Judith had hoped that she would have a chance for a last word of good-bye, but outside on the lawn the Old Girls and Staff crowded around the bride and monopolized her, and the School gave itself up philosophically to an orgy of ice-cream and bride's cake. Then in some magical way the bride was spirited away to change for the journey, and all Judith could hope for was a word at the very end or at least a piece of the bride's bouquet which was tossed out of the carriage. But she seemed doomed to disappointment. Miss Ashwell was gone without a word and Judith turned and fled to her room. To her surprise she found Elise, Miss Meredith's maid, just leaving the "Jolly Susan."
"I have put a note and parcel for you on your dressing-table, Miss Benson," said Elise. "Mrs. Phillips said I was to be most particular to bring it to you the minute she was gone."
"Mrs. Phillips"—Judith looked bewildered and then caught the smile on Elise's face—"Thank you, Elise," she said breathlessly, and rushed into her cubicle. There lay a letter and a tiny parcel. The letter first:
If I had had bridesmaids I would have asked you to "stand up with me." You have been a loving, loyal little friend, and David and I want you to wear this little pin as a token of our gratitude to our "messenger."
Remember I am still Your friend, ELIZABETH ASHWELL PHILLIPS.
For a moment a suspicious moisture blinded Judith's eyes; then curiosity urged her to open the little white box. "What a darling pin!" she breathed as the lid flew back and disclosed three beautiful pearls exquisitely set in a plain white gold bar. "And what a darling she is—and if it had to be some one I'm glad it's the Major."
This ever-to-be-remembered day still held another great event—the Reunion supper. So Judith dried her eyes and went out to the lawn again where she found the Decorating Committee of the New Girls hard at work. It was such a warm evening that permission had been given to have the supper out on the board tennis court. Benches, which were to be used as tables, were being carried from Big Hall and placed in a square on the boards; rugs and sofa cushions were placed beside them, for Form Five intended to sit cross-legged at their feast in true Eastern fashion. The benches or tables were decorated with pretty paper napkins, and every new girl had brought down anything she possessed in the way of a flower vase, and these Marjorie and Frances were filling with flowers donated by the day girls. Judith found that she could help here; her special task was the pasting of a label bearing the owner's name on the bottom of each vase. Althea and Marian with three or four helpers were tying Chinese lanterns over the electric lights which Brodie had strung for them across the boards. Sally May and her committee were engaged in putting the last touches to the place cards, for true to her nature Sally May had refused to be hurried and the cards were still to be finished.
Judith felt her heart beginning to thump uncomfortably as she thought of the toast she had to answer. Sally May was to be toastmistress and to Judith had been given the honour of replying to the last toast—the toast to "The School." Judith was glad that she had written out her little speech last week, for the last few days had been so packed full that she had not had a moment to herself.
The tables were finished to the satisfaction of every one, and then Judith found Nancy, and asked her if she would hear her speech. They found a secluded spot and Judith recited a little eulogy of York Hill.
"It's tremendously good, Judy," said Nancy admiringly. "I think that part about the experiences of the first week is awfully funny, and I like the ending too—'Ring out the old, ring in the new'—It makes us think of next year, doesn't it?"
"I'm afraid you're not a severe critic," said Judith, flushing with pleasure at Nancy's honest admiration, "but I want it to be my very best."
"Come on, you two," cried Sally May at this juncture. "Do come and see the other tables."
They visited Nancy's table first.
"Oh, how sweet your flowers look!" said Judith, admiring the little old-fashioned posies in their stiff paper frills.
"Mrs. Hewson sent us in several boxes from her country place, and Joyce and Phyllis made the frills. They do look quaint, don't they?"
"What thrilling place cards!" cried Sally May. "Look, Judy—four snapshots on each one—are they all the same, Nancy?"
"Oh, no, Jane and Marjorie collected eight or ten snaps from the girls who had cameras and then they printed enough for every one to have four. Every one has some view or other of the School, and every one has a picture of one of the prefects."
"Here's a perfectly sweet one of Catherine," said Judith, pouncing on one on the other side of the table; "here's Miss Meredith's house—and what's this?" Squeals of delight from both of them.
"Oh, it's Josephine and Jane in their carnival costumes, and here's Eleanor at the wicket. Oh, Nancy, what perfectly glorious place cards! Wouldn't I just love to have one!"
"Wait till next year," said Nancy; "but I'll try to get some of the snaps for you," she added in a lower tone as a dozen or more New Girls came in to admire.
"Come on over and see ours now," said Judith hospitably. "I'm dying myself to see our place cards. Sally May has kept them a great secret."
Nancy was appreciative and admired the lights and the paper napkins, and then the place cards came in for their share of praise. Sally May's cheeks grew pink with pleasure as Judith and Nancy became more and more enthusiastic. Sally May was really very clever with her pencil and on each card she had drawn a little sketch reminiscent of the New Girls' Play at Christmas. Scrooge was there, of course, "before and after," Judith said laughingly as she ran from one place to another—and Tiny Tim, and Bob Cratchit, and the boy with the turkey, and the ghost, and Martha. Sally May had looked up several illustrated editions of the "Christmas Carol" and Miss Carlton had given her and Florence permission to work on the cards during Studio hours. They had taken ever so long, but Florence had been a brick and they were finished at last. Edith and Helen had printed in the toast list.
Judith shivered as she saw her name at the bottom of the list. How she wished she had spent more time on her speech—how could she put into words at all what she felt about the School?
She felt this more keenly than ever before as she stood arm in arm with Nancy and looked in through the windows of the dining-hall at the tables prepared for the Old Girls. She heard Nancy and Sally May exclaiming over the lovely irises which decked the long tables, but she was thinking of the girls who had gathered from all over the wide Dominion to visit again their old School. Judith had felt vaguely the same emotion as she saw the Old Girls marching into Big Hall in the morning, but she felt it now with a rush of warm feeling—School seemed infinitely more dear, more worth while, bigger. There must be something very big in York Hill, she thought, something very strong, to draw back every year these hundreds of Old Girls.
Nancy was pointing out celebrities. "That must be Kathryn Fleming. Isn't she simply stunning?" she said, as a tall, fair-haired woman in gold-and-white brocade entered the Hall; "and there's Judge Weston and Miss Fisken—what a gorgeous gown!—looks Chinese. I wonder who that small, black-haired girl is! She looks as if she played the violin or wrote plays or something."
"She probably stays at home and dusts the drawing-room," said Judith, laughing.
"Don't be horrid," pouted Sally May. "Oh, there's Mrs. Dexter. Wouldn't it be thrilling to be President? You'd make a good President, Judy, you're so tall. Come on,
* * * * *
They found numbers of the New Girls already standing about under the Chinese lanterns admiring the work of the Decorating Committee, and some of them, we regret to add, casting hungry glances at the rolls and salad which were already on the table.
Judith found herself seated next to Sally May and opposite Frances, who was to reply to the toast to "Our first days at York Hill."
How they enjoyed their supper! For once, to be able, while at School, to have exactly what you desired to eat, limited only, of course, by the amount of the tax levied on each member! Marjorie and Edith, who had been responsible for the ordering of the food, had many congratulations passed down to their end of the table, and Sally May felt amply repaid for the trouble she and her committee had taken with the place cards when she heard the exclamations of delight on all sides.
Judith, already excited and keyed up by the events of the day, and susceptible as always to beauty in any shape or form, could hardly eat at all. It was an exquisite June evening. The magic and charm of the coloured lanterns, the warm splashes of colour made by the sweater coats and cushions, the soft, rosy glow of the fading sunset, and the silver of a young moon, all made for Judith a veritable fairy-land. If only she hadn't to answer the toast she could be perfectly and absolutely happy.
But all too soon lemonade glasses were refilled for the toasts, and Joyce fidgeted and cleared her throat preparatory to giving "The King." "God save the King" was sung with a will, and then Frances proposed "Our Country" and this was followed by "O Canada," and "My Country, 'tis of Thee." Marjorie had brought her violin to accompany the songs, and the thin, silvery notes and the clear, fresh voices of the singers sent little shivery thrills of pleasure up and down Judith's spine.
Judith's toast was coming now. Quite suddenly she knew that she hadn't been able to realize before what York Hill stood for—to herself, to all these New Girls, and to all the Old Girls who had come back to pay a tribute to the School they loved. Whatever could she do? She tried to think of something else to say, but Frances Purdy was speaking now and the bursts of laughter all about were too infectious to withstand. Frances was describing the woes of her first week. She had been told that she must say "ma'am" to all the Sixth-Form girls, and that new girls must get up before the others and have their baths before the bell rang, and she convulsed her audience by a description of her first ecstatic experience in the tuck shop. She had been informed that the School provided buns and milk at recess, and meeting a neighbour who was consuming a particularly luscious-looking Chelsea bun at recess-time, she enquired where they were to be found. She was directed to the tuck shop in the gymnasium, where she spent some happy moments choosing buns and cakes and sweets, all of which the presiding genius had asserted, in answer to her enquiries, she might have at recess. Her admiration for a School where this kind of thing was done was only equalled by her dismay when she discovered her mistake and was requested to hand over twenty-three cents!
And now came the last and most important toast of all, and the School song was sung with a right good will. Judith stood up and found herself in the grip of an emotion stronger than herself. She looked out through the trees where she saw the lights streaming out from the dining-hall where the Old Girls were gathered; away off to the right was Miss Meredith's green-shaded lamp burning on her study table; in front she could see the lights in the common room and the library; here beside her was the gymnasium where most of her own particular friends were sitting at another table—and all these people were bound together by one thing—love and loyalty to York Hill.
The song was ended—they were waiting for her to speak; here and there in the semi-darkness she could distinguish a puzzled face; had they been waiting long? With an effort she opened her paper, no, it wouldn't do—she crushed it in her hand and waited for a minute till her heart should stop throbbing in her throat. Then she spoke, falteringly at first.
"Some of us were conceited—and—selfish. We thought about ourselves mostly when we came here last September, but York Hill has made us despise our littleness and long to be bigger and broader; some of us didn't know how to use our bodies or our brains, but the School has taught us how to be true sports and how to think straight; some of us had mighty small ideals about what things really mattered; but York Hill has shown us how 'to play the game, and be true to the best we know.'" Judith faltered as she remembered how many times she had failed to live up to that best, her voice broke, and tears shone on her lashes. "Some of us are little fools—but we're going to see to it that we don't stay fools, we're going to be women that York Hill will be proud of when we come back to the Old Girls' Reunion."
And then she sat down feeling limp and tired and wishing that she could run upstairs to her room and hide her head under the pillows. But the girls were applauding whole-heartedly.
"It's awfully kind of them," thought Judith; "they know how miserable I feel breaking down like that—in front of everybody."
"You made the speech of the evening, Judy," said Sally May as Judith joined her a little later in the Gymnasium for the Sixth-Form Dance.
"Don't be silly, Sally May. I failed, that's what I did, and just when I wanted badly to say 'thank you' to the School."
"Of course she made the best speech," said Nancy, putting her arm through Judith's, "Florence has been telling me about it." And Judith greatly comforted went off to have the first dance with Nancy.
 Transcriber's Note: Page 253, text ends in mid-sentence in original.
AFTER the excitement of the previous day, Saturday morning felt a little flat and insipid. There was still plenty to do—desks to clean, trunks to pack, the last preparations to be made for to-night's play—a hundred and one things in fact.
The crew of the "Jolly Susan" were not particularly jolly; they were tired, and they hated to take down pictures and curtains, and dismantle their pretty rooms.
Next year wouldn't be the same, they assured each other; they'd never be all together again: Sally May wasn't even sure if she were returning to York Hill. Josephine expected to be back and Jane probably, and Nancy and Judith. Judith was glad that there wasn't any question as to whether Nancy would return. She was rapidly coming to the place where she felt that she simply couldn't live without Nancy. Indeed, the summer holidays, even with Daddy and Mother home again, had seemed long and blank until she had received permission to invite her special friend to spend a month at the Benson's camp in the North.
"Of all the ships that sail on land, There's none like 'Jolly Susan'; Her crew works well with heart and hand, And sometimes they're amusin',"
sang Josephine in her deep voice. "It's the number of things I've got to remember that's weighing down MY young mind. Judy, do come in here and help me—you're so supernaturally tidy, perhaps you can tell me how to separate the sheep from the goats."
"Tidy, nothing," said Judith cheerfully, surveying Josephine's wardrobe and personal belongings spread over the entire room. "But why sheep?"
"Sheep-things I keep for prize-giving, and the play and the journey; goats—the rest, all of which must go into the big trunk and depart in two hours for the station. I know I'll pack my white slippers or my toothbrush or something equally important unless some kind soul will take me—and mine—in hand."
"Let's make a list of what you'll want for the journey," said Judith, setting to work with a will, "then you sort and I'll pack."
"Jack and Tom are coming to-night," said Nancy, bursting into the "Jolly Susan" a little later, holding an open letter in her hands. "Isn't Miss Meredith a brick? She sent them special invitations when I told her Jack was still in town."
Nancy looked excited and beckoned Judith into her room where she pointed to two violet-coloured boxes.
"They've sent us the loveliest flowers," she said in a low tone; "it's a shame we can't have them at prize-giving, but only the Sixth carry flowers—let's put them in water and we'll wear them to-night at the play."
Judith took off the wrappings. "AREN'T they adorable? I never saw such darling little roses—how AWFULLY nice of them!"
Judith had never had flowers sent to her before and she felt that it was quite an occasion, and in some mysterious way marked the fact that she was growing up and next year would be in the Sixth. It WAS exciting.
"The play's to begin at seven sharp," called Jane. "Did you see the notice?—early lunch and an hour's quiet before prize-giving. What a bore!"
"I'll be glad of it," said Sally May. "I'm not altogether sure of some of my speeches. I know I'm going to be fearfully nervous."
"I'll hear you after lunch," said Judith—"'I have a high respect for your nerves, Mrs. Bennet. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least!'"
"I believe you know at least half of 'Pride and Prejudice' by heart," said Nancy admiringly.
"Well, not half," Judith laughed, "but I love it. I'd rather play Elizabeth myself than any other part I know, and so I'm just crazy glad that Catherine's going to do it. Miss Marlowe didn't want to give Catherine another heavy part after being Viola and she tried Helen and Esther, but they simply couldn't do it. Catherine is too sweet for words. You should hear her say to Mr. Collins, 'Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you!' Catherine an elegant female! Mr. Collins is simply killing. I do hope Eleanor will be careful of the coat—it's really too tight for her."
"You're a brick, Judy," said Josephine appearing in the doorway. "The trunk is ready for Brodie. My word, what stunning roses! No, don't tell me who sent 'em. I'll have three guesses."
"Come on," cried Judith hurriedly, "we've got to see that everything is in place for to-night. Patricia said we were to be in the gym by eleven sharp."
And she rushed off followed more slowly by Josephine who vowed that she wasn't going to escape a chaffing by such diplomatic exits.
Patricia and several of the Properties Committee were already at work. Brodie and Robert had put up the extension to the platform, the footlights and the big green curtains, and had brought over from Miss Meredith's house some charming pieces of old mahogany; the scenery painted by the Studio class was stacked against the wall; in fact all the materials out of which was to be evolved an eighteenth-century drawing-room were ready at hand.
"Josephine, you and Rosamond take this list and check it over please to make certain that everything's ready for Edith. Be SURE you don't forget a single thing—we'll be in a fearful rush after prize-giving. Seven is a perfectly awful hour to begin. Now keep your wits about you, Josephine—go over everything carefully."
"Right-o," replied Josephine; "give a dog a bad name—and hang him. No one believes in me just because my hair is untidy. You'll live to see the day, Patricia, when—"
"Clear out," said Patricia, laughing at Josephine's solemn indignation. "I've got millions of things to do—now, please look after your share. Come on, Judy, let's tackle this parlour."
"Oh, how sweet!" cried Judith as they pulled out the big awkward screen. "Three cheers for the Studio girls! Wherever did you get such old-fashioned wall-paper, Peggy?"
"Miss Ashwell found it in one of the shops," said Peggy, "and we painted the border ourselves to match the chintz. Aren't those frilly little petticoats for the chairs the cunningest things?"
They worked hard for a couple of hours, and when curtains were hung at the windows which gave glimpses of an old-fashioned garden, and pictures and bric-a-brac, such as our grandmothers loved, in their appointed places, they felt that the result justified their labours.
Judith produced a list and checked it over—yes, everything was ready but the candlesticks, and she'd get those now, and remind Patricia about the draperies which were to transform Mrs. Bennet's parlour into a ball-room or Lady de Burgh's drawing-room.
"It's charming," declared Miss Marlowe who had come in just before. "Congratulations, Patricia, you've certainly done your share towards making to-night a success. And you're ready in such good time—it's nice not to have a rush at the end."
"That's really owing to Judy, Miss Marlowe," said Patricia quickly; "she and the others, too, have been splendid."
"I'm glad you've had such good helpers," said Miss Marlowe, giving Judith a special smile of approval. "I shan't give a thought to the stage management, Patricia; I'll leave that and the properties to you—there are one or two who still need help with their parts and I want to give them every moment possible."
Judith fairly glowed with happiness as she watched Miss Marlowe disappearing down the hall. Miss Marlowe's words of praise were eagerly prized—they really meant something. Like most other people Judith loved to be approved of, and she had lived these last few days in an atmosphere of admiration. She was this afternoon to receive a special prize in English, and the second prize for General Proficiency in her Form. She had won the tennis trophy for her House, and in many little ways latterly the Senior girls and her own friends had shown her that they turned to her as to a leader; she knew that it was whispered about that next year she and Nancy would probably be prefects. It would be hard, of course, but it would be awfully nice—
Patricia broke in upon her happy musings by calling to Josephine who was leaving the Hall.
"Is everything O.K. in the make-up room, Jo?"
"Molly Seaton's wig hasn't come yet, but Stewarts say they'll have it here by three o'clock," answered Josephine.
"And they promised faithfully to have it here last night," said Patricia disgustedly. "Now will you be certain sure to get it from the parcel room and see that Molly has it in plenty of time. I'll make the two of you responsible—Judy, you remind her—we go straight to the drawing-room for the reception after prize-giving and—"
"Don't worry your fussy old self," said Josephine cheerfully; "nobody really believes in me, but Judy never forgets. We'll put the wig with our own fair hands on Molly Seaton's head. Come on, Judy, and see if Cathy's flowers have come yet."
Upstairs everything was in delightful confusion: trunks were being carried off, last packings attended to, every one was visiting every one else, and every one was doing her best to make her voice heard above the general confusion.
After luncheon white frocks were donned for prize-giving, and then the younger girls went about in groups visiting the graduating Sixth Form and admiring their flowers.
The crew of the "Jolly Susan" had clubbed together to buy roses for their Captain.
"We can't get blue roses," Nancy had said regretfully, "but let's get the palest pink we can find and tie them with blue gauze. I'm afraid that's all we can do to suggest sailor boys. Whatever shall we do without her next year?"
There were beautiful flowers everywhere they went, but the crew were quite convinced when they came back to the "Jolly Susan" that none were lovelier than theirs, and most certainly no one to compare with Catherine herself.
Prize-giving proved even more exciting than Judith had anticipated. "If only Daddy and Mother could have been here," she thought, as she took her place in the long line of white-frocked girls and looked a bit wistfully at the big audience which held the girls' fathers and mothers. But that must be Uncle Tom—yes, it was, and Aunt Nell—bless them. She wouldn't feel lonely now. And yes—there were Tom and Jack. Then Judith remembered that she mustn't look about the audience, but keep her mind on the programme. She looked down at the printed sheet in her hand, but she knew quite well where they were sitting, and Jack's friendly smile was the first she saw when she came down from the platform with her prizes in her hand.
Prize-giving was an especially important event for the Sixth, who were graduating. To them it was perhaps the greatest moment of the year, for the receiving of diploma or certificate, seeming to mark a parting of the ways, was bitter sweet—bright with hopes of the joys to come, but tinged with regret for "the great glad days" that were now left behind.
The School gave them a great ovation. Judith, looking at the group of prefects and captains who received a special pin as a badge of honour, echoed Nancy's cry—how COULD they get along without them next year?
Miss Meredith held a reception afterwards on the lawn, for it was a perfect June day. Judith carried her prizes proudly for Aunt Nell and Uncle Tom to inspect.
"I didn't trip after all, Aunt Nell," she said laughingly; "if you only knew how relieved I was to think that I had made my curtsey and was down from the platform without mishap!"
Jack and Tom with Sally May and Nancy joined the group and congratulations were the order of the day. Sally May had a prize for sketching to exhibit, and Nancy one for fine sewing.
It was a gay, delightful party, and when messengers began to send round word that actors and committee members must go in for early tea in order to be ready in good time for the play, Judith could hardly believe that prize-giving was really over.
Judith and Nancy had still so much to discuss concerning the day's happenings that they refused to be separated, and Judith, who was to help change the scenery, established Nancy in a corner beside her so that she could share in the fun behind the scenes.
Nancy was loud in her praises of the quaintness of the stage-setting, and Judith, feeling delightfully superior and important, enjoyed herself enormously showing Nancy how they had contrived this and that to better the effect.
Peeping around one corner of the curtain they could see the audience arriving, and behind in the make-up room there was a buzz of voices and a general feeling of excitement which was quite thrilling.
Presently the hall was full, the orchestra had finished their overture, and had begun all over again, but the actors did not appear. Something must have gone wrong.
"Miss Marlowe will be annoyed," whispered Judith to Nancy. "She simply hates being late." And curiosity tempted her to slip into the dressing-room to see what was happening.
The room was humming with repressed excitement; last touches of rouge were being added; Lady Catherine de Burgh was walking solemnly up and down before a mirror practising the art of making her plumes "nod majestically," Sally May was saying feverishly over and over again, "My dear Mr. Bennet, have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"—"If I can just keep talking I won't be nervous," she confided to Jane—"My dear Mr. Bennet, have you heard that Netherfield Park—"; Althea (Bingley) was practising bows with Josephine in a secluded corner of the adjoining room, and Catherine was having the finishing touches put to her pretty curls. Everything seemed as it should be—no, Mr. Bennet (Molly Seaton) was protesting almost tearfully to Miss Marlowe, "It was never given to me: Patricia said it was late and she'd look after it." Judith's face flamed—Molly's wig! She had entirely forgotten it!
"Where is Patricia?" said Miss Marlowe in a voice whose quality made the room suddenly become perfectly quiet. Judith tried to speak, but her lips and throat had suddenly become quite dry. How could she tell Miss Marlowe it was her fault!
Sally May was speaking—something about a telegram and Patricia—Judith didn't hear her—a furious argument was raging within her—with lightning-like speed Top Self and Deep-Down Self strove for mastery. "How can you tell Miss Marlowe it's your fault—after the way you've been trusted and looked up to?—It was Josephine's job, anyway—you did yours"—"But of course you can't let Patricia be blamed"—"Miss Marlowe will never forgive you"—"You can't let Patricia be blamed for it—you WERE to remind—"
The silence had penetrated to the far corner and as Judith opened her lips to speak, Josephine's horrified tones were heard.
"It's my fault, Miss Marlowe, Patricia asked me to look after it."
"You, Josephine?" Miss Marlowe's tones were icy. "Well, you have been consistently careless all year: I wonder that you were given any responsibility."
Judith could not bear that.
"Miss Marlowe," she began in a voice which sounded curiously thin and weak.
But the words were drowned in Sally May's shout:
"Why, here's the box—it's been under this cloak all the time."
The others bent forward to see the precious wig, and Top Self was quick to make one more effort.
"What a little thing to make such a tremendous fuss about! No one has seen you—just slip off again to your post, and when Josephine tells you about it you can take your share of the blame then—Miss Marlowe doesn't want to be bothered with any one else confessing to something that's all over with now—why, it will even look like pretending to be too honest if you interrupt her now—"
Top Self probably had any number of arguments besides; these flashed through her mind in a second, but Deep-Down Self answered them in a most wonderful way and just as quickly. Thinking about it afterwards, Judith couldn't understand how the most important thing that had happened to her during the whole year could have occurred in a second or two, and she found it very difficult to put into words, even for herself, just how Deep-Down Self had conquered. It seemed as if suddenly those who stood for the best and finest things in York Hill rose in her mind and confronted Top Self—Catherine, Nancy, Josephine, Eleanor, Miss Marlowe, Miss Ashwell, Miss Meredith—and when Judith had seen them she turned again to Top Self—but Top Self had gone!
It had only taken a second of time, but even in that second fresh tragedy had been added. The wig was a beautiful golden blonde!
"Quick, give me the powder," Miss Marlowe was saying. "Somebody get the charcoal; we'll have to streak it a bit to make it grey."
Judith managed to get charcoal before any one else, and then said desperately,
"It's my fault as much as Josephine's, Miss Marlowe—more mine, for Patricia told me to be sure to remind Josephine."
"You, Judith?" said Miss Marlowe coldly. "I AM surprised,"—and she wasted no more time on Judith, who went away feeling that she could never be happy again.
Judith didn't go back to Nancy, she wanted to be alone. Her humiliation was very real—not because she had forgotten, though it HAD hurt her pride to think that she had been careless. But there was a deeper hurt than that—she had actually hesitated to take her share of the blame, in spite of precept and example in her home, and here this year at York Hill. She had almost done something quite dishonourable.
"They'd despise me if they knew," thought Judith, crouching down behind some scenery and wishing that she could run away instead of waiting to help. "Why, oh, why do I make so many mistakes and fail so often? But I won't—I won't let that horrid little Top Self conquer"—and, interested in the working of her own mind, she paused a moment to consider how curious it was that all those faces should rise to aid her just when she needed them—"Seemed almost as if they WERE Deep-Down Self—but of course they couldn't be, because that's me—but it's queer—they seemed like a part of me too—"
Just then Catherine on her way to the stage caught sight of Judith, a crumpled little heap behind the screen. She hadn't a moment, but she took one, nevertheless, to stop and pat the back of Judith's neck—her face she couldn't see—and say affectionately, "Never mind, Judy, dear—we all forget sometimes—you're O.K. really."
Just a moment—but it brought Judith up out of her gloom.
"Dear old Cathy," she said to herself as she scrambled up to watch the heroine make her entrance, "she's a brick, a real brick—I'll NEVER do anything I'd be ashamed to tell her about."
"Hullo!" whispered Nancy; "come on over here and you can see better—what's the matter?"
"Well, you look—as if you'd had a small fortune left you."
"I—think—I have," said Judith soberly but happily.
"Sh—sh—sh," commanded Nancy, "they're beginning. Here, you watch from this crack, and I'll take this one." And they were soon lost to all sense of surroundings as they followed Jane Austen's delightful story.
Sally May was a delicious Mrs. Bennet—her archness, her querulousness, and above all her talkativeness. Was it Sally May or Mrs. Bennet? Molly Seaton, as Mr. Bennet, proved an excellent foil—reserved, quiet, full of a delightful sarcastic humour.
Miss Marlowe sat in the shadow of the green curtain holding the typewritten manuscript, ready to prompt any one who stumbled—the first scene was always the difficult one; but it went without a hitch and Judith was soon busily helping to transform the parlour into a ball-room, and listening with great excitement to the applause on the other side of the green curtains.
Then the stage was filled with dainty, slim, ringletted ladies in high-waisted flowered frocks and gentlemen in tight breeches, long-tailed coats, and high stocks, and the curtains rolled back to disclose a prettier and statelier dance than a modern audience often sees.
As the story progressed, Catherine as Elizabeth, and Eleanor as Mr. Collins, divided the honours pretty equally. No one who had not seen Catherine as Viola could have guessed what a charming Elizabeth she would make, and Eleanor—well, Eleanor was Mr. Collins, a very triumph of imagination! Eleanor had not Catherine's gift, and to picture Elizabeth's delicate subtleties and humours would have been quite beyond her, but she had walked, and talked, and eaten with Mr. Collins until she was that worthy gentleman's double.
Who could ever forget the courtship scene, with Mr. Collins's ponderous declaration and dexterous withdrawal from Mrs. Bennet's clutches? Contrary to Judith's fears, Mr. Collins's coat withstood the pressure of his windy eloquence and all the seams held fast.
Scene followed scene. Jane's love-story and Lydia's and Elizabeth's until the tangles, always tied in true lovers' garlands, were disentangled one by one and Mrs. Bennet was able to sing her hymn of joy. "Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! What will become of me? I shall go distracted."
It was a great success, of course, the Reunion Play always was, and each one better than the last as every one said, but Judith and Nancy privately decided that nothing could ever be better—it was perfect.
The play over, benches and chairs were piled up at the sides, the orchestra played an entrancing tune, and every one danced; Mr. Collins with Lady Catherine de Burgh, and Elizabeth with Judith, Mrs. Bennet with Nancy, and Jane with Bingley.
Then by and by Miss Meredith gave a signal to the orchestra, and big girls and little, Old and New, formed a great triple hand-clasped circle and sang together as was the custom, "Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot?" And if some of the Old Girls found they couldn't sing at all because their voices grew hoarse and husky, as they thought of what old acquaintance in York Hill had meant to them and was going to mean to their young sisters and daughters, what wonder!
It was over. The guests were moving slowly down to the drawing-rooms for refreshments, and the School and the Old Girls crossed the quadrangle and had their lemonade and cake in Big Hall. In twos and threes the girls stood making plans for next year, or talking over the events of the day.
Some one at the piano began to play "Forty Years On," the last song always at York Hill on Prize Day.
Judith didn't want to sing—she slipped out through the open door. It was a glorious sight, the moon was nearly full, and the quadrangle was flooded with silvery light.
In front of her was the great main School building, its windows blazing with light, the silhouette of the bell-tower etched against the sky. She could hear the Old Girls behind her singing in the Gymnasium—
"Forty years on, when afar and asunder Parted are those who are singing to-day, When you look back and forgetfully wonder What you were like in your work and your play."
Memories of the past year crowded into Judith's mind. The first days, and this splendid last week; she could not put into words even to herself what it had all meant to her, but deep within herself she realized that Aunt Nell's wish had come true—York Hill was helping her to be true to the best she knew.
The insistent rhythm of the chorus caught her and held her:
"Follow up! Follow up! Till the field ring again and again With the tramp of twenty-two men— Follow up! Follow up!"
Judith had sung "Forty Years On" many times. It was a favourite for the Saturday-night sing-songs, but never before had it gripped her like this. Out into the night floated the golden notes of Kathryn Fleming's glorious voice—
"Oh, the great days in the distance enchanted, Days of fresh air in the rain and the sun How we rejoiced as we struggled and panted, Hardly believable forty years on.
. . . . . . .
"God give us bases to guard and beleaguer; Games to play out whether earnest or fun; Fights for the fearless and goals for the eager: Twenty, and thirty, and forty years on."
"Follow up" sang the beautiful voice—and then came the answering refrain from hundreds of York Hill daughters—"Follow up! Follow up!"
A great wave of emotion shook Judith—the pent-up feeling of the last few days must find expression; with an unconscious dramatic gesture she turned to the School and held out her hands. "Oh, I WILL have big ideals and not little ones—I wanted to say a big 'Thank you' the other night, dear York Hill—and I couldn't—I hadn't the words—and I can't now—but I will, I WILL follow up."
* * * * *
Obvious punctuation errors corrected.
Page 11, "Nancy'" changed to "Nancy's" (Nancy's pet frock)
Page 42, "litle" changed to "little" (blessed little mother)
Page 92, "handerchiefs" changed to "handkerchiefs" (plenty of handkerchiefs)
Page 109, "though" changed to "thought" (thought Judith, and)
Page 144, "romatic" changed to "romantic" (such a romantic)
Page 150, "Lotos" changed to "Lotus" (The Lotus-Eaters)
Page 158, "scarely" changed to "scarcely" (had scarcely seen)
Page 191, "acadamic" changed to "academic" (academic hoods showed)
Page 192, "Johnston" changed to "Johnson" to match usage in same paragraph (Dr. Johnson's place)