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The Madcap of the School
by Angela Brazil
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As "The Darkies' Frolic" was the last item but one in the first half of the programme, and the performers were naturally ruffled by their unexpected accident, Miss Beasley suggested that they had better have the interval at once, and soothe their feelings with cakes and cocoa before resuming the entertainment. The little spread on the wood-carving bench looked attractive; the Stores had sent a tempting selection of cakes, and the audience was quite ready for refreshment. Ardiune, presiding at the cauldron, mixed cups of cocoa as speedily as possible, and handed them out in exchange for twopences. At the first sip, however, an expression of acute disgust spread itself over the countenance of each consumer.

"Whew!" choked Hermie. "What's the matter with the stuff? It's simply atrocious!"

"It tastes of paraffin!" proclaimed Veronica, pulling a wry face.

"There! I told you so!" whispered Valentine to Ardiune. "You have just gone and done it this time!"

There was no doubt about the matter. The contents of the cauldron were quite undrinkable, and the girls had to fall back on the small quantity of lemonade which the cook had provided. It was a most mortifying experience, especially happening just after the failure of the platform. The Sixth were looking amused and superior, the juniors were grumbling, and Miss Beasley was saying "Never mind, so long as we help the blinded soldiers;" which was kind, but not altogether comforting. The audience made up for the lack of cocoa by their consumption of confectionery, and went on buying till not a solitary cake or packet of chocolate was left upon the bench.

The second half of the programme had to be performed upon the floor, but went off nevertheless in quite good style and with much flourish of instruments. Fauvette, with her torn lace hurriedly pinned up, piped a pretty little solo about "piccaninnies" and "ole mammies"; Aveline and Katherine gave a spirited duet, and the troupe in general roared choruses with great vigour. Everybody decided that the evening—barring the cocoa—had been a great success. The proceeds, in particular, were highly satisfactory.

"One pound ten shillings!" announced Raymonde. "Just count it over, somebody, please, to make sure I'm right! I don't call that half bad for a Form concert. If the others do as well, we shall have quite a nice sum. Shall I give it to the Bumble now?"

"She's gone upstairs. Besides, I believe it's Gibbie who's going to send off the money. You'd better keep it till the others have had their entertainments, and it can all be handed in together."

"Right-o! I'll take it and lock it up in my drawer. I say, it was awful fun being coons, wasn't it?"

"Top-hole!" agreed the others.



CHAPTER XXI

The Blinded Soldiers' Fund

The examinations were drawing most horribly and imminently near, and the Fifth Form, feeling themselves for the most part ill prepared for the ordeal, were shivering in anticipation. Armed with textbooks, they made desperate efforts to pull up arrears, and stock their brains with an assortment of necessary facts. Ardiune crammed dates at every available moment, Morvyth studied the map of Europe, Valentine devoted herself to Virgil, and Magsie wept over French verbs, while the rest tried to fill up any educational gaps and holes where they knew they were lacking. The image of the Rev. T. W. Beasley, M.A. loomed large on the horizon, and his advent was hardly regarded with pleasure.

"I know I'll be scared to death!" moaned Aveline. "If there are any viva voces I shall break down altogether. I know I shall! Directly he looks at me and asks a question, every single idea will go bang out of my head!"

"It doesn't matter how well you know things if you're nervous!" agreed Katherine.

"I hate the written exams!" groaned Raymonde. "They're so long, and one gets so inky, and one's hand grows so stiff. I never can express myself well on paper. Gibbie says I've no gift for composition."

"There aren't any J pens left in the cupboard," volunteered Maudie. "And Ma'm'selle says it's not worth while sending for more just at the end of the term, and we must use Waverleys for the exam. There's a whole boxful of those."

"Oh, what a shame! I can't write with a Waverley!" protested Raymonde in much indignation. "It'll spoil my whole exam. I call that tyranny! Look here! I'm not going to be done! I shall send for a fountain pen with a broad nib. I saw one advertised in a magazine."

"The Bumble won't let you."

"I shan't ask her!"

"Then how'll you get it?"

"Oh, trust me! I'll manage it somehow. I'm not generally easily circumvented when I set my mind upon anything. I've a plan already."

"Have you? What is it?"

"Ah, that would be telling!" laughed Raymonde. "Perhaps my pen will come floating in through the window!"

"You mad creature! I don't believe you'll really get it!"

"Wait and see!"

The Fifth Form possessed a little upstairs room at the Grange which they called their sanctum. It held a piano, and was mainly used for practising, but the girls sometimes studied there out of preparation hours. Its principal article of furniture was a large, old-fashioned bureau, which Miss Beasley had bought among other things when she took over the house. She had given every girl in the Form one of its drawers, together with a key, so that each could have a place in which to keep any special treasures locked up.

As Raymonde sat in the sanctum that afternoon alone, trying to apply her mind to memorizing certain axioms of Euclid, Veronica came bustling in.

"You here, Ray? Miss Beasley wants some change to pay the laundry. You've got the money you collected at your coon concert last night; can you let her have thirty shillings in silver, and she'll give you notes instead?"

"Certainly," replied Raymonde, rising at once and unlocking her drawer in the bureau. "Here you are—four half-crowns make ten shillings, eight shillings is eighteen, and twenty-four sixpences make thirty shillings altogether. I'd just as soon have notes."

"Right-o!" said Veronica. "I'll bring them up to you later on, or send somebody with them. I hope our entertainment will do as well as yours. By the by, a queer thing happened just this minute. I saw the ghost girl again!"

"Where?" asked Raymonde excitedly.

"Peeping round the corner of the winding staircase; but she vanished instantly. I went up a few steps, but couldn't see her. The wire door was open, and I very nearly ran up to the attic to investigate, but I knew Miss Beasley was waiting for the change. I must rush and give it to her now, or there'll be squalls. Ta-ta!"

Raymonde did not either lock up her drawer or resume her Euclid. She stood for a moment or two pondering. Then a mischievous light broke over her face, and she clapped her hands.

"Splendiferous! I'll do it!" she said aloud; and, whisking out of the room, she ran up the winding staircase, and through the open wire door into the forbidden but fascinating territory of the attics.

The girls at the Grange were obliged to keep strictly to their practising time-table, and Raymonde was due at the piano in the sanctum from 5.30 until 6.15. At 5.40, which was fully ten minutes late, the strains of her Beethoven Sonata began to resound down the passage. Mademoiselle, passing from her bedroom, stood for a moment to listen. She was impressed by the fact that Raymonde was playing much better than usual, and performing in quite a stylish fashion the passage which usually baffled her. She almost opened the door to congratulate her pupil, but being in a hurry changed her mind, and ran downstairs instead. A little later Veronica, also in much haste, entered the room arm-in-arm with Hermie.

"Miss Beasley has sent the notes, Ray," she explained. "You needn't stop. I'll just pop them inside your drawer, and you can put them away properly when you've finished practising."

The figure at the piano did not turn her head, or attempt to reply, but went on diligently with the scherzo movement of the Sonata, bringing out her chords crisply, and executing some quite brilliant runs.

"Raymonde's improving enormously in her music," commented Hermie, as the two monitresses went back along the passage.

"Yes," agreed Veronica. "And how remarkably pretty she looked to-night! Her hair was quite curly, and she had such a lovely colour. Did you notice?"

"That room's so dark, I can't say I did, particularly. Ray's not bad looking, though I don't call her exactly a beauty!"

"She looked a beauty this evening! Fauvette will have to mind her laurels! She's always been the belle of the Form until now."

When Maudie Heywood, in accordance with the practising time-table, came at 6.15 to claim the piano, she found the sanctum unoccupied. Raymonde's drawer in the bureau was shut and locked. This fact Maudie noticed almost automatically. At the moment it seemed a matter of no consequence, though in the light of after events it was to assume a greater importance than she could have imagined.

Raymonde turned up late for preparation, looking hot and conscious, and with her brown serge dress only half fastened. She gave no excuse for her lack of punctuality, and took her loss of order mark with stoicism.

"What were you doing?" whispered Aveline, when the evening work was over and the books were being put away.

Raymonde's head was inside her desk. She drew it out, and seemed on the point of uttering a confidence. Then, suddenly changing her mind, she stooped again to arrange her papers.

"Little girls shouldn't ask questions!" she grunted.

"Oh, very well!" flared Aveline, who was very easily offended. "I'm sure you needn't tell me anything if you don't want to, thanks! I shan't force your silly secrets from you!"

"You certainly won't!" snapped Raymonde, as Aveline flounced away.

There was no time for further bickering. The juniors were giving their gymnastic and dancing display in the lecture hall, and Miss Beasley had announced that she wished the entertainment to begin promptly.

"That's a shot at us!" sniggered Ardiune. "I know the Coons started late, but we really couldn't help it. It took me ages to help Fauvette into her costume, not to speak of getting into my own as well. The Fourth are only performing in their gym. dresses, so it's easy enough for them to be punctual. I'll stump up my shilling cheerfully for the sake of the blind Tommies, but I don't expect much of a show for my money's worth."

"No more do I," agreed Katherine. "I'm fed up with Swedish drill. I confess my interest centres in the refreshments."

After all, the Fifth were agreeably surprised at the achievements of the performers. The juniors had been practising in private under the instruction of Miss Ward, the visiting athletics mistress, and had quite a novel little programme to present to their schoolfellows. They exhibited some remarkably neat skipping drill, and also some charming Russian and Polish peasant dances, and a variety of military exercises that would almost have justified their existence as a Ladies' Volunteer Corps. It was a patriotic evening, with much waving of flags and allusions to King and Country. Even the refreshments were in keeping, for the table was decorated with red, white and blue streamers, and there were on sale little packets of chocolates wrapped up in representations of the Union Jack. The cocoa on this occasion was immaculate, and everything was served with the utmost daintiness.

"Quite a decent business for the kids!" commented Ardiune, "but not half the fun of our coon performance!"

"It was ripping in the barn!" agreed Morvyth.

There remained one more entertainment in aid of the Blinded Soldiers' Fund, that of the Sixth Form, which was expected by everybody to be the best. Miss Beasley had thrown it open to outsiders, and some of the ladies who attended the geology lectures had promised to come and bring friends. In view of this augmented audience the performers made extra-special efforts. They held frequent rehearsals with closed doors, and took elaborate pains to prevent impertinent juniors from obtaining the least information as to their plans. The wildest notions circulated round the school. It was rumoured that a musical comedy was to be presented, the male parts being taken by professional actors specially engaged from London for the occasion; then that, failing the professionals, Miss Beasley and Miss Gibbs had consented to play the two heroes, and might be expected to appear in tights, with flowered waistcoats and cocked hats. In the imagination of the gossipmongers Professor Marshall, as a Greek tragedian, and Mr. Browne, garbed as a highwayman, were to be added to the list of artists. It was even whispered that the Reverend T. W. Beasley, M.A., who was booked to arrive on Monday, had consented to come earlier, for the purpose of joining in the festivities, and would appear in the character of a humorist, and give some wonderful exhibitions of lightning changes of costume and ventriloquism. The uncertainty as to what might be expected certainly enhanced the pleasure of anticipation. Not a girl would have missed this performance for worlds.

The Sixth kept their secret well. Not a word leaked out as to the true nature of the programme. Meta, indeed, went about with rather mincing steps, while Veronica seemed to affect a truculent attitude; but whether this was the result of learning parts, or was put on with deliberate intention to deceive, the wide-awake members of the Fifth could not determine.

The entertainment was to be held on Saturday, when, as there was no preparation, the whole evening could be devoted to amusement. It was announced to begin at 6 p.m., with box office open at 5.45. The school turned up with prompt punctuality, and would have scrambled for the door, if Barbara, seated at the receipt of custom, had not insisted upon their forming an orderly and orthodox queue. She took their shillings in a business-like manner.

"Programmes—hand painted—sixpence each. Please buy one for the good of the cause!" she added.

The programmes, produced in Linda's and Hermie's best style, were attractive. Each had a different picture upon its cover, and all were tied up with white satin ribbon. The girls opened them eagerly, and read:

MARLOWE GRANGE

Dramatic Performance in Aid of the Blinded Soldiers' Fund.

Scenes from The Rivals, by Sheridan.

Cast:

Sir Anthony Absolute Veronica Terry.

Captain Absolute Hermione Graveson.

Faulkland Daphne Johnstone.

Bob Acres Barbara Rowlands.

Mrs. Malaprop Linda Mottram.

Lydia Languish Meta Wright.

Lucy Lois Barlow.

"So the Bumble and Gibbie aren't in it, after all!" whispered Aveline. "I never thought they would be, nor the Professor, nor Mr. Browne either, and certainly not Mr. Beasley! It promises to be decent."

"Hope they'll begin promptly!" murmured Morvyth. "I say, Barbara, isn't it time you began to dress?"

"I don't come on till the second scene," explained Barbara, "so I can change while they're acting the first. That's why they put me as doorkeeper. Go back to your seats. Visitors are arriving."

The two front rows had been reserved for outsiders, and presently began to be filled by those who had bought tickets. Miss Beasley and Miss Gibbs took their places, Mademoiselle played an introductory fantasia upon the piano, and the curtains were drawn aside.

There was no doubt about the play being amusing; from first to last the audience was convulsed. The actresses threw themselves admirably into their parts, and rendered their characters with the utmost spirit. Veronica, well padded with pillows, made a stout and presentable Sir Anthony Absolute, and played the autocratic parent to the life. Hermie, with blue cloak, sword, and military stride, endeavoured to live up to her conception of an eighteenth-century buck, and made love with a fervour that was all the more enhanced by the sight of Miss Gibbs in the front row, sitting with pursed-up lips and straightened back. Meta, as Lydia Languish, sighed, wept, made eyes, and indulged in a perfect orgy of sentiment, while Lois acted the cheeky maidservant with enthusiasm. The best of all, however, was Mrs. Malaprop; Linda had seen the play on the real stage, and reproduced a famous actress to the utmost of her ability. Her absurd manners and amusing mistakes sent the room into a roar, and she occasionally had to wait for quiet until she could continue her speeches.

Everybody voted the evening a huge success. The visitors heartily congratulated Miss Beasley upon the cleverness of her elder pupils, and hoped they would sometimes give another open performance. The girls clapped till their hands were sore. Even Miss Gibbs, though she considered that the love-making had exceeded the limit allowable in school theatricals, expressed guarded approval.

"We've cleared two pounds three and sixpence!" announced Barbara gleefully to the Fifth.

"Good!" exclaimed Valentine. "And we made one pound ten, and the kids one pound seven. What does it tot up to?"

"Five pounds and sixpence," calculated Barbara after a moment's scribbling on the back of a programme.

"Well, I call it a very decent result for a school of only twenty-six girls!"



CHAPTER XXII

An Accusation

On the following Monday afternoon the Reverend T. W. Beasley arrived in readiness to begin, on Tuesday morning, his task of examining the school. There was great fluttering in the dove-cot, and much anxiety on the part of the girls to catch the first glimpse of him. They had decided that, as the brother of their good-looking Principal, he would be tall, fair, and clean-shaven, with classical features, gentle blue eyes, and a soft, persuasive manner—the ideal clergyman, in fact, of the storybook, who lives in a picturesque country rectory and cultivates roses. To their disappointment he was nothing of the sort, but turned out to be a short, broad-set little man, with a grey beard and moustache, and keen dark eyes under bushy eyebrows, and a prominent nose that was the very reverse of romantic. He cleared his throat frequently in a nervous fashion, and when he spoke he snapped out his remarks abruptly, in a very deep voice that seemed to rise almost out of his boots.

"He isn't half as nice as Professor Marshall!" decided the Fifth unanimously.

"Looks as if he had a temper!" ventured Fauvette.

"Oh! it's cruelty to give us viva voces! I'll never dare to answer a question!" wailed Aveline.

"I'm afraid he'll be strict," admitted Katherine.

"Perhaps he's nervous too, and scared of us!" suggested Morvyth.

"Don't you believe it!" laughed Raymonde scornfully. "I flatter myself I'm pretty good at reading faces, and I can see at a glance he's a martinet. That frown gives him away, and the kind of glare he has in his eyes. I'm a believer in first impressions, and I knew in a second I wasn't going to like him."

Aveline sighed dramatically.

"It's rough on a poor young girl in her early teens to be put through an ordeal by a stern and elderly individual who'll have absolutely no consideration for her feelings."

"Feelings! You'll have your head snapped off!" prophesied Raymonde.

"Why couldn't the Bumble have examined us herself, or at any rate let the Professor do it?"

"Ask me a harder, child!"

"Well, I think it's very unnecessary to have this Mr. Beasley. Bumble Bee, indeed! He's a regular hornet!"

Whatever the private opinion of the Fifth might be on the subject of their examiner, they were obliged to hide their injured feelings under a cloak of absolute propriety. The reverend visitor was a solid fact, and all the grumbling in the world could not remove the incubus of his presence. At nine o'clock on Tuesday morning he would begin his inquisition, and the girls judged that there would be scant mercy for any sinner who failed to reach the required standard. A terrible atmosphere of gloomy convention pervaded the school. Miss Beasley was anxious for her pupils to appear at their very best before her scholarly brother, whose ideal of maidenly propriety was almost mediaeval, and she kept a keen eye on their behaviour. Nobody dared to speak at meal-times, except a whispered request for such necessary articles as salt and butter; laughter was out of the question, and even a smile was felt to be inappropriate. The girls sat subdued and demure, outwardly the pink of propriety, but inwardly smouldering, and listened obediently while the visitor, mindful of his educational position in the establishment, held forth upon subjects calculated to improve their minds.

"I don't believe Gibbie likes him either!" opined Katherine, after Monday night's supper.

"Of course not! He beats her on her own ground. As for the Bumble, she's quite distraught. She keeps glancing at us as if she expected somebody all the time to spill her tea, or break a plate, or pull a face, or do something dreadful. We're not usually an ill-behaved set!"

"He's getting on my nerves!" complained Aveline.

"The place is more like a reformatory than a school!" growled Morvyth.

When the post-bag arrived on Tuesday morning, it contained, among other letters and parcels, a small narrow packet directed to Miss R. Armitage. Miss Gibbs, whose business it was to overlook her pupils' correspondence, was in a particular hurry, as it happened, and inclined for once to scamp her duties.

"What's this, Raymonde?" she asked perfunctorily. "A fountain pen, did you say? For the exams. I suppose your mother has sent it. There are two letters for Aveline and one for Morvyth. You may take them to them, and tell Daphne I want to speak to her."

Raymonde did not stop for further interrogation. She beat as speedy a retreat as possible, delivered the message and the letters, and finished unpacking her parcel. Her Form mates, more inquisitive than Miss Gibbs, gathered round her and began to catechize.

"What have you got there?"

"Did it come by the post?"

"Why, it's a fountain pen, isn't it?"

"Who sent it to you?"

"Did you buy it, then?"

"It looks a jolly nice one!"

"Is it full, or empty?"

"Don't talk all at once, children!" commanded Raymonde loftily. "I'll answer your questions in proper order, so just behave yourselves!

"1. It is a fountain pen, as anybody with half an eye could see!

"2. It came by the post.

"3. Nobody sent it to me.

"4. I bought it.

"5. It is a jolly nice one.

"6. I have reason to believe it is empty. I'm going to fill it out of Fauvette's bottle."

"Cheek!" returned Fauvette, allowing her friend to help herself to the Swan ink, however. "What puzzles me, is how you managed to buy it."

"Your little head, Baby, is easily puzzled," smiled Raymonde serenely. "It's meant to wear fluffy curls, and not to engage itself in abstruse problems. I don't advise you to worry yourself over this, unless you can turn it to some account. If the Hornet should ask you for an original example, you might begin: 'Let A represent a fountain pen, and B my schoolmate, C standing for an unknown quantity——'"

Fauvette, at this point, placed her hand over her chum's mouth.

"Stop it!" she begged beseechingly. "If I get any of those wretched A B and C questions I'll collapse, and disgrace the Form. I've many weak points, but mathematics are absolutely my weakest of all. If you frighten me any more, I shan't have the courage to walk into the exam. room. Do I look presentable? Are my hands clean? And is my hair decent?"

"You look so much more than presentable that anybody but a hardened brute of an examiner would be bowled over by you utterly and entirely."

"I'm sure he hasn't any feelings, so it's no use trying to work upon them," said Fauvette plaintively.

"Joking apart, Ray, where did you get that fountain pen?" asked Morvyth.

Raymonde's eyes twinkled.

"Little flower, could I tell you that, I'd tell you my heart's secret with it!"

she misquoted.

"But do tell me! I think you might!"

"The more you tease, the less you'll find out!"

The school bell put an end to the conversation, and the girls, with straightened faces, marched to their places in the big lecture hall. The Reverend T. W. Beasley had taken full command of the examinations, and had introduced several innovations. On former occasions each Form had sat and written in its own room, but now desks had been placed for the whole school together, and were so arranged that the Forms sat alternately, a junior being sandwiched between each senior. The girls were hugely insulted. "He suspects we'll copy each other's papers!" thought Raymonde, and flashed her indignation along to Aveline. She did not speak, but her expressive glance drew forth a reproof from the examiner. He cleared his throat.

"Any girl communicating either by speech or otherwise will be dismissed from the room!" he announced freezingly.

After that, the girls scarcely dared to look up from their papers. They studied their questions and wrote away, some fast and furiously, and others with the desponding leisure of those having very little to put down. Mr. Beasley sat upon the platform, toying with his watch-chain, and keeping his eye upon the movements of the candidates. Fauvette, finishing long before the others, ventured to raise her eyes as high as his boots, and let them rest there, marvelling at the size and thickness of the footgear, and congratulating herself that she could wear number three.

The morning wore itself slowly away. When the school compared notes at 12.30, the girls agreed that they had never in their lives before been given such an atrocious and detestable set of examination papers. The Sixth had fared as badly as the Fifth or the juniors, and even monitresses were loud in their complaints. Certain viva voces taken in the afternoon confirmed their ill opinion of their examiner.

"He glares at one till one's frightened out of one's wits!"

"And he hurries so—one hasn't time to answer!"

"And he takes things in quite a different way from what Gibbie does."

"He's no need to be sarcastic!"

"Sarcastic, did you say? I call him downright rude!"

"He evidently doesn't think much of our intellects!"

"Well, we don't think much of him, anyway!"

"I believe he uses pomatum on his hair," confided Fauvette in a shocked whisper.

"My dear, I believe it's bear's grease!" corrected Morvyth scornfully.

"This is the most painful week I've ever had to go through in all my life," bleated Aveline. "Even if I live through it—and that's doubtful—I shall be a nervous wreck. They'll have to send me for a rest cure during the holidays. I'm not accustomed to be cross-questioned as if I were a criminal in the dock!"

"It's a witness, child, you mean," amended Raymonde. "Criminals don't generally give evidence against themselves. But we understand you, all the same! For two pins I'd sham utter ignorance, and give him some very surprising answers. Yes, I would, if Gibbie or the Bumble didn't stick in the room the whole time! That's the worst of it. They'd know in a second that I was only having him on."

As the week progressed, the school considered itself more and more ill-used. The fact was that the Reverend T. W. Beasley was accustomed to university students, and could not focus his mind to the intellectual range of girls of thirteen to seventeen. Moreover, he was by nature a reformer. He liked to give others the benefit of his advice, and he had much to say in private to his sister upon the subject of her pupils' lessons and general management. Perhaps poor Miss Beasley had not expected quite so much criticism. She was accustomed, nevertheless, to defer to her brother's opinions, and she listened with due humility, though with much inward perturbation, while he laid down the law upon the education of women. Miss Gibbs, who was a born fighter, was inclined to argue—a disastrous policy, which so nearly ended in what are generally termed "words," that her Principal was obliged to ask her (privately) to allow the visitor to state his views uninterrupted.

The school was so taken up with the stern business on hand, that such delights as coon concerts and theatricals were quite in the background. On Thursday afternoon, however, Veronica sought out Raymonde.

"I want your money for the Blinded Soldiers' Fund," she said. "I've given in ours, and so have the juniors. Miss Beasley says when she has it all she'll write a cheque for the amount, and send it to the secretary."

"But Miss Beasley has our money already," objected Raymonde. "Don't you remember? She said she wanted some change, and you came and asked me for it."

"So I did, and brought you back notes instead."

Raymonde shook her head.

"You certainly didn't."

"What nonsense, Ray! You know I brought them," protested Veronica indignantly. "You were practising, and I said: 'Don't stop, I'll put them inside your drawer.' Hermie was with me at the time."

A conscious look spread over Raymonde's face. She blushed hotly.

"Was it last Friday?" she asked quickly.

"Of course it was Friday. The notes must be in your drawer. Have you the key? Then come along, and we'll go and find them."

Raymonde unwillingly followed Veronica upstairs. Her manner was embarrassed in the extreme. She unlocked her drawer in the bureau, and turned out the possessions she had there, but no notes were among them.

"What's become of them?" demanded Veronica sharply.

"I—I really don't know!" faltered Raymonde.

"Then you must find out. As treasurer for your Form, you are responsible."

"You're sure you put them in my drawer, and not in anybody else's?"

"Certain. It was the bottom one on the right-hand side, and it was open just as you left it when you gave me the silver. I couldn't be mistaken."

Raymonde flung herself down on a chair, and buried her face in her hands.

"I want to think," she murmured.

Veronica gazed at her with growing suspicion.

"I'm sorry, but it's my duty to report this to Miss Beasley," she remarked freezingly.

"Oh, no, please!" pleaded Raymonde, starting up in great agitation. "Can't you give me just a few days, and then—well perhaps it will be all right. Leave it over till Saturday."

"It will be all wrong!" said the monitress sternly. "I can't understand you, Raymonde, for either you have the money or you haven't. If you have, you must hand it over; and if you haven't, we've got to find out where it's gone. That's flat! So come along with me at once to the study."

The Principal, on being told the facts of the case, was astonished and distressed.

"There may possibly be some misunderstanding," she urged. "Before anybody is accused we will make sure that the notes were not placed in a wrong drawer. Tell every member of the Fifth to come at once to the practising-room, and bring her keys. You will go upstairs with me, Raymonde."

Veronica's message spread consternation through the Form. The girls trooped to the sanctum with scared faces. They found Miss Beasley there, looking very grave, and Raymonde, her eyes downcast and her mouth set in its most obstinate mould, standing by the bureau.

"I wish you each to unlock your drawer in my presence," said the Principal. "The money collected at your concert is missing, and perhaps it may have been misplaced."

In dead silence the girls complied, every one in turn showing her possessions. There were certainly no notes among them. Miss Beasley turned to Veronica.

"What time was it when you took up the money?"

"About five minutes to six, Miss Beasley. It was just before I went into preparation. Hermie was with me."

"Did you leave the drawer open or shut?"

"I shut it, but did not lock it. Raymonde's keys were dangling in it. I thought she would lock it for herself when she had finished practising."

"Who came into the room next? Maudie Heywood? Then, Maudie, did you notice the keys hanging in the drawer when you arrived at 6.15?"

"No, Miss Beasley, they were certainly not there."

"Thank you, girls, you may go now. Veronica, tell Hermie to go to my study and wait for me. Raymonde, you will stay here. I wish to speak to you alone."

The Principal waited until the door had closed on her other pupils, then turned to the white-faced little figure near the bureau.

"Raymonde, this is a sad business," she said solemnly. "You had better confess at once that you have taken this money."



CHAPTER XXIII

A Mystery Unravelled

Raymonde started, and faced the Principal with flaming eyes.

"I didn't! I didn't!" she protested.

"Then where is it?"

"That I don't know."

"Perhaps you will explain," continued Miss Beasley, watching her searchingly, "how it is that you were seen at Marlowe post office on Friday afternoon, and that you bought a postal order for twelve and sixpence. Oh, Raymonde, you may well blush! Mrs. West was calling only an hour ago, and told me that she had seen you in the shop. She asked if I knew about it, or if you had been there without leave. Why did you get a postal order?"

Raymonde was silent for a moment. Then:

"To send for a fountain pen," she stammered.

"You admit that you visited the post office? Now, I know that you had finished all your pocket-money. You drew the last of your allowance from me on the day of your concert."

"I had a pound-note of my own, put away in my handkerchief case. My uncle gave it to me last holidays."

"If that is so, then where is the money for which you were treasurer?"

"I don't know."

"Raymonde, I can't believe such a story. You're not telling me the truth!"

"Indeed, indeed I am!" burst out Raymonde. "Oh! what shall I do? I can't explain, and I can't say any more. If you'd only wait a few days!"

"Indeed I shall not wait," returned the headmistress coldly. "The matter must be investigated at once."

Miss Beasley, greatly upset by such a happening in her school, consulted her brother as to her best course to pursue. On learning the circumstances he took a very grave view of the case.

"There's little doubt of the girl's guilt," he declared. "She evidently yielded to a sudden temptation. She wanted a fountain pen in time for the examinations, and she borrowed the notes which had been left in her charge, in order to send for it. Probably she wrote home for more money, and expected to be able to replace it, and that is the explanation of her asking for a few days' grace. It seems to me as clear as daylight, and I should deal with her as she deserves."

"May I ask one question?" said Miss Gibbs, who also had been called to the conclave. "How is it that Mrs. West affirms that she saw Raymonde in the post office at six o'clock on Friday, while Veronica and Hermie declare that at five minutes to six she was sitting at the piano in the practising-room? It is not possible to reach the village in five minutes."

Miss Beasley started. This aspect of the matter had not occurred to her.

"It's very perplexing!" she murmured.

"Raymonde has been troublesome," continued Miss Gibbs, "but I have always found her scrupulously straight and truthful. Such a lapse as this seems to me utterly foreign to her character."

"You never know what a girl will do till she's tried!" commented the Rev. T. W. Beasley. "Better expel her at once, as a warning to the others."

"Give her a chance!" pleaded Miss Gibbs. "The evidence is really so unsatisfactory. Wait a day or two, and see if we can sift it!"

"I wish I knew what is best!" vacillated the Principal. "It is so near the end of the term that it seems a pity to send Raymonde home till next week, when she would be going in any case. I will call at the post office, and make enquiries as to the exact time she came there last Friday. I think I won't decide anything before Saturday."

Miss Beasley stuck to this determination, in spite of her brother's protests against over-leniency and lack of discipline. She excused herself on the ground that she did not wish to disturb the examinations, which were to continue until Friday evening. Meanwhile Raymonde was in the position of a remanded prisoner at the bar. She was not allowed to mingle with the rest of the school. She was conducted, under Mademoiselle's escort, to her place in the examination hall, but spent the remainder of her time in the practising-room, which served as a temporary jail. Her meals were sent up to her, and no girl was allowed, under penalty of expulsion, to attempt to communicate with her. She was not permitted to go to the dormitory at night, but slept on a chair-bed in Miss Beasley's dressing-room.

Naturally the episode was the talk of the school. Its interest eclipsed even the horror of the examinations. It seemed a mystery which no one could disentangle. The girls remembered only too well that Raymonde had been very secretive about how she had obtained the fountain pen; but, on the other hand, witnesses declared that they had seen her both at the post office and in the practising-room, when she certainly could not have been in two places at once.

The Fifth decided that the Reverend T. W. Beasley must be at the bottom of it. There had never been any disturbances before he came to the school, and since his arrival everything had been unpleasant, therefore he must be distinctly responsible for Raymonde's misfortunes; which was hardly a reasonable conclusion, however loyal it might be to their friend. The Mystics talked the matter over in private, and suggested many bold but quite impracticable schemes, such as subscribing the missing money amongst them, or throwing up a rope-ladder to the sanctum window for Raymonde to escape by, neither of which plans would have cleared her character.

Raymonde herself preserved an extraordinary attitude of obstinacy. She utterly refused to give any more explanations. She did not cry, but there was a grey misery in her face that was worse than tears. She walked in and out of the examination hall with her head proudly erect. Her comrades, with surreptitious sympathy, glanced up as she passed, but under the lynx eye of their examiner were unable to convey to her the notes which several of them at least had prepared ready to pass under the desk.

On Friday afternoon Raymonde was sitting alone in the practising-room, when the door was unlocked and Veronica entered with a tray.

"I've come to bring your tea," explained the monitress. "I don't really know whether I'm supposed to be allowed to talk to you, but Miss Beasley didn't tell me not to, so I shall. Look here, Ray, why don't you end this wretched business?"

"I only wish I could!" groaned Raymonde.

"But you can. There's something behind it all, I'm sure. Take my advice, and explain it to Miss Beasley. She'd be quite decent about it."

Raymonde shook her head sadly and silently.

"Yes, she would, if you'd only confess. I can't understand you, Ray. You were always a madcap, but you never did anything underhand or sneaky before; even when you were naughtiest you were quite square and above-board."

"Thank you!" smiled Raymonde faintly.

"I can't think why you should have changed, and conceal everything! Ray, I appeal to your best side. You signed our Marlowe Grange League, and seemed quite enthusiastic about it at the time. Won't you try to live up to it now?"

Raymonde rose to her feet. In her eyes were two smouldering fires.

"You can't understand!" Her voice was trembling with passion. "It's exactly because I signed that paper and promised to be faithful to my friends and to speak the truth, that I'm in all this trouble. No, I tell you I won't explain! If you think so badly of me that you won't believe my word, it's no use my speaking to you. Oh! I hate everybody, and I hate everything! I wish I could go home!"

"Better stay and clear things up!" said Veronica. "If I could do anything for you, I would."

"Would you?" asked Raymonde with a flash of hope. "Could you possibly get a letter posted for me?"

Veronica shook her head.

"I daren't!" she said briefly. "Miss Beasley trusted me to bring up your tea, and I mustn't forget I'm a monitress. I shall have to tell her that I've been speaking to you. I ought to go now. Good-bye!"

Raymonde drank her tea, but left the bread and butter untouched. She was not hungry, and her head ached. The whole of her gay, careless world seemed to have crumbled to ashes. She wondered what her chums were thinking of her. Did they, like Veronica, mistrust her conduct? She knew that her behaviour was extraordinary. A sense of utter desolation swept over her, and, pushing aside the tea things, she leaned her arms on the table, with her hot face pressed against them.

From this despairing attitude she was aroused by Miss Gibbs, who five minutes later came to fetch the tray.

"Don't give way, Raymonde!" said the mistress, laying quite a kindly hand on the girl's shoulder. "There's to be proper enquiry into this matter to-morrow, and I, for one, trust you'll be able to clear yourself. Keep your self-control, and be prepared to answer any questions that are put to you then. Remember there's nothing like courage and speaking the truth."



Raymonde raised herself slowly, hesitated for a moment, then fumbled in her pocket.

"Miss Gibbs," she faltered, "I'd love to tell you everything, but I can't. I wonder if you'd trust me enough to send off this letter without opening it, or asking me what I've written in it?"

The mistress took the envelope and examined it. It was addressed to Miss V. Chalmers, Haversedge Manor, near Byfield. She looked into Raymonde's eyes as if she would read her very soul. Her pupil bore the scrutiny without flinching.

"It is a most unwarrantable thing to ask, but I will do it," replied Miss Gibbs. "I hope my confidence in you will be justified."

At 9.30 on the following morning a trap arrived at the Grange to convey the Reverend T. W. Beasley and his Gladstone bag to the railway station. A row of heads peeping from behind the curtains in the upper windows watched him depart, and exhibited manifestations of intense satisfaction.

"There! He's actually gone!"

"Only hope he won't miss his train and come back!"

"No, no! He's in heaps of time, thank goodness!"

"Glad he isn't staying the week-end!"

"He's got to preach somewhere in aid of something on Sunday."

"May he never come here again, that's all!"

Perhaps in secret Miss Beasley was equally relieved. She had passed a strenuous week, and had possibly arrived at the conclusion that she was, on the whole, capable of arranging her own school to the satisfaction of herself and the parents of her pupils. She considered that she understood girls better than a bachelor university don, however great his literary attainments, could do. The experiment had not been altogether a success, and need not be repeated. She sighed as she waved a last good-bye and turned into the house.

An urgent matter, which she had put off until her brother's departure, must now claim her attention. She ordered the entire Fifth Form, together with Hermie and Veronica, to repair to the practising-room, where Raymonde was still kept prisoner.

The girls marched in as quietly as if they were going to church. Their Principal sat by the table, with two little parallel lines of worry on her usually smooth forehead, and a grieved look in her grey eyes.

"It is very distressing to me to be obliged to make this enquiry," she began, "but it is absolutely necessary that we find out what has become of those missing notes. I put you all on your honour to tell me what you know. Can any girl throw any light on the matter?"

She looked anxiously and wistfully round the little circle, but nobody replied. Raymonde sat with downcast eyes, and the old obstinate expression on her face. The eyes of all the other girls were focused upon her.

"I am most loath to accuse anyone of such a dreadful thing as taking money," continued Miss Beasley, "but unless you can offer me some explanation, Raymonde, I shall be obliged to send you home. The facts look very black against you. You were treasurer, and cannot produce the funds; you were seen buying a postal order, and you received a handsome fountain pen by post."

"If you please, Miss Beasley," interposed Veronica, "how could Raymonde be buying a postal order when Hermie and I saw her practising here?"

"It is most puzzling, I allow; but both Mrs. Sims the postmistress, and Mrs. West, who happened to be buying groceries in the shop, agree emphatically that it was Raymonde who came to the counter. They say that she was not in school uniform, but wore a green dress and a small cap."

"Raymonde has no green dress!"

"But she has admitted to me that she bought the postal order."

The girls looked at their chum in consternation. Raymonde buried her face in her hands.

At this critical juncture there was the sound of a scrimmage outside in the passage, and a loud excited voice was heard proclaiming:

"I will go in! I tell you I've come to see Miss Raymonde Armitage, and it's important. Miss Beasley there? All the better! I want to speak to her too. Will you kindly move out and let me pass? Oh, very well then—there!"

The door opened with a forcible jerk, and a stranger entered unceremoniously. She was a damsel of perhaps fifteen, slim, and very pretty, with twinkling brown eyes and curly hair and coral cheeks. She wore an artistic dress of myrtle-green Liberty serge, with a picturesque muslin collar, and had a chain of Venetian beads round her white throat.

The school gazed at her spellbound, almost aghast.

"The ghost-girl!" murmured Veronica faintly sinking into a chair.

"Violet!" exclaimed Raymonde in tones of ecstasy.

"Yes, here I am, right enough!" announced the stranger. "Cycled over directly I read your letter. Stars and stripes! You've got yourself into a jolly old mess! Hope they haven't tortured you yet! I suppose they still use the rack and the thumbscrew in this benighted country? Cheero! We'll pull you through somehow!"

Then, catching the Principal's amazed and outraged expression, she continued: "Sorry! Are you Miss Beasley? I ought to have introduced myself. I do apologize! My name's Violet Chalmers, and I'm an American."

She proclaimed the fact proudly, though her soft r in "American," and slightly nasal intonation, would have established her nationality anyway.

"May I ask your errand?" said the head mistress rather stiffly.

"Certainly. I've come to help Raymonde out of a scrape. I never dreamed she'd be landed in such a queer business as this. I say, Ray, will you explain, or shall I do the talking?"

"You, please!" entreated Raymonde.

"Well, as I've just said, I'm an American. We crossed the herring-pond just before the war started, and we've been stuck in this old country ever since. Before you all came to the Grange we rented the place for a year, and a time we had of it, too, with rats and bats, and burst pipes, and no central heating or electric light! Mother went almost crazy! Well, last Easter, when I was staying at the seaside, I met Raymonde, and we chummed no end. She told me that her school was moving in here, and I bet her a big box of Broad Street pop-corns I'd turn up some time in the house and astonish the girls. I only bargained that she wasn't to let any of them know beforehand of my existence. Well, I guess I kept my word. I joined in a game of hide-and-seek one dark afternoon, and I reckon I passed off as a first-class ghost. Didn't I chuckle, just! You wonder how I got in without anybody seeing me? Why, I'd discovered the secret passage that leads, from a sliding panel in the attic, right under the moat into a cave inside the wood."

"Joyce Ferrers' passage!" exclaimed the girls.

"The very same. I rode over on my bicycle—we're staying only eight miles away—left it inside the cave, lighted my lamp, and strolled up to the attic as easily as you please. There was the whole school tearing around like mad, so I scuttled round too, and scared you just some! It was so prime, I guessed I'd try it on again. That was yesterday week. I'd luck enough to catch Raymonde, and she was a sport that day too. We changed clothes, and I came downstairs here and did her practising for her, while she explored the secret passage and did a little shopping on her own account in the village."

"Then it was you, and not Raymonde, whom we saw sitting at the piano!" exclaimed Veronica.

Violet nodded.

"Exactly so! I guessed I was going to be found out, and daren't turn my head when you spoke."

"Did you see the notes put into the drawer?" enquired Miss Beasley.

"No, but I saw them afterwards, lying just on the top of some other papers. I locked the drawer before I left the room, and put the bunch of keys inside the pocket of Raymonde's dress, which I had on. I meant to tell her about it, but I forgot. She was in such a hurry when she came back, and said she'd be late for prep., so we each scrambled into our own clothes, and she tore off downstairs, and I went home."

"This, unfortunately, does not bring us any nearer to the solution of the puzzle—what has become of the notes?" said Miss Beasley.

"Raymonde couldn't have spent them in the village, when she had gone out before they were put there!" ventured Veronica.

"And I certainly didn't abscond with them!" declared Violet. "Though I really believe Ray thinks so. Confess you do, old sport!"

Raymonde blushed crimson.

"I thought you'd taken them for a joke," she said in a low voice.

"Is that why you refused to explain?" interposed the Principal quickly. "You were afraid of getting your friend into trouble?"

"Yes, Miss Beasley."

"But what's become of the wretched notes?" asked Violet; "They must be somewhere. Have you looked properly through this old bureau? I know these queer shallow drawers by experience, and things sometimes slip over the backs of them. Have you had the drawer right out? It's stuck, has it? Oh, it probably only wants a good pull! Lend me your key! Here goes!"

Violet exerted all her strength in a mighty tug, and the drawer tumbled out with a jerk. She put in her hand and felt about in the space behind. There was a large hole in the back of the bureau, and her fingers went through it into a cavity in the wall.

"There's something queer here!" she exclaimed, drawing out a round ball of shreds of paper. "Mrs. Mouse's nursery, if I don't mistake! Sorry to intrude, but we'll take a peep at the children!"

Very gingerly she pulled aside the torn pieces of paper, and disclosed to view four little atoms not much bigger than bluebottles.

"Baby mice!" squealed the girls.

"Shame to disturb them, but I've got to examine their cradle. Ah! what d'you make of this, now? If it isn't a piece of a ten-shilling note, I'll—I'll swallow the babies!"

"You are most undoubtedly right!" declared Miss Beasley, picking up the shreds of paper and trying to piece them together. "The mouse must have taken them out of the drawer to help to build her nest."

"Rather an expensive nursery!" chuckled Violet. "Well, I guess we've proved who's the thief, anyway!"

"I am extremely obliged to you," said Miss Beasley. "But for you, the matter might always have remained a mystery."

"And please forgive me for interfering. It was cheek, I know, to turn up in the attic, but I couldn't resist the secret passage. I think this old place must be ripping as a school. I want to come next term. We'd intended to go home to New York in September, but Dad heard this morning he'd have to stay here another couple of years on business, so he said he guessed I'd best settle down and learn to be a Britisher. Would you have me here?"

"That depends on whether your father wishes to send you to me or not."

"Oh! Dad'll let me do anything I like, so it's as good as settled. I'll arrive with my boxes in September. Look here, it's cheek again, but will you please not scold Raymonde for all this affair? It was mostly my fault."

"Raymonde had no business to change places with you, and go to the village without leave," said Miss Beasley, eyeing her pupil reprovingly. "But I think she has been punished enough. She may take you downstairs now, and ask Cook to give you some cake and a glass of milk before you cycle home again."

"Thanks ever so! I came without my breakfast. I'm real hungry now. I'll talk Dad over, and get him to write to you about my coming to school here. I'm dead nuts on it. Good-bye!"

* * * * *

"Well," murmured Veronica to Hermie, as Violet, with a final squeeze of the Principal's hand, made her smiling exit; "well, all I can say is that if this American girl comes next September there'll be lively doings! Raymonde's bad enough—but to have two madcaps in the school! I'm thankful I'm leaving!"

"I pity the monitresses!" agreed Hermie.

THE END

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