Judith had always been honest with herself and she knew quite well what the real issue was.
The struggle was hard, the hardest, perhaps, which Judith had ever fought. Mechanically she turned the pages while the argument continued within her. She seemed to have no way of deciding, when suddenly she remembered Nursing Sister Ruth's words, "York Hill girls have the reputation overseas of being willing to tackle any job—no matter how hard—and of putting it through." Top Self hadn't a chance after that. Filling in here seemed her most immediate duty and Judith settled down grimly to her task.
The rehearsal was long and tiring, and twenty times during the first hour Judith was tempted to give up. But she did her best, and although Eleanor was distracted by all the numberless things demanding attention, she found time to stop and say at the end of the first act, "Good work, Judy! I knew I could depend on you. You'll make a first-rate Scrooge, and you are a brick to get to work without any fuss." And although Judith did not believe the remark about her acting, her face flushed with pleasure and she determined that she would not spend another moment in questioning. This job must be put through.
And it was. She woke early in the morning and learned her part by the light of Nancy's flashlight. She cut her recreation time and scamped her lesson preparation. She thought and lived Scrooge, and as she had a good memory she was word-perfect before Eleanor had thought it possible. Eleanor and Patricia coached her whenever they could, and Miss Marlowe gave her Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon.
* * * * *
Friday morning, and with it the literature examination! Judith read the paper with a sinking heart. She would not fail, but, as she had guessed, the extra reading which she had planned to do during these last few days would have given her paper "The little more, and how much it is" which would have lifted it to the first rank. Came Friday afternoon with its last rehearsal and then the fateful night.
Judith will never forget the thrill of terror that ran through her as the curtain rose and she saw the rows of faces staring at her out of the semi-darkness. For an instant she was paralyzed with terror, and it was only the audience's delight at finding Frances arrayed as Scrooge's irrepressible nephew that covered the gap between "Merry Christmas, Uncle," and "Bah! Humbug!"
The first short scene was wooden enough in all conscience, but Judith remembered her words, and as the story progressed she got a better grip on herself surprising and delighting Eleanor and those who were in the secret by her spirited acting.
But at the end of Act Three, Nancy, who had slipped behind the scenes to congratulate her chum, and to tell her that her wig was the least bit askew, was surprised and alarmed to find Judith almost in tears.
"I can't do the last act, Nancy, I simply can't. My face feels all stiff and solemn. I can't laugh and joke, I can't, no matter how I try"—and two tears actually rolled down her cheeks. She was tired out, and the very imagination which had made it possible for her to be for the moment the gloomy old miser, now made it seem impossible for her to change him in a few minutes into a jolly, generous, incarnation of old Father Christmas.
Nancy was horrified and distracted. She did her best, but with seemingly no avail, and then she had one of those inspirations, which seem almost heaven-sent. Hurrying back and learning that there were still four or five minutes before the curtain would rise, she sought Catherine, who luckily had left her seat during the interlude.
"Captain," she said, saluting, "there is one of the crew who needs your help; can you come at once?"
And then, as they neared the stage—
"It's Judy, Cathy," she whispered; "do buck her up. She has been such a brick, but she is so tired that she feels that she can't do the last act."
Catherine waited for no more explanations, but went swiftly behind the curtain, where she found Judith trying to look cheerful, but making a dismal failure of it. "Careful," said Cathy to herself. "I mustn't be sympathetic or she will break down."
Judith looked up, and instead of the dreaded warning that the curtain was going up, here was Catherine saluting her merrily.
"Good work, Judy! The 'Jolly Susan' needs a first mate; can I induce you to accept the job?" And she put a steadying arm round the new mate's shoulders. "You've been splendid; we're all proud of you, and especially we of the 'Jolly Susan.'"
No more question of can or can't. Judith felt that she could do anything for her captain and here was a chance. She threw herself into the unforgettable scene of Scrooge's awakening, and the whole school was infected with the joyousness of her declaration: "I am as light as a feather. I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a schoolboy. A Merry Christmas to everybody, a Happy New Year to all the world. Hullo, here, whoop! Hullo."
And every one was quite ready to agree with Scrooge's declaration at the end of the scene, "Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!"
The New Girls were cheered to the echo by the School, and the party which was voted a great success ended with cake and lemonade and a delightful Sir Roger de Coverly in which every one took part.
Judith, dancing with Bob Cratchit, felt supremely happy, and her cup was filled to overflowing by Miss Meredith's words as she said good-night.
"Congratulations on your success, Judith, you gave us a fine presentation of Scrooge, and Eleanor tells me you had very little time for preparation."
And then the delightful whispered conferences upstairs after "Lights Out" bell had rung—Catherine turned a deaf ear, for discipline must occasionally be relaxed.
"Did you see Mr. Fezziwig's coat, Judy?"
"Wasn't Mrs. Cratchit too funny for words?"
"Wasn't the ghost splendid?"
"I shivered all over when he was speaking," Nancy declared; and so on and so on, until Judith fell asleep and dreamed that she was dancing the Sir Roger with Miss Meredith arrayed as Mrs. Cratchit, and that, so arrayed, Miss Meredith had proceeded to the platform and had read out the term's marks beginning with Five A. First, Judith Benson; second, Joyce Hewson; third, Nancy Nairn.
It was a good thing that Judith had the fun of her dream because in the lists read out after prayers next morning our heroine stood fourth, in Five A, but that didn't spoil her morning, such a happy morning. Desks were tidied, Christmas presents tied up, suitcases packed, and at twelve o'clock a short Christmas service was held in Big Hall.
The carols which they had been learning the last few weeks at morning prayers were sung now with a right good will to the accompaniment of the School orchestra. And then Miss Meredith, having read the beautiful Christmas story, explained the meaning of its message so clearly, so simply, and yet so earnestly, and with such a passionate longing that from York Hill there should indeed radiate "Peace and good will towards all men," that not the stupidest nor the most frivolous girl but was touched to a sense of higher ideals and nobler living.
Every girl in the School knew that the Head Mistress was humbly striving to embody in her own life the high ideals she held before her pupils, and because of this they listened. Doubtless some of the seed fell by the wayside, some into hard and stony ground, some was choked by the deceit and riches of this world, but other seed fell into good ground and brought forth abundantly, "some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred-fold."
THE Christmas holidays brought a much-needed rest.
"No parties these holidays," said Aunt Nell firmly, as she ushered Judith into a pretty sunshiny room; "bed at nine o'clock, breakfast at nine o'clock, and any amount of skating and tobogganing in between. I promised your mother that you should have a very quiet time."
But a very quiet time was not just the holiday that Judith had planned to have, and after a long night's sleep and a peaceful day devoted to letter-writing she was lively as a cricket and ready for anything.
Christmas shopping absorbed the first two days: Aunt Nell found it tiring, but to Judith the shops all glittering with Yuletide gaiety were wholly fascinating. There were toys to be bought for six-year-old Doris and little Bobbie and Baby Hugh, and something very nice for Nancy. Nothing seemed good enough for Nancy, but at last she found a little string of white coral faintly touched with rose which she was certain would look "just perfectly lovely" with Nancy's roseleaf complexion, and, after much anxious calculating as to what money would be left for pocket money during the holidays, the corals were finally bought and sent off to Quebec.
Up to the day before Christmas the weather had been very uncertain, and Judith, who had bought Bobbie a new sled was afraid that she would have to pull him on bare sidewalks, and that the stories of Santa Claus and his reindeer would fall rather flat if there were no snow on the ground to add a touch of reality to the tale.
But on Christmas Eve to every one's joy the snow fell softly but steadily all day, and next morning the sky was so blue, the sun so bright, and the ground so dazzling white in its snowy covering, that Judith running out to the verandah fairly danced with joy.
"Do come out and see!" she cried to Aunt Nell; "it's exactly like a Christmas-card Christmas if only a little English robin would hop into the picture."
Stockings had already been emptied and their contents exclaimed over, and no wonder Judith was happy. Perhaps Santa Claus had an especially soft corner in his heart for schoolgirls whose mothers were far away at Christmas-time. Judith had never had such enchanting presents—a string of beautiful amber beads from Daddy; the daintiest of shell-pink crepe kimonos with satin slippers and cap to match from mother; a pretty camisole from Nancy; a woolen skating-set of palest primrose from Uncle Tom; and—joy of joys! a new white and silver evening frock from Aunt Nell.
Judith promised to take Bobbie for a sleigh-ride, but ran upstairs to have another peep at the new frock first, and Aunt Nell found her gloating over it.
"I know," she said, smiling at Judith's raptures; "I've been there myself. I'm sure your mother thought two frocks ample for a sixteen-year-old, and I expect you have worn them so often already that you never want to see them again. Hannah shall help you freshen them up with a new flower or a bit of gauze, and I hope you will have jolly times in the new one."
Judith folded away the delicious bit of finery in its tissue wrappings, and then, standing at her dressing-table and looking dreamily and happily into the mirror, she made a picture of herself dancing in her silver frock with Catherine, admired by Nancy and Josephine, and envied by all the girls of South House, and she privately resolved at once to save enough out of her allowance for silver shoes.
"Hurry, hurry!" shouted Uncle Tom, and hastily donning her new skating outfit Judith joined the group in the hall.
They had glorious fun in the snow. Doris and Bobbie, rolled up in furs so that they looked like little 'possums, had turns riding in the new sled to the park, and then the whole family were packed into the big toboggan and Uncle Tom had more fun even than Bobbie. Oh, it was good to be alive!
Next morning brought a welcome letter from Sally May who was spending the holidays with Nancy in Quebec. Judith had just been thinking about them and wishing she could compare notes about Christmas presents, and have a really good gossip.
"Quebec is the most enchanting place," wrote Sally May; "you know how I've hated learning Canadian and British history—well, here the history is real—Nancy's father is awfully keen about the monuments and things and I'm getting to be keen myself. Jack has a couple of R. M. C. boys here for the holidays, and then there's His Lordship Brother Tim—Mrs. Nairn is a dear and is giving us an awfully good time. If only you were here, Judy, it would be perfect."
If only she were! Judith sighed and wished she had two big brothers—or at least that Nancy had included her in the invitation. She was right in her surmise that Sally May had been chosen because she was so far from home, but she couldn't help wishing—
Judith had heard Aunt Nell talking to a gentleman in the drawing-room across the hall, and now, to her surprise, Aunt Nell left him and came into the library looking somewhat puzzled.
"Mr. Nairn, Nancy's father, is here, Judith. I find that Mrs. Nairn and I are old friends. I hadn't guessed that your Nancy's mother was the Elizabeth Dalton I knew years ago. She has sent a very kind invitation for you to spend the New Year's week-end with them. Mr. Nairn is going to Quebec by to-night's train, and could take you with him and bring you back on Tuesday. I don't know whether I ought"—but at the sight of the ecstatic joy on Judith's face she did not finish her sentence. "Run along, dear, and pack the new frock. I don't need to ask you if you want to go. You have been a good child and I think you have had enough rest. Come first and be introduced to Mr. Nairn. It is kind of him to take you."
A radiant Judith packed a club bag and suitcase. Could Uncle Tom and Mother have guessed that such a fairy-tale was going to happen when they planned their gifts?—But, of course not. Where were her skates and plenty of handkerchiefs? Silver shoes she must have sometime, but here were the old white ones in the meantime.
Nancy and Sally May were in the limousine waiting for the travellers at the station next day, and as Judith caught sight of them she realized with a joyous leap of her heart how homesick she had been for the sound of Sally May's pretty voice and the sight of Nancy's dear, merry face.
Ever so many things had happened, and better still were going to happen. Sally May had had her hair bobbed, and very chic it looked curling under the rim of her little fur hat. Nancy had a thrilling tale of Christmas presents to tell, and they had not reached the end of the Christmas happenings when the car drew up before a comfortable-looking, rather old-fashioned house surrounded by what was evidently a big garden under a thick mantle of snow.
Mrs. Nairn's welcome made Judith feel at home at once, and she gave her aunt's messages to her hostess so prettily and so modestly that Mrs. Nairn was quite charmed with Nancy's new friend.
At dinner the sons of the house appeared, and with them Tom Southam, Jack's roommate at college. Jack had the same merry blue eyes and sunny smile as his sister, and Judith forgot to be shy with him. Thomas was a cheery youth, whose chief interest at the dinner-table was the food, and Judith gave him scant attention. But Tim, the elder brother, who had been in the Flying Corps and had several enemy machines to his credit, who still limped from injuries received during an air-fight, and whose grey eyes had the keen, piercing, and yet dreamy look of the genuine bird-man, was sufficiently a hero to prove undeniably attractive. Tim was courteous and kind, but from the height of his five-and-twenty years a trifle condescending, and indeed he was wishing within himself that "Mum wouldn't fill the house with such kids."
The boys had planned to go skiing next day and after some private suggestions from Mrs. Nairn, they asked the girls to come and watch the fun. Neither Sally May nor Judith had ever been on skis, but here was a splendid chance to try.
"Drive us over to the Ramparts, Tim, please," said Nancy as they started off. "I don't want Judith to be in Quebec another hour without seeing our view."
"Right you are," answered Tim, "we'd better go while it's clear—though, of course, the only way to see Quebec is from the river."
"I always get thrills," said Nancy, "when I come down the river and see the big rock and the town. Think of being Jacques Cartier—the first to see it. For a while, you know, I used to put at the top of my letters, 'Quebec—the Rock Fortress of New France.'"
"Cheek, that's what," said Jack; "I hope you apologize to Wolfe when you do it—there, by the way, is the Wolfe-Montcalm Monument—see, shining over the tops of the trees—I bet you can't recite the inscription, Nan, for Judith, who ought to improve her mind."
"Lost your bet," returned Nancy promptly—"a pound box, if you please—no, half a pound will do, for I can't say it in Latin, but I certainly can in English.
"'Valour Gave Them a Common Death, History a Common Fame, And Posterity a Common Monument.'"
"Bravo—I'll make it a pound—but of course you looked it up to show off to Sally May."
"Well, I did look it up," confessed Nancy, "but Father promised to take us to see the sights as soon as Judy came and he would have disowned me if I didn't know that much."
They had reached the Ramparts and Judith caught her breath in amazement at the wonderful scene. Away below them flowed the majestic St. Lawrence, its snow-clad banks pierced here and there by tiny villages each with its heavenward-pointing spire; to the north were the Laurentian Hills, now glistening in a dazzling white mantle; at their feet was the town, quaint and picturesque, its spires and monuments reminders of its romantic past.
"There's the Ursuline convent, Judy," said Sally May, eagerly pointing out the group of buildings. "Mr. Nairn told me the most interesting thing about it—there's a lamp there that was lighted over two hundred years ago by a girl, Marie de Repentigny—just imagine all the things that have happened since that flame was lit."
"En avant—forward march," said Jack; "this is not Mr. Nairn's personally conducted tour—we, I might observe parenthetically, intend to ski this afternoon."
They bundled into the motor once more and were soon on the slopes a little lower down where several flying figures could already be seen. It was an ideal place for the thrilling sport—for there were a number of high places where experts could take high jumps, and lower slopes in plenty for the learners and the more timid, and great snowy fields beyond where the whiteness was broken by the gay-coloured caps and scarves of tobogganers and skaters.
Tom took Nancy down to one of the ponds to skate, while Tim and Jack gave Judith and Sally May their first lesson.
Tim proved a splendid teacher and Judith made such progress in the management of the long clumsy skis that at the end of an hour the boys left Nancy in charge of their pupils, and went off to try some of the higher jumps.
Judith found that she couldn't do as well without Tim's precept and example, and neither she nor Sally May was sorry when Nancy declared they could have just one more jump—they had no idea how stiff they would be to-morrow.
Judith stood for a moment enjoying the scene. The sky was still blue, but there were bands of colour in the west and the shadows of the pine trees had lengthened considerably. She drew a deep breath of unconscious enjoyment drinking in the wonderful air that tasted like clear spring water, and then, making sure that both skis were quite straight, she pushed off.
For a moment like a bird she felt herself flying through the air. How glorious! Then quite suddenly came a sense of suffocation and thick darkness. In some way the long curved wings on her feet had tripped her and she had pitched head foremost into a deep snow-bank. Nancy, who saw her disappear, halloed to the boys as she sped to the place where Judith was buried, and they appeared with magical swiftness.
They pulled Judith out—not without difficulty—and wiped the snow off her face.
"Are you hurt?" said Jack anxiously.
Judith struggled to get her breath.
"It's—too—beautiful," she said, without opening her eyes, her mind evidently still on the river view,—"perfectly glorious!"
Jack burst into relieved laughter.
"Judith's a game little thing," he said to his mother later on; "I suppose we shouldn't have left them so soon, but she seemed to get the hang of it very quickly—she slid into that bank as neatly as an arrow—I'm mighty glad she isn't hurt."
* * * * *
Judith could hardly keep her eyes open at the dinner-table, and she was glad enough to accept Mrs. Nairn's suggestion that she go to bed early.
Nancy and Sally May perched on the foot of the bed ready to talk over the day's happenings, but found to their astonishment that Judy seemed asleep almost as soon as her head touched the pillow. They tiptoed gently away, but they need not have been afraid of wakening her.
"Doesn't she look sweet?" whispered loyal Nancy to Sally May as she turned off the bedside lamp. Judith was smiling happily, for in her dreams she was flying, flying through sunlit skies, and Tim, of the grey eyes and the half friendly, half quizzical smile, was flying beside her.
CASTLES IN THE AIR
NEXT morning Judith could scarcely move; her limbs were stiff from the unaccustomed exercise and one shoulder was bruised and wrenched from her fall, so Mrs. Nairn kept her in bed all morning and gave her much petting and mothering.
The plans for the afternoon had included a skating party on the river, ending with a drive out to the Nairns' summer cottage, which had been opened in preparation for this week of winter sports. A neighbouring farmer's wife had promised to have a roaring fire ready for the skaters when they should appear about five o'clock, and the farmer himself was to meet them at the river with his big sleigh. Clearly Judith could not skate to-day, so other plans were made for her. Nancy, of course, must be with the skaters, since she was the hostess, but Sally May insisted on staying at home with Judith. Naturally this embarrassed Judith, for she knew that Sally May loved skating, and an outdoor party of this kind would be a novelty to a Southerner. Finally Jack talked things over with his mother, and, as Judith declared that she was well enough to go, Mrs. Nairn agreed that she should drive with Jack to the cottage and he would leave her there with Mme. Berthier, while he rejoined the skaters on the river.
Tim, to Judith's disappointment, declared that he had an engagement and couldn't come.
"I can't think what's happening to Tim," grumbled Nancy as they changed into warm clothes for their long drive; "usually he's a dear about helping to entertain, but he's not a bit like himself, he looks so glum and 'grouchy.'"
"Oh, Nancy!" Judith protested, "I don't see how you can say such a thing! I think he looks just lovely!"
"Just lovely," Nancy laughed wickedly; "he'll be pleased when I tell him."
Poor Judith crimsoned.
"Oh, Nancy," she begged, "you wouldn't, surely you wouldn't. I just meant that he had nice eyes."
But Nancy would make no promises.
Promptly after an early lunch the skaters set off, and Jack appeared with a horse and a little old-fashioned cutter which he had borrowed from an uncle who scorned motors and still clung to his horse. Judith was tucked up in a fur robe in the cutter and off they went.
"It's almost as good as skiing or flying," laughed Judith as the light sleigh flew over the snow and the bells on the horse jingled a merry accompaniment to their talk. It was another day of magical colouring—all blue and gold and dazzling white, and "Little Oaks" was reached all too soon in Judith's opinion. To their dismay there was no friendly column of smoke announcing the fire that Mme. Berthier had promised.
"It's a good thing the Berthiers are only a mile away," said Jack; "whatever can have happened?"
He came out of the little whitewashed cottage with a grave face. "Jacques is away at the lumber camp and Toinette and the two younger children are down with flu—Toinette seems very ill; luckily Jeanne is old enough to do the nursing, but they need a doctor, and I'm afraid I'll have to go off at once. Nancy will be disappointed, but it can't be helped. We'll pin a note on the door for her as we go back—it would take too long to open the house and get a good fire going—and a wood fire wouldn't keep in all afternoon anyway—and I couldn't leave you alone—"
"Oh, please, please," begged Judith, "do let me stay—couldn't that small boy by the door be coaxed to stay with me for company—I couldn't bear to have Nancy's party spoilt."
Judith knew how to be very persuasive and Jack finally gave in. Little Pierre came with them to carry the wood, he was told.
Jack opened up the house, carried in the baskets of provisions, and lit a fire of blazing logs.
"I'll 'phone to you when I get in, and if you should need anything, or if you feel lonely, ring up Mother in the meantime."
"I shan't have a minute to spare for feelings," declared Judith, "Pierre and I have plenty to do."
She didn't quite realize how much was to be done when she watched Jack drive off. The living-room to be swept and dusted—that would come first—and no small task when one's arms and back are bruised and aching; then to the kitchen, and judge of her dismay when on opening the baskets she found that, though there were cakes and fruit and salad stuff in plenty, of bread there was only one small loaf. Whatever could—oh, here was a small bag of flour and a tin of baking powder. Judith groaned as she remembered hearing Nancy tell Sally May that Mme. Berthier was a splendid cook and had promised to make heaps of waffles and hot biscuits for them to eat with their baked beans and salad.
Twenty hungry skaters appearing in an hour and one small loaf to feed them! Judith had never made waffles, but she had made baking-powder biscuits once or twice, though only, of course, in small quantities. Her first thought was to walk to Mme. Berthier's cottage and ask for directions. No, that wouldn't do—the precious hour would be gone. And Nancy must not be disappointed.
"Put on some more wood, Pierre, please. I want a good hot oven," she called to her little helper, and then as he looked blank she tried first her scanty stock of French words and then showed him what to do.
While she was thinking, she was rapidly unpacking the baskets and setting the table, disregarding meanwhile the twinges of pain from her hurt shoulders. At last everything was ready but the biscuits—she couldn't remember, try as she might, the proportion of baking-powder and flour and milk. A mistake would be such a tragedy! Then just as she had decided to make three or four batches and hope that one or two might be good, she suddenly thought of the telephone.
"Well, I am a silly, petit Pierre, now we'll be all right—Yes, Mrs. Nairn, it's Judith—Jack will explain—please tell me how to make biscuits!"
The explanation must have been easy to follow, for when Nancy and her party arrived a little later three pans of beautifully browned fluffy tea-biscuits were ready to put on the table. Judith had never been as proud of anything in her life as of those same biscuits, and when later the company toasted her in hot cocoa and sang, "For she's a Jolly Good Fellow," with Nancy and Jack looking their special thanks, Judith decided she could never be any happier than she felt right then.
Mr. Nairn was as good as his word next day and took them on a sight-seeing tour ending with a delightful luncheon at the Chateau Frontenac. Judith had never lunched in such a big hotel and felt very important and grown-up. Jack and Tim refused to be instructed on historical matters, but were on hand for the luncheon.
"I guess you two have won Dad's hard heart and no mistake," Jack confided to Judith while they waited for Mr. Nairn, who was speaking to an acquaintance. "I see the favors are 'chien d'or' bonbon dishes," pointing to the quaint little china dishes. "He always presents a copy of 'The Golden Dog' to highly honored visitors."
"Your father has been telling us about it," said Judith, "and he promised me a copy when we get home."
"I'm coming back to sketch here some summer," announced Sally May; "Quebec's simply full of places wanting to be painted."
After the luncheon the boys took them home, and as Judith was still tired from her exertions of the last two days, they voted to spend the afternoon at home, and curled themselves up in comfortable chairs in the sitting-room prepared to discuss a box of chocolates and the universe in general.
"What're you going to do after school, Judy?" demanded Nancy; and then without waiting for an answer—"I believe Mother is going to let me train to be a nurse. I've just been crazy to be a nurse ever since I was about ten. Mother has laughed at me and said I would get over it, but she sees that I really mean it, and I think she is willing now. I don't know where I'll go. Florence Matthews says you can get the best training in New York, but Mother thinks New York is too far away, and anyway I have to take a Domestic Science course first."
"You'll look perfectly sweet in a uniform, Nancy," said Sally May; "I simply adore the kerchiefs the nurses wear in some of the hospitals. It's too bad the war is over. Wouldn't it have been thrilling to nurse soldiers!"
"I'm going to be an artist," Sally May continued, "with a studio in New York. I'm going to buy all sorts of lovely embroidery and pottery in the East—I know a perfectly lovely shop in Shanghai—and I'll make a gorgeous room. I'm sure I could make it perfectly fascinating, full of atmosphere, you know," she continued vaguely. "I'll have afternoon tea every day and invite heaps of people, interesting people, who do out-of-the-ordinary things. Patricia Caldwell's cousin had the loveliest time. Patricia says her studio is just like an old-fashioned French salon."
"What about your pictures?" asked Judith slyly.
"Oh, of course I'll work hard," said Sally May happily. "I simply love to draw."
"What are you going to be, Judy?"
"I'm not sure," said Judith slowly, "but I think I'd like to be a teacher."
"A teacher?" chorused the other two in surprise. "Why, Judy, what a funny idea!" said Sally May.
"I don't see why it's funny," Judith objected. "I think it would be splendid to be like Miss Marlowe or head of a school like Miss Meredith."
"Well, you'll never get married if you are a teacher," said Sally May with finality; "at any rate, not for ages and ages."
"Why not?" said Judy.
This was a poser.
"W-e-l-l—you'd have to learn so much, you see."
Judith laughed. "I hadn't thought of that, but I thought you were going to be an artist," she added teasingly.
"But not all my life," expostulated Sally May, and Judith and Nancy laughed to think of Sally May's picture of a hard-working artist.
Judith considered the matter of her future seriously as she dressed for dinner.
It might be nice to be married—think how lonely she and Mummy would be without Daddy—but of course she couldn't marry Daddy; and then she laughed at herself as she remembered Daddy's story of the small girl who sobbed that she didn't ever want to get married because, as she couldn't have daddy, she'd have to marry a perfect stranger.
"Perhaps some one like Tim would be nice," thought Judith, and after the fashion of most sixteen-year-olds she began to weave a shadowy romance with a Prince Charming as its central figure. Tim had walked to the Chateau with them this morning, and although he had not condescended to talk beyond the merest civilities, this silence had merely served to enhance his romantic value in Judith's eyes. She wondered what he was thinking of. Perhaps he was living over again a battle in the clouds—as a matter of fact, Tim was wondering why he hadn't received a certain letter which he had hoped for on Christmas Day. Judith hoped he would like her new frock, and wondered how many dances he would ask her for on New Year's night.
The Nairns were a musical family. Nancy always went to the piano and played for her father after dinner, sometimes Mrs. Nairn joined in with her violin, and to-night Tim appeared with his 'cello.
Judith loved to attend symphony concerts and the tuning-up of the orchestra never failed to give her delicious thrills, but she had never had a speaking acquaintance—so to speak—with a 'cello before this, and the beautiful mellow tones delighted her more than anything she had ever heard before. As she undressed that night she revised her plans for the future. She would devote herself to music and study hard so that when they were married she might be her husband's accompanist. "On wings of music" they would soar, and when they did come back to earth it must be to a bungalow, a dear little grey-stone bungalow. She spent a happy time planning the furnishing of her music-room and fell asleep before she had decided on the respective merits of old oak and mahogany.
Next day began with "Happy New Year" and ended with the jolliest of family parties. All the members of the house-party spent a busy day, for Mrs. Nairn had plenty for the two maids to do in the kitchen. Sally May was discovered to have a talent for decorating, so she and Jack and Tim hung evergreens and holly and placed ferns and flowers where they would show to the best advantage, while Nancy and Judith whisked about with dusters and brushes.
"Music in the living-room, dancing in the drawing-room and hall, and cards upstairs in Mother's sitting-room," said Nancy as they set the small tables. "That's what we always have, and then everybody dances a Sir Roger de Coverly—you should see Uncle Phil and Aunt Maria dancing—and afterwards we have supper."
They had a picnic tea at six o'clock in the sitting-room as the maids were arranging the supper-table in the dining-room, and then came the fun of dressing.
Judith had kept her new silver frock as a great surprise, and now it was thrilling to burst into Nancy's room in all her new finery. Nancy and Sally May said it was "perfectly sweet," and even Jack, "who never notices" (according to Nancy), looked and whistled his admiration as Judith came downstairs, her eyes shining, her cheeks glowing with excitement, and her pretty frock swishing about her in a highly gratifying manner.
Guests were arriving at an unfashionably early hour, since it was largely a family party, and Judith was introduced to a bewildering number of cousins and cousins' cousins and aunts and uncles.
But where was Tim? He had not been home for tea, and although Judith listened and watched there was no sign of him.
"Tim went out early this afternoon to pay calls and he isn't back yet," Sally May informed Judith. "I think Mrs. Nairn is rather worried about him."
The younger set had been dancing for an hour or more and Jack had proved an attentive host, but Judith was still half unconsciously looking for Tim when suddenly she saw him in the doorway with an exquisitely pretty girl beside him. Perhaps it was Tim's radiant look which he was making no effort to hide, perhaps it was his partner's radiant looks which she was trying to hide, but however it was Judith had the quick conviction that this was a very special partner. The newcomer was slim and graceful, and Judith saw with sudden envy that her hair was like spun gold and her eyes as blue as forget-me-nots.
Tim danced with no one else, and in spite of Jack's attentions and no lack of interesting partners, Judith began to feel a little disconsolate. However, it was hard not to be merry at such a merry party; there was happiness in the very air.
The Sir Roger was a great success, and Uncle Phil, aged seventy-two, upheld his reputation as the gayest dancer of them all.
At supper-time Nancy and Judith were helping to serve the little tables in the library when Judith saw Tim with his partner come in and go over to Mr. and Mrs. Nairn. Nancy suddenly squeezed Judith's arm.
"Oh, Judy, Judy, they're engaged! I'm sure they are! Look at Tim! We were pretty sure he was in love with her, and Lois is such a darling!"
Then she rushed over to put her arms around Lois, and Judith was left alone feeling bereaved of husband, home, and career at one cruel stroke.
"The nicest party I ever was at," said Sally May enthusiastically as the three said good-night after a long discussion of the evening's fun, "and I think you looked nicer than anybody else, Judy. I do hope you won't get conceited about the way you look in that new frock. I know I should."
"The nicest party I ever was at," thought Judith before she fell asleep, "and the very nicest people. Jack is a brick—he's been awfully kind to me. I wish I was half as pretty as Lois Selkirk. What would it feel like to be engaged?—I guess it would be exciting! However, then I wouldn't be going back to York Hill—and that will be exciting next term and no mistake. Oh, how glad I am that I've got Nancy!"
THE ANONYMOUS LETTER
WHAT fun it was to get back to York Hill!
As Judith stood in the front hall waiting her turn to sign the register, she almost laughed aloud as she remembered how, standing in this very spot, she had clung desperately to Aunt Nell five short months ago. How different it was now! She could hardly wait to get over to South, and see Nancy, and Catherine, and Jane, and Josephine, and all the rest of them.
She peeped into the drawing-room, and there sat a stiff, solemn little figure—a new girl, no doubt—and, yes, here was Eleanor bringing Peggy Forrest to introduce to the newcomer. And as Judith ran across to her own house, she felt a warm glow of gratitude that Miss Meredith had chosen Nancy to be her "pilot" during those first difficult days.
Cries of welcome greeted her in the corridor.
"Hi, there, Judibus! Had a good time?"
"Sally May was looking for you, Judy."
"Good old Scrooge!"
"Merry Christmas, everybody—Happy New Year to all the world," quoted Judith promptly, seizing her letters and making her way through the crowd around Miss Marlowe's door down to the good old "Jolly Susan" and Nancy.
Yes, there was Nancy's pretty yellow head, and in another minute she was looking into Nancy's merry eyes and trying to answer three questions at once and say "hullo" to Josephine and Jane and Sally May.
Judith was the last to arrive, so they all crowded into her room and sampled Aunt Nell's Christmas cake—thoughtfully provided for the occasion—and the big box of chocolates which Josephine's brother had sent.
Five tongues wagged merrily in spite of cake and candy, for there were endless things to tell—Josephine had been to her first real dance, and Jane had been down to New York with Phyllis Lovell, and you may be sure that Nancy and Judith were not behind the others in their accounts of "perfectly gorgeous" times. And when Catherine joined them and added her tale of a gay winter fete in Winnipeg, Judith felt that no home-coming could be happier.
"Oh, isn't it nice to belong!" said Judith to herself as she dressed for supper. "I wonder how that new girl is getting on—I guess she's in our form when Eleanor got Peggy for her—I wish I could do something to make her feel at home—"
Josephine's head appeared in the door and she whispered mysteriously, "Come on down to the common room when you've finished."
"What do you think," she said when Judith joined her, "that mean Genevieve Singleton has been trying to get in here in Jane's room! Jane said once at the beginning of last term that she wished she was down in Peggy Forrest's cubicles, but that was ages ago. Genevieve went to Miss Marlowe and said that Jane wanted to change her room, and may she please have Jane's room, as she hasn't been very well during the holidays and her mother doesn't want her to climb stairs. Miss Marlowe sent for Jane, and you should have heard her when she came back! Genevieve is in Catherine's room now telling her how heartbroken she is, I suppose. Silly thing, I wish she would try holding my hand."
Judith laughed at Josephine's disgusted expression, and blushed a little as she remembered her own foolishness about Catherine.
"Genevieve's queer, isn't she? I can't make her out—you remember how crazy she was about Helen, and Helen didn't seem to like her a bit."
"She's a silly owl," said Josephine decidedly, "but—my word—wasn't she a dandy Malvolio?"
At supper Judith, who was talking as hard as any one else, realized what a Babel of sound they were making when she saw the bewildered look on the face of the new girl whose name she learned was Florence Newman. She smiled across at Florence in a friendly manner and said, "Did you know that we're going to dance afterwards—give me the first spare one you have, will you—and I want to introduce you to Josephine Burley—she's from Alberta, too—and she's a perfect dear, although she doesn't look it."
The talk about Christmas presents and parties and new frocks and next term's doings buzzed on, but Florence felt less lonely and frightened. The "girl from Alberta" sounded friendly and comforting: she would know what this turmoil meant after the silence of the prairies.
Judith was as good as her word and shared with Peggy the duty of "piloting" the new member of Form Five. But she found Florence very quiet and unresponsive, and gradually the excitement of the new class in figure-skating and the inter-form and house hockey matches absorbed her attention.
There was plenty of hard work done in the various classes, and the staff congratulated themselves that the School was in good working form, but, judging from the conversation in the sitting-room and at table, the girls apparently did nothing but think and talk and play hockey and figure-skating.
Judith did not join a hockey team, but Josephine was one of the Junior captains, and as she kept the crew of the "Jolly Susan" well informed as to the "points" of her team, Judith was an interested "fan" at all the matches.
There were two cups given for the fancy skating and Judith and Nancy resolved to enter the competition. After a long morning in the classroom they could hardly wait to get out to the rink to begin again on the figure eight. A beautiful curve seemed the most important thing in the world.
The rink these zero days was a pretty sight. Miss Meredith, on her way out for a walk, used to love to stand for a few minutes and watch the charming scene. "What lovely things girls are," she would murmur to herself as they flashed by in their bright-coloured caps and coats, their cheeks glowing and eyes bright from the wholesome exercise in the ozone-laden air.
Judith did not win a cup, "but it was great fun trying for it, Mummy," she wrote to her mother, "and Patricia did beautifully. Aunt Nell says I have lost my stoop, so perhaps that's my reward instead of the cup, and I think I must have gained another five pounds. We're so hungry when we come in for supper that I believe we'd eat our books—if there were nothing more appetising!
"We had great fun last night at a sleighing party—the Domestic Science Form invited forty of us and you may be sure we accepted. We were bundled up in all the warm clothes we owned, and there was lots of straw in the bottom of the sleigh. We packed into two big sleighs, and as soon as we got out into the country we sang songs, and tooted horns, and had an awfully good time. Josephine said she was 'glad to goodness' it was a Domestic Science party, for the eats were sure to be good, and they sure were! I never was so hungry in my life."
Then it was Five A's turn to entertain, and after an enormous amount of talking they decided on a skating party. The invitation list gave the committee a great deal of trouble. It grew and grew until they realized that they never could afford to feed such a large and hungry mob. Nancy, who had been elected Form President on her return, took the difficulty to Miss Marlowe and she came out of the study with a beaming face.
"Miss Marlowe's a brick," she announced. "She says that if we are going to have a hurdy-gurdy and coloured lanterns and a moonlight night, why not ask everybody; the House'll provide cocoa and Chelsea buns, and we can get any extra cakes we like ourselves." And so it was happily arranged.
Nancy proved herself a born organizer, and on Friday evening each Five A girl shared in the duty of being hostess. Even Florence, who remained persistently quiet and difficult to know, was given her share of work to do. Sally May and her committee were responsible for decorating the supper-room, Peggy Forrest was to look after the coloured lanterns, Judith was to see that the smiling Italian and his wife, who took turns at the hurdy-gurdy, each had a rest in the warm kitchen and some supper, "and be sure," cautioned wise Nancy, "that the maids keep back enough for our own supper afterwards."
Friday afternoon saw Form Five A hard at work getting ready for their guests. Nancy flew hither and thither; she worked out on the rink helping with the lanterns, and down in the supper-room with the decorations, and then she was off to the housekeeper's room with a list of special requests. She was making a splendid Form President, every one agreed, and that was very high praise, for the post was by no means an easy one to fill.
So far Nancy's chief difficulty had been in keeping silence when the form was lined up ready to lead into morning prayers, but later on in the year she was to tackle the problem of how to deal with persistent petty cheating which remained undiscovered by the authorities. The Form Mistress may be a wise counsellor and a constant friend, but the Form President is often—as Nancy was later on—kept from seeking advice by the schoolgirl's horror of "telling tales."
By six o'clock everything was ready for the skating party, and Five A went in to supper with a good appetite and the happy consciousness that they were going to have a good time.
"Glistening snow, tingling air, glittering stars, shining moon," said Judith gleefully, as she and Sally May waltzed on the ice, while Peggy was turning on the coloured lights. "It's going to be a perfectly blissful party."
And it was. The night was perfect to begin with, and the Chinese lanterns and the music of the hurdy-gurdy all combined to form a scene of magic enchantment that fairly entranced beauty-loving Judith.
The snow lay about the rink in a great glistening white bank, splashed here and there by a pool of coloured light, far away glittered the stars in a dark blue winter sky, and over all the moon shed a pure, cold, white light.
Form Five didn't stop to think about the beauty around them, but they enjoyed it nevertheless. What a good time they had! They waltzed—those who could—and they "cracked the whip," and they hummed the tunes the Italian was industriously grinding out, and they laughed and shouted and were perfectly happy. Judith had three "bands" with Nancy, and two with Catherine who looked exquisitely lovely, and what more could heart desire? Indeed, as she and Nancy drank their third cup of cocoa and divided the last piece of chocolate cake, she agreed enthusiastically that she had never had such a "perfectly gorgeous time in all her born days!"
The fine cold weather lasted for almost six weeks, and then quite suddenly came an unmistakable thaw.
"If only it had come in January," sighed Miss Evans as she surveyed the dirty pond, which had once been a rink, "but it is too late in the season now to hope for steady skating again."
She was justified in her pessimism; the skating season was over. Every girl in the School regarded the dull weather almost as a personal insult, and every teacher in the School realized that the most difficult weeks of the year had now to be faced, for unless precautions were taken, sickness and mischief were bound to flourish in this in-between-seasons time. Wise Miss Meredith marshalled her forces and took counsel with the Heads of Houses; the gymnasium staff put on extra dancing classes, and indoor basket-ball matches, but in spite of all their efforts many of the girls seemed languid and uninterested.
Nancy, who seemed to hear more news than her mates in the "Jolly Susan," burst into Judith's room late next afternoon during the dressing hour.
"What do you think? Genevieve Singleton got an anonymous letter in the evening mail and she is upstairs now crying in her room."
"An anonymous letter," repeated Josephine from the next room. "I'd like to know what sort?—"
"Yes," said Nancy excitedly, paying no attention to Josephine, "nobody knows who wrote it, and it was about Catherine." She paused to enjoy the full effect of this mysterious bit of gossip.
Judith, whose hair was only half-done, put down her brush and demanded impatiently—
"What about Catherine?"
"Well, you know very well, Judy, that Genevieve has a crush on Catherine. Why, Cathy had fairly to put her out of her room the other day, and on Wednesday evening, when we were dancing after evening prep., I heard her tell Genevieve that she wouldn't dance with her again until she stopped being such a goose."
"But the letter?" said Judith.
"I'm coming to that. It was printed and I can't remember it exactly, but it was something like this:
Don't hang around Catherine Ellison any more, Genevieve Singleton, she can't bear the sight of you. A word to the wise is sufficient.
She is crying like anything and Peggy Forrest says it is a perfect shame."
"What's a perfect shame?" asked Josephine pointedly.
"Why, the meanness of the person who sent that letter," said Nancy; "whoever did it, is a mean horrid thing, every one says so."
Every one was having one opinion or another, for the news spread like wildfire throughout the house, and at tea-time poor Catherine knew that this choice piece of gossip was being discussed at every table. She was not long left in ignorance as to the fact that some of the girls thought that she herself had written the note in order to get rid of an unwelcome visitor, who was very difficult to snub. Other girls, who had resented the prefect's attitude towards crushes, expressed great sympathy for Genevieve, and there was much speculation as to the probable author of the letter.
Catherine took counsel with Eleanor and they decided that it was a tempest in a teapot and that Genevieve would be quite all right by to-morrow. However, next day Genevieve's eyes were still red and she began to assume the attitude of an early Christian martyr.
Catherine, who had been very much vexed by the whole affair, felt remorseful. "Poor Genevieve," she thought, "she's feeling very badly. I can't help wondering why she let the others see the note; but there is no use judging; I'd better go and say good-night to her." This last was looked upon as an act of special favour and condescension on the part of a prefect, and Catherine felt that she was being very magnanimous.
In the visiting time before "lights out" bell, she tapped at Genevieve's door and to her dismay Genevieve flung her arms round her neck.
"Oh, Catherine, say you didn't mean it."
"Mean what, you silly?" replied Catherine, crossly realizing that every girl within hearing distance was pricking up her ears. "Surely you don't imagine that I would stoop to write an anonymous letter."
"No-o," stammered Genevieve, "but I am sure you don't like me"—and she began to sob afresh. "I can't bear you to dislike me. Do say that I may still come to your room sometimes."
Catherine was only human, if she was eighteen and a prefect, and although annoyed with Genevieve, she was touched by the genuine distress on the girl's face.
"Of course you may come, silly," she said. "Dry your eyes and do try to be sensible and don't talk that way any more," she added, sitting down on the edge of the bed, where to Genevieve's delight she sat and gossiped about sundry School matters—to the great edification of the surrounding cubicles—until the bell rang.
Next day, to the astonishment of the inmates of the "Jolly Susan," Genevieve simply haunted Catherine's room, and on the following day they could hear poor Catherine getting rid of her.
"Really, Genevieve," they heard her say as she opened the door, "you are too foolish. Do run along; I must finish my essay for Miss Marlowe, and I dare say you have something to do," with a sarcasm not lost upon her hearers, who grinned appreciatively, for Genevieve was noted for the ingenuity with which she escaped anything like work.
Next day when the girls hurried out of afternoon study as the five o'clock bell rang, they made their usual wild rush for the mail-box. One would have thought that every girl in the school expected most important news. Suddenly a little choking cry was heard, and Genevieve, who had taken out her letter and was standing at one side of the group, turned white, as she drew out from its envelope another printed letter. Here was sensation, indeed! Several of her friends pressed closely around her to read it.
Can't you take a hint, Genevieve Singleton? Stay in your own part of the house. Catherine simply hates the sight of you.
Tears ran down Genevieve's face as she re-read this precious epistle and then crumpling the paper in her hands she ran to her room. Sympathizing friends followed, and "Poor Genevieve!" was heard on all sides.
Judith had been a distressed spectator of this scene. How sorry Catherine would be! How sorry she was for Catherine! Whoever could be writing the letters?
This, indeed, was the sole topic of conversation in the "Jolly Susan" during the dressing-hour, and before the evening was over the School was enjoying a thoroughly good gossip. One amateur detective had suggested that jealousy must be the motive of the unknown writer, for most of the girls dismissed the suggestion that Catherine was the author. Some one else contributed the story of Genevieve's unsuccessful attempt to obtain a room in the "Jolly Susan," and then some one, who had overheard Sally May's indignation thereat, suggested Sally May as a likely culprit.
As was inevitable these mere suppositions grew by their many tellings into "facts," and by the next evening many of the girls were convinced that Sally May, "who is absolutely devoted to Catherine, my dear," was "wildly jealous of Genevieve," and was actually "seen putting a letter into the box."
Miss Marlowe, who remains in the background in this story, but whom we must never forget, sits in the midst of South House like some omniscient and benevolent providence, decided that something must be done to stop these mischievous wagging tongues, so she summoned her prefects and said frankly:
"A little bird has told me something about these anonymous letters. I know they are very trivial and silly, but when one girl begins to be accused by the others, it is time to clean up the matter. From what I know of Sally May, I cannot believe that she has written them. Don't tell me anything more about it. I leave it to you; please do your best to get them stopped." And she left them to solve the puzzle.
The prefects held a meeting at once and decided that the matter was not serious enough to call a special house meeting. Such meetings called and addressed by the captain were held on very special occasions, and this—"Well, this is too silly," said Patricia Caldwell, giggling. "Poor Cathy! its a pity you are so bewitching. I don't know how you will manage your affairs after you leave school," she added teasingly. "I'm afraid the morning papers will have to devote front-page space to the duels fought in Miss Catherine Ellison's honour."
Catherine could stand being chaffed by her peers and equals, but she really hated the gossip of the younger girls.
It was decided that every prefect was to keep ears and eyes open and report to Eleanor anything suspicious. A special watch was to be kept on the mail-box. Two prefects were to make it their business to saunter past the box whenever they could and keep an eye on pigeon-hole "S." Perhaps they might catch the criminal at the box.
There was much laughter about it, and with the exception of Catherine they rather enjoyed the importance and the mystery. They realized, however, that so much gossiping was bad for the tone of the house. "It must be stopped."
JUDITH PLAYS DETECTIVE
WHILE the prefects were sitting in solemn conclave, Judith at her desk, writing to her mother, found that the story of the week's doings centred about Genevieve and the mysterious letter.
"She is hard to describe, Mummy," she wrote; "she isn't exactly pretty, but her face changes so often when she is talking that she is interesting to listen to. She doesn't play many games and I don't see very much of her, but you remember I told you how clever she was as Malvolio in 'Twelfth Night.' She acts awfully well and she just loves doing it. And she's always getting frightfully fond of somebody and feeling badly if they don't like her." Judith sat rolling her pen absent-mindedly up and down her blotter as the picture of Genevieve filled her mind.
Perhaps it was a matter of "thinking of angels and hearing their wings"; at any rate, just at this moment, Genevieve, returning from a fruitless attempt to catch Catherine in her room, knocked at Judith's door.
"Come on down and see me, Judy," she begged; "I've got some biscuits and some Washington coffee and I'll beg some hot water from Mrs. Bronson."
Judith who loved coffee needed no second bidding, and was soon enjoying a steaming cup and listening to Genevieve's woes; but Genevieve was scarcely well started on the subject of the letters when a heavy step was heard in the corridor and she jumped up in alarm.
"Throw the coffee out the window, Judy," she begged—"that's Miss Watson doing laundry—she's in Joan's room now." And with amazing swiftness she emptied her laundry bag on the bed, covered the contents with her eiderdown, spread out two dainty sets of immaculate French underwear, and was seated with a darning-basket and a pair of stockings in her hand, before the astonished Judith could take in the significance of her actions.
"Come in," said Genevieve sweetly as Miss Watson knocked. "Oh, is that you, Miss Watson? I'm just finishing my stockings."
Miss Watson, who was short-sighted and a bit indolent, hated the weekly task of inspecting the newly returned laundry in search of missing buttons and rents, all of which were to be recorded in her little black book and checked off when the owners testified that the said garments had been made whole. So remembering the immaculate clothes which awaited her each week in Genevieve's room, she made a cursory examination of the dainty undies and checked O.K. opposite Genevieve's name.
"There's a funny odor in here," she commented as she turned to go; "you haven't—"
"Yes," said Genevieve politely, "I've just had a hot drink. Mrs. Bronson thought I'd better have one because I felt so tired."
And Judith, watching with wide-open eyes, to her amazement saw Genevieve's sensitive mobile face actually grow tired and sad-looking while she watched, and then the moment Miss Watson was safely out of sight, with a slight grimace and shrug Genevieve was smiling triumphantly at her own cleverness, and slyly watching the effect of it all on Judith.
"You'll keep it dark?" she asked, realizing that wholesale neatness would arouse Miss Watson's suspicions and that the game would be up.
"Certainly," said Judith a little stiffly, wondering that Genevieve would ask her—Nancy wouldn't have, nor Josephine; but then neither would Nancy have taken advantage of Miss Watson's short sight in order to present each week the same set of underwear kept especially for the purpose.
"Yes; certainly she's clever, but she's got queer ideas about some things," thought Judith as Genevieve began again on the meanness of the person who wrote the anonymous letter.
"I'd give anything I've got," was Genevieve's parting word, "if I could find out who did it."
"So would I," was Judith's thought as she dressed for a walk. "We've just got to find out, for Sally May and Catherine look perfectly wretched—as if Sally May would; but some of them believe it. How Genevieve can act! She just hoodwinked Miss Watson completely; looked like a good little prig who'd done everything she ought to do—and she was thoroughly enjoying herself. I guess she'll go on the stage when she leaves school—it would be interesting to have people applauding. I believe she was glad I was there to see her do it—and I believe—she was glad the girls were round to sympathize when she got the letter—"
Perhaps it was because of her determination to help Sally May and Catherine, perhaps because of the little scene she had just witnessed, or perhaps for no particular reason at all, suddenly a new, and at first glance a crazy, idea popped into her mind.
What if Genevieve enjoyed an audience so much that she wrote the anonymous letter herself!
"Well that is a silly idea—think how she cried and cried—yes, but she had Cathy sympathizing with her—"
Judith started out to find Nancy to share her idea, but before she found her she decided she'd say nothing about it—it was too far-fetched. Nevertheless, she determined to keep an eye on Miss Genevieve.
Next morning, according to the prefects' plans, Patricia and Catherine haunted the front corridor. Patricia even took up a post just inside the sitting-room door and watched through the crack, but the corridor was deserted all morning. Helen and Esther took the afternoon watch and had no better luck.
Esther saw the mistress distribute the evening mail, putting several letters into pigeon-hole "S," which had been empty until now, and then came a rush of fifty girls crowding round the box. Esther reported afterwards to Eleanor that whoever did it managed very quickly, for she was watching all the time. Genevieve put up her hand, drew out of pigeon-hole "S" another printed letter, and with a faint cry collapsed in a dead faint. At least so her condition was described to those few who were not privileged to be present. Ambulance classes had not been held in vain at York Hill, and in less time than it takes to tell Genevieve found herself on the sofa in the housekeeper's room, where she proceeded to indulge in an old-fashioned fit of hysterics.
Judith, who had helped carry her in, wanted to stay and see, if possible, whether Genevieve were shamming, but Mrs. Bronson shooed them all out saying that Genevieve must have an hour's rest and then she could go to the Infirmary.
Judith returned to the corridor where she found excited groups discussing this third terrible letter. Some of the girls talked with lowered voices and several looked almost as white as Genevieve had, and when our heroine entered the "Jolly Susan," it was as little like its name as possible. Sally May was sobbing audibly and Nancy was trying in vain to comfort her.
"Horrid things! I hate them all. Why should they think I would do such a nasty trick?" she heard between the sobs.
Josephine appeared in Judith's doorway.
"It's a shame, isn't it?" she whispered. "I would like to knock their silly heads together. I don't wonder Sally's mad, and I believe that Catherine is crying, too."
Judith was horrified.
"Catherine crying! Why in the world should she cry?"
"Well, you know," said Josephine, "it's rotten for her, and probably she believes that Miss Marlowe thinks she has been silly, too. I don't know for sure, but she wouldn't let Eleanor in a few minutes ago, and her voice sounded shaky."
This was awful! A prefect weeping!
Two days passed without any further development and Eleanor was beginning to hope that the nine days' wonder was at an end. On Wednesday evening, however, Judith heard Genevieve's protest when Catherine hurried off to a gymnasium class, after a vain effort to get rid of a now increasingly unwelcome visitor.
"You don't have to go yet, Cathy. It's five minutes before the bell will ring. Do stay and talk to me; I'm awfully miserable."
But Catherine was evidently exasperated and held the door open for Genevieve, who had no choice but to go too.
"Now," said Judith inelegantly to Nancy, "Genevieve will have another spasm."
Privately she resolved to play the detective.
She awoke next morning to hear the rain falling steadily. "Ugh," she thought, "a rainy day and my Latin isn't finished—two horrid things to begin with." And then she remembered her plans of the night before. Instantly she was out of bed; she wouldn't try to keep her secret any longer. Nancy should share it, but she wouldn't tell Sally May until she had caught Genevieve. Nancy was impressed by Judith's cleverness in thinking of such a thing, but doubtful about Genevieve's guilt.
"Why, she cried and cried; I saw her," Nancy kept repeating. "She couldn't have done it herself."
But Judith was not to be shaken in her resolve, and leaving the study room a little before one o'clock she settled herself in Helen Richard's cupboard to watch. Fortunately for Judith's plan Helen was in the Infirmary with a sore throat and through the keyhole of her cupboard Judith had a clear view of the letter-box.
At a quarter-to-one Miss Marlowe put out the mail, but no one else came near the box until one o'clock when every one came as usual. Then, when everything was quiet again, Judith slipped out and caught up with the others as they went down to the dining-room. Before dinner was quite over, she asked permission to leave early, and she hid herself once more in the cupboard.
The afternoon seemed interminably long, and as the cupboard was stuffy and close, if it had not been for Nancy's chocolates Judith felt that she could not have kept awake. Her knees ached horribly, for she was in a cramped position, but she never dreamed of giving up, so sure was she that something would happen.
And something did happen.
At a quarter-to-five the mail was put out, and as no one had appeared, Judith was beginning to think that she would have to watch another day, when suddenly she saw Genevieve come swiftly down the corridor, pause for an instant at the box, slip in a letter, and then vanish as quickly as she had come.
Judith could hardly wait to get the letter into her own hands. Yes, it was the now familiar printed envelope.
What should she do? Whom should she tell? Nancy? Eleanor? Miss Marlowe? No; Catherine was the one most concerned. Judith fairly ran with the precious missive to Catherine's room and fortunately found Catherine there studying. Her story was soon told and Catherine was scarcely less excited than Judith.
"Judy, you are the brickiest brick, and the trumpest trump! Come here and let me shake you. Hasn't it been horrid—such a little thing, but everybody in such a stew," she added in a confidential tone, which was ample reward to Judith. "And now we can be rid of her, the little wretch! Three cheers for the first mate of the 'Jolly Susan!'"
The two of them went arm in arm down to the Captain's room. Judith told her story but so modestly and so simply that Eleanor forgot the necessity of "keeping a fifth-form new girl in her place."
The six o'clock dressing-bell rang before they could do more than decide to have a formal prefects' meeting at which they would confront Genevieve with the letter.
"She'll confess, of course, right away," whispered Catherine scornfully to Judith as they went down to tea; "she's that sort."
And this proved to be a true prophecy. Confronted by the prefects, sitting like judges at their study table, Genevieve turned pale and looked unmistakably guilty, and when Eleanor said in her sternest voice: "You were seen putting this letter, which you addressed to yourself, in the letter-box," Genevieve made no denials; she broke down and confessed to all four letters. Her misery and humiliation were so genuine and so overwhelming that Eleanor wisely sent her to her room in the care of Patricia, who could be trusted not to give Genevieve too much sympathy.
Then the prefects faced the difficult question of the culprit's punishment. Esther wanted a special house meeting called at which Genevieve and her ways could be denounced; Catherine thought that a public apology should be made to Sally May, for Genevieve, it seemed, was responsible for the spreading of the false accusation; Helen remarked that Genevieve would like nothing better than to be the centre of such a romantic picture, and she added shrewdly, "Half the girls would make a martyr of her and think we had been awfully cruel and unfair."
Finally, after much discussion it was decided that Eleanor should consult Miss Marlowe, who must be informed that the culprit had been discovered. Miss Marlowe was interested and sympathetic.
"I'll send her to the Infirmary for a few days," she said; "the child is really not well. She is growing too fast and she is morbid and self-centred. Every one thinks of her as seventeen and she has just turned fifteen. Then after she is back again let the facts be made known about the letters; that's only fair to Sally May and to Catherine; but do it as casually as possible. Nothing is so bad for Genevieve as too much attention—and keep an eye on Judith," she added; "she is worth watching, Eleanor. She and Nancy ought to be prefects next year, so we mustn't let Judith be spoiled over this."
Genevieve was safely tucked up in one of the cheerful Infirmary rooms, and for the time she suffered as only a sensitive, highstrung girl of fifteen can suffer. Her one interest in life at the present time was her emotions; her passionate attachments were usually short-lived, but for the time being they blotted out everything else. Just now she desired Catherine's love and approval with all the force of her undisciplined nature, and, born actress that she was, it was the wish to attract Catherine's admiration, or at least her attention, which had made her Malvolio last term so outstandingly good. She lacked a sense of proportion in all her thinking, and even now that she had been found out, and knew that she would be shamed in the eyes of the whole school, the only thing that mattered to her was that Catherine would have even less to do with her than before. Eleanor's stern voice might have been the buzzing of a fly; Genevieve's eyes had been fixed on Catherine's face and she had read her sentence there.
For two whole days she wanted to die, and then quite suddenly she transferred her affections to a young nurse who was temporarily assisting the school nurse. She made Miss Burton promise her at least three dances for the prefects' dance on Friday night, and she did frantic sums in mental arithmetic trying to calculate whether she had enough in the bank to buy a posy of sweetheart roses for her new idol's adornment.
Genevieve returned to school to find every one discussing the dance, and the anonymous letters seemed entirely forgotten. But Eleanor found her opportunity a day or two later. The usual crowd was about the letter-box at five o'clock, and Eleanor noted with satisfaction that both Sally May and Catherine were there.
"Any for me?" she called to Sally May, who was at the box.
"Not one," was the answer.
"Oh, well," said Eleanor, clearly and distinctly, "of course I can always follow Genevieve's example and write one to myself, a printed one, I mean; but no, on second thoughts I don't believe I shall, they are rather horrid things, don't you think?" And she walked quietly away.
For days afterwards at mail-time Jane, who loved to ride a joke—"till it died of sheer exhaustion," as Peggy said—could always raise a laugh at Genevieve's expense. "Any a-non-y-mous letters for me?" she would inquire plaintively. "No? I really must see about it. I suppose I must attend to it myself."
EASTER examinations, although a month away, were already looming darkly on the horizon and Judith settled down to a long and hard pull.
"So much to learn and so little time," she groaned to Nancy. "I'd like to spend all my time on my essay for Miss Marlowe, but there are French and geometry tests next week, which need every minute of study time I have. Why can't the days be forty hours long?"
However, most of the school thought the days quite long enough, and in fact some happy souls had already counted up the number of hours until the holidays began and were ticking them off with great glee.
Judith's delight in lesson hours was steadily increasing. Even in mathematics classes which she disliked, she was beginning to feel the joy of triumphing over difficulties, and she looked forward to her literature lessons as the happiest hours of the week. Loving Nancy as she did, Judith was always trying to share her enjoyment of some beautiful lines of poetry or an interesting scene in the play they were studying, and not always with pronounced success. Nancy's mind was of a practical turn; she was very lukewarm about poetry.
"Listen to this," Judith had commanded one day as she sat waiting for Nancy to finish dressing for dinner:
"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank: Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears; soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony. Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold; There's not the smallest orb which thou beholdest But in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims;
"Isn't that beautiful?"
"Y-e-s," said Nancy, "I suppose it is. The words sound nice when you read them, but I'm sure I haven't a ghost of an idea what it means. Why does he put his ideas into poetry? Why doesn't he say it out plainly so we could all understand it without studying? It's an interesting play, though I believe it is Miss Marlowe who has made it so interesting," she added shrewdly; "I mean if any one had given me the 'Merchant of Venice' to read just like any other book, I'd never have gotten through it. Why can't Shakespeare say things right out plain?"
This was a poser for Judith. "But," she stammered, "it's like—like music. Music isn't right out plain; it's meant to be beautiful."
"Nancy must be joking," thought Judith as she tried to decide why the cherubims were "young-eyed." But no; a few days later Nancy was quite pettish about the preparation Miss Marlowe had set them.
"Find three stanzas of poetry which you could say are 'A joy forever.'"
"How do I know whether they are a joy forever?" she demanded irately of Judith; "I've been hunting for an hour and I can't find any. I don't know what it's all about most of the time."
"But didn't you like 'The Skylark,' and 'The Forsaken Merman,' and 'The Lotus-Eaters,' and 'Ulysses,' and 'The Lady of Shalott' and—oh, Nancy, there are lots to choose from. Let's find some that sound nice and some that have beautiful pictures in them."
They spent a happy hour together, for Judith loved poetry, and it was nice to share it with Nancy.
Looking back afterwards that seemed to Judith to be the last happy hour she had with Nancy for some time. Judith hardly noticed just when it began, but for some reason or other Nancy and Sally May were together now a great deal of their time.
"Choosing partners" was a sacred rite at York Hill, and now it seemed that Nancy and Sally May were always partners for walks, for church, for the symphony concert, and for Miss Meredith's dinner-party.
This last was a great disappointment to Judith. Miss Meredith's dinner-parties were very special treats; about once a fortnight she entertained half a dozen girls at her own dinner-table and, when Nancy had told Judith about these parties, Judith had taken it for granted that they would be partners if they happened to be invited together. And now Sally May was going with Nancy! An ugly little spirit of jealousy began to whisper in Judith's mind. Top Self listened to his hints and surmises: "Nancy doesn't care about you any more; she and Sally May have secrets from you; perhaps they were laughing at you last night when you heard them whispering." Deep-Down Self made protests, "Why couldn't Nancy have two good friends? Of course she still loves you; you can't expect her to be always with you."
But Judith's heart was sore, and a teasing remark of Sally May's as they were dressing for the dinner entirely spoilt the evening for her. Sally May came in to ask Judith to help her with a difficult fastener, and she surveyed Judith's reflection in the mirror while Judith snapped the refractory dome.
"You look stunning, Judy; I'm sure that if Tim could see you he would return the compliment and say that you looked 'just lovely,'" she added wickedly.
The colour flowed over Judith's face and then receded leaving her quite white. So Nancy had told Sally May about her foolish speech in the Christmas holidays! How horrid of her! How mean! Judith had almost forgotten about Tim by this time, but her love for Nancy had steadily grown, and Nancy had been making fun of her behind her back! Judith gave herself up to angry thoughts; almost she hated Nancy; she wanted to go away, to be alone, to hide some place; and instead she must go to this miserable dinner and perhaps sit just across the table from Nancy. The thought of Nancy's disloyalty hurt; it hurt horribly.
Judith finished dressing, put on her wraps, and went down to the sitting-room to wait for the others. To her disgust she found Georgia Fiske there, Georgia whom she positively disliked for no reason at all and who looked up at her now with a beaming smile.
"I was just thinking about you, Judy," she said, "and wondering if you had a partner. Do sit beside me. I'd have asked you before, but I didn't know you were going till just a few minutes ago."
Poor Judith!—there was apparently no escape; she must sit beside Georgia, and listen to her silly remarks. Judith was in no mood to be fair to any one; she hated Georgia, she hated Sally May, she hated Nancy.
The dinner-party was a failure as far as Judith was concerned. Miss Meredith, stately and dignified in black velvet and beautiful old lace, was a charming hostess, and the girls were soon talking naturally and easily. Judith looked down the table at Nancy; she didn't want to look at her and yet she must. Nancy, radiating friendliness and good-humor, smiled at Judith as much as to say, "Isn't it jolly?" But Judith hardened her heart and pretended that she didn't see her. The ice-cream was delicious and the tiny cups of black coffee afterwards made them feel very grown-up, and every one but Judith seemed perfectly happy.
"What's the matter, Judy?" whispered Nancy, as they went into the drawing-room, for Judith not only felt miserable, she looked miserable—so much so that Miss Meredith made a mental note to ask Miss Marlowe to keep an eye on her and find out if anything were troubling her.
"Nothing's the matter," said Judith coldly, turning away and calling out to Frances to wait for her.
Nancy felt rebuffed, but loyally sought to find excuses for her friend. "She's been working too hard over that Jessica essay," she said to herself; "she looks awfully tired."
Then followed a miserable week. Judith was both jealous and angry; she felt that in telling Sally May what she had said about Tim, Nancy had betrayed their friendship. It was true that Nancy and Sally May were much together; they were making scenery for the Studio Play and were spending many spare hours upstairs working under Miss Ashwell's direction. Judith knew about the play, but she was too angry to be reasonable, so she shut herself up in her books and avoided Nancy as much as possible.
Nancy knew quite well now that something had come between Judith and her, and she made two more attempts to find out what was wrong so that if possible things might be righted, but each time Judith rebuffed her, and Nancy was too busy to spend much time coaxing. Sally May, who was held to be a wise little person, told Nancy not to worry.
"Judy'll be all right; she is just cross and tired. I really can't see why she works so hard."
Sally May, it may be remarked, would never work very hard as long as she lived: she wasn't that kind.
"Did you hear Judith give Jane what-for the other day?" she continued. "Jane went into Judy's cubicle with an orange peel and an old piece of rubber cut in the shape of a heart, and called out, 'What price for these personal relics of our beloved Captain Catherine? Her pretty foot has pressed this piece of rubber; it can be conveniently sewed to the camisole and worn next the heart. Her pretty lips once touched this piece of peel'—and she dangled the peel right in front of Judy's eyes. 'Get out of my room quick,' said our polite little Judy, 'and take your garbage with you!' Jane said it gave her a nasty turn. It's my belief that Judy wants to come first in history or something, and she wants to be left alone to study."
Nancy was only half-convinced, but the easiest thing was to accept Sally May's explanation. Nancy had many friends and she was able to love them all. She found it hard to understand Judith's exclusive attitude. Judith wanted but one friend at a time; she might admire Josephine and Sally May and enjoy Jane's pertness and Joyce's cleverness and adore Catherine's beauty, but Nancy was her friend, her pal, and she wanted Nancy to feel the same about her. But Nancy was differently made, and although Judith had come to be perhaps her best friend in the school, she was able to feel genuine affection for many other girls and would have been incapable of Judith's passionate jealousy because of her affection for some one else.
Meanwhile Judith's hurt decreased not at all. It may take a poet to sing adequately of "the wounds by friendship made," but a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, if she be blessed or cursed by her fairy godmothers with a sensitive soul, can feel those wounds and feel them bitterly.
The after-dinner half-hour of rest had been a time when the crew of the "Jolly Susan" had shut their door on the outside world and had taken their ease. Visiting without permission at this hour was not usually allowed, but Catherine was often quite willing that Judith and Nancy should be in each other's rooms, for they could talk quite quietly and made no disturbance. Now Judith could hear Nancy in Sally's room, and this was more than she could bear. Instead of coming up to her room directly after lunch, she asked to have a practising period put on her time-table from two to two-thirty, and the odd fifteen minutes before the two o'clock bell rang, which was legitimate time for visiting, she was spending in other girls' rooms; in fact Judith was beginning to find out that there were other interesting and lovable girls in the school besides those select few in the "Jolly Susan."