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Monitress Merle by Angela Brazil

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"She never even suggested it. I don't know which is the meaner, she or
Fay!" grumbled Nan.

On the Fourth of July, Fay went to school determined to have what she
termed 'a real good time,' and to celebrate appropriately the great
anniversary of American independence. She armed herself with her national
flag and a box of sugared popcorns, a delicacy which was unknown at
Durracombe shops, and had been specially sent for from London. As she
passed these round generously, the 'sardines' fell in with her mood and
vowed to stand by her at school, and help to celebrate the honour and
glory of the Stars and Stripes.

"I didn't make much fuss of my own birthday, but I'm wrought up over
this!" declared Fay. "It's a shame there isn't a public holiday. I'd like
to fire a cannon. Couldn't get any crackers at those wretched shops in
Chagmouth either."

"D'you want crackers?"


"They had a lot of fireworks last November at Hodges' in Durracombe.
Perhaps they'd have some left."

"Oh, good bizz! We'll stop in the High Street and see, before we go into

They were in excellent time, so they called a halt at Hodges' shop and
dismissed the car. The assistant, after searching in various drawers and
boxes, produced a small supply of surplus fireworks, which Fay eagerly
purchased, being also provident enough to remember to buy a box of
matches. She pranced into school in the highest of spirits, flaunting her
flag, and stuck it in a conspicuous place in the classroom, where Miss
Mitchell eyed it indeed with some astonishment, but offered no
remonstrance. At eleven o'clock interval the fun began. Fay and her
confederates retired to a secluded part of the garden and began to let
off squibs and crackers, the sound therefrom drawing an interested and
excited little crowd, who hopped about squealing at the explosions, and
were immensely thrilled at the audacity of such a performance on school

"They're great!"

"Hold me down, or I'll fly off in sparks!"

"Fay, you are the limit!"

"It's a brainy notion!"

"Wow! Don't set me on fire!"

"Goody! Here's Miss Fanny coming!"

It was a decidedly wrathful Miss Fanny who descended upon them, and
promptly confiscated the few fireworks that were left.

"Most dangerous!" she remarked indignantly. "You might easily, some of
you, have been burnt. Really, Fay, I'm surprised. A girl in the Fifth
form ought to know better. Go back all of you at once. And don't let such
a thing ever happen again!"

The confederates had been lucky enough to have almost finished their
display before Miss Fanny appeared on the scene, so they bore the loss of
the last three squibs with equanimity.

"If Miss Fanny had only been an American she'd have helped to let them
off herself instead of interfering!" protested Fay. "I haven't worked my
spirits off yet, so I warn you! We'll do something mad after dinner."


"I haven't quite fixed it up yet, but I'll tell you later on."

The girls from Chagmouth dined daily with the boarders in the hostel, and
were on very good terms with most of them. Fay could therefore be
tolerably sure of a certain amount of support in any scheme she chose to
evolve. She thought things over during the French class, a process of
mental abstraction which brought the wrath of Mademoiselle on to her
head, for she answered at random and made some really idiotic mistakes,
at which the other girls giggled.

"You didn't shine this morning, old sport!" whispered Beata when the
class was over. "I believe Mademoiselle thought you were ragging her!"

"I wasn't doing anything of the sort. Can't you all realise it's the
Fourth of July?"

"You've mentioned that once or twice before!"

"Well, I'll mention it again. Of course I focus my mind on America, not
on France! You can't expect me to go jabbering French when I think of the
times my friends will be having to-day on the other side of the Atlantic.
I've had rather a brain throb though. We'll dress up after dinner in
anything we can borrow, and have a parade on the tennis lawn, with prizes
for best costumes."

"Who's to give the prizes?"

"_I_ will. I'll ask Maude to buy me some packets of candy when she
goes home, and bring them to school this afternoon. They'll do all

Fay was discreet enough not to mention her project to Iva or Nesta, in
case, being hostel monitresses, they might have felt bound to offer
conscientious objections. Members of the Fourth and Third forms, however,
jumped at the idea of an impromptu fancy-dress parade, and the moment
they were released from the dining-room they tore off to array
themselves. It was already a quarter to two, and school would begin again
at 2.30, so there was no time to be lost if the thing was to be done at

"I give every one a quarter of an hour to dress!" declared Fay. "You've
got to be on the lawn when the clock strikes two. Anybody who's late will
be disqualified from the competition."

"Who's to judge?" asked Kitty.

"Votes, of course! Don't stand asking questions. Hurry up, if you're
going to be in it!"


A quarter of an hour is very scant time in which to robe in fancy
costume, but most of the girls had decided during dinner what they meant
to be. Romola flew to the kitchen and borrowed an apron from the cook,
tied a duster round her head, seized up a pail and a carpet-sweeper, and
came as 'Domestic Service.' Beata commandeered the boarders' bath-towels
and appeared as an Arab, in robe and turban. Peggie, with her dormitory
eider-down for a train, was a court lady. Catie draped a scarf over her
hair and shoulders and, holding a bedroom jug aloft on her head, posed as
Rebecca at the well. Nan and Tattie, wrapt in identical blankets, were
Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Winnie, with a painted moustache and a
dressing-gown, was a Turk. Nita slipped on a night-dress and clutched a
bedroom candlestick; Joyce rolled an enormous brown-paper cigar which she
pretended to be puffing. But perhaps the best of all was Fay herself as
the American eagle. She borrowed two mackintoshes and fastened them to
her shoulders, securing the other ends to blackboard pointers which she
held in each hand. By extending her arms at full width she gave the
impression of wings and flapped wildly round the lawn, the illusion being
furthered by a brown-paper head-dress with a long twist to resemble a

When the day-girls returned after dinner they were electrified to find
this extraordinary assemblage parading upon the lawn. By this time both
monitresses and mistresses had caught glimpses from the window and came
hurrying out to see what was happening. Fortunately Miss Mitchell, who
arrived first on the scene, took it in what the girls called 'a
thoroughly sporting fashion.' She laughed, and congratulated the wearers
upon the excellence of their hasty costumes.

"We must have another parade some day, when we've more time to prepare
for it," she said. "Perhaps I'll come in costume myself then. The
American eagle is simply immense! I give Fay my vote for first prize!
Hands up all who agree!"

"But _I'm_ giving the prize, so I can't take it myself!" protested

"That doesn't matter at all if you've won it. I think Tweedledum and
Tweedledee should divide the second."

"Best divide the candy all round," said Fay, receiving the packets from
Maude, and sharing them among the competitors. "Thanks awfully, Miss
Mitchell, for coming to look at us. I couldn't let the Fourth of July go
by without taking some notice of it! It wouldn't have been loyal to
America, would it?"

"You've certainly stood up for the honour of the Stars and Stripes!"
laughed Miss Mitchell. "Now suppose you all go and take these things off
again as fast as you can. My watch is exactly right, and the bell will
ring in another five minutes."



The next event of any special importance in the Ramsays' world was
Mavis's birthday. She was seventeen now, and was so much taller and
stronger since she had come to live in Devonshire that her mother
declared their old friends in the north would hardly know her. She was
still more fragile-looking than Merle, but her attacks of bronchitis were
luckily things of the past, and she was rapidly outgrowing all her former
delicacy. Many things which had been prohibited before were allowed her
now, and her father's present was a new bicycle and the permission to
ride it. Her mother gave her a sketching easel and Merle a camp-stool,
for painting was at present her favourite hobby, and Uncle David and Aunt
Nellie were lavish in books and music. From Bevis arrived a wooden box
containing a kittiwake, which he had stuffed himself, with wings
outspread. There was a hook in its back so that it could be suspended by
a piece of thread from the ceiling to look as if it were flying. In its
beak Bevis had placed a note.

"I didn't shoot it," he explained. "I know you hate to think of any one
killing them. I found it dead on the shore, so thought you might just as
well have it stuffed."

"I'm so glad it wasn't shot on purpose, poor dear thing!" said tender-
hearted Mavis. "Aren't its feathers soft and lovely? I shall hang it to
the beam in our bedroom, and it will always seem like a little bit of
Chagmouth when we wake in the mornings. It looks just exactly as if it
were alive. How clever of Bevis to stuff it so well."

At 'The Moorings' the matter of most vital interest was the arrival of a
large wooden hut, which Miss Pollard had bought from the Government, and
which was erected in a corner of the garden close to the house. Now that
numbers had increased so much in the school extra accommodation was
urgently needed, and the new building would serve for a gymnasium, and as
a room for lectures and meetings. The great matter for speculation was
whether it would be finished in time for term-end festivities. Miss
Pollard, urged on by Miss Mitchell, contemplated inviting parents and
friends to a formal Speech Day, an affair upon which she had never
ventured before. Unless the hut was ready it would be impossible to
accommodate so many people, so she hurried on the work and hoped for the
best. It was a great amusement to her pupils to watch the various parts
being fitted together, and to see the corrugated iron roof fastened on.
They rejoiced immensely when at last a flag floated from the top.

"Mr. Perkins says he can undertake to have all perfectly ready by the
25th. I can send out my invitations now!" purred Miss Pollard.

Before Speech Day, however, must come the inevitable examinations.
Everybody felt they were much more wearing in July than at Christmas or
Easter, owing to the heat, and also to the fact that they covered the
work of the whole school year, and not merely that of a single term.
Mavis did her utmost but had to struggle with bad headaches, and realised
that she had not done herself justice. Merle slogged away grimly, with
ink-stained fingers and her hair tied tightly back because of the heat.
She had never really taken so much pains over an examination before, and
had never found herself so well prepared. Quite to her surprise her
brains felt clear and collected, and her mental car seemed to whizz along
so fast it quite exceeded the speed limit. No other girl in the form
wrote so many sheets as she did or answered such a large proportion of
the questions. At the end of the week, tired, nervy, and decidedly cross,
she nevertheless felt some satisfaction over the papers she had sent in.
Every one in the Fifth had little doubt about the results, and public
opinion was justified, for Merle came out top in almost every subject,
gaining an average of 91 per cent on the whole exam. She had expected to
do well, but was quite staggered at this success, for Muriel, Iva, and
Nesta, her usual rivals, were left far and away behind. They were
sporting enough to give her their congratulations.

"It means first prize, old thing! Won't we give you a clap as you march
on to the platform!" said Iva.

Miss Pollard was determined to do this, her first Speech Day, in style;
the chair was to be taken by a local magnate, and the prizes distributed
by a real live professor from Oxford, who was spending his vacation in
the neighbourhood. There was a tremendous business moving forms and
chairs into the newly-erected hut, and decorating the platform with pots
of plants and ferns. All the pupils were dressed in white and wore their
best hair ribbons. Mavis was feeling sad and sentimental, for it was her
last term. She was to leave 'The Moorings' and concentrate her energies
on music, and on lessons in painting from Mr. Castleton, which would suit
her far better than the strenuous work of the Sixth form. To the girls,
and especially the younger ones, this first public function at school was
not altogether unmixed bliss. They were obliged to sit as quiet as rows
of little angels, packed tightly together on forms without backs, and to
listen to interminable speeches about subjects which they only half
understood, the main points of which seemed to be, however, that Miss
Pollard and Miss Fanny and Miss Mitchell and all the teachers and all the
pupils were much to be congratulated, and everybody must remember that
'Rome was not built in a day.'

"Nor the hut either!" whispered Winnie to her chum, applying the proverb
too literally. "I wish they'd seen it before the roof was on!"

"'How the creatures talk!'" quoted Joyce, from _Alice in
Wonderland_. "I'm bored to tears!"

The prize-giving part was more interesting. As the names were called,
each winner in turn walked up to the platform, received her book, bowed
more or less gracefully, and retired. The applause was a welcome relief
to the rank and file, who were tired of sitting at such exemplary
attention. It was over at last, and the visitors went to be shown round
the school and to be regaled with tea in the dining-room. Professor
Hartley, in cap and gown, had crossed the garden to the hostel, and the
pupils, some of them suffering from pins and needles, were free to
disperse. It was the breaking-up for the day-girls, and to-morrow morning
the boarders would be sent home.

"Just a word with you, Merle!" said Miss Mitchell, calling the latter
into the study by herself. "I want to tell you that I'm pleased with your
work. You've made an effort and shown me what you can do. Next term we
shall have a Sixth form, and Miss Pollard agrees with me that it will be
advisable to appoint a head girl. That position will fall to you, not
only because you're top in the exams, but because we think you have
fitted yourself to take it. A head girl is no use unless she can lead;
I've been watching you all the year, and you've shown me lately that you
understand what is expected. The school is still in an elementary stage,
but it has improved immensely, and next year I trust you to do your very
best for it."

"Oh, thank you, Miss Mitchell!" gasped Merle, almost too overwhelmed for

To be thus chosen out and selected by her idol was a most happy ending to
the term, and offered golden opportunities in the coming September. It
meant more to her even than her prize. She went at once to tell the good
news to her sister.

"I don't like to cackle too loudly, because of Muriel and Nesta," said
Mavis. "But I am proud of you! It's been worth the grind, hasn't it?"

"Rather! Though I'm yearning for the holidays. Shall we go to Chagmouth
on Saturday?"

"Oh, yes! Bevis breaks up to-morrow, and I expect he'll be at Grimbal's
Farm by then. It's his last term at school as well as mine. I wonder how
he feels about leaving? I promised, too, to call and see the Castletons."

When the girls reached home, there was a letter on the table for Mavis in
Clive's handwriting. They heard from the boy every now and then, though
he was not a particularly good correspondent. This epistle, which had
apparently been penned on Sunday, was mostly a summary of cricket and
anticipations of his holidays. It ended:

Your affec'ate coz, CLIVE.

_P.S._--Meant to send you this snap before. Isn't it priceless?

The sting of a scorpion is in its tail. Mavis stooped down and picked up
the little photo which had fallen from the envelope on to the floor.
Clive had used his Brownie camera at Chagmouth and had promised to post
them the results, but had forgotten. This solitary print represented
Bevis--there was no mistaking Bevis--but Mavis bent over it with puzzled
eyes, for clasped tightly in his arms with her head laid upon his
shoulder was a girl. Merle, who snatched the photo away to look at it,
decided her identity at once.

"Why, it's Romola! That's the artistic blue dress that Violet made for

"So it is! Where's her plait, though?"

"Hidden behind her, I suppose. I say! They're coming it rather strong,
aren't they?"

"Yes. I shouldn't have thought that of Bevis!"

"No more should I!" (Merle was looking annoyed.) "I'd no idea he could be
so silly. I shall rag him about this, you bet!"

"I wouldn't!" (Mavis's voice was very quiet.) "Romola is so pretty!
Perhaps he _likes_ her!"

"Well, it's the first I've seen of it. He's a sly-boots if he does.
Somehow it doesn't seem to fit in with Bevis. I'm cross with him. When
did Clive take this amazing snap? I wonder he didn't send it on to us
before. I think it's not worth keeping, if you ask me!" and Merle,
tearing the photo into bits, tossed it into the waste-paper basket.

"Bevis is _our_ friend--not the Castletons'!" she added, stumping
away most decidedly cross, "and if he's going in for rubbish like this
with Romola, he shan't call _me_ Soeurette again! He needn't think
it. I'll _not_ be a sister to Romola! I declare I won't! The sneak!"

But these latter sentiments were muttered to herself, and she took good
care that Mavis should not overhear them.

On Saturday morning Merle had a bilious headache, took some breakfast in
bed, and announced that she should spend the day lying in the garden.
Mavis also began to make excuses for not going to Chagmouth, but Dr.
Tremayne pinched her cheek, declared she looked pale, and that the drive
would do her good.

"I can't be left without either of my nice little companions!" he
complained. "I've got used to having you with me. Besides, Bevis is
coming back to-day!"

"I daresay we shall see him next week some time," remarked Mavis
demurely. "There's no violent hurry about it."

"Why, no; only--"

"Nonsense, Mavis! Go with your uncle!" broke in Mrs. Ramsay. "This is the
first time I ever remember you wanting to stay away from your beloved
Chagmouth. What's the matter with you to-day? Don't be silly! Put on your
hat and do as you're wanted. I think these exams have thoroughly tired
out both of you. You'll feel better after a little air in the car."

Mother's decisions were always final, so Mavis raised no more objections,
particularly as Uncle David was looking the least trifle hurt, and he was
such a dear that she wouldn't disappoint him for worlds. He had several
visits to pay that morning at houses on the way, so it was later than
usual when they arrived at Grimbal's Farm. Fortunately there were few
patients waiting, and when these were disposed of, Mrs. Penruddock
brought in lunch.

"Bevis not come yet?" inquired Uncle David as he lifted the dish-cover.

"No, indeed, Doctor, and I'm anxious about him! His yacht's been at Port
Sennen, having some repairs done, and he arranged to go there straight
from school early this morning, and sail her round to Chagmouth."

"Well! The lad can handle a yacht all right."

"It isn't that! Bevis knows as much about sailing as most folks. But
there's a nasty sea fog come on, and just as it happens the clapper is
gone out of the bell by St. Morval's Head. Bevis is always a terrible one
for hugging the coast, and I'm afraid if he doesn't hear the bell he
won't quite know where he is in the fog, and he may be on the rocks
before he knows they're there. I'd have told him it was gone, but there
was no time. I only got his letter this morning. Who'd have expected a
fog like this either?"

Mrs. Penruddock's apple face looked quite miserable, but sounds of
thumping at the back door drew her away from the parlour, and stopped any
further confidences. Mavis ate her lunch thoughtfully.

"Is a fog worse on the sea than on land?" she asked at last.

"It is, if you can't tell where you're going. Who's been fooling with the
bell at St. Morval's, I wonder? If the clapper has fallen out, they
should have had it put in again at once. But that's just the way with
them. It's nobody's business, and everybody puts it on to somebody else
until there's an accident. I've no patience with them!"

When the meal was over, Mavis went out to take a peep at the sea, or
rather where the sea ought to be, for there was nothing to look at but a
white wall of mist, long wreaths of which were blowing inland and
trailing like ghosts into the town. She came hurrying back very quickly
to Grimbal's Farm, and sought the kitchen.

"Mrs. Penruddock, please, may I borrow your big dinner-bell?" she asked.

"Why, yes, my dear! But whatever do you want that for?"

"I'm going to take it to St. Morval's Head and ring it!"

"Bless you! Not a bad idea either! There'd be no harm done anyhow. I'd go
with you if I'd the time. Mind your way along that slippery cliff. Pity
your sister's not here to-day!"

"I shall be all right, thanks! The fog isn't so bad on land. It's quite
easy to see where one's going."

Grasping the big brass dinner-bell, Mavis set forth, and going by a path
above the farm, got out on to the cliffs. She knew the way very well, for
she had often been before, and had not the slightest fear of getting
lost, even if the mist should grow thicker. She walked briskly along, the
track in front of her looking quite plain for several yards, though the
sea below was completely hidden. She recognised many familiar points en
route, the bank where the spleenwort grew, the ruined shed, a supposed
relic of smuggling days, the barbed-wire fence, the group of elder trees,
and the blackberry bank. When she came to the slanting gorse bushes which
overhung the path, she knew she had reached the beginning of St. Morval's
Head, and that she must be just about over the spot where the buoy was
floating with its clapperless bell.

"It's the story of the Inchcape rock all over again," she muttered, and
sitting down on the bracken she began ringing.

It was monotonous work and tiring too. It made her arm ache, and she had
to use her left hand for a while instead. She went on persistently,
however, for who knew what little yacht might be venturing near the
treacherous rocks below. It was an extraordinarily lonely feeling to be
there on the cliff by herself, with the white mist round her, as if she
were in the midst of the clouds. She would have been chilly only the
exercise kept her warm. She was obliged to rest every now and then, but
not for long. She did not mean to give in for some time yet. She kept
repeating over and over to herself:

'The worthy Abbot of Aberbrothock
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape rock.
On a buoy in the storm it floated and swung,
And over the waves its warning rung.'

The occupation grew so monotonous that she began to feel as if she had
been on the cliff for weeks. After what seemed an absolute slice out of
eternity, there came a "Hello!" on the path behind her. She stopped
ringing and jumped to her feet.

"Bevis! It's never you!"

"Mavis! Did you do all this for me? You trump!"

"Did you hear my bell, then, on the sea?"

"Of course I did, and it gave me my right reckoning. I hardly knew where
I was. I might have been on the rocks without. Mrs. Penruddock told me
about it, and I came at once to fetch you back."

"I wonder you didn't go to tell Romola you were safe!"

"Romola! Why on earth should I tell Romola?"

Mavis did not reply all at once.

"Only because I thought you seemed particularly interested in her!" she
said at last.

Bevis looked frankly puzzled, then his face cleared and he drew a small
photo from his pocket.

"Did Clive send you one of these?"

"He did!"

"Well, don't you know who the girl is? Can't you see it's Clive? Clive,
dressed up in Romola's togs! Those are hardly Romola's boots, are they?
We nearly died with laughing over it. He looked too killing for words. It
was Madox who took the snap with Clive's camera."

Mavis, examining the photo by the light of these explanations, had little
difficulty in recognising her boy cousin. Bevis was roaring with laughter
at the joke, then he suddenly grew serious.

"Mavis!" he said in dead earnest. "You never thought I'd go making such a
silly ass of myself with little Romola? That's not in my line at all!"

It was Mavis who did the blushing.

"Look here! We may as well have this out between us. If there's ever to
be a mistress at The Warren--and I hope there will some day--I know whom
I'd choose! Why, it's Mavis, the one who was good to me when I'd hardly a
friend in the world or a name to call myself by, who didn't despise me
for being a nobody, and wasn't ashamed to walk with me through the
village, and who's kept me off more rocks than she's any idea of, besides
what she's done for me to-day! If I asked her some day to think it over,
do you fancy she might answer 'yes'?"

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