'We must reform her,' announced Vava.
Doreen laughed. 'I don't think we should have much influence upon her. She thinks she's very clever because she has read some silly books which say that one should get all the enjoyment one can out of this life because it's all that's certain, and you can't argue with a person like that, who says you have a right to be happy, and that things are right that you know quite well are wrong, only you can't prove it. Father would be horrified if he heard her; he'd say she was dangerous.'
'She's only silly,' said Vava in a superior tone. Then they were both silent, until she exclaimed suddenly, 'Doreen, I have it. I'll tell nursie all about it!'
'She'll be worse than father; she's awfully strait-laced,' protested Doreen.
'Yes, but she's very charitable too, and she likes Eva. If any one can do anything with Eva, nursie can,' declared Vava.
'Well, tell Mrs. Morrison, then, because I think some one ought to know, and to tell her that she ought not to talk to us like that; we don't like it, and it muddles one up,' said Doreen with a laugh.
'It does not muddle me; it's against the Bible, and I'd rather go by that than by Eva,' said Vava; and that ended the conversation.
EVA'S CONDUCT AND ITS SAD EFFECTS.
But when Vava told the old housekeeper of Eva's unorthodox views and sayings she did not seem at all shocked, or even impressed, by the information.
'Says we are put into this world to enjoy ourselves, does she? Well, so we are, and so we shall if we do what is right,' she observed cheerfully.
'But, nursie, you don't think Eva is doing what is right, do you?' inquired Vava, who was quite put out at this way of taking what the girl had been half-afraid to tell her, for fear the old woman should refuse to have anything more to do with Eva.
She was to be yet further surprised, for the housekeeper turned on her severely. 'And who am I, to say whether the poor young lady is doing right or wrong? As for what she says about religion, we know she is mistaken; but all you have to do is to refuse to talk about it. I never knew any good come of arguing on such matters, especially amongst young people. You can say a prayer for Miss Eva, and that's all you have to say,' she said, and turned to poke the fire.
Vava was silenced for the moment, and then her irrepressible spirits, which had returned at sight of her old nurse and the new home, burst forth, 'What will you do in summer, nursie? You'll have no fire to poke then, and you won't be able to change the conversation when you want!'
Nurse gave a smile of grim amusement (she rarely laughed) at Vava's shrewdness. 'I think I'll manage it without the poker, Miss Vava,' she declared.
At any rate, though she had not been very sympathetic, and did not seem to think it mattered, or that Eva was worse than any one else (or so Vava imagined), she had set the girl's mind at rest; and as neither nursie nor Stella seemed to think her an undesirable companion, she and Doreen must just invite her to go with them on their expeditions, when, if she chose, Eva could be very amusing, only that lately she had not chosen, or else had been too unhappy; for, in spite of all her talk about enjoying life, she did not look happy.
'All right,' said Doreen, with a shrug of her shoulders when Vava told her. 'I'm sure I don't want to be a Pharisee, and if we've got no poker to turn the conversation, as Mrs. Morrison has, we can use our tongues, and perhaps she's right, and that it would be no good even for her to talk to Eva; she's frightfully obstinate.'
The two Wharton sisters, it will be remembered, shared a large bedroom, which was in the front of the house, and the other two girls had smaller bedrooms at the back; while Mrs. Morrison's was half-way up the stairs, and here Vava always went to say good-night and get her 'evening text' from her old nurse, with whom it had been a practice ever since she had been a little girl to say a text to her, generally one which she had read that evening, to take to bed with her, as the old woman put it.
She had said good-night to the housekeeper, and was going to her own room, when she heard what sounded like a moan from Eva's room as she passed the door. 'Eva!' she cried, 'are you ill?'
There was no answer; but, as it seemed to the listener, a scuffle and a kind of gasp. Vava had a vivid imagination, and her mind jumped to the conclusion that this meant a burglar with whom Eva was struggling. Vava was no coward, and she was a strong athletic girl as well, so she did not hesitate a moment, but opened the door and burst into Eva's room. She stopped in amazement, for there was no burglar; but Eva, her face swollen with crying, was apparently making a survey of all her wardrobe and other possessions, for the bed, chairs, and floor were strewn with clothes, books, and all sorts of things.
'What do you want? Why didn't you knock at the door?' she inquired, looking annoyed and trying to dry her eyes.
'I am very sorry; I thought you were ill, or that there was something the matter,' stammered Vava, who wanted badly to comfort Eva, but did not know how to set about it.
'There's nothing the matter; I'm simply tidying up, and had a fit of the blues. Go to bed and don't say anything about it, there's a good girl,' replied Eva.
'Good-night, Eva. I 'm sorry you've got the blues. Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?' asked Vava.
'No, nothing. Good-night,' said Eva, shutting and locking the door after her visitor.
Vava went slowly upstairs. The voice in which Eva had said 'nothing' made her feel miserable; but she did not see what she could do, and, even if the latter had not asked her not to say anything about it, she had not met with so much encouragement the last time she had talked about Eva and her concerns as to make her do so again.
After she was gone, Eva threw herself upon the bed, regardless of the piles of clothing already covering it, and gave way to a fit of weeping which seemed to do her good, for she sat up, and with a long sigh began to tidy up, which she had told Vava she was doing, though it certainly had not looked like it. And having put nearly everything away in the wardrobe or chest of drawers, she made up two parcels—one quite small, containing a gold bracelet and watch; and the other a large one, in which she put a very pretty silk frock. Then, with another huge sigh, she went to bed.
The next morning at breakfast Eva's place was vacant.
'Where is Eva? Is she not down?' asked Amy, who was generally the last, and now sat down to take a hurried breakfast.
'No, she has not appeared yet.—You might run and see if she has overslept herself, Vava,' suggested Stella.
'I wish you'd go, Stella,' replied Vava.
Stella did not look at all pleased at Vava's disobligingness; but she was too dignified to argue, and getting up she went herself to Eva's room.
Amy looked with disapproval at Vava, who said, 'Eva did not like it when I went to her room last night.'
'I think she had a headache; she said so when I knocked at her door,' observed Amy.
'She is not in her room!' exclaimed Stella on her return.
Amy got up, looking disturbed. 'I wonder if Mrs. Morrison has seen her?' she remarked, and went to inquire.
'Yes, she's had her breakfast and has gone off to town,' said the old lady.
'Gone to town? It's only a quarter-past eight! Why has she gone so early?' she inquired.
'That I can't tell you,' said Mrs. Morrison.
'I shall come up with you; I do dislike travelling by myself in these morning trains. I can't understand Eva,' Amy said with a sigh.
It did not occur to Amy to ask the housekeeper if Eva had left any message or explanation for her, and so she got none. As a matter of fact, Eva had said as she went out, 'If they ask where I've gone just say I have business in town.'
Mrs. Morrison made no reply, nor did she appear to see the two parcels which Eva tried to hide as she left the house; but when the gate shut behind her Mrs. Morrison looked after her with kindly pity. 'Poor bairn, she'll learn by this bitter lesson,' she said to herself; and yet Eva had made no confidences to her, nor had Mrs. Morrison said anything to the girl about her private affairs. In fact, Vava was inclined to think that the old woman was blind to Eva's faults, for she seemed to pet her even more than the rest.
She would have been confirmed in this opinion if she had been down earlier; for when Eva came into the kitchen and asked in a hurried way if she could have a cup of tea, as she wanted to go earlier to town, instead of saying she ought to have told her the evening before, Mrs. Morrison said pleasantly, 'You can have your breakfast as soon as you like. What train must you catch?'
'The 8.5,' replied Eva.
'Then you have twenty-five minutes to eat a good breakfast, and if you will be so good as to sit by the fire and toast this bread I will have it ready for you in five minutes,' declared the housekeeper.
It was a cold March morning, and Eva looked very chilly, and perhaps it was that which made the kindly Scotchwoman suggest the toast and draw up a chair for her before the bright kitchen fire, for as a matter of fact she generally made it on the toaster.
Eva was only too glad to sit close to the fire and watch the good woman moving so quietly about and yet getting everything so quickly. 'Let me have it here, may I?' she cried impulsively, for the old woman's presence and her motherly attentions soothed the girl.
'If you wish. I doubt if the sitting-room is very warm yet, so I'll put your tray on this table near the fire, and you'll get well-warmed before you go out, and that's the secret of not taking chills,' remarked the old woman as she put a plate of crisp bacon on the tray and a hot roll beside it.
'You are a lovely cook, Mrs. Morrison,' said Eva. 'When I'm rich I'd like you to live with me.'
'If you want to be rich when you are old you must save when you are young. I'm thinking of buying you all money-boxes and putting into them all the money I save for you every week,' she observed, for she was given the housekeeping money every week, on Saturday, and after putting aside for the rent, the rest was left with her to do as she thought best; and on the next Saturday she accounted for it to Stella and Amy, who, she insisted, must go into the accounts and see how it all went, and to their astonishment and delight there was always a small balance, which they left with the housekeeper for emergencies.
'I don't know how you manage to save anything. I couldn't. In fact, I can't live on what I earn. If I don't get a rise I don't know what I am to do,' said Eva.
'But you have more than my young lady, so you told me; if she can live on it, why can't you?' objected the housekeeper.
'Because I am extravagant, I suppose; but I can't, and there's the end of it,' said Eva.
'Nay, my bairn, that's not the end of it; the end of it is a very bad one—debt and dishonesty, for they are the same thing to me—if one does not try to put a better end to it; and, I'm sure, you would not keep in debt, would you? But there, it's no time for such conversation at this hour, when you ought to be eating a good breakfast before going out to earn an honest livelihood. Have a piece more bacon, Miss Eva; it's hot and will keep you going till dinner-time—you've a long morning before you, remember,' urged the housekeeper.
Then she made up a little parcel with Eva's lunch, for she declared it was extravagant to pay sixpence a day for dinner when she could always give them pies or sandwiches to eat at midday, and cook them a nice hot dinner in the evening.
Eva did not say anything, but though she was quiet she looked less miserable than she had done when she came down. That day she did not go to the Enterprise Club, where they ate their cold lunch or had the pies heated if they liked; and when Amy rang her up on the telephone she said she was lunching with a friend. Nor did she come home by the same train as Amy, who even waited for the next, and then gave her up in despair.
'What happened to you, Eva?' asked Stella. Neither Amy nor Vava cared or dared to question her when she did come in, looking very tired and with dark rims round her eyes.
'I missed my train,' she replied, throwing herself into a chair in an attitude of utter exhaustion.
'You must have missed two trains,' said Amy.
'Yes, I did; I saw the second one go out of the station as I came in; the office clock must have been slow,' observed Eva.
'I should not trust to the office clock,' said Stella.
'I thought you said your watch had never lost a minute since you had had it,' remarked Vava.
It seemed an innocent enough remark; but Eva flushed crimson, and said, 'I wish you would not worry me like this. I suppose I can miss my train without all this fuss?' Then she got up and left the room, and they noticed that she had not her wrist-watch on.
No one made any remark upon her conduct, and at dinner they tried to cheer her up by being very cheerful themselves; but the effort proved a vain one. After a rather depressing meal, Eva got up and went to bed, as she said; at all events, she retired to her room. Vava went off to do her lessons with Doreen, and Amy and Stella were left together.
'Stella, what are we to do? We can't let her go on like this!' cried Amy.
'I don't see what we are to do. Of course it is easy to see that something is upsetting her, and I suppose it is the payment for that furniture; but I do not think she is in the mood to be spoken to about it. We must just wait until she says something herself, and be as nice to her as we can meanwhile,' was Stella's advice.
'I am so afraid she will get into more and more trouble; this friend, whoever she is, with whom she lunched to-day has not a good influence upon her. I always notice that she propounds some of her reckless ideas after she has been with her, and I have no doubt it was she who persuaded her to buy that wretched furniture, which is far too large for her room,' said Amy.
'She must buy her own experience, as nursie says; and, by the way, she told me the other day not to worry about Eva, as she would come all right, for her heart was in the right place,' said Stella.
'One consolation is that she is going to her old home for Easter, and I am hoping that seeing her old friends will bring her back to what she was when she came up to town. I am going there too. I know most of her friends, and I am sure they will do her good,' said Amy.
The object of all this solicitude had gone to bed, and was lying there reading a book she did not wish them to see downstairs, which engrossed her so much that she fell asleep over it and left her gas burning all night!
'We shall just have a quiet Easter here with nursie, Vava; you won't mind not having sea-breezes now that you have her, will you?' Stella inquired of her sister a week before the Easter holidays began.
They were sitting in the Enterprise Club waiting for Amy, who now had frequently to go home alone, as Eva was often very late, and had told her friend not to wait for her. So, as it only meant getting home half-an-hour later, the sisters had promised to wait for Amy to-day.
All round them were girls talking of their Easter holidays, and every one was going away somewhere, either to the sea or to the country, or to their respective homes, wherever they were.
Stella knew very few of them, and those only to say good-morning to; but they all turned to ask her where she was spending her holidays and how long she had; and when she had told them she had ten days, and meant to spend them at home, they were loud in their expression of surprise.
And Vava too seemed to be depressed at hearing of all these plans for pleasure; though when they asked her if she did not want to go away she immediately answered by saying of course she did not.
One of the girls, with less tact than the others, guessing that it was a matter of expense, remarked, 'I should go away if I were you if only for the day, if you can't afford more. But it really wouldn't cost much; there are lots of places where they take in business girls for as little as ten shillings a week, and it will cost you nearly that at home. I can give you some addresses if you like.'
'No, thank you,' said Stella with stiff politeness, and she was glad that Amy appeared just then, so that she could get out of the club-room, which had never been so distasteful to her before.
'All the same, Stella,' observed Vava, when the three of them were in the train, and although Stella had made no remark upon the subject, 'I should like to go away for the day on Easter Monday. They say Bank Holiday is a horrid day in London, and you can get very cheap tickets to the sea on that day.'
'Go in an excursion train!' cried Stella in accents of dismay.
'You would not like it at all, Vava; it would be ten times worse than stopping in town. Besides, Blackstead is not town, and you will not see many holiday-makers down Heather Road; it will be quieter than an excursion train, with twenty people crowded into one carriage, and then spending the day at a crowded seaside resort,' said Amy.
'Oh well, I think it was only to say I had been somewhere; all the girls at school are going away, even Doreen will be away; but I don't really mind,' said Vava.
And so it was arranged, and the next week was spent in rehearsing a play for Founder's Day.
'Fancy, Stella, I am to be Beatrice in our play; only it is not called Beatrice, but "Beatreechee,"' explained Vava, pronouncing it, as she hoped, in correct Italian fashion.
'What play are you acting—Shakespeare's?' inquired Stella.
'No, Dante's, and the proper Beatrice has got ill, and they have chosen me, partly because I am the same height, and so her clothes will fit me, and partly because they say my face suits, though I don't think I am a bit Italian-looking. Do you think so, Stella?' Vava demanded.
Stella looked at her sister, and then remarked with a smile, 'No, I don't think you are; at least, not the type we call Italian.' But she privately thought the stage-manager had made a very good choice, for Vava had improved in looks since her arrival in London, and would make a handsome Beatrice.
'Miss Briggs says it does not matter, as none of us are Italian, nor look it; but that, as I have a good memory and can learn quickly, I shall be able to learn up her part. It's a lovely part, Stella, though Miss Briggs says it's not historical at all, and that Dante never said anything about talking to Beatrice, and she doesn't believe he ever spoke to her; but that's nonsense. How could any man write pages and pages of poetry about a person he had never spoken to?' demanded Vava.
'Quite well. Imagination goes a long way with poets, and I was just wondering how you were going to act Beatrice. She does not say much in the poem, and then only as a spirit; so you don't want clothes to fit.'
'Ah, but it is all her life before she dies; the play begins at the party where Dante first meets Beatrice,' said Vava, who had the book of words in her hand and was studying it.
'But you, or rather Beatrice, are only nine years old at that party. How are you going to manage that?' demanded Stella, for Vava was a tall girl, and had grown taller and slimmer since she had been in London.
'We can't take any notice of that; you have no imagination, Stella. How can I make myself into a little child in the first act, and then be grown-up in the second?' she asked impatiently.
'Then I think I should not attempt such a play; it is making a parody of Dante's glorious poem,' protested Stella, who had studied Dante with her father, and thought this play presumptuous.
'It's not a parody, and my opinion is that it's better than Dante's,' declared Vava.
Stella laughed outright at this assertion.
But Vava was not crushed. 'You wait and see; it's got some lovely scenes in it, and the stage scenery is beautifully painted by ourselves—at least, in the school by the painting-mistress and the girls. There's the Bridge of the Trinita at Florence, where Dante meets me and makes a beautiful speech, and I have quite a lot to say to him there,' said Vava.
'You ought not to have,' interposed Stella, meaning from a historical point of view.
But Vava—who was 'rehearsing her play' to Stella more for her own benefit than to entertain her sister—was not at all pleased at this criticism, and replied irately, 'If you want to see your old Dante you'd better not come, for we are not going by it at all.'
'So it appears,' observed Stella dryly.
'How could we—horrid, gruesome stuff? Pray, how would you expect us to put on the stage a lake of boiling pitch, with a lot of people in it heads downwards and their legs struggling in the air? And who would come to see it if we did? I wouldn't take part in such a horrid piece! Why, even the reading of it made me feel quite ill,' argued Vava.
'You need not pick out that particular scene; there are beautiful passages in Dante; but I do not think it is suitable for staging, and I can't understand why it has been chosen,' remarked her sister.
'It is called Dante: an Idyll; and, as I said before, you wait and see whether it is not splendid. I must go and rehearse this with Doreen now,' replied Vava.
'Is Doreen to be in the play too?' asked Stella.
'Yes, she's a Florentine painter named Giotto. It's very funny, but her features are just like his in his picture; and there's a Jewish girl in the school with a long face who makes up very well as Dante. Oh you will be astonished when you see our play; we do things in style at our school, I can tell you!'
'Don't boast, Vava; it's very vulgar,' said Stella.
Vava did not answer back as she used to do, but went off to Doreen, whom she found studying her part diligently. 'I'm so glad you've come; it's no use saying this play to one's self. I know the words all right, but it's the coming in at the right place and the pronunciation. I wish, if you didn't mind, you would just say these speeches over first, and let me say them after you, and see if I can pronounce them like you. I would like to speak well, but I can't twist my mouth into shape as you do!' she exclaimed.
'But we don't twist our mouths; that is just what you do that you should not. See, talk like this, Doreen,' explained Vava; and for more than an hour she sat patiently repeating the words and correcting Doreen, who had a quick ear and copied her way of speaking fairly well, until at last Vava said, with a sigh of satisfaction, 'That's all right now, Doreen; you pronounce those words quite nicely, and you say your speeches ever so much better than the other girls; one would think you were a painter yourself, you speak with such feeling of the beautiful pictures you are supposed to be painting.'
'I don't know much about painting, though I like looking at pictures; but I do feel what I am saying, and I think it must have been splendid to have been Dante's friend as Giotto was, and have been inspired by him. No wonder he painted beautiful pictures, and one day I will go and see them all,' announced Doreen.
'I never thought of all that; then I ought to feel more still, because it is I that inspired Dante; but the worst of it is, Doreen, that I don't feel Beatrice at all,' Vava confided to her.
'How do you mean?' demanded Doreen.
'I don't feel as if I could possibly inspire a person like Dante; and, what's more, I don't want to,' she announced in a burst of confidence.
'You wouldn't like to have inspired the most beautiful poem that was ever written?' cried Doreen incredulously.
'No, I wouldn't like to have inspired a vision of such horrors,' maintained Vava stoutly.
Doreen could not help laughing at her tone. 'Then you can't admire some of my pictures,' she suggested.
'I like your little dog,' Vava replied, laughing too. This was an allusion to Giotto's famous sculpture of shepherds with a dog, on his beautiful tower at Florence.
And with this Doreen had to be satisfied.
'And you know, Doreen, they say I inspired him; but in this play I don't say anything very inspiring; it's Dante who has all the say, and utters all the beautiful speeches; I only have to try and look noble, and that's fearfully difficult and frightfully dull,' complained Vava.
'It's not difficult for you to look noble, because you are noble—in character, I mean—and you have a noble face,' declared Doreen.
'Oh Doreen! you horrid flatterer; that is just because you like me. I don't feel at all noble; but don't let's talk about that. Tell me if this is the proper way to move my hands when I am talking; the Italians gesticulate all the time they are talking, it appears. I don't know how they do it, for I have never been in Italy,' said Vava, talking rapidly, to prevent Doreen making any more such embarrassing remarks.
'You must wave them gracefully in the air, one at a time,' said Doreen, suiting the action to the word.
Doreen's action was anything but graceful, and Vava gave a peal of laughter.
'What is the matter?' demanded the former, stopping her windmill movements.
'I beg your pardon, but you did look so funny. I think I had better not pretend to be Italian; I can't move my hands gracefully, and I feel awkward all the time,' she said.
'Luckily I have not to be graceful, and I have a palette and paint-brush in my hands all the time; that gives me some occupation for my hands,' observed Doreen.
'Yes, but I don't believe you ought to point at people with your paint-brush; the Italians are a very polite nation, and I do not think they would do such a thing as that,' commented Vava.
Doreen looked grave. 'But I've got to point, and how am I to point except with my paint-brush, or the palette, which would be worse? I have one in each hand, and I haven't a third hand,' she said, after consideration.
Vava laughed. 'I suppose you can put one of them down for a minute. Giotto did not paint all day long,' she suggested.
'No, but I am going to. I would not be without them for the world, and I should feel as if I had six pairs of hands. I shall do like you, and not attempt to be an Italian,' she announced.
However, the two of them were very enthusiastic players, and at the dress-rehearsal it was doubtful which was the better. Vava, of course was prettier, and acted well, but hers was a difficult part; and Doreen seemed to have become an Italian artist for the time being, and entered into the life and feelings of a Florentine painter of the Middle Ages, and her dress was an exact copy of Giotto's. It was as well that the girls had become word-perfect in their play before the last week of the term; for that week, at least, Vava would have found it difficult to fix her mind on it. However, it was arranged that the dress-rehearsal should come off before the examination began, so as to leave the girls' minds free for them, and the girls all knew their parts a week beforehand.
Vava gave herself up to preparing for her examination, and took up nearly two hours of Mr. Jones's time one Saturday morning in having her algebra explained to her; and Stella, finding she could not stop this, decided that it would be best to take no notice of Mr. James Jones's goodness, and treat it as a personal matter between him and Vava, and have nothing to do with the matter, which was also Vava's opinion; for, as she said candidly to Stella, 'You are not so civil to him that he would care to do you a favour.'
Afterwards she felt that her candour both to Stella and the junior partner had been rather a mistake.
As a rule, an employer feels no diffidence in offering one of his employes a rise in salary; but Mr. James Jones found himself wondering how he was to tell Miss Wharton that the three months being up, her salary would be raised to two pounds. He always enclosed her cheque in an envelope, and sent it by the housekeeper with some other letters every Saturday morning. But this Saturday he wrote out the cheque for the increased amount, and tried to compose a civil note to inform her that the time for the usual rise had arrived. To begin with, he did not know how to address her. 'Dear Madam' sounded too formal, and he did not dare to say 'Dear Miss Wharton.' So he pushed the cheque on one side, and began opening his letters and giving them to Stella.
When she had gone, a knock came to the door, and Vava's bright face appeared.
'What a surprise; I thought you had given me up and got another mathematical master!' cried Mr. Jones, looking very pleased to see his young pupil again.
'Indeed I haven't; only I got lazy about coming up to the City on Saturday when there was a nice cosy fire to sit by and old nursie to talk to; but the examinations are next week, and I wanted to ask you to explain one or two rules to me,' said Vava, bringing her book up to the junior partner's desk.
'I shall be delighted; but I want you to explain to me first how to do something,' replied Mr. Jones.
'Me? But I can't explain anything you can't understand!' she exclaimed incredulously.
'Yes you can; you understand your sister,' he observed.
'Oh Stella'——began Vava, rather embarrassed; for Stella had requested her since the episode of the letter not to discuss her or her private affairs with Mr. James Jones or any one else.
'And I don't—I don't want to hurt her feelings,' continued Mr. James Jones.
'Oh well, I don't suppose you would; she says you are very civil and gentlemanly, and'——Here Vava stopped.
'Did she say that? I am very glad to hear it. What were you going to say?' he inquired.
'I think I had better not say any more. You know I got into an awful row about that letter, and nursie was cross with me too; so I really have begun to be very careful what I say now,' announced Vava.
'You need not be careful with me; still, I don't want you to say what you think you ought not. Now will you explain my difficulty to me? I want to write to your sister, and I don't know how to begin the letter,' he told her.
Vava opened her eyes wide. 'But she is in the next room!'
'I know; but I really could not say it to her,' said the junior partner, looking uncomfortable.
Vava looked at him keenly. 'I can't imagine why not; she's not so frightening as all that, unless you want to propose to her,' she added with a laugh.
Mr. Jones laughed too, although he coloured and looked fearfully at the door, as if Stella might by some evil chance be there. 'Would she be frightening if one proposed?' he asked in joke.
'I hope you won't, because she would not marry you, you know,' responded Vava.
'Thank you,' said Mr. Jones. And then he added, in a dry tone, 'As a matter of fact, I was not going to take any such liberty; I was going to tell her'——Here he stopped.
'That you didn't want her any more?' suggested Vava.
'On the contrary, that her services were worth more to the firm than she was being paid for them, and that her salary would be raised,' he observed.
'How jolly! Why can't you tell Stella that straight out? She isn't ashamed of earning money,' declared Vava.
Mr. Jones was not so sure of that. However, he so far took Vava's advice as not to write, but simply to send the cheque of the increased amount, and leave Stella to speak of it.
Meanwhile Mr. Jones set to work to explain not only one or two rules, but to go through all the term's work, and spent, not half-an-hour, but two hours at it; and Stella, who came in with her letters, could not help feeling grateful, and admiring the young man for his good-nature and the interest he was evidently taking in his pupil.
'Now if that does not bring you out first in the examination I shall be surprised, that's all!' he exclaimed, when, having come to the last rule, Vava declared that she understood them all.
'Then I shall have to give the prize to you,' she replied, laughing, and went off.
Now it happened that Stella did not open her cheque at all that morning, being very busy translating a long communication from a French firm, and on the way home she took it out of its large business envelope to put into her pocket-book, when her eye fell on the amount. 'Dear me! how stupid of Mr. Jones; he has made this cheque out wrong. If I wanted to cash this money it would be very inconvenient,' said Stella, who was very particular about paying all bills and accounts regularly every week.
'It's all right; he's raised your salary,' put in Vava.
Stella grew crimson with anger. 'How do you know? And what have you been telling him to make him do it? If it is because I couldn't afford to take you to the seaside, I may as well tell you it won't make any difference, and I am surprised at your complaining of not having enough money; it's just asking for it, that's what it is, and I never thought a sister of mine would beg!' she cried scornfully.
Vava's anger was roused by this injustice, and a wicked desire to tease her sister made her say, instead of denying the accusation, 'There was no need to beg; he says you are worth it to the firm.'
'I shall return it on Monday,' said Stella.
'Then you will be very silly. To tell you the truth, I wonder Mr. Jones puts up with you, and I should not be surprised if he gets tired of your nasty pride, and tells you to go,' remarked Vava.
Stella said nothing in answer to this impertinence. She was very angry with Vava; but now that she had time to think she felt that she had been too hasty, and should have asked an explanation from her sister, whom she could hardly believe had really asked for a rise; still it looked like it, its coming that morning. In a different tone she asked, 'What made Mr. Jones tell you about this cheque? I thought I told you not to discuss me?'
'I didn't—at least, how could I help it; he began it, and I had to answer him,' protested Vava.
'You ought to have declined to talk about me. One thing is certain, you will not have the chance again, for you shall not go to him with your sums or anything else. Our relations with Mr. Jones are simply business ones, and I don't want him to think we wish them to be anything else,' said Stella.
'That's just what I told him, and I said you would not marry him if he asked you!' cried Vava impulsively.
Many a time during the following week did Vava ask herself why she did such a silly thing as to repeat that foolish remark; but at the time she had no idea of the trouble it would cause.
Stella stared at her sister as if she could hardly believe her ears. 'You discussed my marrying Mr. Jones with him?' she asked, red and white in turns.
'I said you wouldn't marry him, so it's all right; you need not go upsetting yourself,' she replied, half-frightened at the effect her remark had had upon her elder sister.
'I do not want to hear anything more that you said. I have begged you to be more careful of what you say, but it seems to be hopeless; other arrangements will have to be made.' And she relapsed into cold silence; but Vava saw that tears of mortification were in her eyes.
The girl made one or two attempts to speak to Stella, but without success, and they walked home in silence from the station. Oh how glad Vava was to have 'nursie' there, into whose ears she poured the whole story.
'You should not have said it, Miss Vava; of course Miss Stella is vexed at your suggesting such a thing,' said the old woman.
'But she does not know that I suggested it; she only knows half the story, and I can't make her listen,' objected Vava.
'You must leave her alone till she comes round; her pride is hurt, and no wonder. What I do wonder at is your talking about such things as marriage to a strange gentleman; it's very unbecoming in a young lady of your age,' said the housekeeper.
But 'nursie' could say what she liked to her 'bairn,' who took it quite meekly, and did as she was told, and left Stella alone.
After dinner, at which they were all rather silent, Stella wrote a letter, which she took out and posted, not at the pillar but at the post-office.
'There now, she's written Mr. Jones a horrid letter, I'm quite sure!' exclaimed Vava to the housekeeper.
'It's none of your business if she has,' replied the latter.
'I don't know so much about that. Mr. Jones will think I repeated the conversation all wrong, and I'm certain she is sending back the extra money,' retorted Vava.
'You can't help that; your elder sister must do what she thinks right,' insisted the housekeeper.
'I can help it; I can write to Mr. Jones and tell him the truth,' declared Vava.
But Mrs. Morrison would not hear of this. 'You wrote once, and it vexed her; and now that she has forbidden you to go to see Mr. Jones any more you have nothing to do but obey, even if it is hard.'
'But he will think horrid things of me,' protested Vava.
'I do not think he will; but even so, you must abide by it. Dearie me, what bairns you all are! You are nothing but children, all of you, and making trouble for yourselves, as if there were not enough in the world without your adding to it,' said the good woman with a sigh, for she had taken Amy and Eva to her warm heart, and their troubles as well, and just now her keen eyes saw that there was trouble with them as well as with her own two 'bairns.'
Stella's walk had done her good, for she seemed more cheerful at tea, and spoke a few words to Vava, whose buoyant spirits revived at once. As Mrs. Morrison had said, they were all young; and when after tea Stella suggested a round game, they all joined in, and one would have thought to hear their merry laughter that they had not a care among them.
However, when Monday morning came, Stella came down to breakfast in her indoor clothes, and seemed to be taking things very easily.
'Stella, make haste, you will be late for the train, and I must be in time this morning, because it is the examination!' cried Vava impatiently.
'I am not coming with you to-day,' said Stella quietly.
'Then why did you not tell me? I let Doreen go past, and I must run now to catch the train!' cried Vava, rushing off in a great hurry.
Stella certainly thought she had made Vava understand that she was not going to town that day; but Vava very certainly did not understand it, and remarked to Doreen, 'Stella is coming by a later train; she is rather vexed with me for something stupid I said, so I dare say that's why she did not come with us.'
'I'm sorry; she's so pretty, and I like to look at her,' said Doreen; and then, Stella not being there to look at, she opened her books and began looking over work for the examination.
The day went very well. Vava answered every question in the algebra paper, and was only uncertain about two problems, and she decided when she went to call for her sister to show her the paper and ask her if she might not give it to Mr. Jones and just tell him how much he had helped her. The last event was always uppermost with Vava, and her examination seemed to be of much more importance than her sister's annoyance of Saturday, and it was with a very bright face that she went to her sister's little office at Baines, Jones and Co.'s to tell her how well she had got on. She walked in as usual without knocking, and to her surprise found Mr. Jones sitting at her sister's typewriter, or rather the typewriter her sister had used.
'What! you, Vava? Haven't you washed your hands of me too?' he said rather bitterly.
'I haven't washed my hands of you. Where is Stella?' she inquired in surprise, looking round, and determined to be very careful what she said to-day.
'Don't you know then?' he demanded.
'Know what? Have you quarrelled?' she inquired.
'I have not quarrelled, and as it takes two to make a quarrel I suppose we have not; but your sister has left, and I cannot imagine why, except that I raised her salary without explaining the reason,' he said.
'Left you! What reason did she give? When did she leave—just before I came?' asked Vava.
'She never came to-day. I had a letter instead, simply saying as there were only a few days to the holidays she begged to be excused from returning, as she wished to leave my employ.'
'Oh dear! it's all my fault,' sighed Vava, and she told the story of her conversation with Stella.
'Well, I am glad about one thing, and that is that I have seen you and had this explanation,' said Mr. Jones.
'But I ought not to be here; Stella said I wasn't to come and see you any more!' cried Vava, just remembering this fact.
'You did not come to see me—fate brought me to this room at this minute; but I won't keep you. I have written to your sister; but since you have explained matters I will write a different letter,' he observed.
'I do hope she'll come back to you,' sighed Vava.
'I doubt it; pride is very strong with your sister; but I hope we shall be friends in spite of it. Now, good-bye, don't miss your train,' he said, holding out his hand before Vava had time to ask how they could be friends without ever seeing each other.
As it was, she missed Doreen, who had gone by the earlier train, so she had to go home alone, a thing she had never done before; and she felt a little surprised and hurt at the indifferent way Mr. Jones had said good-bye to her for ever, as she believed.
BADLY BEGUN AND MADLY ENDED.
Looking back on that examination week, Vava declared afterwards that it was the longest week and the most eventful of her whole life—it 'began badly and ended madly,' was how she put it, talking about it to nursie, her confidante and comforter during this trying time.
She went home, feeling rather depressed, with an inward conviction that her sister's leaving Messrs Baines, Jones & Co. was her fault in the first instance, and she made a mental resolution to be more careful in the future what she said. However, Stella met her with no reproachful looks, but was calmly darning a tablecloth as if she had not just thrown up thirty-five shillings, or rather two pounds, a week, which meant a good deal to them at the present moment.
'You never told me you were not going to town at all,' was Vava's greeting.
'It is none of your business,' said Stella, who, though she imagined she had told Vava, did not wish to be questioned on the subject.
'All the same, you might have told me, for I went to your little room as usual to fetch you, and there was Mr. Jones typing his own letters,' retorted Vava with an injured air.
As it happened, she was getting the best of it, for Stella, who was not at all pleased at this news, could not scold her for going there; besides, it made the elder sister rather uncomfortable to know how her sudden departure had inconvenienced her late employer. But not yet would she own herself to be in the wrong. 'I hope you did not stop and talk,' she remarked.
'I asked where you were, and Mr. Jones told me you had left; but he would not keep me, he said, as he knew you disliked him'——replied Vava.
'Vava, what do you mean?' interrupted her sister.
'If you had let me finish I was going to say, "being friends with me,"' said Vava.
'Then you should talk grammatically; it is not "him being friends" but "his being friends."'
'Well, he isn't either, so it does not matter,' replied Vava testily, for she was very sorry about it all, and this made her cross.
The next morning's post brought Stella three letters. One was from the junior partner, which she opened first, though why it should have interested her does not seem clear, as she had finished with him and would not return to him on any account; perhaps she wished to be asked at least.
If so, she was disappointed. Mr. Jones's note was short and formal. Stella had begun her letter of resignation 'Dear Sir;' but Mr. Jones replied:
'DEAR MISS WHARTON,—I beg to acknowledge your letter tendering your resignation as secretary, which I accept in the name of the firm; also the five shillings, which you return under some misapprehension. I regret your departure, and shall find it difficult to supply the place you have so admirably filled. I also regret that you should hold the opinion of me that you do, and trust you will some day modify your views. I shall be glad to answer any one you refer to me.—Yours faithfully,
Stella felt a distinct sensation of disappointment as she laid this letter down. The next pleased her no better. 'What have my movements in the City got to do with them?' she exclaimed involuntarily.
'With whom?' asked Vava.
'The Montague Joneses,' replied Stella, handing over to her sister the note, in which Mrs. Jones hoped that her change of employment would not interfere with her promise to dine with them next Friday, as it made no difference to them. 'Of course it does not,' was Stella's comment.
The third letter was a still greater surprise, and she gave an exclamation of pleasure as she said, 'I will come up with you this morning, Vava. I have been offered an appointment in the City not far from—my late office.'
'How quick! How did they know you wanted one, or your address? I suppose that is Mr. Jones, and I call it rather decent of him,' observed Vava, in a significant tone.
'As it happens, it was not Mr. Jones; it was that good Mrs. Ryan,' said Stella with satisfaction.
'How on earth did she manage it?' inquired Vava, who thought privately that if the housekeeper had got Stella this post she had done so by Mr. Jones's orders, and as it happens (to quote Stella) Vava was quite right; but fortunately Stella did not suspect this, or, as Vava well knew, she was capable of throwing it over, and the younger sister wisely kept her thoughts to herself.
The two sisters accordingly went up to the City together as usual, and it was only when they were nearing their destination that Stella began to look a little nervous at the thought of again facing strangers, and to think with regret of the comfortable little room she had had all to herself. For one short moment she had half a mind to return to Messrs Baines, Jones & Co., the junior partner of which firm she knew would welcome her back; but pride forbade such a step.
Vava, who knew her sister's face well, guessed at her nervousness, and said in a pleading voice, 'Stella, please let me come with you; I shall feel much happier, and as if you had forgiven me for causing all this bother.'
Partly to please Vava, and partly because she dreaded facing a room full of young men who stared at her in too open admiration, she accepted Vava's offer, and went up the steps of Murchison Limited protected by her sister.
Mr. Murchison had not arrived, and Stella was requested to take a seat on a bench in the passage by a young clerk to whom she told her business. Up and down the passage passed a countless number of men, as it seemed to the two girls.
'Vava, you must go; you will be late for school,' said Stella, as the minutes passed and no Mr. Murchison arrived.
'I simply couldn't go away and leave you alone in this horrid place!' cried Vava.
Stella smiled at her younger sister's protective tone, as she said, 'But your examinations?'
'I don't care if I miss fifty exams; you are more important than they are!' exclaimed Vava.
An elderly gentleman coming in at the moment noticed the two girls in mourning, the elder smiling as the younger looked eagerly up into her face, and thought he had never seen a prettier picture. He came hastily forward, and holding out his hand said, 'Miss Wharton, I am sure, and this is the City schoolgirl? I am so sorry to have been late, but my car broke down, as usual with these machines when one has an appointment; but you should not have waited here. Come into my office.' He had such a kind, fatherly way, and spoke in such refined accents, that Stella was reassured; and the boy who had asked her to go outside wished he had been more polite when he saw the courtesy his master was showing to the two young clerks, as he had imagined them to be.
'You had better go now, Vava,' said Stella, as they entered Mr. Murchison's private office.
'Are you sure you are all right?—You will see that she is comfortable, won't you?' said Vava, turning to the old man.
A twinkle came into his eye, but he answered gravely and courteously, 'You may safely leave your sister with us; we will see that she is quite comfortable and happy.'
'Thank you,' said Vava, and ran off happy too.
A short interview sufficed to tell Stella what was required of her, and then she was shown into a small room by Mr. Murchison himself, who said apologetically, 'I am afraid it is rather dark and dingy, but we have not required it hitherto, and I am sure you will prefer this to being in a room with the other clerks?'
'Oh yes, and it will do very nicely, thank you,' said Stella with relief. Little did she or Vava dream that there was anything surprising in her falling into a second berth so easily, or in the treatment and consideration she received. Not that she would not have been kindly and civilly treated; but, as a rule, Mr. Murchison did not interview his clerks himself, nor did he hurry to the City to keep appointments with them.
If Stella had been in the chief's office later on she would have been enlightened about many things. As it was, she only wondered that she was needed at all; it seemed to her that the small amount of work she did might very easily have been distributed among the young men-clerks.
Mr. Murchison had just sent her in some papers to typewrite, and was leaning back in his chair deep in thought when Lord Rothery was announced.
'I hope I am not intruding, Mr. Murchison?' he began.
But the City magnate greeted him with a laugh. 'I believe you always say that on entering a City office,' he answered.
'Well, I feel I'm the idle butterfly among the bees, don't you know; but I was sent here this morning,' explained the young man.
'Not for a clerk's place, I sincerely hope, for I really can't find work for another superfluous person!' protested Mr. Murchison with a look of amusement.
'No, no; it's the last one I've come about,' observed his visitor.
'What! are you an admirer too? This promises to become complicated, not to say a nuisance,' said the old man; but he still looked amused, for he was a very kindly man, and Stella's quiet, ladylike manners, as well as her beauty, had won him.
'I admire her all right—I don't see how one could help it. But it's no go; she didn't admire me, and it seems Jones has no better luck. But he's a dogged beggar, and won't give up hope, and he has sent me to see that she is comfortable and all that,' he said.
'Oh yes, she's comfortable—at least, as comfortable as I could make her at a day's notice. And if you are going back to that happy young man you may tell him that it is more than I am, for I can't find anything for her to do, and I think he'd better send her work along too to keep her occupied,' replied Mr. Murchison.
'Oh that would never do; she'd spot something, and he says she must on no account guess that he has got her this place,' said Lord Rothery hastily.
Mr. Murchison put back his head and laughed. 'A City conspiracy to save the pride of a most wrong-headed young woman, who, as a matter of fact, does not deserve such consideration, after treating Jones so badly, leaving him at a moment's notice. It's really great nonsense, if you come to think of it. He wants her services, and I do not; but because she gets into a rage about nothing he must find her a comfortable sinecure. What am I to do with a lady-clerk? I don't want one at all,' he wound up.
'Jamie knows that, and told me to tell you he's sure it won't be for long. He's awfully sorry to ask such a favour, but it's a matter of life and death to him.'
'Life and death fiddlesticks!' ejaculated Mr. Murchison.
'I'm only quoting his words. He really looks very bad this morning; I feel quite sorry for him, and I'm awfully sorry for her too. Poor Stella! it's an awful come down for her,' said his lordship.
'I don't think it is any hardship to earn your own living, though perhaps she is too pretty; anyway, it's being made easier for her than for many a girl who is just as good,' objected Mr. Murchison.
'It's worse for her, because she's so beastly proud—always was as a child; but she's a good sort, and I only hope Jones will get his way, though I "ha'e ma douts," as we say up north. He daren't come and see you, he says,' said Lord Rothery.
But Stella knew nothing of all this, and only found the day drag, as she had so little to do.
Vava too found the day long. She was half-an-hour late for school, and as she brought no written excuse, and her own was not considered satisfactory, she was not allowed to go in to the examination at all; and although she had said Stella was more important than fifty examinations, she was very disappointed to miss this one, which was history, in which she hoped to do well, as it was her strong point. However, she said nothing about this to Stella, who seemed depressed, on the way home. Although they had only been in the new house a month, things did not seem to be going very smoothly. Eva was like a thundercloud all dinner-time, and snapped at any one who spoke to her, until in desperation they left her severely alone.
'Everything's downright horrid, nursie,' said Vava, going into the kitchen after dinner to pour out her woes into the housekeeper's sympathetic ear.
'When night's blackest, dawn's nearest—not that I think it's a very black night; we must all pay for our experience, and you are paying at this minute,' replied the old woman.
'But I don't see why I should pay to-day! I had not done anything wrong. I couldn't have left Stella sitting on that horrid bench all alone, could I?' protested Vava.
'You are too fond of that word "horrid." I don't expect there was anything the matter with the bench; it's no good being too high and mighty in this world, and there's no disgrace or degradation in honest labour,' said the old housekeeper; for however much she might regret the necessity of her 'young leddies' earning their living, she was not going to tell them so, or put foolish notions into their heads; moreover, she thought they both needed a lesson in humility.
'It was not a pleasant place for a girl to sit alone, anyway, and you would have said the same yourself, and it was horrid, for sitting there made me miss my best exam, which was a horrid bore—well, a shame,' said Vava.
'It was no shame if it was the rules of the school, and it was that tongue of yours that took you both there to the new office, in the first place; but I hope it will be a lesson to you. And now, my bairn, just try on these stockings; they will be cooler for spring, and I don't know if they are long enough or not,' she wound up.
Vava tried on the stockings, which she declared fitted, as nursie's knitted stockings always did. But next another unpleasant event took place, making this week the 'baddest and maddest' Vava had ever known; and to understand it the events of the day before at the City school must be related.
UNDER A CLOUD.
When Vava had arrived at school, Miss Briggs, who really had nothing to do with her, although she had taken it upon her to write to Stella about her friendship with Doreen Hackney, told her to report herself to the head-mistress for being late.
The girls rather resented Miss Briggs's interference. She was not one of the form-mistresses, but taught certain subjects throughout the school, and had passed very high examinations; and, in her zeal for the well-being of the school and its pupils, she was apt to be meddlesome, as she was this morning, when, having nothing to do, she was walking about the corridors, and met Vava hurrying in late. Vava went by her orders to the head-mistress's room, but found it empty. As she was coming away she met Miss Briggs, and thought it her duty to tell her that the head-mistress was not there, and was then going to pass on to her classroom.
But Miss Briggs stopped her. 'Then you had better wait here for her,' she observed.
'I shall miss my exam.!' protested Vava.
'Where is your written excuse for being late?' demanded Miss Briggs.
'I have none. I went with my sister to her City office, as she did not like going alone,' explained Vava.
This explanation sounded very lame and unsatisfactory, Miss Briggs thought. Moreover, this same sister had written her a very stiff letter in answer to her warning against Doreen as a friend for Vava; and it is to be feared there was a certain amount of spite mingled with a desire for discipline when she replied, 'That is no excuse. You are too late to go into the examination, and you will disturb all the others. Your sister should have consideration for them, and you will stay here until the bell rings for recreation.' And Miss Briggs marched away.
'Here' was a corridor without any seats; but Vava took this command as meaning to stay out of the classroom, and she wandered off to the playground, where she sat down on a garden-seat, and looked over the subject for the next examination, feeling very irritated at Miss Briggs's dictatorial manner.
Everything 'happened' wrong that morning. Miss Briggs, as she went back to her room, chanced to pass Miss Courteney, who had come to the door of the classroom to speak to some one, and Miss Briggs detained her, rather against her will, saying, 'Oh Miss Courteney, I met Vava Wharton strolling in just now. She had been to her sister's office instead of coming to school, so I told her it was not worth while coming in now and disturbing the others, and that she must wait till the bell rings.'
Miss Courteney looked vexed. 'It is her best subject. I am very sorry. Where is she?' she asked.
'In the corridor. Shall I say you will excuse her this time, and send her to you?' inquired Miss Briggs, who saw that, though Miss Courteney was too polite to say so, she had done wrong.
'I shall be much obliged if you will. I will speak to her about being late,' replied Miss Courteney, much relieved. She did not want to contradict Miss Briggs's orders; but she did not want Vava to miss her examination.
Miss Briggs hurried down to the corridor; but of course saw no Vava. She searched in all the empty rooms and in the large assembly room, and in her eagerness to find Vava she actually toiled up to the studio at the top of the building, but in vain. Then, feeling rather annoyed with Vava for her disobedience, Miss Briggs searched the cloak-rooms; and, not seeing the girl there, looked for her hat and coat under the name of Wharton. They were not there, and Miss Briggs came to the conclusion that Vava had gone off to tell her sister, her ideas of school discipline being elementary, in Miss Briggs's opinion. There was no opportunity of telling Miss Courteney, who was in charge of the examination, so she waited until the bell rung; for it never occurred to her that on this cold March morning Vava would be sitting in the playground.
But so it was. When the bell rung Vava joined the other girls at recreation.
'Where have you been, Vava Wharton?' demanded Miss Briggs, who was in charge of the playground.
'Here, Miss Briggs,' replied Vava.
Miss Briggs unfortunately took her to mean on the premises. 'Do I understand you to say that you never left the school premises?' she demanded.
'Yes, I stayed here all the time till the bell rung,' said Vava.
'Strange. I searched everywhere, but could not find you,' commented Miss Briggs.
'I was here all the time,' repeated Vava, rather nettled at the young teacher's tone.
Miss Briggs went to report the matter to Miss Upjohn, who listened with a rather abstracted air.
'I will see the girl afterwards; at present I am worried about some examination papers which I put on the top of my desk and cannot find,' she replied.
'What papers are they?' inquired Miss Briggs.
'The Scripture papers for the Fourth Form; it is the next examination after recreation,' explained the head-mistress, who took this subject herself throughout the school.
'The Fourth Form! That is Vava Wharton's form,' observed Miss Briggs.
'Yes, she is in the Fourth Form,' agreed Miss Upjohn absent-mindedly. And then she exclaimed, 'Why, what are those papers on that shelf near the door?'
Miss Briggs went to look. 'They are the Fourth Form Scripture papers,' she informed her.
'I am glad. But how on earth did they get on to that shelf? I am sure I put them on this table; I never put them anywhere else, and that shelf would be the last place I should put them. Any one passing the door could easily see and read them without even meaning to do so,' remarked Miss Upjohn, looking puzzled.
'It looks as if some one had looked at them,' observed Miss Briggs with meaning.
'How? What do you mean?' inquired Miss Upjohn in surprise.
'I mean, if you did not put them there yourself some one must have meddled with them, and it looks to me as if that some one had taken them away to look at, and then hurriedly put them back as near the door as she could get,' explained Miss Briggs.
'Oh I don't think it at all likely! I hope not; I should be sorry to think there was a girl in my school who would do such a thing!' she cried.
'Then how do you account for them being removed?' demanded Miss Briggs.
'I can't account for it; but I would rather think that I put them there myself in an absent-minded moment than that they had been tampered with.'
'But you are never absent-minded, and you do not forget things,' objected Miss Briggs.
'I may have forgotten this; let us hope so,' said the head-mistress in a tone which showed Miss Briggs she wished to change the conversation.
Miss Briggs took the hint and said no more, and it is just possible that the matter might have dropped, and that a suspicion which had arisen in her mind might have died out, but for another unfortunate coincidence, which was as follows.
Vava, as has been said, had not learned to be subject to discipline, and constantly talked when going to and from class; and now, after the bell was rung, she observed to Doreen, 'I don't care if I have missed the history. I shall be first in the Scripture examination—you see if I am not. I can answer any of the questions they put.'
Vava took no heed of where she was when she spoke, and never noticed that she was passing Miss Upjohn's room, until Doreen said, 'Hush!'
Miss Briggs, who was at the door with the head-mistress, overheard the remark, and she looked to see what Miss Upjohn thought of it; but the latter only looked grave at the breach of discipline.
'You heard that?' questioned Miss Briggs.
'Yes. I will have to speak to her,' replied Miss Upjohn.
But Miss Briggs did not let the matter rest there. She said nothing more at the time; but after school was over she went to the head-mistress's room, meaning to talk the matter over.
As it happened ('all wrong,' as Vava declared about all the happenings of this day), Miss Upjohn had the Scripture papers of the Fourth Form before her, and was correcting them.
'Miss Upjohn, excuse me,' began Miss Briggs.
Miss Upjohn patiently put her pen down. She occasionally found Miss Briggs and her zeal trying; but there was a spirit of comradeship among the members of the staff which is not often to be seen as strongly as at the City School for Girls. 'You wish to speak to me?' she questioned.
'Yes. Have you corrected Vava Wharton's Scripture paper?' she inquired.
Miss Upjohn was surprised at the question, but replied, 'As it happens, I have, and a very excellent paper it is; she has answered every question.'
'She said she should, on her way into the classroom, if you remember,' Miss Briggs remarked.
Miss Upjohn looked at the young teacher inquiringly, and then the meaning of Miss Briggs's words dawned upon her, and she said hastily, 'She is very well up in Scripture.'
'I would not have spoken of it but for this, Miss Upjohn, and it leaves no doubt in my mind as to the person who moved your papers,' said Miss Briggs; and she told the story of Vava's morning as far as she knew it, adding, 'She says she stayed in the building the whole time; but I know that to be false, for I searched it from top to bottom.'
Miss Upjohn looked very grave, 'I believe her to be the soul of honour. Surely you would not suspect a girl with such an open countenance as she has of such a dishonest act, and in a Scripture examination too?' objected the head-mistress.
'I am very sorry to do so, but appearances are often deceptive, or how should we be so often taken in? I must say it looks to me very like it, taking into consideration her speech before the examination, her excellent paper, the fact that she was alone hiding somewhere for part of the morning, and that your papers had undoubtedly been moved,' argued Miss Briggs.
Miss Upjohn could not help thinking what an excellent detective the young teacher would have made; but she was not convinced by her arguments, all the same. 'I think you are mistaken; I sincerely hope so, and I shall be obliged if you will not mention the matter to any one,' was all she said, and she did not thank Miss Briggs for reporting the matter to her; but long after the young mistress had gone she sat looking thoughtfully before her, while the ink dried on her pen and the papers remained uncorrected. Then, as if she dismissed an unpleasant thought, she continued her corrections.
And that probably would have been the end of that matter if Miss Briggs had not met Vava outside the school, talking eagerly to Doreen. 'I know I have done well in this exam, and the algebra. Mr. Jones helped me with the algebra, and in this exam. I knew quite well what questions were going to be asked, and looked them up while you were doing your history exam.; so it's all for the best, after all.'
'Vava Wharton,' said Miss Briggs sharply, 'how did you know what questions were to be asked?'
Vava was by no means a nervous girl, nor given to starting when spoken to; but perhaps the events of the past few days, or more likely the examinations, had excited her. At all events, she started at Miss Briggs's sharp voice, and stammering slightly, said, 'I guessed it, Miss Briggs.'
'That is nonsense. How could you guess such a thing?' said Miss Briggs, unbelieving.
'Indeed she did, Miss Briggs, for she told me one question she knew would be asked as we were going up the stairs, before we saw the papers at all; and it was great luck, for she reminded me of the answer, and it was the first question on the paper!' cried Doreen, whose idea was to prove to the mistress that Vava was not boasting, which was what she imagined her friend was being suspected of doing.
But it was, as it happened, a most unfortunate remark. Little though Miss Upjohn had encouraged her, Miss Briggs felt that she must go back and tell the head-mistress this latest information. So she did, though she was received very coldly.
Miss Upjohn heard her to the end without making any comment, and then she said, 'I am sure you only wished to perform an unpleasant duty in repeating this conversation, and I am obliged to you for telling me, as I will speak to Vava Wharton to-morrow and hear her explanation, which I am sure will be satisfactory. Good-evening, Miss Briggs.' And Miss Upjohn held out her hand with a kind smile.
Miss Briggs went away far from satisfied. She thought Miss Upjohn very credulous and prejudiced in Vava's favour, and the unworthy thought came into her head that it was because she was a protegee of the chairman of their board of governors. 'And because of that she won't believe a word against her,' said the young mistress to herself. Then, being, as has already been seen, a most meddlesome person, she had no sooner arrived at her lodgings than she sat down and wrote a letter to no less a person than Mr. Montague Jones, who read it aloud at breakfast to his wife.
'I'm going right to the City school to get to the bottom of this, and give that "meddlesome Mattie" a piece of my mind,' he said in an annoyed tone.
'But the letter is marked "Private and confidential," Monty,' protested his wife.
'I'll "private and confidential" her. You haven't any right to libel any one confidentially, and I'll make her eat her words, daring to accuse my little Vava of looking at examination papers, and Scripture examination papers too! The woman must be an idiot!' cried the irate man.
'Pray be moderate in your expressions, Monty, and don't go up there storming at every one because they don't believe in Vava as much as you do,' remonstrated his wife.
Mr. Jones turned on her indignantly. 'You don't believe this humbug, I should hope?' he inquired.
'No, of course not, because I know the child; but I must own it looks suspicious, and if you take my advice you'll have a talk with Vava, and, without betraying Miss Briggs, get her to explain it all to you; there's some explanation, I have no doubt,' suggested Mrs. Montague Jones.
This was very sensible advice, and Mr. Jones was in the habit of blustering first, and then calming down and listening to his wife's shrewd suggestions; and this was what he did in the present case, though he went off in the car, which he had ordered round at once, muttering all sorts of threats against Miss Briggs for daring to malign his favourite.
Vava meanwhile went to Stella's new office, and found her sister, with hat and jacket on, waiting for her. 'You have got done? I suppose they don't bring you tea here?' said Vava.
'No, we must wait until we get home. We shall enjoy a cup of tea with dinner all the more,' said Stella.
However, when they arrived at No. 2 Heather Road, the housekeeper, who had evidently been on the watch for them, came into the hall to welcome them, and, taking their umbrellas, said, 'It's cold, this nasty wet day, my bairns; come into the sitting-room and warm yourselves by the fire. I've the kettle boiling and some hot scones, if you'd care to have some tea.'
'Oh nursie, you just are the dearest darling in the world; we haven't had any afternoon tea. These new people are not as thoughtful as Mr. James Jones was!' exclaimed Vava.
'It is not really a necessity; we could very well wait till dinner-time,' observed Stella. 'But I must say I shall be very glad of a cup to-day; it has been such a long day.'
Mrs. Morrison looked at the weary young face from under her glasses with her shrewd eyes, but said nothing, and only drew the little table near the fire, took away the wet shoes, and went off to get tea.
'Nursie is a very comforting person, Stella, isn't she?' said Vava, as she held out her cold hands to the cheerful blaze.
'She spoils us all. By the way, I wonder where Amy and Eva are; it is time for them to be home, and nursie has only brought in two cups,' replied her sister.
The housekeeper coming in with the teapot at that instant overheard the last few words. 'The other two young leddies will be having their tea upstairs,' she remarked in answer to Stella.
'Are they in?' asked Vava, helping herself to a hot buttered scone.
'Yes, they are in,' replied Mrs. Morrison.
'What's the matter? Did they get drenched? Why are they having tea upstairs?' the girl continued.
'They wished to have it there, so I took it up,' observed the housekeeper.
'But I don't think you ought to spoil them like that. Why could they not come down and have tea with us here, instead of giving you the trouble of carrying it up to them?' remonstrated Stella, who resented the two English girls making the housekeeper run up and down stairs for them.
'I'm none so old as all that, and I have not much to do while you are out all day,' declared Mrs. Morrison, putting down the scones on the tripod in front of the fire and going out of the room.
'All the same, I call it rather cool of them making nursie run up and down stairs for them,' objected Vava.
'I expect they were wet through and had to change, and that nursie took the tea up without being asked,' suggested Stella.
'They'd be much more comfortable down here by the fire, I should think, than in their cold rooms,' observed Vava.
'Perhaps they have gone to bed,' said Stella.
Vava listened for a moment. 'No, they haven't; I can hear them moving above us, and—they have a fire in Amy's room; I can hear them poking it! What extravagance!' she continued.
Stella was privately of the same opinion, and she wondered at the housekeeper encouraging it. Moreover, it meant more work; but she would not criticise their house-mates any more, and changed the conversation. Soon after, Vava set to work at her books, reading over the term's work for the examination on the following day, and Stella decided to go up and see if Amy had caught a chill, or had any such reason for staying upstairs, or whether it was only laziness.
There was dead silence when she knocked at the door, and then a murmured conversation before Amy unlocked the door, and said, 'Come in, Stella. Eva has a headache, so Mrs. Morrison very kindly insisted on her lying down on my bed and having a fire.'
It did occur to Stella as strange that Eva should lie upon Amy's bed and have the fire in her room; but as Eva had her back turned to her she thought the kindest thing she could do would be to leave her alone, so she said, 'I am so sorry Eva is ill. Mrs. Morrison did not tell me that, or I would not have come and disturbed you.'
'I'm not ill.—You'd better tell her about it, Amy; she'll have to know sooner or later,' said Eva from the bed in a muffled voice.
Stella looked with concern from one to the other. 'I hope there is nothing wrong?' she asked.
Amy made a sign to her to come out of the room, and they went downstairs to the little sitting-room before the former said anything, and even when they were sitting down in the two easy-chairs, which the good old housekeeper had drawn up to the fire, she did not seem inclined to begin.
At last Stella said, 'Tell me what is wrong, Amy—a trouble shared is a trouble halved. I suppose it has something to do with that wretched furniture?'
Amy gave a great sigh, and said, 'Yes. Oh if only she had consulted us! But it was only—thanks to Mrs. Morrison, who got the truth out of her—that she told me to-night; though, I am afraid, it is too late for us to do anything to help her.'
'I suppose the man is worrying her for the payments? Has she let them fall into arrears?' inquired Stella, to help her friend, who seemed to find a difficulty in continuing.
'It's worse than that; it's a dreadful business, and not a nice story; but it is that friend of hers who is at the bottom of it. The furniture has been bought in a false name, and Eva represented herself as over twenty-one, and signed a paper making herself liable for the whole amount if the payments fell into arrears, and of course they have, and it appears the man came down and interviewed Mrs. Morrison, and would have made himself very unpleasant if she had not overawed him. Of course she denied there being any one here of the name Eva gave.'
Stella was, as Amy had expected, very much shocked at this tale, but all she said was, 'I cannot understand the man's believing that Eva was twenty-one; she does not look more than eighteen at the most.'
'That was just what we said, Mrs. Morrison and I; but—and this is the worst part of it—she took the name of her friend and used her birth certificate, which this girl happened to have for some examination, and the girl actually went with Eva and identified her as being the person in the certificate.'
'Disgraceful!' burst out involuntarily from Stella.
'It is disgraceful, and now the man threatens her with exposure if she does not pay down the whole amount.'
'How much is it?' inquired Stella.
'Thirty-five pounds,' said Amy.
'That seems to me a good deal, even for that suite,' observed Stella.
'So it is; but he said it was credit price.'
'And how much has she paid?' asked Stella.
'Only five pounds, and she had to sell her watch and a gold bracelet and a silk dress to pay that, she says. She never could save out of her weekly salary,' explained Amy.
Stella remembered poor Eva's motto made out of their four names, and thought how very inappropriate a one it had proved in her case. 'Poor Eva!' she exclaimed.
'Yes, indeed it is "poor Eva!" and I don't see how we are to help her; we cannot give her the thirty pounds, and the man demands it within eight days.'
'I don't believe he can; besides, if she has not got it, it is not any good his demanding it; he must take his furniture back,' declared Stella, who, though she did not know much of such business, had a good business head.
'He declares the furniture is not worth the half now, and threatens to take the matter into court, and put Eva in prison for getting goods under false pretences.'
'Has she no relations to whom she could go for advice? Surely she cannot be alone in the world?' Stella asked anxiously.
'I don't think she has any near relations; her father was a very peculiar man, and, I fancy, had quarrelled with all his relations, and his wife's as well. I know none ever came to visit them,' said Amy.
'She must have friends,' said Stella.
'She says she would rather be put in prison than tell any of them,' declared Amy.
'Then we must consult a lawyer. I wish Mr. Stacey were nearer; but he may know some one in London who would advise us, though I don't know what is to be done about the money. I have not thirty pounds at this minute,' said Stella.
'Nor have I, or I would give it willingly; it is dreadful to see her. She may say she is not ill, but she looks ill, and she will be if this goes on,' said Amy.
Stella was very sorry for Eva; but she felt rather angry with her too, though her hard-heartedness would have melted if she could have seen Eva, who lay upon her bed looking the picture of woe.
When Vava came back, the three of them sat down to dinner, an especially nice and tempting dinner made by the old housekeeper, who managed to make tasty dishes, in spite of being economical; and her young charges, for such they may truly be called, made a very good meal.
'I'll take some up to Eva; I 'm sure this will tempt her!' cried Vava when she had finished her dinner.
Amy had already taken her tray up, and brought it back untouched; but Vava would not be gainsaid, and carried up some soup, which she declared Eva was very fond of.
'Perhaps she will take it from Vava, as she does not know anything about it,' suggested Stella, who thought that Eva might be ashamed, under the circumstances, of having any appetite.
Vava did not come down for more than half-an-hour, and when she did they saw that she had been crying.
Stella gave an exclamation of vexation. 'I did not want you to be told all this; you are too young to be mixed up with such disreputable doings. Don't bother your head about it any more,' said Stella.
'But I must, because I feel that it was partly my fault,' declared Vava.
'Your fault!' cried Stella, horrified.
'Yes, because Eva would not have been such friends with this horrid girl if I had not been so unfriendly with her. She says she was so disappointed when she saw I did not care for her, and it made her take to this other girl,' said Vava.
'Eva ought not to put the blame on to you; no one need do wrong unless they choose, and it is very weak to be led away so easily. And what we are going to do about it I don't know; she has got herself into a terrible mess.'
'Poor Eva, she can't bear the sight of the furniture, so she is going to sleep in Amy's room,' announced Vava.
'I should not think Amy would care to see it either,' observed Stella dryly.
Vava saw that her sister had not much sympathy with Eva, and she had certainly brought trouble upon the whole household at No. 2 Heather Road, where they might all have been so happy if they had all done what was right.
As it was, Stella and Amy sat up till midnight, talking the matter over and wondering what could be done for Eva, and ending up after each suggestion by deciding that they could do nothing.
Amy crept up to her room to get out some things she wanted, and Stella stood upon the stairs to wait for her and hear how Eva was. Amy was some little time, and presently she came on tiptoe to the door, a smile upon her face. 'Just come and look at her, she is sleeping so peacefully,' she said in a whisper.
There was a bright fire burning, and it passed through Stella's mind that Eva's sorrow did not prevent her from making herself comfortable. As the firelight fell upon the sleeping girl's face she could not help thinking to herself that the miserable business did not seem to have made a very deep impression upon the culprit, for she was, as Amy had said, sleeping quite peacefully, as if she had not a care in the world, with a smile upon her lips; and that smile hardened Stella's heart against Eva.
'It's all very well, Amy, but she has upset us all dreadfully; and while we have been cudgelling our brains downstairs to try and find a way to help her, she goes happily to sleep and does not worry at all,' said Stella, as she accompanied her friend to her bedroom.
'I suppose she had worn herself out,' said Amy, trying to be loyal to her friend, though in her heart she had been rather surprised herself to find Eva asleep.
Stella did not say any more; but any idea she had had of asking Mr. Stacey to let her have a little money to help Eva was given up, and she went to bed, pondering upon the easy conscience that some people had.
Vava had learnt her lesson from Eva's trouble, but Stella was too shocked with Eva to be as sympathetic with the poor girl as she might have been; and Vava, who thought her hard, remarked with her usual candour, 'The fact is, Stella, you are a regular Pharisee, and you'll have a nice tumble one of these days if you walk like that, with your head in the air, looking over the heads of everybody.' And then Vava turned over and went to sleep.
THE VALUE OF A GOOD CHARACTER.
Vava tossed and turned and went to sleep, only to dream of prison cells, in which Eva was secured by heavy chains, which she (Vava) tried in vain to break, and it was from one of these nightmares that she awoke in the morning to the sound of a laugh. Sitting up in bed, Vava listened, hardly able to believe her ears, for it was Eva's laugh.
'Stella,' she said in solemn tones to her sister, 'do you hear Eva laughing?'
'Yes,' said Stella shortly; but the little word said a good deal.
'Do you think she's in hysterics?' asked Vava.
'No, I do not; she seems very cheerful,' replied Stella.
Vava was very thoughtful; and when she went to the bathroom, Stella noticed that she did not stop as usual to say good-morning to Eva as she passed her door, at which her sister was rather pleased, for she did not approve of Eva's light-heartedness under the circumstances.
However, she greeted the girl kindly enough when they met at breakfast, and indeed it would have been difficult not to smile back at Eva's happy face, with a look on it that they had not seen since they had been at Heather Road. It scarcely needed Eva's announcement that she did 'feel so happy' to assure them of the fact, for she looked a different girl; 'and I don't deserve it,' she added.
There was silence when she said this, for if her three listeners had spoken their minds they would have cried in chorus, 'Indeed you do not!' As it happened, however, it was Vava, with her usual candour, who demanded, 'Then why do you feel happy?'
'Don't you know?' demanded Eva, looking from one to the other; and then, seeing from their faces that they certainly did not know the reason for her change of mood, she continued, 'I thought Mrs. Morrison would have told you.'
'What has nursie got to do with it?' asked Vava.
'Everything, she has been so good. She came up to me last night, and straightened things out in the most wonderful way, as far as they can be straightened, and I am going to keep them straight for the future,' said Eva.
'I am very glad,' said Stella; but though she wondered how the old housekeeper had straightened out this tangled web, she was too polite to ask any questions; nor, though they were burning with curiosity, did the other two do so either; Vava because she thought she should hear it from 'nursie,' and Amy because she decided that Eva would prefer to tell her when the two of them were alone.
Vava was disappointed in her hope of getting an explanation out of the old housekeeper, who, in answer to her questions, said, 'And what will it have to do with you, Miss Vava? I'm ashamed at your curiosity.'
'I don't call it curiosity to take an interest in your friends, and I want to know that Eva is safe,' said Vava.
'Oh if that is all you are asking, then I can answer you; she is safe from being punished for her wrong-doing except by her own conscience,' replied Mrs. Morrison; and with this Vava had to be content, though it was not all she wanted to be told, as the old woman very well knew.
Amy, however, fared better, and came out of Eva's room looking radiant. 'Stella, it is too good of Mrs. Morrison! Fancy, she is lending Eva the thirty pounds, and she is seeing the man herself; so we need not bother about a lawyer or anything!' she cried.
But Stella did not look at all pleased, and saying, 'Indeed!' she walked straight into the kitchen to have it out with nursie, who received her remonstrances very calmly.
'Don't you fash yourself, Miss Stella, dearie; I'm not throwing away my money, and I am not spoiling Miss Eva, nor encouraging her either. She will pay back every penny, and a hard time she will have doing it too.'
And with this Stella had to be satisfied. Mrs. Morrison was a woman of great character, and what she thought it right to do she did, without paying any attention to what people said or thought.
'I shall not be back to dinner,' said Eva as she said good-bye to the other three.
'Why? What are you going to do?' asked Amy anxiously.
Eva coloured slightly as she answered in a would-be light manner, 'I have some work to do at the office; we are working overtime, so I shall be late for the next few weeks,' and then she nodded and went off before she could be questioned further.
Amy turned to the sisters and said, 'I did her an injustice. I thought she was taking things too easy, although I was thankful to hear that she had been got out of her trouble; but this work that she speaks of is dreadfully tiresome, and all the lady-clerks refused it. She is getting very good pay for it, but it will tire her on these spring evenings.'
'I did her wrong too. I am very glad she has taken this work and is trying to earn extra money; she will feel much happier,' said Stella.
'Yes, and Mrs. Morrison has made her promise to bring her salary straight to her every Saturday, and just ask her for what she needs; and Eva says she means to live on two shillings and sixpence a week till she is out of debt,' explained Amy.
Stella gave a sigh of relief. 'Perhaps it has taught her a lesson,' she agreed; 'and it is a blessing that it has ended better than we expected.'
Then the three started for the City with Doreen, who, of course, knew nothing of what had happened.
'There's the chairman's motor at the school-gate,' exclaimed the latter, as she and Vava approached the City school.
'Mr. Montague Jones's, you mean? So it is! I wonder what he has come for? Something to do with the prizes, I expect,' said Vava, and she stopped to speak to the chauffeur, with whom she was a great favourite.
'The master's in there; I believe he's looking for you,' the man observed.
'That isn't the proper place to look for me; I go in at the pupils' entrance, tell him,' said Vava.
But Mr. Jones was not at that moment looking for Vava. He had been met by Miss Upjohn, who was very glad to see him, as she wished to speak about some school matter, which being soon settled, Mr. Jones began at once, 'And how is my little friend Vava Wharton getting on?'
There was nothing unusual in his asking this, for it was his usual question, and the head-mistress replied with a smile, 'She is not very little, but she is getting on very well. I think you will have to give her two prizes, which is rather unusual for a girl in her first term. She has done two excellent examination papers.'
'Indeed! Which are they?' inquired Mr. Jones, who was wondering how he was to broach the subject of the Scripture papers, and get at the bottom of Miss Briggs's tale without betraying her.
'Scripture and algebra; the first did not surprise me so much, for she is exceptionally well up in Scripture, and we cannot take any credit to ourselves for the knowledge she has displayed in that subject; but she has made wonderful progress in algebra; she is a very clever girl. One has the beauty, and the other the brains—not that Vava is not good-looking, by the way,' said the head-mistress, correcting herself.
'Nor is the beauty stupid, by any means, though she is so reserved that it is difficult to get to know her or her abilities,' said Mr. Jones, who began to think that he had come on a fool's errand, and had better have trusted the head-mistress to manage her school without his interference. He was just getting up to say good-bye when there came a knock at the door, and Miss Briggs entered, looking very perturbed at sight of Montague Jones.
'My letter was strictly private, Mr. Jones,' she said.
'And so it has been treated, Miss Briggs,' replied Mr. Jones.
'Miss Briggs, excuse me, but did you write to Mr. Jones upon the matter we discussed yesterday?' inquired the head-mistress, looking very much annoyed.
Poor Miss Briggs looked very much ashamed of herself as she answered, 'Yes.' She saw that she had betrayed herself, whereas Mr. Jones had not done so.
'Since you have told Miss Upjohn so much, I think you may allow me to suggest that you should give us your grounds for suspecting my young friend Miss Wharton of dishonest practices, and let us try and convince you that you are mistaken,' observed Mr. Jones.
'Oh I did not say they were dishonest,' she protested.
'But I do,' he replied.
Thus put into a corner, Miss Briggs had to go through the whole thing again, and a very bad time she had of it. Mr. Jones had not been a magistrate for nothing. He questioned and cross-questioned and argued till he had proved even to Miss Briggs's satisfaction that the very remarks she had overheard only proved Vava's innocence, as no girl in her senses would boast openly of knowing the questions beforehand if she had looked at them secretly, far less impart one to a friend, and that one a girl whom the girls had nicknamed 'Old Honesty.' At last Miss Upjohn and her visitor had the satisfaction of having brought Miss Briggs round to their opinion.
'I see now that I was mistaken, and I am very sorry about it, and I ought not to have written to you,' she said frankly to Mr. Jones.
'No, you ought not. Miss Upjohn is quite able to manage her own affairs; but I hope she will overlook your fault this time,' he replied with equal frankness; and then he got up and left the two ladies alone.
Miss Briggs looked so ashamed of herself that Miss Upjohn was sorry for her; but what she said to her young assistant no one knew, for the story never went any further.
Vava never thought of her unpleasant experience with Miss Briggs after that day, except to feel that it had done good instead of harm, for the young mistress went out of her way to be pleasant to the girl she had wrongfully accused, which Vava thought very nice of her, as it had never been proved that she had not moved those papers. Perhaps she would not have been so grateful to Miss Briggs if she had known that it had been proved to have been some one else.
The facts of the case were that another mistress had taken them by mistake, and in her hurry just put them back inside the door. Miss Upjohn was very glad to have this explanation, not that she doubted Vava, but because she thought it would show Miss Briggs how easily one may be suspicious without cause. And, if the truth be told, it was not till she heard this that Miss Briggs did quite believe in Vava's innocence. So that it did teach her a lesson.
Vava was called into the head-mistress's study that morning, and went in looking very hot and indignant, but came out smiling, and said to Doreen, 'It's all right.'
'What's all right?' demanded Doreen, staring.
'Oh I forgot you know nothing about it. Well, it does not matter; it was only something that was bothering me, and it's all right now. Miss Upjohn is a brick,' explained Vava.
'I knew that before, and I'm glad whatever was bothering you is all right; you all seem to have had the blues lately at your place. Mother said she supposed you found a house rather a bother as well as a pleasure,' remarked Doreen.
'Oh no, we don't! Mrs. Morrison takes all the worry off us; she's a brick too, a gold brick!' declared Vava with enthusiasm.
'I never heard of a "gold brick,"' observed Doreen.
'Well, she's one,' said Vava obstinately, and they both laughed.
But Vava never told any one except her 'gold brick,' as she called 'old nursie,' of the bad quarter of an hour which she had had with Miss Briggs before school, when the latter had accused her of having seen the papers, and told her to go and confess it to Miss Upjohn. 'But that wasn't the worst, nursie; the worst was in Miss Upjohn's room,' declared the girl.
'But I thought she had the sense to believe in you?' asked the old woman.
'Oh yes, she was most awfully nice, and told me she had never doubted me for a moment; it was Miss Briggs that made me feel so horrid and uncomfortable. Miss Upjohn told her she owed me an apology, and she looked so miserable I felt as if I ought to apologise to her,' said Vava.
'And why would you do that? No one has a right to take away your character, and if they try to do it, and find they are wrong, it is they who should apologise. There's nothing so much worth in this world as one's character—never forget that, my bairn,' said the old nurse. 'You see how Mr. Jones and Miss Upjohn both believed in you, though I must say things did look black to a suspicious person; that was because they knew your character, and that it was an honest character. If that same tale had been told about a girl who was not straightforward it might have been a different thing. Be thankful for your head-mistress's trust in you, and always act up to the principles you have been taught; it will save you from many a pitfall or from the trouble a weak young lady like Miss Eva brings upon herself.'
'It doesn't seem to matter so much as long as I have you to get me out of it,' said Vava mischievously.
'Indeed it does, for though I might get you off punishment I could never undo what you had done,' said the old housekeeper.
'But if I was sorry?' suggested Vava.
'You would be forgiven, but it would never undo it, remember that,' repeated Mrs. Morrison.
And Vava did remember it. At the moment she was thinking that Eva seemed to have got over her trouble, and to feel as if it were undone the moment the money was paid; but, as it happened, she was mistaken, and when she saw her come in night after night, looking tired out and black under the eyes, she began to understand that 'old nursie' was right, and that one cannot undo a wrong deed. Moreover, though she never spoke of it, Eva felt that she had lost her character for uprightness with her friends, and she bitterly regretted her weakness. But if the girl had but known it, they respected her more now that she was working so hard to repay Mrs. Morrison than they had ever done before, and Vava was only too glad to be with her in the short time she had free.
As for the furniture man, the shrewd Scotchwoman managed him better perhaps than a lawyer would have done, and she got back Eva's jewellery, which he had accepted in part payment at much less than their value; and her still final triumph was that she only paid the thirty pounds.
'So I made him take five pounds off the bill, and then overpaid him to be quit of him altogether, though it's a fine suite, after all,' said Mrs. Morrison when recounting her transaction with the not too reputable tradesman, who, for his part, was not sorry to have done with Mrs. Morrison, whose shrewd questions and business knowledge made him feel very uncomfortable, as did some of her plain comments on his behaviour.
VAVA GETS A SHOCK.
The days flew by until the eventful Friday when there was the prize-giving, the play of Dante, in which Vava had the role of heroine, and, to wind up, the dinner-party and theatre afterwards.
'I'm glad we have had all this to look forward to,' said Vava on Friday morning as they both, in very pretty black embroidered frocks, were going up to the City.
'Yes,' agreed Stella, not too cordially, for though she was glad to go to the prize-giving and see the play, since Vava was in it, still neither of these things gave her unalloyed pleasure. At the prize-giving she would be surrounded by the parents of these girls, whom she did not expect to be very refined. As to the play, she, as a student and lover of Dante, objected to its being acted, though she did not say so to Vava. And as for the two other pleasures to which Vava was looking forward so eagerly, Stella did not care for them at all, and was only going to please Vava, whose great day it was.