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The Rebel of the School
by Mrs. L. T. Meade
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Susy got as far as the door when Mrs. Church called her back.

"Come here, you bad little thing," she said. "Sit down on that chair. Now, what do you mean?"

"I say I will give you my message if you will forgive mother."

"Then I won't. I will never hear your message."

"All right, I will go," said Susy. "I'll tell Miss Kathleen; she will be disappointed, so to speak. It was about those almshouses, but—"

"Look here, child; you tell me first, and then I'll consider."

"No, no," said Susy. "I know something better than that. You make the promise first, faithfully and truly, and then I will tell you."

After this there was a considerable wrangle between the old woman and the young girl, but all in good time Susy won her desire, and Mrs. Church made the required promise.

"Now speak," she said. "There's that kettle singing like mad, and it will boil over in a minute. You shall have a cup of tea and a nice sweet bun with it, and what more can a poor old body like myself offer? What about Miss Kathleen O'Hara?"

"Aunt Church, you can help Miss Kathleen, and she is worthy of being helped. She wants you to do something for her."

"Me?" said Mrs. Church. "And what can a poor body like me do to help her? Things ought to be the other way round; it's she who ought to help me."

"And so she will, and she said as much. She said she'd do what she could to put you into one of those sweet little almshouses; and when Miss Kathleen says a thing she means it. And there's an aunt of hers has come over from Ireland—and from all accounts she must be a perfect wonder—and she's coming, too. Oh, Aunt Church, you are in luck!"

"You are enough to distract any one, child. Susy, I told you the kettle would boil before we were ready for tea. Take it off and put it on the hob; and be careful, for goodness' sake, Susy Hopkins, or you'll scald yourself."

Susy removed the kettle from its position on the glowing bed of coals, and then resumed her narrative.

"They're all coming," she said, "and you will have to get them in by hook or crook."

"You're enough to deave a body. Who's coming, and where are they coming when they do come?"

"They're coming here, Aunt Church, a lot of them—girls like me—big girls and little girls, old girls and young girls, bad girls and good girls; girls who'll laugh at you, and girls who'll respect you; some dressed badly, and some dressed fine. They are all coming, up to forty of them in number, and Miss Kathleen O'Hara is the queen amongst them. Miss Katie O'Flynn is coming, too, and it's to your house they're to come; and it's to happen to-morrow night."

"Really, Susy, of all the impertinent children, I do think you beat all. Forty people coming into this tiny house, where we can scarcely turn round with more than two in the house! You are talking pure nonsense, Susan Hopkins, and I'll break my word if that's all you have to tell."

"It's true enough. Have you never heard of our society? Well, of course not, so I will tell you. It is this way, Aunt Church: When Miss Kathleen came to the school she took pity on us foundationers. She founded a society, and we used to meet in the old quarry just to the left of Johnson's Field; and right good times we had. She promised us all sorts of things. It was she who gave me that blouse that you seemed to think I had bought with the money which was taken from mother's till. And she gave me this. See, Aunt Church; if you look you will believe."

Here Susy pulled from the neck of her dress a little heart-shaped locket with the device and name of the society on it.

"Look for yourself," she said.

Mrs. Church did look. She put on her spectacles and read the words, "The Wild Irish Girls, October, 18—."

"Whatever does this mean?" she said. "The Wild Irish Girls! It doesn't sound at all a respectable sort of name."

"I am one," said Susy, beginning to skip up and down. "I am a Wild Irish Girl."

"That you ain't. You don't know the meaning of the thing. You are nothing but a little, under-bred Cockney."

"Thank you, Aunt Church. I do feel obliged for your kind opinion of me. But now, are you going to help Miss Kathleen, or are you not? She can't have the girls—the Wild Irish Girls, I mean—any longer at the quarry, for it's getting noised abroad in the school, and there are those who'd think very little of telling on us; and then we might all be expelled, for it's contrary to the rules of the governors that there should be anything underhand or anything of that sort in the place. So it is this way: we have got into trouble, we Wild Irish Girls, and dear Miss Kathleen is determined that, come what will, the society must not suffer; and she thinks you could help. And if you help in any sort of fashion, why, she'll take precious good care that you get into one of those little almshouses. She said I was to see you to-day, and I was to take her back the answer. And now, will you help or will you not?"

"Well, I never!" said Mrs. Church.

When she had uttered these words she sank back in her chair. Her knitting was forgotten; her old face looked pale with anxiety.

"Have a cup of tea; it will help you to think more than anything," said Susy, and in a brisk and businesslike fashion she dived into the cupboard, took out the cups and saucers, a little box of biscuits, a tiny jug of milk, a caddy of tea, and proceeded to fill the little teapot. By-and-by tea was ready, and Susy brought a cup to the old lady.

"There, now," she said. "You see what it means to have a nice little girl like me to wait on you. You'd have taken an hour hobbling round all by yourself. Now what will you do?"

"What shall I do?" said Mrs. Church. "Look round, Susan Hopkins, and ask me what I am to do! How many of those forty can be squeezed into this room?"

"Let me think," said Susy.

She looked round the room, which was really not more than twelve feet square.

"We couldn't get many in here," she said. "Four might stand against the wall there, and four there, and so on, but that wouldn't go far when there are forty. We must have the backyard."

"What! and upset the pig?" said Mrs. Church.

"Oh, Aunt Church, you really can't think of Brownie at a moment like this! They must all congregate in the yard, and you shall look on. Oh, you'll enjoy it fine! But you ought to have tea for Miss O'Hara and Miss Katie O'Flynn; you really ought. Think, Aunt Church; it is quite worth while when you have an almshouse in view; and you know that for all the rest of your life you are to have a house rent-free, coal and light, and six shillings a week."

"It's worth an effort," said Mrs. Church; "it is that. But I doubt me, now that the thing seems so near, whether I shall like the crossing. I can't abide finding myself on the salty sea. I have that to think over, and that is against the scheme, Susy Hopkins."

"And what do a few hours' misery signify," said Susy, "when you have all the rest of your life to live in clover?"

"That's true—that's true," said the old lady. "If you are positive that it won't upset Brownie—"

"You can lock Brownie up; I will take charge of the key."

"And have him grunting like anything."

"He won't be heard with forty of them."

"It does sound very insurrectionary and wrong," said Mrs. Church; "but if you are certain sure she will keep her word—"

"If I am sure of anybody, it is Miss Kathleen."

"She looks a good sort."

"And then, you know, Aunty Church, you can clinch matters by having a nice little tea for her; and afterwards, if you don't speak up, I will. I'll tell her you expect to get the almshouse after doing so much as to entertain forty of her guests."

"Well, look here, Susy, you have thrust yourself into this matter, and you must help me out. I suppose I must have a tea, but it must be a very plain one."

"No; it must be a very nice tea. Oh, I'll see to that. Mother shall send over some things from town—a little pink ham cut very thin, and new-laid eggs—"

"And water-cress," said Mrs. Church. "I have a real relish for water-cress, and it's a very long time since I had any."

"You have got your own fowls," said Susy, "so they will supply the eggs; and for the rest I will manage. You are very good indeed, aunty, and mother will be so pleased. Kiss me, Aunt Church. I must be off or I'll be getting into a terrible scrape."



CHAPTER XIX.

RUTH'S TROUBLES AND SUSY'S PREPARATIONS.

The next day the suppressed excitement in the school grew worse. It is sad to relate, nevertheless it is a fact, that Kathleen O'Hara openly neglected her lessons. She kept glancing at Susy Hopkins, and Susy Hopkins once very boldly winked at her; and when she did this one of the under teachers saw her. Now, there were certain rules in the school which all the girls were expected to keep, and winking and making faces were always prohibited. But the teacher on this occasion did not complain of Susy; there were so many other things to be considered that she thought she would let the matter pass.

Ruth Craven was in her class, and more than one girl remarked on Ruth's appearance. Her face was ghastly pale, and she looked as though she had been crying very hard. Alice Tennant was also in her class, and she looked very bold and upright and defiant. Nothing ever induced Alice to neglect her studies, for did not the scholarship depend on her doing her very utmost? She worked just as assiduously as though nothing was happening. But each foundation girl—at least each who had joined the Wild Irish Girls—pressed her hand against the front of her dress, so as really to be certain that the little locket, the dear little talisman of her order, was safe in its place; and each girl felt naughty and good at the same time, anxious to please Kathleen and anxious to adhere to the rules of the school, and each girl resolved that, if she had to choose between the school and Kathleen, she would throw the school over and give allegiance to the queen of the society.

But Ruth's unhappy face certainly attracted attention. Cassandra Weldon noticed it first of all. In recess she went up to her and took her hand.

"Ruth," she said, "you must come home with, me to dinner. Afterwards we can have a good chat; and then you shall have a room to yourself in order to work up your lessons for Miss Renshaw. But what is the matter, Ruth? You don't look well."

"I am quite well," answered Ruth; "but I don't think I'll be able to come back with you to-day, Cassie."

"Oh, what a pity, dear! Is your grandmother ill?"

"No; she's quite well."

"And your grandfather?"

"They are both quite well. It is—no, it's not nothing, for it is something; but I can't tell you. Please don't ask me."

"You look very sad."

"I feel miserable."

"I wonder—" said Cassandra thoughtfully.

Ruth looked at her. There was absolute despair in the eyes generally so clear and steadfast and bright. At this moment Kathleen O'Hara was seen passing through the playground in a sort of triumphal progress. She was accompanied by quite a tail of girls: one hung on her right arm, another on her left; a third danced in front of her; and other girls followed in a thick procession.

"I feel like a queen-bee that has just swarmed," she remarked en passant to Cassandra Weldon.

Her rude words, the impertinent little toss of her head, and the defiant glance out of her very dark-blue eyes caused Cassandra to stamp her foot.

"Ruth," she said, "I don't like your friend Kathleen O'Hara."

"But I love her," said Ruth.

"That is just it. She makes you all love her and then she gets you into trouble."

"But getting into trouble for a friend doesn't make you hate that friend," said Ruth.

"Well, I fail to understand her. I agree with Alice Tennant about her. A girl of that sort—fascinating, handsome, dangerous—works havoc in a school."

"Listen, Cassie," said Ruth suddenly. "A good many people will be saying bad things about Kathleen before long, and perhaps you will be questioned. I know that Alice Tennant has been questioned already. Will you promise me something, Cassie?"

"You look so imploring that I'd like to promise you anything; but what is it?"

"Do take her part when the time comes. You are certain to be asked."

"But I don't know her. How can I take her part?"

"You can say—oh, the kindest things. You can explain that she has always been bright and gay and loving and kind."

"I don't know that she has."

"Cassie," said Ruth, "your goodness to me has been almost past understanding; but I could hate you if you spoke against her, for I love her."

Just then a teacher came out, touched Ruth Craven on her arm, and said:

"Will you go at once to see Miss Ravenscroft?"

"Why, have you got into a scrape, Ruth? Is that why you look so pale and excited and distressed?" said Cassandra.

She spoke in a whisper. Ruth's eyes looked full into hers.

"God help me," she said under her breath.—"Cassie, if you knew, if you could guess, you'd pity me."

Ruth turned away and followed the teacher into the school. A moment later she was standing before the head-mistress.

"Now, Ruth," said that lady, "I have given you as long a time as possible. Are you prepared to tell me what you know of the Wild Irish Girls?"

Ruth was silent.

"I can't give you any further time. There is to be a meeting of the governors at four o'clock this afternoon—a special meeting, convened in a hurry in order to look into this very matter. If you don't tell me in private what you can tell me, I shall be obliged to ask you to appear before the governors. In that case it would be a matter of insurrection on your part, and it is very doubtful if you would be allowed to remain in the school."

"It is very cruel to me," began Ruth.

"My dear, the path of right is sometimes cruel. We must put this matter down with a strong hand. Do you or do you not know where Kathleen O'Hara and her society are to meet this evening?"

"I've been thinking it out," said Ruth; "I have had no one to consult. If I were to tell I should be a traitor to Kathleen. I did not care for the society, although I love her. I joined it at first—I can't quite tell you how—but afterwards I left it. I left it entirely for my own benefit. There is a girl in this school whom you all love and respect. I don't suppose any other girl in the whole school bears such a high character. Her name is Cassandra Weldon."

"Of course I know Cassandra Weldon," said the head-mistress. "She is our head girl."

"She is; and she is not proud, and she is—oh, so kind! She offered me a very great help. She presented to me a tremendous temptation."

"What was that, Ruth?"

Miss Ravenscroft began by being cold and indifferent; she was now really interested.

"You can sit down if you like," she said.

But Ruth did not sit; she only put one pretty little hand on the back of a chair as though to steady herself.

"I will tell you everything that concerns myself," she said. "I don't mind how badly you think of me. I had joined the other foundationers as a member of Kathleen's society. Then Cassandra presented the temptation. She offered to give me the services of her coach, Miss Renshaw, to work up for the Ayldice Scholarship. That means sixty pounds a year. We are poor at home, Miss Ravenscroft. My grandfather and grandmother are very poor people; but my father was a gentleman, and my mother was a lady, and their great longing in life was to have me well educated. My grandparents can scarcely afford the expense of keeping me in this school. I know I am a foundationer and my education is free; but there are other small expenses that have to be met. Even for me to live at home is almost more than they can compass. You can therefore imagine the great and wonderful delight of being able to secure a scholarship of sixty pounds a year. I could scarcely have managed it without this help. It was noble of Cassandra to offer it, and I—I accepted it, Miss Ravenscroft. After that, of course, I couldn't remain in Kathleen's society, for Kathleen and Cassandra hate each other, and I couldn't be one moment with one girl and another with the other; so I gave up the society and joined Cassandra. But I can't now betray those who were my friends. I have made up my mind; I can't."

"You have really made up your mind?"

"Quite—quite; indeed I cannot."

"Do you know what this means?"

"I can guess."

"We shall be obliged to call a meeting of the governors. You will be had up before them. If you still persist in keeping your knowledge to yourself they will be obliged to strike your name off the school roll. You will not then be able to get the Ayldice Scholarship. You are a clever girl, Ruth. My dear child, the whole thing is a mistake. You do wrong to conceal insurrection. I can tell your special friend Kathleen, who will no longer be queen of the Wild Irish Girls, to-morrow morning, that I have forced this confession out of you. She will not hate you; she will forgive you. She will understand. My dear, why should you sacrifice everything for the sake of this naughty Irish girl?"

"Because I love her, and because it would be mean," answered Ruth, and now she burst into tears.

Miss Ravenscroft talked to her a little longer, but Ruth was firm. When she left the head-mistress's presence she felt a certain sense almost of elation.

"Now I don't feel so absolutely horrible," she said to herself. "Of course I will face the governors. I will just say that I know but that I can't tell. Yes, I believe I have done right. Anyhow, I don't feel quite so bad as before I went to see Miss Ravenscroft."

Meanwhile Susy Hopkins was having a busy time. She went to school in the morning, but as soon as ever lesson hours were over she flew back to her mother's shop. There Mrs. Hopkins awaited her with a tray full of good things.

"Now, Susy," she said, "Tom will help you, for I have got him to promise. He will borrow a wheelbarrow, and all the things can be stacked away tidily into it, and he will take them straight off to Aunt Church's house with you immediately after dinner. You had best spend the afternoon with the old lady and encourage her all you can. It is a blessed relief to have two months of that debt wiped out, and I am very much obliged to you, child, and I will help you all I can."

"You can't think how exciting it is, mother," said Susy. "And you know the best of the fun is, they are making no end of a fuss in the school. They're trying to find out all about poor Kathleen's society, in order to put a stop to it and to call the foundationers to order; but the only effect of the fuss is to make more and more of the girls want to join. I saw Kathleen for a few minutes this morning, and she said that she had twelve applications for badges already to-day, but she told the new girls that they had best not come to the meeting to-night, as there wouldn't be room for them. Kathleen is in the highest spirits; she is just laughing and dancing about and looking like a sunbeam."

"Dear, dear!" said Mrs. Hopkins. "I do hope it's nothing wicked. You girls of the present day are so queer, there's no being up to half your pranks. It would be a sorry day for me if you were banished from the school, Susy."

"Oh, I won't be. It will be all right. Anyhow, this is delicious fun, and I mean to go on with it. What have you got for the old lady's tea, mother?"

"Well, now, look here. Of course, she's only going to give tea to Miss O'Hara and Miss O'Flynn—I haven't seen that lady—and yourself and Tom. That's about all."

"And Tom will have a pretty keen appetite," said Susy. "I'll tell Miss Kathleen that she is to be at Aunt Church's house quite half-an-hour before the rest of the girls, so that aunty can have her talk with her and arrange about the almshouse, and also that Kathleen and Miss O'Hara may have their meal in comfort. What's the grub, mother? Tell me at once."

"Bread-and-butter," said Mrs. Hopkins, beginning to count on her fingers, "a pot of strawberry-jam—"

"Oh, golloptious!" burst from Susy.

"A plumcake—"

"Better and better!" cried Susy.

"A little tin of sardines—some ladies are fond of a savory—"

"Yes, mother; quite right. And so is aunty, for that matter. You haven't forgotten the water-cress, have you?"

"Here's a great bunch of it. You must turn the tap over it and wash it as clean as clean. And what with new-laid eggs, and tea with cream in it, and loaf-sugar, why, I think that's about enough."

"So it is, mother; and it's beautiful. But, mother, I do think Aunt Church would relish a pound of sausages. It isn't often she has anything of that kind to eat; she lives very penuriously, you know, mother."

"Well, I suppose I can fling in the sausages. I'll just run round to the shop and buy them. Now then, eat your own dinner, Susy, and be quick. Tom has eaten his, and has gone to fetch the wheelbarrow from Dan Smith, the cartwright."

Mrs. Hopkins's programme was carried out. Tom arrived at the door with the wheelbarrow about two o'clock. The provisions were stowed safely away in the bottom and covered over with a piece of old matting, and then Tom and Susy started off. Both boy and girl were in high spirits. The day was as fine as it had been on the previous day, and Susy chattered to her heart's content.

"My word," said Tom, "I must be in it!"

"But you can't, Tom. You are a boy. That would be the final straw. If the ladies of the school and those awful governors were to come along and to see a boy in the midst of forty girls, I do believe we'd all be put in prison. You must clear out, Thomas; make up your mind to that as soon as ever you have handed over the things to Aunt Church."

"You wait and see," said Tom. "You may suppose you are a favorite with Aunt Church, but you are nothing at all to me; I can just twist her round my fingers. It's a fine time I mean to have. I won't worry you at all when you are having your commotion in the yard. For the matter of that, I'll creep into the pig-sty with Brownie, and we can look over the doorway."

"Oh, Tom, you are certain to be discovered. And you'll just pinch that pig and make him squeal like anything."

Tom laughed.

"I mean to have my fun," he said; "and don't you suppose for a moment I'm going to funk a lot of stupid, silly girls. How much do you think I'm going to eat, miss?"

"I'm sure you are going to be horribly greedy. But perhaps when you see Miss O'Hara and Miss O'Flynn you'll take a fit of shyness. It's to be hoped you will."

"Shyness!" cried Tom. "What's that?"

"It's what you ought to have, Tom, and it's to be hoped you will have it when the time comes."

"Looks like it!" cried Tom, rubbing his hands in a meaning way. "Never frightened of anybody in the whole course of my life. Mean to have a lark with your pretty Miss Kathleen; mean to get a sov. or two out of that charming Miss O'Flynn; mean to coax Aunty Church to give me that microscope when she moves across the sea to Ireland. Tell you, Susy, I'm up to a lark, and the best of the supper goes down my throat. Now you know, and there's no use worriting, for what can't be cured must be endured. Tom Hopkins is part and parcel of this 'ere feast, and the sooner you make up your mind to endure me the better."

Susy felt slightly alarmed, but she knew from experience that Tom's bark was worse than his bite; and she trusted to Aunt Church desiring him in a peremptory manner to go when the time approached, and to Tom's being forced to obey her.

They arrived in good time at their destination, and Mrs. Church received them figuratively with open arms. And now began the real fuss and the real preparation. Tom took a brush and kicked up, as Aunt Church expressed it, no end of a shindy. The little sitting-room was a cloud of dust. The table, the chairs, and the little sideboard were pushed about; everything seemed to be at a loss until Susy peremptorily took the duster out of Tom's hand and reduced chaos to order. Then the tea was unpacked. A very white cloth from Mrs. Hopkins's most precious store was produced; real silver spoons—from the same source—made their appearance; a few cups and saucers of good old china were added. The table looked, as Tom expressed it, "very genteel." Then the provisions were placed upon the board.

"Now we are ready," said Mrs. Church; "and I must say," she added, "that I am pleased. I have known good genteel living in my lifetime, and I expect that Providence means me to know it again before I die. Susy and Tom, you are both good children. You have your spice of wickedness in you, but when all is said and done you mean well, and I may as well promise you both now that when I get to Ireland I will have you over in the holidays. You will enjoy that—won't you, Thomas?"

"See if I don't, Aunt Church. And I always was your own boy, wasn't I? And you won't mind, old lady—say you won't mind—leaving me the microscope when you cross the briny? I'm fairly taken with that microscope. I dream of it at night, and think of it every minute of the day."

"Come here and look me in the eyes, Tom," said Mrs. Church.

Tom went over. Out of his freckled face there beamed two honest light-blue eyes. His forehead was broad and slightly bulgy; his carroty hair was cut short to his head. Mrs. Church raised her wrinkled old hand and laid it for a minute on Tom's forehead.

"You resemble your great-uncle, my husband," she said. "He was the cleverest man I ever came across. He had a real turn for the microscope."

"Then, of course, you will leave it behind you; of course you will give it to me," said Tom, quite triumphant with eagerness.

"No, my boy, that I won't. If you are a good boy, and do me credit, and get on with your books, and do well in that calling which Providence means you to work in, why, I may leave it to you when I am called hence, Tom."

"There, Tom!" said Susy, coming forward. "Don't worry Aunt Church any more. She's got plenty to think about.—Won't you turn him out now, Aunt Church? It is time for you to be dressing, you know."

"So it is," said Mrs. Church, looking round her in some alarm. "Whatever is the hour, child?"

"It is going on for six o'clock; and they will be here at half-past seven at the latest."

"Very well," said Tom; "if I must go I will have a talk with Brownie."

He looked at Susy as if he meant to defy her, but Susy was too wise to anger him at that moment. As soon as ever he was out of the house she fetched hot water, soap and a clean towel. Having helped old Mrs. Church with her ablutions, she produced a clean cap and a little black shawl. The old lady said that she felt very smart and refreshed, and altogether in a state to do honor to that dear little almshouse.

"I am quite taking to you, Susy," she said. "But I do hope you will marshal those dreadful girls into the backyard without frightening my hens or Brownie."

"Pigs aren't remarkable for sensitiveness," said Susy. "But I tell you what, Aunt Church; Tom's after mischief; he means to witness all the proceedings of dear Miss Kathleen's great society, and we oughtn't to let him. It would do a lot of mischief if the school heard of it, and we would most likely be expelled. He don't mind a word I say, so will you talk to him, aunty?"

"But he can't be in the yard without being seen; you say that they are bringing lamps and will make the place as bright as day."

"Yes, but he will be in the sty with Brownie; and he as good as said he'd give her a pinch to make her squeal."

"Oh, indeed! I'm afraid that must be put a stop to," said the old lady. "Send him to me this minute."

Susy went out and called her brother. There was no answer for a minute; then Tom appeared, looking somewhat rakish and disheveled.

"Brownie and I were chumming up like anything," he said; then he pushed Susy aside and walked into the old lady's presence.

What she said to him even Susy did not hear, but when the little girl returned to Mrs. Church, Tom was nowhere to be seen.

"Has he gone home, Aunt Church," she asked.

"You leave the boy alone," was Mrs. Church's answer. "He's a good boy, and the moral of his grand-uncle; and I'll leave him that microscope. See if I don't."



CHAPTER XX.

THE GOVERNORS OF THE SCHOOL EXAMINE RUTH.

At four o'clock that afternoon the governors of the Great Shirley School met in the room set aside for the purpose. There were six governors, and they were all ladies. Their names were Miss Mackenzie, Mrs. Naylor, Mrs. Ross, the two Misses Scott, and Miss Jane Smyth. The founders of the Great Shirley School had ordained that it should always be governed by women—that women should conduct its concerns, should see to the best possible education of its pupils, and should manage these things to the best of their ability. Even the trustees of the trust fund were women.

Amongst these ladies Miss Mackenzie was reckoned as head. She was a tall, strong-minded woman, with iron-gray hair, false teeth, a prominent nose, and small steel-gray eyes. Miss Mackenzie was between sixty and seventy years of age; she always dressed in the severest and most old-fashioned manner, and wore her iron-gray hair in ringlets on each side of her head. She was an excellent woman of business, and was dreaded not only by the schoolgirls, but also by one or two of the ladies of the committee; those who most feared her were the two Misses Scott and Miss Jane Smyth. Mrs. Ross was a fashionable woman who went a good deal into London society, talked about the Great Shirley School to her different friends, and was considered an expert on the subject of girls' education. Mrs. Ross had a husband and a beautiful home; she dressed remarkably well, and was looked down on in consequence by Miss Mackenzie. Mrs. Naylor was the oldest of the governors. She was a little, wizened lady with a face like a russet apple, a kindly smile, and a sweet voice.

It was the custom of the governors to meet four times a year as a matter of course, and as a matter of expediency they met about as many times again. But a sudden meeting to be convened within forty-eight hours' notice was almost unheard of in their experience.

When they were all seated round the table Miss Mackenzie, who was chairwoman, took out the agenda and read its contents aloud. These were brief enough:

"To inquire into the insurrection amongst the foundationers, and in particular to cause full investigation to be made with regard to the Irish girl, Kathleen O'Hara."

"This is really very astonishing," said Miss Mackenzie, turning to the other governors. "An insurrection amongst the foundationers! Had we not better summon Miss Ravenscroft, who will tell us what she means?"

A clerk who attended the meetings (also a woman) went away now to summon Miss Ravenscroft. She appeared in a few minutes, was asked to seat herself, and was requested to give a full explanation. This she did very briefly.

"At the beginning of the term," she said, "a girl of the name of Kathleen O'Hara joined our number. She was eccentric and untrained. She came from the south-west of Ireland. I had her examined, and found that she knew extremely little. We were forced to put her into much too low a class for her years and general appearance."

"Well," said Miss Smyth, "that, after all, isn't a crime. I don't quite understand."

"If you will kindly resume your story we shall be obliged, Miss Ravenscroft," said Miss Mackenzie.

Miss Ravenscroft did resume it. She traced Kathleen's conduct from the first day of her arrival to the present hour. Short as the time was—not more than six weeks—she had worked havoc in the school. Her influence was altogether felt amongst the foundationers. They crowded round her at all hours; a glance from her eyes was sufficient to compel them to do exactly what she wished. They ceased to be attentive to their lessons; they were often discovered in school in a state of semi-drowsiness; they were rebellious and impertinent to their teachers—in short, they were in a state of insurrection.

"And you trace this disgraceful state of things to the advent of the Irish girl?" said Miss Mackenzie.

"I am sorry to say, Miss Mackenzie, that I do. When I noticed that Kathleen O'Hara had a disturbing influence over the girls I caused further inquiries to be made, and I then made a discovery which distressed me very much. My eyes were first opened by the fact that one of our teachers picked up off the floor, just where a certain Clara Sawyer, one of the best and most promising of the foundationers, was sitting, a small locket, evidently a badge. She brought it to me, and I now hand it to you ladies for inspection."

The little silver heart-shaped badge was passed from one lady to another. The Misses Scott thought it pretty and quaint. Miss Jane Smyth murmured the words "Wild Irish Girls" under her breath. Mrs. Ross pushed it away from her as though it was beneath notice. Mrs. Naylor said:

"Very pretty; quite touching, isn't it? Heart-shaped. I always think that such a sweet emblem, don't you, Miss Mackenzie?"

But Miss Mackenzie, with a sniff, took up the little talisman and turned it from right to left.

"'Wild Irish Girls,'" she said aloud. "What can this mean?"

"I can throw some light on the subject, but not much," said Miss Ravenscroft. "It is quite evident that a society calling itself by this name exists, and that it has been instituted and formed altogether by Kathleen O'Hara, who has induced a great number—I should say fully half—of the foundationers to join her. They meet, I have discovered, at night; their rendezvous being, up to the present, a certain quarry a short distance out of town. What they do at their meetings I cannot tell, but I believe they are very riotous, with singing and dancing and sports of all sorts. Of course, as you know, Miss Mackenzie, such proceedings are altogether prohibited in our school."

"But this takes place out of school," said Mrs. Naylor.

"Mrs. Naylor, I should be much obliged if you would allow Miss Ravenscroft to continue," said Miss Mackenzie.

Miss Ravenscroft did continue.

"Putting aside that question," she said, "the effect on the girls is most disastrous. They are completely out of my control, and I know for a fact that they do not care to please any one except Kathleen O'Hara."

"Of course our duty is plain," said Miss Mackenzie. "We must get the ringleader into custody, so to speak, and either bind her over to break up the society, and so keep the peace, or expel her from the school."

"She is a difficult girl to deal with," said Miss Ravenscroft. "She has a great deal that is good in her; she is handsome and rich, very affectionate, and full of spirit."

"But what has a girl who is handsome and rich to do in a school like the Great Shirley?" asked Mrs. Ross.

"That is the curious part of it. Kathleen's mother was educated in this school, and she made up her mind that her daughter should never go to any other. Kathleen lives with the Tennants. I should be sorry if she were expelled; there is so much that is good in her. It would be a pity to harden her or hold her up to public disgrace. I hope some other way may be discovered of bringing her to order."

"You are quite right. Miss Ravenscroft," said Miss Smyth. "I never did hold with the severe hardening process."

"Certainly in the case of Kathleen it would do no good," said Miss Ravenscroft.

"But what do you propose to do, then?" said Miss Mackenzie. "You have not, I presume, asked us to come here without having some plan in your head."

"The first thing to do is to get hold of all possible facts," said Miss Ravenscroft. "Now, there is one girl in the school who could tell us—a charming girl, a new girl—for she also only joined this term—but in all respects the opposite of Kathleen O'Hara. She for a short time belonged to the rebels, as I must call the Wild Irish Girls, but she saw the folly of her conduct and left them. She could tell us all about them if she liked, and help us to bring the insurrection to an end."

"Then that is capital," said Miss Mackenzie in a tone of enjoyment. "Have the girl summoned, please, Miss Ravenscroft."

Miss Ravenscroft turned to the clerk, who went away at once in search of Ruth. Ruth came in looking very white, her face dogged, her usual beauty and charm of manner having quite deserted her. She wore her little school-apron and she kept folding it between her fingers as she stood in the presence of her judges.

"Your name?" said Miss Mackenzie.

"Ruth Craven."

"Your age?"

"I am fourteen."

"Where do you live?"

"In No. 2 Willow Cottages."

"Oh, I know," said Miss Mackenzie, looking with more approval at the child. "I have often met your grandfather. You live with him and his wife, don't you?"

"Yes, madam."

"And you have been admitted here as a foundationer?"

"Yes, madam."

"In what class is Ruth Craven, Miss Ravenscroft?"

"Ruth is a very diligent pupil. She is in the third remove," replied Miss Ravenscroft, looking with kindly eyes at the child.

Ruth just glanced at her teacher, and then lowered her eyes. Her beautiful little face was beginning to have its usual effect upon most of the ladies present. Some of the stony despair had left it; the color came and went in her cheeks. She ceased to fiddle with her apron, and clasped her two little white hands tightly together.

"My child," said Mrs. Naylor, "your object in coming to school is doubtless the best object of all."

Ruth raised inquiring eyes.

"I mean," said the little old lady, "that you want to learn all you can—to gain knowledge and wisdom, to learn goodness and forbearance and long-suffering and charity."

"Oh, yes," said Ruth, her eyes dilating.

"If," continued Miss Mackenzie, interrupting Mrs. Naylor, and speaking in a very firm tone—"if, instead of these pleasant things happening, a little girl learns to join insurrectionists, to forget those to whom she is indebted for such tremendous advantages, then how do matters stand—eh, Ruth Craven?"

"I don't understand," said Ruth.

Her trembling and fear had come back to her.

"The dear child is frightened, Miss Mackenzie," said Mrs. Naylor.

"I hope not," said Miss Mackenzie; "but I as chairwoman am obliged to question her.—Ruth Craven, is it true that you became a member of a silly schoolgirl society called the Wild Irish Girls, and that you wore a badge like this?"

Ruth nodded.

"Don't nod to me. Speak."

"It is true," said Ruth.

"Are you now a member of that society?"

"No."

"Why did you join it?"

"Because I loved Kathleen O'Hara."

"She is the promoter, then?"

Ruth was silent.

"You have heard me?"

"Yes, madam."

"Kathleen O'Hara is the promoter?"

Again Ruth was silent. Miss Mackenzie glanced at the other ladies. After a pause she continued:

"We will leave that matter for the present. Please write down, Miss Judson"—here she turned to the clerk—"that Ruth Craven has refused to answer my question with regard to Kathleen O'Hara. We will return to that point later on.—Why did you leave the society?"

"I did so because I wanted to join a scheme proposed by a girl who was not a foundationer and not a member of the society. Her name is Cassandra Weldon."

"One of our best and most promising pupils," interrupted Miss Ravenscroft.

"I know her," said Miss Mackenzie. "We have every reason to be proud of Cassandra Weldon.—And so she, this charming and excellent Cassandra Weldon, is your friend, little Ruth Craven?"

"She has been extremely good to me, madam. She offered me the services of her own coach in order that I might work up for the Ayldice Scholarship."

"And do you think you have a chance of getting it?"

"I don't know. I mean to try."

Her dark-blue eyes flashed with intelligence and longing as she uttered these words.

"I think we are now in possession of the facts," said Miss Mackenzie. "Is that not so, Mrs. Ross? Ruth Craven was a member of the objectionable society; she very wisely left it, knowing that she would better herself by doing so.—Now then, Ruth, we expect you to tell us all about the society—where it meets, and as much as you know about its rules. And you must also acquaint us with the names of the girls who are members."

Ruth again was silent, but now she held herself erect and looked full at Miss Mackenzie.

"You hear me, child. Speak. You can make your narrative brief. Where does the society meet? What does it do? What are its rules? Go on; you are not stupid, are you?"

"No, Miss Mackenzie," said Ruth, "I am not stupid; and I am very, sorry indeed to seem rude, but I cannot answer your questions. You know that Kathleen's society exists; that fact I cannot hide from you, but you will not hear anything more from me. It would be a very terrible thing for me to be expelled from this school; it would mean great sorrow to my grandfather and grandmother; but I cannot betray my friend Kathleen, nor any of the other girls of the society."

Miss Mackenzie was silent for quite a minute. The other ladies fidgeted as they sat. Ruth, having delivered her soul, looked down. After a long pause Miss Mackenzie said quite gently:

"Ruth Craven, you scarcely realize your own position. We cannot possibly let a little girl who is rebellious, who keeps secrets to herself which she ought to tell for the benefit of the school, continue in our midst. We will give you three days to think over this matter. If at the end of three days you are still obstinately silent, there is nothing whatever for it but that you should be expelled from the school. Do you understand what that means?"

"It means that I must go, that I shall lose all the advantages," said Ruth.

"It means that and more. It means that in the presence of the whole school you are pronounced unworthy, that you leave the school publicly, being desired to do so by your teacher. It is an unpleasant ceremony, and one which you will never be able to forget; it will haunt you for life, Ruth Craven. I trust, however, my dear child, that such extreme measures will not be necessary. You think now that you are honorable in making yourself a martyr, but it is not so. We who are old must know more than you can possibly know, Ruth, with regard to the benefits of a great establishment like this. Insurrection must be put down with a firm hand. You will see for yourself how right we are, and how wrong and silly and childish you are.—Miss Ravenscroft, a special meeting of the governors will take place in this room on Saturday morning. This is Wednesday. Until then we hope that Ruth Craven will carefully consider her conduct, and be prepared to answer the very vital questions which will be put to her.—You can go, Ruth."

Ruth left the room.

"An extraordinary child," said Miss Mackenzie.

"A sweet child, I call her," said Mrs. Naylor. "What a beautiful face!"

"My dear Mrs. Naylor, does the beauty of Ruth Craven's face affect this question? She is, in my opinion, extremely silly, and a very naughty child.—Miss Ravenscroft, we leave it to you to bring the little girl to reason. I have known her grandfather ever since he kept a grocer's shop in the High Street. I have respected him more than any man I ever knew. This child in appearance is one of Nature's ladies, but we must get her to see things in the right light, and if necessary she must be made an example of. It will be very painful, but it must be done."

"I will do what I can," said Miss Ravenscroft; "but from the little I have seen of Ruth, I imagine she would go to the stake before she would betray those who are kind to her. I will, however, confide in Cassandra; she is extremely fond of Ruth, and she may influence her where others fail. I can't help saying, Miss Mackenzie, that it would be a very terrible thing, and would, I believe much injure the school, if a girl like Ruth were expelled. The other foundationers would feel it; there would be a sense of martyrdom. Sides would be taken for and against her. I trust that this extreme step will not be necessary."

"If she does not tell us what she knows, it will be not only necessary, but it will be carried into effect, and in my presence," said Miss Mackenzie. "But now to return to the more immediate business. You say these girls meet in a quarry?"

"I have heard rumors to that effect."

"Do you think they meet there every night? Are their scandalous proceedings a nightly occurrence?"

"Oh, no; I do not think they meet oftener than once a week."

"Have you any idea what night they choose?"

"I am rather under the impression that this is the night."

"Then send some one to see, Miss Ravenscroft. One or two of the teachers would be the best. They could go to the quarry to-night and wait there in order to see if the girls arrive. If they do, my orders are that they take no apparent notice of them, but write down the names of all present. If that can be done, and you are successful in finding the girls, we shall have the matter, as it were, in a nutshell, and we shall soon crush this disgraceful rebellion."

"And what about Kathleen?" asked Miss Ravenscroft.

"There is very little doubt that she will have to be expelled. Such a girl as that is a firebrand in a school, and however rich she may be, and however well-born, the sooner she leaves us the better."



CHAPTER XXI.

THE SOCIETY MEETS AT MRS. CHURCH'S COTTAGE.

That evening at about a quarter to eight a band of perfectly silent girls might have been seen walking along the road that led to Mrs. Church's cottage. They walked as much as possible on the grass, and glided in single file. Each one, as they expressed it, had her heart in her mouth. Occasionally they looked behind them; sometimes they started at an ordinary shadow, thinking that a policeman at least would be waiting for them. The foundationers who called themselves the Wild Irish Girls had very little doubt what it would mean if their scheme was discovered. They knew, of course, that Miss Ravenscroft would be furiously angry, that the governors would have something to say to them, and that they might be dismissed from the school unless they promised to cease to belong to the society. Perhaps there were worse things than that. There was a timid little girl called Janey Ford, who whispered to her friend that the Wild Irish Girls belonged to the rebels in Ireland, and that it might be considered necessary by the government of the country to have them taken up and put into prison. Nobody for a single moment believed Janey Ford's silly remarks, but nevertheless they gave a sort of thrill to the occasion. It was all delightful, this stealing away in the dark, this pressing one against another as they walked down the little road. And then Kathleen was so fascinating; her eyes were so bright; she was such a valiant sort of leader. If they were men and she was a man, Janey Ford had whispered to her great friend Edith Hart, they would follow her to the death.

"We'd form a crusade for her," Edith had whispered, back. "She is magnificent."

And then both girls felt the little heart-shaped lockets round their necks and thought of themselves as heroines.

The entire party, numbering about forty-three in all, arrived at the cottage. Susy suddenly put in her appearance.

"Girls," she said, "it isn't at all certain that we are safe. I saw a man going by not ten minutes ago, and he looked suspiciously at the house. Miss Ravenscroft would do anything to catch us; but Aunt Church says that if you go into the yard she doesn't think you will be seen or heard.—May I take the girls into the yard, Kathleen? And may I take you and Miss O'Flynn into the house to see Aunt Church?"

Kathleen nodded in reply. She also felt excited and pleased and completely carried out of herself.

Susy ushered her visitors with great pride and pomp into Mrs. Church's little sitting-room. Really she felt herself quite rising in the social scale as she saw her old relative dressed in her best, with the manners she used to wear when she was housekeeper at Lord Henshel's, and with that most appetizing, most recherche tea on the table.

"I will be back in a minute," said Susy.—"Aunt Church, here they are, and I know you will give them welcome."

"I am proud to do that," said Mrs. Church. "I presume I am talking to Miss O'Flynn? Will you take a chair here by the fire, miss? I'm afraid the night is a little bit chilly.—Miss Kathleen, I wish I could get up and offer you a seat, but as it is—"

"Oh, nonsense!" said Kathleen. "What are young legs for if not to wait on old legs? Oh, what a heavenly, delicious tea! What is that I see? Honey! Oh, don't I just adore honey? Don't you, Aunt Katie?"

"That I do," said Miss O'Flynn; "and I eat it comb and all. It never yet disagreed with me; but then I've got the digestion of an ostrich."

"Indeed, then, madam, I think you are rather silly to eat the comb," said Mrs. Church; "and you ought always to put butter on your bread when you eat honey. My poor mother told me so, and I have always followed in her steps. If you butter your bread and don't eat the comb, honey agrees with you as well as anything else."

"Mrs. Church," said Kathleen, "you are perfectly sweet, and I can't tell you how grateful we are; but we are in something of a hurry, so perhaps you wouldn't mind telling the rest of that story about butter and honey to Aunt Katie when you are in Ireland. Have you made the tea, Mrs. Church? Shall I make it?"

"The tea is in that little brown caddy," said Mrs. Church, "and there's a measuring spoon close to it. I allow—"

"Oh, I know," said Kathleen.

She began to ladle out spoonful after spoonful and put it into the little brown teapot, which she then filled up with hot water. Mrs. Church looked on with a mingled feeling of approval and disapproval. She was being carried completely off her feet. She to give up her dear little neat house in this reckless way; she to give up her most precious tea to be absolutely wasted and practically lost—for Kathleen put in quite three times too much tea into the little teapot; she to forgive Susy's mother two months of that debt which she owed her. Oh, what did it mean? She was going to be ruined in her old age!

"I'd just like to say, miss," she said, looking at Miss O'Flynn and then at Kathleen—"I'd like to say that I am willing to help the young ladies, and the old ladies too for that matter, but I want to know if it is settled that I am to have the almshouse and six shillings a week. I am a plain-spoken body and I'd like to know it; for if so it can be done, I ought to give notice to the landlord of this little house, where I have lived in peace and comfort for over twelve years. I'd like to know, and as soon as possible."

"We have written about it, Mrs. Church," said Miss O'Flynn. "I wrote to my brother-in-law this very day, and I expect an answer soon. Of course, we can't tell you to a certainty whether the house is still to be had, but I didn't hear that it was let. We must hope for the best."

"And if it is let," said Kathleen suddenly, running up to the old lady and whispering in her ear, "I'll get Dad to send me a cheque, and you shall have it, so you won't lose one way or the other."

This whisper of Kathleen's was very soothing to Mrs. Church. She nodded her head twice and said:

"Thank you, dear," and just then Susy returned, and tea began in real earnest.

While the ladies were enjoying their meal they did not observe that a round boyish face occasionally appeared at the little glass partition which divided Mrs. Church's sitting-room from her bedroom. The glass reached down about two feet from the ceiling, and was the only light the bedroom had. The boyish face bobbed up now and again, made appealing faces in Mrs. Church's direction, and then disappeared. Mrs. Church shook her head at the apparition, but for a time no one noticed the circumstance. Then Susy began to observe it.

"What can it mean?" she thought, and she turned and looked.

The face appeared, the tongue now stuck into the cheek, one eye winking furiously.

"Well, I never!" said Susy.

"What are you saying, 'Well, I never!' for?" asked Kathleen. "And why do you and Mrs. Church keep gazing up at that ugly glass across the room? What is the glass for?"

"It is the window that lights my bedroom, miss," said Mrs. Church. "And I don't see," she added, "why I may not look at any part of my own house that I take a fancy to."

"Of course," said Kathleen. But Tom was now making pantomimic signs for refreshments. He was touching his mouth, which he opened into a round O, pointing at the cake and honey, and going on altogether in a way that distracted poor Susy. And just as Susy looked up Kathleen looked up, and the latter burst into a loud laugh, and said:

"I do declare there's a boy in there."

The next instant she had burst into the bedroom and dragged Tom out.

"Oh, you are Tom Hopkins," she said; "you are Susy's brother. Now sit down here and have a right good meal. It was silly of you to hide in there; as if we minded."

"But Kathleen, you ought to mind," said Susy; "for it would be the very last straw if we were discovered and there is a boy found amongst us. I declare I never felt so nervous in my life.—Do go back to the bedroom, Tom.—Aunt Church, oughtn't he to go?"

"Come and sit by me," said Mrs. Church. "And here's a fresh egg for you. Take your place, Tom; and when the others go into the yard for their foolish mummeries—for I can't make out that there's a bit of sense in this scheme from first to last—why, you and I will finish up what is left of the good things."

"You are a brick, Aunt Church," said Tom.

He took a seat at the table, and gazed with wonder, delight, and admiration at Kathleen. He told his schoolfellows that at that moment he lost his heart to Kathleen. He said that she bowled him over completely.

"I haven't a scrap of heart in my body to-day," he remarked to his chosen friends. "I took it out and put it at her feet; and if you'll believe me, she spurned it. That's the way of girls. Don't you have anything to do with them, boys."

But the boys only begged more earnestly than ever to have a look at Kathleen. Tom finally promised to secure her photograph by hook or by crook, and to show it to them.

When the meal, which was but a short one after all, came to an end, Miss O'Flynn and Kathleen got up and were preparing to go to the yard at the back of the house, when there came the sound of horse's hoofs on the stones outside. They stopped at the cottage, and a loud knock at the door was next heard.

"They have come," said Susy, her face white as a sheet. "I knew they would. I wonder what will happen, Kathleen. Aren't you awfully frightened?"

"Not I," said Kathleen. "Why should I be afraid? Whoever is there has nothing to do with us."

Susy's state of panic amused both Miss O'Flynn and Kathleen, and Tom was the only one found brave enough to go to the door in answer to the knock. He came back the next instant with a telegram, which was addressed to Miss O'Flynn. She tore it open, and gave a loud scream.

"It's my poor cousin Peggy Doharty. She has fallen from her horse and has concussion of the brain. I must go to her at once. Oh, alannah, alannah! What is to be done?"

Here Miss O'Flynn turned a face of anguish in Kathleen's direction.

"It is I that must leave you, my darling," she said. "I will go back to town with the messenger, get off to London to-night, and cross in the morning. Ah, the creature! And she's my dearest friend. Let us hope that Providence will spare her precious life. Oh dear, dear, dear! This is awful!"

"I don't see why you should go, Aunt Katie," said Kathleen. "I want you very badly indeed just now."

"Then, my sweet child, come straight away with me to Dublin; for as to leaving Peggy in her hour of extremity, I wouldn't do it even for you, Kathleen, and that's saying a good deal."

"But how can I come? I have my society and—and the school."

"Well, then, stay, love; only don't keep me now. Good-bye to you, pet; I haven't a minute to lose—Tom—is that your name?—go out and tell the messenger that I will go back with him to Merrifield."

"And what about my almshouse?" screamed out Mrs. Church. "This is a nice state of things, I must say. Who minds what a slip of a young lady says?—meaning no offence to you, miss; but I have been spending my money right and left, getting tea that beats all for gentility, and now one of the ladies is off as it were in a flash of an eye. What about my almshouse?"

Miss O'Flynn looked rather indignant.

"You shall have your almshouse if it can be got. How unfeeling you are to think only of yourself when my dearest friend may be at death's door. Here's a sovereign, which will more than cover the expenses of the tea.—Good-bye, Kathleen, core of my heart.—Good-bye, all of you."

Miss O'Flynn flung a sovereign on the table. Mrs. Church made a grab at it, and held it tightly in her hand, which was covered by a black mitten. The next moment the good lady had departed, and Kathleen, looking thoroughly bewildered, was left alone.

"Dear, dear!" she said. "Yet I am an Irish girl, and I'm not going to show funk. There are all those poor girls waiting in the yard so long. I will go to them at once. Come with me, Susy."

There were about forty girls in the yard, and they sat close together. The night was sufficiently cold to make them somewhat chill, and the fears which little Janey Ford had put into their hearts began to grow greater and more fixed each moment. When Kathleen appeared all was immediately changed. Susy preceded her, carrying the little paraffin lamp. This was placed on the table which was arranged in the yard for the purpose, and its light fell now on the vivid coloring and beautiful face of the Irish girl. She took off her favorite blue velvet cap and pushed her hand through her masses of radiant hair, and then flung herself into what she was pleased to call an attitude, but which was really a very graceful and natural pose. Then she said, speaking aloud:

"Girls of the society, Wild Irish Girls, I am sorry to tell you that my aunt, Miss O'Flynn—Miss Katie O'Flynn—who I hoped would have joined our numbers to-night, and would have been a perfect rock of strength for us all, has been obliged to suddenly go back to Ireland, owing to an accident that has happened to her dearest friend."

"Dear, dear, how sad!" said one or two.

"So we are without her, girls," continued Kathleen. "And now I want to know if you are prepared to stand by me through thick and thin?"

"That we are!" was shouted in one vivid, clear girlish note.

"I am glad to hear it. And if you will stand by me, you may be quite sure that I will stand by you. It is whispered in the school that we are found out, and the school, bless it! is angry. It doesn't want us, you foundationers and me, to have our fun—our little bit of innocent fun."

"Very mean of it!" said one or two, while the others groaned.

"It wants to crush us," continued Kathleen. "We mean the school no harm, and why shouldn't it let us alone? All we want is our fun, a little bit of liberty, and to show those companions who look down upon us that we are as good as they, and that we will fight for each other, and have our own way, and meet when we please, and do as we like out of school hours. It is a sort of Manifesto of Independence, that is what it is, girls, and I want to know if you will stick to it."

All the hands were raised up at this juncture, and all the voices said:

"Yes, yes, yes."

"That's splendid," said Kathleen. "I didn't know I had such an enthusiastic following. Well girls, we'll have to run a certain risk. We will have to conceal all we can about this society; we'll have to be true to each other, whatever happens; and we'll meet wherever we like, girls. Let the head-mistress and the governors say what they please."

"Hurrah for Kathleen O'Hara! Hurrah for the Wild Irish Girls for ever!" they shouted.

"That's about it," said Kathleen. "I called you all to-night to tell you that we are suspected, and we are called insurrectionists; but let them call us what they like."

"Please," here put in the timid voice of Janey Ford, "are we likely to be put in prison? For that would break mother's heart, and do none of us any good."

"Oh, you little goose!" cried Kathleen, with her ringing laugh. "Not a bit of it. The worst that could happen to us is to be expelled from the school."

Now this worst, which was really a matter of little importance in the eyes of Kathleen, was somewhat serious to the other girls. To be expelled meant to deprive them of their chance of being well educated and of earning a decent living by-and-by. They all felt very grave, and Kathleen, who had a great power of reading what went on in the hearts of those in whom she was interested, felt somehow that their enthusiasm had abated.

"But nothing will happen," she cried, "if we are faithful to each other, stand shoulder to shoulder, and do not whatever happens, betray each other. Why girls, Miss Ravenscroft and the governors can do nothing to us unless they have proof, and they will have no proof if we are all true to each other. Now that's the whole of it for to-night. We'll meet in the quarry on Saturday night, and then we'll make a plan for a great expedition all by ourselves to London in the course of next week."

"Oh dear," said Susy, "doesn't it make your heart throb?"

"And I want to add," continued Kathleen, "that I will frank you. I can't do it always, but I will on this occasion. Aunt Katie O'Flynn has given me some money for that purpose. So you will stick to me, won't you girls?"

"That we will!" came from the mouths of all.

"And I am your captain, am I not girls?"

"Indeed you are. We could die for you," said one or two. "And we'll never betray you or one another."



CHAPTER XXII.

RUTH'S HARD CHOICE: SHE CONSULTS HER GRANDFATHER.

The next morning Cassandra Weldon was much surprised, on arriving at the school, to receive a message asking her to step into Miss Ravenscroft's special sanctum. She went there at once, wondering if the head-mistress wanted to give her particular instructions with regard to the great scholarship examination which would take place at the end of the term. Cassandra was remarkable for her calm and somewhat stately bearing; she was the sort of girl who never gave herself away. She was admired rather than passionately loved by her companions. No one could help giving her a most sincere respect. But one or two adored her, and amongst these was Florence Archer, a handsome, bright-faced, original sort of girl who was in the same form as Cassandra.

"Be sure you come and tell me afterwards what it all means, Cassie," said Florence, touching her friend affectionately on the shoulder.

Cassandra nodded. She did not suppose the matter was of special import. The rest of the girls proceeded to their different classes, and Cassandra found herself in Miss Ravenscroft's presence. Now to Kathleen the fact of being interviewed by Miss Ravenscroft only caused a sense of annoyance, and unwonted irritation; Ruth was surprised, partly delighted and partly afraid; but Cassandra, whose father had been a teacher, and who lived all her life in the scholastic world, considered it an honor almost too great for words that she should be specially interviewed by so great a person as Miss Ravenscroft. She made, therefore, a most respectful curtsy, and stood modestly before the head-mistress.

"Sit down, dear," said Miss Ravenscroft kindly. "I have sent for you, Cassandra, neither to reprove nor to give you ordinary counsel. I have sent for you to consult you, my dear child."

"You are very good," said Cassandra, flushing all over her delicate face; "and I am sure," she added, "if it is possible for me to help one like you, I should be only too proud."

"That is what I feel; and I think you can help me. We are at present in a very unpleasant position in the school. The unanimity and harmony of this entire large place is in danger, and the foundationers are in extreme peril. You perhaps know to what I allude."

"I could not be in the school without having heard rumors of a sort of insurrection which seems to be spreading a good deal," said Cassandra.

"Of course," said Miss Ravenscroft. "It has been brought to our ears that a society has been formed by an Irish girl of the name of Kathleen O'Hara. She has called it the Wild Irish Girls. There are several members, and she herself is the leader. Now, Cassandra, without going into particulars, it is the firm intention, not only of myself as head-mistress, but also of the governors, to crush this matter in the bud. It is true that the bud is rapidly blossoming into most dangerous flower and fruit, but if we are in time we shall stop all further mischief. Now to do this we must get all particulars. There is one girl who can furnish us will all we want to know, but she dreads, doubtless from conscientious motives, to betray her late companions. I allude to Ruth Craven."

"Poor little Ruth!" said Cassandra. "I thought as much. The child is very unhappy. I take a great—- very great—interest in Ruth, Miss Ravenscroft. She is a most sweet girl; she is a lady placed in a position which a lady should scarcely occupy, but through it all she will never betray the true instincts of her nature."

"I am sure of that. I quite like the child myself," said Miss Ravenscroft; "and your opinion of her, Cassie, confirms my own. She told me, too, that you have been extremely kind to her. I quite expect that is the case. But, my dear, the time has come when Ruth will either have to tell us what she knows or to resign her place in the school."

Cassandra's face looked troubled.

"There are no two opinions on the matter," continued Miss Ravenscroft. "Yesterday a meeting of the governors was convened. They assembled in the committee-room, and I was present. Ruth was sent for and questioned by Miss Mackenzie, our chairwoman. She was asked certain questions, which she absolutely refused to answer. The only thing we could get out of her was that she had been a member of the society but was one no longer."

"She left them because of me," said Cassandra. "She felt she could not be with me and with those who do not approve of the paying girls."

"There you are!" said Miss Ravenscroft. "Think of the monstrous mischief that is going on in our midst. Children like the foundationers, who are received at the school without being expected to pay anything, who get the most admirable education free of all cost, daring to set up their opinion against girls who, without being in any sense their superiors—one doesn't want to imply that for an instant—are yet vastly superior in numbers. The thing must be put a stop to, and with a high hand; and to show you, my dear, what we mean to do, we have presented an ultimatum to Ruth Craven. She will either tell publicly what she knows of the Wild Irish Girls or be publicly expelled."

"Oh, poor Ruth!" said Cassandra.

"We are naturally most anxious that such a painful scene should not take place," said Miss Ravenscroft. "I beg of you, therefore, Cassie, to see her and use your influence to induce her, not from quixotic motives, to ruin herself and injure the other girls of the school."

"I will do what I can. But Ruth is peculiar. She is, with all her sweetness, very obstinate. Still, I faithfully promise to do what I can."

Cassandra left the presence of Miss Ravenscroft and returned to her place in class. Nothing would induce her not to work with her usual diligence, but when on certain occasions she raised her head she saw that Florence Archer was watching her with curiosity and affection, and that Ruth darted quick glances at her and then bent her head, with its curly hair falling over her face, to resume her lessons.

This was a half-holiday, and the classes broke up at twelve o'clock. Cassandra hoped to have a talk with Ruth before she went home, but when she looked round for her little favorite she could not find her anywhere. The foundationers were standing in knots talking eagerly to each other. There was a sort of buzz or whisper going on in their midst. Kathleen O'Hara darted from one group to another, smiled at one set of girls, patted the shoulder of a favorite girl in another group, laughed one time, said an emphatic word to another, and presently disappeared, accompanied by Susy Hopkins.

Alice Tennant was standing by herself; she looked dull and depressed. Cassandra went up to her.

"It there anything the matter, Alice?" she asked.

"Matter!" replied Alice. "Surely you must know that for yourself. Have you not heard what a condition the school is in?"

"I have, of course, heard about the Wild Irish Girls," said Cassandra, lowering her voice. "But surely the fact that there are a few naughty girls in our midst need not upset the whole school?"

"It upsets me, anyhow," said Alice, "for I feel that I have brought it on the school. I could cry. I only wish that mother had never been induced to take Kathleen as a boarder. She is worse than troublesome; she is a girl without principle."

"Oh, I don't think quite so bad as that, dear," said a gay voice at that moment; and turning, Alice saw the piquant and beautiful face of the girl she loathed. "I guessed, of course, that you must be alluding to me," said Kathleen. "I am bad, but I have my own principles—and a good old-fashioned set, worth a great deal."

She nodded impertinently to both the girls, and then reentered the school.

"I left my satchel and came back for it," she said as she vanished from their view.

"Yes," said Alice, "that is just like her—just the sort of thing she would do. She is always daring every one. I do wish some strong influence could be brought to bear on her. There is no doubt she is very clever, and when she likes she can be extremely agreeable."

"She is extremely pretty, you know, and that goes a long way."

"Not with me, thank goodness!" said Alice. "In fact, I almost hate her face. I detest people who are always grinning and smiling and showing themselves off. My opinion is that schoolgirls ought to be modest, and attentive to their books, and not thinking of giving themselves airs. But there! no one agrees with me. Mother and the boys are fairly mad on Kathleen; and as to the servants, there's nothing they wouldn't do for her. Every one combines to spoil her; I don't see that she has the least chance."

Cassandra talked a little longer to Alice, and then prepared to go home. She was disappointed that she had not seen Ruth; but Ruth had promised to be with her quite early in the afternoon. They were both to work for two hours, and afterwards their coach was to arrive. Ruth would spend the entire afternoon at Cassandra's home. On her way back Florence Archer suddenly joined her.

"Now, Cassie," she said, "what is it?"

"Oh, can't you guess for yourself, Flo? It is this. The school has got into trouble, and the governors and Miss Ravenscroft mean to sift the matter to the very bottom. It is pretty bad when all things are considered, for if the girls won't tell they will be expelled—expelled without any hope of returning. And I rather fancy Kathleen is the sort of girl whom no one will betray. It is extremely awkward, and I feel very miserable about it."

"You look it; and yet it isn't your affair. Your place in the school is secure enough."

"What does that matter, Flo, when those you love are in danger?"

"Those you love in danger, Cassie! What do you mean now?"

"I mean just what I say. I am decidedly fond of little Ruth Craven. She is placed in a hard position, but she is so clever and so pretty that she could do anything. Well, I am certain that Ruth won't betray her companions."

"I forgot," said Florence, "that she did belong to that silly society. What a little goose she was!"

"She was led into it by Kathleen. They all were for that matter. Kathleen seems to have a singular power over them."

"But Ruth doesn't belong to it now."

"No. I can't in justice to her explain any further, Florence. I will tell you all I can, of course; but may I say good-bye now, for I have a good deal to do before dinner?"

"You are not half as friendly as you used to be," said Florence, pouting. "You hardly ever ask me to your house, and when I ask you to mine you always have an excuse ready. It is somewhat hard on me that Ruth Craven should have come between us."

"But she hasn't. I wish that you would believe that she hasn't. I have to give her a sort of protecting love; but you and I, Flo, are equal in our love. Surely we can afford to be kind to a little girl who has not our advantages."

"Oh, if you put it in that way, I don't mind a bit," said Florence cheerfully. "Well, good-bye for the present. We'll meet to-morrow morning."

The girls parted, and Florence went on her way home.

Meanwhile Ruth had also gone on her way. She walked slowly. Once or twice she stopped. Once when in a somewhat narrow and lonely path she paused and looked up at the sky, and then down at the ground beneath her feet. Once she uttered a short, expressive sort of sigh; and once she said half-aloud:

"I do hope God will help me. I do want to do just what is right."

Thus, lagging as she walked, she by slow degrees reached her home. Mrs. Craven happened to be out, but old Mr. Craven was seated by the fire. He was feeling rather poorly to-day. He had a large account-book open in front of him, and when Ruth entered he laid down the pen with which he had been summing up his figures.

"I can't make them quite right," he said slowly.

"Why, grandfather, what is the matter?" said Ruth in some surprise.

The old man's large clear blue eyes were fixed on the child.

"I had a curious feeling this morning," he said; "but I know now it was only a dream. I thought I was back in the shop again. I was up, my dear; I had taken a bit of a walk, and I came in and sat down by the fire. It came over me all of a sudden how lazy I was, and how wrong to neglect the shop and not give your grandmother a bit of help with the customers; and so strong was the notion over me that I unlocked the old bureau and took out the account-books. I said to myself I can at least square everything up for her, and that will help her as much as anything. She was always a rare one to see a good balance at the end of the week. If she had a good balance and all things nicely squared up, we'd have a nice little joint for Sunday; and she'd put on her little bonnet and best mantle, and we'd go for a walk in the country arm-in-arm, just like the Darby and Joan we were, Ruthie, and which we are. But if the balance didn't come out on the right side she'd stay at home. She'd never cry or despair; that wasn't her way, bless you! She'd say, 'We must think of some way of saving, John, or we must do a bit more selling of the stock.' She was a rare one to contrive."

Ruth had heard this story of her grandmother many and many a time before, but her grandfather's look frightened her. She went up to him and closed the big account-book.

"You have balanced things a long time ago," she said. "Don't fret now. May I put the account-book aside?"

"You may, darling; you may. But the accounts ain't balanced, Ruthie; we are on the wrong side of the ledger, my love—on the wrong side of the ledger."

Ruth said nothing more. She put the book back into the drawer and locked it. Then she sat down by her grandfather's side.

"Would you rather I got you your dinner," she said, "or would you rather I talked to you for a little?"

"I'd a sight rather my little Ruth sat near me and let me place my hand on her hair. Your hair is jet-black, Ruthie—almost blue-black. So was your father's hair, my child. He was a very handsome boy. I never looked for it that he would die in the foreign parts and leave you to your grandmother and me. But you have been a rare blessing to us—a rare blessing."

"Sometimes I think," said Ruth slowly, "that I have been a great care. It must have cost you a great deal to feed and clothe me."

"No, no, child; far from that. You were always the bit of good luck—on the right side of the balance—always, always."

Ruth took the old man's hand and pressed it between both her own. Presently she rubbed her cheeks softly against it.

"Grandfather," she said, "are you all right now—quite wide awake, I mean? Has the dream about the shop and the wrong accounts passed out of your head?"

"Why, yes, darling; of course it was only a dream."

"Then I'd like to ask you something."

"Ask away, my little Ruth. You are such a busy little maid now, what with your school, and what with your lessons, and what with that big scholarship—sixty pounds a year. Ah! we shall have a fine right side of the ledger when little Ruth has brought home sixty pounds a year."

Ruth stifled a groan.

"I am rather puzzled," she said, "and I want to put a question to you."

"Yes, my darling; I am prepared to listen."

"I know a girl," said Ruth after a pause—she thought that she would tell her story that way—"I know a girl at school, and she has been kindly treated. She is one of the foundation girls, but some of the girls who are not foundationers have singled her out and been specially good to her."

"Eh, eh! Well, that's good of them," said old Mr. Craven.

"They have been very good to her; but that Irish girl whom I told you about, she started a society—no special harm in itself—at least it didn't seem harm to the girl I have been telling you about, and she joined it. She joined it for a bit, and she liked it—that is, on the whole—but afterwards a girl who had not joined the society and did not belong to the foundationers, one whom I am sorry to say the foundationers did not care for at all, offered a great kindness to this girl—a very special and tremendous kindness—and the girl in her own mind decided that she would be doing wrong not to accept it. So she did accept it, and—Are you listening, grandfather?"

"Indeed I am, little maid. Go on, my child; I'm attending to every word."

"The girl decided to accept the kindness from the paying girl, and to do that she had to give up the society. She was sorry to give it up, but it seemed to her that it was the only right and honorable thing to do. She could not belong to both—to one side of the school and to the other; she must take her stand with one or the other; so she decided for her own special benefit to take her stand with the paying girls."

"On the whole, perhaps, she was right," said the old man. "Can't say unless I know everything; but on the whole, perhaps, she was right."

"I think she was, grandfather," said Ruth slowly. "But now please listen. The head-mistress at the school and the governors have found out about the secret society. They have found out that it exists, but they don't know much more. They know, however, that its influence is bad in the school, and they are determined to crush it out. In order to do this they must get full particulars. They must get the name of the leader. I am afraid that they know the name of the leader, but they must also get the names of her companions—all the names—and as much as possible of the rules of the society. Now the only girl not a member of the society who can give those particulars is the girl I have been talking about; for, of course, she knows, as she belonged to it at one time although she has now left it. And the governors and the head-mistress sent for this girl and asked her to betray her companions—those girls to whom she had sworn fealty—and the girl refused."

"Quite right," said old Mr. Craven.

The color rushed into Ruth's cheeks. She clasped her grandfather's hand firmly.

"She thought it right, but something dreadful is going to happen. It will be terribly hard for the girl if she sticks to her resolve, for the governors of the school have presented what they call an ultimatum to her; they have given her from now till Saturday to make up her mind, and if she refuses on Saturday grandfather, she is to be expelled publicly. Her sentence will be proclaimed in the presence of all the school, and she will be watched walking out of the schoolroom and out of the big gates, which will close behind her for ever, and all her chance goes—all her golden prospects. Nevertheless, grandfather, speaking to me from your own heart, ought the girl to betray her companions?"

"Upon my word!" said the old man, who was intensely moved by Ruth's story. It did not occur to him for one moment that the little girl was talking about herself. "I tell you what, Ruth," he said; "I must think over it. I pity that poor girl. I don't think the governors ought to put any girl in such a position."

"They are sorry, but they say they must. They must get at the truth; they must crush out the insurrection."

"But it is turning king's evidence," said the old man. "I don't see how a girl is to be expected to betray her companions."

"That is the position, grandfather. And now I think I will get you your dinner."

Ruth went out of the room into the little kitchen. For a minute she pressed her hands against her face.

"Grandfather agrees with me," she said to herself. "I am glad I consulted him. No one ever had a clearer head for business or for right and wrong than grandfather when he is at his best. He was at his best just now. I feel stronger. I won't betray Kathleen O'Hara."



CHAPTER XXIII.

RUTH WILL NOT BETRAY KATHLEEN.

Soon after dinner Ruth walked over to Cassandra's house. Cassandra was so anxious to see her, so determined to use her influence on what she considered the scale of right, that she was waiting for Ruth at the little gate.

"Ah! here you are," she said. "I am so glad to see you. Mother has gone out for the day; we will have a whole delightful afternoon to ourselves. We can do some good work."

"Let us," said Ruth.

She felt feverish and excited. As a rule she was very calm, but now her heart beat too fast. She was thinking of her grandfather, and of what it would mean to him and the old grandmother when she came back on Saturday a disgraced girl, expelled from her high estate, her golden chance snatched from her. Nevertheless she had always been pretty firm, and pretty well resolved to do what she thought right. She was firmer now, and quite resolved.

"Shall we go in at once and set to work?" she said. "I want to read that bit of Tasso over again before Miss Renshaw comes."

"No, no," said Cassandra. "You are always in such a fidget to learn, Ruth. Come into the garden; I want to talk to you."

Ruth looked full round at her companion. She saw something in Cassandra's eye which made her slightly shiver. Then she said:

"Very well."

Cassandra opened the little gate which led into the tiny fruit and vegetable garden. There was a narrow path, bordered on each side with a box-hedge, down which the girls walked. Presently Cassandra slipped her arm round Ruth's waist.

"You knew, of course," she said, "how much I love you."

"You are awfully good to me, Cassie."

"As a rule I am not fond of what schoolgirls call falling in love," continued Cassandra; "but I love you. There is nothing I wouldn't do for you."

"Thank you," said Ruth again.

She wondered what Cassandra would say on Saturday. Surely after Saturday no girl who belonged to the Great Shirley School would like to speak to her.

"Now I want to tell you something," continued Cassandra. "I saw Miss Ravenscroft this morning. She told me about you and your position with the governors."

"Oh, need we talk of that?" said Ruth coloring, stopping in her walk, and turning to face Cassandra.

"Why shouldn't we? I wish you would tell me everything. Why are you going to be so obstinate? But of course you won't be. You will—you must—change your mind. She told me—Miss Ravenscroft did—because she likes you, Ruth, and she would be so terribly sorry if you got into trouble over this matter. She said you are certain to get into most serious, terrible trouble, for the governors will on no account depart from their firm resolve to expel you from the school. You will have defied their authority, and that is what they cannot permit. It is on that ground they will expel you, but it is strong enough; no one can suppose for a moment that they are acting with injustice."

"I am glad it is on that ground," said Ruth softly.

"Then of course you will be wise, Ruth. It is silly and quixotic, for the sake of a girl like Kathleen O'Hara, to ruin all your own prospects."

"It is scarcely that—and yet it is that," said Ruth slowly. "It is because I will not be a traitor," she added, lowering her voice, then flinging up her head and gazing proudly before her.

"I knew you were quixotic. I knew that was at the bottom of it," said Cassandra. "But you will think it over, Ruth. It would be too terrible to see you denounced in the presence of the whole school, and sent out of the school for ever. Think of losing your scholarship. Think of the help you want to give your grandparents. Think of your own future."

"I think of them all," said Ruth; "but I also think of what father would have said if he were alive. You see Cassandra, before all things he was a gentleman."

Cassandra started. She looked full at Ruth.

"Is that a slap at me?" she asked.

"No; I did not mean it as a slap at you or anybody. I only see how the matter looks to me, and how it would have looked to father, and how it looks to grandfather. There are some people born that way; I think, after a fashion, I am one of them. There are others who would look at the thing from a different point of view, but I don't think I envy those others. Shall we go in now and set to work?"

"You are an extraordinary girl," said Cassandra. "I really don't know whether I love you or hate you most for being such a little goose. Well, Ruth, if that is your mind, I don't know why you care to go in to work, for it will be all over in a day or two—all over—and your fate sealed."

"Nevertheless I should like to read that piece of Tasso, and do my work with Miss Renshaw. Shall we go in?" said Ruth.

Cassandra somehow did not dare to say any more. Afterwards, when Ruth had returned to her own home, Cassandra sat with her head in her hands for the best part of an hour. Her mother asked her what ailed her.

"I have a headache," she replied. "I was with a girl to-day who is fifty times too good for me."

"What nonsense you are talking, Cassandra! There are few people good enough for you."

"To think of her gives me a headache," continued Cassandra. "If you don't mind, mother, I will go to bed now."

Meanwhile things were moving rather rapidly in another direction. Kathleen O'Hara, walking home that day in the company of Susy Hopkins, eagerly questioned that young lady.

"How prim and proper every one looked in the school to-day!" she said. "What is wrong?"

"There is plenty wrong," said Susy. "I tell you what it is, Kathleen, I feel rather frightened. I suppose it will come to our all being expelled."

"Oh, not a bit of it," said Kathleen.

"Well, it looks rather like it," said Susy. "Do you know what they are doing?"

"What?"

"They are bringing pressure to bear upon Ruth Craven. The governors convened a special meeting yesterday; they had Ruth before them, and then tried by every means in their power to get her to tell. You see, she is in the position of the person who knows everything. She belonged to us for a time, and now she doesn't belong to us."

"Well?" said Kathleen, feeling interested and a little startled.

"She wouldn't tell."

"Of course she wouldn't. She is a brick. The Ruth Cravens of the world are not traitors," said Kathleen. "And so that is what the governors are doing—horrid, sneaky, disagreeable things! But they are not going to subdue me, so they needn't think it. I tell you what it is, Susy. Why should we put off till next week our picnic to town? Can't we have it this week?"

"I wish we could," said Susy. "It would be glorious," she continued. "I do think somehow, Kathleen, that they will catch us in the long run. It might be dangerous to put off our glorious time till next week."

"It might? It certainly would," said Kathleen. "We will go to-morrow evening. School is always over at four. We can meet at the railway station between five and six, and go off all by ourselves to—But where shall we go when we get to town?"

"Couldn't we go to a theatre—to the pit at one of the theatres?"

"If only Aunt Katie O'Flynn was with us it would be as right as right," said Kathleen; "but dare we go alone?"

"I am sure we dare. I shouldn't be frightened. I think some of the girls know exactly how to manage."

"Well, I tell you what. You know most of the names of the members. Go round to-day and see as many as you can. Tell them that I am game for a real bit of fun, and that I will stand treat. We will go to town by the quarter-to-six train to-morrow evening. We will have some refreshments at a restaurant, and then we will go to the pit of one of the theatres. It will be a lark. There will be about forty of us altogether."

"We are sure to be found out. It is too risky; and yet I think we'll do it," said Susy. "Oh, there never was such a lark!"

"Nothing could happen to forty of us," said Kathleen. "I am going to do it just to defy them. How dare they try to make dear little Ruth betray us? But she won't. I am certain she won't."

Susy talked a little longer to Kathleen, and finally agreed to take her message to as many of the Wild Irish Girls as she could possibly reach.

"They will all hear of it safe enough," said Susy. "The whole forty of us will meet you at the station to-morrow night. Oh dear! of course it is wrong."

"It is magnificently wrong; that is the glorious part of it," said Kathleen. "Oh dear! I feel almost as jolly as though I were in old Ireland again."

She laughed merrily, parted from Susy, and ran all the rest of the way home.



CHAPTER XXIV.

KATHLEEN AND GRANDFATHER CRAVEN.

Friday was emphatically a summer's day in winter. The sky was cloudless; the few leaves that still remained on the trees looked brilliant in their autumn coloring. The ground was crisp under foot; the air was soft, gentle, and pleasant. Girls, like all other creatures, are susceptible to weather; they do their best work and have their best feelings aroused when the sun shines and the day looks cheerful. The sunshiny weather puts heart into them. But it is sad to relate that when a girl is bent on mischief she is even more mischievous, more daring, more defiant when the sun shines and the earth looks gay.

Kathleen awoke on the special morning after a night of wild dreams. She raised herself on her elbow and looked across at Alice.

"What a lovely day! Why, I see sunshine quite plainly from where I am lying. Wake up, won't you, Alice?" she said.

"How tiresome of you to rouse me!" said Alice, opening her eyes and looking crossly at Kathleen.

Kathleen smiled back at her. Her face was rosy. Her hair was tossed in wild confusion about her head and shoulders; it tumbled also over her forehead, and made her eyes look more dancing and mischievous than ever beneath its heavy shadow.

"I wonder—" said Kathleen softly.

If she had spoken in a loud voice Alice would have taken no notice, but there was something pathetic and beautiful in her tone, and Alice raised herself and looked at her.

"I wonder," she said "why you hate me so much?'

"Fudge!" said Alice.

"But Alice, it isn't fudge. Why should I have made myself so terribly obnoxious to you? The others are fond of me; they don't think me perfect—and indeed I don't want them to—but they love me for those qualities in me which are worthy of love."

"How you chatter!" said Alice. "I have hitherto failed to perceive the qualities in you that are worthy of love. It wants another quarter of an hour before our hot water is brought in. Do you greatly object to my sleeping during that time?"

"No, cross patch," said Kathleen, turning angrily on her pillow. "You may sleep till doomsday as far as I am concerned."

"Polite," muttered Alice.

She shut her eyes, folded her arms, and prepared for further slumber; but somehow Kathleen had effectually aroused her. She could not get the radiant face out of her head, nor the words, a little sad in their meaning, out of her ears. She looked up as though moved to say something.

"As you have asked me a question, I will give you an answer. I know a way in which you can secure my good opinion."

"Really!" said Kathleen, who was too angry now to be properly polite. "And what may that way be?"

"Why, this: if you will tell the truth about your horrible society, and spare dear little Ruth Craven, and make Cassandra Weldon happy."

"I don't care twopence about your tiresome Cassandra; but little Ruth—what ails her?"

"The governors are going to insist upon her telling what she knows."

"But she won't," said Kathleen, laughing merrily. "She is too much of a brick."

"Then she'll be expelled."

"What nonsense!"

"You wait and see. You don't know the Great Shirley School as well as I do. However, I have spoken; I have nothing more to say. It is time to get up, after all."

The girls dressed in silence. Alice had long ceased to torment Kathleen about her own side of the room. Provided Alice's side was left in peace, she determined to shut her eyes to untidy wardrobes, to the chest of drawers full to bursting, to a boot kicked off here and a shoe disporting itself there, to ribbons and laces and handkerchiefs and scarves and blouses scattered on the bed, and even on the floor. Alice had learnt to put up with these things; she turned her back on them, so to speak.

The two girls ran downstairs together. Just for a moment Kathleen had felt frightened at Alice's words, but then she cast them from her mind. It was quite, quite impossible to suppose that anything so monstrously unfair as that a little girl should be expelled from the school could happen. Ruth, too, of all the girls—Ruth who was absolutely goodness itself. So Kathleen ate her breakfast with appetite, remarked on the brightness of the day to Mrs. Tennant and the boys, and then with Alice started off to school with her satchel of books slung over her shoulder, her gay, pretty dress making her look a most remarkable figure amongst all the girls who were going towards the great school, and her saucy bright face attracting attention on all sides. There was nothing about Kathleen to indicate that that evening she meant to steal from home and, in company with forty companions, go to London. She was able to keep her own counsel, and this last daring scheme was locked tightly up in her heart. On her way to school she met Ruth.

"There is Ruth," she said, turning to Alice. "Oh! and there's Susy in the distance. I want to speak to them both. You can go on, of course, Alice; I will follow presently."

"We are rather late as it is," said Alice. "In addition to your misdemeanors, I should advise you not to be late for prayers just at present."

"Thanks so much!" said Kathleen in a sarcastic tone.

She left Alice and ran towards Ruth.

"Why, Ruth," she said, "you do look pale."

"Oh, I am all right," said Ruth, brightening at the sight of Kathleen.

"Then you don't look it. Ruth, is it true that they want you to tell?"

"They want me to, Kathleen," said Ruth; "but I am not going to. You can rest quite satisfied on that point."

"You are a splendid, darling brick," said Kathleen, "and I love you to distraction. Dear Ruth, what can I do for you?"

"Give up the society as fast as you can," said Ruth.

"What? And yet you won't tell!"

"It's because it's dishonorable to tell," said Ruth. "Don't keep me now, Kathleen; I want to get into school in good time. Grandfather is not well, and I must hurry back to him."

"Your nice white-haired grandfather that you have talked to me about?"

"He was ill all night. He talked about you a little. Do you know, Kathleen, I think he'd like to see you. Would you greatly mind coming back with me after school, just to see him for a minute? I have told him so much about you, and I have told granny too, and they both picture you somewhat as you are. Do you think you could come, just to give them both pleasure?"

"Come?" said Kathleen gaily. "Why, of course I'll come, heart of my life. I'd do anything on earth to please you. I'll join you after school, and well go straight away. It doesn't matter a bit about my being late for dinner at the Tennants'. Ah! there's Susy. I want to have a word with her."

Kathleen pushed past Ruth and ran up to Susy. Susy was looking intensely agitated: there were vivid spots of color on her cheeks, and her eyes were as bright as stars.

"I have managed everything," she said in a whisper. "It's all right; it's splendidly right. We are all coming; not one of us will stay behind. We know what it means, of course."

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