necessity giving
offence to the old ones by so doing.
"Merle's so jealous!" she complained. "Why should she care? I'm sure I
don't mind her walking about the school arm-in-arm with Beata Castleton!"
That, however, was exactly the point. Merle wanted Iva to mind, and was
extremely annoyed because the incident left her unruffled.
One afternoon, in the musical appreciation class, the two had partly
patched up past squabbles, and, for a wonder, were sitting side by side.
The subject was 'Handel,' and for one of the illustrations Miss Mitchell
called upon Merle to play the celebrated 'Largo.' She went through her
performance quite creditably, took her music, and turned from the piano.
Then she saw that during her absence Kitty had commandeered her seat next
to Iva. For a moment Merle stood with a look of the blankest
consternation, not knowing where to go, till Mavis beckoned and made a
place for her, into which she thankfully slipped, squeezing her sister's
hand surreptitiously, and feeling there was no friend in all the world so
staunch as Mavis.
"If you wouldn't worry so over everybody, you'd get on better, dear!"
advised the latter.
"I can't help caring! I wasn't born calm. It all matters so very much to
me! What's the use of anything unless you care? You'd better swop me for
a nice, little, tame, harmless sister guaranteed never to squabble even
if people pull her hair, and always content to sit in the background
"She'd be very uninteresting!" laughed Mavis, bestowing a kiss upon
Merle's apple cheek. "I think I prefer to keep you, thanks!"
"Thunderstorms and all?"
"So long as they clear the air, certainly! But we expect to have sunshine
Miss Mitchell intended to wind up her course of lessons on musical
appreciation with a concert among the pupils, and certain of them had
been bidden to play or sing. Naturally those on whom the choice fell went
through agonies in the matter of practising. After hearing so much about
great composers and the proper interpretation of their works, it seemed
almost a liberty for schoolgirls to venture to give their rendering, and
all felt that their performances would be subjected to decided criticism.
"It's the audience that will make me nervous!" fluttered Merle. "If I
could play my piece when I'm alone and in the right mood and get a
gramophone record taken of it that could be put on at the concert, I
shouldn't mind. It would be rather fun sitting in a corner and listening
to my own playing. Something like seeing my own ghost, wouldn't it?"
Mavis, Merle, Muriel, and Edith were all down for piano solos, Beata was
to bring her violin, and Nesta, Iva, and Kitty were to sing. They would
all do their best, but none had reached a very high level in the matter
of attainment. Miss Mitchell, with memories of the splendid talent
mustered at St. Cyprian's College in her own schooldays, felt that the
concert would be a most modest affair.
"I wish we could get one or two good performers to come and help us!" she
"Durracombe isn't at all a musical place," admitted Miss Fanny. "There
really isn't anybody whom we could ask. Mrs. Carey used to play, but
she's out of practice and I'm sure she wouldn't venture before a roomful
"It would be rather an ordeal, I own."
About ten days before the event was to take place Muriel Burnitt had a
tea-party at her own home to which she invited Miss Fanny, Miss Mitchell,
and the elder boarders, asked them to bring their music, and went through
all the programme of the little concert. It, in fact, answered the
purpose of a dress rehearsal.
Mavis and Merle had not been included in the invitation and they were
very much hurt.
"Muriel asked Beata, only she couldn't come. I know because Romola told
me so. She even asked Babbie Williams!"
[Illustration: SHE HAD BROUGHT HER WONDERFUL STRADIVARIUS VIOLIN]
"It's most mean of her to miss us out!"
"When we're playing solos, too!"
The boarders talked tremendously about the pleasant evening they had had,
and how very much they had enjoyed themselves.
"Muriel's aunt will be staying with her next week, and she's going to
persuade her to sing at the concert!" said Iva. "She has a beautiful
voice, and it will give things such a lift. Miss Mitchell is as pleased
as Punch about it, and says that's just what we want. We ought to have
one or two musical stars to make it go."
Muriel, who felt she had scored by securing a singer, took up a rather
lofty attitude and made herself so objectionable that Merle raved in
private, and even gentle Mavis was ruffled. They poured out their
grievances at home.
"What's the date of the concert?" asked Mrs. Ramsay. "The 17th? Well, I
have an idea! No! I don't mean to tell you now in case my scheme doesn't
"What is it, Mummie? I'm curious."
"That's my secret! Take my advice and don't worry any more about Muriel.
Things will probably turn out even in the end."
In spite of coaxing Mother refused to explain herself further, and it was
only when a few days had gone by, and they had almost forgotten the
incident, that one morning she opened a letter, read it, and clapped her
hands in triumph.
"I've some lovely news for you! Cousin Sheila is coming to stay with us
on the 16th, and she's actually bringing her friend Mildred Lancaster,
the famous violinist! You know they both went to St. Cyprian's and were
in the same form with Miss Mitchell. She'll be so pleased to meet them
again! Cousin Sheila says Miss Lancaster promises to play at your school
concert. Isn't that an honour? It will be something for you to tell Miss
Mitchell, won't it? We'll ask her and Miss Fanny and some of the girls to
tea while our visitors are here!"
This was indeed a delightful surprise. The name of Mildred Lancaster was
one to conjure with in musical circles. She had just completed a most
successful tour in Australia and America, and had won great applause. She
was booked to give a recital in Exeter on the 15th, so that she would be
in the neighbourhood and able easily to come on to Durracombe. She made
her headquarters at Kirkton, so Mrs. Ramsay explained, but travelled much
about the country playing at concerts. She was to be married in the
spring to her old friend, Rodney Somerville, to whom she had been engaged
for some years, but she did not intend to give up her music, and hoped
still to make frequent public appearances.
"They're to have a flat in town," read Mother from Cousin Sheila's
letter. "I'm so glad it's settled that way, because I want Mildred to be
happy, yet it would be a wicked shame if she flung her talent to the
winds, as some girls do when they marry. She'll have her own little home
and yet go on with her career. I call it ideal!"
Mavis and Merle danced off to school simply brimming over with their
news. It certainly had the desired effect. Miss Mitchell was very much
thrilled at the prospect of meeting her old friends, and highly
appreciated the privilege of a violin solo at the concert. The girls
were, of course, most excited, except the performers, who nearly had
hysterics at the prospect of playing before so great a musical star.
"I shall leave my violin at home!" wailed Beata.
"Nonsense! You'll find nobody more kind and encouraging than Miss
Lancaster," said Miss Mitchell. "It isn't the great artists who find
fault--they understand the difficulties only too well--it's the carping
critics who can't perform themselves and yet think they know all about
it! Do your best and no one will expect you to do any more!"
It was a great day for Mavis and Merle when their visitors arrived. They
were fond of Cousin Sheila and welcomed her on her own account. With her
companion they readily fell in love. Mildred Lancaster was a most
charming personality, and although she had been so feted on concert
platforms, she was absolutely simple and unaffected in private life. She
had brought her wonderful Stradivarius violin, upon which she always
played, and she took it out of its case and allowed the girls to admire
its graceful curves, and its fine old varnish.
"It's my mascot!" she said. "I've had it all my life, and if anything
were to happen to it I believe I'd give up music! It's been a great
traveller, and always stays in my berth on sea voyages."
To say that the Ramsays were proud to escort Miss Lancaster and her
Stradivarius to 'The Moorings' hardly describes their elation. A few
parents and friends had been asked, so that with the school there was
quite a large audience. It was arranged to take the girls' part of the
programme first, and the visitors' solos afterwards, a proceeding for
which the young performers were devoutly thankful. They got through their
pieces very creditably, especially Beata, who won warm praise from Miss
"That child's artistic and will make a musician if she goes on with it.
She puts _herself_ into her playing."
"They're rather a remarkable family. Her sister is studying singing in
London," purred Miss Pollard, pleased to have one of her pupils thus
The treat of the afternoon was when Mildred Lancaster began to play, and
her entire mastery of her instrument was a revelation to most of the
girls. They had never before had the opportunity of listening to such
"The gramophone will sound like a ghost after this, however good the
records!" declared Iva. "I wish I could hear her again."
"Miss Fanny's bringing fourteen of you to tea to-morrow--hasn't she told
you yet?" exulted Merle.
Muriel had also been included in the invitation in spite of her previous
"It hurt _you_ to be left out, so don't inflict the same feeling on
anybody else!" urged Mrs. Ramsay when her younger daughter demurred. "Two
blacks never make a white! The best way of 'getting even' with people is
to do them a kindness. That stops the whole thing and sets it into a
different groove. Ask Muriel if her aunt will come too. She sings
beautifully, and perhaps she will bring her music."
The Ramsays' 'Musical At Home' was remembered for a long time by those
girls who were present at it. Mother was a clever hostess, and she
managed to put all her guests at ease and raise that magic atmosphere of
enjoyment which only certain people seem able to create. The drawing-room
looked charming with late flowers in its vases and a blazing log fire.
Miss Mitchell, having snatched a private chat with her two old school
friends, was radiant. Jessop, who had heard full details of the occasion,
had insisted on coming over to bake the cakes, and hovered in the
background like a beneficent deity, sending in fresh batches of hot
crumpets. There were chocolates in little silver bonbonnieres and even
crackers, though it was not yet Christmas. Aunt Nellie was there and
enjoyed the music, and Dr. Tremayne and Dr. Ramsay joined them before the
performance was over.
"Wasn't it a triumph? I think we know how to give a party!" rejoiced
Merle in private afterwards.
"Yes, when Mother pulls the strings!" agreed Mavis.
The end of the term was, to use Merle's expression, 'a little thin.' Miss
Mitchell did not seem disposed to make any very great fuss about it, and
merely set aside the last hour of the last afternoon for the play which
the boarders had prepared. She suggested, indeed, that the day-girls
might get up some tableaux, but as no one evinced any enthusiasm the
"Tableaux are rather tame unless you have most beautiful dresses,"
"It really isn't worth our while bothering over them," agreed Merle.
They were decidedly disappointed to have no chance to exhibit their own
dramatic talents, but they were 'sporting' enough to give a hearty clap
to the boarders' performance, a really magnanimous attitude on the part
of Mavis, who had lent a pale pink silk dress to Nesta, and watched
candle grease dropping down the front of it as that heroine pretended to
investigate a smuggler's cellar with a light.
"Never mind! We'll have some acting of our own in the hols," she
whispered to Merle, who sat next to her.
"Rather! And it will beat this simply into fits, though of course I
shan't tell them so."
The holidays this Christmas were to compensate for every disagreeable
thing that had happened in the course of the term. First and foremost,
and this ought to be written in big letters like a poster heading, BEVIS
WAS COMING TO STAY. Mrs. Ramsay had invited him for a three weeks' visit
to Bridge House, and he was to arrive on December 23rd. He had always
been a great favourite with Dr. Tremayne, who thought that the boy's
position was rather a lonely one, and that on this first Christmas in
particular, after the solution of the mystery of his birth, he would feel
the lack of any family of his own and would be glad to be welcomed by
Naturally, to Mavis and Merle this was the event of greatest importance,
but there was to be another pleasant happening as well. Cousin Clive was
also coming to spend the holidays. He was Dr. Tremayne's grandson and his
home was in London. The girls had never seen him, as he had not paid a
visit to Durracombe during the last year, and they were very curious to
know what he was like. Any misgivings which they may have cherished
vanished instantly, however, at the first sight of Clive. He was a very
big boy of twelve, as tall as Merle, with merry grey eyes that looked
capable of fun. He was, of course, full of the affairs of his own
preparatory school, but as he found they were ready to listen to his
accounts of football matches or dormitory 'rags' he took them into his
masculine confidence and extended the hand of friendship. He showed a
particular fancy for Merle, whose robuster constitution allowed her to
tear about with him and indulge in some rather hoydenish performances.
"You're a thorough tomboy!" said Mother, having called her younger
daughter down from the coach-house roof, whither she had climbed in
company with her cousin.
"Well, you see, Mummie dear, I have to amuse Clive!" was always Merle's
excuse. "If I didn't keep him quiet he'd kick up no end of a racket and
disturb Aunt Nellie. It's really very kind of me!"
"There's a large spice of enjoyment mixed with the philanthropy!"
"Well, that's the right spirit. We ought to enjoy our own good deeds!"
As Aunt Nellie was really a consideration in regard to noise, the young
people had taken over the harness room as a temporary boudoir during the
holidays. They carried down some basket chairs, tacked a few coloured
pictures from annuals on its bare walls, and made it look quite pretty.
Tom lighted them a blazing fire every day, and tended it during their
absence with the care of a vestal virgin, so they were extremely cosy and
jolly there. The joiner's bench and the glue-pot gave facilities for any
hobbies they wished to carry on; they could make as much noise as they
liked, and walk in and out with dirty boots, unreproved.
To Bevis this visit was elysium. All his experiences of young people had
been confined to school, and he had never before spent such a holiday.
"It's grand to be in a home like this!" he said, once, to Mavis. "I can't
help thinking, sometimes, how different life would have been to me if my
mother had lived. It's hard not to have even the slightest remembrance of
her. Suppose she had been here now and living at 'The Warren'!"
"You'll go there yourself some day."
"Perhaps. It'll be rather a forlorn business though, being in that big
house with only a pack of servants. I believe I'll take a voyage round
the world in a yacht. The fact is I can't quite see my future. I'm going
to Cambridge, but after that things are vague. I always had dreams of a
profession, but the lawyers say I ought to settle down on the estate.
What's a fellow to do?"
"I wouldn't worry your head about it yet. There'll be plenty of time to
think things over while you're at College," counselled Mavis. "Enjoy your
holidays at any rate."
"No mistake about that. I'm having the luck of my life!"
It was only to Mavis's sympathetic ear that Bevis poured out these
confidences. With Merle he was on different terms. He called her
'Soeurette' (little sister) and was always ready for some joke with her.
She and Clive together led him a lively time, as well as keeping him busy
helping them to make boxes, build a boat, and several other joinering
"It does Bevis all the good in the world to be teased!" declared Merle.
"He certainly gets it, then!" laughed Mavis.
One special grievance had Merle. Bevis had devoted some of his spare time
at Shelton College to taking motoring lessons, for he hoped to buy a car
some day, and he could now drive so well that Dr. Ramsay trusted him at
"It's too bad!" declared that indignant damsel. "Just because Mother's
nervous and thinks I'm going to run her into the ditch! Wait till I've
had _my_ course of motoring lessons! I'll take the shine out of
Bevis! See if I don't!"
"You shall try my motor bike, if you like, Soeurette!" consoled Bevis.
"That's to say, if they'll allow you."
"Don't, for goodness' sake, ask anybody, but just take it out on the
quiet and I'll guarantee to ride it. Let's do it this very afternoon!"
returned Merle, somewhat pacified.
On the whole the weather had proved exceedingly wet, so with the
exceptions of a few runs in the car with the hood up, they had not
ventured very far away, and had mostly taken walks in the neighbourhood.
Bevis naturally wished to explore the Durracombe district, and they had
not been to Chagmouth since his arrival, and knew nothing of what was
going on there. One drizzling morning, however, when they were all
sitting in the harness room, they heard a clatter of hoofs and then a
shout in the stable yard, and looking out of the window saw Tudor
Williams on his little horse, Armorelle. The girls ran out at once.
"I say! How d'you do?" said Tudor. "Isn't your man about anywhere to take
"Tom's in the greenhouse, I'll fetch him!" and Merle darted across the
"Have you come to see Uncle?" asked Mavis, stroking Armorelle's satin
"No, I've a message from the Mater for you and Merle. Oh, here's your
groom! Yes, just give her a wipe down, please" (as Tom led Armorelle away
to the stable), "she's too fat and gets easily hot! Ugh! It's rather a
horrid day. The Mater wanted to send me in the car, but I said I'd rather
"Won't you come into the house?" asked Mavis.
"Or into our den?" invited Merle. "We've made the harness room into a
"By Jove! Not a bad idea, that! Yes, take me there. I'm too splashed to
be fit for the drawing-room. I say, this is no end! What a decent fire
"You know Bevis? And this is our Cousin Clive," said Mavis, performing
Tudor nodded, flung himself into a basket chair and looked round the room
with some amusement.
"It's like you two!" he vouchsafed. "_I_ should never have thought
of taking over the harness room! 'Pon my word, it's cosy! You won't want
to turn out when I tell you what I've come for!"
"Turn out where?"
"Well, it's a long story. You see there are some new
people come to live in Chagmouth--an artist with a family about a yard
long. Of course, the Mater goes and calls and gushes and comes back
talking about beauty and talent and all the rest of it. She's an eye to
business though, has the Mater! Mr. Colville had asked her to get up a
concert in aid of something or other, I don't know what it's for! The new
Vicar's as bad as the old one for wanting money, and the Mater's
perpetually raising the wind for the parish with entertainments. She's
worked all her local stars rather hard, so you can imagine she pounced
upon anybody new, and got them to promise about half the programme. She
came back purring. There was the other half of the programme, though, to
be fixed up. The Girl Guides had learnt a dialogue, so she said they
might as well act it, and she had the posters printed and sent the school
children round selling tickets."
"Well?" said Mavis, as Tudor paused for breath.
"I'm coming to the point fast enough! It seems the principal characters
in the dialogue are three sisters, and yesterday one of them developed
measles! The other two are contact cases and, of course, they're not
allowed on the boards. You can't act 'Hamlet' without the Prince of
Denmark and Ophelia and Polonius! It's the same business here. The
dialogue has collapsed like a pricked balloon!"
"Have they no understudies?"
"Never heard of such things, and say it would take them six weeks to
train any one else in the parts, besides which the others say they
wouldn't dream of doing it without Gertie and Florrie or whatever their
names are. The Mater sprinted round the village trying to fill up her
empty programme but all her stars were huffy because they hadn't been
asked before, and they said they had colds or they wanted to go to their
grandmothers' funerals, or some such excuse. Back comes the Mater almost
in tears and says she really doesn't know whatever she's going to do
about it, and there never was such a fiasco, etc. Then Babbie suggested
'Send for Mavis and Merle, they'll help you out.' Mother jumped to it
like a drowning man at a rope. So I trotted off immediately after
breakfast to ask if you'll come to the rescue."
"O-o-h! But when is the concert?"
"To-night at 7 prompt."
"Great Scott! We can't!"
"Yes, you can! Any of those impromptu things you give will simply delight
people. They've paid their shillings and their sixpences to see some
acting and they don't mind what it's like so long as it makes them laugh
and they get their money's worth. The Mater'll send the car over for you
after lunch and she'll put you up for the night--you, Talland, too, and
you," nodding to Clive. "Be sporting, all of you, and come!"
"Could we possibly get through the thing we did last night?" hesitated
Mavis, looking at the others.
"Let's try," decided Merle. "It's all gag, Tudor, and if we get stage
fright and can't go on we shall just have to walk off, that's how it is."
"You won't do that! I say, you know, it's most awfully kind of you! The
Mater will be _so_ relieved. She'd have written a note but there was
some other hitch about the refreshments and she was interviewing the
schoolmaster. Shall we send the car at three? Then I'd better hurry home
now and set the Mater's mind at rest."
"Wait, Tudor! We haven't asked Mother yet."
"Oh, didn't I tell you? I met Dr. and Mrs. Ramsay in your car and stopped
them, and they both said 'Go, by all means.'"
"Well, we've let ourselves in for something!" exclaimed Mavis as Tudor
rode away on Armorelle. "It was your fault, Merle!"
"No, it wasn't, it was yours! I think it will be rather fun! Cheer up,
Bevis! Don't look such a scared owl! Here's old Clive absolutely
peacocking at the idea."
"If I'm to be Isabella?" grinned Clive.
"Of course, if I'm Augustus!"
"Who says I can't? The joke of it will be that nobody'll know. Clive and
I are the same height and really rather alike, and if we change clothes
they'll all think _he's_ Augustus and _I'm_ Isabella."
"Will anybody recognise me as Uncle Cashbags?" groaned Bevis.
"Not your nearest and dearest. Be as gruff as you can, and limp as you
did last night. We're not going to let you off! Don't you think it! Why,
we couldn't possibly do the piece without you!"
The young people, ostensibly for the entertainment of their elders, but
largely for the amusement of themselves, had been acting in the evenings
to an audience of Aunt Nellie, Uncle David, and Father and Mother. Their
last performance had really been so successful that they felt they might
venture to give it in so great an emergency. They began at once to pack
their various properties.
"Rather a score to be asked to appear on a public platform! I wish Miss
Mitchell could be there to see us!" triumphed Merle.
"The joke is that I don't believe Chagmouth people will recognise any of
us," said Mavis, hunting for a pair of spectacles she had mislaid. "I'm
going to bargain that our names aren't announced beforehand."
"Right-o! The audience can imagine we're a London Company on tour in the
provinces, or anything else they like. They'll think far more of us if
they don't know who we are till afterwards. Tudor mustn't give us away!"
Facing the Footlights
The big five-seater car came punctually at three and conveyed the young
people and all their belongings to The Warren, where their arrival caused
"You've saved us from a most awkward predicament," declared Mrs. Glyn
Williams. "I hardly know how to thank you. Wasn't it clever of Babbie to
think of it?"
"We've never forgotten how you did a scene here once!" said Tudor.
"Couldn't do it myself to save my life! And Gwen says the same. Oh, here
she is! I was looking for you, Gwen! Here are the Ramsays, and Talland."
The Gwen who advanced to shake hands was so different from their old
acquaintance that the girls felt they scarcely would have recognised her.
She did her hair in a new fashion, and was wonderfully grown-up, and even
more patronising than formerly. She said a languid "How d'you do," then
left Babbie to entertain them, which the latter did with enthusiasm, for
she was fond of Mavis and Merle.
"I expect you're thinking of all the improvements you'll make here when
you come of age?" said Mrs. Glyn Williams, trying to be pleasant to Bevis
over the tea-cups. "It's a nice place, and will really look very well
when it's been redecorated. You'll have to do it up for your bride, won't
At which joke Bevis blushed crimson and dropped his cake on the carpet,
to his own confusion and the delight of the fox-terrier Jim, who thought
it was done for his especial benefit, and promptly swallowed the piece,
icing and all.
"I don't want to hurry you to turn out," protested Bevis shyly.
"Oh, we shall have Bodoran Hall ready by that time. We were there last
week looking at the new building. The workmen are really beginning to get
on with it at last."
"You'll have to build fresh stables here, Talland, if you mean to do any
decent hunting," advised Tudor airily. "If I were you I'd get those
lawyers to start them at once, then they'd be ready when you want them. I
suppose you _will_ hunt?"
"I'm not sure yet what I mean to do," replied Bevis guardedly.
He did not like so much catechism about his future plans. In the old days
of his poverty he had never admired the Glyn Williams' ideals of life,
and he had no wish to mould himself upon their standards. The sporting
landlord, with a horizon bounded by the local meet or a county ball, was
a type that did not appeal to him, and he saw no reason why he should be
forced by a spurious public opinion into lines that were uncongenial.
Though on the surface he and Tudor were friends, at bottom the old
antagonism existed as in the days when they had quarrelled on the cliffs
near Blackthorn Bower.
It was only to please Mavis and Merle that he had accepted this
invitation to The Warren, where he found himself in the peculiar position
of being patronised in his own house.
With Bevis rather gloomy and restrained, Tudor slightly aggressive, and
Gwen too fashionable to trouble to entertain her old friends, matters
were not as exhilarating as they might have been, and everybody seemed
relieved when it was time to walk down to the Institute.
"I suppose I shall have to go!" yawned Gwen. "These village concerts of
Mother's are _such_ a nuisance! Why can't the people get up their
own instead of always expecting her to bother with them! _I_ don't
want to hear Miss Smith and Miss Brown and Miss Robinson! It bores me
"Not very polite of her when _we_ are are going to act!" whispered
Merle to Mavis as they put on their hats.
"It certainly isn't! But Gwen's always like this. I vote we try not to
mind," returned Mavis heroically.
The entertainment was to be given in the local Institute, which was
fitted with a platform and curtain, but otherwise held no great
facilities for theatricals. A large and very unruly crowd of young people
were outside waiting for admission, and through these our party had to
push their way to a side entrance. At the back of the platform great
confusion raged. The whole of the Castleton family seemed to be trying to
dress one another among a rich jumble of costumes, while Mr. Castleton,
altering the poses in his tableaux at the eleventh hour, kept sending
messengers home to his studio for articles which he had forgotten.
"The pantry's the only place for the Ladies' Dressing-Room, and it's full
of tea-cups!" said Beata, kneeling on the floor to button Lilith into a
mediaeval robe that reached to her toes.
"Tea-cups or no tea-cups, I'll have to use it!" said Merle. "Come with
us, Romola, and mount guard over the door while we change. I'm not going
to have all the parish popping in. How sublime you look!"
"Very hot and uncomfortable!" sighed Romola. "I'd put on the blue costume
and then Dad suddenly altered the whole tableau and made me get into this
instead. Wasn't it tiresome of him? Now he's fussing about and I know we
shall be late! We always are!"
"So shall we be if we don't hurry up. Have you got the right bag, Mavis?
Oh, here are some of Bevis's things! I must rush out and give them to him
before we begin."
Dressing in a pantry full of tea-cups, by the aid of candles and a hand-
mirror, was not at all an easy performance, but the girls did their best
for one another and were pleased with the result. As soon as they were
ready they went to help Bevis and Clive, who needed much assistance, and
were beginning to suffer from stage-fright.
"I was a silly owl to let myself in for it!" groaned the former. "I
expect I'll forget every word I ought to say and disgrace myself!"
"You'll do nothing of the sort!" declared Merle firmly. "If you could act
it last night you can act it to-night, so don't be ridiculous. You've
just _got_ to--there!"
"All right, Soeurette! Don't get baity! I won't let you down if I can
The audience by this time had been admitted, and had surged into the room
and struggled for seats, slightly restrained by the boy scouts, who were
acting as stewards, and who vigorously turned out the rank and file if
they invaded the reserved benches. The noise was tremendous, everybody
was talking, and rough lads at the back were indulging in whistling and
an occasional cat-call.
"The tickets have gone well, at any rate," said Nan Colville, who was
helping in one of the tableaux. "It's something to have the room full,
Dad says! But just listen to them! Aren't they rowdy?"
"If everybody's ready we really _must_ begin!" declared the Vicar,
making a hurried visit behind the scenes. "I don't think they'll wait any
Furious stamping from the audience endorsed his words, so Mr. Castleton,
who had contemplated yet another alteration, was obliged to be content
and allow the curtain to go up. The scene was 'the first meeting of Dante
and Beatrice,' and was a charming presentment of mediaeval Italy.
Constable, robed in pale green velvet with a Florentine cap on his
picturesque curls, made a very glorified representation of the youthful
poet, while Lilith, in the traditional red dress described in the _Vita
Nuova_, looked ethereal enough to inspire a lifelong devotion and
whole volumes of poems.
The rest of the Castleton family, and a few friends, were grouped as
relations and nobles, in some of the richest dresses of the studio, and
made a very brave show, evoking much applause. It was years since the
villagers had seen 'Living Pictures,' and this was superior to anything
of the sort given before. Without the Castletons the entertainment would
have been almost non-existent. They provided the greater half of the
programme. They were so accustomed to posing as models that they took
most graceful positions in the tableaux, and preserved their postures
admirably without moving so much as a finger. They included Babbie in a
scene from _The Vicar of Wakefield_, and she made a dear little
'Sophia' in muslin dress and mob cap, hugely to her mother's
Morland, who was at home for Christmas, gave two piano solos, and though
his beautiful artistic playing was much above the heads of most of the
audience, there were some who were musical enough to enjoy it. Everybody
appreciated Claudia's songs. Her voice was of a rare quality, and even
the rough lads at the back of the room stopped 'ragging' and listened in
silence. It was very highly trained singing, but held that divine throb
of passion which uses art as the instrument of nature, and united the
correctness of a musician with the spontaneous carolling of a bird. With
youth and so pretty a face added to her talent it was no wonder that
Claudia had an ovation.
"I'm not supposed to sing anywhere in public till I've finished with the
college," she announced behind the scenes. "Signer Arezzo would be simply
furious if he knew. He's a terrible Turk about it. I don't see how he's
going to get to hear about it though! I shan't tell him myself, you may
Fay, who had considerable skill at elocution, gave a most amusing
recitation, to which Morland played a very soft and subdued accompaniment
on the piano, and for the encore that followed she repeated some quaint
poems of American child-life, which were such a success that the Vicar
mentally voted her a discovery, and decided to ask her to help the
programme on future occasions.
It was now the turn of our party from Durracombe, who were trying to keep
up one another's spirits behind the scenes. The audience, owing to long
sitting still, was growing a little obstreperous. The chairman had to
keep constantly ringing a bell and reminding people to be quiet. The
noise at the back waxed so violent that his voice could hardly be heard,
and the occupants of the front seats had to turn round and shout,
'Order!' 'You'll be turned out!' before the delinquents preserved a
decent hush. The little piece evolved by Mavis and Merle was entitled:
_A Rich Relation._
The first scene disclosed Mrs. Hardup, a widow lady, lamenting her lack
of means, and regretting that her son, Augustus, should have engaged
himself to Isabella, a charming but utterly impecunious damsel. She
cheered up, however, when the young people came in bearing a letter; for
it was from Uncle Cashbags, their rich relation, announcing that he was
coming that very day to have lunch with them. Mavis, as the diplomatic
widow, with grey hair and tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles, looked at
least fifty, and preserved her disguise admirably. As for Merle, not a
soul in the audience would have recognised her as Augustus. She wore
Clive's Eton suit and overcoat, had a brown wig and a moustache, and
affected a deep-toned fashionable drawl. Clive, arrayed in some of Mrs.
Ramsay's garments, with a hat and veil and a fur, looked a thorough
member of the smart set and acted the most modern of modern damsels. He
entered, affectionately leaning on the arm of Augustus, and almost
embarrassed that youth by his attentions.
Bevis, as Uncle Cashbags, with white hair, long beard, false eyebrows,
and a gouty foot, came limping on to the stage, and was received with
effusion by the widow and Augustus, and especially by Isabella, who was a
minx, and set herself to captivate the old gentleman. In vain the
luckless Augustus tried to ingratiate himself with his rich relation; he
was unfortunate enough to tumble over the gouty leg and make several
other most exasperating mistakes, which ended in Uncle Cashbags
wrathfully repudiating him as his heir, and announcing his intention of
marrying Isabella himself, finally hobbling away with the fair and
faithless damsel clinging fondly to his arm and blowing a good-bye kiss
to her former fiance.
Mischievous Clive was in his element, and played the part with such
tremendous zeal that the audience, who had not yet grasped his youth and
his sex, watched his manoeuvres breathlessly, and several old ladies
looked quite scandalised and disapproving. It was only when called before
the curtain that, at a whisper from Mavis, he pulled off hat and veil,
revealing his unmistakably boyish head, whereupon a great shout of
laughter arose from the benches and a perfect storm of applause.
"It has been capital! Capital!" said Mrs. Glyn Williams. "One of the best
entertainments we've ever had at the Institute! Didn't Babbie look sweet
as 'Sophia'? We must have some more tableaux another time. Gwen, you
ought to have been in too! The Castletons were splendid! Such a number of
nice young people here! We ought to have a little dance. They must all
come up to The Warren to-morrow evening, and we'll clear the drawing-room.
I'll telephone to Dr. Tremayne and say I'm keeping you four till
Friday. Your dresses? Oh, we'll send over for them. I'm sure your Mother
won't mind your staying!"
There was no possibility of refusal, for Mrs. Glyn Williams had quite
settled the matter, and invited the Castletons and the Macleods and the
Colvilles and several other people on the spot. The Ramsays, who had made
plans of their own for the following evening, felt a little caught,
especially as Bevis looked glum and reproachful.
"How _could_ you?" he said to Mavis in an agonized whisper.
"How could I help it?"
"We were shot sitting," murmured Merle. "Cheer up, Bevis! A dance is a
dance, anyway. I hope I haven't spoilt Clive's Etons for him!"
Mrs. Glyn Williams really meant to be very kind and to give the young
people pleasure, and if Bevis did not entirely appreciate her hospitality
it was no doubt his own fault. The fact was that the snubs which he had
received as Bevis Hunter still rankled, and though as Bevis Talland he
was on a very different footing, he found it difficult entirely to forget
all that had gone before.
"I was exactly the same as I am now, but no one would notice me till I
came into the estate--except you and Merle!" he said once rather bitterly
to Mavis. "I sometimes feel their friendship is hardly worth having!"
"It's the way of the world, and you have to take people just as they
are," she replied. "It's no use keeping up ill-feeling, Bevis. If they
hold out the olive branch, it's more gracious to accept it, isn't it?"
"Oh, I'll behave myself! But all the same, I discriminate between my old
friends and my new acquaintances; I'd rather not call them by the name of
There were great preparations next day at The Warren. The furniture was
carried out of the drawing-room, the parquet floor was polished, and
Chinese lanterns were hung up in the conservatory, and the cook was busy
preparing light refreshments. It was a pretty house for a dance, and
looked very gay and festive with its Christmas decorations of holly and
ivy, and its blazing fire of logs in the hall. Mavis's and Merle's party
dresses duly arrived, and they made careful toilets, coming downstairs
shyly, to feel a little in the shade by the side of Gwen the magnificent,
who, alack! was trying to copy the up-to-date manners of some of her new
school friends, with rather unhappy results. Perhaps kind little Babbie
noticed the Ramsays' embarrassment, for she went to them at once to give
them their programmes.
"How nice you look!" she said. "Isn't it always a horrid time, just when
every one is arriving? It's ever so much nicer when the first dance has
There were a great many people present whom Mavis and Merle did not know.
Some of these were introduced by Tudor, and asked for dances, and very
soon the sisters were separated and gliding over the polished floor with
Mrs. Glyn Williams, having welcomed the young guests, retired to a sofa
for a chat with some other dowagers, and left them to fill up their
programmes as they liked. There were far more ladies present than
gentlemen, so it was a case of girls dancing with one another. Merle
readily whisked away with Tattie, or Nan, or Lizzie, but shy Mavis, after
the first two-step, stood in a corner unnoticed. Gwen was enjoying
herself very much with the pick of the partners, Beata and Romola floated
by together, and Clive was carefully performing his steps in company with
a much amused married lady. Mavis acted wallflower for several dances,
feeling considerably out of it, till Bevis's voice sounded suddenly in
"Why, here you are! I've been looking for you everywhere! How many dances
can you give me? I've kept my programme as free as I could till I found
you. I thought the pixies must have spirited you away! What did you say?
I ought to ask Gwen? It isn't necessary in the least. You know I'm a
duffer at it, and I should probably tread on her toes and she'd hate me
for evermore. May I have these four?"
"Give half to Merle!"
"Soeurette's perfectly happy with the kids! If you won't let me have them
I won't dance at all. I'll hide in the conservatory, or run away into the
garden. You promised to be my teacher!"
"So I will, but I feel I mustn't monopolise you. Oh, dear! Well, if
you've written them down I suppose it will have to be!"
"May I have the pleasure, Miss Ramsay?" twinkled Bevis, offering his arm.
"Thanks very much! You may!" laughed Mavis.
"I'm always glad when I get my own way!" chuckled Bevis, as they started
Three of the dances which Bevis had appropriated on Mavis's programme
came in succession, and as their steps went well together they thoroughly
enjoyed themselves. At the close of the third they were walking into the
hall to get lemonade when Mrs. Glyn Williams smilingly stopped them.
"I want to introduce you to some fresh partners. There are plenty of
people anxious to know you!" she said to Bevis archly. Then, tapping
Mavis with her fan, she continued, laughing, "Naughty girl! You mustn't
keep him _all_ to yourself! I really _can't!_ allow it!"
Poor Mavis blushed magenta, and stood aside while her hostess whisked the
unwilling Bevis away and remorselessly fixed up the rest of his programme
for him. She did not attempt to find a partner for Mavis, who was too
overwhelmed with confusion to care to dance even with Lizzie Colville,
and who backed towards the piano and began to turn over the music.
Inwardly Mavis was raging, though she had sufficient pride to preserve an
"If there's anything here you know I'd be grateful if you could play it
and give me a rest, my hands are so stiff," said Mrs. Colville, who had
volunteered to act as pianist for the evening.
"I'll try with pleasure!" answered Mavis, taking her place.
She was glad to have an excuse for not dancing. She only wished she could
have run away from The Warren and gone straight home and poured out her
troubles to her mother. The Glyn Williams had cut Bevis in the old days
and poured scorn on the Ramsays for knowing him, and it seemed too bad
that their present hospitality to him should still be a subject for
blame. Mavis's pride kept her at the piano all the rest of the evening.
She was a good reader, and assured Mrs. Colville that she liked playing.
She shook her head when Bevis came for his fourth dance.
"_Please_ get another partner! I'm busy here! Mrs. Glyn Williams
will find you somebody!"
Whereupon Bevis, muttering very uncomplimentary remarks about his hostess
under his breath, deliberately passed by several eligible wallflowers,
chose out the youngest child in the room, and led her off in a valse.
Merle, who was still an absolute schoolgirl and revelled in anything in
the nature of a party, enjoyed her evening supremely. Mavis was very glad
when it was all over and she was quiet in bed. Some new element seemed to
have entered to-night into her old happy world and to have rubbed the
bloom off her innocent friendship with Bevis.
"It was so jolly in the old days when we hunted for primroses and had
picnics in Blackthorn Bower!" she thought. "It's not ourselves who have
changed, but other people who won't allow us to be the same. Why couldn't
things go on as they were? If this is society I don't like it! Oh, dear!
I wish we could always stay exactly as we are and never grow up at all!"
When the Christmas holidays were over, a very important decision was
arrived at with regard to Clive. For many reasons his parents considered
his preparatory school too strenuous for him, and, as he had considerably
outgrown his strength, it was arranged to allow him to miss the spring
term and to stay at Durracombe until Easter. He was to go every morning
to the Vicarage for private lessons from Mr. Carey, and he was to be out
of doors as much as possible, drink plenty of milk, and try, as his
grandfather expressed it, to 'put on flesh.' Master Clive himself was
only too well content to have what he justly considered a continuation of
his holidays. He did not mean to be too clever over his lessons at the
Vicarage, and, indeed, he planned to make a little work go a long way.
Being out of doors as much as possible suited him exactly. He strutted
about Durracombe, with a rolling naval walk, making friends with
everybody, and telling them he had quite determined to go to sea and
become an Admiral. He went out motoring with his grandfather or Dr.
Ramsay, and he spent a considerable portion of time with Tom, the old
gardener, who was long-suffering in many ways, though roused to wrath by
any injury to his young bedding-out plants. Mrs. Ramsay 'mothered' Clive,
feeling it was some return for the kindness which Uncle David had shown
to her own girls. She grew fond of the young scapegrace and covered his
escapades as far as possible, so as not to alarm nervous Aunt Nellie, who
would have been much perturbed at some of her grandson's reckless
There was no harm about Clive; he was simply a young, restless, fast-
growing boy, who constantly wanted fresh outlets for his energies. He
loved to tease his cousins, but met his match in Merle, who generally
turned the tables and carried the war into the enemy's camp. When they
were not sparring or playing jokes upon one another, the two were firm
allies. Merle had always wished for a brother, and lively Clive was a
companion after her own heart. Mrs. Ramsay, indeed, complained that her
younger daughter was becoming an utter tomboy, but she was glad for the
two to be together, as she could trust Merle not to allow her cousin to
go too far, and to keep him from endangering either his own limbs or the
safety and comfort of other people.
The Spring term had advanced only a few weeks when a most untoward thing
happened. Merle got mumps! How she picked them up nobody knew, but, as
mother said, in a doctor's house you may always be prepared to catch
anything, and it was a marvel the children had had so few complaints.
Merle was not really very ill, but her face and neck were swollen and
painful, and, worst of all, she was considered in a highly infectious
condition and was carefully isolated in a top bedroom. Neither Mavis nor
Clive had had mumps, and it was hoped they might escape, though as they
had been with Merle the germs might still be incubating. Mavis was, of
course, not allowed to go to 'The Moorings,' and Clive was debarred from
his lessons at The Vicarage, and they had to preserve a species of
quarantine, equally trying to them both, for at Dr. Tremayne's suggestion
Mavis turned temporary governess to Clive and coached him in several
subjects in which he was deficient. The young rascal, highly aggrieved at
this unexpected tuition, took liberties with his gentle cousin which he
would not have dared to take with Mr. Carey, and extracted as much fun as
possible from his studies. Mavis was quite sure he made mistakes on
purpose, and pretended to be stupid in order to reduce the standard of
what was required, but the main object was to keep him quiet and out of
mischief, and her teaching served that end at any rate.
"I wouldn't be a mistress in a boys' preparatory school if they offered
me a thousand a year!" she told Mother. "I'd rather clean doorsteps, or
sew buttons on shirts at a farthing a dozen, or sell watercress, or wash
dishes in a restaurant!"
"Nonsense! It's not so bad as all that, surely!" laughed Mrs. Ramsay.
"If you knew how the little wretch rags me! I only wish it was Merle who
had to teach him and that I had the mumps instead. It must be nice and
quite comfortable by the fire upstairs!"
Merle, however, did not at all appreciate the privilege of being ill and
confined to one room. She was not so fond of indoor amusements as her
sister, and soon tired of reading and drawing and games of patience. Her
great grievance was that she was left so much alone. Mrs. Ramsay had to
attend to Aunt Nellie, to answer the telephone, and to interview patients
who came while the doctors were out and to take their messages, as well
as to do the housekeeping, so she was kept constantly busy and had not
much time to sit upstairs with Merle. Dr. Tremayne and her father paid
her flying visits, but these were too short to content her.
"What's five minutes out of a long day?" she asked. "It's too bad! When
Mavis used to have bronchitis we all almost lived in her bedroom. Nobody
makes the least fuss about _me_! You don't even look decently sorry
or very sympathetic! You come smiling in as if mumps were a sort of joke.
It isn't a smiling matter to me, I can tell you. I'm fed up with them!"
"Poor old lady! It's a shame to laugh at your big face! Shall I cry
instead?" said Father.
"It wouldn't seem quite so heartless!" retorted his indignant patient.
Next day Merle received a letter, which was pushed under the door. It was
all in rhyme, and as it was in Dr. Ramsay's handwriting she concluded
that her father must have sat up late the night before courting the muse
of poetry. His verses ran as follows:
MERLE WITH MUMPS
When Merle was suffering from the mumps
She felt most down and in the dumps;
Her friends, to cheer her up the while,
Laughed at her face to make her smile.
But eyeing with reproach her folk
She told them 'twas a sorry joke.
"Hard-hearted wretches," so she cried,
"To jeer while here upstairs I bide!"
Having no bad intent to tease her,
But wishing only just to please her,
Her family then ceased their jeers
And showed their sympathy in tears.
Her mother, who her pillow set,
Dropped tears and made the room quite wet,
And gurgled forth, "Alack-a-day,
That here upstairs with mumps you stay!"
Her uncle just outside the door
Sobbed till his chest was hoarse and sore,
And, swallowing in his throat some lumps,
He mourned, "My Niece has got the mumps"
The maids who came her plight to see
Splashed tears in cups of milk or tea;
The room it grew so very damp
Her limbs began to feel the cramp.
Her father to her chamber crept,
And lifted up his voice and wept;
With kerchief of capacious size
He stood and groaned and mopped his eyes.
So big the tears that from him fell
They were enough to make a well,
And, standing in a pool of water,
He sighed, "Alack! my mumpsy daughter!"
"Stop! Stop!" cried Merle, "O don't be sad!
These waterworks will drive me mad!
Good gracious, how I wish you'd smile
Instead of weeping all the while!
"Cheer up, for goodness' sake, I pray,
And treat me in your usual way.
No more I'll call you hearts of leather,
In spite of mumps we'll laugh together!"
Perhaps the family thought they had not done enough to relieve the tedium
of Merle's banishment; at any rate they set to work and made great
efforts to amuse her. Mavis sketched her portrait, adding wings and a
halo, and printed underneath "Saint Merle suffering her Martyrdom."
Mother clicked away on the typewriter, and deposited a document in her
daughter's room, which claimed to be:
_Extract from "The Durracombe and Devon Times"_
It is with sincere regret that we record the indisposition of that leader
of our local social life, Miss Merle Ramsay. Well known for her dramatic
talent, she lately acted the part of principal boy at an important
performance held in Chagmouth, the Metropolis of the West. Her audience,
which included some of the most celebrated critics and press
representatives of the neighbourhood, was unanimous in acknowledging her
spirited conception of what was certainly a difficult and delicate role,
which, in less skilled hands than hers, might have degenerated into
buffoonery or sheer melodrama. She was greatly to be congratulated on her
achievement, and it is hoped this is not the last time she will appear on
the boards and give Devon audiences the opportunity of enjoying her rare
humour. It may be noted that, in addition to her powers of dramatic
representation, Miss Ramsay has no mean record in the world of sport.
Her athletic proclivities are marked, and she has the distinguished
honour of being president of the Games Club at that great west country
centre of education 'The Moorings.' Among her many activities Miss Ramsay
numbers a facility in music and an affection for horticulture; she has
travelled much in the immediate neighbourhood of Durracombe, and her
favourite hobby is motoring.
Miss Ramsay, who through the nature of her indisposition was unable to
afford our press representative a personal interview, sent messages of
thanks for the local sympathy expressed for her condition.
"It is a matter of much gratification to me to know that I am missed,"
were her words; "I trust soon to be back at work and to be able to fulfil
my many engagements." At the request of the local Entertainments
Committee we are asked to state that, owing to the absence of their most
prominent member, no further performances will be given for the present.
We wish Miss Ramsay a speedy return to health.
Merle laughed very much over these literary effusions, and they certainly
had the effect of cheering her up. What she pined for chiefly, however,
was company. She had a very sociable disposition and hated to be alone.
She particularly missed Clive, who had grown to be her best playfellow.
She begged for the dog or the cat to share her solitude, but that was
strictly forbidden on the ground that they might be germ-carriers and
convey the mumps to others. One day she was sitting at her table trying
to amuse herself with an everlasting game of patience, when she suddenly
heard peculiar noises on the roof above. There was a scraping and
bumping, as if an eagle or some other enormous bird had alighted there.
The sounds continued till at last there was a thump on the skylight and
Clive's mischievous face appeared grinning down at her. Immensely
thrilled she lifted the window, and he crawled farther along and thrust
his head through.
"Hello, old girl! How are you getting on? I say! You do look rather a
sight! I wanted to have a squint at you! Are you going to have your photo
"Don't be a young beast! How did you get up here?"
"They're repainting the house next door, so I took French leave and
borrowed the tall ladder. I've had rather a business clambering about
till I found your window. I say, does your face hurt?"
"Not much now, but it did at first."
"You look like the picture of the fat woman at a fair!"
"Wait till you get it yourself, and then I'll jeer."
"I'm awfully sorry for you! Look here, I've brought you some toffee. Can
you catch it if I throw it down? I've finished that boat we were making.
Tom helped me. Mavis is hemming some sails; then I'm going to try it on
the reservoir. I wish you could come with me!"
"So do I," said the patient dolefully. "But that's out of the question.
Don't you think you ought to be going back? Suppose somebody takes away
"I'd drop down into your room then."
"And catch the mumps?"
"Shouldn't much care if it meant missing my lessons!"
"I can hear somebody coming upstairs!"
"I'll be off then. Ta-ta! You're not exactly beautiful, but on the whole
you don't look so bad as I expected. You needn't tell anybody I came!
On the 14th of February Merle was still a prisoner. She had almost
forgotten there was such a saint as St. Valentine, so it came as a great
surprise to find certain mysterious parcels brought up on her breakfast
tray. There were flowers and a packet of chocolates, and a new game of
solitaire, and an amusing little mascot dog with a movable head. It was
almost like having a birthday. On the top of the parcels was an envelope
addressed in a disguised handwriting. It contained a sheet of pink paper
bearing the picture of a heart pierced by an arrow, while Cupid drew his
bow in the distance. Underneath was written:
"Sweet Merle, of Durracombe the belle,
Accept this heart that loves you well:
A heart most tender, kind, and true,
That lives and beats for only you!
'Twere cruel in this faithful heart
To plant and fix so big a dart,
So heal its wound I beg and pray,
And be my VALENTINE to-day!"
The sender, as is usual in valentines, remained anonymous, and Merle
could only guess at the authorship, though she had strong suspicions of
Daddy and taxed him with it.
"St. Valentine never lets out secrets!" he twinkled. "He's a most
discreet old gentleman. People don't make as much use of him as formerly.
Very foolish of them, for he came in extremely handy. It's a pity to let
good old customs drop. A St. Valentine revival society might be rather a
good idea. By the by, that heart isn't anatomically correct! It looks
more like a specimen from a butcher's shop than the human variety!"
"Don't be horrid!" laughed Merle. "You can't expect Cupid to know the
difference! He's sent me some nice things. Aren't there any more saints
in the calendar who bring presents? What's the next red-letter day?"
"Nothing till Shrove Tuesday, my dear, and by that time, I hope, you'll
be downstairs again, and eating your pancakes with the rest of the
Miss Pollard was extremely nervous on the subject of the mumps. She
insisted upon waiting until long after the usual period of disinfection
before she would allow Mavis and Merle to return to 'The Moorings.'
"One can't be too careful!" she fluttered. "I know in a doctor's house
they are apt sometimes to take these things too lightly. It's far better
not to run any risks."
As Merle had a medical certificate of complete recovery, and neither
Mavis nor Clive had developed the complaint, there was now no reason for
keeping the girls away from school, and one Monday morning they were
received back into the fold. They had lost a considerable amount of
ground in regard to their lessons, and had to work hard to try to make up
for the weeks that were missed. At hockey, too, Merle found her teams
were slack. It needed much urging to persuade them to play a really
"I daren't fix a match yet with any other school," she assured them. "We
should only be beaten hollow, and it's no use playing if we have no
chance to win. You must all buck up and get more into the swing of
things. Perhaps next season we shall be a stronger team."
"If we never play matches we shall never improve," objected Sybil, who
was anxious to accept the challenge of the Beverton County School.
"We've got the credit of 'The Moorings' to think about!" snapped Merle.
"You wouldn't like them to go home crowing they'd absolutely wiped us off
the face of the earth? I've had a little experience in matches and I know
what I'm talking about. It would be downright silly to give ourselves
Sybil was rather a thorn in Merle's side. She had come from another
boarding-school, and on the strength of this experience thought she had
the right to become at once a leader at 'The Moorings.' She was very
disgusted not to be in any position of authority, and consoled herself by
continual criticism of the monitresses, particularly Merle, with whom she
was always sparring. She was a curious character, all precept but not
much practice. She loved to give good advice and to lay down the law, and
was rather priggish in bringing out moral maxims for the benefit of
others. She had a tremendous sense of her own importance and what was due
to her, and was very ready to consider herself overlooked, or neglected,
"Look here!" said Merle bluntly one day. "_Why_, I ask, _why_
should people be expected to make such a fuss over you? I don't wonder
you're neglected! I'd neglect you myself! And serve you jolly well right
Whereupon Sybil dissolved into tears, and confided to her nearest friend
that so long as Merle Ramsay was monitress she was afraid she would never
be happy at 'The Moorings.' Poor Sybil had her good points. She was
generous in her own way, and rather affectionate, but nature had not
endowed her with tact, and she would go blundering on, never seeing that
she was making mistakes. Her very chums soon tired of her and discreetly
left her to some one else.
"I sometimes think she's a little bit dotty!" opined Nesta.
"Nonsense! She's as sane as you or I. It's all swank! I've no particular
patience with her!" said Merle.
One particularly aggravating feature of Sybil was the way she traded upon
rather delicate health. There was really nothing much the matter with
her, but she sometimes had slight attacks of faintness, which, the girls
declared, always came on when she thought she could be a subject of
interest. She liked to extract sympathy from Miss Mitchell, or to arouse
Miss Pollard's anxiety. Moreover, it was often a very good excuse for
slacking off in her preparation or her practising.
One afternoon Merle, coming back to school, met Miss Mitchell by the
"I was just looking for you!" said the teacher. "I've arranged an extra
hockey practice at three, instead of English language. Will you tell the
This was excellent news. The Fifth hated the English Language class,
which consisted mostly of learning strings of horrible derivations, and
to have it cut out for once in favour of hockey was quite an event. Merle
walked up the drive smirking with satisfaction. By the porch she found
Sybil, with an English language book in one hand, half-heartedly helping
Miss Fanny, who was nailing up creepers. She looked very sorry for
"I wish you'd hold the ladder, Merle!" she sighed, eager to thrust her
duties on to a substitute. "I don't feel quite well this afternoon. I get
such a faintness. Aren't these derivations too awful for anything?" she
added _sotto voce_. "I don't believe I know one of them."
"Buck up!" whispered Merle with scant sympathy.
"It's all very well to say 'buck up'! You don't know what it is to feel
faint. You're as strong as a horse. I'm really not fit to stand about!"
"Shall I ask Miss Fanny to let you go in and lie down?"
"I wish you would! I don't like to ask her myself; it seems making such a
Merle proffered the request, with which Miss Fanny, rather astonished,
"Certainly, Sybil, if you really are ill! Shall I give you a dose of sal
"No, thanks! I shall be all right if I can just rest on my bed," answered
the plaintive voice.
"I daresay you'll soon feel better. It's a pity you'll miss the hockey
practice," said Merle.
"What hockey practice?"
"Miss Mitchell has just told me to tell everybody. We're to play instead
of having English language this afternoon."
Sybil's face was a study. But Miss Fanny's eyes were fixed upon her with
such a questioning look that she was obliged to preserve her air of
faintness and continue to pose as an invalid. There was nothing for it
but to go and lie down. As she turned, however, she managed to whisper to
"You're the meanest thing on the face of this earth! Why couldn't you
tell me sooner about the hockey?"
"Your own fault entirely!" chuckled Merle. "You nailed me straight away
to do your job for you. Hope you'll enjoy yourself! Yes, Miss Fanny! I'm
coming to hold the ladder! I was only opening the door for Sybil, she
still-feels rather faint!"
It was about a week after this episode that Miss Mitchell, who was keen
on nature study, took the Fifth form for a botanical ramble. They started
punctually at two o'clock, so as to be back as soon as possible after
four, on account of Beata Castleton and Fay Macleod, who must not keep
Vicary's car waiting. They went off ready for business, all taking note-
books and pencils, some carrying tin cases, and some armed with boards
with which to press their specimens on the spot. Their exodus was rather
characteristic, for Aubrey was chatting sixteen to the dozen, Iva was
trying to scoot ahead so as to walk alone with Kitty Trefyre, Muriel was
squabbling with Merle as to which should appropriate Miss Mitchell, and
Sybil was, as usual, seeking for sympathy.
"I couldn't find my boots! I had to put on my shoes instead, and the
heels are worn down and they're not comfortable, and I shall very likely
twist my ankle!" she complained. "What would you have done? Ought I to
have gone to Miss Pollard and asked her about my boots?"
"And kept everybody waiting? You are the limit!" exclaimed Merle
impatiently. "No, I'm not going to hold your case for you while you tie
your hair ribbon. You always want to dump your things on to other
"You might carry the camera, at any rate!" wailed Sybil.
"Why should I? You insisted on bringing it, though I told you it would be
"It's for your benefit! I'm going to take a group of the whole party."
"Right-o! But don't expect to get the credit and make us carry the
camera! You like to do your good deeds so cheaply!"
"I'm only telling you a few home truths. No, Mavis! I shan't let you load
yourself with Sybil's property! You've got quite enough of your own to
There was keen competition among the girls as to who could find most
specimens. They rooted about in hedgerows, climbed banks, and made
excursions into fields. Durracombe was not quite so good a neighbourhood
for flowers as Chagmouth; still, they found a fair variety, and were able
to chronicle early blooms of such specimens as the greater stitchwort,