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The Rebel of the School
by Mrs. L. T. Meade
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"You look very mysterious," said Kathleen. "I wonder why you talk like that. What does it mean, in your opinion?"

"Oh, Kathleen, can't you understand? And one does it sometimes in life. I have read about it in story-books, and there are cases of it in history; you have one great tremendous fling; you do what is wrong; you have a good—a very good—time, and you know it won't last; you know that afterwards will come—the deluge."

"You are a silly!" said Kathleen. "Why, what could happen? Nobody need know; we will be far too careful for that. I can't tell you how splendidly I have planned things. I have got up my headache already, in order to go to my room and thus avoid all suspicion."

"Oh dear!" said Susy. "It doesn't sound right, does it?"

"Right or wrong, it is fun," said Kathleen. "I am going to have it so. I have got the money, and I mean to have a magnificent time. Now don't keep me; I must run into school. It is horrid of them to grudge us our little bit of amusement."

Susy agreed with her friend; indeed, during those days she was nearly lifted off her feet, so excited was she, so charmed, so altogether amazed at Kathleen O'Hara's condescension to her. Before Kathleen arrived at the school Susy was a good little girl, who helped her mother in the shop, and had dreams of going into another shop herself by-and-by. In those days she did not consider herself a lady, nor expect ladies to take any special notice of her. But those dull and stupid days were no more. Gold and sunshine and rich color and marvellous dreams had all come into her life since the arrival of Kathleen at Merrifield. For Kathleen had discrimination; it mattered nothing to her whether a girl paid or did not pay for her lessons, whether she belonged to the despised foundationers or was respected and looked up to by paying girls. Indeed, if anything, Kathleen had a decided leaning towards the foundationers; and she, Kathleen, was a lady—she belonged to what her mother and Aunt Church called the "real quality." "None of your upstarts," Aunt Church had said, "but one who for generations has belonged to the aristocrats; and they are of the kind who are too great in themselves to be proud. They are proud in the right way, but they never look down on folks." Yes, Susy was a happy girl now.

But, after all, was she quite happy? Was she not at this very minute more or less oppressed by a secret fear? Suppose any single individual in Merrifield heard of the midnight picnic—the great, daring, midnight excursion into the heart of London. Susy knew far better than Kathleen what a mad action the girls were about to perpetrate. She knew because she lived with the class who discussed such things very openly. If their frolic was not discovered, all would be well; if it was, it would be ruin—ruin complete and absolute. The ladies of the town would fight shy of her mother's shop. Aunt Church would be very unlikely to get her little almshouse in Ireland, for surely even Kathleen's friends would be very angry with her if they knew. Susy herself would be expelled from the school, and she in her fall would bring down her mother and brother. Yes, terrible would be the consequences if they were discovered. But then, they needn't be. Plucky people were not as a rule brought into trouble of that sort. It only needed a brave heart and a firm foot, and courage which nothing could daunt; and the other girls, the thirty-eight who were to join Kathleen and Susy, would keep them company. Nevertheless Susy was as unhappy as she was happy that day. She was so absorbed in her feelings, and in wondering what would happen during the next twenty-four hours, that she was not attentive at her lessons, and did not notice how the teachers watched her and made remarks. It was very evident to an onlooker that the teachers were particularly alert that morning, and that their gaze was principally fixed upon the foundationers.

No remarks, however, were made. The school came to an end quite in the usual manner. Immediately afterwards Kathleen dashed off to find Ruth. Ruth was waiting for her just outside the gates.

"Here I am," said Kathleen. "Take my arm, won't you, Ruthie? I shall be very glad indeed to be introduced to your grandfather."

Ruth made no answer. Her face was white, but this fact only increased the rare delicacy, the sort of fragrance, which her appearance always presented. Kathleen and Ruth, did they but know it, made a most charming contrast as they walked arm-in-arm across the common; for Ruth belonged more or less to the twilight and the evening star, and Kathleen—her face, her eyes, her voice, her actions—spoke to those who had eyes to see of the morning. Kathleen was all enthusiasm, gay life, valor, daring; Ruth's gentle face and quiet voice gave little indication of the real depth of character which lay beneath.

"This is such a lovely day," said Kathleen, "and somehow I feel so downright happy. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I am right, but I feel happy. I think it is on account of the day."

They had now reached the little path which led up to the cottage. Ruth went first, and Kathleen followed. What a tiny place for her darling favorite to live in! But Kathleen felt she loved her all the better for it.

Ruth softly unlatched the door and peeped in. The front-door opened right into the kitchen, and Mrs. Craven was seated by the fire.

"Hush!" she said, putting her finger to her lips; "he is asleep."

"I have brought Kathleen O'Hara, granny. I thought you'd like to see her, and I thought granddad would like to see her."

"To be sure, child," said Mrs. Craven, bustling up and removing her cooking-apron. "Bring Miss O'Hara in at once. Is she waiting outside? Where are your manners, Ruth?—Ah, Miss O'Hara, I'm right pleased to see you! I am sorry my dear husband is not as well as could be wished; but perhaps if you'd be good enough to sit down for a minute or two, he would wake up before you go."

Kathleen entered, held out her hand, greeted Mrs. Craven with a frank smile, showing a row of pearly teeth, and then sat down near the fire.

"This is cosy," she said. "Aren't you going to give me a little bit of dinner, Mrs. Craven?"

"Oh, my dear young lady, but we live so plain!"

"And so do I when I am at home," said Kathleen. "I do hate messy dishes. I like potatoes better than anything in the world. Often at home I go off with my boy cousins, and we have such a good feed. I think potatoes are better than anything in the world."

"Well, miss, if you'd like a potato it's at your service."

"I should if it is in its jacket."

"What did you say, miss?"

"If the potato is boiled in its jacket. Ah! I see they are. Please let me have one."

Kathleen did not wait for Mrs. Craven's reply. She herself fetched a plate and the salt-cellar from the dresser, and putting these on the table, helped herself to a potato from the pot.

"Now," she said, "this is good. I can fancy I am back in old Ireland."

Mrs. Craven began to laugh.

"Ruth, do have a potato with me," said Kathleen; "they are first-rate when you don't put a knife or fork near them."

But Ruth had no inclination for potatoes eaten in the Irish way.

"I will go in and see how grandfather is, granny," she said, and she disappeared into the little parlor.

"You know," said Kathleen, helping herself to a second potato, and fixing her eyes on Mrs. Craven's face—"you know how fond I am of Ruth."

"Indeed, my dear young lady, she has been telling me about you; and I am glad you notice her, dear little girl!"

"But it is not only I," said Kathleen; "every one in the school likes her. She could be the primest favorite with every one if she only chose. She is so sweetly pretty, too, and such a lady."

"Well, dear, her mother was a real lady; and her father was educated by my dear husband, and was in the army."

"It doesn't matter if her father was a duke and her mother a dairymaid," said Kathleen with emphasis. "She is just a lady because she is."

Before she could add another word Ruth came in.

"Do come, Kathleen," she said. "He is much better after his sleep. I told him you were here, and he would like to see you."

"He has been bothered like anything about those accounts," said Mrs. Craven. "I can't make out what has put it into his head. Years ago it was an old story with him that something had gone wrong with the books; but, dear hearts! he had forgotten all about it for a weary long while. Now within the last week he has been at it again, just as if 'twas yesterday."

"He has an old account-book on the table now, granny," said Ruth.

"Well," said Mrs. Craven, "we must humor him.—Don't you take any notice, Miss O'Hara; don't contradict him, I mean."

Kathleen nodded. There was a look on Ruth's face which made her feel no longer interested in the Irish potatoes. She slipped her hand inside her friend's, and they went into the parlor. Mr. Craven was seated by the fire. His white locks fell about his shoulders; there was a faint touch of pink on each of his sallow cheeks, and his blue eyes were bright.

"Ah!" he said, raising his face when he saw Kathleen. "And is this the little lady—the dear little lady—- from over the seas, from the heart of Ireland itself? I was once in Ireland. I spent a month in Dublin, and I bought the very best paper for packing my sugars and teas in that I ever came across. Ah! I had a good time. We used to sit in Phoenix Park. I liked Ireland, and I could welcome any Irish maiden.—Give me your hand, missy; I am proud to see you."

Kathleen gave her hand. She came up close to the old man and said:

"Do you know, you have a look of my own old grandfather. He is dead and in his grave; but he had white, white hair like yours. Do you mind if I put my hand on your hair and stroke it just because of grandfather?"

"Ah, my dear, you may do what you like," said the old man. "And you have been good to my little lass—my little woman here. She has told me you have been good to her."

"She has been very good to me. I am glad to see you, Mr. Craven. I hope when you get strong again you will come over and stay with father and mother and me at Carrigrohane Castle."

"No, no, my love. There was a time when I'd have liked it well, but not now. You see, dear—" his voice faltered and his eyes grew anxious—"I must mind the shop. When a man doesn't attend to his own business, accounts go wrong. Now there was quite a deficiency last week—the wrong side of the ledger. It was really terrible. I think of it at night, and when I wake first thing in the morning I remember it. I must get to my accounts, little miss, but I am right glad to see you."

Kathleen felt a lump in her throat. Ruth, with her bright eyes fixed on her grandfather, stood close by.

"But there!" said the old man hastily. "It's splendid for Ruth. She's got into that school, and she's trying for a scholarship. I know what Ruth tries for she will get, for her brain is of that fine quality that could not brook defeat, and her mind is of that high order that it must adjust itself to true learning. I was a bit of a scholar when I was young, although I made my money in grocery. Well, well! Ruth is all right. Even if the old man can't square up the ledger, Ruth is as right as right can be. Thank you, Miss—I can't remember your name—- but thank you, little Irish miss, for coming to see me; and good-bye."

Kathleen found herself outside the room. Mrs. Craven was not in the kitchen. Ruth and Kathleen went into the garden.

"How can you stand it?" said Kathleen. "Doesn't it break your heart to see him?"

"Oh no," said Ruth. "You see, I am accustomed to him. He talks like that. I am sorry he is so bothered about the accounts, but perhaps that phase will pass."

"He is so pleased about you and the scholarship."

"Yes," said Ruth. She turned pale. "Whatever happens," she added, "he must never know."

"What do you mean about whatever happens?"

"He must never know if I do not get it. Good-bye now, Kathleen. I am glad you have seen grandfather and granny. I must go back to granny now. She is very tired; she gets so little rest at night."

Kathleen went slowly home. The meal was over at the Tennants', but somehow her couple of potatoes had satisfied her. She felt much more sober than she had done in the morning; she was inclined to think, to consider her ways. She felt an uncomfortable sensation of being haunted by the faces of Ruth and the old man.

"But of course Ruth will get her scholarship," she said to herself. "Of course—of course her grandfather is right. Her brain is of the right order, and her mind is attuned to learning. How nicely he spoke, and how beautiful he looked—how like my dear old grandfather who has been with God for so many years now."

There came a loud rat-tat at the front-door. David went out and brought in a telegram. It was addressed to Kathleen. She opened it in some surprise, and read the contents slowly. There was amazement on her face; a feeling of consternation stole into her heart. The telegram, not a long one, was from her father:

"Have just seen Aunt Katie O'Flynn. Do not approve of your society. Squash the whole thing at once, or expect my serious displeasure.—O'HARA."

"Is there an answer?" asked David.

"No," said Kathleen. "I mean yes. Yes, I suppose so. Can I have a form? Mrs. Tennant, can I have a telegraph form?"

Mrs. Tennant began to hunt about for one. Telegrams were by no means common things at the Tennants' house. David suggested that the messenger boy might have one. This turned out to be the case. Kathleen began to write, but she suddenly changed her mind.

"No, no; there is no answer," she said. "I can write by post."

She crushed the telegram up and thrust it into her pocket. After this she went out for a little; she was too restless to stay still. The fascination of the coming sport grew greater as obstacles appeared in the way of its realization. Whatever her father might say, she could not desert the girls who belonged to her society now.

"What can have ailed Aunt Katie to betray me in such a fashion?" she thought.

She came home in time for tea; but, to her amazement she found another telegram waiting for her. This was from Dublin, from Aunt Katie herself:

"Have told your father. He received letter from school-mistress this morning. Very angry about Wild Irish Girls. You must give the whole thing up or you will incur his serious displeasure. Don't be a goose; nip the thing in the bud immediately.—AUNT KATIE."

"But indeed I won't," thought Kathleen. "Whatever happens, we will have our fun to-night. Whatever happens, neither father nor Aunt Katie, nor Ruth Craven can keep me back."



CHAPTER XXV.

KATHLEEN HAS A GOOD TIME IN LONDON.

So the head-mistress had written; she had dared to write to Kathleen's father. What she said to him was a matter of no moment; she had written, and to complain of her!

"She thinks, I suppose," said Kathleen, "that she'll subdue me by these means. She wants to bring, not the long arm of the law, but father's arm right across the sea to stop me. No, no, daddy, your Kathleen will be your Kathleen to the end—always loving, always daring, always true, but always rebellious; the best and the worst. I am going to-night, and I am going all the more surely because you wired to me not to go, and because they are daring to bully dear little Ruth Craven. And after I have had my fling I will come back in good time. No fear; nothing will go wrong. Your Kathleen wouldn't hurt a fly, much less your heart. But I mean to have my fun to-night."

Kathleen quite sobered down as these thoughts came to her. It was now getting dusk. The girls were to meet at the station at half-past five. They were to go in quite quietly by twos and twos; each couple of girls was to go to the booking-office and take their tickets, and walk away just as though nothing special had happened. They were on no account to collect in a mass. They were not even to take any notice of each other until they were off. Once the train was in motion all would be safe; they might meet then and talk and be merry to their hearts' content. Oh, it was a good, good time they were about to have!

This arrangement about meeting one another had been suggested by Kate Rourke, who knew a good deal about theatres, and who also knew how dangerous it would be for so many girls to be seen at the station together; but dressed quietly, and just dropping in by couples, nobody would remark them.

"And then we must go straight to the theatre," she said, "and stand outside the pit, and take our chance; but we will have time enough for that if we leave Merrifield by the quarter-to-six train."

Kathleen noticed that evening that Alice watched her as she moved about the room; that Alice occasionally lifted her eyes and glanced at her when she sat down to read; and when she approached the tea-table and helped herself to tea and bread-and-butter and jam, Alice also kept up that gentle sort of espionage. It annoyed Kathleen; she found herself watching for it. She found herself getting red and annoyed when the calm, steadfast gaze of Alice's brown eyes was fixed on her face. Finally she said:

"What are you doing? Why do you stare at me?"

"Sorry," replied Alice. She bent over her book, and did not glance again at Kathleen.

By-and-by Kathleen went upstairs. She went to their mutual room, and turned the key in the lock.

"I must get out of the window," she said to herself. "I can easily do it; it is but to swing on to that thick cord of ivy and I shall reach the ground without the slightest trouble. The back-gate that leads into the garden is never locked, and the window I mean to emerge from looks into the garden. I shall go off without anybody's noticing me."

Kathleen had to take a great deal of money with her. If there were forty girls, their tickets would cost a good deal. It is true they were to buy their own in the first instance, but Kathleen was to return them the money in the train. Then the omnibuses they were to go on, the seats at the theatre, their supper of some sort must be paid for by the head of the society.

"I promised to frank them, and I must frank them," thought the girl.

She slipped some sovereigns into her purse, tucked it for safety into the bosom of her dress, and then put on her hat and jacket. Some instinct told the wild, ignorant child to dress quietly. She put on her plainest hat and a little reefer coat which looked neat and substantial. She was just drawing a pair of gloves on her hands when Alice was heard turning the handle of the door.

"Let me in at once, Kathleen," she cried.

Kathleen did not reply at all for a moment; then she said in a sleepy, smothered sort of voice which seemed to proceed from the bed:

"I have a splitting headache; don't disturb me."

"Very sorry," answered Alice, "but I really must come in."

Kathleen made no answer. After a long pause, during which Alice once or twice felt the handle of the door again, the sound of her retreating footsteps was heard.

"Now is my time," thought Kathleen.

To tell the truth, Alice was not at all taken in by Kathleen's headache.

"She is very clever," thought that young lady, "but she has tried that dodge on so often before that I am not going to be deceived by it now."

Accordingly she went into her mother's room and stood by the window. Now the window of Mrs. Tennant's bedroom looked also into the garden, and was really parallel with the window by which Kathleen meant to escape. There was an interval of silence, and then Alice had her reward! for the window of their mutual bedroom was flung wide open, and Kathleen, neatly dressed, appeared on the window-sill. She looked around her for a minute. Alice caught a glimpse of her bright face by the light of the moon, which was already getting up in the sky. The next minute Kathleen caught firm hold of the arm of old ivy and let herself down deftly and quickly to the ground. The action was done so neatly, and in fact so beautifully, that Alice in spite of herself felt inclined to cry "Bravo!" She knew that if she were to trust herself to that ivy she would probably fall to the bottom and get, if not really killed, at least half so. But Kathleen stood serenely on the ground, and glanced up at the window from which she had let herself down. Just at that moment Alice rushed into their bedroom. Kathleen had shut the window behind her before she trusted herself to the ivy; she had also unlocked the door. In a moment Alice had put on her hat and jacket, had rushed downstairs, opened the hall door, and was following Kathleen across the common. Now, quite the nearest way to the railway station was across the common. Kathleen walked fast.

"Kathleen, Kathleen!" cried Alice.

Kathleen looked behind her. She saw Alice, and took to her heels.

"No, no, Kathleen; I will follow you until I drop. You must let me come up with you."

But Kathleen made no answer. If she could do anything well, she could run in a race. Her swift feet scarcely touched the ground. She ran and ran. How soon would Alice get tired? She did not dare to go to the railway station as long as she was following. And the time to catch the train was very short. At the other side of the common was a long, narrow, winding passage which, after a quarter of a mile of tortuous turning, led right up a back-way to the great terminus. Kathleen had given herself exactly the right length of time. Had nothing happened to hinder her, she would have been on the platform three minutes before the train came in. For reasons of her own she did not wish to be long there. She had crossed the common when she looked behind her; Alice was still running, but she was also in the distance.

"If I could only double, hide for a minute, and make her give up the chase, all would be well," thought the mischievous Irish girl.

There was a great tree, which cast a huge shadow, just before the winding passage was reached. Kathleen darted towards it. In an instant she had climbed up and was seated securely in one of its lower branches.

"Now, if only she will be quick, she will run past me into the passage. She will never get to the end in time. I shall slip down and go the long way. I know it is a good bit farther, but she is not in it with me as far as running is concerned," was Kathleen's thought.

Alice came up as far as the tree; she paused a minute and looked around her. Kathleen in the gray darkness looked down at her. Kathleen's face was completely in the shadow, but the light fell full on Alice's, and her face, white and anxious, almost made the other girl laugh.

"If the situation wasn't quite so tremendous I could enjoy this," she thought.

Presently Alice ran down the passage. Kathleen waited until her footsteps had died away, and then she descended from the oak-tree. She flew as fast as she could the long way to the railway station.

"Alice can't think that I want to go by train," thought Kathleen.

Now she was truly a very swift runner, but as she was running to-night, whom should she meet but Mrs. Hopkins. Mrs. Hopkins was on her way home after doing a little shopping on her own account. She saw Kathleen, observed her panting for breath, and stood directly in her path.

"Miss O'Hara," she said, "can I speak to you for a moment? It is something very particular indeed. I am very thankful I happened to meet you."

"I will see you to-morrow—to-morrow," panted Kathleen. "I am in a great hurry. To-morrow, Mrs. Hopkins."

"No, Miss O'Hara; it ought to be to-night. You are going to the railway station, aren't you, miss?"

Kathleen felt inclined to knock that interfering woman down. She darted to one side of the road.

"Oh, let me pass!" she said. She was shaking with her quick run. She knew the moments were flying; already she heard the bell at the station ring. The train for London was signaled; she had not an instant to lose.

"Don't—don't keep me," she said.

"But you mustn't go, miss; it would be madness—wicked. You musn't; you daren't."

Kathleen pushed past her. This time Mrs. Hopkins had no power to stop her. She rushed on, reached the station, flew up the steps, and found herself on the platform just as the train was coming in.

Instead of the forty girls she expected to meet, she saw not more than about half-a-dozen. They all crowded up to her at once.

"I have got your ticket for you," said Susy. "I was just able to screw out the money to get one for you and myself. Here's the train; let us hop in at once."

"But where are all the others—the forty?" gasped Kathleen.

"They funked it, almost all of them. Oh! come along; here's the train."

The great train thundered into the station. The girls ran wildly looking for a third-class carriage. At last they found one and tumbled into it; the door was slammed, and they were off. Kathleen wondered—she was not sure, but she wondered—if she really did see, or if it was only a dream, a pair of brown eyes looking at her from the station, and the severe young figure and shocked face of Alice Tennant.

"It must have been a dream; she could not have guessed that I was going to the station. What a good thing she didn't meet Mrs. Hopkins!" thought Kathleen. Then she turned to her companions—to the six girls who had decided to brave all the terrors of their expedition. They were Susy Hopkins, Kate Rourke, Clara Sawyer, Rosy Myers, Janey Ford, and Mary Wilkins.

Kathleen sat quite still for a minute until she had recovered her breath. She looked around her. To her relief, she saw that they were alone. There was no one else in the compartment.

"Now then," she said, "how is it that all the others have funked it?"

"There has been so much muttering and whispering and suspecting going on during the whole livelong day that they were positively afraid," said Susy. "Indeed, if it hadn't been for you, Kathleen, I doubt if any of us would have come."

"Well, girls, we can't help it," said Kathleen. "If the rest are so timid, there's more fun for us; isn't that so?"

She looked round at her companions.

"I mean to enjoy myself," said Kate Rourke. "I have been to a theater twice before. Once I went with my grandfather, and another time with an uncle from Australia. I didn't go to the pit when I went with uncle. He took me to a grand stall, and we rubbed up against the nobility, I can tell you."

It suddenly occurred to Kathleen that Kate Rourke was rather a vulgar girl. She drew a little nearer to her, however, and fixed her very bright eyes on the girl's face."

"But we needn't go to the pit, need we?" she said. "I meant to pay for forty. If there are only six, why shouldn't we have jolly seats somewhere, and not waste our time outside the theater?"

"That would be nice," said Kate Rourke. "I always enjoy myself so much more if I am in good company. I have been looking up the plays at the theaters, and there is a very fine piece on at the Princess'. That is in Oxford Street. It is a sort of melodrama; there's a deal of killing in it, and the heroine has to do some desperate deeds."

"Oh, dear!" said Susy, with a sigh; "I don't feel, somehow, as if I much cared where we went. It will be awful afterwards when the fun is over."

"But we will enjoy ourselves, Susy, while the fun lasts," said Kathleen. She tried to believe that she was enjoying herself and was having a right good time. She tried to forget the fact that Alice Tennant might really have seen her off, and that Mrs. Hopkins had justice in her remarks when she begged and implored of Kathleen not to go to the train.

"What can she have found out?" she thought.

She now turned to Susy.

"Has your mother learned anything, Susy?" she said.

"What do you mean?" said Susy, turning very pink.

"Well, you know, as I was running here—Oh, girls, I had such a lark! What do you think happened? That horrid Alice—Alice Tennant—ran after me as I was leaving the house. I raced her across the common, and then to get rid of her I climbed up into an oak-tree. She never saw me, and ran on down the passage. Of course, my only chance of getting to the station was to go by the long way.—Half-way there I came across your mother, Susy, and she tried to stop me, and said she must speak to me. Dear, she did seem in a state! Evidently there's a great deal of excitement and watching going on in that school."

"There will be a great deal of excitement to-morrow," said Susy. "It strikes me it will be all up with us to-morrow—that is, if Ruth tells."

"If Ruth tells! What do you mean?"

"They are going to do their utmost to get her to tell; and if she does tell they will call out our names and expel us, that's all. Oh! I can't bear to think of it—I can't bear to think of it."

Susy's voice broke. Tears trembled in her bright black eyes, and she turned her head to one side. Kathleen gave her a quick glance.

"It will be all right," she said. "Ruth won't tell. Ruth is the kind who never tells. She told me to-day she wouldn't."

"She'll be a brick if she doesn't," said Kate Rourke. "But then, of course, you know—"

"I know what?"

"Oh, nothing. What's the good of making ourselves melancholy on a night like this?"

"If I were expelled," said Clara Sawyer, "I should leave Merrifield. I could never lift up my head again. You can't think what impudent sort of boys my brothers are, and they have always twitted me for my good fortune in getting into the Great Shirley School. They say that if we are to be expelled it will be done in public. The governors are determined to read us a lesson. That's what they say."

"Who cares what they say?" said Kathleen. "Let them say."

"Well, that's what I think; and I dare say half of it is untrue," said little Janey Ford.

"I am sure, Janey, wonders will never cease when we see you in this thing," said Susy. "It was disgusting of the others to funk it. But I suppose they were on the right side; only I do sometimes hate being on the right side.—Don't you, Kathleen?"

"Yes," said Kathleen in a whisper, and she squeezed Susy's hand. It seemed to her that her soul and Susy's had met at that moment, and had saluted each other like comrades true.

"But how was it you came, Janey? Didn't your little heart funk it altogether?" continued Kate.

"I was so mad to come," said Janey. "I am shaking and trembling now like anything. But I had never been to a theater, and it was such a tremendous temptation. I said about ten times to myself that I wouldn't come, but eleven times I said that I would; and the eleventh time conquered, and here I am. I do hope we'll have a right good time."

With this sort of chatter the girls got to London. Here Kate Rourke took the lead. She marshaled the little party in two and two, and so conveyed them out of the station. Outside the yard at Charing Cross they all climbed on the top of an omnibus, and soon were wending their way in the direction of the Princess' Theater, which Kate most strongly advocated. There was no crowd at the theater this special evening. The piece which was presented on the boards happened to be a fairly good one. The girls got excellent seats, and found themselves in the front row of the family circle. From there they could look down on dazzling scenes, and Kathleen, who had never been to a theater in the whole course of her life, was delighted. She at least had forgotten what might follow this expedition. Oh, yes, they were having a glorious time; and it was quite right to do what you liked sometimes, and quite right to defy your elders. Oh, how many she was defying: Ruth Craven, who would almost have given her life to keep her back from this; Miss Ravenscroft, the head-mistress, to whom Kathleen's heart did not go out; her own father; her own aunt; Alice Tennant—oh, bother Alice Tennant! And last, Mrs. Hopkins.

"Quite an army of them," thought Kathleen. "I have dared to do what none of them approved of, and I am not a bit the worse for it. Darling dad, your own Kathleen will tell you everything, and you may give me what punishment you think best when the fun is over. But now I am having a jolly time."

So Kathleen did enjoy herself, and made so many saucy remarks between the acts, and looked so radiant notwithstanding her very plain dress, that several people looked at the beautiful girl and commented about her and her companions.

"A school party, my dear," said a lady to her husband.

"But I don't see the chaperone," he remarked.

And then the lady, who looked again more carefully, could not help observing that these seven girls were certainly not chaperoned by any one. A little wonder and a little uneasiness came into her heart. She was a very kind woman herself; she was a motherly woman, too, and she thought of her own girls tucked up safely in bed at home, and wondered what she would feel if they were alone at a London theater at this hour. Presently something impelled her to bend forward and touch Kathleen on her arm. Kathleen gave a little start and faced her.

"Forgive me," she said; "I see that you and your companions are schoolgirls, are you not?"

To some people Kathleen might have answered, "That is our own affair, not yours;" but to this lady with the courteous face and the gentle voice she replied in quite a humble tone:

"Yes, madam, we are schoolgirls."

"And if you will forgive me, dear, have you no lady looking after you?"

"No," said Kate Rourke, bending forward at that moment; "we are out for a spree all by our lone selves."

Kate gave a loud laugh as she spoke. The lady started back, and could not help contrasting Kathleen's face with those of the other girls. She bent towards her husband and whispered in his ear. The result of this communication was that, the curtain having fallen for the last time, the actors having left the stage, the play being completely over, and the seven girls being about to get back to Charing Cross as best they could, the lady touched Kathleen on her arm.

"You will forgive me, dear," she said; "I am a mother and have daughters of my own. I should not like to see girls in the position you are in without offering to help them."

"But what do you mean?" said Kathleen.

"I mean this, my dear, that my husband and I will see you seven back to your home, wherever it is."

Kathleen burst out laughing; then she looked very grave, and her eyes filled with tears as she said:

"But wouldn't mother approve of it?"

"If your mother is the least like me she would not approve of it; she would be horrified."

"I don't think the lady can see us home," here remarked Clara Sawyer, "for we live at Merrifield, a good long way from London."

Again the lady and her husband had a talk together, and then she suggested that they should take the girls back with them to Charing Cross and put them into their train.

"But we thought we'd have a bit of supper," said Kate Rourke.

"I can get you some things at the railway station; you ought not to wait for supper in town," said the gentleman in a stern voice.

Then somehow all the girls felt ashamed of themselves, Kathleen slightly more ashamed than the others. They left the theater very slowly, with all the lightsomeness and gladness of heart gone.

Two cabs were secured for the little party, and with their kind protectors they were taken back to Charing Cross. Eventually they got seats in a comfortable carriage, and found themselves going back again to Merrifield.

"Well, it has been a dull sort of thing altogether," said Clara Sawyer. "What meddlesome people!"

"Don't!" said Kathleen.

"Don't what, Kathleen O'Hara? Why should you speak to me in that reproving voice?"

"It isn't that; only they were like two angels. I know it; I am sure of it. We did an awful thing coming to town; I know we did, and I feel—oh, detestable!"

Kathleen bent her head forward, covered it with her hands, and sat still. No tears shook her little frame, but there was a storm within. To her dying day Kathleen never forgot that return journey. Truly the fun was all over; the dregs of the cup of pleasure were in their mouths, and there was a fear, great, certain, and very terrible, in their hearts. But with all her fears—and they were many—Kathleen thought again and again of the lady who had girls of her own, and of the gentleman who was both stern and chivalrous, who had the manners of a prince and the look of a gentleman. As long as she lived she remembered those two faces, and the words of the lady, and the smile with which she said good-bye. She never learned their names; perhaps she did not want to.



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LEDGER.

Ruth got up rather earlier than usual on that Saturday morning. She had a dull, stunned kind of feeling round her heart. She was glad of that; she was glad that she was not acutely sorry, or acutely glad, or acutely anxious about anything.

"If I could always be like this, nothing would matter," she said to herself.

She dressed with her usual scrupulous neatness, and after hesitating for a moment, put on her best Sunday serge dress. It was a dark-blue serge, very neatly made. She combed back her luxurious hair and tied it with a ribbon to match the dress. She then ran downstairs.

"Why, Ruth?" said her grandmother, who was pouring some porridge into bowls, "what are you wearing that frock for?"

"I thought I would like to, granny."

"Well, to be sure. I trust to goodness you are not getting extravagant. It will be doomsday before we can get you another like it. You must remember that I saved up for it sixpence by sixpence, and it took me all my time and my best endeavors to get it."

"I know it, granny; and when I wear it I feel that you were very kind to give it me. A girl who wears a dress like this ought to be very, very good, oughtn't she, granny?"

"Well, to be sure, little woman; and so you are. There never was a better child. Sit down now and sup your porridge. It is extra good this morning, and there's a drop of cream in that jug which will give it a flavor."

Ruth sat down to the table and drew her bowl of porridge towards her. The warm, nourishing food seemed to choke her; but, all the same, she ate it with resolution."

"That's right, dear," said her grandmother. "'It's putting a bit of color into your cheeks. You are too white altogether, Ruth. I hope, my dear, you are not working too hard."

"Oh, that's all right," said Ruth, keeping back a groan.

"It's a fine thing your getting into that school," continued Mrs. Craven; "it gives you a chance. Do you know, now, when I look at you and see the pretty little girl you are turning into, and observe your lady-like ways, which every one remarks on, I think of the time when your father was your age."

"Yes, granny," said Ruth, brightening up and looking earnestly at the old lady; "you never care to talk about father, but I should greatly like to hear about him this morning."

"Well, child, I don't talk of him because it hurts me too much. He was the only child I ever had, and if I live to be a hundred I sha'n't get over his death. But he was like you—very neat in his person, and very particular, and always keen over his books. And do you know what he said to his father? It was when he was fifteen years old, just for all the world about the age you are now. I mind the time as well as if it was yesterday. Her father and I were sitting by the hearth, and the boy came and stood near us. Your grandfather looked up at him, and his blue eyes seemed to melt with love and pride, and he said:

"'What will you be, my boy? Will you let me teach you the business, and save up all the money I can for you to sell groceries on a bigger scale? There's many a small business like mine which, when built up, means a great big business and much wealth. If you have a turn that way I could set you on your legs; I am certain of it. I'd like to do it. Would you like that best, or would you rather have a profession and be made a gentleman?'

"'The gentleman part doesn't matter,' said our boy in reply to that; 'but I think, father, if you can give me my choice, I'd like best to be that which, if necessary, would oblige me to give my life,'

"'What do you mean?' asked his father, and the lad explained with his eyes shining.

"'I have only got one life,' he said, 'and I'd like to give it if necessary.'"

"To tell the truth, Ruth, I could not understand him."

"But I can," said Ruth. She hastily put down her porridge spoon and jumped to her feet. "I can understand," she continued; "and I am proud of him."

"So he went into the army. I wish you could have seen him in his uniform; and his father paid for every scrap of the whole thing, and educated him and all. Oh, dear! it was a proud moment. But we weren't proud afterwards when we heard that he was killed. His father reminded me of his words: 'I'd like to be that for which I could give my life if necessary,'"

There was quite a pink color in each of Ruth's cheeks now, and her eyes were very bright.

"I will go and see grandfather," she said, "and then I must be off to school."

She left the kitchen and went into the tiny parlor where the old man was seated. It was his fashion to get up early and go straight to the parlor and read or talk softly to himself. For a couple of months now he had never sat in the kitchen; he said it caused a buzzing in his head. Mrs. Craven brought him his meals into the little parlor. He had finished his breakfast when Ruth, in her neat Sunday dress, entered the room. There was an exalted feeling in her heart, caused by the narrative which her grandmother had told her of her father.

"Well, little woman," said the old man, "and you are off to school? Or is it school? Perhaps it is Sunday morning and you are off to church."

"No, grandfather; it is Saturday morning—quite a different thing."

"Well, my love, I am as pleased as Punch about that school. I can't tell you how I think about it, and love to feel that my own little lass is doing so well there. And if you get the scholarship, why, we will be made; we won't have another care nor anxiety; we won't have another wrinkle of trouble as long as we remain in the world."

Ruth went straight over to the old man, knelt down by his side, and looked into his face.

"Stroke my hair, granddad," she said.

He raised his trembling hand and placed it on her head.

"That is nice," she said, and caught his hand as it went backwards and forwards over her silky black hair, and kissed it.

"Granddad," she said after a pause, "is it the best thing—quite the best thing—always to come out on the right side of the ledger?"

"Eh? Listen to the little woman," said the old man, much pleased and interested by her words. "Why, of course, Ruth; it is the only thing."

"But does it mean sometimes, grandfather—dishonor?"

"No, it never means that," said Mr. Craven gravely and thoughtfully. "But I will tell you what, Ruthie. It does mean sometimes all you have got."

"Yes," said Ruth, "I understand." She rose to her feet. Do you think my father would have come out on the right side of the ledger?"

"Ah, child! when he lay dead on the field of battle he came very much out on the right side, to my thinking. But why that melancholy note in your voice, Ruth? And why are your cheeks so flushed? Is anything the matter?"

"Kiss me," said Ruth. "I am glad you have said what you did about father. I am more glad than sorry, on the whole, this morning. Good-bye, grandfather."

She kissed him; then she raised her flower-like head and walked out of the room with a gentle dignity all her own.

"What has come to the little woman?" thought the old man.

But in a minute or two he forgot her, and called to his wife to bring him the account-books.

"Why do you bother yourself about them?" she asked.

"It has come over me," he replied, "that I have counted things wrong, and that I'll come out on the right side if I am a bit more careful. Put the books on this little table, and leave me for an hour or two. That's right, old woman."

"Very well, old man," she replied, and she pushed the table towards him, put the account-books thereon, and left the room.

Meanwhile Ruth went slowly to school. She was in good time. There was no need to hurry. The morning was fresh and beautiful; there was a gentle breeze which fanned her face. It seemed to her that if she let her soul go it would mount on that breeze and get up high above the clouds and the temptations of earth.

"I am glad," she said to herself, "the right side of the ledger means giving up all, and the best of life is to be able to lose it if necessary. I will cling to these two thoughts, and I don't believe if the worst comes that anything can really hurt me."

When she got near the school she was met by Mrs. Hopkins. She was amazed to see that good woman, as at that hour she was usually busily engaged in her shop. But Mrs. Hopkins took the bull by the horns and said quietly:

"I came out on purpose to see you, Ruth Craven."

"Well, and what do you want?" asked Ruth.

"My dear, you are not looking too well."

"Please do not mind my looks."

"It is just this, dear. There will be no end of a fuss in the school to-day."

Ruth did not reply.

"And they will press you hard."

Still Ruth made no answer.

"You know what it will mean if you tell?"

Ruth's grave eyes were fixed on Mrs. Hopkins's face.

"Child, I don't want to doubt you—nobody who knows you could do that—but it will mean ruin to poor Susy and to many and many a girl at the Great Shirley School. It isn't so much Miss O'Hara we mean. Miss O'Hara has gone into this with her eyes open; and she is rich, and what is disgrace to her in this little part of England, when she herself lives in a great big castle in Ireland, and is a queen, lady, and all the rest? But it means—oh, such a frightful lot to so many! Now, Susy, for instance. I meant to apprentice her to a good trade when she had gone through her course of work at the Great Shirley; but she will have to be a servant—a little maid-of-all-work—and I think that it would break my heart if she was expelled."

"And what do you want me to do, Mrs. Hopkins?"

"Oh, my dear, not to think of yourself, but of the many who will be ruined—not to tell, Ruth Craven."

Ruth gave a gentle smile; then she put out her small slim hand and touched Mrs. Hopkins, and then turned and continued her walk to the school.

There were a group of foundationers standing round the entrance. Ruth longed to avoid them, but they saw her and clustered round her, and each and all began to whisper in her ears:

"You will be faithful, Ruth; nothing will induce you to tell. It will be hard on you, but you won't ruin so many of us. It is better for one to suffer than for all to suffer. You won't tell, will you, Ruth?"

Ruth made no reply in words. The great bell rang, the doors of the school were flung wide, and the girls, Ruth amongst them, entered.



CHAPTER XXVII.

AFTER THE FUN COMES THE DELUGE

Kathleen O'Hara's nature was of the kind that rises to the top of the mountains and sinks again to the lowest vales. She had been on the tip-top of the hills of her own fantasy all that evening. When she ran quickly home under the stars she began to realize what she had done She had done something of which her mother would have been ashamed. Not for a moment had Kathleen thought of this way of looking at her escapade until she read the truth in the eyes of the unknown but most kind lady. She despised herself for her own action, but she did not dread discovery. It did not occur to her as possible that what she and her companions had done could be known. If no one knew, no one need be at all more sorry or at all more unhappy on account of her action.

"Poor Wild Irish Girls! they are getting into hot water," she said to herself. "But this little bit of fun need never be told to any one."

Kathleen had let herself out of the house by the strong rope of ivy; she meant to return to her bedroom the same way. Alice was a very sound sleeper; it did not occur to her that Alice on that particular night might be awake. She reached the foot of the window in perfect safety, saw that the ivy looked precisely as it had looked when she climbed down it, and began her upward ascent. This was decidedly more difficult than her downward one; but she was light of foot and agile. Had she not climbed dangerous crags after young eaglets at home? By-and-by she reached the window-sill. How nice! the window was partly open. She pushed it wider and got in. The room was in darkness. So much the better. She stepped softly, reached her own bed, undressed, and lay down. How nice of Alice to be sound asleep! Then of course it was not Alice she saw standing on the platform looking at her with reproachful, horrified eyes.

"I must have dreamt it," thought Kathleen. "Now all is well, and I shall sleep like a top until the morning."

This, however, was no easy feat. Alice's quiet breathing sounded not many feet away, and after a time it seemed to get on Kathleen's nerves. She moved restlessly in her bed. Alice awoke, and complained of the cold.

"The window is a little open," said Kathleen. "Shall I shut it?"

Alice made no answer. Kathleen jumped up, shut the window, and fastened it. She then got back into bed. In the morning Alice called out to her:

"Is your headache better?"

"Had I one?" began Kathleen. Then she blushed; then she laughed; then she said, "Oh, it's quite well."

Alice gazed steadily at her. It seemed to Kathleen that Alice's eyes were full of something very terrible.

"Are you coming to school to-day?" asked Alice the next moment.

"Of course. Why do you ask such a strange question?"

"I shouldn't think you would wish to; but there is no accounting for what some people can live through."

"Alice, what do you mean?"

"What I say."

"Explain yourself."

"No."

"Is there anything very awful going to happen at school?"

"You will find out for yourself when you get there."

"Dear me!" said Kathleen; "you look as if the deluge was coming."

"And so it is," said Alice.

She had finished dressing by now, and she went out of the room. The two girls went down to breakfast. Alice's face was still full of an awful suppressed knowledge, which she would not let out to any one; but Mrs. Tennant was smiling and looking just as usual, and the boys were as fond of Kathleen as was their wont. She had completely won their immature masculine hearts, and they invariably sat one on each side of her at meals, helped her to the best the table contained, and fussed over her in a way that pleased her young majesty. Kathleen was very glad that morning to get the boys' attention. She determined to sit with her back slightly turned to Alice, in order not to look into her face. They were about half-way through breakfast when there came a ring at the front-door, and Cassandra Weldon's voice was heard.

Alice went out to her. The two girls kept whispering together in the passage. Presently Alice returned to the breakfast-room, and Kathleen now noticed that her eyes were red, as though she had just been indulging in a bout of crying.

"What can be the matter?" she thought.

"Why, my dear Alice," said her mother, looking up at this moment, "what did Cassandra want? And what is the matter with you? Have you had bad news?"

"Yes, mother," answered Alice.

"But what is it, dear?"

"You will know soon enough, mother."

"That is exactly what you said to me upstairs," said Kathleen, driven desperate by Alice's manner. "I do wish you would speak out.—Do get her to speak out, Mrs. Tennant. She hints at something awful going to happen at school to-day. I declare I won't go if it is as bad as that."

"It would be like you not to come," said Alice. "But I think you will come. I don't think you will be allowed to be absent."

"Allowed!" said Kathleen. "Who is going to prevent me staying away from school if I wish to?"

"The vote of the majority," said Alice very firmly. "Now, look here, Kathleen; don't make a fuss. It is wrong for the girls of the Great Shirley School to absent themselves without due reason."

"Well, I have a headache. I had one last night."

"No, you had not."

"Alice, dear, why do you speak to Kathleen like that?" said her mother. "What is the matter with you?—Kathleen, do keep your temper.—Alice, I am sorry something has annoyed you so much."

"It is past speaking about, mother. You will understand all too soon.—Kathleen, it is time for us to be going."

"I am not going," said Kathleen, "so there!"

"Kathleen, you are."

"No."

"Come, Kathleen; come."

"You needn't fuss about me; I am not coming."

"Kathleen, dear, I think you ought to go. Go for my sake," said Mrs. Tennant.

Kathleen looked up then, saw the anxiety in Mrs. Tennant's face, and her heart relented. She was in reality not at all afraid of what might be going to happen at school. If there was to be a fray, she desired nothing better than to be in the midst of it.

"All right," she said, "I will go; but I won't go yet. I am going to be late this morning. I can see by your manner, Alice, that I have got into disgrace. Now, I can't think what disgrace I have got into, unless some horrid girls have been prying and telling tales out of school. That sort of thing I should think even the Great Shirley girls would not attempt. Unless some one has been mean enough to act in that way, there is nothing in the world to prevent my going to school, and taking my accustomed place, and disporting myself in my usual manner. I shall get a bad mark for being late; that is the worst that can happen to me. I am going to be very late, so you can go on by yourself, Alice."

Alice very nearly stamped her foot. She went so far as to beg and implore of Kathleen, but Kathleen was imperturbable.

"You are very naughty, Kathleen," said Mrs. Tennant, but Kathleen ran up to her and kissed her.

"You and I will have some fun, perhaps, this afternoon," she said. "I have got a lot of new plans in my head; they are all about you, and to make you happy and not so tired. Don't be cross with me. I'll promise that I will never be naughty again after to-day."

Mrs. Tennant said nothing more. A minute or two later Alice left the house.

It was quite an hour after Alice had departed that Kathleen took it into her head that she might as well stroll towards the school. On Saturdays school was over a little earlier than other days. There was a special class which she was anxious not to miss, for in spite of herself she was becoming interested in certain portions of her lessons. Her depression had now left her, and she felt excited, but at the same time irritated. A spirit of defiance came over her. She went upstairs and selected from her heterogeneous wardrobe one of her very prettiest and most fashionable and most unsuitable dresses. She put on a hat trimmed with flowers and feathers, and a sash of many colors round her waist. Over all she slipped her dark-blue velvet jacket, and with rich sables round her neck and wrists, she ran downstairs.

"Why, Kathleen, any one would suppose you were going to a concert," said Mrs. Tennant.

"Ah, my dear good friend, I like to look jolly once in a way. I am certain to get a bad mark for unpunctuality, so I may as well get it looking my best as my worst. You don't blame me for that, do you?"

"No. Go off now, dear, and don't let me find you so troublesome again."

Kathleen started off. She ran across the common, and reached the doors of the great school exactly one hour after she ought to have arrived. To her amazement, she saw quite a crowd of people waiting outside, and amongst them was Mrs. Hopkins. There were several other mothers as well, and when they saw Kathleen they turned their backs on her, and one or two were heard to say aloud:

"It's she who has done it."

But Mrs. Hopkins did not turn her back on Kathleen; she came close to her, and even took her hand.

"Why are you late, miss?" she said. "But perhaps it is best. Miss O'Hara, you won't forget my poor aunt; you will be sure to get her the little almshouse in Ireland?"

"Yes, of course I will," said Kathleen. "Aunt Katie has written about it already, and I will write to-night. You may tell Mrs. Church that it is absolutely quite certain that she will get it. What is the matter, Mrs. Hopkins? How strange you look! And all those other women—they seem quite cross with me. What have I done?"

"Ah, miss! I keep saying to them that it is because you are Irish and don't know frolic from serious mischief. Bless your heart, miss! it is you that are kind. You mean kindly—no one more so—and so I have said to them."

"But it will be a nice thing if my girl gets expelled owing to her," said a sour-faced woman, coming forward now and placing her arms akimbo just in front of Kathleen.

"Is it that that every one is thinking about?" said Kathleen. She stood still for a minute. The color left her face. She felt a wave of tempestuous blood pressing against her heart; then it all rushed back in a fiery color into her cheeks and in brightness to her eyes.

"And Alice knew of this," she said to herself; "and when I didn't come to school this morning she thought that I was afraid. Afraid!—Don't keep me, good people," said Kathleen. "Make way, please. I am sorry I am a little late."

She walked past them all. When she got as far as the school door she turned to Mrs. Hopkins.

"You can tell your aunt that the almshouse is safe," she said, and then she blew a kiss to her and disappeared into the school.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

WHO WAS THE RINGLEADER?

In the passage a monitress was standing, and when she saw Kathleen she came up to her and said in an agitated tone:

"They are all assembled in the great hall. Go in quickly; you may be in time, after all."

The voice of the monitress quite shook, and there was a troubled, very nearly tearful expression in her eyes.

"But why is the whole school in the central hall?" asked Kathleen. "Why are they not in their different classrooms?"

"Go in—go in," said the monitress. "You will know when you find yourself there; and there is not a moment to lose."

So Kathleen, impelled by a curious power which seemed to drive her whether she will it or not, opened the door of the great central hall and entered. She found it quite full. The four hundred girls who composed the Great Shirley School were all present; so were the teachers, and so were the professors who came to give them music and drawing and literature lessons. So was the head-mistress, Miss Ravenscroft; and also, seated on the same little raised platform, were the six ladies who formed the governors. The governors sat in a little circle, Miss Mackenzie in the middle. Miss Mackenzie looked hard and very firm. Her iron-gray hair, her false teeth, her prominent nose, and her rather cruel steel-gray eyes made themselves felt all down the long room. The other ladies also looked as they usually did, except that Mrs. Naylor had traces of tears in her eyes, and bent forward several times to whisper something to Miss Mackenzie, who invariably shook her head and looked more stern than ever. There was evidently a moment's pause, and the whole school was in a waiting attitude when Kathleen made her appearance. All eyes were then turned in her direction; all eyes fixed themselves on the showily dressed and very handsome child who suddenly entered the room.

"It is Kathleen O'Hara;" "It is Kathleen O'Hara herself;" "Well, she has come at last;" "Yes, it is Kathleen O'Hara," passed from lip to lip, until Kathleen felt that her name had got round her and above her and to right and left of her. She had an instant's sensation of absolute fear. She had a flashing desire to turn tail and run out of the room; but the same power which had pushed her into the room now sent her right up the long central hall past all the watching, expectant, eager-looking girls. Outside some one had said that she would be afraid. No, whatever the danger, she knew she could keep her own. She was not Kathleen O'Hara of Carrigrohane Castle for nothing.

"Come here, Miss O'Hara," said the voice of Miss Ravenscroft at that moment.

Kathleen obeyed at once. She found a seat on the front bench, dropped into it, and at the same moment encountered the almost malicious glance of Alice Tennant. She turned away from Alice. That look seemed suddenly to steady her nerves. She was afraid just for a moment that she might give way to something, she knew not what, but Alice's look hardened her heart. Time had been given Kathleen to take her place, to recover any emotion she might have felt by her sudden entrance, and then Miss Ravenscroft rose to her feet.

"It is my painful duty," she said, "to have to say something which distresses me far more than I can give you any idea of. My dear girls, you have all been summoned to attend in this hall to-day in order to meet the governors of the school, Miss Mackenzie, Mrs. Naylor, Mrs. Ross, the Misses Scott, and Miss Jane Smyth. These ladies have come to meet you, because they wish thoroughly to investigate a most disgraceful matter which has lately been going on in the school."

Miss Ravenscroft paused and looked round her.

"I allude," she said, "to the insurrection in our midst—a sort of civil war in our camp. There are, I am given to understand, in the midst of this hitherto well conducted and admirable school, a number of girls who have banded themselves together in disregard of its laws, and who have made for themselves laws contrary to the peace-abiding principles of this great school and noble institution: who meet at unseemly hours, who preach rebellion each to the other, who dare to publicly break the laws of the school, and who defy the express wishes of myself as head-mistress and the governors of the school by insisting on continuing their wicked meetings. And last night a certain number of these girls actually took it upon themselves to go to London—to do what, I can't say—and to return at midnight, alone and unchaperoned. Such conduct is so unworthy, so undignified, and so absolutely sinful that there is only one course to pursue. The girls who are rebellious in the school must be exposed; their conduct must be investigated, and a very heavy punishment awarded to them."

Here Miss Ravenscroft looked round her. She caught the eye of Miss Mackenzie, who beckoned to her and whispered something in her ear.

"Miss Mackenzie bids me say that if the girls who belong to this society will at this moment give up the name of their ringleader they themselves will be forgiven. What punishment they receive will only be connected with their work in the school, and may possibly exclude them from competing for certain scholarships during this present term, but for the rest nothing further will be said. But it is essential that the name of the ringleader, as well as her rules and her motives, should be declared."

Miss Ravenscroft paused again and looked down the whole length of the long hall. She looked to right and left.

"Don't let any girl think," she said after a pause, "that she is acting nobly by suppressing information which is for the benefit of the school. I do not ask the girls who are spoken of as the paying girls to expose their companions, nor do I ask those foundationers who have not joined the band of insurgents to betray their fellows; but what I do ask is this: that the girls themselves—the rebels—should rise in a body and point to their leader. With that leader the governors will deal. The girls themselves will have forgiveness."

Miss Ravenscroft again paused. The silence which followed might be felt. Susy Hopkins bent her head and sobbed. Janey Ford trembled all over, and clutched tightly the hand of her companion. But no one spoke. It was at that moment that Kathleen calmly and slowly raised her face and looked around her. She looked back, and caught the eyes of at least a dozen of those foundationers whom she had pitied and helped and been jolly with. She looked to the right then, and met as many more faces of girls whom she knew, and who were members of the Wild Irish Girls' Society. Then very calmly she resumed her nonchalant attitude in the front row of the schoolgirls. Miss Ravenscroft meanwhile stood waiting. Still no one spoke.

"Will no one speak?" she said. "Will no girl present be brave enough to save the school?"

Still there was silence.

"This is a very good and a great school," said Miss Ravenscroft. "It gives for a very trifling sum an education worthy of the very best and most expensive schools in England. It was founded some hundred years ago, by those who thought much and in advance of their time. In an age when girls were almost uneducated, when nothing further was required from them than a smattering of reading and writing, these wise and far-seeing people said that they would give the girls of the future a chance. So they left money for the purpose, and that money, wisely invested, has borne fruit. The great school was built, and has for generations helped many girls who otherwise might not have been able to earn their own bread. Even for the paying girls the expense for all they receive is but a trifle. But the school does more than that. It was the wish of the founders that there should always be one hundred foundationers on the school lists, and these girls are admitted free; they pay nothing in hard cash for what they receive. They are taught liberally; they have the best rooms, the best laboratories; the best music, the best art, are supplied to them. If they have talent they have every chance of bringing it to the fore, for the education is thorough and generous. But the school does even more than this. It opens up scholarships—many scholarships—of great value for those special girls who call themselves foundationers. Now my dear girls of the Great Shirley School, you must clearly understand that no establishment of this kind can be worked except on certain lines, and these lines mean order, method, and obedience. Rules must be made, and these rules at any cost must be obeyed. These rules are made not only to enable the girls to get the best possible education out of the school, but also that the greater education of mind and heart, which alone can build up a fine and useful character, may not be neglected. That sort of education can only be given by conforming to principles. Now, there are certain principles which every girl who comes into this school is bound to adhere to. She is bound on all occasions to behave with sobriety, with a sense of modesty and true womanly feeling; she is never, if she is a true member of the school, to join herself to rebels who do not believe in its rules. Now, there is not the slightest doubt that the society which you girls—a certain number of you—have joined is rebellious, has bad effects, and has rules of its own which are absolutely contrary to the rules of the Great Shirley School. It is impossible for you to be members of this society and to be members of the Great Shirley School. If, therefore, you do not immediately forsake that society, and immediately promise here and now that you will give it up forever, we shall have the painful duty of expelling you from the school. You have a few minutes in which to decide. Nobody wants to be hard on you; nobody wants to be hard on your founder, although she must no longer take her place as a member of this school; but if you don't confess, very stringent and terrible methods will have to be resorted to."

Miss Ravenscroft here resumed her seat. There was a faint applause which came from different parts of the room, but was not unanimous, and soon died away. After that there was silence. Miss Mackenzie bent forward and made some notes in a little black book which she held upon her lap. Mrs. Naylor took her handkerchief and wiped the tears from her eyes; the other governors looked depressed and uneasy. Meanwhile Miss Ravenscroft sat with her eyes fixed on the different girls in their different forms. There was no movement. Kathleen drew herself up proudly.

"They're not quite such cads," she said under her breath.

But just as the thought came to her, Miss Mackenzie, the woman most respected and most dreaded in the whole of Merrifield, rose slowly to her feet.

"Girls of the Great Shirley School," she said, "your head-mistress, Miss Ravenscroft, has conveyed to you a message from me and from the other governors. The message is to the effect that if those silly girls who have allied themselves to that most ridiculous society, the Wild Irish Girls, will give the name of their leader, they shall be forgiven. Do you accept, foundationers, or do you decline?"

Dead silence ensued.

"I presume," said Miss Mackenzie after a pause of a full minute, "that your silence means refusal I have therefore to turn to a certain young girl in this school who was a member of the Wild Irish Girls' Society, and who has now left it.—Ruth Craven, have the goodness to step forward."

Ruth had been seated in the fourth bench. She rose slowly. Kathleen felt a curious tremor run through her, but she did not move a muscle; only when Ruth appeared at the edge of the platform, it was with the greatest effort she could keep herself from jumping up, taking her hand, and mounting the platform by her side.

"Step up here, Miss Craven," said Miss Mackenzie.

Ruth did so.

"Will you have the goodness to stand just here, Miss Craven?"

Ruth went to the place indicated.

"You can now face me, and your schoolfellows can also see you.—Girls, I have requested Ruth Craven to take the prominent position she now occupies in order that you may all see her. You all know her, do you not? Those who know Ruth Craven, hold up their hands."

Immediately there was a great show of uplifted hands.

"I presume that you all like her?"

Again the hands went up, and Kathleen's was raised the highest of all. Ruth's little face, however, remained perfectly white and still; only her eyes were dark with emotion. She kept thinking of her father.

"I should like that which would make me give my life if necessary," he had said; and her grandfather had said, "Sometimes when you come out on the right side of the ledger it means giving all that you possess."

Ruth could scarcely see the faces which rose up like a great ocean beneath her, but she remembered her father's words very distinctly.

"You all see Ruth Craven," continued Miss Mackenzie. "As far as I know, she is a good girl; and I judge by your method of answering my question that she is a popular girl. I know, alas! that she is poor. I have heard a great deal about her intellectual endowments, and believe that this school could be of immense advantage to her. I believe, in short, that she is the typical sort of girl of whom the founders thought when they instituted this great and noble house of learning. Nevertheless, Ruth Craven must fall if necessary for the good of the many.—Ruth, I wish to ask you a certain question. You were a member of that rebellious society, the Wild Irish Girls?"

"Yes, Miss Mackenzie."

Ruth's "Yes" was very clear; her face looked modest but firm. There was not the slightest hesitation in the words she uttered. Her speech was not loud, but it could be heard to the end of the great hall.

"You are no longer a member?"

"No."

"Three days ago I and the other governors sent for you to ask you certain questions. You refused to answer those questions then. We gave you three days to consider, telling you that if at the end of that time you still kept to your resolution there was only one thing for us to do, and that was to make an example of you in the presence of the entire school—in short, to take from you your right of membership, and to expel you from the school, taking from you all privileges, all chances of acquiring learning and the different valuable scholarships which this school was opening to you. We came to this most painful resolve knowing well that it would cast a blight upon your life, that wherever you went the knowledge that you had been publicly expelled from the Great Shirley School would follow you—that you would, in short, step down, Ruth Craven. I quite understand from the expression of your face that you are the sort of child who imagines that she is doing right when she keeps back the knowledge which she thinks she ought not to betray; but we governors do not agree with you. There are six of us here, and we wish to tell you that if you now refuse the information which we wish to obtain from you, you will do wrong. You are young, and cannot know as much as we do. We earnestly beg of you, therefore; not to make a martyr of yourself in a silly and ridiculous cause.—Mrs. Naylor, will you now say what you think to Ruth Craven?"

"I think, dear child," said Mrs. Naylor, speaking in a tremulous voice, which could scarcely be heard half-way down the room, "that it would be best for you not to conceal the truth."

"And I agree," said Mrs. Ross.

"We all agree," said the Misses Scott and Miss Jane Smyth.

"We all think, dear," continued Mrs. Naylor, "that for the sake of any chivalrous ideas, quite worthy in themselves, it is a considerable pity for you to spoil your life. You are not the sort of child who could stand disgrace."

"And you don't look the sort of child who would under ordinary circumstances act the idiot," said Miss Mackenzie sharply. "As to the chivalrous nature of your silence, I fail to see it. I hope you have carefully considered the position and are prepared to act openly and honorably. By go doing you will save the school and yourself. Now then, Ruth Craven, will you come a little more forward? Stand just there.—Girls, you can all see Ruth Craven, can you not?"

The girls held up their hands in token that they could.

"I will therefore at once proceed to question her," continued Miss Mackenzie.

There was just a moment's pause, and during that complete silence a dreadful rushing noise came into Kathleen O'Hara's head. The floor for an instant seemed to rise up as though it would strike her; then she felt composed, but very cold and white. She fixed her eyes full on Ruth.

"I will hear her out. I must hear the thing out," she kept saying to herself. "Afterwards—afterwards—But I must hear the whole thing out."

Miss Mackenzie turned, and in a very emphatic voice began to question.

"You are prepared to reply to the following questions?" she said.

Ruth's very steady eyes were raised; she fixed them on Miss Mackenzie. Her lips were firmly shut. Nothing could be quieter than her attitude; she did not show a trace of emotion. Always pale, she looked a little paler now than her wont. Her darks eyes seemed to darken and grow full of intense emotion; otherwise no one could have told that she was suffering or feeling anything in particular.

"But I know what she is going through," thought Kathleen. She clenched her hands so tightly that the nails went into the delicate flesh. She was glad of the pain; it kept her from screaming aloud.

"The first question I have to ask," said Miss Mackenzie, "is this: How many of the foundation girls have joined the rebels?"

Ruth came a step nearer.

"How many? I can't quite hear you."

"I am sorry," said Ruth then, "but I can't tell you."

Miss Mackenzie, without any show of emotion, immediately entered Ruth's answer in a little book which she held in her hand.

"Oh, don't, Miss Mackenzie! Don't be harsh," gasped little Mrs. Naylor.

Miss Mackenzie, as though she had not heard the voice of her sister governor, proceeded:

"What is the name of the founder of the society?"

"I am not prepared to say," replied Ruth.

Again this answer was recorded.

"Can you give me an exact account of the rules of the society, its motives, its bearing generally?"

The same negative reply was the result of this question.

"Do you know anything whatever of the disgraceful escapade which took place last night, when a certain number of the members of this society went to London and returned by themselves at midnight?"

Ruth's face cleared a little at this question.

"I cannot answer because I know nothing," she said.

A slight look of relief was visible on the faces of the unfortunate girls who had gone to town with Kathleen on the preceding night. A few more questions were asked, Ruth replying on every occasion in the negative. "I can't say," or "I will not say," were the only words that were wrung from her lips.

"In short," said Miss Mackenzie very quietly, "you have decided, Ruth Craven—you, an ignorant, silly little girl—to defy the governors of this school. All justice has been dealt out to you, and all patience. The consequence of your mad action has been explained to you with the utmost fullness. You have been given time—abundant time—to consider. You have chosen, from what false motives it is impossible to say—"

"My dear," interrupted Mrs. Naylor, "the child means well, I am assured."

"From what false motives it is impossible to say," continued Miss Mackenzie, not taking the slightest notice of the little governor's futile appeal, "you have decided to wreck your own life and to ruin the school. It was to have been your noble privilege to save the school in a time of extremity. You have chosen the unworthy course. It is therefore my painful duty to call upon Miss Ravenscroft as head-mistress to expel you, Ruth Craven, from this school. You are no longer a member of the Great Shirley School; you are—"

"Hold!" cried Kathleen.

Her voice rang out sharp and clear. It was heard all over the school, and was so imperative, so startling, so unexpected, that even Miss Mackenzie lost her self-control and fell back in silence.

"Hold!" cried Kathleen again. "You have said enough. I don't think you ought to go on. You are torturing the noblest girl in the world. But Kathleen O'Hara, bad as she is, cannot endure this last insult. Girls—Wild Irish Girls, you who belong to my society—I as your queen desire you to come forward. Come forward in a body at once."

What was there in the young voice that impelled? What was there in the young face that stimulated, that caused fear to slink out of sight and courage to come to the fore, that caused hearts to beat high with generous emotion? Not a single girl failed Kathleen in this moment of her appeal. They clambered over their seats; they bent under the forms; they got out in any fashion, until she was surrounded by the sixty girls who formed her society. She glanced round her; her dark-blue eyes grew full of sweetness, and there was a look on her face which made the girls for the moment feel that they would die for her.

"Come, girls," said their queen—"come; there is room on the platform."

She sprang up the couple of steps without another word, and the girls followed her.

"Do what you like with Ruth Craven, Miss Mackenzie," she cried; "but put your questions over again to me, and I will answer them one after the other. Then expel me and my companions; turn us out of the school, but keep the girl who would be a credit to you."



CHAPTER XXIX.

END OF THE GREAT REBELLION.

No one quite knew what happened next. Some of the girls went off into violent hysterics; others rushed out of the great hall, half-fainting; while others controlled themselves and listened as best they could. The scene was vivid and picturesque. Mrs. Naylor sobbed quite audibly, and took hold of Ruth's hand, and even kissed it. But as she did so Kathleen herself came near and flung her arm round Ruth's neck.

"If you mean to expel Ruth you will expel me," she said. "But won't you forgive her? If her ideas were wrong, they were at least generous; and you know that I won't trouble you any more. I am very sorry, but I don't think that I was made to suit a great school like this, and I give up the society—yes, absolutely—so you won't have any rebels present in your midst again. Expel me, but keep her, for she will be the flower of your school, the greatest ornament, one you will talk of in the dim years of the future. Don't let me feel that I have spoilt her life."

"But why did you act so, Kathleen O'Hara?" said Miss Mackenzie. "Why did you, a silly young girl, come over here, a stranger, to ruin the school and make us all unhappy?"

"I can't answer you that," said Kathleen, flinging out her hands. "I did what I was made to do. I am a rebel by nature. I believe I shall always be a rebel. I shall go home to father and mother and tell them I am not suited for a school like this. But don't expel Ruth, and don't expel the others."

"But we will all go if you are not kept," suddenly cried one of the sixty, Kathleen never quite knew which; and suddenly one girl after another began to speak up for her, and all promised that if Kathleen were allowed to remain, and if the whole story of the great rebellion was allowed to blow over, they would work as they had never done before. They wanted their queen to stay with them. Would the governors forgive their queen, just because she was an Irish girl and like no one else?

How it came to pass it was impossible to tell. There was something about Kathleen—the bold, bright, and yet generous look on her face, the love which darted out of her eyes when she grasped Ruth's hand—that even impressed Miss Mackenzie. She said after a pause that she was willing to reconsider matters, and that she and all the other governors would meet in a day or two to give their opinion.

Thus the school broke up. It had lived through its greatest and most exciting hour. But when Kathleen was seen going through the gates, her arm flung round Ruth's waist, and all the sixty girls following at her heels, such a cheer went up from the anxious mothers and fathers and brothers—for many fresh people had come to swell the crowd since Kathleen entered the school—as was never heard before in Merrifield.

Thus ended the great rebellion. It is spoken of to this day as the greatest and most conspicuous event in the school's history. For, after all, the governors were lenient, and no girl was expelled. Kathleen, as years went on, became far and away the most popular girl in the school. Her talents were of the most brilliant order; her very faults seemed in one way to add to her charms. In one sense she was always a more or less troublesome girl; but where she loved she loved deeply, and from that hour she gave up all thought of rebellion either against the governors or against Miss Ravenscroft. Ruth was Kathleen's greatest friend. Her grandfather got better; his heart was never broken by the knowledge of that terrible disgrace which the child so feared that she would bring him. Mrs. Church became one of the Irish alms-women, and grumbled a good deal at the change in her position. Mrs. Hopkins's debt was cleared off; and all the characters in this story did well, and were proud to admit that they owed most of their future prosperity to the Wild Irish Girl, Kathleen O'Hara.

THE END

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