"Where in the world are you going?" said her mother in a fretful tone. "I did think you'd sit quietly with me and learn your collect. If you are going out, it ought to be to church. I don't see what call you have to be going anywhere else on Sunday evening."
"I want to see Ruth Craven. Don't keep me, please; it is very important."
"But I don't know who Ruth Craven is."
"Oh, mother, I thought every one knew her. She is the very, very pretty little granddaughter of old Mr. Craven, who lives in that cottage close to the station."
"A handsome old man, too," said Mrs. Hopkins, "but I confess I don't know anything about him."
"Well, he and his old wife have got this one beautiful grandchild, and she has joined the foundationers at the Great Shirley School. Miss Kathleen O'Hara has taken up with her as well as with me and other foundation girls, and instead of having a miserable, dull, down-trodden life, we are extremely likely to have the best life of any girls in the school. Anyhow, I have a message for Ruth and I promised to deliver it."
"All right, child; don't be longer away than you can help."
Susy left the house. The distance from her mother's shop to the Cravens' cottage was a matter of ten minutes' quick walking. She soon reached her destination, walked up the little path which led to the tiny cottage, and tapped with her fingers on the door. The door was opened for her by old Mrs. Craven. Mrs. Craven was in her Sunday best, and looked a very beautiful and almost aristocratic old lady.
"Do you want my grandchild?" she said, observing Susy's size and dress.
"Yes; is she within?" asked Susy.
"No, dear; she has gone to church. Would you like to wait in for her, or would you rather go and meet her? She has gone to St. James the Less, the church just around the corner; you know it?"
"Yes, I know it," said Susy.
"They'll be coming out now," said Mrs. Craven, looking up at the eight-day clock which stood in the passage. "If you go and stand by the principal entrance, you are safe to see her."
"Thank you," said Susy.
"You are sure you wouldn't rather wait in the house?"
"No, really. Mother expects me back. My name is Susan Hopkins. My mother keeps the stationer's shop in the High Street."
"To be sure," said Mrs. Craven gently. "I know the shop quite well."
Susy said good-bye, and then stepped down the little path. What a humble abode the prime favorite, Ruth Craven, lived in! Susy's own home was a palace in comparison. Ruth lived in a cottage which was little better than a workman's cottage.
"There can't be more than two bedrooms upstairs," thought Susy. "And I wonder if there is a sitting-room? Certainly there can't be more than one. The old lady looked very nice; but, of course, she is quite a common person. I should love to be Prime Minister to Kathleen O'Hara. And why should there be such a fuss made about Ruth? I only wish the post was mine—shouldn't I do a lot! Couldn't I help mother and Tom and all of us? And there is that stupid little Ruth—oh, dear! oh, dear! Well, I suppose I must give her the message."
She hurried her steps as these last thoughts came to her, and presently she stood outside the principal entrance of the little church. St. James the Less was by no means remarkable for beauty of architecture or adornment of any sort; nevertheless the vicar was a man of great eloquence and earnestness, and in the evenings it was the custom for the little church to be packed.
By-and-by the sermon came to an end, the voluntary rolled forth from the organ, and the crowd of worshippers poured out. Susy stretched out her hand and clutched that of a slim girl who was following in the train of people.
"Ruth, it is me. I have something to say to you."
Ruth's face, until Susy touched her, had been looking like a piece of heaven itself, so calm and serene were the eyes, and so beautiful the expression which lingered round her lips. Now she seemed to awaken and pull herself together. She did not attempt to avoid Susy, but slipping out of the crowd of people who were leaving the church, she found herself by the girl's side.
"Come just a little way home with me," said Susy. "It won't take me long to say what I want to say."
She linked her hand in her companion's as she spoke. Yes, there was little doubt of it, Ruth was lovable. One forgot her low birth, her low surroundings, when one looked at her. Susy had heard of those few people of rare character and rare natures who are, as it is expressed, "Nature's ladies." There are Nature's gentlemen as well, and Nature's ladies and Nature's gentlemen are above mere external circumstances; they are above the mere money's worth or the mere accident of birth. Now, Ruth belonged to this rare class, and Susy, without quite understanding it, felt it. She forgot the humble little house, the lack of rooms, and the workmanlike appearance of the whole place. She said in a deferential tone:
"I have come to you, from Kathleen O'Hara. You have done something which has distressed her very much. She wants you to meet her to-morrow at the White Cross Corner on your way to school; she wants you to be there at a quarter to nine. That is all, Ruth. You will be sure to attend? I promised Kathleen most faithfully that I would deliver her message. She is very unhappy about something. I don't know what you have done to vex her."
"But I do," said Ruth. "And I can't help going on vexing her."
"But what is it?" said Susy, whose curiosity was suddenly awakened. "You might tell me. I wish you would."
"I can't tell you, Susan; it has nothing to do with you. It is a matter between Kathleen and myself. Very well, I will meet her. There is no use in shirking things. Good-night, Susan. It was good of you to come and give me Kathleen's message."
RUTH RESIGNS THE PREMIERSHIP.
The next morning Kathleen O'Hara was downstairs betimes. She ran into the kitchen and suggested to Maria that she should help her to toast the bread. Maria, who was somewhat lazy, and who had already begun to appreciate Kathleen's extreme good-nature, handed her the toasting-fork and pointed to a heap of bread which lay cut and ready for toasting on the deal table in the center of the kitchen.
"Dear me, Miss Kathleen!" she said; "if only Miss Alice was as good-natured as you, why, the house would go on wheels."
"I often helped the servants at home," said Kathleen. "Why isn't Alice good-natured?"
"She's made contrairy, I expect, miss."
"Cut on the cross, I call it," said cook, who came forward at this juncture and offered a chair to Kathleen.
"Well, if that's the case I'm sorry for her," said Kathleen. "It must be very unpleasant to feel sort of peppery-and-salty and cross-grained all the time."
"It isn't what you ever feel, miss," said cook with an admiring glance at the young lady.
Kathleen fixed her deep-blue roguish eyes on the good woman's face.
"No," she said, "I don't think I am cross-grained. By the way, cook, wouldn't you like a black silk apron embroidered with violets to wear when you have done all your dirty work in the kitchen?"
"Cooks don't wear black silk aprons embroidered with violets," was the good woman's answer.
"But this cook might, if a nice Irish girl, who has plenty of money, gave it to her. I have it in the bottom of my trunk. I asked Aunt Katie O'Flynn to send it to me for your mistress, but your mistress doesn't care for it. I will give it to you, cook.—And, Maria, I've got a little toque for you. It is sky-blue with forget-me-nots. Have you a young man, Maria? Most girls have, haven't they? Wouldn't you like to walk out with him in a sky-blue toque trimmed with forget-me-nots?"
"It puts me all in a flutter to think of it, miss," said Maria. "I am sure a sweeter young lady never came into this house."
Kathleen chatted on to the retainers, as she called cook and Maria, until she had toasted enough bread. She then went into the dining-room. Alice was there, looking pale and headachy. The day was a very cold one, and the fire was by no means bright. Kathleen's intensely rosy cheeks—for the fire had considerably scorched them—attracted Alice's attention.
"I do wish you wouldn't do servant's work," she said. "You annoy me terribly by the way you go on."
"Oh, don't be annoyed, darling," said Kathleen softly. "Just regard me as a necessary evil. You see, Alice, however cross you are, I'd have the others all on my side. There's your mother and David and Ben and the two servants. It isn't worth while, Alice. If they all like me, why shouldn't you?"
Alice made no reply. Kathleen stood still for a moment; then she glanced at the clock. It was a quarter past eight. She must be out of the house in a little over a quarter of an hour if she was to meet Ruth Craven at the White Cross Corner. She sat down to the table, helped herself to a piece of toast, and spread some butter on it.
"A cup of tea, please, Alice," she said.—"Oh, what letters are those? Any for me? David, if you give me a letter I'll—I'll love you ever so much. Ah, two! Dave, you are a treasure; you are a darling; you are everything that is exquisite."
It was Alice's place to pour out the tea. She poured some out now, very unwillingly, for Kathleen, who drew the cup towards her, stirred it absently, and began to read her letters. Presently she uttered a little shriek.
"It is from Aunt Katie O'Flynn, and she is crossing the Channel, the darling colleenoge. She is coming to London, and she wants me to see her. Oh, golloptious! What fun I shall have! Boys, aren't you delighted? It was Aunt Katie O'Flynn who sent me that wonderful trunk of clothes. Won't she give us a time now? I declare I scarcely know whether I'm on my head or my heels.—Alice, you'd best make yourself agreeable and join in the fun, for I can assure you it's theaters and concerts and teas and dinners and—oh! shopping, and every conceivable thing that can delight the heart of man or woman, boy or girl, that will be our portion while Aunt Katie—the duck, the darling, the treasure!—is in London. Let me see; what hotel is she going to? Oh, the Metropole. Where is the Metropole?"
"In Northumberland Avenue. But, of course, we are not going up to London," said Alice. "We are only schoolgirls. We are at school and must mind our lessons. I am trying for my scholarship, and I mean to get it. And I don't suppose, even if your aunt is coming at a most inopportune time, that she is going to upset everything."
"That remains to be proved," said Kathleen. "I am not going to have Aunt Katie so close to me without having my bit of fun. Oh, dear, dear! look at the time. I must be off."
"Why are you going so early? It is only half-past eight."
"I have business, darling—a friend to meet. Have you any objection?"
Kathleen did not wait for Alice's answer. She dashed upstairs, and on the first landing she met Mrs. Tennant, who had been suffering from headache, and was in consequence a little late for breakfast.
"Mrs. Tennant," shouted Kathleen, "I have the top of the morning as far as news is concerned. It is herself that is crossing the briny. She'll be in London to-night. Oh, did you ever hear of anything quite so scrumptious? But what's the matter, dear?"
"Kathleen, I wish you wouldn't wear that really good dress going to school."
"Is it my old lavender, and my old satin blouse?" said Kathleen, looking down at herself with a momentary glance. "Ah, then, my dear tired one, it isn't dresses I'll be thinking of when Aunt Katie is in London. She'll get me more than I can wear. She'll fig you all out, every one of you, if you like—you and Alice and David and Ben and cook and Maria. Maria is keeping company, she tells me, and would like a few fine clothes—naturally, the creature! Well, Mrs. Tennant, it's herself that is crossing, as I said; even now she is in the big steamer, coming nearer and nearer to England. Shan't we have fun when she arrives?"
"You haven't told me who it is yet, dear."
"Oh, darling, you haven't been listening. It is the dear woman who sent me the box full of new clothes—Aunt Katie O'Flynn, at your service. But there! I must be off. I'll think of it all day, and it will make me so happy."
Kathleen dashed away to her own room, put on her outdoor things, and a moment or two later was running as fast as she could in the direction of the White Cross Corner. There she saw a silent, grave-looking girl, very quietly dressed, standing waiting for her.
"Here I am," said Kathleen; "and here you stand, Ruth. And now, what have you got to say for yourself?"
"I am sorry," said Ruth. "I thought when you sent Susy to me with your message that I might as well come here this morning; but I haven't changed my mind—not a bit of it."
Kathleen's eyes, always extraordinarily dark for blue eyes, now grew almost black. A flash of real anger shot through them.
"Don't you think it is rather mean," she said, "to give me up when you promised to belong to me—to give me up altogether and to go with those dreadful, proud paying girls?"
"It isn't that," said Ruth, "and you know it. It is just this: I can't belong to two sides. Cassandra Weldon offers me an advantage which I dare not throw away. It is most essential to me to win the sixty-pounds scholarship. If I win it I shall be properly educated. When I leave school I'll be able to take the position my dear father, had he lived, would have wished for me. I shall be able to support granny and grandfather. You see for yourself, Kathleen, that I can't refuse it. It isn't a question of choice; it is a question of necessity. I love you. Kathleen—I will always love you and be faithful to you—but I can't give up the scholarship."
"I don't want you to," said Kathleen; "but why shouldn't you belong to me and yet take the scholarship? I don't want you to be with me all the time. You can go to that horrible, detestable girl when it is necessary, and have your odious coach to post you up. But I want you more than anybody else. Don't you know how I love you? Can't you do both? Think it over, Ruth."
"I have thought it over, and I can't do it. I would if I could, but it isn't to be done. It wouldn't be right to you, nor right to Cassandra."
"Well, I think you are very mean; I think I hate you."
Kathleen turned aside. She was impulsive, high-spirited, and defiant, but where her passions were concerned her heart was very soft. She burst into tears now and flung her arms around Ruth's neck.
"I like a lot of people," she said—"I like Mrs. Tennant, and even Susy, although she's not up to much, and two or three other girls—but I only love you. In the whole of England I only love you, and you are going to give me up."
"No; I will still be your friend."
"But you have refused to join my society; you have refused to belong to the Wild Irish Girls."
"I can't help myself."
"But you promised."
"I know I did. I made a mistake. Kathleen, there is no help for it. I shall love you even if I don't belong to the society. Now there is nothing more to be said."
Ruth disentangled herself from Kathleen's embrace, and putting wings to her feet, ran in the direction of the school. Kathleen stood just where she had left her; over her face was passing a rapid and curious change.
"Do I love her any longer?" she said to herself. "Oh, I think—I think I love her still. But she has slighted me. She will be sorry some day. Oh, dear! The only girl in the whole of England that I love has slighted me. She has thrown ridicule upon me. She said that she would be my Prime Minister, and she has resigned everything for that horrible Cassandra. She will be sorry yet; I know she will."
THE SCHOLARSHIP: TROUBLE IS BREWING.
Over some of the girls of the Great Shirley School there passed that morning a curious wave of excitement. Those girls who had joined Kathleen's society were almost now more or less in a state of tension. Once a week they were to meet in the quarry; once a week, whatever the weather, in the dead of night, they were to meet in this sequestered spot. They knew well that if they were discovered they would run a very great chance of being expelled from the school; for although they were day scholars, yet integrity of conduct was essential to their maintaining their place in that great school which gave them so liberal an education, in some cases without any fees, in all other cases with very small ones. One of the great ideas of the school was to encourage brave actions, unselfish deeds, nobility of mind. Those girls who possessed any talent or any specially strong characteristic had every chance offered to them in the Great Shirley School; their futures were more or less assured, for the governors of the school had powers to give grants to the clever girls, to award scholarships for which all might compete, and to encourage industry, honesty, and charitable ideas as far as possible.
Kathleen, when she entered the school and started her society, had not the slightest idea that, while she was trying to help the foundationers, she was really leading them into very grave mischief. But several of the foundationers themselves knew this; nevertheless the fun of the whole thing, the particular fascination which Kathleen herself exercised over her followers, kept them her undeniable slaves, and not for the world would any of them have left her now that they had sworn fealty to her cause. So Kathleen had thought when she left the house that morning; but as she entered the school she knew that one girl, and that the girl whom she most cared for, had decided to choose the thorny path which led far from Kathleen and her company.
"In addition to everything else, she is quite mean," thought the little girl, and during that morning's lessons she occupied herself far more in flashing angry glances in the direction of Ruth one minute, and at Cassandra the next, than in attending to what she was about. Kathleen had been given much by Nature. Her father was a very rich man; she had been brought up with great freedom, but also with certain bold liberal ideas as regards the best in life and conduct. She was a very beautiful girl, and she was warm-hearted and amiable. As for her talents, she had a certain charm which does more for a woman than any amount of ordinary ability; and she had a passionate and great love for music. Kathleen's musical genius was already spoken of with much approbation by the rest of the school. The girls used to ask her to improvise. Kathleen could improvise in almost any style, in almost any fashion. She could make the piano sob with her heart-rendering notes; and again she could bring forth music clear and fairy-like. Again she would lead the tender and solemn strains of the march; and again she would dance over the keys so lightly, so ravishingly, that the girls kept time with their feet to her notes. The music mistress was anxious that Kathleen should try for a musical scholarship, and she had some ideas of doing so herself. But to-day she felt cross, and even her music was at fault.
"I can't do it," she said, looking Miss Spicer full in the face. "It means such drudgery, and I don't believe I'd play a bit better if I did."
"That is certainly not the case, Kathleen," said Miss Spicer. "Knowledge must be of assistance. You have great talent; if you add to that real musical knowledge you can do almost anything."
"But I don't think I much care to. I can play on the piano to imitate any birds that ever sung at home, and father loves that. I can play all the dead-marches to make mother cry, and I can play—oh, such dance music for Aunt Katie O'Flynn! It doesn't matter that I should know more, does it?"
"I can't agree with you. It would be a very great pleasure to me if I saw you presented with a musical scholarship."
"Would it?" said Kathleen, glancing at the thin and careworn face of the music teacher.
"You don't know what it would mean to me," answered Miss Spicer. "It is seldom that one has the pleasure of teaching real talent, and I can't say how refreshing it is to me to hear you play as you do. But I want you to improve; I want you to be a credit to me."
"I'd like to please you, of course," said Kathleen. She spoke gently, and then she added: "But there is only one piano at the Tennants', and that is in the drawing-room, and Alice or the boys or Mrs. Tennant are always there. I have not many opportunities to practice."
"I live in the same terrace," said Miss Spicer eagerly, "and my piano is hardly ever used. If you only would come and make use of it. There is a fire in my sitting-room, and you could come at any hour whenever you have a fancy. Will you? It would be a great pleasure to me."
"You are very kind. Yes, I will come."
Kathleen bent towards the music mistress and, somewhat to that lady's astonishment, printed a kiss on her forehead. The kiss went right down into Miss Spicer's somewhat frozen heart.
Immediately after school that day Cassandra held out her hand to Ruth. Ruth went up to her gravely.
"Well, Ruth," she said, "have you decided? I hope you have. You told me you would let me know to-day."
"I have, Cassandra," said Ruth.
Kathleen, who was standing not far away, suddenly darted forward and stood within a foot of the two girls.
"Have you really decided, Ruth?" she said. Her tone was imperious. Ruth felt her gentle heart beat high. She turned and looked with dignity first at Kathleen and then at Cassandra.
"I will join you, Cassandra," she said.—"Kathleen, I told you this morning what my decision was."
"And I hate you!" said Kathleen. She tossed her head and walked away.
Cassandra waited until she was out of hearing.
"You look very pale, dear Ruth," she said. "Come home with me, won't you?"
Ruth did not speak. Cassandra laid her hand on her arm.
"Why, you are trembling," she said. "What has that horrid girl done to you?"
"But she has."
"Please, Cassie, she is not horrid."
"Oh, well, we won't discuss her. She is not my sort. Won't you come and have lunch with me, and we can arrange everything? You are going to take advantage of mother's offer?"
"I can't help myself. It is much too good to be refused. It means—I can't tell you what it means to me, Cassie. If I can only get a scholarship I shall be able to help grandfather. And yet—I must tell you the truth—I was very nearly declining it."
"I don't think I should ever have spoken to you again if you had."
"Even so, I was very nearly declining it; for you know I could not have accepted your offer and been friends with Kathleen O'Hara in the way she wants me to be. Now I am very fond of Kathleen, and if I could please myself I would retain her friendship. But you know, grandfather has lost some more money. He heard about it two nights ago, and that made me make up my mind. Of course I love you, Cassie. I have loved you ever since I came to the school. You have been so very, very kind to me. But had I the choice I would have stayed with Kathleen."
"Well, it is all a mystery to me," said Cassandra. "I don't like Kathleen; I will frankly say so. I don't think she has a good influence in the school. That sort of very rich popular girl always makes mischief. It is far better for the school not to have anybody like her in its midst. She has the power of attracting people, but she has also the power of making enemies. It is my opinion she will get into very serious trouble before she leaves Great Shirley School. I shall be sorry for her, of course."
"But what do you mean? What sort of trouble can she get into?"
"There are whispers about her that I don't quite understand. But if it were known that she does lead other girls astray, she would be had up before the governors, and then she would not find herself in a very pleasant position."
Ruth did not say anything. Her face turned white. Cassandra glanced at her, uttered a quick sigh, and resumed:
"Whether you like it or not, I am glad you are out of the whole thing. I should hate you to get into trouble. You are so clever, and so different from the others, that you are certain to succeed. And now let us hurry home. I must tell you all about our scheme. You must come to me every day; Miss Renshaw will be with us each evening from six to seven. Oh! you don't know how happy you are making me."
Ruth smiled and tried to look cheerful.
Mrs. Weldon came out to meet the two girls as they entered the pretty little cottage. Her face was smiling.
"Ah, Cassandra!" she said, "now you will be happy."
"Yes; Ruth has accepted our offer."
"Indeed I have, Mrs. Weldon," said Ruth; "and I scarcely know how to thank you."
"Come in, dear, and have some dinner.—Cassandra, I have just heard from Miss Renshaw, and she is coming this afternoon.—You can either stay, Ruth, when dinner is over, or come back again."
"I will come back," said Ruth. "Granny is not very well, and I ought not to have left her, even to have dinner here; but I couldn't help myself."
Cassandra brought her friend into the house. They had a pleasant meal together, and Ruth tried to forget that she had absolutely quarrelled with Kathleen, and that Kathleen's heart was half-broken on her account.
But Kathleen herself was determined not to give way to any real feelings of misery on account of Ruth's desertion.
"I have no time to think about it," she said to herself.
When she returned to the house she found a telegram waiting for her. She tore it open. It was from Aunt Katie O'Flynn:
"I have arrived. Come and have dinner with me to-night at the Metropole, and bring any friend you like."
"What a lark!" thought Kathleen. "And what a chance for Ruth if only she had been different! Oh, dear! I suppose I must ask Alice to come with me."
"Whom is your telegram from, dear?" asked Mrs. Tennant, coming up to her at that moment.
Alice was standing in the dining-room devouring a book of Greek history. She held it close to her eyes, which were rather short-sighted.
"It's from Aunt Katie O'Flynn. She has come, the darling!" said Kathleen. "She wants me to go to London to dine with her to-night. Of course I'll go.—- You will come with me, won't you, Alice? She says I am to bring some one."
"No, I can't come," said Alice; "and for that matter no more can you. It takes quite thirty-five minutes to get to Charing Cross, and then you have to get to the Metropole. We girls are not allowed to go to London by ourselves."
"As if that mattered."
"It matters to me, if it does not to you. Anyhow, here is a note for you. It is from Miss Ravenscroft, our head-mistress. I rather fancy that will decide matters."
Kathleen tore open the note which Alice had handed to her. She read the following words:
"DEAR MISS O'HARA,—I should be glad if you would come round to see me at six o'clock this evening. I have something of importance to say to you."
"What can she mean?" said Kathleen. "I scarcely know Miss Ravenscroft. I just spoke to her the first day I went to the school."
"She has asked me too. What can it be about?" said Alice.
"Then you can take a message from me; I am not going," said Kathleen.
"What?" cried Alice. "I don't think even you will dare to defy the head-mistress. Why, my dear Kathleen, you will never get over it. This is madness.—Mother, do speak to her."
"What is it, dear?" said Mrs. Tennant, coming forward.
"And Kathleen says she won't go?"
"Of course I won't go, dear Mrs. Tennant. On the contrary, you and I will go together to see Aunt Katie O'Flynn. She is my aunt, and I wouldn't slight her for all the world. She'd never forgive me.—You can tell Miss Ravenscroft, Alice, that my aunt has come to see me, and that I have been obliged to go to town. You can manage it quite easily."
Kathleen did not wait for any further discussion, but ran out of the room.
"I do wish, mother, you'd try and persuade her," said Alice. "I am sure, whatever her father may be, he can't want her to come to school here to get into endless scrapes. There is some mystery afoot, and Miss Ravenscroft has got wind of it. I know she has, because I have heard it from one or two of the girls."
"But what mystery? What can you mean?" said Mrs. Tennant.
"I don't know myself," said Alice, "but it has something to do with Kathleen and a curious influence she has over the foundation girls. I know Kathleen isn't popular with the mistresses."
"That puzzles me," said Mrs. Tennant, "for I never met a more charming girl."
"I know you think so; but, you see, mere charm of manner doesn't go down in a great school like ours. Of course I am sorry for her, and I quite understand that she doesn't want to disappoint her aunt, but she ought to come with me; she ought, mother. I haven't the slightest influence over her, but you have. I don't think she would willingly do anything to annoy you."
"Well, I will see what I can do. She is a wayward child. I am sorry that Miss Ravenscroft expects her to go to see her to-day, as she is so devoted to her aunt and would enjoy seeing her."
Mrs. Tennant left the room, and Alice went steadily on with her preparations. She wondered why her mother did not come back. Presently she looked at the clock. It wanted a quarter to six.
"Dear me! I must go upstairs now and fetch Kathleen. She will have to tidy herself, and I must try to persuade her not to put on anything outre," thought Alice.
She rushed upstairs. She opened the bedroom door. The bedroom was empty.
"Where can she be?" thought Alice.
There were signs of Kathleen's late presence in the shape of a tie flung on the bed, a hat tossed by its side, an open drawer revealing brushes and combs, laces and colored ties, and no end of gloves, handkerchiefs, &c.; but not the girl herself.
"She really is a great trial," thought Alice. "I suppose she has gone with mother to town. I wonder mother yields to her. Kathleen will get into a serious scrape at the school, that's certain."
Alice went to her own part of the room, which was full of order and method. She opened a drawer, substituted a clean collar for the one she had been wearing during the day, brushed out her satin-brown hair neatly, put on her sailor-hat and a small black coat, snatched up a pair of gloves, and ran downstairs. On the way she met Mrs. Tennant.
"Oh, mother," cried the girl, "where is Kathleen? I didn't find her in her room, and I wondered what had become of her."
"Where is she?" said Mrs. Tennant. "I thought she was going with you. I had a long talk with her. She did not say much, but she seemed quite gentle and not at all cross. I kissed her and said that I would go with her to London to see her aunt to-morrow, or that she might ask Miss O'Flynn here."
"I am sorry you did that, mother."
"Well, darling, it seemed the only thing to do; and the child took it very well. Isn't she going with you? She said she wouldn't be at all long getting ready."
"She is not in her room, mother. I can't imagine what has happened to her."
Mrs. Tennant ran upstairs in some alarm. Kathleen had certainly flown. The disordered state of the room gave evidence of this; and then on a nearer view Mrs. Tennant found a tiny piece of paper pinned in conventional fashion to the pin-cushion. She took it up and read:
"Gone to London to Aunt Katie O'Flynn."
"Well, she is a naughty girl. How troublesome! I must follow her, of course," said Mrs. Tennant. "Really this is provoking."
"Oh, mother, it isn't worth while fretting about her. She is quite hopeless," said Alice. "But there! I must make the best of it to Miss Ravenscroft, only I am sure she will be very angry with Kathleen."
Alice flew to the school. She was met by a teacher, who asked her where she was going.
"To see Miss Ravenscroft," replied Alice. "I had a note asking me to call at six o'clock. Do you know anything about it, Miss Purcell?"
"Perhaps she wants to question you about Miss O'Hara. There is some commotion in the school in connection with her. She seems to be displeasing some of those in authority."
"Kathleen had a note too, asking her to call."
"Then it must be about her. But where is she? Isn't she going with you?"
Alice threw up her hands.
"Don't ask me," she said; "perhaps the less I say the better. I am late as it is. I won't keep you now, Miss Purcell."
Alice ran the rest of the way. She entered the great school, and knocked at the front entrance. This door was never opened except to the head-mistress and her visitors. After a time an elderly servant answered her summons.
"I am Alice Tennant," said the young girl, "and I have come at Miss Ravenscroft's request to see her."
"Oh yes, miss, certainly. She said she was expecting two young ladies."
"Well, I am one of them. Can you let her know?"
"Step in here, miss."
Alice was shown into a small waiting-room. A moment later the servant returned.
"Will you follow me, miss?" she said.
They went down a passage and entered a brightly and cheerfully furnished sitting-room. There was a fire in the grate, and electric light made all things as bright as day. A tall lady with jet-black hair combed back from a massive forehead, and beautifully dressed in long, clinging garments of deep purple, stood on the hearth. Round her neck was a collar of old Mechlin lace; she wore cuffs of the same with ruffles at the wrist. Her hands were small and white. She had one massive diamond ring on the third finger. This lady was the great Miss Ravenscroft, the head of the school, one of the most persuasive, most fascinating, and most influential teachers in the whole realm of girlhood. Her opinion was asked by anxious mothers and fathers and guardians. The girls whom she took into her own house and helped with her own counsel were thought the luckiest in England. Even Alice, who was reckoned a good girl as good girls go, had never before come in personal contact with Miss Ravenscroft. The head-mistress superintended the management of every girl in the school, but she did not show herself except when she read prayers in her deep musical voice morning after morning, or when something very special occurred. Miss Ravenscroft did not smile when Alice appeared, nor did she hold out her hand. She bowed very slightly and then dropped into a chair, and pointed to another for the girl to take.
"You are Alice Tennant?"
"You are in the upper fifth?"
"Yes," said Alice again.
"I have had very good reports of you from Miss Purcell and Miss Dove and others; you will probably be in the sixth next year."
"I hope so; it will be a very great delight to me."
Alice trembled and colored, looked down, and then looked up again. Miss Ravenscroft was regarding her with kindly eyes. Hers was a sort of veiled face; she seldom gave way to her feelings. Part of her power lay in her potential attitudes, in the possibilities which she seldom, except on very rare occasions, exhibited to their fullest extent. Alice felt that she had only approached the extreme edge of Miss Ravenscroft's nature. Miss Ravenscroft was silent for a minute; then she said gently:
"And your friend, Kathleen O'Hara? I wrote to her also. Why isn't she here?"
"I am very sorry indeed," said Alice; "it isn't my fault."
"We won't talk of faults, if you please, Alice Tennant. I asked you why your friend isn't here."
"I must explain. She isn't my friend. She lives with mother—I mean she boards with mother."
"Why isn't she here?"
"She got your letter. I suppose she didn't understand; she is so new to schools. She is not coming."
"Not coming? But I commanded."
"I know, I tried to explain, but she is new to school and—and spoilt."
"She must be."
Miss Ravenscroft was silent for a minute.
"We will defer the subject of Kathleen O'Hara until I have the pleasure of speaking to her," she said then. "But now, as you are here, I should like to ask you a few questions."
"What you say, Alice Tennant, will not be—I speak in judicial phrase"—here Miss Ravenscroft gave vent to a faint smile—"used against you. I should like to have what information you can give me. There is a disturbing element in this school. Do you know anything about it?"
"But you agree with me that there is a disturbing element?"
"I am afraid I do."
"It has been traced to Kathleen O'Hara."
Alice was silent.
"It is influencing a number of girls who can be very easily impressed, and who form a very important part of this school. Special arrangements were made more than a hundred years ago by the founders of the school that they should receive an education in every way calculated to help them in life; the influence to which I allude undermines these good things. It must therefore be put a stop to, and the first way to put a stop to anything of the sort is to discover all about it. It is necessary that I should know all that is to be known with regard to the unruly condition of the foundationers of the Great Shirley School. The person who can doubtless tell me most is Kathleen O'Hara. The mere fact of her defying my authority and refusing to come to see me when she is summoned, shows that she is insubordinate as far as this school is concerned."
Alice sat very still.
"She has not chosen to appear, and I wish to take quick and instant steps. Can you help me?"
"I could," said Alice—"that is, of course, I live in the same house with her—but I would much rather not."
"You will in no way be blamed, but it is absolutely essential that you should give me your assistance. I am authorized to ask for it. I shall see Kathleen O'Hara, but from what you say, and from what I have heard, I am greatly shocked to have to say it, but I think it possible that she may not be induced to tell the exact truth. If, therefore, you notice anything—if anything is brought to your ears which I ought to know—you must come to me at once. Do not suppose that I want you to be a spy in this matter, but what is troubling the school must be discovered, and within the next few days. Now you understand. Remember that what I have said to you is said in the interest of the school, and absolutely behind closed doors. You are not to repeat it to anybody. You can go now, Alice Tennant. Personally I am pleased with you. I like your manner; I hear good accounts of your attention to lessons. In pleasing me you will please the governors of the school, and doubtless be able to help yourself and your mother, a most worthy lady, in the long run."
"I am very much obliged to you," said Alice. "You have spoken kind words to me; but what you have set me to do is not at all to my taste. It seems scarcely fair, for I must say that I don't like Kathleen. She and I have never got on. It seems scarcely fair that I should be the one to run her to earth."
"The fairness or the unfairness of the question is not now to be discussed," said Miss Ravenscroft.
She rose as she spoke.
"You are unfortunately in the position of her most intimate friend," she continued, "for you and she live in the same house. Regard what you have to do as an unpleasant duty, and don't consider yourself in any way responsible for being forced into the position which one would not, as a rule, advocate. The simplest plan is to get the girl herself to make a full confession to me; but in any case, you understand, I must know."
KATHLEEN TAKES RUTH TO TOWN.
When Kathleen ran upstairs her heart was bubbling over with the first real fierce anger she had almost ever felt in her life. She was a spirited, daring girl, but she also had a sweet temper. Now her anger was roused. Her heart beat fast; she clenched one of her hands.
"Oh, if I had Alice here, wouldn't I give it to her?" she said to herself. "If I had that detestable Miss Ravenscroft here, wouldn't I give her a piece of my mind? How dare she order me about? Am I not Kathleen O'Hara of Carrigrohane? Is not my father a sort of king in old Ireland? And what is she? I'll prove to her that I defy her. I will go to see Aunt Katie O'Flynn; nothing shall keep me back."
Carried away by the wild wave of passion which consumed her, Kathleen dressed hastily for her expedition. She was indifferent now as to what she wore. She put on the first head-dress which came to hand, buttoned a rough, shabby-looking jacket over her velvet dress, snatched up her purse which lay in a drawer, and without waiting for either gloves or necktie, ran downstairs and out of the house.
"I will go. I haven't the slightest idea how I am to get there, but I will go to Aunt Katie O'Flynn. I shall be in the train and far enough away before they have discovered that I have gone," was her thought.
From Mrs. Tennant's house to the station was the best part of a mile, but Kathleen was fleet of foot and soon accomplished the distance. She was just arriving at the station when she saw Ruth Craven coming to meet her. Ruth had enjoyed her hour with Miss Renshaw, and was altogether in high spirits. Kathleen stopped for a minute.
"Oh, Ruth," she said, "will you come to town with me? It would be so nice if you would. I am going to meet Aunt Katie O'Flynn. It would not be a bit wrong of you to come. Do come—do, Ruthie."
"But I can't in this dress," said Ruth, who felt suddenly very much tempted.
"Of course you can. Why, Aunt Katie is such a darling she'll take us out if we want things and buy them on the spot. And what does dress matter? We'll be back in no time. What time does your grandmother expect you home?"
"Oh, I don't know. I told granny I did not exactly know what time I should be back, but she certainly wouldn't expect me to be out late."
"Never mind; you are doing me a kindness. I must go to see Aunt Katie, and it isn't convenient for the Tennants to go with me. If we go together it won't be a bit remarkable. Do come, Ruthie. You hurt my feelings awfully this morning; you needn't hurt them again."
"Very well," said Ruth. "I don't know London at all, and I should like to go with you."
The two girls now turned into the railway station. Kathleen gave a puzzled glance around her for a minute, then walked boldly up to a porter, asked him to direct her to the proper place to book for London. He showed her the right booking-office, and she secured two first-class single tickets for herself and Ruth. The girls were directed to the right platform, and in process of time found themselves in the train. It so happened that they had a compartment to themselves. Kathleen had now quite got over her burst of anger, and was in the highest spirits.
"This is fun," she said. "It is so awfully nice to have met you! Do you know that Miss Ravenscroft—the Great Unknown, as we Wild Irish Girls call her—had the cheek to send me a letter?"
Ruth looked attentive and grave.
"She wanted me to go and see her at six o'clock. Well, it is half-past six now, and she will have to whistle for me. Ruth, darling, you don't know how pretty you look; and even though you have deserted me, and won't join my darling, beloved society, yet I shall always love you."
Here Kathleen seated herself near Ruth and flung one arm around her waist.
"But," said Ruth, disentangling herself from Kathleen's embrace, "you don't mean that Miss Ravenscroft—Miss Ravenscroft—wanted you to go and see her and you didn't go?"
"No, I didn't go. Why should I go? Miss Ravenscroft has nothing whatever to do with me."
"Oh, Kathleen! she is your mistress—the head-mistress of the Great Shirley School."
"Well, and what about that? Aunty—my darling, my own dear, sweet aunt Katie O'Flynn—sent me a telegram to meet her in town. She is at the Hotel Metropole. Ruth, do you know where it is?"
"I haven't the most remote idea."
"Oh, well, we'll get there somehow. Never mind now; don't look so worried. I shall be sorry I asked you to come with me if you look any graver."
"But you make me feel grave, Kathleen," said Ruth. "Oh, Kathleen, I can't tell how you puzzle me. Of course, I know that you are very pretty and fascinating, and that lots and lots of girls love you, and will always love you. You are a sort of queen in the school. Perhaps you are not the greatest queen, but still you are a queen, and you could lead the whole school."
"That would be rather fun," said Kathleen.
"But you'd have to change a good bit. You'd have to be just as fascinating, just as pretty, but different somehow—I mean—"
"Oh, do tell me what you mean, and be quick. We'll be in London before long."
"You wouldn't disobey Miss Ravenscroft if you were to be our real queen."
"Then I'll not be your queen, darling, for I shall disobey Miss Ravenscroft when it comes to a case of obliging her or dear, darling, precious aunty."
Ruth said no more. In her heart of hearts she was very much distressed. She was sorry for her own sake that she had met Kathleen, and that she was going with her to London; but on the other hand she was glad that she was with the girl, who by herself might have got into a serious scrape.
Finally the two found themselves standing, very forlorn and slightly frightened, on one of the big platforms at Charing Cross.
"Now what are we to do?" said Kathleen.
"We must ask the way, of course," was Ruth's answer. "Here is a porter who looks kind."
She went up to the man.
"Have you any luggage in the van, miss?" was the immediate inquiry.
"No," she answered.
Ruth was quietly although shabbily dressed; but she had on gloves, a neat hat, and a neat necktie. Kathleen had on a very shabby coat, a most unsuitable cap of bright-blue velvet on her clustering masses of curls, and no necktie and no gloves.
"What could be the matter with the pretty young lady?" thought the man.
Ruth spoke in her gentle tones.
"We want to go to see a lady at the Hotel Metropole," she said. "Which is the Hotel Metropole?"
"Oh, miss, it is quite close. You have only to go out of the station, take the second turning to your left, walk down Northumberland Avenue, and you'll be there."
"But where is Northumberland Avenue? We don't know anything about London," interrupted Kathleen.
"If you will allow me to put you two ladies into a cab, the cabman will take you to the Hotel Metropole. It's only a step away, but you'd better drive if you don't know your London."
"We have never been in our London before," said Kathleen in a voice of intense pleasure.
They now tripped confidently along by the side of the porter. He took them into the yard outside the station, and called a four-wheeler.
"No, no; one of those two-wheeled things," said the little girl.
A hansom was summoned, and the children were put in. The driver was directed to take them to the Metropole, and they started off.
"Ah!" said Kathleen, looking with great appreciation around her—"ah! the lights—aren't they just lovely? And see—see that water. That must be the Thames. Oh, Ruth, mayn't we stand up in the hansom? We could see ever so much better standing."
"No; sit down," implored Ruth.
"Why? Surely you are not frightened. There never was any sort of conveyance that would frighten me. I wish I might drive that horse instead of the stupid old Jehu on the box. Isn't London a perfect place? Oh, this is lovely, isn't it, Ruth?"
"Thank goodness I'm not always bothered by that dreadful speaking voice inside me that you seem to have got," said Kathleen.
Here the cab drew up with a jerk at the Metropole.
"How much are we to pay you?" asked Kathleen.
The man was honest, and asked the customary shilling. A porter was standing on the steps of the hotel. He flung the doors wide, and the two entered. Presently a man came up and asked Kathleen what she wanted. The hour was just before dinner, and the wide hall of the hotel was full. Both men and women turned and stared at the children. Both were extremely pretty, Kathleen almost startlingly so. But what about the gloveless little hands and the untidy neck and throat?
"Please," said Kathleen, "we have come to see my aunt, Miss O'Flynn. She is here, isn't she?"
The man said he would inquire, and went to the bureau.
"Yes," he said after a minute's pause. "Will you come to the drawing-room, young ladies?"
He conducted the children down some wide passages covered with thick Turkey carpets, opened the folding doors of a great drawing-room, and left them to themselves. There was a minute or two of agonized terror on the part of Ruth, of suspense and rapid heart-beating as far as Kathleen was concerned, and then a deep, mellow, ringing voice was heard, and Miss Katie O'Flynn entered the apartment.
"Why, I never!" she cried. "The top of the morning to you, my honey! God bless you, my darling! Oh, it is joy to kiss your sweet face again!"
A little lady, all smiles and dimples, all curls and necklaces and gay clothing, extended two arms wide and clasped them round Kathleen's neck.
"Ah, aunty!" said Kathleen, "this is good. And I ran away to see you. I did, darling; I did. I have got into the most awful scrape; nobody knows what will happen. See me—without gloves and without a necktie. And this dear little girl, one of my chosen friends, Ruth Craven, has come with me."
"Ah, now, how sweet of her!" said Miss O'Flynn, turning to Ruth.—"Kiss me, my darling. Why, then, you are as welcome as though you were the core of my heart for being so kind to my sweet Kathleen.—Come to the light, Kathleen asthore, and let me look at you. But it isn't as rosy you are as you used to be. It's a bit pale and pulled down you look. Do you like England, my dear? If you don't like it all at all, it's home you will come with me to the old castle and the old country. Now then, children, sit by me and let's have a talk. We'll have a good meal presently, and then I have a bit of a thought in the back of my head which I think will please you both. Sit here anyway for the present, and let us collogue to our hearts' content."
Miss Katie O'Flynn and her two young charges, as she told the girls she considered them, drew a good deal of attention as they sat and talked together. The little lady was not young, but was certainly very fascinating. She had a vivacious, merry smile, the keenest, most brilliant black eyes in the world, and a certain grace and dignity about her which seemed to contrast with her rapid utterances and intensely genial manner.
Dinner was announced, and the three went into the great dining-room. Miss O'Flynn ordered a small table, and they sat down together. Ruth felt unhappy; she keenly desired to go home again. She was more and more certain that she had done wrong to listen to Kathleen's persuasions. But Kathleen was enjoying herself to the utmost. She was an Irish girl again, sitting close to one of her very own. She forgot the dull school and the dreadfully dreary house where she now lived; she absolutely forgot that such a person as Miss Ravenscroft existed; she ceased almost to remember the Society of the Wild Irish Girls. Was she not Kathleen O'Hara, the only daughter of the House of O'Hara, the heiress of her beloved father's old castle? For some day she would be mistress of Carrigrohane Castle; some day she would be a great lady on her own account. Now Kathleen's ideas of what a great lady should be were in themselves very sensible and noble. A great lady should do her utmost to make others happy. She should dispense largesse in the true sense of the word. She should make as many people as possible happy. Her retainers should feel certain that they dwelt in her heart. She should love the soil of her native land with a passion which nothing could undermine or weaken. The sons of the soil should be her brothers, her kinsmen; the daughters of the soil should be her sisters in the best sense of the word. But not only should the great lady of Carrigrohane love her Irish friends, but men and women, both youths and children, but she should love others who needed her help. There never was a more affectionate, more generous-hearted girl than Kathleen; but of self-control she had little or no knowledge, and those who crossed her will had yet to find that Kathleen would not obey, for she was fearless, defiant, resolute—in short, a rebel born and bred.
Ruth sat silent, perplexed, and anxious in the midst of the gay feast. Kathleen and Aunt Katie O'Flynn laughed and almost shouted in their mirth. Occasionally people turned to glance at the trio—the grave, refined, extremely pretty, but shabbily dressed girl; the radiant child, and the vivacious little lady who might be her mother but who scarcely looked as if she was. It was a curious party for such a room and for such surroundings.
"I think—" said Ruth suddenly. "Forgive me, Kathleen, but I think we ought to be looking out a train to go back by."
"Indeed, and that you won't," said Miss O'Flynn. "You are going to stay with me to-night. Why, do you think I'd let this precious darling child back again in the middle of the night? And you must stay here too—what is your name? Oh, Ruth. I can get you a room here, and you shall have a fire and every comfort."
"I at least must go home," said Ruth. "My grandfather and grandmother will be sitting up for me."
"Oh, nonsense, child!" said Miss O'Flynn. "I can send a commissionaire down to tell your grandfather that I am keeping you for the night."
"Of course, Ruth," said Kathleen. "Don't be silly; it is absurd for you to go on like that. And for my part I should love to stay."
"I am sorry, Kathleen," said Ruth, "but I must go home. Perhaps one of the porters can tell me when there is a train to Merrifield. I must go back, for grandfather would be terrified if I didn't go home. You, of course, must please yourself."
"My dear child, leave it to me," said Miss O'Flynn. "You can't possibly go back—neither you nor my sweet pet Kathleen. Oh, I'll arrange it, dear; don't you be frightened. You couldn't go so late by yourself; it wouldn't be right."
Miss O'Flynn, however, had not come in contact with a character like Ruth's before. She could be as obstinate as a mule. It was in that light Miss O'Flynn chose to consider her conduct.
"I must go," she said. "I can't by any possibility stay."
"Do, Ruth, for my sake," pleaded Kathleen, tears in her eyes.
"No, Kathleen, not even for your sake. And I think," added Ruth, "that you ought to come with me. It would be much better for you to see Miss Ravenscroft in the morning and explain matters to her."
"Nonsense!" said Kathleen, now speaking with decided temper. "That is my affair. I like you very much, Ruth, but you really need not interfere with me."
"I should think not indeed," said Miss O'Flynn. "I know nothing about you, Miss Craven, but you don't understand what a person of consequence my niece is considered in Ireland."
"That may be," replied Ruth; "but at school Kathleen, sweet and dear as she is, has to obey the rules just like any other girl.—Please, Kathleen, do be persuaded and come back with me.—Indeed, Miss O'Flynn, if you will only believe me, it is considered a very grave offence to miss morning school or to be late when nine o'clock strikes; and Kathleen can't be at school in time unless she returns home now."
"I'm not going, so there!" said Kathleen.
"Perhaps some one would tell me when the next train for Merrifield leaves Charing Cross," was Ruth's next remark.
Before any one could reply to her, however, a servant entered and said something in a low tone to Miss O'Flynn.
"Well, now," she said, speaking with eagerness, her face all smiles and dimples, "the way is made plain for you at least, Miss Craven.—Who do you think has come, Kathleen? Why, the lady who has charge of you."
"Mrs. Tennant? Oh, the dear tired one!" cried Kathleen. "She can never be cross, and I like her very much.—Where is the lady?" she added, turning to the waiter.
"She is in the hall, miss."
Kathleen flew out, and before Mrs. Tennant, who was really feeling very angry, could prevent her, had flung her arms round her neck.
"Thank goodness it is you!" said the young girl. "Now don't be angry, for you don't know how to manage it. If it was Alice, wouldn't she be in a tantrum? But you are all right; you haven't an idea of scolding me. I arrived here as safely as a girl could. And what do you think? I brought pretty Ruth Craven with me. She didn't much like it, but here she is; and she's on tenter-hooks to get home, so she can return with you, can't she?"
"You must come too, Kathleen. You annoyed me very much indeed. You gave me a terrible fright. I did not know what might have happened to you, knowing how ignorant you are of London and its ways."
"But I have got a head on my shoulders," laughed Kathleen. "And now that you have come we must have a bit of fun. I want to introduce you to aunty. It is Aunt Katie O'Flynn, you know, the lady who sent me the beautiful, wonderful clothes."
But here Miss O'Flynn herself appeared on the scene. Kathleen did the necessary introducing, and the two ladies moved a little apart to talk together. By-and-by Miss O'Flynn called the two girls to her side.
"Mrs. Tennant is not angry with you now, Kathleen. On the contrary, she loves you very much; and she will take Miss Ruth Craven back with her. I have been trying to induce her to stay here herself, but she won't; and as Ruth is anxious to return home, her escort has come very opportunely. As to you, darling, nothing will induce me to part with you until to-morrow morning."
"But what will you do about school?" said Ruth.
"That can be managed," said Miss O'Flynn. "It isn't the first time that Kathleen and I have got up with the sunrise. We'll get up to-morrow before it, I'm thinking, and take a train, and be in time to have a good breakfast at Mrs. Tennant's.—Then if you, my dear lady, will put up with me until lunch-time, I can see more of my Kathleen, and propound some plans for your pleasure as well as hers. If you must go, Mrs. Tennant, I am afraid you must, for the next train leaves Charing Cross for Merrifield at ten minutes past nine."
Mrs. Tennant looked grave, but it was difficult to resist Miss O'Flynn, and the time was passing. Accordingly she and Ruth left the Hotel Metropole, and the aunt and niece found themselves alone.
MISS KATIE O'FLYNN AND HER NIECE.
"Now, Kathleen," said Miss O'Flynn, "you come straight up to my bedroom, where there is a cosy fire, and where we will be just as snug as Punch. We'll draw two chairs up to the fire and have a real collogue, that we will."
"Yes, that we will," said Kathleen. "I have a lot of things to ask you, and a lot of things to tell you."
"Come along then, dear child. My room is on the second floor; we won't wait for the lift."
Kathleen took Miss Katie O'Flynn's hand, and they ran merrily and as lightly as two-year-olds up the stairs. People turned to look at them as they sped upwards.
"Why, the little old lady seems as young and agile as the pretty niece," said one visitor to another.
"Oh, they're both Irish; that accounts for anything," was the answer. "The most extraordinary and the most lively nation on the face of the earth."
The two vivacious Irishwomen entered their bedroom. Aunt Katie flung herself into a deep arm-chair; Kathleen did likewise, and then they talked to their heart's content. It is good to hear two Irishwomen conversing together, for there is so much action in the conversation—such lifting of brows, such raising of hands, such emphasis in tone, in voice, in manner. Imagery is so freely employed; telling sentences, sharp satire, wit—brilliant, overflowing, spontaneous—all come to the fore. Laughter sometimes checks the eager flow of words. Occasionally, too, if the conversation is sorrowful, tears flow and sobs come from the excited and over-sensitive hearts. No one need be dull who has the privilege of listening to two Irishwomen who have been parted for some time talking their hearts out to each other. Kathleen and her aunt were no exception to the universal rule. Kathleen had never been from home before, and Aunt Katie had things to tell her about every person, man and woman, old and young, on the Carrigrohane estate. But when all the news had been told, when the exact number of dogs had been recounted, the cats and kittens described, the fowls, the goats, the donkeys, the horses, the cows enumerated, it came to be Aunt Katie's turn to listen.
"Now my love, tell me, and be quick, about all you have been doing. And first and foremost, how do you like school?"
"Not at all, aunty; and I'm not learning anything."
"My dear, that is sad hearing; and your poor father pining his heart out for the want of you."
"I never wished to go to school," said Kathleen.
"You will have to bear it now, my pet, unless you have real cause for complaint. They're not unkind to you, acushla, are they?"
"Oh, not really, Aunt Katie; but they're such dull people. The teachers are dull. I don't mind Miss Spicer so much; she's the music teacher. As to Miss Ravenscroft, I have never even seen her."
"And who is she, darling?"
"The head-mistress, and no end of a toff."
"What's a toff, dear?"
"It's a slang word they use in stupid old England."
"I don't admire it, my love. Don't you demean yourself by bringing words of that sort home to Carrigrohane."
"Not I. I shan't be a minute in the old place before the salt breezes will blow England out of my memory. Ah! it's I who pine to be home again."
"It will broaden your mind, Kathleen, and improve you. And some of the English people are very nice entirely," said Miss O'Flynn, making this last statement in what she considered a widely condescending manner. "So your are not learning much?"
"I am getting on with my music. Perhaps I'll settle down to work. I should not loathe it so much if it was not for Alice."
"Ah! she's the daughter of Mrs. Tennant. I rather took to Mrs. Tennant, the creature! She seemed to have a kind-hearted sort of face."
"She's as right as rain, aunty; and so are the two boys. But Alice—she is—"
"A prig, aunty. Detestable!"
"I never took to that sort," said Miss O'Flynn. "Wouldn't you like some oyster-patties and some plumcake to munch while you are talking, deary?"
"I shouldn't mind."
"I'll ring and order them."
A servant appeared. Miss O'Flynn gave orders which resulted in a rich and most unwholesome supper being placed upon the table. Kathleen and her aunt ate while they talked.
"And what occupies you, love, at all at all?" said Miss O'Flynn as she ate her second oyster-patty. "From your description it seems to be a sort of death in life, that town of Merrifield."
"I have to make my own diversions, aunty, and they are sprightly and entertaining enough. Don't you remember when I told you to have all those little hearts made for me?"
"To be sure, dear—the most extraordinary idea I ever heard in my life. Only that I never cross you, Kathleen, I'd have written to know the meaning of it."
"It doesn't matter about you knowing."
Here Kathleen briefly and in graphic language described the Society of the Wild Irish Girls.
"It is the one thing that keeps me alive," she said. "However, I'm guessing they are going to make a fuss about it in the school."
"And what will you do then, core of my heart?"
"Stick to them, of course, aunty. You don't suppose I'd begin a thing and then drop it?"
"No; that wouldn't be at all like you, you young rebel.".
"I am all in a puzzle," she said, "to know where to hold the next meeting, for there is no doubt that some of the girls who hate us because they weren't asked to join spied last time; so I want the society to meet the night after next in a new place."
"And I'll tell you what I've been thinking," said Aunt Katie; "that I'll be present, and bring a sparkle of old Ireland to help the whole affair. So you'll have to reckon with me on the occasion of the next meeting."
Kathleen sat very still, her face thoughtful.
"Nothing will induce me to give them up," she said, or to betray any girl of my society. Oh, aunty, there's such a funny old woman! I met her last Sunday. She's a certain Mrs. Church, and she lives in a cottage about four miles from Merrifield. We could have our meetings there—I know we could—and she'd never tell. Nobody would guess. She is the great-aunt of one of the members of the society, Susy Hopkins, a nice little girl, a tradesman's daughter."
"Oh, dear me, Kathleen! You don't mean to say you demean yourself by associating with tradesmen's daughters?"
"I do so, aunty; and I find them very much nicer than the stuck-up girls who think no end of themselves."
"Well, well," said Miss O'Flynn, "whatever you are, you are a lady born and bred, and nothing can lower that sort—nothing nor nobody. You must make your own plans and let me know."
"I am sure I can manage the old lady, and I will tell you why. She wants to join our alms-women."
"You know what a snug time our dear old alms-women have. I was telling Mrs. Church about it last Sunday. She took a keen desire to belong to us, and I sort of half, in a kind of a way, promised her. Is there likely to be a vacancy soon, Aunt Katie?"
"Well, dear, there is a vacancy at the present moment. Mrs. Hagan breathed her last, poor soul! and was waked not a fortnight ago. We'd better wire to your father to keep the little cottage vacant until we know more. This is going to be interesting, and you may be quite sure that if there is going to be a lark that I'm the one to help you, my colleen bawn."
Kathleen and her aunt talked until late into the night, and when the young girl laid her head on her pillow she was lost immediately in profound slumber.
It was not at all difficult for Kathleen to wake early, and accompanied by Miss O'Flynn, she arrived at Merrifield at half-past eight on the following morning. She had no time, however, to change her dress, but after washing her hands and smoothing out her tangled hair, and leaving Miss O'Flynn in the care of Mrs. Tennant—who, to tell the truth, found her considerably in the way—Kathleen, accompanied by Alice, started for school.
"You'll catch it," said Alice.
"Oh, that's very likely, darling," said Kathleen; "but I don't think I much care. Did you see Miss Ravenscroft last night, and was she very, very angry?"
"I saw her, and she was more than angry—she was astonished. I think you will have to put up with a rather serious conversation with her this morning. She asked me questions with regard to you and your doings which, of course, I could not answer; but you will have to answer them. I don't think particularly well of you, Kathleen; your ways are not my ways, nor your ideas mine; but I don't think, bad as you are, that you would tell a lie. You will have to speak out the truth to Miss Ravenscroft, Kathleen, and no mistake about it."
"Thank you," replied Kathleen. "I think I can manage my own affairs," she added, and then she was silent, not exactly cross, but lost in thought.
The girls reached the school without any further adventure. Prayers were held as usual in the great hall, and then the members of the different classes went to their places and the work of the morning began. The work went on, and to look at those girls, all steadfast and attentive and studious-looking, it was difficult to realize that in some of their hearts was wild rebellion and a naughty and ever-increasing sense of mischief. Certainly it was difficult to realize that one at least of that number was determined to have her own way at any cost; that another was extremely anxious, resolved to tell the truth, and hoping against hope that she would not be questioned.
School had very nearly come to an end when the dread summons which both Ruth Craven and Alice Tennant expected arrived for Kathleen. She was to go to speak to Miss Ravenscroft in that lady's parlor.
"Miss Ravenscroft is waiting," said the mistress who brought Kathleen the message. "Will you be quick, Kathleen, as she is rather in a hurry?"
Kathleen got up with apparent alacrity. Her face looked sunshiny and genial. As she passed Ruth she put her hand on her shoulder and said in her most pleasant voice:
"Extraordinary thing; Miss Ravenscroft has sent for me. I wonder what for."
Ruth colored and looked down. One or two of the girls glanced round at Kathleen in amazement. She did not say anything further but left the room. When she got into the passage she hummed a little air. The teacher who had summoned her had gone on in front. Kathleen followed her at a respectful distance, and still humming "The wearing of the Green," she knocked at Miss Ravenscroft's door.
Miss Ravenscroft was standing by her window. She turned when Kathleen appeared, and desired her to sit down. Kathleen dropped into a chair. Miss Ravenscroft did likewise. Then Miss Ravenscroft spoke gently, for in spite of herself Kathleen's attractive face, the wilful, daring, and yet affectionate glance in the eyes, attracted her. She had not yet had a full and perfect view of Kathleen. She had seen, it is true, the pretty little girl in a crowd of others; but now she saw Kathleen by herself. The face was undoubtedly sweet—sweet with a radiance which surprised and partly fascinated Miss Ravenscroft.
"Your name?" she said.
"Kathleen O'Hara," replied Kathleen.
She rose to her feet and dropped a little bobbing curtsy, then waited to be asked to sit down again. Miss Ravenscroft did not invite her to reseat herself. She spoke quietly, turning her eyes away from the attractive little face and handsome figure.
"I sent for you last night and you did not obey my command. Why so?"
"I did not mean to be rude," said Kathleen. "You see, it was this way. My aunt from Ireland (Miss O'Flynn is her name—Miss Katie O'Flynn) was staying at the Metropole. I had a telegram from her desiring me to go to her immediately in town. I got your note after I had read the telegram. It seemed to me that I ought to go first to my aunt. She is my mother's own sister, and such a darling. You couldn't but love her if you saw her. You might think me a little rude not to come to you when you sent for me, but Aunt Katie would have been hurt—terribly, fearfully hurt. She might even have cried."
Kathleen raised her brows as she said the last word; her face expressed consternation and a trifle of amazement. Miss Ravenscroft felt as though smiles were very near.
"Even suppose your aunt had cried," she said, "your duty was to me as your head-mistress."
"Please," said Kathleen, "I did not think it was. I thought my duty was to my aunt."
Miss Ravenscroft was silent for a minute.
"My dear," she said then gently, "you are new to the school. You have doubtless indulged in a very free-and-easy and unconventional life in your own country. I was once in Ireland, in the west, and I liked the people and the land, and the ways of the people and the looks of the land, and for the sake of that visit I am not going to be hard on a little Irish girl during her first sojourn in the school. In future, Kathleen O'Hara, I must insist on instant obedience. I will forgive you for your disregard of my message last night, but if ever I require you again I shall expect you to come to me at once. For the present we will forget last night."
"Thank you, madam. I am sure I should love you very much if I knew you well."
"That is not the question, my dear. I must insist on your treating me with respect. It is not very easy to know the head-mistress; the girls know her up to a certain point, but personal friendship as between one woman and another cannot quite exist between a little girl and her head-mistress. Yes, my dear, I hope you will love me, but in the sense of one who is set in authority over you. That is my position, and I hope as long as I live to do my duty. Now then, Kathleen, I will speak to you about the other matter which obliged me to send you a message last night."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Kathleen. She looked down, so that the fun in her eyes could not be seen.
"I am sure from your face that you will not tell me a lie."
"No," said Kathleen, "I won't tell you a lie."
"I must, however, ask you one or two direct questions. Is it true that you have encouraged certain girls in this school—"
"Oh, I encourage all the girls, I know. Poor things! I—"
"Don't interrupt me, Kathleen; I have more to say. Is it true that you encourage certain girls in this school"—here Miss Ravenscroft put up her hand to check Kathleen's words—"to rebellion and insubordination?"
"I don't know what insubordination is," said Kathleen, shaking her head.
"Is it true," continued the head-mistress, "that you have started a society which is called by some ridiculous name such as The Wild Irish Girls, and that you meet each week in a quarry a short distance from town; that you have got rules and badges; that you sing naughty songs, and altogether misbehave yourselves? Is it true?"
Kathleen closed her lips firmly together. Miss Ravenscroft looked full at her. Kathleen then spoke slowly:
"How did you hear that we do what you say we do?"
"I do not intend to name my informant. The girls who have joined your society and are putting themselves under your influence are the sort of girls who in a school like this get most injured by such proceedings. They have never been accustomed to self-restraint; they have not been guided to control themselves. Of all the girls in the school whom you, Miss O'Hara, have tried to injure, you have selected the foundationers, who have only been to Board schools before they came here. They look up to you as above them by birth; your very way, your words, can influence them. Wrong from your lips will appear right, and right will appear wrong. You yourself are an ignorant and unlearned child, and yet you attempt to guide others. This society must be broken up immediately. I will forgive you for the past if you promise me that you will never hold another meeting, that as long as you are at the school you will not encourage another girl to join this society. You will have to give me your word, and that before you leave this room. I do not require you to betray your companions; I do not even ask their names. I but demand your promise, which I insist on. The Irish Girls—or the Wild Irish Girls, whatever you like to call them—must cease to exist."
Miss Ravenscroft ceased speaking.
"Is that all?" said Kathleen.
"What do you mean? I want your promise."
"But I have nothing to say."
"You are not stupid, Kathleen O'Hara—I can see that—and I should hope you were too much of a lady to be impertinent. What do you mean to do?"
"Indeed," said Kathleen, "I don't mean to be impertinent, and I don't want to tell a lie. The best way on the present occasion is to be silent. I can't give myself or the other girls in the school away. You ask me to make you a promise. I cannot make that promise. I am sorry. Perhaps I had better leave the school."
"No, Kathleen, you cannot leave it in the ordinary way. You are connected with other girls now; your influence must be publicly withdrawn. I had hoped to spare you this, but if you defy me you know the consequences."
"May I go now?" said Kathleen.
"You may—for the present. I must consult with the other teachers. It may even be necessary to call a meeting of the Board of Governors. Your conduct requires stringent measures. But, my child"—and here Miss Ravenscroft changed her voice to one of gentleness and entreaty—"you will not be so silly, so wicked, so perverse. Kathleen, it is sometimes a hard thing to give up your own way, but I think an Irish girl can be noble. You will be very noble now if you cease to belong to the Irish Girls' Society."
"'Wild Irish Girls' is the name," said Kathleen.
"You must give it up. It was a mad and silly scheme. You must have nothing more to do with it."
Kathleen slightly shook her head. Miss Ravenscroft uttered a deep sigh.
"I am afraid I must go," said Kathleen. "I think you have spoken to me very kindly; I should like to have been able to oblige you."
"And you won't?"
Kathleen shook her head again. The next moment she had left the room.
The school was nearly over; but whether it had been or not, Kathleen had not the slightest idea of returning to her class-room. She stood for a moment in one of the corridors to collect her thoughts; then going to the room where the hats and jackets hung on pegs, she took down her own, put them on, and left the school. She walked fast and reached Mrs. Tennant's house at a quarter to one. Both Mrs. Tennant and Miss O'Flynn were out. There was a message for Kathleen to say that Miss O'Flynn expected her to be ready to go to town with her immediately after dinner. Kathleen smiled to herself.
"Dear Aunt Katie! She must get me out of this scrape. But as to thinking of giving up girls whom I meant to help, and will help, I wouldn't do it for twenty Miss Ravenscrofts." She stood at the door of the house; then a sudden idea struck her, and as she saw the girls; filing out of the school, she crossed the common and met Susy Hopkins, her satchel of books flung across her shoulder.
"Ah, Susy, here I am. I want to speak to you."
Susy ran up to her in excitement. It was already whispered in the school that their secret proceedings were becoming known. It had also been whispered from one to another that Kathleen had undergone a formidable interview with Miss Ravenscroft that very morning.
"What is it, Kathleen?" said Susy. "Was she very, very cross?"
"Who do you mean?" asked Kathleen, instantly on the defensive.
"Miss Ravenscroft. You went to see her; every one knows it. What did she say?"
"That is my affair. But, Susy, I want you to do something. We must not go to the quarry to-morrow evening. We want to have the meeting at your aunt's. I want to go to Mrs. Church's. You must run round this afternoon and make arrangements. There'll be about thirty or forty of us, and we must all be smuggled into the cottage."
"Oh, dear!" said Susy. "But how are we to get there? It's four miles away."
"Well, I suppose those who are really interested can walk four miles. I certainly can. Susy, you had better not miss it to-morrow night, for Aunt Katie O'Flynn is to be present, and there's no saying what she will do. She will help us if any one can. She is ever so kind, and so interested. It will be the greatest meeting the society has ever had; I wouldn't miss it myself for the world."
"Oh, hurrah!" said Susy. "You certainly are a splendid girl, Kathleen. And won't Aunt Church be pleased?"
"Tell her that if she wants to get one of the little almshouses she had better oblige us as far as she can," said.
Kathleen. "Now I must rush back to dinner. I am going to town afterwards."
Without waiting for Susy's reply, Kathleen turned on her heel and returned home. Susy watched her for a minute, then slowly and gravely went in the direction of her mother's shop. Mrs. Hopkins was getting in fresh stock that morning, and the little shop looked brighter and fresher than it had done for some time. It was a beautiful day in the beginning of winter, with that feeling of summer in the air which comes to cheer us now and then in November. Susy marched through the shop, still swinging her satchel.
"I wish you wouldn't do that, Susy," said her mother. "And I wish, too, that you wouldn't always be late home. Be quick now; there's pease-pudding and pork for dinner. Tom is in a hurry to be off to his football."
"Oh, bother!" said Susy.
Mrs. Hopkins frowned. Susy, in her mother's opinion, was not quite so nice and comforting as she once had been. But it was not Mrs. Hopkins's way to reproach her children; she bore her burden with regard to them as silently and patiently as she could.
Susy ran up to her room, tossed off her hat, washed her hands, and came down. Soon the three were seated at their frugal dinner.
"You seem to have got in a lot of fresh goods, mother," said Tom.
"I have," said Mrs. Hopkins, with a groan; "but I haven't paid for one of them. Parkins says he will trust me for quite a month; but however I am to pay your Aunt Church, and keep enough money for the new goods, beats me. Sometimes I think that my burden is greater than I can bear. I have often had a feeling that I ought to give up the shop and take service somewhere. I used to be noted as the best of good housekeepers when I was young."
"Oh, no, mother, you mustn't do that," said Susy. "What would Tom and I do?"
"If it wasn't for you and Tom I'd give notice to-morrow," said the widow. "But there! we must hope for the best, I suppose. God never forsakes those who trust Him."
"Mother," said Susy suddenly, "I hope you will be able to spare me this afternoon. I want to go and see Aunt Church."
"Why should you do that, child? There's no way for you to go except on your legs, and it's a weary walk, and the days are getting short."
"All the same, I must go," said Susy. "I suppose you couldn't shut up the shop and come with me, could you, mother?"
"Shut up the shop!" said Mrs. Hopkins. "What next will the child ask? Not a bit of it, Susan. But what do you want to see your aunt for?"
"It is a little private message in connection with Miss Kathleen O'Hara. It means money, mother; of that I am certain. It means that Aunt Church will forgive you last month's installment of the debt, and perhaps next month's, too. You had best let me go, mother. I am not talking without knowledge, and I can't tell you what I know."
"I know something," said Tom, and he gave utterance to a low whistle.
Susy turned and glanced at her brother in some uneasiness.
"There are a deal of funny things whispered about your school just now," he said. "I'm not going to peach, of course; only you'd best look out. They say if it got to the governors' ears every foundationer in the place would be expelled. It is something that ought not to be done."
"Don't mind him, mother. Do you think I'd do anything to endanger my continuing at the school, after all the trouble and care and anxiety you had in getting me placed there?"
"Really, child," said Mrs. Hopkins, "I don't know. The wilfullness of young folks in these days is past enduring. But you had better clearly understand, Susy, that if for any reason you are dismissed from the school there is nothing whatever for you but to take a place as a servant; and that you wouldn't like."
"I should think not, indeed. Well, mother, to avoid all these consequences I must go as fast as I can to see Aunt Church."
SUSY HOPKINS PERSUADES AUNT CHURCH.
Mrs. Hopkins said nothing more. Susy saw that she could have her own way, and as soon as dinner was over, without even waiting to help her mother to put the place in order, she started on her walk. She felt pleased and self-important. The day was a frosty one, and the sunset promised to be glorious. The road to Mrs. Church's house was flat and long and pleasant to walk on. Susy had no particular eye for pretty views, or she might have pleased herself with the wonderful tints of the sky, and the autumnal shades which had not altogether deserted the neighboring woods. Susy's thoughts, however, were occupied with very different matters.
"Mother is always grumbling," she said to herself; "and for that matter, so is Tom. As if I'd demean myself by taking a place! The idea of my being a servant. Why, I know I shall do very well in the future. I look high. I mean to be a lady, as good as the best. Would Miss Kathleen O'Hara take so much notice of me if I was not a very nice, lady-like sort of a girl? I am sure no one could look sweeter than I do in my pale-blue blouse. Even Tom says so. He said I looked very genteel, and that he'd like his great friend, Walter Amber, to see me. I don't want to have anything to do with Tom's friends. Poor Tom! if mother can apprentice him to somebody, that is the most that can be expected. But as for me, the very lowest position I intend to take in life in the future is that of a teacher. I shall probably be a teacher in this very school, and get my couple of hundred a year. A place indeed! Poor dear mother doesn't know what she is talking about."
Occupied with her own thoughts, the road did not turn out long to Susy. She reached Mrs. Church's very humble abode between three and four o'clock. It was still daylight. The little old lady was seated in her window; she looked very much, surprised when she saw Susy, and limped to the door and opened it.
"Come in, Susy Hopkins," she said. "I suppose your mother has sent me my money. If so, it is very thoughtful of her. If you have brought the money, Susy, you shall have a cup of tea before you start on your homeward walk. It is a fine day, child, and your cheeks look very fresh. Come in, dear; come in."
Mrs. Church hobbled back again into her small sitting-room. She got back into her chair, and motioned to Susy to take one opposite to her.
"If that is the money you have in your hand," she said, noticing that the child held a small parcel, "you may give it to me, and then go over there and get me that black cash-box. I will put the gold and silver in immediately. It is never safe to leave money about."
"But I haven't got the money, Aunt Church. Mother couldn't have saved it in the time."
Mrs. Church's face became very bleak and decidedly wintry in appearance.
"Then what have you come for, Susan?" she said. "You needn't suppose I am going to waste my good tea on you if you haven't brought the money. If you think so, you are fine and mistaken."
"I don't think so, really, Aunt Church; but perhaps when you know all you will give me a cup of tea, and perhaps you won't be so cross the next time I wear my pale-blue blouse."
"Ah, my dear, I wasn't cross at the end of the time, although I did think it a bit suspicious: your mother losing nineteen-and-sixpence of my own money out of her till—you forget that fact, Susan Hopkins; it was my money—and then you decking yourself out in the most unsuitable garment I ever saw on a little girl of your age and station. It has pleased the Almighty, Susan, to put you in a low walk of life, and in that walk you ought to remain, and dress according—yes, dress according. But, as I said, I was not displeased at the end. That was a very bonny young lady who came into your mother's shop—miles and miles above you, Susan. And how she can demean herself to call you her friend passes my comprehension."
"You are very rude, Aunt Church," said Susy; "but I am not going to be angry with you, for I want you to help us. I have got news for you, and very good news, too. But I will only tell it to you on condition."
Mrs. Church looked first skeptical, then curious, then keenly desirous.
"Well, child?" she said. "Maybe you might as well put the kettle on the fire; it takes a good long time to boil. It's a very bobbish little kettle, and it has cranky whims just as though it were a human. There's a good child, Susan; take it out and fill it at the tap, and put it on the fire to boil up while you are telling me the rest of the story. I always liked you very well, Susan; not so much as Tom, but you are quite to my liking, all things considered."
"No, you never liked me, Aunt Church," said Susy; "but I will fill the kettle if you have a fancy—although perhaps I won't be able to stay to have that cup of tea that you seem all of a sudden willing to give me."
Mrs. Church said nothing. Susy left the room with the kettle.
"I could fly out at her," thought the old lady; "but where's the good? She's hand and glove with that beautiful Miss O'Hara, and for the sake of the young lady I mustn't get her back up too much."
So Susy put the kettle on to boil, and then resumed her place opposite Mrs. Church.
"Susan," said the old lady, "while the kettle is boiling you might as well lay the cloth and get out the tea-things."
"No, no," said Susy; "I haven't come here to act servant to you, Aunt Church."
"You have a very nasty manner, Susan; and whatever the Almighty may mean to do with you in the future, you had best change your tune or things will go ill with you."
Susy sat quite still, apparently indifferent to these remarks.
"Well, if you won't lay the cloth, and won't help your own poor old aunt, you may as well tell me what you came for."
"Not yet. I will presently."
Susy was now thoroughly enjoying herself. Mrs. Church edged her chair a little nearer; her beady black eyes seemed to read Susy through and through.
"Go on, child; speak. 'Tain't right to keep an old body on tenter-hooks."
"I will tell you if you will promise me something. I have brought you a little bag that I made my own self, and you shall have it if you promise me something. It is a bag for your knitting. You know you said that you were always losing the ball; it would keep running under your chair, and you could never get it without stooping and hurting yourself."
"To be sure I did, child, and it is thoughtful of you to think of me. Well, but we'll talk of the bag when you have said whatever else you have got at the back of that wise little head of yours."
"I have got news that may mean a great deal to you, but before I tell it I want you to give me a promise. I want you to let mother off this month's installment of her debt."
"What?" cried Mrs. Church, turning very pale. "The money that she owes me?"
"Yes, the money she owes you. A thief came into the shop and took some of her money, and she is very short of money and very worried. I will tell you the news if you will forgive mother."
"Well," said Mrs. Church, "of all the impertinent, bare-faced, wicked little girls, you beat them all. My answer to that, Susan Hopkins, is no; and you can leave the house, for that is the last word you will get."
"Thank you, Aunt Church," said Susy. "I will leave it. It doesn't matter whether you hear the message I have come to give you or not. It is from Miss Kathleen O'Hara, but that don't matter, either. What have you to do with a young lady like Miss Kathleen O'Hara. She's as unsuitable to be with you as she is to be with me. Good-bye, Aunt Church; good-bye."